This past year that I have been in seminary in Alabama, I have still tried to keep up with the Daily Nebraskan, the school newspaper from my undergraduate institution, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. On Wednesday, they ran an editorial asserting that the Bible should be read as literature and nothing more. I wrote a letter to the editor in response, and they printed it today. You can read my letter here, but this is the text:
Miller should have focused on Bible’s genre
I read Luke Miller’s “Literal interpretation can alter the Bible’s true message” (Feb. 28) with great interest for two reasons. First, Miller’s central argument was that the Bible is primarily literary (not historical), and I studied literature as an English major from UNL. Secondly, Miller makes sweeping claims about how to interpret the Bible, and I am currently in my first year of seminary, spending a significant amount of time studying that very question.
I, along with the vast majority of evangelicals, would completely agree with Miller that the Bible should be considered literature. I was dumbfounded, though, that Miller completely skated over the question of genre. It is not enough to assert that the Bible is literature, but we must determine the type of literature that the Bible is if we are to interpret it correctly. Questions of genre make a huge impact on how to interpret literature.
For example, people wouldn’t read a newspaper article as they would read a novel, nor would they read a poem as they would read a grocery list. Genre matters, but Miller seems to be arguing that the Bible is meant entirely to be read as historical fiction.
Certainly, there is nothing wrong with historical fiction as a genre, but is that really the genre of the whole Bible? The question Miller should have tackled would be, “What in the text itself tips you off that these are merely stories?”
It is one thing to deny that a boy named David ever fought a giant named Goliath; it is another thing entirely to assert that the writer of the story intended for us not to believe that such a thing ever happened. Further, the biblical writers believed that at least some of the stories in the Bible were literally true.
For example, Paul did not consider the resurrection of Jesus (the most important event to be taken literally) to be a nice, edifying story. If Christ had not been raised from the dead, he writes, our faith would be futile, and we would still be in our sins. More than that, if Christ were not alive, then “we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:17-19).
Paul had wagered his life on the resurrection of Jesus as a historical event, not as a helpful fable. Of course, even though I believe (with Paul) that Christ literally rose from the dead, I cannot force anyone else to believe it.
I can, however, demonstrate objectively that the writers of the Bible actually believed these events to be true. Modern readers are left with option of believing the story that Christ died and rose again for our sins or of rejecting it. Miller’s option is simply untenable.
Jacob Gerber, UNL Alumnus, Class of 2006 M. Div. Candidate at Beeson Divinity School, Samford University, Birmingham, AL