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I Don’t Take the Bible Literally! And Neither Do You


One of the things I enjoy most about my work at Focus on the Family is the opportunity to speak at secular university campuses and to organizations that are indifferent or opposed to orthodox Christianity. Most of my colleagues are sane enough to avoid such invitations, but I relish them because they allow me to mix with folks who see the world quite differently, and it’s intellectually and rhetorically stimulating to interact with them in a meaningful way. I also get the opportunity to correct lots of misunderstandings about what Christians actually believe.

One of these common misunderstandings is not even presented as a question, but an assumption. It typically goes something like this: “So Mr. Stanton, you take the Bible literally, so what do you believe about … ?”

I answer my questioner, to their great surprise: “Well no, I don’t take the Bible literally.” I then pause for effect, both for the sake of the non-faithful as well as the Christians in the audience.

You can read the faces of the audience clearly. The non-believers are relieved that I’m “not one of those” but actually enlightened. The faithful disappointedly conclude that I am the other kind of “one of those,” he who’s caved to the spirit of the age. Then I clear up the obvious confusion. “I don’t take the Bible literally, but I do indeed believe everything in the Bible as absolutely true.”

Some get this important distinction immediately, while others have one bit of confusion simply replaced by another. But this is a very important point, especially for those who are committed to defending and advocating for the truth and integrity of God’s Word.

First, we must understand that the phrase “take the Bible literally” is not really descriptive of how any Christian tradition—even the most fundamentalist—has ever read or understood scriptures. It is primarily a litmus test—and a silly one at that—for “do you really believe the Bible?” This is why so many Christians will raise their hands at this option in polls because they want to be counted among the really faithful Bible-believers. Don’t most of us? But raising our hand to a myth is not being faithful to that we are voicing our allegiance to, is it? We really do know better, if we just think about it.