I was raised to believe that everything the Bible says is literally true, and as a nonbeliever I still tend to interpret the Bible pretty literally. Here’s why:
Literalism is the natural form of religion that results from reading the scriptures. When people read the Bible with no preconceived ideas about what it should say, they will tend to assume it means exactly what it says. I wouldn’t expect it to even occur to anyone that the Bible might not simply mean what it says, unless someone else told them to think that. Or unless they were unable to accept what they were reading because they already had other, more strongly-held beliefs that were incompatible with the Bible.
Non-literalist religion is a self-deceptive phenomenon that results when people consider themselves religious, but also have beliefs and values that conflict with the scriptures. If they don’t want to outright reject the Bible or admit that their values don’t come from their religion, they have to make up metaphorical interpretations of the Bible that agree with what they already believe, and ignore what the Bible actually says.
In a lot of cases, what the Bible says was meant completely literally, and was originally interpreted literally, and no one saw a problem with that. But as humanity’s knowledge of the world and standards of morality have improved over time, it has become increasingly clear to most people that what the Bible says literally is absurdly wrong. So those who can’t admit that the Bible is wrong have had to increasingly reinterpret it figuratively. Some take it so far that they’re basically atheists in denial.
Even literalists are now so used to thinking of certain concepts and expressions used in the Bible as figurative that it might not even occur to them that those things might have once been meant literally. But compared to what the writers intended, literalists aren’t literal enough! Like most people in ancient times, the writers of the Bible actually believed that people literally thought with their hearts. And their kidneys.
Continue reading To interpret literally or liberally?
Three of the gospels tell this story: Jesus crosses a lake and meets a violent man who is being controlled by a group of demons, who call themselves Legion. The demons assume Jesus is there to banish them and torture them. But they convince him to just send them into a herd of pigs instead. The man regains his sanity, and the pigs kill themselves. The locals make Jesus go away so he’ll stop pointlessly destroying their livestock. And everybody forgets about the demons, who are now homeless and on the loose.
Continue reading How many men were possessed by the Legion of demons?
How God got Joseph into Egypt
Jacob made a fancy robe for his favorite son, Joseph. This made Joseph’s brothers jealous. Then Joseph started having dreams about his family bowing down to him. This made his brothers hate him. So Joseph’s brothers stole his robe and dipped it in goat blood, so their father would think Joseph had been killed by a wild animal. They sold Joseph to some merchants, who took him away to Egypt and sold him as a slave to Potiphar, the captain of the guard.
Inmate interprets increasingly insane imaginings
Potiphar’s wife kept trying to get Joseph to sleep with her, but he refused. Then she accused him of trying to rape her, so Potiphar put him in prison. Two other prisoners, who had been Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker, got Joseph to interpret their dreams for them. Pharaoh’s cupbearer had dreamed about bearing Pharaoh’s cup, which Joseph said meant he would become Pharaoh’s cupbearer again. And it was so. Pharaoh’s baker had dreamed about birds eating Pharaoh’s bread out of a basket on the baker’s head, which Joseph said meant the baker would be executed. And it was so.
Later, Pharaoh had a dream about seven skinny cows eating seven fat cows, and a dream about seven thin heads of grain eating seven full heads of grain. None of his magicians and wise men could tell him what his dreams meant, so his cupbearer suggested asking Joseph. Joseph said both dreams meant that there would be seven years of abundance, and then seven years of famine. Pharaoh was so impressed by this claim that he put Joseph in charge of all of Egypt, without even bothering to wait and see if Joseph’s prediction was accurate.
Do not worry about tomorrow
During the seven years of abundance, Joseph took away all the grain that was grown in Egypt and stored it up, so the people could starve sooner rather than later. Then during the seven years of famine, he sold grain to everyone who needed it in Egypt and Canaan. Joseph gave the Egyptians food (that he had stolen from them) in exchange for all their money, all their livestock, all their land, and their slave labor. He also made them give a fifth of the food they were able to grow to Pharaoh, so that they could have food.
Continue reading The Story of Joseph and his Brothers—
The Interpreter of Dreams