Bible verse used in podcast:
- Isaiah 55:12
- 1Co 15:12-17
- Act 2:36
- 2Ti 2:8
- 1Co 3:16-17
- 1Co 6:17-20
- John 3:4-6
- Psa 17:8
- Psalm 91:3-4
- Matthew 19:23-24, Mark 10:24-25, Luke 18:24-25
- Matthew 27:57
- Genesis 41:37-44, Daniel 2:48, 2 Chronicles 1:9-12
- 1 Timothy 6:10
- Matthew 6:24
Having a literal interpretation
Is the Bible literal or figurative? On the one hand, the Bible has literal places and real people. It talks about historic battles and describes buildings that did exist. Then you get to some verse with a literal interpretation and you get into a problem.
12 “For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.Isaiah 55:12 ESV
Do the mountains really sing? Obviously trees don’t have hands. So what do you do about this? First, let’s explore the literal interpretation and see what we get out of it. It is clear that some things are expressly literal. For instance, it is clear that Jesus literally died, if not we have a serious problem. In 1 Corinthians Paul is addressing this idea about whether or not Jesus went through a literal death.
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.1 Corinthians 15:12-17 ESV
When looking at this, if Jesus literally didn’t raise from the dead, then we have a large problem. Our whole idea of Christianity has major problems with it. When you look at other verses, the writers of the new testament make arguments with the assumption that their audience was actually live and see some of the events. If not physically there, it was something they were supposed to already know as a fact.
36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.Acts 2:36 ESV
8 Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, – 2 Timothy 2:8 ESV2 Timothy 2:8 ESV
There are other issues that come up too. Like for instance, the holy spirit living in us. What does that mean? If we take it as a symbolic idea that Jesus reigns in our hearts and it is a metaphor for God is always with us, we get problems. When you read some of the language about the spirit living in us it raises some questions about how serious the writers meant some of these things. (2 Timothy 1:14, Acts 6:5, Romans 8:1, John 16:13, Romans 8:9-15, Ezekiel 36:27)
16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.1 Corinthians 3:16-17 ESV
17 But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.1 Corinthians 6:17-20 ESV
4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.John 3:4-6 ESV
This idea of having the spirit in us is a major issue. It is a reason we need to take care of our bodies. So one might say that could still just be a symbolic idea, but in John 3, if you don’t have the spirit you don’t go to heaven? There are a lot of questions about what that means, but if we are just saying this is symbolic there are literal and real implications of that. Just reading the text, the writers don’t seem to take it so lightly.
Extreme literal interpretation
There are some issues that come from taking a completely literal interpretation. For instance, if everything is literal, what about every detail that we see talked about God?
8 Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings,Psalm 17:8 ESV
3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. 4 He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.Psalm 91:3-4 ESV
If you take a literal interpretation you might be tempted to look for at least one more verse to confirm this and then start the church of the holy chicken. But then you ask yourself, what about when in Genesis 1 it says we are made in the image of God? How can God literally have wings and we literally be made in his image if we don’t have wings?
Another problem comes about when looking at some of Jesus’ teaching. Some are rather extreme and if he is talking about this in a literal way, this is pretty extreme.
26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. 27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.Matthew 5:26-30 ESV
Is Jesus telling us to cut off our body parts? It would be extremely easy to lose all body parts if you have to cut them off whenever you sin. As a side note, there is an observation that can be made. Notice how at first he talks about the lust of the heart, the lust of the eye, and offense of the hand. Let’s say that cutting off your hand is the solution, it is a physical gate to sin that you can “shut.” Now the question is, what about the heart? On the one hand, if it is a literal heart you would die. If it is figuratively talking about the inward self then it would be like destroying yourself. There is no way to shut “the inner ward gate” other than completely destroying it. Instead, the changing need to be a complete transformation of the inward self.
Reading into literal interpretations
There is another danger that comes with a literal interpretation. What happens if you don’t cross reference your ideas? For instance, let’s start with a simple passage of what Jesus is saying:
20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. 23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”Matthew 19:20-24 ESV [Mark 10:17-25, Luke 18:218-25]
Often from this, we get the interpretation that we shouldn’t have a lot of money and we should live simple lives. Of course, what does it mean to live “simply?” ignore this, Are we all supposed to be poor? Does God want us to take all the money we have, use enough of it to meet our needs, and give the rest away? On one level, yes, but on the full extreme, no. If you try to find other instances of this being put into practice in the Bible it falls apart. For instance, Jesus had a disciple who was rich.
57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus.Matthew 27:57 ESV
Not to mention this becomes a problem. God turned several people in the Bible into wealthy, rich people.
37 This proposal pleased Pharaoh and all his servants. 38 And Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” 39 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. 40 You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.” 41 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” 42 Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain about his neck. 43 And he made him ride in his second chariot. And they called out before him, “Bow the knee!” Thus he set him over all the land of Egypt.Genesis 41:37-43 ESV
46 Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face and paid homage to Daniel, and commanded that an offering and incense be offered up to him. 47 The king answered and said to Daniel, “Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery.” 48 Then the king gave Daniel high honors and many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon. 49 Daniel made a request of the king, and he appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego over the affairs of the province of Babylon. But Daniel remained at the king’s court.Daniel 2:46-49 ESV
You might say, well God didn’t give them this wealth directly. This is true, but God gave them the gift and because of their abilities, the people of the world gave them wealth. Now let’s look at an even worse example. God gave wealth to Solomon:
9 O LORD God, let your word to David my father be now fulfilled, for you have made me king over a people as numerous as the dust of the earth. 10 Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can govern this people of yours, which is so great?” 11 God answered Solomon, “Because this was in your heart, and you have not asked for possessions, wealth, honor, or the life of those who hate you, and have not even asked for long life, but have asked for wisdom and knowledge for yourself that you may govern my people over whom I have made you king, 12 wisdom and knowledge are granted to you. I will also give you riches, possessions, and honor, such as none of the kings had who were before you, and none after you shall have the like.”2 Chronicles 1:9-12 ESV
How can God give Solomon wealth if having excess wealth is against what Jesus preached? If you follow the story Solomon, although wise, makes bad decisions, and because God gave him wealth, he has the ability to do it lavishly. If wealth is bad then God gave Solomon something that will ultimately cause him to destroy himself. This can’t be the case, looking at Daniel and Joseph, they had wealth and they were not destroyed. There is another issue that is at play, not just having wealth:
9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.1 Timothy 6:9-10 ESV
The issue is that the love of money, or desiring money is the problem. It goes back to the 10 commandments. The issue is whether or not money becomes your idol. In the case of Daniel and Joseph, they did not make money as their idol. They were in a foreign land, with an opposite culture, opposing religion and an easy environment to slip into temptation. But while in this, they still followed God personally regardless of their culture and family being a factor. Yet we ask ourselves, why doesn’t God give us money? On the one hand, if he did, would you still serve him? If you say, “how if I had money I would be better off to serve you,” what happens if you get the money? Would you still follow God or would it be easy to forget why you wanted him? Do you just want God simply because he fixes your problems? If you had all the money you needed would you be the God of your world?
Of course, that is just looking at a literal interpretation and fixing it with a literal interpretation. But now the question lingers, does the Bible have any figurative meaning?