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Plain Sense (or Literal) Versus Allegorical (or Symbolic) Interpretation

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Plain Sense (or literal) Interpretation Versus the Allegorical (or symbolic) Interpretation of the Bible

Confused about biblical interpretation?

Quick Index To Topics On This Page

  1. Some terms and Definitions for sake of discussion

  2. 2 Plus 2 Always Equals 4

  3. What It Takes To Understand the Word of God

  4. LCM's Perspective On Interpretation

  5. You Can Have It One Way Or Another, But Not Both

  6. The Dangers Of Using The Allegorical Method

Also see the following related articles:

"That's just your interpretation of the Bible," I have often heard people say when they hear a Biblical passage quoted in a context or with an application they do not like. Often some of those engaged in such discussion seem to believe that God meant for or allows for His Word to mean different things to different people. But is this so?

In attempt to answer this question, it is import to take a look at some terms and their meanings. Then, I will discuss the historical origin of 'allegorical interpretation.'

Some terms and Definitions for sake of discussion

The allegorical method was adopted by increasing number of professing Christian believers mostly beginning during the forth century when Christianity became Romanized. The allegorical method enabled individuals to interpret the word of God according their cultural norms and personally preferred interpretations.

The plain sense (or literal) method of interpretation is more concerned about the what the scripture meant when it was first written. The allegorical method is more concerned about what the scripture means to each individual--i.e., understanding is determined soley by the reader.

2 Plus 2 Always Equals 4

The Bible teaches that is it not good enough for a person to merely read the Bible, or listen to it being taught by someone, and then interpret it according to their own preferences and interpretational whims.

20Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private [Of one's own self] interpretation. 21For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. (2 Peter 1:20-21)

The Bible itself teaches that each passage in the word of God is intended to convey a single absolute truth. That truth may have several applications, but the truth conveyed is to mean the same thing to each and every person. Just as the expressed equation of 2+2=4, or the statement, "You are visiting LCM's website" is to mean the same thing to each person who understands it, so is God's word. A person may be adding duck, dogs, or dandelions, but adding two of them to two more of them will always equal four of them.

It is not an individual's prerogative to interpret the Holy Bible in a way that particularly suits them and their lifestyle. Each are challenged instead to discover what God meant when His Spirit inspired the "holy men of God" to write down His word--regardless of whether what they read suits them or not.

What It Takes To Understand the Word of God

God not only inspired the word, He also gives understanding by inspiration to those who desire to truly know Him and His word.

27But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him. (1 John 2:27)

I can personally testify to the fact that I did not--and could not--understand the deeper things of God's word until I was born again by God's grace and simple faith in Jesus Christ according to the gospel.

The consequence for not following these simple rules of interpretation can be profoundly bad.

16As also in all his [i.e. the Apostle Paul] epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:16)

To interpret the word of God as God has instructed can impart wisdom and life to the heart and mind that is receptive to faith and truth. To do otherwise can only result in destruction in the end.

LCM's Perspective On Interpretation

The author and founder of LCM takes the Bible at its plain sense. That means that I take the Bible's meaning at face value of each phrase and context. Some may frown on this as a blind faith approach used by unlearned fundamental fanatics. But among others, Sir Isaac Newton interpreted the Bible in the plain sense, and also foresaw a time when people would return to the literal method and turn away from the allegorical one. (Sir Isaac Newton's statement to that effect is presented on LCM's home page. We also present the statement made by Dr. Robert Jastrow, internationally known astronomer, concerning the value of contributions made by theologians to science and those that are scientifically minded.)

You Can Have It One Way Or Another, But Not Both

To take the Christian Bible at its plain sense means that expressions and context of each passage are to be understood by its simple face value translation. It also means that any biblical passages that in the plain sense indicate a symbolic or spiritual meaning by word and context are to be understood accordingly--not literally.

However, if one uses the allegorical method of interpretation, passages that are truly symbolic or spiritual in context and application may at times be interpreted literally instead--depending upon the predisposition of the individual making the interpretation.

As some may see, a reader of the Bible must either be open to believing that nothing they read in Bible means what it actually says, or believe that it means exactly what it says and nothing else.

The Dangers Of Using The Allegorical Method

It is error if that which the Bible truly deems to be literal is interpreted symbolically. It is equally erroneous if that which the Bible truly deems to be symbolic or spiritual is interpreted literally.

Consequently, I believe the only sure and accurate method is to read the Bible and take it at its plain sense. It is from this perspective that I and millions of other believers view the person of Jesus Christ, His work, and His teaching on how believers are to live today. Click here to learn more about Him from the plain sense perspective of the Bible.

The Webmaster of LCM
February 02, 2004

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