People Who Take the Bible Literally Are Completely Wrong; Here’s Why

Everyone can agree that the Bible isn’t clear in some parts. What’s one man’s interpretation is another man’s confusion, and the mystery surrounding many biblical rules and definitions makes it the perfect subject for theologians, both ancient and modern. Here’s why you shouldn’t take the Bible word for word.

Literalism Has Been Used in History to Justify Horrible Acts

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Unfortunately, just as the church gets a bad name these days for being too political and divisive, so does the Bible—especially when taken literally for historical acts of horror. When a literalist gets his hands on the Bible, he takes verses that talk about slavery and female oppression and runs with them. An article on Patheos explains, “The Bible’s more violent texts have been applied in recent history to justify terrible crimes. Even the good ideas in the Bible can be used to justify evil.”

There Are Many Different Translations of the Bible

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Aside from the fact that literalism can only get you so far when reading the Bible, how you interpret it depends on your translation. There are several different translations of the Bible, and each one has a different purpose. Naturally, this leaves it up to you to interpret a specific verse as you will.

Truth Was Interpreted Differently by Ancient Cultures

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Symbolism is rife in the Bible, as in stories and legends passed down through cultural generations. Certain numbers and dates convey specific messages, such as Genesis stating that the world was formed in six days. The Bible isn’t a textbook—it’s a series of stories that invoke the truth using symbolism.

It Creates a Divide Within God’s Community

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If you get too invested in debating whether God was able to create Earth in 6 days or whether the world was created 2,000 years ago or 2,000,000 years ago, then you’re missing the whole point of the Bible. When you bring literalism into the picture and start to split hairs over minute details, God’s community begins to separate, inevitably taking sides. An article published on Medium explains, “The problem with immovable positions is that when new information arises, you only have two options: recognize that you got it wrong and adjust your views, or double-down and refuse to accept any new information.”

Some Aspects Are Too Graphic if Taken Literally

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There are some beautiful stories in the Bible, like Jesus blessing Sarah with a child in her 90s. Then, some are a bit more brutal, from stoning people for adultery to cold-blooded murder. In this modern day and age, stories like this sound macabre and archaic, so they must be seen in the context of when they occurred.

It’s Not Just One Book, but Several

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How many people authored the Bible? One? Two? Ten? Scholars have debated this number for centuries, but the rough approximation is 36 to 40. For example, Julius Wellhausen argues that “there were four different sources behind the first five books of the Bible.” With so many writers and so many different points of view, it’s worth taking what’s said with a grain of salt.

It Doesn’t Allow You to Take From the Bible Personally

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A Bible verse contains as much symbolism as a real-life anecdote, so its meaning is in the eye of the beholder. The beauty of this combination allows the reader to take a different angle from the same verse every time they read it. You don’t allow for this if you take the Bible too literally.

It Renders Current Theologians Irrelevant

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If the Bible was meant to be interpreted once, case closed, then there would be no need for modern experts to continue translating and studying it. Scholarly experts educated in theology spend their whole lives studying the original texts of the Bible to better understand them in their historical context and how they apply to our lives today. In many ways, this allows for their complexity to be brought to the surface. So. if someone is too close-minded in thinking that the Bible is what it is, then they become anti-education and knowledge.

Taking the Bible Holistically Brings You Closer to God

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When we focus on the Bible’s word-for-word meaning, we lose sight of the big picture and forget that the Bible is our gateway to a relationship with God. In fact, when you zoom out a bit and absorb biblical verses in their surrounding context, you can truly get to the heart of the message. God is all about grace, forgiveness, and love—not legalism.

The Bible Becomes an Idol Rather Than a Means of Connection

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When we are too focused on the Bible’s vernacular and not its meaning, legalism takes over, and this becomes more important than our relationship with God. God calls us to take His teachings and live them through our actions. 1 Corinthians 7:17 reads, “Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is a rule I lay down in all the churches.”

Being Literal Can Result in Being Too Selective

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When we take the Bible too literally, it allows us to bolster our arguments for specific beliefs that we’ve formed. Perhaps we’re so focused on condemning those who are intimate outside of marriage that we forget that the Bible calls us first to love others, not judge them. John 8:7-11 describes the moment that Jesus came upon some men stoning a woman for committing adultery. He says, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Literal Truth Can Cloud Symbolism

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If some stories in the Bible were taken literally, we would have a hard time understanding them, and in trying to do this, we would completely miss the wonderful symbolism on offer. For example, the story of Jonah getting stuck in the stomach of a whale is metaphorically powerful, symbolic of finding the courage to face your inner fears; it’s so much more than a scientific anomaly. Richard Lee Pierre, a teacher of writing, literature, and language, shares, “Many interpretations of the story of Jonah also interpret it in symbolic ways, such as viewing it as a parable of God’s love and grace, and the possibility for people to have repentance. The story of Jonah and the whale is multifaceted, but above all, it is a story about reconciliation, forgiveness, and grace.”

The Bible Poses Many Contradictions

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Even the Bible has double standards when discussing certain subjects. For example, when recounting Jesus’s life, there are four versions: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Each disciple recalled Jesus’s life slightly differently, but they’re all included in the Bible. What’s beautiful about each one is that they all arrive at the same conclusion: love.

Some Biblical Events Have Been Externally Disproven

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Several historical events could account for Noah’s Ark and the global flood—but nothing concrete, and none of them show the scale of the flood that was told in the Bible. The point here is that while some things can be scientifically disproven, this doesn’t mean that the Bible isn’t real or that the symbolism of its stories isn’t important. Desiring God shares, “It should be clear, then, that scientific investigation depends on God, day by day; it could never show the impossibility of miracles. Scientists discover what some of the regularities are, but they cannot tell God that He cannot act exceptionally.”

Too Literal of an Interpretation Paints God as a Tyrant

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If the Bible is taken too literally, we start to lose sight of how powerful a relationship with God is. Instead, we paint a different picture of Him—a bloodthirsty tyrant who seeks revenge and punishes those who don’t fall under His rule. Put in context, though, we realize that this interpretation of God relates to an ancient cultural approach to faith.

Literalism Encourages Conformity, Not Relationship

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When we are called to take the Bible literally, we are called to take a more legalistic approach. There would be no end to the rules we’d have to write down and memorize, then make sure we didn’t break, lest we be condemned to darkness. This punitive approach leaves no room for a spiritual relationship with Jesus, built on grace and God’s mercy.

Literalism Can Get in the Way of Faith

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If you heavily rely on what you believe to be an ancient scientific text, which is debated worldwide, for your faith, you’ll be sorely disappointed. However, if you read between the lines of the Bible’s timeless words and understand the symbolic imagery underneath, you’ll strengthen your faith and feel closer to God. The Bible is all about context, and if you take everything literally, you’ll never figure out the lessons embedded in it that can affect your life or your reality.

Taken Too Literally, the Bible Lacks Context

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The Bible is a literary masterpiece composed of poetry, hyperbole, sarcasm, symbolism, exaggeration, irony, quotes, sayings, and so much more. Matthew 5:29 says, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.” Jesus doesn’t want you to do this literally; it’s a dramatized or exaggerated way to persuade you to act a certain way.

There Is an Exception to Every Rule

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If all the rules in the Bible were taken literally without any exceptions, we’d live in a strange world. It’s arbitrary to assume that every rule laid out in the Bible should be taken verbatim without considering both context and exceptions. For example, one of the Ten Commandments is, “Thou shall not kill.” But in modern society, killing someone in self-defense is permissible in certain situations.

Biblical Characters Are Different from Modern Readers

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As a modern person, your outlook on life differs slightly from that of an ancient Jew residing in Palestine in the first century AD. In fact, you couldn’t possibly see the world through their eyes; the closest you can get is through their biblical teachings and understanding. So, taking what they say with a grain of salt is worth it, as you can dig down to the powerful lessons in every verse.

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Author: Karen Danao


Karen is a writer and also a marketing and advertising professional. Beyond the keyboard and the screen, she is someone who’s out to enjoy every bit that life has to offer!

Poetry, philosophy, history, and movies are all topics she loves writing about! However, her true passion is in traveling, photography, and finding common ground to which everyone from different cultures can relate.