Thoughts on Biblical Literalism 

The one biblical pet peeve that I’ve always disliked is extreme biblical literalism. If we’re being honest with our examination of the topic of biblical literalism, there has been some good and bad to come out of the movement in the last one hundred years or more. For instance, the Moral Majority of the 70s and 80s sought to regulate the era after the Sexual Revolution of the 60s by calling the nation to turn back to Judeo-Christian values.

Perhaps the most important case in the last century was the Monkey Scopes Trial that involved a school teacher teaching Darwinian evolution against a state that strictly reinforced literal biblical creationism. The aftermath of this case created a paper cut of what would later turn into an amputation, a widening gulf between science and religion as which holds the ultimate supremacy of truth.

Strangely, this chasm between religion and science has grown further in recent decades. A few years back, there was the large-scale debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, CEO of Answers in Genesis, which garnered millions of views and raised the topic of biblical literalism to even higher scrutiny. Looking back on this debate, I think Ken Ham really missed a great opportunity to advocate the power of the Creator instead of presenting literal young-earth creationism which is sometimes based on faulty genealogies of the Bible. I walked away from the debate really feeling ashamed for Ken Ham, not because he was a bad Christian, but the fact that he wholeheartedly reopened the underpinnings of the Monkey Scopes case of creationism vs. Evolution. I’m my view he did more harm than good in the case of science and God.

Every holiday or so, like today, for instance, many Christians will come out vehemently opposed to it. They’ll claim “God hates the devil” or “this holiday is the work of satan or paganism” but honestly what good does this do to engage others in a dialogue about what we believe vs what we’re opposed to. Instead, how about highlighting that Halloween, aka All Hallows Eve, is the day before a major holy day in the Church. Why? Because on this day we honor and pay special recognition to the Saints that are in heaven. Moreover, November 2nd is important because All Souls Day we gather to remember the departed souls who are being cleansed before entering into heaven.

Halloween could just simply serve as a reminder of the dead, not a polemical rant on how it’s not supported in the Bible. On the contrary, even many non-Catholics would claim that offering prayers or honoring the Saints are “unbiblical.” As a result, the hinge of biblical literalism truly rests on the belief that the Bible only is the source of authority. The problem with this view is that the Bible is a book that spans 2000yrs by various authors, so there’s bound to be a lot of areas that overlap. Plus, the Bible is hard to understand. To claim you can pick up the Bible and understand completely what it means is a hard saying. Even the Ethiopian eunuch recognized the difficulty of comprehending the Scriptures and needed interpretation by an approved interpreter (Acts 8:26-40).

As a teacher, we use the same unit text every year. Our next unit is my favorite, Greek Myths. I love Greek myths because they reinforce the importance of my affirmation of monotheism vs. That of polytheism and pantheism of the Greek gods that are bloodthirsty, vengeful, and really petulant. Anyways, my co-worker has expressed their appreciation but also dislike of Greek myths because “They go against her beliefs as a Christian.”

Honestly, I get what this person is saying. However, even St. Paul found the truth to be evident in other worldviews even though he didn’t adhere to them (Acts 17:28). From their statement, It seemed like this person took a strong hard-lined “bible only” approach to understanding the world. As if outside knowledge were a threat to a Christian worldview. If this person didn’t know, a lot of great works that are esteemed in western civilization came from a Greek society of people who probably worshipped the gods of Mt. Olympus.

Furthermore, if someone wants to pursue that kind of thinking to its fullest extent then there is a problem. Our whole world is drenched in Roman, Egyptian and Greek paganism and polytheism. Our months and days of the week are largely based on Roman gods. To revolt against Halloween and other “pagan” holidays logically follows a revolt against our daily lives.
Instead of actually understanding biblical hermeneutics and the different genres of the Bible, biblical literalist has hijacked the Word of God and turned it into a textbook. A mere go-to-guide for all things life. Doing this runs the risk of neglecting the importance and beauty of reason to understand the natural world. Instead, when the Bible says “It is he who sits above the circle of the earth (Is 40:22)” the literalist inclination is to assume the earth is circular.

Or when the Bible gives a genealogy, the proper understanding is to recognize that Jewish culture strived its best to trace their lineage to Abraham, but the literalist inclination would be to calculate the years of each generation to determine the age of the earth.

Biblical literalism is wholly anti-intellectual. It poses a great threat to the Tradition and teaching authority of the Church and the gift reason. What’s worse is those that spread literalist views embrace lone ranger style Christianity where it’s just “me and my Bible” by elevating personal opinion vs. With what’s actually intended by the inspired author.

3 comments

  1. The “literalist” hermeneutic is only about 100 years old… As if Jews in the 9th century B.C. were interested in doing history or science in the same way we are today!
    As for “Biblical purists” distancing themselves from all things pagan – next time someone pulls that as a matter of principle, ask to see their wedding ring! (Halloween though is more a hodge-podge of historical and liturgical accidents… Guy Fawkes, Irish superstition, and immigration to the USA are all involved!)

    Liked by 1 person

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