Literalness of Scripture

Discussion in 'Baptist Theology & Bible Study' started by Herald, Nov 12, 2011.

  1. Herald

    Herald
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    How literal do you take Scripture? The bible is a conglomeration of grammatical and literary nuance that manifests itself in some of the following:

    • Simile
    • Metaphor
    • Parable
    • Anthropomorphism
    • Poetry
    • Metonymy
    • Synecdoche
    • Paradox
    • Litotes
    • Hyperbole
    • Ellipsis

    ...I can go on.

    I've read a number of posts, in various threads, where the word "all" is debated. Does "all" always mean all (as in every single person or thing), or could it mean all of a group? The answer is yes to both; it all depends on the larger context of the passage. When Jesus is referred to as the Lamb of God or the Bread of Life, are we to suppose he is a woolly four legged animal or an actual loaf of bread? Of course not. But if we interpret a given word on face value, without considering all the variables in the passage/chapter/book, we run the risk of being just as foolish as someone suggesting Jesus is actually a sheep.

    So, what interpretive steps do you take to understand a given text? I have my own hermeneutical principles to share, but I'll wait until this thread plays out a bit (if it does).
     
  2. Earth Wind and Fire

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    I generally ask Van his opinion, then take the opposite position ROFL ....sorry. couldn't resist :laugh:

    Oh fiddlesticks.....:laugh:
     
  3. gb93433

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    Scripture or any other ancient or modern document must be interpreted in light of its historical context.
     
  4. Herald

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    History only, or in addition to literary/grammatical factors?
     
  5. gb93433

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    Historical context includes much more than just literary devices.
     
  6. Herald

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    I understand that; but do you believe in interpreting via historical context in lieu of or in conjunction with literary devices?
     
  7. gb93433

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    Historical context includes those and more. It includes political, economic, and social issues, etc. It includes anything that sheds light on the text. For example, of what is taught in Matthew 18:20 is not prayer, but rather how men learned in Judaism.
     
  8. Herald

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    OK, I'll accept your explanation. I come for a different hermeneutical camp where the two (historical and literary) are seen as separate, but linked, entities.
     
  9. zrs6v4

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    I think this is a great question, in general my rule goes:

    First and foremost keep my eye on God and realize His Spirit is the one who works while not trying to over spiritualize that truth thinking He doesn't use logic in my studies. We must be in tuned with the reality that we are looking at or all causes are lost.

    Second, I take a grammatical-historical approach which simply means my task is to pay special attention to context in given cultures to most accurately discover a plain meaning of the text according to authorial intent. In other words a text cannot mean what the author didn't intend it to mean unless it intends to use figurative language or contains typology, foreshadowing, prophesy, and so forth.

    Questions are a key to life in conversations, teaching, studying, counseling, and so forth so our observation process of study must be our essential step so we don't get caught reading our culture or preconceived notions into the text. Ultimately learning the Scripture is a lifelong process whereby God will, over time, teach us things we can't see or understand at various times due to immaturity, current life situations, or simply a lack of knowledge in ancient language, grammer, and/or history.
     
    #9 zrs6v4, Nov 12, 2011
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  10. freeatlast

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    Context, context, context, and other passages of equal value.
     
  11. gb93433

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    I understand. Literary context also involves history.
     
  12. Greektim

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    Not to be snotty, but what in the world does ellipsis have to do with any of the other categories above. An ellipsis has no bearing on being literal or figural.
     
  13. quantumfaith

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    If someone would be kind enough to define/illustrate each of these for us non theology and non linguistic majors. I struggled through freshman comp and lit.
     
  14. Winman

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    I have always heard when the plain or literal sense of scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense. I believe that is a good rule of interpretation. For example, when Jesus said we must drink his blood and eat his flesh, does that make common sense? No, so this should not be taken literally.

    Another example is Psa 58:3 which says the wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies. Can a newborn baby speak a lie? No, because no newborn has the ability to speak, and also because a lie involves INTENT to deceive. A newborn cannot speak or form these thoughts, so this verse should not be taken literally. Verse 4 says their (the wicked) poison is like the poison of a serpent. Are newborns poisonous like a serpent? No, else breastfeeding would be very dangerous indeed! In verse 6 David pleads for God to break their teeth. Are babies born with teeth? No, so it is obvious these verses are hyperbole and not to be understood literally, they do not make common sense.

    Yet many take Psa 58:3 literally and found doctrine on it. This is error.
     
  15. Herald

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    It has to do with figures of speech and the way sentences are understood. Trust me, many a weird doctrine has been formed because of misunderstandings surrounding sentence structure.
     
  16. MB

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    I do not rely on myself or my interpretation of scripture. I rely on God simply because He is the only one with whom I could ever trust with the effect it has on my soul. There are many ideas men have of scripture yet the only one that really matters is God's ideas. Not interpretation, logic, or our reasoning alone. It is God's holy word. Who is man to try and figure it out by himself? When the Bible says it self "ask and it shall be given" We reason with God together about His Word. He is the instructor. We are empty of this knowledge with God the "arthur and finisher of our faith".
    MB
     
  17. zrs6v4

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    MB,


    Unless i am misunderstanding you, you are missing the implications of what you just said. I guarantee you have some type of interpretation method. If we have no discipline in our interpretation we would do what we want with the text and never know how to interpret anything. I would not dismiss logic, study, or the Spirit. They all work together

    "ask and it shall be given"

    Is it money, happiness, a wife, a car, a million dollars? How do you lnow what will be given?

    Context

    That decides grammer, history, whether it is to be taken literal or not etc..

    A good inductive method to determine context is a study broken in 3 basic parts:

    1st observation
    2nd interpretation
    3rd application

    As you observe you will interpret and as you properly interpret you then will be able to safely apply it.

    Bad observation will mess up context which will mess up interpretation which will give bad application like prosperity gospel.
     
    #17 zrs6v4, Nov 13, 2011
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  18. zrs6v4

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    Certainly, This is my professors piece of work, not mine.

    “Some Thoughts on OT Biblical Poetry”

    If your literary skills are rusty this short summary/worksheet of biblical poetry and various literary figures of speech may knock some of the rust off.


    PARALLELISM

    According to Bullock parallelism is “the heart of Hebrew poetry.” In Hebrew the basic form of poetry is not the end rhyme as you might remember from your grammar school or high school literature class but is parallelism.

    Parallelism “is a literary pattern that states an idea in one line and focuses more closely on the same idea in the following line, either repeating the thought in different terms or focusing on the thought more specifically.”

    I would suggest that in Hebrew poetry the thought of the first line is somehow intensified or heightened in subsequent lines. This method makes a deep impression on the reader as he or she contemplates the relationship between the two lines.

    In your English translation the Song is laid out based on lines. Each verse is divided by individual lines. This is an attempt to capture the nature of biblical poetry (parallelism).

    Different Types of Parallelism

    Synonymous Parallelism: In this type of parallelism the thought pattern of the first line relates to the pattern in successive lines (not exactly but nuanced; similar, intensified but never contradicted).

    Antithetic Parallelism: is parallelism that contrasts thoughts between lines.

    Proverbs has a number of clear examples of Antithetic Parallelism. In your English Bibles it is represented by the pronounced use of “but.”

    Proverbs 15:13-15
    A joyful heart makes a cheerful face,
    But when the heart is sad, the spirit is broken.

    The mind of the intelligent seeks knowledge,
    But the mouth of fools feeds on folly.

    All the days of the afflicted are bad,
    But a cheerful heart has a continual feast.

    Robert Chisholm also believes that parallelism maybe reiterative or synonymous; specifying, complementary; explanatory; progressive or consequential; comparative; and contrastive parallelism. The important issue to remember in parallelism is to determine the relationship between the first and subsequent lines. Sometimes the relationship may not fall into a recognized category.


    Points to Ponder

    Before you proceed, think of ways that parallelism is at work in Psalm 1. Try to determine the relationship between these lines. I have made suggestions for the first four lines on the next page.

    How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
    Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!

    But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
    And in His law he meditates day and night.

    He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
    Which yields its fruit in its season


    Psalm 1:1-6

    How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
    Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
    Parallelism between lines 1 and 2: a progression of intensification of walking to dwelling

    But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
    And in His law he meditates day and night.

    Parallelism between lines 3 and 4: an intensification of action. The emotion of delight intensifies to the action of mediation.

    He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
    Which yields its fruit in its season


    FIGURES OF SPEECH

    Simile: A comparison using the words like or as.

    Psalm 1:3 He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,

    Psalm 1:4 The wicked are not so, But they are like chaff which the wind drives away.

    Caution: Be careful using this term w/o having had Hebrew. For instance, study the following example from Psalm 22 in the NASB.

    Psalm 22:13 They open wide their mouth at me, As a ravening and a roaring lion.

    The “as” which one would label as a simile is not in the Hebrew. Did the biblical author intend to use a simile as the translation renders it or did he intend to use a metaphor?

    Metaphor: a comparison between two unlike objects (without using “like” or “as”). Metaphors rely on imagery. It is at the same time both concise and vague.

    Psalm 59:17
    O my strength, I will sing praises to You;
    For God is my stronghold,
    the God who shows me lovingkindness.

    To understand the author’s use of the metaphor in this psalm, one must be able to answer the question, how is God to be compared to a stronghold? What is the relationship between the vehicle (stronghold) and the tenor (God)? What characteristic(s) does God and a stronghold share?



    Psalm 22:16

    For dogs have surrounded me;
    A band of evildoers has encompassed me;
    They pierced my hands and my feet.

    Have dogs really surrounded David in this psalm or is he using dogs as a metaphor?


    Ellipsis: is the omission of some word in a line of poetry but is assumed to be there.

    Psalm 36:6

    Your righteousness is like the mountains of God;
    Your judgments are like a great deep.
    O LORD, You preserve man and beast

    (Notice the bold, italics like in the second line? It is not there in the Hebrew. The translators of the NASB supplied it based on line one. But if the translators had not supplied it, you would have probably read the line as though it was there.
    .

    Psalm 100:4

    Enter His gates with thanksgiving,
    His courts with praise.
    Give thanks to Him; bless His name.

    What is missing in the second line? I would suggest that the author had intentionally left out the verb “enter” in the second line. Even though it is not there, we read it as though it is.


    Hyperbole: expressing exaggeration of some kind using common language

    Psalm 69:4

    Those who hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of my head;
    Those who would destroy me are powerful, being wrongfully my enemies;
    What I did not steal, I then have to restore.

    I would suggest that David is using exaggeration in the first line to communicate the multitude of people who are against him.

    Psalm 141:7

    As when one plows and breaks open the earth,
    Our bones have been scattered at the mouth of Sheol.

    It would be tough to write a psalm if your bones are scattered at the mouth of a grave! This is an exaggeration of the desperate plight the psalmist and others are in.

    Psalm 78:27

    When He rained meat upon them like the dust,
    Even winged fowl like the sand of the seas,


    Merism: the individual units stands for the entire entity. Two opposite extremes equal the whole. The phrase “from Dan to Beersheba” is a way to say the whole land of Israel.

    Psalm 49:1-2

    For the choir director. A Psalm of the sons of Korah.
    Hear this, all peoples;
    Give ear, all inhabitants of the world,
    Both low and high,
    Rich and poor together.

    The merism is between “low and high” and “rich and poor” which encompasses everyone.

    Psalm 50:1

    Psalm of Asaph.
    The Mighty One, God, the LORD, has spoken,
    And summoned the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.


    How do you know that God is summoning the whole earth and not just a portion in which the psalmist may be living?

    Psalm 139:2

    You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    You understand my thought from afar.

    Metonymy: is the substitution of one word for another with which it is associated: For instance, “The White House said today….” This statement is another way of saying that the president (or his representative) made a statement today. We know that the White House cannot literally talk.

    Psalm 76:12 (spirit = life)

    He will cut off the spirit of princes;
    He is feared by the kings of the earth.

    Psalm 5:9 (tongue =words)

    They flatter with their tongue.

    Synecdoche: (pronounced--sy-nec-do-ke) is a specific part of something is taken to refer to the whole. It is usually understood as a specific kind of metonymy.

    Psalm 50:19 (the mouth = the whole person)

    "You let your mouth loose in evil
    And your tongue frames deceit

    Psalm 103:1 (soul = entire person)

    A Psalm of David.
    Bless the LORD, O my soul,
    And all that is within me, bless His holy name.

    Psalm 18:27 (haughty eyes = proud people)

    For You save an afflicted people,
    But haughty eyes You abase.
     
  19. zrs6v4

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    Continued,


    Personification: attributing human characteristics to non-human entities

    Psalm 19:1-2

    For the choir director. A Psalm of David.
    The heavens are telling of the glory of God;
    And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.
    Day to day pours forth speech,
    And night to night reveals knowledge.

    Psalm 98:8

    Let the rivers clap their hands, Let the mountains sing together for joy

    What is being personified in these verses?

    Anthropomorphism: attributing human qualities normally to God.

    Psalm 10:17

    O LORD, You have heard the desire of the humble;
    You will strengthen their heart, You will incline Your ear

    Psalm 51:9

    Hide Your face from my sins
    And blot out all my iniquities.

    What human qualities are being attributed to God in Psalm 51:9?




    Zoomorphism: attributing characteristic of an animal to non-animals.

    Psalm 91:4

    He will cover you with His pinions,
    And under His wings you may seek refuge;
    His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark.

    Rhetorical Question. Asking a question but not for the purpose of eliciting an answer but for motivating a certain feeling or response.

    Psalm 8:4 (The question is asked to inspire awe that God does think about us!)

    What is man that You take thought of him,
    And the son of man that You care for him?

    Psalm 22:1

    For the choir director; upon Aijeleth Hashshahar. A Psalm of David.
    My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?
    Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning.

    This rhetorical question is not looking for an answer but looking for a divine action.
     
  20. MB

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    With out the consideration of God it's worthless.
    MB
     

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