If Christian fundamentalists continue to insist that the Bible be taken literally as the inspired, inerrant word of God, then the Holy Scriptures are probably doomed for eventual irrelevancy.
To maintain the Bible’s hallowed place in our culture we must rethink its stories and teachings in context of the realities of modern-day scientific progress and historical scholarship. We especially need to understand the times and culture from which the Bible had its origins. Otherwise, the Scriptures we all love are in danger of being cast aside as dated and anachronous.
What we read in the Scriptures today is the record of how our ancient forebears understood and made sense of their pre-scientific world and perceived its creation. Today we should understand the same world in the light of today’s scientific knowledge and historical scholarship.
Too often in the past parochial and chauvinist interpretations of the Scriptural text have been used to justify such human outrages as slavery and "just" wars. And certain denominations, Catholic and Protestant, have denied ordination to women by the same Biblical authority. My argument with fundamentalism and conservative Christianity in general is not with the right to believe whatever one wishes, but with defining the faith so narrowly that only fundamentalist, evangelical and restoration Christians are considered God’s people.
Some fundamentalists insist "The Bible says what it means and means what it says." But when they are shown that the Scriptures defy scientific and historical realities throughout and frequently contradict themselves, they revert to interpreting like the "fuzzy-headed" liberals they reject. Here’s a couple of examples of what "You-Know-Who" might call "fake theology."
We all know and love the Christmas story of the Virgin Birth of Jesus. But there are problems with its accuracy and authenticity. Neither the word "virgin" (Hebrew "betullah") nor the virgin concept appear anywhere in the old Testament prophecies. The Hebrew word used in Isaiah is "almah," "young woman," which was mistranslated into the NT Greek "Parthenos," "virgin." According to reliable Jewish scholarship, "almah" never means "virgin" in Hebrew as some literalists infer in defense of their case for inerrancy. Even though our cherished traditions derive from it, the virgin birth story is an obvious error.
The Synoptic Gospels, particularly Matthew, go to great lengths to depict Jesus as the promised Messiah, the "Second Moses." But Jesus met almost none of the Old Testament requisites for the Anointed One. The promised Jewish Messiah was to be a fully human descendent of King David and a political and military leader, not the begotten son of God, the Prince of Peace. Jesus is our Savior, but clearly not the Jew’s Messiah, despite what Pat Robertson or George Frideric Handel might insist.
We must remember that the Bible, Old and New Testaments, was not a composite work, but a collection of religious writings existing in the greater Holy Land area in the first-to-fourth centuries CE. The way to understand the Bible as God’s message to humankind is not by simply reading the literal text, but by understanding and actually immersing oneself in the times and world view from which the Scriptures were written.
George B. Reed Jr., who lives in Rossville, can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.