How to Study the Bible Session 10

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This session is being broadcast on “Face Book Live”. We have provided the notes here for your reference.

How to Study Your Bible – X
Figuring out the Figurative

We use figurative language every day. “She is mad as a hornet. “The cat is out of the bag.” “I’m so embarrassed I could die.” I’m bored to tears.” “You’ll have to face the music.” We use it every day and understand it.

The Bible is full of figurative language. David describes a believer as a tree, and unbelievers are like chaff. The bride in the Song of Solomon is described as the “Rose of Sharon,” and the “Lily of the Valley.” Jesus called King Herod a “fox,” the Pharisees “whitewashed tombs,” and James and John the “sons of thunder.” Paul called false teachers “dogs.” God told Hosea to go and marry a prostitute as a symbol of God’s faithful love for His people and their faithlessness towards Him. The book of Revelation describes a ruler in heaven surrounded by a rainbow. A
lamb is seen with seven horns and seven eyes. A beast is seen rising up out of the sea with ten horns and seven heads. At the end of the book an entire city covering more than 2 million square miles drops down out of heaven. How do we know when to interpret the Bible literally or figuratively? What does the figurative language mean?

When we speak of “literal interpretation,” we mean taking language in its normal sense, or accepting it at face value. Dr. Howard Hendricks has said “When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense!” So when Jesus says “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” we don’t need to look for some hidden meaning. We know that He is telling us to pay our taxes. But when Jesus called Herod a fox He was speaking figuratively. So what do we do when plain sense” does not make “common sense? Are there any rules for interpreting Scripture literally or figuratively? Yes!

Take every passage literally unless you have a good reason not to.
Let the passage speak for itself. Don t try to make a passage says what it does not say. For instance, many people over the years have tried to make the Song of Solomon a picture of Christ and the Church. How does that fit into the text? This is a book that celebrates sexual love in marriage as God intended it to be. Never try to spiritualize” a text. Let that text speak for itself.

Take a passage figuratively if a literal meaning is absurd or impossible.
Consider Revelation 1:16. Does the Lord have a literal sword sticking out of His mouth? Hardly. That would be absurd. This is figurative language. The sword in this passage is a large, ceremonial, sword of victory and judgement. Quite possibly John is talking about the Word of God (Hebrews 4:12). The language of a dream or a vision is usually figurative language. Joseph’s dreams in Genesis 37 were about things in the future. Daniel’s prophetic visions were things that would happen in the future.

Take a passage figuratively if a literal meaning encourages immorality.
In John 6:53-55 was Jesus suggesting that His followers become cannibals? No that would have been a violation of Old Testament law. God never violates His character. His Word is based upon His character we can be sure that His commandments are consistent with who He is. God would never ask us to do something that He would not do. Clearly this is figurative language.

Take a passage figuratively if there is an obvious figure of speech.
Similes (like or as, Psalm 1:3), metaphors (comparisons, Matt. 5:14), hyperbole (exaggeration, 2nd Cor. 11:8), paradox (contrary to logical thought, Matt. l6:25), are a few figures of speech that call for a figurative interpretation.

Take a passage figuratively if it contradicts other Scripture or doctrine.
The Bible never contradicts itself. Is Jesus saying that rich people cannot be saved in Mark 10:25? If this is the only passage we had on salvation for the rich we might wonder as the disciples did. 1 Timothy 6:17-19 warns of the dangers of riches, but nowhere in Scripture does it teach that rich folks can’t be saved.

A literal interpretation of 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 might make one believe that a person who commits suicide forfeits his salvation. That belief compromises the doctrine of eternal security.

Use the principles we have learned in interpretation to uncover the meaning
of the text.

Observe the content which reveals information about the text. Study the context and the culture using bible dictionaries and encyclopedias. Make some comparisons of key terms to other Scriptures. Take special note of the verbs using a concordance and bible dictionary. Do some consulting in commentaries.

Read Judges 9:9-15. Try your best to interpret this passage