Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
October 2nd, 2015 by Joel Watts

The Wizard of Biblical Literalism

I wanted to use this as a way to speak about biblical literalism – a poor term, separated from the first use of the phrase. We might call it “plain sense” or “common sense.” 

You know the story. So you know this is not what L. Frank Baum meant. After all, we aren’t that far removed from it. However, if you are to read it later, without help of the movie, and you read it at face value …. 
You get the point. Even in this story, a wooden reading of it produces something foreign to Baum’s intent. 

Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).


One Response to “The Wizard of Biblical Literalism”
  1. We do not conflate literalism with “plain sense.” They are different. The latter can be described as a canonical approach to scripture (Childs) and the interpretive method which Wesley refers to in the preface for the Sermons on Several Occasions. Literalism is usually associated with the assertion that every event happened exactly as stated. If we are working with the plain sense of scripture, then whether or not an event happened “that way” is an uninteresting question.
    The type of creature that swallowed Jonah, the way he could have survived, or whether or not there ever was an historical Jonah are all uninteresting questions. What is useful is what the book tells us about the nature of God given that the Spirit presented us this story in this form. Yes, a non-Jew can become a good Jew. Faithfulness is rewarded. As long as there is life there is hope through repentance. These are among the plain readings of the text. We are not asked us to trust Jonah or fear a fish. We are asked to trust God and fear our own disobedience. I will interpret the scripture in the plain sense in which it is given without allusion to the uninteresting questions.
    Using exactly the same standard, the historicity of Jesus is critical because the plain sense of the text is that it is in this person that the fullness of God is revealed, and in this person we should trust.

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