Since When Is Literal Interpretation “Normal”?—Reconsidering a Popular Assumption

An old axiom of Bible study is this: “we interpret a statement literally unless the literal sense make no sense.” But contrary to this popular assumption, “literal” interpretation is not the default way we understand normal communication. Whether it is every day conversation or common literature, we interpret statements through a process of inference that is rooted in our cognitive environment as much as in dictionaries. Words guide us to those features of our context that are relevant to infer intended meaning. After examining how inference based communication works, this paper will turn to Old Testament language of cosmology and accommodation for some interesting and important examples.