John Heaton (jheaton) wrote,
John Heaton

Biblical literalism

As I do on the second Sunday of every month, yesterday I went downtown to Pres House to set up and host the communal meal my church provides to the worshiping community. During the service, Pastor Mark preached on 2 Samuel 11:1-17, the passage that describes King David knocking up a married woman and having her husband killed to cover his tracks. As I sometimes do, I read a little further beyond the sermon text, and I ran across this passage at the start of chapter 12:

But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD, and the LORD sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, "There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him." Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, "As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity."

Nathan said to David, "You are the man!"

This had the effect of reminding me of something I'd seen and shared on Facebook recently: Four Good Reasons Not to Read the Bible Literally. More precisely, it reminded that while I liked that article and agreed with it, I would say the best reason not to read the Bible literally is one the author failed to mention. The passage I cited above is one of dozens if not hundreds of instances in the Bible of God or Jesus using metaphorical or symbolic language to communicate. The Pharaoh was warned of the coming famine in a dream about fat and skinny cows. The writing on the wall that told Belshazzar that he'd been weighed in the balance and found wanting was four three seemingly meaningless Hebrew words. (See the icon above for more details.) Most of Jesus's ministry was based on parables, in fact.

Given that God and Jesus rarely used direct, literal language even when directly communicating with their followers, why would anyone assume that the received word of God in book form should be read literally? It makes no sense.

Tags: religion, uw-madison

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