Biblical Literalism

(Joseph) #1


I have a single question for members of BioLogos. Is it the consensus that the global flood as recorded in Genesis never took place? Is it the consensus also that other aspects of the Old Testament did not take place, such as the Exodus? I have many further questions depending on the answers to these questions.

Thank you

(Mervin Bitikofer) #2

Welcome to the forum (in case you are new – I don’t remember your particular sign-in) — but here is my unofficial welcome in any case.

I’ll volunteer a first answer here as a long-time commenter and lurker in these here parts (does that make me a member?).

I think it could safely be said to be a consensus among evolutionary creationists here that the flood referred to in Genesis was not global in the modern understanding of that word --meaning covering the whole planet. As to whether a flood happened or not, I think most here put forward that the story is probably centered around a real flood event, but that the details wouldn’t at all look like what we would imagine if we were to pretend that the Genesis narratives were no more than a kind of news story trying to set out historical facts like a modern newspaper may try to do.

I suspect you would/will get a range of answers on how much historical correspondence to expect from details. But probably most (unless they are YEC --and yes, they are welcome and present here too!) would not accept that there was a planet-wide flood that does everything that YECs require of it.

Others can weigh in as well … there will probably be greater variation on how much of the Exodus events should be read as straight numerical claims. I think what many here will agree on, though, is that concerns over numerical/chronological accuracy as prerequisite gatekeepers for taking any ancient text seriously is almost certainly a misapplied modern concern that does violence to the narratives. That’s my two-cents, anyway.

Of course nobody here speaks for all Biologos “membership”, whatever that is, or if somebody does it should probably be a moderator who at least has some official status. But hopefully you’ll get a variety of responses.

(Joseph) #3

Thanks for the response. My second questions are the following: is the account in Genesis concerning Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden historically factual in the general consensus of adherents (if you don’t prefer “members”) of BioLogos? Was the diaspora following the Tower of Babel historically factual?

(Mervin Bitikofer) #4

There is a lot of spilled “digital ink” and time spent around some of those very questions here! And I shouldn’t have concluded my last response without pointing you towards where you could get what would really come closer to qualifying as “official Biologos” – for example here is a link to a Biologos article that goes more deeply in to the flood question. And I found that by scrolling down to the ‘find resources’ on the home page (fourth dot down along the right side). Then type ‘flood’ or ‘adam’ into the search bar. You’ll get more than you probably want. Not that you can’t still request conversation about it here too, But if you really want to delve, there is a lot there.

(Phil) #5

As a fellow lurker and sometimes commenter, I would have to say “that depends.” I think opinions vary and most of your questions are answered on the site.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #6

…and just to drive home what I said above about “time spent”, here is a link to another currently active thread in this forum that has over 300 comments already on the subject of the tower of Babel (perhaps an ironic confluence of title and content here?) Most of it consists of parties shouting past each other that ‘yes, this was the dispersal of languages over the region’, or ‘no, this was merely a confusion of language, with diverse languages already pre-existing’, etc. I’m not saying that some good points aren’t made in those threads, but there is a lot of chaff to sift through and astonishing quackery mixed in for good measure. If you really want a clear “Biologos-style” answer, you are probably better off searching the resources I mentioned for that topic too. Authors there were a bit more controlled and selected for their clear prose and more substantiated bibliographies.

(Joseph) #7

Thanks for the response again. So it seems that the account in Genesis of Noah’s flood is interpreted as local. Genesis 7:4 is cited here: “I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights; and I will blot out from the face of the land every living thing that I have made.”

What was the extent of this local flood? Also, why would God say that he would blot out from the face of the local geographic area every living thing that God made? If I interpret this to mean that God destroyed every living thing that he created within the Mesopotamian region, then where is the evidence of that? Also, did Noah actually build an ark for his family? Do adherents of BioLogos believe that he really lived?

(Mervin Bitikofer) #8

Your questions are good ones, and I’m hoping that others will weigh in for you if you are hoping to continue this conversation at this pace. I’m about to sign off for the evening.

So let me just say that my quick and short answer on “why does God claim to wipe everything out” – or perhaps more accurately we should say this is the writer’s appraisal for what God brought about – is that this is basically what God must have done. The Bible does have what might be referred to as “worshipful hyperbole”, such as when the plague of locusts on Egypt was said to “cover the whole earth”. No doubt that is what it seemed like to anybody in the midst of it at the time. Or we might look at a devastated city and declare “they killed off everybody!” when in fact maybe “only” 90% were killed. It is nevertheless a sentiment that expresses a deeply-felt truth (and no less true for its exaggeration) about an extreme situation or act of God.

Thanks for your conversation – I’ll check in tomorrow again at some point and hopefully you’ll have heard from others too.

(nicolas andulsky allen) #9

I don’t think that there are any “adherents” or “members” or “creed” or “consensus” or “agreement” or “orthodoxy” to be found here as far as I can tell. All of the moderators seem to think that John Walton is a genius, but other than that there’s a wide range of views on the forum. If you are looking for scripture to support that the flood was local, here is a good place to go:

(George Brooks) #10


Explaining the Flood of the Genesis as merely an exaggerated REGIONAL flood is not much of an explanation.

There is nothing about the story that can be interpreted as REGIONAL.

  1. A ship would not be afloat for a year in a regional flood.
  2. We wouldn’t need ALL THE ANIMALS OF THE WORLD in a regional flood.
  3. And how does Noah repopulate the world when the boat comes ashore… and the people on the shore who survived the regional flood wonder what all the fuss is about?

The Flood of Genesis is a co-opting of a well known ANE story. Both the Biblical version and the Sumerian one no doubt found INSPIRATION in regional floods… generation after generation.

But you can’t EXPLAIN the story line of ANY of these stories as merely an exaggerated REGIONAL flood.

(Christy Hemphill) #11

Hi Joseph, welcome to our forum and thanks for your questions.

I just wanted to point out that BioLogos as an organization promotes conversation around the intersection of science and faith among Christians from a variety of backgrounds and traditions. So beyond the very general “what we believe” statement, there isn’t really one “BioLogos” definitive party-line response on the answers to a lot of questions. Everyone who writes for BioLogos is working out their faith in the context of their own relationship with God, working within the bounds of whatever faith community or theological tradition they associate with. People come down in different places when it comes to ideas about how to best interpret a given passage and there is always a spectrum of views about how open to negotiation and possible redefinition a given belief or traditional view may be.

All that to say, BioLogos is a gathering place for ideas that flow around the main concept that God’s revelation in Scripture and God’s revelation in nature can be harmonized, but it doesn’t dictate specific beliefs about how that harmony must be achieved.

Given that God’s revelation in nature doesn’t reveal evidence of a global flood that destroyed all life on the planet except Noah and his family, we would look for an exegetically responsible way to understand the Genesis flood account as something other than the historical account of the literal destruction of the world. And given the archaeological and linguistic evidence that point to cultural dispersion patterns that don’t fit with a literal interpretation of Babel being the only source of human language and cultural diversity, we would look for an exegetically responsible way to understand the meaning of that account as something other than the historical account of the literal beginning of all languages and cultures. That is not the same thing as saying that where it appears that science or natural history conflict with the biblical account, that “science trumps the Bible.” It just means that where there appears to be conflict, we assume harmony can be found if we are reading both science and Scripture well.

(Christy Hemphill) #12

Seconding this. You can also check out the credentials of the authors, see what institutions or denominations they are affiliated with, and get a better feel for whether you think they deserve any credibility or not.

(Christy Hemphill) #13

Personally, I think NT Wright is a genius. John Walton is a respected and highly accessible Evangelical OT scholar who is definitely worth reading if you want to talk about Genesis interpretation.

(Joseph) #14


Thanks for the response. Do you believe that Noah actually lived?

(Christy Hemphill) #15

Yes. I also believe Adam and Eve were real people. I think the accounts in Genesis are mythologized to a certain extent and need to be interpreted within a framework of ancient near east literature.

(Joseph) #16


What does it mean that they were mythologized? Rather, to what extent were they mythologized?

(Phil) #17

Joseph1979, it might help you getmore relevant answers to share what viewpoint you currently have of those issues, and what your concerns are. Your questions seem to be aimed towards forcing yes and no answers when the answers are sometimes neither, or not in the way you mean. Regarding the story of Noah, my personal experience is that as I read in later life the symbolism and deep meaning of the the provision of salvation to mankind from the world of sin, and the foreshadowing of Christ as expressed by Augustine, I felt somewhat betrayed by my denominations narrow portrayal of the story as strictly literal and relegating it to children’s story status. I still have a bit of anger and angst at the denial of the deeper meaning of scripture resulting from strict adherence to a strictly literal reading.

(Christy Hemphill) #18

I don’t think everything written about them is a “fact.” I think the stories are meant to communicate truth, not “facts.” (Among other things, that God desired to relate to humanity as special out of all creation, that he chose humans to reign over his creation on his behalf, that God created men and women as complementary and equal and for each other, that humanity’s sinful rejection of God’s divine authority over them and creation screwed things up, but God immediately responded with a promise to set things right through Christ) I think Noah’s story teaches that God always provides a way of salvation for his faithful people. I think it is meant to prefigure the salvation Christ offers; those who accept the way of salvation God has provided in Jesus will be saved, and those who mock and dismiss the idea of a coming judgment, do so at their own peril, because they will not be able to save themselves.

I don’t really lose much sleep over trying to figure out the what is “fact” and what is “fiction.” 1) I don’t think it is knowable, and 2) I don’t think knowing would change how I live my life, or what my takeaways from the narratives are. If I found out they were 100% fictional, I would still interpret the spiritual instruction they provide about the same. Same thing if I found out they were 100% historical. I don’t think the main points or the main truths of the revelation is in the “fact” or “non-fact” status of any element of the stories. It is in what God wanted to teach us by telling about these people.

(Joseph) #19


Thanks for the response. I’ve lately been considering all these subjects in earnest, and I’ve been considering the perspective of BioLogos. Christy believes that Noah lived. Presumably, she doesn’t believe that the ark that was described in the Old Testament was actually constructed. She also believes that the accounts of Adam and Eve were factually historical. Presumably, she believes that they were not the only persons inhabiting the world at the time. You yourself believe that the account in Genesis of Noah’s flood was simple allegory.

The basic problem is very simple. Why should I believe ANY of what’s written in the Christian bible if the very foundations of it are false? This is a very serious point. Jesus Christ certainly believed the account in Genesis of Noah’s flood. Was he lying?

(Phil) #20

Thank you for sharing your heart. I might add that you do not know what I believe (and I might add that I am still a work in progress), and allegory and symbolism may not be simple or false whether found in historical events or in obviously fictional characters such as found in Jesus’s parables. To hold that view risks missing God’s message and meaning.