DeBlog: Should We Take The Bible Literally?

By Jason DeRusha, WCCO-TV

With it being Holy Week, we thought tonight would be a good time to do a story about whether we should take the Bible literally. I know tonight’s story is going to get a lot of commentary from viewers, so I wanted to open the discussion here on the blog.

After I mentioned the topic on Twitter, I got reactions like:

“People get into trouble when the whole thing is taken literally.”
“You’re getting hate mail on this one.”
“Damn right it should be taken literally, but debated on GQ? Just be careful.”
“That’s a horrible question! that’s like asking is God real. Obviously people who don’t believe in God will say no and vice versa.”

The theologian from Bethel University told me it’s a great question, and one historians, theologians and scientists have been working on for centuries. So what do you think? If you want to record a video with your thoughts, go for it! And email me before 8pm if you want it to get in the story.”

Comment away!

More from Jason DeRusha
  • Brandon

    The bible says the Old testament should not be taken literally for it says that those rules had passed and were in a different time. The new testament however says we do need to take it literally. It doesn’t say to interpret it to how we want to.

  • Michelle

    Yes! And as a Christian, I can admit there are some seriously, unbelievable stories in the Bible. BUT if you only believe parts of the Bible as real, how do you know the parts that you believe are the correct or “literal” parts you should believe? It’s all or nothing.

  • bob

    I agree with Michelle, its all or none. You can’t pick what fits your life style and throw out the rest. Either it is all literal or its all just stories.

  • Renee Stolberg

    Why is ok to pick and choose what you can take literally or not? My thoughts? Its a compilation of stories from 2000+ years ago translated from an acient language thru years of dialect changes, and word-meaning changes, composed originally by men who wanted to strike fear into people so they would be submissive to their rule. That Jesus guy seemed like a pretty nifty dude, though.. why not treat people like they deserve to be treated, and love one another. Blessings and love to all. Enjoy your weekend with a pagan flair!

  • Misty Schmidt

    I saw on the news that they are trying to figure out the definition of the “virgin” Mary. During my Women’s history courses we found that for the time the correct definition was “a virtuous woman” and that she had “remained a virgin until marriage” not that she was physically a “Virgin” as defined today.

  • arlene freeberg

    Your story was good but you could have included the part about the political influence on how the original text was translated under the power of King James.

  • Joshua Fike

    Dear, Jason
    I thought that perhaps you might do a good job when I heard you were going to do this story, but after seeing it I am disappointed. Yes, there are some discrepancies with the translations in the NKJ Bible, but not in the NAV Bible, which has been checked by native Greek speakers, since the Bible was originally written in Greek. When the King James version was put out it was translated via a Greek-English Dictionary. This caused a few mistranslations, but if you read the Bible in Greek, you see that there is no dening that it checking the context of the writing, it means virgin. I do not mean any mud-slinging here just thought you should be aware of what the other versions say.

    • Jason DeRusha

      I think a question about translations would allow the level of detail that you’re talking about — but in 2 minutes, it would have been hard to get into all of this. Thanks!

  • Bob

    Why don’t you you question the Quran? Typical liberal reporting by a local news show that ranks 3rd in a market that has 3 news channels. Always to easy to attack the mass, you have once again displayed why you are a third ranked news organization with an inferior workforce. Really guys, this is getting so old. Funny enough, only reason I saw the story was the lost TV controller in my house, normally, never watch your trash TV. However, you have confirmed all my doubts, you are truly a full blown waste of what could be informational airwaves.

    • Nigel

      Maybe he will for Ramadan

    • Jason DeRusha

      We didn’t question the Quran because only a tiny minority of our viewers are even familiar with it. Our audience is overwhelmingly Christian. This is a broadcast news operation. We are trying to do stories that affect the widest audience. And what makes you say we attacked it? We talked to a theologian and a Presbyterian pastor?

      • Matt

        The Twin Cities has a very large Muslim population. Anyone that leaves the house on a regular basis will easily spot the Muslim women that take their faith serious. It is important for people to understand the Muslim faith and the Quran is an important part of this faith. So I think a story is very relevant for your viewers, even the non Muslim ones.

  • Sally

    Is this ill formed Organization for real:? What did you say? What was your story about? What was with the virgin comment? Do you have any idea what you were trying to report? I have graded 6th grade papers that were more fulfilling than that story. Are you really a news organization? I think not.

  • Francis

    The question can be mis-leading. When asked if I take the Bible literally, people often then take only portions “out of context”. When saying I take it literally, I mean the whole, and in context of the surrounding verses,chapters,etc.
    Example being someone saying since the Bible says to kill adulterers in the Old Testement, Christians should. But Jesus refused to, ordering her to “sin no more”.
    Or chauvanists using “wives submit” to dominate their wives, totally ignoring the verses afterward ordering the husband to love their wife.

  • David

    Yes, the all-or-nothing nature of bible belief leads to the only reasonable answer…nothing. Throw it all out as little more than a curious piece of historical literature. The book contradicts itself, it shows an appallingly First Century igorance, the divinity of Jesus is unnecessary, and the priniciple of sustitutionary sacrafice leads to a moral structure that has no place in our progressive age. The viginity of Mary is inconsequential except as it serves to subjugate women, and denigrate sexuality. Happy Spring to those not held hostage to the bible’s small god.

  • Francis

    As for those who say that the original content has been watered down, or lost through, time, translation etc, are not aware of the many Rabbitical laws that governed the copying the Old Testement alone. It is a very enlightening history lesson.

  • Francis

    I doubt that at this late a time I will be up to prolonged debate on “contradictions in the Bible. That Mary’s virginity subjegates women, and denigrates sexuality is a streach.
    But as for Jesus Christ dying on the cross for the sins of all mankind, I can say this. That is the reason we celibrate. That we can not only admit our sins, (unless we are self righteouse, and say we have non), but repent, and be forgiven because of His love for use showen on the cross.

  • Philip

    I agree with Michelle. All or nothing. Now all who are really interested in this, get a Bible and look up Exodus, 3:13-15, and conect that with John 18:2-6. Then look at John 8:22-24.

  • Michelle

    Just have to share for those interested:

    Jesus said:
    I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)
    Behold, I stand at the door and knock. Whoever hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in. (Revelations 3:20)

    And a quote from Mere Christianity by CS Lewis related to the above comments about Jesus:

    “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Jesus: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would be either a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

    • Jason DeRusha

      I think it would be pretty hard to live your life if you literally take the Bible ALL literally. But more power to you.

      If you’re saying you take the basis of the stories literally — that’s possible. But the details are at times contradictory, and certainly difficult for a modern world. As a woman, I trust you’re quiet/silent in church/.

      • Nathan

        This is a fantastic response Jason. Seriously.

      • Michelle

        Jason, It is literally hard to live a perfect life, that’s why we need the grace of God that only comes through Jesus Christ.

        Quick note, the concept that “women should remain silent in church” comes from a letter to the christians in Corinth (1 Cor. 14:34) who were having a lot of problems within the early church. This statement is literally for them, but we should still consider what that means for us today. So on that basis, I see your point.

        Thank you for starting a very interesting dialogue about what people believe about the Bible.

        I believe the Bible to be the inspired word of God and the infallible authority in all matters of proclamation, faith and life. All of it is accurate and true.

        Everyone should read it :)

  • db

    2 Chronicles, Chapter 4, Verse 2: “Also he made a molten sea of ten cubits from brim to brim, round in compass, and five cubits the height thereof; and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about.”

    So according to this verse the ratio of the diameter to the circumference of a circle is 3.000000000, not 3.14159…
    This mathematical error is repeated at 1 Kings Chapter7, Verse 24.

    So do we throw out the entire Bible because of this rather unimportant error? How many souls would be saved if the description had been mathematically correct?

  • Philip

    Right on Francis. Unbelieving man will do anything to refute the truth the Bible says about Mary. She was espoused to Joseph, but they hand not consumated the marriage yet. God’s word is true. To say it is not, or that it has contradictions is like saying God is a liar. That is dangerous ground. If Jesus were not sinless, God would not have been just in raising him from the dead. But the tomb is empty, because Christ is risen, and is at the right hand of God the Father right this minute.

  • Dale

    Your answers to this Good Question were unsatisfying, at best. There are many of us who believe that the Bible is God’s inspired and inerrant Word and you only found Bible-doubters to comment. The Bible is the non-fictional story of how God sent His Son to save created humanity from its sins. The law is there to show us that we need a Savior – Jesus Christ.

    • Jason DeRusha

      I think you can believe the Bible is non-fiction, and the Jesus story is true- but you can also question the details. Was there really an Apple in the Garden of Eden? Was there a talking snake?

      • Dale

        I DO believe that there was a talking snake – and that Jesus walked on the water – and that God created the world from nothing, etc. A God who would love us enough to send His Son to be crucified for us and then raise Him from the dead would also have the power to do other things that we cannot fathom. The Bible does not say that it was an apple, by the way – it only calls it a fruit.

      • M.Div Student

        With regards to the Garden of Eden, the talking snake. Elmer L. Towns, Professor and Dean of Religion at Liberty University explained it best:
        “When Satan tempted Eve, he was embodied in the form of a serpent. He did not form himself into a serpent nor take on the qualities of the serpenet, but the serpent was used as a vehicle for the tempter, so God cursed the Serpaent. Genesis 3:14 explains how God cursed the serpent. But the actual physical movements of the serpent were changed as a consequence of the Fall.”

        The Apple in the Garden of Eden is the point of much debate. What the central issue comes down to is how did an angel fallen from God’s grace find his way into God’s perfect garden, thus giving Adam and Eve the chance to sin. What the serpent was like before this time, there is no recorded data. At this time, before the fall of Mankind, the world was a perfect utopia. For all we know, animals could talk, but that is not somethign that we will know in this world. The probabilty that the snake was taking is very real.
        The bigger question comes into place when one looks at the world today: how can an all-loving, forgiving God allow such evil to continue? The answer to that is simply that God allows Satan the chance to tempt people through the lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh, and pride of life. Through these three avenues, one sins. Regardless of the degree of their actions, they have still sinned.

        Throughout Scripture many of the great men/women of faith were able to question God. That is part of our nature, we are curious about the world around us. To blindly follow is not what was intended. But to question the truth, and when the evidence is found to be accurate, accept what you have learned, and try to live your life accordingly.

        One can call a physic, read their horoscope, and believe that their life will be great. Does that mean that they take what was told, or what they read to heart? Maybe, maybe not.

        Whether or not one believes in the Bible, literally, or figuratively, is also not the main issue. The fact that all members of the human race are born the moral conscious to discern right for wrong is true. As a child, you are taught not to push, hit, bit because it is not nice. This is the moral compass that we are all born with. It is not up to any religion to decide what is right and wrong because human nature also dictates many behaviors a person has.
        I enjoyed your Good Question!

    • Christopher Phillips

      Recanted from memory hundreds of years after it happened. Don’t get me wrong I believe in the bible and can also except that it is the word inspired by GOD. The details however and literall translation thats scary. Its the equivilent of having your children write a story about what a wonderful an inspiring man their great great great grandfather was. They will write what they have heard and certainly will get details right but I can’t believe that they would have every detail perfect..

  • ang

    The Bible is the word of God. LIterally. Enough said!

  • Christopher Phillips

    OK Lets take the bible literally.? I think Canadians might have a problem with us owning them as slaves Mexico might too but accoriding to the bible I am to own slaves from neighboring countries. What should I do with all my poly/cotton clothing the bible forbids that I wear clothing woven of two types of fiber? Literal translations of the bible are exactly what hate groups like the KKK use to justify their actions.

  • Beth

    I believe that the Bible is 100% reliable. However, it seems clear to me that some books/ chapters are clearly meant to be literal and others are meant to be symbolic based on the literay style used. An example is the Song of Solomon is clearly witten as poetic and is very symbolic. I doubt many people think it should be taken “literally.” Numbers, on the other hand, reads like a history book and was obviously intended to be literal. Some things aren’t real clear as to which interpreation was intended. I do agree with an earlier post that the Bible should be interpreted in by other parts of the Bible and by reading in context.

  • Matt

    At the end of the story it was mentioned that there is a controversy on the translation of virgin. There isn’t really much of a controversy. The only translation that I know of that translates it as young woman for Isaiah 7:14 is the NRSV. This is a poor translation because the New Testament quotes this verse and they use a Greek word that certainly means virgin. Also the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament uses this same Greek word which means virgin. The NKJV, as stated in the news story, does not say young woman.

  • steve

    The Bible’s skeptics claim that the details, translations, and content become fuzzy and unclear several hundred to thousands of years after its original inscription. That would seem like a logical conclusion if no facts contrary to them were presented.

    The Dead Sea Scrolls brought us 1000 years closer than any previous translation of the Masoretic text before it, and it produced documents of every Old Testament book save one. What they found was beyond astonishing. Less than 3% spelling differentials in the compared texts, and those did not change the meanings of the words or content. For example, in 18th Century America, you might ask someone to “meet me at the harbour tonight” whereas in 21st Century America, you would ask them to “meet me at the harbor tonite”. Obvious spelling differences, but has the meaning or context changed?

    Regarding the New Testament, over 24,300 Greek and Aramaic manuscripts exist within 300 years of the events of Christ’s life, the earliest date to within 25 years of the events of Peter’s and Paul’s ministries, men who were eye-witnesses to the Resurrected Christ (albeit Paul a few years later). That kind of timeframe and overwhelming manuscript evidence is unparalled in the ancient world, and our current Biblical New Testaments can be compared with texts within 100 years of the original writings.

    Needless to say, what we hold in our hands is as reliable as any text from as long ago as it is. Jesus Himself expounded the accuracy of the OT saying frequently “Have you not read?” And “It is Written” or “It has been said”.

    And those not-versed in what the oral tradition of the Hebrews (and other cultures) practiced compare story-telling to is the modern game of “Telephone” where a message is passed from person-to-person in silence until it is read aloud (and subsequently butchered to pieces). This is not how people transmitted messages in the oral tradition. When told, the stories were in groups, including elder statesmen who could verify the accuracy from previous generations. Accompanying it were written scrolls & tablets that were passed down through ceremonial priests and scribes whose entire life’s work entailed the ministry & protection of these texts (and at that time, there were no where near the 66 books there are now). Any error could be flatly corrected via text, priest, or elder in attendance of the reading.

    Comparing the system of sacrifice, worship, feasts, and Sabbaths practiced in the time of Christ (~30 AD) with the times of the authorship of the Mosaic Law (~1440 BC) we find an amazing consistency. Simply put, what we hold in our hands has stood the test of time and can be counted as reliable today.

    I dare to say that the meanings, interpretations, and thought behind our own US Constitution and Bill of Rights has changed more in the 200+ years that we’ve had them than the Bible has in 3500 years. We’ve got men that can’t even get the legacy of Kennedy, Reagan & FDR to agree and that’s just in the last 60 years. Yet the testimonies of Christ from different sources show an amazing consistency that tells me its a Supernaturally-preserved work!

  • Valerie

    Seems like more & more of these so called “stories” in the Bible are being proven by new discoveries. I don’t worry about looking for “how” this was done or that was done in the Bible. God is God & can do anything he darn well pleases. Was there actually a special star in the sky the night Jesus was born? I don’t care if it can be proven or not, as far as I’m concerned God could have put it there for 1 minute or as long as he wanted- or only let “some” people see it & not all. I’ve heard criticism that Matthew,Mark, Luke & John are different from each other & maybe some of it’s not true. Wouldn’t that seem more credible though? They probably weren’t all at every single place Jesus was & when together at the place specified each person would have his own “take” on what happened & describe it somewhat differently.

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