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Christian Nseka

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Interpreting the Bible
By Christian Nseka   
Rated "PG" by the Author.
Last edited: Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Posted: Tuesday, June 28, 2011

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A reflection on the Bible as the collection of sacred texts, and a take on how to interpret the message of Jesus Christ.

 The Bible is a book that needs no introduction. Everybody knows that it is a holy book for it contains a collection of sacred texts. This applies to both the Hebrew Bible, also known as the Tanakh, and the New Testament. The compilation of these two sacred collections is what constitutes the Christian Bible, which is commonly called the Holy Bible or the Bible.

Though it is a collection of sacred texts inspired by God, it should be noted that all of the texts found in the Bible were nonetheless written by human beings. Being that the case, can we say with certainty that every divine revelation was expressed without being affected by any human interference? Those who received divine or heavenly revelations expressed them using the language that was appropriate to their culture, circumstances, experience, knowledge, etc. If expressed by someone with a different culture or belief system, the same divine revelations would have been conveyed differently—perhaps with a different nuance, too.

Considering this new insight, is it really wise to interpret everything in the Bible literally? For instance, when it is indicated in the book of Genesis that God created the world in six days, should we consider these days to be 24-hour days as we know them today or should we interpret this biblical reckoning differently? Can we say with certainty that when God was creating, the hours of the days were reckoned from midnight to midnight as we do it today?  That a day was from night to night and a daytime from sunrise to sunset? Can we say with certainty that God wants us to understand that He created the world in six twenty-four-hour days when we read the first chapter of the book of Genesis?

Still keeping with the understanding of the Bible, is it really wise for us to interpret all the words of Jesus literally? I am by no means implying that none of the words of Jesus, as recorded in the Bible, should be taken at face value; the truth is that though some of them should, not all of them should be interpreted literally.

For instance, let us consider the words of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of Mark (14:62). It is written: 

After he was arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin, the high priest asked Jesus: “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” (Mark 14:61)

To this Jesus replied by saying, 

“I am,” … “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:62)

Now, we should ask ourselves the following: What did Jesus mean when he said, “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven”?

If and when interpreted literally, it would mean that Jesus was telling the high priest and his entourage that they will see him sitting at the right side of God. And not only that they will also see him sitting at the right side of God, but that they will also see him descending on the clouds.

Can we really say that this is what Jesus meant? Did he really mean that the high priest and the members of the Sanhedrin were going to literally see him sitting at the right side of God? Did he really mean that they were going to literally see him descending from the sky?

Interpreting this passage literally is a mistake for doing so would mean that Jesus was setting himself up for a disgrace. This is because, according to this passage, he told the high priest that he, Caiaphas, and by association those in the Sanhedrin, will see him sitting at the right hand of God. When understood literally, that is impossible. Can we say for certain that the high priest and company saw Jesus sitting at the right hand of God? Is there any record of this anywhere? To this day, there has never been a record of Caiaphas and company, or any other high priest for that matter, seeing Jesus sitting at the right hand of God. Neither has there been a record of them seeing Jesus descending from heaven.

It is impossible for the high priest and company to see Jesus sitting at the right hand of God because, when considered literally, it cannot happen. Not in a million years. Why, you ask? Simply because there is no way that either the high priest or the other priests, regardless of their statures, could see God as if a human being sitting somewhere on a throne in heaven, literally.

God is a formless being. Hence, Jesus sitting at His right side could be nothing but a metaphor.

Sitting at the right hand of God is a figure of speech that Jesus used to express his position and relationship with God. Furthermore, coming on the clouds of heaven is also a figure of speech; not plain speech.

So just like with Mark 14:62, we fail to grasp the many heavenly secrets hidden in Jesus’ message when we neglect to understand his metaphors.

Are there any of Jesus’ words that can be interpreted literally? Of course. Let me give you two examples. Here is the first one: when Jesus told Peter that he, Peter, was going to deny knowing him three times, that was not a metaphor. 

 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.”

(Mark 14:30)

 Here is the second example: when Jesus told his contemporaries that the Kingdom of God was within them, that was not a metaphor. 

“The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20–21)

 Now here are some of Jesus’ words that should not be interpreted literally: 

“But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.” (Luke 17:25)

 

“Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” (John 2:19)

 

“At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.” (Matthew 24:30)

 

“I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (John 3:3)

 

“Look at my hands and feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” (Luke 24:39)

Note that though some portions of each of the above passages may be interpreted literally, not the whole of each of the above passages can be interpreted literally.

So once again, we fail to understand Jesus’ message and connect to his heart when we neglect to distinguish between what to interpret literally and what not to. Interpreting the whole Bible literally is nothing but a mistake—a huge mistake.

By the same token, interpreting the whole Bible as if a collection of metaphors is also nothing but a mistake—a huge mistake.

Take some time to think about this.

May God bless you.

 

 

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