Ask the Pastor: Should we take the Bible literally?

The short answer is no. Why? Because you can’t take the Bible literally and still be

true to the texts that make up the Bible. There are several reasons for this.

Stories were told to pass down a culture’s lore and teach lessons on morality. The storytellers would

say, “I don’t know if it actually happened, but I know that it is true.” We can’t hold the stories about

legendary figures to modern standards of accuracy when the original scribe felt no reason to abide

by those standards.

The language itself had a much smaller vocabulary than English. Many words had several different

layers of meaning. “Heaven and earth” could refer to the cosmos, the planet earth and the sky above

it, or the spirit and body of a single living being. “The promised land” could refer to a geographic

location or a place and time where people could live at peace with God and others which could be in

the life after death. Wind, breath and spirit are all translating the same word in Biblical texts.

Insisting on literal meanings takes away the more profound meanings of the texts.

The degree of literal meaning also changes depending on whether the text is law. prophecy, poetic

praise, morality tale or history. For example, Genesis 1 is written in quite a sophisticated poetic style.

It is highly unlikely that the writer meant to convey a six twenty-four-hour day creation of everything

that exists. To treat it as a literal, scientific recounting of the beginning of matter and life is to miss

the deep meaning of the spiritual journey we must take in order to form the image of God in our

Sacred texts can help our spiritual formation. That’s why they have been written and passed down

through the centuries. If you take them seriously you can see how profound their messages are. If

you take them literally you will be skimming the surface only.

This is a short answer and overly simplified. Volumes have been written on the subject, but I think

this may be enough to satisfy some and whet the appetite of others to do more research on the

subject of biblical literalism.

Pastor Phil