Suggesting that “I just read the Bible literally” is often used as a trump card in debates, especially over issues like differing interpretations of the Genesis narratives or apocalyptic literature like Revelation. The assumption being made is that one person is taking the text seriously – literally – while the other is twisting it to fit their theological agenda.
I’ve seen this play out in pop-theology quite often, and even promoted as the only faithful hermeneutic for approaching the Scriptures by some theologians. But even though it has a certain surface level appeal, I’ve come to believe this is an inherently problematic way to frame the issue. For one thing, it often takes for granted that a “literal” reading that is obvious to us in the 21st century would be anything like how the original readers would have understood the text; for another it begs the question what do we mean by “literal” in the first place?
In this clip from BioLogos N.T. Wright and Peter Enns discuss the term literal, and how interpreting the Biblical text might not be quite that simple.