Friday, October 19, 2012

Metaphorical nonsense

Well, it happened again. A self-confessed former "fundamentalist" Christian proclaimed on television that he now has a more enlightened view of the Bible. He fooled his family for over a year by telling them he was a homosexual when he was not. His fundamentalist family was shocked, of course, but his mother, at least, learned a supposedly valuable lesson.

After a lifetime of reading the Bible 'literally', he and his mother no longer do so. Seemingly because she loves her son who she thought was actually homosexual, she now does not read the Bible in such a way that makes her believe that homosexual actions are sinful. She now thinks it is okay, as does her son. (I wonder what she thinks about her son lying to her about a very serious matter. Maybe she takes the command not to bear false witness 'metaphorically' as well.)

Now what is the alternative to the supposedly archaic, unenlightened, literal reading of the Bible. The answer, of course, is to take the Bible metaphorically. This is what this young man asserts. But what exactly does it mean to take the Bible literally, or metaphorically.

Let's look at a couple of examples: First, we have the saying of Jesus, "I am the vine and you are the branches." When Jesus calls Himself a 'vine' and his disciples 'branches', should we take this literally or metaphorically? Well, it is obviously a metaphor. The most extreme fundamentalist in the world would not interpret this literally. No sane person does or ever would. Second, we have one of the ten commandments, "Thou shalt not steal." Is it possible to interpret this metaphorically? No, it must be literal. It's not a metaphor for anything.

What can we conclude from this? Very simply that we interpret literal passages literally and metaphorical passages metaphorically. Of course, that is exactly what fundamentalist and evangelical Christians have always done. There is no simple choice between literal and metaphorical interpretation. We have to make the choice for each passage.

How then should we interpret the passages that talk about homosexuality? Are they to be interpreted literally or metaphorically? To answer this we need to examine what kind of statements they are. We find, very simply, that they are among the statements in the Bible that tell us how we ought or ought not to behave. They are moral commands. As we have seen in the case of the commandment not to steal, it and all other commandments regarding morality must be interpreted literally. In other words, the moral law is always interpreted literally. This does not mean it lacks spiritual application, but we easily confuse the spiritual with the metaphorical. They are not the same thing.

Another person who insists that we must interpret the Bible 'metaphorically' says that if we interpret the Bible literally, then we must put homosexuals and adulterers to death because that is what the Old Testament says.

But, once again, this is not interpreting passages according to their kind. While passages that tell us what to do or not do must be interpreted literally, we also must distinguish between different kinds of commands. God told us not to commit adultery, for example, and the OT punishment was death. However, there is a difference between the moral law and the civil law given to the ancient Israelites. The civil law enforced the moral law. The moral law is for all people at all times. The civil law was for Israel when they were a nation. Jesus refused to apply the civil law when the moral law was violated. Remember the woman caught in adultery and brought to Jesus. Jesus effectively made the Jews put down their stones, refused to condemn her, but did tell her to 'go and sin no more'. Jesus affirmed the moral law without applying the civil law from the OT. (The Jews were no longer self-governing; they were under Roman rule.)

Jesus took the moral law literally. He affirmed its verdict on sin, but He also came to wash away our sins. That is much different, and much better, than saying that our sins are okay. They are not.

Those who mock "fundamentalists" who interpret moral commands literally by saying that they prefer a "metaphorical" interpretation of the Bible have no clue what they are talking about. It is not even an intelligent argument, much less enlightened or modern. No, they use this to put down those they disagree with on moral matters all the while pretending that they know more about the Bible than the people who actually study and believe it. They pretend to be morally and intellectually superior to those they look down on. Meanwhile they justify behavior that God clearly condemns.

Just as bad, they pretend to honor a Bible though they will not submit to as God's Word. I have much more respect for a person who comes right out and says that they do not believe the Bible is God's Word than one who pretends that they honor the Bible while they refuse to submit to its teaching. This is nothing but hypocrisy.