My church has always brought us up to believe the Bible is without error and every section in it must be taken literally. Then I have other people tell me that the Bible should not be taken literal. Like the book of Ruth the miracles of Jesus, the Exodus, and others…please forgive me for my lack of understanding on most subjects  I have been taught to take everything literal. I do take the words of Jesus literally. Revelation, his teaching on his kingdom. I’m at a brick wall with history, evolution…would it be fair for me to say, in layman’s terms. Genesis 1 describes how God brought into existence land animals, fish, birds, insects etc and through these he had his hand on them evolving into all the different species…would I be correct in thinking your belief was one of these creations was the ape, that finally evolved into us? Humans? But this does not explain how he created Adam out of the dust and eve from his rib.
Again I really appreciate your time to answer such elementary questions from someone like myself. I just fear my faith is disappearing and the frighting thought of nothing after we die.
Thankyou so much for your time.


Just a quick response, followed by more later. I believe that when the context implies that the Bible should be taken literally, then it should be taken literally. When the context implies that the Bible should be taken figuratively, it should be taken figuratively. 

You have been taught to always take the Bible literally. This is a sloppy approach, intellectually. This is because no one takes the Bible literally at every point. For example, when the Bible says that God holds us in the palm of his hand, we do not take this literally. Obviosly, we believe that God does not have literal hands and fingernails. When David says that God knit him in his mother’s womb, we do not believe that he has tiny knitting needles which he uses to form us.

Having said that, in the vast majority of cases, we take what the Bible says literally. When it says that David killed Goliath with a stone, I take it literally. Generally, historical passages are fully literal. I believe that Jesus literally walked on water. I believe that God literally created Adam and Eve. I believe that Jesus was literally raised form the dead and that he literally fed the five thousand by miraculous creation of fish and bread. I believe that the Red Sea was literally parted–literally when Moses put his staff in it. The flood of Noah was a literal flood which lasted for a literal 150 days.  

Do not worry yourself that if you open your opinion of the the nature of what is to be takes symbolically that it will change everything. In fact it will change only an extremely small number of things. Bear in mind that those people who have told you your entire spiritual life to take everything literally do not follow their own rule. Consider the examples I gave above.

Of course, there remain a few questions which are debatable. What about Revelation? This is apocalyptic language, and the rule for apocalyptic language is that it is generally taken figuratively. For this reason, most (but not all) of what is written in Revelation is figurative. The "woman" is the church. The "dragon" is Satan, etc.

Then there are the "days" of Genesis. You will have to decide that one for yourself. Historically, the verdict has been split. Philo, Origen, Augustine and many or perhaps even most of the really important theologians before the scientific revolution took these days to be figurative in that they represent periods of time rather than literal days. Others have taken the meaning literally. Well, we have a gray area here. Please do not be intimidated by those who want to bully you into taking these days literally, but also do not take them figuratively simply because it is easier to do so in a modern setting. Think hard and think for yourself. Consider the context of Near Eastern literature, etc. Remember that this is not a salvation issue.

About Adam and Eve, I believe that they were a special creation–that God created them from scratch. Having said that, the evidence is that humans are quite similar to apes. It is not inconceibable to me that God could have put a soul, spirit, consciosness and a conscience into an evolved ape. This would not destroy biblical theology, but I believe that Adam and Eve are a special creation. The evidence for evolution is strong, but it does not rule out God doing something miraculous. John the Baptist said that God could make children of Abraham from stones. I believe him.

So what we have is 10,000 possible questions. 9,950 of them are pretty easy. 50 of them are debatable. Do not sweat the 50 debatable ones, but do not ignore them either. Either way, the percentage of the Christian faith which is at stake is VERY small. The reliability of the scripture is not at issue. Jesus was raised from the dead. That alone establishes the validity of Christianity and the Bible. Go ahead and be "conservative." Take things literally when in doubt. You lose nothing in doing this. However, be willing to give up some of you preconceived ideas. It is OK to have been wrong on one point.
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John Oakes, PhD 

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