There are many different ways of understanding the Bible. Let’s discus jus a few of these as we begin. One is to declare that the Bible contains God’s word, but it isn’t His word. It has His truths all mixed in with a lot of human opinion and ideas. Even in those times when it is just men talking it is still the case that what is said maybe truth, but it shouldn’t carry authority like something written by the finger of God. Others see the Bible as not only inspired but that every word of it should be taken literally. There are many others who take the Bible as the inspired, God breathed word but still recognize that the Bible contains all different kinds of literature and one must interprete in light of the form of literature that is being used. If someone says they take the Bible literally, it is worth asking what they mean by the statement. Does that mean they take the Book of Revelation literally? The Book itself says that it is a book of signs or symbols. To interpret the Bible correctly will demand that we look for what the writer meant when he wrote it down to begin with. If he meant it figuratively and we take it literally we will have misunderstood the text.
Consider some examples that might help. When Jesus was instituting the Lord’s Supper, he said, “Take, eat, this is my body that is broken for you.” In the same manner he took the cup and told them to all drink of it. He said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” Did Jesus mean that the bread used for the Lord’s Supper literally changed miraculously into the body of Jesus? Did he mean that the fruit of the vine literally turned into his blood when he prayed for it? There are large numbers of people that take it just that way. If I take the Bible literally, then such would be a logical answer. The truth is it is bread before it is blessed, during the time of being blessed and after it is blessed. It never literally becomes the body of Jesus nor does the cup turn into his blood. To take something that is meant figuratively and make it literal is to do great harm to Scriptures. By the way if one reads through the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John they will be amazed at how often Jesus speaks with figures rather than literally. He said, “I am the Bread of life.” “I am the light of the world.” “I am the door.” “I am the good shepherd.” “I am the resurrection of the life.” I am the way, the truth and the life, “I am the true vine and my father is the gardener.”
When someone attacks another person for not taking the Bible literally it would be extremely wise to ask exactly what they mean by the statement. If they mean that every thing that is said must be taken literally, then they are taking a very foolish stand that won’t hold up in tons of different cases in the Bible. If they mean that they believe Bible is the inspired, God breathed word of God that is to be studied and taken in the very same way the writer meant it to be taken when he penned it, then I would wholeheartedly agree. Generally the Bible should be read to be taken in the most obvious way it can be taken. God’s word was written to be read and understood so it usually is clear what is meant on the surface. But there are times that the meaning is hidden deeper for some reason. What is absolutely amazing is that the things in Scripture that have to do with the salvation of a person and how to live the Christian life are the clearest things one can read about. There is depth in those times that would keep the most learned person wondering for a lifetime. But even a child can understand what God said to do in order to be saved.
I believe the total of Scripture, where it is rightly translated and correctly conveys the message the writer wanted to communicate. Such a book demands the study of every person for a life time. To miss the Bible is to miss the greatest of all books and the one book that should be read far more than all the others put together.