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Nobody Takes Every Word of the Bible Literally

A fellow elder, a man I respected deeply, once said at an elder meeting, “I take every word of the Bible literally.” After the meeting, I approached him and made this observation, “John, I don’t think anyone takes every word of the Bible literally.”

John was taken back by my statement and probably wondered if I had gone “liberal” on him. But here’s what I said to clarify my statement. “John, when Jesus calls us his ‘sheep,’ that’s obviously a metaphor. When Paul says that we are to ‘cloth yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility…’ (Col. 3:12) That phrase also isn’t to be taken literally.” The Bible is full of metaphors.

I knew what John meant when he said, “I take the Bible literally.” He meant to declare that by faith, he accepts the Bible as inspired and historical. That Adam, Eve, Noah, Job, Jonah and all the other characters and stories where people are named, actually existed. They are not fictional characters like those in Aesop’s Fables where the stories are clearly fictional but they teach a “truism” about life.

Here’s the challenge; many of the doctrinal differences that Christians have fought over for centuries, have come about when someone reads a statement as absolutely, literally true and the next Christian believes them to be a metaphor. Here’s a great example;

“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.  For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.” John 6:54, 55

When Protestants read these words from Jesus, they interpreted them to be a metaphor. The bread and the wine are not literally the body and blood of Jesus. However, Catholics take Jesus’ words literally. They can’t explain how that happens, that in communion, the bread and the wine literally become the flesh and blood of Jesus, but if Jesus said it, they accept his words by faith as true!

So, who is right in this debate? I happen to believe that statement is not to be taken literally. But, I’m not sure it matters. However, the church has fought over this issue for centuries! What matters (in my opinion) is that true Christians are to remember, regularly, Jesus’ sacrificial death by the eating of bread and wine until Jesus returns again. That’s the point!

The same goes for the different modes of baptism. Do you “sprinkle” or “dunk”? I’m not sure it matters, yet Christians have literally killed each other over this issue. What matters (in my opinion) is what you believe about baptism, that all Christians ought to be baptized as an outward symbol of an inward transformation. Ironically, even baptism is a metaphor for the Israelites being “saved” by passing through the Red Sea and for Christians being “dead to our sins, but alive in Christ.”

So what?

Here’s the point of this blog. Rather than arguing over theological differences that good Christians, who love God and have a high view of scripture, have disagreed over, come to your own position, but do not make it one that causes you to get angry at another Christian for holding. Work for unity, not division. Major on the “majors” and not the “minors.”

“This is my command: Love each other.” John 15:17

How following Jesus works in real life.

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