1. Interpret literally in all cases unless the text or context clearly demonstrates that other than a literal interpretation is required and intended by the author.
This rule of interpretation holds true for just about everything you read or hear.
Many years ago I read a book titled Biblical Hermeneutics by Milton S. Terry. That is one book that has gotten me into trouble and gotten me out of trouble more than once!
The book got me into trouble because it influenced some of the answers I gave on tests in my Bible Doctrines course at Bob Jones University. I answered a question about the inspiration of the Bible using terms I learned not from the course but from my reading and study of Milton S. Terry’s book. I was summoned to the Dean’s Office and asked to explain myself. Well, another of my professors happened to see me being grilled by Dean Edwards and he came to my defense, alerting Dean Edwards to the fact that I was not a “preacher boy” but a Secondary Education major.
Another time was in a seminar at Wayne State University I was asked to participate in on the subject of futurism. The professor did not like it at all when I stated that there are rules for interpreting poetry and any other literature and that I carefully taught those rules to my students. She was horrified, and said that hermeneutics was a subject for theology and seminary classes about religion or the Bible but certainly not a proper matter for teaching how to read poetry. I thoroughly but politely disagreed with her.
After I retired from teaching I began reading some of the books I have here that I wish I would have had the time to read while teaching. One of the books I read was Practical Criticism, by I. A. Richards. I believe my practice of teaching poetry mirrored his, though at the time I was teaching poetry at Cass Technical High School in Detroit, I had not read this book.
Now when it comes to Bible interpretation, I am sure that there are many “modern” scholars and theologians that would disagree with me about my first rule of interpretation, “Interpret literally in all cases unless the text or context clearly demonstrates that other than a literal interpretation is required and intended by the author.”
This rule is of supreme importance because that is how we humans normally use our language. It is almost always how the Bible uses language. When something is meant otherwise, the context or surrounding material, what comes before and what comes after, will make the matter plain when a figurative sense is meant by the original author.
I think that some Bible teachers and theologians don’t like my rule because it does not allow them to foist meanings on statements in the Bible that they disagree with:
Rom 11:29 For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. (KJV)
Rom 11:29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. (ESV)
The English Standard Version is the better translation here. Israel was called out of all other nations to be particularly “His people” (Deuteronomy 32:43),
Deuteronomy 32:43 Rejoice, O ye nations, with his people: for he will avenge the blood of his servants, and will render vengeance to his adversaries, and will be merciful unto his land, and to his people.
What has this got to do with literal interpretation?
Many today do not believe that the promises to Israel given in the Bible have anything to do with Israel’s right to the Land of Israel today.
Well, the Bible emphasizes the land promise given to Abraham and extended to the nation of Israel.
Paul told us in Romans 11:29 that God’s promises to Israel are irrevocable.
Therefore, the promise still stands, as God Himself proclaims in Malachi 3:6,
Mal 3:6 For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.
Kind of hard to get around this one. Those today who do not agree with me on this point are surely breaking the first rule of Bible interpretation by failing to interpret the Bible literally.