Please Explain how an Allegorical Interpretation would work

I have been a fundamentalist for most of my life but right now I am open to an allegorical interpretation to Genesis 1-11. I only have a few questions regarding the problems of an allegorical interpretation. First, in the old testament, God puts forth as law the sabbath because in his words he created the earth in six days and on the seventh day he rested implying a literal sabbath. The doctrine of original sin put forth by Paul says that sin entered the world through Adam and through him death spread to the rest of the human race and that everyone dies because of everyone sins do to Adam (I don’t have that much of a problem with this as Paul says Adam is a type to Christ which could imply that Adam is being used as a symbol to contrast with Christ but this but I still mention it.) Also in the book of Genesis Abraham is asked how old he is and he responds that he’s over a hundred but not nearly as old as his ancestors implying the ancestors shown in Genesis 1-11 are literal people. Also, Christ and a bunch of other New Testament figures seem to talk about Genesis 1-11 characters such as Noah and Adam as literal. Finally, Deuteronomy refers to the story of Babel saying that the nations were split according to the number of the Sons of God (which is how the Bible explains pagan gods, for more on this, see Michael Heiser’s Unseen Realm), so seeing as the false gods were seen as demonic and the origins of them lie with the Babel story how if the Babel story isn’t literal truth did god allot the Sons of God to the nations and when?

What are you’re explanations for all of these things? Know that I am sympathetic to your views as an allegorical interpretation of scriptures solves my current confusion regarding these things.

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Hi Clovis, and welcome to the forum. Those are good questions, and you may find some answers in the Common Questions section of the site.

As far as the law of the sabbath goes, the importance of numerology in Jewish tradition would lead me to believe that it’s the numbers themselves that are important in the creation week, moreso than the actual time periods. For example, the Sabbath Year in Leviticus 25 followed the pattern of 6 years of planting and a year of rest for the land, despite being years instead of days. So there could be a “literal Sabbath” without the original Sabbath being exactly one day long. (Some even think we are still in God’s Sabbath rest, but I’m not familiar with the details of that idea.)

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Thank you ma’am will look at resources now.

Welcome!

I think sometimes people are too quick to makes things binary along the lines of “either it is objective literal history, or it is purely a symbolic/allegorical/fictional narrative.” I don’t think that does justice to the way history was told and transmitted in the ancient world.

I think Genesis 1-11 is Israel’s history. But their conventions for telling it were different, and I don’t believe there is a surefire method for separating out objective historical “facts” from the embellishments, didactic lessons, identity-forming bias, and cultural presuppositions that are inherent in it.

What did Abraham mean by saying he was over a hundred? Maybe he had dutifully counted the years of his life, or maybe their culture had different ways of assigning ages. Many cultures of the world don’t actually count yearly birthdays, you identify your age by what season of life you are in and your social status in the community. I think the demonstrable numerology in the recorded ages of the patriarchs shows that more was going on than simple counting. But I don’t think that just because you can demonstrate that Methuselah wasn’t literally over 900 years old, that doesn’t mean that he is automatically a made-up person who never existed.

I think this is a chicken and egg question that you won’t find definitive answers for. The version of the account of Genesis we have (which most scholars think was compiled or at least edited from earlier sources and oral traditions and put in its current form post-Exile) was composed or at least arranged and redacted long after Sabbath observance was a Jewish cultural phenomenon. So did the very first accounts of creation cause the Sabbath observance, or was the Creation narrative artistically worked out to support and validate Sabbath observance and draw metaphorical connections for a community that already saw a six day work week as normative? I don’t know that we have the evidence to prove either way.

A lot of how you approach these questions boils down to how you see inspiration and authorship of the Bible. Most fundamentalists, with adherence to plenary verbal inspiration and inerrancy, see the Bible as dictated to people by God, or something close to it, and envision Moses sitting at a desk and recording whatever God told him. Most Bible scholars, even fairly conservative Evangelical ones, have a different view of both inspiration and authorship. Here’s a good Mike Bird post on that. https://www.patheos.com/blogs/euangelion/2018/07/the-case-for-the-dynamic-view-of-biblical-inspiration/

Well, they talk about them as if they are real people. I would quibble that doesn’t necessarily entail that every thing written about them in the OT is factual in our modern sense, or that every reference to them is to historical facts about them. They were also well-known literary figures in the Jewish culture. I can refer to Julius Caesar as a real person even if most of what I know of him comes from Shakespeare’s imagination. I know the analogy is not perfect because we attribute authority to biblical history, but again, some of these things presented by some people as logical entailments depend on presuppositions about inspiration and inerrancy.

You might be interested in this thread, as it dealt with some similar themes: Jesus Mentions Adam & Eve = Evidence, A "Mistake," Or Accommodation

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Why would God need to rest? He created by command. Also our perception of time means nothing to God since He exists outside of time. I think the Genesis story exists to explain why God instituted the sabbath not to imply God needed 24 hours of down time. The Hebrews did need a day of down time.

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Allegorical stories are used all the time to imply real things. Fairy tales was used like that, and still is.

Consider for Christmas what are we told? Go to bed early, if you hear Santa don’t go look. Just keep your eyes closed and sleep until morning. Let’s leave milk and cookies out for him.

It’s a completely fictional tale that we tell kids. But that mythology is partly based on some real things. Like the Saint Nicholas. ( Or however his name was spelled).

It’s also full of hyperbolic and mythological aspects. Singing reindeer, one with a glowing nose, elves, a living snowman, flying sled, a man who can come up and down chimneys no matter how small ( and if you are poorer and live in a trailer he can come through the cracks of window units, under the door , and even supposedly bathroom vents lol). He had a list and he checks it. We’re you good or naughty.

Then there is the real life applications of the tale. Parents work all year just like elfs so they can get you toys. It’s a fairly common holiday in many nations and so it happens all over the world. I’m not sure if it’s billions or just millions and millions but parents all over the world on Christmas Eve put out presents for their kids. So Santa is hitting all over. They want you to sleep and not check on the sounds so that you don’t catch them.

People from every race, from Asia , america, Russia, Europe, and even in Africa and all over , and people who are poor to those who are rich, religious to atheist, from living in big cities to in the deep country, share these stories.

Fictional tales can use real people and events and add hyperbolic fantasy to it and still use that story to explain something real. Jesus did it a lot with parables.

There is no real reason to think God would not convey a truth in a similar way.

I have no idea who actually wrote genesis. Was it moses or was it someone we don’t even know from the 5-6thbc. I don’t know. But there is definitely a chance that it was wrote after the Jews were practicing the sabbath. So genesis , though inspired by God, was conveyed through the worldview of the author. 7 sets a pattern for the rest of the Bible same for 10, 14,40, and 100.

It sets the pattern for a tree being tied to eternal life.
The tree of Life.
The trees used for the ark.
The tree jesus was crucified on.
The tree we are grafted into.

It sets the example of something bearing the consequences of guilty people who killed the innocent.

The mark saved Cain from the consequences of killing Abel.
The animal sacrifices saved Hebrews from their sins.
The snake statue on a stick or whatever it was I can’t recall healed the sick.
Noah was permitted to bring on his family who probably also sinned.
Jesus died for us.

It sets the example of humans rejecting Gods will for their own because it looked good to them.

Adam and Eve saw that the fruit looked good.
Jospeh was seen to look God from the other man’s wife.
A king Saul looked good to the tribe who wanted a king instead of a God.
Abraham and Sarah saw that Hagar looked good.
Judas saw thst the silver looked good.

The waters being connected to salvation.
Dry land buried beneath water rose up.
The ark survived the water while the world was buried in it.
The buried land was revealed as the Red Sea parted.
Those who believed are baptized into a Christ for the forgiveness of sins and to receive the holy spriest in baptism.

It does a great job setting to patterns. It does all of that despite being a very hyperbolic ahistorical tale.

I think more care is needed here. There are skeptics that would love to cling to this comparison: that Christianity is an ahistoric cultivated myth in precisely the same way that the St. Nicholas / Santa myth has sprung up in modern times. These are not the same thing.

First of all - Christianity is not ‘ahistoric’ - despite the use of hyperbolic or parabolic narrative and despite its authentic mythic status; Christianity is nothing if not firmly embedded in history in the most real and physical ways possible. That embeddedness is the heart of the incarnation. The fact that some - or even many - of the events in the Bible may have been mediated to us through vision or parable (or whatever form of narrative the prophets and apostles and Christ himself saw fit to use as a vehicle for Truth) does not remove or undo the necessarily historical narrative of Christ’s incarnation. And that is the claim of Christians and Christianity. If that claim is false, then Christianity dies with it.

In contrast, the Santa story - while having some loose connections with a historic figure (St. Nicholas) is a children’s myth that (apart from childish fun) makes no serious claim about historicity. No parent, despite perpetuating the fun with their own kids, seriously takes the Santa / Christmas Eve narrative as a serious truth claim. Nor do they worry over whether details surrounding the actual St. Nick are real or accurate - as there is no importance to the connection. If we learned tomorrow that St. Nick as a real person never actually existed, or that we had gotten him dreadfully wrong, it wouldn’t affect the Santa Claus fun one iota. Christianity, on the other hand, dies and lives (literally) with the historical Christ.

Historicity is important, and should be reserved most especially (almost exclusively!) for the Christ events and testimonies about them that followed. To water down the meaning and significance of historicity by insisting that all biblical narrative must be filtered through that lens and understood only in that way, is to cheapen the incarnational presence of Christ. It is even to try to mix falsehood in with it, Lord forbid! If we bundle the truth of Christ in with Bibliolotry - no not even the Bible itself - but even just our own imposed interpretive frameworks of it, then we have put not even so much as a golden calf (the Bible itself) on our altar, but have settled for a tin calf (our own understandings of it). The object, of course, is to focus our worship on Christ, and him alone. Not that there is anything wrong with gold or even tin as proper elements of God’s creation - but we must not settle for those trifles.

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He was asking about genesis 1-11 as being a allegorical account. That’s something I mostly agree with. However, I don’t think it’s a allegorical as much as an ahistorical, and I do believe it’s 100% an ahistorical. An ahistorical is where a real event and real people are portrayed in a hyperbolic and often mythological tale.

I believe that a man and a woman existed , Adam and Eve, that was called out from the many and that God placed them in a “ark” where heaven and earth overlapped called the garden.

What I don’t believe is that Adam was a golem formed out of dust and dirt that then became a living self aware intelligent being and that then his rib was taken out of his body and turned into a woman. So I believe that’s an ahistorical tale about a real event.

It’s ok to me because I do t believe Gods goal here was to flesh out a historical and scientific account. I think it was a fictional tale to focus on a few facts an set up a few patterns.

I believe that at one time there was a man named Noah. I think that where Noah lives they faced a flood and it was a devastating flood and that he was warned about it. I think lots of people in that area died. I don’t believe it was a global flood that covered the mountains and killed all life on earth.

I definitely believe that genesis 1-11 and the Santa narrative both fit together perfectly to show how allegorical, fictional, ahistorical and parable literary devices can be used to explain real concepts. Just have to know what concept is being used.

Nothing I said though relates to anything in the gospel. I believe 100% that there is a supernatural world that will never be detected by science not even in multidimensional places, and I believe 100% that the power of the Holy Spirit existed and demons were cast out, the dead came back to life, and physical deformities and diseases were instantly healed. However there was four gospels wrapped around these events. The entire creation story and first handful of people in genesis was narrowed down to a few pages. The biblical authors seemed to be pushing the reality of Jesus big time. The entire movement is built around that fact.

The creation account is not hammered out like that at all. It’s glossed over really fast. It’s purpose was not to prove God is our God. The people it was wrote to already believed that. The gospels were wrote to prove Jesus is Lord.

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Hi Clovis_Merovingian. Welcome to the board. I hope you find companionship here for your journey of faith.

With regard to the question of New Testament figures talking about characters from Genesis 1-11, it’s interesting that in Galatians 4:21-5:1, Paul refers to Hagar and Sarah as an allegory or figurative understanding of God’s covenants. (The NRSV translates Paul’s Greek word allegoroumena as “allegory.”) So Paul himself opened the door to a non-literal understanding of characters from later chapters of Genesis.

It’s true that Paul gives us the basis for a doctrine of original sin in 1 Cor. 15, but again this was an allegorical or figurative reading on his part of the second Creation story in Genesis. The word “sin” never appears in Genesis 2-3, but a much harder concept does appear there, and that is the problem of free will, and how the relationship between human beings and God becomes damaged when men and women misuse their free will. It’s our free will that can cause us to betray God’s trust, make unloving choices, blame other people for our unloving choices, and create much pain and suffering for ourselves and others.

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I think Genesis clearly has an historical intent but also think that the names of those two trees shout symbolism louder than anything else in the Bible. Furthermore the Bible actual shows us in other passages that the serpent and the tree of life represent something other than the literal words. Also there are a couple of passages which simply do not agree with the idea that Adam and Eve are the sole genetic progenitors of the homo sapiens species (Gen 4:14 and Gen 6). So why in the world would we force an interpretation that disagrees with the objective scientific evidence? The sons and children of God almost always refers to God’s chosen people so Genesis 6 is most naturally understood as an explanation of who Cain and Seth married – the daughters of all those other people out there in the world that Cain was so afraid of in Genesis 4:14. Their children being inspired by God understandably became men of reknown and the leaders of human civilization. Thus there is no need to stick in any sisters, incest, or half-breed giants into the story.

When it says God formed Adam and Eve of the dust and breathed into them the breath of life, I scorn the idea that God is using necromancy to make golems of dust and bone. Instead I take this to mean God made their bodies of the stuff of the earth according to the laws of nature (evolution) and then by speaking to them, gave them the inspiration (divine breath) which brought the human mind to life. This made mankind brethren of all the animals in their bodies, biology, and genetics but this separate inheritance of mind made them the children of God. And this latter inheritance of the mind spread to the rest of the species much faster than genetics ever could.

I see the commandment as a typical of parenthood, the purpose of which is to transition from the toddler where all dangers are kept away to greater maturity where we take some responsibility for our own well being. The tree of knowledge of good and evil represents some inherent part of life which is dangerous to our well being until we are older much like the streets we are told by our parents not to play in, lest we die. But much more than failing to keep the commandment, the biggest problem was the adoption of self-destructive habits (sin), such as blaming others for their own mistakes which broke their relationship with God by changing Him from their best teacher into someone whom they would blame for everything which went wrong in their lives. This lead to the even worse habit of murdering anyone who made us feel uncomfortable, until the world became a hellish place of evil continually.

The story of the flood makes much more sense as one which only wiped out the first human civilization on a table shaped section of the planet which was the whole world to them, and the story of Babel thus describes the spread of human civilization into diverse cultures and languages. Again there is no need to force this into an interpretation which is neither logically coherent nor inconsistent with the objective scientific evidence.

Paul describes Christ as the second Adam because He is the source of a new inheritance of mind from God as well as a demonstration that God would give anything to restore our relationship with Him, so we must accept that the problem lies in ourselves and not in God.

My main question really regarding whether or not to hold an allegorical interpretation of Genesis 1-11 really comes down to how later authors inspired by the Holy Spirit refer to those times. They seem to speak of Genesis 1-11 in historical terms. Now I understand the backdrop of Genesis 1-11. I understand that rich symbolism is used extensively throughout. I understand their origins in polemics against the wicked Near Eastern cultures surrounding them. I understand that the works record primeval history and refer to times before the historical period and that ancient peoples often wrote about those times in an allegorical sense.

My concern here is that many people in this Biologos site are not reading these texts allegorically out of a genuine wish to see what the Bible is really saying and in which manner that God is speaking to us but instead out of a lack of faith in the face of scientific challenges. I feel that perhaps many of these people read these texts and just find them unbelievable. Seeing some of the articles here, I get that kind of worrying feeling sometimes. I mean no offense but I just want to be upfront about my concerns. I truly from the bottom of my heart want to know what God is communicating to me through these texts. If it is meant to be read literally I would have to put my faith in God over some man in a lab coat though it would leave me with some nagging questions. All I ask is an answer for why the people in later books seem to talk about these books as if they’re literal.

I believe that the Bible is inspired by the spirit of God and that the words within are a revelation to the people who wrote it. I understand that this inspiration is an act of divine providence in the lives of the people who wrote these words down rather than the people being dictated to by God on what to write. That’s why the Near Eastern concept of the earth and its cosmology are represented in scripture, that why the word for entrails is used in place of what we would call the heart. It was written by the people according to what they understood and the revelations of God were not scientific. However I reject the idea that these people weren’t given ANY revelations at all outside of their own contexts; they obviously knew things that normal men did not because they were given that revelation by God himself.

Are we really to believe that Jesus Christ for instance who is God made flesh did not know what happened in the history of the world he created? He emptied himself, but not that much. See his arguments with the pharisees to see the depths of his knowledge compared to the most learned men in all of Israel.

The only question I have is why many passages just matter of factly talk about these events as if they happened exactly as told? Perhaps you could say they are mentioned for theological reasons and with the people they are speaking to in mind, but that answer needs elaboration and evidence from the text to back it up. I mean no offense but I am filled with curiosity and determined to get an answer to these questions. I have asked God to reveal them to me as well in prayer.

I would caution you not to ascribe motivations to people that you don’t know. I, for one, do have a genuine wish to see what the Bible is saying.

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I can understand your concerns, but feel a need to respond to some of your points.

Agreed. The question is then what parts are allegorical. Is the firmament allegorical or real? Does God have to rest? Are talking snakes and animals commonly found in Eden? You don’t have to answer that, but how do you decide what to take allegorically and what not to?

How do we define reality? Do we trust our brains and eyes in what we read and the brains of countless translators and language experts to be true to the scripture, yet doubt the hand of God in creation?
If multiple observations and measurements of creation are consistent, is it more likely that our interpretation of scripture is wrong, or is observed creation an illusion? If we hold our interpretation as being equal to God’s word, where does that put us?

And why heart was used for what we would now consider resides in the brain rather than the kidneys and heart.

Agreed.

How much? How do we determine that? What would Jesus score on the SAT (in English!)? That may seem silly, but if Jesus was not fully man, subject to the things of the flesh as we are, how can he take our place on the cross in a meaningful way?

I think you bring up some very good questions, and they deserve thoughtful and prayerful consideration. I doubt we will ever come to consensus on the answers, but probably have a lot of common ground.

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I’m quite not getting what you are saying. We are seeing simply the Bible out of the backdrop of its ancient environment and seeing it for what it is, a series of ancient books for an ancient audience from long ago. That’s all they are. And how is us seeing the modern science of creation a lack of faith?

The only thing in a sense that was unique is the story that God is personal and want’s relationship (and while this is sometimes mentioned in other religions, it isn’t as emphasized as it is within the Bible) and by the NT is shows us the special revelation that God shows us of His love through the God-man Jesus Christ and the showing of His ministry and the mission He gave unto the Church.

While Jesus was fully God yes indeed, He was also fully human and was within the local contextual environment of 1st century Judea. He had to work with the people and resources at the time to get a message across.

I wouldn’t start from there.

Welcome to the forum as well.
If you consider that Genesis was meant to address the illiterates as well as the intellectuals you can fathom that it had to be written in a poetic language that allowed it to be understood by everyone in painting pictures in their mind that they could relate to reality according to their abilities. As such it is an ingenious use of poetic language to describe our origin and the onset of consciousness by the phrase of God breathing into us. And like Mitchel, I would not think of God as a little magical Yoda/gnome making mudpie humans any more, so as a child that was a picture I could still accommodate.
I understand the fall s a poetic description of puberty, the rejection of the authority over the self by the children, by doing what they were supposed not to do, and the explanation that by not living in God any more, e.g. separating themselves from the authority of the ever-living God, the will have to live within their physical body - thus become mortal. To me it is anything but a threat or punishment by a father hating his kids for their disobedience, but the message of a loving father warning his children of the consequences of their actions. It helps to see God as a loving father and put yourself in that situation to come to that conclusion.

Regarding the ages cited I would be careful as to the interpretation of the time intervals. Sometimes time periods refer to “billions of years”, years, seasons or lunar cycles. It is a bit like looking at the evolutionary timescale and talking about humans being a last minute arrival :slight_smile: Imagine explaining the concept of billions of years to a tribe in the amazon and how to debate the concept of 10 to the power of x.

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As I understand it Jesus is the word of God turned flesh which I understand as him to be alive as a consequence of Mary accepting her faith to give birth to a baby that was not inside her according to her (and her contemporaries) acceptable criteria and thus needed the obedience to the word of God, e.g. to love thy neighbour like thyselves (e.g. parents,siblings and kids - no narcissism required).
The normal response to a pregnancy not from your husband is well explained in the bible and involves stones. In modern society it is usually scalpels or pills to discretely do the deed and for what happens in times of military occupation this article of the guardian might give you a picturesque description of the situation. To think you sell such pregnancy to your pals as an act of divine magic and break out in celebrations because your pals were are all so stupid for not having Ipads and not knowing how Kids were conceived but believed in magic is only a demonstration of our arrogant opinion about those “primitive goat herders”
It is only when we learn to accept that it is the acceptance of this word of God inour own life that we can learn that God has given us the power to create a miracle - e.g. a sign of God. And that is not an act of defiance of physical reality but an act in defiance of metaphysical reality, e.g. the subjection of human will to the will of God. In doing so we can change reality profoundly and as in the case of Joseph and Mary turn an act of hatred and oppression into a beacon of love and hope. Show me a miracle greater than that! Magic cloning, resurrecting long dead organisms from ancient snippets of DNA. Humans can do all that to bath in theri own glory, so there is nothing God like about that. In fact virgin birth is available to anything but straight couples on demand in the modern fertility clinic. In nature it happens with some species anyhow.

If you are filled with questions I would like to add one to your list. Think about Jesus first lesson at the wedding of Canaan. Do you think he would do some magic to shield someone from the embarrassment of not fulfilling the greedy expectations of a crowd he comes to a wedding to get drunk because it is such a shame to be not materialistically endowed that it needs divine intervention? Do you think he would declare a fine bit of alcohol more valuable than the water of ritual purification? We definitely do so today in our materialistic worldview - but do you think Jesus started it all. Mercy be upon those who try to achieve “mental health” - e.g. the pursuit of happyness by using those “more valuable” substances and would think Jesus to defile the vessels of ritual purification water with wine to fulfill theri materialistic expectations. They are in urgent need of the Lords mercy.

I also believe that, but I don’t think this is something you can reasonably expect people to accept a-priori. To argue, “you must believe this because the Bible says so” is quite absurd. The belief that the Bible is the word of God must come by experience when over and over again reading the Bible rewards you again and again with unexpected insight.

But can the turn of phrase in the Bible compare with the measurable data anyone can get from a written procedure which gives the same result no matter what they believe. Does insisting on faith in the word of the Bible really mean that the description of the Earth as a table with four corners really mean we must ignore the observable curvature of the earth and the experience of circumnavigating the globe let alone looking down at the Earth from orbit or the moon? I don’t see how a comparison with all the other data coming at us from the Earth and sky is any different. Faith does not call upon us to turn a blind eye to the world around us. It is not a matter of competition between God and a lab coat but simply what makes the text of the Bible most meaningful. And I certainly don’t think making the Bible look more like a Walt Disney movie or comic book than real life can possibly make the book more meaningful to us.

Are we really to believe that Jesus was a science teacher and the Bible is a “creation for dummies” book just in order to cook up some kind of one-upmanship on the scientists. Isn’t that kind of missing the point of the Bible like falling for a devilish distraction from the gospel of salvation by the grace of God for which Jesus died on a cross?

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I’ve been rethinking this allegory style as I recently “re-read” “Perelandra,” by C S Lewis, on Audible. In the story, Lewis re creates Eden on Perelandra (Venus), and has the protagonist help “Eve” resist the temptation to walk on fixed land at night (the parallel in this story to eating the apple in the Bible). I thought Lewis’ dialogue with the Green Lady about why Maleldil (God) would forbid something for the sake of forbidding it (to demonstrate a relationship with Him that goes beyond the selfish, beneficial reason for all other rules) to be a good twist. Lewis said at one time, I believe, that the concept of sin in the Garden of Eden, while allegorical in his mind, was nevertheless so deep that he could not mentally plumb all the depths of illustrating our relationship to God. I think there are other aspects to the entire story that I also have not plumbed, and may not understand till eternity. Thanks for bringing this up.

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“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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