How do you know when to interpret scripture literally?
VBVM takes a high view of scripture. We believe the Bible is the authoritative Word of God, not based on the testimony of any man or even the church, but rather upon God Himself, Who has revealed Himself in the hearts of believers by His Spirit to be the Author of Scripture (1Cor 1:18).
Scripture is, therefore, to be taught and received as the final authority in all matters of doctrine and Christian living. (See also 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 6:13; 2 Peter 1:19-21; 1 John 5:9 among others.)
As we teach and apply God’s word, we follow the Golden Rule of interpretation, (formulated by Dr. David L. Cooper of the Biblical Research Society), which states:
When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense. In other words, take every word of Scripture at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning, unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental Biblical truths, indicate otherwise.
In practical terms, this means we teach Scripture literally, emphasizing the historical and theological context, while recognizing Scripture’s occasional use of symbols, figures, parables and other non-literal pictures to illustrate Biblical truth. In all cases, we rely on the context of Scripture to determine when to take a literal or figurative view of the text.
In many cases, the text of Scripture actually offers both a figurative and a literal meaning. For example, Genesis 1 teaches that God created all things in six literal days and rested on the seven day. While this chapter should be interpreted as a literal truth (when interpreted according to the Golden Rule), the text also uses the reality of a seven-day creation as a symbol to teach other truths.
In other words, God chose to create the world in six days and rest on the seventh so that He could communicate something beyond the facts of the Creation. (For a deeper explanation of how this was so, please see our Genesis study.)
So literal truth and symbols often work together in Scripture to teach us more than either by itself, so long as we don't make one the enemy of the other.