Literal, Allegorical, or Metaphorical?
Hi, and welcome to another addition of Modeling Scripture.
One thing that fascinates me is how different people look at the stories in the Bible, particularly the Old Testament. How are those stories to be read? Did they literally happen? Are the stories of the formation of humanity constructed with poetic license? Are they metaphors; and if so, for what? The answers to these questions are supplied by the bible itself. While we might never know exactly what the authors of the Old Testament were thinking when they wrote the books, we can easily see what the authors of the New Testament thought about the Old Testament.
There is a particular chapter in the New Testament book of Hebrews that references several books of the Old Testament. There are more references to Old Testament books per word in Hebrews 11 than there are in any other chapter in the New Testament. So let's have a look at what Hebrews 11 has to say about the stories in the Old Testament. As you read the quoted text (if you read it) pay close attention to the different Old Testament books that are referenced.
From Hebrews 11, King James Version of the Bible:
3 Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the (word of God) [Genesis 1:1], so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.
4 By faith (Abel offered unto God) [Genesis 4:4-8] a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.
5 By faith (Enoch was translated that he should not see death) [Genesis 5:22-24]; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.
7 By faith (Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world) [Genesis 6:13-22], and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.
8 By faith (Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive) [Genesis 12:1-4] for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.
10 For he looked for a city which hath (foundations) [Psalms 87:1], whose builder and maker is God.
11 Through faith also (Sara herself received strength to conceive seed) [Genesis 18:11-14], and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.
17 By faith (Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac) [Genesis 22:1-10]: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,
20 By faith (Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau) [Genesis 27:27-29] concerning things to come.
21 By faith (Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph) [Genesis 48:16]; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff.
22 By faith (Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel) [Exodus 13:19]; and gave commandment concerning his bones.
23 By faith (Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents) [Exodus 2:2-3], because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king's commandment.
24 By faith Moses, when he was come to years, (refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter) [Exodus 2:10];
29 By faith (they passed through the Red sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned) [Exodus 14:21-30].
30 By faith (the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days) [Joshua 6:15-20].
31 By faith the harlot (Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace) [James 2:25].
32 And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of (Gedeon) [Judges 6:1], and of (Barak) [Judges 4:6], and of (Samson) [Judges 13:24], and of (Jephthae) [Judges 11:1]; of (David) [1 Samuel 16:1] also, and (Samuel) [1 Samuel 1:20], and of the prophets:
33 Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, (stopped the mouths of lions) [Daniel 6:22].
34 (Quenched the violence of fire) [Daniel 3:25], escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong,(waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens) [2 Samuel 12:29].
35 (Women received their dead raised to life again) [1Kings 17:22] [2 Kings 4:35]: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection:
36 And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, (moreover of bonds and imprisonment) [Jeremiah 20:2]:
37 (They were stoned) [1 Kings 21:13], they were sawn asunder, were tempted, (were slain with the sword) [Jeremiah 26:23]: (they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented) [2 Kings 1:8];
38 (Of whom the world was not worthy:) (they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth) [1 Samuel 22:1].
39 And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:
40 God having provided some better thing for us, that (they without us should not be made perfect) [Revelations 6:11].
So what exactly can we tell from Hebrews 11? We can tell that the author believed all the stories of the Old Testament -- at least the ones that were mentioned -- to be literal and true. He didn't discuss them like they were allegorical, nor did he treat them as a metaphor for something else. He clearly looked at the stories as being literal representations of actual events.
Now traditionally Hebrews is attributed to the Apostle Paul; and if that's true, then his literal interpretation of the Old Testament holds throughout all the books of the New Testament written by him. But even if the Apostle Paul wasn't the author if Hebrews, we can still see that the author did take the Old Testament stories literally.
If the book of Hebrews isn't a large enough sample for you to be sure that the New Testament authors took the Old Testament as literal, it doesn't take anything more than a good reference bible to see all the connections between any book of the New Testament and the Old Testament. I have yet to find a single book in the New Testament that treats the Old Testament as anything other than the literal truth.
There is just no way to model the Bible without accepting that the entire Bible -- both Old Testament and New Testament -- was taken literally by all the individual authors.