Debate:Should the first story of creation be read allegorically or literally?

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I'm curious as to know what the general consensus of Conservapedians is in regards to this topic. --Trend 15:43, 28 June 2007 (EDT)

Personally, I believe allegorically. But, this IS an issue of theology so it is based almost totally on personal opinion.-- Futsunushi

I agree. If you fail to separate allegory from fact, then you have lost all meaning Biblical writers have so eloquently put within stories. I personally believe that the first creation story (as well as other things in the Bible) should not be taken literally. This particular story was meant to give some sort of explanation of the origins of the universe, and God's role in its creation; but not to hold against rather convincing and logical modern theories. --Trend 22:11, 28 June 2007 (EDT)
But you have to remember... 1 Timothy 3:16-17, "All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." You also should bear in mind that if you interpret Scripture in its literal, grammatical, and historical context, you can't go wrong. Therefore, I believe, in this case that it should be taken literally, or the whole Bible would fall apart. DebateKid 22:39, 28 June 2007 (EDT)
I'll have to disagree with you that "if you interpret Scripture in its literal, grammatical, and historical context, you can't go wrong." There is a myriad of examples that I can use to prove this wrong, but for this, I'll use the book of Revelations. In Chapter 5 Verse 6, Jesus Christ is described as a lamb with 7 horns and 7 eyes. If you ask me, that imagery is quite repulsive. This image is merely a symbol of Christ's universal power (7 horns) and knowledge (7 eyes). If you had taken that passage literally, however, you lose its meaning; so everything in the Bible most certainly cannot be taken literally. I believe this applies to Genesis as well. I doubt God wants us to sacrifice his gift of reasoning if the Bible contradicts it. I think the theologist Origen sums it up best: "What intelligent person will suppose that there was a first, a second and a third day, that there was evening and morning without the existence of the sun and moon and stars? Or that there was a first day without a sky? Who could be so silly as to think that God planted a paradise in Eden in the East the way a human gardener does, and that he made in this garden a visible and palpable tree of life, so that by tasting its fruit with one’s bodily teeth one should receive life? And in the same way, that someone could partake of good and evil by chewing what was taken from this tree? If God is represented as walking in the garden in the evening, or Adam as hiding under the tree, I do not think anyone can doubt that these things, by means of a story which did not in fact materially occur, are intended to express certain mysteries in a metaphorical way."--Trend 23:50, 28 June 2007 (EDT)
Also, could I point out that you can't take one Biblical passage as proof of the truth of another. Nothing is proof of itself - you can't say "The Bible says that The Bible is correct, therefore The Bible is correct." JohnR28 14:51, 27 December 2008 (EST)
There are many problems with taking the Bible literally. Just for example, if we are to take the Bible literally, then we must also believe that Noah built an ark that housed 2 of every animal and insect on the face of the Earth. Seeing that we still discover new species on an almost daily basis, taking this story at face value as literal and factual seems ridiculous at best. - Dr. Hook June 29

I am going to answer those two arguments in order; First, concerning the Revelation, it is portrayed in the Bible as being a vision, so you're supposed to take that part as being a symbol, because that part of the Bible is, indeed, made up of symbols. At the same time, however, Genesis is not supposed to be taken as an allegory, but in its literal, historical, and grammatical context, and since the Bible says it the way it does in Genesis, there is no reason why we should interpret it allegorically. Secondly, just as an example we all know that there are breeds of dogs that weren't here in the past, because people have bred certain types of dogs to get new ones. And, if you look at the dimensions of the ark in the Bible, it is very probable that all those animals would fit. Animals' DNA is packed with a great deal of variability, so you can see how all these new "species," if that's what you prefer to call it, could come about. I'm not arguing for evolution here, but for variation. DebateKid 13:56, 29 June 2007 (EDT)

One of the reasons why we shouldn't take the first creation story (I am not saying the entire book of Genesis) literally is because it applies the limit of time to God; our knowledge of time and God's knowledge of time could be two entirely different ideas. Another reason is there are many inconsistencies within the Bible, including Genesis, that makes it difficult if not impossible to follow literally. For instance, take the two creation stories in Genesis. The order of creation in the first one is plants, then animals, and finally Adam. However, in the second story, Adam is created first, then plants, and finally Eve. If we take both literally, which one are we to believe? Pope John Paul II provides an excellent answer to the question on how we should interpret Genesis: "Cosmogony and cosmology have always aroused great interest among peoples and religions. The Bible itself speaks to us of the origin of the universe and its make-up, not in order to provide us with a scientific treatise, but in order to state the correct relationships of man with God and with the universe. Sacred Scripture wishes simply to declare that the world was created by God, and in order to teach this truth it expresses itself in the terms of the cosmology in use at the time of the writer. The Sacred Book likewise wishes to tell men that the world was not created as the seat of the gods, as was taught by other cosmogonies and cosmologies, but was rather created for the service of man and the glory of God. Any other teaching about the origin and make-up of the universe is alien to the intentions of the Bible, which does not wish to teach how heaven was made but how one goes to heaven." Literal translations of certain parts of the Bible should not be the basis of our reason. --Trend 16:38, 29 June 2007 (EDT)
However the Papacy of the Catholic Church is not the autority on spiritual matters. Catholicism is a religion of apostates. Capercorn 11:24, 3 July 2007 (EDT)

You're idiots. The bible was written by good-intentioned men a long, long time ago; men who had no access to or knowledge of scientific fact. The bible is entirely irrelevant except as a document of cultural and - in some cases, especially the King James edition - literary interest. God does not exist, except in the minds of the feeble, the emotionally needy or the intellectually challenged. This so called encyclopedia is self-professed right-wing nonsense, and should be spurned by anyone who has either a brain or any common humanity. I myself stubled on it only by accident when I was surfing the net, my jaw slack with disbelief at the American preponderancy for belief in god and associated myths. Please, guys, read some books, get out and talk to people and broaden your horizons beyond this dull, enervating, servile reliance on things which are not and were never true.

Love and peace

chris larner

There are multiple creation stories: Genesis 1 has one creation story (with the animals coming before Adam; Genesis 2 has a different story, with Adam coming before the animals (except in 1 English translation among many)

There are alos other creation stories in the Bible with inconsistent details. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by Rjwalker (talk)

There are perfectly rational explanations for any apparent inconsistencies in the Bible. I read the creation story allegorically because the Word was communicated through human authors. Because of the human element the creation account can be read as religious instruction for the human working week and Sabbath rest. Whether you read Genesis as literal or not, is not as important as having faith that God exists, that He created the universe, the importance of keeping Sunday special and following His Word. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by AdamB (talk)

If one looks at the real evidence, the evidence being the book of Genesis, and the rest of the bible, the true word, the world is really only about 6000 years old. The Bible talks of many different aspects of history, and in almost all cases has other historical weight behind its claims other to itself. If the Bible can be seen as a valid historical source, providing accurate evidence when it is read literally, it is only logical to read all its aspects with absolute trust. When this is done it works the world to be 6000 years old, therefore the world is about 6000 years old. You can't just pick and choose what to read literally and what not to. The meaning of the bible can't be used by humans like this, otherwise we could make it mean anything. The Bible is an instrument of teaching, as previously mentioned. If a history book for lessons was not to be taken literally, it would not be suitable for real learning, therefore the Bible must be taken literally for it to have any relavence whatsoever! I would argue it is not a matter of personal opinion as mentioned in a revious post by Futsunushi, something is simply written to be taken literally or allegorically, in this case it is literal. You do not read a book that was written to be read literally, in an allegorical fashion, if you took the personal opinion to read it like this you would be being stupid and illogical. End of story. --Badger15 13:56, 4 March 2009 (EST)


I don't understand it, therefore it's all rubbish! This tendency towards willing ignorance when pertaining to the Biblical Word of God isn't inconsistent with a person's total rejection of His will for mankind. Learning and understanding the Bible won't come about by the application of your own view of the world. The bashing comments found here aren't made by those that are seeking knowledge. They could've found those on the internet by typing in a few simple search words. Undoubtably there are feeble minded, emotionally needy or intellectually challenged people who choose to criticise ancient writtings originating thousands of years ago because they are unable to fathom their content. Of course this isn't an American preponderancy for ranting against something not understood by someone. Rather, it is the natural worldly man who engages in such infantile dialogue. Usually just prior to book burnings and massive social rallies against some imagined foe. Finally, there are no inconsistent details except to the willfully ignorant, and illiterate who've already chosen their own foolish intentions. But I have digressed a bit here. There is only one account given of the Creation in the book of Genesis. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." -Genesis 1:1. It is literal and chronological. What apparently has confused you is the recounting of it in Genesis 2 which is merely an account from a second perspective. Which is why it gives the precondition of: "This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created." -Genesis 2:4. Two perspectives of one event. Now that wasn't hard at all, was it? Why are there two pespectives given here? Well, you'll just have to read it yourself in order to fully understand that enigma.--Roopilots6 13:55, 7 August 2007 (EDT)

I agree with you, except that I still think that the universe was created billions of years ago, and that God's concept of time is beyond what we can ever know while on earth.--Freiberg 14:53, 10 August 2007 (EDT)

Oh I'm sorry, I guess that all science, regardless of it's aim or purpose should be disregarded when the bible speaks otherwise on the same subject. America is really going down the tubes, and not because we have forgotten god as I'm sure you would like to remind me, but because too many Americans put too much stock in a book written thousands of years ago by, for the most part, uneducated men. Forgive me if I'm wrong, but you don't take the Illiad or the Odyssey or anything else from Greek mythology as true. It's all allegorical and mythological. However you think the Bible is different simply because it hasn't lost popularity yet and it has 2000 of ignorant followers for you to point to as your backup. If you can show me any compelling evidence why i should believe in the Christian god, or ANY god for that matter I would be more than happy to listen, but I have grown up in all kinds of churches, all with different messages but the same bible, doesn't sound like the One Absolute Truth to me. And please don't label me as one who isn't seeking knowledge or as a "feeble minded, emotionally needy or intellectually challenged" person. Believe, me I have studied the Bible, from more than one perspective and with ever changing world views. It simply doesn't hold up to rational criticism.--tehstone 16:56, 12 September 2007 (PST)

Oh, I am also sorry that you've grown up in all kinds of churches and don't know what the Word of God has, is and will reveal to mankind. My only guess is there are many apostate, man-made creeds that proport to be of the Judeo-Christian venue. Of any compelling evidence that I have seen in the historical record are the Hebrew tribes of Abraham that make up the nation of Israel. That the Father in Heaven has provided almost two thousand years to become heirs in His Sons house of Israel. That that time is almost over and that the final seven years is close at hand as outlined by all of the Prophets written in His book. That everything written has come true, is coming true and is about to come true is evident with every event reported as news. If you hang with people that subvert the Word of God then I wouldn't expect you to believe anything the Bible says either. Maybe you should do some independent studying and Bible studies with those that know something about the subject. I'll say a prayer for you so that you can connect with someone more knowledgable then myself.--Roopilots6 16:53, 24 September 2007 (EDT)

In the Spirit

"The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from The Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned." -I Corinthians 2:14 When you have really studied, read, and understood the words of the Bible and seen how everything from Genesis to Revelations is in accordance with each other, this scripture will hold true. But, to the sophists, humanists, and assorted others that have already rejected His Words, even before reading them, it will remain an enigma to you. As you have already proven on this webpage that you just can't get it.--Roopilots6 13:45, 7 November 2007 (EST)

Flawed First Premise

I don't know if there's any coherent logical argument for literal readings. Allegory takes context into account, and recognises a range of other explanations (even that the text may not be divinely inspired). A literal interpretation tends to assume that the Bible is infallible - a flawed first premise based on intuition rather than reason, which makes any kind of rational debate impossible. Underscoreb 00:07, 8 November 2007 (EST)

How is the premise that the Bible is infallible, flawed? That premise is not based on intuition, but on the claims of the Bible itself, including that it's ultimate author was the infallible God. If that is correct, it must be infallible. Philip J. Rayment 09:43, 11 November 2007 (EST)
You're quite right, Philip: if that is correct. That's a pretty big if. Effectively what you're saying here is that the Bible is right because it says so in the Bible. Your premise actually is based on intuition, because you're intuiting that the Bible is correct about always being correct.
Put it this way: if I told you that I always tell the truth, you wouldn't necessarily believe it. That's exactly the scenario we have here: a source claiming to be infallible based on its own claims of infallibility. It's circular (flawed) logic, which makes it impossible to evaluate or discuss in a rational context.
Nonetheless, the Biblical account of creation needn't be divinely inspired to be a fascinating and legitimate aspect of our mythological heritage. Underscoreb 20:51, 11 November 2007 (EST)
No, I'm not saying that the Bible is right because it says so in the Bible. You are putting those words in my mouth—that is not what I said and not what I meant.
I was not offering all the considerable evidence that the claim is true; merely pointing out that the claim of infallibility is not a first premise, but rests on the claim of authorship, so it is not, as you claimed, a flawed first premise based on intuition rather than reason.
The Bible claims to be divinely inspired, and the evidence from the text itself (it's accuracy, consistency, etc.) is that this claim is true. It being true, it therefore follows that it is infallible. You may disagree with the claim, the evidence, or that the evidence supports the claim, but I have demonstrated that the deduction that the Bible is infallible is not a first premise and is based on premises and evidence, not on intuition.
Of course the Bible doesn't need to be divinely inspired to be interesting. But it does need to be divinely inspired to be considered an totally accurate and reliable history.
Do you have any "coherent logical argument" that it is allegory? Do you consider any parts of the Bible to be accurate history? If so, which parts?
Philip J. Rayment 21:18, 11 November 2007 (EST)
No disrespect intended, Philip, but that is exactly what you're saying:

"That premise is not based on intuition, but on the claims of the Bible itself, including that it's [sic] ultimate author was the infallible God."

Your claim is based on the Bible's claim that all its claims are correct because it claims to be written by God. Can you see where I'm going with this?
Without wishing to be facetious, I would consider the reports of dietary advice from a talking snake to be allegory at best. ;-D As for authenticity, I believe Leviticus is by far the most historically accurate book in the entire Bible. By the way, it's nice to meet someone as civil as you on this site. Underscoreb 22:44, 11 November 2007 (EST)
It appears that you have read what you wanted to read in my statements.
  • I said that the claims appear to be true based on "the evidence from the text itself (it's accuracy, consistency, etc.)"
  • You claimed I said it appears to be true "because it claims to be written by God".
See the difference?
Why do you consider the talking snake account to be allegorical? Do you have a reason, or is it just "intuition"?
Philip J. Rayment 04:49, 12 November 2007 (EST)
If you're seriously contending that snakes are physically and mentally capable of verbal communication, I don't think we can really continue this conversation. Underscoreb 16:38, 12 November 2007 (EST)
No, I'm not contending that, because the Bible doesn't contend that, so your response indicates to me that you have a poor idea of what the Bible that you reject the historicity of actually says.
The Bible indicates that a serpent was used by Satan to deceive Eve. There is nothing there to indicate that snakes are normally capable of talking. You suggesting that I am contending that snakes are capable of talking is like suggesting that I contend that ventriloquists dummies "are physically and mentally capable of verbal communication". Of course they aren't, but that doesn't mean that they've never "spoken" to anybody.
Philip J. Rayment 20:28, 12 November 2007 (EST)
I don't know what version you're reading, Philip, but the KJV seems to say it pretty clearly:

Now the serpent was more subtil [sic] than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?

And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

Either the serpent is a metaphor (read: allegory) or we really did have talking snakes offering dietary advice to nudists. Or perhaps they were telepathic? ;D Underscoreb 00:04, 13 November 2007 (EST)
Revelation has a couple of references to Satan being known as the serpent, and it has long been the understanding of Christianity that the serpent was Satan or that Satan was speaking through or possessing the serpent, but even ignoring that, there is nothing in the passage you quoted to indicate that more than one snake was involved or that this was normal for snakes. You referred to "talking snakes", whereas the passage only refers to one, and the passage says nothing about "snakes [being] physically and mentally capable of verbal communication".
If I said that a ventriloquist's dummy told me that I needed to eat more fruit, would you assume that I'm implicitly claiming that a ventriloquist's dummy is "physically and mentally capable of verbal communication"?
I believe that the creation account in Genesis is literally true. However, I'm not a hyperliteralist, and recognise that the Bible does employ metaphor, parable, etc., but that it is possible to determine from the language and context when these are employed. The Bible says that a serpent spoke to Eve, but it doesn't say anything about snakes in general being capable of speech. That is you and other bibliosceptics reading into it what you want to read into it.
Philip J. Rayment 05:48, 13 November 2007 (EST)
Fair enough. But if you're willing to acknowledge the existence of metaphor in the Bible, what clearer context could there be than a snake "speaking" to the world's first woman about a miraculous tree that bestows a moral compass? If the serpent was merely a figure of speech, then it's equally plausible that so was Eve/the garden/the six days of creation. The only possible literal interpretations are that either snakes/ a snake can speak when influenced by demonic possession, or that the ultimate manifestation of evil chose to disguise itself as a snake and gave himself vocal cords. With all due respect, Philip, both notions are absurd and beyond rational debate. Underscoreb 15:46, 13 November 2007 (EST)

(unindent) Whilst I accept that there is metaphor in the Bible, I didn't say that I believe that the talking snake was a metaphor or a figure of speech. I don't.

Plenty of things could be more clearly metaphor than a snake speaking. Elsewhere in the Bible there is a metaphorical reference to trees clapping their hands. But if that reference said that when the trees clapped, a bird got caught between their hands and was squashed, we would not be justified in putting clapping trees down to metaphor. In Genesis, the talking snake said specific words and actually had a conversation with Eve, and she acted on that conversation. This context indicates that the story is not metaphorical, but literal.

Why are both notions absurd? You've provided no reasons at all; simply declared them to be so. I guess you are right though—there's going to be no rational debate if you simply declare things to be so.

Philip J. Rayment 21:28, 13 November 2007 (EST)

I'm saying the notion of a talking snake is absurd because there is no suggestion of it anywhere in the realm of empirical knowledge. I guess what I'm also saying is that I have no problems with you believing this stuff if it gets you through the night, but your arguments here are intellectually dishonest. Underscoreb 22:01, 13 November 2007 (EST)
If by "empirical knowledge", you mean things that you have personally observed, then I suppose that you think that you are communicating with something absurd, because you have not personally observed me.
If, on the other hand, you will allow your "empirical knowledge" to stretch to what others have observed and recorded, then the talking snake is not absurd, because it was recorded in the Bible by someone who observed it.
So just how do you define "empirical knowledge"?
Furthermore, the claim is of a one-off situation with a supernatural basis, for which nobody today could expect to have empirical knowledge, so you're asking a bit much.
How are my arguments intellectually dishonest? That appears to be an abusive ad-hominem argument, which is hardly the tactic of somebody with a valid argument.
Philip J. Rayment 03:36, 14 November 2007 (EST)
It's not ad-hominem, Philip, simply an evaluation of your rationale. I'm saying that I haven't observed a talking snake, you haven't observed a talking snake, and there is no corroborating evidence or record outside the Bible to indicate that this ever took place. So by saying that it really happened because it was written in the Bible, its veracity depends on the claim it's trying to support (that the Bible is infallible). It's a return to circular logic.
Underscoreb 15:28, 15 November 2007 (EST)
The problem with that is that nobody is using the talking snake as evidence that the Bible is infallible, so there is no circle to the argument. If that's the basis for your comment about my intellectual dishonesty, then your evaluation is baseless. Philip J. Rayment 21:02, 15 November 2007 (EST)
That's exactly how we got here, Philip. You asked me for a clear indication of allegory in Genesis, I cited the talking snake, and you insisted that there was no reason why it couldn't have really happened. I'm getting tired of running in circles, Philip. Every time I leave a comment here, I first re-read the thread in full to ensure my statements are consistent and credible. I'd appreciate it if you did the same. Now, shall we start again with rational discourse or fall to bickering? :-D Underscoreb 22:19, 15 November 2007 (EST)
I don't reread it unless I think I need to, and your last message doesn't give me any reason to think that I should have reread it this time. Yes, I disputed that it was allegory, arguing that it was literally correct, but I didn't claim that it therefore proved the Bible to be correct. Rather, my arguments are aimed at refuting your attempt to prove the Bible to be not literally correct rather than trying to prove the Bible to be literally correct. That is, you are saying "the Bible is not literally correct, for reason A". I'm not saying, "Reason A is wrong so the Bible is literally correct". Rather, I'm saying, "Reason A is wrong, so you have failed to show that the Bible is not literally correct". Philip J. Rayment 01:00, 16 November 2007 (EST)
But you are telling me that you have reason to believe a snake once spoke to a human being? The emphasis here being on 'reason'... Underscoreb 16:13, 18 November 2007 (EST)
Yes, my reason is that it is recorded in a historical document that I consider to be reliable and accurate.
Now let's go back a bit. Correct me if I'm wrong, but you consider it allegorical simply because you don't believe that it's literally true, not because of anything in the language that would suggest allegory. And you believe that it's not literally true because neither you nor I have seen a talking snake and there's no other corroborating evidence.
Yet you believe that the book of Leviticus is the most historical in the Bible, despite it mostly comprising laws, not history, and despite neither you nor I witnessing any of it, and despite, for the most part at least, there being no corroborating evidence for it.
Does that seem a bit inconsistent? Or is there a distinction here that I'm missing?
Philip J. Rayment 20:31, 18 November 2007 (EST)
That's a fair observation, but I didn't mean history in the sense of narrative. I consider Leviticus to be an accurate record of contemporary Israelite society, in line with Wellhausen's Documentary Hypothesis. Many of the practices it outlines appear to have been common to other cultures at the time (such as the taking of slaves as wives), and obviously many aspects have persisted in Orthodox Jewish culture today. But part of the reason is that it wasn't written as a history. It doesn't try to explain how the laws were given, only what the laws are.
That's where so much of the Bible leaves me sceptical - the Old Testament particularly is full of remarkable assertions that have no backing anywhere else in gentile chronologies. Take for instance the Exodus - don't you find it remarkable that a whole subjugated race could up and leave Egypt overnight, without any mention in their masters' records? Or for that matter, the plagues that swept the nation and killed the firstborn? If we can't even find corroborating evidence for major historical events like that, what credence should we give to something that supposedly preceded written language and defies all human experience? Underscoreb 22:50, 18 November 2007 (EST)

(unindent) Now here's another can of worms!

Fair enough, you have explained the distinction, which shows that my example of Leviticus was not a very good one. My point was that I'm sure that there's other examples of historical events which neither you nor I have seen (of course, using that as a criterion for an ancient historical event is silly anyway—you couldn't expect either of us to have seen it), and for which there is no other corroborating evidence, but which you accept anyway. Perhaps some event in ancient Roman or Egyptian history?

The Documentary Hypothesis has been long discredited.

Actually, Egyptian records do include accounts that match the Biblical accounts of the Israelites in Egypt. The problem is that most (not all) Egyptologists use a chronology that doesn't match the Biblical chronology, so are looking for the events in the wrong part (wrong time) of Egyptian history.

And there's lots of other Biblical accounts that are corroborated elsewhere. Even mentions of the snake. I seem to recall an Aboriginal creation story involving a snake, and an ancient Chinese character that included a snake in a reference to creation. See Great Flood for some examples of corroborating evidence related to the flood account.

Philip J. Rayment 01:10, 19 November 2007 (EST)

Actually, I tend to be pretty sceptical of received wisdom. If we want to look at Classical history, for instance, I have great reservations about Homer's account of the Trojan War. On the other hand, something like Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War can be independently verified by the writings of Herodotus. And of course, we must consider the source - its context and potential bias. Like many of the historians I admire, I am wary of declaring any source a 'definitive version'.
I realise the Documentary Hypothesis is no longer in vogue, but I believe there's nonetheless some substance to its claims. In any case, there is still common consensus that Leviticus originated from a priestly source and/or successive revisions by members of the priesthood. But we're getting off-track here.
As regards Egyptian accounts of the Exodus, would you mind referencing them for me? I know the creation stories you're referring to, but it's probably best if you can reference them for me as well. Although... the thought just occurred to me that the Aboriginal story involves a Rainbow Snake as the Creator and a Wagyl which created the valleys and rivers. That's quite a different role from the deceiver in Genesis. If Genesis is literal truth, then the Dreamtime myths contradict it and cannot be used as evidence. If you could find me a non-Biblical Creation myth in which a man and woman are created in a garden and tricked by a talking snake into eating from a tree that makes them mortal, well, then you'd have a case... Underscoreb 15:31, 20 November 2007 (EST)
You've shifted the goalposts, it seems. You apparently reject that the talking snake is literal because of no corroborative evidence, but with other ancient history you are merely sceptical. To be consistent, why not reject them also?
For Egyptian records of the Israelites, see here.
If the biblical history is true, then all people, including Chinese, Australian Aboriginal, etc. are descended from Adam and Eve, and also from Noah and his family. We would therefore expect that all these present-day people could potentially have historical accounts of creation, the flood, etc. Of course, some groups would have failed to pass down the history, and with many others it would have been corrupted along the way. So we should not expect all the extant accounts to agree on every detail, let alone have all the same details. Also, none of this means that these peoples would not have other stories with no historical basis.
So the question really is, does a given creation (etc.) story represent a corrupted version of the real history, or complete fiction? Assuming the biblical history is true, stories that bear no resemblance to it can be considered fiction and do not detract from the biblical account, whereas stories that bear more than a superficial or passing resemblance can be considered corroborative.
There is no single aboriginal creation account. There are many different aboriginal tribes, and there are a number of different stories. Some bear little or no resemblance to biblical accounts, but others bear remarkable similarities. You have asked for a story that has about five points of similarity with the biblical account (1. man and woman created; 2. in a garden; 3. tricked by a talking snake; 4. into eating from a tree; 5. that makes them mortal). I don't know of a story that has those five points, but there are a number of stories that have about five or more points. For example, one here has about seven points: 1. man made by god (Baiame), 2. man and woman put into an ideal location; 3. they could eat everything; 4. except from one tree which was off-limits; 5. evil would result if they did; 6. the evil would affect their descendants also; 7. the woman ate from the tree. Of course there are points that differ, but the number of similarities speak of a corrupted account of the true (biblical) history.
Philip J. Rayment 20:59, 20 November 2007 (EST)
I am certainly not shifting the goalposts, Philip. I am sceptical of uncorroborated historical narratives, but I am even more sceptical of uncorroborated historical narratives that defy the laws of physics. That's why I don't believe the Aboriginal story, either. Surely you can see where I'm coming from.
Your reference is intriguing, and I'll be sure to look into it later.
But "assuming the biblical history is true" - Do you see what you're doing here? You are asssuming it is true, when we're supposed to be objectively testing its truth. If other creation stories are given weight, but interpreted as 'corrupted', who's to say that the Biblical version isn't corrupted? If you're saying there is reason to believe Genesis is a complete and factually accurate account of events, you're going to need sources that verify that exactly.Underscoreb 21:23, 20 November 2007 (EST)
It is a shift of the goalposts, because until now you hadn't mentioned anything about the laws of physics.
But now that you have raised that objection, I'm not actually sure that there's any evidence that any laws of physics were broken. If Satan possessed the snake, and it was Satan speaking, what laws of physics were broken?
I was assuming that the biblical history is true for the sake of that particular argument. Whether or not it actually is true is a separate (albeit relevant and related) argument.
But how do you objectively test a historical event? Yes, you can see if others corroborate it, but lack of corroboration doesn't mean that it's false, although of course that doesn't mean it's true either.
The biblical account is far less likely to be corrupted than aboriginal accounts due to it being in writing, particularly given the extreme care that the Jews gave to accurately copying it.
What sort of sources are you referring to? I could quote plenty of people who agree that it's factually accurate, but I expect that you'd dismiss them for one reason or another. But there is plenty of evidence that the Bible as a whole (i.e. many individual details) is accurate, so it's reasonable to assume that if it's accurate on the details that can be checked, it's likely to be accurate on the details that can't be or can't yet be checked.
Philip J. Rayment 01:07, 21 November 2007 (EST)
I would have thought an empirical understanding of the universe was implicit in a rational debate. Laws of physics would have been broken, because snakes have no capacity for speech. I suppose I could have said laws of biology, but physics is a more accurate term. A snake's physical makeup simply cannot produce human vocalisations.
"Lack of corroboration doesn't mean that it's false, although of course that doesn't mean it's true either." This is called an argument from ignorance [1], and really has no place in our discussion.
You keep telling me there's "plenty of evidence" for the Bible's accuracy, and there may well be in terms of social hierarchy, customs and interactions with other nations. But the Bible is also full of extravagant claims that have no confirmation anywhere else - seas parting, staffs turning to snakes, pillars of fire and people turning to lumps of salt. So we have to employ reasonable doubt when the Bible's statements make no sense at an empirical level and have no independent verification.
I wonder whether we should simply agree to disagree, given that we apparently have very different ideas about what constitutes a 'reasonable expectation'. Underscoreb 15:56, 21 November 2007 (EST)
Perhaps I wasn't clear enough in my previous post. When I asked what laws of physics were broken if it was Satan speaking, I had in mind that he was not using the snakes vocal chords, but using whatever means he would normally use to speak. So if it was Satan speaking without using the snake's vocal chords, then what physical—or biological (that's a better claim)—laws were broken?
An argument from ignorance is to argue that something is, or is likely to be, the case despite a lack of evidence. I was not doing that, and my point that it "doesn't mean it's true either" was intended to make that very point. But to argue that something is not or is not likely the case because one has no evidence is no better, yet that is what you are doing.
What makes the "extravagant" claims extravagant? And how do they make no sense at an empirical level? As you seem to be getting frustrated with this, I'll cut to the chase and point out our different 'reasonable expectations'. (The talking snake is a little different to the sea parting, etc., but now that you've raised those examples, it's getting more to the point.)
You are working on an assumption that everything has to obey the laws of physics, and as things like seas parting appear to go against the laws of physics, you are judging the veracity of these accounts accordingly.
I, however, work on the assumption that God created those laws of physics, and He is therefore capable of overriding them when He chooses. I hasten to add, however, that by His nature, God does not capriciously change or tinker with those laws, yet may very occasionally override them.
So is it reasonable to accept that Moses was able to part the waters of the Red Sea by holding his staff out? No, it is not reasonable. But is it reasonable to accept that the omnipotent Creator God, who created the laws of physics and the water and the wind, etc., was able to part the waters of the Red Sea? Yes, that is entirely reasonable.
So I suggest that your rejection of the claims of the Bible is based on an a priori rejection of the existence and/or nature of God. Thus a rejection of the claims of the Bible is not based on reason and intelligence, but on belief and worldview.
Furthermore, if your rejection is of the existence of God, then your belief is contrary to evidence, such as the evidence that everything that began has a cause; the Christian says that the universe's cause was God, and the atheist says that the universe had no cause (or something that amounts to the same thing) contrary to the evidence. (And before you object, God had no beginning (He is eternal, outside of time) so needs no cause.) So the Christian view is more reasonable, rational, and logical.
Philip J. Rayment 21:21, 21 November 2007 (EST)
I am withdrawing from this discussion. Your statements may be internally consistent, but you have demonstrated to me that it is impossible to prove or even defend the existence of an interventionist god or the infallibity of the Bible in any meaningful rational context. Thankyou for your time, patience and persistence. Underscoreb 00:20, 22 November 2007 (EST)
Thanks for the civil debate.
"Your statements may be internally consistent...": Thanks. I think that reinforces the point I made in my last post, that there's nothing inherently irrational or illogical in believing the Bible to be accurate history. The problems only arise when one has a starting assumption that God, at least as described in the Bible, does not exist.
" have demonstrated to me that it is impossible to prove or even defend the existence of an interventionist god or the infallibity of the Bible in any meaningful rational context.": Not true. I was making a defensive argument against your claim that the biblical creation account is not literal history. Acknowledging that my statements are internally consistent is acknowledgement that the creation account cannot be shown to be allegory on the basis of the bible, as distinct from bringing in extra-biblical considerations, such as atheistic worldviews. And because I was making a defensive argument against your claim, I was not, for the most part at least, making an argument for the opposing claim that the account is historical. So to now claim that I failed in that is unfair, because I did not attempt that.
But even though I sometimes do argue that one can "prove" the biblical view (depending on what one accepts as "proof"), at another level the whole point is that, as we are discussing unique (one-off) past events, that are therefore inherently not amenable to empirical investigation, one cannot expect anyone to "prove" the the account. However, I am fully convinced that if one looks at the available evidence with an open mind, one can make a very good defence of the biblical account and the existence of God.
Philip J. Rayment 03:42, 22 November 2007 (EST)

But What is really important here?

Rather then all this constant bickering between Super-SCIENCE-Athiests, and Young-Earth Creationists, we have to realise the MAIN duty as Christians. To tell others that they are evil sinners, that Jesus suffered, died, suffered Hell's fires, and ROSE AGAIN, for their sins. That is the Great Commission. For Young-Earth Creationists, their belief in a 6,000 year old earth, is just another way of showing their faith, in an ALL POWERFUL God. Everything else is trivial. Souls are important thing. --User:Capercorn Talk contribs 09:23, 11 November 2007 (EST)

What is really important is what God says. If God says that He created the world in six days, and we choose to disbelieve that, we are rejecting what God has plainly said. It is important to believe what He has said. Nothing undermines our witnessing to unbelievers more than to show that we do not ourselves believe what God has plainly said. As Jesus Himself said, "If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you don’t believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?" (John 5:46–47) And in John 3:12: "I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?" If we don't believe what Moses wrote about Earth's history, how can we expect people to believe what Jesus says about Him being able to save us from our sins?
Furthermore, what is sin? Where do you find the Bible explaining what sin is? In Genesis! If we allegorise that, we have allegorised sin, so that leaves Jesus to save us from an allegory!?
Yes, saving souls is the goal. The method, used by Paul when speaking to non-Jews, i.e. those who did not already have Genesis, was to start at the beginning and tell them who God was and where they came from: God was the Creator who made man. You don't start a story half-way through. You start it at the beginning, explaining creation. New Tribes Mission, for one, has had great success in teaching the Gospel starting at Genesis. Creationists have had great success in reaching people who think that science has proven the Bible wrong, by showing that it is the atheistic origins myth (evolution, the Big Bang, etc.) that is wrong, not the Bible.
Philip J. Rayment 09:58, 11 November 2007 (EST)

Science has supposedly disproved creation in six days, but it does not disprove the concept of God. The scientific account of creation actually supports the idea of a creator. Rather than a universe which is static, evidence points to a creation event, the big bang, indicating a birth to the universe.

The Genesis version of creation was written for the Hebrews. I read the 7-day creation account simply as a way to illustrate the Sabbath rest. I think an important distinction needs to be made with the Old Testament as it says in the New Testament it the old covenant is obsolete. The New Testament is written for us and this should be the foundation of our belief.

—The preceding unsigned comment was added by AdamB (talk)

I totally reject that science has disproved creation in six days [the word "supposedly" was added later]. Perhaps you could explain to me how it has done this?
I agree that the scientific account of creation supports a creator—that's what creation science is all about!
Although the Big Bang theory does propose a beginning, it does not propose that the universe was created by God. It proposes that nothing became something for no reason.
God said to work for six days and rest on the seventh because he took six days to create and rested on the seventh. So what does that mean if He didn't actually take six days?
The New Testament did make the old covenant obsolete. That doesn't change the history of the Old Testament.
If you think that the New Testament should be the foundation of our belief, why is it that Jesus founded so much of what He said on the Old Testament? Including endorsing the creation account?
Philip J. Rayment 08:47, 13 November 2007 (EST)

You make some great points, but couldn't Genesis 1 be read as six periods, or creation steps instead of six literal days? Regards, Adam

No, it can't be.
  1. "Day" is defined as comprising an evening and a morning (i.e. an Earth rotation) (as well as a second definition of the daylight portion of a day).
  2. Each reference to the six days again references the evening and morning.
  3. The Hebrew word for "day" (yom), just like its English equivalent, never means anything other than a normal day when used with a number ("second day", "third day", "six days", etc.).
  4. Jesus said that man was made male and female at the beginning of creation. If the days were long periods of time, man would have been created very late. Imagine a line representing a timescale of 14 billion years, and imagine where humans appeared on that timescale. It would be indistinguishable from the end of the line.
  5. Making the days long periods of time would mean that plants (including fruit trees) survived for millions of years (if a day equals millions of years) without other life, including presumably bees to pollinate them. Surviving two 24-hour days, on the other hand, is no problem.
  6. Adam was created on day 6 and lived through at least day 7. How long could day 7 have been?
These are just the reasons I can think of off the top of my head.
Philip J. Rayment 20:47, 14 November 2007 (EST)
But here is my arguement, is belief in Biblical Inerancy necessary for salvation? If so, prove it to me with scripture --User:Capercorn Talk contribs 13:55, 21 November 2007 (EST)
No, belief in biblical inerrancy is not a requirement of salvation. Just as a virus checker is not a requirement of a computer connected to the Internet. But in both cases, they won't perform anywhere near as well. Just as computers can be "destroyed" by a virus, a belief in evolution has destroyed the faith of many people. Just as the purpose of a computer might be to communicate with others, not destroy viruses, the aim of a Christian is to witness to others, not to argue about creation. But just as destroying viruses is vital to achieving the purpose of communicating with others, demolishing anti-God arguments is vital in witnessing to others. As Paul said, ‘We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ’ (2 Corinthians 10:5). Philip J. Rayment 21:35, 21 November 2007 (EST)

Should we still believe it?

Face it, the story was written thousands of years ago. Back in those days people believed in the Greek and Roman gods and other strange now disproved things. So, should we take it word for word or as just what people believed back in those days. In fact is it even important knowing the specifics; God made the earth, that is all that is important. --Ih8stuff 06:37, 20 February 2008 (EST)

Yes, the story was written thousands of years ago. That is, much closer to the time it happened (or when it happened), so would be more likely accurate than one written today. Even today, people believe in strange and disproved things, such as astrology, mediums, and the like. So, should we take evolution word for word what people say today or as just what people believe today? If the fact that God made the Earth is the only thing that is important, why did He include all the rest? Philip J. Rayment 06:59, 20 February 2008 (EST)

Faith in Christ Versus Faith In The Bible

As a Christian, I accept that Christ is the Son of God. I am and have always been concerned by the Biblical Literalism movement; in my opinion, proponents of this belief frequently elevate the Bible itself to an object of worship, which smacks uncomfortably of idolatry to me. Christ said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." He did not say "The Bible is the Way, the Truth, and the Life."

Whence comes the notion that everything in the Bible should be and must be read literally? We know that Christ taught through parables--parables that were NOT to be taken literally, but were instead to be taken as lessons for how His followers should live their own lives. Why would He adopt that method of teaching in His incarnation among us, but eschew it when revealing His Word to the prophets?

Moreover, there is the question of which Bible is infallible and literal truth. It is undeniable fact that the Bible has been copied, translated and revised many times in the past two millennia. Typically, such translations and revisions were undertaken by rulers with secular agendas to push. Now: if we accept that the Bible is the whole and complete Word of God, then any alteration must perforce make it other than complete. We must then ask which version is the true and unadulterated version. Is it the original texts of the original books of the Old and New Testament? If so, then we must acknowledge that there have been many changes; a little casual scholarship (or even a simple comparison with the Torah) reveals that. Is the whole and complete Word of God the modern King James Bible? In that case, we must question why He allowed His Word to remain flawed and incomplete for well over a thousand years.

The argument that the changes are only superficial, and don't represent a real change in the Word, simply don't hold water; again, study of Bible history will reveal that some of these changes were extremely significant. Up through relatively recent times, the Apocrypha still appeared in many Bibles; many Christians today are unaware that these texts even exist.

Further, there is the issue of selectivity. The majority of Christians who adhere to the notion that the Bible is the complete, literal, and immutable Word of God don't actually practice what they preach. They do not follow the Old Testament laws concerning foods, clothing, hair, and the disposal of wastes, just as an example. The standard defense for this is that these laws were rendered null and void by the New Covenant; however, I have yet to find any Bible passage that actually contains such a revocation. If the authority on which Bible adjurations are still valid and which are not does not, in fact, come from the Bible, then it comes from man--and is therefore not infallible.

For these reasons, and not without considerable soul-searching and earnest prayer, I find myself unable to accept the notion of Biblical literalism. The Bible is a good and holy book; it is, in fact, THE holy book. It contains the most profound wisdom ever set down in writing. What it is not, as far as I'm concerned, is a roadmap to Heaven. It is, instead, a map to the beginning of a road. That road is a rocky, steep, and narrow one. It's very hard to walk. It ends in a hill called Golgotha. However, Christ has made us a promise: He will walk that road with us...every step of the way.

BenP 08:47, 28 April 2008 (EST)

There's a big difference between worshipping the Bible and treating it as inerrant. There's also a significant difference between reading the Bible literally and reading it plainly, or reading it the way it was meant to be understood. Strict literalism would read the parables, metaphors, figures of speech, etc. as literal, but most Christians don't do that, instead reading them the way they were meant: as parables, metaphors, etc. But a fair bit of the Bible is history, and this was meant to be read as history, which means that it is not metaphor, etc., but actual history. This includes, for example, the creation account.
Jesus did, in effect, say that the Bible was the truth. He, along with other biblical writers, quoted from it as authoritative. See here for more.
"It is undeniable fact that the Bible has been copied, translated and revised many times in the past two millennia.": No, it's not undeniable. I deny it, for starters. Okay, I better qualify that. Yes, it has been copied many times. But when the Jews copied it (the Old Testament) they did so with an overriding desire to ensure that it was accurate, employing various methods to guarantee it's accuracy, such as counting the number of words on a line, lines, on a page, etc., and comparing those figures with previous tallies. And we have an enormous number of manuscripts of various parts of the Bible (both Old and New Testaments) which show very little in the way of changes.
Yes, it has been translated many times, but unlike bibliosceptic charges that I've often heard and as your statement might infer, this is not a series of translations, but numerous "original" translations. That is, most modern English translations have been made from the original languages, not from translations of translations of translations, etc. So that being the case, your comment about it having been "translated ... many times" seems rather pointless.
No, it has not been "revised many times". Apart from being translated into English, the Bibles we have today are as close as we can make them the originals.
Those that believe in inerrancy generally believe that inerrancy applies to the originals, not to copies or translations, despite how close the latter are to the originals.
The changes due to copying and translation are only superficial. The Apocrypha is a separate issue.
Believing the Bible to be inerrant and not following Old Testament regulations does not mean that we don't practice what we preach. As you mention being aware of, the punishments and rituals given to the Israelites in Old Testament times are not applicable to Christians. Do you believe in the Trinity? That's not explicitly mentioned either, but it's clear from a careful reading of the Bible. Similarly, that Old Testament regulations don't apply is also clear from a careful reading and understanding.
By not accepting biblical infallibility, you make yourself the judge of which parts are true and which are not. That road is a steep, downhill, dangerous, road.
Philip J. Rayment 06:33, 29 April 2008 (EDT)
The problem I see is that even those who claim to subscribe to the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy engage in acts of judgement and evaluation. I honestly don't believe it's possible to read the Bible without doing so.
Consider, for example, your assertion that the triune nature of God is clear "from a careful reading of the Bible." It wasn't so clear to many of the early scholars of the Church; as I'm sure you know, the debate over the nature of God, and over whether Christ was mortal man, was quite involved. While we may conclude that the scholars who could not reconcile themselves to the notion of the Trinity were mistaken, I think it would be unfair to suggest that they were mistaken based on a less-than-careful reading of the Scriptures.
Likewise, the notion that it is evident from a careful reading of the Bible that the old covenant no longer applies is, I think, unfair. It is not evident to Messianic Jews, for example; nor do I think that the assumption can be made that no practitioners of Messianic Judaism have carefully read the Scriptures. Certainly, there are passages in the New Testament which can be read as indicating that the old law was fulfilled, and thus no longer in effect, but this is by definition interpretation. Mark 7:18, for instance, can be read as a declaration that all foods are now clean (though I will note that not all translations make that clear.) However, the passage taken in context discusses the practice of washing hands before a meal.
There is also considerable evidence in the New Testament which would indicate the converse: that the old laws ARE still in least some of them, if not all. Christ did, after all, say that not one jot or tittle would pass from the law until all was fulfilled. There is also the matter of Acts 15, wherein it is affirmed (by James, I believe, though I could be mistaken) that certain of the prohibitions on food apply to Gentiles coming to God--no blood, no animals that have been strangled, and so forth--but that these have been kept minimal in an effort to make the transition easier.
My point in all of this is simply to demonstrate that it is possible to read the Bible carefully and mindfully and still reach interpretations that are different from those reached by other, equally careful and mindful readers. All readers, I would argue, engage in such judgement. I think it is also important to remember that the vast majority of them are engaging in such judgement based on modern texts--not on familiarity with the autographic manuscripts, or even with, for instance, Textus Receptus.

Thus, the question remains: how do we determine with absolute certainty the intent of the original authors of the Scriptures, with respect to which sections were meant as factual history and which were meant as allegory? How can we be certain that, in making such judgements, we are not engaging in precisely the sort of selective analysis which you identify as perilous?
Please understand: my skepticism is not entered into lightly. While I would never pretend to be a scholar of Scripture on a par with those who have debated these issues since the founding of the Church, I do base my beliefs and my understanding upon the most careful and thorough reading of which I am capable. In this, I confess to being at something of a handicap, as I am not a student of ancient languages (though an extremely patient friend who happens to be a rabbi is laboring with remarkable patience to teach me some Hebrew in our limited free time.) Ultimately, I can only work within my understanding, and hope through prayer and effort to come to a more complete understanding in time.
(As a side note, I would like to thank you for not taking me to issue for improperly conflating the concepts of Biblical literalism and inerrancy. I recognize that these are distinct, though related, concepts, and it was inexcusably sloppy writing and thinking on my part not to differentiate between them.)
Respectfully yours in Christ,
BenP 05:14, 29 April 2008
I said that by not accepting biblical infallibility, you make yourself the judge of which parts are true and which are not. Judging which were applicable for the Jews and which are still applicable now is a different thing altogether. For example, rejecting the historicity of the creation and flood accounts often leads to rejecting other "unscientific" historical accounts, such as the virgin birth or Jesus rising from the dead (neither of which are "scientifically possible"). Judging whether or not to continue practising circumcision is not quite in the same league.
Messianic Jews likely still practice circumcision, but don't practice animal sacrifices. So even they recognise that the old covenant no longer applies.
Certainly there are parts where different people can come to different interpretations, but there are also parts where the teaching is sufficiently clear. Sure, there are parts where it is not crystal clear, and there have therefore been small groups that have had different views, but there will always be those who disagree for some reason, and we shouldn't allow people who prefer their own opinions over clear teaching to cause us to think that it's not really that clear. For example, as mentioned above, there are those who call themselves Christian who don't actually believe that Jesus rose from the dead.
I don't think it's true to say that the vast majority are relying on modern translations. Most probably rely on what their Minister preaches, and he is relying on what the leading commentators say, and they have studied the text in the original languages.
How do we determine with absolute certainty? Well, for a start, it depends on what you mean by "absolute certainty". Are you absolutely certain that your parents named you Ben? Perhaps the nurse wrote it down wrong, and your parents decided to stick with it? The point is that we can be sufficiently certain of many things, but if you are inclined to not believe, perhaps one can't be absolutely certain. But to be realistic, as opposed to absolutely certain, then yes, we can be sure, in the vast majority of cases at least, what the authors meant. See for example in biblical creation account, the sections titled "Length of the days" and "Narrative or poetry?".
Philip J. Rayment 07:53, 30 April 2008 (EDT)
...then, really, we're talking about different things here. It seems as if we agree on most points. We accept the truth (that should really probably be Truth) of the Bible; we both accept that certain portions of that Truth are literal and certain portions are allegory. We simply disagree as to the specifics of which is which.
I really don't think that you can characterize those with different interpretations as "small groups." Going back to the Apocrypha (and, yes, I realize that you consider them a distinct issue, but I think the issue of whether a given book is Scripture inspired by God and useful for training in righteousness is a pretty significant judgement call) consider the fact that the Roman Catholic canon embraces several books not considered canon by most Protestant denominations. No matter how you slice it, that's an interpretation which has led to a large group of people either wrongly embracing what should not be part of the canon, or wrongly excluding what should be part of the canon.
We can argue about whether practicing circumcision is in the "same league" as rejecting the Immaculate Conception or the Virgin Birth, but personally, I'd really rather not go down that road. I don't know how much weight God puts on one of His commandments over another. The consumption of shellfish doesn't seem like a particularly big deal to me, but it's referred to as an abomination in Leviticus, and that's pretty strong language.
Your points above really highlight what I've been saying: nobody (at least to my knowledge) reads all of the injunctions in the Bible with the same weight. A literal reading of the Bible would tend to lead one to believe that the dome of the firmament is solid, and that (as it says in Genesis) it separates "the waters above" from "the waters below." This is by no means an interpretation limited to those who lack understanding of the Bible; St. Augustine and Martin Luther, for instance, explicitly ascribed to the notion of an impenetrable and solid firmament holding back the waters above.
Despite this, very few prominent voices today in the Christian community continue to support the notion of a solid firmament. Most seem to accept modern astronomy as factual. What we have, therefore, is a situation where something that was clearly and evidently literal truth to some of the greatest minds in the history of Christianity is no longer clearly and evidently literal truth to many Christians today.
What are we to make of this? Is it that those who reject the solid firmament as literal truth are misguided? Or that even those who earnestly and painstakingly seek to know what is literal and what is allegorical in the Bible may, at times, be mistaken?
For that same reason, I have always been leery of relying too heavily on "what the leading commentators say." The Pharisees were the leading commentators of their day; we know what Christ had to say about their leadership, and about what happened to those who chose to follow their commentary.
BenP 19:36, 30 April 2008 (EDT)
The reason that believing the virgin birth and practising circumcision are not in the same league is that one is a (claimed) historical fact and the other is a practice that is commanded. They are totally different things. The virgin birth is not a commandment.
It's not a "literal" reading that would lead one to read that the "firmament" was solid. Rather, it's reading it in an older translation, such as the Authorised version, or one based on that, that mistranslated the Hebrew word[2]. The Hebrew word means "expanse", which is what most modern versions render it as. Believing it to not be solid has nothing to do with modern astronomy.
I agree about not relying "too heavily" on what the commentators say, and I was not suggesting that one do that. I was merely pointing out that, indirectly, this is what most probably do, rather than relying solely on their own reading of modern text.
By the way, I was sent this article the other day, and it directly addresses your question about the status of the Old Testament laws.
Philip J. Rayment 07:19, 1 May 2008 (EDT)
Hmm. Well, I could suggest that God's commandments should be given at least as much weight as claimed fact, but then you'd probably (and rightly) point out that that's placing works before faith--so I'll concede the point.
The mistranslation issue you raise, it seems to me, perfectly illustrates the point of concern I originally voiced. If one mistranslated word can lead the greatest religious thinkers of their time to a significantly incorrect conclusion about the nature of the universe, then doesn't that argue that issues of translation aren't trivial? I'm willing to concede the point that modern translations reflect the best efforts of the best scholars available to return to the intended sense of the original texts, but let's bear in mind that "best efforts" doesn't necessarily equal "perfect efforts." It's difficult to be certain that you've captured the sense of the autographic texts when, in many cases, the autographic texts simply aren't available.
Ultimately, there's my sticking point. I'm just not convinced that post-Textus eclecticism has resulted in an edition totally free of potential "firmament/expanse" issues. Consequently, I cannot claim with confidence that I know which portions of the Bible reflect literal truth and which reflect allegorical truth. Nor, ultimately, am I certain that I need to. The Bible makes it clear that no man can know the mind of the Almighty; faith, at its heart, is not about knowledge and proof, but about trust.
Thank you for the link to the article; it's fascinating reading. One interesting point of note is the assertion that the Ten Commandments are no longer in force--and yet the Ten Commandments continue to hold a central position in many churches (and in many of the debates on religion currently being fought in this country.) I'd be curious to know your opinion on the issue.
BenP 17:21, 1 May 2008 (EDT)
It's not the weight, it's the different types of things. Commandments can be changed. History cannot.
I never said that translation issues are trivial, and what I did say about translations was to do with modern translations. But even so, a mistranslation on this point may indeed have misled some, but this is hardly a major doctrinal point. Luther seems to have mentioned it almost in passing, and Augustine with not much more importance, from what I can determine from a Google search.
I'm not claiming that modern translations are error-free, but just because there is some small scope for errors does not mean that one can almost-arbitrarily dismiss clear teaching in order to accommodate secular thinking. True, no man can know the mind of God, but the very fact that God has given us a lot of information about Him shows that He knows we are capable of knowing that much about Him.
When I was growing up, I think that I believed that Ten Commandments had to be followed. But over the years I came to realise that Christians are not under the law, and that applies even with the Ten Commandment. However, even though Christians are not under the law, one of the several reasons for the law was to keep us within what could be called our "design parameters". So, for example, Christians don't have to observe every Saturday as the Sabbath (or even every Sunday), but we were not designed for continuous work; we were designed in such a way that we need to rest periodically, such as one day out of seven. So even though we are not obliged to observe the sabbath, it is still prudent to do so, or at least something equivalent (e.g. ministers work on the Sunday but take Monday or another day off instead). So the Ten Commandments in particular are still a useful guide to good practice, even though we are no longer required to observe them.
Philip J. Rayment 07:35, 2 May 2008 (EDT)
I'm not entirely sure I'm convinced of the validity of your first claim. If God exists outside time, then He can, in fact, change history; He is not bound by the linear progression of events. We would, however, likely be unaware of His alterations, as those of us bound by a linear perception of time would simply believe that history had always been that way (indeed, for us, it would be true.)
It's entirely possible that God is constantly changing history, and that we remain utterly unaware of it. Whether he would do so is another matter entirely; Descartes and his adherents, just for instance, would likely argue against such a notion. Ultimately, since there's no way of knowing, the best course of action is to accept Occam's Razor and assume that the history with which we're familiar is true and stable.
I'm honestly also not convinced that the age of the earth is more of a major doctrinal point than the nature of division between the heavens and the earth. I think it has been conflated with major doctrinal points--most specifically, Original Sin--but is not one and the same. It is possible to read the creation account as allegorical and still accept the doctrine of Original Sin.
Google is an appallingly poor resource for serious historical scholarship, sadly. Perhaps one day that will change. The majority of my library is still in boxes in the basement until I can get the new shelves put up in the study, but I'll see if I can find some solid sources to recommend with respect to the whole firmament issue; I know I have a good translation of Luther somewhere, though I don't believe I have a similarly-solid source for Augustine.
The Ten Commandments issue is interesting, and I wonder if it wouldn't be worth creating a distinct topic dedicated to it. Several questions present themselves: if the Commandments aren't part of the new covenant, do Christian efforts to create monuments to them constitute idolatry? On the other hand, if it could be clearly established that the Ten Commandments are not part of modern Christian doctrine, then I think that would significantly alter the tenor of public debate over displays including them--they would thus be strictly historical, and a display dedicated to them would be no different in a legal sense than a display of the Justinian Code, or the Code of Hammurabi, or the Declaration of Independence.
BenP 15:21, 2 May 2008 (EDT)

If someone claims to be a christian but doubts the only source for such a belief what does that mean for their belief? It's too bad but it seems that many "Christians" really don't want to hold to the scripture that is the basis for Christianity. They would rather be able to pick and choose what things sound good to them not realizing they are undermining their very own "belief". I do not see how literal FAITH in Christ is possible if you do not have faith in the Bible. Yes you can believe some things the Bible says,a lot of people do, however if you dilute or disregard portions you don't like, the "faith" in Christ that is claimed is more than likely not the saving life changing faith the Bible speaks of but some man centered belief system that has no basis from scripture.

Literalness of the Scripture

So if I'm to understand what some here are arguing correctly, are we to assume that Noah literally looked into God's eye and found some big heap of grace? Quid

Huh? Philip J. Rayment 11:01, 13 June 2008 (EDT)

I watched a programme last night by Richard Dawkins, the prince of atheism, on his love of evolution, who basically pushed evolution as fact and proof that there is no God. Taking his personal beliefs as proven fact. Why is it that some scientists think that nothing is beyond them? If you say the theory of evolution is a proven fact doesnt all this just prove that the first chapters of Genesis are not strictly literal. Big deal, so what? Is doesnt dispove the existence of God. Is this important anyway? as long as you believe in God and in Jesus Christ. regards, Adam

Death before sin

If God created a world full of death, and called it good, how can we be sure there won't be death in Heaven?

Interesting question, but I don't think the one follows from the other. Plus, Jesus promised 'everlasting life', and it is hard to see how that would be reconciled with the presence of death.
Death as it is here on Earth is a physical process. Heaven is a place for spiritual beings (God, angels, human souls) which do not die. Also, be sure not to be confused by the terms "spiritual death" and "second death." They are not like physical death, where a body ceases living and eventually rots away. Spiritual death is separation from God, but the spirit goes on existing. The second death is condemnation to Hell where, again, the spirit goes on existing. Jinx McHue 10:07, 5 May 2009 (EDT)

My thoughts in favor of a literal reading

First, the parts of the Bible that are intended to be read allegorically rather than literally are clearly identified as prophetic visions, songs, or parables. The first Genesis creation account is not. This is evidence for a literal reading.

Second, Our Lord referred to the first Genesis creation account, treating it as literal history rather than allegory. Matthew 19:4 and Mark 10:6 clearly refer to Genesis 1:27 as literal truth. This is further evidence for a literal reading.

Third, where do we draw the line? I've read about magic-mushroom cultists who regarded the Gospels as allegories. If you say that the first Genesis creation account is an allegory, how do you explain to such people that the Gospels are not?

DavidE 12:09, 5 August 2011 (EDT)

Well put. To deny the Creation account as figurative is to ultimately trust man's wisdom and deny that the Bible is a preserved, infallible testimony given by God. It allows one to pick and choose from the Bible what they want to believe. But as Romans 3:4 says, "Let God be true and every man a liar".
Ultimately, it is not wrong to question Scripture, since Acts 17:11 calls noble those who questioned the Scriptures because they did so "with all readiness of mind... searching daily, whether those things were so." So long as we do so with an open mind and desire to find truth, looking honestly and diligently to give the Bible a fair chance to prove itself. As Jesus said, those who seek will find.
Personally, I think those who deny the Genesis accounts do so out of mistaken belief Evolution is true, not having looked into the matter fully for themselves. I think Macroevolution specifically is incompatible with Genesis 1, and is more speculative than its adherents would like others to believe. --Jzy 03:08, 4 June 2012 (EDT)
Hmm yes. I also want to add that when some people say the believe the Bible is correct in spiritual matters, but not on history and science, that is ridiculous since there would be no evidence then that the Bible was inspired. But since history and science support the Bible, we can be sure that the whole book is true and good. We can be sure of it in spiritual matters as well as historical and scientific matters. JasperTech 17:43, 17 March 2013 (EDT)