Do You Take the Bible Literally?
By Greg Koukl
This question is offered to followers of Christ, sometimes as a challenge, sometimes simply asking for information. I don’t like the question because I think the question is ambiguous the way it’s asked. Saying yes doesn’t really give an accurate answer about the “literal” view of the Bible. I don’t mean that the people who are asking it have bad motives. I think this is the way they think of asking the question. It’s not surprising then that followers of Christ who believe in the Bible and take it “literally” get themselves into a little bit of a bind when they answer directly because what they mean when they say yes is something different than what the questioner means when he asks the question.
One way the question might be understood is whether Christians believe the unusual things the Bible speaks about. When Jesus said “Love one another” nobody wonders whether we take that literally. When Jesus said to help the poor and be kind to one another, nobody asks “Do you take that literally?” because it’s not controversial. Everyone wants to claim those verses.
The question of literalness only comes up about other issues in the Bible, especially moral issues and miraculous events. One common passage is how we understand the first couple of chapters of Genesis. Is it a historical account? If so, how are we to take the history? Were Adam and Eve real people? Were they the first human beings? Were they created out of dust? Was Eve really created out of Adam’s rib? Do you take these things literally? In other words, do you take it in the plain sense? Do you believe what the words say? That’s really what the questioner is getting at. This is really a question then about a broader hermeneutical question that is a legitimate question. When do you take a passage literally and when don’t you?
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