Mysteries and literalisms

The trouble with reading Scripture is that almost everybody thinks they can do it.

This idea is rooted in the assumptions of Protestant thought: only if the meaning of Scripture is fairly obvious and more or less objective can it serve as a source of unmediated authority for the believer. If any particular skill or mastery is required, then the skillful masters will be the mediators of meaning for all the rest. The concept of any intervening authority is anathema to the Protestant project. It is equally unsuitable to the assumptions of the modern world. For the modern world, born in the Protestant milieu, is inherently democratic. The individual, unaided, unbridled, and unsubmitted, is the ultimate authority.

The fathers’ search for a “deeper meaning” was nothing less than the search for salvation. For ultimately, the deeper meaning is revealed and discerned because it is being read by a “deeper me.” The rational self, regardless of the method being employed, cannot discern the truth of the Scriptures.

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. (Joh 6:63)


But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1Co 2:14)

As deeply frustrating as it may be, rationality is simply unable to take us where we are meant to go.

This is one of the root problems of various “literalisms.” All literalisms seek to rid Scripture of its mystery. The “plain sense” in the hands of a modern reader is simply the “modern sense.” And though such literalisms may yield readings that are deeply opposed to certain modern conclusions (such as those common in modern science, etc.), they are not therefore ancient and traditional. Such conclusions yield nothing more than a modern man with odd opinions. They do not transform or transfigure anyone or anything.

The New Testament teaches, and the Church affirms, that Christ was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. This is an utterly central teaching of the faith. And yet, you will search in vain to find a single prophecy in the Old Testament that predicts such an event, if the Old Testament is to be read in a literal, historical manner. The only Scriptural reference to Christ’s three days in the tomb is the one He Himself cites: Jonah in the belly of the whale. The single most important and foundational tenet of the Christian faith, which we confess is according to the Scriptures, can only be seen if the Scriptures are read in an allegorical manner.

(Fr. Stephen Freeman, emphasis added) Don’t ever assume that I’ve captured the “gist” of anything Father Stephen writes. I’m just trying to whet appetites—of Orthodox Christians to appropriate their riches and for non-Orthodox to “come and see.”

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.