Should People Take the Bible Literally?
by Jonathan Morrow
Maybe…how’s that for an answer? It really all depends on what someone means by the literally. But most often it has to do with the implications of what the plain or straightforward reading of a text or passage says. It isn’t a matter of understanding at all…it is just the implications we aren’t big fans of. Take one of Jesus’ statements in the Gospels as an example “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:47).
Now, is the basic thrust of this statement difficult to understand? Of course there was a cultural background in which Jesus spoke these words, but the meaning of the passage seems pretty clear (even though the implications are quite demanding and uncomfortable to put into practice!).
However, sometimes the question “Do you take the Bible literally?” comes up in conversation or on the news or in a magazine in a different sense. The idea here is usually something like this, I can understand “love thy neighbor” well enough, but when it comes to creation out of nothing, floods, really big fish, gender issues, sexuality, people rising from the dead, waters being parted, slavery, war, people walking on water, demons, talking bushes etc. that is just too incredible, or too outdated, or unscientific, or that makes me uncomfortable…
And if some of us are honest, we have probably all felt that at some point in our own faith journeys when reading some of these passages. So how should we think about this question of taking the Bible literally? Here are a couple of brief thoughts and then I will suggest some resources for further exploration.
First, I think this is not a very helpful way to ask or frame the question. I agree with Greg Koukl, of Stand to Reason (www.str.org) , who deals with this quite a bit on his radio show; “When someone asks, Do you take the Bible literally?, I respond by saying that I try to take the Bible with the precision I think the writer intended.” This basically means, One should not be a slave to a woodenly literal interpretation…
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