Monday, December 17, 2007

I Am a Bible Literalist? No, Not Always!

It's a bit of a risk to go on public record that you actually believe the Bible! Through the years there has been a well organized response directed to those who say they do believe the Bible. It varies a bit in the way the reactions are worded -- for instance:

  • the Bible believer may be accused of worshipping the Bible -- that it is an object which consitutes idolatry simply because he or she has expressed a positive acceptance of all that the Bible reveals!

  • the Bible believer is considered quite "low-brow" if he or she claims to believe all that is contained in the record from the first chapter of the book of Genesis to the last chapter of the book of The Revelation. That is, one is lacking in intellectual accomplishment if one believes the Bible "as is!"

  • the Bible believer is considered to be a "literalist" if a statement is made, "I believe the entire Bible." Somehow the critic of the Bible believer wants to convey the idea that such a person takes everything in the Bible "literally" without question, and this constitutes a lot of ignorance on the part of the Bible believer.

Over the years I have had to deal with this issue from time to time. I have gone on record numerous times that I believe the Bible to be divinely inspired (by God the Holy Spirit) and the absolute authority on all matters pertaining to the Christian faith and how that faith is to be expressed in a fallen world.

One incident early on involved my appearance before the Board of Ordained Ministry of the W. PA Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. I made reference to Adam and Eve in responding to a question. Immediately one of the board members asked me if Adam and Eve were real people. I responded, "Yes." He then said, "You mean they lived in an actual historical time period?" I said, "Yes." He then said, "Don't you have a problem with that?" I replied, "Not me!" I tried to put a tone to it that said, "If you have a problem with it, that's your problem, not mine!"

To be accused of being a Bible believer is usually the same as being accused of taking the Bible literally in all that is recorded within its pages. I don't take everything in the Bible literally. For instance,

  • in Psalm 91 it mentions about abiding under the shadow of the Almighty and a bit later it says, "He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler." If I took this literally, then God at this point is a Canada goose or a great horned owl or maybe a Rhode Island Red chicken, but I must confess I don't view God that way in this portion of Scripture!

  • in Zechariah 2:5 it is recorded, "For I," says the LORD, "will be a wall of fire all around her, and I will be the glory in her midst." Now I don't take this to mean that God is in reality a wall of flames leaping hundreds of feet in the air such as we saw on news reports of the fires burning thousands of acres in southern California during fall of 2007!

  • in John 8:12 Jesus says He is the light of the world. I don't literally believe that means that Jesus is a flashlight powered by Energizer batteries!

  • in John 10:9 Jesus said that He is the door. Really, folks, I don't picture Him as a piece of paneled wood swinging on a couple of hinges with a brass door knob attached about 3 1/2 feet off the floor! No, I really don't -- if I were a strict 100 per cent "literalist" as implied by critics because I say I believe the Bible, then that is indeed how I would picture Jesus!

HOWEVER, there are many portions of Scripture which I do take literally and for which I do not apologize.

Some of these have been denied by those who pride themselves on being "liberal" and at times disagreement has become quite heated over whether such events and/or persons are historical fact or myth, legend, etc.

I've already mentioned Adam and Eve. Other recorded information which has been denied or highly questioned involves the world wide flood judgment at the time of Noah, the opening of the Red Sea when the Israelites left Egypt, the opening of the Jordan River at flood stage, and the great fish swallowing Jonah in the Old Testament. In the New Testament areas of dispute involve the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, His sinless life, the many miracles which He performed, His atonement for the sins of every member of the human race, His bodily resurrection from the dead following the crucifixion, His command to confront the entire world with His claims and call as Savior and Lord, and His promised return to this earth to rule it from Jerusalem at some point in the future!

While reading and in some cases, having done research papers on "theologians" who denied or seriously questioned many of those things mentioned above, I personally have never had a problem with what has been recorded in the Bible. I struggle at times to try to understand and grasp things at points, but I have never doubted that God did the things which are attributed to Him. In the Jonah incident -- the God I have known and been in fellowship with for 50 years could have kept Jonah alive in the belly of that fish for a year or longer if He had wanted to!

My God can do anything He wants to and when He wants to with no obligation to explain in detail to me how He did it or why He did it. The main expectation He has from me is that I approach Him in the spirit of a child and BELIEVE! In fact Jesus made it a demand that we become as children in our faith and relationship to Him -- part of that invovles our willingness to accept as a small child the truth of what God has done in the past, is doing now, and plans to do in the future!

"Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven." --- Matthew 18:3

By the way, how great is the God in Whom you claim to believe? Can He do things such as bring world wide judgment, open up a great body of water and dry the ground on which that water rested for centuries, keep a man alive in the belly of a great fish which He has prepared, make it possible for a young virgin to have a baby without a human male being in any way involved, raise the dead to life, etc? And can He touch the heart of a sinner in such a way that the sinner is brought to totally forsake his sins, seek forgiveness, and live a transformed life in obedience to the Savior Who was crucified for those sins?

As mentioned earlier there is one apology I have never made in the past and never will in the future -- that I believe the Bible, God's holy Word! Much of it I do take literally, but there are some exceptions as previously noted -- remember, God is not a Rhode Island Red chicken, though He covers me with His feathers and I take refuge under His wings! (Psalm 91).

I am Your servant; give me understanding, that I may know Your testimonies. It is time for You to act, O LORD, for they have regarded Your law as void. Therefore I love Your commandments more than gold, yes, than fine gold! Therefore all Your precepts concerning all things I consider to be right; I hate every false way. Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them. The entrance of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. --- Psalm 119:125-130

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