Often I hear pastors, teachers and run of the mill believers state proudly that they interpret the bible literally. This essay is my response to that.
Merriam-Webster: to explain the meaning of (something)
Vocabulary.com: make sense of; assign a meaning to
Dictionary.com: to give or provide the meaning of; explain; explicate; elucidate:
OK, now let us define “literal”:
Merriam-Webster: adhering to fact or to the ordinary construction or primary meaning of a term or expression
Vocabulary.com: limited to the explicit meaning of a word or text, in accordance with fact or the primary meaning of a term
Dictionary.com: in accordance with, involving, or being the primary or strict meaning of the word or words; not figurative or metaphorical:
So, anyone who says the bible should be interpreted literally is saying what, exactly? If something is literal, then it is what it is, and there should be no interpretation at all, right? Why would one have to interpret it? I assume people are using the Merriam-Webster definition, which is to explain the meaning. Honestly, don’t we all “interpret” everything about life? You hear a sound, you interpret, that is, identify what the sound is. You read anything and you have to transfer the words into your mind and then determine what they are saying. So, I get that.
It is the literal concept that I don’t get.
Literal has a pretty strict definition. I don’t see much wiggle room, do you?
In John 15:1 Jesus Christ, our God who cannot lie, says ““I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.” There is no manner of interpreting literally that any other way except Jesus Christ is a vine, a plant, and we therefore worship vegetation.
Oh! Excuse me! People say that is NOT to be interpreted literally. They say it is symbolism. A metaphor. Here is where I call BS. One cannot say the Bible should be interpreted literally unless one actually interprets it ….wait for it…..literally!
These same pastors and teachers will then say the word “Day” in the Genesis creation story means a 24 hour literal day.It cannot be interpreted as symbolism or a metaphor.
Which is it then?
It seems to me we are arguing about how the Bible gives us guidance rather than the guidance itself. The method over the content. Picture a long cargo train coming to town, each cargo container filled with grains, fruits, vegetables and all kinds of food stock. But when this fully loaded cargo train stops in town, the townspeople proceed to yammer and yell, arguing about the train! Some argue the wheels are too large, others say they are too small. The thickness of the rails are questioned, while others insist the metal of the rails creates too much heat. While they gather about the tracks and analyze and argue over every specific thing about the train, they ignore the cargo! They are not fed.
That is what we are doing with the Bible. Genesis delivers a powerful message of one all mighty God creating the entire universe, and we argue about how He did it. “He did it in six Earth days!” He did it in thousands of years!”
We miss the message!
The story of the Garden of Eden contains a message about mankind’s nature, how all of us are flawed, the importance of obeying God and that God ultimately has a plan. Instead of receiving that message we dispute everything we can about the story.
It does not matter if the story is real or a metaphor. That is just the cargo train that is delivering the message. Take the message, and stop arguing over the train’s wheels!
I wish that I was more gifted with words to describe this concept better.