This morning we considered what Finis Jennings Dake says about the figurative language of the Bible in his God’s Plan for Man (Lawrence, Georgia: Dake Publishing, 1949), which we’re studying in our after breakfast Bible reading time. This report consists of a brief summary of section IX of Lesson 3 of God’s Plan for Man. Biblical quotations are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.
“A figure of speech consists in the use of words in a different sense from that which is ordinarily given them” (Dake, page 46). The Bible uses figurative language to give emphasis and to add attraction and variety to human expression but never to do away with literal truth. If we fail to get the literal truth, then the figure of speech has failed its purpose.
How can we tell whether the language is literal or figurative? “The one fundamental rule to determine whether the language is literal or figurative is this: take every statement in the Bible as literal when it is at all possible and where it is clear that it is literal; otherwise, it is figurative. In other words, what cannot be literal must be figurative” (Dake, page 47; italics his).
One must be sure the language is figurative before giving it a figurative meaning. If a figurative statement is found in the Bible on a subject, explain the statement with literal statements in the Bible on the subject. With the abundance of literal passages on any doctrine, the few figurative passages on a doctrine can be understood.
Figures of speech are of two main kinds. Some involve only a word, as in Galatians 2:9 where Peter, James, and John are called “pillars” of the Church. Others involve a thought expressed in several words or sentences, as a parable, allegory, symbol, type, riddle, fable, enigma, etc.
Readers of other books don’t make such expressions mean whatever they want them to mean, but when it comes to the Bible they do. The Bible should mean the same to everyone, and it would if they would interpret it in the plain, literal sense as they do other books. “Men will not be held guiltless for this attitude, so while there is yet time let us all grasp a sane view of the Bible and understand it just as it is written” (Dake, page 47).