“When the PLAIN sense makes GOOD sense, seek NO OTHER sense.”
Would you read a prescription bottle and not take it LITERALLY? Do you read the morning newspaper LITERALLY? Did you read that job application LITERALLY when you applied for that job?
Do you read a cookbook, the US Constitution, a Map, a history book, love letter (supposing you have received one!), your driver’s license, your family genealogy, legislation, your diary, etc., LITERALLY?
Well, the Bible is a collection of such similar items. Covenants (contracts), historical accounts, future predictions, laws (including civil, domestic, religious and dietary), genealogies, teachings. And, just like any other document, it must be handled IN CONTEXT so that if there are readings utilizing parable, symbolism, etc., the context makes that clear. The ONLY legitimate way to read the Bible is to read it LITERALLY unless the context demands otherwise.
Of course, the main victim of the anti-literal folks is the Book of Revelation. And a main point that they make is to say, “How can you take all of that symbolism LITERALLY?”
The short answer is, “I don’t!” Why? Because the context makes it clear when it is symbolic.
For example, Revelation 12:1 says, “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.”
Now, the Roman and Orthodox pull an interpretation out of thin air and say that the woman is “Mary”. They have no Biblical basis for that. It just fits their worship of Mary, so they stick it in there. And this claim that Revelation 12:1 refers to Mary is, obviously, false as we will show in a moment.
Many others who want to “spiritualize” the Bible and never take the literal approach will tell you that Revelation 12:1 refers to “the Church”. Again, they have no Biblical basis for this. It simply fits their agenda to “build the kingdom” (and it just happens to be THEIR denomination that they wish to head up this “Kingdom”) and they call it THE Church. And this claim also is, obviously, false.
So, what does Revelation 12:1 mean?
We should look to the Bible for the meaning of symbols. And so, we find this verse defined by Genesis 37:9 where Joseph says, “…Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me.”
In verse 10, Jacob confirms that he is the sun, Rachel is the moon and the sons of Jacob (the twelve tribes) are the stars. He says, “Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth?”
Eleven stars represent the OTHER eleven patriarchs whose offspring became known as the tribes of Israel. Joseph would be the twelfth “star”. Israel is represented by stars.
This is confirmed as we see God refer to the seed of Abraham as “stars”, coming from these twelve “stars” over and over in Scripture. You can look up Genesis 15:5, 22:17 and 26:4 to see this before Joseph’s dream. Then you can look up Exodus 32:13, Deuteronomy 1:10, 1 Chronicles 27:23, Nehemiah 9:23 and Hebrews 11:12 to see that Israel is “as the stars” after Joseph’s dream.
The woman in Revelation 12:1 is shown by comparing Scripture with Scripture to be a reference to: ISRAEL.
It’s That Simple
There are things in the Bible hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16). A Book written by God should be expected to be complex in places. But with the help of God’s Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14) and a healthy attitude toward God’s word (1 Thessalonians 2:13), you can handle the Bible with care and rightly divide the word of truth with no need of being ashamed in God’s presence (2 Timothy 2:15).