Should the Bible be taken literally?
Psalm 49:4 speaks of a “parable” and a “dark saying”; “I will incline mine ear to a parable: I will open my dark saying upon the harp.”
Galatians 4:23-24 speaks of the scriptures as an “allegory”; “But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar.”
1 Corintians tells us the words about God that are spoken are a “mystery” and are “hidden”; “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory:”
Mark 4:11 tells us that the “apostles” will understand the “mystery” but to others it will remain a “parable” or mystery; “And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables:”
Ephesians 3:3-5 tells us that only by revelation and by the Spirit is the mystery made known to the holy apostles and prophets; “How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;”
So what is this mystery that only the holy apostles and prophets know of but to others it is only a parable? Colossians 1:27 hints to us what it is; “To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory:”
Ezekiel 17:2 “Son of man, put forth a riddle, and speak a parable unto the house of Israel;”
Isaiah 28:10-13 warns us that the “word of the Lord” itself must be line upon line and here and there a little to understand the true message; for it is not written out plainly for all to see, and we must take care to do this; “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little: For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people.…But the word of the LORD was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.” And it also tells us who shall understand the doctrine; “Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts” (Isaiah 28:9). And this sentence in Isaiah is a dark saying in itself; for what is this “milk” that we must be weaned from?
1 Corinthians 15:46 “Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual” (i.e. the carnal message first and then the spiritual understanding of those carnal words). There is an order of things; first that which is natural and then the spiritual.
The scriptures themselves tell us that they are not written plainly, or rather they tell us the true message is hidden. The Word teaches in parables (stammering lips and another tongue), and the parables are first heard and understood naturally (carnally). But that does not make the parable a true literal story. The parable is simply a means to teach a deeper message.
2 Peter 3:15-16 “And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.”
Here in 2 Peter 3 is says that Paul shared his wisdom through writings which are hard to understand. And when those who are “unlearned” or “unstable” (ignorant of spiritual things) read Paul’s writings or other scriptures, they wrest the writing which is destructive. The meaning of “wrest” is wrench or torcher. So people misunderstand the scriptures to their own hurt. Again this is very similar to what is being said in Isaiah 28 above. The scriptures are not written so that they are easy to understand because the spiritual message is hard to understand, but yet the words (letter) are carnal.
2 Corinthians 3:6 “Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”
Here in 2 Corinthians 3 it also says the letter of the scriptures kills. Which again is very similar to what is being said in Isaiah 28:13 above.
1 Peter 1:20 “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”
There may be many interpretations of the scriptures that SEEM right. The scriptures themselves tells us this, but they also warn us of that very thing!
Hebrews 6:1-4 “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this will we do, if God permit. For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,..”
The letter of the scripture “kills” (i.e. spiritually kills) when those who are unlearned (not moved by the Holy Spirit) interpret the scripture carnally or naturally. Again those who are unlearned are those who are not guided (moved) and not being carried (moved) by the Holy Spirit. The unlearned are those whose eyes have not yet been enlightened by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a specific spirit of understanding, and it is one that is spiritual not carnal. And with Holy Spirit enlightenment comes “leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ….” (Hebrews 6:1, above). This “leaving” the principles of the doctrine, is a kind of weaning of the milk spoken of in Isaiah 28 above. The principles of the “doctrine” are carnal things and interpretations like baptisms, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment (i.e. carnal understandings like physical baptisms, resurrection of physically dead people, eternal hell fire, etc.). This tells us these basic carnal principals need to be left and we need to move on to the spirit of the matter. And once we are enlightened with the understanding, we understand the carnal interpretation is a base to understand the allegory but actually kills the spiritual way. But it says this only happens to us “if God permit”.
Being taught by the Holy Spirit means having a mind that is changed by the light of spiritual understanding. But remember the scriptures are not written spiritually, they are a carnal letter because that is what is read, and that is what is understood first. So we must gain the knowledge of the Spirit and be guided by that spiritual knowledge to “rightly divide” the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Ephesians 1:17-18 ”That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,…”
The coming of the Holy Spirit is obtaining a “spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: the eyes of your understanding being enlightened…”.
1 Corinthians 3:11 “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.”
Here it says Paul’s teachings are not spiritual but are carnal [because most people cannot understand the spiritual and the natural has to come first anyhow]. But yet they need to be understood spiritually for the true message to be understood. Remember, we are to be ministers of the spirit and not of the letter (literal words). “For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.” (Hebrews 5:13)
Milk represents the literal carnal interpretation. Meat represents the more difficult spiritual meaning or the true message of the parable. How do we stop using milk, and how do we even know if we are still using milk?
Isaiah 28:9 “Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.”
We move on from the milk once we are weaned; or spiritually interpreted, once we no longer read the scriptures carnally or naturally. The scriptures are allegory and are not meant to be read literally (carnally) after the Spirit has come. And remember when the letter is understood literally it kills us spiritually (2Corinthians 3:6)
The spiritual meaning is hard to grasp. We are carnal by nature, and it is difficult to move on from the carnal meaning. It is not only difficult intellectually but also emotionally. We become emotionally attached to the literal meaning or carnal message, especially when that is all we have known and understood for years; and especially when we have come to think that the carnal literal stories ARE the absolute truth and there is nothing to move on from or be “weaned” from. But as it says, the natural or carnal interpretation has to come first, and then the natural has to go away for the spiritual understanding to come. But we must realize that this is the natural process and order of things, and we must be willing to move on from the carnal, natural understanding that we have first gained. We have to be willing to give it up if we are to be “weaned”.
Once we study the scriptures with our mind open to what it is actually saying rather reading with a preconceived notion of what it already says, we come see that the scriptures THEMSELVES tell us we must move on from the milk (carnal, natural interpretation) in order to see the truth. There is an order of events or process to it all.
Ephesians 1:13 “In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise…”
The Holy Spirit is that “word of truth” and it seals us in that truth once we hear it.
Acts 1:8 “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you:
Acts 19:6 “And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.”
The Holy Spirit, when it comes, gives “power”; which includes the ability to prophesy; which represents the ability to see the spiritual message within the carnal letter. In other words, it gives you the ability to interpret the parable of the scripture.
John 16:7 “Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.”
John 14:26 defines the Comforter as the Holy Spirit. And something has to “go way” for the Holy Spirit to come. From these scriptures it tells us that the wisdom of the Holy Spirit is not automatically with us. There are things that have to happen first. Again, there is an order of events.
1 Corinthians 8:1-2 “Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.”
The Holy Spirit is also a spirit of love which teaches us meekness, humility, compassion, the things we need to know. Carnal knowledge brings pride and honor that lifts us up and makes us think we already “know” it all and already have the truth, when we really do not.
Luke 11:13” If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” The gift of the Lord is not someone but rather something, and that something is the “Spirit” of understanding.