Literal vs. Figurative
The Bible itself uses figurative interpretation. For example, there are many New Testament passages in which the inspired writer interprets an Old Testament passage differently than the Israelites did (read more here). We must accept these particular interpretations as apostolic and therefore trustworthy (read more here).
Do these apostolic interpretations give us the freedom to apply allegory as we wish? The following interpretation by Paul is surprising; he equates Hagar with Israel — but what would happen if we were to apply allegory as Paul did?
For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. (Galatians 4:22-26)
We have an example from church history of the result of complete freedom in the use of allegory. The church father Origen claimed allegory was necessary in order to interpret scripture, but using his system renders the Bible unintelligible; he was declared by some as a heretic.
Once the Bible is rendered untrustworthy, Christianity quickly unravels. I am not interested in a "culturally relevant" Christianity in which the meaning of the Bible is unclear.
My approach has a place for symbolism. I have come to believe that the realm of the soul, the spiritual realm, is a realm in which symbols have a real existence (read more here). Many passages seeming to be figurative are actually literal but describe the activities and actions of the soul experiencing these symbols as reality. An example . . .
And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:2-4)
The souls of the faithful, believing Israelites were baptized by participating in the Exodus. Their souls ate the Manna and drank the water from the rock (when the body eats and drinks, the soul also eats and drinks). In doing these things their souls were redeemed because Christ was literally present in the spiritual realm in these symbolic actions and objects.
A few examples highlighting why I've chosen an ultra-literal approach to biblical interpretation . . .
Some passages in the Bible are clearly figurative. I am ignoring these in this discussion.
First, let's follow the natural course of using figurative interpretation. We must arbitrarily decide which passages are figurative and which are literal. Our choice must be determined by some authority outside of the Bible. Depending on our choice of who is the authority, we will arrive at different interpretations. Some examples:
|Authority ...||Results ...|
A wide range of interpretations are possible based on biases from outside the Bible. Protestantism is an example of this; there are so many contradictory doctrines.
He used allegory extensively. The result is doctrinal chaos.
At least Biblical interpretations based on this will be orthodox (it excludes such views as Arianism, Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Modalism). But there is much the Council of Nicea didn't address.
All biblical interpretations must support Catholic doctrine.
They used allegory of the Old Testament extensively to support and prove the claims of the gospel. This had two unfortunate side-effects: (1) anti-Jewish (since the Jews supposedly misinterpreted the Old Testament), and (2) planted the seeds for interpreting the New Testament allegorically.
The word "day" in Genesis chapter is a 24 hour day.
Christianity is mocked in our modern scientific era (read more here).
Unfulfilled prophecies in the Old Testament will someday be literally fulfilled.
The book of Revelation is strictly chronological
Modern eschatology is based on this. I reject this view.
The Olivet Discourse is strictly chronological
A cornerstone of Preterism. The passage doesn't seem to naturally support this reading.
The passages about "coming soon" and "in this generation" means that the parousia occurred in 70 A.D.
Calvinism and reformed theology.
"Orthodox", apostolic Christianity. The difficulty is knowing what they taught (since their writings must be interpreted).
The early church
For all the above, passages which literally support the teachings of the authority are interpreted literally and the rest of the passages are interpreted figuratively (and the meaning of the allegories support the teachings of the authority).
Because of all these problems with figurative interpretation, I decided to interpret the Bible as strictly literal (except where obviously figurative). The only difficulty I've found in doing this is that my views are unique; I would expect them to be mainstream. (Why am I the only one who has the correct views?)
Because of this difficulty I am tempted to jump on the bandwagon and join some group. But I have no reason to choose one group over another since all their assumptions of who is the teaching authority are arbitrary. Therefore I accept the following as my authority:
Here's the process I went through (and my conclusions) in determining the view that scripture should be interpreted strictly literally: