Interpreting the Inspired Word of God

I’m still working on a post on Old Earth vs New Earth but something struck me during my readings. I’ve often heard that the Bible is the inspired word of God. That’s an interesting statement and I’ve never taken the time to contemplate it. So read more about what that statement means and I came up with several quotes.

Evidence of the book's inspiration includes prophecy, archeology, cohesive unity, accuracy, and Christ revealed. source

In the context of the Scriptures, the word inspiration simply means “God-Breathed.” Inspiration communicates to us the fact the Bible truly is the Word of God, and makes the Bible unique among all other books. source

Since I am not one to believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible, I believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, but influenced by the culture and understanding of the world at the time when written.

So let’s take a look at what the Bible states how we are to deal with a woman not being virgin.

20 "But if this charge is true, that the girl was not found a virgin, 21 then they shall bring out the girl to the doorway of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death because she has committed an act of folly in Israel, by playing the harlot in her father’s house; thus you shall purge the evil from among you," Duet. 20-22

When reading this scripture we are asked to keep in mind that this is the law of a culture that existed 3000 years ago. Now, I have to ask myself, or is this man’s way of enforcing God’s law against fornication? I choose the latter.

Although the authors of the Bible possessed some foresight, would it not be reasonable to conclude that just as men have interpreted the Bible for justification of the Inquisition, that they would not interpret the inspired word of God to reinforce their cultural norms?

I also wonder if the book of Genesis were written today, would it still state that God made the world in six days or would it take into account our increased knowledge in physics, geology and biology. Meaning, that the authors of the Bible had limited knowledge of the vastness of the earth and it’s complexity.

The reason this is such a difficult debate is because people will account for differences cultural language, moral code, traditions and lifestyles. But they won’t take into account the advancement of human knowledge.

Let’s face it, the Church was steadfast in its teachings that the earth was flat and that the earth was the center of the universe. These beliefs came from a literal interpretation of the Bible. We now know that both are incorrect. Of course, many would say that the Bible does not say that the world is flat but since many people at the time believe that it was, God simply spoke to them in terms that they would understand.

If that is the case, then couldn’t one say that when God told Noah that a flood would cover the world, could He not have been saying that the flood would cover what they understood to be the world at that time? (read more)

So when Revelations reads: 1 And after these things I saw four angels standing on FOUR CORNERS OF THE EARTH, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. (Rev: 7-1)

Am I to take that literally or as a figure of speech? If this is literal, then it is because the author believed what many believed at that time – the world was flat.

How is it that I have to take into account the differences in culture, men’s understanding of the world and traditions at the time with only some parts but other parts are to be taken literally?

I certainly believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God? But I also know that the man’s limited understanding of his world is never from anything in which he involves himself. Therefore, unless God suspended free will while inspiring the authors, I feel comfortable with my non-literal interpretation approach.


26 Responses to Interpreting the Inspired Word of God

  1. Bullfrog Says:
    James, you knew I was gonna jump on this!

    I just did some reading on just this subject, what a coincidence!

    Here are some excerpts from a site that covers it pretty well:

    "The word translated "corners," as in the phrase above, is the Hebrew word, KANAPH. Kanaph is translated in a variety of ways. However, it generally means extremity."

    "It is translated "borders" in Numbers 15:38. In Ezekiel 7:2 it is translated "four corners" and again in Isaiah 11:12 "four corners." Job 37:3 and 38:13 as "ends.""

    "Some have tried to ridicule the Bible to say that it teaches that the earth is square. The Scripture makes it quite clear that the earth is a sphere (Isaiah 40:22)."

    Isaiah 40:22 -
    "22 It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in:" (italics mine).

    Conveniently, by the verse above, we can not only see an example of the earth being referred to as round, but also a good example of an obviously figurative statement.

    What is missing when people take "four corners" literally is context and accounting for the difficulty of translating Hebrew into English, which is why anyone who seriously studies the English Bible should have a literal Hebrew translation handy so when puzzling verses or words show up, they can be reconciled.

    The verse above is obviously not suggesting we are literally "grasshoppers" but that compared to God, we are insignificant, and this is obvious to any casual reader. When the Bible is figurative, it is obviously so.
  2. James Manning Says:

    you are right. there are instances in the bible that but that is where things fall apart. because i could interpret that when they use four corners, because then we are left to say some things are a figure of speech - obvious the book of Psalms and Songs of Solomon are poetry - but the rest we are to assume it is literal (except for the parables that Jesus uses)
  3. Bullfrog Says:
    The difference between what should be taken as literal and figurative all comes down to the intent of the author. This includes understanding the time at which the Bible was written, the land, people, and culture.

    For example, someone 1000 years from now reads in some persons diary written in our time, "It rained cats and dogs today!" The reader, assuming this term is no longer used, may be tempted to visualize cats and dogs falling from the sky. Either they would assume this to be ridiculous, or do a thorough analysis of culture and language in 2006 and understand the phrase just means it rained "alot".

    We have to so the same when reading the Bible.
  4. James Manning Says:
    But I think most people know the difference between a metaphor, analogy or figure of speech.

    The question is this... if we have to account for cultural and language as well as the beliefs held at the time, how then do we turn around and take everything in the Bible literally?

    Even the term 'raining cats and dogs' have an association with a cultural phenomenon. If we were living in the 1500's we would have seen small animals falling through the straw roofs when the rain was severe. So the saying would make sense.

    With that said, I'm assuming that the four corners of the earth statement didn't just pop our of no where. People did believe the earth was flat. They believed the sun, moon and stars revolved around the earth.

    Like this:

    "The devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them"
    (Matthew 4:1-12)

    Ok, now that would lead me to believe that the author of this text thought the earth was flat.

    If we place this into historical context, I don't see it would be hard to believe that people thought the earth was flat - especially considering that the catholic church raged against a round earth for centuries.

    Again, whenever we read the scripture we are left to interpret things - so if we actually have to research whether they are talking about a round object or a flat object, how then can we not debate whether six days is actually six days or if a flood cover the earth or just the earth as they knew it to be?
  5. Bullfrog Says:
    Alot of people believe the "FLat Earth" theory was widely accepted by the general populace around the 1st century, but some minor research on the history of the flat earth theory proves otherwise.

    Here are a couple excerpts from Wikipedia:

    "It is commonly assumed that people from early antiquity generally believed the world was flat, but by the time of Pliny the Elder (1st century) its spherical shape was generally acknowledged."

    "The common misconception that people before the age of exploration believed that Earth was flat entered the popular imagination after Washington Irving's publication of The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus in 1828. In the United States, this belief persists in the popular imagination, and is even repeated in some widely read textbooks."

    As far as Christians promoting or even widely accepting the theory:

    "A few early Christian writers questioned or even opposed the sphericity of the Earth on theological grounds, but these writers are not thought to have been influential in the Middle Ages due to a scarcity of references to their work in medieval writings."

    "There is evidence that the spherical Earth was accepted by many Christians. For example, Emperor Theodosius II of the Byzantine Empire placed the globus cruciger (which depicts Earth as round) on his coins."

    You incorrectly assume that Bible authors believed in a flat earth. The four corners references most likely referred to the four directions, North, South, East and West.

    As for the rest, you basically answered your own question: most people understand metaphor, analogy and figure of speech. Those who also have a good understanding of Biblical culture can navigate the Bible with little confusion compared to those with a number of incorrect preconceived notions.

    We can go on and on about this, but the fact is that the whole Bible CAN be interpreted, and is not subject to each individuals interpretation but has an absolute interpretation and meaning to us. These difficulties in the Bible that many like to talk about are not that difficult if you study and are not willing to assume.
  6. bold as love Says:
    This might sound crazy, but I have always held a sneaky suspicion that alot of the things we consider figurative in the Bible are just straight up like it is written- Oh yeah, I know that statement can expose me to much ridicule and comes off sounding intellectually challenged- so be it.
  7. James Manning Says:

    I've always been fascinated by the bible. I actually thought about going to school - and one day i just might do that.

    I guess I go through this intellectual excercise because I have no doubt about salvation. I respect every religion but I believe that that Jesus is the truth and the light and I don't waiver about it.

    But Christian doctrine and interpretations is one of the most interesting subjects I can thinks of. Why do people believe what they believe?

    But I also think my always asking me these questions has enabled me to avoid getting caught up in false teachings -
  8. woodrow241 Says:
    Interesting post and this type of thing has been debated for centuries. I think it is important to not get bogged down in the details and find the essence of what it means to be a christian and how we are to live our lives. Otherwise you can find yourself involved in an incessant debate
  9. mark Says:
    I certainly believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God?

    Yo James Dell comented on one of your post saying something to the effect of He interprets the Bible literaly because not to would invalidate the bible. Especially when we really dont know what to interpret as literal and what's metaphor and who is wise enough to decide between the 2.
    This rational is ridiculous to my way of thinking but at least he was honest.

    This literal verse metaphor stuff has always been a major problem I have with all religion.

    1 think in particular that has annoyed me about intepreting the bible literally is the part of the bible about Noah's Ark, now the bible says that he put 2 of everthing on the bible, but I find this hard to believe what about the millions of insects, birds, and plants that dont live in the water. Were thier really horses, elephants, gorillas, lions, tigers, bears on the arc. James have you ever gone down to a creak or small stream thier are literally hundreds of many different animals(some truly bizare). Even in dc (the city) several different types of snails.Has anyone who's argued for a literal translation of the bibles ever thought about how Noah would collect the hundreds thousands of animals inlcuding the ones I just mention. The arc would had to have been truly enormous, Im talking about larger than any building ever built by man. I dont think the folks who say they believe in a literal interpretation really think thier belief through.
  10. Bullfrog Says:
    Ahhhh, the Noah's ark argument...

    No, Mark, you are not the first to have thought of this and those of us who believe that the Bible should be taken literally have thought about this as well.

    Was the Ark large enough to hold 2 animals of every species? You do not seem to know exactly how large the ark was, but you are willing to assume it could not have been large enough to do this. Again, you made an assertion, but failed to do any hard research, but that doesn't keep you from reaching a final conclusion and insulting everyone that disagrees.
  11. James Manning Says:

    What some say is that Noah took to of "like" animals - which means that he didn't take two pumas, two tigers, two lions, two panthers, he took two cat-like mammals and after leaving they ark the evolved into different species.

    Now, the problem is that some animals like large cats are meat eaters. So in order to survive they would have had to eat two antelopes but that would have wiped out that species. So, what some conclude is that there were no meat eating animals before the flood. How and why animals evolved from eating grain to eating meat - that I haven't found the answer to.

    Trust me, there is an answer to every single thing that would make you say 'hmmmm, so how did (enter question here)'. There are a ton of questions and I have some research on some of the major points that I'll post soon.
  12. Bullfrog Says:
    Well put James. I just published a post that deals with our tendency to hold out on God until he meets our definition of fairness and logic.
  13. Shavonne Says:
    Given as I'm not a fan of religion, why is it that the Bible can have metaphors, analogies and figures speech but the Quran is interpreted literally (by people that aren't Muslim)?

    Isaiah 40:22 does not prove the Scripture is clear on whether the earth was a sphere. A circle and a sphere is not the same thing. Sphere is three dimensional a circle is not. A tent sits on a flat surface. When I read Isaiah 40:22, I thought of a snow globe. It has a flat surface, it's a circular, and it has a dome (tent).
  14. mark Says:
    @ shavone

    "Given as I'm not a fan of religion, why is it that the Bible can have metaphors, analogies and figures speech but the Quran is interpreted literally (by people that aren't Muslim)? "

    Thank you, Thank you , Thank you Shavone for bringing up an obvious double standard certain Zealot bloggers want to apply.

    They are willing to scour the bible and scholars knowledge of the bible to seperate analogy, metaphor and the literal. But they do not extend that same deeper understanding to Islam. Unbelievable. Dont know about you Shavone but in Oxon hill maryland weve always called that hypocrisy. Thank you so much Shavone for spreading a little truth. Amen
  15. Bullfrog Says:
    Quote me applying ONE double-standard.

    So, if you apply that standard to the WHOLE verse, then the author also believes:

    1. Heaven is literally a "curtain".
    2. We are literally "grasshoppers".

    The author was OBVIOUSLY using analogy to show:

    1. Our insignificance to God.
    2. God'd power being so great that He can open and close the Heavens like a curtain.
    3. That He also dwells in the same heavens like a tent.

    I have a hard time believing you don't get this. I think it is more likely that you are spinning this issue just for ther sake of making an argument, when if I grabbed a dozen 6th graders and asked them if this verse was to be taken literally, they would likely say no.

    Don't let your contempt for religion cloud your thinking.
  16. Bullfrog Says:
    @Shavonne: for what it's worth, you did get a big ol' clap on the back from the self-proclaimed, "King of Debate" himself.
  17. mark Says:
    @ BF

    Don't let your contempt for religion cloud your thinking.

    At least you dont think Im just after christianity, if muslims or jewish folk were spreading similar propoganda against christianity I would be after them as well.
  18. Bullfrog Says:
    @Mark: The religious contempt comment was meant more for Shavonne, your job is to quote me using a double standard.
  19. mark Says:
    I do not claim to be the king of debate, however I am definately your superior. No doubt about it. The sooner you realize it the better off and happier youll be.
  20. Bullfrog Says:
    Please do me a favor then and help me with my happiness; at which point in ANY discussion that we have had did you prove yourself superior?

    And please, be specific for a change, it will do wonders for your credibility as a "Master Debater".
  21. Bullfrog Says:
    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
  22. Cynthia Says:
    I've purposefully stayed out this debate because it clear it wasn't going to end well.

    @Mark: BF is a full-fledged Christian with all of it superiority complex. As long as you know what people believe, the conversation should only go so far. Otherwise it will deteriorate. We learned that the hard way.
  23. Bullfrog Says:
    Cyn: thanks for the flattering review. In all honesty, I am just trying to get at wheat exactly Mark believes and, more importantly, why?

    The only reason I am badgering Mark the way I am is he constantly talks trash (in his last comment, he claimed to be my "superior"), so I am returning the favor.

    Thanks for your completely subjective analysis, as usual.
  24. Cynthia Says:
    BF: Much obliged...
  25. mark Says:
    Yo Cynthia I know BF and all of the other religious zealots are going to believe what they choose. But its all good because I believe that any objective person looking back on the debate will see that I have at least proved reasonable doubt. Also I have induced folk to say some absoulutely ridiculous things.

    Plus I got annoyed when folks called religion not a religion of peace. That was pure hypocrisy in my oppinion, plus beyond retarted. Cynthia I know I wont change him no matter how good my points are but I really enjoy making folk say ridiculous things. Mark
  26. mark Says:
    Besides Cynthia youve seen a cat play with a mouse before devouring it havent you, well thats whats going on here. Im the I wont say who the mouse is. Basically this is a form of sport. Thank you Cynthia for your honesty.