Biblical Scholar on 'Living Biblically': Fundamentalist Reading of Scripture Doesn't Work

(Photo: CBS)The new CBS show "Living Biblically" seeks to tackle religion from a humorous yet respectful perspective, says executive producer Patrick Walsh

"Living Biblically," the new CBS show that premiered at the end of February, poses the danger of characterizing Christians as literal fundamentalists who could stone their own children, a biblical scholar has warned.

"Good luck if you really want to try to live the Old Testament completely literally," biblical scholar Andre Villeneuve of St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver, Colorado, told Catholic News Agency on Monday.

"It would mean you would have to stone your son if he's rebellious and doesn't listen to you. You would have to stone adulterers. You would have to check every time you approach a woman that she's not on her period because you're not allowed to touch her," he added, "a lot of these things that have to do with purity which are really frankly awkward and would be really problematic, if not impossible, to observe."

The show, based on the 2007 New York Times bestseller A Year of Living Biblically, focuses on Chip Curry, a fictional character who sets out to follow the 613 laws listed in the Old Testament, following the advice of a rabbi and a Catholic priest.

The sitcom humorizes some of the laws but Villeneuve warned that it would be nearly impossible to follow all of God's laws.

"The 613 commandments in the Old Testament, in the Hebrew Bible, they were given to Jews to begin with, so it's ridiculous for anyone, whether a Catholic or Christian, to say they're going to live by all of these commandments, because they were never given to Gentiles," he pointed out.

He argued that there is an important difference between moral laws, such as the 10 Commandments, and ceremonial laws related to Jewish worship, which he said are not binding for Christians.

"The easy answer ... is that today we have the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the third part is called Life in Christ, or the Moral Law. That's where you can see the Catholic interpretation of the Ten Commandments in light of Jesus' teaching, and the apostles and the teachings of the Church," he said about how to distinguish between the laws.

"It's essentially extracting what is universal about the commandments without taking up all the specific commandments that were given to Jews in their times and culture," he added, pointing out that a "fundamentalist reading of scripture doesn't work."

"We don't read scripture in a vacuum, we don't believe in 'sola scriptura' (the Protestant doctrine of 'scripture alone'), but it's always read in light of Christian tradition and the teachings of the Church and the magisterium." 

Hollywood producer Patrick Walsh, behind the CBS show, has said that he is looking to encourage Americans to "start talking about faith."

"People need to start talking about religion again," Walsh told The Christian Post in February.

"I don't buy the idea that we live in a 'godless society.' Eighty-four percent of the world aligns themselves with religion, and 9 out of 10 people believe in God, yet religion is never discussed because everyone is too scared to offend. In talking about it, you can erase so many misconceptions about it on either side."

The show has prompted various reactions from Christians from different denominations.

Brett McCracken, a church elder and senior editor at The Gospel Coalition, argued in an article last month that although not perfect, the project does "approach faith and the Bible with a respect and engagement rarely seen on network T.V."

McCracken argued that "Living Biblically" will have to tackle some important questions as its episodes accumulate.

"Is it a truly biblical faith, or is it a Western, Oprahfied, 'become a better you' type faith? While the show feels comfortable engaging biblical topics like prayer, repenting of idolatry, and loving one's neighbor — the 'living biblically' stuff that everyone can applaud — I doubt it will have an episode on Romans 1 or Matthew 19," he added.

"I'd be surprised if Chip's rabbi/priest God Squad walk him through the exclusivist implications of John 14:6. It would be a wonder if the show presented the 'take up your cross' cost of following Jesus rather than posing faith as a 'best life now' path to happiness."

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