I ask this question because my wife knows my scientific beliefs, and she asked me a simple that question. If you don’t think the bible is always literal, When does the Bible start being literal? I am having a lot of issues coming up with an answer. What is Biologos view on this issue?
How would you define the word “literal”?
I guess in this instance literal to me would mean historic.
What I am trying to get to is, when do we stop interpreting Genesis as poetry or as the retranslation of older ploytheistic stories into a monotheistic theology?
I am sorry if this sounds cryptic?
In other words when does it stop being a story?
I think you are making false dichotomies. You suggest that in order for parts of Genesis to be “history”, then they cannot be stories, or poetry, or adaptations of other cultural stories. In fact, all of Genesis fits into those categories, in one way or another, but it doesn’t mean that those events didn’t happen. I sympathize greatly with the effort to get “behind” the text and figure out what really happened and what didn’t, but I don’t think this approach does justice to the Bible. For instance, I think Genesis 1 is intentionally similar to other ancient creation stories, and it is also highly symbolic and poetic. But it is describing an event that really happened—the creation of the universe by God. If God didn’t really create the universe (and some other god like Zeus did instead), then the Bible would be wrong. But God did create—although Genesis 1 does not give us modern scientific information about how he created.
So the question is not when Genesis starts describing real events, but when it describes them in ways that more closely resemble what modern people think of as “historical accounts.” In that case, I would say Gen 12 is a good candidate, but that’s not an official BioLogos position or anything.
It’s also important to remember that ancient people, including the Hebrews, thought that the events of creation happened in a special sort of time that differs from regular, ordinary time. I suspect that for them, any effort to understand what “really” happened during creation in a scientific sense would have been seen as impious. It just wasn’t the way they thought about the world.
In other words, there’s good solid interpretive reasons to look at the beginning chapters of Genesis differently than the Abrahamic and post-Abrahamic narratives.
I will take this to heart, and apply this new outlook to my studies.
Great question Jordan. I can’t speak for BioLogos but I’ll give you my own take. Sometimes we have to distinguish what people mean by “literal” as Brad intimated. Very often, I find by “literal” people mean “literalistic” which is taking things exactly as they are stated. That works fine until you get into the subjects of genre and authorial intent. Answering the question, “What genre is this written in?” i.e. history, poetry, apocalyptic, etc. and “What was the author intending to communicate to his readers?” can drastically shape how we read or interpret anything.
So, when Jesus says, “If your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out” (Matt. 5:29) no one will accuse you of not taking the bible “literally” if you don’t pluck out your eyes should you look on something sinfully. We understand that He is intending to communicate a truth metaphorically. Jesus does much of this kind of teaching in the parables. But when the bible says Jesus rose from the dead, it is not - as a few claim - a nice metaphor to communicate spiritual rebirth; Jesus really did rise bodily from the dead and we are to read that literally as historical fact. (Paul had something to say about seeing it any other way in 1 Cor. 15:14-19).
We also have to ask, “Did the author intend to be taken literally (read literalistically)?” When Jesus says we are to “take up our cross and follow Him” (Matt. 16:24) He didn’t want us to build literal crosses and carry them around, He was speaking about living sacrificially. But when James tells us that faith that produces no evidence of faith (works) is dead (James 2:26), even though faith is not a tactile, organic thing, he really means his readers to understand that if your faith does not produce action, it is not true, living faith.
Therefore, when we come to Genesis 1:1 ff, it is not sufficient to ask, “When does the bible start being literal?” If by “literal” people mean “true” then I say, “Right at Gen. 1:1.” But if they are really asking, “When can I start reading the bible in a literalistic way?” then the examples above alone show that you will have problems all through the Scriptures if you intend to read them all in that way regardless of the genre they were written in or the intent of the author (and I mean here human and divine author).
I think I understood what you meant, but I wanted to clarify that there is a big difference between translating the Bible literally and interpreting the Bible literally. Translating the Bible literally means following as closely as possible the word choices and grammatical structures of the original Hebrew and Greek texts when translating them into another language (the other side of the continuum is something called ‘dynamic equivalence’ where the translator tries to represent the thoughts, meaning, and intended tone of the original author, even if he/she has to use different vocabulary or language structures than the original texts to do so). Some people believe the more “literal” a Bible translation is, the better and more reliable it is, but this is an idea that is directly contradicted by theories of how we understand and communicate that have been clearly demonstrated in the fields of linguistics and cognitive psychology.
When people talk about interpreting the Bible literally they are usually talking about conclusions a person draws about the intended meaning, Is a given passage presenting historical facts or specific commands to be obeyed, or is it meant to be understood as figurative or metaphorical or hyperbolic? Is a certain passage a revealed promise of God that applies to all people or is it a generalization about a typical observable pattern? Is a certain passage meant to reveal a timeless propositional truth about God’s character or is it an emotional reaction to God in a specific situation? These are all questions that deal with how “literally” we interpret a passage.
My problem with the idea that you should always “take the Bible literally” or “read the Bible’s plain meaning” is that it implies all the whole Bible should be approached in the same way, without taking into consideration the genre, purpose, context, or original audience of the passage you are reading. Since the Bible is a diverse collection of texts, spanning centuries, and compiled in different cultural contexts by a variety of authors with a variety of worldviews and a variety of audiences, it’s impossible to have a one-size-fits-all approach to interpreting the meaning of any given passage. Fortunately, there are scholars who have spent years researching the historical contexts, cultures, and languages that help us get at the meaning of the original texts, so we can figure out how to best interpret them.
I have a question for you all and a theory developed from math, physics, and faith. Please read the entire theory before responding. This theory confirms and complements both faith and science.
Let me begin with a brief statement on conversion factors. We convert seconds into minutes into hours into days into weeks into years, mathematically. With this being established, is it possible that genesis chapter 1 is literal as well as figurative and symbolic?
Here is my theory. The first seven days, were days where the reference was the water. Call them water days, for sake of argument. Therefore according to psalms, “one day for God is a thousand years for man”, so 1 water day is 1000 years. This is one conversion. So, within 7000 years all of creation was created. Now 7 water days begins the formula of the theory. The water day is developed as a reference because in Genesis, the first verse describes entities existing. 1. The void, 2. The waters, 3. Darkness, and 4. God. Now the earth was the void without form. So the void can’t be used as a reference. Darkness is intangible and cannot be used as a reference. So all that’s left is God and water. Water is tangible and God is tangible, but only to the faithful, therefore I am using water as a reference.
We know its been about 8000 years since the flood. Therefore, by converting 8000 years to water days, we can now include that to the formula. 7+8=15 or 15,000 years. Sounds sound right? But it isn’t. The 8000 years since the flood is based upon a solar day. A solar day, is our 24 hr day. The sun was created on the third day, as St. Augustine, in the city of God, points out. Therefore, only 4 water days, or 4000 year could be added to the 8000 years right? Wrong.
A 24 hour day is again based upon the travel of the earth upon its axis. For 8000 years, the earths axis has been at a 5° tilt angle. What would a day be if the earth had a 0° tilt angle? For the earth itself was created between the first two days. During these days time did not exist. Time is a measurement of movement through space, therefore, the first two days do not exist in a solar day. Therefore, at some point while, the earth, plants and light came into being at the same time, when the sun and moon came into being. So measuring the age of these creations would hence may take millions or billions of years to develop if the sun existed, but the sun did not exist. Therefore, all time begins in the third day.
And with the earth, being created, popping into time, and perfect, that is with a 0° degree tilt angle, is 1000 years as compared to a solar day. This factor is not taken into consideration when calculations are made by evolutionists or big bang theorists.
So my formula is x + 4000 years + 8000 years, where x is the 3 days before the suns creation, 4000 years of the rest of creation and 8000 years since the flood. Now there is another variable to consider, how long was Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden? This us critical to the formula for accuracy. We do not know. What we do know is after God created man, God rested. This rest was for a thousand years. So we know that Adam and Eve were in the garden for at least a thousand years, that is solar years or one day, according to genesis, at least one day.
Then Adam and Eve sinned against God. This is interesting to note here because time or the solar day changes at this point, this is more proof that man’s sins effect creation. “The day you eat of the fruit…you shall surely die” was the warning God placed upon the tree of knowledge in Genesis chapter 3. As a result of Adam’s sin, the earth began the wobble, at what I assume as a 2 to 2.5 degree tilt angle. And after the fall Adam lived 950 years, then died. So for Gods warning to be taken literally, Adam died on the day he ate of the fruit, therefore, one day is 1000 years. So the formula I developed to this point is
X + (4000+Y)@ 0° tilt angle, + (8000)@5° tilt angle.
But there is more. By calculating the years from the fall of man until the flood we come up with approximately 1250 years. So the full formula is
X + (4000+Y)@ 0° tilt angle, + (1250)@ 2.5° tilt angle, + (8000)@5° tilt angle.
This is what I believe is the age of the earth from creation until now. This type of math must be solved vectorially to be accurate, however we have two unknowns. X is the first three days of creation. This is unknown, for “evening came and morning followed” we assume night but as St Augustine said, if the ancients intended to imply night they would have stated it but they don’t. Morning followed evening, or the light set, moved along the horizon, still illuminating the earth, then rose in the morning. This light, was the light not of the sun, but the light of God’s creation—light.
Here’s the formula again,
X +(4000+Y)@0° + (1250)@2.5° + (8000)
Where x is the first three days of creation, and Y is how long Adam lived in the Garden of Eden.
So, what do you all think? Is this possible? And if so, then, the bible can be taken literally. Oh yeah, know this, according to Genesis, the earth, from creation until the flood had a shield of water around it. This shield protected life on planet earth from UV light from the sun. When the shield was destroyed, the life span on planet earth was reduced. In addition, the weight of the water changed the rotation of the earth into the present day 5° tilt angle allowing the UV rays to have a major effect on life.
This effectively, is the cause of the death of the dinosaurs and the reduction of man’s lifespan.
Now I present this theory as evidence that science and the bible complement each other. And that knowing about these conversions, and calculating the change of the earth’s tilt angle it is possible and probable, that the earth could be 4.5 billion years old.
So is it possible that x+(4000+y)@0° tilt < + (1250)@ 2.5° tilt < + (8000)@ 5° tilt <= 4.5 billion years?
Where Does the Earth's Tilt Come From?
It seems to me there are more reliable ways of dating the earth than trying to come up with complicated formulas from the Bible.
I don’t think the question is, “Is this possible?” so much as “Is this necessary?” It looks to me like you have arrived at a conclusion that science has already arrived at via actual calculations based on observable phenomena, only you have arrived at it based on conjecture and positing things I have never heard any scientific evidence for. Why would a person trade a scientifically demonstrable explanation for complicated conjecture unless they needed the Bible to be taken literally? Plenty of theological scholarship has gone into demonstrating Genesis does not need to be taken literally, nor should it be taken literally if we really want to understand what God was trying to communicate.
Why is this theory preferable? There are much less convoluted ways of demonstrating the harmony between Scripture and science.
My view point on the bible is quite different from others. Depending upon view point the Bible solves problems in multiple ways. What I mean is that the bible can be taken literally, figuratively, spiritually, metaphorically, or any other way, and that will all be correct.
See the “inspired word of God”, or the Bible is intended to increase faith. In other words the Bible is a book of faith, that has a lot of history of one family in it, as well as the actions of the descendants of that family. Through the examples of these, “family” stories we are taught to live by faith.
Now, I also believe that God does solve multiple problems with a single word, where we as mortal humans, can only solve a fraction of those problems, and only one at a time. Once a formula is derived through the bible, then it is up to science to fill the gaps. This would complete a comprehensive dating system that could be provable. However, if we use science alone, we cannot date anything for the simple reason, that the dating system has flaws that give us an error factor. These error factors increase the further away from the starting point you go. That is reasonable and is a science in its self. For example, there is an infinite amount of numbers on a number line from the point of origin going out in all directions and dimensions. Then, if you place a point on this number line a fixed distance from the origin, Between that number and the origin there is an infinite amount of numbers. This is an anomaly developed by the nature of mathematics, therefore science.
Without changing the anomaly by setting a specific purpose of the number line, the anomaly prevents the user of this number line to define anything. But by setting a specific purpose(60 seconds=1 minute, 60 minutes= 1 hour, 24 hours= 1 Day, etc)then by following the rules of addition and multiplication we can figure out time, which is relative to the way we perceive time. So to dismiss the information recorded in the bible, you dismiss a great deal of knowledge. No knowledge can be debunked unless that knowledge is proven by reason to be false.
In order for the bible to be debunked the bible must contradict scientific proof that is direct. To my knowledge in a variety of studies, to include the study of the Shroud of Turin, every debunking proof always had a question attached to it. According to the research done in the case of the Shroud of Turin, carbon-14 dating was conducted with protocols that were not approved and the original protocols were ignored. As a result the findings came out to debunk the Shroud. However, due to the fact that the experiment was not done properly as a result the findings were not properly found. So in the case of carbon-14 dating, the procedure was eventually proven false. (To read more about the Shroud of Turin, the history of the shroud, the history of the 1978 expedition, and what the Shroud is, go to Shroud.com)
Just like in the Shroud of Turin study, the Bible too is attacked in the same manner, creating unexplained mysteries. However, people like me are also considered crazy because of these thoughts. Did any of you ever ask and explore the question, “How did God do that?” I saw a special on the History/Discovery channel that seemed plausible. The evidence presented in the series stated that it was a volcano, in greece, that was responsible for the Exodus story, all 10 plagues, and the description of God as “A column of fire by night and A column of smoke by day”
In our push for realism, the evidence presented could be plausible. Also I want to bring up another example of my point that the bible can be used as a tool for science, as well as a book of faith, but the book’s main purpose is that of faith.
Look at the rules for geometry, “Two lines that never intersect” is commonly" called parallel lines, right?
Well what if I had two lines one running North and South, and one running up 10 feet and down 10 feet. From one perspective it looks like the two lines intersect. However, when the angle of observation is changed, we see that the two lines are separated by two feet to the west. So one can call the two lines Perpendicular, by one perspective, and parallel by another. When in reality these lines are parallel. I believe this same principle as in this example, can be applied to the bible. Where the bible defined the two lines as parallel, although many believe it to be perpendicular. And it is also possible that on some points the Bible can seem to say that the lines are perpendicular when in reality what it is really saying is it is parallel.
Now, I used this example to show how in two-dimensional thinking, you are limited. By not taking the bible both figuratively, metaphorically, and literally, one is understanding the bible with two-dimensional thinking. But when we add the next dimension (3d), then we see a greater understanding. By developing this formula as I have done, taking into consideration of all the factors that was witnessed by Moses, as God spoke to him, and trusting in what he wrote for the purpose of instilling faith to the reader, and taking that and developing a mathematical formula, what I have attempted to do, is apply that math from faith, to science, and probability. And thus, the result is it is possible, that while humans(Adam and Eve) were immortal, and due to the angle of the earth at that time, it is possible that the earth could be millions or even billions of years old.
As was stated earlier with the diagram of the earth as the ancients believed in it, by keeping within that function of their understanding, we are limited. However, by breaking free of that limitation and bringing that knowledge into our scientific knowledge asking the question: “How can this real 3d world appear to the 2d thinking of the ancients?” Thus, correcting centuries of misrepresentation of the facts of what the ancients really knew.
Jesus taught us how to do that. It was demonstrated by another user when he spoke of the verse, “plucking out the eye,”, here Jesus was trying to show man, through parable, and metaphor, how to view subjects(in this case, it would be better to chop off that piece of the body that causes one to sin, than to go to hell because of that piece of the body), Make sense?
A good place to start might be this video of this discussion between Peter Enns and N.T. Wright.
The Bible can be translated as meaning literally what it states unless it prefaces any text in question with the disclaimer “Jesus then related to them a parable”, or uses linguistic devices which are clearly associated with the telling of such an “faith response story”.
The creation account of Genesis certainly does not fall into that category of scriptural text by any reasonable definition.
When the scriptures state that In the beginning God created created the heavens and the earth, note carefully that this is rendered as a sentence: a thought complete within itself.
It is followed by a period and a space. That period could well represent millions of years during which nothing of any relevance to modern, reasoning mankind made in the image of God has existed. How could this be? Because Satan could have been busy for billions of years repeatedly trying and failing to create viable bio-systems. Of course as a powerful but mostly clueless attempted usurper of Christ’s rightful intended place, he
would have little choice but to cobble together living organisms from the plans provided by God as best as he could and rely on random accidents to (hopefully) correct whatever he had gotten wrong.
Scripture was never intended to provide a completely detailed blow-by-blow account of every step which occurred during this process, but that does not automatically leave the only viable interpretation as "The Almighty God had no better way to do things than to let random chance lead us to where we find ourselves today."
We are told that only a few generations into the existence of actual human beings (as opposed to “humanoids” or “hominids”,) mankind noticed that “Men of Old” were beginning to be seen among them. Since true human beings as a biologically distinct type had only been around for a few generations at the time, how much “older” could these “Men of Old” actually been? The correct answer is that the true modern humans had no doubt previously come across the dried bones of some of these troglodytes of Satanic making and assumed them to be from a long-extinct species (which they were).
Satanically influenced angels however were still able (before the Great Flood) to materialize (having not yet been “restrained in pits of dense darkness in Tartarus”) and so were able to take fleshly form, but only to the degree of perfection which their flawed
animator was capable of. It is by means of such demons that human contamination with “Nephilim” DNA occurred, and why atheistic naturalists who refuse to recognize similarity of basic design for what it truly is mistake it for transmogrification from hominid into Homo-Sapiens by their fancifully imagined Darwinian mechanism.
Acceptance of an “old Earth” does not rule out the DIRECT creation of thinking, reasoning humans in the image of the Creator God.
In fact, the strongest proofs against the correctness on Darwinian theory are provided by true empirical science (as opposed to fanciful theorizing). Take of example of Louis Pasteur’s experiments in “spontaneous generation” (actually just a modification of the “abiogenesis” long said to account for the presence on life in the absence of an intelligent Creator God). Why were all of the previous experimenters able to reproduce this remarkable event while Pasteur repeatedly failed? He expected that such experiments should fail because the methodology of all the previous experimenters had been sloppy and incredibly remiss. Pouchet conducted his experiments using microscopic yeasts, but failed to account for the fact that such organisms were capable of floating on air currents. He thought he had corrected for such a possibility by floating his experimental sample dishes in a covered bowl full of mercury, but let unfiltered air contaminate the samples by way of “probes” which he used to “let the samples breathe”. Pasteur revealed the flaw in Pouchet’s technique and thereby established a strong empirically provable fact that abiogenesis and spontaneous generation are both false notions.
A bit more should be said about yeasts. Evolutionists apparently like to study them because they claim that any living organisms which multiply as fast and frequently as they do will certainly show clear-cut evolutionary changes from one fundamental type of organism to an unambiguously different type much faster (hundreds of thousands of generations or more within one human lifetime) than most other species. Yet, since the time of Pouchet, yeasts unambiguously remain of the same fundamental yeast type which he would have had no problem classifying as such. In short, definitively speciating evolutionary changes (even to species which should be able to VERY
QUICKLY evolve are not observed for the simple reason that they don’t actually happen at all.
What are claimed to be “unique” never-before existing "mutational improvements are really just never-before observed expressions of previously recessive traits which were always present in any species (having been put there by the Creator God when he first made them), or of course a certain handful of “accidental” modifications of DNA due to cosmic ray hits, exposure to mutagenic substances, or the like, and these are always identifiable as debilitating birth defects which weaken rather than enhance the adaptive abitities of organism that are thusly afflicted.
Doesn’t it create an even bigger problem theologically to ascribe creative and life-giving power to Satan than to say that God created via evolutionary mechanisms? Plenty of “viable” organism existed before the emergence of homo sapiens. It sounds like you are saying Satan created all of the extinct plants and animals we see in the fossil record. Then God came along fairly recently in earth’s history and created people in his image. Is that really what you are saying?
Isn’t Tartarus Greek mythology?. I remember it coming up in the adventures of Percy Jackson, not the Bible. How did demons get DNA if they are spiritual beings?
I had to look up the word, “transmorgrification” so thanks for helping me learn something new today, but I’m having trouble following the timeline you propose. So homo sapiens exist, and they mate with demons who have taken the form of extinct creatures, and this produces all the homonids that the Darwinian scientists mistakenly consider part of homo sapien’s ancestry? Where did the hominid fossils they used as inspiration for their shape-shifting come from? More Satanic creation?
If you absolutely need a literal reading of Genesis, wouldn’t it be easier and less disturbing to just take the “God created the earth recently with the appearance of great age” approach?
I would never claim that Satan had power to “create” - merely to “make”, and not very well as the history of most of his “makings” (and the fact that they are extinct) seems to indicate.
The timeline is not confused at all. There were in fact two distinct series of “hominids” (at least the Neanderthal expression of them). The first was during the period of completely Satanic “making” when he was attempting to usurp Christ’s rightful place as Creator. The second occurred much later during the approximate 6,000 history of true God-created humans. If the two series of defectively made “men” were the product of the same imperfect understanding of what was required to do the task correctly, is it any wonder that they would both show similar defects and be easily mistaken as belonging to one species which continually survived for several tens of millennia? Again, what is being seen is simple similarity of basic design features, not an interminably long process of changing (“transmogrifying” or “evolving” whichever term you may prefer) from one into the other. The “Men of Old” or “fellers” were not previously immovably limited to the spirit realm, but were capable of incarnation until they were prohibited by God from doing so after the Great Flood. Their DNA was material enough alright - but it was hopelessly defective, being of Satanic making.
If I were to accept that they never did materialize as fleshly creatures, we would have “Men of Old” “desiring the wives and daughters of men” but being unable to
mate with them. Since modern “science” has at least been forced to admit that by all appearances Neanderthal did in fact interbreed with humans, this explanation saves us from having to rely on the theory that the perfect God had to putz aroundfor millions of years making and destroying various ape-like excuses for humans before ever getting it right.
One would expect the Apostles who were often called upon to teach Christian doctrine to heather populations to teach them “as babes” in the faith who were not yet prepared to be able to digest doctrinal meat. The phrase “restrained in Tartarus” was apparently used in certain early translations of the scriptures and refers to “the place of dense darkness” to which the sinning angels were eventually confined (after the Great Flood). This is because it was a term with which the heathen would be familiar which approximated the same definition Paul intended to use, and did it with one word rather than requiring a lengthy description of the demons’ condition of confinement.
How much of the Scriptures should one be willing to “spiritualize away” as if they should have no practical value beyond a questionable ability to teach “abstract object lessons in something or other”?
When scriptures get fiddled with by well-meaning “commentators” who insert Chapter Headings such as “Jesus multiplies the fishes and loaves” to texts which actually neither state (nor even logically suggest anything of the sort), that is where mischeif can intrude.
Obviously Jesus and His disciples merely set an example of sharing by giving freely of their limited food to some of the hungry people who had gathered. The much more well-heeled who brought more food than they could ever eat were shamed by their greed and brought around to the right way of conduct.
On course my speculations are merely that, but they do no violence to anything the Scriptures actually do state, and they explain many problematic passages in scripture without reducing the entire text to something which can be interpreted as fast and loose as some nominal “accepters” might be willing go.
I should perhaps quote the exact text I am referring to. When mentioning “Tartarus” I refer to the text at Second Peter, 2:4. In the very next verse, the “keeping of Noah and seven others safe from the deluge which He brought upon the ungodly world” is spoken about not as some “tall fable” intended to be understood symbolically, but as a simple statement of material fact with which the listener should be familiar, lest any might cast doubt upon the reality of the Great Flood by attempting to write it off as a mere “rip off” of the “Gilgamesh Epic” or some other heathen fable.
I would add to your comments, in that many people are used to thinking “definitions” and “descriptions” that may appear scientific, so that literal to them means definable in language and terms that may be derived from, or based in some way, to anything that appears scientific (often a dubious exercise at best, and most often performed by people with little understanding of the physical sciences). Yet literal is easily associated with the term ‘literature’, as well as understanding (and translating) something free from distortion.
The dimension that is often lost in these type of discussions is the clear biblical teaching, in that the Word of God is inspired by the Holy Spirit - this would disturb all atheists and those who want to reduce the Bible into some form of theory or personal outlook, regarding any matter, be it scientific or social or political. That is when ‘distortion’ is equated with ‘non-literal’. But I understand it is difficult in this post-modern era to think in terms of seeking God’s guidance when reading the Bible.