Os Guinness on Reading Scripture Faithfully

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May 15, 2010 Tags: Biblical Interpretation

Today's video features Os Guinness. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.


In this video, Os Guinness continues the dialogue regarding how Christians read scripture, and points out the common misconception that a choice must be made between reading scripture literally or faithfully.

Guinness suggests that the trend toward literalism can be illustrated by contemporary pollsters who query evangelicals as to how they read the Bible, that is, whether they believe it to be “literally” true.

Many respond in the affirmative—but what they likely mean is that they read the Bible faithfully, as opposed to literally. Guinness offers an example from Psalms that reads “The mountains skipped like rams” and points out that no one interprets this passage in a literal, wooden way. Instead, readers recognize it as metaphor––figurative language used to paint a picture, not language intended to transmit a literal history of events.

One of the advances in hermeneutics during the Reformation was the understanding that the Bible should be read in accordance with its collected genres.  That is, history should be read historically; law should be read legally; and poetry should be read poetically. Christians today know this, but in an effort to remain faithful to their faith and the Bible, they have boxed themselves in by trying to defend a literal reading—even when this is not in keeping with Christian tradition.

Commentary written by the BioLogos editorial team.


Os Guinness is an author, social critic, and founder of the Trinity Forum. He has been a guest scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Studies and a guest scholar and visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. He is a frequent speaker at political and business conferences around the world and has written or edited more than 25 books.

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Ron Krumpos - #14056

May 18th 2010

A “literal” reading of the New and Old Testaments would be difficult at best. The descriptions, analogies, parables, and other wordings were directed to readers in a historical, cultural and personal society which was extraordinarily different from the lives of people today.

Also there is the question of translation, which most literal readers prefer to ignore. The New Testament was written in Koine Greek from Aramaic and Hebrew oral traditions handed down through hundreds of years. Some question how faithful to the original those written texts were.

There have been numerous English translations - both literal and idiomatic - which were colored by the mindset of the people when they were written. So to with translations of the Bible in other European, Asian and African languages. Have you ever read multiple translations of the same book from another language? They quite often differ in both words and phrasing.


Afi N. Binta - #41190

November 23rd 2010

...As a literary composition, the Bible include various forms of literature, history, biography, poetry, proverbial sayings, hymns, letters, directions for elaborate ritualistic worship, laws, parables, riddles, allegories, prophecy, drama, and all other forms of human expression.  They embrace all manner of literary styles. ...”
God’s Word is seed Luke 8:11; water Ephesians 5:26; and light Psalm 119:130.  What does a farmer do with his seed?  Isaiah 55:1-3; 10-11; NLT
Proverbs 2:1-7:  My son, IF you receive MY words, and treasure My commands within you, so that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; Yes, IF you cry out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding, IF you seek wisdom as silver, and search for wisdom as for hidden treasures; Then you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.  For the Lord gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding…Romans 10:17 says faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.
Continuous action hearing, you hearing yourself say what God says about you in His Word on a daily basis.  1st Thessalonians 5:23 ...spirit, soul, and body…
God’s Word is food for our spirit man, Gen 1:11-12;


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