A Quick Example of How to Read the Bible "Literally"

Mark 4:1 in the KJV reads, "And he began again to teach by the sea side: and there was gathered unto him a great multitude, so that he entered into a ship, and sat in the sea; and the whole multitude was by the sea on the land."

Consider the words "and sat in the sea." What a strange image develops if we were to ignore all else and focus on those words alone! Jesus walks on the water, so does He now sit on or in it? Or, perhaps a sandbar kept His body aloft in the water.

No, of course not.

You might rightly note the immediate context says, "he entered into a ship, and sat in the sea." So, does this mean that He sat in a leaky boat? Perhaps as the boat filled, He "sat in the sea."

No, no, no.

Just because we could get a unique meaning out of a verse by reading the words in such a way doesn't mean that we are reading the Bible "literally." It isn't applying meanings that no one has ever interpreted it as saying. It isn't ripping a verse out of context and giving it an innovative meaning.

Someone could counter with a lexical analysis. Doesn't the verb refer to "he," which in turn refers to Jesus? What is "sea" but the water of the Sea of Galilee? Doesn't "in" mean, well, "in?" It clearly seems that the phrase "sat in the sea" means that Jesus delivered some soggy parables.

(Actually, the Greek proposition en means "on," depending on context, but let's consider something else.)

We need to understand how words are used, considering how people communicate and speak. For instance, consider the last time you went fishing. You may have said something like this: "We took my boat, went out into the water, and fished yesterday morning." The image is clear, and even though it is a possible interpretation, no reasonable person would imagine you driving to the lake, leaving the boat on land, and then diving in the early morning lake with fishing lines in tow.

Perhaps this has been a silly example, but there's a real temptation to interpret strange doctrines based on a single verse or a snippet of a line. Indeed, many false teachings, prophecies, and movements have been sparked by a strange reading of an out-of-context reading of Scripture.

We read the Bible as the Author intended it to be read. In other words, to read the Bible "literally" is to read it according to its literary purpose, seeking the understanding that the Author communicated originally.

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