----- Original Message -----
Subject: Should we take the Bible literally word for word as it is interpreted?
Ok I’m going to ask one question on this email. I was talking to the same atheist I mentioned to you in a previous email inquiry. I have been talking to him for a while now. He takes anything he can and uses it against me. I recently made a mistake and posted a link to a site that I thought was talking on proofs of a young earth when it really was talking against the ones creationists use and so when I removed it he got onto me saying something like, "…what are we supposed to think of creationists now?" Anyway, we were talking about Genesis 1:11 and Genesis 1:24 (see Bible Quotes below) and he said this:
Bible Quote Genesis 1:11 And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.
Bible Quote Genesis 1:24 And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.
atheist’s allegation - Notice, according to the bible, god let the earth bring forth grass. It never says god created plants, but that he allowed the earth to bring the plants into existance. So, taking both of these passages as the literal interpretation (which seems to be the best way to you), it's clear that god didn't directly create plants and animals. The bible says, literally, that the earth created plants and animals..."
What can I say to this atheist? How are we supposed to interpret every verse?
Thanks for sending your inquiry. First, let me commend you for continuing to reach out to this atheist. His intentional spelling of ‘god’ and ‘bible’ in lower case letters shows his extreme resentment toward anything God-related or anything Bible-related. This likely stems from his Christian upbringing and/or background, as is typically the case with atheistic views.
Reach out to him in love, and don’t allow the poisoned antagonistic tones and words he uses to irritate you, or in any way implicate you personally. His beef is with God, and he knows it. Always offer him the alternative of faith in a loving Creator who gave His own son Jesus into the hands of angry atheists and other sinners like you and me to prove his love and willingness to respond to his faith.
As far as how we interpret the Bible, it is always to be done with the following chronological sequence of forethoughts:
1. Literal first, unless the literal interpretation doesn’t fit the overall context.
2. Once it is determined that the passage of scripture is nonsensical when taken in the literal sense, then the student must determine whether the passage uses symbolic, figurative, metaphorical, allegorical, parabolic, prophetic, typological, emblematic, or other forms of illustrative language as a representational type of written communication. This hermeneutical approach not only holds true with interpretation of the Bible, but also applicable with any other written document or manuscript.
3. Who wrote the book; who is the author? (e.g. it is generally believed that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, which is the first five books of the Bible).
4. To whom & about whom/what was the individual book or passage of the book of the Bible written? In other words, WHY was the narrative recorded; what was the purpose? What was the author’s intent? Was it meant as an inspired historical account of events, as for example is the case with the Genesis account of creation? Were parts of the book written as historical, or all of it? If not all, then what portions of scripture are written for a different purpose (e.g. penned as a direct set of commands given to Israel concerning the Levitical code in the Law)?
5. What is the dialect used to write the passage of scripture being interpreted? The Old Testament is written in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic, but it is also rendered in Syriac, Latin, and other dialects. The New Testament manuscripts are written in Greek, Latin, Syriac (also known as in its ancient form as Aramaic); later date mss. There are also manuscripts of the New Testament written in Syriac, Classic Greek, Latin, Aramaic, etc, which today have been discovered by archaeologists in great quantities (over 2500 quality mss that I’m aware of).
6. For example, in the Septuagint, which is a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, the Samaritans preserved the Pentateuch. The Pentateuch is the only portion of the Old Testament that was accepted by the Samaritans as being inspired by divine authority. The division of the Pentateuch into five books, as we now have it, however, was adopted by the Samaritans, as it was later by the Jews, in all their priests' copies of "the Law," (for the sake of convenience). Samaritans never called the Septuagint by this name, but always "the Law," which they read as one book.
After the exile, since the Jews refused them worship in Jerusalem, the Samaritans instituted similar worship to that of the temple at Jerusalem, which was founded upon the Law. . As a result, copies of the Septuagint were multiplied in Israel as well as in Judah.
The form of the letters in the manuscript copies of the Samaritan Pentateuch is different from that of the Hebrew copies, and is probably the same as that which was in general use before the Captivity. There are important differences between the Hebrew and the Samaritan copies of the Pentateuch in the readings of many sentences. In about 2000 occurrences the Samaritan and the Jewish texts differ, the Septuagint agrees with the former. The New Testament also, when quoting from the Old Testament, agrees as a rule with the Samaritan text, where that differs from the Jewish. Thus Exodus 12:40 in the Samaritan reads, "Now the sojourning of the children of Israel and of their fathers which they had dwelt in the land of Canaan and in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years" (compare Galatians 3:17). The Septuagint has the same reading of this text in Galatians.
There are many more precepts involved in the correct method of hermeneutics (study of Scriptures). The term hermeneutics is borrowed from the Greek New Testament word diermeneuo which means tio interpret or give an explanation (about the meaning). If I give you too much information at one time, you;ll feel overwhelmed; obviously, you have much more education in your future if you hope to be a serious student of the Bible.
Regarding the atheist’s allegation, let’s examine what he says and weigh his erroneous conclusions against the context of Genesis chapters One & Two; first the atheist comments, highlighted in red are his main points; below his comments is the same Bible version he uses the New American Standard Bible.
atheist - Notice, according to the bible, god let the earth bring forth grass. It never says god created plants, but that he allowed the earth to bring the plants into existance. So, taking both of these passages as the literal interpretation (which seems to be the best way to you), it's clear that god didn't directly create plants and animals. The bible says, literally, that the earth created plants and animals..."
Bible - Genesis 1:29-31 Then God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, AND every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; 30 AND to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food ,”;and it was so. 31 And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. NASB
Bible - Genesis 2:1-2 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts. 2 And by the seventh day God completed His work which He had done. NASB
Now in case what is written in the scripture verses above (i.e. the same verses that your atheist pal forgot to read) are not ample proof that he either has a learning disability, has difficulty reading and comprehending more than one or two verses at the same time, and/or he is simply self-deluded and dishonest, perhaps reading just a few more verses (all the way into the next chapter) will prove his speculations are just that (speculations)!
Bible - Genesis 2:4-9 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made earth and heaven. 5 Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the LORD God had not sent rain upon the earth; and there was no man to cultivate the ground. 6 But a mist used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground. 7 Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. 8 And the LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. 9 And out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food. NASB
No offense to your atheist buddy and his brilliant mind, what else needs to be said, except, “like, duh?” My suggestions for you are as follows:
1. Start reading your Bible daily.
2. Tell him to do the same!
Love ya bro!
1 Peter 3:15 Always be ready to give reasonable justification to anyone who asks you for an explanation of the hope that is within you, but do it considerately and courteously.