New Article: Honoring Scripture and Honestly Engaging Science

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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Genre is in the eye of the beholder. Genesis 1 is unique in the Bible. There is no other chapter like it, yet it is said to be a perfect example of Hebrew poetry, when the characteristics it has are not seen in Psalms. I think genre is used to be an easy out to difficult problems and issues, a free get out of jail card. Which means, I think it is the lazy way out of the issues.

I need to send you a worksheet on figurative language. Is this a figurative or literal description of an event? I beat the tar out of my opponent.

Since no actual tar was involved, the description is figurative. On that level, it is not a fact that tar came out of my opponent. Is my statement therefore untrue? No. As a matter of fact, I did beat my opponent very badly.

A description can be both figurative and factual. I could write examples all day. It’s easy.

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I can give you an example where the literal interpretation is not true to fact because it is not the intended meaning. “I’m starving.” I’m starving, if taken figuratively to mean I’m hungry, is not necessarily not true to fact by nature of it being a figurative expression. It is a truthful way describe being hungry in English that all native speakers will understand as hyperbole in all typical contexts.

The literal interpretation of “I am a single mother” is that I am not married and have children. That is the literal meaning, but it is also not true to fact, because I am married. I told a friend this week “I am a single mother” because my husband is traveling and I am parenting alone. My friend understood my figurative meaning as being a true statement about my situation this week, even though if she took it literally, it would not be true.

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.

Ah!! progress. lol:innocent:

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.

If not comporting to reality is the determinative factor in what is or isn’t to be taken as actual history, then I know this, people don’t get up from the grave after 3 days if they were actually dead. The resurrection clearly does not comport to history. Neither does taking 5 fish and 3? loaves of bread sufficient to feed 5000. so clearly, to me, comporting to our experienced reality can’t be the entire criteria by which we determine figurative or not. If it is, all the miracles are gone.

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.

I would agree with what you said in the quote immediately above, figurative language doesn’t necessitate a figurative passage. but then, which is harder more difficult for God to do, make a snake talk or raise a man from the grave after 3 days of decay?

Again,my problem with the methodology I see is that you decide what passage is figurative if you are uncomfortable with it (or maybe embarrassed by it). That seems a poor methodology and once again, places you as the judge of what is true and false in the Scripture.

Tell that to Craig Keener, who just wrote a 500-page book on the genre of the gospels as a way to demonstrate their factual basis. What you call “lazy,” I call the basic hermeneutical method.

That’s not the methodology, Glenn. Are you sure you’re not back in the YEC camp, because you’re almost as quick with the insults as Ken Ham. I wish you well, brother, but I don’t have time for any more of your obtuseness right now.

Yes, determining genre involves more than just making determinations about comporting to reality. There are other clues in Aesop’s fables besides animals talking that tell us it isn’t describing a miraculous historical event.

But, if you want to believe the Genesis story of God walking in the Garden, talking snakes, and magical fruit is describing factual miracles, that is your interpretive prerogative.

You and your friend know your statement is figurative because you know your inner qualia (state of mind) and your friend knows your history independently of your statement. But we are not in that situation in Genesis. We don’t know what God intended. Thus to claim these passages, like the snake are not real, is to claim that we have private knowledge from God that told us not to believe the snake part of the story. God didn’t tell us in the account ‘this is figurative’. Thus, our determination of its figurativeness must be based upon our one presumption, which as a recent senator said, ‘That’s nothing’ we can presume anything we want but determining what if our presumption is really true is tough, unless we presume it is true and fail to verify it. If I presume it is false, then I won’t even try to see if I am wrong on that presumption. That is why I have said on this forum, I fear people want the bible to be false, it is a much easier life that way.

You are the one insisting that we fact-check the Bible and go around making determinations about what is true and false. I already said I think that is a bad approach. I don’t go around judging what is true or false in the Bible. I accept it is all true as an a priori and my job is to understand it.

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Jay, the YECs are right about that logic and yall are wrong in that regard. YECs are totally wrong about the science and yall are correct about the science. Clearly you have never really paid much attention to what I have done with my reading of early genesis. I changed the bad assumption of each of the sides above and came up with a way to make Genesis historically accurate. The fact that few like what I have done is not my problem.

Christy, if you can’t give me a clear criterion other than we decide, then yeah, I find the methodology rather weak and subject to personal bias.

Hence the years of life work that Bible scholars have put into understanding the historical and cultural context. I don’t think it is as hard as you are pretending it is. You are basically saying it is not fair of God that you personally got the wrong impression of what God intended to communicate, and he should have done better. Well, get over it.