Do I take the Bible Literally?

Thoughts from Mike--
Do I take the Bible Literally?

There are different practices and thoughts within the Christian movement just like there are different types of steak: Porterhouse, T-bone, Top Sirloin, Tri-Tip, Filet Mignon, Rib-Eye; Catholic, Protestant, Greek, Coptic. Steaks also come with a selection of rubs, marinades, and sauces, same among those who believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.  Christ-followers are not lockstep. There is a diversity of thought and practice. How do you like your beef?

Some differences of opinion among followers of Christ have created division as Christians found it difficult to get along with other Christians.  That’s a sad commentary because the followers of Christ were to dwell in unity with one another. Jesus commanded His followers: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another" (John 13:34-35 (NIV). Maybe the world doesn’t know because they can’t see the love? One of the early Christ-followers, Augustine, is thought to have taught: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things love.”

I will risk being labeled a heretic by referring to the issue of a literal interpretation of the Bible as a non-essential. A non-essential is any understanding of scripture that does not affect a person entering into, maintaining and growing in, a right relationship with God. Does anyone really understand the Bible literally? I think not, rather everyone interprets the Scripture.

For instance, if I stargaze all night long and as the sunrises greet God with a “good to see you this morning” because the Bible reads in 1 John 1:5 “God is light….”  I may have taken that scripture literally, but totally misunderstood its meaning. A literal interpretation means the words written represent a concrete reality in themselves. Psalm 57 reads: I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed” (Psalms 57:1 (NIV). The literal interpretation is that God has a corporeal body with avian characteristics in order to be able to hide under His wings. I may understand the words and totally misunderstand their meaning.

Of course, there are verses of scripture that the literal interpretation is correct. “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments” (2 Tim 4:13 (NIV). I am sure the words mean exactly what is written.

Consider Jesus walking on the water, the account can be read in Matthew 14:22-36, Mark 6:45-56 and John 6:16-24. Recall that there is a diversity of thought within Christendom. Some believers understand that Jesus literally walked on the water. If you were there you would observe him crossing the Lake as if he was walking down a street. Other believers understand that this is a metaphor that contains the lesson that Jesus is not hampered by the chaos of evil. Both understandings

and every thought in between is non-essential. Your opinion does not prevent an individual from enjoying an intimate relationship with God. John Wesley wrote, “but as to all opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think.”

I was asked if I take the Bible literally. My answer is the parts that are meant to be taken literally, I take literally. The Bible is not a flat book, as an incredible piece of literature it contains many different genres that require an understanding based upon the conventions of that genre: historical, legal, poem, apocalyptic, gospel, personal letter, parable, prophecy, narrative, metaphor, hyperbole, simile, idioms, jokes, and symbolism. The task is to discover the meaning of what is written, by seeking to understand the times it was written, in light of the audience it was written to and the way the author conveyed the message.  No one takes the Bible literally unless they have first interpreted the scripture discovering that the words the author used are contextually a concrete representation of reality.

For further thoughts on this topic check out this video interview with N.T. Wright:

Short Summary of a Conversation between Jim Stump and Paul Price
For the full conversation see Hans Georg Lundahl blog at:

If “plain reading” means “what the words clearly mean in my language and culture”, then I suppose Exodus 20:11 could be used to support six-day Creationism.  But if that is really how we’re supposed to read Scripture, then 1 Samuel 2:8 means the earth is set on pillars, and Deuteronomy 21:21 means we should stone our rebellious sons, and John 15:5 means Jesus is a plant, and Roman 16:16 means we should kiss everyone we meet.  The “plain reading” of Scripture leads to picking and choosing which verses we like and which we ignore.  That is not a responsible way to read the Bible.  There are reasons we don’t take the plain meaning of those other verses as the best interpretation of Scripture; that makes us at least ask whether there might be reasons not to take Exodus 20:11 and Genesis 1 in their plain sense.


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