1. They interpret the Bible in literal terms. They believe that each and every word as presented in its current format are the words of God, written down by men as the Holy Spirit inspired them.
OR2. They interpret the Bible within the historical and cultural contexts. They consider when the texts were written, the place, the cultural norms, etc, and see how what they are reading fits within those parameters.
The first one is the easy one because you can say, “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” No thinking involved. The problem is, even these people don’t really accept everything as literal. They pick and choose what is convenient for them or they will create a systematic theology that allows them to claim it’s the perfect and inerrant word of God while allowing themselves to ignore many Biblical mandates.
Here are a few examples:
- In Matthew 5:27-30, Jesus teaches: "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”
- In 1 Timothy 2:11-14, the apostle Paul instructs: “I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes” How many literal interpreters violate Paul’s instruction? (And, on a side note, Paul was very good about saying “I don’t allow this, I don’t allow that.” - He is stating his personal preference, yet people take it as a mandate from God.)
(Jessica Alba - a filthy sinner?) Photo: Getty ImagesThe reason we see LI’s wearing braided hair, jewelry and costly garments is because they have been taught that the reason they can ignore these verses is because that in Paul’s day, a woman who dressed like that was a prostitute.
Is that a cultural filter that I smell? Because in our culture, a woman like that is normal and a woman like Paul describes is Amish.
Paul also says that women should remain silent in the church. But how many churches would not survive without women teaching Sunday school or in various office and volunteer positions where they not only speak, but also give instruction. This one gets ignored because there are not enough men who will get off the couch to study enough to teach. Churches today ignore Paul’s mandate because the backbone of their empires are built on the the free labor of these strong, insightful and giving women.
How do they explain this to their puppets? They tell them that Paul really meant that women should not ask questions at church, but instead go to their husbands. It also means that women can serve fo sho - just not in any leadership capacity. In other words, "we want your blood, sweat and tears, just not your opinions. We tell you what to do and you quietly obey so you can go to Heaven, okay, little lady?"
- Exodus 22:25, Psalm 15:15, Proverbs 28:8, Ezekiel 18:13, 17, & 22:12 all forbid the use of banks or profiting from loans and investments.
They might use their old standby: “Well, those are all Old Testament scriptures. We are under a new covenant.” Translation: "Anything that we don’t like in the pesky rules section of the Old Testament can be ignored by claiming that Jesus erased all laws from the old covenant and replaced them with a new covenant. We know you won't bother to go look up what words like 'covenant' really mean or find out what the difference between the two are so you'll just have to take our word for it."
Two of my personal favorite mandates that LI’s ignore: stoning adulterers & killing disrespectful kids (though I’m sure many are tempted).
The way we read things literally in the Bible can seriously affect how we understand their meaning!
Proverbs 25:21-22 teaches “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.”
LI’s might read this and think you can make things worse for your enemy by being nice to them because God will see that they are bad and you are good and you will get a special treat while they will be punished.
In the context of the culture and time period when this was written, fire was vital for survival. You cooked, cleaned, heated your home and used it for many chores and duties. If your fire went out, you had to go borrow burning coals from a neighbor. If you lived outside the walls of a city, your neighbor wasn’t going to be too close and you’d bring a metal container bundled in rags to carry on your head. To have a neighbor heap burning coals into that container was to have them share an act of kindness – like someone helping to pay your heating bill.
To heap live coals on a person's head is to make him ashamed of his hostility by surprising him with unconventional kindness. And out of his shame, he will feel a conviction about how he has treated people and have a change of heart. This brings God glory. God recognizes that you could have chosen to retaliate and repay evil with evil, but instead, you chose to show grace. And that makes Him want to reward you.
To study the times, the culture and the writers of the books of the Old and New Testaments is to grasp for deeper meaning and understanding of what their meanings are.
Think of it this way: If I was writing a book and I said that my friend was a 'space cadet', someone a thousand years from now who did not know that in my culture, we use that slang term to mean ditzy, they might think my friend was really a student trying to become an astronaut. But if the future person reading my book knows something of my culture, the correct meaning emerges and changes entirely.
To sum it all up: Even the LI’s don’t take everything literally if they have found a compelling reason. When faced with the concrete evidence that the earth was a sphere instead of flat, as they literally interpreted Genesis 1:2 to mean, they conceded the literal “it was without form” was not the correct interpretation.
Scriptures are meant to be inspiring, studied by individuals for their personal growth and used by God to speak to our hearts as individuals. Someone who wants to try to understand them should spend time learning about them and the history surrounding their formation, not listening to James Dobson on the radio and parroting everything he says because "he's a man of God."
The scriptures, no matter what they are, are never to be used as a legalistic tool for power-hungry people who want to force others to drink their Kool-Aid. Still, there will always be those people who are far too lazy to study for themselves, as the Bible commands in 2 Timothy 2:15:
"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth."Intro to this series: CLICK HERE
Next Week: "The Sin of Sodom?"