Do You Take the Bible Literally?

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I’ve been asked this question many times, but a recent interaction emphasized to me again the importance of using proper terminology when it comes to telling others how I read the Bible. A young man challenged me with this question and said that he wanted to know because in Matthew 5:29–30 Jesus talks about cutting off body parts if they cause you to sin. He wanted to know if he should take that literally.

Now, I think his question was “tongue in cheek.” He thought that by using that example, I would admit the whole Bible shouldn’t be taken literally and that would then cast doubt on taking Genesis as history. Of course, he didn’t need to use such an extreme example because I freely admit that it is improper to take the whole Bible literally. Instead of literally, we should take the Bible “literarily.” If it is poetry, like the Psalms, then we take it as poetry. If it is prophecy, like Revelation, then we take it as prophecy. If it history, like Genesis, then we take it as history.

In Matthew 5:27–30, Jesus talks about our intentions and thoughts being sin—not just our physical actions. For example, Matthew 5:27 tells us that adultery can be committed not just through a physical act, but also when our hearts lust after others. The entire passage portrays to us the seriousness of sin (the analogy of cutting off body parts is extreme!), but also helps us understand the need to avoid situations that might lead us to sin.

I then pointed out that Genesis should be read and believed as historical narrative because that is what the original Hebrew language clearly intends. (See The Biblical Hebrew Creation Account: New Numbers Tell The Story for more information.) He seemed satisfied with my answer, and I pray that he will take Genesis and the entire Bible as it was intended to be read and understood.

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