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You are conflating again. There is a difference between describing something figuratively and the whole event being fictional. Creation happened. It is described figuratively in Genesis. The Fall happened (or happens, depending on your theology). It is described figuratively. Satan exists. He is described figuratively.

I don’t even understand what this means, because you keep using figurative to mean not describing reality, which is not what the word means. Figurative language is a way of describing. What it describes can be real or imaginary, historical or fiction. The fact that you use figurative language tells you absolutely nothing about the factuality of what you are describing.

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But it is an obvious false dichotomy to say either our faith is based on logic, or it is based on “illogic.”

What you have expressed above does not really point out failings of the Bible or of assessing Genesis to be a figurative description. It points out the failings of Christian apologetics that presume that subjecting the Bible to rigorous fact-checks is how one establishes its truth, authority, and reliability. All that apologetic does is make an idol of reason and proof.

I don’t think the Bible tells me the truth because it is the logical conclusion of a fact-checking exercise. I think it is true because I trust God and I believe the Bible is his communication to me in the context of our relationship and his relationship with humanity. Huge difference. Logic is the wrong epistemological tool in this context. That doesn’t mean I’m basing my faith on “illogic.”

Im not conflating. I am asking something quite reasonable and logical–after all this is a forum for logical scientists. So, let me suggest that all I am asking is show me why one is figurative and why the other isn’t using a consistent rule for interpretation. Just because you say it is figurative, doesn’t automatically make it figurative any more than just because I say it is real, makes it real. We have to have a basis, a, shall I say, logical basis, for determining these matters? If all we have is a illogical basis, then in my opinion, we have nothing.

I don’t even understand what this means, because you keep using figurative to mean not describing reality, which is not what the word means.

Let me help you to understand what I mean by what I said. If God used evolution to create this universe as I do, but God allows the writer to describe it totally differently than the way it happened, then that is not describing reality. If I say I kneaded the dough and baked the bread your sandwich is made of, when in fact, I bought it at the store, then I am not describing reality. I really don’t know why this is a problem. When your children make a mess at home you certainly wouldn’t let them tell you, “the gremlin that lives in the closet came out and tossed my room” you would not think they were describing reality. You would not let them get away with the "We are just describing the event in a figurative manner’ excuse. If we hold our children to this standard, why do we expect so much less of our God?

Now that you understand, please, explain how you determine what is and isn’t figurative. I would appreciate that very much.

A philosopher, like me (I did grad work in philosophy), would say the above is a circular argument. here is the logic: “I think the Bible is true because I trust God.” But there is trust in God because I have an experience of him. ( Bible is his communication to me in the context of our relationship) Your experience is the justification for God and God earned your trust so you believe the Bible.

With all due respect, schizophrenics can trust the imaginary person they see in their delusions because they have experience with that being, and then trust the writings they made of what the being dictated to him because they trust the being. It is all circular, self-referential and that means it is faith in your ability to judge God’s trustworthiness. As I said earlier, Buddhists, Parsees, Daoists all have a similar basis for their faith. Experience with god is useful, I have had many amazing experiences, but it can’t be the basis for faith because we humans are really good at fooling ourselves–If Christianity really is the exclusive religion it claims to be, then billions of other people on earth are fooling themselves with their religions. If their religion is correct, then we are fooling ourselves. There is no middle position.

This approach makes you, and what you feel as the only judge of who God is, and what he says. I have a different theology than that. I am not the judge of God, He is the judge of me, and my existence and experience mean nothing to whether or not God exists. My ability to know God is quite distorted by sin.

My faith rests on the knowledge that the evidence supports the actual physical resurrection of Jesus. That event is real, historical and profound. If it is figurative or ‘spiritual’ only, then I would not be a Christian. Why? because it is no longer verifiable. Jesus ate fish after the resurrection. he had a physical body to hold the fish rather than the chewed up fish mush falling to the floor. He had wounds that could be physically felt. (Kinda like President Johnson showing off his scars. lol. )

My faith has been strengthened greatly over the past 20 years by slowing showing and knowing that what we are told in early Genesis is actual history–both YEC and the figurative group can’t give anyone that kind of assurance–only actual events can give that kind of certitude–like we know George Washington existed because there is historical evidence of it. We don’t believe in a figurative George. But for some reason we think it is ok to believe in a God who does figurative things.

You are conflating, and you are using figurative in a way that the people you are criticizing aren’t using it. You are using “figurative” to mean “didn’t happen.” No EC ever argues that God did not create the world, and creation is itself “figurative.” The rest of us are talking about interpretation. Words that describe things can be taken literally or taken figuratively. Whether you take the words literally or figuratively affects what you understand the intended meaning to be. It doesn’t say anything about whether the thing being described is true or false, fact or fiction.

If you interpret me saying, “I’m starving” literally, you think my intended meaning is that I am dying of malnutrition. If you interpret “I’m starving” figuratively, you think my intended meaning is that I am hungry and looking forward to eating. The actual facts of the situation and whether or not I am truthfully communicating my state of health or my state of hunger do not depend on which interpretation you choose. I could intend you to take my claim literally and be lying about dying. I could intend you to take my claim figuratively and be telling the truth about being hungry. There is no linguistic rule that lets you know, based solely on how I expressed myself, whether what I am saying is true or not. There are pragmatic rules and knowledge of a shared context that should point you to thinking my intended meaning was the figurative one.

It is the same with Genesis. People choose a figurative interpretation of the description because of pragmatic and contextual clues that the meaning was not intended to be taken literally. But that does not tell you anything about whether or not the description is true.

That’s the equivalent of you saying that when I say I’m starving, I’m not describing reality unless I am literally starving. No, if my intended meaning is that I’m hungry, and I am hungry, then I am indeed describing reality, you just did not interpret my intended meaning correctly.

Again, this is conflating figurative with not factual, which is wrong. “The gremlin did it” could very well have figurative meaning in some shared context and mean “yeah, we messed up the room.” In which case, my children would only be lying if they intended a literal meaning about a literal gremlin. Pragmatically, since we both know gremlins don’t exist, I would assume they did not intend a literal meaning, in which case, the whole gremlin thing would not be an excuse but a cute little joke, and I would tell them to clean up the room. God understands how human communication works, so why should we not expect him to expect us to make pragmatic inferences?

As I’ve already explained, since you keep using figurative to mean “not true/historical/factual” instead of what figurative really means, which is language that requires pragmatic inferences to interpret the intended meaning, I can’t do this. The way I determine whether language is intended as figurative or literal is by looking at the shared context and guessing what the speaker most likely intended to communicate.


Glenn, these are basic reading skills that I taught middle school special education students. There is no such thing as a figurative miracle or non-figurative miracle. Figurative and non-figurative apply to language, not events. I can choose to describe an event figuratively or literally, but my choice of how to describe it has no bearing on whether the event actually occurred or not.


As I’ve already explained, since you keep using figurative to mean “not true/historical/factual” instead of what figurative really means, which is language that requires pragmatic inferences to interpret the intended meaning, I can’t do this. The way I determine whether language is intended as figurative or literal is by looking at the shared context and guessing what the speaker most likely intended to communicate.

Lol, and as I have explained no one would let their kids kids give a figurative explanation for starting a fire.

Falling back on my experience with Wittgenstein’s works, I think yall are using figurative in an unusual way. The definition of figurative on is:

of the nature of or involving a figure of speech, especially a metaphor; metaphorical and not literal:

so let’s look up literal.

There are 4 meanings 3 of which apply here

*in accordance with, involving, or being the primary or strict meaning of the word or words; not figurative or metaphorical: *
the literal meaning of a word.
*following the words of the original very closely and exactly: *
a literal translation of Goethe.
true to fact; not exaggerated; actual or factual:
being actually such, without exaggeration or inaccuracy:

Once again, if you will excuse me for using logic, figurative is ‘not literal’ and literal is actual, factual, without exaggeration or inaccuracy, then by the transitive rule of logic, then figurative is not 'actual or factual and with exaggeration and inaccuracy. That is the dictionary definition of figurative. I think I am using that word in accordance with the definition and you are using figurative inaccurately, not literally.

If we can’t even agree that we shouldn’t make up the meaning of words in these debates, then we have reached an end. You are free to use the word ‘figurative’ inaccurately, but your communication will run into people like me who believe that words are useful ONLY if they have agreed upon meanings, not meaninsg like Huxley commented on—again, here is his comment on the way Biblical scholars misuse words and alter their meanings.

If we are to listen to many expositors of no mean authority, we must believe that what seems so clearly defined in Genesisas if very great pains had been taken that there should be no possibility of mistakeis not the meaning of the text at all. The account is divided into periods that we may make just as long or as short as convenience requires. We are also to understand that it is consistent with the original text to believe that the most complex plants and animals may have been evolved by natural processes, lasting for millions of years, out of structureless rudiments. A person who is not a Hebrew scholar can only stand aside and admire the marvelous flexibility of a language which admits of such diverse interpretations.” Thomas H. Huxley, “Lectures on Evolution” in Agnosticism and Christianity, Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1992), p. 14

I don’t feel like beating my head against the wall since you are not using the English language in its agreed upon word definitions. If meanings are squiggly then communication is impossiblestrong text

See my reply below Jay. Christy is not using the language in accord with the proper definition of the words.

Okay, here’s a figurative description of a miracle. In Luke 8, Jesus walks into Jairus’ house, where everyone is mourning the death of Jairus’ daughter. Jesus says, "Stop wailing. She is not dead but asleep.” Then he raises her from the dead. “She is asleep” is figurative language, meaning, I don’t know, death is only as final as sleep when it comes to God’s power, or something like that. How do I know? Because the literal interpretation, one that assumes Jesus intended to communicate that she was actually only physically asleep, does not make sense in the context, as evidenced by the people laughing at him when they mistakenly interpreted what he said literally. Now does my assessment of Jesus using figurative language to describe the miracle of raising someone from the dead metaphorically as waking them from sleep tell us anything about whether or not this miracle actually happened? No, it does not.


I would say that is a figurative description of her state, but the miracle of raising her from the dead is not figurative, unless she really wasn’t dead in the first place. In this latter case it isn’t a miracle–she just woke up.

I still think you are missing my what I am asking. What is your rule for determining whether the feeding of the 5000 is real or figurative (as I use the word figurative). How do we tell if this event actually happened or is a totally figurative description of what didn’t happen?

Literal may mean “true to fact” in some contexts, but it is the logical fallacy denying the antecedent to then assume that not literal therefore means not true to facts. (I was a mathlete in high school - I scored a perfect 50 on my logic orals and was all-conference :wink: )

I guarantee I am using figurative the way it is used by linguists to talk about text interpretation, which is the topic here.

EXACTLY! Because events aren’t “figurative.” Language is.

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Wind and water taking their toll? One of my old bosses had a mustache for 20 years and suddenly decided to shave it off one day. His 12-yr-old son cried when he saw it.

Again. Basic reading skills. Let’s take a look at Genesis 3 and compare it to the story of Lazarus.

Genesis 3
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” … 8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” 10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” 11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” 12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

Okay, class, did anything strike you as not a literal description? Lots of hands go up. Hmmm. Talking snake. God walking around in the garden, apparently to cool off from the heat of the day. God doesn’t know where the man is. God is ignorant of what the two humans have done. Anything else? Well, a tree’s fruit can’t really give one knowledge, can it?

John 11
After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” 12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. 14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”…

On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. 21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” …

(skipping ahead) … 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. 35 Jesus wept. 36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” 40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

Okay, class, did anything strike you as figurative language and not literal? Not a single hand goes up. Hmmm. The slippery slope doesn’t seem so slippery after all.

Sigh. You cannot determine the factuality of a description of an event simply by analyzing the language used to describe the event. How is this not super obvious?

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This is figurative language right here. But we interpret the whole passage to be describing a factual event. The fact that we interpret it as factual is just because we trust the source though, not because of the language used.

Yes, Jesus used it all the time, and his disciples always seemed to misunderstand. (Nothing’s changed!)

That’s true. But it’s not too difficult to see that Genesis 3 is not describing ordinary reality, while John 11 describes an extraordinary event in the midst of ordinary life. I would throw genre into the interpretive mix too.

Can you give me an example of a sentence where literal means not true to fact? I can’t think of one given that the definition of literal is “actual/factual without error or inaccuracy” Only by using a negative in front of literal, ‘not literal’ can I think of a sentence that literal is negated, but the word literal isn’t what negates the meaning. It is the word ‘not’.

I don’t think you earned a very good grade in philosophy class today. lol. You misunderstand what ‘denying the antecedent’ Sadly those ill-tempered philosophy profs forced me to take 5 different kinds of logic classes, so I learned all this stuff that I only use in situations like this. Denying the antecedent consists of making an assumption–which is always assumed to be a true statement, then turning around and denying that statement, either explicitly or implicitly. They gave you an example and I am not doing this:

Assumption: You are not a ski instructor
Conclusion: Therefore, you have no job

My logic was
figurative = not literal
Literal = “factual/actual/without inaccuracy”
Therefore figurative =NOT (factual/actual/without inaccuracy) which is a perfectly valid syllogism and does not deny that figurative means not literal.

In the above the NOT can be distributed so figurative = NOT factual/NOT actual/NOT without inaccuracy

I guarantee I am using figurative the way it is used by linguists to talk about text interpretation, which is the topic here.

maybe that is why the liinguist’s logic is so messy?

EXACTLY! Because events aren’t “figurative.” Language is.

You can’t mean this, literally. If language is figurative, then I can’t possibly know any factual statement because it is all not literal. Some language is figurative, with.which I agree And I agree that events are not figurative; they either literally happened or didn’t literally happen.

Descriptions of events can be figurative(not factual) or literal(factual). I am still waiting for you to illustrate how you determine if an account is figurative or literal (i.e. actual). How do you tell which events are described accurately and which are not? Please show me. You are a smart person who has thought about these issues for years, so I am sure I can get you to illustrate how the process works, if only I try.

No. The definition of literal is that the words mean exactly what they say. I can write all kinds of literal statements that are full of error and inaccuracy.

This actually brings up some interesting stuff about the difference between figurative language and how we decide whether or not a speaker intends to communicate facts.

There are lots of clues, like you point out, that we are not intended to take the Genesis account as describing a historical event. It is a story. But many sentences in the story are meant to be interpreted literally in the reality the story creates. In the story, I think we are to understand God as actually walking in the garden and the snake as actually talking. Those are the “facts” of the story. That they don’t comport with information we know about reality is how we know it is a story, not a factual account of history.

On the other hand, when Jesus talks about Lazurus sleeping, we have used the clues in the context to determine that he is dead and this narrative is intended as a factual account, so we have to go with a figurative interpretation of the pronouncement that he is sleeping in order to make sense of it.

This just shows that literal and figurative meaning of individual sentences don’t necessarily add up to factual or fictional interpretation of an entire passage.

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