Fear Of Whales

Tales of a reluctant minister

Literal And Figurative

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I get asked often whether I believe Genesis to be “Literal” or “Figurative”

I usually say figurative. I’m a theistic evolutionist, I think the universe is about 4 and a half billion years old, and that life on earth was created gradually. I think the Origin stories in Genesis and John are both steeped in rich symbolic and mythic tradition and poetic language.

Most people who say that they believe genesis “literally” believe the world is 6 to 10 thousand years old, was created at the same time as the universe, and was inhabited by the first family a week later. So I wouldn’t want to be misleading or deceptive by implying that’s what I believe.

Still I don’t feel completely comfortable saying I believe Genesis only figuratively or symbolically. that word “only” looms large.

sometimes people might describe my understanding of creation as “just a symbol” which is patently untrue.

a symbol? Yes!

“Just a symbol”? Absolutely not!

This is probably a diffacult tension for you to understand if you are standing on the other side of the fence. So I have an example:

Isaiah 2:4 offers a familiar prophesy about the coming kingdom:

4And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.

Now my question is: Do you believe that literally or figuratively?

Well… Both! Right?

If you are like me then you believe that Jesus is real and he is really coming back and when he does there will literally be no more war and we won’t have any use for things like swords anymore!

But obviously we aren’t literally going to beat literal swords into literal plowshares. I mean… Come on… Jesus hasn’t come back yet and already we are not really using swords much. We’re not using plowshares either, we have big mechanical tractors, you can’t make those out of swords even if you wanted to.

There is not reason to make useless ancient tools for farming out of useless ancient tools for war. it isn’t going to happen. But that doesn’t mean we won’t make swords into plowshares, we just won’t do it literally. What we will actually do is turn Machine Guns into nail guns, and use nuclear bombs to power spaceships, and spread the gospel using a military technology known as the “internet”

Do you feel like that compromises the meaning of Isaiah?

I don’t

What would you say if you met someone who thinks that when Jesus comes back we’ll all have to take up blacksmithing so we can bang on swords until they become plows for some reason?

Would you think they have more or less trust for the scriptures than you do?

That’s also how a feel about Genesis. I think it’s rich and deep and awesome and exciting and it has some great symbols. And people point at me and say I’m watering it down, but I don’t feel like I’m compromising at all. I just feel like I’m reading the Bible as it’s written.


Written by RyanGaffney

June 25, 2011 at 6:32 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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