Taking the Bible Literally and not Literarily

The Bible is not so much a book as it is a collection of books. This may be common in our approach, however there are times we forget. And like many collections of books that reside on a book self, the Bible has a number of different types or genres of books. There are books of poetry. There are books of sermons. There are letters and the genre called “apocalyptic.” These different types of books require a different set of eyes to read. For instance, if you sit down to read a children’s book (say the Giving Tree) you are going to view this book differently than if were to sit and read a murder mystery. Each genre requires a different set of eyes, and yet we often read the Bible with the same and single set of eyes.

The Bible is many books not one. Photo by  Dmitrij Paskevic  on  Unsplash

The Bible is many books not one. Photo by Dmitrij Paskevic on Unsplash

To put it another way, too often we take the Bible literally when we should be taking it literarily.   

Even though there is a journey and exploration in both types of books, we do not read “Oh The Places You Will God” as a travel guide. Just because the Bible has some moral or ethical guidelines, does not mean that the Bible is to be read as “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.” We need to take seriously the literarily role of the Bible or we will be able to quote the Bible but not live Biblical lives.

The Bible can be difficult to understand, not because we are moronic but that we often approach it like a “users guide” when it is much more than that. Here is a simple example to consider.

It makes sense to read the story of creation in Genesis first. It is at the beginning of the Bible and it is about the creation of the universe. Sophisticated readers will see that Genesis 1 is a poem and read it as a poem and not as modern science. We approach Genesis 1 with the eyes of poetry and not the eyes of historical fact.

What about a slightly more complicated example?

The stories of God liberating the enslaved people through Moses and company were not written down until the 5th centuries BCE. The Exodus story is written down at the time when the people of God were conquered by the Babylonians and sent into exile. Who cares? It matters because the story of Exodus is set at a time prior to the Babylonian exile but is speaking to the people who are in exile. The Exodus is a story set in the past but is speaking to and about the present.

If you have ever read Science-Fiction you get this. Science-Fiction is set in the future, but is addressing questions and the situation of the present. We do not watch or read Star Wars as what the future really looks like, but rather we use the story of Star Wars to address or raise the current questions.

The Bible is full of beauty, wonder and love, so lets stop taking it literally and consider it literarily.