What Does it Mean to Interpret the Bible Literally?

Ezekiel-Vision-Merkaba-1When we read the Bible how should we go about understanding what God is communicating to us? Are we to take it literally?  And if so, what exactly do we mean by the literal interpretation of the Bible? In understanding the sacred word of God are we to consider the literary devices of the day, time, and culture in which it was written or do we look at it mainly through our 21st century eyes? (i.e. what meaning does it have for me today?)

For example, are those locusts in Revelation 9, that looked like horses and wore something like gold crowns on their heads and had faces like humans some kind of futuristic technology that John did not quite understand or did the recipients of his letter understand perfectly what he was describing? Is Ezekiel’s vision possibly a UFO of sorts from another dimension (i.e heaven) or a common culturally understood way of depicting the throne of God?

On the other hand, should we consider the scriptures from a scientific perspective? A good example of this is the Genesis account: many believers take Genesis 1 to be a literal 6 twenty-four hour days of creation. The epic flood and story of Noah’s Ark in Genesis 6-8 would be another example. Some believers frame Noah’s Ark within a scientific framework, still others as an allegorical story. Who’s right? What is the truth? Can we truly know how God intended us to understand what He was communicating to His people through Moses and the other inspired authors of scripture?

Some of these debates have created so much tension and animosity between brothers and sisters as to the point where one group has gone so far as to say, in not so many words, “if you don’t believe our way of interpreting the creation event, you can’t adequately share the gospel!” In my humble opinion, there is often an underlying fear, that is semi-conscious in the group think of various factions or denominations of believers which causes them to cling to and fight for what they “think” is the correct and only way to understand scripture. Why? Because unconsciously we fear that in tugging at the thread of “literalism” when it comes to interpreting the Bible, the whole thing could unravel! And then what would we do?!

But, can we trust YHWH? Can we trust that He has communicated to us what He intended for us to know…no more, no less…as mysterious as some of it is. Can we comfortably accept that we just can’t know and understand and even reconcile every jot and tittle of the Bible and be ok with that? Furthermore, can we learn to live at peace with one another, even when we disagree on exactly what the Word of God says?

Do we need to fear seeking the truth, where ever it may lead us, even when it leads to gross differences in understanding what the Bible says?

In this video Dr. Michael Heiser delivers a challenging presentation on what it means to understand the Bible literally. Likely, there are many things Heiser presents that the average believer has not even considered or known about. Whether you agree with Heiser or not, this presentation will stretch and challenge your understanding of what the Bible is and is not and hopefully edify and encourage greater and more in-depth study of the word for the purpose of building up the body in love and humility.

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