I know people who believe the bible is true and authoritative, and insist you get best meaning from King James Version. At the same time, I've heard a pastor quoted as saying, "You can trust the bible, just not the one you've got," implying it was true and authoritative, just not necessarily in the English versions we carry around. Further still I've met theological-liberals who say things like "Bible contains the Word of God." I'm not interested in debating the merits of any approach.

What are the terms used to describe the main schools of thought? I'm particularly interested in the flavors of "literalism", if there are any objectively-describable differences in camps here.

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    First clue this is a list question: It's asking for a list :)
    – Flimzy
    Oct 24, 2013 at 15:39
  • You mean, for example, the "Dispensational Camp," with adherents such as Cyrus I. Scofield and Charles Caldwell Ryrie? There's a good introduction to D'ism at theologicalstudies.org/resource-library/dispensationalism/… Oct 24, 2013 at 23:43
  • No, not eschatology. Differing schools of thought on how to be literal. And just extended definitions; no assessment if best ones, if possible, thanks.
    – pterandon
    Oct 25, 2013 at 1:06
  • I'm hoping this stays open, and you get a good answer but if not, here's one method that is considered to be "correct" by most conservative/literalist views: bible.org/seriespage/contextual-method-biblical-interpretation which also covered here: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/9961/… Oct 25, 2013 at 2:58
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    @Flimzy: Unless I'm mistaken, hermeneutics is the science and art of biblical interpretation, is it not? Besides, I have a feeling the OP is not asking for a simple list, per se, but terms for the different schools of thought within the literalist camp and, I assume, what differentiates the different schools. Maybe I'm reading too much into the OP's question, but IMO that's what he's asking, and he deserves an answer in either forum, though biblical hermeneutics might be a better fit. Oct 28, 2013 at 21:21

1 Answer 1


Interesting question, and worth a measured response, either here or in Stack Exchange Biblical Hermeneutics Beta. By the way, I assume you are not after a mere list of different schools of thought vis a vis literalism but an explanation of what distinguishes one "faction" of literalists from another faction of literalists.

According to Dr. Bob Thiel, Theophilus of Antioch, who wrote c. 180 A.D., was one of the earliest proponents of the "literal" approach to biblical interpretation. Thiel, by the way, is known online as COGwriter.com, and he is a widely published spokesperson for the Continuing Church of God (with which I am in no way affiliated). Thiel contrasts Theophilus's approach with the "allegorical" approach to biblical interpretation espoused by Origin of Alexandria, who borrowed extensively from Clement of Alexandria. These two "schools of thought" or "camps" are in some ways the antithesis of each other.

On the one hand, Theophilus, a literalist, would explain the concept of God's anger in very human terms, albeit not in a sinful sense. Call it righteous indignation or an aspect of the wrath of God, but God's anger is literal, according to Theophilus, and its expression is real.

On the other hand, Origin, an allegorist, would insist the human concept of anger is not worthy of God but must be explained not in anthropomorphic terms but in figurative and allegorical terms. In other words, there needs to be a "deeper" meaning than simple, human anger. The literalist camp would insist that while there may in fact be an occasional deeper meaning in a biblical text, the "default setting" (my term, copyright 2013!) for reading the Bible should be literal, not figurative.

Since the third century in the Common Era, variations of the two camps (not to mention other, competing camps) have come and gone. I would not be surprised if by google-ing various key terms in this regard, one might come up with a scholarly work which traces the evolution--or devolution, as the case may be--of the literal method. In fact, I will do that search myself and edit this answer if I find any sources worth quoting.

Additionally, I would not be surprised, either, if someone has written a tome on the various ways in which Christian literalists have gone about the art of interpretation since the first century A.D. Come to think of it, the "higher critics," so called, may in fact be literalists in some ways. What sets them apart from other literalists, however, is their tendency to explain away or discount such things as miracles and even the inspiration of the Scripture by the Holy Spirit. In other words, they may believe there was an actual Moses, for example, but not that Moses spoke to a rock and out gushed water.

The same reasoning applies to the crossing of the Red Sea. Higher critics lean toward believing the sea was a Sea of Reeds, and that there was nothing particularly miraculous in the way the Israelites crossed that shallow body of water that could not be explained through natural phenomena.

I hope someone takes up the challenge I've issued and answers the OP's question based on knowledge which has already be acquired in this regard before I've had time to prepare a more thorough answer than my partial answer.

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