Are we reading the Bible all wrong? Take this test to find out...

It has come to my attention these past several months when talking with people there is a real “rub” when it comes to reading the Bible. Because we live in a society which likes to boil complicated arguments to simple categories, the “rub” is typically described as ‘Liberal’ and ‘Conservative’. However, it is not that simple.

I have done some reading and reflecting on this false dichotomy and have come to understand we are focusing on the wrong things. There are several levels of Biblical Hermeneutics and one way to understand this is given to us by Origen. Origen argues that there are four levels of interpretation.

• Literal/Historical – what the text says at face value
• Allegory – giving new meaning to something
• Moral – “go and do likewise”
Anagogic – toward ultimate ends, a spiritual or mystical interpretation of a word or passage

There is a Latin axiom which sums up this idea in a poem

"littera gesta docet, quid credas allegoria, moralis quid agas, quotendas anagogia."

The literal sense teaches what happened,
The allegorical what you believe.
The moral what you should do,
The anagogical where you are going.

The problem is the modern worldview has elevated the literal/historical layer as the most important. So we end up reading the Bible looking for facts which might appear on a multiple choice test. There is nothing wrong with this. However this is only ONE way to read the text. Our ears are very good at picking up facts in the Bible, but are horrible at listening for meaning.

To move to other levels we need to read and listen to the Bible with additional ears, ears that hear meaning. Searching for the garden of Eden or the Arc of Noah is elevating the literal/historical layer of the Bible over and against the other layers. These "quests" miss the point of the story. What does these stories MEAN? Only in asking these questions do we move to other layers (which is what Postmoderns advocate for).

For instance, when people ask me a question like, "Did Jesus physically raise from the dead?" I am at a loss because this question is elevating the literal/historical layer above the others. So, if I say 'yes', then I "passed the test", I bubbled in the right answer, I am a good Christian. If I say no, then I failed because what matters is if I believe the literal/historical words of the Bible.

I think the better question is, "What does the Resurrection mean?" or "What does it mean that Jesus was raised from the dead?" or "What does that say about God?" You cannot pass or fail these questions.

Interpreting the Bible is not about learning to take tests.