A reader writes in with another Biblical Question:
"When Episcopalians say that the bible is largely allegorical as opposed to historical do they mean everything including the story of resurrection is allegorical or do they just limit the belief that the bible is allegorical to the old testament?" and follows up with "The expression I commonly see on church websites is 'we take the Bible seriously, but not literally'." So what does that mean?
Part of the problem is what we mean when we talk about reading the Bible "Literally." Due to the rise of Fundamentalism in the Twentieth century, a "Literal reading" is often a code word for the belief in the inerrancy of the text itself in every aspect. This way of treating the Bible is a recently-developed one that is owed to the dominance of the Scientific Method as an underlying assumption of all of reality. People who treat the Bible as inerrant in all areas including history and science are projecting Enlightenment principles on a pre-Enlightenment text, something that is disrespectful to the text. Theologian Ruth Tiffany Barnhouse has remarked that literalism is to be regarded as "the bastard child of science and religion." It does both a disservice. When someone says they "Don't take the Bible literally," they are usually referring to this kind of belief that the Bible is inerrant in all aspects, that it has a plain meaning that transcends the culture and language the text was written in, and that we can interpret it (usually in English translation) without struggling with original setting or culture.
In pre-Enlightenment Biblical interpretation, a "Literal meaning" was considered to be the "plain reading" or original meaning. But that was considered to be only the most basic level of interpretation of the text. Following the idea of the rabbis of Jesus' time that scripture was a gem that could be turned to bring out different refractions of the true light, they worked in not only the literal level, but the Allegorical, Tropological and Anagogical senses. Sometimes the plain interpretation was considered to be the inferior interpretation. How did this work? pre-Enlightenment interpreters believed that the Holy Spirit worked within the community of the church to bring out the deepest, richest meanings of scripture.
One problem with "Biblical Literalism" as we know it today is that it takes the text and pretends as if it were a moral or theological text written by a modern person grounded in empirical methods of knowledge. The authors of the Biblical texts lived under completely different assumptions about the nature of reality and the purpose of literature. The other problem with "Biblical Literalism" is that it leaves no room for the role of the Holy Spirit in the church. In order to interpret the Bible properly, we have to try to put ourselves into their world and understand the plain meaning for them. Then, through the community working with the Holy Spirit, we need to discuss how such scripture applies to us today. This, in my opinion, is what taking the Bible seriously requires.
In my experience, the vast majority of Episcopalians, both clergy and lay, believe that the physical resurrection of Jesus really occurred. The texts about the Resurrection can be read on many different levels, so therefore, it is both literal and allegorical.