Tired old argument #24: The Bible is not to be taken literally.
I’m sure you’ve heard someone say that the Bible is not literal or not to be taken literally. If you disagree, as I do, that the Bible should indeed be taken or interpreted literally, this person will then drag out a few verses to prove his point. Usually the verses have something to do with what they think is a ridiculous comparison such as God as a rock or Jesus as a lamb. Obviously, they intone, God is not basaltic, sedimentary or igneous. Jesus is not actually a small fuzzy critter either. And so they dismiss the literal interpretation.
But did they ever look up the term literal in the dictionary? If they had, they might not be so dismissive. The online Merriam-Webster defines literal thusly:
- adheres to a literal reading of the passage
- liberty in the literal sense is impossible
- —B. N. Cardozo
- the literal truth
- a very literal man
Literal is “concerned mainly with facts” or is “free from exaggeration or embellishment.” So dismissing a literal interpretation of the Bible is dismissing facts.
Dr. Walter C. Kaiser Jr. and others define literal as “the author’s intent.” God literally means what He says and says what He means.
God deals in facts. He communicates the fact that humans are lost in sin and must have a payment for sin. The fact is, He provided payment Himself in the form of the death of His only begotten Son on a chunk of wood. It is a fact that if we do not repent and accept this payment, we will not have enough to pay for sin ourselves and so will end up in a literal lake of fire. Does it matter if it’s a real lake or not? Either way it will be immersion in something painful and agonizing for a long, long time.
The Scriptures are literally God’s Word, as testimony if not His actual speech. Literally, God is a rock because He doesn’t change. Basaltic or igneous, it doesn’t matter. Did the rock come first, or did God make rocks so we would have a picture of His unchangeable nature?
What some people mean by literal is “wooden,” which is a literal term meaning they are inflexible when it comes to interpreting God’s Word. People are wooden when they attack the Word of God which allows them to relegate the parts they don’t like to the outer darkness. They start with a wooden interpretation of God as a rock or Jesus as a lamb so they can move on to getting rid of what to them are all the distasteful parts of God’s Word such as obedience, faith, Law, and salvation. It’s a slippery slope using faulty logic and ignoring facts that require a response.
Literal doesn’t mean wooden. It means that the ordinary construction or primary meaning of a term or expression from God is the truth and demands we adhere to that truth. God literally means we have to conform to His Word, all of it, in every respect. If we don’t, we will literally end up separated from Him forever.