How can I say I believe the Bible if I don’t believe it all “literally?”

Someone on a social media site recently asked me, “How can you say you believe the Bible and then in the same breath declare that [Genesis 1] may not be literal?”

My answer:

“Is everything in the Bible literal? I would say that not even everything in Genesis 1 is literal, and I say this for reasons that flow from the text of Genesis 1 itself. God’s speech is not the same as human speech, so God’s speech is not necessarily “literal.” God’s rest is not the same as human rest (humans rest because they are tired; God rested because he was done), so God’s rest is not necessarily “literal.” And, as Bible-believing scholars have pointed out throughout church history, the days of Genesis 1 are not necessarily “literal” days, being that the sun did not appear to mark the passage of days until day four. So for me to interpret the days of Genesis more loosely than you do does not mean that I do not believe the Bible. It does mean that there is more than one way to honestly interpret the meaning of the opening chapters of Genesis.”

Grace and Peace

Facebook comment thread:

9 thoughts on “How can I say I believe the Bible if I don’t believe it all “literally?”

  1. Ormonde M Butler

    To all the Bible literalist I submit Matthew 11-18. The Bible has literal language, symbolic language, poetic language. Jesus used parables for goodness sake. Gain some Hebrew understanding of the old testament, it was written from a Hebrew perspective. Maturity of understanding is required for Christian readers


  2. John P.

    Additionally, how sure are you, in believing a literal interpretation (I am convinced of a literal interpretation!) that the English translation that you are relying upon is accurate and catches all the nuances of the Hebrew? How deeply have you examined the matter for yourself! For example, the very first word, bereshith, has connotations of quality in addition to that of time, that no translation ever suggests. Further, the phrase ‘…and it was so…’ has reference issues considering that in at least one instance, the commonly believed ‘it’, was not so (the bible clearly admits this a short chapter later). And that is not to mention that the tone of Gen 1 is different than most of the rest of the bible and has similarities to the book of Revelation. This chapter is a bit more complex than commonly believed.

    Love your site, sir!



  3. Regarding my previous comment: I do not wish to leave a misconception about the “…it was so…” issue. After re-reading, I would like to add that the verse referred to as not being so, is commonly believed to have a verb mistranslation. Not that God didn’t do, or that it didn’t happen, just a matter of when.


  4. Reading the Bible “literally” was never meant to be an excuse for a wooden literalism. Recognizing that there is figurative language in the Bible is not license to make illogical leaps to allegorized meaning. In between there is a lot of room to disagree on how realistic vs. figurative a passage in scripture is to be read. There are textual clues, rooted in local context, genre, and the understanding the original author/readers would have had. I can say that it is raining at a rate of 2″/hour or I can say it is raining cats and dogs. Both describe the same reality. One is not to be taken literally. One may be more appropriate in a technical paper and the other in a novel. But both are true.


  5. robert myers

    For me the is not whether you take a particular passage literally or but by what reasoning you arrive at that choice. You nor I are allowed to choose at random how we want to believe and still be a Christian. Science will never be the final judge – it will never settle the issue.


  6. geochristian

    Robert — I am not sure what I wrote that made you think that I choose at random what to believe and what not to believe.

    I agree that science does not judge or overrule Scripture. However, when there seems to be a conflict between our interpretation of the Bible and our understanding of the creation, we need to keep in mind that there is more than one option:

    1. Our understanding of nature might be incorrect.
    2. Our understanding of Scripture might be incorrect.

    When faced with a contradiction, we need to take a closer look at both our science and our interpretation of Scripture. Do you believe that Earth is at the center of the solar system? Probably not. Back in the 1500s and 1600s, an Earth-centered universe (geocentrism) was accepted at truth for both scientific and biblical reasons. When scientists such as Copernicus and Galileo suggested otherwise, they were harshly condemned by the church authorities. It took an entire century for the church to come to the consensus that passages that appear to teach geocentrism (Ps 93:1; Ps 96:10) shouldn’t be taken “literally.”

    I believe that the same thing has happened with the opening chapters of Genesis. There are clearly some non-literal elements in Genesis 1, as I outlined in my post above, which leads many Bible-believing scholars to conclude that the days of Genesis 1 could be something other than “literal” 24-hour days. This conclusion is not based on “reading science into the Bible,” but on a closer examination of the actual text of Genesis 1 than scholars did before being confronted with outside evidence.


  7. Charlie

    There are lots of metaphor in the bible, the reader cannot take the bible literally in some cases, it’s the power of the holy spirit that will help you decent what is being said, it’s not called a mystery for nothing.
    Maybe geochristian ca do a sketch on the trinity, a favourite debater of mine.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s