Is the Bible to be Taken Literally?

Billy Graham’s recent death brought many people in the press to recognize and compliment his life. In one article, a columnist published an article doing just that. The headline talked about Billy Graham, and the first third of the article gave a tribute to the famous evangelist.

The last two-thirds of the article was on an entirely different subject. The author rambled about her being a member of a Methodist church, and as such did not believe in forcing her views on anyone else. She talked about how the Bible was not to be taken literally and how she had no place to insist her views be held by anyone else. Did I mention that she talked about how she did not impose her views on others? She mentioned that a lot, as if she was wanting to make everyone aware that she would not let her Christianity impact those around her. So much so that a tribute to a great Christian leader turned into the author’s attempt to make sure no one around her felt threatened by her private beliefs.

I was also struck by the categorical statement that the Bible was not to be taken literally, which is like saying the books in the library are not to be taken literally.  Such a statement does not make much sense, for the library has many kinds of books: fantasy books, how-to books, poetry, history, and reference books. Some  of them, such as nursery rhymes, are not intended to be literal, while a history of World War II would certainly be literal.

To say categorically that the Bible is not literal can only be made by someone who has not seriously read their Bible. Like a library, it is not one book but many, including history, poetry, private letters, and biography. It is obvious that some passages are not to be taken literally, but  some are. Nevertheless they are all true, whether they be literal or not.

When Jesus says “I am the door” in John 10:9, no one concludes that He is claiming to be made of wood and has hinges. Nevertheless, the verse is still true. The whole verse says “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” Jesus is not literally saying He is a physical door with hinges and a knob, but it is true that Jesus is claiming to be the entry point to salvation.

It is not valid, as the news author seems to try to claim, that because one holds that the Bible is not literal, then the Bible’s claims are somehow not binding on us and those around us. Rather, even the figurative statements are still true, and still true for those who reject the Bible. For example, when Jesus claims to be the door in John 10:9, and later claims in John 14:6 “No one comes to the Father but through Me,” then we cannot wave the meaning away by saying it is not literal. The meaning of the statement is still there and still true. It is literally true that Jesus is claiming to be the one true door to get to the Father. It is also literally true for both Christians and non-Christians that Jesus is making this claim, for whether or not we believe Jesus was correct, the language is nevertheless saying the same thing for anyone who reads it, whether they be Christian, any other religion, or atheist.

It seems odd to try to explain to people that when the Bible says Jesus walked on the road to Emmaus, then it is talking about a literal road, where a literal man was literally walking to a literal town. When the Bible talks about Jerusalem, it is not a symbolic meaning of a false poetic literary device. And when Jesus says “You shall not murder” then He literally means to not murder, and when He says “No one comes to the Father but through Me” then He is literally claiming to be the literal only way to the literal Father.

But even on a wide scale, the Old and New Testaments both mention names and places that we know for a fact exist. Are we to really dismiss entire historical books with a wave of the hand by saying they are not literal?

Perhaps some Methodist Bible study teachers should try to impose some ideas onto their own congregants.


About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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