Is The Bible Literal?

Three chefs were working in a restaurant one day, when their kitchen supervisor approached them with an order, and instructions on how to properly prepare it. The first chef looked at the instructions, and said "You can show a recipe to 100 different people, and each of them get a different meaning. You can't understand recipes, so why even read them?"

The second chef took a slightly different angle. He said "I don't believe this recipe to be the literal directions of our supervisor. I believe the ingredients all have hidden meanings. I think the meat represents one thing, the spices and other ingredients symbolize something else, and the time and cooking temperature are some sort of mysterious allegory."

While the other two were engaging in their debate, the third chef simply took the recipe, and prepared the dish according to instructions. The dish turned out to be delicious, and I'm sure you can guess what happened next. This chef was rewarded for following directions properly, while the other two were reprimanded, or worse.

While this little story may seem somewhat silly, it sadly illustrates the attitude that many people take toward God and His Word, the Bible, which is to be OUR instructions, our "recipe," for how to live our lives.

As we will examine shortly, Jesus and the Apostles took the Bible quite literally. The tendency to allegorize and spiritualize Scripture was popularized around A.D.250 by a man named Origen. Origen was a prolific author, and a valiant evangelist in the early church. He suffered brutal persecution, and eventually martyrdom for his beliefs. Although his courage and zeal were certainly commendable, he unfortunately embraced several false and heretical doctrines, which stemmed from his unorthodox views of Scripture. Rather than affirm the Apostolic teaching that the Scriptures were the infallible Word of God, he taught that they were merely the "husk" which hid the "kernel" of Truth, and thus, began replacing the plainly revealed teachings of Scripture with enigmatic, allegorical interpretations. As a result of this teaching, the floodgates were open to a devastating deluge of confusion and division, from which the church has never fully recovered. In order for the Church as a whole to function as God intends, there MUST be a re-discovery of the foundational,literal Truth of the Bible.


To understand the intended meaning of Scripture, let's look at what the Bible says about itself. The Bible is a REVELATION, which means " to reveal, to unveil, to lift a curtain for all to see." God gave us the Bible to REVEAL Truth, not to CONCEAL it. The Bible is written in simple terms, for simple people (Matthew 11:25; 13:19-23; 2 Corinthians 4:1-6; 2 Timothy 3:16-17.) 80% of the Bible is simply history, promises, and guidelines for living. The other 20% consists of prophecies about future events.

Understand that when we refer to the Bible being literal, we are not denying that it does contain some figurative language. However, we need to keep two important facts in mind;

1)When figurative language is being used, it is obvious.

2)The figurative language is always intended to convey a literal truth.

For example, when Jesus referred to Himself as a "vine" (John 15:1,) He obviously didn't mean that He had leaves and grapes growing out of His arms!Rather, He was illustrating the literal truth that His relationship with His disciples can be compared to a vine's relationship with it's branches.


Whenever Jesus, the Apostles,or any other New Testament figure quoted from Scripture, they quoted it as literal, historical, and authoritative. An example of this would be creation. Both Jesus and Paul affirm that Adam and Eve were literal, historic figures (Matthew 19:4; 1 Timothy 2:14-15.) The doctrine of original sin, which Paul so powerfully teaches in Romans 5, would be meaningless if there were not a literal fall. In addition,the Bible gives us the general location of the Garden of Eden, near the Pishon, Gihon, Tigris, and Euphrates rivers (Genesis 2:10-14.) This would place it around modern Iraq or northern Syria.

Other examples of Old Testament events quoted as literal history include; Cain and Able (Genesis 4, Hebrews 11:4; 1 John 3:12.) the flood (Genesis 7; Matthew 24:39) the call of Abraham (Genesis12-13; Hebrews 11:8,) the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18-19; Luke 17:29,) the exodus from Egypt (Exodus 14:22; 1 Corinthians 10-1-2,) Jonah and the great fish (Jonah 2; Matthew 12:40,) and Daniel in the Lion's den (Daniel 6, Hebrews 11:33.)


Another example of the literal character of the Bible is the literal fulfillment of prophecy. Although prophecy does sometimes use figurative language to convey its point, such as the dream of King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2, and much of the Book of Revelation, the prophecies all point to specific, literal events. Let's look at a few of them;

THE FLOOD: Prophesied in Genesis 6:3, literally fulfilled in Genesis 7:10.

JOSHUA AND CALEB'S ENTRY INTO CANAAN (Numbers 14:24,30) Literally fulfilled in Joshua 3:7,17;14:6-12.

THE DESTRUCTION OF THE TEMPLE (1 Kings 9:7; 2 Chronicles 7:20-21; Jeremiah 7:14) Literal fulfillment-2 Kings 25:9

THE FALL OF JERICHO(Joshua 6:1-5) Literally fulfilled in Joshua 6:20.

THE DESTRUCTION OF TYRE (Ezekiel 26:3-5,12,14.) Literal fulfillment- When King Nebuchadnezzar attacked and laid siege to the city, tearing down the walls and towers. Then, in 332 B.C., Alexander the Great took the city after a seven month siege. TO THIS DAY this area is used by fishermen as a place to lay their nets, just like it says in verse 14.

As you can see from these,and many other examples, Bible prophecy is fulfilled, literally, and in very meticulous detail. As is the case for all of the Bible, the God who created us also knows how to communicate with us. God is not trying to confuse us, as He is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33.) He WANTS to make Himself known to us because He loves us, and wants to have a relationship with us. He gave us the Bible to show us how to establish and build that relationship. The Bible reveals to us the heart of God, what does and doesn't please Him, and how we are to worship and follow Him. Above all,He gave it to us to reveal Jesus to us, who is the one who made it possible for us to have this relationship. If you have never given your life to Him, He is knocking at the door of your heart right now.He loves you,and wants you to be with Him forever.Why not turn your life over to Him now?If you need more information,please let us know.

1999 JHB

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