There is No Such Thing as a Biblical Literalist

I’m somewhat of a grammar nerd sometimes, and a spelling Nazi to boot. So certain things just grate on my nerves a little bit to the point that I feel utterly compelled to jump in and point out the problem so they can be fixed. This is often to my detriment.

For instance, the overuse of the word “literal” is on my list of world problems to solve. And so when I saw a re-tweet on Twitter the other day where a guy said: “I am literally dead from the closing sentence tho”, I felt compelled to act.

I can mercifully let him slide on the “tho”, after all Twitter has a 140 character limit. But the man claims to be literally dead, yet he lived to tweet about it? This will never do! I must help.

I tweet @the guy: Do you know what “literally dead” means?

OK, perhaps I shouldn’t have done that, because yes, of course, he already knew, and it started a contentious exchange that I only salvaged by my wit, charm, and self-deprecating humor.

But since I seem to never learn, let’s extend this to another facet of the same argument: the so-called “Biblical literalist”. I would literally believe Sasquatch existed before I believed in the existence of a Biblical literalist. There aren’t any Biblical literalists in the world.  Yet we hear about them all the time, as if they were real.

Just today in an excellent Facebook post, someone posted about the spiritual journey we all have taken, and how we should be gracious and give people room to grow to see our point. It was a very anointed and powerful post. But one part jumped out at me:

“Rather than pointing out how they haven’t evolved enough, let’s celebrate the voyage they’ve begun. Because more than likely, they’re getting beat up by the resistance of religion… They’re getting tossed about by the flag bearers for biblical literalism…” – Matthew Paul Turner

Eh… say what? What is this “Biblical Literalism” of which you speak? We could turn to the internet to find a definition:

Biblical literalism is the theological view that the contents of the Bible should be seen as literally true, as opposed to being interpreted as allegory, literature, or mythology. –Rational Wiki

And that is spectacularly unhelpful. The fact is, all of us, all of us read the Bible as literal in some places and not literal in others. All of us.

For example- on the plus side, pretty much all Christians believe God literally created the heavens and the earth, and that Jesus literally died on the cross for our sins and literally rose from the dead. The Bible says all that, and we believe it is literally true. (We may disagree about how God created the heavens and the earth, or how long it took, but pretty much everyone believes the basic fact to be literally true.) The Bible is filled with many such things.

But the Bible says many other things that nobody believes are literal. For example:

“I have been crucified with Christ”, which Paul penned in Galatians 2:20. Does anyone believe that Paul was literally crucified with Christ? Does anyone think Paul could have been one of the two thieves crucified along side him that day? No. Every Bible student of any denomination or doctrinal persuasion understands this isn’t to be taken literally.

“Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.”  Is from Psalm 119:105. Does anyone therefore think they can use a Bible to light their way on a camping trip? “Who needs a flashlight, man? , I have the Word of God!” Nope- everybody understands the Bible is not literal at this point.

“The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church.” – Paul said this in Ephesians 5:23. Is this literally true? Is the body part above the woman’s neck literally her husband? (If so, can we compliment him on his hair and makeup?)

 “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” – Jesus said this in John 6:54. Interestingly, Roman Catholics say this is to be taken literally. But ask any fundamentalist and they will tell you Jesus did NOT mean this to be taken in a literal sense.

There is no such thing as a “Biblical literalist”. Normally when one encounters the term it is being used pejoratively to label some person who believes a certain story in the Bible is a literal, historical event, typically the six-day creation.  But even though someone may believe in a literal six-day creation, he understands very many other Biblical statements in a non-literal way.  That does not make him a Biblical literalist any more than belief in social security makes someone a communist.

Christians tend to know this about themselves. Indeed- my definition of “Biblical literalist” in the opening paragraphs of this post came from a secular source- because I could not locate a credible Christian group on the internet which claimed to believe in biblical  literalism.

It is true that a few people claim to be Biblical literalists. It’s remarkable how often these people are going by a fictitious name, which makes one wonder how many of them are real people. However, some are indeed real people, and they honestly and sincerely believe that they are literalists. But it is my experience that these people have no idea what they truly believe on this issue, and one doesn’t have to talk to them very long before they change their mind. Just like my Twitter friend wasn’t literally dead, these people aren’t literally Biblical literalists. There’s no such thing.

 

 

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2 thoughts on “There is No Such Thing as a Biblical Literalist

  1. Brother; A thought provoking post on an issue that obviously has major implications regarding how divergently those that identify as Christians may be viewed by non-Christians (i.e. as merely persons with a different point of view as opposed to common-sense denying slaves to fear). As I stated in “The Letter and the Spirit” @ whichbiblewhatfaith.wordpress.com: “It is only when a literal approach to all Scripture is mandated that problems arise.”
    C.J. Cameron

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    • I enjoyed your blog post as well, Cameron. I think many people claim to be Biblical literalists because

        that’s what they think they are supposed to be

      – and so they unthinkingly approach the text through that lens. Once we are free to understand that we are not, in fact, literalists, because it is impossible to carry that out- it frees us to approach the text with more freedom to hear what the Holy Spirit is saying.

      Like

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