Hi everyone, I was in general conversation with an aquaintance who I see about once a year he related conversations with a couple of his relatives and was concerned that they believed that the Bible was actual fact and not just allegory - one of them was a young earth believer. He is a very intelligent/educated person and we discussed a few specific areas but I felt as if I lacked a cohesive approach to this issue - the conversation moved on quickly and I am hopeful that my response at least let him know that there are educated people who trust the Bible to be the God’s Word. I still feel as if I was unprepared - there are so many issues involved here - from “could someone really survive in a digestive tract of any species” to “the ark would never have held all the arthropods” - any suggestions for a general, calm approach to these issues?
I think your question includes about half of the struggles that Christians have gone through since the first century church.
To boil it down somewhat, and with the understanding that RZIM doesn’t take a stance on youth-earth vs old-earth (unless something has changed in the last year), I will say that many believers think they have to shun science if they’re going to be a good Christian. This isn’t true. God created science and the Bible, so there’s no reason to think they aren’t compatible. They have the same author. It’s true that the Bible isn’t a science textbook, and so it won’t tell us all the “hows” of what God did. Only that He did it. It’s important to understand though that His Word is wholly true, so if we discover something in science that seems to refute a truth claim in the Bible, it’s our understanding of science that needs to be adjusted, not the Bible.
Just speaking for myself personally so you’ll have some background (and no one start a fight over this), I was an old-earth creationist that turned into a young-earth creationist as I dug into the issues dividing the two. I only mention that because I have no problem calmly discussing the truths of the Word with folks on either side of that aisle. It should not divide the church.
To get directly to your final question, and I’m assuming your acquiantance is a Christian based on your wording, the Bible is at times literal and at times figurative. We shouldn’t go into it thinking that everything in it is literal (the world isn’t really held up by four pillars) or that it is entirely allegory (as the line of David did indeed exist). We should not take a “literal” or “allegorical” reading of the Word, but a “natural” reading of the Word. What did the author intend by his literary style? If a portion is written in historical narrative style, then it should be taken literally. If in poetic style, then taken as poetry. This is the importance of going back to the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, so that we can understand the words not with English (or whatever your primary language) eyes, but with those of the original writers.
Hopefully you find something beneficial in all of my rambling. Incidentally, Jonah is written in historical narrative style, so it did happen as written. Never discount a miracle just because it doesn’t make sense to the mind of man. And the ark could have easily held two of all the animals that existed at that time… but that’s another post.
Dont forget that Jesus Himself referred to Jonah as the sign he gave to the Pharisees when they came seeking a sign… Meaning he would be 3 days in the belly of the earth, the grave.
@jreynolds That is a hard topic to address quickly in the flow of conversation. I think it can be broken down into three separate questions: did the Bible actually happen? Is the Bible trustworthy? Do Christians take the Bible literally? At least, I think these are three common objections people have that cause them to think the Bible should not be taken literally.
I think a quick way to answer would first involve figuring out which of these questions your friend is really bugged by and give a brief answer. A few starter questions might be:
Did you realize there is non-Biblical evidence to corroborate the life, death and resurrection of Jesus?
What are your reasons for believing the events of the Bible did not really happen? Have you considered the life of Jesus? (if you do not make it specific, he may jump to Jonah and the whale or something along those lines, which is fine if you are prepared)
Is the Bible allegorical? I’ve always understood it is composed of many different genres - poetry, history, allegory, parables - it is a complex book.
May the Lord grant you wisdom as you talk with your friend. Which one of these questions do you feel he is struggling with the most? Or is it another question entirely? Hope these thoughts are helpful.
Did the events in the Bible actually happen?
This book by Josh McDowell addresses all three of these questions combined - but does a pretty good job on this aspect. Did Jesus really live? Did the OT happen? This question is a historical one. Of course N. T. Wright’s magnum opus on the resurrection is great if you’re down for a long read.
Is the Bible trustworthy?
Here are some threads in Connect that address this questions as well as a book by F. F. Bruce that I have always very much enjoyed.
Do Christians Take the Bible “Literally”?
Below is a quote from this Gospel Coalition article that I thought was helpful. The Bible is composed of different genres and each must be interpreted in light of its cultural context.
"You see, Scripture communicates the truth of God in multiple, beautiful and creative, ways. Faithful readers of Scripture know it speaks:
- Literally – Jesus is God’s Son, physically rose from the dead, bodily ascended to the Father and will return, literally.
- Poetically – As in much of Psalms and Song of Solomon, even in Christ’ teaching.
- Metaphorically – Many of Jesus’ parables and illustrations.
- Rhetorically – Acts 1:18-19. Did all— every last bit—of Judas’ intestines spill out? Did everyone in Jerusalem here about this—to a person? Or is Luke saying the news was widespread, difficult to have missed?
- Descriptively – “Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill these jars with water’ so they filled them to brim.”
Thanks for your response - I have listened to several programs lately (mostly from RZIM) that have helped me start to gather my thoughts on this - my biggest issue is having so much to say that it makes it hard for me to focus and say just enough for the situation and the person I am conversing with - avoiding a “machine gun” approach. The more I hear from others the more prepared I feel for the next time I encounter this situation - thanks again
This was a point that I had not thought of until recently - Jesus not only supported OT as a whole but specifics as well - Thanks for reminding me - all of this is helpful to solidify my thoughts
Thanks for this - I won’t see this friend for quite a while, although this year I may see him twice. I will have to reflect and pray so that I can see what his true objections are but I believe that it stems from his educational background and his sources for current information. He has a strong scientific mind. I have also thought about suggesting some reading material so that he can evaluate and digest things over time. I need to work on my skills in asking questions of people to understand them better - then I could focus my thoughts and remain conversational - I sometimes feel “pressure” to defend the entire Christian faith quickly - that is just not practical nor does it even begin to be effective (I read “Evidence” years ago- great book)