Friday, 8 May 2009

Liberal literalism

I was thinking about the fundamental literalist last night and how they say they take every word of scripture literally (which I have to admit may mean a fair few things, as I would say that I do in some sense as well). But I think there are some specific instances that they would get into trouble if they took the text at face value (I'm also not even talking about the start of Genesis or Revelation) to the extreme logical conclusion. They could run into liberalism.

Luke (and Acts) was written for someone called Theophilus. 1 and 2 Timothy was written for Timothy. Romans was written for people in Rome, Ezekiel was talking to exiled Jews etc... Where are the literal fundamentalists saying "The bible literally says that [some book] was written for a particular person/church in a particular time, it would be wrong to assume that the book was written for us". Why don't the 6 day creationist or end times guys with charts and dates say that about other bits of the bible?

They don't say that (and nigher do I) because we all have some method of interpretation. I was struck last night that it is important for us to realise that everybody does this and comes with their own assumptions to any text.

Don't get me wrong, I do think it is important to see, read and think about what the text actually/literally says, as that is the first step in then working out what it meant back then, and then the (sometimes) tricky bit is working out what it means for us today.


  1. Hey dude

    Of course I agree with your conclusions. So like any good philosopher I'm going to pick at your premises. :)

    The literalist would snap back, "of course the book was written for a given audience but nearly always the writer is making generalist (gnomic) statements about reality, so we can learn from that."

    Likewise they could say, "Often times epistle writers explicitly say that they want others to read their writings".

    I think your point still stands, though I am extremely wary of using the word interpretation when the Bible and I are in the same room :)

  2. This came in the RSS feed this morning and is clearer than what I was saying:

    I'm sorry Steve but he also uses the word interpretation :)