Tuesday, March 11, 2008

1st century literalists

Difficulty with understanding the "spirit of the law"-- an over-literalization of the Bible-- was presumably as common in the first century as it is today.

Today, we see it among some Christians, and ironically, some opponents of Christianity.

In the Old Testament, it is rampant in a reductionistic understanding of the sacrificial symbolism. In the days of Jesus, we see it in the worldview of the Pharisees. But on Sunday, we came across a smaller example in John 6:51-52.

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world."

Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"

It's funny that pollsters ask Christians whether they read the Bible literally. Some Christians and some of their opponents fall for the bait. The fact is that no one reads the Bible completely literally. And some people clearly read it too literally. But the literalists should take great care. They're not in very good (Biblical) company...


At March 12, 2008 at 9:57 AM , Blogger Bryce Raley said...

Some examples: I'm curious.

The one listed is obviously referring to the Catholic sacrament of communion and transubstantiation. As a former Catholic I agree that this should be taken as a metaphore. What are some other literal interpretations you believe to be false?

At March 12, 2008 at 10:22 AM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

The first point is that people claim to read the Bible literally when they make a number of exceptions to that. This isn't a matter of false interpretation as much as good non-literal interpretation that they somehow forget when asked if they read the Bible literally.

For example, Jesus is a door, a lamb, a lion, etc. Literally? Uhhh, no.

As for improper interpretations, that is, of course, a matter of some debate. One key area is in eschatology. It is clear that Revelation should not be read as literally as other books because its literary style is a combination of epistle, prophecy and apocalyptic. But how literally?

One of my favorite observations is that pre-mills read Revelation and supporting passages more literally. But they're not consistent and so their "hermeneutic" and the results are incoherent. For example, they make a lot out of the 70 7's in Daniel 9. But they read "the church age" into an invisible gap between the 69th and 70th 7. You can do that; you just can't say that you read the text literally-- because it's not in there!

At March 13, 2008 at 11:19 PM , Blogger Bryce Raley said...

I see, I thought you were talking more on matters like Jonah, creation, Balaams donkey and other stories that someone like Bill Oreilley would say are completely alogorical.

I can see where you're going with the pre-mill vs post mill. I have read David Reagan's book "God's Plan for the Ages"; but refresh my memory, where does he come down on this post/pre issue. I don't have the time to reread it, but I'm very curious.

At March 14, 2008 at 10:10 AM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

Reagan is pre-mill (and pre-trib). By the way, if you stick with DC, you'll cover those terms in DC403-- about one year from today! ;-)

I haven't read a book-length explanation of things from Reagan but have heard him speak. In that setting, he stretched his use of the prophets further than is warranted. He might have good stuff, but I haven't been able to find anyone-- including people manning his booths-- who could point me to a single book of his that would make a summary case.

I have read LaHaye's book on this (in essence, the eschatological beliefs behind the Left Behind series)-- and it is incoherent. (Gary DeMar has a book that simply crushes it.)

If anyone has a book-length pre-mill case for me to read, I'd love to see it. There may well be a strong case to be made, but LaHaye's book left a very bad taste in my mouth.


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