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ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

Do you believe the Bible should be taken literally? (details inside)

Asked by ANef_is_Enuf (26789points) August 31st, 2010

This question is really for those of you who do not feel that the entire Bible should be taken literally.

How do you decide which parts should be literal and which shouldn’t? Is there someone else that decides for you, perhaps a pastor or a priest? The book itself does not offer guidelines, in fact as far as I know, there is nothing at all that indicates it shouldn’t be followed verbatim.

So how do you choose? And how confident are you that you are right?

I am posting this in social so that people can feel free to branch out from the topic naturally, but please try to keep the debates reeled in. I’m genuinely curious about this, and I don’t want it to turn into a war of words.

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69 Answers

KatawaGrey's avatar

Well, I’m not a Christian and I’m not going to say if the Bible is right or if it’s wrong. However, the feeling I always got from the text is that the stories whether they happened or not are supposed to be guides rather than exact rules. I always figured the Bible was meant to teach and not command. Again, I’m not Christian, but this makes much more sense to me, especially considering how people choose to cherry pick parts out of the Bible Christians and non-Christians alike and so do not follow every single thing the bible has to say.

Garebo's avatar

I don’t understand how anyone would ever, most of the bible is metaphorical and symbolic.
It was created it large part, by politicians, to create an advantage.

Your_Majesty's avatar

Anything that is historically true and not just some ‘imaginative’ perspective of some ancient people.
I believe about the habitation and culture about our people in those Biblical story. There no such ‘faith’ thing in the bible as it’s irrational,but historic stuff. I really enjoy the part of domestication of animals in Bible,at least it’s one of some parts that is ‘true’ about the content of the Bible.

MissA's avatar

No, I don’t. But. each to
his own.

kevbo's avatar

I haven’t studied the Bible in forever, but I’m interested in more esoteric readings such as reading angels as aliens or postulating that conventional interpretation obfuscates hidden meanings such as the possibility that the apple really refers to a magic mushroom or that Lucifer/the serpent was trying to liberate Adam & Eve by fostering their godliness. Not that I strictly believe any of the above, but I think it’s likely that some knowledge along those lines has been hidden from adherents.

Blackberry's avatar

Essentially, any part that involves something that can’t physically happen should not be taken literally: Talking snakes, people coming out of ribs, a god having to rest etc.


The Bible was created by human beings, and as such, one should never take anything literally that is created and thought up by a human.

ZEPHYRA's avatar

Not a word of it. As literally as the 12 Greek gods of Mount Olympus and their daily antics.

Then again, if the Bible can keep certain people in check or give them courage to go on, it is a job well done.

Winters's avatar

I don’t think so. After all, there is a decent amount of evidence from what i understand that the books of the Bible were heavily edited by the Roman Catholic around the Middle Ages.

jazmina88's avatar

Time has changed,,,,,,,and our society…so if you want your God to grow with the times….you must change with the times.
To me, Old Testament is history and some awesome poetry. (I should dust it off and read it)
new Testament is Jesus stories and Paul’s letters – Paul is a good commentator, with good essence.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

I’m not a Christian. I gave up Christianity for Lent one year, and it stuck.

I don’t believe any of it should be taken literally. None of it. Zero. I grew up in a rabidly fundamentalist family, so I have read the whole thing although it’s been years, decades even. I went to a Christian university for my BA, so I’ve studied more than many. And I read some of the books in my MA course as literature. In my opinion, some of it is beautifully written, much of it is eons outdated, and all of it should be taken with a grain of salt.

plethora's avatar

@Garebo Created by politicians? Well that’s a bright new idea. Any substance for that assertion? Names, places, times?

plethora's avatar

The Bible is written in various literary styles. As with any other literature, the context has much to do with whether the writing should be taken literally or not.

@hawaii_jake I was raised in a rather liberal family, in regard to religion, so none of it created the kinds of issues that you experienced with rabid fundamentalists. I have felt most of my life that rabid fundamentalists do more to drive people away that to “keep them in the folds”

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@plethora : I’m eternally grateful that they drove me away.

plethora's avatar

@hawaii_jake I would imagine you are. I would be too.

ETpro's avatar

I’m an agnostic, but I have studied the Bible and believe there is some great wisdom recorded in its pages. There are enough direct self contradictions though that it is obvious it isn’t literally true. I believe you should read it just as you read any other book, looking for the gems of wisdom and thinking critically about what it says instead of blindly accepting every word as divine truth.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

The Bible should be taken as historical fiction – it is a great read if you’re not too serious about it, and it is (very) loosely based on real historical events, but there has been a liberal dose of poetic licence used to string the story together.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@MRSHINYSHOES The Bible was created by human beings, and as such, one should never take anything literally that is created and thought up by a human. That would make God a creation of man and no more than an idol god without the clay, gold, or whatever it would be made of. If God actually sat and wrote with His own hands I am sure he could have worked a writing instrument somehow people would still doubt. If God did not or was not capable of keeping His word clear what would be the point of the Bible? It would be like someone putting a repair manual online but letting anyone edit it, soon it would be useless because you could not make the right repair using it.

Ben_Dover's avatar

Does your bible say it is a version? If so, how much reliability can you place in a version? Especially if it is a version sponsored by King James?

iamthemob's avatar

Before reading thread posts…I am going to say how I feel. I don’t think that any part of the bible should be taken literally. I actually read something recently making an argument that the bible was literally the word of god…word for word. Perhaps the most compelling reason that it stated was the amount of events that are described in the bottle that archeologists and earth scientists have shown to be true. Of course, that just mean the author was there for that stuff. Everything else was essentially stating that the bible was true because the bible said it was true.

I don’t believe the bible is the word of god. There is one part of the bible we can accept as potentially being the word of god – 10 commandments. Everything else was written by divine inspiration.

People who use that as evidence to it being the word of god have no standing. Divine inspiration is described as the concept coming from god, the word from man. That just implies fallibility in translation. Accepting that it is divine inspiration, though, god’s mind is perfect. Man’s is not. God has perfect communication. Man does not. God will attempt to inspire man in a manner so that he can use is poor language to try to capture god’s perfect word. They will fail to get it perfect.

Then there’s transcription pre-printing press. No proof that there has been no change transcription to transcription. Then, translation. Then, translation again and again. Then several different translation. Personally, I like the King James v. Good News approach to Leviticus – KJV addresses men lying as women as “an abomination” whereas the Good News tells people don’t, “God hates that.”

Biblical scholars continue to debate the validity of adhering to various parts of the bible…especially considering the effect of the new covenant of Jesus on the applicability of the laws of the old testament.

On a more personal note…I don’t believe in divine instructional scriptures in the Judeo Christian framework. I like the Eden story as a metaphor…but are we to believe that god expelled mankind, whom he had given free will, from the garden to “toil” physically for eating from the tree of knowledge, but give us an instruction book on how to live saying exactly what we needed to do to get into heaven? I feel like a more significant punishment is to give us a whole bunch of instruction books, no info on which was the right one, and let us use our free will and knowledge try to figure out how to live a good life without any clear rules. That’s the toil – trying and failing again and again to regain the bliss we had prior to a fall from grace.

Adherence to words is always problematic. They’re always a different interpretation. I try to find what rings true, until I find something that rings truer.

ucme's avatar

Yes I do. The bible should literally be taken & placed on the shelves marked fiction in your friendly local library.

plethora's avatar

May I comment on this thread? All I am hearing here is a sharing of ignorance. There are literally centuries of commentary on the Bible, entire libraries, both pro and con. Anybody ever studied that? All I’m hearing here is “Oh, I read the Bible, and it’s fiction”. I believe that as much as I believe, “Oh, I read the Bible, and it’s absolutely unequivocally, the inspired word of God, word for word.” Please!!

iamthemob's avatar


Uhm…yeah…I have. I mean…not ALL the libraries…but yeah, I’ve looked through some of the secondary sources…

But thanks for including all of us in the realm of ignorance, vastly simplifying all posts into two comments, and then demanding us to claim past knowledge of vast amounts of broadly-defined commentary, which is objective proof of the statement made…uhm…wait…no it’s not

Confrontational accusations of ignorance and claims of superiority will always heighten the debate instead of reasoned challenges with points requesting critique. I hate when people do the latter.

plethora's avatar

Sorry…havent seen anything to challenge except opinions and everybody’s entitled to their own. And we all have our areas of ignorance, present company included. I would expect more from this group than…“ahhh, yeah, I read some of and it’s bunk”.

iamthemob's avatar

I’m not criticizing your ideas of ignorance. But I wonder if you have had any experience where an accusation that the people talking were ignorant ever brought the conversation up a notch.

And if you’re going to expect more from the group, I’m going to expect you to include all necessary pronouns in your comments. :-)

So…what do you think about the bible.

Aster's avatar

if Jesus and his teachings were not mentioned, if it wasn;t a book of guidelines on how to live but a book about some ordinary Joe who robbed and pillaged and had no messages within it you guys would be much more likely to believe in it imo.

plethora's avatar

@iamthemob I believe there is good evidence and good reason to believe that it is a unique book and that events described therein which transcend normal laws of physics are not necessarily fabrications. My reference to historical evidence includes 2000 years of every conceivable objection to its uniqueness and every conceivable response to those objections.

I do not suggest that a person simply pick up a Bible, read some or all of it and decide either way. Particularly if the person is intelligent (that would be Flutherites) there is a wealth of intelligent reading compiled by scholars over the centuries.

iamthemob's avatar


But uniqueness doesn’t denote factual accuracy. It also doesn’t mean that it’s the word of god. Is it more unique than the Koran (recognizing the impossibility to answer that with complete seriousness)? What about the gnostic gospels?

There’s definitely truth to be found. However, arguments that there is a reason to hold all the words sacred rely on faith rather than fact, I’ve found.

And unfortunately, ministries who cherry-pick passages have spoiled the word of god argument with their hate agendas.

plethora's avatar

@iamthemob Yep, I agree. Those arguments have been hashed and rehashed over the centuries, right up to the present and I am no expert (or scholar), but know enough to have resolved my own concerns about its validity.

iamthemob's avatar


I’m of the mind that only the ten commandments can be taken literally, in any sense.

Have you come across anything that suggests the contrary?

plethora's avatar

@iamthemob My reference to historical evidence includes 2000 years of every conceivable objection to its uniqueness and every conceivable response to those objections

I would suggest doing some reading that would lead you to make a decision whether you can trust any of the book or all of the book

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@plethora What makes you think the opinions above are unfounded? The question did not ask for supporting evidence. We know that the supposed census by Caesar Augustus never happened, and we know that Egyptian dynasties do not fit the Biblical time scale, which is why I said it is loosely based on historical events. I maintain it is a good read as historical fiction, maybe even a fable considering there are some good morals to be drawn out of some of the stories.

plethora's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh You’re right, the question did not ask for supporting evidence. It asked for opinions. I found most of the opinions expressed, including yours, to be unfounded, based on my own study, which I would not force upon you.

Above, you note twice that “we know….”. Who is “we”?

iamthemob's avatar


So…you wouldn’t suggest any specific resource yourself? I myself have done some reading, documentary viewing, etc….but you seem to have some extensive knowledge. What would you suggest as a particularly illuminating source? Or sources…

Qingu's avatar

I think the question “Should the Bible be taken literally?” is different from “Should I believe everything the Bible says?”

I think a lot of ancient myths—including those found in the Bible—should be taken literally, because such a reading is obviously how their authors intended them. The ancient Hebrews and Babylonians believed the earth was flat, that the sun revolved around the earth, and that the sky was a solid dome. So when their stories say these things, we should take them literally.

We obviously shouldn’t believe that the earth is flat, however. Because it’s not true.

Now, parts of the Bible are intended to be metaphors or parables. But not, for example, Genesis. There’s no intellectually honest reason to say that Genesis 1 is a “metaphor” (for what?). It’s a creation myth, in the long tradition of Mesopotamian creation myths, all of which should be taken literally if you’re reading them honestly, and with respect to their historical and cultural context.

Qingu's avatar

@iamthemob, why do you believe the Ten Commandments are the word of Yahweh, but the other 603 commandments are not?

iamthemob's avatar

The most likely to be the word of God, and with the only real claim possible. The ten commandments were written on stone tablets by the hand of god for Moses to bring to the people.

Objectively, they contain universal principles of doing good and refraining from doing harm…the only exception being the first (I think?) regarding the one god.

Nothing in the rest makes anything close to this claim. All the rest are thought to be from divine inspiration, which means it was god working through man working through his language. Therefore, something may have gotten lost in translation.

Qingu's avatar

@iamthemob, why do you believe the ten commandments were written on stone tablets by the hand of god?

Also, they aren’t universal principles. The first four are specific to the ancient Hebrews’ cult—(actually, the Babylonian cult of the moon god, Sin, had sabbath-like days too). The others are sort of universal, but aren’t exactly supremely wise. Obeying your parents sounds nice, unless they are abusive. It’s nice to not envy your neighbor’s possessions… but it would be even nicer if the commandment didn’t understand “wives” and “slaves” as possessions.

iamthemob's avatar

According to the Bible, they were. Therefore, I state there’s the best claim for them being the word of god, that should be taken literally, and that’s it. I don’t believe that they were. I know that was probably easy to infer from the way I phrased everything – but to clarify. :-)

Qingu's avatar

So you believe the Ten Commandments are the word of God because it’s what the Bible says.

But, the Bible also says all the other 603 commandments are the word of God, too. (See Deuteronomy 4.) So why don’t you believe that?

Qingu's avatar

Also, the Quran says the Quran is the word of God. I take it you don’t believe the Quran is the word of God? Even though it says so?

Qingu's avatar

Or wait… re-reading your post more closely, you don’t believe they’re the word of God, you just think it makes more sense to say they are than to say the rest of it is the word of God?

Now I’m confused.

iamthemob's avatar


The question was should the Bible be taken literally. If there were parts we thought yes, and others no, to provide reasons why.

If I were to believe any part of the Bible should be read absolutely literally, it’s the ten commandments for the reason stated.

It should only be read literally if every word is the word of God. A literal meaning is, as I’m using and understanding it, a reading which accepts everything as the absolute truth.

So, that’s where I would stop…the ten commandments. Everything else has too many people fingerprints all over it.

plethora's avatar

@iamthemob Yes This is A resource, not THE resource. There are plenty of other places to start, But for an intelligent discussion about God (which is what this is all about), this is a meaningful and helpful book by a NYC pastor. Good for believers or non-believers.

iamthemob's avatar

Hmm…I think this discussion is a little more narrow though. It’s about literal interpretations of the Bible. That’s not about the Christian God in general.

In fact, I would say in many ways it has nothing to do with it, considering a literal interpretation of the rules in there may make one miss the faith…

plethora's avatar

@iamthemob Whatever…..probably a good idea not to even look. Could bias you or lead you astray.

iamthemob's avatar


Look at what…I already looked at the book…am I in trouble!

plethora's avatar

@iamthemob You have the book or just looked at the contents online? You asked for a reference and this is a good one, in my opinion.

Qingu's avatar

I still don’t understand why the Ten Commandments, alone, make the most sense to take literally.

The reason you say they should be taken literally (“the Bible says God gave them to us”) is the same for taking any other part of the Bible’s law literally.

iamthemob's avatar

I looked at the link and some of the other associated titles there. But I was asking what you were referring to when you said “Whatever…probably a good idea not even to look. Could bias you or lead you astray.” That’s why I brought up the book again…

plethora's avatar

@iamthemob Sorry…I made a sarcastic comment…:) I’ve read the book (and I do have some extensive study behind me, as a layman, just reading on my own). I’m not usually impressed by most of what I see in bookstores or on the web on this subject. This, however, I think is very good. The thing about what’s true and what’s not true (or literal) in the Bible is a pretty broad subject, in reality. This would be a good thing to read. The guy’s style is good. He takes a reasonable intellectual approach. Does not cram it down your throat. It’s worth looking at. If you don’t like it, try something else.

iamthemob's avatar


How are you defining it as a broad topic? And to the sarcasm I was responding in kind. :-)

Ron_C's avatar

The bible, Hindu myths, Greek myths, the Koran, all of them have as their main message, “don’t mess with the god(s)”. Nothing good can come from being too contrary to god’s will or following the god’s will too closely.

Humans messing with god or gods always end up with the shitty end of the stick. If I were to be religious, I would conduct myself as to remaining beneath god’s notice. If you are too good, you are tested (think Job) if you are too bad you are punished. The only people that safely escaped god’s attention are not mentioned in the bible. Unfortunately, since the maintain a low profile, they wrote no bible to describe how this is accomplished.

The Christian Bible and Jewish Torah so god to be capricious, jealous, spiteful, vengeful, and prejudiced. For the life of me I do not understand how that god or the writings could inspire religion

plethora's avatar

@iamthemob I missed your response….sorry. Gee, Im usually pretty sharp on that. As for “broad”, I am thinking that if one is trying to figure out whether there is truth in the Bible, one should first have some acquaintance with the Person who has claimed to inspire the Biblical writings. It does not necessarily have to be approached from that perspective, but that seems reasonable to me. If the alleged author cannot be trusted, then why worry with anything that is purportedly inspired by Him. At least that’s where I would start.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@plethora “We” is accepted historical opinion. I no longer have access to the sources I got this information from, so I cannot back it up. However I do know that one creationist organisation in particular is on a witch hunt to revise the history of ancient Egypt to match the Bible, so it seems general historical opinion is against them.
Ignore the “a new wind is blowing” phrases – I read their material for years while they said evolution was about to be rejected, but it seems as strong as ever.

plethora's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh ooook….I guess maybe on this, as on most every other subject in life, there is more than one “we”. I, frankly, know nothing about the Egyptian timeline and Biblical chronology. I, however, in my life, have seen so many revisions of historical and astronomical and medical “accepted opinion”, that I’m not making an issue of it. There is much I do not know.

The basis on which I do believe there is a God and that He is the creator of the universe, is that every other theory, including and especially evolution, requires me to believe such incredibly nonsensical postulates that I cannot bring myself to do so, nor can I imagine why any other reasonable person could do so. At the simplest and most basic level, I simply find it beyond reason to think that life can come from non-life. Can’t happen. Never has. So why should I believe that it happened eons ago?

That’s a rhetorical question. No response required…:)


@Hypocrisy_Central No, for me the two are “separable”. I believe in God or an unseen higher power and I respect that, but I don’t believe in something made by man himself, created for other men. The Bible is just written words on paper. It is not God or representative of my idea of who God is.

plethora's avatar

@MRSHINYSHOES There would be a vast difference between the Biblical God and an unseen higher power. Which would you be believing in?

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@plethora I see your point, and to some extent I even agree. As for alternate theories, I think you should read a little more about evolution if you think it is nonsensical. I’ll leave that one for the experts though, should you choose to look further.

ETpro's avatar

@plethora Do you believe that both the contradictory creation stories in Genesis are correct? Do you believe that the flood was an historical event and really covered the top of the Mount Everest? What historical or scientific evidence do know of to support that claim?

I believe that The Upanishads are as unique as the Bible. I believe that Herodotus tells of a large number of ancient events that have also been verified by modern archeology. It is not surprising that people living during the time of a famous city’s destruction or cataclysmic event could write down details of what happened, nor that they would attribute the cause to their God or gods. The Greeks thought their gods had a hand in the events they observed, as well.

I find your dismissive statements about the tone of all the other answers on this thread strange, to say the least. You condemn them for not first having studied every discussion of biblical criticism written over the past 2,000 years, then confess you haven’t done so either. So then what does qualify you to make such a sweeping judgment of all others. Did you read some work from an author whose ideology meshes with yours? Does that prove he has the exact truth when no others do?

plethora's avatar

@ETPro Let me deal with the “dismissive statements” comment. Complex topics and topics that have a long historical background are usually not adequately addressed by responses of one or two sentences. The Bible certainly fails into the latter category, and perhaps the first as well.

One does not leap into calculus, pronouncing some answers right and others wrong without having fully studied the basics of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, etc.

My perception is the answers in most all of the questions on this thread are themselves dismissive and display little knowledge of the Bible. However, the question itself is not one that can be answered in a few sentences. If one believes the Bible should be taken literally, then support for that position lies in an entire library on the subject, not a three line answer here.

Qingu's avatar

I agree that the Bible is a complex topic with a long history. However, so is astrology.

So, I don’t think that’s a good criterion for the acceptability of being dismissive of a topic.

Though I agree that ideally one should be informed about what the Bible actually says, and what its cultural and historical context is, before one has an opinion about it.

Aster's avatar

we need to define’ “word of
God” if going to keep bringing it up. we need a concise definition; not a half dozen imagined definitions.

ETpro's avatar

@plethora While the question itself appeared to ask simply for an opinion, the details provided did ask for supporting discussion. So I take your point that many of the answers were overly brief. I do not believe, however, that one must have read every work of apologetics written in the last 2,000 years or visited every source library on earth to answer this question. By that standard, nobody alive today would or ever could qualify to express any opinion on this question.

I didn’t offer a list of contradictions, but did mention that they exist. I base this on study of the work itself and apologetics. I attended Bible college and have also taken university courses in comparitive religion and world religions. I have certainly not immersed myself in the Bible to the level a PhD scholar of it would do. I found it wanting and would have seen such an investment of time as wasteful But I have spent enough quality time and study to have an opinion. And I can back up what I say about contradictions.

If it contradicts itself, then it should not be taken literally. It must either be seen as allegorical in those places, or dismissed altogether.

plethora's avatar

@ETpro I agree with your first paragraph. Would hold a different opinion on the contradictions. But then Dr Stephen Hawking and I also disagree on his “new” revelations concerning God….which I just saw on Yahoo News


@plethora I believe in God, but not in the Biblical God, nor the Koran Allah, or other man-conceptualized God. God exists. I don’t need the Bible to tell me he does or misconstrue things.

ETpro's avatar

@plethora I asked here about Hawking’s new book. I phrased the question more for the word play than complete explanation, so see the details for what’s behind it. But I’d appreciate your input. I thought I would draw more criticism of the book and didn’t get much of any.

ETpro's avatar

@plethora Thanks, my friend. Much appreciated.

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