1) The text in question reads: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” Mark 16: 16-18. Many pastors use this text to authenticate their miracle sessions.
(NB. This write-up does not deny the reality of miracles but rather frowns at its merchandization. It does not downplay the importance of prayer especially for the sick but detests its being used to scam gullible and sick Christians.)
2) Going by the text in question, the power to cure was not given to pastors alone but to all believers which includes every Christian. The text also literally requires Christians, among other things, not to be afraid of drinking deadly poison and picking up snakes including cobra with their hands. I hope we are applying these ones too? Or are we choosing and picking?
3) About the laying of hands on the sick, Paul wrote, “Erastus abode at Corinth: but Trophimus have I left at Miletum sick” (2 Timothy 4:20). Why did not Paul heal him? Why leaving him sick?
4) The Bible also said that believers can move mountains around from place to place (Matt. 17.20). How many mountains have we moved? Or don’t we have faith?
5) The truth of the matter is that the Bible is not a secondary school rules and regulation booklet. You don’t interpret it literally or anyway you like.
The Bible is not just a document but a work of so many documents with different backgrounds, genres, styles, authors and audiences. Not even a chapter of the bible can be said to be seen as a unit.
6) The Church once experienced an era when Christians interpreted the Bible literally. The Church till date lives with the stigma of the horror, cruelty and inhumanity such literal interpretation led to.
7) The danger of biblical literalism according to the American biblical scholar Wil Gafney is that it sees the words of the Bible as being intended to replay a series of historical facts. Such a view ignores what we know about language, that there are many kinds of speech and writing, which we use in combination to make our points: irony, exaggeration, puns, sarcasm, riddles, proverbs, quotes in and out of context, etc. Insisting on biblical literalism flattens out the richness of the text and its multiple contributors.
Gafney further states that “literal reading of nonliteral text can also lead to fraudulent readings, dogmatic tenacity to ahistorical or unscientific claims.”
It was the literal interpretation of Ex 22: 18: “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” that led to the killing of bwtween 40.000 – 60.000 (between 1450 – 1750) innocent people mainly women accused of being witches. It was the same reason that Galileo Galilei was accused of heresy and condemned. Galileo Galilei discovered that the earth rotates round the sun against the Biblical narrative (“From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the LORD is to be praised.” Psalm 113: 3.)
Galileo was required to recant his view or face punishment. He was eventually placed on house arrest until death for disputing the words of the Bible. Years later, he was found to be correct. That is the danger of literal interpretation of the Bible. Most atrocities committed in the name of God stemmed from literal interpretation of the Bible.
Today, the (European) Church has learnt its lessons in a very hard way. Africans have refused to learn from the mistakes of their elderly Christian brothers and sisters. We are hellbent on making our own mistakes before we can learn. For your own good avoid any preacher that interpetes the Bible literally.
Fr Angelo Chidi Unegbu (09.12.2021)