Years ago, I was preaching a sermon series on the parables of Jesus when I mentioned that – because the writers of the gospels themselves identified the stories as parables – the story of the Good Samaritan never literally happened. Jesus was a rabbi and this is what rabbis do: they tell stories to explain things.
This disturbed a couple of people. Did I mean that I didn’t take the Bible literally? (yes) Did I mean that we couldn’t trust the Bible? (no) Did I mean that the Bible wasn’t true? (no)
In a meeting of pastors who self-identify as conservative a few months ago, one of my colleagues said, “Liberals don’t take the Bible very seriously.” Not only do I disagree, but I disagree vehemently. Some of the same thinking – in terms of taking the Bible seriously – is explored in this book.
Most of us who self-identify as Christian do not study scripture as rigorously as Reza Aslan. Although I don’t agree with everything in Zealot, I am unafraid of the way Aslan delves deeply into scriptural criticism.
It’s easier to read Scripture at face value, without considering the deeper meaning found via textual, source, form, historical, and canonical criticism. Some of our brothers and sisters believe this kind of criticism is unfaithful. But I really want to know what was going on historically, etc. in Jesus’ world. This kind of comment by Reza Aslan doesn’t worry me:
“The readers of Luke’s gospel, like most people in the ancient world, did not make a sharp distinction between myth and reality. That is to say they were less interested in what actually happened than in what it meant.” (p. 31)
I am most interested in what the Bible means about who God is and who we are. My faith is not based on whether or not Jesus was born in Bethlehem or Nazareth. It’s not based on whether or not Mary was a virgin, although I believe that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and with God, nothing is impossible. But it’s deeper than that.
The Bible is comprised of stories, poetry, laws, lists, and some history. But it’s not a history book, nor a science book. It’s a book of faith. The parable of Jonah teaches us to what extent God will go to reach us. The parable of the Prodigal Son tells a similar story. We were created by a God who loves us beyond measure. Scripture speaks to this truth.
Imagine – we who try to follow Jesus – reading Scripture through the lens of a Hebrew culture rather than through the lens of western theologians and even through Paul. Jesus was a Jewish rabbi and it’s fascinating to delve into the texts many of us consider unique and holy with an eye on all the layers.
This is what makes Scripture timeless. And this is why I take it too seriously to interpret it literally.