Take the 2-minute tour ×
Christianity Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for committed Christians, experts in Christianity and those interested in learning more. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I know that the question may seem a little bit self-referential but I ask it anyway:

There is often great controversy among Christians what parts of the Bible are to be interpreted literally and what parts are to be interpreted symbolically. The most prominent one that comes to mind is of course creation vs. evolution but there are many issue more throughout the Bible.

My question:
Which parts of the Bible are relevant to give some clues or even guidance what should be interpreted literally and what symbolically?

share|improve this question
I edited your title because at first it sounded like a duplicate, but the body of your question actually had something different. What does it mean to comment on scripture with scripture? –  Caleb Sep 1 '11 at 20:12
@Caleb: Thank you –  vonjd Sep 1 '11 at 20:13
Yes, it is self-referential. Suppose I find a passage that says, "Take everything literally." How would you decide if you should take that one literally? –  T.E.D. Sep 2 '11 at 2:13
@T.E.D.: Well, you'd start by determining which "everything" it was talking about. It clearly would not mean "everything" in "every book of the modern Bible" because it would have been written before the modern Bible existed... once you determine the context of the "everything" it referred to, you'd still have to answer the same question for whatever wasn't covered in "everything." –  Flimzy Sep 2 '11 at 3:01
add comment

1 Answer 1

up vote 3 down vote accepted

I take the Bible literally and here's how I discern. First understand the premise that Jesus cannot lie.

Ezekiel 17:2 NIV

“Son of man, set forth an allegory and tell it to the Israelites as a parable.

Allegory is a theoretical representation of a spiritual meaning through concrete or material forms.

Jesus is not lying in His parables, he's simply giving us a hypothetical. Jesus has also told hypotheticals through the prophets.

Hosea 12:10

I spoke to the prophets, gave them many visions and told parables through them.”

Parables are the equivalent to a hypothetical story, told by Jesus and His prophets.

So strike any of those as such, not to be taken literally. The one instance that Jesus gives a parable that I do not believe to be hypothetical is the rich man in the lake of fire and lazarus in paradise. Because Jesus chose to use a specific name, I believe He was telling us the truth.

Is truth the situation or the statement?

Here's another area of discernment that you need to look for. But first, another premise: The Bible is the inerrant and/or inspired word of God.

This discernment deals with testimonies of individuals. Lets take the three gospels that discuss Christ on the cross. We have three accounts, each of which give us a different interpretation of the sign above Jesus.

So what is true about this? Is the fact that the disciples stated what they saw, true, or is what they stated true?

God is all about leaving witnesses and their testimonies about Him untouched. God would have no reason to modify a witnesses testimony. Therefore it can be concluded that what is true about these gospels, is that each disciple witnessed the events and testified to what they saw and remembered.

The fact that Mathew said the sign says X is true, but the sign actually saying X may not be true.

So how do we take this? Well, just like we take the story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife. The fact that She lied about Joseph was true, but what she said was not true.

So when reading the bible, pay close attention to who is talking and decide whether or not you can trust that person.

Some additional things to keep in mind.

  • Inerrancy allows for a 'wait and see' approach.
  • Inerrancy allows for the ordinary language of everyday speech.
  • Inerrancy allows for loose or free quotations.
  • Inerrancy allows for variety in details in explaining the same event.
share|improve this answer
What do you mean by the second point "Inerrancy allows fo rhte ordinary language of everyday speech" ? –  Pacerier Sep 5 '11 at 14:31
add comment

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.