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Are the Stories in the Old Testament Just Allegory?

January 5, 2011

I recently had a discussion with a fellow Christian who doesn’t believe that many of the events in the Old Testament are literal, historical fact.  He believes that the Bible is the true, inspired, word of God but that many of the far-fetched stories in the Bible are intended to be allegory or parable and not to be interpreted literally.  He asked, “Jesus often spoke in parables, why is it so wrong to approach stories in the Old Testament from this perspective?”.  Here are my thoughts on this issue.

There are many problems with this view.  One major problem is that it sees what is not in the text instead of what is in the text.  Allegorization and spiritualization open the door to subjectivism and uncontrolled speculation. It gives emphasis to the hidden, secret and imported meaning. Through allegorical method anyone can prove any argument in any way, because there is no objective control for the interpreter. He is seeking after the “hidden” and “spiritual” meaning of the text.

It reduces the Scripture to what seems reasonable to the interpreter. One is left without any objective means by which the conclusions of the interpreter may be tested. This results in us creating God in our image.  The emphasis is placed on a secondary sense or spiritual sense of the passage, so that the original words have no or little literal sense.  In the allegorical method of interpretation, the basic authority ceases to be the Scriptures, and becomes the mind of the interpreter.

The “literal” meaning of a word is the basic, customary designation of that word. To interpret literally means nothing more than interpreting a word in terms of its normal, usual designation. It exercises a control over subjective interpretation and spiritualizing trends. This method is the only safe check on the imaginations of man. The literal method grounds interpretation in fact. It is extremely important to know that the greater part of the Bible makes adequate sense when interpreted literally.

Only on such a basis can the average individual actually understand or interpret the Scriptures for themselves.  We must keep in mind that the Bible presents God’s plan of salvation for all mankind, not just to the intelligent, well educated people trained in how to find the hidden meaning in text.

“The teaching of your word gives light, so even the simple can understand.” ~ Psalm 119:130

To believe that we are to look, not for the plain meaning of the text, but beyond it to try to find a hidden meaning, is to require a level of competence and intelligence that is beyond many.  A PhD in literature or a doctorate in ancient Hebrew customs is not needed to read, understand, and interpret the Bible.  It is written to be clear to all peoples in every generation.  We are wrong to come at it in a way that does not take the face value of what is written and instead looks to read meanings into it that aren’t plainly there.

When the Bible says something happened, it simply means it happened.  If it says an event occurred at a specific place and time to a specific individual, it is incorrect to assume that it didn’t and to try to read in a hidden symbolism and meaning instead of interpreting this as a description of a historical reality.

This is not to imply that events in the Bible were not orchestrated by God for the purpose of teaching lessons.  Of course they were.  For example, the Israelites are provided manna from heaven to sustain them.  They could only take what they needed for each day.  This is to teach them and us the importance on relaying on God’s word, everyday.

“He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” ~ Deut 8:3

Here, we see God using a REAL event to teach them (and us).  The Bible then even explains the lesson we are supposed to learn from it.  This is not allegory but illustration.  It is a visual aid, an object lesson.  It is pointing to a real, concrete object, person, or event and explaining an additional meaning behind it.  This is totally different than inventing a story for the sole purpose of teaching a lesson.  These object lessons are often referred to as “types”.  We see them everywhere in the Old Testament.  In every case, they are real, tangible people, objects, or events that serve the additional purpose of pointing towards something or someone else.  Here are some examples just from the book of Exodus alone:

  • God raises up a “type”, a deliver (Moses), to redeem His people from slavery and bondage in Egypt.  This points towards the day when the great deliver, Jesus the Christ, will come redeem His people from slavery and bondage to sin and death.
  • In Egypt, He finally brought His people out of captivity by the death of the first born sons of all the Egyptians.  This real event is a type that points towards how God would sacrifice His firstborn son for us.
  • For the Israelites, death “passed over” their first born sons because of the blood of the spotless lamb that was spread over their door posts.  These types (the blood of the lamb and the act of passing over) were real life object lessons meant to teach the Israelites about the blood of the perfect lamb, Jesus Christ, that would be shed on their behalf, so that God’s wrath would “pass them over”.
  • God told the nation of Israel to set up the Passover as a yearly observance so that they would never forget this lesson.  God uses this yearly reminder of the real event of the Passover as a type foretelling of the eventual sacrifice of Jesus. God even drives this point home by having the death of Jesus on the cross occur during the Passover celebration.  His death occurred at the very hour the Passover lamb was traditionally slain!
  • During the Passover meal unleavened bread (without yeast) is broken and shared with all.  This concrete, physical, object lesson is to show that the body of Jesus Christ (pure with no sin) would be broken for us.  The wine was a type, pointing to the blood of the lamb spread over the door posts, indeed the blood of the perfect lamb, Jesus Christ shed for us.

The awareness of what kind of literature we are reading is essential to a correct understanding of the text. A correct genre judgment should be made to ensure correct understanding. A parable, for example, should not be treated like a chronicle, nor should poetry be interpreted as though it were a straightforward narrative. Each passage has its own genre, and the interpreter should be cognizant of the specific kind of literature it is as he attempts to interpret it. Without genre recognition an interpreter can be misled in his understanding of the passage. For example, when the prophet speaks of “trees clapping their hands” (Isa. 55:12) one could assume a kind of animism unless he recognized that this is poetry and not prose.

Some, for instance, take Adam to be a myth, whereas in Scripture he is clearly and conclusively presented as a real person. Many take Jonah to be an allegory, however, he is clearly presented as a historical person and is so referred to by Christ Himself (Mat. 12:40-42). This is an appropriate warning not to use genre criticism as a cloak for rejecting the truth of Scripture.

Parables allegories, symbols, types, figures of speech, etc. are frequently used in the Bible, but an adherence to the literal method of interpretation makes it clear when this is occurring.  These are colorful vehicles for presenting literal truth. In many cases, the Bible even immediately explains its own symbolism.  For example, take Galatians 4:21-31.  Paul points out that a literal event (the birth of Abraham’s sons) symbolized a spiritual reality.  This is another example of a “type”.  Paul is not using an allegorical method of interpretation. He was only explaining an actual event that has allegorical meaning.

The Bible is very clear about when it uses allegory.  In all of the incidents the allegorical imagery is not provided by the biblical authors, but from God Himself. All God requests of the authors is to faithfully record the literal realities of what they were told or saw.  Examples of this include the book or Revelation and the writings of many of the Old Testament Prophets.  The human authors were shown a vision.  In the book of Revelation, John sees a vision of Heaven and faithfully records the strange things he actually witnessed.  Are many of them allegorical? Certainly.  However, John is not told to make that determination.  He is just instructed to write down what he sees.

Therefore, what we have recorded is the literal event that occurred that contains an allegory.  Why is this an important distinction?  Simple, we never see a biblical author testifying that something happened that didn’t actually happen.  You will see them testifying that this really happened and (in some cases) that they have no idea what it means, but never stating that an event occurred that is actually fiction, just to make a point.

Another Old Testament example of allegory is Ezekiel 16.  In this passage God speaks comparing the Nation of Israel to an infant who is discarded in a field and found wallowing in blood.  Israel is then compared to an unfaithful wife who becomes a prostitute by running after other gods.  It is clear here that the genre is allegory.  There is no mistaking it.  It should be noted that no proper names are given.  There are no people indentified by name, no description of ancestry or lineage, and no reference to actual times.  It is very clear that this takes the same form as Jesus’ parables.   Jesus frequently refers to people in His parables, not as real individuals, but as characters in a story.  Examples would be, the widow, the ten virgins, the prodigal son, the Good Samaritan, the sower of seeds, etc.  He doesn’t assign them names or imply they are real people at all.  It is a clear example of a story invented BY GOD to illustrate a point (an allegory).

As I mentioned above, Jesus did this frequently.  He would make statements like, “Everyone who hears these words will be like a wise man who built his house on a rock…”, etc.  It was always immediately apparent to the disciples and those around when Jesus was speaking in parable, yet they held to the reality of the history in the Hebrew Scriptures.  The Jews were very able to tell the difference.  I think it is clearly apparent today as well.

Christ, apostles and the NT writers all followed the plain, literal, normal meaning of words. That was their normative methodology for reading the Scriptures. One of the strongest evidences for the literal method is the use the New Testament makes of the Old Testament. When the Old is used in the New, it is used only in a literal sense. Matthew, in His Gospel, has used numerous Old Testament quotations. All these passages are interpreted Messianically (Christologically) as literally referring to the life, ministry and death of Christ.

The best commentary (and guide) for interpreting the Old Testament is the New Testament.  Almost one tenth of the New Testament consists of Old Testament quotations. The prophecies which were fulfilled in the first coming of Christ were fulfilled literally. The apostles used the Old Testament extensively in their Gospel sermons. They were not trying to find allegorical, hidden, spiritual, or secondary meanings in the Old Testament texts. They simply brought out the plain meaning of the texts and applied it literally to Christ and His redemptive work.

While interpreting Isaiah 53, Peter uses a literal method (1 Peter 2.22-25). The writer of Hebrews made extensive use of the Old Testament (including events, people, objects, rituals, types, stories, etc.) in a literal sense, applying them to the person and work of Christ. All the New Testament writers gave their readers the plain, primary sense of the text. They used and interpreted the Old Testament in its historical, grammatical and literal contexts.

Some of the most extreme events in the Old Testament (and most frequently questioned) are the very events Jesus Himself attested to while He was here on the earth.  Many have questioned the story of Jonah. However, while Jesus was speaking about His immanent death and resurrection, Jesus affirmed the reality of Jonah.

“For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.” ~ Matthew 12:40

This is a direct comparison between two literal, historical events.  If the resurrection is to be taken as historically factual, and if it was to be represented by Jonah’s three days in the stomach of the huge fish, then it follows that the type itself must have been historically factual–regardless of modern skepticism.  This is further confirmed by Matthew 12:41

“The people of Nineveh will stand up against this generation on judgment day and condemn it, for they repented of their sins at the preaching of Jonah. Now someone greater than Jonah is here—but you refuse to repent.”

Archer sums this point up well. . .

“Jesus implies that the inhabitants of Nineveh actually did respond Jonah’s stern warning and denunciation with self-abasing humility and fear–precisely as recorded in Jonah 3 . . . This means Jesus did not take that book to be a mere piece of fiction or allegory, as some would-be Evangelicals have suggested.  Adherence to such a view is tantamount to a rejection of Christ’s inerrancy and therefore His deity.” (Archer, The Encyclopedia of Biblical Difficulties)

There is certainly reason to believe that such an event is possible, even without the intervention of God that certainly occurred in the biblical account of Jonah.  To be fair, the Bible never actually says “whale”, just great fish.  In fact, a man being swallowed by a fish and surviving after several days has actually been documented, twice (in addition to Jonah)!  If you would like more info you can read this:  http://reasonableanswers.org/52-Is-Jonah-a-big-fish-story.html

What is more is that the Jewish historian Josephus testified that Jonah was an actual person.  He did not believe Jonah or the description of him in the Hebrew Scriptures to be allegorical.  Josephus wrote…

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Amaziah, Jeroboam the son of Joash reigned over Israel in Samaria forty years.”…”Jeroboam made an expedition against the Syrians, and overran all their country, as Jonah had foretold.  Now I cannot but think it necessary for me, who have promised to give an accurate account of our affairs, to describe the actions of this prophet, so far as I have found them written down in the Hebrew books.”

He then proceeds to retell the account of Jonah in the Bible.  Notice this first century historian talking about Jonah as an actual person. The logical conclusion is Josephus, a Jewish historian considered Jonah to be an actual person in history and not an allegory.  More on the reality of the person Jonah can be found here: http://reasonableanswers.org/51-Is-Jonah-a-big-fish-story.html.

Further, we now know through archeology that Nineveh was a REAL place and that it was indeed a large city at the time of Jonah (as stated in the Biblical account).  It was discovered by archeologists in the 1800’s.  Before this, only the Bible mentioned this city.  Once again, spot checked; results…spot on!

In addition to Jonah, many question the biblical account of Noah and the Ark, saying it is merely allegorical.  However, here again, we see Jesus personally showing us how to interpret Old Testament stories such as this…as factual events.

“As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark;  and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” ~ Matthew 24:37-39

Jesus is predicting what will happen in the future historical event that was foreshadowed in the type, the historical Old Testament event.  He must, therefore, have regarded the flood as literal history, just as it was recorded in Genesis.

In fact, we there is substantial evidence that not only shows this story to be possible but probable.  Including petrified and fossilized sea life being found on top of the highest mountains (even Everest).  For more on this ready here: http://www.livingwaters.com/witnessingtool/pointstoponderabouttheflood.shtml

Much of the discussion over allegorical vs. historical interpretation of the Old Testament commonly centers on the biblical account of creation.  Many believe the biblical account to be a myth; however no evidence to contradict the account in the Bible (other than to site evolutionary theory) is ever offered.  Some Christians believe in Jesus and accept him as God but see these Old Testament stories as just that, stories.  As I have shown earlier, you cannot accept the testimony of the disciples about Jesus and then disregard their testimony about the things Jesus taught.  These people are therefore left with this dilemma: Jesus and the rest of the New Testament authors spoke of Adam and Eve as real people and quoted the creation account from Genesis, stating it to be a real description of God working in the world.  Jesus commented about Adam and Eve saying:

Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them [Adam and Eve] male and female,’ 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’?” ~ Matthew 19:4-5

Regardless of modern scientific theory, Jesus believed that Adam and Eve were literal, historical personalities.  In the passage above He is directly quoting the creation account in Genesis.  This is again confirmed in the Epistles.  Paul testified in Gal 1:12 to have received his doctrine directly from the risen Christ.  He then clearly states in 1 Timothy 2:13-14:

“For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.”

The context of the verse above is very important.  Paul is making an argument about the leadership role of the husband. His appeal is to the order and events of creation.  The real and historical facts are VERY relevant and important to his argument.  The point at issue in this passage is the man’s leadership responsibility in the home and in the church; the historicity of Genesis 3 is presupposed.  If the account in Genesis 3 is not factual, his argument is not tenable.  If his theological argument is not tenable, then what are we to make of his claim to have received his theology from the risen Lord?  This is a slippery slope.

It should be noted that the account of Adam is further referred to in Romans 5:12-21 where the contrast is drawn between the disobedience of Adam, who plunged human race into sin, and the obedience of Christ, who brought redemption to all who believe.  How can we assume the reality of the one event and discount the other as a myth?  The passage is very clear on this point.  The Greek says the Adam is a “typos” (type) of Him (Christ) who was to come.  This word, typos, means that he was a physical representation of something else.  It is the same way that the bread and wine are “types” (real, physical objects), that represent the broken body and blood of Christ.  Archer says,

“No one can lay honest claim to loyal adherence to the doctrinal infallibility of Scripture and leave open the possibility of a mythical or legendary Adam, as the single ancestor of the human race.  This highly doctrinal passage in Romans 5 (which serves as the basis for the doctrine of original sin) presupposes that Genesis 2-3 contains literal, factual history.” (Archer, The Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties)

In addition to Jonah, the flood, and the creation account, Jesus also discusses other seemingly amazing Old Testament stories, every time handling them as though they were true and factual events.  Jesus talks plainly about the miraculous destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by fire from heaven (Matthew 10:15, 11:23-24, Luke 10:12, 17:29).  He describes the reality of the two million plus Israelites surviving on manna from heaven for forty years in the desert (John 6:49).  One must assume Jesus did not see the stories in the Old Testament as myth or allegory.  Further, it is clear that all the New Testament authors are in agreement on this point.

“We are brought to the conclusion that there was one uniform method commonly adopted by all the New Testament writers in interpreting and applying the Hebrew Scriptures. It is as if they had all been to one school and had studied under one master. But was it to the Rabbinical school to which they had been? Was it to Gamaliel, or to Hillel, or to any other Rabbinical leader that they were indebted? All attainable knowledge of the mode of teaching current in that time gives the negative to the suggestion. The Lord Jesus Christ, and no other, was the original source of the method. In this sense, as in many others, He had come as a light into the world” (R. E. Girdlestone, The Grammar of Prophecy, 86).

It is noteworthy that the allegorical interpretation method was never used by Christ or the apostles. How Jesus Christ interpreted the Scriptures, and how the New Testament views and interprets the Old, is indeed, a normative methodology for us to follow. Since Jesus is God incarnate, whatever He affirms has divine authority. Hence, whatever He taught about the Bible is the last word on the topic.

“It is safe to say that in no recorded utterance of Jesus Himself, or any of His inspired apostles, is there even the slightest suggestion that inaccuracy in matters of history or science ever occurs in the Old Testament.” (Archer, The Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties)

Certainly, to claim that the majority of events depicted in the Old Testament are allegory requires much defense, since it flies in the face of how Christ Himself interpreted the Scripture.  The burden of proof here clearly rests on the one arguing against the literal interpretation of the Scriptures.  This is why I continually ask who hold this view what proof or evidence can they offer that refutes the accounts in Scripture?  Even so, there is certainly supporting evidence that the literal interpretation of the events depicted in the Bible is correct. More on that Point in another post.

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29 Comments leave one →
  1. Harbinger of Truth permalink
    April 3, 2012 6:55 pm

    Dumbass. Fundamentalist dumbass.

    • philippians1v21 permalink*
      April 4, 2012 1:17 pm

      🙂 Well, I must say that has got to be the first time I’ve ever been accused of being a Fundamentalist. In fact I’m used to being attacked by Fundamentalists. Have your read any of my other blog articles? My, how that term is evolving. It used to refer to people who adhere to strict religious rules not in the bible, wear suits and string ties, think the KJV is the only inspired version, and think rock and roll is Satan’s music. It now apparently encompasses people who believe the Bible means what it says, and says what it means. If that is what a Fundamentalist is in your book, then I happily agree. I am. Thank you. I’ll take that as a compliment.

      With regard to the rest of your comment, attacking the person you disagree with is not a valid form of debate. It does nothing to refute or counter the arguments presented. In fact, it only serves to add more weight to them, since you obviously can’t intelligently debate them and must result to name calling.

      I can’t help but wonder how your attitude and attack reflects the character of God. If you claim to be His child, how do you think He would view your behavior here? The character of a person and the way they treat others is as much an indicator of their relationship with God as what they say.

      Despite your words, I wish you the best. I would sincerely like to continue the discussion if you can address your critiques to my arguments and not to my person.

      God bless,
      Jake

  2. Josh permalink
    August 29, 2012 2:12 pm

    There is one word that answers your question: Science. It has proven that the earth is ~4.5 billion years old through radioactive dating. And correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t the creation account of the old testament put the earth at around 10,000 years old? How do you explain this?

    • philippians1v21 permalink*
      August 29, 2012 3:21 pm

      “correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t the creation account of the old testament put the earth at around 10,000 years old?”

      Actually, you are wrong. The bible does not give a date for the creation of the earth. It isn’t a science book. That isn’t its purpose. People have tried to use the genealogies recorded in the bible to back out a date for the creation account in the book of Genesis, but this is certainly not a very accurate method (as it is clear that these genealogies are not complete and are not intended to be).

      Additionally, there are very legitimate ways to interpret the creation account in the book of Genesis that align with the scientific date for the creation of the earth (~4.5 billion years). For example, there is no clear time frame placed on the length of time that passes between verses 1 and 2 of Genesis. There is no reason this cannot be interpreted to be billions of years. I think it is accurate to say that most theologians believe that the earth is very old (billions of years). These individuals are called “Old Earth Creationists”. If you would like more information on the argument for Old Earth Creationism, I would like to refer you to my brother’s blog. . . http://www.rareuniverse.org

      • Josh permalink
        August 29, 2012 4:07 pm

        “Additionally, there are very legitimate ways to interpret the creation account in the book of Genesis that align with the scientific date for the creation of the earth (~4.5 billion years).”

        So according to this statement, as well as your brother’s blog…you are not using the literal meaning of the word “day” in Genesis, but instead interpreting “day” to mean very long periods of time. While I agree that this sort of interpretation would give the Bible’s creation story a little bit more credibility, it also contradicts the entire point of your original blog post, which is that the old testament should be taken literally.

        You said yourself that once we start to interpret the words in any way other than the literal sense, that “One is left without any objective means by which the conclusions of the interpreter may be tested. This results in us creating God in our image. The emphasis is placed on a secondary sense or spiritual sense of the passage, so that the original words have no or little literal sense.”

        So how do you explain this contradiction?

      • philippians1v21 permalink*
        August 29, 2012 5:44 pm

        First, I want to be clear that there isn’t really a contradiction at all because I sent you to my brother’s blog. I didn’t write it. I am not saying that I agree with my brother in all of his interpretations of the bible. If you contrast his blog with mine you will certainly find that we do not agree on every point. I just sent you there because I wanted to show you that there various ways to interpret Genesis account that align with an Old Earth viewpoint. His way is one such way. It is NOT the only such way. In fact, I also gave you another one when I told you about the theory of a time gap between verses 1 and 2. This is called “gap theory”. The point I was trying to make is that there is room to interpret the account in an Old Earth way. I believe these issues are open to interpretation. I have an opinion, but I am not sure it is correct. My brother has a different opinion. I sent you there because I believed it may be of help to you.

        I am not really interested in trying to defend his opinion very much. However, I do know what he would tell you (because we have had this discussion in the past). He would point out Genesis 2:4 where the same word translated “day” clearly applies to all of creation. . .

        “This is the history of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens” Gen 2:4 (NKJ)

        The trouble is that the Hebrew language doesn’t have near as many words in its vocabulary as English does. Therefore we have many more words to describe things that the Hebrews only had one word for. One such example is the Hebrew word “yom”. Depending on its context it could mean one day or a period of time. My brother would argue that the use of yom in the “days” of creation is similar to its use in Gen 2:4, i.e. to describe a time period, or age. I do not necessarily agree with this, but I certainly understand how he can interpret it that way. Many Christians do, and I think it is legitimate.

        There are certainly some things in the bible that are not crystal clear. The bible is crystal clear on the things that are of extreme importance to it, and it is less clear on matters that are not associated with the purpose of the writing. The purpose of Genesis is primarily theological. As such, the emphasis is on establishing the events of creation, the fall, scattering of mankind, and the covenant with Abraham. It is not primarily written to establish time periods or define the age of the earth.

        I don’t think that interpreting “yom” as an age in this context is really doing what I am arguing against in this blog. It is not looking for some secondary or unobvious meaning in the text. It does not claim that the events of creation didn’t happen and that is was a moral lesson invented to teach a lesson. It is an attempt to arrive at the face-value meaning of yom in this context. the problem is that is just isn’t that clear. There are clear examples in Scripture where this word is used to mean age. So, I think that gives some room to read it like my brother does.

        That being said, I still think it means a single day. But that’s just my opinion 🙂

        Hopefully that helps some. If you tend to agree with me (that it means one day) but also believe strongly in an old earth, there are certainly other valid interpretations that align with this view.

      • Byron permalink
        April 13, 2014 2:06 pm

        Creation (and all other miracles of God/Christ) are not scientific issues but are theological issues.
        These are instantaneous, supernatural and miraculous events displayed by a powerful, infinite and glorious GOD and LORD !

  3. Josh permalink
    August 30, 2012 12:52 pm

    OK, so forget your brother and go back to my original question then. You said you believe the creation took place in a matter of days, as in our definition of a day (24 hours). So for somebody like yourself who believes in only a literal translation of the old testament, how do you explain the glaring contradictions between what the old testament says and what science has discovered about our universe, our planet, mankind, and evolution?

    • philippians1v21 permalink*
      September 26, 2012 12:19 pm

      I replied to this comment in a private email giving a very detailed explanation of how God and science are not in opposition.

  4. peggy permalink
    September 25, 2012 6:10 am

    Did God really ask his people to do all that killing. In the ot he, God, seems so quick to anger. There is a story in the old Testament as well where it talks about bears being sent to maul two misbehaving children. Talks about having some one killed as well by lions for refusing to kill someone he was commanded too. Talks about having Gods people kill everyone but save the virgins to become there wives. When I read these crazy stories it is hard for me to believe it comes from God. Yeesh, my church asked us to read the bible and I am. The old Testament is blood lusty, makes God seem so angry and quick to smite. etc.. Hard stuff to read and believe 100 percent.

    • philippians1v21 permalink*
      September 26, 2012 1:06 pm

      Peggy,
      I appreciate your difficulty. I have struggled with this myself in the past. This is actually WHY it is so important for you to read the Old Testament. You will never be able to fully understand the New Testament (or the Gospel or grace) until you have wrestled through this issue. This stirs within us the key problem in our understanding of our depravity, our sin, our purpose and our worth.

      It is very difficult for us to believe God could act this way toward people because we think we are the center of the universe and that God owes us more than that. This reveals an underlying assumption that we have. At the root of our objection to this is the underlining assumption that people are deserving of good and entitled to benevolent treatment from God. The problem with this assumption is that it isn’t the reality. The unpleasant truth is just the opposite. In fact, we are deserving of eternal punishment and death because of our rebellion against God.
      I have actually written about this subject in another blog post. I would encourage you to read this one and I think it would help. . .

      https://missionarybrewer.wordpress.com/2009/10/15/rve-agrace-the-enormous-gap-between-what-i-deserve-what-god-has-given-me/

      God is always, at every moment, giving us MORE than we deserve by allowing us to continue existing. He was well within justice, and rightness when He destroyed the whole world by a flood in Genesis 6. He is being gracious by allowing any of us to live. Until you can make this shift in your thinking you are going to really have a hard time understanding God, especially His actions in the Old Testament. He will seem callous, vengeful, and cruel. But the truth is, He is grievously wronged by us. He created us for a specific purpose that we no longer fulfill: to bring glory to Him and to enjoy Him forever. When we make something that stops performing its purpose we throw it away (like a broken hammer or a broken TV).

      In fact, He is so unbelievably gracious that He chooses to not only spare some of us, but to pay our punishment for us by dying Himself. This is why as a Christian we should be so blown away by grace that we would long to spend every minute serving Him. The more you understand your lack of deserving of good treatment from God, the more you will appreciate the unbelievably good treatment He gives you!
      I wrote a blog on a somewhat separate but related issue. There may be some points in here that are useful…

      https://missionarybrewer.wordpress.com/2010/01/18/why-does-god-let-bad-things-happen/

      I know this is only a start in addressing a question. I just encourage you to meditate on this idea and to continue praying and reading scripture (Also look at Romans ch. 9). I think once you can begin to see mankind in our rightful condition apart from God you will understand better and it will help unlock the whole bible for you.

      God bless,
      Jake

      • Peggy sheerin-hamill permalink
        September 26, 2012 2:26 pm

        Thanks,, but I still wonder why the change with Christ.  Why a God there that is slow to anger and teaches us patience , etc.  Would not allow anyone to stone the fallen women, Jesus, that is.  Where in the old testament it is most probable she would have been ordered to be stoned by God/   Why sooo different.

        Very Respectfully, Peggy

        ________________________________

      • philippians1v21 permalink*
        September 26, 2012 4:58 pm

        Ahh, now you are starting to think through this and see the implications. This will truly change your understanding of grace and the New Testament. What you are asking is exactly correct. This is WHY the fact that Jesus is so merciful in the New Testament is so unbelievable. It is why grace is so amazing!

        You are very correct. Something did change. The reason for this change is that we are in what theologians call the “Age of Grace”. Before Jesus came, God’s punishment and wrath were often immediately dulled out upon people. Plagues were brought on peoples, entire nations and cities were wiped out, the whole world was consumed in a flood, people were struck dead, etc. However, God is now suspending His judgment during these last days, the Age of Grace, in order to provide as many people as possible a chance to repent.

        “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve punishment.” ~2 Peter 3:9-10

        Much of the lack of intervention you see now is because His wrath is being stored up and held off until that Day of Judgment when it will be unleashed. It is wrong to see God’s mercy and forbearance in this age (ushered in by the resurrection of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit) as evidence that He is somehow changed or is letting it go now. To do so would be shortsighted, and fails to look at the whole picture presented in Scripture.

        This is why the Scripture is of so much importance in its entirety. It reveals to us a big picture view of God and how He interacts with man before the Age of Grace, during it, and we get glimpses of what it will be after it. The book of Revelation gives us a sneak-peak into the day when God will remove His hand of grace (often referred to as “Common Grace”) and dish out His wrath.

        This is also the reason that many have a hard time understanding how the God pictured in the Old Testament is the same as the God revealed in the New Testament. You are not the only one who reads it and thinks that God changed, like He somehow mellowed out a bit and started taking some Prozac. People say, “But the God in the New Testament is so loving, gentle, merciful, forgiving, and kind. The God in the Old Testament is so angry, wrathful, and strict, metering out justice to all with an iron fist.”

        The truth is that He is both. You need both pictures to get a good framework for beginning to know God. God is holy and completely just. He cannot tolerate or even look upon sin. Yes, He is kind and forgiving, suspending His imminent judgment for a time so that many will repent. The problem is that many see this time of forbearance (withholding of wrath) as God being soft on sin or just letting it go. Far from it. God never lets one sin go without death being paid, either yours for all eternity or Jesus’ on the cross. He can’t just ignore it or He would no longer be just. His wrath must be satisfied.

        “. . .Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” ~ Romans 2:4-5

        There will come a day with the forbearance and mercy of God will end and everyone will be called to account for the evil they have done. This will a frightful and terrifying day when the bible says people will wish they were never born and would wish the rocks of the mountains would fall on them to separate them from the wrath of God. Jesus, that loving, forgiving, merciful, savior, will return as a warrior out for blood. The lamb of God will become the Lion of Judah. Here is the bible’s description of Jesus on that day . . .

        “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. ~ Rev 19:11-16”

        The God of the Old Testament is very much the same today as He was then.

      • Peggy sheerin-hamill permalink
        September 26, 2012 5:04 pm

        Thank you so very much, you have helped me a lot.   I truly appreciate you taking the time to help me with this.

        Very Respectfully, Peggy

        ________________________________

      • peggy permalink
        September 26, 2012 5:26 pm

        Well, now I just finished your whole response. Well now I am totally freaked out. Does this mean , that when I pray for forgiveness, I still have to pay for that sin? Or is the slate whiped clean of that sin , when I truly repent and ask to be forgiven because of what christ did for all of us? At my church , that is what I have been taught!

        Thanks again, can’t wait to hear your reply. Yikes!

      • philippians1v21 permalink*
        September 26, 2012 7:37 pm

        Relax. You were taught correctly. When you trust in Jesus to be your Lord and Savior He forever pays for all your sins, past, present, and future. They are gone, as far away as the East from the West. You are clothed in His righteousness. His grace covers you. That’s why it is so amazing. We deserve hell and it’s a miracle we don’t get it. Instead He gives us EVERYTHING. He gives us eternity, joy, peace, hope, and most of all Himself!

      • peggy permalink
        September 27, 2012 2:02 am

        Thanks again for all your help!!

        Peggy

      • philippians1v21 permalink*
        September 27, 2012 8:08 am

        Anytime Peggy. God bless. I’ll be praying for you. Here is one other blog article to help balance out the once I sent you on God’s wrath. It is important to understand that God has NO MORE wrath for His children. . .
        https://missionarybrewer.wordpress.com/2009/10/20/saints-in-the-hands-of-a-loving-god/

  5. January 30, 2013 6:54 am

    Thanks for this great article and responses to people’s questions! Have you written anything about what happens when good people die, who happen to be of other faiths? Would be interested in hearing your thoughts on this. God bless!

    • philippians1v21 permalink*
      January 30, 2013 12:01 pm

      Robert,
      Thank you. I have written some on that subject, yes. The short answer is that there are no “good people”. If this was an old Western movie, we’d all be wearing black hats. There’s only one person in a white hat, and that is Jesus. It doesn’t matter what your faith is, you aren’t good by God’s standard. Everyone falls short. We all have committed treason against our king and we all stand guilty before Him, deserving a death sentence. He doesn’t have to save any of us. In fact, He shouldn’t. If He overlooked our crimes He would be acting unjustly. He cannot remain holy and be unjust. The only way God can remain just and we can go free is for someone to pay our penalty for us. But, this can’t just be another person. They aren’t qualified. They have their own sin. No, the only way would be for God, Himself, to pay it for us. He is the only one who is qualified. He alone is perfect and without His own sin.

      This is why other religions cannot offer salvation. They do not successfully deal with the problem of our sin. They have no one who is qualified to pay the debt caused by our sin. It is only Jesus, the God-man, who can step in between you and God and pay this penalty. No other person can do this. Other religions teach you must earn favor and merit from God by the good things you do. However, this does not pay for the bad things you have already done. We instinctively know this is true. If I am found guilty of murder by a jury and I stand up to give my last remarks before I am sentenced and I tell the judge, “Yes I did it, but I have been so good since then. I have walked old ladies across the street and worked at the local food bank”, what do you think the judge would say? He would respond, “Yes, but that doesn’t change the fact that you committed this crime. You must pay the penalty for it.” It is the same with our crimes against God. Being a “good person” doesn’t erase them. They must be paid for. Only Jesus can do this.

      When “good people die” they will face judgment. Everyone will. There are only two ways you can respond to God in this judgement. You can claim that you are not guilty. You can rely on your own righteousness. Or, you can admit that you are a sinner and are guilty but that you have placed your faith, trust, and hope in Jesus to be your righteousness. There will be no other person in whom you can trust to be righteousness for you. No leader of any other religion can claim they were without sin.

      As for me, I know I am guilty and I cannot stand before a pure and completely holy, sinless, and blameless God and claim to be righteous. I know that Jesus Christ is my only hope on that day. I know that he has already paid my penalty and that because of Him I am forgiven and clean.

      That’s a quick response. If you would like one in more detail, you can read this blog article I wrote: http://philippians1v21.wordpress.com/how-to-have-a-relationship-with-god/

  6. Ken permalink
    September 8, 2013 9:52 pm

    While I believe that the events in the old testament took place, I believe they were told in a manner that made sense to people who lived at that time rather than the focus being on accuracy.

    For instance, in Job we read that God and Satan have a conversation regarding Job’s faith. God believes that Job is blameless and upright while Satan believes that if disaster is brought onto Job, he will turn away from God. So God allows Satan to bring disaster on Job, including killing all of his sons and daughters and all his servants.

    So the questions is

    1) How would the author of Job know of the conversation between God and Satan.

    2) Would God allow Satan to kill Job’s sons, daughters and servants just to prove to Satan that Job is faithful?

    Personally, I think disaster did come upon Job but I think the authors account of the events, including the conversation between God and Satan, was added to give the story more meaning.

    It’s obvious from the number of parables that Jesus used that parables were a common way to convey meaning back then. If fact, throughout early history, civilizations have communicated values to future generations through stories, which in many cases were not entirely accurate. The accuracy of the story was not as important as the story being an effective tool to teach future generations.

    So in the case of the Old Testament, its purpose was to teach those who lived back then how to live for God. Whether the story was entirely 100% accurate was not as important as the author getting his teachings across, which would have been common practice back then.

    But in the New Testament, Jesus rebukes much of the old testament. Jesus says Jewish customs which were once important are now irrelevant (e.g. It’s not how clean you are on the outside but how clean you are on the inside. Its not what you eat but what comes out of your mouth) Instead of believing God is behind your army and killing 100,000 people, Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek and help your enemies.

    Put it this way. If you lived in the manner that people lived in the Old Testament, you would be thrown in jail. Why, because our laws our different now and people live differently. There is no stoning, we don’t kill others, we don’t have multiple wives, etc. So for me, this means that the Old Testament was written for people who lived in another time period with different laws who thought differently than people who live today. Not that we can’t get value from reading the Old Testament because I think we can. But I think we need to be mindful that it was written for people from another time period, and was written in a way that made sense to people back then.

    But the New Testament was written for our time. If you live the way Jesus tells us to live, you would be a model citizen, even with our laws today.

    So for me, I read the Old Testament to get a sense of how God wants me to live but I don’t get caught up in how accurate the stories may or may not be.

    The New Testament however I take as 100% accurate since that was written for people who live today.

    • philippians1v21 permalink*
      September 9, 2013 12:13 pm

      Ken,
      Thank you for the comment. I must contest your comment, however. I’m afraid your understanding of the Scriptures is deeply flawed.

      You claim you believe the events of the Old Testament (OT) took place, but then proceed to explain that you really DON’T believe many of these events took place. You don’t believe the event of the conversation between Satan and God in Job took place. Here is the problem you run into. If Scripture is not inspired word of God, if it isn’t all true, then how do you know any of it is? It is can be wrong and inaccurate on some points, how do you know it is accurate on others? Furthermore, why is YOUR judgment the correct judgment? Are only the parts YOU think are true really true? If this is the case, it is just license for anyone to pick and choose which parts they personally want to believe. I don’t like that Jesus says if you look at a women with lust you have committed adultery, so therefore I guess I can just say that part is really just an allegory and Jesus never really said that?

      No, Scripture is not “choose your own truth”. It makes claims that are either true or not true. Either the bible is the words of God and is infallible or it isn’t. It cannot be the words of an infallible God and contain untruths or made up events. The bible either presents accurate history or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, then forget it. There is no point in following a god who can’t even record basic events correctly. If Scripture is not the words of God, it is no better to me than the opinion of man. I might as well go pick up a book by Deepak Chopra and use THAT to base my belief system on. I have no interest in the ideas and philosophies of men. I want to know what GOD says about life, death, and salvation.

      1) How would the author of Job know of the conversation between God and Satan?

      This comment shows how deeply you misunderstand the bible. The entire premise of the bible is that the words are inspired by God Himself. This means the biblical authors claim that they were guided and told by God what to write down. This section in Job is no different from countless other places where the author claims he is conveying the very words of God to people. He is writing what God told him. All of the prophets did this. Moses does it in Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Numbers. Joshua does it after him. A VAST majority of the OT is the recorded words of God to the people. If you deny any author spoke with God, you deny all authority of the text. It just becomes another storybook like Beowulf or Homer’s Iliad. If you believe the authors did speak to God, then why are you surprised they know behind the scene events only God was privy to?

      The reality is that we can KNOW the biblical authors DID speak to God because they recorded God’s prophetic words for us. There are countless prophecies in the OT that have proven true. There are over 300 very specific prophecies in the OT about Jesus Christ alone have he completely fulfilled. Peter Stoner was the Chairman of the Departments of Mathematics and Astronomy at Pasadena City College until 1953, and Chairman of the Science Division of Westmont College from 1953 to 1957. Stoner calculated the probability of one man fulfilling only 8 Messianic prophecies was one in 10^17. He further calculated the odds of one person fulfilling just 48 of the over 300 prophecies was one chance in 10^157! It’s ludicrous. I talk a lot about this in this blog post: https://missionarybrewer.wordpress.com/2010/03/29/the-bible-and-jesus-letter-explaining-why-i-believe/

      But the problem for you here gets even worse! This claim that the authors are conveying the very words God spoke to them is not confined only to the OT. The New Testament (NT) is no different in this fact. The word “Apostle” literally means one sent on behalf of God who speaks with His divine authority. Paul, John, Peter, and James all claim this calling, assignment, and task to speak the words they received from God to the people. In their letters they claim that they are inspired by God (e.g. Acts 18:9, 1 Cor 2:10, 2 Cor 2:17, 5:20, 1 Thes 2:4, Rev 1:1-2). They claim to have spoken directly with Him and are conveying his message to the people. Paul claims his entire gospel message was given to him directly from Jesus Christ Himself after his resurrection (Gal 1:11-12). If you don’t believe Job is factual because it records a conversation the author had with God, why believe any of the accounts from the NT authors either?

      2) Would God allow Satan to kill Job’s sons, daughters and servants just to prove to Satan that Job is faithful?

      I am curious why you think you know what an omnipotent, omniscient God would chose to do? Yes, I think God would allow that to happen because He allows countless evil things to happen every day. He allowed the Holocaust to happen. Let’s get a little more close to home. He allowed the massacre at of all those children Shady Hook Elementary to happen. You aren’t seriously saying that the events recorded in Job could not really be true because God would never let bad things happen to good people, are you? Look around man. Turn on the news right now.

      If this is what you are saying, you have completely missed the entire POINT of the book of Job. The very point is that bad things happen to both good and bad people alike. Just because bad things happen to you doesn’t mean you necessarily did something wrong. God allows evil to happen to us because, in His view, they serve a greater purpose of helping us to know Him better (Rom 5:3-5) and it results in Him getting more glory. Consider the remark Job makes about the outcome of his trouble:

      “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.” ~ Job 42:5

      If you want to discuss the problem of evil and why God allows evil to happen that is an entire separate issue that doesn’t really have anything to do with the reliability of Scripture. The point here is that the Scriptural account in Job doesn’t conflict with what we know to be true from life…that God allows very bad things to happen to good people for seemingly no reason. I say “seemingly” because the point is that we don’t know it all. Only He does.

      You know this is true. If you haven’t experienced deep pain and loss like this personally, I am guessing you know someone who has. I have. The book of Job is one of the most honest of any on this issue. It doesn’t shy away from this uncomfortable fact. It hits it head on. God permits evil and suffering in our life . . . and He does it for HIS reasons and HIS purposes. We are His creation. We exist to bring Him glory. He does NOT exist to make our lives better and more comfortable. God’s speech to Job in Chapters 38-41 drives this point home. But, at the same time God is good and He does not leave Job in desolation. He comforts job and restores him. This is what God promises to all of His followers: not the absence of pain and suffering, but His comfort, joy and peace in the midst of it. He promises we WILL have suffering (1 Peter 4:11, 2 Tim 3:12). But he also promises that it will be incomparable with the glory that will come (Rom 5:3-5, 8:18, 2 Cor 4:17, Rev 21:4).

      As for Job’s family? Well they get immediately to go to be with God, this is the best possible good.

      You are confused about what a parable is. Yes Jesus used parables to tell stories with meaning, but we CANNOT take this to assume the events written in Jewish historical genre of writing are allegorical. No Jewish historian at the time believed this. In fact, all the contemporary Jewish historians to Jesus taught that the events in the Old Testament were actual history. They understood parables and their appropriate place. But that is a separate genre from history. They could tell the difference. Read Josephus. You are just wrong about this point. This is like saying that since we have movies today that present fictional accounts, all our history books should be read that way.

      You are also incorrect that Jesus “rebukes” the Old Testament. This could not be further from the truth. He said this. . .

      “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” ~ Matthew 5:17-19

      Jesus had the highest admiration and respect for the OT. He warned people not to make the very mistake you are making (assuming he came to abolish it or correct it). No, He came to fulfill it, to prove it true, to demonstrate that it was all about Him, and to be the final proof that the words the prophets claimed were from God actually were!

      What Jesus did was to correct the wrong application of the OT. The example of the cup that you bring up is a good one. Jesus was NOT saying that the OT was wrong that you should purify dishes; He was saying that there was a spiritual truth here that the Pharisees had missed. Cleaning dishes and garments was intended to teach people that THEY were in need of spiritual cleaning. It was such a struggle to keep these physical objects clean and the reality was this could never be done perfectly. That was the whole point of God having the people do these things. It was intended to teach them that, just like the cup and the clothes, we are dirty (in our sin) and we cannot keep ourselves clean. We desperately need to be cleaned on the inside. Paul explains this in Gal 3:24 (and elsewhere). I could elaborate more on this but it would take too much time here.

      Jesus ALWAYS interpreted the Old Testament literally. There is not one single example of Jesus saying that an event that is depicted in the Old Testament was just to teach us a lesson. This is a modern day fabrication. It simply cannot be supported from Scripture.

      You say you believe that the New Testament is 100% accurate, but it attests to the Old Testament! I have listed many examples in the blog post above. I could list many more. Job’s story is even mentioned in the NT (James 5:11). The Apostle, James, clearly believes this account to be true. He speaks of God’s mercy and compassion to Job as physical evidence of how God brings good from suffering.
      Consider Peter’s very words here:

      “Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” ~2 Peter 1:20-21

      Also Consider Paul’s words:

      “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” ~ 2 Timothy 3:16

      If you believe the NT is “100% true” you must believe these verses too. The Apostles are talking here about the OT. That is the only Scripture they had at the time. This is clear confirmation of the OT by NT authors.

      In closing, my question to you, Ken, is this: Why don’t you believe the OT is completely true? Are some parts just too fantastic? You clearly believe in a powerful God that can raise people from the dead, walk on water, heal sick produce food from nothing, and conquer His own death. You believe in demons, and Satan and that God can have discussions with them. All of these things are in the NT. Why do you feel compelled to doubt them in the OT when there is no clear or compelling reason to not take what the authors said at face value (like you do the NT)? This reasoning just doesn’t make any sense. It is a very curious position.

      • Ken permalink
        September 15, 2013 9:05 pm

        Thanks for your response.

        My issue is with Genesis. According to Genesis, God created the universe in 6 days (7th day he rested). For many centuries, that was taken at face value. Then science proved that the period between the earth forming and plant life appearing is hundreds of millions of years. Dinosaurs roamed the earth for about 160 million years. Humans are about 200,000 years old. Then there is the fact that evolution has happened. Even if you think that humans were created in the dust by God, its impossible to deny that at least on the animal side, evolution took place.

        So it’s impossible for God to have created everything in 6 days, as we previously believed. So now we say a day in God’s eyes is not equal to an earth day. But when we say that, are we not then saying we don’t believe the accuracy of the old testament? Nothing indicated that when Moses wrote a day that he was referring to some other type of measurement.

        However, if you suggested 300 years ago that God did not created the earth in 6 earth days, you would have been kicked out of the church. However, now that science has told us that the earth is older than we originally thought, we now have come up with the notion that one day as defined by God does not equal one earth day. But this would be at odds with your belief that the OT is 100% accurate.

        So under your belief of the OT, I think you either have to believe that the Genesis is wrong (and therefore there is no reason to believe any part of the bible as you say) or that science is wrong and God did create the earth in 6 days.

        Under my belief, I say that God provided Moses with a story about how he created the universe. The story is not 100% accurate, as far as our interpretation as to the measurement of a day. I believe that those who lived in the time of Moses also would have interpreted the word day to mean 24 hours. However the time frame of a day is not important. The point of the story was to state that God was responsible for creating everything, whether immediate or by evolution. So the details are not as important as the meaning of the story. Genesis is a perfect example as to why I believe many stories in the old testament were told in a manner that made sense to people who lived at that time rather than the focus being on accuracy.

    • philippians1v21 permalink*
      September 16, 2013 2:50 pm

      Ken,

      Glad to hear back from you.

      I think your last comment effectively demonstrates my point. If your “issue is with Genesis”, why does your disbelief that it is literal cause you to doubt all the events of the OT are literal? I think this illustrates the slippery slope I discussed. The fact that you feel forced to interpret one account in the OT as allegory causes you to then suspect that all (or most) of events in the OT must be allegory as well. But why stop there? It isn’t much further for you to begin questioning the NT accounts as well. In fact, there really isn’t a step here at all. You have provided no clear reason they are different. I see no concrete difference between your hermeneutic for how you interpret scripture from the person who claims the resurrection of Jesus was not physical but a spiritual awakening within mankind. It is just a metaphor for what happens within the human heart.

      “However, if you suggested 300 years ago that God did not created the earth in 6 earth days, you would have been kicked out of the church.”

      Actually, St. Augustine of Hippo taught this in 415 AD, and he is considered a Saint by the Catholic church, so . . . I don’t think so. Augustine believed that it was NOT 6 24-hour days and He also believed the OT was 100% accurate. The Hebrew is unclear and allows some room for interpretation. This does not call into question all the other passages in the OT that ARE clear.

      I have already discussed in previous comments to this blog the fact that holding to 6 24-hour days of creation is NOT required for a person to take a literal interpretation of Genesis (see my responses to Josh above). I see no need to repeat those comments here. Many, many Christians (and the majority of theologians) take such a view, yet they hold emphatically to the literal interpretation of Genesis and the OT. You can certainly read Genesis literally and yet have room to conclude it was longer than a week. The Hebrew is simply not that clear. If you want to believe it took longer than 6 days, you don’t have to result to saying it is allegory. There is no reason to do this. I have linked to it already but you can check out my brother in law’s blog for his position on this: http://www.rareuniverse.org

      That being said, I do take serious issue with this comment you made: “it’s impossible for God to have created everything in 6 days.” How can a mere man tell God what is impossible for Him? Why is it impossible? Is there an explicit logical contradiction? I think not. I am pretty sure the bible says with God all things are possible (and that is in the NT, by the way… Matt 19:26). If God is really God (i.e. omnipotent and omniscient) He doesn’t need 6 minutes, much less 6 days.

      I think what you mean is that science seems to tell us it took longer . . . so therefore it must have. This is not a statement of impossibility. It is merely a statement that our observation of the created universe points to it being longer. But, there are a great many assumptions in this statement. Here are just a few of the implicit assumptions contained in that statement:

      1. Observable changes with the universe have always progressed and the same rate.
      2. Creation occurred following the same laws of physics that currently govern the universe
      3. Everything was created in its incomplete, imperfect state and required time to develop into its current (mature) state.

      These 3 assumptions may be true, but they are not NECESSARILY true. They are much less certain once you start allowing for the existence of a supernatural being who is NOT bound by laws of physics and who frequently is seen intervening and overriding them.

      I think much of the scientific evidence for an old earth can be explained if one concedes that it is possible God didn’t create a universe and earth in its infant (immature) state, but in a perfect and mature form. Arguments like solar life cycles, radiometric dating, layered strata, galaxy motion, etc. hold less weight if you consider that God may have created a mature universe, just as he created mature animals and people (not infants). According to the biblical account, Adam and Eve were created as physically, mentally, and emotionally mature adults. They never had to experience being an infant, learning how to walk, or learning to talk, etc. Their brains (and bodies) were formed in a mature state.

      Further, there is textual evidence of this in the creation account. On the fourth day God created “lights in the expanse of the heavens”. This was done with one spoken sentence from God. The fact that God created a multitude of stars simultaneously indicates these stars didn’t go through the whole process we observe of a star being created (taking millions of years). They didn’t come from one single point. God created a multitude of stars and galaxies at once.

      Additionally, the sun was created mature. According to the bible this was done instantaneously. You can throw our “solar models” for the creation of starts out the window here. God spoke. You can’t model that. In fact, in every day of creation we see this pattern . . . God creating a mature world. He created dry land in a single day. This means all the geological features that accompany land (fully formed granite, sandstone, volcanic basalt, etc). He created fully grown plants already yielding seed. He created waters teeming with living creatures. He created the air full of birds, fully mature and flying.

      When interpreting scripture it is very helpful to look at other times and places when a similar event, action, or situation occurred and see what information can be gleaned from that case that can shed light on the other case. In the situation of creation, if we look at other examples of when God miraculously created things, perhaps we can see a pattern. We know from John 1:1, Col 1:15-19, and Hebrews 1:8-12 that the creator of the universe was none other than Jesus Christ Himself. Colossians tells us that everything was created by Him and for Him. It could be helpful, then, to look at other examples of when Jesus created or miraculously produced things in scripture. Let’s look at some NT examples, since you claim to believe they are 100% true and not allegory.

      In Matthew 14:13-20, Jesus feeds over 10,000 people (5,000 men) by miraculously producing food from 5 loaves and two fish. It is important to note that what was created here was not fish eggs but fish, fully cooked or cured. The fish didn’t have to go through a process of hatching from eggs, dying, being cleaned, de-boned, salted, cooked and prepared for consumption. They were created ready to eat. Similarly, Jesus didn’t create grain that needed to be crushed into flour, have yeast added, cooked, and cooled. He created bread fully risen, cooked and ready to eat. What we see here is Jesus creating things in a perfect and mature state, ready to be used immediately.

      Ok, but in this case He started out with mature fish and bread. Perhaps this isn’t quite apples to apples. Alright then, what about John 2:1-12 where Jesus turned the water into wine at the wedding feast? This is Jesus’ first miracle, and the start of His public ministry. There is a very clear parallel here to the first event in the bible, creation. In verse 11, John calls it “the beginning of His signs”. Jesus instructs that they fill 6 stone jars with water. Why specifically designate the number six? Could it have something to do with the six days of creation? Perhaps.

      When Jesus turns this water into wine it is “fine wine”. It was so good that the master of the feast exclaimed that they had saved the best wine until the end. As a brewer myself (hence the title of my blog) I can tell you that fine wine takes time. Infant wine is cloyingly sweet, with undesirable acidic and yeasty flavors, not to mention bacteria. Wine takes weeks if not months to ferment and then gets better as it clears and is aged (for years). Jesus created fully fermented, perfectly aged wine instantaneously. There was no need of growing grapes, pressing grapes, filtering, adding yeast nutrients, allowing the wine to ferment, removing sediment, clearing out, aging, etc. He just said draw it out, and it was created perfectly mature. The wine was created in a heartbeat, yet with the appearance of age.

      There is certainly a pattern here that is applicable to creation. When Jesus creates something, He makes it in its perfected and mature state. You don’t have to wait around for it to grow up, age, mature, or develop. He creates things quickly, yet they appear much older than they really are. This is exactly what we see in the biblical account of creation. God says it was done quickly, but we look around us and it appears old.

      Uniformitarians of all types (such as yourself) make the assumption that “the present is the key to the past”. They assume that natural processes have always occurred at constant, slow rate. They believe they can figure out the age of the earth with mathematical certainty by calculating the rate these processes change over time. However, the bible testifies that whenever God intervenes with His creation these processes are anything but constant. Waters part, famines cease, storms are stilled, limbs and organs are regenerated, cities are destroyed, floods decimate, time stands still, walls crumble, and people are brought back from the dead. You cannot model or predict the creative power of God by looking at existing natural processes. The uniformitarian model only makes sense if you do not believe in an all powerful God who intervenes in His creation.

      If you do believe in the type of God the bible describes, there is no accounting for His actions in a uniformitarian model, unless you constrain Him to only be able to work through strictly natural processes and the laws of physics. However, this would be a very convoluted position, because the bible is full of countless examples of when He overrides these processes and laws.

      This is a rock and a hard place for the Uniformitarian Christian. You find yourself in the funny place of holding onto the belief that Jesus spoke Lazarus back to life (and his body was fully rejuvenated instantaneously from decay and stench) while rejecting that God spoke and created stars instantaneously (even though scripture claims both are true). In one case you allow God to override physics and natural laws and in the other case you require Him be constrained to the “solar life cycle” for the creation of stars. This is a logical inconsistency that must be pointed out.

      Is it not at least possible that God in his infinite power (who can create everything from absolutely nothing) might be able to create a fully formed universe capable of supporting life (with starts and planets and our sun) in a few days if he wanted to? Is it possible that when we look at things today and go by the rates things progress now, we might not be able to accurately account for God’s intervention?

      I do not have the space here to really get into the issue of evolution. However, I will say that you are absolutely incorrect when you say it is a “fact that evolution has happened.” This is FAR from an established fact. I have carefully and thoroughly examined this evidence. I am a scientist and an engineer. My wife is a biologist. I do not desire to believe something that isn’t true. I strongly desire to believe what is correct and this has led me on a very in depth examination of the evidence for and against the theory of evolution. In the end, I do not believe the evidence for evolution wins the day. I do not believe it is the best fit for all the evidence that is available. My rejection of evolution is on scientific grounds, not based on the bible. I reject the flawed theory, not because I do not believe that God could work that way if He chose, but because of scientific reasons.

      It is a bad theory that is actually in the gradual process of dying off. I’m afraid you’ve been sold a bag of lies. Darwinian Evolution as a comprehensive theory to explain the complexity and diversity of life on earth is losing ground among scientists and intellectuals. It is diverging from the path that would lead to it being a comprehensive theory to account for the diversity of life. More holes are being opened all the time and the old holes are getting wider. The theory is diverging. The trajectory is away from resolution. It is not wrapping up nicely for evolutionists. This is simply a fact.

      Evolutionary theory is a sinking ship. Many are jumping off. Here is a website that list 700 doctoral-level scientists today that have agreed (at professional risk) to sign a petition stating they do not believe evolution is capable of explaining the diversity of life. The list is growing. http://www.dissentfromdarwin.org/

      Since I don’ have room to present the case against evolution (which is substantial and growing) here, I encourage you to watch a couple of documentaries that talk about it. Seriously look into this for yourself. I suspect you will be amazed at what you find:

      https://missionarybrewer.wordpress.com/2013/08/12/evolution-vs-god/


      (This is Chapter 1 of 10, all 10 are available on YouTube)
      http://astore.amazon.com/discoveryinsti06/detail/0972043314 (This is a great movie but you would have to purchase it) You can watch clips from it here:

      (makes sure you watch Clip 4)

      If you are interested in more evidence and information about how the case for evolution is crumbling I could send you a lot of information by email. Let me know. I have done a lot of research in the area.

  7. Ken permalink
    September 16, 2013 9:46 pm

    Thanks for taking the time to respond. I really do appreciate it. I will definitely read and watch the links you have provided but will need some time to get through everything.

    I think the thing that gets me about Genesis is that when I was young, I was always taught that God created everything in 6 earth days. However now with so much scientific evidence against the 6 earth day theory, many church’s now preach that it was not 6 earth days but 6 heaven days. So in essence, we have changed the way we interpret the bible to fit science. This bothers me greatly.

    So I embarked to read the OT again (I have read it several times in my 35 years of being a christian) but this time with a more critical approach. And when I read the OT more critical, I found things that really don’t make sense.

    For instance, in many cases a prophet will instruct an army to attack a neighbouring country as God is with them. That army then goes and kills hundreds of thousands of men, women and children. But why would God want an army to kill so many people since when Jesus came, he said we should turn the other cheek. Why would God want his people to kill children and babies when Jesus talks of us protecting the children and how innocent they are. And please be clear, I am not talking about God allowing bad things happening. God gives us all free will and that means some people will do bad things. But in these cases, God is instructing people to go and kill many including children who Jesus said are innocent. And since Jesus and God are the same (the trinity) how could God deliver one message and Jesus deliver a totally different message.

  8. philippians1v21 permalink*
    September 17, 2013 4:18 pm

    Ken,
    Thanks. You are welcome. I hope I am helping some. I certainly understand your struggle with how it seems the church (or perhaps some churches at least) have changed how they interpret the bible based on science. This has certainly happened in many cases, and I think it is a mistake. I really don’t think there is a need to do so. To be fair, I think very few churches have gone as far as you . . . to say the OT is mostly allegory. There are some churches that have done this, but most of them cannot truly be considered “churches” in the biblical sense anymore because they have gone all the way to allegorize the NT and the work of Christ as well. They’ve slid all the way down the slippery slope. The church without the gospel is no church at all.

    I do think that it is appropriate to allow things we learn from our study of creation to help us better understand the bible. By this I do NOT mean that we are free to change or allegorize the bible to align with science. What I mean is that sometimes when we read Scripture we see it through our lens that is colored by our paradigm of how we view the world. When we see things in creation that don’t align with our way of seeing the world it can cause us to go back to Scripture and ask “does it really teach that”? Sometimes this reveals that it didn’t really say what we thought; we just read it a certain way because of how we view things.

    For example, All Christians at one time thought the earth was the center of the universe. People thought the sun orbited the earth. People even used the bible to teach this. When Galileo began proving that Copernicus was correct that the earth orbited the sun, the Church persecuted him. He was arrested and forced to recount his position. He lived his last years under arrest. But as time went on and it became increasingly clear that he was correct, it forced people to go back to scripture and see if it really taught that the sun orbited the earth. It turns out it doesn’t. What it says is that the sun rises and goes down (Ecc 1:5). This had been taken to mean the earth is stationary and the sun is moving, but in reality all it is describing is the relative movement of the sun from the perspective of someone on the earth. This is no different than how we say the sun rises and sets (even though we know it is not the sun that is moving). It is merely a description of its movement relative to the observer.

    In the example above, science helped us to better interpret and understand the meaning in the bible. It did not force us to change the meaning or say it was allegory. Science can be a useful tool to help us get to the meaning of Scripture when it is not immediately clear. However, caution should be used. This is especially true when the science itself is unclear and ultimately inconclusive.

    I do think that the scientific evidence for the age of the earth has caused Christians to go back to Genesis and ask if it really does say what they thought it said. I think this is a good and healthy question to ask. This effort has revealed that it is not a crystal clear as we at once thought. Part of the problem is that the Hebrew language is not as specific and modern language. There are far fewer words in their vocabulary and one word will have multiple possible meanings, depending on the context. So the word “yom”, for example, which gets translated “day” in Genesis can also mean “age”. Yom is used to mean age elsewhere in Scripture. Does this mean it doesn’t mean 6 24-hour periods of creation? Possibly, but it also could mean exactly that. The point is there is some room here for interpretation. This is one place where every person is free to think about it differently. Yes, some of us will be wrong and some of us will be right. But, God has not made it clear to us now, so we won’t know for sure until we go to meet him.

    Genesis isn’t a science book, that’s not its purpose. It is deliberately not clear on those points. However, this does not mean it is not clear on any point. There are absolutely things it is clear on. It takes the history of mankind and the fall very seriously and tells this very descriptively as literal history. It transitions directly from the account of Adam and Even into telling of the other historical figures like Noah and Abraham. Just because the choice of words in the creation account doesn’t for sure limit it to a week does NOT mean that we are free to allegorize the whole book. Even if the creation account does describe ages and not a week, this can be arrived at by a literal interpretation. I personally don’t think this is necessary. I don’t think the science is that conclusive, and I think that it is quite possible God created a mature universe very quickly.

    The more important point you make, I think, is your last one about God commanding people to wipe out nations in the OT (including women and children). This is important because understanding this and reconciling it is vital to you understanding a major facet of who God is. If you don’t understand the depth of man’s depravity and the magnitude of God’s holiness and justice (which results in His wrath at sinners) you can never fully understand the Gospel of Grace. This is crucial. It will change your perspective forever once you get this. I suspect it is one reason you struggle with the book of Job and the fact that God would not only allow that to happen, but practically offer Job up to Satan. I have actually written some about this in the comments on this page already. Before you read on here, please go back and read the discussion I had above with Peggy. This was the same question she raised, and I think my answers to her are applicable here. There are 4 responses I made to her above.

    Ok, now that you read that you should have come away understanding a very crucial point…no one is innocent (see Psalms 14:2-3, Isaiah 64:6, Romans 3:9-18 and 23). You are incorrect that “Jesus said children are innocent”. You have misinterpreted that passage. He did say that the kingdom of heaven was inhabited by “such as these” (Lk 18:15-16). But, this does NOT mean children are innocent. Far from it. What he meant is that heaven is inhabited by those who have faith in God like a trusting child has in a parent (Lk 18:17). The issue here is faith not innocence.

    Children are born sinful and selfish. You don’t have to teach a child to say “mine!” They instinctively know this. You DO have to teach them to share. In fact, children can be some of the most narcissistic and selfish people around. This is because they haven’t learned to hide it as much as adults. They let their true nature and thoughts out more than us. They haven’t acquired a filter yet. The point here is we are ALL guilty. We are sinners by nature and by choice. There is no one innocent.

    As such, we are ALL in blatant, open rebellion to God. We do not deserve good treatment from God. We are deserving of His wrath, every one of us. This may not be a pleasant thought and it is one we react very negatively to, but it is nonetheless true. It is also absolutely necessary to get this to understand God’s actions in the world and to understand the mission and work of Christ. When God commands that a people be destroyed, He is not acting evilly. He is enacting righteous judgment.

    What’s more is God’s extreme wrath toward sinners is not just a theme in the OT. According to Romans 5:1-11 we have made ourselves “enemies of God”. We were at war with God. Those who do not repent remain under His wrath (John 3:36). It is true that in the NT time (and now) God is suspending His judgment for a time so that people can repent (2 Peter 3:9-10). But this should not be taken to imply God has softened on sin or that He has somehow changed and mellowed out. In fact, the bible says that people are storing up wrath for the Day of Judgment by their actions in this life (Rom 2:3-5). It’s like they keep adding rocks to the pile that will eventually crush them.

    The God of the OT is the same today as He was then. The same vengeance in which he struck the Canaanites and Amalekites is the same vengeance He will exact on all evildoers someday (2 Thes 1:7-9, Rom 12:19). The book of Revelation depicts Jesus returning, not as a lamb to be slaughtered, but as the Lion of Judah coming to enact judgment and levy out death to all of God’s (and believers) enemies. It shows these enemies being trampled like grapes in the wine press of God’s wrath with blood flowing in stream 180 miles long as deep as a horse’s bridle (Rev 14:17-20). That’s some pretty gruesome imagery. It is a very sharp reminder that God is serious about sin and serious about His holiness and His justice.

    Make no mistake, God judged those nations justly. Even by ancient standards, the Canaanites were a hideously nasty bunch. Their culture was grossly immoral, decadent to its roots. Its debauchery was dictated primarily by its fertility religion that tied eroticism of all varieties to the successful agrarian cycles of planting and harvest.

    In addition to divination, witchcraft, and female and male temple sex, Canaanite idolatry encompassed a host of morally disgusting practices that mimicked the sexually perverse conduct of their Canaanite fertility gods: adultery, homosexuality, transvestitism, pederasty (men sexually abusing boys), sex with all sorts of beasts, and incest. Note that after the Canaanite city Sodom was destroyed, Lot’s daughters immediately seduced their drunken father, imitating one of the sexual practices of the city just annihilated (Gen. 19:30-36).

    Worst of all, Canaanites practiced child sacrifice. There was a reason God had commanded, “Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molech” (Lev 18:21). Molech was a Canaanite underworld deity represented as an upright, bull-headed idol with human body in whose belly a fire was stoked and in whose outstretched arms a child was placed that would be burned to death…And it was not just infants; children as old as four were sacrificed. A bronze image of Kronos was set up among them, stretching out its cupped hands above a bronze cauldron, which would burn the child. As the flame burning the child surrounded the body, the limbs would shrivel up and the mouth would appear to grin as if laughing, until it was shrunk enough to slip into the cauldron. Archaeological evidence indicates that the children thus burned to death sometimes numbered in the thousands.

    The Canaanites had been reveling in debasements like these for centuries as God patiently postponed judgment (Gen 15.16). God was willing to spare the Canaanite city of Sodom for the sake of just ten righteous people (Gen. 18:32). He was slow to anger and always fast to forgive (note Nineveh, for example). But is there not a limit? Indeed, what would we say of a God who perpetually sat silent in the face of such wickedness? Would we not ask where was God? Would we not question His goodness, His power, or even His existence if He did not eventually vanquish this evil? Yet when God finally does act, we are quick to find fault. The conquest was an exercise of capital punishment on a national scale, payback for hundreds of years of idolatry and unthinkable debauchery. It will not be the last such punishment.

    This is what makes His grace towards us so amazing! He doesn’t have to offer it. In fact, by all rights He shouldn’t. But in His great love He chose to spare some of us from His wrath and offer us not only mercy from what we deserve but grace to give us everything! If you don’t fully comprehend God’s wrath and what we truly deserve you will never fully understand how great His love is and how amazing grace is!

    Hopefully that helps put this in a little perspective.

  9. JoshC permalink
    October 3, 2014 1:40 am

    fantastic mate. absolutely fantastic answers. thanks heaps 🙂

  10. gary1799 permalink
    November 13, 2014 3:11 pm

    I was recently presented with this argument regarding the Old Testament being allegory and thought the subject so important that I should write an article about it. But instead I found this article. it is so well articulated and thoughtfully composed (and currently siting at the #1 position in a Google search on the subject) that I find there’s no need for me to write an article of my own due to there being nothing further that I could add.

    I did however, find the article to be lengthy. At 3,870 words I feel it’s too long for an internet article. The length is more appropriate for a magazine article. I believe this is very common throughout Christian apologetics on the internet. Ask someone to answer one question about the Bible and they are likely to present you with what amounts to a doctoral thesis on the subject. My opinion is that if you want to keep your audience’s attention, 600 words for an internet article. No more. If you want to add additional content, include an audio podcast linked to from the article’s main page.

    It’s also my opinion that if a person is unable to believe that the events in the Old Testament actually happened, they are also very likely are not saved. It is impossible to please God without faith. Therefore if a person, after reading a story in the Old Testament, concludes the events are impossible and didn’t happen, that person is denying the power of God and thus denying God Himself and literally stating that they do not believe what God said to be true.

    http://garyeugenehowell.com/hearinggodsvoice/

  11. Kap permalink
    July 6, 2015 11:32 pm

    Really enjoyed this article. Good job!

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