Archive for September, 2016

There is no book in existence like the Bible, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t difficult verses or passages in Scripture.

When we consider that the Bible was written over the course of 1400-1500 years, in three continents and in primarily two languages (Hebrew and Greek) — beginning 3,000 years ago — we must allow for the need to understand it in its historical, cultural and linguistic setting.

A short while ago, I was reading Ex. 9 and ran into a Bible difficulty — one that critics could (and have) easily charge is a contradiction.  In short, it appears from Ex. 9:1-7 that every beast in Egypt was destroyed through pestilence.

However, we find in Ex. 9:8-19 that this was not the case — that not all livestock was indeed destroyed — despite the fact that Moses plainly states in 9:6 that “all of the livestock in Egypt died.”

So, do we have a contradiction in Ex. 9 — thus proving that the Bible has errors?

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                                 Taking Figurative Language Literally


The Literal Interpretation Principle in biblical interpretation (called hermeneutics — the art and science of sound biblical interpretation) does not mean that we woodenly take every word in the Bible literally.

Instead, we approach it as we would any other book — taking figurative phrases, hyperbole (exaggeration to make a point), poetic personifications, and other figures of speech into account in our interpretation.

For example, we find the Hebrew word “all” in describing the death of the livestock in Yahweh’s judgment on Egypt in Ex. 9:1-7, but in Ex. 9:8-19, we discover that not “all” of that livestock did in fact perish.  Is there a contradiction here?

There is, if we in our age insist upon a literal interpretation – while forgetting that we’re responsible to interpret Scripture in its literary, cultural and historical context.

It is vital to keep in mind that the Hebrew culture made extensive use of hyperbole to make a dramatic point — seen even in Jesus’ teaching (e.g. Mt. 5:29-30; 10:34-37; Luke 14:26).

That being the case, how can we know when to take a word literally or figuratively?  One primary way is to look for clues in the text itself, in order to come to a sound interpretation of the word or verse in question.

For example, going back to our passage in Ex. 9, we see Yahweh’s own clue in v.16, where He makes it clear that in His mercy, He has not destroyed all of the Egyptians.

While He makes no mention of cattle, it’s clear that they are also spared, since He certainly cares for the livestock He Himself created, and since He knows man depends upon that livestock.

Thus, we can come to the accurate conclusion that “all” in Ex. 9:3-6 does not mean each and every one, but rather, a substantial number of livestock died in the plague – enough to make the dramatic, cumulative effect Yahweh intended upon Pharaoh and the Egyptian people (cf. Ex. 10:7).

Again, this principle can be seen in Ex. 9:25, where the word “all” (used twice) and “every” (also used twice) appears in describing the comprehensive destruction of plants and trees from the intense hail (9:22-26).

But that Moses did not intend these two terms in the literal sense can be understood in Ex. 10:5, where Yahweh plainly states that not every plant or tree was destroyed in the hail judgment.

Whenever we come to a difficult verse in Scripture, we must exercise the sound discipline of interpreting Scripture in its historical, cultural and literary context and resist the urge to interpret it in our historical, cultural and literary context.

If we become lazy and do not make the effort described above, we will inevitably come to the wrong conclusion — something people or critics do routinely, causing unnecessary confusion and error.


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