One of my former associate pastors, when reading a passage from the Bible that has historically been subject to many different interpretations, sometimes would say this: "I don't know if that's factually accurate, but I do know it's true."
That's a pretty good attitude to have in reading any sacred writ from any faith tradition. Those words are almost never written with the purpose of telling a historically accurate account. Rather, they have other purposes. If they happen to include accurate history, as we 21st Century readers would think of it, fine. And sometimes they do. But their primary purposes have to do with eternal truths, spiritual realities, moral guidance.
The problem, he writes, is that "we misread genres. We expect biblical texts to act in a certain way when in reality they were never intended to. We struggle with the tension between regarding this as Holy Scripture and allowing it to speak from its own context. . .
"What if we let our interpretation of the Bible be driven by same techniques that we apply to other genres? Perhaps these interpretive lenses would open up the rich and original meaning that the authors intended."
I have said this here before, but it bears repeating. Christians and Jews can take the Bible literally or they can take it seriously, but they can't do both.
If we get all hung up on useless questions like whether Adam had a bellybutton, we'll miss the Genesis story of love being the impulse behind God's creative work.
Which is not to say that those kinds of quirky questions can't be fun. They can be. But the time to ask them is after we've answered questions about what a biblical passage says about God, what it says about humanity (us) and what it says about our relationship to God.
Then bring on the bellybutton questions for some fun.
(The photo here today shows the new three-volume translation of the Hebrew Bible by Robert Alter. I wrote about that here.)
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IN THE WAKE OF VIOLENCE, WHAT?
Religious leaders and faith-based organizations from around the country are reacting to the recent mass shootings in Dayton, El Paso and Gilroy. As they should be. But it all seems so ineffective without rational gun laws, effective mental health care and a president who doesn't poison the atmosphere. Those three areas are where we all should be putting our efforts.