Who decides if a verse is literal, and what parts of the Bible are metaphorical?

To discuss this topic fully would be to recap centuries of hermeneutics (i.e. how the Bible can be interpreted). There is plentiful scripture that addresses this question specifically, so perhaps that is a good place to start — though this, too, would require many hours of discussion and copious references. So, for the sake of brevity and as a general overview, I’ll offer you these few guiding principles for consideration:

1. Scripture is often multivalent — it can sometimes be literal, sometimes figurative, sometimes poetic, sometimes prescriptive, sometimes exhorting, sometimes evocative, and so on. So quite often it is the level of understanding the reader has — and their level of spiritual or moral development — that will determine what a given passage “means” for them. This is not to say interpretation is subjective — not at all. It is just that scripture will actually have a different meaning based on the stage of a given person’s spiritual journey. This applies to both Old and New testaments scripture.

2. According to Christ and many New Testament teachings, there are additional components of Christian understanding where scripture are concerned — including active interventions by holy spirit. In other words, holy spirit assists believers in understanding the deeper meanings of scripture, beyond its surface reading.

3. Having a consistent hermeneutic is very helpful for understanding scripture over time. In the first chapter of my book, A Progressive’s Guide to the New Testament, I cover what I believe to be a reliable but simplified hermeneutic. This combines and balances four methods of interpretation:

A. Analytical (author’s intent, context, language, cumulative NT references, and early Christian acceptance and application)
B. Intuitive (inner inquiry and invocation)
C. Experiential (discernment through practice, and discipleship); and
D. Participatory (dialogue, communal insight, and communal experience)

4. One component of the analytical approach has been particularly helpful for me, and that is delving into the Koine Greek of the original texts of the New Testament — and to a lesser degree the Hebrew of the Old Testament. An interlinear, an exhaustive Greek lexicon, learning the Greek alphabet, and understanding the basics of grammar can illuminate passages that were previously very difficult to understand.

5. As mentioned initially, understanding the history of Biblical interpretation can be extremely helpful in working through this question. It is, of course, a rather involved area of study, but for me it was worthwhile. Perhaps it will be for you too.

My 2 cents.


Trackback specific URI for this entry

This link is not meant to be clicked. It contains the trackback URI for this entry. You can use this URI to send ping- & trackbacks from your own blog to this entry. To copy the link, right click and select "Copy Shortcut" in Internet Explorer or "Copy Link Location" in Mozilla.

No Trackbacks


Display comments as Linear | Threaded

No comments

The author does not allow comments to this entry