While doing my blog surfing, I was directed to an important pop quiz from a few years ago that will help determine how “literal” I read the Bible. Heaven forbid I read it too literally. I mean, I could embarrass myself by writing a dopey book that displays my ignorance of what the Bible really says.
The opening challenge states:
No one reads or interprets the Bible literally – regardless as to what they profess. To do so is simplistic, if not dangerous. All of us read our bias, our theology, and our social location into the text. There is no such thing as an objective reading; all readings are subjective.
Really? No one reads it objectively? Not one person? Literalism is dangerous!?
The quiz was given by a guy named Miguel De La Torre. I had never heard of him before in my life. He teaches at a school in Colorado called Iliff School of Theology. I have never heard of it before, either. When I did a search, I learned that Iliff prides itself on being diverse. Checking the faculty page, the diversity is manifested by having a lot of women who teach comparative religion courses. They even boast of having 1/3 of their faculty from all sorts of backgrounds, including a person who is the professor of “American Indian Cultures.”
We never had studies in American Indian Cultures at Master’s. I am sure my seminary education is severely crippled as a result.
According to prof. Miguel’s bio page, he has written a lot of books. A professor who has written a lot of books on the Bible certainly can teach us much on how literal I may read the Bible. At least you would think.
I do find it curious that prof. Miguel doesn’t even bother to define what he means by “literal,” not to mention what the traditional understanding of “literal” means to the historic, Bible-believing Christians he wishes to bash. He begins with the presupposition that the Bible contains contradictions, and the closest he comes to even defining “literal” is charging those who read the Bible “literally” are worshiping the book, not the God who gave the book, because the Bible was never meant to be the fullest revelation of who God is.
I consider myself to be a “literalist.” I read the Bible “literally,” but I understand “literal” simply as interpreting the Bible in its natural, normal sense. The words of Scripture are to be treated the same way we treat any other words in ordinary daily use. Moreover, when I seek to understand the literal meaning of Scripture, I seek to understand the Bible in its historical, cultural, geographic, linguistic, and religious context in which it was originally written. I want to know what the originally writer meant to convey and I trust he can be understood literally as when he wrote. I also trust the God who ordained Scripture meant for His words to be understood in all cultures throughout all history because God has ordained human language to communicate His revelation to mankind.
Prof. Miguel thinks “literalists” like me are morons. He presents his pop quiz with the smug confidence his “literalist” readers learned all they know about the Bible from Chick comics and tracts and flannel graphs in junior church. His quiz could easily have come from the rantings of some atheist website.
With that in mind, let’s have a look at prof. Miguel’s pop-quiz he thinks exposes the ridiculous idea of reading the Bible “literally.”
1. The biblical definition of a traditional marriage is one between a man and: a) many wives or concubines, b) sex slaves, c) prostitutes, d) his harem, e) all of the above.
In the answers provided at the end of the quiz, the correct answer is “e” according to prof. Miguel. He believes that because the Bible records all those instances of “marriage” the Bible nowhere defines traditional marriage. In unspoken words, James Dobson has wasted 40 years of his life with that needlessly divisive ministry, Focus on the Family.
But notice how prof. Miguel ignores the first two chapters of Genesis, as well as Jesus’ words in Matthew 19 affirming Genesis, along with Paul’s in Ephesians 5. Those passages provide the standard definition of God ordained marriage: one man and one woman. All of those sins listed were truly (dare I say “literally”) practiced in Israel, but that is not because no one knew how God defined marriage. They engaged in those sins in spite of their knowledge of God’s established pattern, and in some instances were judged for it. Additionally, God gave specific laws to regulate those practices in order to protect the people involved, especially the women.
2. Homosexuals are to be: a) tolerated, b) encouraged, c) killed, d) banned.
The correct answer is “c” according to the Levitical law. So the unspoken question by prof. Miguel is, “Then why aren’t they killed today, you hypocritical, idiot literalist?”
As I noted in another post addressing Levitical law against homosexuality, homosexual sin was dealt with harshly in a theocratic kingdom. Christ has come and grace is extended to all sinners, including homosexuals. But, that does not mean homosexuality is no longer a sin, just that the immediate death penalty is postponed. Paul makes it clear that no homosexuals will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9ff.). They will be dealt with just as harshly as they were in theocratic Israel, only this time by God Himself in eternal punishment.
3. Women are saved: a) through baptism, b) by reciting a sinner’s prayer, c) through child-bearing, d) accepting Jesus, who died for their sins, as Lord as Savior.
The answer is “c” according to 1 Tim. 2:15. I take it that prof. Miguel provides this passage because he thinks it contradicts the idea of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone and “literalist” Christians are left wringing their hands thinking a contradiction exists in the Bible between salvation by works and salvation by grace. I wonder if he thinks “literalists” are stupid? Does he believe none of them read the Bible at all? I mean, how can a literalist be “literal” if he doesn’t read the Bible?
For a guy who has written a bunch of books on the Bible and teaches at a “school of theology” you would think he would know about grammar, syntax, semantic range of words, and the plain ‘ole context of a given passage.
Bill Mounce talks about the overlapping semantic ranges for the word “saved” in this passage in an insighful article, and Andreas Kostenberger thinks that semantic range suggest the salvation Paul was speaking about implies a salvation from the deception of Satan. There are some other possible understandings of Paul’s words here. But to conclude we can’t read the Bible literally because Paul is, as the apostle Peter even wrote, “hard to understand” at times, does not mean we can’t know what the Bible says literally.
4. God tries to kill Moses, but does not because God is appeased by Moses’ wife Zipporah, who: a) cuts off the foreskin of her son’s penis and rubs it on Moses’ penis, b) offers up a bull as sacrifice, c) takes a vow of silence, d) prays for forgiveness.
That event is recorded in Exodus 4:24-26. Prof. Miguel says the answer is “a” but nothing in the texts suggests Zipporah rubbed the foreskin of her son on Moses’s penis. Where he is getting that is beyond me. At any rate, I am stumped why he included this account in his quiz. Is he suggesting Zipporah did not literally circumcise her son and get angry at Moses about it? Why would it be a bad thing to not read the account literally as Exodus records it?
5. Evil and evil spirits come from: a) God, b) Satan, c) neither a nor b, d) both a and b.
The answer is “d.” Again, I am guessing Prof. Miguel thinks it is a contradiction of sorts to have God commanding evil spirits to do His will with regards to confounding the enemies of His people. This question tells me he not only has a disdain for people who read the Bible literally, he also doesn’t care for God’s absolute sovereignty over everything, including evil spirits He sends to do His bidding.
6. Every year, one must take a tithe of all the land has yielded and: a) give it to the priests, b) give it to the church, c) give it to the poor, d) convert it to cash to buy wine, strong drink, or anything else their heart desires.
The answer is “d” for the quiz sake, but again, this is one of those questions that leaves me scratching my head as to why it challenges the literal reading of Scripture. I imagine prof. Miguel threw this one in to chide the moral legalists he has encountered from the fundamentalist wing of the SBC who believe drinking wine in any form is sinful. But this passage does more to correct the legalism coming from the teetotaler arm of the SBC and what they promote at their yearly Ephesians 5:18 Conferences, than it does with reading the Bible literally.
7. The Bible makes provisions for offering a sacrifice to: a) nature, b) the demonic god named Azazel, c) God, d)a and d, e)b and c.
The answer is supposed to be “e,” a sacrifice to both God and a devil god named Azazel. Of course, prof. Miguel chose that example because he sides with the group of so-called modern “scholars” who believe “Azazel,” rather than being translated “scapegoat” as it is in nearly every English translation, is really the personal name of a demon. But this view is a rather new perspective on Leviticus 16 that reveals more of a shift away from orthodox views of Christianity. Prof. Miguel being a professor at a progressively diverse “school of theology” would pretty much side with any perspective that is opposite traditional, biblical Christianity (the “literalists”).
Leviticus 16 pictures the dual work of the Day of Atonement. One goat was offered to God to cover sins, the other was let go to die in the wilderness, picturing the removal of sin. Azazel literally means “a goat for sending away.” Both the LXX and the Vulgate translate the word to mean, “a goat who is sent away.” Only the intertestamental book 1 Enoch at 8:1 and 9:6 suggests this was a real demon god of some sort.
Eventually, the picture of the scapegoat typified the dual work Christ did on the cross for His people. He both covered over their sin from God’s wrath and removed the penalty of their sin from them. It may had been that the wilderness was seen as the dwelling place for demonic spirits just because the place was, and still is, desolate, but nothing in the text suggests Israel offered one sacrifice to God and another to a devil god they happened to fear. Besides, Leviticus 17:7 forbids any offering of sacrifices to devils. (And I got that from just literally reading the Bible).
8. To call somebody a “dog” during biblical times was: a) a term of endearment meaning “my little one,” b) an epithet of contempt, c) slang for “favorite one,” d) a term meaning “young puppy.”
This is another strange question. Because the term “dog” can mean different ideas depending upon specific contexts, just like the term can today in our language (i.e., an ugly kid was called a “dog” when I was in grade school), I guess prof. Miguel wants us to conclude no one can read the Bible literally. Which means to say he thinks context is pointless or that if anyone appeals to context that person is ignoring the obvious problems in the Bible.
9. My response to taking this test will be: a) stick my fingers in my ears and loudly sing “na na na na na,” b) question De La Torre’s salvation again while again stating never to read such commentary in ABP, c) ignore these parts of the Bible so I can maintain my literalism, d) read the text for what it says and struggle with it in the humility of knowing that a clear answer may not be evident in this lifetime.
Allow me to offer up my final question to prof. Miguel: Now that I have debunked the purpose of your quiz and shown you that your view of “literalism” is born from bigoted ignorance you will respond by:
A) sticking your fingers in your ears and loudly singing “na na na na,”
B) question my ability to read the Bible,
C) ignore my answers so you can continue to live comfortably in your bubble of postmodern diversity and never have to acknowledge the reality of biblical absolutes,
D) repent of your man-centered view of Scripture, admit that God has clearly and precisely communicated His Word to us to be understood literally, and submit to its authority in your life.
Of course, the choice is yours, but something tells me you will do everything but “D” because it would mean you would have totally retool your view of God, Scripture, and your ministry.