How do I interpret the Bible

Hello, my name is Andre and I have a question. If I am correct, Evolutionary Creation is based on Genesis 1-3 being symbolical while at the same time keeping Jesus’s role literally. My question is at where do we draw the line between the symbolism of the Bible and the literal parts of it when science is constantly progressing. I would like to understand more about this so let me know what your thoughts are. Thanks.

It’s not just genesis 1-3 that is believed to be symbolic. Different people in here believe that various parts of the Bible is hyperbolic. I believe much of it is an ahistorical, hyperbolic tale that’s 100% true but not always 100% literal. Such as I believe that genesis 1-11 is mythological in nature setting up biblical patterns that are played out again and again throughout the Bible. I also believe Esther and Jonah are ahistorical. That’s historical fiction. Revelation is also a very symbolic, apocalyptic mythology. Others feel differently about various stories.

I believe strongly in contextual analysis. The words used, even a name, can be clues. When you dig deeper, you can look at things such as Jonah age in Kings when he’s mentioned and compare that to when the book of Jonah was written. In Hebrew it states the ship itself had thoughts. It mentions the people were so dumb they did not know their left hand from their right hand. It’s a very satirical writing.

For genesis 1-11 we can use several things from history and science to compliment the textual clues. When you look at it like this. Genesis begins out by spanning thousands of years very fast and then spends 2 books over a generation or two in exodus. But it reads like this. A watery world that’s not frozen despite there being no sun has a god floating above it and in six days creates everything ( not water it’s creation is not mentioned it just was) and on the sixth day he created a mud golem that he breathed life into making it flesh and a soul and he james every creature on earth that was created whole and then had a rib taken from him and turned into a wife and their kids result in the long run a world of chaos and sin and so the god opens up the sky dome allowing space water to flood in while also opening up the earth allowing water to burst forth that kills everything except 8 people and 2 of every single land species there is. At some point the god comes down ( does god really float down from a hidden kingdom above and beyond the clouds) and seed mankind is somehow going to build a tower that will be thousands of miles high beyond the clouds and their known universe and reach heaven and so god scatters then and makes them all randomly know whole new languages and they forget their previous languages.

It’s wrote in a similar way, but even less historical, than revelations

It’s not about what’s not known historically or is rejected scientifically though those help accept it. The reason why is from the texts itself and how they text created a worldview and how that worldview applied directly to those alive then.

There are actually a wide variety of views on Genesis 1-3, ranging from completely mythical to historical but told in a poetic way.

I’d suggest reading John Walton’s Lost World series to get an idea of one way to view those chapters without going the mythical route.

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Matthew 13:10 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to him who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.

In Matthew 13:1-9 we take almost everything Jesus speaks of symbolically: seeds, path, rocky ground, birds, soil, sun, thorns, and grain. Why? Why isn’t this just an agricultural lesson? Because the symbolic understanding has more meaning.

So why is Genesis 2-3 to be taken symbolically? Many reasons…

  1. Nothing in the Bible shouts symbolism louder than the names of those two trees in the garden. “Tree of Life” and “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil” do not sound even a little like the names of two species of angiosperm.
  2. Two of the things in the story are treated as symbolically elsewhere in the Bible: the serpent and the tree of life.
  3. As a story of golems created by necromancy in a garden with magical fruit and talking animals this is nothing but a fairy tale for children like the Walt Disney Production of “Robin Hood,” good for little more than bedtime stories and entertainment. But the symbolism is so rich people have found profound meaning in this text for millennia.
  4. If people don’t want to understand then they can use literalism to avoid seeing any greater meaning in the text just like Jesus said people would do with His parables. But doing this just in order to contradict the findings of science is not only unreasonable and blatantly manipulative, but is greatly damaging to the ability of people to hear the gospel. Such an attempt to “shut the kingdom of heaven against men” is evil, the work of those whom Jesus described as “children of hell” in Matt 23:13-15.

The progression of science is to answer more question and certainly does not in any way change the overwhelming accumulation of evidence for theories from so many different directions of inquiry they are now known to be the indisputable facts.

Right, so what is missing from most people who believe in Christ regarding their study of the Bible is a knowledge of the context in which the Bible is written which is the context of ancient Israel and its Near Eastern neighbors such as Egypt, Babylon, Canaan, and the like.

Ancient Israel was what is called a “high context culture” meaning that to get a lot of the things in the Bible you have to be familiar with the cultural context in which it is embedded.

So to give an example, you’ve mentioned Genesis 1-3 but really the line should be drawn at Genesis 1-11. These stories are very similar to Egyptian, Caananite, and especially Babylonian stories; the creation (very much like the Enuma Elish), the Garden of Eden (hearkening back to a story of a god and goddess in a garden also with a tree of life), Cain and Abel (based on two gods one being a shepherd and the other a farmer), the genealogies (very much like the Sumerian king list), the Sons of God and the daughters’ orf men part (a polemic against the Babylonian Apkallu), the flood (very much like most other flood stories in the middle east), the Tower of Babel (aimed at Mesopotamian ziggurats).

These stories however have many, many theological differences from the other Near Eastern stories and actually take shots at them while putting YHWH’s view of the world forth. They are NOT stealing from these myths rather they are refuting them theologically. In other words, they are Polemics refuting the worldviews of these religions while recasting these stories to show the nature of our God and reality. Their conversation partners are not modern evolutionary theory but the stories put forth in Near Eastern myths. This isn’t to say that these events are completely ahistorical, there was a Garden of Eden (the Persian Gulf Oasis), there was a flood in the ancient Near East that was apocalyptic for them, the Sons of God and daughters of men story was probably based on a very real event as a great deal of Second Temple Jewish theology was based upon it however it is not the history that is important but the theology put forth in the stories. These stories are mainly symbolic using memories of the ancient Near Eastern prehistory to put forth God’s theology.

Then you get to Abraham and most of the Bible from there on is history, but the Israelites did not tell history the way that we do. Yes, these things happened but there are literary devices thrown in and propaganda and symbolic attributes such as the ages in which the patriarchs die (in fact most any time you see a number it has a meaning in Hebrew numerology) or when Lots daughters sleep with him and bear two sons and they become two hated nations (its a comment on the sexual immorality of these two nations much like Ham seeing his father naked and Caanan being cursed because of it was a comment of the sexual immorality of the Caananites), or Esau being covered in hair while Jacob is smooth as a baby (someone being really hairy in Near Eastern stories means that they are a wild man of the fields and nature while Jacob’s smoothness of skin shows him as someone who likes to stay inside).

Then one must also pay attention to the genre when assessing these things, as someone else has mentioned Jonah is primarily a work of satire. This is the answer to why the accounts of Jesus Christ and his resurrection are to be taken literally as the Gospels are mainly collections of eyewitness accounts of Jesus’s life, burial, and resurrection as well as his teachings and are there to give you the facts though the accounts do differ a little as eyewitness accounts are want to do.

Anyways, all of this information is available thanks to Christian Near Eastern scholars like Michael Heiser, Tim Mackie, Tremper Longman and other people as well. Resources which can help you out on this that have really helped me are The Bible Project by Hebrew Scholar Tim Mackie and the website of Dr. Michael Heiser

Out of all of the Hebrew and Ancient Near Eastern scholars that are Christian (and there are a bunch of them) it seems that none of them are fundamentalists. This is not in deference to scientific findings but because the text and the context of the culture of the ancient Near East tells them otherwise.

Also, It seems that a lot of people on BioLogos are far more learned about science than they are about the ancient Near East or theology so just be aware of that when asking questions here. Nothing wrong with that its just that you probably might have to search elsewhere to see what these symbols mean.

Here is a good video on Genesis 1-11 to get you started.

Hi Andre. EC is not how God does stuff. Jesus is. Assuming God is. Genesis 1-3 is a timelessly sublime creation myth that came together only two and a half thousand years ago, half a millennium before Him, when Jewish culture thrived under the protection of Persia. It is easy for anyone with the faintest yearning to believe to see the love of God progressively from Genesis to Jesus, despite the horrors in between. Science reveals no trace of God whatsoever, but does reveal the nature of God if He is, Jesus more so and the only reason we have for believing.

To add up at that time the Jews were actually nomads. Their stories are similar to the Babylonian ones but they have a lot of diferrences as well.

They had been farmer-city dwellers for over a thousand years before that. Aye, they absorbed and transcended older Egyptian and Sumerian, Fertile Crescent ANE beliefs. Such is the evolution of ideas,

Jews originated as an ethno_religious group in the middle east during the second millenium BCE in the part of the Levant known as the land of Israel.

The ethnic stock to which Jews originally trace their ancestry was a confederation of Iron Age semitcspeaking tribes known as the Isralites which inhabited Cannan during the tribal and monarchy period.

And still the differences are a lot

Indeed, they are the silver lining on the clouds.

Hi, Andre, and welcome!

I advise resisting the temptation to try to “carve up” the bible in this binary fashion, because to do so is already to give in to a modern temptation to sort out literature, or parts of a collection of works, into two camps - usually for the purpose of dismissing one camp as being “untruthful” and “lesser” vs. the other camp which “can be trusted.” This approach to scriptures, I suggest, does violence against the needed message and truth that is there to instruct us from all of scripture from Genesis 1 to the last of Revelation.

It isn’t that questions of historicity are never valid, or not important to sort out in some matters. They are. I would just resist letting that become your governing hermeneutical approach to all scripture. But even for those who have and do still approach scripture that way, they will find no clean line of division anywhere (Genesis 11 or otherwise) about which they can safely claim what came before was entirely “myth” and what is recorded after is all history.

Respectfully, this is a “no true Scotsman” fallacy, either that or you just haven’t looked hard enough to find them… I know “Hebrew scholars” that graduated their PhD from Ivy League schools whose beliefs would be labeled as “fundamentalist”, if I understand your meaning here.

Not really. Some evolutionary creationists think Genesis is historical, just not in the same sense that young earth creationist thinks it’s historical. That is to say, they grant that you can talk about events that really happened in a way that is rich in figurative imagery. Identifying metaphors and symbols and non-literal language is not the same thing as saying 'this is fiction" or ‘this isn’t "real’"

Evolutionary creation is an attempt to find harmony between the truth revealed in the Bible and the truth revealed in science. It depends on an approach to Bible interpretation that places a high priority on understanding the cultural context of the text and what it meant to the original audience. When you apply that approach to Genesis and Luke you come up with different ideas about what is 'historical" because the contexts, audiences, and purpose of the texts were different. The Bible was compiled over a long time and contains a lot of different kinds of texts.

It’s the second thing you mentioned not the fallacy. I haven’t found many fundamentalist Near Eastern, Hebrew, or Biblical scholars, but as you say I may not be looking hard enough.

Sorry I am late to reply. Thank you for responding to my post. I do have a question. I do not quite understand why Evolutionary Creationists believe certain parts of the Bible ahistorical. I would you believe that most of the Bible is ahistorical yet still believe that Jesus was real. Personally, I am starting to lean towards evolutionary creationism after being raised from a Young-Earth standpoint. Either way, I am thankful for your response. Thank you for your opinion and please let me know your thoughts on this response.

Think of it this way. When Jesus told the story of the Samaritan, we don’t assume that it is “history” because we understand that in the context, the point of the story was to illustrate what loving your neighbor means. The truth stands whether or not there ever was a real guy who got beat up by robbers. It’s true because it teaches true things about what God wants from us. Parables and the other stories Jesus used to teach are maybe more clearly stories than parts of the Old Testament, and the stories in the Old Testament may have been based to some degree on things that actually happened and people that actually lived, but that doesn’t mean their presence there is just to give us facts about history. I think the story of the Flood is to teach us about what happens when God threatens judgment and people refuse to take advantage of his grace, something that we need to understand, because at some point, Jesus will judge the world. Or the story of Jonah is to teach us what happens when people let their own prejudices shape their idea of what God is like and who he should show mercy to. Is the point really to record historical facts about a guy who got swallowed by a big fish? Some of the Old Testament is clearly intended to be a historical account, like the histories of the kings and Israelite people. But they had different conventions for telling history than we have now that you have to be aware of if you want to get at what “really happened.” It was acceptable to exaggerate in certain ways and the point of history was less about recording facts and more about helping your people establish and maintain an identity they were proud of.

The Gospels and Acts were attempts to record the historical details of Jesus’ life. They did it according to the traditions of their day, which are somewhat different than our own (like there wasn’t the same expectation that everything be told in chronological order, for example. Or in Matthew making some details into “twos” like two donkeys in Matt 21, or two angels at the tomb was a way of emphasizing a detail) but it certainly matters to Christianity whether or not Jesus existed in history, died in history, and rose again. People were martyred for insisting those things were historical facts and testifying to those facts was how the church was born. It’s hard to imagine people facing their death being eaten by lions for just a story.

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Ok thank you for responding. This helped me clear things up about EC.

You’re welcome Andre. You’ll be going to uni this year? Or within a couple? Might one ask which? Believe me, faith can and does survive anything! Any cold, hard, rational thing.

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