Posted by: John-Paul | June 10, 2012

The Problem with Literal Biblical Interpretation

I think the evangelical Church’s insistence on an absolutely literal interpretation of the Bible is a problem.

First, ignorance of the cultures and settings of biblical stories creates a distorted understanding of what is true. Second, requiring literal interpretation of all biblical passages ignores truths learned by Science. This, in turn, makes evangelicals look foolish to a world that needs to see the wisdom of the evangelical message. Finally, fighting with school officials and government leaders over Creationism vs. Evolution is outside God’s desire that they “live peaceably with all men.” (Romans 12:18)

First, I have been reading Manners & Customs of Biblical Lands by Fred H. Wight,  copyrighted before the time of today’s controversies. Time and again, he shows some detail of ancient culture that few Westerners are aware of. He then gives verses that are examples of that custom or fact. As a converse example, Wight refers to the KJV use of the word “candles” when candles were not in use at that time.

Second, I assert that the Creation stories (which I believe) were first told around campfires by nomadic tribesmen – maybe even Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Not having the science of how God created, the tellers cast the stories into literary formats their listeners easily understood. The storytellers would be appalled to think today’s believers would try to force their literal understanding into such a narrative framework. This link goes to a picture (shone here) of hundreds of galaxies  millions of lightyears away.

Finally, early believers did not overcome the persecutions of the Roman Empire by fighting with officials over what their children would be taught in school. They sacrificed their lives to hold on to Gospel truth and their love for the Savior and thus the Church survived the destruction of the Empire.

Today, believers need to focus on living by faith (more trust in Messiah than intellectual beliefs), speaking the good news of God’s rulership over their lives, and seeking to bring God’s rulership into the various areas of today’s culture. This includes applying godly perspectives to the theories of Science in much the same way Paul used the shrine to the unknown God and the words of their own philosophers to speak the Gospel to the people of Athens.

Were the parables of Jesus literally true or merely illustrations of Kingdom principles? Were the words of the prophets all to be taken literally or were some figurative? Why cannot the Creation stories and John’s Revelation be seen as figures understood by the Jews of his day?

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