Biblical Literalism

Biblical Literalism Introduction.

Welcome to the exploration of biblical interpretation: the debate over literalism. At the heart of numerous church teachings lies a pivotal question: Should the Bible be taken literally? The answer influences how believers practice their faith, view the world, and interact with others.

This blog shares churches that split after disagreements about the Bible, 17 biblical passages that present challenges if taken literally, and ten passages that focus on women.

And a conclusion suggests Christians should ‘agree to disagree’ and focus on spreading the Gospel message instead.

5 churches that split after disagreements about Biblical interpretation, including Biblical Literalism.

Biblical Literalism - a church Disagreements over biblical interpretation, including the issue of literalism, have historically led to divisions within Christian denominations and the formation of new churches. Here are five examples where disagreements have played a role in church splits.

  1. Southern Baptist Convention (SBC): In the late 20th century, the SBC experienced a significant rift over issues, including biblical inerrancy, leading to the formation of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
  2. Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS): The division between the PCUS and the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) in 1973 was partly due to differing views on biblical interpretation and inerrancy.
  3. Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS): In the 1970s, the LCMS split over issues including biblical interpretation, leading to the formation of the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, which later merged into the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
  4. Worldwide Church of God: After doctrinal changes in the late 20th century that moved away from literal interpretations of certain scriptures, several splinter groups formed, including the United Church of God and the Philadelphia Church of God.
  5. Church of Christ, Scientist: The Christian Science movement, founded by Mary Baker Eddy, was partly in response to mainstream Christian interpretations of the Bible, offering a more symbolic and spiritual reading, especially concerning healing.

These splits demonstrate how differing approaches to biblical interpretation, including the degree of literalism applied, can significantly impact church unity and the formation of new denominations. Putting time and effort into disagreements about the Bible reduces the church’s ability to spread the Gospel message.

17 Biblical passages presenting challenges or problematic conclusions if taken literally

Biblical Literalism - Noah's ArkInterpreting biblical passages literally can sometimes lead to misunderstandings or misrepresentations of the intended message, especially considering the historical, cultural, and linguistic contexts in which these texts were written. Here are 20 examples where a literal interpretation might pose challenges or lead to problematic conclusions:

  1. Creation in Six Days (Genesis 1): A literal interpretation suggests the Earth and universe were created in six 24-hour days, which conflicts with scientific understanding of the Earth’s age and development.
  2. Noah’s Ark and the Global Flood (Genesis 6-9): A literal worldwide flood and the feasibility of gathering all species into a single ark raises numerous logistical and scientific challenges.
  3. Ax Head Floating (2 Kings 6:1- 7): The story of an iron ax head floating defies the principles of physics regarding buoyancy and density.
  4. The Earth’s Foundations (Various Psalms): Descriptions of the Earth having a physical foundation or being immovable are inconsistent with scientific understanding of the planet’s place in space.
  5. Leviathan and Behemoth (Job 40-41): These descriptions of giant creatures have been hard to align with known animals and have often been considered symbolic or mythological.
  6. Revelation’s Symbolic Imagery (Revelation): The highly symbolic and allegorical language in Revelation, including multi-headed beasts and a dragon, is challenging to interpret literally without considering its apocalyptic genre.
  7. Deuteronomy 22:28-29 (Marrying a Rapist): This passage, taken literally, would be ethically and morally unacceptable today.
  8. Leviticus 25:44-46 (Slavery): Endorsing slavery contradicts modern ethical standards.
  9. Psalm 137:9 (Violence Against Enemies’ Children): This verse, taken literally, promotes violence and is contrary to Christian teachings of love and forgiveness.
  10. Matthew 5:29-30 (Gouging Out Eye/ Cutting Off Hand): Taken literally, this would be extreme and not aligned with the intended metaphorical teaching.
  11. Genesis 19:30- 38 (Lot and His Daughters): This narrative raises serious ethical issues if taken as a prescriptive rather than a descriptive passage.
  12. Leviticus 20:13 (Death Penalty for Homosexuality): This contradicts modern views on human rights and sexuality.
  13. Leviticus 19:27 (Trimming Beards): A literal enforcement would conflict with personal grooming choices.
  14. Exodus 21:17 (Cursing Parents): The prescribed punishment for cursing parents is harsh by modern standards.
  15. Mark 11:12-14, 20-24 (Cursing the Fig Tree): Taken literally, this could be seen as irrational behaviour, missing the metaphorical teaching involved.
  16. Leviticus 21:17- 23 (Physical Requirements for Priests): Modern inclusivity standards would be at odds with these physical restrictions on the priesthood.
  17. Ephesians 6:5 (Slaves Obeying Masters): In a modern context, this passage is often reinterpreted or viewed within its historical setting, as literal adherence would be considered ethically wrong.

These examples demonstrate the importance of considering context, genre, and historical background when interpreting biblical texts.

10 Biblical passages relating to women, presenting challenges, or problematic conclusions if taken literally

  1. Biblical Literalism - women covering their head in church1 Timothy 2:11-12 (Women Should Not Teach or Hold Authority Over Men): This passage, taken literally, conflicts with modern views on women’s leadership roles in religious and secular contexts.
  2. Ephesians 5:22- 24 (Wives Submit to Husbands): The literal interpretation of wives as submissive to their husbands is often seen as contrary to contemporary ideals of partnership and equality in marriage.
  3. 1 Corinthians 11:3-10 (Head Coverings for Women): The requirement that women to cover their heads during worship, if taken literally, clashes with modern cultural norms and personal freedom.
  4. 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (Women Should Remain Silent in Churches): This directive, if followed literally, would prevent women from speaking, leading, or participating actively in church services.
  5. Deuteronomy 22:20-21 (Punishment for Women Not Virgins at Marriage): A literal application of this law would be seen as archaic and harsh by contemporary legal and moral standards.
  6. Leviticus 12:1-5 (Women’s Purification After Childbirth): The notion of a woman being ceremonially unclean after giving birth is at odds with modern understandings of childbirth and women’s health.
  7. Deuteronomy 25:11-12 (Punishment for Women Interfering in a Fight): The specific and severe punishment prescribed in this passage is inconsistent with modern legal practices and views on justice.
  8. Genesis 3:16 (Increased Pain in Childbirth as a Punishment for Eve): This verse, interpreted literally, can be problematic in its implication that women’s childbirth pains are a divine punishment.
  9. Titus 2:3-5 (Women Should Be Homemakers and Submissive): The directive for women to strictly adhere to traditional domestic roles may conflict with modern values of gender equality and women’s autonomy in career choices.
  10. Numbers 5:11-31 (The Test for an Unfaithful Wife): This ritual, if taken literally, would be viewed as misogynistic and unjust by contemporary standards.

These examples highlight the complexity of interpreting biblical texts in the modern era, especially regarding gender roles and the status of women. They demonstrate the need for a nuanced approach that considers historical context, cultural background, and the overarching principles of dignity, respect, and equality.


While significant, the debate over biblical literalism among Christians should not overshadow the central tenets of Christianity — the teachings, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christians of varying interpretative traditions share a common faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior, which is the unifying core of their belief system.

This shared belief in Christ’s transformative message of love, grace, and redemption is far more pivotal than differing views on scriptural interpretation.

Agreeing to disagree on biblical literalism allows Christians to focus on the essential aspects of their faith, fostering unity and cooperation. Jesus’ teachings emphasised love, compassion, forgiveness, and serving others, universal Christian values transcending interpretative differences. By prioritising these teachings, Christians can work together more effectively in serving their communities and embodying the values of their faith.

Moreover, embracing diversity in biblical interpretation can enrich the faith community, providing a broader understanding and deeper appreciation of the Bible’s multifaceted nature. It encourages dialogue, mutual respect, and a collective pursuit of truth. In essence, the call for unity in Christ over division in interpretation is a call to embody the grace and understanding that Jesus himself taught and lived.

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