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What parts of the Bible should be taken literally?

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?

22 Answers

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  • tj
    Lv 7
    1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    If its not all of GOds word, its useless

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  • 1 decade ago

    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.

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  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    I consider the Bible to be the inerrant word of God. More than symbolism, there is representationalism in the Bible. (See Revelation for examples).

    Sorry ... atheists and those who doubt the Bible don't affect my faith. Don't let them affect yours. Churches who fold under the scrutiny of science a) don't understand the flaws of the science they're facing, and b) clearly don't believe their God is capable of literally anything. This is a sad fact in most churches, but it's true.

    As for the story of the fig tree, you're missing the point. First, Jesus was hungry demonstrating the fact that He was, indeed, human. When He found the tree held no fruit, He cursed it and it withered, again demonstrating Jesus was human and felt emotions like frustration, but that His faith made Him capable of doing something no other human could do. Why is this so important? It's to establish that God became a man. Why is this important? As John said, "For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist." -2 John 1:7. Clearly, by the time John wrote his 2nd epistle, some were challenging the idea that Jesus was human. After all, it's a hard concept to accept - the Creator God became a human being. But John makes it clear that it is a vital doctrine.

    If you believe in your heart the Bible is literally true, I invite you to search until you find the Truth. I was in your position once; I believed in my heart the Bible was true, but no church I knew of supported my view. I have since found a Church that does, but does not ignore the challenges that scientists and atheists hurl at the Bible. Seek, and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you.

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  • baves
    Lv 4
    4 years ago

    Q: "Which areas of the bible could be taken actually?" A: It relies upon on what form of literature you stumbled on those areas. Q: "am i able to take john14:14 actually or is that a no no?" A: confident, you may take it actually -- as some distance because of the fact the context could enable for its which ability. Q: "Why is it some areas of the bible are meant to be interpreted in a literal sense the place as some others are no longer (like the full leviticus gay ingredient to illustrate)?" A: they're numerous literature written interior of numerous cultural settings. Q: " How do you recognize which of them are meant to be taken actually?" A: some are glaring; some are no longer. you got to be consistently in settlement with the context -- on the spot and distant. All areas could agree; otherwise, there's a desire for further study.

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  • 1 decade ago

    Most of what people say is figurative is in the OT and is in fact meant quite literally. I am sure you have heard that you need to look at the verses in context to understand them. That concept isn't limited to a few verses, chapters or even books. The NT talks about a new covenant. Looking back at the OT we see that the old covenant was with Abraham. In Exodus 34:48 God wrote the words of the covenant on stone tablets. The covenant was broken not by God but by man and yet again God's desire to give blessing was refused by mans sinful nature. Finally Jesus came a paid the debt we owe fulfilling our contract with God and releasing his blessing of eternal life. Basically the OT is the broken contract nul and void. We are no longer required to adhere to this contract but instead study the failures we had and rejoice in the promises of the present.

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  • 1 decade ago

    My belief is that when the bible was written, it was known that everyone would have their own personal interpretations of the text. If it was meant to be the one and only truth and everyone was supposed to read it absolutely the exact same way, I would think it would have been written much more like an instruction manual instead of with parables in story form, or that another text would have later come out to say "no, no, you messed it all up, people...here's what it's really all about." I'll get thumbs-downed all over the place for that, but those are my thoughts.

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  • 1 decade ago

    When Jesus sees the fig tree that is not bearing fruit He destroys it because it has no use... just like humans..if we do not bear the fruit of the Spirit, we are not useful to God... He wants to use us to reach others and show Truth to them, but if we are not willing to let Him then we are not useful to HIm...

    I believe we should take the Bible literal at all times.... there are some symbolic parts like the book of Revalation but i think everything in the Bible is put there for a reason.... we need to apply it to our lives and our hearts.

    God bless!!!

    Laura

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  • 1 decade ago

    Discerning this can be a difficult process. I will try to offer some tips.

    1. Prayer. You need to ask God to help you understand.

    2. I think it is okay to take into a study things you already know about God. For instance, an interpretation that says we should enslave each other is probably wrong, because we know that's not the kind of God God is. You can use things you learn in some scripture to teach you about other scripture.

    3. Ask yourself whether it matters. For example, was the world created in six days? Who cares? That's not the kind of lesson that the Bible usually teaches. But did God create us as part of a beautiful system that fits together, in his image, for good relationships? Yes! That's the kind of thing you would expect to find there, because that's the kind of thing the Bible tends to be about.

    4. Try to be aware of cultural context. What kind of significance did figs have to Jewish culture? What about curses? Bible commentaries can be helpful in this (although make sure you don't accept whatever conclusions they come to at face value - think for yourself!).

    This is hardly a complete list of things you can do to try to answer your question, but I hope it helps.

    My personal view, for the record, is that the Bible is spiritually authoritative, but not necessarily historically or scientifically. You should come to your own conclusions though, and not take my word for it.

    May God teach you wisdom.

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  • 1 decade ago

    The ones that are literal should be taken literally.

    In some places it is obvious. "Thou shalt not lie" is pretty self explanatory. But in other places it is not so obvious (such as the creation story).

    Study literature - particularly literary techniques such as allegory, symbolism, and such. That will help you see what should be taken literally and what should not be.

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  • 1 decade ago

    No , Jesus want`s to call His apostles` attention according to the prophet`s way of teaching. The fig tree represents the Jewish people who didn`t produce the fruit God expected from them. God was thinking in Israel , cause after giving it so many Graces It din`t produce anything, people don`t do anything, neither they pay attention to his words. This visit of the Son of God is the last effort and the last grace of God. Jerusalen`s destruction is a perspective again.

    Each of us can ask to ourselves about the talents, gifts and opportunities we have received from God and didn`t produce fruit!!!.

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  • yesmar
    Lv 7
    1 decade ago

    The principles of Hermeneutics and studying the Bible in context of it's individual books are too involved to answer in this forum. Don't give up asking the hard questions though, it is a worthwhile quest. Have a nice day!

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