Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Problem with Strict Literalism, pt. 1

In his work De Principiis, Origen wrote that
The simple man may be edified by the 'flesh' as it were of the Scriptures, for so we name the obvious sense; while he who has ascended a certain way may be edified by the 'soul' as it were; the perfect man...may receive edification from the spiritual law, which has a shadow of good things to come. For as man consists of body and soul and spirit, so in the same way does Scripture.
Though it may not have been his original intent, Origen's idea shows one massive flaw in the literalist interpretation of Scripture--it misses a heck of a lot!

(Another issue is the reality that practically no one is consistently practicing literalism, but more on that in part 2)

If Scripture is the only directly divinely-inspired letter from Christ to His Bride the Church, then we must drink from the fullness of its depths. Yet it is often those who claim most adamantly to hold the doctrine of sola Scriptura who sip the most shallowly.

Trying to meet God through His Word via a strictly literal reading of the text is like getting to know a person by staring at him in awkward silence for long periods of time. Sure, you could memorize outward things--facial features, hair color, that scar on his elbow--and maybe even theorize about some deeper matters--the reason for that faraway stare, perhaps--but you won't actually come to know the person. You won't become fraternally united.

Strictly superficial/literal Scriptural reading is kind of like taking an awkward elevator ride with God. There's some music playing in the background, and you might remember the length of His beard--maybe you'd even remember enough to help out the police sketch artist, but you try to avoid making eye contact, lest he ask you a deep question, like "How are you, My child?"

Because, all to often, our conception of the "God of the Bible" is so neatly contained. He wouldn't intrude in our lives, right?

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