Campus Location

Abilene Campus (Residential)

Date of Award

Spring 5-2018

Document Type



Theology, Ministry, Missions (GST)

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Committee Chair or Primary Advisor

Frederick D. Aquino

Second Committee Member or Secondary Advisor

Jeremy Elliott

Third Committee Member or Committee Reader

Dana McMichael


The purpose of this thesis is to examine why so many uses of the word literal (whether taken from everyday contemporary speech or the works of well-respected ancient writers) seem at odds with the word’s theoretical definition and to explore the implications of this disparity for those who privilege a literal interpretation of Scripture. The examples will show that the meaning of literal was not altered at a particular point in time, nor is it altered on an ongoing basis by a small subset of particularly idiosyncratic individuals. Rather, the word is predisposed to behave strangely the moment it is used outside the context of meta-discussions about language itself. This is because a common assumption underlying most theories of literal meaning is that minimally competent interlocutors understand such meaning tacitly. Yet when we explicitly describe a given interpretation as literal (and then go on to explain what that interpretation is), this suggests it was not already tacit to begin with. Since a key component of why literal meaning is often privileged (and sometimes disparaged) is that it is thought to correspond to what minimally competent interlocutors understand tacitly, this means the actual interpretations one ends up privileging or disparaging tend to be divorced from one’s supposed reasons for doing so. The result is that the pursuit of literal interpretation (whether of Scripture or any other text) tends to lead away from the very thing that one claims to seek.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.



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