Q #22: I’ve heard you say we can’t take all the Bible literally. What do you mean by that?
A: Some of the Bible is written to convey literal facts and some of it is written in ways that are intended to be symbolic or metaphoric.
The Bible is full of literary devices that are meant to have a poetic or enhanced literary effect on its words. Simile, metaphor, exaggeration or overstatement, and allegory are all to be found in the pages of the Bible and demand therefore a less-than-literal approach if we are to get at the meaning of the Bible. When Jesus says, for example, “I am the light of the world”, we don’t understand this to have literal significance. We understand it to be metaphorical language. “The eyes of the Lord” don’t literally “run to and fro throughout the earth” (2 Chronicles 16:9), for example.
However, this doesn’t mean that we should throw all the words of scripture out as having no literal value. Some things are meant to be conveyed as literal facts that have come to pass. For example, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus or the parting of the Red Sea are conveyed as literal facts of history that have larger spiritual significance.
In the end, a church like First Assembly Community Ministries is committed to the idea that the scriptures and the teachings therein are perspicuous or clear enough to be understood by the average person.
That doesn’t mean that there are no gaps between the culture of the ancient world that is the context of the Bible and our present day, but it is to say that, for the most part, the average person should be able to easily discern what is meant to convey literal truth and what is intended as comparison or poetry or overstatement for effect.
Check out more posts from the 31 Questions series on subjects as varied as marijuana, infidelity, 666, the eternal destiny of children who die, dealing with discouragement, cremation, co-habitation, baptism, suicide, prayer, the origins of scripture, hell, work, the third heaven, tithing, Old Testament salvation, giving in the Old Testament, reading Proverbs, recovering from failure, and even speaking in tongues!