Here we are with Episode 2 in my series called “The Bible Does NOT Mean That!” The goal is not to tell you definitively what the Bible does or does not say. The goal is to talk about how we can look at the Bible with intentionality and understanding. Since it is God’s revelation to humanity it’s not supposed to be filled with secrets locked away to all but the elite. It’s designed to guide us ALL!
The problem is that many of us are simply never taught how to read it.
I once joked that there are two kinds of people who take the Bible 100% literally: Fundamentalists and Atheists.
Fundies hold that the Bible is 100% literal or else you can’t trust ANY of it. Atheists hold that the Bible is 100% literal to shoot holes in Christian faith. I doubt either group would ever think they have anything in common with the other.
But here’s the truth: the Bible is NOT meant to be understood literally.
Well, parts of it are. But parts of it aren’t.
The keyword for today’s episode is Genre.
Merriam-Webster defines genre as: a particular type or category of literature or art.
The various books within the Bible represent different literary genres, and each genre is interpreted a bit differently from the next. Genre cues us how to read and what to expect from the literature.
For example, when we read a story that begins: “Once upon a time…” we are automatically cued as to what kind of story is going to follow (fairy tale) and our brain processes the story as such.
The Bible is filled with histories, parables, poetry, letters, and even this funny genre called Apocalyptic Literature.
Sometimes we understand the Bible to be communicating literal truth. Sometimes the Bible uses symbolism and poetic language to make a point.
Reading the Bible honestly means that we ask the questions: What genre of literature is this passage I’m reading? How should that genre influence my understanding of the text?
I had a Bible teacher who was fond of saying: If we took everything literally we’d have a faith that believes God is a great cosmic chicken (see Psalm 91:4).
Is the Bible true?
Is the Bible to be understood 100% literally?
p.s. If you are interested in additional reading, check out “How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth” by Fee and Stuart.