Friday, January 16, 2015

How Should We Read the Bible?

Is the Bible to be read literally or figuratively? 

Before we answer that question, we have to ask another:  Who was the Bible written by?
The Bible, both the Torah of the Jews and the Testament of the Christian Church, was written by Jews.  So, how do Jews read the Bible, literally or figuratively? 

I have enrolled in a class at our local college in Jewish Studies.  We met for the first time last Monday evening.  One of the things which stood out the most for me, thus far, is for the Jews there is no single dogmatic way of looking at just about anything.  So, to answer whether Jews read the Bible, literally or figuratively - the answer is "both/and."  There is no one way to read or interpret Scripture - and to try to force Scripture into a literal only viewpoint extremely limits what Scripture REALLY has to say to EACH of us in EVERY generation.

For example, to insist the Infancy Narratives of Jesus have to be taken literally, every jot and tiddle, limits how we can use the story of Jesus' birth in our life in the twentyfirst century.  A deeper way of looking at the story would be to also incorporate St. John's Gospel, "and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us."  Jesus was born into a world of sin and corruption to be the Deliverer, the Savior, the Redeemer.  His story is told several times throughout the Jewish Torah.  The stories of Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph and even that of Judah Maccabee (Y'hudhah HaMakabi) are stories of deliverers of the Chosen People of I Am.  In the Christian Testament, God Himself becomes flesh - and dwells among us.  He takes upon Himself the sin of the world.  So, whereas in the Torah we have the story of Adam's sin condemning mankind, in the Christian Scriptures we have the Christ who redeems the World.

So, was Jesus born on December 25th of 1 BC or 1 AD (there is no "zero" year)?  Almost assuredly NOT!   There are several theories as to how the Christian Church came to that date - but nowhere does the Church insist that it was THAT date.  Was He born on or prior to 4 BC (the death of King Herod I), or was His birth during the reign of King Herod Archelaus (when the census was taken) in the year 6 AD (or prior, as Archelaus was exiled in 6 AD)?  If we don't get all caught up in attempting to force Scriptures to be absolutely literal, then we're not so worried about precision of the date.

The point is - if we read the Bible understanding the Jewish mindset, we DON'T get caught up in insisting on absolute precision of dates.  Are the Infancy Narrative figurative or literal?  In Jewish thought the answer is "Both/and."


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