Short Version of Literal
Talking with a friend who holds to a 6-24 hour day view of Genesis 1 and 2, he kept referring to his view as “literal”. I would politely interject with “Well, I hold to a literal reading of the text as well.” To this he would understand my friendly rebuke and continue the discussion understanding what I had meant.
Taking the creation accounts literal is important because the reader of the text doesn’t have the freedom that they would want and after a certain point they have taken an account and symbolized it, mystified it, or allegorized it making it to the same level as existential subjective writings where the reader is the one who determines the meaning. Of course again, if God is the author of Scripture, He is the one who determines the meaning and the receiver will receive it. In fact it is God the Holy Spirit who even illumines the text to the reader. Without which, one would find themselves lost in heresies such as Sabellianism (Modalism), Docetism, Arianism or a list of hundreds of more.
In an attempt to stay on the subject at hand, the point is this. How many creation accounts are in the bible? Many generally refer to Genesis 1 and 2. However, there are about 20 chapters of creation accounts throughout the bible and these need to all be taken into consideration as well. To focus on one and forget the other 19 would be an irresponsible way of tackling the text and then coming to a rational and biblical conclusion to discover what God did when He created the world.
The simplest example (which is also one of the more disputed ones) is the word “day” in Genesis 1 and 2. I would like to write a point exhaustively on this later but a shortened version can do for now. In Hebrew, the word for day is “yom”. The word can mean three different things:
2. 24 hours
3. a long (but finite) period of timeTo understand the word “day” consistently in regards to the creation accounts from Genesis to Revelation. Option #3 is the best understanding that will not compromise Scripture nor allow it to contradict itself.Thus holding a to a literal reading of the text is preserved and the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture is still presupposed.Long Version of LiteralWhat does it mean to read the bible “literally”? Scripture generally has two basic principles for its own interpretation.
The first is the proper, natural sense of each passage. (i.e. the intended sense of the writer) is to be taken as fundamental; the meaning of texts in their own contexts, and for their original readers is the necessary starting point. To put it another way, Scripture statements must be interpreted in the light of the rules of grammar and discourse on the one hand and of their own place in history as well.The second basic principle of interpretation is that Scripture must interpret Scripture. How significant one passage is and its scope is brought out by relating it to others. Christ gives us this example using Genesis to demonstrate the divorce law of Moses was nothing more than to temporarily appease the hard hearts of the people. The Reformers of old called this principle the analogy of scripture. The Westminster Confession states it “The infallible rule of interpretation of scripture is the scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture, it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.” (http://www.bible-researcher.com/confess.html)What this means is that we must give ourselves to bible study and recognize what parts of Scripture highlight other parts. The prophets and history books of the Old Testament shed light on each other for example. As do the Synoptic (Matthew, Mark and Luke) and John. And most obviously the whole Old Testament does to the New. Calvin commented that there is one book in the bible that ties all together and it is Romans. In the intro to his commentary on Romans Calvin writes ”If a man understands it, he has a sure road opened for him to the understanding of the whole Scripture.” Why? Because in Romans, Paul brings together for the reader a systematic relationship of all the great themes in the Bible (sin, law, judgment, faith, works, grace, justification, sanctification, election, the plan of salvation, the work of Christ, the works of the Spirit, the Christian hope, the nature and life of the Church, the place of Jew and Gentiles in the purposes of God, the philosophy of Church and of world history, the meaning and message of the Old Testament, the duties of Christian citizenship, the principles of personal piety and ethics)
There are some problems and difficulties but it doesn’t mean that only trained scholars can study the Bible. However, to tackle an issue some subjects may take more research than others. Be encouraged that there are a number of tools available to help the daily reader in their understanding of the text.