Bible: Literal or Figurative?

This post is part of the January 16th God or Not blog carnival based on the topic of scriptural literalism to be held at Back of the Envelope:

I’m a theist who asserts that the stories of the Bible, that some say literally happened, did not. They are allegories intended to convey a deeper spiritual meaning. In this article I’ll interpret three examples of popular stories that are assumed to literal by many and I’ll conclude with a thought on why my “opposition”, atheists and theist who interpret the Bible literally, will presume, incorrectly, that I’m wrong.

Bible Stories

  1. Noah’s Ark and the story of the flood are not literally true despite the claims by some who found a splinter on a mountaintop and say it’s the Ark. Let’s review the story. God creates the world but doesn’t like how wicked and evil everyone, except Noah who lives in fellowship with God, is. God tells Noah to build an Ark and put two of every animal onboard. God floods the earth and destroys everything except Noah’s Ark. As the flood ends Noah makes a sacrifice to God and God makes a covenant to never again destroy the earth. So what does this mean? When we don’t live in fellowship with God we will figuratively be destroyed in the sense that we’ll be confused, suffer and live in fear of death. When we are in fellowship with God, but more specifically our immanent divinity (i.e. the soul), we can never be destroyed, as we know that our true nature is wise, loving, eternal and immortal. The duality that we are, as symbolized by two of every animal, becomes One. We let our redemptive divinity rise above our wicked humanity like a rainbow after a storm.
  2. Adam and Eve did not literally exist. Their story is an allegory for the creation of our divinity (i.e. the soul) and our human self (i.e. the personality). God created Adam, who symbolizes the soul, and Adam, since it was his rib, figuratively created Eve, who symbolizes the personality. This order, and the fact that Eve’s is intended as a companion for Adam, implies that Adam is suppose to be in charge. This has nothing to do with the relationships between men and women. It teaches us that we are to identify with our divinity and follow its intentions. What are the soul’s intentions? To become one with the personality so together they can grow in wisdom, express divinity and fulfill God’s plan. This intention was so strong that they were willing to eat the apple and figuratively die, which leads us to…
  3. Jesus of Nazareth died on the cross but did not literally rise again after three days. This death and resurrection story predates Jesus. Osiris, Adonis, Mythra and others were said to have died and rose again. So what does this mean? It symbolizes the death of the personality and the rise of the soul. We have a dual nature. We’re both human and divine. We are meant to grow in our spiritual understanding and awareness to realize that we are the soul who uses the personality to express itself in this world. We are not born with a conscious awareness of our spiritual self. The human self thinks that it’s suppose to be in charge of life and of course the result is suffering and confusion. Eventually we realize that there’s something more and that ideally this spiritual side should be in charge. Figuratively the personality dies and the soul rises. It’s important to stress however that the personality has to be strong. After all it is the agent of the soul in this world. The soul needs a healthy personality to bring its divinity into this world.

Why might these seem wrong to the “opposition” namely atheists or theists who take the Bible literally? Because, with all due respect, their ability to intuit (i.e. use their intuition to “think” abstractly) is not well developed. Both groups, but particularly the atheists, have a strong ability to think concretely. They approach all of this God stuff with a sharp mind and they try to “figure it out” with reason. This does not work! You use your body to act, your emotions to emote, your mind to think and your soul to intuit. The difference I’m making between thinking and intuiting is that thinking is reasoning and making sense of the things of this world while intuiting is abstract thinking and making sense of the divine world, namely the divine qualities of love, joy, wisdom, peace, beauty, harmony and goodwill. To be able to approach an understanding of God and the meaning of life you need to develop an ability to intuit abstract ideas. Without it it’s easy and reasonable to conclude that there is no God. With it you know that there is a God and that you are His child!

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3 Responses to “Bible: Literal or Figurative?”  

  1. 1 bleedingisaac

    It’s also interesting to me how differently Jesus read the Bible than his more liberal “followers.” Jesus seemed to believe the tale of Sodom and Gemorrah happened literally and used it to threaten others with (Matthew 17:22-36). Similarly, Jesus talks about the Jonah story as if it were true and makes parallels to his own life (Luke 11:29-32). Jesus seems to believe that Abel (son of Adam and Eve supposedly killed by Cain) was a real person (Luke 11:51). It appears Jesus believes that manna (magical bread) came down out of the sky for people to eat (John 6:49).

    Similarly, Jesus reads other passages like a fundamentalist. To prove a point about his right to be king, he relies on one single word (i.e. “Lord”) in one of David’s writings (Matthew 22:43-45). Sounds like a “literal, historical” point of view to me. Jesus uses the tense of the verb “am” to prove a point about the resurrection (Luke 20:37-38). Jesus proof-texts a Psalm to keep from being punished for making himself equal to God (John 10:34-35).

    Jesus also disagreed with most of your mainline protestant scholars about the authorship of the books of the Bible. He attributes the Torah to Moses (Matthew 19:7, 8; Mark 7:10, 12:26; Luke 5:14; 16:29,31; 24:27, 44; John 1:17; 5:45, 46; 7:19). He attributes “both Isaiah’s” to the same “Isaiah” (Mark 7:6–13; John 12:37–41). He believes Daniel wrote the book of Daniel (Daniel wrote Daniel: Matthew 24:15).

    Do you believe the founder of your religion practiced the same hermeneutic that you do? If not, are you a better representative of true Christianity than Christ?

  2. 2 Athana

    Brendan, Thanks for writing for the Carnival. I am concerned about the character and mental health of the god in your bible. This god delights in war. He is jealous. He kills entire cities of people. He laughs at people’s misfortunes. He hates certain kinds of people. I could go on (and on, and on).

    If you read your bible, this is exactly what it says.

    I maintain that you, Brendan, bless your heart — and millions more like you — have been brainwashed into thinking that, despite his obviously psychotic behavior — this god is Love.

    But the emperor has no clothes.

    A god who kills, loves war, is jealous, orders his followers to kill their children (Isaac), and who hates, cannot be “Love.”

    You were born human, with a brain. That brain should tell you that you have been hoodwinked. Listen to your brain!

  1. 1 Back of the Envelope


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