"He who holds back his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him early."
This verse from Proverbs is interesting because of how many rhetorical figures appear in it. Hyperbole, for example: surely a father who refrains from the rod doesn't literally HATE his son.
Metonymy, where a part or an attribute stands for a whole thing, is here, too.
When we say "all hands on deck" or "the pen is mightier than the sword," we are using metonymy. With regard to this verse, surely a wooden paddle or a bare hand could be used instead of a "rod." Similarly, I assume that daughters should be disciplined, and that mothers can provide discipline, contrary to what a truly literal interpretation of this passage would suggest.
And that's the trouble. Even from within a Christian perspective, Biblical literalism goes against how God and his human representatives actually talk.
Jesus used plenty of hyperbole ("the plank in your own eye") and metonymy ("this cup is the new covenant"), and Solomon was similarly given to non-literal speech ("that which is crooked cannot be made straight," "all is vanity and striving after wind," etc.). Similar remarks apply, in spades, to the prophets.
Biblical literalism also never works because the reader decides HOW LITERAL is "literal." Thus, the verse I've cited is used to argue in favor of spanking. But if requiring a ROD is too literal, might we not also say that requiring SPANKING is too literal? Just look at how God dealt with Jonah's disobedience: he put him in a time-out, in the belly of a whale!
Biblical literalism tries to make it possible for Christians to interpret the Bible by themselves, without relying on tradition or authority, and to do so without falling into error or controversy. Clearly, it fails spectacularly in all these goals. This is why I would suggest that Biblical literalism, even within a Christian context, is a terrible idea.
I look forward to your responses.
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