We do not usually interpret the Bible literally. Anymore than we interpret much of anything we encounter in print literally. Consider Psalm 91:1-4 as an example:

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High 
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. 
I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, 
my God, in whom I trust.” 
Surely he will save you 
from the fowler’s snare 
and from the deadly pestilence. 
He will cover you with his feathers, 
and under his wings you will find refuge; 
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

God has a shelter? Is this like something we might have for the homeless? Does this mean that if you reside in God’s shelter, you’ll be okay, but if you live in your own house or apartment, you’ll be hosed?

God casts a shadow? Like on a sunny day?

God is a refuge? Like a wildlife refuge?

God is a fortress? With walls and ramparts? Do people ever lay siege to him?

God will save you from a fowler’s snare? That’s a relief, since I get trapped in those regularly. I mean, who doesn’t?

God has feathers and wings? So God is a parakeet? Is this why he knows about fowler’s snares?

When we read the Bible, we should be naturally reading it with the same skill-set we use when we read anything. Most grown up human beings understand the way literature works. We have some concept of allegory, metaphor, hyperbole and the like. We realize that poetry works differently than prose. We would be startled if a cookbook were written in limericks. Taylor Swift is not going to use her computer’s warranty as the basis for the lyrics in her next hit song.

Thus, when we look at the book of Revelation, we’re going to have to pay attention and use the skills we would use in reading anything else. Taking it literally will only get us into trouble unless we’re purposely trying to be funny.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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