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Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Literal or Liberal: Our only choices for interpreting the Bible?

Beware. That first step on the slippery slope to Liberalism can be very dangerous. So goes the warning to Evangelicals trying to broaden their intellectual horizons. And compromising on a literal view of scripture is seen as the most dangerous step of all. So how can Evangelicals accept modern scientific theories of origins that seem to directly contradict the literal scriptural account of creation in Genesis? If we compromise on the literal interpretation of scripture, isn’t this a sell-out? Aren’t we left with relativistic hermeneutic rules that allow us to make the bible say anything we want? If it’s not a literal interpretation, isn’t it a liberal one? I believe this choice between a liberal and literal interpretation of scripture, like the choice between creation and evolution, is a false dichotomy. In the latter case we can accept both; in the former case we need choose neither.

Evangelicals have been at odds with liberal Protestantism since the 19th century when the Liberals, claim Evangelicals, “sold out” to biblical criticism. Liberals for the most part accepted modern biblical scholarship, including radical new understandings of the bible’s source, formation, and interpretation. Evangelicals strongly rejected both the conclusions and the evidence of this modern scholarship. In the 19th century this defense included the definition of the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. More recently the focus has been on the “literal” interpretation of scripture. Even though I disagree with the Evangelical tendency to reject the evidence of biblical criticism and modern biblical scholarship, and the movement's outright hostility to liberalism, I am unquestionably in the Evangelical camp on the place of the scriptures. I take a very high view of the bible and wholeheartedly acknowledge its divine inspiration. My concern is that in reacting to a Liberal interpretation of scripture Evangelicals have chosen a method (ie. Literal interpretation only) that may be just as theologically damaging (heretical?) as the Liberal method.

Not so Literally Literal

Though many Evangelicals claim that they hold a “literal” view of scripture, very few are uncompromising literalists. Very few still believe that the earth is a flat, immovable disk floating on the ocean, even though this is what the ancient Hebrews biblical writers believed and implied in scripture (See Psalm 93:1, Psalm 104, and 1Chr 16:30). Neither do we believe that the sky is a solid dome like structure, which is the logical conclusion based on a literal interpretation of the Old Testament. Almost everyone agrees that the earth revolves around the Sun, even though the ancient Hebrews thought the Sun moved across the sky and then raced back to east to start another day. (See Psalm 19:6 and Eccl 1:5). Very few Christians maintain that a literal interpretation of these passages is required. Young Earth Creationists do claim to interpret the bible literally, but they do so in a very liberal way. (One commentator described flat-earthers, geocentrists, and young-earthers as the conservative, moderate, and liberal factions within the biblical literalist camp).

Focus on Science and History

When someone declares that they interpret the Bible literally, they are generally referring to the science and the history in the bible. I think this betrays a modern bias, where historical and scientific facts are the highest form of truth. Modern western culture has elevated historical and scientific knowledge to the point where other forms of knowledge are deemed less important, and less reliable. But this is not the perspective of the bible. To the wise man or woman, it is the knowledge of God that is important.

The bible does contain history. It provides narrative accounts of real historical events that were part of God’s ongoing work with his people. In fact, recent biblical scholarship demonstrates that the bible faithfully represents ancient history as defined by the people of that time, and is not, as claimed by some biblical scholars, a much more recent historical fabrication. But we should be careful not to judge an ancient view of history by modern historiographical standards. The bible also contains a type of science since scripture describes how God’s creation worked. However, these scientific ideas are ancient, not modern. We may call these ideas outdated, or even wrong, but that does not compromise the authority of the scripture to speak in matters of faith or practice. The historic view of the church fathers (eg. Clement and Augustine) and reformers (eg. Calvin, Luther) was that God accommodates his message to humanity through the scriptures. That is, the bible is the revelation of an unlimited God accommodating himself to limited humanity using humanity’s limited language and ideas. The bible uses some of these scientific ideas to communicate God’s message, but it never tries to teach science.

Science and history may be contained in the scripture, but these are not the point of scripture. The purpose of the written Word is to reveal God’s message to humanity, and not to provide a complete history of the world. Its purpose is to reveal how God works in the lives of his people, and not how God’s creation works. I believe that by insisting that all scriptural narratives be interpreted “literally” we not only depart from the traditional view of the church fathers and protestant reformers, but we make the bible say things it was never intended to say. By focusing on the literal interpretation of scripture, we may be missing the meaning of God’s message, even as the Pharisees focus on the letter of the Law, missed its spirit by a very wide margin.

What’s really important?

The important difference between an Evangelical and Liberal understanding of scripture is not a literal versus non-literal interpretation, but rather in the area of revelation. While Evangelicals view scripture as God’s self-disclosure to man, Liberals view scripture as man’s search for God. Therefore, in a Liberal view, the bible is certainly a holy book. However, its source is not divine revelation, but man’s yearning for the divine. The focus then is on human experience throughout history, and the meaning achieved from human interaction with the divine or divine ideals. For an Evangelical, the focus of the bible is on God’s plan of redemption. Jesus death is the culmination of this plan, and his resurrection is the final victory over death. These historical events are the source of meaning for man; it is not man’s experience that gives meaning to the events. The Liberal focus on the human aspect of the bible to the exclusion of the divine, not only misses the point, but by removing the source of life, sucks the life out of the Living Word.

Scripture: Both Human and Divine

On the other hand, the Evangelical focus on the divine source of scripture can lead us to minimize or ignore the fact that the bible is also a very human book. It is God-breathed, not God dictated. Evangelicals have spent an enormous amount of energy trying to understand what divine authorship, inspiration, and guidance really mean, and the implications of this divine source. The simple fact remains that many different human authors wrote the bible, authors with human limitations and human ideas, all living within cultural contexts and using literary conventions very different than our own. God accommodated his message to specific ancient cultures; he met them where they were and revealed himself in a manner that was understandable to them. Just because God accommodated his message to specific human cultures at specific times in history, using scientific and cultural ideas specific to that time, does not reduce the power of this message or the truth of his revelation.

Thus the bible needs to be recognized as having both a divine and human source, not as liberals would claim, a human-only source with a divine message, or as Evangelicals often imply, a divine-only source to a human audience. The early church grappled with the divinity and humanity of Christ, and concluded that neither a divine-only description nor human-only description was adequate. We agree that the “Word made flesh” is both fully human, and fully God, even though this seems to defy logical understanding. Why then does an acknowledgement of the humanity of the textual Word threaten or lessen the divine origin of the scriptures? God condescended to take on human form, experienced all the limitations of a human mind and body, spoke in ways standard for a specific local culture, and used the science of his day to communicate his message of love, forgiveness, and redemption. In the same manner, God also accommodated his message in the written word.


I believe that remaining faithful to the scriptures does not require us to interpret it literally in all cases. A non-literal interpretation does not minimize the truth and authority of the word. In some cases, it is surely the more faithful method of remaining true to the biblical message. This is definitely not always the case and we need to be careful in jumping to figurative conclusions, especially when they fit more nicely with what we want the bible to say. What the bible shows very clearly is that God will not limit his revelation to a single culture. Every culture has had its assumptions challenged as God gently, and sometimes not so gently, leads his people to the truth. We need to ensure that our theology does not lead us to interpretations of the text, but that the text leads us to the formation of our theology. Our theology should not limit us to literal (or figurative, or symbolic, or mythic!) interpretations of any text, including our interpretations of the creation accounts.

Some recommended Reading:


D.W. Congdon said...

This is an excellent post. I couldn't agree more about the need to get beyond the false dichotomy between literal and liberal. We see false dichotomies in a lot of places these days (e.g., in sacramentology: either a literal reading of "this is my body" or symbolic). I've referenced this post on my latest post about inerrancy.

Philip Sumpter said...

Excellent stuff! The struggle to understand the nature of the relationship between the literal and spiritual dimension of Scripture is a staple in the history of Christian exegesis. I don't know how far you want to look at the hermeneutical issue, but I would recommend B.S. Childs' groundbreaking "Biblical Theology" (1992) for an excellent discussion of the relevant categories and parameters of Christian exegesis. In fact, just about anything he wrote is relevant.

Steve Martin said...

Hi Philip,
Thanks for the recommendation ... and sorry for the (very) belated response. Not sure you'll see this but do you have any net pointers to an overview of Childs ideas? I had never heard of him before. None of the local libraries I have access to have any of his writings (no surprise) .. I'll have to wait until I visit an out-of-town university library that has the book. (I'm sure your recommendation is good - but I rarely buy anything sight-unread. I'd be an even poorer man if I bought every book I was interested in or that was recommended to me).

Derek said...

from "Not so literally literal"

I am what you call a "literalist." As you pointed out, that is a poor label, but I did not choose it. Here is the difference between your method of interpretation and mine: I will interpret non-literally when the Bible indicates it is correct to do so, which is the case with all the verses you reference. You interpret non-literally when an source outside the Bible indicates it is correct, with events such as creation, the flood, etc., but the Bible itself does not indicate a non-literal interpretation.

Derek said...

from "Focus on Science and History"

"We may call these ideas outdated, or even wrong, but that does not compromise the authority of the scripture to speak in matters of faith or practice."

Premise: something is either true or it is not true. If these ideas are wrong, I assume you mean they are not true. If they are not true, then they are a lie. All of the Bible is God's word. Therefore, you are accusing God of lying. And since when is Scripture's authority limited to faith and practice? Do you think God doesn't know anything about history or science, which is why He had to lie about it? (By the way, it's impossible for God to lie. - Hebrews 6:18)

"That is, the bible is the revelation of an unlimited God accommodating himself to limited humanity using humanity’s limited language and ideas."

So when the Bible says "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31) it doesn't really mean that's how you're saved. That's just the best approximation God could come up with since He couldn't figure out a way to get around our human limitations. Who knows what salvation is according to God?

I guess that makes sense, except the part where it says that God is not omnipotent or sovereign because our humanity limits His attributes and the other part that says we don't actually know the truth about salvation. I hope you're starting to understand why I have serious problems with your method of interpretation.

Steve Martin said...

Hi Derek,


1. Re: Making decisions on what to interpret literally

I’m having a hard time understanding how you determine when the bible “indicates it is correct to interpret itself literally”. What methodology do you use?

It is pretty clear to me that the ancient Hebrews' view of cosmology was radically different from ours, and that this cosmology infused much of their writing (even though it is God’s word, it is still greatly influenced by the human (Hebrew) writers), including when they discussed creation whether in Genesis, Psalms, or other areas of the OT. See Gordon’s post at: http://evanevodialogue.blogspot.com/2007/09/interpreting-genesis-creation-accounts.html and my post at http://evanevodialogue.blogspot.com/2007/10/genesis-1-11-background-context-and.html for background.

I do not interpret scripture literally when I think the evidence for science discounts it. Literal vs non-literal is not my approach. I think the best approach is to ask what would the text have meant to the people of the time? Sure, the message of the scripture is timeless, but it was also written in a specific time-period and scripture was meant to be understandable for the people of that time period. Therefore, it sometimes takes a bit of work for those of us in vastly different cultures to get to the original meaning.

2. Re: something is true or not true, and that my view indicates that God is lying.

I really don’t agree with this at all. Again, God sometimes accommodates to our understanding, just like a parent accommodates to a child’s understanding. For example, when my children were very young I told them that babies are born when a mommy & daddy love each other, and they stay in their mommy’s tummy for about 9 months until they are big enough to come out. Now did I lie to my kids? Physical conception is (although it shouldn’t be) completely separate from love. As well, babies grow in the uterus, not in the tummy.

3. re: comparing the interpretation of ideas of science & salvation

My view is that God’s message of redemption IS the main point of the entire bible. That thread runs from beginning to end. Let us not confuse the central message of redemption & salvation with the vessel that carries that message, as Denis Lamoureaux puts it in his essay “evolutionary Creation” at: http://www.ualberta.ca/~dlamoure/3EvoCr.htm.

Derek said...


Generally speaking, my understanding of interpretation is that the Bible interprets itself. For example, Eccl. 1:5 says the sun rises and the sun sets. Should that be taken literally? Well, in context it is clearly talking about the cyclical nature of life. Also, the verse before says the earth stands forever, but the Bible clearly teaches that heaven and earth will pass away. So by using the Bible to interpret the Bible, I think it is fair to say that the passage doesn't intend to say literally that the sun rises and sets or that the earth will literally last forever. Does that make my method of interpretation a little clearer?

I think you are correct to say that we should ask what the text would have meant to the people at the time. So I will. How do you think the people of that time would have understood Genesis chapter 1?

"Again, God sometimes accommodates to our understanding, just like a parent accommodates to a child’s understanding. For example, when my children were very young I told them that babies are born when a mommy & daddy love each other, and they stay in their mommy’s tummy for about 9 months until they are big enough to come out. Now did I lie to my kids? Physical conception is (although it shouldn’t be) completely separate from love. As well, babies grow in the uterus, not in the tummy."

You lied to your kids? That's terrible. Actually, I'll leave the whole lying thing aside for now because you helped me make my point. If what you told your kids was all they ever new about how to have babies, would they ever have kids? You say you didn't lie to them, but you certainly didn't tell them the truth. If they tried to have kids with their current limited knowledge (whether they are physically mature enough is irrelevant to the point), they will try to love their husband/wife in order to have kids, which is totally different from what is actually necessary, and the end result is no kids.

Now I'll make the analogy. God told us "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." But you are saying that this is actually just the best He could figure out because of our human limitations. We can't actually understand the real way to have salvation, so He told us that instead. Now if the real way to have salvation is not to believe, but is actually something totally different that we can't understand, will any of us ever be saved? All we ever do is believe. But who knows what is actually necessary? The end result is no salvation.

Now you may want to differentiate between "spiritual" and "historical" matters, but it's all the same word of God. Besides, does the Bible tell you to make the distinction? And don't you think it would be easier for God to explain physical things, such as history, than to explain spiritual things? If we're so limited that God couldn't even explain to us how the earth was made, How could He ever have explained salvation?

I believe that God speaks truth to us. This truth is not a watered down, easy to understand "truth," but truth exactly as God understands truth. We are made in the image of God. We are made to have a relationship with Him. And it is fully within His power to speak to us things exactly the way they are. If He's going to use allegory or metaphor, He is fully capable of indicating that as well, which He does in several places, but does not do for many of the things you want to take non-literally.

Steve Martin said...

Hi Derek,

It seems to me that your hermeneutic strategy is “literal unless shown otherwise by a contradiction”. Ie. in your view, literal is “better” or more “truthful”, so you will interpret literally if you can. Only if a contradiction occurs somewhere else in the bible will you back off to a non-literal interpretation. I think this is a dangerous approach. This is the point of Conrad Hyers essay that I referenced at the end of my post – not sure if you’ve read this yet. For reasons why some Evangelicals have concluded that the entire first section of Genesis (chapters 1-11) should not be read “literally” or maybe even “historically”, again, see the Lamoureux essay I referenced above.

Re: how I think ANE people saw Genesis 1:

I highly suspect that Genesis chapter 1 was an absolute bombshell to the ANE people that heard or read it. For many, it was a complete crock. They probably reacted with something like: “The God of the Hebrews is Lord of the universe and Lord over our gods??? He is a God of love? God made humanity in his image but humanity rebelled against God? Yah right!” (Same reaction modern Christians get when we claim that Jesus is God and that he rose from the dead). Again, see the posts by Gordon and myself referenced earlier. The framework of creation days was simply a mechanism to provide the radical theological message.

On the claim that “spiritual” and “historical” truths are all the same to God, I think I would articulate it a little differently. I would agree that truth is not relative, and that God himself knows the absolute truth (in fact Jesus says “I am the Truth”). But I also believe truth cannot be fully grasped let alone fully articulated by finite humanity (even as small children can not grasp the same truth as their parents). The key difference is that some truths are more important than others. The theme of God’s faithfulness and redemption runs through all of scripture, and that is central. The message of salvation through Jesus Christ is provided so often, is so many ways. That is the Truth that God wants us to understand. And if it records a parable with the mustard seed being referred to as the smallest (they thought it was in that day; we know now it isn’t) what affect does that have on the central message?

Responding to the Pharisee’s query re: the greatest law, Jesus asserted that the entire law could be summed up with “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind. And Love your neighbour as yourself.” Like the Pharisees reading of the law warped God’s truth, I believe God’s truth is also warped by modern day Evangelical elevation of literalism as essential for the gospel.

Derek said...


Thanks for your comments.

You said, "It seems to me that your hermeneutic strategy is “literal unless shown otherwise by a contradiction”...I think this is a dangerous approach."

I think you're right. To be honest, I'm not even sure what my hermeneutic strategy is anymore. As much as I hate admitting my own failures, I appreciate you pointing out that I haven't really developed solid hermeneutics. Basically, I've just tried to do what makes sense as I read the Bible. However, I'm still not convinced it is correct to give science such a large role in hermeneutics. Science cannot lead to truth, as I showed on TrueU, so I'm just not convinced it should be used as much as you use it.

I read the article about non-literal interpretation of Genesis 1-11, and the chiastic structure of the Noah story really stood out. But is that enough reason to relegate it to allegory? Hebrews 11 speaks of Cain, Abel, Enoch, and Noah right alongside Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David and others. I've already admitted my hermeneutics are not well defined. But is there any reason to think that the author of Hebrews considered the first three men of faith he mentioned to be allegories and the rest to be real? That just doesn't make sense to me.

"I highly suspect that Genesis chapter 1 was an absolute bombshell to the ANE people that heard or read it. For many, it was a complete crock. They probably reacted with something like: “The God of the Hebrews is Lord of the universe and Lord over our gods??? He is a God of love? God made humanity in his image but humanity rebelled against God? Yah right!”

You're probably right, but that's not what I meant. I meant what do you think a Jew who accepts all those theological messages thought when he read, "there was evening and morning, the first (second, third, etc.) day."

"I also believe truth cannot be fully grasped let alone fully articulated by finite humanity (even as small children can not grasp the same truth as their parents)."

To be honest, I have no clue where you get this doctrine from. Do you have a Bible reference? It just doesn't make sense. You still did not explain how, if we can't fully understand truth, God ever communicated to us. How do you know that you're saved if you've never heard truth before? You seem to believe that there's something between "true" and "not true." What is it? This goes against the law of contradiction. For a word to mean something, it has to mean not anything else. Otherwise the word is meaningless. So if "true" is something that corresponds only to God, everything else must be "not true" or the word "true" has no meaning. And aside from the logical problems, the Bible indicates that we can know truth. Jesus refrain was "truly, truly, I say unto you." And remember, Jesus was fully "finite humanity." 1 John 2:21 says "I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know the truth." We know the truth. And I would expect you to cling to this doctrine, because if we do not know the truth, what use is all of this anyway?

Steve Martin said...

Hi Derek,

You ask good questions. For some of them I’m not sure I have great answers. Specifically, on the NT references to historical figures in Gen 1-11, that is a tough one. I highly suspect that the NT writers (eg. Paul in Romans 5) were 100% convinced that Adam was a historical character. I’m still working through some of this right now. A future post.

Note that when I say “non-literal”, I’m not saying it is necessarily “non-historical”. These stories could be (and probably are) based on some historical situations. Also, Evolutionary Creationists (ECs) are very much divided on the “literalness” and “historicalness” of these chapters. See my post: http://evanevodialogue.blogspot.com/2007/08/is-genesis-1-11-historical-many.html . Some insist that Gen 1-11 is both literal and history; others are just as adamant that it is completely non-historical. Right now I’m probably in the middle. I don’t like literal at all, but as to whether they are historically based, I’m still on the fence.

Re: your comments on knowing truth

This could bog down into a discussion of epistemology and how can be know anything. But I don’t think either of us have the time (or interest) in that. Two scriptures that may illustrate my perspective:

A) 1 Cor 13: 9-12

“For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

We can know God and the truth in this life through faith in Christ. But that knowledge is only partial - a poor, fuzzy reflection. It doesn’t mean our understanding is anti-truth, it is just not completely clear to us yet.

B) 2 Kings 5:17-18 (Same idea as in my comment to Gordon at Oct. 15 at 8:09pm in http://evanevodialogue.blogspot.com/2007/10/does-evolution-lead-to-moral-relativism.html - I heard this story in a sermon – I believe it comes from an N.T. Wright book).

After being healed by Elisha, Naaman decided to worship the God of Israel. But before leaving he made 2 requests of Elisha:

"If you will not [take my gifts]," said Naaman, "please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the LORD.

But may the LORD forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master [the king of Syria] enters the temple of Rimmon [the Syrian god] to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I bow there also—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the LORD forgive your servant for this."

Naaman was asking that:

a) He be allowed to take soil from Israel so that he could properly worship Israel’s God. In the ancient near east, all gods were local, political gods that ruled their own lands. Naaman didn’t (yet) understand that the Hebrew God was no local god, and that his new God couldn’t care less where you were when you worshiped him.

b) That he be forgiven for attending the temple of the Syran god with his master the King and go through the rituals required of his office as commander.

Elisha’s answer was “Go in Peace”. Elisha didn’t try to correct him on his understanding of the Hebrew God & where he could be worshiped. And he didn’t condemn him for not abandoning the pagan religious functions required of him. Many times the Israelites were condemned for just this.

God, using an analogy of a good parent, didn’t expect his new child to have perfect knowledge, nor have perfect morals immediately. It was more important that his new child acknowledged him, and had decided to worship him. The other stuff could come later.

For me, that is similar to God’s creation story. God chose a nation to follow him. And the knowledge they really needed was the radical theology taught in Gen 1-11. Correcting the bad ANE science was not really relevant at that point.

Derek said...


I definitely don't want to get into epistemology. You just scared me when it sounded like you were saying we didn't know truth.

"We can know God and the truth in this life through faith in Christ."

That's all I wanted to clear up. We completely agree on that.

"But that knowledge is only partial - a poor, fuzzy reflection. It doesn’t mean our understanding is anti-truth, it is just not completely clear to us yet."

I studied this a little bit, and I thought verse 9 and 10 of 1 Corinthians 13 were also very relevant. "For we know in part...but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away." What is this knowledge? It can't refer to the Bible, because the Bible will not be done away with. (I Peter 1:24-25) I think it is referring to man's knowledge, which I think it would be fair to call science. This is why I can't bring myself to accept evolution over the plain reading of the Bible. Evolution, along with all our other theories, will pass away, and it is only partial knowledge at best. The Bible is the only trustworthy source for truth.

I think we understand each other fairly well now, which was my main hope for this discussion. I know you're busy. I need to begin to limit my time on the internet, so I'm not going to post here anymore, and I'm going to do less on TrueU. It's been great talking to you and learning from you.

Even though we are taking slightly different routes, we are both on the same road to heaven, and I praise God for you and the studies you've done and will do, and I look forward to the time when we will both see Christ and know the answers to our questions. Thanks for your time and perspective.

Grace and peace,


Jeff said...

Fascinating stuff, guys. Thanks.
When I read the post that kicked off this whole discussion, I was struck by the simple use of the word "liberal."
I have often wondered if the political connotations of the word have some connection to why it is opposed ion evangelical circles. In the 80's, the word "liberal" was basically turned into a curse word by the extreme right.
There aren't a lot of direct connections between liberal hermeneutics and liberal politics, but I don't think this point is generally understood. I think the average person in the pews hears the word "liberal" and associates it with abortion-loving communist and then basically shuts down.
As I read the further discussion, though, I decided that I'd add a quick observation on what Genesis would have looked like to people reading it at the time.

I find it a source of wonder and amazement, a proof of God's wisdom and perfection, that he could craft an account like the Genesis account. Only the source of wisdom could create an explanation which is equally truthful and truth-filled to those of us living in the 21st century and somebody living in 500 BC.

Steve Martin said...

Hi Jeff,
Welcome. Thanks for your comments.

1. Re: Liberal in its political & theological contexts,

The theological battle came first (mid 1800’s with the main issue being biblical criticism). The political issues came later, mid to late 1900’s in fact. But evangelicals (or more specifically, the fundamentalist wing evangelicalism) have historically been anti-liberal in both battles. I think your implied point is that the term “liberal” now has such a polarizing effect that it is almost impossible to redeem the word.

2. Re: your comment “Only the source of wisdom could create an explanation which is equally truthful and truth-filled to those of us living in the 21st century and somebody living in 500 BC.”

Very well said! Yes, scripture is both timeless & time sensitive (ie. spoke to its original reader’s culture).

Hugh Griffin said...

I think I am in broad agreement with this article.

Under "not so literally literal" you mention a number of passages that taken "literally" cause problems.

These problems are removed by considering why these passages exist, the assumptions of the writer (e.g. using the language of appearance, not science as we know it today), the genre of the passage, etc.

This leaves me wondering how the article helps us when it comes to specifically interpreting Genesis 1 - 3. BTW, great post on the theology of Genesis 1 - 11 and its background.

I share the concern to get the genre right, and to listen to what God is actually saying, rather than being woodenly literal in interpretation.

However, when it comes to Genesis 1, it seems that we do have a testimony from God about how He created the world. I.e. in six days by means of speaking. You refer to http://www.ualberta.ca/~dlamoure/3EvoCr.htm. I guess that's my next stop. Thanks for your hard work in putting these things together.

Steve Martin said...

Hi Hugh,
Welcome. I checked your blog & it looks like it is for invited readers only. How does one get on the list for "invited readers"?

Hugh Griffin said...

Hi Steve,

its for my eyes only at present. I got a bit bullied once by some hard edged science guys, so while I get myself together a bit, the blog remains that way. However, I'll let you know if that changes.

The Lamoureux essay got me thinking and opened up the possibility that Genesis is not speaking to science as we understand it. I've started to think through the implications.

I'm also thinking through the Genre Q w.r.t Genesis using David Guzik's online Genesis commentary. You can find it here:

David, like me, is not a scientist, but is pointing me down the historical line as the scripturally consistent genre for Genesis.

Its possible that 'flaming swords' and talking/sly 'snakes' point in a non-historical direction, but I'm thinking about it.

Thanks for the contribution in this post, and the reference to Lamoureux. Its been of real value.

Steve Martin said...

Hi Hugh,
I understand. In this dialogue many of us sometimes forget to be respectful ... forgetting that it may not have been all that long ago that we were on a different side of the argument. Hopefully you won't find that here on this blog.

I wrote this post quite a while ago and would probably add some additional references now. For the types of questions you are asking and investigating, I'd recommend Gordon Glover's book Beyond the Firmament first. After that, you may want to tackle Peter Enns Inspiration and Incarnation.

Claire said...

Hi all,
I loved this article! I accepted a YEC position all my life- despite a Ph.D in a biological discipline. This involved much mental gymnastics on my part. I even did research in an evolutionary lab at one point- (don't ask; needless to say, I kept my mouth shut and my opinions to myself). This January, I read Francis Collins's book and was bowled over by the evidence for evolution. However, I was worried about what it would do for the Bible's authority in my life. So I read a lot of books and blogs and I'm still here!

I have been accused of starting to throw out the Bible; however, I have come to realise that non-literal does not mean liberal and I think I have a greater respect for the Bible than before. And a desire not to use it for proof texting but as a means for getting to know the Creator (a low point for me (and the turning point) was using Job to try to "prove" the co-existence of humans and dinosaurs. That was only this January! (www.myspace.com/dr_clairet Blog dated 5th January) - I guess I've come a long way).

I just wanted to encourage Hugh that even if you do go down the non-literal route for Genesis 1-3, please please do not ever feel that this has to lead to throwing out the Bible or anything that well-meaning friends or family might tell you. That was tough that you were bullied by scientist people on your blog- we're not all like that! Keep searching for truth. We evangelicals believe in the One who is the way, truth and life- and I believe He honours honest humble truth-seeking.

Steve Martin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve Martin said...

Hi Claire,
Welcome. Thanks for you own story and your words of encouragement.

Hugh Griffin said...

Claire, thanks for your encouragement.


Hugh Griffin said...


the tone and content of this blog has been exemplary.

Thanks for the recommendations.

Hugh Griffin said...

I've been smoked out; for what its worth my blog is now online with 'everyone' access.


Thanks for the encouragement Claire and Steve.

Hugh Griffin said...

Err "smoked out" should be "oxygenated"!