The Gospel Coalition

Note: FactChecker is a monthly series in which Glenn T. Stanton examines claims, myths, and misunderstandings frequently heard in evangelical circles.

One of the things I enjoy most in my work at Focus on the Family is the opportunity to speak at secular university campuses and to organizations that are indifferent or opposed to orthodox Christianity. Most of my colleagues are sane enough to avoid such invitations, but I relish them because they allow me to mix with folks who see the world very differently and it's intellectually and rhetorically stimulating to interact with them in a meaningful way. I also get the opportunity to correct lots of misunderstandings about what Christians actually believe.

One of these common misunderstandings is not even presented as a question, but an assumption. It typically goes something like this: "So Mr. Stanton, taking a literal view of the Bible as you do, please explain to me . . ."

I usually answer my questioner, to their great surprise:  "Well no, I don't take the Bible literally." I then pause for effect, both for the sake of the non-faithful as well as for the Christians in the audience.

Reading the faces of the cynics in the audience like a book, I see that unmistakable gaze of, "Oh, what a pleasant surprise. He's not one of those."

Then I clear up the obvious confusion. "I don't take the Bible literally, but I do believe everything in the Bible as true."

Some get this important distinction immediately, while others have one confusion simply replaced by another. But this is a very important point, especially for those who are committed to defending and advocating for the truth and integrity of God's Word.

First, we must understand that the phrase "take the Bible literally" is primarily a litmus test---and a silly one at that---for "do you really believe the Bible?" This is why so many Christians hold to this myth---they want to be counted among the Bible-believers. But this is not faithful to God's Word.

I know of no serious, Bible-believing Christian who actually takes the Bible literally. I doubt you do either. And if there were any at our Bible-studies or Sunday schools, all would look at them as either an uninformed simpleton or mentally unstable.

If we open the scriptures to any random page, as I have just done, we will easily find an example to disprove this myth. Here I am at Ecclesiastes 10:2:
The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left.

Besides the interesting political connotations for contemporary Americans reading this text, are we to take literally that my heart---this four-chambered, muscular organ beating in my chest---physically inclines to the left part of my body because I'm a fool? If I take a literal view of scripture it does. But if I take these words seriously and truthfully, they mean my internal self---who I really am---is inclined in a direction exactly opposite of the one who is wise. Scripture's lesson for me? Being wise or a fool has dramatic and polar opposite consequences.

I randomly flip over a few books and find myself in Psalms 62. I read here, in verse 2 that God is my rock, my salvation and my fortress. This is very good, comforting news.

As we read it seriously and truthfully, we don't believe that God is literally a rock, much less my rock. If so, how big is He? Is He igneous, sedimentary, or metamorphic? God says He's my fortress. Is he stone or wooden? How tall are his walls? What's his configuration? Am I being disrespectful to God with such questions?  It seems like it. And that's the point. We dishonor God and much of His Word by trying to take it literally.

But is God literally my salvation? Oh my, YES! And I tremble at the literal truth of it.

You see, these words we just read work as powerful and dramatic symbolism to drive home the literal truth that God is our firm, immovable foundation, our strong, impenetrable protector, and our salvation.

In the same way, we do not take all of Christ's words literally, although we take every one as divinely and practically true. See John 10:7, 9
Therefore Jesus said again, "Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep . . . I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.

"Truly I tell you . . ."

Do we believe that Jesus is speaking truly to us here? May we not see it any other way! Everything the Lord says is true.

"I am the gate for the sheep . . ."

Do we think that Jesus is literally a gate, an agricultural device? A gate for sheep? Are his hinges on the top or does he open to the left or right? Maybe he operates more like swinging barn doors. Again, if we take Jesus literally here, these are very appropriate questions for serious students of Jesus. But they are utterly silly questions---if not downright disrespectful---because we know that Jesus is speaking metaphorically about being a sheep gate, but truthfully that he is the way each of us must go, that through Him alone can we pass to life and redemption in Him.

You see, Scripture communicates the truth of God in multiple, beautiful and creative, ways. Faithful readers of Scripture know it speaks:

This is not mere quibbling. These are important points, because it demonstrates a more serious appreciation and faithful understanding of God's Word than merely assenting to a flimsy ill-informed belief about scripture merely because of what it implies.

The great Francis Schaeffer gave us a nice example on this important point. A fearless, tireless, and brilliant defender of biblical inerrancy, he said the faithful hold a "full" or "strong, uncompromising view of Scripture." He never said "literal view" because to say so is literally not true.

Other articles in this series:

Misquoting Francis of Assisi

The Cross an Electric Chair?

Divorce Rate Among Christians

 

Image via: Meet the Skeptic


Comments:

Tallulah

October 29, 2012 at 01:40 AM

I'm sorry, but I still don't understand the difference you're trying to communicate - "They are the truth, but I don't take them literally." Whaa?

Can all the examples you just listed not all be metaphors, with a very important message in each? Is that what you mean? it doesn't sound like it; but I don't know the middle ground between metaphor/parable and literal fact, for me, it's and either/or situation...

Tallulah

October 29, 2012 at 01:34 AM

I really enjoyed this article - and that is quite a momentous thing, believe me - but these are the questions I was actually looking for an answer to when i searched this question! I know the Bible contains very obvious poetry and metaphors and symbolism and parable, but it's these more concrete, black and white 'facts' I want to know if it's taken literally or not by the majority of Christians.

You say a man named Jesus was literally the son of God and literally died and came back to life and went up to heaven, literally - that was clear, thank you :D But the rest...?

[...] _ THIS WAS POSTED OCT. 16, 2012 AT “THE GOSPEL COALITION” WEBSITE (WHATEVER THAT IS). GLEN STANTON [...]

D U M A H

October 27, 2012 at 09:41 AM

Way to check the facts dude. You are indeed a fact checker.

Luke

October 25, 2012 at 08:11 PM

I also live in Vancouver, BC, so I know what you mean, but I think it is important to distinguish between literally and truthfully. The reason I say so is because I had a real crisis of faith in which I questioned everything in the Bible when I discovered the multiple factual discrepancies in the Bible 2 years ago (genealogical contradictions and mathematical errors in the old testament and the different accounts of Judas' death in Mark and Luke to name a few). If I had been taught that the Bible is God's truth but not to ALWAYS be taken literally (sometimes peotically, metaphorically etc.) I never would have had this crisis of faith. As the author says, there is a very important difference between the bible being true and literal.

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Tim

October 20, 2012 at 11:25 PM

Yes; I knew a man who said "I don't take the Bible literally, but I do take it literarily", and he meant essentially what you're saying.

On the other hand, R. C. Sproul preferred to explain that he was using the term "literally" according to it's original meaning. He said that it was reading the Bible "according to it's litera", which he explained as according to its genre.

Take your pick :).

Laudable Linkage « Stray Thoughts

October 20, 2012 at 11:03 AM

[...] Do Faithful Christians Take the Bible Literally? [...]

zKatherine

October 20, 2012 at 08:55 AM

It's impolite to imply that a person lacks judgement or understanding just because you disagree with their interpretation. I certainly hope you are more polite to people in your street ministry (and that you're not insisting that to be a "real" Christian you must be a YEC'er).

[...] like either candidate for an office, should you vote? Here’s how John Piper decides.) Do Christians really Take the Bible Literally? (The answer may surprise you. We have got to become wise in how we engage with [...]

Do Christians Take the Bible Literally? |

October 20, 2012 at 01:38 PM

[...] newly posted piece on this question for Gospel Coalition, as a part of series I am doing for them on myths Christians have believed and [...]

Washington DC Evangelists

October 19, 2012 at 11:41 AM

You are all missing the mark; this is the proper response to "taking the Bible literally" type comments:

"Your problem is that can't understand the Bible because it is only spiritually understood, and it can only be revealed through and by the Holy Spirit of God, which is done for whoever repents of their sins, turns to, believes in, and trusts in Jesus Christ alone for the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with a Holy God."

Whatever response you give to a non-believer, or a religious person, should contain the Gospel.

Kathryn Elliott Stegall

October 19, 2012 at 10:05 PM

Galileo ran into this same problem when some argued against his scientific research with Scripture like Ps. 104:1,5, and Joshua 10:12-14. "...that Holy Scripture cannot err and the decrees therein contained are absolutely true and inviolable. I should only have added that, though Scripture cannot err, its expounders and interpreters are liable to err in many ways ... when they would base themselves always on the literal meaning of the words. For in this wise not only many contradictions would be apparent, but even grave heresies and blasphemies, since then it would be necessary to give God hands and feet and eyes, and human and bodily emotions such as anger, regret, hatred and sometimes forgetfulness of things past, and ignorance of the future." Galileo as quoted in Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel, pg. 63. Pages 62-65 of this book give a wonderful view of Galileo's thought on this subject.

Mere Links 10.19.12 - Mere Comments

October 19, 2012 at 10:00 AM

[...] Do Faithful Christians Take the Bible Literally? Glenn T. Stanton, The Gospel Coalition I know of no serious, Bible-believing Christian who actually takes the Bible literally. I doubt you do either. [...]

Weekly Links (10/19/2012) « The Beacon

October 19, 2012 at 03:03 AM

[...] Coalition has an arti­cle that dis­tin­guishes between tak­ing the Bible lit­er­ally and believ­ing that every­thing in it is true. It can be sub­tle and many con­fuse the two, but there’s a clear dis­tinc­tion in the [...]

Roger Patterson

October 18, 2012 at 10:41 AM

With all respect, my experience is different. I work for an apologetics ministry as a writer and do street evangelism. I get to answer questions from skeptics almost every day of my life. I agree that people are generally ill-informed about the Bible, but the essence of their questions, in my experience, has little to do with Jesus being a door and more about the "whacky" things that Christians believe. This is common even for those who grew up attending a church.

To the point of several people above, literal means to take an idea in its context and consideration of literary form: as the MW Dictionary states s.v. literal 1 a : according with the letter of the scriptures
1 b : adhering to fact or to the ordinary construction or primary meaning of a term or expression

I would prefer to answer the question you mentioned in the article with, "Yes, I believe the Bible to be literally true," giving the pregnant pause for the skeptic to be forced to think, and then explain to them what literal means. I read the Bible understanding the context, language, history, etc. and take those ideas as true/literal/actual/factual. I would try to explain that the skeptic is confusing letterism for literalism and patiently help them to see the difference (if they care to listen). However, we may arrive at the same point of understanding.

Based on the definition you are using, Jesus is not "literally" the Son of God in any way we understand in the human experience (I understand the intricacies of this debate, but having grown up a Mormon, they do believe Jesus is literally the son of their god).

Since literal and true are synonyms, it seems you are making a distinction without a difference. In my mini rant above, if you replace "literal(ly)" with "true(truly)" it changes nothing. All of those things actually happened despite any metaphors or analogies that may have been employed in their descriptions.

I do take it literally that Jonah was in the fish three days and nights. I do take it as true that Jonah was in the fish three days and three nights. Those are synonymous statements, so the skeptic scoffs at either.

I take it literally/as truth that God created the universe in six literal/true days.

I take it literally/as truth that God flooded the entire surface of the earth (not just a region).

If that makes me unfaithful or unstable in the world's eyes, I am OK with that.

Scott

October 18, 2012 at 09:49 PM

Literal is opposed to allegorical, not figurative. Literal interpretation means according the intent of the author. It does not mean interpreting figures of speech ("God is my Rock") as plain language. Allegorical interpretation imposes on the text a meaning not intended by the author. Interpreting figures of speech as figures of speech is indeed taking the Bible literally.

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Destinations « Luggaged

October 17, 2012 at 12:37 PM

[...] we take the Bible literally? Well yes and no. Here is what I mean. I can be more symbolic in my interpretation than some people are comfortable [...]

Rob French

October 17, 2012 at 12:35 PM

Jim - "literary" might be the right word.

A "literary" approach to Scripture certainly doesn't solve all differences in interpretation. However, treating books and passages of the Bible in accordance with literary concerns of genre, audience, author, etc. can at least keep us from some of the gross errors of "literalism".

Articles of Interest (10/17) - Brent Walker

October 17, 2012 at 12:30 PM

[...] Taking the Bible literally – Do you take the Bible literally? Don’t answer to quickly, you may want to read this article first. Share this:FacebookTwitterDiggReddit Filed Under: articles of interest Cancel Reply [...]

Roger Patterson

October 17, 2012 at 12:30 PM

In that sense, Mormon prophets clearly taught that as the origin of Jesus as a son of the Heavenly Father's physical union with Mary. In Mormonism, Heavenly Father does have a body, so this is a natural, literal reading for them. They have to excuse the description of the Holy Spirit's role as described in the text. Many lay Mormons reject this teaching, but they do so at the expense of admitting that their modern prophets can be wrong--quite the quandary for any Mormon wanting to hold consistently to their theology.

perfectnumber628

October 17, 2012 at 12:15 PM

Definitely agree with this. No one takes the bible "literally" but Christians must take it very seriously and respect all of it. Because it's not all "literal" there can be different interpretations- and we should make sure to respect other Christians whose interpretations are different from ours, instead of accusing them of not believing the bible.

Deidrea

October 17, 2012 at 12:15 PM

I'm really enjoying these FactChecker articles, Mr. Stanton! This article included. The Bible is so rich in poetry and metaphor that it's impossible to read it like a textbook. And thank God! It's so exciting to know that God takes the time to be a grand Author.

Byron

October 17, 2012 at 12:10 PM

You should stop answering the question the way you describe. It seems you yourself misunderstand "literal" to mean "Letterism." Literal interpretation includes the proper recognition, use and function of figures of speech, analogy, etc. within the text. This is true sense they have a rather literal antecedent. As it is, iiteral is not a type of literature or genre. Instead it is juxtaposed against other methods of interpretation. Your approach - while clever - seems misleading. Almost reads like a copout for skeptical minds.

Wesley

October 17, 2012 at 12:06 AM

Have to admit: i got sucked in at first but then understood where you were going with the "literal" description. I would say it requires the nuance you gave alongside to be understood correctly, but it is a helpful way to see it. Just the other day i heard of J I Packer's description he helped form in the mid 60's that said that inerrancy was 'believing to be true all that the Bible says is true.' I find ths helpful as well.
One point of order, though Christ is surely not a gate or a door literally, we get into problems quickly with the Eucharist description viz. "this is My body broken for you" or cf. Jesus' words in John 6 about His flesh and blood, do we not?

Leo

October 17, 2012 at 11:27 PM

If Jesus were literally God's son, Then God literally had sex with a woman who gave birth to him, and they would have separate bodies.

This is what a literal father/son relationship is.

"John is literally my father" means that John had sex with my mother and then raised me.

there are all sorts of other ways to be considered a father- adoptively, spiritually, legally, emotionally, figuratively, metaphorically, intellectually... but THAT up there is what "Literal father/son" means.

Phil

October 17, 2012 at 10:31 AM

If you believe the bible to be inerrant, you cannot read all of it literally.

http://thinkingreed.wordpress.com/2012/09/27/literalism-vs-inerrancy/

Aaron Darlington

October 17, 2012 at 10:03 PM

Literal interpretation of the Bible simply means explaining the original sense of the Bible according to the normal and customary usages of its language. A normal and customary use of language includes figures of speech, such as metaphors and similes, which are determined through ordinary-literal language and basic principles of hermeneutics. Behind every figure of speech is a literal meaning, and by means of the historical-grammatical exegesis of the text, these literal meanings are to be sought out. An interpretation is literal only when it corresponds to what the author intends to convey with his statement.

Wesley

October 17, 2012 at 09:59 AM

I dunno bro - this language of "we take the bible seriously but not literally" is the EXACT nomenclature in my city (Vancouver, BC) of apostate "churches" who want to use the bible for their own ends but disregard whatever goes against their own desires or our present culture. It just leaves way too wide a door open to say "we take it seriously" and not specify what you mean by that.
Beyond all that, this whole point of "literal" is really just a response to those who would be opposed to the teaching of the bible - there is no reason within the church to not use the term literal as we all understand what that means (or should anyways).

Flotsam and jetsam (10/17) | Everyday Theology

October 17, 2012 at 09:58 AM

[...] Do Faithful Christians Take the Bible Literally? I know of no serious, Bible-believing Christian who actually takes the Bible literally. I doubt you do either. And if there were any at our Bible-studies or Sunday schools, all would look at them as either an uninformed simpleton or mentally unstable. [...]

Wesley

October 17, 2012 at 09:45 PM

ummm ... no, this is ignoring the bible's plain testimony about itself. Just one Author bro cf. 2 Pet. 1:21 written down by multiple men and the Text does not evolve or change (James 1:16-18, Rev. 22:18,19) but is fixed for all time. I suggest you check your 'sources' perhaps - hey seem to be leading you far from orthodoxy. Love to interact on this if you'd care to.

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Steve Cornell

October 17, 2012 at 09:38 AM

This is always a helpful reminder -- especially in a time when we've unleashed so many lay people to guide others in Scripture (as small group leaders). I prefer to say that we should look for the "valid" meaning of Scripture. The primary consideration in this process is "context." By exploring a variety of contexts, one can arrive at an accurate understanding of the meaning of Scripture and therefore an appropriate application of it. I suggest five contexts here: The valid meaning of the text (http://thinkpoint.wordpress.com/2012/09/12/the-valid-meaning-of-the-text/)

John

October 17, 2012 at 08:59 PM

To take the Bible seriously, first of all don't stay ignorant of the historical scholarship of the past 200 years. Once you understand that this is a multi-author, multi-viewpoint, evolving text, you can understand, appreciate, and apply it as it really is, a work of literature that does reflect the pre-modern worldview of the men who wrote it, but also containing much timeless wisdom. This is taking the Bible both seriously and truthfully.

zKatherine

October 17, 2012 at 08:55 AM

Literal interpretations have led Christians down many wrong roads:
Noah's flood--covered the whole entire earth as we now know it?
7 24 hr days of creation?
The earth is flat?
The sun revolves around the earth?
Beat your children with a literal rod?
Own slaves, just treat them kindly?
All women should remain silent in the church?

Keith

October 17, 2012 at 08:19 AM

So basically, believers who say they take the Bible literally are not using the word "literally" literally!

Jim

October 17, 2012 at 07:50 AM

I recently did a lesson in Spanish about "how to understand the Bible". I did end up using the word "literal" (the same in Spanish), but I did some things along with that.

I did mention the discussion above - the debate about whether or not to use the word. But I also paired it with literary issues - understanding figures of speech and genre. And then when we actually looked at examples of taking the Bible literally, one of the examples was "I am the bread of life", and the question was whether Jesus was a man or a loaf of bread. (Actually, the other example was the resurrection - as you mention above, the Bible clearly says that Jesus physically rose.)

I understand the problems with the word "literal". I wish we had a better word to use. I'm not sure "taking it seriously" communicates the same thing. I would imagine that "Christians" who reject most basic clear doctrines of Scripture would say that they take the Bible seriously. Many would even affirm that they believe it to be "true".

I want to say something beyond that. What I want to say when I use the word "literal" is that we take the plain, clear meaning - the way the authors intended to communicate to their audiences - with a basic understanding of how they used language and literature to communicate their ideas.

If anyone has a better word to use, I would love to hear it!

stevew

October 17, 2012 at 07:46 AM

Overall, I love the article. This is a great clarification. We want to read any piece of Scripture as the Author intended it to be understood.

One thing I would caution about is where you said "Literally - Jesus is God's Son". I know what you meant. However, someone could say "Oh you literally believe that God had sex with Mary and passed on His DNA to Jesus"? But God is Spirit and that is not literally possible as we understand it humanly. Our human understanding of conceiving a son involves a man and woman coming together sexually and all that entails.

Dave

October 17, 2012 at 07:17 AM

My pastor puts it this way: Don't take everything in the Bible literally, but take everything in the Bible seriously. What you say with this article is a wise way of thinking.

Plus, if we all took the Bible literally, wouldn't everyone be walking around with his hands chopped off and eyes gouged out?

Mary

October 17, 2012 at 06:28 PM

But shouldn't literal mean in the literary genre it belongs in? As in the natural use of the words and the original intent of the author?
When I hear literal, I think literature and understanding the literature of the Bible greatly helps one take it literally: as it was intended.

Ryan

October 17, 2012 at 04:51 PM

@perfectnumber628 how do you react to this verse: "But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." 2 Peter 1:19-20?

glenn stanton

October 17, 2012 at 03:50 PM

Nana, that is not my experience in many, many years doing this work. I wish it were true, that skeptics have thought well about such things. They are usually working from a very shallow and ill-informed understanding of what Christians really believe about Scripture and how we handle and understand the text.

The points that Roger make are handled in my explanation that I,and most others give, that mentioned in the J.I. Packer quote above: "we take the bible truthfully." Yes, we believe that Jesus actually walked on water. That he bodily and actually rose from the dead. That there was a real, actual, historic adam and eve, who ushered in the Fall by eating forbidden fruit. That Jonah spent days in a great fish's belly, etc. But we don't take it literally. There is a huge difference there - between truth and literal - and that is my main point.

Nana

October 17, 2012 at 02:53 PM

True, and exactly the point I intended to make. Whenever the subject of whether Christians take the Bible literally arises, it is not in consequence of doors or sheep or any of those metaphoric phrases and sentences. I can quite say that even the most skeptic of secularists, when asking such questions, have more complex topics in mind.

Roger Patterson

October 17, 2012 at 02:10 PM

The true problem comes when the skeptic takes you to a clear narrative passage that is surely absurd in his mind (as it was in my mind before God opened my mind to His truths).

Did Jonah really get swallowed by a fish? I believe that because it is clearly recorded in God's Word. I take that literally and the skeptic thinks it is absurd.

Did Jesus really turn water into wine? I believe that because that is the literal meaning of that text. The skeptic will explain to you the amount of heat that would be released in the transformation of the elements--basically a small nuclear weapon.

Was Eve really the mother of all living?
Was there really a flood that covered all the earth under all of the heavens above all of the highest mountains?
Did an axe head really float on the water?
Did God really part the sea to allow the Israelites to pass?
Did many people literally rise from the dead at the command of the prophets, apostles, and Jesus as the narratives describe?

These are the types of questions that are foolishness to those who ask if you take the Bible literally, not Jesus is a door.

Oh yeah, and that silly idea that God literally took on flesh and was literally born of a virgin to live a literally perfect life to literally offer Himself as a literal sacrifice for my literal sins on a literal cross to literally be buried in a tomb and literally rise on the third day..."Foolishness!" exclaims the critic.

1 Corinthians 1:17-31

Roger Patterson

October 17, 2012 at 01:50 PM

Yeah, and that there were actually two people named Adam and Eve! Those crazy people thinking all of those wrong things.

To conflate the positions you have put in the list above us uncharitable, at best. I think you may have missed the point of the article.

Chris

October 17, 2012 at 01:20 PM

Totally agree. Hermeneutics 101... Literal is based on an appreciation of genre. When you read Robert Frost, you read it appropriate to the genre. A Tom Clancy novel, a different lens. John Bunyan, still a different lens. And so on... Each is being interpreted literally, but with an understanding of literary genre. To say that this is not literal is misleading, and does a disservice, IMHO, to biblical interpretation. There is nothing inaccurate about saying that you both read the Bible literally, and that you believe everything in the Bible is true. We should be inviting people into a better understanding of how to appreciate and interpret Scripture as a diverse book of diverse literature.

This, along with contextual understanding of how God inspired authors to write within the contexts of their own worldviews and popular beliefs, begin answering some of the questions someone like zKatherine asks above, and also provide boundaries and appreciation for contextual issues which zKatherine addresses in her post. The lion's share of her issues are not literal, but can be answered with a better appreciation of both genre and context.

There will still be issues (we all are aware of that), but this article seems to obfuscate, rather than illuminate, the issues which are important in interpreting Scripture.

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Tim

November 14, 2013 at 09:49 AM

Alice, one way to explore the answers to those questions is to read the Bible literarily, which is not quite the same as literally: http://timfall.wordpress.com/2012/12/03/i-read-the-bible-literally/

Cheers,
Tim

Alice

November 14, 2013 at 04:45 AM

I would be interested to know the answer to this too. There doesn't seem much leeway for responses here.

I read an interesting article from Swinburne where he attempted to reconcile passages seemingly endorsing genocide by arguing that every life given is a gift, and that we cannot feel bitter for when our life comes to an end. God chose to give it to us, and therefore without this gift, we would not 'be' at all. This I guess would be drawing on the hidden meaning/messages in the Bible and the symbolism behind the non-literal account.

Who knows... I'd be interested to know the response!

Alice

November 14, 2013 at 04:41 AM

You seemed to end your article just before it got interesting. You talk of the nature of the Bible and all the different ways the truth of God is communicated - but you stop before you can explain how these can be true!

How can metaphors of God or descriptions or rhetorics be the foundation for truth? (Not meant as an attack, but as a suggestion... and hope that you elaborate your article).

Tim

May 14, 2013 at 03:54 PM

I tend to read the Bible literarily rather than literally ;-) http://timfall.wordpress.com/2012/12/03/i-read-the-bible-literally/

Mike

March 2, 2013 at 01:43 PM

You say you don't take the Bible literally, but you believe everything in the Bible as true. To illustrate your point you chose some of the more elementary examples from the Bible, like the anatomy of the heart and metaphors for rocks and gates. What I'd really like to know is how you interpret some of the more controversial passages such as Deuteronomy 22:13-21, which states women should be stoned for not being virgins on their wedding day or when God endorses slavery in Leviticus 25:44-46. I'm curious to know your stance on those passages. Would you say they must be looked at in a history context or would you say they are God's will? I sincerely doubt God was ever in favor of either. By that reasoning, the Bible is not the word of God, just humans.

Andy Perez

June 3, 2013 at 11:19 PM

Amen, Aaron. I apologize for not citing the "if" in the statement about cutting off one's hand. That is a crucial part of the passage. I completely agree with you. Christ is not saying that sin lies in the hands or eyes, but pointing to a much deeper source requiring a much cost to redeem.

Aaron

June 3, 2013 at 09:08 PM

Hi Andy,

If drinking coffee causes blindness, then don't drink coffee! This statement might be used to stress that, even though you may enjoy coffee very much, if it causes you to go blind, it isn't worth it. Similarly, Jesus isn't commanding anyone to cut out his or her eyes. He is emphasizing the devastation of sin that eclipses even the joys of sight. IF your eye causes you to stumble, cut it out. But just as coffee doesn't cause blindness, your eye doesn't cause you to sin. If it did, it would be better to cut it out. But it doesn't, nor could sin be so easily defeated. Its defeat came at a much greater cost.

Andy Perez

June 3, 2013 at 03:58 PM

I am not in full-time ministry, so take my cultural observations come with a grain of salt: I have found that--excluding the Creation account and miscellaneous cultural norms (e.g. gender roles, keeping of slaves, etc.)--most people who contend against a literal interpretation of scripture don’t seem to have any qualms with the explicitly poetic or metaphorical passages. Non-believers aren’t dull-witted; most can read a poem as it is intended and understand the use of metaphor and other literary devices.

Most non-believers (and even Christians) I have encountered take issue with Old Testament law and the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Laws mandating the stoning of adulterous women and commandments to cut off the hand that caused you to sin don’t sit well with most people. However, these passages should very much be taken literally. As Christians, if we conclude that commands like this are not literal, we betray the truth of the Gospel, the holiness of God, and humanity’s great need of divine salvation.

The purpose of the law and these teachings of Jesus serve a very specific purpose: to highlight man’s depravity and his helplessness to redeem himself and prevent further sin. If I, as a Christian, am content to write off teachings like these as merely metaphorical illustrations for how to “nip sin in the bud,” I misunderstand both what Jesus has done and my need for it. I would contend that calling these teachings metaphorical does nothing more than minimize the great lengths to which Christ had to go in order to redeem his beloved. It is a childlike attempt to stand on our own merit and “perfect in the flesh what was started in the Spirit.” It is something I and every believer and non-believer alike are guilty of.

We MUST take these portions of scripture literally. However, these are precisely the things that Christ’s work has liberated us from. No longer are we required to offer blood sacrifices or gauge out our own eyes to avoid sinning. We are now under the “law of grace.” Praise God that we have been spared having to fulfill these literal commandments!

[...] Checker: Do Faithful Christians Take the Bible Literally? A great article from Glenn T. Stanton at The Gospel Coalition Blog June 20, [...]

zilch

June 19, 2013 at 08:07 AM

This is indeed a pickle for Christians, as seen by the many perceptive comments above. Imho, as an atheist, but one who has read the Bible pretty closely, there is often simply no line that can be drawn: I suspect that even the authors of the Bible themselves had not always really thought out whether, say, the "four corners of the Earth" was a metaphor or an actual description of the real world. That being the case, it's no surprise that there are so many sects of Christianity, and that there is no end to the arguments about what the Bible "actually" means.

But as I've said before, as long as you behave nicely, what you believe is sausage to me (as they say here in Austria).

cheers from very hot Vienna, zilch

Roundup: The Bible | The Jesus Question

July 29, 2013 at 09:55 PM

[...] “Do Faithful Christians Take the Bible Literally?” by Glenn T. Stanton: “First, we must understand that the phrase ‘take the Bible literally’ is primarily a litmus test—and a silly one at that—for ‘do you really believe the Bible?’ This is why so many Christians hold to this myth—they want to be counted among the Bible-believers. But this is not faithful to God’s Word. I know of no serious, Bible-believing Christian who actually takes the Bible literally.” [...]

[...] the Bible literally: we don’t actually do so. Before you close this tab, let me elaborate. As Glenn Stanton of Focus on the Family helpfully explains, As we read it seriously and truthfully, we don’t believe that God is literally a rock, much [...]

Washington DC Evangelists

July 25, 2013 at 08:17 PM

Hello Jennifer,
You can add to the list the Holy Spirit, and the super natural work that He does, in changing you and making you a "new creature". In the OT, there are some accounts of Him coming and causing temporary changes in believers. At Pentecost, in the NT, is when He came to be with all those who are truly born again.

Is that some of what you were looking for?

Jennifer

July 24, 2013 at 06:21 PM

Hello. I am not a believer, but I come in peace :-) I'm curious of so many things relating to this. You mentioned things we should read literally, such as Jesus is god's son, he died, resurrected, ascended to heaven, and god is salvation. Do you have any other examples of things that should be taken literally? But not things like god loves you, and god will punish the sinners. Are there other examples of events that should be taken literally? And about the OT, there isn't too much literally happening there right?

Emily

January 17, 2013 at 09:03 PM

What is a faithful christian? Is it the person with the most perfect interpretation of the bible- Who claims to know all its secrets and yet does not live by its guidance? If so then we are no better that the Pharisees. Is a christian not someone who seeks to live for God and love him? By love Him I mean obey His Commands, these are Jesus' own words and I have taken them as literally as I do 'thou shalt not kill'-how else can Gods commands be interpreted? When the serpent said to Eve...'did God really say you should not eat of the fruit' what he simply asked was did God literally say you shudn't?- And when he said 'surely you will not die' and Eve believed him she made the mistake of not taking Gods own words, His specific instruction to them literally!! If as Christians we do not live by Gods words then what do we live by ??? If we do not take it literally that we should' not murder, commit adultery etc ' or if we do not take Jesus literally when he says that He is the way the truth and life-that noone gets to the Father except through him, we are falling for the devils oldest vice against us and our fate is death ! What I have realised is that whenever this argument comes up it has to do more complex issues... Like adultery, fornication, homosexuality, idol worship etc and not with linguistic plays of words or metaphors or allegories. When I told a christian friend of mine that sex before marriage was wrong, they accused me of taking the bible too literally, 'surely its ok if you do it with someone you really love' he said. - another example refers to the fact that Jesus is the only way to the Father, 'I have heard many 'christians' say 'many avenues, one destination' or others say ' im a good person and thats all that matters. The point I am making here is that as a faithful christian- i am leaning on FAITH in all areas of my life, Including the Bible. I am not troubled by questions such as is the bible infallible, is it really Gods word...because i have faith!!! Thats the whole point of faith. If as Christians we need evidence to confirm that Gods words are true, then whats next? Evidence of Gods existence???? Please, lets not be misled just as Eve was. Im my opinion, there is no other way to take Gods expectations of us or His standards or His advice to us, other than as literal, true, real.. With regards to all the parables, bible stories all the other similies and metaphors all i can say is 'let him who has eyes to see, and ears to hear hear '

Michael Balsley

February 9, 2013 at 01:47 AM

Im with you on this. The danger when taking the Bible literally is your setting yourself up for major disappointment, and possibly losing your faith. I have seen it many times.