The Bible’s Spiritual Thread, part 2

Jesus started a movement that was all about recognizing and embracing our spiritual nature and unity with God. Unfortunately, as the Jesus Movement became more Gentile and less Jewish, the Holy Scriptures that Jesus and Paul loved and understood became reinterpreted through the lens of Pagan Gentiles weaned on Greek dualist philosophy. This means that stories intended as mystical Jewish metaphor were interpreted literally. Phrases that were likely never used when Jesus was preaching, like “son of God” were suddenly applied to him, because these new Gentile followers of Jesus thought of him as a demigod, like Hercules or Achilles. This corrupted Jesus’ entire message and turned him into just another member of the Greco-Roman pantheon, where he has largely remained to this day.

In order to rediscover the original meanings of these texts (which were in truth many and varied—there is and never was a single meaning for any of these stories), we have to first remember that this is an ancient Jewish work. With the possible exception of Luke-Acts, devout and faithful Jews wrote everything in the Bible. More importantly, they wrote parables, using symbolism and allegory their contemporaries would have immediately understood, but which we no longer have any understanding of—just like the Gentiles who comprised the church 200 years after Jesus’ death.

There are several ways to reclaim the metaphorical meaning of the stories in the Bible. One is to do lots of research into the historical period of the time, doing one’s best to understand the Jewish mindset, social constructs, economics and politics of the period and its people. This is typically called historical-critical exegesis, and it has come to be accepted as the standard by which good biblical scholarship is accomplished.

But exegesis wasn’t always about historical context. In fact, for the people who interpreted scripture in the ancient world, exegesis was about eking out new meanings for new times, with the caveat being that everything in the Bible should reveal a thread of compassion and love. The Jewish people of Jesus’ era didn’t give a whit about the historical context of Genesis. They wanted to know what these stories had to reveal about God’s love for them, in their here and now. They found hundreds, perhaps thousands, of ways to read their ancient stories.

The historical-critical method is important, but I contend that the stories in the Bible—every single one of them, from Genesis through Revelation was originally intended as spiritual metaphor. When we read scripture, I think we should constantly ask, what does this story reveal about my intimate connection with God, about my spiritual being, about the spirituality of the universe? And like our ancestors, if we cannot find a thread of spiritual love and unity with all creation and all beings in creation, then we need to either meditate on the meaning more deeply, or have the courage to discard that story and move on. And when we can let go of something, that’s when we truly know we are growing.

Meditation: Make my mind and heart fertile fields for spiritual growth.

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