Whenever I hear those words today, I find myself cringing. I believe the person who says them is serious in what they are saying, but far too often those three words seem to introduce a mindset that says something similar to what I’ve seen on a bumper sticker: “God said it…I believe it…that settles it.”
I do believe that the Bible is scripture and I find it of value in my spiritual life. However, I do not believe that it is fair to the biblical writers–or to us–to put the Bible (or any other scripture) into a box that simplifies what it says.
The Bible says a lot of things…many of them ideas that we no longer follow today…and even more importantly, many of them contradicting each other. So what are we to do?
This is where I believe scriptural literacy is important. Not scriptural literal-cy…scriptural literacy. Just one little letter, but it makes all the difference in the world.
Scriptural literal-cy is found far too often today, I believe. It basically seems to say (and yes, I realize this is definitely a simplistic definition) that God dictated every word of the Bible in English (King James’ English, no less!) to those who wrote it, and that all the laws and rules (and history and science) have not changed since the books were written. They are correct for today and should be applied exactly as written. It sees life–and Scripture–as completely black and white, with no exceptions.
Scriptural literacy calls us to look at the times and the context of the writings…to understand that many of them came through centuries of oral tradition before they were written (and they weren’t originally written in English). It challenges us to accept the contradictions found in them and to use them as springboards for discussion about the principles that were being established. It allows us to understand that these are the records of many different tribes and peoples, sharing their best understandings of their experience with the Divine. Scriptural literacy calls us to look for the underlying principles…not to get caught up in the particulars that were often for specific times and situations.
This is an ongoing challenge–and it’s not easy. It’s far easier to say “Well, the Bible says…” But pulling verses out of context is unfair to what those early writers were trying to share. Yes, some of what is in the Bible is ugly. Some of it we would rather ignore. But it’s all there–and those of us who accept it as scripture, if we are going to do so with integrity, have to struggle with those issues. In doing so, we find ourselves united with those through the ages who have tried to find the best way of sharing their understandings of the Divine–and, just perhaps, we might then find ourselves less dogmatic and certain about our own understandings of the Divine and willing to dialogue with others who are also struggling with similar issues.