Sunday, February 20, 2011

Is it important to take the Bible literally in its entirety to gain its message?

As a matter of faith to the Christian, we understand that it is God’s intention in Scripture to convey Truth to us about Himself.  It is also obvious to the Christian that God is revealing in Scripture His call on our lives and His plan to bring us back into an unencumbered, loving relationship with Him.  Since Scripture is inspired by God we can therefore conclude that it is truthful and trustworthy for these purposes for which it is given to us. 
But does this mean that we need to understand or interpret the Bible “literally” in order for God’s Truth to come to us, to permeate our souls and to transform our lives?  It may be helpful to consider what being literal means.  As an extreme example, consider Jesus saying “feed my sheep.”  Does this mean we all need a herd of sheep in our back yard to tend to?  Obviously that is not the message God intended to convey.  It is obviously meant metaphorically, not literally.  But when Jesus says “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life,” is that not a literal reality spoken by God into the lives of His People that is true and trustworthy?  Yes it is. 
To properly interpret Scripture, we need to recognize the literary forms used by its various writers: sometimes metaphor, sometimes parable, sometimes historical narrative, and sometimes oral fireside story embodying profound divine truths.  The Bible is also a mix of prose, poetry, allegory and visionary utterances.  This diversity makes it one of the greatest works of literature ever known, and its divine origin makes it the most life-transforming book ever written.
The problem with a totally literal interpretation of Scripture is that its writers were subject to the limitations of the times in which they penned it.  We do not see God revealing any great knowledge of science or history to the writer, nor should we expect God to have done so.  The Lord who inspired Scripture or the saints who penned may not have been intending to teach science, history, or the like.
Finally, to ask if the Scriptures should be taken literally may simply be the wrong question.  The more appropriate question to be asked is, “How is God speaking to you thorough Scripture, and how authoritative are those words in your life?”

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