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    World Religion & Speculative Theology - Thread: Biblical meaning - literal, allegory, or...?

    1. #1
      ImaginaryDay2's Avatar
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      Biblical meaning - literal, allegory, or...?

      I was intrigued by this post in another thread (re-posted here with permission).

      Quote Originally Posted by JRT View Post
      ...I read the Bible for meaning and over the decades I have found that meaning to be far less literal than most Christians are prepared to understand. That's OK, it is a slow process and one that some never come to.
      What are we to do with "literal" biblical interpretation? Does one's perception of what is "literal" change over time (e.g. reading scripture as allegory, or along a continuum instead) when studying biblical text; or does the distinction between literal and allegory become more clear with study? How doe we discern what is "far less" (or "far more") literal?
      I can't stop the world from turning around, or the pull of the moon on the tide...
      But I don't believe that we're in this alone, I believe we're along for the ride..
      - Dream Theater

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    3. #2
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      Quote Originally Posted by ImaginaryDay2 View Post
      I was intrigued by this post in another thread (re-posted here with permission).



      What are we to do with "literal" biblical interpretation? Does one's perception of what is "literal" change over time (e.g. reading scripture as allegory, or along a continuum instead) when studying biblical text; or does the distinction between literal and allegory become more clear with study? How doe we discern what is "far less" (or "far more") literal?
      If you read it literally you read a story and some letters and whatever theology they may contain. If you read it allegorically you notice the types and shadows of the old covenant being unveiled in Christ under the new covenant. If you read it tropologically you listen to the moral teaching present in the holy scriptures and taught by both the literal and the allegorical senses and if you read it anagogically you look for the message about eternity and the heavenly realities that the holy scriptures point to in Christ.
      Pope Gregory I was well known for his alms to the poor, and he gave quite generously of the riches donated to the Church by the wealthy people of Rome. Everything from money to land was given to the poor in some fashion. He made clear to his subordinates that their duty was to relieve the distress faced by the poor.

      He ordered his clergy to go out into the streets to find and care for the poor in person.

    4. #3
      Lämmchen's Avatar
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      Different parts of the bible are meant to be read in different ways because of the way they're written at times both literal and figurative.

      Luther has this to say: “The sacred teachers have this method of interpretation that they allow the clear passages to bring light upon the more obscure. This is also the order of the Holy Spirit: to dissipate darkness with light. But the sectarians do the opposite. They choose an uncertain sentence which fits their own conclusions, disregard the context, make a plain passage obscure, and then teach that all this is the unadulterated truth” (Erl. 30, 113).
      "Christianity does not require more work but more trust." Pr. Jonathan Fisk
      "Bearing fruit does not make you a branch. A branch is a branch because it grows from the vine." Pr. Jonathan Fisk
      "A Christian's life is not defined by what the Christian does. It is defined by Christ and what He has done for us." Pr. Rolf David Preus

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    6. #4
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      I think we have to read the Old Testament in the light of the New Testament and the words of Jesus. Sometimes Jesus makes specific mention of a passage in the Old Testament and sheds light on it. Sometimes even though it may have literally happened in some way that there is a deeper meaning to what happened. An example may be when Moses raised up the bronze serpent in Numbers 21:9. That was very likely a real event, but it had a deeper meaning
      John 3:14-15 14 "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life."

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      Quote Originally Posted by jsimms435 View Post
      I think we have to read the Old Testament in the light of the New Testament and the words of Jesus. Sometimes Jesus makes specific mention of a passage in the Old Testament and sheds light on it. Sometimes even though it may have literally happened in some way that there is a deeper meaning to what happened. An example may be when Moses raised up the bronze serpent in Numbers 21:9. That was very likely a real event, but it had a deeper meaning
      John 3:14-15 14 "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life."
      All scripture has meanings, multiple, it is up to the Holy Spirit to show us. There is the physical meaning and then there is the spiritual meaning and the Old Testament is needed to understand the New, if you truly want comprehension
      Isaiah 40:31

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      Great responses, and I agree that "plain" meaning can bring us to deeper spiritual truths as we grow and study. Our understanding will grow and we will be enlightened by passages that, maybe, seemed "beyond" us at a certain time. Primarily, if I'm ever stuck on a passage, I can get clarification from a pastor, or from word studies, etc. - and understand a bit more.

      The objection raised by the post in the OP (linked to the other thread for clarification/context) was (I think) that the "clear passages" really aren't that clear, but are more obscure than we think. If so, are we falling into the error that Lämm alluded to with her quote from Luther HERE?
      I can't stop the world from turning around, or the pull of the moon on the tide...
      But I don't believe that we're in this alone, I believe we're along for the ride..
      - Dream Theater

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      If you take the entirety of Scripture allegorically and not read it literally you can make it say whatever you want it to say. That is the danger of allegorizing the Word of God.
      Allegory means creation is not really creation and the Son is not really God just allegory.




      Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
      "Therefore, having been justified by faith, [a]we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ Romans 5:1

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      Quote Originally Posted by ImaginaryDay2 View Post
      I was intrigued by this post in another thread (re-posted here with permission).

      What are we to do with "literal" biblical interpretation? Does one's perception of what is "literal" change over time (e.g. reading scripture as allegory, or along a continuum instead) when studying biblical text; or does the distinction between literal and allegory become more clear with study? How doe we discern what is "far less" (or "far more") literal?
      One must rely heavily on "context" but by that I mean far more than just a few verses before or after the passage in question.

      I want you to sit down and imagine a society far different from ours. How different? Perhaps more different than most of us can even imagine.

      It is a society without mass media. There is no radio, no television, no telephones, no cell phones, no telegraph, not even a printing press. Even if the printing press existed, it would be of little worth since the great majority of people were illiterate. Only the rulers, court officials, military officers, the rich, the merchants and the priests but very very few of the common people could read or write. Most news or information had to be transmitted orally person to person.

      To send a message over a distance a scribe might be employed to write it and another to read it upon arrival. It would have had to be carried by a person on foot, or horseback, or camelback or by ship at sea. All of these were by no means certain. A message from Jerusalem to Rome might take weeks even months to arrive if at all.

      What about the people themselves? As mentioned earlier, most were illiterate. This is not surprising for a society in which most lived a hand to mouth existence. Mere survival was of utmost importance. Few people traveled any more than a few dozen kilometers from their native town. Few people were ever exposed to thoughts from anyone more distant than that.

      Is it possible to even translate these conditions into the present day? Imagine, if you will, trying to describe an event that happened in the 1960's, say, the assassination of President Kennedy. There are no videotapes to view, no audio tapes, and not even any photographs. There might be written accounts but 95% of the population are illiterate. The story is passed down orally from person to person. Even in a society where oral transmission is valued and respected, the chance of getting the story straight is almost nil. This is the situation the author of the Gospel of Mark (whoever he was) was in. Remember we are only looking at 40 years. Add another 20 to 30 years and we have the situation of the author of the Gospel of John (whoever he was).

      Can we trust these accounts? As literal history? No! As an embellished, allegorical, midrashic accounts? Yes! But we must always remind ourselves that they are embellished, allegorical and midrashic and deal with them as such. To grant these accounts more credence than that is to ignore the entire context of the times in which they were written. I mentioned haggadic midrash but very few Christians even know what that is or how important it is to an understanding of scripture.

      Am I trashing scripture? By no means! I am respecting scripture by being realistic about it. Our Judeo-Christian scriptures were a very human endeavor in a certain context of history. When we lose sight of that context, then we also lose sight of the meaning and value of those scriptures. At this point, I have not even yet addressed the many other contexts of scripture ---- historical, scientific, economic, military, religious, literary and more! All of these contexts affect the interpretation of scripture. We ignore them at our peril.

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      Quote Originally Posted by JRT View Post
      One must rely heavily on "context" but by that I mean far more than just a few verses before or after the passage in question.

      I want you to sit down and imagine a society far different from ours. How different? Perhaps more different than most of us can even imagine.

      It is a society without mass media. There is no radio, no television, no telephones, no cell phones, no telegraph, not even a printing press. Even if the printing press existed, it would be of little worth since the great majority of people were illiterate. Only the rulers, court officials, military officers, the rich, the merchants and the priests but very very few of the common people could read or write. Most news or information had to be transmitted orally person to person.

      To send a message over a distance a scribe might be employed to write it and another to read it upon arrival. It would have had to be carried by a person on foot, or horseback, or camelback or by ship at sea. All of these were by no means certain. A message from Jerusalem to Rome might take weeks even months to arrive if at all.

      What about the people themselves? As mentioned earlier, most were illiterate. This is not surprising for a society in which most lived a hand to mouth existence. Mere survival was of utmost importance. Few people traveled any more than a few dozen kilometers from their native town. Few people were ever exposed to thoughts from anyone more distant than that.

      Is it possible to even translate these conditions into the present day? Imagine, if you will, trying to describe an event that happened in the 1960's, say, the assassination of President Kennedy. There are no videotapes to view, no audio tapes, and not even any photographs. There might be written accounts but 95% of the population are illiterate. The story is passed down orally from person to person. Even in a society where oral transmission is valued and respected, the chance of getting the story straight is almost nil. This is the situation the author of the Gospel of Mark (whoever he was) was in. Remember we are only looking at 40 years. Add another 20 to 30 years and we have the situation of the author of the Gospel of John (whoever he was).

      Can we trust these accounts? As literal history? No! As an embellished, allegorical, midrashic accounts? Yes! But we must always remind ourselves that they are embellished, allegorical and midrashic and deal with them as such. To grant these accounts more credence than that is to ignore the entire context of the times in which they were written. I mentioned haggadic midrash but very few Christians even know what that is or how important it is to an understanding of scripture.

      Am I trashing scripture? By no means! I am respecting scripture by being realistic about it. Our Judeo-Christian scriptures were a very human endeavor in a certain context of history. When we lose sight of that context, then we also lose sight of the meaning and value of those scriptures. At this point, I have not even yet addressed the many other contexts of scripture ---- historical, scientific, economic, military, religious, literary and more! All of these contexts affect the interpretation of scripture. We ignore them at our peril.
      What influence do you personally believe then that God had in the forming of the scriptures?
      "Christianity does not require more work but more trust." Pr. Jonathan Fisk
      "Bearing fruit does not make you a branch. A branch is a branch because it grows from the vine." Pr. Jonathan Fisk
      "A Christian's life is not defined by what the Christian does. It is defined by Christ and what He has done for us." Pr. Rolf David Preus

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      Quote Originally Posted by Lämmchen View Post
      What influence do you personally believe then that God had in the forming of the scriptures?
      I am not convinced that God had anything to do with the forming of scripture. I reply in all honesty.

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