Let’s be honest.
Being a Christian means we believe some pretty remarkable things that many people would consider to be nonsense. For some, it’s difficult to believe that God exists, and that Jesus rose from the dead. Such ideas seem foolish to them.
But imagine if we also told these people that in order to believe the Bible, you also have to believe things like the earth is flat, and the idea of a global earth is one giant conspiracy. Do you think they would take seriously anything that you have to say about the gospel?
Believe it or not, there is a growing number of Christians who, because of their poor interpretations of the Bible, believe that the Bible teaches the earth is flat and the global view is a lie from Satan meant to deceive us.
Here’s the thing.
Not all Bible study methods are equally helpful. Some approaches, although well-intentioned, can lead to hindering both our evangelism and discipleship efforts. In this blog, we’ll explore a dangerous Bible study mistake that, if not recognized and avoided, can harm your quest to be a more effective Ambassador of Christ.
So, let’s jump in.
Bible Study Mistake: Assume that It’s Obvious When to Take Things in a Wooden, Literal Sense
When we’re reading the Bible that isn’t always an easy thing to do. There are many instances where the Bible does not say to not take something literally, like when it says God is walking around or when God is going to go down to Sodom and Gomorrah, or when God is smelling the aroma of the sacrifices or hearing things or seeing things.
If you had to rely on the Bible saying, “Hey, don’t take this literally,” then almost all of it would be taken literally, except for the parables and maybe a few other parts. The Bible is just written as a series of letters like any other work. No kind of genre or book works like “Hey, caution to the reader, this isn’t meant to be taken literally.” These books are written naturally because they’re written by humans, inspired by God. They were written by humans in their normal idiomatic authorial style to their readers, who are other humans just using figures of speech and the normal way of talking in normal conversations or normal literary works.
And the interpretive principle that you shouldn’t read the Bible allegorically or figuratively unless it explicitly says to do that, that’s not from the Bible. It is dangerous to have these kinds of views of biblical interpretation because they will almost necessarily cause problems and lead us to the wrong conclusions and interpretations. We get our principles of interpretation from reality, not from the Bible itself, because you’d have to have your principles in order to understand the Bible.
But what are some important things to keep in mind that help us know when to take things literally or figuratively or metaphorically or whatever the case may be? What are the reasons for not taking it literally?
First and foremost, if it’s just obviously not literal. For example, we say, “It’s raining cats and dogs.” It’s just a figure of speech. It’s never meant to be literal. There’s always the literal truth behind the figure of speech. So, to say it’s raining cats and it’s really raining felines and canines, that would be a little bit weird and painful. So, if it’s obviously not meant to be taken that way, then you would have either a contradiction or an absurdity or something like that. Even children recognize figurative speech.
There’s not some Gnostic secret way to interpret the Bible. So, if there’s a contradiction, that’s another hint. For example, God is a spirit (John 4:24), but then in other passages it says that God is walking around, saying things or hearing things. Well, those can’t both be literal in the same way. One’s got to be taken figuratively. It’s either a contradiction or one’s got to be taken in a non-literal way. If we can know about God through creation as Paul says in Romans 1, then we see that he is immaterial, so, any material description of God should be taken figuratively or allegorically.
Watch the full episode 4 Dangerous Bible Study Mistakes YOU Should Avoid with Adam Tucker and Dr. Brian Huffling here.