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

If we open the scriptures to any random page, we will easily find an example to disprove this myth. I have just done this as I write and came to Ecclesiastes 10:2.

“The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left.”

Besides the interesting political connotations for contemporary Americans here, are we to take literally that my heart—this four-chambered, muscular organ beating in my chest—physically inclines to the left part of my body if I’m a fool? If I take a literal view of scripture it does. But if I take a view of these words as true and reliable, they mean my internal self—who I really am—is inclined in a direction exactly opposite of the one who is wise. Scripture’s lesson for me? Being either wise or a fool has dramatic and polar opposite consequences and affects in the deepest parts of our being.

I randomly flip over a few books and find myself in Psalms 62. I read here, in verse 2, that God is my rock, my salvation and my fortress. This is remarkable comforting news.

As we read it seriously and truthfully, we don’t believe that God is literally a rock, much less my rock. If so, how big is He? Is He igneous, sedimentary or metamorphic? God says He’s my fortress. Is he stone, wooden or steel? How tall are His walls? What’s His configuration? Am I being disrespectful to God with such questions? It seems like it. And that’s the point. We dishonor God and much of His Word by trying to take all parts of it literally. So why do we say we do?

Is God literally my salvation? Oh my, YES! and I tremble at the literal truth of it.

You see, these words we just read work as powerful and dramatic symbolism to drive home the literal truth that God is our firm, immovable foundation, our strong, impenetrable protector and our salvation. Our only hope.

In the same way, we do not take all of Christ’s words literally, although we take each one as divinely and practically true. See John 10:7, 9

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep … I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out and find pasture.

“Very truly I tell you  …”

Do we believe that Jesus is speaking truthfully to us here? May we not see it any other way!

“I am the gate for the sheep…”

Do we think that Jesus is literally a sheep’s gate, an agricultural device? If so, are his hinges on the top or the side? Does he open to the left or right? If we do indeed take Jesus literally here, these are very appropriate questions for the serious student of our Lord, are they not? But they are utterly silly questions—if not downright disrespectful—because we know Jesus is speaking metaphorically, not literally, about being a sheep gate. As we pass through Jesus to new life, will we literally find pasture? Speaking for myself, I’m in desperate need of something more. Or course He is speaking truthfully that He is the way each of us must go, whom we must pass through to enter eternal life, redemption and rest in Him.

We know that God has given us each word of scripture, communicating so beautifully His revealed truth in multiple ways. Faithful readers of Scripture know it speaks

• Literally—Jesus is God’s Son, physically rose from the dead, bodily ascended to the Father and will return, literally.

• Poetically—as in much of Psalms and Song of Solomon, even in Christ’ teaching

• Metaphorically—many of Jesus’ parables and illustrations.

• Rhetorically—Acts 1:18-19. Did all—every last bit—of Judas’ intestines, and only his intestines spill out? Did everyone in Jerusalem here about this—to a person? Or is Luke saying the Judas’ death was dramatic and its news widespread?

• Descriptively—“Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill these jars with water,’ so they filled them to brim.” Abraham took his wife’s handmaiden as his wife.

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gstanton@churchleaders.com'
Glenn T. Stanton is the director of family formation studies at Focus on the Family and the author of many books, most recently, Loving My (LGBT) Neighbor (Moody) and The Family Project (Tyndale).