“Greater things than these you shall do” -John 14:12
Shall I take the Bible literally? Some people say the Bible is informative, great literature, allegorical, fascinating but probably not literal. Perhaps we should think of it as a book of helpful stories that are sometimes informative and encouraging. But literal? Actually God’s written words to us?
Let’s make a comparison to a textbook. If you are in a math class, the professor assigns a book to study. This book is your math book and all its contents must be studied and. . .believed. The professor is not interested in your opinion that this book may be interesting but absolutely literal? You’re not sure about that. Most of us have taken math classes and would not have considered challenging the professor in such a way. All the students know the textbook is filled with factual information necessary to navigate the field of Algebra or Geometry, etc.
It seems to me then, even more than a math textbook, we have a choice to believe that the Bible is literal, given to us by God, via forty different authors over a period of 1,600 years, as imparted by the Holy Spirit, or it is not worth reading at all.
According to GotQuestions.org: “It is accurate to say that God wrote the Bible. According to 2 Timothy 3:16, Scripture is “breathed out” by God. Throughout the Bible, it is obvious that God is being quoted: over 400 times in the Bible, we find the words “thus says the Lord” (NKJV). The Bible refers to itself as the Word of God dozens of times (e.g., Psalm 119; Proverbs 30:5; Isaiah 40:8; 55:11; Jeremiah 23:29; John 17:17; Romans 10:17; Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12). The Bible is said to proceed from the mouth of God (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4).” Peter says it this way, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1:21
Ok, you say, I want to believe the Bible is God’s Word. However, it seems like a leap to say we should take it literally. How about the story of God parting the Red Sea so the Israelites could march across on dry land as the sea stood vibrating on each side of this huge throng of people?
“Then Moses raised his hand over the sea, and the Lord opened up a path through the water with a strong east wind. The wind blew all that night, turning the seabed into dry land. So the people of Israel walked through the middle of the sea on dry ground, with walls of water on each side!” Exodus 14:21-22
Now that is hard to believe, you may think. And you would be correct. Without God it is impossible! If God is real, then the Bible is real and literally true. You can’t have one without the other. Either God saw to it that the Bible was written for all who come along throughout history; and it is literally true or the whole idea is ridiculous and the Bible is a hoax.
Here’s another mind boggling story. It is a true story from the Book of Numbers, chapter 22 verses 22-33. This is the story of a prophet named Balaam and his donkey. Balaam was sort of a prophet for hire who was not as interested in spreading God’s dictates as he was feathering his financial nest. On his way to give King Balak, a Moabite, a prophecy, God sent the Angel of the Lord to shock him into speaking the truth to Balak. He got his attention through the mouth of his donkey.
As they were traveling, the donkey saw the Angel of the Lord standing on the path with a drawn sword. The donkey turned into the field to avoid this obvious problem. Balaam hit her. This happened three times in all. After the third encounter, the donkey plopped down under Balaam. She was not moving. Balaam was furious and he beat her again.“Then the Lord gave the donkey the ability to speak. “What have I done to you that deserves your beating me three times?” it asked Balaam.
“You have made me look like a fool!” Balaam shouted. “If I had a sword with me, I would kill you!”
“But I am the same donkey you have ridden all your life,” the donkey answered. “Have I ever done anything like this before?”
“No,” Balaam admitted.
Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the Angel of the Lord standing in the roadway with a drawn sword in his hand. Balaam bowed his head and fell face down on the ground before him.
Sounds like fiction doesn’t it? But it really happened. Now let’s look at the New Testament at one of the most important moments in man’s long history. This true story is found in the Book of Luke, 1:26-31.
“God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”
Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”
Yes, the Bible is beyond human understanding but is literally true. God chose a simple young woman with no fame or fortune to bear the Son of God, Jesus. Jesus who died and rose from the tomb as the living sacrifice for our sins. He literally did!
You see, God used people to write the Bible. They were guided by the Holy Spirit. Since that is true, how can we presume to ignore certain sections of His Word or decide they no longer apply?
1 Peter 1:24-25. “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like a flower of the grass. The grass withers and the flower drops off, but the Word of the Lord endures forever.”