Where are the lines for Bible literalism in the Christian faith? Are all aspects of the Bible treated with the same level of literal belief (as actual history), or are some parts considered to be stories that are simply provided to illustrate a principle (parables).

It would seem that as a Christian it would imply belief that Jesus is the Christ. Does that also imply belief in the story of Noah's Ark as literal history?


5 Answers 5


In the strictest sense, I would doubt anyone is truly a literalist. For example, when Jesus says that he is the door, it would be a difficult position to hold that Jesus literally is made of wood and swings on hinges.

What most people mean, on the other hand, when they speak of belief that the Bible is "literally true", is merely that what is claimed in the Bible is true, with an allowance for figurative language.

I am not aware of a direct claim or command in scripture that belief in its truth is requisite for salvation. On the other hand, as God is a talking god, to love the Lord is no less than to love his words, so if someone establishes a pattern of rejecting God's word without repentance or movement toward it, I would begin question his or her grounds for assurance of salvation.

  • 2
    +1 for the connection between God and his word. That cannot be overemphasised. "In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God" (John 1:1)
    – John
    Aug 26, 2011 at 3:59
  • 1
    @John In that quote 'the word' absolutely does not refer to the Bible, as is determined from continuing to read verse 2, where it says "the Word became flesh". Jun 21, 2012 at 20:35
  • Perhaps not literally, but I see his point. It doesn't just say "In the beginning was Jesus, and Jesus was with God, and Jesus was God"--John in being intentional with his imagery here and we shouldn't be too quick to dismiss it. Again; not to say that God is the Bible, but that He identifies his self-expression with himself.
    – Ray
    Jun 21, 2012 at 23:04
  • I disagree. When it says In the beginning was the Word it is talking about the second person of the trinity/the son/Jesus. It has absolutely nothing to do with scripture/the bible. Jan 16, 2017 at 23:39

The simple answer is "sometimes". Some of the bible is literal and some of it is metaphoric. The key to discerning what is and is not literal is context.

Most of the Old Testament is written as a historical narrative. This context indicates that it is a literal record of history. Revelation on the other hand is written in a prophetic context, indicating many metaphors and analogies.

  • 4
    A great example of metaphor in the Bible is when Jesus told his disciples that they must "eat his flesh and drink his blood". He was metaphorically referring to receiving His Word (flesh) by revelation (wine, a stimulant), not cannibalism.
    – Bob Black
    Aug 31, 2011 at 14:26
  • @Bob This is not necessarily a metaphor. However, it is likely that Revelation is highly metaphorical. Christians historically took his statements in that part literally, believing the wine and bread to be real 'blood' and 'body'. Please choose a less contested 'metaphor'!
    – user304
    Aug 31, 2011 at 16:56
  • 4
    Or when Jesus said it would be better to pluck your eyes out than lust after a women. There arent too many self blinded christians running around because they are bible literalists. Aug 31, 2011 at 16:57
  • 1
    @ace though again, there is a story of a saint who did just that -- !
    – user304
    Aug 31, 2011 at 16:58
  • 1
    @RiverC interesting ... I am not familiar with that story, I can believe it. The point is, there are tons of Christians who could argue about the semantics of the communion all day, there aren't many that would advise cutting of body parts to prevent sin Aug 31, 2011 at 17:44

Nobody takes the Bible 100% literally. Nobody should, because the Bible is not intended to be taken 100% literally. Even the most cursory examination will reveal parts of it that are clearly metaphors. I once saw picture drawn of a woman in which all the metaphors used for a woman in the Song of Songs (e.g. "your breasts are like two fawns") were taken literally. Believe me, that's one strange and ugly woman.

The task of identifying which parts of the Bible are literal and which parts are metaphorical is not an easy one, and Christians have come down in many different places. At one extreme a very few have considered almost everything to be metaphorical, and all the Bible to be simply uplifting and helpful stories. Some take the vast majority to be historical, and most fall somewhere in between. Virtually all will take the Gospels as non-negotiably historical, and almost all take the vast majority of the Old Testament as historical.

But I've answered your question. A more detailed treatment of 'which parts are metaphorical" is worth of years of careful research, and can't be answered here.

  • 1
    The problem comes with deciding what is to be taken literally and who chooses.
    – user1054
    Jan 11, 2012 at 3:25
  • Look up the term "sensus Plenior" the plain sense of the text. I'll agree with you there is room for interpretation and debate, but it's a lot less than you might think. Jan 11, 2012 at 3:33

Being a Christian means that you follow Christ. Not just accepting Christ as a savior, but first accepting Him as YOUR GOD and your LORD. Meaning that you accept and submit to his every word as Lord over your life.

When the bible states that it is the infallible, inspired word of God, then you must take that literally.

When a bible character makes a statement, understand that the character making the statement is the Truth, the person "DID" make the statement. However, what that person stated may not be true.

When God makes a statement, that is always the Truth. When Jesus gives a parable, the parable is a description of truth.

  • -1 Literalism is a point of view, not universal.
    – user116
    Sep 1, 2011 at 17:47
  • So you are saying the literal interpretation of lets say the number 6 is not universal? Some claim 6 = 5 for instance? Sep 2, 2011 at 0:23
  • 2
    -1 for claiming to be speaking for all Christians when you quite clearly aren't. Many disagree with you.
    – TRiG
    Sep 2, 2011 at 17:05
  • 1
    @TRiG, I'm sorry, did I mention that somewhere in my answer? Sep 2, 2011 at 17:22
  • 2
    @Jonathan - it sounds like you're arguing for the truthfulness of the Scriptures, but the question was more whether statements in the scriptures can be taken figuratively in some cases.
    – Roy Tinker
    Sep 5, 2011 at 6:55

The answer depends on who is interpreting it. In general the answer is 'Absolutely Not.'

I would suggest that the subtleties of this question are too complex to be answered directly, as different traditions exist on how to interpret the text, and variation exists within those traditions as to whether you can, if you wish, interpret something literally. A few points:

  • The text cannot be entirely literal
  • The text does not interpret itself
  • The text contains a variety of genres with different interpretation styles
  • A given verse is not traditionally limited to one interpretation

Sometimes the text will say something that seems like it must be taken literally, but even then context is important. For instance, when an Epistle says that 'all scripture is good for teaching... (etc)' this refers to not all of our scripture, but to whatever collection of scripture the writer was referring to, most likely a collection of Old Testament texts (the Septuagint.)

This then does not even begin to address the different 'Bibles' that exist, and how the addition of certain books (or their removal) could affect the context of the whole and therefore the interpretation of some verses.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .