home  >  articles > Can We Seriously Take The Bible Literally! (Nov. 22, 2008)

Asking a believer if they “take the Bible literally” is like asking a husband if he still beats his wife! The issue of Christians taking the Bible “literally” has become a major point of ridicule – even more recently by President-Elect Obama, who joined the chorus of ridicule by claiming during his election campaigning-

“Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is okay and that eating shellfish is an abomination? Or we could go with Deuteronomy which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith.” 
[Catholic News Agency]

Read the full speech by President-Elect ObamaPresident Obama should know better! He is, after all, a self-confessed believer who has been attending church for years. It is incomprehensible that in all that time he never heard a preacher describe Christianity as being the “New” Covenant. Since Christianity is a “new” covenant, why would President Obama ridicule Biblical Christianity by quoting from the “Old” Covenant? By doing this he perpetuated the myth that it is absurd and unreasonable for any rational person to “take the Bible literally.” Perhaps ironically though, in attempting to make his case about the absurdity of taking the Bible literally, President Obama actually committed an error by not citing the Bible literally. That is, the Bible actually does not say that slavery is OK – neither does it say that a child should be stoned if he strays from the faith. But due to the dire lack of Biblical literacy in Western society too few people would even recognise this!

It’s fairly obvious why so many opponents of the Bible are so shrill in their ridicule of Christianity. The claims of Jesus Christ do not sit well with these opponents. In fact, they are downright repulsive! No wonder these adversaries of Christianity want to dismiss the Jesus of the Bible and replace Him with an all-tolerant, non-judgmental, effeminate Jesus. One group called The Jesus Seminar (made up of 150 liberal scholars) rejects any of the Bible as being divinely inspired and nearly all of the New Testament’s record of Jesus’ life and teaching – in fact, of the Lord’s Prayer they claim that only the words “Our Father” are authentic!

But try as they might, the real Jesus – as described and cited in the New Testament – just won’t go away. It’s almost as if there is an invisible Spirit that metaphysically connects with people’s souls about the truth of the words of Jesus in the New Testament- despite how nonPC they might sound today.

Can we take the Bible’s message “literally”? After all, if we do, we all stand condemned because it literally tells us that despite everything being originally created “good” and “very good”, mankind rejected God’s best and exchanged it for Satan’s grand lies: You can make your own rules and be your own god – that is: you can invent and maintain your own religion! Ever since that original lie was swallowed there has been something not quite right about this world. What was originally good became less than good. Yet the goodness of what God originally created – and the original goodness within each one of us – can still be seen by those who are still. And if a person was to look close enough at Jesus of Nazareth in the pages of the Bible they would marvel at how different He is to the rest of us and wonder how any person could be so good.

It is then perhaps incomprehensible to post-moderns how the Jesus of the Bible could be called “good” if He was intolerant – which He clearly was, since He did not tolerate hypocrisy, injustice, or sin. Similarly, post-moderns find the Jesus of the Bible abhorrent because He judged others and even condemned some. In fact, He made the audacious claim that He would ultimately judge the whole world!

The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son,
John 5:22 

Yet the goodness, wisdom, and moral purity of Jesus of Nazareth is undeniable even by post-moderns so they seek to distance their picture of the acceptable-Jesus from the Biblical Jesus by claiming that the Bible is incoherent, nonsensical, and morally outdated. If post-moderns can achieve this then they can continue to live as if Satan did not originally lie. This is why they claim that the Bible can not be taken “literally” because a literal observance of its teaching contradicts science, common sense and even compassion. One such example by a blogger who objects to the sexual morality of the Bible is-

Now, of course, what most people won’t tell you because they are scared to death of being un-PC about this is that the Bible is full of s—. It also says you can sell people off to slavery, as long as they are not Israelites. Eating shrimp is also an abomination to God (God is one finicky dude). There are dozens of offenses that get you stoned to death in the Bible including cursing at your parents, mixing the wrong types of cloths or plants … and adultery. Oh yeah, adultery. How come no one is going on a national campaign to pass a constitutional amendment against that? Oh, that’s right, a lot of straight Americans do that, so they would like to ignore that part of the Bible. Look, I know the right-wing abuses the Bible for their own seedy purposes. They selectively quote the Bible and leave out whole chunks of it, including the many positive verses about helping the poor and your fellow man. They emphasize the things that divide us and are full of hate. That being said, read the Bible, it’s not a pretty book. It is full of outrages, injustices, violence, mayhem and pure utter nonsensical crap. 

This blogger has joined the new chorus of attempting to paint the Bible as absurd if it is taken “literally”. Therefore, when the Bible places restrictions on sexual activity, it surely can’t be taken “literally”. I’ll conclude in a moment by briefly looking at the connection between how the Bible is to be understood and the moral implications or otherwise of this. For now, let’s look at what “literal” means…


Do you expect people to take you literally when you tell them that you are ‘sick to death’ of taxes? What about telling someone that you ‘laughed your head off’ at a joke? When a sportscaster says during a football game- “This is literally a massacre!” – what does he mean? What about the blogger cited above? What he mean when he writes that the Bible is full of s – – –? Is he being “literally” correct?

The problem of taking the Bible literally that these post-moderns are presenting is ironically caused because they do not take the Bible literally! To take the Bible “literally” does not mean to take it in a wooden literal sense, rather it means to read it as literature. That is, we are seeking to understand its intended meaning not its range of possible meanings. Thus, in everyday conversation we know that being sick to death means severe frustrationLaughing your head off means that you laughed almost uncontrollably. A massacre on the football field means that the game is totally one sided and one team no longer has a chance of winning the game. We know this because we understand the intended meaning. This is also how we are to read the Bible: understand the intended meaning.

President-Elect Barack Obama supposedly cites the Bible as teaching that shell-fish are an abomination to the Lord. He is alluding to Deuteronomy 14. In this chapter, God gives the Israelites Old Covenant Food restrictions which emphasize that they are not to be like pagan, idolatrous, immoral nations who practiced routine child abuse and degradation of women. These dietary restrictions served a symbolic purpose for a time. But that time ended when God did away with the Old Covenant and established the New Covenant-

¶ Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.
Colossians 2:16-17 

President-Elect Obama sounds like he is citing the Bible when he claims that the Bible says a child who strays from the faith is to be stoned. This is not even a question of taking the Bible literally- because its not in the Bible! And as for slavery, no where does the Bible say this is “OK” and in fact, the New Testament lists slave-trading among other vile sins –

We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine
First Timothy 1:9-10 NIV 

Added to this, it was Christian Bible-believers in the 19th century who began the campaign to end slavery in Western Society. Surely President Obama is aware of this? His statements then about the Bible teaching that it is “OK” to own a slave does not come from a literal reading of the Bible!

To take the Bible literally means that we understand the genre of the literature being employed within the Bible. Is it hyperbole? Is it metaphorical? Is it allegory? Is it apocalyptic? I explore these issues in greater detail in my eBook- THE MOST EMBARRASSING BOOK IN THE BIBLE (preview).


Does the Bible literally teach that shellfish are an abomination to the Lord? The word “abomination” occurs 16 times in the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Bible). “Abomination”, according to Strong’s Concordance of Bible Words, means “morally disgusting“. Among the list abominations mentioned in the Pentateuch are –

  • Idolatry (Deut. 7:25)

  • Not observing the prescribed diet (Deut. 14:3)

  • Offering a defective animal sacrifice (Deut. 17:1)

  • Cross-dressing (Deut. 22:5)

  • Male and female prostitution (Deut. 23:18)

  • Divorce and adultery (Deut. 24:4)

If post-moderns can make these requirements seem ancient, out-of-place, archaic, and old-fashioned, then the one other item, homosexual activity, on this list abominations might also be considered in the same way. This is why many post-moderns have a vested interest in making the Bible sound irrelevant. If it is relevant then it is sexually restrictive!

Which items on this list of abominations are to be still regarded as divine abominations? Can we take a literal understanding of this passage and discover principles for how we should live today? The New Testament teaches that the Sacrificial Laws of the Old Covenant were ‘symbolic’ of Jesus Christ’s ultimate sacrifice and have thus been done away with. The New Testament also teaches that the dietary restrictions of the Old Covenant have been done away with. But it not only does not teach that the sexual restrictions of the Old Covenant have been abolished, it actually repeats them as still binding within the New Covenant. The Laws of Sexual Morality are described in Leviticus 18. To break one of these laws was to be “sexually immoral”. It was this list of what defined sexual immorality that Jesus endorsed for mankind when He said-

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.
Matthew 15:19 

Therefore the New Covenant upholds the sexual laws of Leviticus 18 and forbids –

  • Incest (Lev. 18:6-9)

  • Adultery (Lev. 18:16, 20)

  • Polygamy (Lev. 18:18)

  • Pedophilia (Lev. 18:21)

  • Homosexuality (Lev. 18:22)

  • Bestiality (Lev. 18:23)

The New Testament reveals that being human is not a matter of having the right DNA or chemical make-up, it is a matter of having a soul. This spiritual nature of every human is activated when we think, dream, create, worship, love, and connect with another person sexually.

¶There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in Scripture, “The two become one.”
First Corinthians 6:16, THE MESSAGE BIBLE

Ultimately, sexual union is one of the most beautiful ways that God has chosen to reveal Himself to mankind. In the act of two diverse people: a man and a woman, forming an unbreakable covenant (marriage) and joining together in ultimate intimacy, they are sample-tasting who God is: the diverse members of the Godhead (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) who eternally experience ultimate togetherness and unity. This is why Satan is so keen to distort God’s gift of sexual intimacy through the encouragement of sexual immorality as condemned in Leviticus 18 and by Jesus of Nazareth.

Therefore, when we truly take the Bible “literally” we do NOT find that God condemns the eating of shellfish, or that He encourages slavery, or even that He commands children “who stray from the faith” to be stoned to death!

What we do find is that the God of the Bible had a set of regulations about clothing, diet, animal sacrifices, that have expired because they were symbolic of what Jesus was to do. But we also discover that the Bible literallyforbids sexual immorality, including pedophilia, bestiality, incest, prostitution and adultery. Yet, it does more than simply condemn these violations. It offers hope. Hope that brings forgiveness. Forgiveness that brings cleansing and freedom to those who are bound in sexual sin.

¶ Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
First Corinthians 6:9-11 

If you realise that you do not have the kind of peace you long for and have unwittingly bought the lie that the Bible cannot be taken literally when it comes to sexual guidelines, there is good news. Jesus Christ offers you His life in exchange for yours. You are literally just one prayer away from discovering that what the Bible literally offers: a new identity, peace with God and eternal life is literally true.

The Most Embarrassing Book In The Bible, eBook, by Dr. Andrew Corbett

The Most Embarrassing Book In The Bible, eBook, by Dr. Andrew Corbett

In my eBook I have more fully explained what it means to take the Bible literally. Consider downloading for yourself- THE MOST EMBARRASSING BOOK IN THE BIBLE.

 Dr. Andrew Corbett, Legana, Tasmania, November 22nd 2008


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