It is hard to talk about the Bible without igniting controversy. Some people think every single word must be taken literally, and others think that the Bible is a book of fables. It seems there are always extremes on any subject.
I was considering this subject recently and asked myself: Does everything in the Bible need to be taken literally if you are a Christian?
What I mean by that is this-- would it matter if the story of the Flood in the Bible was not a historic event, but rather a story used to express truth or teach wisdom? And what about Adam and Eve, if that too was a story meant to teach humanity about the existence of sin and the importance of following God's directions, would that somehow lessen the Bible?
I tend to believe both the Flood story and the story of Adam and Eve are true stories, meaning actual events, but my faith in God does not rest upon these stories being literal rather than figurative. If these stories were instead used as types to teach us truths about ourselves and God--my faith would not be undone.
Jesus often used stories, parables, to teach people truths. We don't know if He was always telling of factual events, or of stories meant merely to teach. For instance, He may have known someone who lost a lamb and left the other sheep to go search for the lost one, but our understanding of that story does not rely upon whether or not it was a historical event.
To be sure there is history in the Bible. There are historic events and actual people told about in the Bible. Yet there are also areas of symbolism and imagery used to teach truths and captivate the mind of the reader. For instance, the entire Book of Revelation is filled with symbolism and imagery. It would be stretching credibility to expect every symbolic instance to represent historic events, rather, prophecy speaks mostly of the future, and/or as a vehicle for teaching, and does so in symbols and imagery.
Understand that what I'm saying is not to denigrate the Bible. The word of God has many detractors and I am not one. Indeed, I believe it is like no book ever written. The New Testament alone is built upon more than 5,000 historic manuscripts, no other ancient document that I'm aware of can boast of such support. The Bible is a powerful book, filled with beauty and lovely imagery and history and prophecy and teaching and wisdom and more. There is no book like it.
I think there are two basic approaches when it comes to the Bible: Either you believe it is God's word, or you don't. If you believe it is God's word, then you have to discover what that means.
Some people treat the Bible like a Science Text Book; others treat it as a Secret Code Book that only they have the "cheat sheet" for. I think in both of those cases they are mistreating God's word.
Perhaps the biggest issue for Bible believers is discernment. How do we approach the Bible? Do we treat it as a "Fact Book", a sort of reference book of humanity? Or do we treat it as merely a book of interesting stories to teach us?
This is what I believe: I think the Bible, when referring to people and places as if they were real should be accepted at face value. Yet we should also accept that it is possible that some things that have been taken too literally could rather be stories to educate and teach us about ourselves and God. I'm not saying they are, but rather that they could fit into this category. This is ground we must tread lightly on. Remember that just a few decades ago many Christians believed the world was only a few thousand years old based upon Bible genealogies. Only the most die-hard Bible literalists believe that today. Geologists tell us that there was no world-wide Flood. Perhaps someday they will be proven wrong, but even if somehow they are right, for me it does not lessen the importance of the Flood story. It could be a story type meant to express the early state of human depravity on earth. The Greeks also had stories of early depravity of humanity, and nearly every early culture on earth had some version of the Flood story. It is possible that this story is much bigger than the Flood it speaks of.
My great concern for fellow Christians is two-fold, first that if some Bible story that they have taken literally does not line up with historic or scientific fact and they find their literal approach to the Bible has failed, that they will then be damaged regarding their faith in God. Secondly, I have concerns that some Christians will turn their backs on Reason, Logic, Science, and Fact in order to uphold pet theories and literal Biblical interpretations.
Science can never disprove the existence of God. It is possible that historic documents, archeology, science, geology, or some fact coming to light might bring into question some Biblical stories regarding literal interpretation. This is why I think the wise Christian will allow for the possibility that some stories and events in the Bible were meant more for enlightenment about ourselves and God rather than to be used as an historic reference. We should not hinge our faith in God upon a strict literal interpretation of every Biblical story and event.
The Bible is, I believe, the word of God revealed and spoken unto men who then wrote down those words. God is a Teacher. One of the main things Christ did on earth was to teach. He used many stories as examples of how to behave or not to behave, and to reveal truths to us about God. I believe God's word, first written on scrolls and parchment, later printed in Book format, and now even in digital format, is powerful, important, and the revealed word of God to us. It is meant to teach us, guide us, and reveal God and His will for our lives.
To my fellow Christians, I would encourage you to treat God's word with the respect it deserves, but not to hinge your belief in God upon a few stories that may be historic fact, or might rather be included in the Bible to teach us about ourselves and God as the first priority, instead of the historical record. Let your faith rest solidly upon God in the Person of Jesus. Read the Bible for enlightenment and truth. And whether or not there was an Ark filled with animals, or whether an actual Eve gave Adam that forbidden apple, first of all see the truth revealed in the story, let that be your focus. These events may very well have occurred, and I am inclined to take them literally, but even if they are stories merely meant to teach us, they are precious to me. At the end of all things my faith relies not upon an Ark, but in the Person Jesus Christ who died for my sins, and rose again, proving that there is more than this life beyond the grave for those who will trust in Him. And I hope you will find that truth, and if you have found it, that you will hold to it and never let it go.