Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Should we take the Bible literally?

The truth is that there is no one who takes the Bible literally. Some cults do teach that God has hands (Ex. 24:11) and feet (Lev. 26:12). But I know of no group that teaches that God has wings (Ruth 2:12, Psalm 17:8).

Any honest person must admit that he takes parts of the Bible figuratively.

The important question is when do we take things literally and when do we take them figuratively. Sometimes it is obvious. Sometimes we have to look at the context and historical background to decide. And sometimes we really can’t tell for sure.

What we should seek to do is take the Bible “at face value.” When it claims to be speaking literally, we should take it literally. When it indicates that it is speaking figuratively, we should take it figuratively. When we are not sure, we should carefully consider all the possibilities and make a humble choice realizing that others might come to a different conclusion.

Some believe that it is more pious to take any particular passage literally unless it is impossible to do so. This is the philosophy of the authors of the Left Behind series. But this results in strained interpretations. For instance when Revelation says that the moon will turn to blood, is that to be taken literally? When God turned the Nile to blood, does that mean that it turned red and became undrinkable? Or does it mean that leukocytes, erythrocytes and platelets were flowing in its banks in a medium of serum?

In the last example, it is easy to say, “The Nile turned to blood,” and to think of it as actual blood—if you are reading this account in the way one would read a fairy tale. Anything can happen in a fairy tale. And sometimes Christians will say with an air of piety, “God can do anything.”

But if one reads this account as a news report of an event that happened today, it seems more “real” that God caused the Nile to be contaminated (possibly with a microorganism) and that is what resulted in the red color and what rendered the water undrinkable.

This does not mean that the second interpretation is less faithful to the inspiration of Exodus. It may mean that it is more faithful to the inspiration of Exodus and to the idea of God working in the real world.

Pastor Rod

“Helping you become the person God created you to be”

1 comment:

Don B. Johnson said...

I think the "taking it literal" approach is a reaction to the "Bible can mean anything" approach. Of the 2, the latter is worse, IMO, but that does not mean the former is correct. Some people seem to try to take a verse more literally as a way to trump another's interpretation, as if literal was always better; but I do not think this is true.

I believe it is possible to take the Bible too literally, often so that it does not apply to yourself.

This is why I see it as essential to try to understand the Bible as the original readers would have.