Literally

Something to think about.

Jesus said to Nicodemus, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

Nicodemus, a high-ranking religious authority, replied, “How can a man be born when he is old?  Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born.”

Nicodemus was confused and did not understand, because he made the mistake of interpreting the statement of Jesus literally.

Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well, “Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.  Indeed the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The woman responded, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

She missed his point, because she made the mistake of interpreting Jesus’ comment literally.

On another occasion Jesus said to the religious authorities at the temple, “Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days.” 

They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?”

The religious authorities missed the point, because they interpreted the statement literally.

I could go on and on.  Jesus’ preferred method of teaching was with metaphors, symbols and parables.  Anyone who tried to understand his teachings literally would miss the point (and many did).  The stories of the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the Workers in the Vineyard, the Unmerciful Servant, etc., for example, are obviously not historical narratives of actual events.  Rather they are stories used by Jesus by illustrate a point.  It would be absurd to debate the historicity of the story of the Prodigal Son, for example.

Jesus said that he came to announce the coming of the kingdom of God.  So did he do so using language that was scientifically and historically literally precise and accurate?  No.  Typically he used simile.  He often said what the kingdom is “like,” rather than what it “is.”  The kingdom, according to Jesus, is like a mustard seed, like yeast mixed in dough, like a net lowered to catch fish, like a treasure hidden in a field, like a merchant looking for a pearl, etc.  He left it to us to sort out the meaning of those sayings.

Christians believe that Jesus was God incarnate.  Jesus represents God in human form.

So God, in human form, taught with simile, metaphors, symbols, stories and parables.  His language was typically remarkably nonliteral. 

So why then do so many of us assume that the Bible must always be read and understood literally?  Why are we resistant to seeing stories in the book as metaphors, symbols and parables?  If God in the flesh taught that way, then why are we so reluctant to see the revealed words of the Bible that way?

When we insist on consistently reading the texts literally, aren’t we responding in exactly the way Nicodemus, the woman at the well and the authorities at the temple did?

Just wondering…

Love Wins

Advertisements