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Selective biblical literalism

We all, from time to time, encounter individuals (even online or elsewhere) who claim to follow the Bible literally in every detail – but a little pressing shows them to be selective in what they actually adhere to and what they ignore or sidestep.

Bart Ehrman was such a person. Raised in the Episcopal Church (Fr. Matthew’s), he had a conversion experience as a high school sophomore and was “born again”. He attended Moody Bible Institute, Wheaton, and Princeton Theological Seminary. He held and taught and wrote about that the Bible was completely without error in the original texts. However, spending more time with those original texts resulted in his realisation that those texts themselves showed the glaring weaknesses of an inerrant approach and, as in Father Matthew’s video, Ehrman’s faith came tumbling down. And he now has a new book.

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There are other models for treating the Bible with appropriate reverence through which the Spirit continues to speak to the church. And which do not need us to leave our brains at the church door as we enter.

One model is the Bible as the memory of God’s people. My memory is very tied in with my identity – the Bible is tied in with the identity of God’s people. Memory is not a film of the events of my life – it is the essence of those events as interpreted by me and how they are significant to me. Memory collects similarities together. Memory distorts and rearranges in order to make sense of my life and interpret the events to myself. In the library of the Bible, with its variety of genres, of literary styles, God interprets events and makes sense of them for us. We are generally agile at recognising what literary style we are dealing with – but occasionally we do get it wrong, even with contemporary material – misjudging an ironic piece and reading it straight, or not recognising something is actually an advertisement and judging it to be an article. With ancient texts we are far less agile at recognising the literary style. We need to have the humility to acknowledge we may be incorrect in judging whether a text is history or allegory, fable, parable, or poetry. The Bible may be moving in a general direction, and we may misjudge its trajectory. Reverence for scripture need not be opposed to humility about our understanding and interpretation of it.

Hat tip to Andrew plus

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2 thoughts on “Selective biblical literalism”

  1. I find I struggle less with the Bible when I remember that it is a collection of documents and try to treat it as a source of inspiration rather than prescription, a library of resources rather than an instruction manual.

  2. I come from an tradition with assumed Biblical Inherancy, with a church that occasionally used the language but never taught on the points. While I think Fathers Matthew’s solution of “come to an Episcopal Church” isn’t the only solution, his analogy regarding foundation was spot on. I also agree with the idea of scripture being the memory of the church, and it is a great starting place to begin having these discussions with people who are questioning inherrancy.

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