How to Interpret the Bible: Sunstone's Authoritative Guide to Biblical Interpretation

As loyal, beloved readers of this blog might know, I am no authority on the Bible. That is, I know the Bible is the book everyone quotes and no one reads -- but that's about the extent of my knowledge.

So today's blog post might be a wee bit out of my league -- in much the same sense that my attempting to dog paddle across the Pacific Ocean might be a wee bit out of my league -- because I intend to discuss how the Bible should be interpreted.

Never mind that I don't know how the Bible should be interpreted.  Never mind that I haven't even read the thing. And never mind that I only got it into my head a couple hours ago that I should have an opinion about how it should be interpreted.  No, never mind any of that.

None of those things matter because I'm an American.  And -- as even I know -- Americans, with a little help from the British, all but invented the custom of interpreting the Bible literally.  At least, that's what my professors used to tell me.  The notion the Bible should be interpreted literally was invented -- mostly by Americans -- during the 1800s.  Before that, you have nearly 2000 years of Biblical scholarship in which almost no one with a brain seriously thought the Bible was to be taken literally.

But today, 3 in 10 Americans interpret the Bible literally, saying it is the actual word of God.

The above is proof Americans have da balls.  No other people -- except for a few Brits (who probably don't count anyway, since they lost the Revolutionary War) -- have had the courage to tell their God that he simply cannot speak metaphorically or symbolically.  Go us!

In other words, as an American, I come from a proud tradition of claiming I know all about how to interpret the Bible.  And on the firm basis of that tradition, I feel confident that I have the sacred right to tell you and the world how the Bible is to be interpreted.  How cool is that?

So, let's put the meat on the table: Should we or should we not interpret the Bible literally?

Well, you'll be relieved to know I have discovered -- after sheer minutes of research -- the one true answer to that question.  As it happens, the one true answer is contained in Proverbs 12:19.  Anyone who thinks through that passage will surely come to the same conclusion I have: Contra the American tradition, the Bible was not meant to always be taken literally.

The exciting passage reads: "Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment."

Ha!  I say, "Ha!", because anyone with a lick of sense knows that passage is false if taken literally.  It is only true -- if it is true at all -- if taken symbolically.

QED: I'm right. One hundred million Americans are wrong.  The Bible is not always meant to be taken literally.  The matter is settled.

Anyone who now wishes to show his or her appreciation for having an authoritative answer to the question, "Should we or should we not interpret the Bible literally?", may send a modest donation of $29.95 to Uncle Sunstone's Refuge for Wayward Dancing Girls.  You can be confident your donation will help buy the g-strings those girls desperately need to stay warm at my place during the winter.


  1. But Paul, a literal interpretation is so much easier to refute. Why make it hard on yourself by pointing to a symbolic interpretation?

    Besides, given the relativistic meaning of "moment" as compared to "forever," the literal interpretation could still be weaseled out of there.

    But, I do understand you have to ensure the girls are well clad in their G-strings this winter, so I'll offer an alternative:

    Psalm 104:5
    [God] set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved. NIV

    Given erosion, mudslides, earthquakes, plate tectonics, rotation, and precession, oh, and the laws of planetary physics, I think we can reasonably say that the earth is actually in continuous motion. :-)

    Have a very, merry Christmas!

  2. Moses came down from the mountain with the ten commandments that God handed over to him for all people to obey.Now,ask a christian if he/she uphold the commandments,and I 'm sure that 99% will have to answer no.

  3. Wise Fool -- While I still think Proverbs 12:19 is an adequate example of a passage that does not make sense if interpreted literally, I am compelled to agree with you that Psalm 104:5 is a much better example. In fact, it's spot on. Thank you for calling it to my attention!

    More importantly: Have a very merry Christmas, too!

  4. Pjevs -- Interesting! I've heard people say that Christ's sacrifice on the cross excuses them from adhering to the Ten Commandments. Nice.


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