“The literal” reading of Scriptural cosmology (pt. 1)

One response to Old Testament cosmology is to say that it makes a “literal” reading of the text impossible (this is, for example, what Tim Maudlin has argued on more than one occasion). I put literal in scare quotes because the use of the term in the last few decades cannot survive close scrutiny. It seems it can only be an unreflective reading  or a reading that would have to be acceptable to the most vulgar sensibility. If one extends the sense of “literal” to mean something more rigorous, like “what the original author meant”, then this runs afoul of the problem that there is an extensive tradition in scripture itself that the original authors cannot always be taken as understanding the full or even correct import of what they were saying. This is clear as day in the Pauline epistles and the Gospel, but it is at least implicit in the Old Testment as well, where there is a continual attempt to define the meaning of historical events and the objects of religion (the temple or the laws, say)




  1. theofloinn said,

    August 6, 2014 at 6:16 pm

    I have taken to calling it “naive literalism” for the past few years. Metaphor, for example, requires literal meanings: “You are the salt of the earth” doesn’t mean much as a metaphor unless “salt” literally means salt.

  2. Timotheos said,

    August 6, 2014 at 6:53 pm

    I feel like this happens a lot whenever debates breakout over the so called “perspicuity” of scripture; all traditional Protestants believe it, but no tradition defines it in quite the same way.

    For instance, the traditional Anglican position is just the Hooker/Thomist position; all meanings in scripture are founded on the “literal” sense of the words.

    The Lutheran/Calvinists however, as far as I understand them, hold to something similar, but they tend to insist more that the meaning of scripture is more “obvious” if one just allows the holy spirit to speak to them. (Not that the Anglican disagrees that the holy spirit ultimately determines how scripture is to be read, just that they set stricter criteria for “perspicuity”.)

    Lastley Fundamentalists/Liberal Protestants tend to define the “perspicuity” of scripture in such a way that everything in the text has to be “literal” in such a way that the author practically has to state that he is using a metaphor, or that the meaning of scripture is what the original author meant by it (obviously the two camps do this for different reasons).

    Ironically, I doubt one could find this position in anyone before the early 20th century, but now it’s through the interpretive lens of this modern “debate” with which we interpret earlier Christian positions; positions which the vast majority of Christians would never have touched with a 50 ft. pole.

    Go figure!

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