Help: I’m on a slippery slope

Hi! First post here, and a mighty ‘thank you!’ to anyone who reads and responds.

TLDR: My faith in God has always had a narrow victory over my innate skepticism, and now learning more about a non-literal interpretation of Genesis is throwing the entire Bible into question for me. How do you deal?

After about 10 years of diligently studying the Bible, I felt called to make use of what I had learned and to start leading an exegetical Bible study. Most of my own theological education has come from pastors and resources favoring a literal interpretation of the Bible except where ‘definitively’ poetic, and despite being a physician and fan of the scientific method, in my personal studies I have in general pushed aside any contradictory evidence with the mindset that someday science will catch up to the Bible. However, I am trying to present different views as objectively as possible for my study group, and have been looking more objectively at these different views myself, trying to take a step back from my presuppositions . I feel like doubting the validity (specific word choices and meanings) of any part of God’s Word is a slippery slope and would potentially cause one to question the word choices and meanings of all of it. For instance, we have faith in Jesus but He and the New Testament authors seem to faithfully believe in the literal reporting of Genesis; another related issue is that if names, timelines and genealogies are not reliable throughout Genesis, how then can we really believe that the Jewish people had a claim to be God’s chosen ones; was Ishmael actually the chosen line, and the rest of Genesis just propaganda Israel fed themselves to boost their corporate ego? And in that case why even trust that there was a Messiah or that a messiah was even needed? Sigh. As you can see, I’m not in a good place and need help.

I have been sincerely praying for clarity on this issue, and for stronger faith, but feel like I am slipping down that slope. In answer to my prayers, God led me to this forum. Obviously I don’t want to teach others information which I am not confident of, and need to stop this study -But that’s the simple part. What then? How do I reconcile God’s Word vs. simply words about god?

Specific help requested from any of you with more knowledge on the subject:

  1. is there really a well-defined change in the type of writing that is used in Genesis 1-11 versus Genesis 12 on? Is there some other reason to believe the rest of scripture as God’s own undeniable and very specific Word while not applying the same strong belief to gen 1-11?
  2. How do you, friends, allow yourselves to question the precise stories, names and timelines in the primeval chapters of Genesis, while NOT doubting the even more miraculous stories of Jesus’s life, resurrection and promises? If Genesis is merely to convey ideas and not to factually report history, couldn’t the same be said of the Gospels?
  3. What about prophetic scripture? Can we take any of that as Truth and expect it to play out as reported? If so, why?
  4. Is this just another attempt by Satan to impede the spread of God’s Word? Why believe that there actually is a satan if Genesis isn’t taken literally? Perhaps every other reference to satan is also figurative?

I don’t mean to be challenging/inappropriate and I shudder to think that my questions and (hopefully transient) moment of doubt would cause any of you to stumble in your own walk. But as you can tell, I’m on shaky ground and really need help overcoming this issue. Even if you don’t personally have any specific guidance, please pray for me.

Thanks in advance!

10 Likes

Welcome! I just climbed out of atheism last year, and this was a topic I had to deal with. I found John Walton’s “Lost World of…” books very helpful.

I do believe the stories in Genesis are real people. I’m unsure about the timelines… I suspect there is numerology going on there. I don’t think Adam and Eve were created at the beginning of the earth, but i do think the genealogies are real. Whether they’re missing someone, maybe so.

There are some things I’m not entirely sure how to recreate in my mind, but I have come to peace with not always understanding everything. That doesn’t mean I’m at peace all the time… but as I’ve studied more, I’ve come become ok with some things being “I don’t know.”

7 Likes

First, thank you for your contribution here. Next, these are very good questions, and I imagine many of us have had our own similar versions. There is no reason to feel bad about raising them in this group of questioners.

One conclusion I came to years ago after similar internal questions is that the two “bookends” of Scripture are at least somewhat parallel in that elements of both books are not meant to be read in a literal fashion. This is obviously true of Revelation, but I believe the “long ago” portion of Genesis, far removed from the actual written account also consists of considerable non-literal content. The same may also be true of the book of Job. It is my belief that historical accounts that are recorded much closer in time to the actual events should be read in a more literal fashion. Full disclosure - I am an amateur theologian at best, and that is probably stretching the truth a little. But that is how I’ve arrived at a comfortable space where I read the beginning chapters of Genesis in a non-literal manner.

7 Likes

Hello @Lostnfound, and welcome to the forum. You are certainly not alone in your questions and this is a great place to ask them. I hope you’ve had a chance to look around at resources on the BioLogos website, but here’s one I like, in light of what you said here:

in my personal studies I have in general pushed aside any contradictory evidence with the mindset that someday science will catch up to the Bible.

I have also struggled with how to interpret Genesis – I think many of us believe the false dichotomy that the first few chapters of Genesis are either 100% literal news-reporting, or garbage, and I don’t think it’s fair for us to place those kinds of expectations on the text. While there are some in the “evolutionary creationism” tent who believe the story of Adam and Eve is allegorical, there are also many who believe that Adam was a real person, so there is diversity in viewpoints.

Regarding your second question, I try to remember that the Bible is very diverse and made up of multiple books. The gospels are written as eyewitness accounts, while obviously the first couple chapters of Genesis were not, unless the author is describing something seen in a vision. I also remember that many places in the Bible refer to cosmology and other aspects of the physical world through an Ancient Near East point of view, and God doesn’t seem too worried about polishing things up for twenty-first century sensibilities. Ultimately my faith is not in whether or not Adam was a real person, though I believe he was even if Genesis leaves a lot out of the story. My faith is in Jesus Christ as he is and was and will be, and he isn’t hemmed in by the age of the earth or any of these kinds of questions.

Thank you for your vulnerability in sharing this, and blessings as you process these questions. I sometimes wish we had all the answers and that they were easy, but this is a messy process!

7 Likes

Great to meet you. Two quick overall observations… I heard a great theologian one time observe that he believed that God’s special revelation (Scripture) was inerrant, but that he also believed that his general revelation (science / nature) was also inerrant. And just as we allow scripture to interpret scripture, we should always allow revelation to interpret revelation, both ways, General interpreting special and so forth.

Secondly, I would personally beg anyone to seek what is true, not what is or isn’t consistent with a particular understanding of the Scripture. Be skeptical, but skeptical as a seeker of truth. My seminary was one that was committed to inerrancy, but they also taught me to be seriously skeptical and examine everything, every assumption, every presupposition, everything, in our search for truth, so that our own background, assumptions, preferences, etc. wouldn’t get in the way of truth. If interesting.

To your specific questions:

  1. We all understand all of the Pentateuch (genesis-Deuteronomy) to have been a compilation work… even us fundamentalist troglodytes like me who actually believe it to be the work of Moses, don’t discount that Moses used various sources and incorporated them. I can’t speak for the Hebrew itself, but in content it is certainly a different category. It moves from sweeping general history to personal, detailed narrative of Abraham. But personally, the rest of the Bible seems to see these parts as much historical as others… Chrinicles and Luke tracing Geneologies through the names right back to Adam.
  1. I’m the wrong person to ask here, because I personally would think it would start a dangerous biblical precedent. However, in fairness, I would certainly grant that someone could perceive gen 1-11 as being ancient myth that Moses included for communicating certain principles but never intending to be historical, while the miracles of Jesus and the crucifixion are clearly in a different category… the stories in genesis 1-11 are far more ancient, and other variations of them (e.g., other floodmstories) are wildly different and have various mythical elements. The miracles of Jesus are multiply attested, are collected by reliable historians, and have other historical reasons that add to their historical confidence by any standard.

  2. don’t quite follow your question here. But perhaps it is helpful to recognize that much prophetic scripture is understood as “threats”, and the promised threats and predictions can be averted by various actions. Such as Jonah’s prophecy that Nineveh would be destroyed, but this wasn’t so much a guaranteed prediction, as a threat intended to induce repentance, so that God would not have to carry out the threat.

  1. Even if I came to the conclusion of genesis 1-11 as figurative or otherwise mythical, I would still embrace belief in satan from Job, Chrinicles, Zechariah, Revelation, Paul’s epistles and from the life of Jesus.
2 Likes

Welcome, @Lostnfound, and may your search for the Truth be blessed with the realization that an unquestioned Faith is not worth having; i.e. we should pay close attention to Scripture, which is an accounting of historic peoples’ inspired interaction with their Creator, but, since each of us is a unique individual, it is most important that we seek out our unique Purpose in Life. Of course that includes denying the selfish components of the Darwinian evolution that produced our species, Homo sapiens. IMHO this is the foundation of the Salvation we Christians strive for: becoming (as much as possible) the Image of a God who is essentially Love in Action.

The road to my personal Worldview was replete (like yours) with ‘bumps’ and ‘slippery slopes’. I was a ‘Cradle Catholic’ and given a parochial education thru 8th grade. It was a bit of a shock choosing a career in science and learning about human evolution. As you know, Catholic doctrines are not tied as closely to the inerrancy of Scripture, but their official Catechism upholds a literal Adam & Eve, created ‘very good’ but subsequently sinning and being expelled from Eden. My teen age intellect (such as it was) could not accommodate such dogmas, and my worldview tended toward deism. I retained the appearance of a ‘practicing Catholic’ mostly so as not to disappoint my mother. Several events in my life (miracles, actually) kept me questioning whether a belief in deism (the god of Einstein and Spinoza) was indeed more intellectually satisfying than the God of Christianity. I feel fortunate that I have lived long enough (93 yrs.) to have constructed a worldview that is deeply satisfying (exchanging Original Blessing for Original Sin)–although it still may not answer the question Pilate posed to Jesus: 'What IS truth?’ Perhaps that is beyond knowing, at least in this life.
Al Leo

2 Likes

Welcome to the forum! It looks like you already have some good and diverse responses above. I’ll just add a short thought here as well on one piece.

If this is advanced as an attempt at some kind of “triage”, where we attempt to sort scriptures according to our modern sensibilities into the two categories: “history”, and “not history”, then I would resist this inclination. Not because genre-considerations aren’t important. They are. In Genesis as well as everywhere else. But if the motivation is to “grant greater weight” to texts that don’t tread on our modern preference for straight, factual historicity, and to demote passages that fail our tests, then we’ve already succumbed to a modern claim about truth that does not lead us to good places - as many creationists are still finding out.

My encouragement to you (and prayers for you - for myself too) is that we try to let Christ teach us - which includes reading of Him in the gospels. Then we are all challenged to follow Christ in life. Apart from this obedience, all our intellectual gymnastics here (regardless of their veracity!) will remain only ideas. They won’t have any real root - therefore no fruit in us apart from living them.

3 Likes

Welcome Lostnfound! It can feel a bit like walking on the water at first. But just keep your eyes on Jesus and you’ll be just fine. We’ve all got your back, too.

General scholarly consensus seems to be that the beginning of the Abrahamic story is where the narrative moves from epic to historic. That doesn’t mean that Genesis 1-11 isn’t trustworthy, but that it should be understood differently. It uses language of accommodation that is understandable to ancient near east (ANE) peoples. It’s not a book of science (which didn’t exist as we know it) but a book of salvation.

I don’t reason my way to faith from the Scriptures. That’s fundamentalism. Rather I begin with Jesus and then faith allows me to trust the Scriptures. The Spirit keeps my faith centered on the reality of Christ and his resurrection. So I trust the Scriptures in the absence of evidence to the contrary, but I’m not rattled either should my interpretation on things like Genesis need to shift.

Yes. Much of it already has in Christ which is it’s purpose. If we’re speaking eschatologically about future events, then interpretation becomes important such as with Revelation. Ultimately we know it means He will return and judge the living and the dead. I’d need more specifics as to what prophecies you mean to answer that further.

I base my belief in the reality of Satan because Jesus spoke of Him in personal terms not conceptual terms. And it fits with my understanding of the existence of evil and a morally good God. But no, I don’t think the sciences or biodiversity as understood by evolution is a trick to deceive the elect. It’s simply a way to understand the natural world.

Blessings!

4 Likes

Great questions, and also some great responses. My problem ironically was more sliding down the other slope, it seemed to me that literalism in interpretation was so far removed from physical reality, that it destroyed the idea that God was truth and not deceptive. Finding a way to integrate physical reality in such a way that maintains the character and nature of God has allowed me to maintain belief. While I do not agree with all Enn’s has to say, he has some excellent points, and I greatly enjoyed the latest podcast from BioLogos with him. In it he talks of the ambiguity of the Bible at times, and what is expected of us.
Welcome to the forum, and please continue to contribute your thoughts. It is important that as perhaps some elements of your faith are deconstructed, that you work to rebuild on the solid rock.

1 Like

Hello @Lostnfound and welcome to the forums! I will attempt my best to help you in this issue.

That really depends on your view on the issues. For me personally, I treat Genesis 1-2 as stories that tell of the creation account in a similar manner of other ANE accounts but state that Yahweh alone is the Creator of the cosmic universe. Genesis 3-11 tell about real events and real people such as Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and Enoch and etc. These are real people but some things are exaggerated in the typical manner as many ANE stories are such as the long ages and the flood being worldwide (I personally believe in a literal Flood but take the local/regional view of it but it was still violent and chaotic). In my understanding of seeing the Word of God as the sole authority is that it’s unique that it’s God’s Word to Man and that it teaches us spiritual and moral truths and God has given for us to know and apply and that it teaches us how to live decent lives and also know the Savior, Jesus Christ. The Bible is the divine Word sent by God to man and written by man inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit to tell other people about the Will and Word of God.

I feel that my first comment has answered this issues and I take a more conservative view of Genesis-1-11 while understanding the cultural-historical context of the original audience, the setting of it all and the themes in them. Other may disagree and may take a far more wider symbolic view beyond Genesis 1-2 as I do.

With prophetic scripture, especially apocalyptic scripture, there are many ways of understanding them, I for example, am a Postmillennialist and take a Preterist and Idealist view of it all. I do understand things of prophetic scripture are seen from a different angle as other might take it. But we must take these things at heart and know that one day Christ will return in glory and power and judge both the living and dead.

I doubt it, cause if so Satan is doing a sloppy job at making me lose faith and become an atheist. What does cause people to lose faith is when they take the idea of the “compromise” in that your cannot believe in evolution and be a Christian at the same time. This is a fraud and needs to be stopped as its causing a lot of Christians who decide to understand creation from an evolutionist point of view think they must take on the atheistic view of evolution rather then embrace evolutionary creationism.
I hoped this helped you wade across the waves of the issues you are dealing with and keep on praying that God will give you wisdom to help you in this time you are in. God bless friend.

1 Like

I don’t think you’re on a slippery slope, I’d say it’s part of your journey of faith. If you’re studying the Bible to Know God, then I’m sure you’ll be fine. But, I think you should to render to Caesar what’s his, and to God what’s God’s-- i.e. while skepticism towards the works and interpretations of man is good, it takes a proactive openness towards God to effectively learn what He has to say.
I pray for safe travels on your collective journey.

2 Likes

So many thanks to you all! I am starting to feel reassured that yes, this is part of my faith journey, that it is possible to reconcile modern scientific discoveries with a Biblical worldview…and I’ll continue to read more articles and posts here on Biologos to figure out exactly HOW that reconciliation works. (-; Still confused but no longer panicking; Turning it into motivation to keep on learning.

@Sealkin I have a couple specific questions about a local vs. global flood. If it was just regional, why would God need to save a few humans and animals to propagate their species? Why would Noah need to build a boat if God could have just moved him to a different region? Even if the numbers and timeline are exaggerated, these two issues do seem central to the story itself. Thanks!

5 Likes

What is actually at the center of the story? I don’t think it is the animals marching into the ark two by two. The core of the story is man is capable of evil and yet God provides a means to overcome that evil. Think of the ark as a symbol of salvation. A salvation that was provided by God.

4 Likes

I see the animals on the ark as animals local to the region of the land that was flooded and Noah and his family would have came into contact with others in time who would move into the land. On the numbers on how big the Arks is I really don’t know, that is an issue I’m still dealing with myself. God could have had Noah and his family move but I feel this flood wasn’t a normal flood but this flood covered a good chunk of the Chaldean lands and was in how I see it engulfed by a hurricane like flood but in mega portions and the water in time after 40 days receded back into the Indian Ocean. That’s just my view and for all I know there could have been a global flood.

1 Like

Hi @Lostnfound! I don’t have anything brilliant to add after reading through the responses you’ve received so far, but I just wanted to join in welcoming you to the forum. I assure you that your sincere questions are eagerly welcomed here. We’re all in this journey together, just at various stages. :slight_smile: May God bless your efforts to seek and discern the truth in all areas of life!

3 Likes

Good point, and I also like how 1 Peter 3 uses the flood waters in Noah’s story as a symbol of baptism:

when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

1 Like

For your consideration:

The Toba mega-colossal” volcanic eruption happened around 70,000 years ago, covering the globe with ash. It was a global massive die-off event, bringing the human species population to the low thousands (even down to 40 “breeding pairs”). At the least it could have produced a regional scenario of mudslides or flooding, and the character we know as Noah was able to preserve his kin through God’s revelatory guidance. This doesn’t imply that all except the saved died, there would have been survivors scattered elsewhere that were able to eventually repopulate the devastated regions. Since this happened in prehistoric times, the account that was passed down is what we know as Noah’s flood in Genesis.

The event is associated with genetic bottleneck in human evolution, and the genetic differences among modern humans may reflect changes within the last 70,000 years.
Regarding the moral implications, the declining moral character of the sons of God (descendants of Adam) could have been “cleansed" by this bottleneck, as Noah exhibited a character attuned to God (Gen 6:9), was morally clean, materially resourceful and prepared. The resulting scarcity of resources due to ecological devastation would have favored less evil and violence among humans and more cooperation, fostering of habits and traits that kept them clean and healthy, and would have propagated as they became “fruitful and multiplied” thereafter (Gen 9). They might have had to resort and adapt to eating things that they were not used to eating before the flood, but stay away from things that made them really sick (v. 3-4).

A much smaller volcanic event in 1816 caused a “year without summer” in Tambora, Indonesia. The climatic consequence of the Toba event would have been much worse. After the flood, God promises:

“As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
will never cease.”Gen 8:22

Also, the remaining particulates in the atmosphere would have created vivid, spectacular sunrises, sunsets… and colorful, rainbow-like panorama.

So this quick illustration of the flood is one that preserves the significance and truth of the story while remaining consistent in the natural details of a prehistoric event.

Noah’s story might very well be a local account of a global catastrophe, which would be an answer to your questions above.

1 Like

I do too. One reason some here have accused me of holding ‘middle class apologetics’ lol is that I couldn’t deal with a genesis that was ahistorical. I no longer have the physical strength to debate, even at the pace I have been doing here but here is an outline of how I put it together.

I use the days of proclamation approach. Genesis 1, nothing was created, it was just the pre-temporal planning of the universe. Each proclamation says God said… and it was so. The human writer put ‘and it was so’ but doesn’t specify the time WHEN it was so.

This view is consistent with rabbinical beliefs that the torah was written in Heaven and handed to Moses:

“In either case it would have been proper for him to write at the beginning of the book of Genesis: ‘And G-d spoke to Moses all these words, saying,’ The reason it was written anonymously [without the above introductory phrase] is that Moses our teacher did not write the Torah in the first person like the prophets who did mention themselves.” Ramban (Nachmanides) Commentary on the Torah, Trans. by Dr. Charles B. Chavel, (New York: Shilo Publishing House, 1971), p. 8

“The reason for the Torah being written in this form [namely, the third person] is that it preceded the creation of the world, and needless to say, it preceded the birth of Moses our teacher.” Ramban (Nachmanides) Commentary on the Torah, Trans. by Dr. Charles B. Chavel, (New York: Shilo Publishing House, 1971), p. 8

Ramban cites Shabbath 88b which is part of the Babylonian Talmud. It says:

“R. Joshua b. Levi also said: When Moses ascended on high, the ministering angels spake before the Holy One, blessed be He, ‘Sovereign of the Universe! What business has one born of woman amongst us?’ ‘He has come to receive the Torah,’ answered He to them. Said they to Him, 'That secret treasure, which has been hidden by Thee for nine hundred and seventy-four generations before the world was created.” http://www.come-and-hear.com/shabbath/shabbath_88.html#PARTb

Doing days of proclamation gets me out of all the silly ordering of events which in no way matches geological data. God can plan the universe in any order he wishes. Atheists love to point out that the order of creation doesn’t match the order of the geologic record. Days of Proclamation removes that objection

Genesis 2, I believe was billions of years later. Adam was either created de Novo or from an ape’s body (I chose the later for genetic reasons, pseudogenes we have match those of the great Apes.) So Adam is now conscious moral being but has no mate–surgery is real historical event.

No one likes these views but they worked for me in maintaining the historicity of scripture without violating what we see in geology and in evolution. Historicity is very important for me with regards to creation. ONLY the god who was there can tell us what happened, and if our account of creation can’t even have the possibility of being true–I. E. concording to historical fact, then it ipso facto has no input from the Creator.

Days of proclamation started with St. Basil and was expanded by Whiston.

1 Like

If the Bible is the Word of God, then it is truth. When I talk about the Word of God, I am talking about the original texts. We do not have the original texts at this time, other variables include translation and interpretation, which I cannot take as “inspired” as they are different form each other.
image
Graphically represented, if the Bible is truth, it is constant and represented by the orange lines. Given an infinite amount of time, science will reveal truth and it is represented by the gray line. A highly variable part is our interpretation of the Bible and it is represented by the yellow line. We are probably somewhere on the left side of the chart.

I feel a large part of perceived conflict with science is our interpretation of the Bible. For example, I feel that the two creation narratives in Genesis are not a retelling of the same story but are sequential events which eliminates the conflict with evolution.

2 Likes

Yes. You see the same change in any historical account reaching that far back in time to before written history which means that any information from such times had to have been passed down in an oral tradition long before there was any specialization of human activities into such things as history, law, philosophy, entertainment, science, religion, and bedtime stories. So these oral traditions tend to fulfill all of these functions at the same time speaking on multiple levels to different people with different abilities to understand different things.

God may be the ultimate author, but if so then people and history are his writing instruments and thus all the properties of those writing instruments are going to effect the details of what is written if you look closely enough. Consider what happens when you look too closely at a photograph. You reach a point where what you see has more to do with the instruments used than the source.

People always find what they are looking for. Me? I tend to look for what maximizes the meaning of the text. I don’t see so much meaning in a story of taking snakes, golems of dust and bone, and magical fruit – i.e. what frankly looks like Walt Disney entertainment for children. I see much more meaning when I understand that these are symbolic of something else… like this talking snake being an angel transformed by the fall into our adversary the devil.

Genesis clearly has an historical intent but at the same time this is very very very far from the modern standards of historical documentation.

Not interested.

You got me on that one. I don’t see any reason there at all.

God is the creator of the universe not the devil, thus all the evidence from earth, sky, and in our own genetic code is sent to us from God. The only place I see the devil at work is in the behavior of human beings and that includes religious people most of all. Is it not a fact that this is exactly where Jesus saw the devil at work? In the behavior of the most religious people?

On the contrary… taking Genesis literally would only have you believe in talking snakes.

Some people prefer this. I do not. But neither do I think it is all that terribly important. I believe Satan exists but I do not believe in Satan. I think people give the devil too much credit and I think this is a bad habit central to their fallen nature.

1 Like