Do We Interpret the Bible Literally?

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During Religious Moral education (RME) lessons in school, the question was asked: “Do we take the Bible literally? If we don’t take the Bible literally, then does it mean that it’s not true?”

I replied inviting the students to compare the following texts:

“Looking into a patient’s eyes can provide a doctor with a wealth of information regarding your general health. Swelling or puffiness around the eyes may indicate allergies or infections or even kidney problems. Your doctor will compare both eyes and note any signs suggestive of allergies like redness, irritation or small lines that indicate persistent rubbing.”
— from a health magazine


“Look into my eyes
You will see
What you mean to me
Search your heart
Search your soul
And when you find me there,
you’ll search no more.”
— from Bryan Adams’ song Everything I Do

Is the science text true and the song text false?

I think that if an eye surgeon were to examine my corneas and say that he has seen “what I mean to him”, I would sue for malpractice.

Then again if I were to tell my wife when celebrating our wedding anniversary that “I see signs of allergies… small lines” when I look into her eyes, I would be sued for malpractice.

We concluded the lesson by saying that yes, we take the Bible literally, but according to the correct literary genre, which is dependent on the intention of the author.

Not all texts are meant to be written and understood in the same way for the same purpose.

A literal and a symbolic text are true in their OWN WAY but not true in the SAME WAY.

We concluded the lesson by pointing out that we need to use the same lens when we look at Genesis chapter one and scientific descriptions of the beginning of the Universe.


Image: PD-US

Nick Chui

Nick Chui

Nick Chui is happily married and teaches history and Religious Education in a Catholic secondary school in Singapore. He has a Masters in Theological studies from the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family, Melbourne.

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