Many Christians are sold on the idea that believing in a literal Bible is essential; it is the only right way to really understand it. In this manner, they place great emphasis on accepting the historicity of the Bible accounts and stories. They recognize that, in some cases, the stories are not historical because the text plainly states that they are allegorical, but these are taken to be the exceptions. Faith in the Bible and a belief in the transformative power of its message and story supposedly require belief in its historical accuracy.
Regardless of any admission of at least some symbolic portions to the Bible, this focus on literalism implies that Bible symbolism is very much secondary to literally transmitted facts. The evangelical Christians concept of essential truth, information which provides the means to escape God’s wrath, cannot logically be conveyed symbolically because a symbolic message takes time to absorb, and its understanding is too subjective to be the method by which God’s salvation procedure is communicated effectively.
This insistence on taking the Bible as historically accurate is largely the reason why the church has often missed the entire message of the Bible. In reality, all of the Bible, from start to finish, is symbolic, rendering its historical validity a secondary issue. Bible symbolism is really all that is important, and the Truth referred to in the Bible is not dependent on anyone’s understanding of any portion of human history.
By focusing on a literal understanding and claiming such as essential to mankind’s relationship to God, the church has turned the Bible into a book of required historical facts. Jesus’ divinity, His virgin birth, His death, His resurrection, His prophesied return- all these historical facts must be admitted in order to have life in Christ. Not one element in all these “requirements” reflects the profound depth of the scriptures.
Believing historical facts are not mystical, magical, or transformative. When the Bible speaks of believing and acting upon the Truth, it cannot mean accepting a series of historical events. In the literal sense, the story of Jesus’ life and death are no more meaningful than the story of countless other men. That is precisely the reason why many hear His story and say something to this effect: many innocent men have died while fostering a righteous cause. What makes Jesus’ story special? As a history lesson, the account of Jesus in the Bible is far from unique, even in its resurrection aspect. Other ancient writings speak of the resurrection of powerful figures.
Bible symbolism is the only justification for seeing Bible study as a lifelong endeavor. Deeper truth, truth which is not discerned from a shallow, literal interpretation, is the only logical reason to read and re-read the scriptures, intensely pondering their true meaning. The doctrine of a literal Bible makes such a devotion to study seem meaningless. Continuing study implies continuously improving understanding of the true meaning and significance. That cannot be an ever greater grasp of mere literal facts.
No, insisting that the Bible be seen as primarily a history book completely misses its point and dramatically alters its message and transformative power. If the message behind the literal words is what’s really important (and that is what symbolism implies), then focusing on a literal interpretation does nothing but divert attention away from the Bible’s real purpose. That is precisely where we find ourselves- "majoring" in literalism and “minoring” in transformative understanding.
Literalism effectively reduces the Bible to an apparently convoluted, randomly organized roadmap to achieved righteousness through knowledge acquisition and process compliance. Stripping the Bible of its mystical, underlying elements make it into something akin to a scientific textbook. According to these laws, when you follow these steps, this is the prescribed result. That is true, as far as it goes; but first we need to know what the Truth is; and that is the mystical part, the essential aspect which is shrouded in symbolism throughout the sacred text.