A Flat Bible and an Argument to Avoid

30 Apr

I get The Charlotte Observer once a week, on Sundays. I enjoy it and have, through the years, enjoyed articles by Tommy Tomlinson. He’s just a plainspoken, solid columnist who usually has an interesting take on things. He’s about to leave the paper, so he used Sunday’s column to encourage readers to vote against Amendment One, the May 8 North Carolina ballot measure which states that “marriage between a man and a woman is the only domestic legal union that would be valid or recognized in the state.”  Now the purpose of my article is not to argue against or for Amendment One.

What I want to take issue with in Tomlinson’s article, as a Bible-loving Christian, is the way he misuses Scripture. It is a common argument I hear in our day, but is an argument from ignorance. So I want to quote what he says and then tell you why you should never use this argument if you are trying to argue against something the Bible condemns. Here is what Tomlinson writes .  .  .

“I don’t agree with the opposition, but I understand where a lot of it comes from. Many of you feel the Bible condemns homosexuality. I hope you also understand that if we lived under all the things the Bible condemns, adulterers would be put to death, women would have to cover their heads in church, and the Panthers couldn’t play on Sundays. Among many, many, many other things.”

The problem I have with this paragraph is that while Tomlinson likely has in mind fundamentalist and evangelical Christians, he is imposing a way of reading the Bible on them that almost none of them would own. No serious believer I know of thinks that we live under all the things the Bible condemns. Almost all believers understand that some of the Old Testament law which was given to Israel was specifically for them and that some of the punishments administered for breaking that law applied specifically to Israel in their time of establishment as a nation. So no, Bible believers are not required to put people to death for adultery. Nor do they have to avoid certain foods (cf. Mark 7, Acts 10) or obey many of the other cermonial laws which those who argue against a biblical position on any number of issues like to throw up in the faces of Christians when dealing with a hot topic. While a few Bible believing people do think married women should cover their heads in worship, most understand from careful study of the text and culture that the covering of heads was in that day a symbol of being married, so that the modern equivalent, such as a wedding ring, is sufficient for obedience to the command. Further, Romans 14 among other places establishes the fact that each one should be convinced in his own mind about the keeping of special days to the Lord and what activities should be participated in on such days. In other words, there is Christian liberty in the matter of whether we want to watch Cam Newton throw touchdown passes.

When someone asks me if I take the Bible literally, I say, “Yes, but that doesn’t mean I read it in a wooden, flat way without regard to its context.” I try to read the Bible as those who wrote it under the inspiration of God would want me to read it. So when I come across a poetic text, and the trees of the field are clapping their hands, I don’t believe those are literal trees with arms and hands and fingers. I understand poetry as poetry, law as law, history as history, and read accordingly. And I understand that there might be something in the Gospels or the letters of the New Testament which may speak to a particular Old Testament text I’m reading, either to amplify or show a progression from or fulfillment of that text.

The irony is that so many people who rail against “Christians who take the Bible literally” read the Bible in a more literalistic way than any fundamentalist would. They don’t understand the progress of God’s plan in the Bible and so they read it as a flat book, seeing no progression, no plan of God for promise and fulfillment, nothing that the coming of Christ fulfills in the law, just a collection of mostly irrelevant and socially unacceptable moral teachings. But nothing could be further from the truth. And  believers who really read and study the Bible know this.

So please, even if you are against Amendment One,or against Christianity in general, don’t use this argument about the Bible. It is an unfair mischaracterization of most Christians who have a high view of the Bible. No one likes to be mischaracterized and I will be the first to admit that Christians can wrongly characterize those with whom they disagree, sometimes even their fellow Christians. Just remember that arguing for a flat Bible is as wrongheaded as arguing for a flat earth.


One Response to “A Flat Bible and an Argument to Avoid”


  1. A Good Word to Complete the Thought « Grace And Truth - May 1, 2012

    […] Categories Uncategorized ← A Flat Bible and an Argument to Avoid […]

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