I figure I should start with clarifying the view I take towards truth and “literal” truth in the Bible. First, I do believe the Bible is true – but I probably take a different view of truth than many, because I think that there are several things that modify the concept of truth in the Bible.
First and foremost, I believe that while the Bible is God’s word, it was written by and in the voice of the various authors he gave it to. This means that to get at the “truth” of something, you have to filter it through that author’s words. My favorite example is the star of Bethlehem. Was it really a fixed point of light in the sky in the east, when all the other celestial objects in our sky rotate east to west? Maybe – God is certainly capable – but I find it a lot more likely that it was one of the most spectacular and rarest forms of planetary conjunctions, which would have rotated through the night just like all of the other items in the sky. And when a first century apostle is trying to record what happened and some astrologer points to the east and says, “Well, we saw a star…”, that’s how it got written down. A fair number of people even today would probably write the same thing down in the same way.
The second major lens I see towards finding absolute truth in the Bible is understanding the format of the content being read. Poems, for example, I don’t read as being literally true, but instead poetically true. The biggest bone of contention with this view would be Genesis 1, and I’ll record my thoughts on that later, but it comes into play in other areas as well: Job is a play, for example. So I don’t expect it to be necessarily historically accurate. I also believe that the modern understanding of reading something “literally” is essentially a Greek format, and wasn’t as formalized to the ancient Hebrews.
The third major lens is the one that I think all of us have to fight through: what is the context? In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul instructs women to keep their head covered, but the end of 1 Corinthians 10 is entirely about being culturally sensitive – which can significantly alter the nuance of the command.