Two weeks ago, I addressed the question of why they think we’re dangerous (and why they might be right). My conclusion was that fundamentalism is not dangerous except in two cases:

  1. When we have an unholy book.
  2. When we interpret a holy book improperly.

Well, we can be sure that as Christian fundamentalists, we have a holy book. The Bible is the word of God Himself. The next point is a little harder though. Do we interpret Scripture properly?

Instead of getting into a complex discussion of the different types of interpretation, I’ll put it simply:

Proper interpretation is finding out what the author intended to say.

That’s the bottom line. The technical way of saying that is that we hold to a grammatical/historical hermeneutic. That means we interpret each passage in the context of the grammar used and the historical setting it was written in. In other words, we take the natural, plain, or literal interpretation.

Those rigid literalists

Unfortunately, many have ignorantly jumped on the word “literal” and acted as if we were irrationally literal (more on that in a moment). They call us “rigid literalists” and make us out to be scary or dangerous. Even more unfortunately, many of these people are professing Christians.

Several weeks ago, I was attending law class at university. The professor gave three rules for interpreting statutes (laws):

  1. The literal rule – we use the plain sense of the word.
  2. The golden rule – we correct typographical mistakes.
  3. The mischief rule – we ask what they actually meant when they wrote it.

The world doesn’t ridicule this “strict literalist” hermeneutic when it comes to the law, so why does it bother them when we use these same rules of interpretation for God’s word?

The answer is that if we interpret God’s word to mean what it obviously means, then we’ll be confronted by absolutes and we’ll be uncomfortable in our sin.

Talking trees and singing stars

Most arguments against a literal interpretation are of the rejoicing tree (1 Chronicles 16:33) or singing star (Job 38:7) sort. But Scripture, like most natural language, uses metaphors and other figures of speech. In other words, this is a straw man argument.

Not only does this straw man argument make us look dangerous, but it makes us look irrational and it enforces the idea that the sacred text cannot be taken literally.

The majority of people in postmodern Australia today think it’s weird—ludicrous even—to take the Bible literally.

The irony of the situation is that these same people take their parents and siblings and friends and employers literally every single day. They’re literalists. They believe words have real meaning. They get angry at insults. They understands orders and rejection and expressions of love.

We need to be proactive in explaining what we really believe so that the gospel and the God of the gospel is not slandered. We need to guard against the idea that God is irrational and expects his followers to be the same. We need to interpret Scripture carefully because God always says exactly what he means and what he says matters.

this is part 2 of 3 in the series
Bible interpretation

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About Jason Harris

Jason is a writer, pastor, and academic. He has authored multiple books, articles, and papers including his book Theological Meditations on the Gospel. Jason has degrees in theology, music, accounting, and research. He is currently working on his PhD from James Cook University as well as serving as pastor at CrossPoint Church. Jason has lived in Cairns, Australia since 2007. You can contact Jason at jason@jasonharris.com.au.

5 Comments

  1. Albert Garlando 3 April, 2009 at 11:05 am - Reply

    Your second last paragraph is spot on!
    … and, I think, a rather unfortunate telling of the blindness and depravity of sin.
    It’s a case of “I will literally accept everything except that which literally demands that I literally repent of my literal sin and literally surrender to the literal Lord Jesus.”

    Al.

  2. Jason 3 April, 2009 at 1:40 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the comment Al. I think you’ve nailed it that it is a matter blindness and depravity. We humans will take any out we can find when the pressure of conviction starts.

  3. Robert Apps 4 April, 2009 at 9:09 am - Reply

    Hey Jason, where are your funny clips from You Tube that you add to your posts? Bring back the video clips!

  4. Albert Alcoceba 5 April, 2009 at 10:24 pm - Reply

    The danger however – lies when some Christians mis-interpret the Word of God and twist it so serve their own agenda (rather than God’s) and can use God’s Word for evil.

    And why is it that many Christians only seem to see the parts of the Bible they want to see. All they see are the parts rebuking sin, but rarely stopping to preach about all the many verses which show God’s awesome love for us and his forgiveness and mercy! The “love” in the Bible is often discarded and only “hate” is preached. Why?

  5. Jason 6 April, 2009 at 9:43 am - Reply

    Very good questions Albert. You might have just inspired another post on this topic. =P

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