Good Question: Should The Bible Be Taken Literally?

By Jason DeRusha, WCCO-TV

— Thursday, was the Last Supper. Good Friday, Jesus was crucified. Sunday, he rose from the dead. It’s a timeline that’s puzzled scholars for years, and has people asking: Should we take the Bible literally?

A Gallup public opinion poll found that 28 percent of Americans do consider the Bible to be the literal word of God. Forty-nine percent think of it as the inspired Word, that not entirely literal. Nineteen percent think it’s an ancient book of fables, legends and history.

“I don’t take scripture literally, but I take it seriously,” said Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen, Pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis.

He said, for example, the Bible has two stories about how God created man.

“So which do you believe? If you take them literally, you’ve got a problem,” said Hart-Andersen.

Many have pointed out various passages that are problematic if they’re taken literally. For example, in TV’s The West Wing, President Bartlett said, “My chief of staff insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly says he should be killed. Do I have to do that or is OK to call the police.”

“It’s a question that comes up a lot especially this time of year,” said Dr. Jim Beilby, a theology professor at Bethel University in Arden Hills. “People want to know — that stuff in the bible, can you take that seriously can you take that literally?” he said.

It’s complex and Beilby says the Bible has poetry, metaphor and literal history.

“Can we take anything literally? Absolutely we can. Is all of it to be taken literally? To that I would say – no,” said Beilby. “These are genuinely complex questions, but that doesn’t mean the basic message of scripture isn’t pretty clear, and isn’t pretty simple.”

On Twitter, Joey Selzler wrote: “The Bible is God’s instruction manual for life. Would we trust our auto mechanic if he didn’t take his manual literally?”

“There are passages in the Bible that can be taken figuratively,” said Terry Lange, a WCCO viewer. “There are also passages in the bible that are taken literally.”

Ian Schwartz suggests the ancient Bible could reflect today’s archeology and history. “I definitely think that the Bible needs to be updated for a more current time if people are going to follow it so blindly,” he said.

“You have to realize there are different genres, different kinds of literature within that book,” said pastor Matt Hedrick, of Bethany Church in Bloomington. “There is some that’s poetry, that shouldn’t be taken literally,” he said.

“But in the history books, Gospels, Book of Acts, you take quite literally. Real events that actually happened. Archeology has supported much of that,” he said.

The key issue, according to Bielby, is how you analyze a text that is so old to try and prove various details.

“Do you approach the biblical text with a perspective of innocent until proven guilty or guilty until proven innocent?” he said.

“That’s the hard work,” agreed Hedrick, who’s church’s website talks about the Bible as being “the only inspired, infallible, authoritative Word of God, inerrant in its original manuscripts.”

“The purpose of scripture is to reveal who God is,” said Hedrick. “There may be minor difference within the telling of a story.”

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