Taken at face value, the Bible is a terrifying, unbelievable book. Complete with dragons, floods, plagues, violence of every sort, rape, infanticide, genocide, homicide, social discrimination, theft, adultery and much much more, the text approaches us much more like a series of epic tales rather than a single piece of literature.
Some stories are retold, the latter even disagreeing with the former in some respects (the book of Judges employs this tactic). Others are told in such grandiose fashion, we immediately conjure up images of so-called "demon spawn", the offspring of fallen angels and people (a group Jesus says is "without sex"). All of this adds up to one thing, and specifically when we're talking about how we interpret the Bible (hermeneutics).
The more common interpretational guidelines take one of two approaches:
- Strict literal - everything is written "as it happened, when it happened". The phrase "God said it, I believe it, that settles it" refers to this model of interpretation.
- Open - the Bible, like all ancient "historical" documents, contains not only a theological but a political agenda.
For the first, I can only assume that those who hold to the more strict form of literalism don't understand the nature of the text, or the one who inspired it. What I want to address today is toward those of us who've gotten comfortable enough with Jesus to allow the text to be interpreted a little more appropriately for the One who is revealed best as "love". Many have let go of the notion that an imperfect text = shaken faith, and those who still hold to it are, sadly, holding to faith in the text rather than faith in the One it intends to describe (however unsuccessfully).
But there is a third way I propose we read the text. Again, we can't get caught up in the notion that a collection of books spanning thousands of years somehow mystically, magically has no contradiction on its pages. What we have to do is deal with those contradictions.
With Jesus. Jesus is the "key" to the scriptures and how to interpret them. And I don't mean that we need to sit and wait for him to start talking audibly from heaven, or magically redacting pages for us. I mean with him.
Jesus interprets the text for us often, but too often, we fail to see where he's gone.