There are two sides to the “Do you take the Bible literally?” challenge. The first, addressed in Speak Your Mind, Literally, addresses the issue of differentiating between literal and non-literal Bible passages and identifying figures of speech apart from a historical or biographical narrative. The other side of that coin is application (or non-application) of Old Testament Laws, such as found in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. It is charged by the skeptic that unless the Christian is supportive of capital punishment for adulterers, practicing homosexuals, or disobedient children etc. that he is not taking the Bible literally. The Christian is accused of ‘picking and choosing’ which parts of the Bible they adhere to and which they reject as matters of convenience. Is this a fair and accurate charge? Do Christians really turn a blind eye to the distasteful commands of the Bible?
The most difficult aspect of the explanation is that it is theological in nature. Since skeptics (broadly speaking) will generally reject religious theology, the answer will typically not be satisfactory.
First we need to recognize that there is a difference between the Old (OT) and New Testaments (NT), and what that difference is. The Old Testament or Covenant, was God’s Covenant establishing, separating, and procuring means of salvation for a people He chose, Israel.
Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of the discussion by skeptics is they do not understand the relationship the OT has with the NT. The OT is basically a contract with the nation of Israel. This contract like any other contract is valid and applicable only to the parties to whom the contract is given. The OT was part of the Nation of Israel’s theocratic government. To gain a full understanding of the relationship between OT Israel and NT believers please read: Laying Down The Law which explains the difference between OT Israel, and NT Christianity. Laying Down The Law details why no longer observing certain OT laws is not arbitrary; and I urge the reader to also read the comment section.
So what we have by the skeptic is a category mistake. Equating OT Israel with NT Christians and expecting a New Covenant people to abide by Old Covenant judicial laws used to govern and keep separate a particular people group is a misunderstanding of Biblical theology. While the sin aspect of such things as adultery, homosexual behavior, and disobedience to parents has not been done away with, the judicial enforcement of punishments by the government associated with them has.