Bible stories literal or symbolic?

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Bible stories literal or symbolic?

Literal
7
47%
Symbolic
5
33%
Exaggerated
0
No votes
Not sure
3
20%
 
Total votes: 15

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Gman
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Bible stories literal or symbolic?

#1

Post by Gman » Fri Apr 11, 2008 9:00 pm

Folks,

I would like to ask if you believe that certain stories in the Bible are symbolic or literal. As an example, do you believe that the Garden of Eden was symbolic or a literal place on earth. Tree of life, literal or symbolic? Talking snake, literal or symbolic? Jonah and the whale?
The heart cannot rejoice in what the mind rejects as false - Galileo

We learn from history that we do not learn from history - Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things. -Philippians 4:8

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Re: Bible stories literal or symbolic?

#2

Post by Seraph » Fri Apr 11, 2008 10:59 pm

I'm not completly sure on this one. I believe much if not all of it is literal, but that a lot of it is also figurative. For example, I think in the garden of eden, "serpent" was simply sort of a nickname to describe the devil. Revelations is clearly not meant to be taken literally as well. Other than that, I wasn't there so I can't say for sure.
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Re: Bible stories literal or symbolic?

#3

Post by Kurieuo » Sat Apr 12, 2008 4:27 am

Gman wrote:Folks,

I would like to ask if you believe that certain stories in the Bible are symbolic or literal. As an example, do you believe that the Garden of Eden was symbolic or a literal place on earth. Tree of life, literal or symbolic? Talking snake, literal or symbolic?
Or there is a mix. The various connotations attached to "literalism" I believe make your question more complex than what might have otherwise been considered.

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Re: Bible stories literal or symbolic?

#4

Post by Jac3510 » Sat Apr 12, 2008 5:32 am

You might want to refine your meaning of "literal," but that being said, sorry, I'm a fundie on this. There was a real Adam, a real Eve, a real serpent, a real tree (or two of them), a real garden, a real Jonah, a real(ly big) fish, a real (burning) bush, a real talking donkey, a real flood, a real Tower, etc.

In other words, I take it to be actual history.
Proinsias wrote:I don't think you are hearing me. Preference for ice cream is a moral issue
And that, brothers and sisters, is the kind of foolishness you get people who insist on denying biblical theism. A good illustration of any as the length people will go to avoid acknowledging basic truths.

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Re: Bible stories literal or symbolic?

#5

Post by zoegirl » Sat Apr 12, 2008 6:29 am

I owuld agree that the meaning of the word literal needs to be clarified or the question is really too complex to be boxed in to those two choices.

However, that being said, I would say I lean towards the literal (historic). I think there was an Adam and Eve and an Eden. The tree might be something to think about....
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Re: Bible stories literal or symbolic?

#6

Post by Gman » Sat Apr 12, 2008 7:58 am

Sorry folks... I purposely made the question nebulous to invoke thought. People often ask this to me in this format also... I don't necessarily think the question can be directly answered either in some cases. I believe the answer could be any one of the four at times, or not.
The heart cannot rejoice in what the mind rejects as false - Galileo

We learn from history that we do not learn from history - Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things. -Philippians 4:8

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Re: Bible stories literal or symbolic?

#7

Post by Canuckster1127 » Sat Apr 12, 2008 12:19 pm

Gman wrote:Folks,

I would like to ask if you believe that certain stories in the Bible are symbolic or literal. As an example, do you believe that the Garden of Eden was symbolic or a literal place on earth. Tree of life, literal or symbolic? Talking snake, literal or symbolic?
I believe in a literal interpretation of Scripture. That said, what literal means is defined by the text itself, not by the viewpoint I bring to it. So if, for example, God's intention in the Genesis account were to use the image of a talking snake as a metaphore or symbol then that would be the literal sense of the passage. Some portions of Scripture are historical narrative. Some portions are prophetic symbolism. You read those differently based upon the context, and form of the passage itself.

So I'm a literalist in the broader sense in that I elevate the text above myself and my opinions as best I can, and that includes working hard at times to understand the form and intent of the text to provide some evidence as to how it is intended to be read.

(I believe in a literal snake by the way .... that was just an example to provoke thought.)
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Re: Bible stories literal or symbolic?

#8

Post by Gman » Sat Apr 12, 2008 9:08 pm

When it comes to certain words of the Bible I would heavily lean on the symbolic, although the people and places of the Bible should probably be taken literal. When it comes to the words like snakes, I too don't believe it was a literal snake but more of a figure of speech. An eastern term... It appears from scripture that the adversary can also be called a lion 1 Peter 5:8 or a dragon like in revelation. I guess it would be the same with the "tree of life". I don't believe it to be a literal tree with apples or something, perhaps it was something more spiritual. I believe even Christ stated that he was the vine and we are the branches. Who knows... Do things like snakes have to be taken literally for the point to get across?
The heart cannot rejoice in what the mind rejects as false - Galileo

We learn from history that we do not learn from history - Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things. -Philippians 4:8

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Re: Bible stories literal or symbolic?

#9

Post by Jac3510 » Sun Apr 13, 2008 1:56 pm

So how do you determine, when dealing with historical narratives, which parts are symbolic and which parts are real? Specifically with Genesis 2-3, since you believe the snake and trees are symbolic, what about Adam and Eve? How do you decide which of these are and are not literal?
Proinsias wrote:I don't think you are hearing me. Preference for ice cream is a moral issue
And that, brothers and sisters, is the kind of foolishness you get people who insist on denying biblical theism. A good illustration of any as the length people will go to avoid acknowledging basic truths.

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Re: Bible stories literal or symbolic?

#10

Post by Gman » Sun Apr 13, 2008 3:01 pm

Jac3510 wrote:So how do you determine, when dealing with historical narratives, which parts are symbolic and which parts are real? Specifically with Genesis 2-3, since you believe the snake and trees are symbolic, what about Adam and Eve? How do you decide which of these are and are not literal?
Like I've said, I would only believe that certain words of the Bible could be symbolic, although the people and places of the Bible should probably be taken literal. Adam for one thing is mentioned in Christ's bloodline. I would expect them to be literal people only if we wish to negate that lineage, which I wouldn't. But I also believe there are many words in the Bible that could be simply allegories, figures of speech, idioms, or orientalisms. As another example Lot's wife turning into a pillar of salt, which actually could mean that she simply went back into the city instead of literally turning into salt (as stated in Luke 17:31-32). In fact if you at the dead sea there are pillars of salt in various locations, although they were not considered to be remnants of real people. It was simply a figure of speech... The Bible being thousands of years old has gone though various phases of language changes. It shouldn't be a mystery to anyone that certain sayings or words in the Bible could actually be taken figuratively as they were back then or perhaps were translated incorrectly (like in the flood). I think we have to examine the Bible culturally too and not always take a literal stance in every single situation. Another example "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth..." Should we take that to be literal? We just need to be professional about it..
The heart cannot rejoice in what the mind rejects as false - Galileo

We learn from history that we do not learn from history - Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things. -Philippians 4:8

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Re: Bible stories literal or symbolic?

#11

Post by Jac3510 » Mon Apr 14, 2008 6:23 am

professional
Which is at the root of my question. Professionals seek to come up with and follow an objective hermeneutic, wherever it may lead them. So your objective is that people and places are literal, but you've not answered the basic question: what do you take to be symbolic? You seem to think the snake is symbolic (to which I'm forced to ask, symbolic of what?). I'm forced to wonder if Adam and Eve would not be symbolic in your view if the geneologies in Matthew and Luke did not link them to Jesus. What about Balaam's talking donkey? Or the angel that the donkey mentioned?

Or we come to your other idea, that phrases could be symbolic, or better, you are referring to them as idioms. Very well, by what professional (that is, objective) means do you suppose that Lot's wife turning into a pillar of salt means she went back to the city? That would be difficult, I would think, if the city had been destroyed. Or perhaps the city's destruction is idiomatic, too? And on what basis do you determine that one, and not another, is in fact an idiom?

Perhaps I could argue that the word "Jesus" is simply idiomatic for the perfect self that undergoes testing so that it may be brought to reality, a picture most forcefully presented in the idom of the death, burial, and resurrection, using such symbols as the cross and (empty) tomb.

Like I said, I'm interested in what makes your hermeneutic your hermeneutic. What objective means should I follow if I am to know what words and phrases are literal and which ones are symbolic?
Proinsias wrote:I don't think you are hearing me. Preference for ice cream is a moral issue
And that, brothers and sisters, is the kind of foolishness you get people who insist on denying biblical theism. A good illustration of any as the length people will go to avoid acknowledging basic truths.

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Re: Bible stories literal or symbolic?

#12

Post by Canuckster1127 » Mon Apr 14, 2008 7:18 am

Jac3510 wrote:
professional
Which is at the root of my question. Professionals seek to come up with and follow an objective hermeneutic, wherever it may lead them. So your objective is that people and places are literal, but you've not answered the basic question: what do you take to be symbolic? You seem to think the snake is symbolic (to which I'm forced to ask, symbolic of what?). I'm forced to wonder if Adam and Eve would not be symbolic in your view if the geneologies in Matthew and Luke did not link them to Jesus. What about Balaam's talking donkey? Or the angel that the donkey mentioned?

Or we come to your other idea, that phrases could be symbolic, or better, you are referring to them as idioms. Very well, by what professional (that is, objective) means do you suppose that Lot's wife turning into a pillar of salt means she went back to the city? That would be difficult, I would think, if the city had been destroyed. Or perhaps the city's destruction is idiomatic, too? And on what basis do you determine that one, and not another, is in fact an idiom?

Perhaps I could argue that the word "Jesus" is simply idiomatic for the perfect self that undergoes testing so that it may be brought to reality, a picture most forcefully presented in the idom of the death, burial, and resurrection, using such symbols as the cross and (empty) tomb.

Like I said, I'm interested in what makes your hermeneutic your hermeneutic. What objective means should I follow if I am to know what words and phrases are literal and which ones are symbolic?
At the risk of sounding like a professional, I think this question goes to that area of Biblical Criticism known as Form criticism.

Having a hermenuetic that says if effect, I will take every portion of the Scripture as literal unless there is a good reason not to, sounds spiritual, but it isn't a particularly effective or consistent hermenuetic. My own hermenuetic, and it's not always an easy one to follow, is that i will attempt to understand every Biblical passage as it was understood by the original audience, and as a corrallary, I will only adjust that overall in the Old Testament when the New Testament teaches that it is to be understood differently because of the further revelation through Christ.

There are all kinds of "forms" within Scripture and usually the key to understanding what a particular form is, is to examine it in larger portions before narrowing down to smaller portions, Historical narrative, Poetry, Prophecy, Alliteration, Teaching parable, etc all have different general approaches in how to understand them. We do the same thing in our current culture and literature. We don't read a poem in the same manner that we read a history book for example or expect to take a poem as literally as a history narrative.

Yet, many people run roughshod over the Scriptures doing just that. In their effort to take an idea that they either believe is in the Scripture, or want to believe is in the Scripture, they will run all over it seeking to prooftext it with short passage of Scripture which they put side by side and then read as if they were in fact written together.

Hope this helps some and introduces them at a very general level as to why Biblical Criticism is not just the domain of the skeptic trying to tear down the credibility of Scripture. It is also an important concept and understanding for the believer to rightly understand the Scriptures and avoid misinterpreting it. The person who boldlly proclaims themselves as a literalist and claims to hold the Scripture in highest regard, may in fact be doing themselves and the Scriptures a disservice if they are not willing and able to observe these elements and avoid making claims by taking some portions of scripture "literally" where the scriptures themselves show clearly that they were to be understood in a particular manner in a particular portion of Scripture.

Many times a literal take is the proper approach. Often times however it requires some work and discernment before making that declaration.
Dogmatism is the comfortable intellectual framework of self-righteousness. Self-righteousness is more decadent than the worst sexual sin. ~ Dan Allender

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Re: Bible stories literal or symbolic?

#13

Post by Jac3510 » Mon Apr 14, 2008 2:48 pm

Technically, you aren't talking about form criticism. You are referring to the standard historical-grammatical-literal method (aka, the litero-grammatico method . . . what Ryrie refers to as the "plain, normal reading"). In form criticism, you try to separate units within stories from their contexts to discover what was passed down as what in the oral tradition that predated the written transmission of a given text.

With that said, I agree with the hermeneutic you suggested. We should consider the genre, purpose, occasion, audience, date, etc. of the composition if we want to come to an objective understanding of a book, and moreso an individual passage or verse. My objection to G was the idea that one word or phrase or object could be symbolic while another word or phrase or object could be symbolic within the same genre, form, and context.

Please note, this is not to say that there is no such thing as figurative language, such as idiom, metaphore, simile, hyperbole, metonymy, etc. But I would argue that those are standard constructions of all languages. If, then, the snake is metaphorical in the Genesis account, would would expect something in the context to point us in that direction. But to say, for the sake of interpretation that what contextually is historical narrative should be taken as symbolic smacks of eisogesis strongly points to a theologically driven hermeneutic.

The question, then, is this: does our theology inform our exegesis, or does our exegesis inform our theology. I would insist on the latter, while outside of an objective hermeneutic (thus, the question), an advocate of G's position would seem to endorse the former.
Proinsias wrote:I don't think you are hearing me. Preference for ice cream is a moral issue
And that, brothers and sisters, is the kind of foolishness you get people who insist on denying biblical theism. A good illustration of any as the length people will go to avoid acknowledging basic truths.

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Re: Bible stories literal or symbolic?

#14

Post by Cross.eyed » Mon Apr 14, 2008 3:45 pm

Gman wrote:Folks,

I would like to ask if you believe that certain stories in the Bible are symbolic or literal. As an example, do you believe that the Garden of Eden was symbolic or a literal place on earth. Tree of life, literal or symbolic? Talking snake, literal or symbolic?
To answer specifically the questions you asked, literal- even the snake. But I don't believe there are symbolic whole stories in the Bible with the exception of parables.

I understand there are allegories, poetry, symbolism, prose etc. throughout the Bible, but I don't believe I should add symbolic words/phrases where there is no support in the Bible itself. In other words, I'm not going to make an assignment just to fill in the gap where I can't understand or someone has given me a symbolic substitute that has no other support.

Following the old rule of "Why would God give us His word, put it in print, expect us to live by it, and then hide it from us?"seemed to help in any interpretation.

Just my .02
I am the wretch the song refers to.

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Re: Bible stories literal or symbolic?

#15

Post by Canuckster1127 » Mon Apr 14, 2008 5:06 pm

Jac3510 wrote:Technically, you aren't talking about form criticism. You are referring to the standard historical-grammatical-literal method (aka, the litero-grammatico method . . . what Ryrie refers to as the "plain, normal reading"). In form criticism, you try to separate units within stories from their contexts to discover what was passed down as what in the oral tradition that predated the written transmission of a given text.

With that said, I agree with the hermeneutic you suggested. We should consider the genre, purpose, occasion, audience, date, etc. of the composition if we want to come to an objective understanding of a book, and moreso an individual passage or verse. My objection to G was the idea that one word or phrase or object could be symbolic while another word or phrase or object could be symbolic within the same genre, form, and context.

Please note, this is not to say that there is no such thing as figurative language, such as idiom, metaphore, simile, hyperbole, metonymy, etc. But I would argue that those are standard constructions of all languages. If, then, the snake is metaphorical in the Genesis account, would would expect something in the context to point us in that direction. But to say, for the sake of interpretation that what contextually is historical narrative should be taken as symbolic smacks of eisogesis strongly points to a theologically driven hermeneutic.

The question, then, is this: does our theology inform our exegesis, or does our exegesis inform our theology. I would insist on the latter, while outside of an objective hermeneutic (thus, the question), an advocate of G's position would seem to endorse the former.
Agreed. It never ceases to amaze me, for instance, how many times I've seen Job's comforters referenced and quoted as proof of God's word on a particular issue ..........
Dogmatism is the comfortable intellectual framework of self-righteousness. Self-righteousness is more decadent than the worst sexual sin. ~ Dan Allender

//bartsbarometer.com/

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