being literal

Dear Friends

I am wondering if you take the bible ‘literally’ in all places, surely some of it is imagery or illustrated stories to get across a point. I think alot of confusion is caused for people when people try and take every word as literal, what do you think?

God Bless you and much love and peace to you all


[quote=Teresa9]Dear Friends

I am wondering if you take the bible ‘literally’ in all places, surely some of it is imagery or illustrated stories to get across a point. I think alot of confusion is caused for people when people try and take every word as literal, what do you think?

God Bless you and much love and peace to you all


Depends which bits you are referring to. Of course, if my understanding is lacking I ask my priest… :slight_smile:

Quite often, in the text itself a parable is introduced as such. So, if the bible says it’s telling a story then chances are it’s telling a story.

On the other hand, if it’s says that Jesus went from here to there then chances are it’s being literal.

The Church teaches that the Bible is to be primarily read and interpreted in the literal sense (CCC 116). This does not mean a *literalist * sense, but it refers to the intent of what the author was trying to teach by including this material. We can get too hung up on debating the in’s and out’s of certain passages (whether God created the world in seven literal days or if Jonah was really in the belly of the fish — both of which, incidently, we are free as Catholics to believe if we wish). If we concentrate on what God is trying to teach us through his Word we will derive the maximum graces from our time with the Sacred Writ.

I’d recommend reading the Catechism sections that address the reading and interpretation of Scripture (CCC 101–141). Also, there is an excellent book out by Catholic convert and apologist Mark Shea called “Making Senses Out of Scripture” available here:

One of the modernist heresies to avoid (along with avoiding all the others!) is the notion that not everything in Holy Scripture pertains to salvation. St. Augustine emphasized the need to allow faith to guide understanding, and to wait to understand things if understanding is not easy: in other words, not to doubt Scripture but to trust the Church. Recall from Galatians that we are to question any novel teachings that come along, too. Our faith is not a blind faith.

Galileo is an interesting case in this discussion, too. He wanted to assert as fact something which is only a theory (that the earth revolves around the sun), which encourages the undermining of Scripture by creating a wedge: if something apparently stated in a factual way turns out not to be a fact, then much and more must also be allegory; from there the interpretive frameworks mushroom. The earth is the center of creation, and the Church is from God Himself.

There was a caller on EWTN’s “Open Line” this morning, asking how many people you see walking around with one eye plucked out, and one hand cut off? After all, the Bible tells us to do that if they cause us to sin!

[quote=Paul W]how many people you see walking around with one eye plucked out

For many people, pride prevents them from acknowledging the gravity of sin. For the rest, there are the Catholic sacraments. These are our medicine. It would be better to enter the afterlife with a member missing: people have faith–if they have faith–that they can grow in the spiritual life to the point where they can use their God-given bodies in the way that accords with the truth. What Our Lord says is literally true, and emphasizes the truth in a way that is hard to ignore. In a similar way, *any *action of Our Lord on earth would have been salvific. But He chose death on a cross–so we would see, graphically, visually, what sin really means. And the crucifixion really happened despite its pains.

“The hammer of heresies”: St. Robert Bellarmine (September 17).

Dearest Csr

I think I need to clarify with you that no-one is being heretical here or misunderstanding scripture, though I am thankful for your comments. When I say the Bible I am not simply referring to the New Testament, but also to the Old Testament. The Bible was told in some instances as imagry or stories to graphically illustrate to the people of those times (though the truth exists for all time and transcends all time and is for all peoples of every generation since Adam and for every generation since the second Adam that is Christ Jesus our Lord and King) who understood stories and illustrations. Hence that is why people become confused over some scripture because it is meant in a non-literal sense, or in other instances as literal, or in some other instances as advisory, or in some other instances as law and doctrine, or in some other instances as wisdom.

I think I need to compile exact pieces of scripture to define what I mean here, unless anyone is willing to help me out :slight_smile: .

There certainly is a danger in taking every piece of scripture literally and this also can lead to heresy and schism.

God Bless you and much love and peace to you


Oh, I agree entirely. Not every verse has the same means of working as every other verse. For example, there are verses in the OT in which the Jews appear to ascribe evil intent to God. These verses must not be read adversely :rotfl: (sorry) but rather we must see those as descriptions of what will occur when we ignore God’s wishes. On this point generally I think to what St. Augustine said, which was that he trusts the Church completely to say what is Scripture in the first place, and how to interpret Scripture in the second. If there’s a heresy it is the notion of re-scoping Scripture such that much of it is ‘not about salvation’ and is hence open to all sorts of novel meanings. The Church is the arbiter of how things ought to mean, and not all of Scripture has been thoroughly reviewed. Some items are open to theological opinion–but the opinion must not intend to assert something contrary to what the Church has affirmed doctrinally. And these are some thoughts that occur to me as you ask whether I take the Bible “literally”. :slight_smile:

I take some things literally, and other things I do not take literally. I believe that there are several “senses” of Scripture to be considered.

From the Catechism:

The senses of Scripture

115 According to an ancient tradition, one can distinguish between two senses of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual, the latter being subdivided into the allegorical, moral and anagogical senses. the profound concordance of the four senses guarantees all its richness to the living reading of Scripture in the Church.

116 The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: "All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal."83

117 The spiritual sense. Thanks to the unity of God’s plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs.

  1. the allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ’s victory and also of Christian Baptism.84
  2. the moral sense. the events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written “for our instruction”.85
  3. the anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, “leading”). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem.86

118 A medieval couplet summarizes the significance of the four senses:

The Letter speaks of deeds; Allegory to faith;
The Moral how to act; Anagogy our destiny.87

119 "It is the task of exegetes to work, according to these rules, towards a better understanding and explanation of the meaning of Sacred Scripture in order that their research may help the Church to form a firmer judgement. For, of course, all that has been said about the manner of interpreting Scripture is ultimately subject to the judgement of the Church which exercises the divinely conferred commission and ministry of watching over and interpreting the Word of God."88

But I would not believe in the Gospel, had not the authority of the Catholic Church already moved me.89

I apologize for that long quote.:blessyou:

Dearest Nick

Thank you so much and no need for apologies, sometimes a long quote is necessary, in this case it certainly is necessary :slight_smile: .

When I consider some of the Sacred Scripture , it occurs to me that there may be a few levels of things happening, that there is spiritual direction, that it may be literal in some sense and not to be taken literally in another. That due to translation into English the words need looking at also in their original context of greek say (which there is no way I could do that as I don’t speak greek.) to add to the context of their meaning in a particular piece of scripture.

God Bless you and much love and peace to you



You summed it up very well. Most passages which are to be understood literally are repeated and reinforced several times and by different entries.

I would like to mention another mistake: Taking a passage in isolation. By removing a segment from its environment we can alter its meaning and use it to reinforce some other idea that was never intended. Protestants often make this mistake. But taking it one step further, provided we keep a passage within its original context, it can be further explained or illuminated with another passage. I hope this makes sense.:slight_smile:

In Providentissimus Deus Leo XIII gave some guidelines for interpretation:

*it must be recognized that the sacred writings are wrapt in a certain religious obscurity, and that no one can enter into their interior without a guide

…not to depart from the literal and obvious sense, except only where reason makes it untenable or necessity requires; a rule to which it is the more necessary to adhere strictly in these times, when the thirst for novelty and unrestrained freedom of thought make the danger of error most real and proximate.

The Professor of Holy Scripture, therefore, amongst other recommendations, must be well acquainted with the whole circle of Theology and deeply read in the commentaries of the Holy Fathers and Doctors, and other interpreters of mark.*

A good summary of biblical exegesis in the twentieth century can be found in a tape titled Demythologizing the Golden Legend by Fr. Brian Harrison.

“These words of Scripture have more authority than the most exalted human intellect.” ST, I, Q 68, a 2.

Dear all

Thank you for your posts. Thank you csr and tru_dvotion, yours especially clarify the things I am trying to raise.

To me Sacred Scripture is the ‘living’ word of God, continually revealing Himself through it and to every age and generation. A verse of ANY part of the bible cannot be interpreted or absorbed unless it is interpreted and absorbed in the context of the WHOLE bible. It ceases to amaze me how some people can come to conclusions of revelation from the Bible, such as justification by faith ALONE, for example, the operative word being ‘alone’, especially when the word ‘ALONE’ is never mentioned and furthermore why did Jesus spend so much time preaching and teaching laws and advice on ways to live, do good works and how to love our neighbour and God if our faith justifies us alone?..but people do reach these conclusions and it comes from the error of taking out of context passages of Scripture and/or taking a particular passage or verse and taking it literally when it is not meant to be or not taking it literally when it is meant to be

God Bless you and much love and peace to you all and thank you again


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