Is The Bible Literature?

Treating the Bible as a Literary Resource

Conservative Christians believe in a “historical grammatical” interpretation of the Bible. This basically means that we study the Bible within its historical context. In other words, we interpret the Bible as we would normally interpret any literary work, using the normal rules of grammar.

Historical Context

As we come to interpret a passage, we must consider the historical context of the passage. Since the author spoke to a historical setting, we must understand something about that background to interpret the text.

Also, the more we know about the author, the easier it will be to determine what he wanted to say in the passage. The Bible was written by men to other individuals or groups. The good interpreter of the Bible will also interpret a passage in light of the recipients of the message. We should also consider the place of the passage in the context of the total message of the book in which it is found.

Grammatical Context

Words are important. God inspired the words of Scripture. When both the Old and New Testaments were being written, God chose to use Hebrew and Greek, explicit languages to write his Word. God chose to give his Word first to people in a culture that was very careful about the words used. When we interpret the Bible, we should use our knowledge of grammar to interpret the passage.

Literal Meaning

The Bible should be interpreted literally, which means we should seek the obvious meaning, of words, context, and language. When we interpret literally, we seek the literal meaning of the author when he wrote or spoke the message of God. We should not seek for a hidden or mystical meaning. If God had written his message in esoteric pictures, there would be no objectivity to Christianity. Anyone could make a passage mean anything he desired. Hence, there could be no Christianity.

Do not stumble over the word “mystery” in Scripture (Eph. 3:8). A mystery was part of the message of grace that was hidden in the Old Testament, but revealed in the New.

Figurative Language

The Bible contains much figurative language, such as metaphors, simile, parables (extended metaphors), and many other figures of speech. It is generally clear when figurative language appears that a clear understand able message is being taught. To interpret the Bible the reader must search for the literal meaning the author had in mind when he used the figurative language.

The principle of interpreting Scripture according to the meaning of the author should remind us that the Bible has two authors-human and divine. Therefore, we must follow human laws of interpretation to understand Scripture. But we must also follow the spiritual principles of illumination to understand the mind of the Holy Spirit.

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Dr. Elmer Towns is a college and seminary professor, an author of popular and scholarly works (the editor of two encyclopedias), a popular seminar lecturer, and dedicated worker in Sunday school, and has developed over 20 resource packets for leadership education.His personal education includes a B.S. from Northwestern College in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a M.A. from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary also in Dallas, a MRE from Garrett Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, and a D.Min. from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.He is co-founder of Liberty University, with Jerry Falwell, in 1971, and was the only full-time teacher in the first year of Liberty’s existence. Today, the University has over 11,400 students on campus with 39,000 in the Distance Learning Program (now Liberty University Online), and he is the Dean of the School of Religion.Dr. Towns has given theological lectures and taught intensive seminars at over 50 theological seminaries in America and abroad. He holds visiting professorship rank in five seminaries. He has written over 2,000 reference and/or popular articles and received six honorary doctoral degrees. Four doctoral dissertations have analyzed his contribution to religious education and evangelism.

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