Ask a questionQ & A

Questions & answers    CHURCH & BIBLE    General Bible Questions

Question

Should the bible be interpreted literally or is it just analogies and metaphors? I am sceptical regarding scientifically impossible events but believe in God.

Answer

Thank you for this great question!

In 2 Timothy 2:15 we are told that we must present ourselves as one who correctly handles the word of truth. Handling Scripture correctly is absolutely essential to growth in the Christian life and the dangers cannot be overstated of failing to see Gods word for what it is.

Paul tells us what the nature is of the Bible in when he writes that all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The phrase 'God-breathed' means that it comes from the very mouth of God and so is truth itself. 2 Peter 1:20-21 reveals the relationship between this divine inspiration and the human authors of the books of the Bible: above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.

Men spoke from God and not of their own thinking!

God inspired them and their words faithfully reflected His mind because the Holy Spirit 'moved' them to record the truth of God reliably. One great evidence for this is the fact that some 44 authors, writing over a period of around 1500 years, produced books so much in harmony with each other in their teaching and shared spiritual vision. Having said all this, we need to take into account a number of literary issues without which uninformed people have misread the Bible.

First of all, the matter of context is very important. If we take passages in isolation without understanding who they have been written by, for whom they were intended and the time and place from which they were written, we can easily lose sight of the proper meaning. In fact, people have managed to 'find' anything they wanted in the Bible by quoting isolated texts from it. If you study apparent contradictions, however, you will usually find a simple explanation by looking at matters of context.

Secondly, there are different writing styles in the Bible. Much of it consists of literal statements intended to bear a literal meaning but there are also in its pages similes, metaphors, stories (such as the parables told by Jesus), hyperbole, figurative language and even sarcasm. It is almost always clear when these different styles are being used.

For example, a simile is indicated by Jesus when he says things such as “the Kingdom of Heaven is like….” Figurative language can be found especially in some of the Prophets and in the Book of Revelation, some of which is quite difficult to interpret. We can speak in similar ways today. For example, we may say, “That man is as strong as an ox” without confusing a man and an ox. We are simply using a simile to illustrate a point.

Equally, thoughtful writers may develop a system of symbols to express mysterious truths. That's what we find in books like Revelation and C. S. Lewis did something similar in his Narnia books. However, we must be careful not to treat a biblical statement as non-literal merely because we don't want to accept it. For example, some of Jesus' words about hell are figurative, such as comparing it to the rubbish dump outside the walls of Jerusalem called Gehenna. However, that Jesus used pictures which were powerful and familiar in his lifetime doesn't mean there is not a hell.

Thirdly, the biblical authors cannot be expected to speak like modern scientists when modern scientific discoveries were yet to be made. For example, they speak of the sun rising and setting and the stars moving across the skies at night. Such statements are true to what they could accurately observe and that is true enough. Had God revealed a modern scientific description it would have been wildly distracting and confusing to people who were reading Scripture to learn far more important truths about God and human nature. On the other hand, the Bible does contain occasional statements that were once dismissed as impossible by science, only for them to be proved true - such as that the earth is not flat, as medieval scientists believed, but round and is suspended in space without support.

Finally, we need to be careful not to regard science as infallible. To begin with, scientists have altered theories once thought to be absolutely true in the light of fresh discoveries. More importantly, science can be misused to claim that the supernatural cannot exist. The argument is that (a). the universe behaves consistently according to natural laws so far as can be seen, and therefore (b). it must ALWAYS do so.

If there is a God who created those laws, however, and who is omnipotent, He can obviously work apart from them, which is what a miracle is. Why would He? To provide signs for people to realise that He is real and all-powerful. If you read the Bible carefully, you will notice that the miraculous is not only rare but has occurred in concentrations which accompany a new revelation of God's truth.

In summary, the bible is God's word to us, showing us wonders about God and showing us who He is. I encourage you to read the bible more regularly and to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal God to you as you read.

I hope this answer helps you to find peace with God through Jesus Christ. If you want to know more about what Jesus has done for you please watch the video on the main part of our site: Watch the video

I encourage you to attend a local Bible believing church and speak to the leader about your question. If you want to find a local church, our Church Finder may help you: Find a Church

Please feel free to submit a question to us or to read our answer database: Ask a Question

*All Scripture references are taken From The English Standard Version of the Holy Bible unless stated otherwise

*If anything in this answer affects you directly, then please feel free to call our confidential prayer line in the UK on 0845 4567729, where trained Christian volunteers will take your call and pray both for you and with you. If you are outside of the UK then you may submit your request for prayer on line at www.ucb.co.uk/prayerline


Find more answers in...

Questions & answers    CHURCH & BIBLE  

General Bible Questions

If you can't find an answer to your question, please ask us instead.

Twitter icon Facebook icon