More on taking the Bible literally
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 14, 2007
To the Editor:
In a response to Cynthia Hall Clements’ editorial, “Southern Baptists and Women,” Rev. Micah Gandy argues that the Bible must be taken literally.
Not to do so, he argues, is to set up a “buffet approach to the Bible where one can take what he [she] likes and leave behind the rest.”
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However, it seems that Rev. Gandy isn’t too opposed to visiting the salad bar himself.
This is evidenced by the fact that, as far as I know, most of the members of Rev. Gandy’s congregation are not walking around with mutilated eyes and hands.
In Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “If your right eye gives you an occasion to sin, tear it out and throw it away” (Mt. 5:29a). Jesus’ logic is then explicated: “It is better for you to lose a part of your body than to have the whole body thrown into Gehenna” (5:29b).
He then reiterates the same thing, using the right hand as an example. The genre of the gospel of Matthew can be debated, but I can tell you for certain that it’s neither apocalyptic nor poetic. Thus, by Rev. Gandy’s logic, this command should be interpreted literally-after all, it’s straight from the lips of Jesus himself! The church has long maintained that the statement about cutting off body parts is hyperbolic, but we have no reason-other than our squeamishness about self-mutilation-to credibly claim that.
I’m not advocating amputation parties for sinners. Instead, I offer a better interpretation of the Bible’s role in Christian life, based on the very verses that Rev. Gandy cites at the end of his letter. He writes that the Bible is “a light unto our feet and a lamp unto our path” (Ps. 119:105). What, I ask, is a lamp? It is an aid in seeing the path-it is not the path itself. A good lamp exposes the best path, and it also points out the potential pitfalls.
As we debate whether the passage prohibiting women in leadership roles should be interpreted literally, the problem of gender discrimination is being illuminated, and people are responding to it.
The Bible has brought to the fore of our minds the problem of gender discrimination and, in doing so, has challenged us to thoughtfully and prayerfully assess how we treat others.
The Bible never refers to itself (as the books were composed individually over centuries and great geographical distances), so it never claims that it should be interpreted literally. That is an innovation of the (much later!) church.
However, as Rev. Gandy points out, it does say that God’s word is “a light unto our feet and a lamp unto our path.” Why don’t we let the text determine its own interpretation and allow the Bible to be the exposing light and not the directing path?