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Monday, August 4, 2008

What parts of the Bible should be taken literally?

This is from: I thought I had an insightful answer so I wanted to share it here:

First off, I'm Christian. I guess what I'm really asking is, what parts of the Bible should be taken figuratively? For many atheists or unbelievers, they point out many different things, things that might seem abominable to humanity, such as slavery, or the destruction of homosexuals. But those arguments are always countered with "No. That wasn't supposed to be taken literally."

So what is supposed to be taken literally, and what should be taken as figurative or symbolic? Isn't it wrong to make anything that sounds evil become "symbolically taken" and at the same time, claim it's right to accept anything loving as literal?

One story I'm referring to: Jesus sees a fig tree. It doesn't have fruit that he can eat. He cripples the tree so it can never bear fruit again.

So literally... Destroy those things that doesn't satisfy your desire simply because you are able. If something doesn't satisfy your desire, make it such that the thing will never satisfy your desire.

Symbolically... I've been told this represents that Jesus' arrival to Earth is inevitable. I really don't see the connection, but still.

So how are you able to know what's to be taken literally or figuratively?
First off, no one can answer this question definitely for you. If there was a definite answer to this question that satisfied everyone, there would be no separate denominations. Each person has to find the answer him/herself.

I personally take as literal, whatever is not contextually figurative. The oldest copies of the scriptures are written in languages that are fully developed, and fully capable of indicating what parts are metaphors, similes, parables, recommendations, etc. And a tremendous effort has been put forth to make sure it is accurately translated, including these literary devices.

Your second paragraph demonstrates my reason for my second paragraph. It is wrong to claim "symbolic" the things you don't like, and "literal" the things you do like. It is quite apparent to me from the Bible that God's view of what is abominable is quite different from the secular view, whether you like it, or not.

As far as your fig tree dilemma, by my standard, you would take this literally: Jesus cursed a fig tree because it was not providing the food he sought. He used this to demonstrate to his disciples the power of faith.

You can find that God may give you a different symbolic meaning than he gave me. He gave me the understanding that whatever doesn't serve God will be cursed, even plants. How much more will God curse those who can choose to serve him and don't when he cursed a tree which has no conscious choice such as this? But to those who believe, that for which they ask will be given them. Also, God's cursing is a bit more effective than dropping the F-bomb a few times, if you take it literally. I definitely don't want to be on his bad side when he comes back.

As far as taking the passage figuratively, I see no wording to indicate that this passage is a metaphor, parable or any other literary device besides a recount of events that took place. Except, perhaps as an example of God's personality.

On a side note: Yahoo! Answers can be a great resource, but I doubt it is the best place to get spiritual guidance.