Is it important to believe every word of the Bible is 100 literal? What if you can’t/won’t? My experience.

Note: I am not a theologian, nor am I Bible or language scholar. I do study the Bible, but not as a vocation. I also study other religions as well as science, but again, for my own edification not as a career. I write this blog not to be ‘right’, but rather to just share my own journey and to open the door to discussion. The views presented here are mine unless otherwise noted.

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When I started this blog I thought I would pursue any avenue I could to let people know it exists. One of the things I did was join Reddit.

If you are not familiar with Reddit it is a site where… uh… well, hmm… how to describe it… Well, Wikipedia says this:

My experience, however, is that you post something on Reddit and then people spend great amounts of energy insulting your intelligence and mother. For example, I shared a link to my first “What the Bible Really Says” post, talking about Genesis 1 and the creation story. So far I’ve gotten 200 responses regarding how stupid I am and how any view that doesn’t take the “Creation in 7 days” story literally is doomed to hell and also that person’s mother must have been a slut. And those are the nice ones.

Seriously. I can’t make this stuff up.

Now I am sure there are many many great communities of people on Reddit and many great discussions going on. Just not in the community I tried to share my link.

It seems the overwhelming point of view there is that the Bible and (in this case) the 7-day creation story have to be taken literally because if you can’t believe that, how can you believe anything?

When I became a Christian I did a lot of studying. Well, before actually. This was in the mid-90s and the Internet wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is now. AOL was still the main way to connect and websites were still in their infancy. I won’t share the whole story as to why I started on that path, but it’s sufficient to say that I didn’t come to my faith lightly. I read. A lot. I read the Bible, I read the Koran, I read books by atheists, I read books by “New Agers”. For a time I was unemployed and spent a lot of time at the library. Needless to say, I read a lot. I was on the search for truth. A lot of people claimed a lot of stuff was true. What, if any of it, really was true?

In another post, I will share how and why I arrived at Christianity as true. (It’s a long story.) But I did.

I don’t really remember if there was a point that I felt that everything in the Bible was 100% true. That is to say 100% literal. But as I continue to read and study and grow in my faith I am coming to the conclusion that some of these things CAN’T be true, at least not in a literal historical kind of way.

Now to be clear, obviously not everything in the Bible is completely literal. There are long stretches of poetry and songs. If some of the things in Psalms about God are meant to be taken as completely literal, then God has wings like a giant chicken. So already, out of the gate, even those that think the Bible should be taken literally will acknowledge that there are some things that are figurative. The parables of Jesus are another example. They were stories to teach a lesson, not necessarily things that literally happened.

So I’ll focus on the first chapter of Genesis since it was my post on that topic that crushed my self-esteem and ruined my life (ok, not really, but some responses were nasty). Are these stories history or are they myths? If they are myths are they less true? By that I mean are they to be discarded or, like the parables of Jesus, are they meant to share a TRUTH that is too big to comprehend otherwise?

In the post that I shared with my friends on Reddit, I share a “what if” about the seven days of creation. What if that story isn’t meant to be literal but was used to teach people about God using an easy to remember mnemonic (seven comes up a lot in the Bible)? It was just a “what if” and not something that I had researched or anything, or even really had incorporated into my own belief. But if some of those folks on Reddit had their way, they would have burned me at the stake.

But were they right in their criticism of my theory? Do we HAVE to take Genesis 1 as history? If we don’t believe it then do we have to throw everything else, from Exodus to Revelation, out with the trash?

What if I CAN’T believe it?

I love the Bible. I really do. But I can’t take everything, especially in the early chapters of Genesis, as history. I really can’t.

Why?

Science. Observation. Using my eyeballs and reading books. Logic….

Dinosaurs existed. Genetics and evolution are facts, observable facts. Science is not the enemy of the Bible, in spite of what many would say. In fact there are many that would say you have to throw out science to believe the Bible. Or worse, come up with ridiculous, unprovable, ideas to skirt around proven science.

But to do that you would have to deny some of the very basic things you can observe. The world is round, the earth orbits the sun, dogs can be bred into different breeds, insects can develop immunities to insecticides, babies develop from the egg and sperm of their parents, and on and on and on. These are things that you can SEE, these are things that are PROVEN. Even a child ‘gets it’.

But what about the “bigger” things? Like ‘amoebas to man’ evolution? What about million-year-old rocks? Fossilization? The Big Bang? Those aren’t things that can be directly observed, how can we trust scientists when they talk about these things as fact? Aren’t they just speculating?

The mistake here is to oversimplify the science. Or to make it overly complicated. Or to just keep asking “how do you know you can trust it?” over and over until people start to doubt it. Things like radiometric dating that shows the age of rock and fossils. There are long, complicated equations that explain how it works, equations that I don’t understand. And most others don’t either. So those that would bring doubt to it just say over and over “how do you know? How can you trust it?” until people don’t think it can be trusted.

Do I fully understand God’s creative process? No. Do I understand all the science behind those theories? No. But I understand some. And from the little I do understand, and a basic high school understanding of the scientific process, I can see that these things can be trusted.

Is it important to believe that God spoke and there it was? Is it important to believe that there was a literal world-wide flood and just some animals in a boat from which the world was repopulated?

No. I don’t think it is. Just because these stories are stories doesn’t mean they aren’t TRUE. Just because they are myth and not history does not mean that there isn’t some truth in them. Let me explain.

Jesus told parables. These were stories meant to teach a lesson. We still use parables today to teach our children, fairy tales and Muppets and talking vegetables. These are things that don’t actually happen, but we use them to give our children important truths about life.

I think that is what the Genesis stories are about. God created the world and the stars and the planets and everything. That is too much for the human mind to comprehend. So rather than explaining “well, this is how DNA is formed and this is how the fusion in the center of stars works and this is how a sperm and an egg become a living being”, the early people of Israel shared a story in 7 simple steps. It wasn’t about HOW, it was about WHO. The point isn’t 7 days, the point is GOD SAID and there WAS. The point isn’t a guy, a big boat, and a bunch of animals, the point is GOD SPEAKS and man OBEYED. (Note: it is true that many many cultures have a similar flood story, including a boat and animals — who knows why. Maybe there is a grain of truth there, but still not the point.)

Those who insist on the book of Genesis being literal are missing the point. They are putting the process above the Person. They are putting history above the author. Those that debate miracles over science are not trusting that God is GOD and forgetting that the HOW is not as important as the WHY.

What do you think? If we are Bible-believing people, are we to take it all literally? Or should we just throw the whole thing out? If you’re not a Christian, what do you think of people who insist on the Bible being 100% literal?

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Regain the Sane

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