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January 4, 2014 / compassioninpolitics

NT Wright on Literal versus Metaphorical Interpretation of the Bible

Part of the point of the whole story is that He loves the world and intends to rescue it, that He’s put His plan into operation through a series of concrete events in actual history, and that he intends this plan to be worked out through the concrete lives and work of His people. But the Bible, like virtually all other great writing, regularly and repeatedly brings out the flavor, the meaning, the proper interpretations of these actual, concrete, space-time events by means of a complex, beautiful, and evocative literary forms and figures, of which metaphors is only one. Acknowledging (indeed, celebrating) the intended literal reference, investing aging the concrete events thus referred to, and exploring the full range of metaphorical meaning–these tasks are to be integrated together as key elements of Biblical interpretation.” (NT Wright, Simply Christian, p. 195)

“We should take particular care to avoid one subtle but powerful line of thought. It is all to easy to suppose that, if the Bible is not to be taken literally, but mostly to be interpreted metaphorically the writers (and perhaps even God) are not really interested in what we do with our own concrete circumstances, our bodily and economic and political life. Saying metaphorical, and not literal can lead quite quickly into the suggestion, all the more powerful for it’s never quite being stated head on, that God only cares about our nonconcrete (“spiritual”) life, thoughts, and feelings. As soon as we find that nonsense coming up out of the sea, we should recognize it. It is the monstrous, dualistic lie which half of our culture has embraced, and which the whole Bible, read literally, metaphorically, and every other way you can think of, out to defeat and destroy. No first-century Jew would have thought like that. Nor would any early Christian either.” (NT Wright, Simply Christian, p. 197)

* I’ve written He and His versus he and his.

** I’ve left out the ” ” around words or phrases–but the same essential meaning is preserved, I believe.

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