Jesus vs. a liberal understanding of the Bible

I just wanted to share a couple thoughts from Sunday’s sermon. That sermon was not presented as “Jesus v. liberals”, but hey, polemical titles draw the most people in from the WordPress tag pages. (“I’ve been used!”, you say.) And I have heard many self-described liberals profess the following two ideas.

Idea #1: A lot of the stories in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, that read like history actually never happened. And that’s fine – they’re there to teach us, and shared myth teaches as well as shared fact.

In Matthew 12, Jesus references the story of Jonah, which probably ranks pretty high on the list of things “that couldn’t have really happened” (ESV):

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.

Everything about this passage makes it sound like Jesus believed the Jonah story really happened. He says that the men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment – real men, or mythical men?

Idea #2: You should only worry about the big themes of scripture. Don’t get bogged down in every little detail (God may not have cared to inspire every little detail, anyway). Arguments that turn on one or two words are almost certainly out of line.

In John 10, Jesus defends himself by quoting from a rather obscure and confusing Psalm (Psalm 82), appealing to the inclusion of one specific word (“gods”) in that Psalm. Immediately afterwards he adds that “Scripture cannot be broken”. This is one of the more-beloved passages in arguments for Biblical inerrancy:

The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came — and Scripture cannot be broken — do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”

2 thoughts on “Jesus vs. a liberal understanding of the Bible

  1. 1. Jesus spoke in parables, metaphors and riddles all the time. This proves nothing.
    2. It’s circular-reasoning to use the Bible to prove the Bible.

    • Re: #2, maybe I should have been more specific, but I meant Jesus v. a *Christian* liberal understanding of the Bible. All Christians agree that we ought to pay close attention to the words of Jesus, so I assumed that point of agreement. (If you don’t agree with that, then yes, you’ll probably disagree with everything else I said!)

      I will say, though, that all reasoning about first principles is circular, since by definition there is no prior principle to argue from. For example, how could you prove to me that reason itself it trustworthy? You really can’t. All you can do is decide to trust reason, and see if that trust is self-consistent and avoids leading you into obvious error. I’d say something similar about the Bible. The best way to find out if it’s true is to decide to trust it, and see where it takes you.

      Thanks for the comment though. Just started blogging yourself, I see.

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