The Bible is composed of several different types of literature. For instance, the books of Moses up to Psalms are historical records of literal events. The Psalms are poetical in many places. Proverbs is wisdom literature. The prophetical books record prophet’s speeches, many of which include many instances of symbolism. The Gospels are a narrative which focuses on Jesus, the central character. The epistles of Paul are his message to churches. Revelation is prophetical, or apocalyptic literature.
In our everyday reading and writing, we may use figures of speech of every kind, and we usually know when to take them literally or not. We can usually detect a simile (“he’s as sly as a fox”), figures of speech (“it’s raining cats and dogs”), irony (“as clear as mud”), sarcasm (“yeah, that’s really going to work”), and euphemisms (“passed away”). We don’t take them literally; and in the same way we don’t take similar word treatments in the Bible literally.
Perhaps this question is referring to the many stories told in the Bible. Do we take them literally? When a miracle occurs, do we accept it at face value? Did God really create Adam and Eve, or is the account a metaphor?
One of the reasons we’ll have a hard time taking such stories literally is because we don’t believe in a God who is working in the world. In that case, understandably, any miracles would be hard to believe. What is fascinating to me, though, is that all the stories in the Bible, occurring over centuries, have a running theme through them all.
We may get bored reading all the genealogies, but they follow the bloodline to Jesus Christ. Therefore, every person in those genealogies is an actual, historical figure. God allowed some prophets to perform miracles, and such acts cemented their calling in the people’s eyes. When Jesus did miracles, he proved that the promised kingdom was at hand – a kingdom with no death (so he raised people from the dead), nor physical impairments (so he healed many infirmities and sicknesses), and no more spiritual oppression (so he cast out demons).
Keep in mind, too, that not everyone believed in the miracles that occurred. I speak especially of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. When the women told the disciples that they has seen the risen Christ, they refused to believe – until Jesus appeared in their locked room on day. Such human reactions lend credibility to the miracle accounts.
It’s not narrow-minded to take the Bible literally where it’s supposed to be understood literally, and figuratively where appropriate – it’s just good sense.
What Do You Think?
a. If you can’t accept the idea that God exists and can work miracles, are you narrow-minded?