Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Why are Christians always explaining why Genesis must be taken literally,[1] but the Sermon on the Mount musn’t be.[2]?

[2] E.g.,


-Dave said...

Funny. I've been wanting to blog about my doubts on Adam & Eve, the Flood, maybe even the Exodus. Do they have to be literal, perfectly accurate historical accounts? If so, then science seems far from trustworthy. If not, when do we transition from myth to reality? The judges? The kings? The phophets? Jesus?

Kenny said...

Basically, I believe that through good faith interpretation of the Bible we can discover the meaning that God wants us to understand.

I don't know the precise moment that you go from a looser understanding to a literal one. But, for example, I think it's very defensible to explain why the accounts of Jesus are intended to be taken literally, while the Nephilem and the Tower of Babyl your less certain (literally) about.

My favorite moment in interpretive history is when the disciples ask Jesus about Elijah. They say, according to Isaiah, Elijah must come before the Messiah. And if so if Jesus, you're the Messiah, then where's Elijah. Jesus responds, "John the Baptist is Elijah, if you will accept it." (Matt. 11:14).

This is remarkable. There's not indication that John was actually Elijah in disguise, returned from heaven in a chariot of fire. John's name was not Elijah. John himself even denied being Elijah! But Jesus says that that's him, that's Elijah, that's the guy Isaiah said was coming, "Meet Elijah, er, John."

Can't you picture an unwitting Evangelical literalist telling Jesus that he was wrong?

I just cite this example to show that the meaning of the Bible may be a bit more fluid than a literalistic hermeneutic might allow.

-Dave said...

I like Matthew telling us that Jesus going to and coming out of Egypt fufilled the prophecy "Out of Egypt I called my son." In the context of the prophecy (Hosea 11:1, I think, but don't hold me to it), it does not seem to have a prophetic tone, and is obviously referring to the nation of Israel.

If I didn't know better, I'd say Matthew invented a prophecy to make Jesus look like the son of God.

jose said...

The fear is summed up in the question "Where do you stop?" If the this part of the Bible doesn't have to be taken literally then what stops people from picking and choosing what literal and not. Once that happens, our theological foundation begins to crumble. Chaos will reign. Dogs and cats living together...

-Dave said...

But I think there is a real danger in deciding where, if at all to stop. If we extend the uncertainty to the entire book, what do we have? A myth, no more factual than those of Zeus and Prometheus. And "if Jesus is not raised from the dead (in fact, not in story alone) then we are to be pitied above all men."

Perhaps part of the Genesis/SoM dichotomy is that the first is regarded as an argument about historical fact, whereas the second is regarded as an argument about interpretation. If we allow that Jesus really did say the things attributed to him in Matthew, then the reliability of the Bible is not the issue. If you take the account of creation to mean not at all what it says, then you are questioning the reliability of the account - whether the Bible is even true.