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What is the Bible? Why do we say it's God's Word? How did we get it? What makes it so special?
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Literal and non-literal parts of the Bible

Postby Seraph » Thu Dec 13, 2018 3:55 pm

If you concede a non-literal nature of parts of the Bible, how can you interpret any part of it as necessarily literal?

For example, we know that the Genesis story isn't literal according to our current understanding of cosmology, or that the Adam and Eve story contradicts what we know about evolution, or that Noah's ark is physically impossible and there's insufficient evidence for a global flood. (We can disagree here, the specifics don't matter unless you're arguing a completely literal interpretation of the Bible). We therefore know that the Bible is not entirely accurate and factual. What justification do we have for believing the core tenets of Christianity - original sin, the divinity of Jesus, etc. - are factual, despite this?
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Re: Literal and non-literal parts of the Bible

Postby jimwalton » Thu Dec 13, 2018 4:08 pm

We have to interpret the Bible according to the intent of the author. The Bible is a rich literary collection containing music, poetry, metaphor, allegory, archetypes, parable, hyperbole, metonymy, irony, simile, and many other literary forms, as well as genres such as prayer, prophecy, blessing, covenant language, legal language, etc. WE have to take each text the way it was intended to be taken. We're not stuck with all or nothing: all literal or all non-literal. It's better to think that the Bible should be taken the way the author intended it to be taken. If he was using hyperbole, we're to take it that way. So also allegorically, historically, parabolic, poetic, etc. Our quest is to understand the intent of the author.

> For example, we know that the Genesis story isn't literal according to our current understanding of cosmology

Oh, it could be. I subscribe to what is being taught and written about by Dr. John Walton ("The Lost World of Genesis 1"). His theory about Genesis 1 & 2 is that they are about how God ordered creation (functions and roles) rather than about material creation (how they came to be). This perspective still believes God is the creator, but that Genesis 1 & 2 are not the narrative of material creation. Instead, Gn. 1-2 tell us why we are here, what our role and function are for being here. This theory allows science to be all that it can discover, wherever truth is found, but only the Bible can tell us the purpose behind it all, something science can't answer. I find his theory quite convincing, and very possible a more literal understanding of the text than the traditional view. Here's a brief breakdown:

Day 1: the light and dark function to give us day and night, therefore TIME

Day 2: the firmament functions to give us WEATHER and CLIMATE

Day 3: The earth functions to bring forth vegetation: plant life and AGRICULTURE

Day 4: The heavenly bodies function to mark out the times and seasons

Day 5: The species function to fill the earth, creating the circles of life, the food chain, and FOOD.

Day 6: Humans function to subdue the earth and rule over it: God's representatives on the earth, scientific mandate, responsible care of the planet.

Day 7: God comes to "rest" in His Temple, meaning that He comes to live with the humans He has made and to engage them in daily life, to reveal Himself to them and be their God.

> the Adam and Eve story contradicts what we know about evolution

Again, it's possible to believe in the accuracy of the Adam & Eve story as well as their historicity if we see Genesis 1 & 2 as being about function rather than material creation. In Genesis 1 & 2, Adam and Eve are being told about their function (rule the earth and subdue it, serve as God's priest and priestess [Gn. 2.15]). We learn that they are ontological equals, that they function in relationship with God, and we are subjects of God's blessing. There's nothing in the text that contradicts evolutionary theory. Adam and Eve aren't necessarily the first hominids or the first humans, but rather the text portrays them as archetypes (not allegories or metaphors) of all humans. We don't have to choose between the Bible and science.

> Noah's ark is physically impossible and there's insufficient evidence for a global flood

Here is one of the places the biblical text uses hyperbole. It wasn't a global flood. What does "all" mean, when Genesis talks about "all the earth" being flooded? In Gn. 41.57 (same book, same author), we read that "all the countries came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph because the famine was severe in all the world." Was Brazil experiencing famine? Did the Australians come to Joseph? No. "All" means the countries of the immediate vicinity in the ancient Near East.

Also, Deut. 2.25 (same author): "I will put the...fear of you on all the nations under heaven." Did that include the Mayans? The people of Madagascar? I don't think anyone would argue that this refers to more than the nations of Canaan, and perhaps a few others.

There are plenty of other references like this throughout the Bible (Acts 17.6; 19.35; 24.5; Rom. 1.8). We have to give serious consideration that quite possibly "all" doesn't mean "global".

> We therefore know that the Bible is not entirely accurate and factual.

Ah, wrong conclusion. We have to discern what parts of the Bible are literal, and what parts are music, poetry, metaphor, allegory, archetypes, parable, hyperbole, metonymy, irony, or simile. It's usually pretty straight-forward to figure it out. But we can still easily consider the Bible to be entirely accurate and factual.

> What justification do we have for believing the core tenets of Christianity - original sin, the divinity of Jesus, etc. - are factual, despite this?

Because Adam & Eve were historical people who represented the whole of humanity even if they weren't the first hominids, so original sin is still easily in the cards. The divinity of Jesus is established by his actions, his teachings, and the inspired interpretations of the theological explanations of his life and teachings. So we have plenty of justification of believing the core tenets.

Let's talk some more.
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Re: Literal and non-literal parts of the Bible

Postby Jaan » Tue Dec 18, 2018 12:00 pm

That's all speculation.
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Re: Literal and non-literal parts of the Bible

Postby jimwalton » Tue Dec 18, 2018 12:04 pm

Not at all, but instead well researched in grammatical-historical theory, Hebrew linguistics, and cultural studies.

The Genesis story: The concern of the ancient cultures was order, non order, disorder, and functionality. Something didn't exist when it had material substance but when it had an orderly function.

Adam & Eve: Same concern: order, disorder, functionality. Genesis 2 is an account of the rule and function of humanity, not of the material creation of 2 individuals. It contrasted the ancient mythologies stating that humans were created to serve the gods as slaves.

Noah's Ark: When I quote verses to substantiate my point to verify that it's hyperbole, that's not speculation.
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Re: Literal and non-literal parts of the Bible

Postby Seraph » Tue Dec 18, 2018 12:10 pm

So when I say "entirely accurate and factual" I mean not allegoral/metaphorical.

All your examples for saying the bible stories have some true statement behind their metaphor still concede that they are not literal stories, right?

I think the argument of intent is a good rebuttal though, it seems to make sense. I'm not sure if I have much else to say to it! I'm not familiar enough with the Bible to say that there are historically-written sections that contradict our understanding of science. And I could argue that unclearly defined metaphor and allegory doesn't really have place in a divine text but that's more of a different argument.
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Re: Literal and non-literal parts of the Bible

Postby jimwalton » Tue Dec 18, 2018 12:11 pm

> So when I say "entirely accurate and factual" I mean not allegoral/metaphorical.

Me too. What I wrote about Genesis 1 was not allegorical or metaphorical, but a literal interpretation of the text concident with ancient worldviews. And regarding Adam and Eve, I specifically said, and I quote: "the text portrays them as archetypes (not allegories or metaphors) of all humans." The Noah story was literal history, written with hyperbole as a literary device to make its theological point. Though it is treated as a spiritual metaphor in the NT while still being regarded as historical, the OT just mentions it in a historical/theological sense.

> I'm not sure if I have much else to say to it! I'm not familiar enough with the Bible to say that there are historically-written sections that contradict our understanding of science.

Thanks for this. The Bible doesn't have anything that contradicts our understanding of science, though it's unavoidable to see that the Bible is written accommodating the scientific understanding of their era, not ours. Otherwise the people would not have understood the communication. If God wrote them about quarks, neutrons, cells, and dark matter, they would have had just blank stares.
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Re: Literal and non-literal parts of the Bible

Postby Zapper » Tue Dec 18, 2018 12:19 pm

> We have to interpret the Bible according to the intent of the author.

How do you determine the intent of an author who has been dead for 500-2000 years?

> If he was using hyperbole, we're to take it that way.

Again, how do you determine what was hyperbole and what was not hyperbole?

> but only the Bible can tell us the purpose behind it all

And what is that purpose? Does the bible tell us the purpose behind it all? Or does Dr. John Walton (or anyone else's) interpretation of the bible tell us the purpose behind it all? There is a big difference.

If it is coming from the bible, that is one thing. If it is coming from what someone interprets the bible to mean, that is a completely different thing.

> We learn that they are ontological equals

If Adam was created first, out of clay, and then Eve was created our of Adams rib, in what way are they equals?

> Here is one of the places the biblical text uses hyperbole.

How did you determine that the authors intent was hyperbole?

> that quite possibly "all" doesn't mean "global".

Whoever wrote this word down either was not using it correctly, or you are not interpreting it correctly. How did you determine the author didn't mean "all" when the word they used was "all"?

> It's usually pretty straight-forward to figure it out.

If it is strait forward, why is there disagreement? Why do some sects of Christianity take the passage about handling serpents literally? Why does Ken Ham believe Genesis to be literal? If there is disagreement, even between theists, then I don't see how it can be strait forward.

> Because Adam & Eve were historical people

That contradicts what you said above when you say: he text portrays them as archetypes (not allegories or metaphors) of all humans.

An archetype of all humans is not the same thing as a historical person. So which is it? Are Adam and Eve archetypes or historical people?
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Re: Literal and non-literal parts of the Bible

Postby jimwalton » Tue Dec 18, 2018 12:41 pm

So many questions. Glad to answer, but I hope you understand I have to be brief rather than thorough because of the limitations of the forum.

> How do you determine the intent of an author who has been dead for 500-2000 years?

By studying the context, grammar, and vocabulary, by studying the stated purposes of the book, by studying the repetitive phrases in the book that shows us the author's structural ideas, and by studying the cultural context of the writing so we can understand the author's worldview. All history writing is rhetorically shaped, and all Biblical writing is theologically shaped. They tell the story out of their worldview.

> Again, how do you determine what was hyperbole and what was not hyperbole?

We determine that an idea is hyperbolic when it is out of keeping with literal possibilities. As far as a global flood, (1) this is out of keeping with how God does things, (2) it is not his manner of miracle, this one requiring a stream of dozens to make the flood a possibility, (3) it is not in keeping with the way God judges, and (4) it is not in keeping with wooden boat construction possibilities, and (5) it is not in keeping with the geological record. The conclusion of hyperbole is fairly straightforward.

> And what is that purpose?

The purpose of the creation account? To begin the story of the covenant. Though God created everything just right, sin drew people away from God—so much that they no longer had an accurate idea of what God was like. This was why God decided to make a covenant—to give an accurate picture of what he was like. The blessings, order, and functionality of chapters 1-2 quickly turned to corruption (sin) and a distorted picture of God (the Tower of Babel, chapter 11). The covenant represents God’s initiative, and it intends to correct the Babel Problem by providing a means by which God can reveal himself to the world through Abraham and his family. The covenant in the OT addresses the Babel Problem, while the covenant in the NT addresses the Eden Problem

In the biblical world, the most important aspect of creation was that God brought order from disorder, and the order that was brought forth from chaos had to be maintained day by day, moment by moment. In one sense, God made the world for us, but in another, he made the world for himself. The cosmos was created to be his temple, and people were placed in the garden to serve, but not as slaves. Since the garden was sacred space, serving in the garden was similar to serving in the temple—it involved caring for sacred space.

> Does the bible tell us the purpose behind it all?

Sure. It's all there.

> If Adam was created first, out of clay, and then Eve was created our of Adams rib, in what way are they equals?

When the text says humankind was created out of clay, it's not talking about the material manufacture of an individual. In Genesis 2.7, the Hebrew reads "the man," indicating it's speaking of humanity, not an individual. And "the dust of the ground" is a figure of speech about humanity's mortality (Gn. 3.19; Ps. 103.14). It's a statement about our nature. By saying that humanity is made of dust, it is telling us that we are not eternal, and that's the reason for a tree of life. In Adam we are all created mortal.

As far as the "rib," nowhere in the Bible does that term refer to an anatomical part. God is communicating to Adam about the nature and identity of womankind, that she is his counterpart, his ontological equal. She is "bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh." They share a kinship relationship of equality, just as is stated in Gen. 1.26-28.

> How did you determine that the authors intent was hyperbole?

Already addressed.

> Whoever wrote this word down either was not using it correctly, or you are not interpreting it correctly. How did you determine the author didn't mean "all" when the word they used was "all"?

It was in my post: Here's what I wrote:

"In Gn. 41.57 (same book, same author), we read that "all the countries came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph because the famine was severe in all the world." Was Brazil experiencing famine? Did the Australians come to Joseph? No. "All" means the countries of the immediate vicinity in the ancient Near East.

"Also, Deut. 2.25 (same author): "I will put the...fear of you on all the nations under heaven." Did that include the Mayans? The people of Madagascar? I don't think anyone would argue that this refers to more than the nations of Canaan, and perhaps a few others.

"There are plenty of other references like this throughout the Bible (Acts 17.6; 19.35; 24.5; Rom. 1.8). We have to give serious consideration that quite possibly "all" doesn't mean "global"."

> If it is strait forward, why is there disagreement?

There's always disagreement. Some people still claim there was no Holocaust. Some people claim the earth is flat. Some people claim William Shakespeare didn't exist. And Ken Ham claims the earth is only 6,000 years old. Go figure. Even straightforward stuff can get warped.

> That contradicts what you said above when you say: he text portrays them as archetypes (not allegories or metaphors) of all humans.

I also said, "it's possible to believe in the accuracy of the Adam & Eve story as well as their historicity if we see Genesis 1 & 2 as being about function rather than material creation." I didn't contradict myself. They were literal, historical beings who function as representatives (archetypes) of humanity.

> An archetype of all humans is not the same thing as a historical person.

Of course it can be. Adolf Hitler is clearly an archetype of evil.
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Re: Literal and non-literal parts of the Bible

Postby Jaan » Wed Dec 19, 2018 3:28 pm

> Not at all, but instead well researched in grammatical-historical theory, Hebrew linguistics, and cultural studies.

This isn't evidence either.

>The Genesis story: The concern of the ancient cultures was order, non order, disorder, and functionality. Something didn't exist when it had material substance but when it had an orderly function. Adam & Eve: Same concern: order, disorder, functionality. Genesis 2 is an account of the rule and function of humanity, not of the material creation of 2 individuals. It contrasted the ancient mythologies stating that humans were created to serve the gods as slaves.

I don't even know what you're saying here. This doesn't make any of it true.

Hyperbole is as useful as speculation, when looking for facts.
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Re: Literal and non-literal parts of the Bible

Postby jimwalton » Wed Dec 19, 2018 4:21 pm

> This isn't evidence either.

History and science are different disciplines. Science depends on reproducibility; there is no such thing in history. It can't be viewed directly or reconstructed precisely or exhaustively. It can't be subject to scientific observation and experimentation. History is philosophy and method, intelligence and imagination. Historiography is always rhetorical and requires at least a minimum of speculation, but it's still based data, information and evidence.

> I don't even know what you're saying here. This doesn't make any of it true.

Surprising that in your admittance of not understanding you're still coming to the conclusion that it's not true. That's called bias.

We don't deal with certainties but with plausibility. History and literature are often abductive reasoning.

Hyperbole is a useful literary device often employed to make a point. I've said this at least a million times. :)
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