When Should the Bible Not Be Taken Literally?

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What criteria do we use to decipher if the Bible is dealing in metaphor or if it should taken literally?
This is a rather involved inquiry, and I hope those who participate in this discussion find it helpful.

I was recently presented the following challenge:

Explain how you can determine what is a real event with real people from that which is fictional in Scripture.

To begin answering this question, let us look at a specific example, the creation narrative(s) found in Genesis.
Does it make more sense to believe in a talking, walking snake, or is does it make more sense to conclude that the snake is a metaphor? Does it make more sense to believe that man was made from the dust (or clay) of the earth while woman was made from man's rib, or does it make more sense to conclude that we are dealing with metaphor? I say the latter option is clearly the more reasonable one.

To take Genesis 1 as literal, historical fact is to adopt a position with many difficulties. Indeed, a literal reading of Gen. 1 and 2 results in contradictions that cannot be resolved, e.g. which came first, plants or man?

There is a lot to unpack and discuss here, and I welcome feedback. Blessings.
 

Fish Catcher Jim

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If the word of God said every Tuesday a two headed hippopotamus gave birth to an ostrich, well sir even though I have not seen this, I would believe it to be true.

If something does not make sense in the natural then it is spiritual when dealing with the most Holy Written Word Of God.

You once asked me sir if Jesus was literally a vine. I said Yes.
Now common sense tells us we don't go out to the Vinyard and worship the vines.

Spiritually speaking yes He is the vine and I am a branch.

The carnal minded christian operates in the natural man and his ability to understand the things of God.

This trying to prove literal or metaphor seems to fall into that category in my thinking.

When it comes to the Written Word Of God I find its better to not question it but accept and believe it and do it.
Blessings
FCJ
 
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HI FCJ,

Fish Catcher Jim said:
If the word of God said every Tuesday a two headed hippopotamus gave birth to an ostrich, well sir even though I have not seen this, I would believe it to be true.

If something does not make sense in the natural then it is spiritual when dealing with the most Holy Written Word Of God.
By 'natural' do you mean 'literal'? By 'spiritual' do you mean metaphorical? Frankly, it seems to me that you might be confused about the meaning of some of the terms being used here, so let's agree to some definitions. Sound good?

Literal:
in accordance with, involving, or being the primary or strict meaningof the word or words; not figurative or metaphorical: the literal meaning of a word.

Figurative:
of the nature of or involving a figure of speech, especially a metaphor; metaphorical and not literal: The word “head” has several figurative senses, as in “She's the head of the company.”

We can, of course, expand on these definitions, but this is a start. Do you understand and agree with these definitions? It is important that we establish this definitional framework, lest our discussion be fruitless.

Fish Catcher Jim said:
You once asked me sir if Jesus was literally a vine. I said Yes.
Now common sense tells us we don't go out to the Vinyard and worship the vines.

Spiritually speaking yes He is the vine and I am a branch.
It certainly appears that you are simply confused about the meaning of the terms 'literal' and 'metaphorical''. I hope that the above definitions help clear this up for you. Indeed, Jesus was pointing to that which is spiritual when he called himself the true vine; we certainly agree on this. Clearly, Jesus did not mean that he is actually a vine, but rather meant that he is like a vine and we are like branches. This, sir, is called figurative language. It is not to be taken literally.

minded christian operates in the natural man and his ability to understand the things of God.

This trying to prove literal or metaphor seems to fall into that category in my thinking.
Please explain what you mean, if you would. Is it not important to be able to discern the meaning of the Bible, and and to determine when its language is to be taken literally or figuratively? Jesus Himself told his disciples that the meaning of his parables (figurative stories) could only understood by those with ears to hear. This does seem relevant, yes.

When it comes to the Written Word Of God I find its better to not question it but accept and believe it and do it.
Accepting and believing God is not the issue here. The issue is rightly dividing the word.
 
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As far as the creation account goes, there is really no reason to dismiss it as pure metaphor as far as being a fictional story to express something. Even if it were pure metaphor, the way it reads makes it clear that there is an exalted Creator, that He did it by His own will and power, and that it was done in an orderly way with purpose and design. Even if it is 100% metaphor, most of Christianity today dismisses the message of the metaphor. They also wrote using a poetic style, but the intent wasn't to diminish the genuineness of the event. God creating Adam from clay, Eve coming from Adam...easy and simple for God to do (well, since He can do anything.) In the Hebrew there is a difference between "snake" and "serpent." The lying creature in the garden was a serpent (nachash) and the word literally refers to one who whispers...a whisperer or enchanter. The idea of word imagery is, of course, part of the way Hebrews wrote things, but that does not mean the entire incident is fictional. That is exactly what he did with Eve. He "enchanted" her...told her what she wanted to hear. Yes, the Lord judges the serpent, telling him on his "belly" he shall go and will "eat dust." There is imagery in that as well...BUT...does that mean the being was not serpent-like in appearance literally? That is taking a leap to dismiss it completely in view of God's judgement to Adam (work and sweat) and Eve (painful childbirth)...both which are true even to this day, and aren't true in just a metaphorical way...but very real. Just because imagery is used doesn't mean we should treat an entire event as symbolic or metaphorical. And one must also take into consideration that Christ (who oughta know) spoke of Adam and Eve as being true people (Matt 19:4-6 for example), and the New Testament writers included them in Jesus' lineage...indicating they thought them to be real people as well. The New Testament writers also mention creation and Adam and Eve in a rather direct, literal manner such as 1st Cor 15:45, Jude 1:14, 1st Tim 2:13-14 and 2nd Peter 3:5 as examples.
 
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Hi Countryside, and thanks for the response.

What elements of Genesis 3 do you take literally, and which do you take figuratively?
 
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Explain how you can determine what is a real event with real people from that which is fictional in Scripture.
All of scripture is truth. God is truth. And Jesus does not need to tell lies or write in fiction to call us to believe in him and to seek salvation.
There are parables spoken of clearly as allegorical moral explanations by Jesus to his disciples. Illustrative of issues concerning the gospel, faith,
good choices versus bad choices, end of the world, salvation, righteousness, etc. But the scriptures tell us clearly that Jesus spoke in parables.
A good story using recognizable references to explain a moral truth.

Truth is the essence; the proven genuine factor that separates the Holy Scriptures of both the Old and new Testaments over all other religious
writings and revelations.
This is particularly necessary given the work of the Adversary (the evil one, Satan) who promotes false religion all the time in order to
lead souls astray to perdition.
 

Cturtle

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To take Genesis 1 as literal, historical fact is to adopt a position with many difficulties. Indeed, a literal reading of Gen. 1 and 2 results in contradictions that cannot be resolved, e.g. which came first, plants or man?
Really there is no contradictions or difficulty with taking Genesis 1 literally. God created a beautiful garden after creating the world, so that He could give man something beautiful to live in.
As for the serpent, I believe he talked. Things were a lot different before the curse, and just because things are not the way they were now doesn't mean that they are not truth.

In my opinion the Bible should be taken literal. There are deeper truths in The Word that are spiritually discerned, but that doesn't take away from the fact that God's Word is the ultimate truth. All we have on earth is temporary, and is subject to the truth of God's Word.

Blessings
 
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the creation narrative(s) found in Genesis.
Does it make more sense to believe in a talking, walking snake, or is does it make more sense to conclude that the snake is a metaphor?
There are no falsehoods nor fables in Genesis.
One must take up Bible study and particularly in the original languages the scriptures were written in.
The opening statement by God (Jesus) himself is a declaration of truth to all...

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. Genesis 1:1

This is either true or it is not true. Ever since Darwin growing numbers of people in their millions are choosing not to believe
this statement. The very first statement uttered by God to us.
Why? Because science has proved God wrong. Far from it. True science always upholds the creation.
But people choose not to believe because it gives unbelievers the permission to run amok and indulge in every sin under the sun.
No more God = no more rules = no more judgment = freedom to to indulge and remain carnal in the flesh.
Worldly treasures. Pornography (my right to view). Violence. Crime. Partners rather than spouses. Money and more money.
Abuse others. Be angry when offended. Lifestyle politics rather than personal morality. Politically correct theology.
Liberal doctrines. No more sin, we are all under grace. Love Jesus as you are. No need to repent.

No wonder attacking the credibility and truth of the Word of God is the favourite effort by millions. Being righteous is just so old fashioned.
I and my Fellowship are called "fundamentalists" because we believe the Bible to be true and relevant unto salvation today.

13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leads to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leads unto life, and few there be that find it.
15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
Matthew 7:13-15
 
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To begin answering this question, let us look at a specific example, the creation narrative(s) found in Genesis.
There is nothing problematic about Genesis chapter one; unless you are a Darwinian and believe in false science.

Verse two introduces us to the Spirit of God - the operative power of God in Heaven in this physical universe of time and space.
The Spirit is the power to create and reshape physical matter by the will of God. [Einstein on energy = matter = energy]
In the New Testament the Spirit of God comes into this world to recreate human beings and to fashion them as new creations given to
obedience and worship of Jesus and our Father.

16 Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more.
17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
2Corinthians 5:16-17

22 That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts;
23 And be renewed in the spirit of your mind;
24 And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.
Ephesians 4:22-24

Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
John 3:3
KJV > again > an'-o-then From G507; from above; by analogy from the first; by implication anew: - from above, again, from the beginning (very first)
 
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Genesis contains many many fundamental truths about the power and purpose of creation. Beyond our comprehension.
The scriptures tell us that in the beginning God created all things that are visible from nothing.
Something from nothing. Now that would be a great party trick!!
The Bible tells us that God spoke the universe, our world, living flora and fauna and the first peoples into existence.
But wait there is still even more wonders to behold...

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. - Genesis 1:3
This is not the sun, our pal in the sky.
Note that the sun and moon and stars are not created until much later; verses 14 - 19 > the fourth day [eon or period of time].
14 And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons,
and for days, and years:
15 And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.
16 And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.
17 And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,
18 And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good.
19 And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.

But in the meanwhile before the solar sun shone brightly upon the spinning Earth, God had already created plants;
Gen 1:11 And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind,
whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.
Gen 1:12 And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself,
after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
Gen 1:13 And the evening and the morning were the third day.

So the question is how did all plant life flourish without a burning ball of hot gas in the sky, giving off the necessary light spectrums?

3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
Genesis 1:3-4
Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.
John 8:12
O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles.
Psalm 43:3
And as he [Saul] journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:
Acts 9:3
6 And it came to pass, that, as I made my journey, and was come nigh unto Damascus about noon, suddenly there shone from heaven a
great light round about me.
11 And when I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of them that were with me, I came into Damascus.
Acts 22:
At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me.
Acts 26:13
 
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Explain how you can determine what is a real event with real people from that which is fictional in Scripture.
Bible study.. nothing less.

26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air,
and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
Genesis 1:26-27
create > two words 1. baw-raw' A primitive root; (absolutely) to create; (qualified) to cut down (a wood), select, feed (as formative processes): -
choose, create (creator), cut down, dispatch, do, make (fat). > and also
2. ayth Apparently contracted from H226 in the demonstrative sense of entity; properly self (but generally used to point out more definitely the object
of a verb or preposition, even or namely): - (As such unrepresented in English.)

created in this verse means God himself made, fashioned, created from his imagination human beings - male and female.
These are the people of the first creation, the main racial types of the world for each continental area.
And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
Genesis 1:31

God rested on the seventh day {sabbath) for an extended period of time - many thousands of years.
Adam is formed on the eighth day. Formed not created.

7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
8 And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.
Genesis 2:7-8

formed > yaw-tsar' probably identical with H3334 (through the squeezing into shape); (compare H3331); to mould into a form;
especially as a potter; figuratively to determine (that is, form a resolution): - X earthen, fashion, form, frame, make (-r), potter, purpose.

Eve being made from Adam's rib is biologically and genetically correct for men (males) have XY chromosomes (heterogametic sex)
whilst women have only XX chromosomes (homogametic sex).

The Bible is always true.
 
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As far as the creation account goes, there is really no reason to dismiss it as pure metaphor as far as being a fictional story to express something. Even if it were pure metaphor, the way it reads makes it clear that there is an exalted Creator, that He did it by His own will and power, and that it was done in an orderly way with purpose and design. Even if it is 100% metaphor, most of Christianity today dismisses the message of the metaphor. They also wrote using a poetic style, but the intent wasn't to diminish the genuineness of the event. God creating Adam from clay, Eve coming from Adam...easy and simple for God to do (well, since He can do anything.) In the Hebrew there is a difference between "snake" and "serpent." The lying creature in the garden was a serpent (nachash) and the word literally refers to one who whispers...a whisperer or enchanter. The idea of word imagery is, of course, part of the way Hebrews wrote things, but that does not mean the entire incident is fictional. That is exactly what he did with Eve. He "enchanted" her...told her what she wanted to hear. Yes, the Lord judges the serpent, telling him on his "belly" he shall go and will "eat dust." There is imagery in that as well...BUT...does that mean the being was not serpent-like in appearance literally? That is taking a leap to dismiss it completely in view of God's judgement to Adam (work and sweat) and Eve (painful childbirth)...both which are true even to this day, and aren't true in just a metaphorical way...but very real. Just because imagery is used doesn't mean we should treat an entire event as symbolic or metaphorical. And one must also take into consideration that Christ (who oughta know) spoke of Adam and Eve as being true people (Matt 19:4-6 for example), and the New Testament writers included them in Jesus' lineage...indicating they thought them to be real people as well. The New Testament writers also mention creation and Adam and Eve in a rather direct, literal manner such as 1st Cor 15:45, Jude 1:14, 1st Tim 2:13-14 and 2nd Peter 3:5 as examples.
I like that! Good stuff.
 
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Hi Countryside, and thanks for the response.

What elements of Genesis 3 do you take literally, and which do you take figuratively?
I do not know if I can help you but there is something to be considered IMO.

The Bible contains the Creation story.....but it is not a book about Creation.
The Bible contains biology......................but it is not a book about Biology.
The Bible contains geology.....................but it is not a book about geology.
The Bible contains earthquakes..............but it is not a book about earthquakes.
The Bible contains human births.............but it is not a book to use to get a degree in medicine.

I think you get the point. The Bible, first and foremost is the Book that tells us the relationship of God the Father to His children the human race.

Some things we accept simply on faith because that is what the Scriptures tells that we must do. We are not called to prove anything but we are told that we must believe in order to be saved. That my friend is the center of reality......what must I, a sinner, do to be saved from the judgment of a holy God.

The question of Genesis Creation account and just how much of the Bible should be interpreted literally is one of the hottest debates within Christianity today, and there are many different opinions. Some people believe the Bible must be defended against attacks on its accuracy and Divine origin. But, common literary techniques like parable, metaphor and allegory do not negate the Bible's message, nor do they threaten our faith. The Bible's teachings stand on their own merits, whether or not those teachings are delivered via stories that are intended to be taken literally. The important thing is that we understand what God is telling us through the Bible and that we don't let arguments about the literal truth of the Bible distract us from that goal. Perhaps, with a bit of humility, we can admit that only God has all the answers!
 
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Hebrews 11: 1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 2 For by it the elders obtained a good testimony.

3 By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.
 
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Hebrews 11: 1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 2 For by it the elders obtained a good testimony.

3 By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.
Also, Hebrews 1:1-2.....
"Long ago, at different times and in different ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world."
 
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I do not know if I can help you but there is something to be considered IMO.

The Bible contains the Creation story.....but it is not a book about Creation.
The Bible contains biology......................but it is not a book about Biology.
The Bible contains geology.....................but it is not a book about geology.
The Bible contains earthquakes..............but it is not a book about earthquakes.
The Bible contains human births.............but it is not a book to use to get a degree in medicine.

I think you get the point. The Bible, first and foremost is the Book that tells us the relationship of God the Father to His children the human race.

Some things we accept simply on faith because that is what the Scriptures tells that we must do. We are not called to prove anything but we are told that we must believe in order to be saved. That my friend is the center of reality......what must I, a sinner, do to be saved from the judgment of a holy God.

The question of Genesis Creation account and just how much of the Bible should be interpreted literally is one of the hottest debates within Christianity today, and there are many different opinions. Some people believe the Bible must be defended against attacks on its accuracy and Divine origin. But, common literary techniques like parable, metaphor and allegory do not negate the Bible's message, nor do they threaten our faith. The Bible's teachings stand on their own merits, whether or not those teachings are delivered via stories that are intended to be taken literally. The important thing is that we understand what God is telling us through the Bible and that we don't let arguments about the literal truth of the Bible distract us from that goal. Perhaps, with a bit of humility, we can admit that only God has all the answers!
Very well put Major.(y)(y)
 
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Really there is no contradictions or difficulty with taking Genesis 1 literally.
Hi! Genesis chapter 1 says that plants were growing on the 3rd day of creation, whereas chapter 2 says that there were no plants growing until a man was made. How do you reconcile this apparent inconsistency?
 
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