Rightly Dividing the Word and Reading the Bible “Literally”
Many precious Believers pride themselves on reading the Bible “literally.” In other words, they read their preferred English translation and supposedly take everything at the surface level, face value reading. This is sometimes referred to as “wooden-literalism.”
Of course, NO ONE reads the Bible in its entirety in that kind of “literalism” and nor should they. For example, in Joshua 10:1-15 we see that through Joshua’s prayer/command that both the sun and moon stood still. Well, if we take that in a wooden-literal sense then that basically means nothing b/c the sun and moon “stand still” already. And btw, if we’re going to be “literal” then the sun and moon must have legs since they “stand” still, right? But, we understand the point of the story. Based on the pre-scientifc understanding of the author it seemed from their vantage point that the sun/moon “stood still.” Of course, something else was going on.
Another example could be found in Rev. 6:13 which says, “And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind.” If we take this “literally” then that would basically be the end of human history as we know it b/c if even one star fell to the earth then…BOOM…WE GONE…THE END! But, of course, there is something else being communicated and we should not read this in a wooden-literal sense as Revelation has several more chapters after chp. 6.
Ultimately it’s extremely important when reading Scripture that we understand what kind of literature that we are reading. And that, btw, is what “literally” actually means: according to the literature. Should some scriptures be read and understood in a wooden-literal sense? Yes, of course. But, should MANY portions of Scripture be read through other literary lenses? YES!!! As a matter of fact, Jesus and Paul read and interpreted Holy Scripture through the lens of signs, symbols, parables, prophetic images, metaphors, allegories, hyperbole, idioms/figures of speech, and the like, at least as much, if not more, than they did through a wooden-literal sense. And if that was good enough for Paul and Jesus then it should certainly be good enough for us! And if we fail to ascertain then this vitally important truth then it will simply not be possible for us to “rightly divide the word of truth.”