By Miguel De La Torre
No one reads or interprets the Bible literally — regardless as to what they profess. To do so is simplistic, if not dangerous. All of us read our bias, our theology, and our social location into the text. There is no such thing as an objective reading; all readings are subjective.
There is, however, the power for some to make their subjective reading objective. Those with the power to shape reality can impose their reading of Scripture — a reading that justifies their privilege and lifestyle — upon everyone else. For the marginalized to accept the predominant Eurocentric reading of Scripture, whether slaves of old or the disenfranchised of today, is to participate in their own self-policing.
Although the mythology of taking the Bible literally must be sustained so as to maintain a privileged social location, I will wager that those who insist on objective literalism have never bothered to live their lives according to such a literal, exhaustive reading. If they did, they would live illegal — if not immoral lives. To prove my point, I prepared a pop quiz:
1. The biblical definition of a traditional marriage is one between a man and: a) many wives or concubines, b) sex slaves, c) prostitutes, d) his harem, e) all of the above.
2. Homosexuals are to be: a) tolerated, b) encouraged, c) killed, d) banned.
3. Women are saved: a) through baptism, b) by reciting a sinner’s prayer, c) through child-bearing, d) accepting Jesus, who died for their sins, as Lord as Savior.
4. God tries to kill Moses, but does not because God is appeased by Moses’ wife Zipporah, who: a) cuts off the foreskin of her son’s penis and rubs it on Moses’ penis, b) offers up a bull as sacrifice, c) takes a vow of silence, d) prays for forgiveness.
5. Evil and evil spirits come from: a) God, b) Satan, c) neither a nor b, d) both a and b.
6. Every year, one must take a tithe of all the land has yielded and: a) give it to the priests, b) give it to the church, c) give it to the poor, d) convert it to cash to buy wine, strong drink, or anything else their heart desires.
7. The Bible makes provisions for offering a sacrifice to: a) nature, b) the demonic god named Azazel, c) God, d) a and d, e) b and c.
8. To call somebody a “dog” during biblical times was: a) a term of endearment meaning “my little one,” b) an epithet of contempt, c) slang for “favorite one,” d) a term meaning “young puppy.”
9. My response to taking this test will be: a) stick my fingers in my ears and loudly sing “na na na na na,” b) question De La Torre’s salvation again while again stating never to read such commentary in ABP, c) ignore these parts of the Bible so I can maintain my literalism, d) read the text for what it says and struggle with it in the humility of knowing that a clear answer may not be evident in this lifetime.
1. e — I Kings 11:3, Deut. 21:10-14, Gen. 38:15, Lev. 18:18; 2. c — Lev. 20:13; 3. c — I Tim. 2:14-15; 4. a — Ex. 4:24-26; 5. d — I Sam. 18:10, I Kings 14:10, Amos 3:6, Is. 45:7; 6. d — Deut. 14:22-27; 7. e — Lev. 16: 8, 10, 26; 8. Prov. 26:11, I Sam. 17:43, I Sam. 24:14, II Sam. 3:8, II Sam. 9:8, II Sam 16:9; II Kings 8:13; 2 Is. 56:10-11, Matt. 15:26; 9. the choice is yours.
Score: If you got more than half wrong, how can you take literally that which you do not know?
When Moses cured the Israelites by placing a bronze serpent on a stick, it wasn’t long before the people started worshiping the serpent on the stick rather than God (Num. 21:4-9; II Kings 18:4). We humans have a tendency to fall into idolatry quickly. Idolatry is always wrong, even when worshiping objects that point to God. Many worship the Bible, rather than the one to whom the Bible points.
The Bible is not the fullest revelation of God; Jesus as the Word taking on flesh is the fullest revelation of God.
Only God should be worshiped, not the book that reveals God. In spite of some minor contradictions and several immoral regulations or commands that appear in the Bible (as the pop quiz demonstrated for those who have eyes to see), it still remains the testimony of those who saw God move in their lives and in history. And, like all testimonies, it is subjective. As important as the Bible is in my life, to worship it and give it equal standing with the Creator would be blasphemous on my part.
Some would hold on to a childish faith that says the Bible must be fully accepted or wholly rejected as untrustworthy if an error is found. Well, I pointed to several questionable or even clearly erroneous passages — yet, even after compiling the above “pop quiz,” I hold the Bible to be trustworthy for my life and faith. Why? Because as Paul reminds us, we must but away childish things and progress from milk to solid food (I Cor. 3:1-3).
This is what it means to worship the Lord your God with all of our minds!