The Bible is an amazing collection of writings. They were collected over hundreds of years. Reading the Bible thoughtfully reveals that there is a wide variety of styles and forms within this sacred treasury. One can find history, poetry, hymns, letters, sermons, legal documents, and more. Within the books themselves there are many literary classifications to be found. The gospels feature parables, teachings on prayer, personal reflections and family trees. Understanding all of these is not an overwhelming task but it is one that requires that we take the Bible seriously.
For example, Jesus has a conversation with a wealthy man about eternal life. Jesus tells him that if he wishes to be complete the man must sell all that he has and give to the poor. This is a beautiful and powerful story, one that tells us much about ourselves and our attachment to things that don’t matter much in the long run.
However, if we interpret it literally we will have to conclude that eternal life, entry into heaven, is predicated on whether or not we will sell all that we have and give it away to the poor. I have heard stories of wealthy people doing this in order to serve the least of these. However, their motivation was not a desire to gain eternal life but to love and care for humanity at a deep and intimate level. In other words, they understood Jesus instruction, not literally, but seriously and spiritually.
If we are going to understand biblical teachings, the serious approach is the one we must take. If we dont, literalism will lead us to strange and sometimes dangerous conclusions. If we take the Bible literally I will be able to argue in favor of polygamy, slavery and the death penalty for Boy Scouts who make fun of bald preachers. Seriously. I’m not making this up.
Instead, if we bring open minds, open hearts and open spirits to the Bible, learn to study it in context, pay attention to the various genres and genuinely seek to understand what this word is saying today, we will be amazed at the beauty and power that we find. As your pastor, there is nothing I do that is more serious or more inspiring than this singular task.
Grace and Peace to you,