by Pastor Bill Daywalt
Christians interpret the Word of God in two different ways. Some view the Bible as being the “literal” word of God. Others believe that God’s word is inspired.
Biblical literalism or biblicism is a term used differently by different theologians. It can equate to a strict dictionary definition: meaning “in accordance with, involving, or being the primary or strict meaning of the word or words; not figuratively or metaphorically”.
It can also refer to the historical-grammatical method, a technique that strives to uncover the meaning of the text by taking into account not just the grammatical words, but also the syntactical aspects, the cultural and historical background, and the literary genre. It references the words in the text but does not necessarily lead to complete agreement upon one single interpretation of any given passage.
Fundamentalists and evangelicals sometimes refer to themselves as literalists or biblical literalists. Sociologists also use the term about conservative Christian belief that the word is truth and without flaw.
This is the interpretation of the Bible in a pre-scientific world. To view the Bible literally can make it unbelievable and irrelevant in today’s world.
A 2011 Gallup survey reports, “Three in 10 Americans interpret the Bible literally, saying it is the actual word of God. Of those surveyed 49% of Americans say the Bible is the inspired word of God but that it should not be taken literally. Another 17% consider the Bible an ancient book of stories recorded by man.”
This view looks at the Bible as sacred text of faith stories. Contained in these stories are life lessons to be used by those who seek a more human and divine way of living and loving. The Bible’s real authority and power is found in way those stories have shaped the life of those who seriously listen for its divine message.
Steve Falkenberg, professor of religious psychology at Eastern Kentucky University, observed:
“I’ve never met anyone who actually believes the Bible is literally true. I know a bunch of people who say they believe the Bible is literally true but nobody is actually a literalist. Taken literally, the Bible says the earth is flat, it has pillars, and will not be moved. It says that great sea monsters are set to guard the edge of the sea.
Christian Smith wrote in his 2012 book, The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture:
“The real problem is the particular biblicist theory about the Bible; it not only makes young believers vulnerable to being disabused of their naive acceptance of that theory but it also often has the additional consequence of putting their faith commitments at risk. Biblicism often paints smart, committed youth into a corner that is for real reasons impossible to occupy for many of those who actually confront its problems. When some of those youth give up on biblicism and simply walk across the wet paint, it is flawed biblicism that is partly responsible for those losses of faith.”
The Bible contains the words of life, the word of Jesus. These words are meant to bring us hope, to make us wise about the things that matter most, to revive our souls. Above all, these words are meant to show us Jesus. These words are meant to bring purpose to our lives.
God has a purpose for each of us and that purpose is defined in God’s word. To understand that purpose, the Bible needs to be a relevant, living document.
“But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exodus 9:16).
His purposes not only encompass our lives, but the lives of those around us—at home, school, work, and community. It’s important to know and live out the following Bible verses about purpose:
“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13).
Literal interpretations of the Bible are often used to cause pain. People use the word of God to exclude and demean. Something meant to be life-giving has been used to harm, to limit, and to silence. The words of the Bible have been used over and over again by people wanting to to shut down or control. The Bible can be used as a weapon against us or against people we love. This is not in keeping with today’s world.
The inspired word is all loving and inclusive. It addresses the needs of today’s society. It shows us that we are all God’s children, created in His image. God’s shows His love to all.
The Lord and His purposes are perfect, but we are not. We live with doubts and fears that can keep us from living out the purposes that He has established for us.
Through the inspired word we can overcome this by consistently reading and studying His word so that our faith will be made stronger. As we learn of God’s saving grace, we can live our lives full of confidence, joy, and love.