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Why Do Some People Interpret the Bible Literally?

"Why do some Christians take the Bible literally and others do not?"

Here is the question illustrating why there are so many different churches and denominations: it's because the Bible itself is so widely interpreted. Some individuals and churches seem to have a rather broad view of the Bible (generally, folks dubbed "liberals") while others claim to interpret scripture quite literally (folks often labeled "conservatives").

The surprising reality is . . . no one interprets the Bible literally.

That's right. No one!

The Bible contains metaphors galore. No one takes these literally--no one really claims that Yahweh God is literally "a rock" (2 Samuel 22.32) or that Jesus Christ was actually "a lamb" (1 Corinthians 5.7). Metaphorically, yes. Literally, no.

Granted, these are extreme examples, and yet they represent only single grains of sand on a beach. For instance, Paul claims women should be silent in church (1 Corinthians 14.34). Now I'm acquainted with churches that won't allow women to preach, to serve as elders or deacons, etc., but I've yet to find a church where women are prohibited from singing hymns, let alone fellowshipping with others--the church would be in pretty bad shape if it tried to enforce this one literally.

On several occasions Jesus commanded that any who would be his followers must sell all of their possessions (Luke 12.33; 14.33). Outside of those under Catholic Orders, I can only think of a handful who've taken this one literally.

The Bible prescribes the death penalty for murder, as well as for adulterers, and for children who curse their parents (Leviticus 20.9). I'm not aware of any takers on the latter commandment.

The Old Testament is full of commands about what to eat, what not to eat, when to plant and when not to plant (how many farmers today leave their fields completely fallow every seven years (Leviticus 25.3-4)?), and the commandments even forbids the mixing of fabrics (Leviticus 19.19)--so much for cotton-polyester blends.

Paul insists that bishops (clergy) and deacons should be the husbands of one wife (1 Timothy 3.2; 3.12). In many churches this passage is used to keep both women and divorced men from serving in these positions. And yet, single men and remarried widowers would also be forbidden from ministry if these passages were strictly adhered to (which means Jesus himself could be neither a bishop nor a deacon!).

So is anybody interpreting the Bible literally? No. Points such as these are all matters of interpretation--and often broad interpretation. Christians generally exempt themselves from the purity laws of the Old Testament because of the pronouncements of both Christ and Paul that they live by grace, not law. Women are allowed to speak and sing in church--even in those churches that interpret scripture closely. And there are few single men or remarried widowers who otherwise qualify for the clergy or deaconate that are turned away. And yet, in so doing scripture is interpreted and the Bible is treated less than literally.

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