We Can’t Take Everything in the Bible Literally. And if You Think We Should, Tell Me if You Take Leviticus 19:27 Literally.

I’ve been reading a great book called “Christianity’s Dangerous Idea” by Alister McGrath.  Really, every Christian should read it.  The book is an account of the Christian Reformation from the 16th century until now.  Although I have not yet finished the book, I do want to write about something that has struck me odd.

There is no doubt that the Christian faith is full of conflict today.  Every denomination has a different set of beliefs about the Bible.  While most don’t see these differences as major salvational issues, some most certainly do, and depending on how the masses perceive the belief (such as someone’s view of Hell), it can be labeled as heresy or not.

There’s a problem here, because there are some sects of the Christian faith that really believe that they have the Bible interpreted correctly and that anyone who disagrees with them is completely wrong and not in the Christian faith.  I’m learning however, that protestantism started out as a divided movement, and all through the century’s has been a divided movement.  Here’s some examples.

Interpretation of the Bible has been a heavy heavy issue in the protestant movement.  Why? Because unlike the Catholic church which has an ultimate authority on the interpretation of Scripture, protestantism has no such authority.  In fact the one of the main points of the movement as Luther said, was that every layman should be able to read and understand the scriptures for himself.  There is no ultimate way in protestantism to interpret the scriptures and because of that it sets the movement off on a divided start.  People since the 16th century have debated the trinity (especially since technically the word is found no where in scriptures), what it actually means to be saved, and what that actually looks like.

The Bible although inspired by God, is just not always that black and white.  I’ve heard so many statements like “if it’s in the Bible then I believe it” or “Everything the Bible says is to be taken completely literally” etc etc.  the problem is that those statements make the person saying them usually hypocritical.  Let me give you an example.

1. Christ says “This is my body, take and eat, this is my blood, take and drink” (tim whitaker paraphrase).   No protestant Christian (at least that I know of) believes that this is to be taken literally, instead they believe it is to be taken metaphorically.  This completely contradicts any person’s belief that they take the whole Bible “literally”. Clearly such as in this case (and others), we do not.

2.  I once was discussing this issue (taking the BIble literally) with a gentlemen.  He said “look the Bible says do not kill, therefore we shouldn’t kill.  It’s that simple”. I then replied “well most Christians support the death penalty.” My point wasn’t that Christians shouldn’t be against the death penalty (I personally am).  My point, was that it’s not always THAT simple.  Blanket statements like that are not completely true, they are circumstantially true.  And it is important to see the difference.

The danger (as I’m seeing) with the protestant movement is that everyone was to read the BIble and see for themselves what the Scriptures said, and although the main point is pretty black and white (Jesus), other issues are still highly contested, and were contested in the past.  People fought wars over if works are part of the saving process, or if they are a result of salvation (P.S both sides can prove their point with Scriptures), the trinity and the deity of Christ, Hell and what it is, and how to interpret the scriptures.

The scary part? Everyone in the 16-19th century thought that they had the only interpretation of scripture, because of that they fought to the death (literally and figuratively) over issues that we don’t even consider to be major issues today, and some issues (such as homosexuality) were not nearly as debated as they are today.  While this does not change the truth that the act of homosexuality has never been seen as a widely help acceptable act, it does show that sometimes protestantism picks certain battles to fight over due to the cultural relevance of that time.

What’s my point? Well we need to remember the past to prepare for the future.  The Bible and its interpretation is not as simple in protestantism as we always make it out to be.  It is not black and white because humans are not black and white.  The Bible, while all inclusive for salvation, knowledge and relationship with God, is not easily universally interpreted.  We need to remember this when we approach the scriptures.  Especially us that claim to be part of a movement that started out for the common folk being able to read and interpret scriptures for themselves.  This is why it is SO important for us as Christians to understand the Bible, understand the point of views out there, and then do our own digging in to seeing what God is revealing to us.

Am I saying that the Bible is completely subjective? Nope absolutely not.  What I am saying is that we need to realize that we are following a long line of people that have interpreted Scripture sometimes much differently then we have.  This notion that one denomination has the Bible down is a notion that is not true.  No one denomination (no matter how conservative or liberal) has it all right and we need to acknowledge this. The Bible, although basic in its message, is complex, deep, and full of context and culture.  Everyone comes to the table with their own bias. Everyone picks which verses they want to claim “cultural context” and which verses they want to claim “still relevant to today” (see the woman in leadership issue for a classic example).

I recently was told by someone that I should repent for my pride and arrogance and that my teachings and beliefs of God and the Bible were completely wrong.  I was told this for simply pointing out that the Bible mentions things like pride, idolatry, and lying more often then it mentions the act of homosexuality being sinful.  My point was to say that there are more “important” (if you will) things to address in culture than homosexuality.  The scary part was that my statement (regarding how many times the Bible pointed these issues out) was completely true.  But because of the bias of someone, it blinded them from simply acknowledging that there are other things to point out in culture.  But then of course, isn’t this the point? When Luther said that he believes in the priesthood of all believers and they should be able to read the Bible, is this not the unwanted side effect? That now there are hundreds of millions of people interpreting it for themselves all (myself included) with their own bias.  Welcome to protestantism.

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13 responses to “We Can’t Take Everything in the Bible Literally. And if You Think We Should, Tell Me if You Take Leviticus 19:27 Literally.

  1. If you don’t accept the Bible as an authoritative and accurate record of human history then you will need to look elsewhere. Jesus accepted the Pentateuch as being the Word of God, Living and Active and sharper than a double edged sword. My proposal is that you go to His Word for wisdom and repent of opinion, conjecture, the contemporary cultural mandate and any other obstacle that would keep you from an ever more intimate relationship with the God who created you and love us more than we could possibly imagine. We must take care not to let the prism of our prejudice get in the way of the Truth which could not be clearer in the Bible. There is no escaping the Bible’s unambiguous teaching that sexual relationships outside the confines of a covenantal marriage between a man and an woman is a sin. If you are listening to any voices that want to differ then it is not of God. These are the same voices that may claim to be Christian and seek to justify abortion. All Scripture is God breathed. Jesus said, “follow me”, keep that simple instruction and our lives will be fruitful.

  2. You know that many Christians in the past have used the Bible to support mass murder, slavery, racism, and a slew of other terrible things right? What’s my point? That anyone can make the Bible say ANYTHING.

    Now I don’t disagree with you on your marriage point, the question is what is marriage? Is it saying I do? Is it a ring we put on a finger? is it sex? Hebrew people would say vows then have sex and then celebrate because they believed sex was what actually bonded your spirits in to one flesh and thus you were not married until that had occurred. In our culture we say vows, party, then the couple usually has sex after, because we see marriage consecrated when the pastor/priest/rabbi says “I now pronounce you man and wife”. So which is it? Is it sex? vows? the authority of a pastor/priest/rabbi? Do you see my point here? although I’m not doubting that truth is there, I’m simply saying it is NOT THAT SIMPLE all the time.

    Sure all scripture is God breathed, but has to be taken in the context of the time it was written, who it was written to, and what culture it was written to. The Bible was not written by perfect men who were possessed by a spirit and wrote these words down, they were imperfect men who had flaws and were under inspiration (not possession) of the Holy Spirit. If no one studied the Bible and simply took the 66 books we have today (which that’s a whole other process and story) then our Christianity would look much different including abiding by the Levitical laws and being saved by works (see James, and Matthew 7:21), My POINT is that yes all Scripture is God breathed, but that does not translate to “Just read these words in english for face value and follow them”.

    – Tim

    • Hey Tim,
      I just came across your blog, and I think its great. I do have a question for you, maybe you could blog about it? Lately I’m struggling with different denominations & what they believe. I was raised in a bible church, but I went to a christian school where I was always around Assemblies of God people. I have seen both sides. I know there are way more than just these two denominations, but these are the ones I have been thinking of constantly. I’m always thinking of the differences in the two, when I go to a church service at an AG church I ask my self; “why are they saying that?…. Are they right? ….Is my thinking wrong?” When I think of AG churches I automatically think of “speaking in tongues” and emotions. I don’t think we should run on our emotions when it comes to the Lord. Another thing is worship, I believe worship should be something you constantly are doing, not just clapping your hands to a cool song, that you don’t even know the words to because the music is to loud.
      Like I said, I’ve seen both sides, and maybe the reason I’m so negative toward Speaking in tongues, and running on ones emotions is because of all the hypocrisy I have seen in the AG churches. In one of our chapel services the pastor thought he would just show us a cool video and “preach” to us on how we need to be the new generation, and not even care to open his bible (to cool) He would end with us closing our eyes, and playing some sort of praise and worship song that would hopefully urge us to go toward the front, and make the same change in our life that we made last week by coming to the altar (total sarcasm) I have seen the same in Baptist churches, and other churches as well, but for some reason I struggle with The AG churches. Don’t get me wrong, everyone can be a hypocrite. But I would see my friends in High school singing on the worship team, raising their hands and what not, but just last saturday that same person up on that stage, was doing sexual things with his girlfriend in youth group.

      I know I kind of got off topic but when i think of AG i think of speaking in tongues.
      If you could make a blog and explain to me what your take is on it, I would love that.
      Thanks.
      -John

      • Hey John, thanks for finding my blog, your raise great questions but I think it’d be better to answer them privately, shoot me an e-mail drumminelsewhere@gmail.com

        I’m not going to approve your comment because it doesn’t have much to do with the subject you’re replying to. Please don’t take offense to this 🙂

  3. So my question to u tim is how should we take it??? We can’t just say that every ones opinion is truth cuz there can only be one truth. A.nd I’m also not saying that I’m ignorant to the fact that I would ever say that I personally have all the answers… I can see certain issues being confusing. But I feel its pretty self explanitory when keeping with Gods character. Obviously he didn’t actually mean for us to be canables and eat his body and blood. He spoke in parables constantly. Things like I shall not kill. My opinion is we should never take a life period other than the kill be based on the immediate saving of a life… hostage situation, war “just of coarse and that’s debateable” homosexuality obviously is a no although we are not supposed to act as if its worse than any other sin including pride and lyings. We won’t be perfect but its the addlong race of us fighting our flesh to be more and more christ like… so I know I can’t get it all right and I pray every day for the Lord to minister to me through his word.. and if dif between me and another

    • Come about I won’t fight ill just hope the Lord ministers to that persons heart… or even to my own… but I also personally believe a whole lot of people out their purpously pick scripture to follow in order not to hinder their culture or lives.. such as people who have hatred for homosexuality who make it their life purpouse to hate them… but they forget that our lives shouldn’t. Change our views on the bible the bible should change our views thus our lives

  4. I agree with this post, cultural relevance and human nature prevent things from being black and white. However i think a greater emphasis needs to be placed on reading and understanding the word so that you can take this context into account. We need to educate ourselves on the bible, we cant just say “well its hard to figure out” or “its not black and white” and then just form w/e opinion we want. Our opinions should constantly be evolving and changing as we grow closer and closer to God, converging on the example of Jesus. God will convict each of us accordingly, and I think far to many people feel they need to do the convicting for God. With that said, God will sometimes use us to point out the sins of others(david was convicted by Nathan) but when God calls us to do this it is out of Love for that person and well…will come from God, not an angry reaction to what that person said. Tim I think a good blog post would be about when we are called to convict others of their sin, just throwing it out there.

  5. It is true Tim that many people through the years have taken verses in the Bible and twisted them to mean whatever they want. However, those misinterpretations are just that, wrong interpretations. There is only one correct interpretation of the Bible. I agree that nobody has it all right, but If you know Jesus that means you have the Holy Spirit that will help you understand and interpret that scripture correctly. Most of the false interpretations of scripture that have led to horrible things in history such as the crusades, or the wars between the Protestants and Catholics, they happened because the people trying to interpret scripture didn’t really know Christ. Now I’m not saying that mistakes can’t be made by people that really do know Jesus, that’s why we need to look at scripture in the light of scripture as a whole and not just individual verses, look at context and other things that help us study. But I believe completely that The Holy Spirit will help you understand and interpret scripture correctly.

  6. Jordan if there is only one way to interpret the Bible, then that means there are over 1000 denominations that have most things about the Bible interpreted wrongly (wether it be speaking in tongues, women in leadership, or end times). But I know people in many different denominations that have the Holy Spirit, that love Jesus with everything. So how do we make sense of that?

    -Tim

  7. I think all those wars and crusades and eras where the over all church did absolutely un Christ like movements was because rulers didn’t go to Christ or the word for the guidance for the action.. I think their pride and greed for dominance made the choice first thennnn they used what the people cared about “God” as their pushing inspicrational point to just their means…. and certain cultural things like woman in leadership is kinda plain to me…. but at the end of the day when I see God , I under a better mind set can say I didn’t let a girl lead men in pastoral roles cuz ur word said, as opposed to hey I know the word said it but I just thought it was void and discounted it… its why I don’t get tattoos. I’m very unsure if I. Can or should… but because I’m unsure I just don’t do it cuz in my opinion why risk sin against God?? Just my view

  8. Very nice post, Tim. About the Protestant take on the Last Supper: I obviously have no idea how the Protestant majority takes the Last Supper in modern times, but whether or not it was suppose to be taken literally was the great dividing point between Lutheranism and the Zwinglian Reformation. They attempted to form an alliance but Luther believed in the actual presence of Jesus’s blood and body, and Zwingli believed it was only a meal of remembrance. Likewise, John Calvin believed only in the spiritual presence of Jesus’s blood and body. Anyway, just prove again that things can always be interpreted differently.

  9. hi
    the thing is that, that was apart of the old covernment fore the jews. we are in the new covernment with jesus. leviticus is the law to the jews. god whanted his people to pe diferent from the othere people in the land so that they know they are gods people, so that they know whos example to follow.

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