On Literal Interpretation of the Bible, Part 1

No one (except perhaps the Mormons) thinks God has physical hands. The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” – Psalm 110:1 Not even the Mormons think God has wings. He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge. – Psalm 91:4

So, besides these fairly obvious figures of speech, is there a Christian group that interprets the Bible consistently literally? There are certainly many that claim to.

But, a quick look at 3 major questions will dispel this notion of any group having a consistently literal interpretation.

1) Are the “days” of the Genesis creation account literal days?

2) Did Jesus mean that the bread and wine of the Eucharist are literally his body and blood?

3) Are the years of Revelation 20:4 a literal 1000 years?

How do various Christian groups interpret these passages. Let’s look at 4 major groups: Lutheran, Presbyterian, Dispensationalists, and Liberal Christians. For the three questions above do these groups believe the Bible literally?

Lutheran: 1) Yes 2) Yes 3) No

Presbyterian: 1) Yes 2) No 3) No/Yes

Dispensationalists 1) Yes 2) No 3) Yes

Liberal 1) No 2) No 3) No

There are certainly other groups that could be added to this list, but they would almost all match one of these 4 groups. So, there are no groups that I’m aware of that treat even these 3 questions with a literal interpretation.  I’m fairly certain that no such group exists. Why? Well, the Lutheran’s (along with the Catholics and Orthodox) are the only groups that teach forms of the literal physical presence of Christ in the Eucharist. And amongst these groups the millennium is almost universally taught as symbolic. Likewise, amongst those who teach forms of milleniallism (whether dispensationalist, classic premillenialism, or post-millenialism) there are no groups believing in the Real Presence of Christ physically in the sacraments.

I‘m in early stages of studying hermeneutics – biblical interpretation. It is clear that each group must hold a more complex position than all-out literalism.  How do the various groups of Christianity decide what is literal and what is figurative?  Is their a consistent method for such a determination?


About douglasdouma

I am a graduate of the University of Michigan (BSME), Wake Forest University (MBA), and Sangre de Cristo Seminary (Mdiv). I've learned far more from books than in school. I'm particularly in debt to Martin Luther, Ludwig von Mises, and Gordon H. Clark for any thoughts I have.
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