NO ONE is a complete "literalist"

Discussion in '2004 Archive' started by Alcott, Apr 1, 2004.

  1. Alcott

    Alcott
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    A few threads recently have brought this topic to my attention. I'm still trying to find a way to do a poll on this on which the questions would not be too long or confusing.

    But the first subtopic herein can probably be dealt with quickly, and that is where the biblical precept is an obvious hyperbole. When Jesus said to forgive 'your brother' up to "seventy times seven," it should be understood He didn't mean literally to let someone wrong you 490 times and then take revenge on the 491st. Instead He meant that all of us have so much to seek forgiveness for that we should never consider ourselves noble if we forgive the same offender as many as 7 times, according to the question Peter asked.

    Then the literalism line begins to become dim as we go the subtopic of metaphor. Most Bible believers agree that it does not do any good to literally cut off our hand or pluck out our eyes if they "cause us to sin," because they don't-- or do they? If we have a problem controlling lust and we are turned on by sight, then should we gouge out our eyes? It may be easy to say "stop buying 'those' kind of magazines or watching those kind of movies," and it would be easy to see that falls into what Jesus meant-- getting rid of what is conducive to our sin. But we can't control the actions of those around us who dress immodestly or smile suggestively at us, and without our eyesight that would eliminate much of the 'problem.' So did Jesus mean to literally cut out our eyes, or to just do as much as we can to lessen the temptation?

    But probably the biggest issue with extreme literalism is in understanding the scripture in itself-- is it meant to be taken literally in this particular passage? Case in point-- the day of the crucifixion. Jesus says in Matthew 16:21 He will be raised up on the third day. But in Mark 8:3 He says He will be raise after three days. Is it on or after the third day? So with this we have a debate as to whether He was crucified on 'Friday' or 'Wednesday', maybe even 'Thursday.' So it seems trying to be "literal" results in a useless debate, while a person's salvation depends not on the timeline of those events, but belief that Jesus is the Son of God who was raised.

    Finally, there is the literalism problem of the 4 different renderings of the sign placed on the cross. Since it was only in 3 languages, then even allowing for translation precision at least 2 of them should be exactly the same. And when the OT is quoted in the NT it is often not an absolute literal quotation. In Matthew 11:14 Jesus says John the Baptist is Elijah, but John the Baptist himself says in John 1:21 that he is not Elijah. It seems the only way to understand these verses is that Jesus was saying he (John) is metaphorically Elijah, but John the Baptist is saying he literally is not Elijah. So it's not always simple to know whether we should put on our literal glasses to read a passage or our metaphorical glasses, or especially with prophecy our allegorical glasses.

    When someone tells me he is a "literalist," I don't believe him 'literally.'
     
  2. Watchman

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    "No One is a complete literlist."
    Agreed. I do believe that the Bible should be taken literally UNLESS there is a compelling reason, within the context of the passage, to seek another explaination. God's word is truth, and He wants us to know the truth. Of course, when, exactly, to seek another explaination is, often, a matter that leads to disputes.
     
  3. gb93433

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    "When the literal sense makes sense seek no other sense."
     
  4. Watchman

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    I knew there was a line for that, but couldn't think of it, that's it. Thanks.
     
  5. superdave

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    Literal Historical Grammatical Context

    That includes figures of speech, idiom, metaphor, etc.

    I do know some people who are literalists literally, but most of them are simply ignorant of the historical context of a passage. Like those who preach that the Isaiah passage about Abraham not bearing his thigh means men can't wear shorts, and other perversions of the true meaning of scripture.
     
  6. Daniel Dunivan

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    Where can one find scripture to literally understand which says that the Bible must be interpreted literally whenever possible?

    Grace and Peace, Danny [​IMG]
     
  7. Michael52

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    Alcott

    An interesting point! I think one has to always compare scripture passages against each other, when they speak on the same subject or event. The examples you gave show that if one takes them too literally, a ‘tension’ is created that is hard to reconcile. If someone reads too literally – i.e. proof-texting – one can arrive at all manner of strange quandaries (i.e. “drink my blood” and “eat my flesh”).
     
  8. Pastor Larry

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    No one claims to be a complete literalist. The words Dave used as "literal historical grammatical" interpretation means "normal." We interpret language normally.

    As for Danny's question, it is the nature of language to interpret it normally. The presumption of communication is built on the univocal nature of language. Bottom line, you intepret Scripture under the same principles you would anything else. Words have meaning in context and understandint eh context, along with idioms and figures, is the normal means of interpretation.
     
  9. Optamill

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    "Literal sense" is a bad translation of the Latin "sensus literalis" which would better be translated "literary sense" i.e., "figures of speech, idiom, metaphor, etc." as Superdave mentioned. The problem comes in when some claim that they are the only ones who interpret "literally" and everyone else interprets "spiritually."
     
  10. Paul of Eugene

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    OK So I read in I Kings 7:23 (NASU)

    23 Now he made the sea of cast metal ten cubits from brim to brim, circular in form, and its height was five cubits, and thirty[8][Lit a line of 30 cubits went around it ] cubits in circumference.

    I take this non-literally, in that I assume the craftsman truly cast the basin at ten cubits in diameter, and the reference to 30 cubits is not the result of a literal measurement but simply an estimate based on the primitive state of mathematics in that culture at that time. Someone of our own times, however, I would expect to point out the circumference was a little over 31 cubits, 31.4159 (to 4 decimal places).

    Is this a valid extension of the non-literal interpretation principle?
     
  11. Pastor Larry

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    I think that is a little bits of apples and oranges. Usually the "non-literalist" wants to say that one word means something different. In this case, what you have is a generalization most likely. Inerrancy or accuracy does not necessarily mean precision. It is common to round things off in everyday speech. Someone asks about the price of a car. They are told 20,000 dollars. The actual price is probably 19,995 or some such number.

    So, no, I do not think that is a valid extension of hte "non-literal" interpretation principle.
     
  12. Charles Meadows

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    "Usually the "non-literalist" wants to say that one word means something different."

    I'm not sure this is always the case. As I mentioned in a previous post a non-literal hermeneutic is not equivalent to "spiritualizing" or "allegorizing". THIS type of interpretation has its roots in the early patristic period when men like Origen and Tertullian attempted to find hidden and symbolic meanings in scripture - such as the idea that any mention of water in any context meant that the verse was dealing with baptism!

    Most non-literalists do not make such assertions. Let's take the creation account as an example. The literalist sees a sequence of days and creation events and as such sees this as a literal time-line description of how creation ACTUALLY occurred. A nonliteralist does not necessarily REJECT as literal interpretation. He/she simply does not feel bound to take the literal reading at face value. A typical nonliteralist position on creation might be something like this (I'll use the explanation of Nahum Sarna, a renowned Jewish scholar):

    Moses was familiar with the Babylonian creation myths an as such new that the Israelites were likewise familiar. He retold creation in a way that made Yahweh the absolute maker and ruler of all. As such the details of the account were not meant to be literally physically true, rather they were meant to tell the story in terms with which the people would be familiar. T

    THIS (whether we agree or not) is an example of taking context, culture, and language OVER the literal reading of the passage. [​IMG]
     
  13. superdave

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    That was funny. I didn't think anyone would understand what I meant if I said I interpret the Bible normally :D
     
  14. Tangent

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    I've always been told that we should interpret Scripture according to its plain sense. This is really true of any book. For the most part, narratives are be taken literally unless there is good reason to do otherwise (personal prejudices are not a good reason), while poetry, proverbs, and parables can be treated differently. The problem is that although the Bible gives us ample evidence of its inerrancy, it does not provide detailed rules on how to interpret it. So the debate goes on.
     
  15. Tim

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    "As I mentioned in a previous post a non-literal hermeneutic is not equivalent to "spiritualizing" or "allegorizing"."

    "The problem is that although the Bible gives us ample evidence of its inerrancy, it does not provide detailed rules on how to interpret it. So the debate goes on. "

    Good points from CM and Tangent. Too many fundamentalists are unwilling to cede these points.

    Tim
     
  16. Paul of Eugene

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    Well, there have been verbal wars fought over this passage in the name of inerrancy for or against but I take it that other than quibbling over using the word non-literal we're on the same page here for this verse.
     
  17. Pastor Larry

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    Yes, but those wars were fought over inerrancy, not over the literal vs. non-literal issue ...
     

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