Where does biblical literalism come from? What is the genesis, if you will, of the habit of mind that makes many Christians read the Bible with a different brain to the one they’d use with any other writing?

It is by no means an essential Christian tenet. No creed says anything about how to read the scriptures. The highest claim the Bible makes for itself is when the writer of Paul’s letter to Timothy says the Hebrew scriptures were “God-breathed”, which is wonderfully suggestive but hardly precise or dogmatic. I mean, Adam was God-breathed, and look what happened to him.

The Bible is the word of God, Christians believe, but why should the fact it’s God’s mean it has to be read with naive absolutism? Many Christians call the church “the body of Christ” without considering it anything like infallible, or refusing to see its rites as symbolic.

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