Sunday, September 30, 2012

Creation, Jonah and Turning the Bible into Allegory

Is it important to know whether or not the Bible as historical? One respondent correctly pointed out, “Parts of Scripture are history--other parts are not.” So then, how can we determine the historical from the non-historical? Well, if we take the Bible seriously, we try to determine how the Bible regards these “parts.” We compare Scripture with Scripture.

This same respondent, took the position that we shouldn’t regard the Book of Jonah as historical. However, it seems obvious that Jesus took it and used it as history:

  • He answered, "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here. (Matthew 12:39-41)
Consequently, Jonah should not be taken as parabolic (non-historical) for several reasons:

  1. Jesus doesn’t say, “According to the tale, Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish.” Instead, He speaks as if this actually happened.
  1. Jesus then states “so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” If the “Book of Jonah” is no more than a parable and Jesus knew this to be the case, then He is affirming, “In the same way that Jonah was fictitiously in the whale, I too will be fictitiously buried for three days. However, this could not have been His meaning.
  1. Jesus warned Israel that “Nineveh will stand up at the judgment” of them. However, if all knew that Jonah was simply parabolic, they would have scorned Jesus: “As it is fiction that Nineveh repented, so too is it fiction that Nineveh ‘will stand in judgment.’”
However, there was no such retort, as appropriate as this retort would have been had Jonah been regarded as a mere allegory or parable.

It seems obvious that Jesus regarded the Book of Jonah as history. If we are followers of Jesus, then we are constrained to also be followers of His thinking and reasoning. He regarded Scripture as the undefiled Word of God (Matthew 5:16-18) and submitted to it in all regards. Quoting Deuteronomy 8, He responded to Satan:

  • “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God." (Matthew 4:4)
This means that we too must live by “every word” and to understand them as Jesus did. If He regarded the first several chapters of Genesis as history – and we find that the Apostles also regarded these chapters as history – then we too are constrained to regard them as history.

Jesus based His teaching on marriage and divorce on the historicity of Genesis 1 and 2:

  • "Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female' [Gen. 1:26-27] and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh' [Gen. 2:24]? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate." (Matthew 19:4-6)
Jesus’ entire argument is based upon the history of God’s work, that:

  • He created them,
  • He made them one flesh,
  • And “joined [them] together.”
If God had only figuratively (not historically) created and joined them, then we would have every right actually divorce as long as we don’t figuratively divorce. Therefore, one who is contemplating divorce could reason that, “I’ll divorce my wife, but I’ll remain married to her figuratively, in my heart.” Of course, this is absurd, but this is because a non-historical understanding of Jesus’ words is also absurd. Instead, Jesus’ clear intent was to demonstrate that divorce is wrong and that the Pharisees were wrong for justifying divorce.

Jesus built His case on the common understanding that Genesis is history. If Genesis hadn’t been widely regarded as history, the Pharisees could easily have retorted, “Well, God didn’t actually join them together, so we are not prohibited from actually divorcing our wives!” in which case, Jesus’ argument would have completely collapsed.

This is not to deny that Genesis 1 and 2 are difficult to interpret. However, if we start with the conclusion that these chapters are not history – and also that the New Testament’s interpretation of them shouldn’t guide our interpretation (Scripture interpreting Scripture) - then we consequently reject our most important interpretive guidelines and constraints. Operating with this “freedom,” the door is opened to just about any interpretation we’d like to paste on Genesis.

Perhaps the “God” of Genesis is a blind, impersonal force – gravity, according to Stephen Hawking? Perhaps instead, he is the universal consciousness – Eastern monism? Or perhaps he’s naturalism anthropomorphized. If we refuse to allow Scripture to interpret Scripture, anything is possible, and if any interpretation is possible, we are left in utter confusion and our faith is for naught.

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