Many times people have asked, “Should the Bible be taken literally or figuratively?” The answer varies greatly depending on who is doing the answering. One common answer, however, is that it should be taken literally unless the part in question is obviously an illustration or metaphor. Of course, that leaves a great deal to individual interpretation, because what may be an obvious metaphor to one may be equally obviously literal to another.
I think the real answer lies somewhere else. The truths of the Bible are constant and unchanging, no matter if individual events are true historic events or not. But even more than that, I think that there is truth on many levels, and the same story can speak to two different people very differently, with both points of view being valid.
Take for instance the story of Jesus chasing the money changers from the temple. On one level, it speaks to keeping the physical house of God a holy place, a place where we commune with God without having to worry about earthly distractions like money and without using it for earthly gain. But there is another level that it speaks to me on as well.
To me it is also an illustration of clearing our minds of distracting thoughts, things that take our attention away from where it should be. Jesus said, “It is written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer.’ But you are making it a den of thieves!” Our brains are the lumps of gray matter inside our skulls, but our minds are what make us who we are, the same thing the ancients called the “heart”, and that is where God resides within us. Our minds should be fixed on our connection to God. They should be a “house of prayer” because we should be in a constant state of communion and connection to God, praying without ceasing, always aware of His power acting in and through us in our lives. The thieves to be chased out are the old thoughts, the worries, the doubts and the distractions of our present reality that distract us and take our minds off of God and our goals.
Did a physical man named Jesus actually go into a real temple and chase real “money changers” out of it? I believe so, but to me that is not the main point. We get so caught up in things like, “did it happen or not” that we often miss the the lesson to be learned, and to me that is what is important.