Mysticism and Biblical Interpretation

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Mysticism and Biblical Interpretation

In the process of analyzing religious works of literature, skepticism is always present particularly in atheists. In his publication titled “The Hero’s Journey”, Joseph Campbell makes a unique observation that is useful in the argument concerning biblical interpretations. He claims that in almost all the religions and folklore in the universe, one similar story was being repeated with minor variations. This particular story consisted of a young explorer with an insatiable thirst for the truth who leaves the confines and safety of his community and traverses the world, often breaking the laws of different lands in the process. After performing several acts of heroic self-sacrifice, he acquires certain experiences and knowledge that he then delivers back for the benefit and growth of his kind. In most of the cases, the hero’s mother was a virgin while the hero would be murdered by the government, and later resurrect from the dead. His dead body is revered as the spiritual food for the salvation of his followers, and his blood that dripped into the earth, cleans it of all sins. Occurrences of this account are almost too frequent to count. Surprisingly, most of them took place before Jesus was even born. In this essay, the objective is to evaluate the approaches that most scholars and ordinary people take in interpreting the bible and provide an alternative approach that is more effective towards understanding the book.

This method of construal is regarded as the mythic interpretation. Together with the historical perspective that construes all the elements in the Bible in their literal form, it comprises one of the two most common approaches for interpreting Christian scripture. However, there is another approach. Authors such as Annie Besant proposed the mystical approach. In the mystical approach to interpreting the bible, Jesus’ history was not simply an equivalent to other universe redeemers and icons, it clarifies the route that every individual must pursue in their spiritual development.

In the mystical explanation of the bible in its cosmic circle, Christ dying on the cross is representative of a deity transforming into matter or even the enveloping of God in the flesh. In the aspect of human advancement, Jesus was the chosen individual for spiritual introduction having experienced the process of baptism, the lures, and the cleansing through temptations to achieve the fitting state as a vessel for God’s plans. Jesus transformed into every man while Mary represented the average woman. The biblical explanations of the activities of their lives, the individuals they face, and the challenges they must undergo are the same events that everybody must experience whenever people set out on their spiritual journey. In the process of experiencing the materialization in the flesh, humans reiterate the extraterrestrial excitement of God assuming the “flesh”. Considered accordingly, Jesus’ body nailed to the cross is automatically Spirit attached to matter.

Given that the bible represents the most published, analyzed, translated and cited book, it is not surprising that it is the most distorted and misconstrued manuscript. Cults and corrupted faiths manipulate it for their own gains and others and in the process, misunderstand it. This problem occurs on a regular basis and contributes greatly towards shaping the common attitude that the Bible lacks a clear significance. This is a wrongful supposition. That any given text is misconstrued, intentionally or otherwise, does not illustrate that the writer of the text had no apparent meaning in mind. Nor is it automatic that the audience cannot distinguish this connotation.

After Jesus resurrected, one of His first documented actions was to deduce scripture that explained the way in which He was mentioned in the scriptures particularly in Luke 24:27. The Greek word interpreted “explained” in the aforementioned verse is a type of the verbdiermeno from which the word “hermeneutics” comes from. Clearly, the appropriate understanding of the bible was significant to Jesus and His disciples. Alternatively, the inability to understand scripture effectively is admonished in the New Testament. In 2 Peter 3:15 and 16, the bible states that while speaking about the religious matters, some of the things would be difficult to comprehend. Furthermore, it noted that the uneducated and unbalanced corrupt this and other scriptures that eventually lead to their own demise. Peter focuses on two major complications: being uneducated and unbalanced. It is sarcastic that in the current society, many people believed ignorance to be paradise when it involves studies in topics concerning hermeneutics. They ridicule Biblical research as if study were unfavorable to faith. This category of people represents the people who Peter talks about, and currently, a large number of them have prominent preaching shows on television.

The essential idea in hermeneutics is that the writer’s connotation is to direct our interpretation. God in the Holy Spirit motivated the human authors of the bible, who applied their own languages in their historical context to express their denotation. The purpose of the translator is to arrive at a clear understanding of that connotation. This implies, most prominently, that people prefer the truth and quite willing to learn, even if    the lesson was not the actual expectation. When Jesus described the scriptures while traveling to Emmaus, he instructed the disciples concerning what they had not anticipated nor hoped for: that it was essential for the Messiah to endure persecution. However, appropriately interpreted, this is the message captured in the Scriptures. Mistakes in biblical interpretation have been around for centuries. Since they are frequent, it is easy for scholars to recognize them, study them and consequently avoid them in future translations. Some of these inaccuracies have triggered massive movements. For instance, the allegorical approach, endorsed by Origen who promoted many other errors, ended up being the foundation for the way scripture was being applied by the Roman Catholic Church. At the other end, hyperbole or exaggeration on the literal elements in the bible is a common approach used by Mormonism to present claims that God has a physical body and has the physique of a male person.

On some occasions, an individual might read one section from the center of a voluminous book that they had never encountered before. It would be highly unlikely that the recipient would appropriately understand the author’s significance. If it were a book, it would be difficult to recognize any of the characters, the events that took place around them, or even the plot of the story (Suzuki 45). It would be a futile and useless task. However, this is usually how the Bible is studied. Given that it is designed with verse numbers that were included by editors since they were not in the original manuscript, people frequently wrongly assumed each verse was a separate literary work that was independent and detached from other aspects. Nevertheless, in the absence of other information, it would be highly improbable that people would comprehend a single verse retrieved from the Bible in the same way that they would understand a sentence drawn from the heart of a novel. If there was a common body of information, analyzing the Scripture in its entirety, comprehending the Jewish perspective of the Bible, and lastly appreciating the context of each chapter, then a verse cited from any book will have significance. However many people never acquire this information (Fishbane 60).

The background of a verse occurs at different levels – historical, literary and textual. The textual one refers to the direct textual context. Words are found within sentences, sentences located in paragraphs while paragraphs are found in chapters and the list goes on. Keeping in mind that the allocated chapters and verses were initially absent in the original text, it is imperative to evaluate the entire section, if possible the whole book, before contemplating the relevance of a verse. This is handling the Bible, as one would evaluate any other work of literature (Fishbane 16).

It fails to acknowledge the fact that the Bible is inspired by God therefore, it contains elements of mystical, non-conventional way of communicating. For instance, the commandment “You shall not steal,” bears the same connotation if God states or if a storeowner states it. The fact that the word was inspired and spoken by God lends the phrase more power and affirms its validity. Simultaneously, it does not alter the meaning of the statement (Fishbane 89). People make the mistake of assuming that since the Holy Spirit motivated the words in the bible, those words possess an obscured, deeper, mystical meaning. This is not necessarily the case. The Bible was written using the same literary and grammatical standards as other Jewish works during the same period. Its individuality lies in its divine inspiration rather than the manner in which it is read and analyzed. Therefore, it is imperative for interpreters and analysts to always consider a verse in its current grammatical context and not detach it, investigating for some incomprehensible, mysterious denotation (Hayes 24).

Another aspect is a verse literary perspective. This implies that a verse from Proverbs should be handled in line which the category of literature that it was designed for, wisdom literature. Consequently, a verse from Kings should be considered a historical account. The Bible represents a collection of diverse books, inscribed over many years (McGinn 23). It captures diverse types of writing. In the same way that an analyst would differentiate a written background of the United States from a scientific journal on aerodynamics, it is imperative to handle a gospel as a unique kind of literature to an epistle. Common mistakes in interpretation originate from the inability to consider the above factor. For instance, when studying history, if the Bible states that an individual acted in a certain way, it does not automatically mean that it was moral or immoral. If the inspired account says that David facilitated the assassination of Uriah, it follows that the murder was a clear fact (McGinn 89). The bible does not, in any way, endorse the action as an admirable one within society. Rather, the Bible reinforces the fact that it was wrong. In many cases, the historical account does not concentrate on the moral excellence of someone’s behavior, but simply narrates about it. It would be necessary to investigate another chapter in the Bible, particularly in the didactic chapters, to discover whether such a behavior is moral or wicked (Fishbane 15).

This previous argument does not, in any way, endorse a habit among people that they should be foolish when it comes to understanding spiritual topics. Even though the truth cannot be altered, it would be foolish to test the obvious in order to prove that a fact exists. Issues concerning the spirit are fundamentally part of the carnal life (Soltes 49). In its absence, physical existence would be difficult and lack a clear purpose. Humans are created to conquer the secular life and build up their spiritual lives declining the “wicked” polarity and accepting the “good” polarity. For that reason, Christians are expected to live a “spiritual” life. Given that the spirit is concealed, this would be tantamount to suggesting that humans should live an occultist life. This is very different from proposing that man should live an evil life (McGinn 67).

Consequently, the spiritual life is oculist in nature since all believers experience but opt to experience it on different degrees of depth. Some believe blind belief to be a strictly spiritual matter; others might refer to this as naive enthusiasm or absolute stupidity. If Christians are to believe in a smart way, then it is imperative to understand the core of what people believe, the reason behind the belief, the benefits of believing in it, particular spiritual advantages and a host of other pertinent questions. Belief is a quantitative element. Love on the other hand, adds a qualitative aspect into the belief. Christianity preaches love above all other elements. Consequently, the spiritual life of an individual is dead in the absence of love. It is also important to consider that both good and evil are present in the world (McGinn 54). However, good and evil are simply ideas. While anger is normally considered a universal iniquity, righteous anger is deemed moral. This reasoning can be applied different situations and forms part of the mystery. Therefore, any element when used for good is considered good. However, when the same thing is used to perpetrate evil deeds, it immediately becomes evil.

To fully comprehend the essence of the bible, the genuine reader must acquire the practice of having an open mind when it comes to mystical matters. This receptivity should be evident not only in understanding from the scriptures but also in the clarification from the Holy Spirit. This openness is necessary for the interpretation task as well as in the expectation of revelation. With a rigid mind concerning the supernatural, it would be difficult to have an intelligent engagement with the bible (Fishbane 45). It would be definitely impossible to be personally consumed by its message. Therefore, even as accounts of people having dreams and revelations become available, it is imperative for the analyst to keen an open mind to the prospect of having personal imaginations overrun and astonished. As readers encounter accounts about people getting a summons to mission, they should always deem themselves in the same category as such people that could be called for missions. The readings of the bible should strengthen the susceptibility to God’s calling in the lives of human beings.

Most of the studies in the field of religion conclude that Jesus was a mystic.  His descriptions of personal spirituality were laden with statements of authentic contact with God. Jesus lacked his own will and chose to act in the way that his “…heavenly Father told him to do (John 7:16). Jesus was on a mission initiated by God and when it was complete, He would go back to heaven. In fact, the bible frequently refers to Jesus and God as one. His faith and walk reflected a need to be in tandem with God’s wishes, listening to his Father’s instructions and reacting to God’s recommendations. All of these acts and qualities point towards a mystical spirituality (McGinn 34).

Conclusion

The Bible reinforces the earlier proposition made that mysticism and bible interpretation must go hand in hand for one to fully understand the book. It is imperative that all analysts and readers of the bible grasp the inevitable truth that God has a deep sense of mysticism surrounding him. The bible says, “His ways are neither our ways, nor his thoughts our thoughts. This means that whatever He thinks about or acts upon, it is impossible for man to comprehend or imitate. Christian mysticism offers the explanation that God is authentic and exists in the environment surrounding man, that he is working and accessible (Hayes 87). This is practical theology for most scientists and non-believers. The ordinary Christian can base their goals on the knowledge and witnessing of the existing and real God.

 

Work Cited

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Fishbane, Michael A. Biblical Myth and Rabbinic Mythmaking. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. Print.

Hayes, John H. Methods of Biblical Interpretation. Nashville (Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 2004. Print.

McGinn, Bernard. The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism. New York: Modern Library, 2006. Print.

Soltes, Ori Z. Mysticism in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: Searching for Oneness. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2008. Print.

Suzuki, Daisetz T. Mysticism, Christian and Buddhist. Altenmünster: Jazzybee Verlag, 2012. Print.

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