In teaching settings, there are two types of questions. One has an answer in fact, such as “Is the earth round?” The other just generates more questions, such as “Which scripture should be taken literally, and which should be read as hyperbole, parable or illustration to make a point?”
In theological discussions, too often the second type of question is treated as the first!
I’m auditing a course at Memphis Theological Seminary on the Book of Romans, taught by exceptional professor Dr. Mitzi Minor. The class of 30 students reflects the entire student body of 300+, diverse in gender, ethnicity, upbringing and denominations. It’s a potential cesspool of theological arguments and proof-texting.* Too many different viewpoints on too many biblical subjects.
Yet that’s not what happens in this class – or any others at MTS. The classroom discussions with folks not like us are significant and part of our formation for ministry (whether called to pulpit ministry or lay ministry).
Should every word of the Bible be taken literally? There was a time when I’d have answered as if this were the 1st kind of question noted above and said, “Yes!” But now I ask myself, have I enjoyed Memphis BBQ lately? Yes. Do I support slavery? No. Have I ever cut my hair? Yes. Scripture appears to be clear about these issues, and yet…
In Romans, Paul is addressing issues between Jews and Gentiles. In these 16 chapters, Paul dictated to his scribe many sentences that are used today to prove a point. Arguments often ensue. Fighting over moral issues is human, but as Christians, our response to those with whom we disagree should be different. Whether the issue is slavery, women voting or preaching or teaching, separate but equal, abortion or homosexuality, we – as Christians – should be different in our responses to each other when we disagree.
Should scripture be read as literal or, in some cases, as parable or as exaggeration to make a point? Since this question doesn’t have a simple, factual answer for some of us, I suggest we choose to model ourselves after Jesus, who taught us to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. That’s so much more important than proving our point.
*Proof-texting is pulling verses of scripture out of context to prove a point.