googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: Taking the Bible Literally

Friday, January 23, 2009

Taking the Bible Literally

A complaint often leveled against believers in the Genesis account of creation is that we are hyper-fundamentalists that read the Bible “literally.” Usually, the people who make this claim call themselves Christians and even claim to believe the Bible. They just believe that Genesis is an allegory for creation given to the ancient Jews in a language they could understand.

Why do people believe Genesis is allegory? It’s because they have trusted the opinions of certain scientists over the word of God. Now remember, these “scientists” believe in a brand of science that dismisses the possibility of a miracle a priori on the grounds that miracles cannot be verified by science. In other words, they have dismissed the Genesis account because it’s not “scientific.” And if you look at the evidence determined to only find a natural explanation, you’re guaranteed to find one. Their natural-only explanations are theories like the Big Bang and evolution.

But not all people who believe in these natural explanations want to reject the Bible so they reinterpret the Bible to fit their personal worldview. Genesis says God created the universe in 6 days? No problem! It’s just a metaphor for what really happened. It’s a story meant to teach that God is the Creator. That’s all! There’s no need to take the Bible “literally”!

To back up their claim, they point to passages like 1 Samuel 2:8 that says, “for the pillars of the earth are the LORD's, and he hath set the world upon them.” Obviously, the earth doesn’t rest upon pillars so the Bible must be using a metaphor. Furthermore, some people will haggle over the meaning of the word “day” in the text. "A day can mean any number of things," they often say.

So, is there any merit to their arguments? In short – no! You see, the complaint that we read the Bible “literally” is really a straw man picture of what creationists believe. We don’t read the Bible “literally”; Rather, we read it as we do any other piece of literature (with the caveat that it was written by God). And yes, it uses literary devices like metaphor, analogy, simile, and personification. But just like any other book, most people don’t have trouble identifying what is what.

Consider the following sentences:

“I could eat a horse.”
“I rode a horse.”

Do you have any trouble understanding which statement is factual and which is hyperbole? I didn’t think you would. Most second graders can figure it out. So when we read the Bible, we don’t need an English professor (or Hebrew professor in the case of the original language) there to help explain to us which are factual statements and which are literary devices.

I sometimes am confounded at the mental gymnastics some people go through to deny the plain reading of the text. The danger in such a practice is the slippery slope phenomenon where everything we disagree with becomes metaphor. What’s next? Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead because that’s not scientific either? Look at these two verses:

“For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is.” (Exodus 20:11).

“For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:40).

Now, from a simple reading of these two verses, what makes one factual and one allegorical? All I can say it that some people want to believe one and not the other. So they force the words to say what they want them to say.

As to the word “day,” it’s true that the word can mean different things. Look at the following sentence:

“In my grandfather’s day, a man could ride a horse 40 miles a day, riding by day.”

There are 3 meanings of the word day in that sentence. Do you have any trouble figuring out what each one means. Again, I’m sure you can. I did a quick search on and saw the word day appears in the KJV 2,263 times. Why is it that ordinary people can figure out the meaning of the word everywhere else in the Bible except Genesis?!

In conclusion, I reject the notion that I or other creation-believing Christians read the Bible literally. I say we read the Bible and understand the plain meaning of the words. It seems to me it’s the people who make the claim we’re “literalists” that have trouble reading the Bible!

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