It depends on what we mean by "literally." For the sake of clarity, I will use the modern definition of this term: The literal is contrasted with the figurative or poetic use. In this sense, none of us read the entirety of the Bible literally. For example:
· So Jesus again said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.” (John 10:7)
Is Jesus literally a rectangular wooden door with a handle? Of course, not! Instead, He often taught figuratively. He also instructed His disciples to pluck out their eye and cut off their hands if it causes them to sin. Clearly, no one takes these teachings literally.
Instead, we try to understand the Bible in the way it was intended. I think that Jesus was telling His disciples that:
· It is better to maim yourself physically than spiritually through a life devoted to sin.
Why this conclusion? If we take His teaching literally, it claims that if we maim ourselves, we can stop sinning. This interpretation is not Biblically or even realistically possible. All maimed people share the same sin problem.
We can resolve many apparent contradictions when we interpret a verse in a more figurative sense. For example, the Bible claims that all have sinned (Romans 3:23). The skeptic, taking the Bible literally, will claim:
· You see, the Bible contradicts itself. It says "all have sinned," but it also it also claims that Jesus never sinned.
The skeptic can only conclude that this is a contradiction when he interprets the Bible stiffly rather than organically, as a whole. When we interpret with sensitivity, we understand that Jesus is in a category all His own.
This demonstrates that in order to correctly interpret any single verse, we also need to have a correct interpretation of the whole.
Are we making special allowances for the Bible? No! Instead, this is the way we interpret all literature.