When I say I interpret the Bible literally to others outside of what I would define as orthodox evangelicalism, I sometimes get the feeling I am being seen as if I have a third eye in the middle of my forehead. It’s as if the person I share such a comment with is saying, “Are you for real?”
Note: I usually use the word “conservative” to define my segment of evangelicalism, but as I began studying for this piece, I realized a better word is orthodox, as it defines my approach to the Bible as an objective book and my final authority for faith and life. This is in contrast with what I would describe as a neo-orthodox and/or liberal evangelicalism, which may be defined by not believing inspiration has ceased, believing culture informs the interpretation of scripture (not the other way around), and having confidence that the Bible contains much spiritual truth but not perfect historical truth. For example, the origin stories of Genesis 1-11 would not typically be believed literally by this segment of evangelicalism.
Anyway, I try not to get defensive, but I am only human. Sometimes I do. I understand others’ reactions though. Some of what has been defined as biblical literalism and what has been done in its name down through history has (understandably) damaged the reputation of this kind of Bible analysis.
Despite that fact, in this three-part series of posts, I want to share four things that I have come to view as my personal defense of a literal biblical interpretation.
According to britannica.com, there are four major methods of interpreting the Bible: “the literal, moral, allegorical, and anagogical (mystical)” with other types of interpretive lenses coming out of scholarship trends of the day.
In this first post, I will share a little bit of my own background leading me to the literal interpretation of Scripture. In part two, I will define what I mean by biblical literalism and then talk about the main reason why I believe the literal interpretation of Scripture is the best method of approaching the Bible for the Christian. Finally, in part three, I will illustrate an example of a literal interpretation of a Bible passage and how I would apply that interpretation to my life.
My Journey toward a Literal Biblical Interpretation
When I first came to faith in Jesus Christ as my Savior at the age of 8, I did not understand the Bible. While I may not have known John 14:6 at that time, I did understand the passage’s concept when I believed Jesus was “the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through [him].’ ” I simply trusted Jesus was the door through which I needed to walk to spend eternal life with God.
Starting in my mid-20s, I began to really learn the Bible and apply it to my day-to-day life. This happened to be the time when I decided to commit my life to understanding what it meant to be a Christian and to live that out. Mostly though, I realized learning the Bible was the best way to grow in my understanding of the God who not only made me and then saved me, but who I also believe authored the Scriptures.
Early on in this renewed commitment, I was struck by the sheer number of different faith families in Christendom and wondered which one was the “right” one. How could all these claim to be the true church or the best church when they believe the Bible so differently? I was overwhelmed but determined to get to the bottom of it. Frankly, I researched my tail feathers off and leaned heavily on my pastor’s ear at the time (God bless him!). This pastor even asked me to research a question he had about how local churches in our area approached baptism and membership. I suspect that was a research question he contrived mostly for me. This question paved the way for getting to know my Bible better because for the first time, I began to understand how different interpretations of passages of Scripture created different systems of belief.
I also began heavily studying the history of Christendom and how modern churches came to be. All that studying and gaining knowledge about different interpretations of scripture and how that defined certain faith families began to form in me the belief that the best way or the most authentic way to read and interpret the Bible was in its literal sense.
If Scripture could be parsed out in one method of interpretation in some passages, and then another method in another, then how do I know which method of interpretation to use in a given passage? It would be basically subject to my own opinion, and I thought that would be a rather inconsistent way of interpreting Scripture.
This didn’t seem like the best way forward. So, I continued studying and discovered that literal methods of interpretation are actually multi-dimensional, and they can be used consistently throughout the entire Bible.
That was my key, then, to unlocking the meaning of the Bible and knowing how to live a Christian life.
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