Bible Stories: Literal or Figurative?
Now That I Think About It
by Troy Witte
I was taught to believe the Bible is the infallible, inspired Word of God. There are no contradictions, no errors. It is historically accurate in all respects. This is the one and only Guidebook for Mankind, God's gift to his creation.
In my mid twenties, I began having serious doubts about it all. I won't get into everything that lead up to that important stage of questioning everything here. You can read about that in my article, "Born Again, Brain Engaged."
I started thinking about so many of the passages that I was taught to be literal, historical and factual. I have since learned that many Christians don't view much of the Bible as factual, historical events that should be taken literally (as fundamentalist do). Rather, these are passages written as metaphors to convey some godly illustration or message. Oh, but Jesus, he really lived. That's definitely to be taken literally. No question about that.
Literal or figurative, these stories are creepy...now that I think about it:
Creation, Adam and Eve
You know...the tree, the apple, the serpent...that's the one. Apparently, according to this story, my wife and every woman who has lived will experience pain at childbirth because Adam and Eve made the wrong choice? And because the first humans pissed God off, I am born with a "sin nature?" The bottom-line on this story, as I see it: (Hold your breath...) I was born with the propensity or capacity to do things that God doesn't like (because of Adam and Eve's screw-up) and the Christian life is all about showing God how sorry I am for being myself, thereby accepting the death of Jesus as payment for my sinful deeds which stem from the "original sin" of Adam and Eve. Whew! I can't put my finger on it, but something doesn't seem quite right here. And as a side point: Ever wonder why preachers never dwell on the fact that Adam and Eve's children had to have sex together to procreate. Brother and sister, then cousins...Why don't we talk about that...dwell on that for a bit? Maybe the story of Adam and Eve is just that: a story, a myth. Literal or figurative, it's creepy, now that I think about it.
The Great Flood
You gotta love this one. This God, the one who is the same yesterday, today, and forever...the God of UNCONDITIONAL LOVE, the God of mercy, and kindness...yeah that's the one. Well, he decides one fine day that things have gotten so out of hand that he's just going to have to wipe everyone out with a flood. Yup...flood the whole earth. Kill each and every creature on earth, save eight...Noah and his family. They get to escape on the great ark. Oh, and the fish, they escape death.. They can swim. Or did Noah keep them in jars of water onboard? I digress.
Okay, jump to present. My wife and I recently had our first child, a son. Talk about precious. This kid is nothing but a bundle of joy. I can't bare the idea of anything painful happening to him. I especially can't fathom causing pain or torturing him. Apparently, God can...at least according to the story of Noah and the flood, which is supposed to be taken literally. Well, back to my son's birth. You know when you're expecting a child, particularly your first, the thing to do is visit the baby superstore and pick out what theme is going to surround your child in his room. Some of my Christian friends had gone with the Noah theme rather than Pooh or Mickey. You know...the cute little pictures of the animals lining up on the big ark two by two? Cute little story ain't it? What about the cute little pictures of innocent children like my son being ripped from the hands of their parents in violent rushing waters? Why didn't that make it to the baby superstore? Now that's putting things in context.
The God of unconditional love...the God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever...the God of mercy and kindness...he's the one who decided that rather than instantaneously removing all creatures from existence, he would really show us by flooding the earth and allowing the little babies and small children, and their parents, to be smashed against rocks, suffocating, dying horrible deaths while the earth flooded with water. Noah and his family would float in the ark and take care of the cute little animals. Apparently, this story is about the justice of God. Yup, those little kids sure got what they had com'n. I don't know how anyone could see it as a good addition to a book that -- among other things -- is supposed to illustrate God's unconditional love, mercy, and kindness. I expand on the flood account in my article, "Cute Furry Animals on a Boat." Literal or figurative, it's creepy, now that I think about it.
Abraham and Isaac
Then, there's the "historically verifiable" story of Abraham, the father of Israel, faithful man of God, an example of faith for us all. God tells him one day that to show his faith -- to really prove it to God -- he would need to take his son Isaac up to a mountain top, tie him to a rock and cut his throat with a knife. Oh, but God is a loving God. You see, once Abraham gets there and is ready to do the job, knife in hand in the air, Isaac wondering what his dear old dad is about to do...God supplies a "scapegoat" (Enter: reoccurring motif). The scapegoat suddenly appears which Abraham can now sink his knife into instead. Yippee! God is so good.
How is it that Christians view this story --and this guy, Abraham -- as so cool? If I walked into a room full of Christians explaining that the night before, God told me in a dream that to prove my faithfulness to him, I would need to do what Abraham did: I would need to take my son to the top of the local mountaintop, tie him to a big rock and sink a knife into him. So, the next morning, I prepared to do so. There I was with my precious son, blue eyes and all, helplessly tied to a rock, so that I could slit his throat to prove my faithfulness to God. But, alas, don't fret. God provided a golden retriever as a sacrifice instead. God is so good. What might happen, if I told this story? I would quickly be escorted to the nearest exit. No, actually they'd probably lay hands on me and pray that the demons be cast from my body. Then they would escort me out. And justifiably so, as this was only an acceptable experience to have with God thousands of years ago. It don't work that way anymore, doncha know? Well maybe the story of Abraham and Isaac is just a story to demonstrate, figuratively, the kind of faith God would like us to have. Literal or figurative, it's creepy, now that I think about it.
Jesus and the Cross
I've taken enough space on the Old Testament. I'm too tired to go into the New, and most of us know the story of Jesus. More of the same stuff. Yadda, yadda, yadda....
In his article, the "Sin of Silence," William Edelen writes,
Those graduating in religious studies from every major university in America, as well as every major theological seminary that is independent of Christian financial pressure, know certain facts to be true.
- The entire bible is saturated with common mythological themes, from the creation and flood myth to virgin birth and resurrected hero mythology.
- The stories of the patriarchs in the Old Testament are known as 'temple legends' to enhance the history of the Hebrew people and are mostly fictional.
- The gospels were not written by anyone who knew Jesus personally.
- The 'Christ' myths and formulas are direct copies of Zoroastrian myths adopted by the Jesus sect.
- These facts, with others, have been known for years, and taught by internationally respected scholars from major universities world wide.
You may be saying to yourself, "You know, maybe this would be a good time to look into some of this stuff and find out ALL the facts surrounding my Christian faith, rather than just blindly following along. Maybe I am a part of something that is nothing but a mystical, mythical farce. Maybe I should really check Christianity out, outside my church's library. What do I have to be afraid of? If the allegations are wrong, I would only be more prepared to defend my faith by understanding the arguments of those opposed to Christianity, now that I think about it."
If you haven't said this to yourself and you aren't saying it now, then I can only say, I'm sorry. Please go back to the sandbox and play nice with the other boys and girls. Maybe we'll talk about this when you're a bit bigger. Now that I think about it.
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