Your word [is] a lamp to my feet, and a light unto my path.
A Word of Hope
After 30+ years of studying the Bible, both randomly and focused, I’ve decided that a respectful and thoughtful reading deserves a liberal understanding instead of a literal understanding. In our world of commentaries, there are thousands upon thousands of Bible interpretations. If we were also able to count the the number of people who have picked up and read any of the Bible, we could count those as interpretations as well. Most of us receive what we want to receive from the Bible.
This lays the foundation for what I’m considering today. My first serious studies of Scripture were in Bible Studies connected to a very conservative church. It was so Bible-centered that it was called a Bible Church. The Bible was dictated by God, immutable, and inerrant. I started this journey believing that I had to take the Bible’s many books at face value, of which I had been told should be literal. I was also told that all of the laws and commandments, though they were written long ago, still apply to us today.
As my studies progressed and I actually read the narratives, I’m sure you can guess this opened the door for all kinds of misinterpretation particularly concerning the Hebrew and Greek laws of the day. Taken from a literal point of view would mean it’s OK to cut off somebody’s hand or take an eye of someone who has wronged you. It’s also perfectly acceptable to sell your daughter into slavery in order to pay off a debt or condemn your son to death for disobedience to the patriarch.
Most of these cruel and archaic laws were brought to you by everybody’s favorite, the Book of Leviticus, which also contains the Bible’s most comprehensive collection of our daily sins. The list of transgressions seems to have no end, like the sin of wearing clothing woven from both wool and flax or the sin of planting more than one crop in the same field, the sins of wearing makeup or having a tattoo, the sin of touching the skin of a pig, and of course, the sin of eating virtually anything that is appetizing…makes me wonder what they would have said about potato chips or a burrito supreme. When I questioned my Bible study facilitators about how any of this was relevant today, I was told that we need to think about equivalents, such as worshipping a golden calf being the equivalent to watching too much TV. I was not told how much was too much. Leviticus or Exodus didn’t mention airtime.
Then one day, I discovered there were different approaches to studying God’s Word and therefore interpreting those ancient Hebrew and Greek texts. The term “literal” was replaced with “liberal” in my understanding of what had seemed to be inexplicable. I was able to separate the world of an ancient desert culture from our own, but also recognize when their truth was also my truth. Some things never change. I am grateful for that. But, in the case of Leviticus, some things change drastically. For that I am even more grateful.
Thank you for the stories, poetry, wisdom, and histories of your ancient followers and for Jesus’ own interpretation of his world centered on the power of love. Huey Lewis would be proud.
Order of St Francis and St. Clare