There are two primary ways to read Scripture. Both are “literal” in that they focus on the text itself, but they differ in how they attribute meaning to the text. The exhaustive view believes that a single correct reading excludes any other and exhausts the possibilities of meaning; the inclusive acknowledges that a given text may be capable of many meanings, including that discerned by the exhaustive school, but remaining open to meanings not yet discerned. The exhaustive view asserts clarity, often assumes perspecuity, and a univocal certainty. The inclusive accepts a degree of ambiguity, recognizes that texts convey meaning, that the meanings can be manifold, and the readings provisional.
The inclusive manner of reading is that of the rabbinic and the Patristic eras, of the Catholic tradition and (ironically) also of liberal protestantism; the exhaustive is represented in several strands of protestant conservatism. The inclusive manner allows the church to hold a number of interpretations, and part with those that science or reason eventually show to be untenable. The exhaustive, in the long run, often finds itself unable to navigate the waters of reality, having run aground, not on the text, but on the inflexibility and failure of their own interpretations to offer a credible word to a skeptical world.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG