On Taking the Bible Literally


One of the biggest criticisms that I’ve gotten on my “Why I Can’t Agree With the Bible” series is that I’m taking the Bible as literal. So lets discuss this.

I am trying not to only focus on the most literal translation, but I am looking at the literal translation a fair bit. I have a number of reasons for doing this.
1) The number of Christians who are Biblical literalists. They may not be the majority of Christians, but they are the most vocal. They are also the most problematic. Let’s face it, the majority of Christians can get along just fine with those that don’t share their beliefs. They also happily admit that their holy book isn’t perfect. What’s the point in addressing their view? They aren’t discriminating against people and using the Bible as their excuse to do so. They aren’t trying to tell people what they can and can’t do based on the Bible. They aren’t toting the Bible as infallible. My criticisms of the Bible are directed at people who want to use it to force their beliefs on others (at least to a large extent).2) I’m reading it like I would read any other book that is claimed to be factually accurate. That is, I’m reading it critically and pointing out where it is inaccurate. This is how any honest intellectual would read any other historical text. The only difference is I’m not looking for other sources to either corroborate or disprove the Bible. This is because doing so would take far too long, and I’m not planning to get these posts peer-reviewed and added to any scholarly journals.
3) How else can I read it? Should I not take it at face value when it makes a claim? How else should I take it? What other works would we take this way (by which I mean, what else would we take not at face value when it makes truth claims)?

However, like I said, I’m not solely reading the Bible literally. When I ask “how is this moral,” I’m saying “regardless of whether or not this actually happened, where’s the moral lesson to be learned here and how is it a moral lesson.” Basically, if the Bible isn’t literal, why should I take it as a book worth revering. Why should I not just ignore it?

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73 responses to “On Taking the Bible Literally

  • jrob8157293

    It’s not about whether you take it literally or not. The problem is that people focus so intensely on certain details that they can’t see the whole picture. There are many things in the Bible that don’t make sense until you read another part of the Bible that better explains them. And there are also things that make a lot more sense when you take a look into the original Hebrew and Koine Greek that the Bible was written in. I’m not saying you need to learn those languages to understand the Bible, but one should see what scholars have to say on things that they have trouble understanding because oftentimes scholars know a lot about the original translation. For example, if you know that there are different meanings for the Hebrew word “yom” it makes it easier to understand that the seven “days” of creation are actually seven “ages.” We are still in the 7th “day.”

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    • clubschadenfreude

      “It’s not about whether you take it literally or not. The problem is that people focus so intensely on certain details that they can’t see the whole picture. There are many things in the Bible that don’t make sense until you read another part of the Bible that better explains them. And there are also things that make a lot more sense when you take a look into the original Hebrew and Koine Greek that the Bible was written in. I’m not saying you need to learn those languages to understand the Bible, but one should see what scholars have to say on things that they have trouble understanding because oftentimes scholars know a lot about the original translation. For example, if you know that there are different meanings for the Hebrew word “yom” it makes it easier to understand that the seven “days” of creation are actually seven “ages.” We are still in the 7th “day.”

      In that I have read the entire bible, I do not see that your claims are true. I do know that many beleivers try to associate different piece together, for example, the prophecies of the OT and the supposed messiah of the NT, but if one reads the prophecies in context, they do not support this Jesus Christ, and that’s why there are still Jews.

      I’ve also seen the excuse that one needs to know the ancient languages to “really” understand the bible but that would indicate that this god is somehow limited by human languages and can’t make itself clear, despite the claims of being omnipotent and omniscient. I have read the various scholars and as usual, they often disagree on what this god “really” meant. And none of them can show that they are any more “right” than the others.

      As for your claim that yom “really” means an “age”, well other Christians make the claim that it “really” means a day. Which of you should we think has the right version since none of you can show that you are any more true believers than the others?

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  • FromTheDeskAndShelf

    I really enjoyed this post! The one thing I would take issue with is the notion that the Bible claims to be “factually accurate.” Remember that we are looking at the Bible with modern notions of what constitutes “history” and how a society builds a its own historiography. Many of our modern concepts were blended for the societies of the ancient Near East. As one example, the notions of “religion,” “medicine,” and “magic,” while different in our context, were melded together in the ancient world. So too is the idea of “history” and “religious history.” I would also say this is furthered by the fact that virtually every book of the Hebrew Bible (my area of study) was authored by multiple people and redacted at a later date. Thus what you have in the Bible today is an edited collection of bits and stories that at some point, likely in the Persian period, the redactor felt necessary to combine into one story. See the Torah and the Book of Daniel for examples of this. Keep up the great work!

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  • Tony

    The Bible, unlike any other book written in history has as it’s author an eternal being, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who is always available to answer questions should the reader really want to know the truth.

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    • hessianwithteeth

      First the reader has to be convinced that Jesus and God actually exist.

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      • Elo

        Actually the bible was not written by God, it was written by men inspired by God. The only major religious book written by God is the Koran. Muhammad was illiterate and claimed to received the written word – written by God himself.

        I’m sorry but this is what really annoys me about religious people – their ignorance and arrogance. Please at least take the time to get your facts straight and try to validate your blind faith.

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      • Elo

        Sorry for the misspelling Quran

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      • Tony

        Again, ask Him for proof, you’ve got nothing to loose.

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        • clubschadenfreude

          I have and gotten nothing. Many people have and have gotten nothing. Why is this, Tony? It seems that this god has said that asking for proof is perfectly fine, so why don’t I get anything? Now, here the usual excuse by a believer is that I have somehow willfully ignored what was provided or that somehow I missed it. Being that isn’t true, at least in my case, why would this god ignore my request? Does it want me damned as the bible says in Romans 9, where it doesn’t matter what you believe or not if this god wants you damned? Is it happy with me as I am? Is it that it doesn’t exist and there is nothing to provide any proof?

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          • Tony

            I will not give you the “usual” excuse that you’ve been accustomed to, in fact, I will not provide any excuses. I personally can remember a similar time when I too was seeking God’s presence, and I was a Christian at the time. I got nothing and felt nothing. I got frustrated enough and asked God what I needed to do to get His attention, slit my wrists? I did not give up my pursuit and I kept on pursuing. I am very happy I did. I can not speak to your situation personally as I am not in your shoes as the saying goes. However, I will pray for you as others did for me that God would reveal Himself to you as He did to me. Let’s keep in touch as to what happens in your life.

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          • clubschadenfreude

            Yep, here we go with the usual excuse aka “God is mysterious and you can’t hold me accountable for my ever-so mysterious god.” I have been “pursuing” for about three decades now; I am an atheist because there is no evidence. I do have an open mind and still look for any evidence for your god and other gods which have about as much chance to exist. Where is the evidence for this Thomas? JC gave it to him, why not me and millions of other non-Christians?

            Again, you have offered one of the very usual excuses, that one has to “keep trying” and you think that lets you and your supposed god off the hook. When I was losing my faith, I prayed and prayed and nothing changed. Why nothing, Tony? Wasn’t I praying in the “right” way as so many Christians have told me? Of course, they never will tell me the right way since their claims can be checked.

            I’ve had hundreds of people claim to be praying for me. Again, no changes at all. It seems that your, and their, prayers are worthless as always, Tony. Is your god ignoring you and all of those others who have claimed to pray for me to find this god? Is it happy with me as I am? Is it going to damn me no matter what since God’s will can’t be changed as so many Christians claim and which makes prayer utterly worthless? Romans 9 is such a great example of how prayer is ridiculous. Or is it that your god doesn’t exist? What will you make up as an excuse if I never accept Jesus as my savior?

            You are more than welcome to keep in touch with me. My blog is Club Schadenfreude so come on over.

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          • Tony

            I did not think I gave you a typical Christian response as I gave you my personal experience. If you never accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior is something that is a personal decision. I have no excuses to offer you nor will I try to make one up. All I can tell you is my personal experiences down this road.

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          • clubschadenfreude

            Tony, you may not have thought you’ve given a typical Christian response. However, you have. I have had many Christians say exactly what you have to excuse your god’s evident non-existence. You want me to keep trying when nothing has happened, and you want to pretend your prayers do something when they do nothing. You cannot explain why your god does nothing and you cannot show that your god has done anything, even for you. Many believers, of all types of gods, claim the same thing, a magical experience and then can’t explain why everyone who implores their god for a similar one doesn’t get it. Muslims, Wiccans, Christians, etc all make the same excuses when no evidence for their gods can be demonstrated. You all depend on unsubstantiated claims, coincidence or parlor tricks. If a prayer doesn’t result in what you promise, then you make up excuses why it didn’t, that this god of yours didn’t want it to happen because of some mysterious “plan”, that it knew that it was better to give something else, etc. This belies what the bible says, that prayers will be answered quickly (that mountain moves now, not in a decade or two) and that this god will not give a snake in place of a requested fish. This is why I ask you the questions, Tony. Does your god like me as I am? Does your god ignore your prayers? Am I damned no matter what? Or perhaps does it not exist?

            Consider this, Tony. You don’t believe anyone who doesn’t believe as you do, as do they. Everyone is sure that they have the right magical being and that everyone else is mistaken or perhaps fooled by some other magical being. Since I know that all of you have nothing, this is why I believe none of you.

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          • Tony

            I would submit to you the Nation of Israel as proof of God’s existence. No other people that I am aware of has remained in existence as both a nation and a people. Additionally, a prophecy given in the book of Isaiah which says, “can a nation be born in a day” was fulfilled in 1948 with the stroke of a pen and the nation of Israel was born

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          • clubschadenfreude

            Oh my. No, Tony, the nation of Israel is no more evidence of the existence of the JudeoChristian god than the existence of Mecca is evidence of Allah and Mohammed, Heliopolis is evidence that Ra and the rest of the Ancient Egyptian pantheon exists or that the existence of the Vatican or Salt Lake City is any evidence that the Catholics or Mormons are the “right” ones.

            Other nations have been “born in a day” if you want to claim that signatures are the sole thing that make a nation exist. The US is one. Liberia is another. Nigeria, Tajikistan, etc. As for “prophecy”, where does it say that Israel will be created in 1948? Hmmm? It’s great to claim vague nonsense as “prophecy” because it can be made to fit anything. Let’s look at what else we have as a “prophecy” in Isaiah. We have ““I will extend peace to her like a river, and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream.” Hmmm, seems that this god has forgotten about making Israel always peaceful. The only nation that gives much money to Israel is the US and that’s because of the hilarious idea that Israel is somehow needed for the power fantasies of Christians. How about this part “From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me” When has that happened? Let me guess, you’ll pick and choose and insist that some parts are already fulfilled and the other parts are in the future, which is called cherry picking and using your magic decoder ring to make up what you want from a book already written.

            We also have all of this to be in the context of this god creating a new heaven and new earth (Isaiah 65) and then these events will occur in Isaiah 66. So, refresh my memory, when was this new heaven and new earth created? 1935? 1880? You see, Tony, claims of “prophecy” are worthless when they cannot be shown to be actual prophecies but are no more than attempts to retcon nonsense into reality. It’s like watching Muslims insist that the Qu’ran has prophecied the existence of genetic engineering because it says “they will alter Allah’s creation” and nothing else. Or when both Muslims and Christians claim that their particular holy books have prophecied modern communications and media by vague words like “knowledge shall increase” and “many will run to and fro” and “and various people are brought together”.

            it’s just wishful thinking, hoping that old nonsense has modern meaning, and making it up. Show me a clear unquestionable claim of date and time, people involved and place involved and then we’ll talk. But not even Christians can agree on what the Bible “really” means. Such claims are as silly as when the bible claims that God has destroyed the city of Tyre to the point that no one will known where it is, and where reality has that Tyre is still a lively city, and we know where all of its older incarnations are with no problem.

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          • Tony

            I would suggest you read a book by the author Josh McDowell entitled Evidence That Demands A Verdict. This man like you was an atheist who went to Israel to disprove Christianity as a religion of foolish nonsense espoused by gullible people. He came away with a very different viewpoint.

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          • clubschadenfreude

            Tony, I’ve read the nonsense that Josh McDowell has written. His evidence fails amazingly well. You think his supposed evidence is worthwhile. Which do you find most convincing?

            So what if he was supposedly an atheist? Is this supposed to impress me? What of those Christians who have become other faiths? Does that make them suddenly right?

            I’ve also asked you some questions, Tony. I am expecting answers, they are not rhetorical. Tell me why I should believe one cherry picked bit of Isaiah and ignore the rest that isn’t so convenient to Christians? When was this new earth and heaven made? Why haven’t I received the evidence I have asked your god for when you claim that it will give it? Why not this Doubting Thomas.

            If you’d like to continue this on my blog, I would be happy to start a blog post for it and we can discuss things there rather than bothering hessian.

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  • orangelolita

    Don’t Christians have to take the Bible literally? I mean why do they get the chance to cherry-pick what they want to believe? By the way, great post.

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  • Literally Speaking | Amusing Nonsense

    […] and Withteeth posted their own views on Bible literalism. They addressed three concerns, namely that there are many Christians who hold the Good Book to be […]

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  • Asher Ben

    Thank you fr introducing me to your work. You have interesting view points. Will surely gain wisdowm from following you :). Keep posting

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  • Elo

    This post is very brave of you indeed.I find nothing more frustrating than debating the bible, especially when someone quotes it to defend their bigotry, sexism or homophobia.

    Good on you.

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  • clubschadenfreude

    good post. In my experience, every Christian takes at least some of the bible literally, though they do all often differ and accuse each other of being not TrueChristians. They use their magic decoder rings to decide for themselves which parts are just too silly to accept as literal. We have ridiculous nonsense like magical floods, a god that shows Moses his buttocks, a god that makes bets with his supposed enemy, a god that can’t handle iron chariots, the sun stopping in the sky, ten plagues happened that no one else noticed, the earth being assumed to be flat, a god that can step in human excrement if you don’t build latrines, etc. They’ll insist that one should never test their god and that all of the indications that you can with no problem aren’t somehow accurate.

    Many modern Christians will say that those parts shouldn’t be taken literally but then they turn around and insist that we should believe that a man died and rose again, the long dead rose from their tombs and wandered around, a legion’s worth of men gathered outside of an occupied city and no one noticed, that a biscuit turns literally into flesh, spit heals blindless, wine turned to water, and other silliness. Again, we see that religion is simply man-made and a reflection of personal hatreds and desires.

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  • kiwiskan

    Just want to say I love the Bible. It is simply for me a treasure-chest of God’s interaction with men. But it is not meant to be read as a stand-alone. It is meant to be read as part of a much bigger relationship. My favorite prophecy is in Micah 5 verse 2. And there is a lovely prophecy that I pray will come true for our suffering world: ‘But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts hath spoken it. For all people will walk every one in the name of his god, and we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.’ Blessings

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  • Rockin Dad

    Brave, very brave. I think it’s great some one is doing some critical analysis on the most widely read piece of text and commenting. Great post.

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  • premojas

    Reblogged this on Dear Beloveds and commented:
    “Why I Can’t Agree With the Bible”, simply cause I am not a christian. but may others are invited by it, to read more… succes

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  • hessianwithteeth

    Ugh, So Withteeth here to interject

    So first off You’ve all been replying to Hessian not me, so understand your reading me Withteeth at the moment, not Hessian.

    Hessian has been bother by your comment because the vast majority of you are simply not even reading her post, or at least it seems that way since your all suggesting she should study Hermeneutics when she’s said repeatedly that she’s doing a literal reading of the bible in order to contract biblical literalism. If you find that unsatisfying that’s too bad, but that’s what’s happening here, this isn’t a history lesson. Hessian is a history and understands what your all saying. (so do I, but she is actually in the field)

    However, hessian is not going to start reading the bible how you’d like her too, she’ll be reading it literally as she intended from the beginning. If it interests her she may return later and read it from various historical perspectives, but the future is yet unknown.

    In till then I’ll be moderating comments which are nagging her to change her methods. Especially those which make no other point, we are both finding it very unhelpful.

    However, if you want to give your own interpretation of the bible continue to do so, but do so in a constructive way, be thorough, and do not just tell hessian she’s doing it wrong.

    Otherwise we don’t need your comment.

    Withteeth

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    • webbzephyr

      My apologies, I did not mean to give offence. I simply come from a tradition of theological study which suggests that all biblical interpretations must be read through the hermetical circle, whether they be literal or metaphorical. Evidently, you are following a different sort of convention, and there is nothing wrong with that. I would never presume to say that you should change your methods. I only wished to provide a possible avenue that I believed might be of some assistance. There is no right or wrong in terms of literary interpretation, so please do not believe that I would seek to alter your own particular style. With all due respect, I believe that all of the commenters mean well. I cannot imagine that anyone meant to be insulting. After all, we all come to this blog to hear your take on things, not to have our own methods mirrored back to us. Do keep writing, your posts are worth reading. 🙂

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  • webbzephyr

    I would suggest taking the bible as a book worth revering in the sense that all books are worth revering in their own way. Every person (human or divine) has a form of truth to present, and every book is a passion project dedicated to communicating that truth. What you do with that person’s version of the truth is your choice, but you should always revere their willingness to write at all. But as you have the respect to give this particular book a read through, I believe you may already understand this concept for yourself. 🙂

    As an aside, I would suggest looking into the Christian tradition of hermeneutics. It might help your interpretive journey to have a sense of the standard Christian interpretive method, assuming you have not looked into it already. You might find “Elements of Biblical Exegesis” by Michael J. Gorman to be instructive. It is a little dense, but it is comprehensive.

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  • Indebted Eternally

    As a fellow doctoral student, I would encourage you to first research the hermeneutics involved with interpreting the bible. It will help you read it in a context that is more likely in accord with the culture and time period for which it was initially written.

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  • erkkinator2014

    The Bible is meant to be taken literally with the few exceptions of where it is clear that it does not intend a literal interpretation (i.e. Jesus using hyperbole, parables, the book of Revelation explicitly stating it’s a book of symbols, etc.). I have a hard time considering anyone who doesn’t interpret it this way as a Christian since Christ and his followers in their writings viewed the OT and Gospels as literal.

    This doesn’t meaning they didn’t draw further moral or prophetic implications from the stories than were readily apparent, but the stories themselves they accepted as happening in the way they were told. To move away from this is to move away from Christianity as it was believed by its founders and the Lord whom it is based on.

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  • landzek

    Good questions. I ll be interested in your reading a book that I will put out soon that offers an alternate (yet literal?) reading of the Gospels. I hope you might be interested in reading it.

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  • Amyclae

    “This is how any honest intellectual would read any other historical text.”

    This simply isn’t true at all. Go to any history department in the world and ask them if an honest ‘intellectual’ would read any pre-modern text at face value–if any of them said yes, I’d happily eat my left shoe.

    Honestly I’d love to see why you think this is. I remember writing one of my first graduate papers, and using a throw away line similar to your own. ‘A plain reading of the text is useful…’ and I remember the professor underlining, circling and writing in the margins “wrong.”

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  • Many Moons Under the Sun

    You make some good points. As for me, many years ago I felt like the bible was too vast for me to be able to read, let alone understand. On top of that I spent 19 years in a Baptist church…btw when I look back on that now I feel like I was indoctrinated by men’s beliefs of what they believed the bible means. I had to unlearn some things to make room in my brain to learn something else. Now that I’ve had over 5 years to breathe, research and read it again for myself, the bible has taken on an entirely new meaning for me. There are some discrepancies…some things don’t make sense. The OT could be viewed as some historical accounts. Some pretty neat things about it too is the fact that the 66 different books were written by over 30 men in different periods of time, yet some say the exact same thing. Additionally the OT prophesied or foretold about the coming Messiah (Jesus). When He died, then resurrected 3 days later, He made a way for ALL men to be reconciled to God. Not only that, when King James had the bible translated, I think there were several things that got interpreted rather than translated…which ultimately produced some errors. For instance, the early disciples did not believe that God would send people to hell to be punished forever. I just recently discovered this myself. The word “hell” was not even in the original language. The words were “sheole, gehenna, and hades”. The idea was there would be some sort of judgement or chastening but not a sentence to hell forever and ever without end. To me this was good news. I think I even read somewhere that the word “hell” was put in there as a means to control the population with fear. Honestly, all those years of the damnation preaching…it was hard for me to love a God who I believed mercilessly sent people to hell. Now I know He is not like that. He is a merciful, loving Father who wants all of His children. He knows the path everyone of us has taken since our birth…and I believe He will give us the time we need to sort things out. He will never force us. If we were forced then it would not be based on love. I’ve got more peace now than I’ve ever had in my life. Anyway, this was my 2 cents worth. If your interested google the Concordant Literal New Testament. The man who did this translation has more info on his site. I think that is the most accurate translation, but he died before he got to the Old Testament.

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    • Arkenaten

      @Many moons under the sun

      Additionally the OT prophesied or foretold about the coming Messiah (Jesus).

      Could you please indicate where ( including verse/s ) in the Old Testament this Messiah (Jesus) prophecy is? Thanks.

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      • Many Moons Under the Sun

        Gosh, I really don’t know for sure how many there are. But I did a quick google search – here is the link you can look at. They have a chart there of 44 prophecies foretold with the OT and NT references of fulfillment.

        http://christianity.about.com/od/biblefactsandlists/a/Prophecies-Jesus.htm

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        • Arkenaten

          How, for example, is Isiah 7:14 a Messianic Prophecy?

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          • Many Moons Under the Sun

            Well…good question. Isaiah 7:14 says “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” The verse is prophesying about a son, the Son of God who will be birthed through a virgin girl, and that His name would be called Immanuel, which means “God with us”. The prophecy was fulfilled and recorded in the Gospels. There you can read the story of the virgin Mary and how God came to her, and caused her to conceive and have a son. I think Isaiah foretold that event over 600 years before it happened. Then the writers of the gospels recorded the event. Does this make sense? Did that answer your question? There are many scriptures like this. It might take me some time to find them. (Sorry for the delay, I had unexpected company)

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          • Arkenaten

            Have you ever considered investigating this from a Jewish perspective rather than simply reciting the apologetic line?
            After all the Old Testament is not a collection of ‘Christian’ books.
            As you admit you have only recently discovered the truth behind ‘Hell’, I suspect you may find this topic equally as enlightening.

            I recommend this link to start.

            http://outreachjudaism.org/dual-prophecy-virgin-birth/

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          • Many Moons Under the Sun

            I have heard before to think Jewish, because primarily the OT is a compilation of Jewish books about the Jewish (Hebrew) people. Just recently I’ve read some articles on different subjects trying to learn what the Jewish beliefs are. Btw, when you say apologetics, do you mean from a Christian perspective. I’ve always been unclear on the meaning of that word. I will look at the link you sent me. Thanks for that.

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          • Many Moons Under the Sun

            I just briefly read that article about Isaiah 7:14. Honestly I have not ever questioned that verse when compared to the NT. Tovia makes a great point when he said “If we interpret this chapter as referring to Jesus’ birth, what possible comfort and assurance would Ahaz, who was surrounded by to overwhelming military enemies, have found in the birth of a child seven centuries later? Both he and his people would have been long dead and buried. Such a sign would make no sense.” That made me laugh, because he is right, what comfort would it give anyone in the heat of the moment that help would not come for 700 years. I may never understand it all, but my heart is very tender right now and I’m open to research different viewpoints as I have time. Very interesting stuff…

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          • Arkenaten

            Best of luck on your study.

            Don’t allow yourself to be ‘bullied’ by any singular viewpoint. Always try to critically assess what you are studying.
            It becomes more interesting that way and a lot less confusing, believe me.
            Have fun!

            Liked by 1 person

  • siriusbizinus

    I’ve read some of the “Why I Can’t Agree With the Bible” series, and I think it is useful for bringing up a dialogue between literalists and people that want the Bible to be taken as metaphorical or as a non-literal message. But the dialogue is going to be different between those two camps.

    Reading the Bible and interpreting it based on a common, ordinary understanding of the words used isn’t fallacious; it’s simple reading. We do it all the time in other disciplines. In law, it’s required to be the first thing to be done when interpreting a statute. And I think that principle applies to the Bible as well, because it is commonly used like a statute to govern how a person lives his/her life. Therefore, for those who wish to take the discussion from the literal to another message, the burden is on that person wishing to move the discussion away from the plain, ordinary meaning of the words.

    Until a justification is provided, I think you are well within the bounds of intellectual honesty to not engage a non-literalist.

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    • drpuerner

      IDK man. If I’m trying to understand a subject, history or psychology say, I’m not just going to look at it from one viewpoint and limit myself to that one viewpoint… I’d be doing myself a disservice that way, and limiting my potential to understand something that is alien to me. To go back to the psychology example, you wouldn’t just read Jung and call it good, and then tell psychologists that if the want you to look at the bigger picture it’s up to them to educate them. Just like you wouldn’t read your 5th grade history book and call it good… It’s just to narrow a scope through which to view something that is large and very complex.

      Anyway, like I said I’m not a Christian (literalist or otherwise) but this is justification enough for me to broaden my mind and seek other avenues of understanding.

      What do you guys think?

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      • siriusbizinus

        Great comment, but I think the analogies you use are not entirely accurate with my proposition. I think they are more accurate if I read Jung in preparation for a conversation on Jung, and someone else says there are different interpretations of Jung. To those offering those other viewpoints, they would have the burden of showing why they are appropriate and more desirable than my interpretation of Jung.

        This principle doesn’t foreclose on understanding. It is silent as to whether I should or should not read more Jung. All it does is provide a means to rationally provide a basis for an objection to the issue under discussion, or in this case, literal interpretations of the Bible over non-literal ones.

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        • drpuerner

          Thanks man. I get where you’re coming from, and I agree that the analogies I give aren’t an exact 1:1 correlation, however I stand by my assertion that if you leave the ball in someone else’s court to enlighten you you’re risking a prolonged stay in the dark.

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          • siriusbizinus

            I understand. But it’s not leaving the ball in someone else’s court. It’s just requiring them to give a reason for offering a different point of view. There is nothing stopping anyone from finding new understanding.

            Putting it another way, it’s the difference between saying, “I object to your assertion,” and saying, “I object to your assertion because of X, Y, and Z.” The first is simply contrary and isn’t helpful to exploring the issue further. The second provides reasoning and thus continues the discussion.

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          • drpuerner

            Ok, for sure, but I’m championing broadening horizons on your own two feet! By your logic if a better rhetorician argued soundly that human beings should breath water and a less cunning rhetorician could come up with an argument for why that might be a bad idea, then the first guy would lead a whole bunch of people to the lake to dunk their heads in the water and take a breath! 😜

            People can drown in ignorance like they can in water, I’d I’d rather learn to swim of my own volition than have to rely on someone else!

            But I agree, some one coming with evidence would be helpful… However when you’re discussing a subject that people use as foundational to their identities then you’re not going to get evidence you’re going to get defensive refutations mostly. Sometimes you have to try and bridge some of the gap yourself.

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          • siriusbizinus

            I also agree that one should actively seek out one’s own knowledge instead of relying on others to bring it to them. Here, though, the rule I’m putting forth actually discourages gainsaying and provides an intellectually honest outlet for not engaging in a specific conversation.

            I think we’re agreeing on separate points, but getting bogged down in specific minutiae. Your rhetorician analogy is quite appropriate given the circumstances, as my position does rely on third-party onlookers to see both sides and reason for themselves.

            Which, of course, is why developing one’s own system of gathering knowledge is helpful.

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          • drpuerner

            I think this was a good conversation to have though. For me, with regards to the original post, I know the author might like me to side with him and say something along the lines of, “don’t worry man, those guys are crazy, and their emotional based retorts that boarder on insults are completely unfounded.” And while part of me agrees that those who base their identities in part or in whole on religion are often, to me, overly sensitive and defensive… I also think that reading the bible and taking it at it’s surface/literal value alone is a miss step. And further more by saying you’re dealing with literalists mainly because they are the ones making the biggest splashes in our society might be viewed as offensive to those who are Christian and reasonable as well. You’re telling them, “I’m going to try and understand your religion and spirituality through this lens only, regardless of how complex your faith, spirituality, and religion might actually be.”

            All I’m saying is that maybe there’s a healthier, more sophisticated way to look at the bible, religion, and spirituality than to get hung up on a one track mind. And if you take a little time to analyze your approach to dealing with this subject you might be able to generate the type of discussion want to encourage, rather than wondering why some Christians are getting so upset and refusing to approach your posts from a rational mindset.

            Been a good discussion, guys. Look forward to reading your posts in the future! 😁

            -David

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          • hessianwithteeth

            If that’s what you think I’m doing, then you didn’t read my post very carefully. I said that I was mainly focused on the literal reading for the reasons that I gave, but I also made a point to say that I’m also concerned with the metaphorical reading. Ie. how is it worth reading in a metaphorical sense? Are there moral reasons? If so, what are they? Or is it just a good story? If that’s the case, why bother with Christianity?
            There are multiple lenses out there, but you can’t expect me to look through all of them because there are as many lenses as there are Christians.

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          • drpuerner

            Sorry if I hurt your feelings man. Sincerely. Think about what I wrote tomorrow would you?

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          • hessianwithteeth

            This isn’t about feelings. I have thought about what you wrote. I think you’re wrong.

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      • hessianwithteeth

        What do you mean by “one viewpoint”? As a historian, when we are determining the accuracy of a text, we look at other texts about specific events that were written when the even took place. For example, a historian can say that the Biblical flood is not historically accurate because there is no other writings from the time when it was said to have happened that mention the flood. We stick to very small areas: the other writing must be about the one specific event, it must be written at the time of the event, and it must match the description to a reasonable degree. We’d do that with each seperate event in the Bible to determine the over all accuracy of it. Yes, many sources are used, but they all must be by people who witnessed the event, so that means they’d likely be from the same place. And only a small part of the Bible is looked at at any given time.

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  • erik buys

    From: https://erikbuys.wordpress.com/2011/08/25/religulous-atheism/

    The two stories about the birth of Jesus don’t ‘match’. Matthew’s story is very different from the one by Luke. For example, the story in the Gospel of Matthew begins in Bethlehem and ends in Nazareth, while the story in the Gospel of Luke begins in Nazareth and ends in Bethlehem. If the compilers of the New Testament would have considered these stories conveying historical facts as we understand them, then they probably would have chosen one of the two and not both of them. Disparate reports on the birth of the Jesus you’re trying to ‘sell’ to the outside world just don’t add to the credibility of your story… Unless, of course, those disparate reports are not historical in the modern sense of the word. I do believe the stories on the birth of Jesus try to express something about the historical experience of people with Jesus, but the stories themselves are not ‘historical’. They are comparable to ‘poetic’ expressions. For example, Jesus was experienced as a liberator by many people, in one way or another. He freed people from oppression, social exclusion, anxieties, … As said, I believe this personal experience of the ones who knew Jesus is real, is historical. However, to express this experience, people turned to well-known mythological images and stories, ‘formulas’ one could say. Hence Matthew and Luke portray Jesus in typical stories which their audience understands as conveying the personal, experiential and historical truth that Jesus is a savior and liberator, comparable – in some ways at least – to the prophet Moses, or to king David.

    Sometimes the poetic and mythological images used to express a certain experience will contradict each other, but this doesn’t mean that they exclude each other. They may simply refer to other experiences, or to different aspects of the same experience. A contemporary example may clarify this. Many songs in the English speaking world make use of ‘the car’ or ‘the road’, and everything associated with them, as metaphors to express different (aspects of) life experiences. In the song It’s my life Bon Jovi sings “It’s my life, my heart is like the open highway…” to express he feels free, or that he desires to be free. His heart is, of course, not literally a highway. Meat Loaf, on the other hand, expresses the longing for freedom slightly differently, in his song Objects in the rear view mirror, may appear closer than they are: “And if life is just a highway, then the soul is just a car…” It’s no use asking who is ‘correct’, Bon Jovi or Meat Loaf. It’s no use asking: “Well, now, is the heart a highway, or is life a highway?” We understand these somewhat conflicting images and the common experience they refer to, because we are part of the culture which uses them… Both the experience of Bon Jovi and Meat Loaf is true and historical, albeit personal. And the image of the road or the highway is omnipresent. James Hetfield, of heavy metal band Metallica, sings “And the road becomes my bride…” in the song Wherever I may roam… Once again, not to be taken literally, but we normally understand what he’s referring to.

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  • erik buys

    From: https://erikbuys.wordpress.com/2012/05/01/on-the-biblical-road/

    Although literalist interpretations of biblical stories are on the rise since the fundamentalist movement started in the 19th century, and since some atheists took over this approach only to come to opposing conclusions, a majority of Christians still engages in a creative dialogue with the stories as stories (meaning that they are viewed as attempts to also symbolically and metaphorically convey real and profound human experiences).

    It’s a shame that some people dismiss the anthropological and cultural potential of the bible because they “don’t believe in a burning bush that can talk”. As if that is expected! It’s like thinking we should believe Prince made love to a car in the song Little Red Corvette. Maybe it’s wise to remember how people approached the biblical stories during Antiquity and the Middle Ages. The important Christian thinker Geert Groote, for example, writes the following around 1383 A.D.:

    “No child believes that the trees or the animals in the fables could speak. After all, the literal meaning of the poems or of the epic writings precisely is their figurative sense, and not the sense the bare words seem to hold at first glance. Who would actually believe that, as the book of Judges tells it, the trees would choose a king and that the fig tree, the vine, the olive tree and the bush would have responded to that choice in that way or another? Christ uses all kinds of images in his teaching. Matthew the evangelist even says that Christ never spoke without images. And even though it is Christ who uses these images, I do not think that those things actually (literally) took place.”

    Nevertheless, some people today think they can approach the biblical stories as attempts to answer questions of the natural sciences like we know them today – apparently not realizing modern science didn’t exist in a, well, pre-modernist era. Reading a book of natural sciences to know what the bible is all about (or vice versa) is like reading a cookbook to assemble a piece of furniture.

    Biblical stories should be approached from the point of view of storytelling and what this entails on a cultural level in general. Throughout history biblical stories have always been open to different interpretations, generating different (layers of) meaning. They were considered highly symbolical stories, used to highlight the depths and transcending nature of any authentic human experience.

    Sometimes people ask: “How do you know what is to be considered symbolical?” Regarding ancient or literary texts in general, that’s a wrong question. For even historical events were only told when they were considered as transmitting a significance beyond a certain place and time (a “trans-historical” meaning). Once you get to know the basics of the biblical “idiom”, it’s not very hard to engage in a creative and personal dialogue with biblical texts, “knowing” how to read and interpret them (without expecting one, “final” interpretation).

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  • Joanne Corey

    I am thinking along the same vein as little known blogger. The Bible can be read as a story of relationship between historical people and their God. It’s valuable to discern how they derived meaning from the stories. Some people may then also wish to derive meaning or lessons for their own time and circumstances, as people have continued to apply modern interpretations to other cultural stories, such as fairy tales.

    It’s also useful to read the bible as literature and as an important source of reference for literature. One sees references to biblical figures and incidences throughout western literature. It helps to know, for instance, to know the story of the tower of Babel when it appears as shorthand in literature or film.

    Likewise, it is important to read the bible and other writings on which various world religions are based for their place in unfolding human history. Spiritual belief underlies so many conflicts in the world, it is helpful to understand what underpins those beliefs.

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  • Arkenaten

    Modern Christian interpreters ( not literalists) may smile at some of the things in the Old Testament but will still expect a ‘believer’ to acknowledge that the character ,Jesus of Nazareth really did walk on water etc.
    One may scoff at a talking donkey or snake but not at a ‘Red Sea Pedestrian’?

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  • heathervlittle

    I was raised in a family where the Bible was taken literally . What I’ve come to believe through my own reading is that , while there are parts that are historically accurate, most of it is allegorical.
    Another issue , at least in the churches that I was raised in, is that a lot of these fundamentalist churches will only use the King James Bible and a lot of the people don’t really have the education to understand it properly. So you have confused people teaching other people who just swallow what is being told to them instead of thinking for themselves.

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  • drpuerner

    Ok, firstly I’m agnostic and I
    am in no way enamored with Christianity, that being said I think the reason literalists “create the biggest ruckus” is because our media here in America prefers to give coverage to the most sensational minority of Christians they can find rather than someone who is level-headed and rational.

    If you’re not making an effort to understand more moderate and contemporary understandings of Christianity and the bible then you’re buying into a narrative that someone else has created and sold.

    Their not going to make a believer out of you and me, but it’s good to be a big more open minded, you know?

    What do you think?

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    • hessianwithteeth

      I’m not ignoring them by any means. I’m trying to create a dialogue with them. Understanding them is great, but they’re not really causing any issues in society. So, while I’d love to keep an open dialogue between atheists/agnostics/non-believers and theists/believers, I don’t really feel like they need to be “addressed” in the same manner.

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      • drpuerner

        Well ok, what manner do literalists need to be addressed in? And also, it may be quibbling, but you can’t be trying to create a dialogue with one group of reasonable minded Christians, and be focused on the more extreme at the same time. See what I’m saying? So why the preference? You’re not going to get a holistic view of any subject from such a narrow vantage. See where I’m coming from?

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  • Michael Coen

    I think you address a major point that seems to come up often: why do atheists always seem to focus solely on the literalists instead of, say, theologians? It is precisely as you say; fundamentalists create the loudest ruckus. Fundamentalism is what allows teachers to get away with sneaking creation into the classroom, fuels ignorance and hatred, and fosters bad behavior.

    Thanks for your post!

    Liked by 1 person

  • littleknownblogger

    Interestingly, I just did a blog entry about Biblical Literalism myself. The basic takeaway is that it was written in another language, for members of another culture; and should be read as a member of that culture would intend it for another member of that culture. Stories in ancient Hebrew were not written to preserve historical and scientific fact, nor do their idioms survive translation into English well.

    The primary example I used was the story of “The Ant and the Grasshopper”. It becomes essentially meaningless if read literally, but if one understands the symbolism, it illustrates something very true.

    http://littleknownblogger.wordpress.com/2014/08/10/the-issue-of-biblical-literacy/

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  • bornfromabove7

    Are you talking about the Old Testament or the New Testament ?

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  • theredeemerlives

    I think that it can be taken literally, but it is misunderstood. There are things in there that seem inconsistent and it’s hard to reconcile sometimes, but I don’t think those things are important enough to take away from the message. That’s my take 🙂

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