Do you interpret the Bible literally?
Have you ever been asked this question as if it was some kind of test for orthodoxy? No one takes everything in the Bible literally!! Do you believe that the earth is a rectangle (Is. 11:12)? Do you really believe that Jesus wants you to gouge your eye balls out (Mt. 5:29, Mk. 9:47)? Do you believe that if you begin to experience feelings of jealousy toward your wife that you should drag her into your Pastor’s office, have him sweep the floor, toss those dust bunnies in a glass of water and have her drink it? It’s in the Bible brother! If she swells up – she did it! If not – you need to let it go man (Num. 5:11-31). If not, “well then, I guess you just don’t believe the Bible Brutha!” I can hear the push back now:
But Brad, “the four corners of the earth” – that’s just a figure of speech. Exactly – that’s how people talk!
Isn’t Jesus using exaggeration for effect when he says “if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out”? Yep, Jesus is the master of hyperbole. So why do you think the Bible can’t use this type of communication?
But Brad, that’s the Old Testament. Aren’t we set free from the law under the new covenant of grace? Yes (now we’re talkin’ hermeneutics) but how many of us even think about whether we really apply that standard consistently when reading the Old Testament?
OK, back to the original question. Do I take the Bible literally? Do I take the Bible with a wooden literalism? No – absolutely not! If I did I would be out there looking for some little Babylonian babies so I could bash their heads in against the rocks, in strict obedience to God’s word (Ps. 137:9). Do I interpret it literally, as intended by the original author – yes, absolutely! The accounts of the bodily resurrection of Jesus in the gospels are presented as eyewitness accounts.
Often the question at hand today really comes down to a question about how you understand the creation narratives in Genesis 1 & 2 (now there’s a test for orthodoxy for ya’). But what makes certain people think that the original author intended the creation stories to give a scientifically, historically accurate, chronological account of the creation of the universe and life on earth for Christians in the 21st century to be used as an apologetic against Darwinian evolution? [Go ahead and call me a heretic now – you might as well get it over with]. It makes a lot more sense to me that they were written for Israel, living in the Promised land, as an apologetic against other ancient near Eastern creation myths like Enuma Elish and The Tale of Gilgamesh (remember, they were surrounded by Canaanite fertility cults). Perhaps they are stories that tell us who we are, what is our place in the Universe, and define our relationship to our loving creator.
So what do you think? Do you “interpret the Bible literally”? What do you mean by literally? What about things like figures of speech, metaphor, imagery? Since we use these in ordinary, everyday speech are these things to unholy for God’s holy word? Should we expect a great religious teacher like Jesus to use common human language and convention or only exalted prose (or better yet only rational, doctrinal propositional truth)? Should we shun as unbelievers those who do not hold as historical fact the stories told by Jesus (like the Good Samaritan, or the Lazarus and the Rich Man)?
Do you take the Bible literally?
#HermeneuticsIsEverything – because how we read the Bible matters immensely!