Is the Bible to be read literally? A lot of it doesn't make sense to me.
The Bible was written over 1500 years ago. The scriptures were taken literally by the people of that time. Today, it seems like its full of poetic verses. One of the reasons for this was the intense feelings that the authors of the scriptures had about what they were writing. Today, we don't speak like that, and unfortunately, we do not have the intense feelings for the Lords word. Today, we are very much 'out of touch' with the scriptures.
Although the scriptures are meant to be taken literally, there are a lot of verses that are meant to be 'figures of speech'. So, the main reason we should take the bible literally is because It is Gods word. However, sometimes these ‘figures of speech make it hard to interpret what is being said. For example, consider when Jesus preached to the disciples. He spoke in parables most of the time. When first reading the Bible, the language seems almost 'cryptic'. In fact at one point the disciples asked;
".....Why do you speak in parables? He answered and said to them, Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever has to him, more will be given and he will have abundance, but who ever does not have, even what he has, will be taken away. Therefore I speak in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand." Mathew 13:10-13
So, what is being said here, and in reading other verses on this subject, if you believe and ask God to help you understand, more will be revealed to you. If you do not believe, then it is intentionally meant to be kept from your understanding. if you are a believer seeking God's wisdom, the Holy Spirit will reveal God's word "more will be given to you", but if you are not a believer, then His Spirit will not be with you to give you the wisdom to understand ("hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand").
There are several things to consider in taking the Bible literally. First is in how to interpret the figures of speech mentioned above correctly. Secondly, having an accurate understanding of a verse in its context as it was written and consideration of the literary and historical forms must be considered. Lastly, by referring it to the original language when necessary. If you ignore any of these aspects, you can get some pretty strange ideas of what is being said. Some of which would be outright wrong. As an example, on the Bible Study section of this site, the verse in Luke 14:26 is given. If you take the English translation of this as it written literally without referring to the original language, it would appear that Jesus is telling us to Hate our families. But if you get the correct reference to the word hate in the original Greek language, you'll see this is not what the word hate means.
Some will argue, that the wording in the Bible is so simple to understand that even a child can understand it. The things necessary for salvation; the things 'essential' to scripture are in fact this way. However, a lot of it is not. No child for instance could properly interpret the last few chapters in the Book Daniel for example, or the book of Revelation. In fact the Bible tells us these are difficult things to understand. So, only after correct interpretation of both the language and the context of the scriptures as it is written, can and should the Bible be taken literally. To do this requires much more study than just reading the Bible at face value.