Monday, April 26, 2010

Thought on metaphor, God, Jesus, and the Bible

I've been giving a little thought to hermeneutics and the Bible - and, how the fundamentalist strategy for biblical interpretation seems to be just to read the bible as literally as is possible - here we can understand "literal" to mean something like, not as metaphor, as what actually happened.

I don't want this to become another discussion about contradictions in the bible, that's not my concern. What I want to know is how people who adopt a literalist interpretive strategy manage to reconcile their way of reading with the existence of Jesus' parables.

If you accept that

1 - Jesus was/is god
2 - The word of god is to be understood/read literally (therefore the bible should be understood literally)

Then you have a bit of a problem with the status of parables as extended metaphorical narratives. We know that Jesus taught with parables, and so in order to remain consistent (remember, I'm only concerned with their hermeneutic strategy - I'm not gunning for anything more here) one would have to deny either that Jesus was/is god, deny that parables were metaphorical, or give up the literalist interpretive strategy.

It seems that anyone of the literalist mindset would never give up the idea that Jesus was/is god. So let's take that off the table.

Does it make sense to bite the bullet and say that the parables aren't metaphorical? Maybe it does - especially for literalists - they've bitten bigger bullets in their time. However, if we try and read - for example - the parable of the mustard seed, wherein the kindom of God is compared to a mustard seed ... we get some strange results (granted, it's a simile, but still ... to me it does seem to show, pretty conclusively, that God isn't above using figurative language)

It seems to me that unless you're willing to bite some pretty big bullets, you need to allow for the fact that God has used figurative language, and that some of the stuff that he's said was not meant to be taken literally (only if you believe Jesus was/is god). So you need to give up interpreting everything in the bible literally.

If there is anyone out there reading this who has any idea about how these two things are reconciled in fundamentalist/literalist readings of the bible I'd love to hear from you - I honestly don't know where to begin looking.