The Bible as Poetic Metaphor


In his book “Taking the Bible Seriously but Not Literally” Marcus Borg discusses some of the different ways in which Christians see the Bible. First there are the Natural Literalists, those who say the Bible is the direct Word of God, essentially dictated to the scribes through the Holy Spirit. This has been a common way of viewing the Bible since medieval times and there is essentially little conflict within the person who holds this view. God said it so it is true. End of story.

More common in varying degrees within today’s church is something called Conscious Literalism, in which we decide, based upon our reasoning abilities, upon which parts of the Bible are factual and which are metaphorical. This creates much tension within the Christian who holds to this view, whether they be conservative or liberal. Essentially, the Conscious Literalist still holds the Bible to be the Word of God but they will concede that certain parts of it are no longer relevant to today’s world. Conflict comes into play when we decide what parts are relevant. For example, in Leviticus homosexuality is punishable by death but right beside this is an admonishment to not wear clothing with blended fabrics. Who is to decide?

Borg postulates that though some of the bible is most probably factual and some is most probably metaphorical all of it is true, especially as it helps us to participate in a relational experience of God. The Old Testament, he says, is written by Jewish men and describes Israel’s developing relationship with God, from the cultural and linguistic perspective of the ancient Jews. The New Testament, on the other hand, is written by early Christians and is projected from their particular cultural and linguistic world view.
Since the different scriptures were selected as canon and compiled at various points through out history they obviously were not considered infallible or inerrant at the time of their writing. In fact the inerrancy of scripture was not proposed until after the protestant reformation, making this particular dogmatic claim very much a part of modern society. This has presented us with a situation in which the Bible is always being judged according to the epistemological and ontological criteria of this past age, resulting in debates over its truthfulness as determined by its factual and historical accuracy. This obviously is not the best way of presenting the Bible to unbelievers as well as believers.

Borg suggests that the Bible should be looked at in a sacramental way, sacred in that it is a place in which we can meet God. The official sacraments of the church (two Protestant, seven Catholic) are points in which the spirit of god is manifest in the actions that are taking place. I agree with Borg that there are many more sacraments than seven. God can be found in art, music, literature, nature, athletics, service, sacrifice etc. etc.

When looked at this way, the Bible is not a static book of absolutes but a living, breathing, adapting bridge between us and the sacred spirit of God. It is very much like a lens in which we may view the world and also see God. It is important to revere the object of our focus, not the instrument that allows this to happen.

What are your thoughts?

  1. #1 by Brian on December 5, 2006 - 3:52 am

    I couldn’t agree more with Borg’s thoughts. The literalists model has been one of the most destructive forces in Christianity’s history. Literalism has been used in Christianity to justify most of the atrocities that populate our history.

  2. #2 by Christian Beyer on July 5, 2007 - 10:53 pm

    Check out Marcus Borg’s thought’s on “Faith and Reason”. The link is in the above blogroll.

  3. #3 by Christian Beyer on August 23, 2007 - 1:34 pm

    There is an excellent essay over on the Ooze,”SAINT AUGUSTINE’S VIEW OF SCRIPTURE”, by Adam Stewart, that is relative to this topic. Very thoughtful and informative.

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