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Determining literal and figurative scripture

Discussion in 'Biblical Debates' started by Searcher of Light, Nov 27, 2005.

  1. Searcher of Light

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    For centuries there has been debates about various scripture passages concerning their literal and figurative readings. Some passages are fairly clear cut. Others are open to debate, such as Revelation, Daniel, Genesis, and various other passages. How is literal or figurative intrepretation determined? For instance, Revelation is often viewed to be entirely literal, entirely figurative, or, as i see it, a combination of both. What determines what parts of it are literal or figurative?

    To clarify the 2 words to be examined:

    literal[size=-1]actual: being or reflecting the essential or genuine character of something; "her actual motive"; "a literal solitude like a desert"- G.K.Chesterton; "a genuine dilemma"
    without interpretation or embellishment; "a literal depiction of the scene before him"
    limited to the explicit meaning of a word or text; "a literal translation"
    <li>avoiding embellishment or exaggeration (used for emphasis); "it's the literal truth"
    wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn[/size]
    figurative
    [size=-1](used of the meanings of words or text) not literal; using figures of speech; "figurative language"
    <li>figural: consisting of or forming human or animal figures; "a figural design"; "the figurative art of the humanistic tradition"- Herbert Read
    wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn[/size]
    Is any scripture literal or does it all contain embellishment?

    I define figurative and literal scripture based on historical styles and context of the wording and the time period it was written. For example. I view Revelation as mostly figurative. The literal reading of the book concerning the End is illogical:

    1) chapter 1 speaks that what was written in the book was to shortly come to pass. When Jesus said the same about the destruction of the temple, it id shortly come to pass - within a few years.

    2) when read in context of the apoclyptic writing tradition of time, such as Daniel and other works found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the figurative nature of the language becomes apparent.

    3) in a prophectic level, Revelation completes itself when a person studies the history of the Roman empire up to its collapse.

    4) literally reading Revelation would contradict what Jesus stated about the End- that is will come as a thief in the night. in other words it will happen without warning. Literally reading Revelation would suggest the world would have ample warning and signs.
     
  2. Buttons*

    Buttons* Glass half Panda'd

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    for your #1. you have to think about it this way and ask these questions: a.) When was the temple destroyed, which date? b.) when was the book written about the temple?

    The reason for asking these questions is because if the book or letter was written after the destruction of the temple, then the story could be made to fit the event itself. As far as other things go... i havent looked into them, so to talk about them would be just silly.

    Personally i believe that everything in the Bible is figurative... *shrugs*
     
  3. Scuba Pete

    Scuba Pete Le plongeur avec attitude...

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    It also depends on the perceived reality.

    Much of the Old Testament was written in Blog style. There was an oral tradition of these "Blogs" handed down, but after all is said and done, they represent the reality of those undergoing the events recorded. Both theists and atheists want to hold to a literal rendition of these books, when this only distorts the original intent: to bring about FAITH. This is indeed a dis-service for all involved as we hold the scriptures to an unreal standard.

    To whit: the Bible NEVER claims to be without error. Sure, it claims to be inspired and so it is: but that is not the same thing as being "without error". In fact, God makes a point in working through imperfection. Look at David, or Saul, or even Peter. Consider Paul: he wrote MUCH of the New Testament and yet he claimed to be the "Chief among Sinners". Are we speculating that HE could not make a mistake when he clearly admitted as much?

    I am CERTAIN that I will be vilified as a Godless Christian, but nothing could be further from the truth. Unlike most, I certainly WON'T put words in God's mouth. Consider this passage:

    Hebrews 1:1 In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. NIV
     
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  4. may

    may Well-Known Member

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    how does it contradict Jesus , no one knows the day or hour when armaggedon will happen . but we are now inthe time period leading up to armaggedon and we have a choice as to which side to put ourselves Gods or the world the last days have been around since 1914 which is when jesus was made king of Gods heavenly kingdom ,but that war of the great day of Jehovah ,well noone knows the hour but it is near all the signs are here , no contradiction.
     
  5. michel

    michel Administrator Emeritus
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    I agree, to me the O.T is like Emmental - full of holes; I agree with your description of it, and am sure the content was passed orally from father to son, each generation adding his embelishments................
     
  6. angellous_evangellous

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    1) chapter 1 speaks that what was written in the book was to shortly come to pass. When Jesus said the same about the destruction of the temple, it id shortly come to pass - within a few years.

    I would stetch this out to include chs 1-3.

    2) when read in context of the apoclyptic writing tradition of time, such as Daniel and other works found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the figurative nature of the language becomes apparent.

    When read in the context of the apocalyptic writing of the time, all of Revelation can be read within its social context. The entire book addresses the Christian response to the Roman Empire just like the Essenes and other religious groups used apocalyptic: such a powerful political force had to be overthrown by God in a cosmological re-ordering of political power.

    3) in a prophectic level, Revelation completes itself when a person studies the history of the Roman empire up to its collapse.

    I agree.

    4) literally reading Revelation would contradict what Jesus stated about the End- that is will come as a thief in the night. in other words it will happen without warning. Literally reading Revelation would suggest the world would have ample warning and signs.

    You are reading Revelation literally if you can identify fulfillment in the Roman Empire. It is literal in the same sense if the synbolic langauge of the book can be identified at any time in history.
     
  7. Quiddity

    Quiddity UndertheInfluenceofGiants

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    It is common for a non-believer to use hermeneutics rather then exegesis. No different then reading Peter Pan for them. For laymen catholics isn't about getting the correct exegetical method/interpretation. But rather coming to understand a teaching that gets you to interpret the Bible correctly. Oral Tradition comes first, sciptural interpretation comes second. Not in a subordinate type of way, but just in regards to the order. This makes the world of difference.

    ~Victor
     
  8. Searcher of Light

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    Netdoc, you have a valid point. The more I study history, the more I see overwrites in Scripture and other contradictions. Inspiration does not make it perfect because of the human element.

    What sign does a thief give us before they break in? If the end times are now, why do the epistles imply the apostles expected the end to come in their lifetime?

    Thanks for the corrections, Angellous. I should really visit the forum when I am more awake :eek:.

    You have a good point about my 4th item. I should have clarified myself by stating Premillenialistic interpretation.

    Victor has a point about finding a teaching to interpret Scripture correctly. However, who is the say that teaching is correct? Of course that is a matter of faith as well. Oral tradition did precede the writings we call scripture. Again, is the tradition to be take literal or figuratively? What gives us cues to understand what is literal and what is figurative?

    History can often show us what is literal and what is figurative, but without history is their any other way?
     
  9. Quiddity

    Quiddity UndertheInfluenceofGiants

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    You have 2 options:
    1. You decide and proclaim all
    2. The Church decides and proclaims all

    Tradition should be taken literal and as truth.

    The Church for me.

    Without the Church and history I can't see how.

    ~Victor
     
  10. Scuba Pete

    Scuba Pete Le plongeur avec attitude...

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    Victor,

    I would suggest that MORE IMPORTANT than either the individual OR the church (whichever you ascribe to) that the most important facilitator to our understanding is our Counselor: the Spirit of the Living God.

    I Corinthians 2:6 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 However, as it is written:
    "No eye has seen,
    no ear has heard,
    no mind has conceived
    what God has prepared for those who love him"— 10 but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. NIV

    It's why Jesus promised him to us! The scripture continues:

    I Corinthians 2: The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. 14 The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment:
    16
    "For who has known the mind of the Lord
    that he may instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ.
    NIV

    What an incredible promise! That we can indeed have the mind of Christ as we listen to the Spirit of God! Here is where jesus promised him to us:

    John 14:25 "All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. NIV

    Men are imperfect, as is the church which is composed of men. The Spirit, however, is supremely perfect and is able to help us understand: not just on an intelectual level, but deep down in our souls!
     
  11. Quiddity

    Quiddity UndertheInfluenceofGiants

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    But of course ND. Although reason, history, and the Bible lead me to conclude that the Holy Spirit is at works in me and the Church (magesterial to be more specific). It is obvious to me that I can misinterpret scripture and absolutely nothing to bring me back if I get stubborn or think I'm right. This "me, my bible, and the HS" is a formula that is practiced by millions who disagree with various doctrines that even you and I would discount as errouneous. The Church was always involved in making doctrinal decisions (Acts 15). And of course the HS was involved in the decision making.
    Why have people choosen to deviate from that? So many reasons I suppose.

    ~Victor
     
  12. Scuba Pete

    Scuba Pete Le plongeur avec attitude...

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    Victor,

    While God is perfect, no man is! In fact, no church is (just read Revelations to see this!). We seem to feel that God is going to be checking out nuances of doctrine when it boils down to how we adhere to two doctrines: Love God and Love Everyone Else.

    David was a man after God's own heart, and yet look at his eggregious sins that came from his lust for Bathsheeba. Moses was the humblest man on earth and yet he was not allowed to enter the Promised land. Did God abandon them? Not according to Hebrews 10, 11 and 12. God embraced these sinful man AS THEY WERE. In their weaknesses, God's power was made known to the world.

    Jesus is not the saviour of the Godly: they don't need one. Rather, he is the saviour of the sinners, the tax collecters, the whores and best of all: me, the worst of the lot. We need a God that can look past our defects and see us as worth something in his Kingdom. Jesus takes me as I am and then through the power of his Spirit continually transcends me into his likeness! Amen!

    Do we all need to agree? As much as we can but it is not essential that we understand every nuance exactly the same way. There will always be those more mature about our faith. There will always be those willing to go out on a limb, spiritually. It's OK that they are our spiritual heroes, but they can't be our priests. Each of us needs our own relationship to Jesus and to God.
     
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  13. Searcher of Light

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    Victor:
    Why should tradition be taken that way? If a person goes by time, than we should be following Judiaic instead of Christian traditions because they are far older. As for the idea that the Church decides what is literal and figurative, I stand with NetDoc's view. The Church is not a seperate entity apart from any of us. It is the people that makes the Church not just clergy, scholars, etc. Did not God trust his Truths to the uneducated in the past? Why can that not continue today?

    I do agree with you that the Church is a good source to seperate literal and figurative writings along with history. However, I disagree that the Church has prominance over the individual because of reasons stated already. The institution of the Church cannot be a Christian for a person. Only that person can be a Christian. Therefore, it is up to that person to learn. I do admire your faith in the Church's truthfulness. That is something that is quite beyond me.
     
  14. Quiddity

    Quiddity UndertheInfluenceofGiants

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    ND, I think it was my failure to explain to you that when I see doctrine, I see Christ. How can I not? So when you say that God will not be checking nuances I think He will do just that. He will check to see if He sees Himself in you. Too Love God you must know Him. To know Him fuller, you must understand Him. To understand Him I go to doctrine. God is trying to change us, and I think this is often missed above God's Mercy which is of course also important.

    Amen!! And so often it's missed that God revelead truth to man THRU MAN. He did it back then and He can do it now [although I think public revelation ended with John]. It is the HS living in the Church to preserve truth.

    And who are these "godly"? God comes to saves all wish to persue a relationship with Him. A relationship with conditions and unconditional Love. I'm sure we agree here.

    I've got you beat...:(

    Without getting to deep into soteriology, I will say that I agree but would question whether we fully agree on a persons literal tranformation. Which may be an area of disagreement.

    I think so - 1 Peter 3:8 - be of one mind
    This, I think speaks of doctrine ie. becoming Christ-like.

    I have my own relationship ND and I'm sure you do too. But I think what's being missed is that I CANNOT grow in heresy. I cannot grow if I got it wrong. See what I mean?

    In Christ
    ~Victor
     
  15. Scuba Pete

    Scuba Pete Le plongeur avec attitude...

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    You know, I think he has a FAR different test in mind:

    Matthew 25:34 "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

    37 "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' 40 "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' NIV

    You see, Jesus taught us that the entire law was reduced to just two commands: Love him, and Love everyone else!

    Obviously, we see the church from radically different view points. You seem to see it as more of a governing body: a synod. I see as the collection of believers: the ecclesia. While they certainly can (and should) vote on various matters (as did the first century church), the real role of the church is to bring praise to God and not in changing/determining doctrine. We only have two commandments to really worry about. All decisions and actions should be done with these two commands at the forefront.

    Ephesians 3:7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God's grace given me through the working of his power. 8 Although I am less than the least of all God's people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. 13 I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory. NIV
     
  16. may

    may Well-Known Member

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    because Jesus coming into kingdom power ,as King of Gods heavenly kingdom, was invisible to human eyes it was going on in the heavenly realm so he left us signs mentioned in matthew 24 those signs that he left us are happening now and have been happening on a worldwide scale since 1914. also itsthrough bible chronology and prophecy so the point is just as a thief comes at a time that you do nor expect , if jesus followers fall asleep and do not recognize the signs they will be caught out when armmagedon comes because they did not recgonize the signs that jesus was in kingdom power
    Jesus himself foretold what to look for so that we could determine our position in relation to, as the Bible puts it, "the conclusion of the system of things." This is recorded in Matthew chapters 24 and 25, Mark 13, and Luke 21. Also, as recorded in 2 Timothy chapter 3, the apostle Paul foretold that there would be a period of time called "the last days" when various events would further verify where we are in the stream of time
    Another prophecy showing that the end of this system is very near was given by the apostle Paul, who foretold: "Jehovah’s day is coming exactly as a thief in the night. Whenever it is that they are saying: ‘Peace and security!’ then sudden destruction is to be instantly upon them . . . , and they will by no means escape."—1 Thessalonians 5:2, 3; see also Luke 21:34, 35.


     
  17. Quiddity

    Quiddity UndertheInfluenceofGiants

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    I should have asked from the beggining what you meant by "nuances". I now realize that you truly are talking about non-doctrinal issues. With that said, I agree with you there.

    ~Victor
     
  18. Quiddity

    Quiddity UndertheInfluenceofGiants

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    Goes by time? Truth transecends a book or a church. But it is through both that it works through.

    You must think I disagree agree with you. When I said the "Church" I was talking about those who make decisions [clergy]. But of course the church encompasses more then just them.

    Absolutely !!! But they were still men. Who do you think most laymen/normal joes followed in the early years when there was no actual Bible? Hint: MEN...

    It's still continuing and that's my point.

    Good Luck then...

    Never said they should. You will be held accountable individually.

    That's fine, but I hope you see that this is historical, biblical, and reasonable to do so.

    ~Victor
     
  19. Searcher of Light

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    I very much agree with that.

    I have always been bothered by the idea that just a handful of men can determine what is truth or lies, literal or figurative. I understand not all RCs, Baptists, etc believe such, but I have been exposed to only those that blindly follow a churches doctrine without studying for themselves.

    An excellent point. My sola scriptura background still clouds my ability to see things in historical ways. The more I read about texts contemporary to Scripture, the more I realize Scripture is not completely accurate. Inspired yes, untainted by overwriting and political influence no. Yes, I am starting to see it is reasonable to follow the Church's understandings, but always with the possibility in mind that the men in the Church could be incorrect. Of course, one should aways be open to the possibility that themselves are incorrect as well.

    Another question arises: In what ways do various churches determine what is literal and figurative?

    may, how do you determine that the scripture you listed are literal and apply to the here and now?
    Here is my background on what and why I think Matthew 24 is figurative:
    In my reading, all of the signs Jesus listed are nothing special. They have been going on before He was born and continued after His death. Nothing He states is particularly original or "armeggedon" proportions. Which supports the idea that time will flow the same as it always had until the end surprises us. The signs Jesus lists are figurative in the way I read them because of this idea and because He was teaching in parables for most of that section. Context would place the signs in the parable teaching technique. Also, Jesus was following a long tradition of the apocolyptic style. Pharisee writings from the time state similar things as He does in the gospels. As do the Dead Sea Scrolls and other Jewish texts.
     
  20. may

    may Well-Known Member

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    For nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be food shortages and earthquakes in one place after another. 8 All these things are a beginning of pangs of distress matthew 24;3-4........... this is the start of the last days ,this was in 1914 when the first world war broke out, this was the start of the last days . sincere bible students knew from bible chronology and bible prophecy that 1914 was a very significant date , in fact they knew that something was to happen at this date but it was not until later on with lots more study of the bible that they realized that Jesus being made king of Gods kingdom in the heavens was invisible to us on the earth ,but we are now seeing the rest of the signs on a global scale one of the signs along with the rest is a fullfillment of matthew 24;14

    And this good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come...matthew 24;14 this is being accomplished on a world wide scale and the good news is that Jesus has been made king of the heavenly kingdom . it is being annouced every where . so all the signs are coming true among a certain generation of people .

    Truly I say to you that this generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur...matthew 24;34

    this generation of people will have certain ways and attitudes

    TheJewish generation that called for the blood of Jesus met its end. What, then, of the ruinous generation of mankind that even now opposes or ignores him? When will judgment on this faithless generation be executed? ...We dont know the day or the hour but it will come on this faithless generation of people who do not recognize Jesus kingship in the heavens

    the term "generation" as used by Jesus refers principally to contemporary people of a certain historical period, with their identifying characteristics.....so dont miss the signs

     
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