Literal vs Figurative Interpretation

Dear Colleen,

As I was putting together my last post, I thought of asking you these questions:

Do you hate your husband?

Do you hate your children?

Do you hate any brothers or sisters you may have?

Are you enjoying any aspect of this life?

Well, sorry to tell you this, but if you don’t hate everyone and everything including your own life – well then, I regret to inform you that according to Luke 14:26-27 you are not a disciple of Christ.

I can almost see the smirk on your face and the shaking of your head.  But I’ve just told you what the Bible states.  However, you and I both know that this isn’t what the Bible teaches.  We’re obviously not taking a literal reading of this passage.  We’re not going to make dogma with this verse and justify hating people.  Rather, we both understand that this passage is hyperbole and relates to the cost of salvation.  But in a similar way, Colleen, I sense that you’re taking literal readings of particular verses and drawing interpretations and conclusions that I’m not sure were intended by the author.

Perhaps I’m completely missing something – and it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been told that!  Nevertheless, I look forward to any additional thoughts you may have regarding Rom 3:10-11 and Jn 4:23.

The more I think about it the more I keep coming back to the simplicity of believing as per the Apostle’s Creed.  And nowhere within the Apostle’s Creed do I see anything remotely indicative of Calvinistic thought.

Also, I don’t understand your previous comment, “(I) will never have that assurance (of salvation) as long as (I) try to take on the responsibility for that justification.”  What is it that I have previously said that leads you to conclude that I am taking on the responsibility for my own justification?

Most Sincerely,



Author: Bob

I’m an upper Midwestern guy who has recently entered the "Buick stage" of life and decided to migrate to Florida. This blog is an attempt to rectify discordant aspects within my Christian faith ... or what often feels like my lack of Christian faith. Things which make life more enjoyable include strong black coffee, charcoal grilling anytime of the year, putz'ing at a table saw, playing chess, a good orthopedic surgeon and an occasional IPA. Please feel free to poke around and comment as you wish. I welcome discussion and the insights of others.

4 thoughts on “Literal vs Figurative Interpretation”

  1. Greetings Bob,

    Forgive my delay in responding…I’ve decided to reply to this post first because of the title of it and because of your provocative questions posed to me. Me thinks you are baiting me, friend, and I’m not biting!!!

    When you reference the Luke 14:26-27 passage as being one we should label “figurative” vs. “literal” you are incorrect. This is not an example of figurative speech, it is an example of an Hebraism. This was a unique way in which the Jewish people used the terms love and hate. It expresses preference. It can also be a Semetic expression for loving someone less. Another example of this would be Romans 9:13, where God says, “Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated.” This by no means reveals some kind of emotional loathing of Esau on God’s part. It simply means that God intended His promise to come through Jacob and not Esau.

    If I were a first-century follower (disciple) of Jesus Christ, the answer to your questions would have to be yes, yes, yes and absolutely yes. I do want to love Christ more than my husband, children, brothers and sisters. So your questions to me, though provocative, are not at all related to what the text is literally saying to us.

    Now I have a question for you, Bob…As a self-professing open theist, can you identify for me what role God does play in and on behalf of an unregenerate person? Since you do not believe that God has the right to intrude upon a person’s rebellion, overcome it and draw that person to faith and salvation (in other words, each person has final self-determination on whether they will or won’t overcome their hardness of heart and come to Christ), then I think that you have decided that the ultimate reason one person repents and another does not is to be found in yourself and not in God.

    If that is the case, then why would an open theist even bother with praying for the lost? You’re really not praying for God to act upon the lost person’s soul or to influence their will. As an open theist, you hold to the belief that “God graciously makes it possible for us to believe. But He does not make it necessary to believe.” (That’s a quote from Greg Boyd in Satan and the Problem of Evil, p. 83.)

    Now really, Bob…how can God even make it “possible” for us to believe without, at some point, overcoming our volitional resolve to disbelieve? If all mankind is in a state where it is “impossible” for them to believe, which the Bible clearly states:
    · “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1);
    · we “were by nature children of wrath“ (Eph. 2:3)…as an aside, when Paul uses the term “nature” he is referring to what is essential rather than what is accidental; what is innate rather than what is acquired, made or taught.)
    · “enslaved to sin” (Rom 6:17, John 8:34);
    · “the god of this world has blinded his mind” (2 Cor. 4:4)…etc. etc. etc.)

    and then God exerts an influence that causes some kind of transition to a state where it is now “possible” for them to believe, then isn’t it God who is ultimately responsible for that transition?

    Finally (for this post at least) Bob, what I meant about my statement that you take on the responsibility for your justification:

    I believe you confuse the terms “free will” with “free moral agent.” To say that we have free agency is to say that we are free to do what we want. If we want to reject Jesus Christ we can. If we want to accept Him, we can. The human will is free to choose whatever the heart desires. However, the Bible teaches that apart from the interjection of divine grace, no one wants or wills to have Christ in his thinking or in his life. All people freely, voluntarily and willingly reject the gospel because it is in their hearts to do so. So as long as our choice is the voluntary fruit of our desire, the will is free.

    However, to say that a person has free will is to say that he has equal ability or power to either accept or reject the gospel. It is to say that he is as able to believe as to disbelieve, and that this ability springs from his own making and is natural to him. In actuality, a person is no more free to act or to will or to choose contrary to his nature than an apple tree is free to produce coconuts.

    I see you struggle. You tell me you don’t pray. I don’t blame you—why would you if you think God so small that He created all things without a clue as to what He intended to do with them? The Bible tells us (from Genesis to Revelation) that divine election is according to God’s sovereign good pleasure. God is glad He chose some and not all. It pleased Him to choose some for salvation out from among the mass of hell-deserving sinners. The immediate goal of election is the salvation of chosen sinners—but the ultimate goal of election is worship. All that God does, he ultimately does to glorify himself.

    I am praying that you will ponder what I have said and that God will restore to you the joy of His salvation. I eagerly await your next post!!!

    Grace and peace to you, dear friend!

  2. Hello Colleen,

    How good to hear from you. Thank-you for your response. You obviously put a lot of time and effort into it. But I must contest – me baiting you? Me asking provocative questions? Oh please, Colleen, say it isn’t so!

    I’ll tackle your question to me, what role does God play in and on behalf of an unregenerate person in a separate post.

    Let me first, however, respond to your reply that Luke 14:26-27 isn’t figurative language. I still maintain that this passage is figurative and your response actually validates that. You called this an example of a Hebraism – that the verbiage here is a unique way in which Jewish people use terms of love and hate. Point made! You, yourself, aren’t taking this passage literally to what is printed on the page. For you people scoring at home, please award one point to Bob! Colleen, you may have the advantage of understanding bits and pieces of Hebrew. I don’t. Still, reading the passage in context, one gets the sense that Jesus isn’t saying to hate your mother and father. In addition, certainly there is a disconnect trying to compare this passage to Paul’s teaching on, say, honoring your mother and father.

    One doesn’t have to look far or dig deep to find the Bible replete with all kinds of linguistic techniques such as:
    • Similes (Matt 23:27) Jesus describing hypocrites as sepulchers
    • Metaphors (Matt 26:26-28) Jesus describing bread as his body
    • Allegories (Eph 6:11-17) Christian armor
    • Parables (Luke 8:4-8) Parable of the sower
    • Hyperbole (Ps 119:136) Streams of water flowing down my face

    A Google search for something like “figurative bible passages” or “figurative bible text” will show hundreds, if not thousands of examples of figurative language in the Bible. For heaven’s sake (oh, can I actually say that?), is it any wonder that people find different meanings from the same passage or may even draw wrong conclusions as to what the Bible teaches? Perhaps that’s an overstatement. However, the last time I saw a helmet being worn in church was during a children’s play where some kid was a Roman soldier. Come to think of it, I’ve never seen a helmet of salvation.

    Well, this whole notion of literal versus figurative interpretation came about when I was responding your use of Romans 3:10-11 and John 4:23 wherein I believe you are drawing conclusions related to the Calvinist concept of election that I’m not sure were intended by the author. To that end, I welcome any additional thoughts you may have regarding those verses.

    I’m also working on a response to the Sam Stones article you posted. My apologies that I’m taking so long with that. I guess I could say; good things come to those who wait? But me thinks you’re not buying that! Oh well, take care, my dear. And thanks, again, for your response.

    Most Sincerely,


  3. Colleen,

    If, as you contend, Luke 14:26-27 is to be taken as literally, how about 1 Tim 2:12b? Or is that figurative language being used?


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