Dear Aby #19 – Take The Bible Literally?

Dear Aby,

Here are some thoughts by Greg Koukl in response to the question: Do You Take the Bible Literally? It’s an ambiguous, and, therefore, confusing, question, making it awkward to answer. Clearly, even those of us with a high view of Scripture don’t take everything literally. Jesus is the “door,” but He’s not made of wood. We are the “branches,” but we’re not sprouting leaves.

On the other hand, we do take seriously accounts others find fanciful and far-fetched: a man made from mud (Adam), loaves and fishes miraculously multiplied, corpses rising from graves, etc. A short “yes” or “no” response to the “Do you take the Bible literally?” question, then, would not be helpful. Neither answer gives the full picture. In fact, I think it’s the wrong question since frequently something else is driving the query.


taking words in their usual or most basic sense without metaphor or allegory, free from exaggeration or distortion.

New Oxford American Dictionary

Why do people balk at this common-sense notion when it comes to the Bible or, more precisely, certain passages in the Bible?

Honestly, even non-Christians read the Bible in its “usual or most basic sense” most of the time on points that are not controversial. They readily take statements like “love your neighbor as yourself” or “remember the poor” at face value. When citing Jesus’ directive, “Do not judge,” they’re not deterred by the challenge, “You don’t take the Bible literally, do you?”

No, when critics agree with the point of a passage, they take the words in their ordinary and customary sense. They naturally understand that language works a certain way in everyday communication, and it never occurs to them to think otherwise: Unless, of course, the details of the text trouble them for some reason.

What of the opening chapters of Genesis? Is this a straightforward account describing historical events the way they actually happened? Were Adam and Eve real people, the first human beings? Was Adam created from dust? Did Eve really come from Adam’s rib? Did Jonah actually survive three days in the belly of a great fish? Did a virgin really have a baby? Such claims seem so fanciful to many people it’s hard for them to take the statements at face value.

“Was Adam created from dust?”

Other times, the critic simply does not like what he reads. He abandons the “literal” approach when he comes across something in the text that offends his own philosophical, theological, or moral sensibilities. Jesus the only way of salvation? No way! Sex before marriage a sin? Please! A “loving” God sending anyone to the eternal torture of Hell? Not a chance!

Notice the objection with these teachings is not based on some ambiguity making alternate interpretations plausible, since the Scripture affirms these truths with the same clarity as “love your neighbor.” No, these verses simply offend. Suddenly, the critic becomes a skeptic and sniffs, “You don’t take the Bible literally, do you?”

This subtle double standard, I think, is usually at the heart of the taking-the-Bible-literally challenge.

Do I take the Bible literally? I try to I take it at its plain meaning unless I have some good reason to do otherwise. This is the basic rule we apply to everything we read: novels, newspapers, periodicals, and poems. I don’t see why the Bible should be any different.

Love you, Grandpa Larry

Source:, Greg Koukl, 11/1/2013

Note from Larry Ballard on these letters:
Dear friends,

Thank you for your interest in these letters I am sending to my granddaughter in preparation for college. You are welcome to use them in any way you wish. You can alter them by adding or deleting from the text. There is no need to give any credit to me. You can personalize them or forward them on as written. These letters were not written with a wider audience in mind. In one sense, I am letting you listen in on my communication with Aby. These messages will be brief and focused, rather than exhaustive. I do not claim to be an apologist. However, I do claim to be a caring grandfather with a desire to help my granddaughter be able to “defend” her faith as she transitions from home to college.
Most of what I have included in these letters comes from respected Christian apologists: Ravi Zacharias with RZIM, Greg Koukl with Stand To Reason, Josh McDowell, etc.
Blessings, Larry