literally

Do You Take the Bible Literally?

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Do you ever get chided for “taking the Bible literally”? No one gets razzed for taking Darwin or the Gender Spectrum literally; but if you believe what you read in the Bible, please step to the back of the bus.

By “taking the Bible literally,” I don’t mean literally taking everything literally. When God says, “The cattle on a thousand hills are mine,” we don’t ask, “Which thousand hills? Whose are the cattle on all the other hills?” When Jesus told Peter he was to forgive someone “seventy times seven” times, Peter didn’t answer, “But after 490 times, Lord, I can strangle him with my own two hands, right?”

No—what they mean is that we are ignorant yokels for believing in miraculous incidents described in the Bible, like Noah and the Flood, Balaam and his ass that spoke, Jonah and the great fish that swallowed him, and, worst of all, that whole business about Adam and Eve and the Fall. We are ninnies for believing such people ever existed and that such things ever happened.

I have a friend—and I do count him as a friend because I find no malice in him—who professes Christianity, but insists that those Old Testament accounts are only “stories,” or “myths,” told to teach a moral lesson, like Aesop’s fables. Adam and Eve no more existed than the Hare and the Tortoise. Don’t ask me why he says this: I don’t know him well enough to judge. But from there it’s only a small step to claiming that all those incidents are “only stories.”

Farther down the spectrum of unbelief are the wiz kids from the seminaries who insist we shouldn’t “take literally”—that is, we shouldn’t believe—the Bible’s moral teachings, either: most especially those against sodomy, adultery, fornication, idolatry, and polytheism. Those teachings, they say, are “only cultural.” Maybe, just maybe, they once had some relevance for primitive people living thousands of years ago. They certainly don’t apply to us today. We’re too smart and liberated to listen to the Bible. Besides, those teachings prevent us from having fun!

At the very end of the conga line we have post-modern sages who say a text has no meaning beyond what the reader thinks it has. There’s no such thing as truth, and the Bible, like any other book, means whatever you want it to mean—just like the “living Constitution.”

A text that can mean anything, means nothing.

But, hey, now God is out of the picture, and His authority is replaced—voila!—by ours. Whoever is strong enough, ruthless enough, or tricky enough, that’s whose opinion becomes the truth. And for those who don’t agree, there are sensitivity training sessions, human rights tribunals, and re-education camps. And eventually a big pile of dead bodies.

If the history of the last century has taught us nothing else, it should at least have taught us that.

If the miracles reported in the Bible are only stories, and not true accounts of God’s sovereign power over all of His creation, then maybe God doesn’t have that sovereign power, after all. And if He does, why, dog my cats, I guess we do! Well, some of us do—the ones who have clawed and connived themselves into the driver’s seat. If we don’t ascribe sovereignty to God, that leaves a power vacuum. That gaping void will be filled by the State—and those who control its apparatus.

Having reduced God’s commandments to irrelevant cultural footnotes, our philosopher-kings are free to do the things they want to do—redefine basic human institutions, confer rights and freedoms on some while taking them away from others, and redefine human life itself. Please ignore the apparent fact that everything done by the little men behind the curtain makes them richer and more powerful. As the repositories of ultimate wisdom, everything they do is only for our own good. We’re just too dumb to appreciate it.

I can imagine a man being swallowed whole by an enormous shark and surviving for 24 hours and two seconds—“three days,” by the calendar—inside the shark.

What I can’t imagine is how absolute power in the hands of sinful, fallible, limited human beings, who are fool enough to think themselves both wise and good, can ever lead to anything but misery and hell for all the rest of us.

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