TIP of the day: from the blogs: some quotations on literal sense

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Posted: Sat, Feb 6 2016 2:44 AM

This is from Do I Interpret the Bible Literally? by The Middletown Bible Church. The article is primarily on dispensational interpretation but I found these opening quotations interesting.

Bernard Ramm says, "We use the word 'literal' in its dictionary sense:  '...the natural or usual construction and implication of a writing or expression; following the ordinary and apparent sense of words; not allegorical or metaphorical' (Webster's New International Dictionary)" [Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1970), 119.] 

Mal Couch and Charles Ryrie express this concept well:

A normal reading of Scripture is synonymous with a consistent literal, grammatico-historical hermeneutic.  When a literal hermeneutic is applied to the interpretation of Scripture, every word written in Scripture is given the normal meaning it would have in its normal usage.  Proponents of a consistent, literal reading of Scripture prefer the phrase a normal reading of Scripture to establish the difference between literalism and letterism[Mal Couch, General Editor, An Introduction to Classical Evangelical Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2002), 33.]

If God be the originator of language and if the chief purpose of originating it was to convey His message to humanity, then it must follow that He, being all-wise and all-loving, originated sufficient language to convey all that was in His heart to tell mankind.  Furthermore, it must also follow that He would use language and expect people to understand it in its literal, normal, and plain sense.  The Scriptures, then, cannot be regarded as an illustration of some special use of language so that in the interpretation of these Scriptures some deeper meaning of the words must be sought.  [Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), 81.]

The Clarifying Statement on Dispensationalism, published by the New England Bible Conference, says it this way:


The Bible must be interpreted literally which is the way language is normally and naturally understood. We recognize that the Bible writers frequently used figurative language which is a normal and picturesque way of portraying literal truth. The Bible must be understood in the light of the normal use of language, the usage of words, the historical and cultural background, the context of the passage and the overall teaching of the Bible (2 Tim. 2:15). Most importantly, the believer must study the Bible in full dependence upon the SPIRIT OF TRUTH whose ministry is to reveal Christ and illumine the minds and hearts of believers (John 5:39; 16:13-15; 1 Cor. 2:9-16). The natural, unregenerate man cannot understand or interpret correctly the Word of God. The things of God are foolishness to him, he cannot know them (1 Cor. 2:14), and his mind is blinded (Rom. 3:11; 2 Cor. 4:3-4).


. . .

Dr. David L. Cooper, the founder of The Biblical Research Society, was proficient in the Biblical languages. He studied Greek under Dr. A. T. Robertson.  Dr. Cooper is known for his “Golden Rule of Interpretation” which is as follows:

When the plain sense of Scripture

        makes common sense,

        seek no other sense;

Therefore, take every word

        at its primary, ordinary,

        usual, literal meaning

Unless the facts

        of the immediate context,

        studied in the light

Of related passages and

        axiomatic and fundamental truths

        indicate clearly otherwise.

[This rule was published regularly in Dr. Cooper's monthly magazine, Biblical Research Monthly.]

A shortened form of the above rule goes like this:

If the plain sense makes good sense seek no other sense lest it result in nonsense.


I'd love to see some of your favorite or most through-provoking definitions of literal sense. I'm not interested in a theological debate - just a collection of interesting definitions/descriptions.

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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