Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Confessions of a Bible Literalist

I don't like labels. Especially when that label is put on me by someone else. Usually the person/people labeling me have never met me or truly don't know me very well. Sometimes someone who thinks they know me slaps a label on me that doesn't really fit. I try not to label people anymore because if I don't like it done to me, then they probably don't either.
So when I began to hear the phrase "Bible literalist" being thrown around a few years ago, I thought, "Uh-oh, I bet some people will call me a Bible literalist." Why? Because I firmly....FIRMLY!...believe the Bible must be taken as God's word and instruction to us in how to live holy lives that are pleasing to Him. And that means recognizing that the historical accounts, parables, poetry and Apocalyptic scripture revealed in the Bible are not just interesting stories that you can take or leave, but are words that God himself needed us to read and understand.
Why is it important to read the Bible literally?
Let me explain.
Let's start in Genesis. Genesis was written by Moses. He tells us that "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." (Genesis 1:1) How could Moses possibly know this since he wasn't born yet? How could he know that God created the sun and moon and water and plants and animals and people in six days? How could he know God rested on the seventh day? (And yes, I'm talking literal days!) Moses knew these things because God told him! God obviously instructed Moses to make a written record of Creation so that all mankind would know it didn't just happen because of some goofy cosmic explosion a ba-zillion years ago. (Picture me rolling my eyes here.)
From the very get-go, God wanted us to understand His authority over everything. He created it all. It all belongs to Him. To believe anything less than God's power to do the amazing and impossible is to put Him into our little human box of little human understanding. And if God can fit in that box, then He is not God. 
Moving on.
"Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all creatures that move along the ground." Genesis 1:26
The Bible makes it perfectly clear that Adam and Eve were the first people God created. Humankind came from them. Sin also came from them. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:22 that death came through Adam because he sinned. How did Moses know all of this? God told him. Yet there are those who believe that God created other people outside of the Garden, apart from the line of Adam. Sorry folks, but there is nothing biblical to support that theory. Not even Cain's story of living in the land of Nod. No where does it say he found his wife in Nod--that she was a Nodite (ha!). It simply says he had a wife, who, as we understand biology, had to have also been his sister or possibly a niece. The Hebrew word used in Genesis 4:17 is "ishshah" which means "woman/wife/female." Josephus, the Jewish historian, wrote that according to tradition Adam and Eve had 33 sons and 23 daughters. .Incest, as we would call it, for procreation had to take place then and after the flood. Apparently it wasn't sinful in God's eyes because it fulfilled the "be fruitful and increase in number" command. It obviously became sinful--depraved--later and God made it clear in Leviticus that it had to stop. (Note: Even Abraham and Sarah were related to each other; she was his half-sister. Genesis 20:12)
However, the most important reason I take the Bible as it is written is this:
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John tell us about Jesus. About his life, about his arrest, about his crucifixion, and about his resurrection. If I can't take the Bible literally from the very beginning--from the creation story in Genesis 1:1 and moving forward!--then why on earth would I take it literally when it comes to the account of Jesus' life and death on the cross????? Why would I believe that God came to earth as a man, died a horrific death on the cross as the sacrificial Lamb, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven if I can't accept the rest of the Bible just as literally? That God really did send a flood that covered the earth? That the Israelites really did walk through the Red Sea on dry ground? That Lazarus really was dead in the grave three days?
Jesus often taught in parables, but Jesus also quoted the Old Testament as the Word of God. In Luke 4:16-21 he read the prophecy about the Messiah from Isaiah and announced that "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." (v. 21)
Jesus took scripture literally! Because he fulfilled scripture literally! How can I go out into the world and proclaim Jesus' life, death and resurrection in one breath and then turn around and say the rest of the Bible is just a bunch of stories that you may or may not believe? Why would I hang my deepest, heartfelt hope on the promise that one day I'll be with Jesus in paradise just like he told the criminal on the cross next to him (Luke 23:43) if I can't accept that God allowed innocent children to die when the angel of death killed every firstborn in Exodus 11?
I will never fully understand God or everything that is written in His word. All I can do is read, read, read and pray, pray, pray for as much understanding as God is willing for me to have. And that's what I'm trying to do.
     So, if you want to call me a Bible literalist, go ahead. I can think of a whole lot worse things to be.
This week's Prayer Shout-Out countries are:
USA, Germany, Russia, Spain, Ukraine, France 

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