Studying the Bible Literally

How the Scriptures are to be Understood

Isaiah 6:9,10

Audio MP3

May 8th  2011 PM

Pastor Craig Ledbetter

Bible Baptist Church, Ballincollig, Cork, Ireland


I.       Introduction (Isaiah 6:9,10)


A.    Illustration


1.      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?"

2.      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."

3.      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.

4.      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.


B.     The tendency to allegorize and spiritualize Scripture was popularized around A.D.250 by a man named Origen.


1.      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.

2.      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.

3.      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.

4.      "The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ." This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome. -- CCC 85


C.    What is at stake?


1.      Most evangelical churches teach that salvation is by one's faith through God's grace apart from works.

2.      However, some churches emphatically teach that works such as baptism is necessary for salvation.

3.      Most Protestants practice baptism by sprinkling whereas Baptists baptize by immersion.

4.      The Roman Catholic Church teaches it is the only true church, and that Peter was the first pope based on their interpretation of Matthew 16:18. No one else outside Catholicism accepts this interpretation.


a.       Cults such as the Jehovah's Witnesses use the Bible to deny the deity of Jesus Christ, the existence of Hell, and most cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith.

b.      The Mormons, another cult, uses the Bible verses such as 1 Corinthians 15:29 as the source for their practice of baptisms for the dead. No one else accepts this interpretation.

c.       Seventh Day Adventists have their church services on Saturday, the Jewish "Sabbath Day." They teach this based on their understanding of the Bible's instruction concerning the Sabbath.

d.      Pentecostal churches and the modern Charismatic movement teach speaking in "tongues" and miracle healings are valid gifts of the Holy Spirit today. All fundamentalists and most other Christian denominations strongly disagree.


D.    We must take the Bible literally.


1.      The word "interpretation" means to arrive at the original meaning the writer intended when he penned the words.

2.      That means to consistently understand the Scriptures in their plain, normal, natural, obvious sense, much like we would read and understand the newspaper, a book, a poem, an essay or other types of literature. 

3.      This is the only way to determine what God really is trying to communicate to us. When we read any piece of literature, but especially the Bible, we must determine what the author intended to communicate.

4.      Many today will read a verse or passage of Scripture and then give their own definitions to the words, phrases, or paragraphs, ignoring the context and author’s intent. But this is not what God intended, which is why God tells us to correctly handle the Word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).


II.    Message


A.    What the Bible says about itself.


1.      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. To reveal Himself, not confuse us more (Luke 10:21; 1Cor 14:33)

2.      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.)

3.      80% of the Bible is simply history, promises, and guidelines for living. The other 20% consists of prophecies about future events.


B.     The Bible is a Supernatural Book


1.      It describes not only the past in perfect detail, but also the future (Isa 46:9,10)

2.      It tells of invisible things – that are there!


a.       God

b.      The Human Soul

c.       Angels, Demons, Spirits

d.      It Predicts Germs

e.       The Elements themselves


3.      It is eternal (Mt 24:35) – it is much more than just ink on paper!

4.      But still, it is a BOOK, with words in it that have precise meanings, and when taken together, in context, make sense!


C.    It says what it means and means what it says (Acts 17:11)


1.      We are conservative Christians. Fundamental, Evangelical believers in the very words of Scripture as written!

2.      When reading any portion of Scripture, we always take into account the cultural and historical background. We ask: Who is talking? who are they talking to?

3.      We believe that the basic meaning and teachings of Scripture are clear enough to be understood by the average person.


a.       The wages of sin is death

b.      The soul that sinneth, it shall die

c.       There is none righteous, no not one

d.      Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels

e.       Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish!


4.      Unless a passage is clearly intended as allegory, or poetry, the Bible should be interpreted as literal statements by the author.

5.      The Bible was written in the language of men and can be easily understood if we follow the rules of language. Nothing is cryptic in the message and understanding of God's word. It is not complicated and in fact written very simply and all men can understand it correctly. God states in Romans 10:17, "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." The question that begs an answer is how can a man have faith, which comes from hearing the word of God, if he cannot absolutely know what God is saying?

6.      NOTE: Men do not reject the Bible because it contradicts itself, but because it contradicts them


D.    Some things are symbolic


1.      Although we take the Bible literally, there are still figures of speech within its pages.


a.       An example of a figure of speech would be that if someone said "it is raining cats and dogs outside," you would know that they did not really mean that cats and dogs were falling from the sky. They would mean it is raining really hard.

b.      There are figures of speech in the Bible which are not to be taken literally, but those are obvious. See Psalm 17:8 for example – “hide me under the shadow of thy wings

c.       Jesus said in John 10, "I am the door". Well, we know that's a figurative door, because literal doors do not talk. Always take God's word literally, unless it's impossible.


2.      The Mormons teach that God is a physical man of "flesh and bone" the same as any human on earth. They refer to the Scriptures which refer to the hand of God a proof that God has a physical body. They proudly claim that they are simply interpreting God's word literally. However, God says in John 4:24 that He is Spirit. He says He is not a man nor ever was a man. So, it is incorrect to literally say that God is a god of flesh and bone because the Bible uses metaphorical language to describe the actions of God.


E.     But words have meanings!


1.      Forgiveness

2.      Blood atonement

3.      One mediator

4.      Repentance

5.      Faith in our Lord Jesus Christ

6.      Worship

7.      Love

8.      Don’t allow those words to be constantly changed and twisted


F.     The Challenge to Believe It Literally


1.      Much of “Christianity” does NOT take the Bible literally


a.       Modern Commentaries

b.      Genesis is a myth. Pope John Paul II

c.       He also said, “God used evolution to create the world”


2.      Creation (Gen 1:1-3; 2:1,2; Exod 20:10,11)


a.       God says that His work of creation happened in six days. Does He really mean what He says? Does He mean “six days” or does He mean something else? Can we take Him at His Word?  How would a child understand this verse?

b.      Today many teach that these six days of creation cannot refer to literal 24 hour days, but instead must represent long ages of time which would then correspond with the vast geologic ages theorized by evolutionary scientists and scholars.

c.       But does normal interpretation allow for such a non-literal approach? How would Moses and the people of his day have understood Exodus 20:11 and Genesis chapter 1? The rules of language and word usage demand that we understand these as literal 24 hour days.


3.      Satan (2Cor 11:14; Rev 12:3,9)

4.      The World Wide Flood (Gen 6-9)

5.      Jonah (Matthew 12:40)

6.      The Sun and Moon Standing Still for 24 hours (Josh 10:12-14)

7.      Hezekiah and the Retrograde Sundial (2Kings 20:9-11)

8.      Jesus Walking on Water (Mt 14:24-29)

9.      The Resurrection (Acts 26:8)

10.  The New Birth (John 3:1-7; 1 Peter 1:23)

11.  Husbands and Wives (Ephesians 5:21-33)

12.  Capital Punishment (Gen 9:6; Acts 25:11)

13.  The Extent of the Atonement


a.       Do I understand that Christ died for all men and that He tasted death for every man without exception?

b.      The language of the Bible cannot be more clear:

c.       He died for . . .


1)      the world (John 3:16; 6:33,51)

2)      the whole world (1 John 2:2)

3)      all (1 Timothy 2:6)

4)      us all (Isaiah 53:6)

5)      all men (Romans 5:18)

6)      every man (Hebrews 2:9)

7)      Christ-deniers (2 Peter 2:1).


d.      Does God really mean what He says? Can we take Him at His Word? Or, are we going to let our theology force us to change the meaning of words that by themselves are very clear?


14.  Honouring and Obeying Authorities (Rom 13:1-7)

15.  Everything is working out for good (Eccl 3:11; Rom 8:28)

16.  Some of those things are hard to be understood


a.       It was hard for the readers of those days to believe things like:


1)      About Germs – God had rules about quarantining sick people and people who had touched something dead

2)      About diseases – God said do not eat an animal that was already dead, and don’t eat blood

3)      About worshipping stars because they are only hydrogen balls of gas and not gods


b.      Just believe the Bible anyway! Even when you don’t understand it

c.       Science will catch up soon enough!


G.    How Far Will You Trust the Bible?


1.      In Child Training? Doing it the Bible way?

2.      In losing your life for Christ’s sake?

3.      In dying?

4.      In praying for the impossible?

5.      In getting your mind restored, or your marriage?

6.      In staying faithful to God’s ways, when His ways don’t make sense?


III. Conclusion


A.    Steve Falkenberg, professor of religious psychology at Eastern Kentucky University, says, "I've never met anyone who actually believes the Bible is literally true." That's a shame!

B.     If the Bible is the very words of God, and it was meant to be read and understood as written…


1.      Why would we allow people to make up new meanings for words, and tell us we can’t figure it out on our own?

2.      So that we rely on some religion! Instead on prayer, and time in reading God’s word ourselves!

3.      Let’s be more noble than those of Thessalonica, in that we search the Scriptures daily, and understand them as written – not allegorically