Some people say that Christians discredit Christianity by not taking the Bible literally. Other say that taking the Bible literally turns people from decent individuals into religious nuts who care more about rules than people.
So let’s start with the Bible. It’s a book with a bit of poetry, a bit of advice, and lots of stories. Sure, there are rules and regulations – but seeing as how the vast majority of Americans had ancestors who were not born in Israel thousands of years ago – most of the ancient rules don’t really apply. Even the New Testament clarification on the Ten Commandments made them so much more difficult, it’s impossible for people to keep them.
So why make rules that are impossible to keep? Simply, to point out the need of us to throw in our lot with the one individual who was made to follow the rules: Jesus.
Case and point: Circumcision. Early Christianity consisted entirely of Jewish men and women. When Gentiles started believing, some people though that they had to be circumcised – or made fully Jewish – to be fully Christian. This problem was resolved by calling in all the leaders to meet and decide on the issue. The result: Christians weren’t bound by Jewish tradition.
Over the next few hundred years, Christianity worked very hard to put behind it their Jewish roots. The further they distanced themselves, the more difficult they made following the bible literally.
So here we are two millennium later, the Bible has survived century after century – but it is not unchanged. Think about how quickly the meaning of a word can change in a few decades. Now add to that century after century, translation from language to language, and some major theological division. There are so many versions of the Bible that it’s difficult to say which one is right. Do we chose one that’s a literal match for the text? Do we choose one that’s a match for the ideas and concepts?
A friend of mine once pointed out that Jesus specifically chose twelve men to be his disciples, they were from Galilee, Israel. So to be biblical, only men from Galilee (preferably Jewish) should be Christian teachers. Taking the ‘literalness’ to that extreme is something that just wouldn’t work in modern America. Yet, some of the larger religious institutions are using similar logic to disqualify people that God called to serve.
So we can’t take the Bible literally because we’re not the people who were commanded to build a tabernacle and a temple and worship there-in. But we can take it’s concepts to heart because we’re the people that God adopted into his family. When Jesus was asked what is the most important commandments, he said: “Love God and love everybody else.” That’s the one thing we can take literally.