Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Taking the Psalms Pseriously

(Hopefully that horrible title doesn't undermine my argument here.)

Last night with friends we got on the topic of biblical literalism and inerrancy (somehow from health care ...) and it occurred to me that the strictest form of literalism forces you to actually downgrade your view of part of the Bible. Basically, if you insist on pure literality for everything, then something that's obviously poetry, like the Psalms, should be taken as "just poetry," or "just a song," mere metaphor. But the New Testament takes the Psalms much more seriously -- Psalms and Isaiah (another musical book) are quoted more than anything else when Paul or Peter or others want to explain who Jesus was, and want to talk about how He's the messiah despite his death and because of his resurrection. The Psalms are not "just songs" to the New Testament authors, they are real and living statements that reveal truth better than anything else about who Jesus is, all the more strong because they were written hundreds of years earlier about the hopes of the Jewish people.

You can take the Bible so literally that you discount its poetry and prophecy. Paul in Romans quotes Psalms and Isaiah as if his readers will immediately recognize the entire passage -- yet after growing up in a Bible-believing church I didn't know those passages well enough to recall the same way 1st-century Christians would. Instead I was worried about how to take the first chapter of the Bible, or whether archaelogical evidence showed the walls of Jericho falling, or whatnot. Therefore, by asking these questions I was NOT asking the questions the early Christians asked: who is Jesus and what has God done through him and how should I therefore live?

Of course, it's not quite that stark. Better to have a literalist belief than a belief that everything's poetry. But better than that is to believe that it's all the real and living word of God, so that even the songs aren't "just songs" but bedrock truth about how God works and who He is, as well as the four reports that the tomb was really empty and Jesus was really there after his death.

(Thanks to Rod Stiling for a great class recently on Romans quoting poetry that led to this conclusion!)

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