Sunday, May 04, 2014

On Right Reading of the Old Testament (conclusion)

Continuing our posts on right reading of the Old Testament, we come today to the third installment and conclusion in our series dealing with authority of Old Testament passages and reconciling aspects of the Old Testament that, at a glance, may seem at odds with Church teaching. Parts one and two of this series are recommended before looking at this article. In the first article we established the first principles that the Old Testament is truly the Word of God, that there is no one interpretive scheme that fits the whole Old Testament, and that assigning a high value to the Old Testament texts was a characteristic of patristic exegesis. In the second article, we looked at distinguishing the ceremonial, levitcal law from the moral law as well as some general guidelines for understanding the place of Old Testament texts in the New Testament age. Today we answer three more questions as we continue to explore this issue:

  • How much authority do Old Testament verses retain in contemporary arguments?
  • How to understand questions of historicity relating to the authority of any Old Testament book or passage?
  • What do we derive from passages where the Old Testament morality seems to be at odds with current Church teaching?
How much authority do Old Testament verses retain in contemporary arguments?

In contemporary Catholicism there are a whole host of debates to which Old Testament passages are particularly relevant but are unfortunately seldom appealed to. This is sad, because many Old Testament passages provide fundamental contexts in which to understand these issues. Let us look at some examples.

The issue of war is a one such subject. There are those in the Church today, mainly on the progressive wing, who argue that there really is no such thing as a just war; that war per se is always evil, and, in a misguided appeal to the Church Fathers, advocate a strict pacifism. However, this is easily rebutted by the Book of Ecclesiastes, which tells us:

"All things have their season, and in their times all things pass under heaven.
A time of love, and a time of hatred. A time of war, and a time of peace" (Ecc. 1:3,8).

Another common point of debate is the issue of usury-interest understood in its modern context. Traditional Catholics obviously tend to uphold the traditional condemnation of usury and understand it broadly as the taking out of interest on a loan; other Catholics see interest as a good and necessary part of the free market (an quantification of risk) and take a narrower definition of usury as excessive interest or interest on a non-productive loan. We can similarly appeal to Scripture here:

"O Lord, who may abide in your tent?
Who may dwell on your holy hill?
Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,
and speak the truth from their heart;
who do not slander with their tongue,
and do no evil to their friends,
nor take up a reproach against their neighbours;
in whose eyes the wicked are despised,
but who honour those who fear the Lord;
who stand by their oath even to their hurt;
who do not lend money at interest,
and do not take a bribe against the innocent" (Ps. 15:1-5).

Or this passage from Ezekiel:

"If he has a son who is violent, a shedder of blood, who does any of these things (though his father does none of them), who eats upon the mountains, defiles his neighbor’s wife, oppresses the poor and needy, commits robbery, does not restore the pledge, lifts up his eyes to the idols, commits abomination, takes advance or accrued interest; shall he then live? He shall not. He has done all these abominable things; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon himself." (Ezk. 18:10-13).

Or these from Proverbs and Nehemiah:

"He that by usury and unjust gain increaseth his substance, he shall gather it for him that will pity the poor" (Prov. 28:8).

"So I said, ‘The thing that you are doing is not good. Should you not walk in the fear of our God, to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies? Moreover, I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Let us stop this taking of interest. Restore to them, this very day, their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the interest on money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them.’" (Neh. 9:5-11).

These are only a few examples; there are many, many more. Clearly the Old Testament condemns the practice of usury and sees it as the taking of interest simple. The context of these passages make its sinfulness obvious; it is lumped together with robber, adultery, shedding innocent blood, bribery and slander. In the passage from Ecclesiastes, we see that war is presented as a real possibility that humans, even God's people, must be prepared for at times.

Despite this, the passage from Ecclesiastes that "there is a time for war" is seldom presented as evidence for the legitimacy of a just war. Similarly, proponents of modern credit-based capitalism write off or ignore the plethora of Old Testament condemnations of interest as irrelevant or restricted to the Levitical law alone.

In our first article, we established that the Old Testament is the word of God, different from the New Testament but on par with it as regards its divine inspiration and the inerrant nature of all its parts. If it is in fact the word of God, then these passages cannot be irrelevant; they may not be the whole argument, but they cannot be irrelevant to the argument. The passage from Ecclesiastes is very relevant in reminding us that, so long as we are in this world, the possibility of war is a real one. There are certainly times for peace, times for planting, times for gathering, but we must also realize there will be times for war, times for pulling up, and times for scattering. So not only is the passage from Ecclesiastes relevant, but it provides with the most fundamental point of the argument - namely, that we must understand that life on this earth may necessitate war. Once we accept this starting point, we move forward to explore under what conditions war may be waged.

In the questions about interest, since taking interest is lumped together with things like murder, adultery, and slander, it should be evident that the Old Testament presents it as a teaching of the moral law and not the ceremonial law and hence always binding. Again, these passages should be the starting point for any conversations on this matter, as they reveal the most fundamental truth about interest-taking: God is not pleased with it.

We could cite several other contemporary arguments that would benefit from appeals to Old Testament passages. As we have seen, rather than writing such passages off as irrelevant, Old Testament teachings often give us the truth at the most fundamental or basic level; they provide a starting point from which discussion should proceed from. When I discuss pacifism with other Christians, I always start and begin the argument with Ecclesiastes 3, and similarly arguments about usury begin with Psalm 15. They help provide the parameters or the argument and encapsulate the traditional teaching with a beautifully simple sine qua non that provide us with the seed of the doctrine. 

If we reject these passages as irrelevant, we risk eroding the foundation from the doctrine. If, for example, we toss out the relevance of all biblical injunctions against usury, then it becomes that much more difficult to maintain that usury is condemned in divine revelation. Unfortunately, passages found in such books as Ecclesiastes, Proverbs and Nehemiah are often tossed simply because people don't know how to handle these books or in what sense they ought to be interpreted. Which brings us to our next question.

How to understand questions of historicity relating to the authority of any Old Testament book or passage?

What I mean by this is how does a book's historicity - or lack thereof - effect the authority or force of the statements found in it?

The obvious answer should be, "It doesn't. The Bible is the Bible." A condemnation of slander or praise of charity found in the Psalms or Proverbs is just as legitimate as one found in the Gospel of Matthew or 1 Corinthians.

It was actually an argument with a friend on this question of historicity that prompted this series of posts. The friend was arguing that we should not say that material goods are a blessing from God because of the fact that there are many people in God's favor who are not blessed with material goods; he said it is insulting to them to suggest that people who have homes, children, cars, etc. are blessed because it insinuates that if you are poor you do not have God's favor.

While of course rejecting the absolute identification of prosperity with blessing as the Prosperity Gospel people do, I nevertheless argued that material goods are a form of blessing, as every temporal gift comes from God, and temporal prosperity is often said to be a form of blessing in the Old Testament. To this I invoked the Book of Job, which specifically calls Job's prosperity a blessing: 

"And the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning. And he had fourteen thousand sheep, and six thousand camels, and a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand she asses" (Job 42:12).

We have it right there. Job's possessions were a blessing from God. But guess what? My interlocutor dismissed the argument because "Job is not considered a historical book."

Setting aside the particular question of the historicity of Job, it should be evident that the genre of the book is only of secondary importance. Yes, we have different styles in the Old Testament. History. Wisdom. Poetry. That's obvious. Genre is something we take into account when interpreting, but genre itself does not become the interpretive principle, as if the literary style of a passage has any relevance to its authority as Divine Revelation. Furthermore, just because some books of the Old Testament, like the Song of Solomon, are open to a wide variety of interpretation does not mean every book or passage is. Some, like the passage from Job, are strikingly clear. The Book of Job clearly states that his large flocks were a blessing of God. Why do we need to argue this point? The literary genre of a book does not call the truth-value of its statements into question. Unless we are looking at a question that is purely historical - such as whether Job really happened, the identity of the Shunammite in Song of Solomon, the chronology of the Book of Judith - the historicity of the book is irrelevant. Or to put it another way, historicity is only relevant when the question at hand is historical.


What do we derive from passages where the Old Testament morality seems to be at odds with current Church teaching?


Finally, what do we do when we come across passages in the Old Testament that seem to contradict the moral teachings of the Church and the New Testament? The ubiquitous practice of polygamy. God's command to Abraham to perform a human sacrifice. Jepthah sacrificing his daughter. The genocide of the Canaanites in the Book of Joshua. Nehemiah's command that the Jewish exiles divorce their wives and abandon their children by them. Psalm 137:9, which says of the heathen Babylonians, "Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!" The fact that Rahab lies and for her lie is recorded among the heroes of faith in Hebrews 7. All throughout the Old Testament, we are confronted with examples of moral behavior at odds with what the Catholic Church teaches is morally acceptable in God's sight - these are what the 2008 Synod on the Word of God persistently referred to as the "difficulties" with the Old Testament.

Of course, the 2008 Synod sought to solve these "difficulties" by questioning the literalism of the text rather than the more traditional method of reconciling the problematic texts. There is no uniform answer for how to reconcile these passages; they need to be approached on a case by case basis, as we have done on this blog regarding Joshua's genocide. But in general, when we encounter such passages, there are a few things we can do:

First, accept that there can be no real contradiction. The moral law is eternal, and nothing can be good in the New that was evil in the Old.

Second, that being said, understand that the Old Testament was only a partial revelation. The Israelites were at an imperfect stage of moral development and did not possess either the fullness of divine revelation nor the dispensation of grace merited by Christ. This is why certain behaviors -such as divorce and polygamy - are "permitted" though they are never encouraged or praised. So, while nothing can be good in the New that was evil in the Old, somethings that were tolerated in the Old are no longer tolerated in the New.

Third, we have to take into account the different nature of a moral imperative when it comes from God Himself. For example some things, like murder, are wrong because they usurp the unique prerogative of God to give life and take life (cf. Deut. 32:39, 1 Sam 2:6). However, when God Himself commands a human being's death, then no usurpation is taking place; in such cases, the human being becomes the instrumental cause of God's will in putting to death another whom God has condemned to death. This principle is essential to understanding passages where God commands the Israelites to put individuals or groups to death.

Finally, while genre is not the fundamental principle of interpretation, we do need to be attentive to stylistic forms. In the case of Psalm 137:9 ("Blessed is he who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!"), we are seeing a case of Semitic hyperbole - literary exaggeration - similar to when Jesus says, "If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out." When the Psalmist pronounces blessing upon he who smashes the heads of Babylonian infants, he is using exaggeration to say, "May God bring judgment upon Babylon." So literary techniques are important in understanding particular passages.

And, as St. Augustine teaches in De Doctrina Christiana, all things are to be interpreted in light of charity and the teaching of the Church.

There is much more that could be said on this topic; in fact we have received several inquiries as a result of these posts asking for more specific guidance on understanding particular passages. God willing we will get to these as well. But in the meantime, I hope this series has been beneficial.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

How does material prosperity as a blessing from God square with the New Testament warnings against wealth (such as in Matthew 19) or St. Paul's statement on the love of money as the root of all evil?

Also, if prosperity is - or at least can be a blessing - what do we make of the Beatitudes where the poor are considered blessed? Or, with the counsel to sell all in order to be perfect?

Boniface said...

Prosperity can be a blessing, and I think in the case of God's people, should always be regarded as such in and of itself.

Or, to put it another way, if you as a Catholic suddenly came into a lot of money, would you not give thanks to God for it as a blessing?

Of course it is not the superior blessings; it is inferior to other sorts of blessings - just like if someone offers me a free ice cream cone, it can be viewed as a blessing, but inferior to other sorts. The just man who practices detachment will use wealth moderately, at the service of others, and not be ensnared by it - such as have many of the Church's wealthy saints.

Obviously there are snares to wealth, and obviously it cannot always be seen as a sign of God's favor; but I don't know any Catholic who has a nice house, good job, etc. who would not say that these things are blessings.

Plus, as I said, Job says it is, as well 2 Kings.

Anonymous said...

But pointing to Job and 2 Kings is assuming the point you're trying to make. Further, in the thinking of Old Testament times, wasn't being granted a child a sign of God's favor (or so that's what believers thought)? But if we're going to make that an overarching, essentially eternal principle, then what of the children born of rape or incest, or by means which the Church clearly condemns (such as IVF)? The point being that there would be no clear indication there of the child (good as a child, any child, is intrinsically and precious in the eyes of God always) as a "blessing" due to the recipient's action(s).

In the New Testament, with the Beatitudes, the "poor" (and "poor in spirit") are blessed. To be detached from wealth works as far as being "poor in spirit" goes, but to be "poor" - without qualification - as a blessing calls into question, I think, the notion of wealth as a sign of God's favor.

And when I take that in light of what St. Paul said (and Luke on the mammon of iniquity), the sense I get is that money is, at best, a necessary 'evil'. Not evil in itself, but dangerous at least. Money always can pose a temptation to us with our fallen nature.

Boniface said...

The Catechism of the Catholic Church still says that children are a blessing from God.

What do you regard your material possessions as if not a blessing? A curse?

If you were in need of $1,000 and someone gave it to you, would you thank them for the "necessary evil" or would you regard it as a blessing? Would you not give thanks to God for it? And if so, how could it be regarded as anything but a blessing?

Any and every temporal good can be regarded as a blessing when and if it is used to God's glory.

Sex is also the subject of many, many, many warnings in Scripture and Tradition, but we know that, rightly used, it is good. The same is true with wealth and any temporal benefit.

Anonymous said...

Further, wasn't Job written, at least in part, precisely to deal with the mystery of the LACK of connection, where we'd expect to find one, between the righteous and God's apparent favor? Mysterious to us at least who were not yet up for the radical thinking of Christ in the New Testament.

Job, perhaps more than any other example, shows precisely that "blessings" are not always what they seem (to us anyway), so much so that it is nearly impossible to establish such principles of correspondence between God's favor and our sense of being blessed so long as we maintain the mindset such as that of Job's 'friends' (a wordly one, it seems). That is what makes the Beatitudes so profound - they fly in the face of such worldly thinking. They reveal that God is more mysterious than that, that His goal for us and our truest, highest good is vastly beyond such "blessings" thinking.

That is why the Cross is a scandal at all - it seems to convey the ultimate lack of blessing, and yet it is the ultimate fulfillment of blessedness. Otherwise, I don't think we could make any sense of what Scripture says elsewhere: such as that God chastises those whom He loves.

Boniface said...

And regarding the points from Job and 2 Kings, that's just simply what they say. Job says plain and clear that material benefits can be a blessing. The burden of proof is on those who say otherwise, because the Scripture is clear here. It's not as if Job 42:12 is ambiguous and open to various schools of interpretation - it says Job's wealth was a blessing, therefore we have to admit at a minimum that wealth can be (not must necessarily be) but can be a blessing.

Paul says love of money is the root of all evil, but not money itself. It is the disordered affection for money. See Clement of Alexandria's "Who is the rich man that shall be saved?"

The Beatitudes encourage us to practice detachment from the things of this world, even when our state in life compels us to use them. The blessings that come with this detachment ("blessed are the poor in spirit") are superior to blessings considered in a material sense - this is why Jesus tells the rich man to keep the commandments, but "if you would be perfect", to give away his wealth. There is a hierarchy of blessings, beginning with temporal and moving to spiritual. To acknowledge that the spiritual are the highest form of blessings does not mean the lesser gifts are not blessings as well.

Anonymous said...

"The Catechism of the Catholic Church still says that children are a blessing from God."

That doesn't answer the question. I'm questioning the thinking that to be barren was a "curse" (and so by implication to conceive is a blessing necessarily). That is simplistic thinking, for people conceive in circumstances that God clearly does not approve of, and so why would He "bless" those who do are in such circumstances?


If someone gave me a $1,000, etc.,...it would depend on whether my 'need' was legitimate, I think. Is God to be praised for the donations given to the Obama campaign which set our country further on the course of destruction? No, God doesn't have anything to do with it. He permitted it, for reasons which I do not fully understand. Likewise, if someone gave me a $1,000, generous though that may be, and perhaps I may think to thank God for the blessing, the fact that a 'need' I have was met is not evidence itself that God has willed such a thing.

Yes, sex is a good, though it should not be compared to money in this way, I don't think. Sex is not looked upon with suspicion; it is a gift straight from God. It is its distortion which is so lamentable, for it is nearly sacrilege to so abuse God and others through the mis-use of sex. Money is not to be so highly esteemed outright; hence the mammon iniquity. All money is dirty to some degree.

If the Beatitudes are about detachment, then what of the outright blessedness that being "poor", period, is? Not everyone who is poor is holy. The poor can be greedy, deceitful, thieves, liars, you name it. But I don't think we can so easily reduce it to "detachment" only. I think there is more to it.

I agree we must admit that wealth can be a blessing, based on Job. But then, what of being "poor"?

Boniface said...

For years, my family drove crappy, rusty vehicles that were always breaking down. Some time ago, I came into some money and was able to buy a nicer one. We regard it as a blessing from God. Same with our children. This does not mean or imply that those who did not get a nice vehicle or children are not blessed.

The fact that one is blessed and that such things can be blessings does not imply that those who lack them are not blessed.

It just means that God blesses people in different ways. It is the teaching of the Church that we owe God thanksgiving for each and every temporal benefit, because "all things work together for the glory of God."

Moral detachment is required of every Christian; the physical detachment of poverty is required for those who "would be perfect."

Being poor can be a blessing as well, and as we know, a superior blessings, because if embraced, it enables us to exemplify the detachment our Lord requires in a more perfect way.

Anonymous said...

"Moral detachment is required of every Christian; the physical detachment of poverty is required for those who "would be perfect.""

But then, aren't we all called to be perfect?

Boniface said...

We are all called to be perfect, but in the context of a particular state in life. Not everybody is called to the evangelical counsels. That was the error of Luther, who said that the Counsels of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience were commandments for every Christian, not counsels. Not every Christian is called to practice absolute poverty.

Anonymous said...

I found a good articulation of the idea I have in mind, if I may share it:

"The person who desires God and the kingdom of Heaven above all things is therefore intuitively and necessarily drawn to Lady Poverty as his mistress. This is true of the married, as well as the single and religious. Christian life, in all its states, integrally demands a devotion to poverty – both physical and spiritual. Pere Gardeil, in his wonderful book, The Holy Spirit in Christian Life ( Herder Book Co., 1953), points out that the Beatitude of Poverty is most aptly expressed by an attitude towards all things of this world which can be formulated in the simple words “just a little – just a little, and no more.” It is that attitude, so profoundly cultivated and perfected in St. Francis of Assisi, which seeks out poverty as a necessary means by which the soul dies to self so that it may live in Christ.

Western civilization is the antithesis of this beatitude and virtue of poverty; and the degree to which it has continually placed its energies in the service of economic and material growth reflects the extent to which it has abandoned the Gift which is called Fear of the Lord. There is no question but that Christ demands of us a radical commitment to both material and spiritual poverty. In the Sermon on the Mount, He says, “Sell what you possess and give alms. Make to yourselves bags which grow not old, a treasure in heaven which faileth not: where no thief approacheth, nor moth corrupteth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Luke 12:33-34). This is the great central truth concerning the necessity of both spiritual and material poverty: our hearts will be where we have stored up treasure – they will belong either to God or to Mammon."

From James Larson's piece: http://www.waragainstbeing.com/node/46

Anonymous said...

I found a good articulation of the idea I have in mind, if I may share it:

"The person who desires God and the kingdom of Heaven above all things is therefore intuitively and necessarily drawn to Lady Poverty as his mistress. This is true of the married, as well as the single and religious. Christian life, in all its states, integrally demands a devotion to poverty – both physical and spiritual. Pere Gardeil, in his wonderful book, The Holy Spirit in Christian Life ( Herder Book Co., 1953), points out that the Beatitude of Poverty is most aptly expressed by an attitude towards all things of this world which can be formulated in the simple words “just a little – just a little, and no more.” It is that attitude, so profoundly cultivated and perfected in St. Francis of Assisi, which seeks out poverty as a necessary means by which the soul dies to self so that it may live in Christ.

Western civilization is the antithesis of this beatitude and virtue of poverty; and the degree to which it has continually placed its energies in the service of economic and material growth reflects the extent to which it has abandoned the Gift which is called Fear of the Lord. There is no question but that Christ demands of us a radical commitment to both material and spiritual poverty. In the Sermon on the Mount, He says, “Sell what you possess and give alms. Make to yourselves bags which grow not old, a treasure in heaven which faileth not: where no thief approacheth, nor moth corrupteth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Luke 12:33-34). This is the great central truth concerning the necessity of both spiritual and material poverty: our hearts will be where we have stored up treasure – they will belong either to God or to Mammon."

From James Larson's piece: http://www.waragainstbeing.com/node/46

Boniface said...

Jim's piece is great. I don't agree with it 100% though.

I agree that there are moral limits to wealth; do not mistake my point for some kind of libertarian apologetic for the unbounded accumulation of wealth. Those who are gifted with wealth are called to direct it to the use of others. There have been many, many wealthy Catholics in the history of the Church. Those who were perfected chose to give their wealth away in physical detachment (St Anthony); others lived simple personal lives in the midst of wealth while practicing spiritual detachment by using their wealth for the building up of God's kingdom - hospitals, universities, charities, seminaries, cathedrals - and the Church condoned these pious works as appropriate uses of wealth. The entire infrastructure of Catholic culture was erected upon wealthy but pious Catholics who understood that, though they had wealth, they were called to put it to a higher purpose.

Anonymous said...

My last reply, by way of another quote from Larson:

"Taking Lady Poverty as his mistress, he pursues her down all the paths of his life. He recognizes how deceptive are his own mind and heart, how easily they conclude that they can live an interior poverty “of spirit”, while retaining the duplicitous attachment to the luxuries and sensualities of modern life. Such a soul fears this self-deception above all things, and therefore hungers and thirsts for the grace and strength to mortify himself in all things both spiritual and physical. For the religious, the parameters of this path of poverty should be well defined by the rule. For the lay person and the secular priest, this devotion to poverty should call forth a sustained creativity seeking always to implement this spirit of poverty in all their daily activities."

Boniface said...

A similar problem has to do with the issue of natural disasters. Scripture clearly says natural disasters can be signs of God's wrath. That doesn't mean they all are; doesn't mean that people who suffer calamities are under God's wrath - but it means that a disaster can be a punishment.

Anonymous said...

I don't dispute natural disasters can be a sign of God's wrath, just as I don't that material wealth may be God's blessing. But it's the same as with the issue of conceiving a child: I don't see how any of this is any clearer, meaning that our judgment of seeing blessings or wrath (or neither perhaps) is suspect. What it shows me is that believers used to conceive of God and His workings in simplistic terms, and we are prone to the same tendencies (prosperity Christianity; we wonder why do "bad things" happen to "good people"?). The fact that things can constantly be or not be God's blessing or wrath means that God's ways are mysterious more than they are clear. Or that our understanding of Him is severely lacking.

Establishing principles to read the OT seem helpful to me, yet I think Job is a great example of iconoclasm: Job clearly cuts at the heart of the linear relationship between blessing and wrath that defined believers' religious consciousness leading up to that reflection, which lead to the writing of Job. Job is a pivotal work, and a most valuable piece in the puzzle of Revelation.

Boniface said...

Amen to that! Maybe we can explore this further in another post.

Boniface said...

Amen to that! Maybe we can explore this further in another post.

Anonymous said...

I hope so! I appreciate this discussion very much. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

The prohibition against usury is especially appropriate in our times when interest on debt has become a serious economic problem.

John Hiner said...

Dear “Boniface”:

I am prompted to write with a question because of your conclusion to your posts regarding reading the Old Testament.

I have some concerns and deep suspicion of the theory of “Semitic hyperbole.” It seems to me that this idea is often used to dismiss or eviscerate direct commands from the Savior. Could you offer me some clue as to the evidence for this “literary form”? Are there any extra-biblical examples justly taken to establish this as a form of speech which the God Who can neither deceive nor be deceived would choose to use in His direct speech?

Any help which you can offer would be welcome.

In the mean time, I strongly caution against the use of this “form” as an argument against the statements made by Christ or as an inroad to habituating the students of Christ to assuming that He did not meaning exactly what He said. Logic rather than literary form seems a more fruitful way of analyzing such passages.

Regards and thanks for your stimulating writings.

Pax Christi semper tecum. Alleluia, Ipse surrexit.

John R. Hiner, Jr.

Boniface said...

John,

The fact that form criticism has been abused does not mean there are not different literary forms or figures of speech used. Clement of Alexandria says Jesus' comments that its easier to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven are hyperbole; St. Augustine himself is the one that put forward the argument that the Psalm in question about dashing infants heads was not to be taken literally, and most Fathers also took Jesus' words about cutting off hands and plucking out eyes in the same sense.

There is no danger in admitting that Jesus used figures of speech, or the Bible at large. The danger is in broadening that approach and trying to apply it to statements that are clearly literal. We must be attentive to literary form, but it is not the sole determining criteria in interpretation.

But in any case, my comments were with regards to passages in the Old Testament, not the words of Christ.