Should the Bible be taken literally and as an accurate account of history and human development?
Ok, I’m opening up Pandora’s box with this question. There are many that will say that everything word in the Bible should be taken at face value and then there is a school of thought that says that one must understand the intent of the writer and what that writer was trying to say about God. There are some that say that reading the intent of the author is making a literal interpretation.
So to narrow the scope of this discussion, I want to avoid the figurative language, simile and parable in the Bible and recognize that the author meant what he wrote and we have no reason to stray from that. So we don’t have to argue that when Jesus called himself a vine whether or not he meant an actual vine. I assume that most people recognize literature and figure of speech so there is no point in debating that.
I would rather focus on the content of the Bible. For example, when reading the book of Genesis, should we take it as literal? Can we actually believe that two people populated the earth? The spiritual aspect of Adam and Eve is rather simple because it ties in to the sacrifice of Jesus. Romans 5:17 illustrates this exactly:
For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ
So there is a reason for Adam and Eve but does that mean we should take it literal or take is as a spiritual lesson? And what of the great flood and Noah’s Ark? Many cultures had an account of a great flood. Is it the same one discussed in the Bible or did the Bible use the lessons of those cultures to highlight a spiritual lesson? There is one theory that an asteroid crashed into glaciers, melting them, hence covering the earth with water. And this may be the reason that so many different civilizations have an account of a flood.
This is an article of faith, which means that each of us must reconcile any questions on our own and move forward. However, there are practical applications to the Bible that have a profound impact on our lives depending on who is interpreting them and their ability to influence events.
Abortion, the death penalty, the role of women in the church, homosexuality, science versus religion and many other debates are the results of differing opinions that are linked to the way we view scripture. The problem with many that choosing on the literal interpretation of the Bible is the leapfrogging between the New and Old Testament in order to justify one’s position.
The book of Leviticus is a perfect example of how we pick and choose to follow a literal interpretation of the Bible. The Leviticus laws deal with ethical, ceremonial and moral issues – but the truth is that most of us couldn’t even comprehend a good portion of those laws. Why, because technology, society and human development has rendered them useless. So we are forced to pick and choose those that seem relevant and ignore others. Even those that believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible understand this – even if they won’t admit it. For example:
-Don't let cattle graze with other kinds of Cattle
-Don't have a variety of crops on the same field.
-Any person who curseth his mother or father, must be killed.
-If a man sleeps with his father's wife... both him and his father's wife is to be put to death. If a man sleeps with his wife and her mother they are all to be burnt to death
-If a priest's daughter is a whore, she is to be burnt at the stake.
Now, who is prepared to make a literal interpretation of those? But there are people that believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible. I guess one would have to take into account the times in which the book of Leviticus was written. So it is possible that those laws made absolute sense. There must be a reason that we no longer subscribe to them. But what of other versus that we choose to literally interpret:
"Women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but should be submissive, as the law also says." (1 Corinthians 14:34)
"But if ... evidences of virginity are not found for the young woman, then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones..." (Deuteronomy 22:20,21)
"If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched." (Mark 9:43)
"One of illegitimate birth shall not enter the congregation of the Lord." (Deuteronomy 23:2)
"Slaves are to be submissive to their masters in everything, and to be well-pleasing, not talking back ." (Titus 2:9)
"Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the cruel. " (1 Peter 2:18)
So clearly there are passages in the Bible that we do not apply to modern times. That being the case, how are do we go about choosing which scriptures to follow and which to use a historical reference and lessons for spiritual development?
1. Are there particular teachings in the Bible that don’t seem to make sense?
2. Do you believe everything in the Bible as fact or as a combination of mythology, historical accounts and spiritual lessons?
3. Do you believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible? Why or Why Not?