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It might be a bit unusual to use meta this way--usually these types of explanations come after the OP of a contested post asks why. But I think it would be good to explain my take on this question now.

Comments can only go so far--and as a result, I think my comments ended up being more polarizing than helpful, so here I will try to explain fully what my comments could only begin to describe.

While I believe the OP is asking what is, at the core, a good question, there are two fundamental problems I see with the question itself.

  1. It's asking for circular reasoning. "What is the Biblical basis for interpreting the Bible?"

  2. It uses imprecise (and possibly incorrect) terminology.

These two issues are actually related, but let me start with the first one first, since it's probably the easiest to address. Then I will discuss some possible ways to improve the question.

  1. "What is the Biblical basis for interpreting the Bible?"

    This has obvious problems, as this cannot possibly be the starting point of any serious Bible inquiry. That doesn't mean that the Bible itself it can't be one (of many) appropriate places to look for interpretation guidance, but it clearly cannot be the only one--and I would argue it cannot be the principal one.

    When discussing a specific part of scripture (say, Genesis 1-3), it may be very appropriate to ask "What is the Biblical basis for interpreting Genesis 1-3 literally?", but this is quite a separate matter from "What is the Biblical basis for interpreting the Bible as a whole in any given way?" The latter cannot have a satisfactory answer. The former very clearly does have an answer.

  2. The question asks about "those who interpret the Bible literally and historically" and then makes the further assertion that Jews did/do not do the same.

    The question says This question is for people who take the bible literally and historically accurate. That includes me. I believe the Bible is literally and historically accurate--to the extent that its intended to be, anyway--which is precisely the way everyone interprets the Bible. The debate isn't over whether "the Bible" is literal. The debate is over which parts of the Bible are literal. Even the most hard-core, Biblical literalists agree with this. You won't find one who believes that Solomon's lover had mound of wheat in place of a waist. This is because the text in question (the Song of Solomon) is clearly poetry, and filled with metaphor.

    There are some Biblical literalists, however, who do claim that the parable of the good Samaritan is literal. They are a small minority.

    Most Biblical literalists believe that the parables of Jesus are simply stories, told to tell a point, but have no direct correlation to literal events.

    Then on the far other end of the spectrum you have people like Marcus Borg, who don't even believe most of the accounts in the Gospels are literally true, except for a few choice quotes of Jesus.

    Clearly your question isn't aimed at Mr. Borg. But at the other end--at the end of Biblical literalists, which view do you want explained? The answer will vary greatly.

    If you want to know the basis (Biblical or otherwise) for believing that Genesis 1-3 is literal, the answer will be completely different from an explanation of why the Good Samaritan was a literal story, and further completely different from a theoretical explanation of how Solomon made literal love to a sack of grain.

    It's common for people to tell me I'm being too pedantic about Biblical literalism, but it actually matters if you want a good answer to your question.

  3. The assertion that Jews took a somehow "less literal" view of scripture is at least as bad, but likely worse. Jewish beliefs are all over the map (historically and currently) as are Christian beliefs. But I won't spend a lot of time on this, because I really think it's a tangent. I think all mentions of Judaism could be removed from the question, and the meaning would not be altered in the least.


Finally, some suggestions on how to improve the question.

First, remove the reference to Judaism and Jewish interpretation of scripture. If I'm wrong, and this truly is a core part of the question, it needs to be edited to make it clear why. Otherwise, it's just a red-herring, and possibly just an argument from authority against a literal view of scripture.

Next, either make the question more specific, or more general.

More specific:

  • Focus on a specific part of scripture (Genesis 1-3, parables (or a particular parable), one of the gospels, etc), and ask for the case to be made for its literal interpretation. By focusing on a specific scripture, there's no need to clearly define which group of Biblical Literalists you're referring to--the case to be made will be the same.

  • Explain precisely which group you are referring to as Biblical Literalists. Your current litmus test of "people who take the bible literally and historically accurate" is almost (but not quite) meaningless, as it includes all but the most liberal of Christians (such as Marcus Borg). You could possibly narrow this focus by referencing a specific group or denomination of Christians. "Young Earth Creationists" is an adequately defined group, for instance (but only relevant to a study of Genesis--not the entire Bible). "Premillennialists" might be another example of a properly-scoped group of Bible interpreters.

    Defining the group about which you are asking may prove difficult though, for most of the reasons explained elsewhere in this post--there is a wide spectrum of Biblical Literalism, and it's not linear (one who interprets Daniel literally may not always interpret Genesis literally, and vice versa). For this reason, I would encourage one of the other improvement suggestions before this one.

More general:

  • Don't focus specifically on the Biblical basis. As explained above, a Biblical basis for interpreting the entire bible one particular way is literally impossible to achieve. By asking simply for the basis for Biblical Literalism, you allow arguments from history, logic, science, and other areas--all of which are necessary for any interpretation of the Bible.

    Even with this approach, you'll likely need to narrow the Biblical focus, or make it a very broad overview type question.

When deciding how (or if) to modify your question, consider what type of answer you are hoping to solicit. One way to do that is to answer it yourself (just in your head) to see if it even makes sense to answer it the way you've asked it.

For me, to answer your question, my thought process would be something like:

  • Well, I believe the New Testament to be substantially compatible with secular history.
  • I believe the scholarship that has gone into authenticating the New Testament manuscripts was sufficiently vigorous
  • I believe the authors of the New Testament had substantial reason to tell the truth, and not to lie
  • Therefore I believe Jesus Christ was born, lived, was crucified then resurrected, substantially as described in the gospels
  • Therefore I believe the claims Jesus made to be true
  • Jesus affirmed the truthfulness of other scripture
  • Etc, etc, etc

Going back to my previous commentary, there is some mention, here, of a Biblical basis, for believing in the literality of some other scripture. But it's not the starting point (and cannot be). It's also not a complete answer. I can't use the words of Jesus as evidence that Acts is literally true, for instance.

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  • Thanks for your hard work on this meta question. It is laid out well. I hope that others can help clear this up with their input. – The Freemason Oct 10 '14 at 18:18

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