Seven Days that Divide the World 1

John Lennox, professor in Mathematics at Oxford, in his new and wonderfully written book, Seven Days That Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science, examines the age-old, ever divisive — and yet wintergreen in piquing our interest — issues in the science and faith/Bible debates. My sentence, the one I just wrote, is hopelessly complex. Lennox has learned to write, and that Zondervan bundled up this little book into an attractive format, makes this a delightful book both to hold and to read.

I really like this statement he makes:

The take-home message from Augustine is, rather, that, if my views on something not fundamental to the gospel, on which equally convinced Christians disagree, attract ridicule and therefore disincline my hearers to listen to anything I have to say about the Christian message, then I should be prepared to entertain the possibility that it might be my interpretation that is at fault (32).

Now I said Lennox could write, and that sentence is very complex, but it’s unlike any other I’ve seen in this book.  But he’s right, and it’s important to listen to what he’s saying. And it leads me directly to a comment or two. Ah, it’s that “fundamental to the gospel” that gets us all tripped up. What one person thinks is fundamental to the gospel, another person thinks is totally unimportant. No matter that I disagree sharply with Al Mohler on the age of the earth and the intent of Genesis 1 (and 2), I give Mohler “props” for sticking to his guns in thinking that gospel matters matter greatly. He thinks surrendering Adam and Eve to the land of myth or fiction, true myth or true fiction notwithstanding, surrenders too much. As I say, I give him props for that. But Dennis Venema thinks, well, Mohler is just wrong. And Venema thinks otherwise on the Adam and Eve issues of our day.

Questions: Are ancient cosmological statements metaphors, intentional ones, or are they cosmological perceptions of that day? What does this mean for how we view the Bible?

So let me say it simply, in layperson terms: If our views are ludicrous for the scientists, maybe we are wrong.

But this is not a post about Mohler or Venema or Calvin’s controversies for that matter. Instead we’re discussing Lennox’s book.

Lennox’s opening example is that we have learned that our readings of the Bible are wrong in thinking the earth rests on pillars or foundations made of stone or concrete or steel. This all means foundations or pillars are metaphors. He doesn’t quite deal with an issue that many would like examined: Did the authors of the Bible actually believe the earth rested on pillars? Let’s say they did: Does that mean they were wrong? Well, yes. But does that entail that they were limited to the cosmology of their day? Yes to that one, too. Where does that leave us? With a Bible that is historically located and that God chose to use the cosmology of those days and spoke in those ways. Or, is Lennox saying that it was metaphor even to those authors? Now that would be a hard one to prove.

Lennox: “The earth does not have to be at the centre of the physical universe in order to be a centre of God’s attention” (33). He wants to be scientifically accurate in a way that does not compromise the Bible’s authority. Leading him to a major hermeneutical point:

Scripture has the primary authority. Experience and science have helped to decide between the possible interpretations that Scripture allows (33).

I find that point powerfully interesting because while it claims the preeminence of Scripture he hands (or seems to hand) it to science to let us decide which views Scripture allows. Perhaps we could put it differently: sometimes science informs us in such ways that we see the ancient cosmological limitations of the Bible’s writers.

Galileo, Lennox says, teaches us that we need to distinguish what the Bible says from what we think the Bible says. So he’s saying the Bible might be more sophisticated than we think. In other words, it appears to me Lennox thinks the Bible actually sees the earth resting on pillars to be intentional metaphor for something else.

The earth moves, rapidly as it turns out: 67,000 mph. It’s not propped up on pillars, it’s not the center of the universe, and we’ve learned this from science. This leads us to see things in the Bible as either metaphor or cosmological perceptions of the ancient world. There’s a big difference.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • DRT

    Isn’t this the same argument Paul makes in 1 Cor 10 about eating meat to idols? If it causes someone else to sin we should reconsider?

  • Susan N.

    “Fundamental to the gospel” — The longer I live and the more I learn about God, Jesus, the Bible, the world, people, etc., the more simple the meaning of gospel becomes for me. A more accurate statement, ISTM, would be “fundamental to a particular systematic theology.” The belief system isn’t what constitutes saving faith, right?

    Thanks for facilitating this ongoing discussion…Very helpful.

  • Taylor

    How would this hermeneutic relate to morality?

    My views on homosexuality attract ridicule. I’m not certain I’d say they are fundamental to the gospel in the sense that I believe someone deceived, practicing, and unrepentant might still be a believer. I don’t think that gives me leave to just drop it though.

  • DanS

    If the scientific consensus is that children are not born of virgins and that dead men do not walk away from a sealed tomb, does that mean we should reexamine our interpretation? I think not, because the scientific consensus on those matters tends to ignore the possibility that God is not bound by the normal workings of natural law.

    24 hour days, not a big deal, save for hermeneutical consistency. Does the bible use figurative language and metaphor at times? Of course. But I cannot get away from the historicity of Adam and the fall and primarily because of Paul’s linkage between Adam and Christ. Nor can I ignore Augustine’s own strong defense of the fall and its effects. Would Augustine consider the historicity of Adam “central to the gospel”? I think clearly he did. So while Augustine might have chastised some for reading too much into the events of Genesis 1, I seriously doubt he would give ground on Genesis 3 or 1 Corinthians 15.

    And no, before someone raises the question, that does not make Augustine the final arbiter in the matter, but since his LMOG keeps getting quoted again and again to imply we shouldn’t go against the scientific consensus, it is apparently necessary to keep reminding folks that he was adamant about the historicity of the fall lest his position be misrepresented.

  • Patrick

    If we simply as a Church had a better grasp of ANE thought which the ancient Jews certainly were part of, we wouldn’t have many of us trying to claim the earth is 5K years old anyway.

    We’d understand the Bible has nothing to say about that and be done with this issue once and for all.

  • Nancy Rosenzweig

    I haven’t read Lennox’s book, but I wonder if he makes assertions or just hints at provocative views: “it appears to me Lennox thinks the Bible actually sees the earth resting on pillars to be intentional metaphor for something else.” Well, does he believe the writers of Genesis and their audience accepted that the Earth rested on pillars, or did they understand that as a metaphor for something else? That’s a crucial distinction. I can’t imagine why he wouldn’t make that clear, unless he just intends for his book to be a neutral survey of various interpretations of Genesis.
    If they believed it was an intentional metaphor, however, then we apparently have no record of what they believed was physically true about our world and the universe. If the notion of the Earth on pillars was a metaphor – something they didn’t believe was physically true but represented something other than physical reality – then we must assume they had a different shared understanding of physical reality. What was it, then?
    We keep reading the first books of Genesis with 21st century eyes. In order to respect the views of its writers and original audience, we bring their interpretation of the world up to our level of “sophistication.” And so their cosmology is all metaphor, just as we see it today. But can’t we respect Genesis as being essentially true in describing the human condition and God’s relationship to us and the rest of creation, while accepting that the writers, while divinely inspired, were still “wrong” about the science? Their pre-modern views of the nature of the universe subtract nothing from the truths expressed in Genesis 1-3.

  • Rick

    DanS #4-

    I had similar thoughts, but I assume Lennox would say that either miracles fall out of the realm of “science”, or that history falls under the realm of science- and that historically speaking, the miracles have credibility.

  • phil_style

    Dan” “If the scientific consensus is that children are not born of virgins and that dead men do not walk away from a sealed tomb, does that mean we should reexamine our interpretation? ”

    Whilst I think you’re right about the hermenuetical implication, I’m not sure this comparison is fair. After all, the reason the scientific consensus can still be over-ruled with respect to the miracles you identify (virgin birth, resurrection) is because the physical imprint of such events is so limited, and beyond the capability of inquiry.

    However, activities so “scarring” on the world such as its creation, or the development of all biological forms DOES leave positive evidence (fossils for example) that must, in fact, still be explained in order for the consensus to be over-ruled.

    If, for example, we found the actual corpse of Jesus (and had a way to verify that) in the ground, then this would be positive evidence that would have to be dealt with, just as the “origins” evidence must be dealt with. But, such evidence is absent, and in all likelihood never will be irrespective of the scientific consensus on such miracles(and I presume that those who believe in bodily resurrection would say it is impossible for such remains to be found, because they don;t exist).

  • Jeff Doles

    Atheists ridicule a great many things recorded in the Bible. Numerous miracles in Old and New Testaments. People raised from the dead by prophets and apostles. Jesus feeding the multitudes, on two different occasions, by miraculous multiplication of food. Turning water into wine. Healing multitudes who came or were brought to Him, and expelling demons from many. All of these have been ridiculed, which, by this new hermeneutic, means that we have to reinterpret them so as not to expose the Christian faith to ridicule.

    OTOH, there have been numerous theologically liberal teachers who agree that the Genesis creation texts teach a young earth, but they just don’t believe them. That is, they don’t ridicule the interpretation, they ridicule the texts. Does that mean that we must now ditch those texts to avoid ridicule.

    I did a search of the Old Testament for “pillars” and “earth,” and found three instances: 2 in the poetical books (Job 9:6 and Psalm 75:3). Another case is found in 1 Samuel 2:8, but that also is a poetical passage, Hannah’s song. Both words are also found in Joel 2:30, but that speaks of the earth, and then in a separate phrase, “pillars of smoke,” but even that text is a poetical passage.

    I also searched “foundations” (plural) and “earth,” and came up with about a dozen examples that speak of the foundation of the earth. All of them in passages that are in the standard form for Hebrew poetry.

    Also searched “foundation” (singular) and “earth.” Three instances: on in Psalm 102:25, again, a poetical book. Another in Isaiah 48:3, in a passage that is in the standard form for Hebrew poetry. The third is in Zechariah 12:1, in a passage that is not in the form of Hebrew poetry. But seeing that the overwhelming use of “foundations” is poetical in nature, the metaphorical use is pretty well established, so there is no reason why the author of a non-poetical section cannot use it metaphorically.

    There may be a exceedingly small number of people who believe that a “literal” reading of Scripture must exclude all figurative meanings (and I think most of those are people who ridicule the “literal” reading). But the vast majority (including biblicists and young-earth creationists) understand that a literal reading of a text is a reading that is according to its literary type and includes figures and metaphors and other literary devices (such as poetry). So, none of them suppose that the Bible means to teach us that the earth is set on literal, physical pillars or foundations.

    Also, there is nothing in the Bible that says, either literally or metaphorically, that the physical earth is the center of the universe. But it is interesting that you choose the example of Galileo. The Church back then rejected him because it had already bought into the science of that time and Church theology adjusted to accommodate it. When Galileo came along with something that contradicted the prevailing view science, it was difficult for him to get a fair hearing.

  • Scot McKnight

    Nancy, he thinks it is an intentional metaphor.

  • Nancy Rosenzweig

    Thanks for the clarification, Scot.

  • Scot McKnight

    Jeff, be careful here when you use “you” … I’m summarizing Lennox who talks about Galileo, and I think when I insert my voice here it is clear .. otherwise it’s Lennox. Lennox will take aim at John Walton’s reading of Genesis 1 by the time this book is over.

    I’d like you to focus on what this post focuses on: intentional metaphor or ancient cosmology. Do you think when the authors of the Bible described the earth resting on pillars they were intentionally using a metaphor? Or, did they think that way and God accommodated himself to them and that we have since learned, through science, that it was an ancient cosmological depiction?

  • chaplain mike

    If God truly involves humans in the writing of his Word, and if he gives us “Bible that is historically located,” using the scientific language of the day and the literary conventions of the day, no matter when it was written in “history” future generations could look back on it and say “There are things that ‘wrong'” in it. If God was writing the story today and inspired people to tell of the earth’s creation in today’s scientific terms, people a thousand years from now would look back and have the same debate. The question is whether or not we have a Bible that is truly “incarnate,” embedded in and understandable to the people who first received it. Or do we have some “supra-historical” book that may use imagery and metaphor, but underneath all that is concordant with or superior to the science of every age?

  • DanS

    Rick and Phil, 7 and 8. So if miracles are out of the realm of science and thus science can’t disprove the resurrection, does that mean the resurrection is safe simply because it can’t be evaluated? That hardly seems to alleviate the problem that I might “attract ridicule and therefore disincline my hearers” from listening to the rest of the story.

    And if miracle is outside of science, does that not allow that creation as “miracle” is also outside of the realm of science? Why then seek to find scientific explanations for origins at all? Let’s just say it’s not a scientific question and leave it at that.

    Not that I am saying that would be a good conclusion, but it just seems like one set of rules applies to the miracles of creation in scripture and another set applies to the miracles of the New Testament when these issues are discussed. One is subjected to an iron-clad set of naturalistic and uniformitatian assumptions that cannot be violated, the other is not. It just doesn’t seem consistent. There are no natural law explanations for a virgin birth. Why must we limit explanations of origins to natural law and only natural law?

  • DanS

    Scot. I think Jeff Doles did address the question directly. The references to “pillars” and “foundations” are found in poetic literature, so there is no reason to assume from the text that the writers intended those phrases to be understood literally. I think that is a very good point. Are the Old Testament writers being fairly represented by those who say they saw the earth as literally resting on pillars?

  • Jeff Doles


    Yes, it was Lennox who referred to Galileo. Do you disagree with him on that, in which case, my response would go to you as well as to Lennox? Or do you disagree with my point about Galileo?

    Perhaps if you reread my post #9, you will see that I indeed take the reference to pillars and foundations of the earth to be metaphorical. First, I established that all, minus one, of the instances where that construction is used (as least what I could find with basic search functions), are in passages that are in the form of Hebrew poetry. Then I said, “But seeing that the overwhelming use of ‘foundations’ is poetical in nature, the metaphorical use is pretty well established.” So, yes, I think they were intentionally using metaphor is those poetical passages. The nature of poetry is that it tends to be significantly and intentionally more metaphorical than non-poetical forms.

    So, you see, I focused on what your post focused on.

  • scotmcknight

    Thanks Jeff (and Dan), and yes I read your post but I doubt many today would buy your logic: they are in poetry therefore they are metaphors. No one has ever questioned if they are found in poetic statements. The logic can’t be that simple since Phil 2:5-11 is poetic, therefore Christ’s incarnation is poetic? I know both of you are with this logic.

    But, it’s an important point, and genre must be considered.

    Fact is that Lennox is arguing that what used to be seen as cosmology, because we didn’t know any better, is now seen as metaphor, and he argues this shift in interpretation because of science.

    Lennox’s point, and I’m not sure he uses the term ridicule but maybe he does … his point is that everyone sees something as ludicrous, perhaps we need to re-examine. He’s not caving in here on miracles, so the logic of going there doesn’t wash with how Lennox argues (and I find him compelling on this point) he is operating, but he is asking for us to listen to the critics because their criticisms just might be a tip off that we need to reconsider. I don’t see him saying any more than that. This point goes also toward what Richard Jones has written. This is not a compromise on his part, for he has a conservative view of the science and scripture issue, but a good methodological caution we all need to hear — leading us only to reconsider what we are saying and how we are reading the Bible.

  • scotmcknight

    I’ll try this one more way, and I think this fairly represents Lennox:

    It used to be that we thought the earth rested on pillars because the Bible says so.
    Then along came science.
    Science showed the earth didn’t rest on pillars, and was in fact moving very fast … that speed is incredible.
    Now we know that what we used to think was cosmology was in fact intended metaphor.

    In other words, it appears to me Lennox is saying it never was intended as cosmology but as metaphor.

    Has anyone else read Lennox to know if this represents his logic?

  • Richard Jones

    “If our views are ludicrous to the scientists maybe we are wrong.” There are at least two problems with that statement: 1)God’s wisdom is foolishness to those who are perishing; and 2) and entirely related to 1, many scientists have an agenda with their “wisdom” and their derision and both run counter to God’s truth. In fact, as expected from those lost in sin, the truth of the Gospel is foolishness to them and they actively oppose that truth.

    I am a scientist (PhD and MD) in the medical sciences. But I am a follower of Christ first and have complete confidence in the veracity of scripture for matters spiritual, historical, AND scientific to the extent it speaks to any of these issues. It is not clear to me from scripture just how old the earth is so I remain “agnostic” on that issue. But the historical, biological, and spiritual reality of Adam and Eve is clear in both Old and New Testaments. Either we go with the reality described by scripture or that espoused by molecular biologists who are currently enemies of our Creator/God. It may not be popular with the current culture but I know where I will continue to stand.

  • Peter G.

    Does science need to be interpreted or just the Bible?

  • Jonathan Bartlett

    One thing to point out is that the actual issue is *not* over Genesis 1-2. It really isn’t. I’m a YEC who used to be an OEC, and I still think that a figurative interpretation of Genesis 1-2 is at least one sound way of interpreting it.

    The actual issue is Genesis 6-9, the flood. This is the foundation of young-earth creationism. With this in mind, you can “see” the flood in earth geology, with its onset at the “Great Unconformity” (between cambrian and pre-cambrian), its zenith in the upper cretaceous, and its conclusion at the K/T boundary. After this, deposition environments switch from being global/continental to being localized, and we have a re-populating of the earth. Shortly after we have numerous raised basins which broke (i.e. Missoula flood and the flood that created the Grand Canyon), because they had water from the recessionary stages of the flood. Likewise, the continental erosion from the receding floodwaters left numerous erosional remnants throughout the world.

    This issue does lead to ridicule. But, having gone to a left-wing seminary, any hint of the supernatural at any time, or even to answered prayer, leads to ridicule even among Christians.

    Certainly, if it leads to ridicule, one should take a moment to re-examine it. Certainly, we will not always be right on what scripture means. But, just as certainly, we should always be willing to entertain the possibility that when our sensibilities contradict scripture, it is possible that it is our sensibilities that are the problem.

    Interestingly, 2 Peter 3 links skepticism about Christ’s return to skepticism about the flood.

  • chaplain mike

    “Pillars and foundations” are only two of many “metaphors” used to describe the world and universe in ANE cosmology. We are the ones who call them metaphors, and bolster that opinion by noting they are found in poetic texts. But what about Genesis 1 itself? Is there really a raqiya — a firmament, a solid dome over the earth? Did God really hang “lamps” on this dome? Is the moon really a “light”? There is clear phenomenological and ANE cosmological language in Genesis itself. Are these just “metaphors” or is the author describing the world as one might look at it in his historical and scientific context and using that to say something about God as Creator?

  • PSF

    Based on this excerpt, it seems to me that Lennox is basically falling into scientific concordism. Of course, in saying this, I’m assuming that the biblical writers shared the cosmology and science of their day (why wouldn’t they?) and that we don’t need to hide that. How could they not believe in the science and cosmology of their day? Science is always developing, always improving, always refining and moving to better paradigms and models. It’s just part of the nature of science that we simply cannot state scientific truth “once and for all.” In 100 years, most of our theories will be obsolete, not in the sense of being incorrect, but they will be taken up into and replaced by better, more comprehensive models and theories. In short, the Bible cannot reveal “science” as such. It can only assume and point to science as it is at certain points in history. And this is due not to the limitations of the Bible, but the limitations of science.

    Regarding the discussions of poetry above . . . yes, “foundations and pillars” talk occurs in poetic literature. But that proves nothing. Not everything in poetry is metaphorical (e.g., poetry still assumes worldview). And not everything in prose is “literal” truth (e.g., Jesus and the mustard seed. . . not really poetry, but not botany either).

  • phil_style

    DanS “So if miracles are out of the realm of science and thus science can’t disprove the resurrection, does that mean the resurrection is safe simply because it can’t be evaluated?”

    This was not my point. My point is that big events leave big marks on the ground. little ones (local/isolated) do not.

    So, the problem with origin events versus NT miracles is that the scars do not match the origin events as we would expect should we interpret Gen 1-3 as a literal record of historical events. There is a positive record of 6+ billion years of earthly existence in the very material we can hold in our hands. However, the scars of the resurrection of an individual person, for a few weeks at most – 2000 years ago are infinitesimal to non existent.

    I acknowledge that this has hermenutical implications, hence my agreement with you when I wrote this: “I think you’re right about the hermenuetical implication”. I do not propose any solutions for this problem.

    I agree with you and Jeff Doles that if we apply our modern scientific skepticism to the genesis creation accounts – UNLESS we can find good literary evidence to suggest they were something other than “accounts of actual historical events in all their detail” – we might have a serious problem on our hands, one that might influence our reading of the New Testament also. Once again, I propose no solutions to this problem.

  • Jeff Doles

    Something you are missing, Scot #18, is that, though the incarnation is spoken of poetically in Philippians 2:5-11, it is also and previously established in non-poetical narratives. Perhaps if there had been no Gospels or other non-poetical references to it, then the poetical reference to it in Philippians 2 would be metaphorical with nothing actual underneath.

    But, as you agree, the references to pillars and foundations of the earth are found in poetical passages. Almost every single one, and the one that is not comes after the metaphorical nature is well established in earlier poetical passages. But where are any narrative, non-poetical passages in the Bible that treat pillars as actual cosmology? There are none. Certainly not in the Genesis creation accounts, where we might expect to find them.

    So it is not merely that they are treated poetically, but ALSO that they are not anywhere treated narratively, that should tip us off that the authors knew they were speaking metaphorically.

    Lennox does indeed use the word “ridicule” and it is found in the quote you posted at the top. Not everyone sees miracles as ridiculous, but many who reject the Genesis creation accounts also reject the other miracle accounts in the Bible. And there are plenty of people who accept both the miracle accounts and the creation accounts — even with a young-earth, seven 24-hour days view, and that includes a number of scientists in the relevant fields, who are YEC. So, I’m not sure what “everyone” is supposed to mean in “everyone sees something as ludicrous.” It reminds me of a teenager pleading, “But, Dad, everyone else is doing it.”

  • scotmcknight

    Jeff, is your logic then this? If it is found only in poetic passages, it is metaphorical?

  • JJ

    One aspect of the discussion I would like highlighted on your blog would be the difference between operational & historical science & how that relates to this debate. The shape of the world, and it’s location in the cosmos are certainly examples of how the church held to misinterpretations of scripture as a basis for initially rejecting scientific findings, but those issues seem more scientifically verifiable as they can be observed in the present. Transitioning to belief in the theistic evolutionary narrative seems to require a greater leap of faith on a still rapidly developing story of origins. Do you think this is true or do you see evolutionary science as being closer to observably verifiable operational science?

  • Dan Arnold

    If pillars and foundation are metaphor, what were they ametaphor for? In other words, metaphor has to represent something that is a metaphysical reality. What was that reality to the Hebrews?

    That asked, I can’t see how Lennox can seperate scripture from our interpretation of it. The text of scripture is not free floating, out there; it is imbedded in particular interpretive communities. In the west that means that science and reason will always affect our interpretation of it. To use a less controversial example, who thinks that epilepsy is caused be demonic activity or the phases of the moon? Yet, that is what the NT says and it’s what the church believed for well over 1000 years. Was it metaphor?

  • Jeff Doles

    Regarding the Lennox quote, and as I have said before here at Jesus Creed, I am quite willing to consider that my interpretation could be wrong. I used to be an OEC (Old-Earth Creationist), first as a gap-theorist (back in Bible college, about 38 years ago), then as a day-age theorist. Then I tried on the Framework Theory of Meredith Kline as I slowly came to embrace theistic evolution (which I did for about 5 years). Then about 10 years ago, much to my surprise, I found myself strongly persuaded by YEC (young-earth creationism), and that has been my position since.

    I do not begrudge anybody any of the other positions. And I am aware that my present view could be wrong; I claim no infallibility for my interpretation. I am open to reconsidering and, toward that end, I have read books written from some of those other viewpoints (I like Lennox and might get this new book by him). Participating in these discussions at Jesus Creed has been part of revisiting these issues. I am well aware that my view is generally rejected, even derided, here. But I’m not going to roll over just because of that; derision is not a good or persuasive reason for me to change my position.

    There is no “magic bullet” that settles the issue for me, nor, I suppose, for anyone else here. As I have participated in these discussions, I believe I have fairly considered the various points raised, and I have tried to show, politely and without arrogance, where I agree and where I disagree (and I believe I have done a pretty fair job of that). Like Dennis Prager, I value clarity more than agreement; that is, I would rather be clear about where we disagree than unclear about where we do agree.

    So, I have no problem about considering whether my interpretation or understanding might be wrong. But my present view is my present view, and if someone wants me to change it, they are going to have to offer reasons that I find sound and persuasive. The existence of people, even a large quantity of people, who disagree with my view and even ridicule is, for me, not a sufficient reason. I am not driven by ridicule.

  • scotmcknight

    Jeff, I like your comment’s spirit … I think it is #29. (I’m in a program right now that doesn’t give comment numbers.) I do think in the end you will find Lennox in your corner more than you think, but we’ll see.

  • Jeff Doles

    Scot #27, my logic is that if it is found only in poetical form, it is more likely than not to be metaphorical. Now, if you have a reason for why we should think the psalmists and the prophets, in their poetical modes, actually intended the use of “pillars” and “foundations” to be a non-figurative cosmological reference, I would be happy to consider it. I have found none, however, so since I find such usage to be, in almost every case, poetical and not narrative, I take it to be metaphorical.

  • Jeff Doles

    Dan Arnold #28,

    Metaphorically, “pillars” and “foundations” of the earth could refer to the underlying reality of creation, the basis on which it is established; that it was created by God and God alone out of nothing.

    Regarding epilepsy, I believe that in some, not all, cases it may be demonic in nature. I believe there are actually angel spirits and also demonic spirits.

  • PSF

    Can YEC really be mentioned in a serious discussion about science? I don’t think that any scientist would propose it as a hypothesis on the basis of the evidence. It has arisen purely as a quasi-theological assumption, to which bits and pieces of “evidence” get attached for support. Much like proof-texting in “thin” theological constructions of doctrine.

    If it is unsupportable by the methods of science (and one must question its genesis, not to make the genetic fallacy, but to see what method led to its “hypothesis”), do we really want to entertain seriously that Genesis teaches it? This just sets young people up for a crisis of faith and makes Christians look silly.

    Now, I’m not saying that only scientific truth is “real” truth. But I am saying that scientific questions require scientific answers. This is in accordance with the character of truth: the nature of the question determines the method(s) necessary to answer it. You can’t answer scientific questions (dealing with physical evidence, scientific methods, etc.) with theological or philosophical answers. (The reverse is also true). While each might shed light on the other, in the process of dialogue and hermeneutics, each must be respected as as avenues to pursue answers to certain avenues of inquiry, each of which understands the nature of the question differently.

    So, is YEC . . . by the kinds of claims that it makes . . . a scientific or a theological/philosophical position? It’s pretty clear that it doesn’t work scientficially, so what theological benefit does it provide? Is this benefit metaphorical?

  • chaplain mike

    Nancy’s point #6 is right on. Ancient writers would not have used terms as metaphors that their culture viewed as actual realities!

  • chaplain mike

    To those who want to link a passage like Genesis 1 with the resurrection narratives and texts in the NT: I think there is a tremendous difference between the two. The resurrection texts claim to be eyewitness testimony to the results of an event. A Person who was dead showed himself to be alive again; he walked among them, talked to them, ate in their presence. They could touch him. The NT emphasizes this and stresses the apologetic significance of it time and again — “many infallible proofs” as Luke put it. This is in a different category than the creation stories, which by the way are told in several different ways in the OT to make points about who God is rather than to defend his method of creating.

  • Nancy Rosenzweig

    Thanks, Chaplain Mike (and thanks especially for continuing in Michael Spencer’s footsteps – the internet monk had some great things to say about the creation debate). If we assume that the writers of Genesis described creation only in metaphoric terms, then we are left with nothing but emptiness regarding their actual beliefs about how everything came into existence. If they had no theories, then do we assume that they had no curiosity of such matters? That’s hardly likely. Or did they have (non-metaphorical) theories about creation that they chose not to include in the Genesis account? If so, why would they leave them out, if God did indeed create everything? Both the method and nature of his creation would have theological significance, so why omit such things in favor of metaphoric imagery?

    The argument that the writers of Genesis were purposely using metaphor, and believed something else entirely about the nature of the world and the universe, is a hollow one. I’ve not yet seen any evidence of this alleged alternate, non-metaphorical view. I’d really like to see this addressed – have I missed something essential to this argument?

  • normbv

    I find this article brings to a head some modern interpretive hermeneutic principles that need to be reevaluated. Several modern scholars such as Walton, Enns, Lamoureux, Seely and many others have jumped on the premise that they can discount some aspects of biblical text because it was based upon unsound ancient science. I have been pointing out for a few years now that they overstate their case. Not that they are wrong in recognizing some of these ancient ways of illuminating or describing the world but that they misrepresent this degree of importance embedded within the Hebrew theology of the scriptures. There are many signals to us that indeed the ancients utilized these descriptors in a more poetic fashion within their literature and so we miss their nuanced inflections if we apply them from an overly ancient scientific or concordist understanding. Let me illustrate.

    We know that the ancient understandings of the “waters” above and below were part of the ANE model of the cosmological world. However if we pay attention we see that even in their highly symbolic literature they actually tell us how to apply them in their literary sense. Let’s look at one example.

    Rev 17:1 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is SEATED ON MANY WATERS, … 15 And the angel said to me, “The WATERS THAT YOU SAW, where the prostitute is seated, ARE PEOPLES AND MULTITUDES AND NATIONS AND LANGUAGES.

    You can see that figuratively the “waters” represented or symbolized something entirely different than the cosmological diagram we often are shown depicting the ANE view of the “waters” (they represent large numbers of peoples). If one follows this throughout the scriptures it starts to become obvious that the “waters” are often used consistently in this fashion in both Old and New Testament applications. Instead of the literature representing bad science it represented something entirely different than we have often been lead to believe currently by some of our modern scholars. We see this in the Temple and its court arrangements where the large “bronze” “Seas” were representative of the Gentile courts outside the inner Jewish courts. That’s why when John in Rev 21:1 says that there is “no more sea” he is following the Hebrew literature model depicting that now there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile peoples in the new Kingdom of Christ. Just as Pauline Theology amply accentuates.

    The NT letter to the Hebrews attempts to also give us an account of how their physical Temple was intended to represent the coming Spiritual Kingdom of Christ. In other words the Physical symbolism pointed toward the Spiritual reality.

    Likewise the first century epistle of Barnabas illustrates that the ancient Jews problems were similar to the same we have today. They understood the scriptures so literally that they missed the big picture view when the Messiah came because it was “hidden” within symbolisms and parables. Paul points this out too when he illustrates a metaphorical reading from Genesis to expound on its implications concerning Christ the messiah.

    Barnabas 10: 1 Now, in that Moses said, “Ye shall not eat swine, nor an eagle, nor a hawk, nor a crow, nor any fish which has no scales on itself,”… 2 Moreover he says to them in Deuteronomy, “And I will make a covenant of my ordinances with this people.” So then the ordinance of God IS NOT ABSTINENCE from eating, BUT MOSES SPOKE IN THE SPIRIT. … 9 Moses received three doctrines concerning food and thus SPOKE OF THEM IN THE SPIRIT; but they (the Jews) RECEIVED THEM AS REALLY REFERRING TO FOOD, owing to the lust of their flesh.

    This first century letter of instruction interpreting the symbolism of the OT scriptures is highly revealing that the Jews that refused to come to Christ had as one of their overriding problems of interpreting scripture, was their over literalizing it. Therefore this literalizing of the scriptures is not just a modern phenomenon but an ancient problem manifesting itself because of the symbolic nature in which the scriptures were written. The concepts were hidden behind the “veil” of analogy and symbolic meanings that really were not intended by their authors to be taken literally. Therefor because of the symbolic nature of the scripture it becomes problematic to apply a literal ancient science or modern understanding to it. Indeed to do so leads one to take the fork in the road that leads one to miss the message just as it did with the first century literal reading Jews of that day.

  • Patrick

    Alright, we have these 2 options now if I am reading Scot accurately on this ancient cosmology issue:

    1) The authors were speaking metaphorically

    2) The authors were pre science writers whom God did not give a secular education to and allowed them to express non scientific ideas extraordinarily similar to their pagan neighbors.

    Lots of the Biblical “science” or “metaphors” are to be found in the ANE literature as well. The ANE pagans saw it as scientific ideas, I bet the Jews did as well.

    BTW, there is a Jewish Bible that doesn’t render Gen 1:1 as “in the beginning”, rather it interprets it as “When Yahweh began to create the heavens and the earth, the earth was void and w/o form”.

    That syntactical exegesis fits into Walton’s view that this is a functional creation narrative using pre science thinking writers as opposed to a metaphorical view.

    Any Hebrew scholars here can verify this exegesis?

  • Jeff Doles

    The argument that the writers of Genesis were purposely using metaphor and believed something else entirely about the nature of the world is not one I have ever seen anyone use. The nature of metaphor is to describe one thing in terms of another; it describes a likeness, not a one-to-one ratio.

    So the metaphorical use of “pillars” or “foundations” of the earth is not to suggest that the earth actually sits on a physical foundation or pillar. It says that there is an underlying reality to the earth — it doesn’t exist of itself or on the basis of itself. It was created by God and exists based on something He has done. So that divine reality is like a pillar or foundation.

  • normbv


    The NT book of Revelation says that the “woman” who conceived the Child was fleeing from the Dragon. Now many would postulate that this imagery is derived from a metaphorical reading of Genesis 3 where the woman represents Eve the mother of all the living. It appears to represent the NT age that John and the early Christians found themselves in regarding the establishment of the church under duress. Is it possible that John is interpreting Genesis metaphorically and not literally just as Paul does in Eph 5:31-32? Can we take our cue from them and deem a symbolical reading of Genesis 1 as well?

    Gen 3:15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

    Rev 12:5 She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, … 9 And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world–he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. … 13 And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child.

    Eph 5:31-32 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” (32) THIS MYSTERY IS PROFOUND, and I am saying that IT REFERS TO CHRIST AND THE CHURCH.

  • Patrick


    Most the ANE neighbors really believed similar stuff literally.

    The little experience I have with OT theology shows there to be sort of a dialectic ongoing between the Jews and their neighbors. Especially Canaanites.

    Here’s a question, is it your contention that (A) the ANE Jews really knew better about science, but, used ANE pagan scientific ignorance as a metaphor in their sacred writings?

    Or (B) they used their own scientific ignorance as metaphor?

    (C) they actually knew more science than their neighbors?

  • Nancy Rosenzweig

    Jeff @39 – did the writers of Genesis believe, then, that the earth is not supported by pillars but instead is a rotating sphere orbiting the sun?

  • chaplain mike

    Norm #37, you wrote — “Several modern scholars such as Walton, Enns, Lamoureux, Seely and many others have jumped on the premise that they can discount some aspects of biblical text because it was based upon unsound ancient science.” I have to stop you right there. Who said they “discount” the biblical text? It is not discounting a text when someone is trying to read it according to the way the author wrote it! It is valuing the text, to the highest degree! Now, it is another thing to say they are right or wrong in their reading. But you have set up a straw man right away by impugning their motives.

  • chaplain mike

    Jeff #39. ANE cosmology was not metaphor. It was their “science” — including the firmament, the lamps hung on the firmament, the pillars of the earth, the waters above the sky and under the earth, the windows of heaven which opened to deposit rain upon the earth, the sun running its course along the dome of the sky, etc. It was very accurate from a phenomenological perspective, just like we are correct in saying, “The sun rises” every morning and “sets” every evening. That is not scientifically correct, but it is a legitimate way of describing nature from an earthly point of view.

  • normbv


    I have a lot of respect for those scholars hard work but I’ve read enough of their works to know that they sometimes believe that the OT and NT authors were science challenged and made mistakes regarding their writings because of that. Lamoureux is especially outspoken on such matters. It’s in print if you want to check it out.

    My point is that indeed it is discounting the scriptures if one reads them literally yet they were not intended in that manner. That may seem honorable but if it’s in error it’s still wrong and misleading to others who may follow them on some points.

  • chaplain mike

    Norm #45, and what I am suggesting is that many of those scholars are trying to do a “literal” reading — if by that you mean they are trying to read what the text actually says as the author intended it. We are not doing a “literal” reading if we import ideas into words that the authors would and could never have had in mind. Most of the time we are not even aware of this, but we do it. We think of “earth” for example as a globe spinning in space. The author of Genesis would have had no such conception.

  • normbv

    I mistook chaplain mike for Jeff, sorry.

  • normbv

    Chaplain Mike,
    What we may want to imply as a literal understanding of a word may indeed be misplaced itself. My process is called letting scripture interpret scripture as my demonstration above concerning how the “waters” is often used contextually in scripture. Just using a static idea of “waters” is often at odds with the intent of the author.

  • Jeff Doles

    normbv #40,

    I agree that the serpent in Revelation 12 intends to draw our thought, to some extent, back to the serpent in Genesis, and what was prophesied about the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. In Revelation 12, the serpent is called the devil and satan. That evil one is certainly behind the temptation in Genesis 3. However, the reference in Revelation 12 does not mean that there was no actual serpent creature involved in the temptation, one that was inhabited, or possessed, by satan. It is possible for a reference to “serpent” to be figurative in one place but non-figurative in another. Revelation is an apocalyptic book, and as such is highly figurative by nature. But the Genesis accounts are not apocalyptic, so we can’t simply make a 1:1 connection in their use of language.

    In Ephesians 5, Paul is not telling us that Genesis 2:24 is about Christ and the Church, he is not therefore saying that Adam and Eve were not historical persons or that those words were not actually spoken about them. He does not say it is only about Christ and His Church. Genesis 2:24, spoken in regard to Adam and Eve, foreshadows Christ and His Church. IOW, it is about Adam and Eve, and it is also about Christ and His Church.

    The figurative use of a real thing does not make it any less real. The figurative use of “pillar” or “foundation” does not mean there is no such thing as an actual pillar or foundation. Quite the opposite, the metaphor depends on their being such a thing. Likewise, the use of a typology does not mean that the thing used as the type for another did not actually exist. Nor does the figurative use of a historical event indicate that the historical event did not really happen.

    So neither Ephesians 5 nor Revelation 12 tells us anything about how we should interpret Genesis 1 (which neither example alludes to).

  • Jeff Doles

    Patrick #41,

    How much dialectic was going on between Israel and her neighbors, and the nature of that dialectic is a matter of opinion.

    My contention is that the use of “pillar” and “foundation” in regard to the earth is metaphorical, for reasons I have outline above. The Hebrews were quite capable of using concrete words in abstract way, to use words that had actual, physical referents in figurative ways. For example, the first instance we find of “foundation” (Strong’s #3245, yasad), the same word used elsewhere about the “foundations of the earth,” it is about the time Egypt came into existence. This, as well as many other Hebrew words, have semantic ranges that include both literal and figurative uses.

    The fact that there is barely one use of “pillar” or “foundation” in connection with the earth that is not poetical, and the fact that neither term is used at all in the creation account, where we should certainly have expected to see it, leads me to the conclusion that those uses are metaphorical.

    I make no contention about how much Israel knew about science relative to what their neighbors knew. But I believe that God brought them revelation knowledge in the Scriptures, and that such was not dependent upon what the neighbors knew or did not know. Indeed, what was revealed to Israel in the Scriptures was different, in numerous ways, from what their neighbors believed.

  • Jeff Doles

    Nancy #42,

    The author of Genesis says nothing about the earth being supported by pillars or foundations. The authors of later OT books used the terms poetically. Since, out of all the times they are used in regard to the earth, they are used in poetical passages, and since the terms do not appear at all in the creation account, I believe that the use of the terms in regard to the earth are metaphorical. So I don’t think the author of Genesis thought the earth rested on pillars.

    The author of Genesis also did not say anything about the earth orbiting the sun, or of the sun orbiting the earth, or of anything orbiting anything else. And I do not know of any other OT book that tells us about any orbits. So I do not know what the author of Genesis thought about orbits.

  • chaplain mike

    Norm #48, you have a point. For example, I would argue that there is a context in the Torah for the way the creation story is told. The land is wilderness, the waters are separated, and then God makes it a good land and blesses it. He places his people in it as his representatives and blesses them. The follow-up story in Gen 2 shows how he gave them his Word gave them the choice between life and death, and then exiled them from the land when they failed to keep his commands. The author’s intention in telling this story went beyond teaching “creation.” That does not mean, however, that “creation” was not in view and that he did not use ANE categories to describe it. It is that and more.

  • chaplain mike

    Jeff #50, what do you think about what I wrote earlier #44)? Though “pillars and foundations” are not in Gen. 1, other ANE cosmological terms and ideas are. I don’t think this debate is just about the two specific terms brought up in the post.

  • Jeff Doles

    Mike #44,

    I believe the Hebrews received revelation knowledge in the Scriptures, so they were not necessarily dependent upon the rest of their ANE neighbors for what they knew. Indeed, God revealed a number of things to the Hebrews, through the Scriptures, that were significantly difference from what the rest of the ANE world believed.

    The Hebrews were quite capable of metaphor, even about cosmology. Had the author of Genesis believed that the earth actually rested on physical pillars, we should expect that he would have mentioned it somewhere in the creation text. Pillars and foundations are used quite a bit, in regard to the earth, in the rest of the OT, but almost exclusively in poetical passages. So … well, I’ve offered the argument so many times now in this thread, you should know how it concludes.

    But I do agree that there is some phenomenological language in use. For example, when the author describes the atmosphere as raqiya. But I think you and I have had that discussion before, haven’t we? Or perhaps it was with someone else. At any rate, I had that discussion here.

  • Denis O. Lamoureux

    # 45.
    “I have a lot of respect for those scholars hard work but I’ve read enough of their works to know that they sometimes believe that the OT and NT authors were science challenged and made mistakes regarding their writings because of that. Lamoureux is especially outspoken on such matters. It’s in print if you want to check it out.”

    Dear Norman,
    Didn’t deal with this in the spring?

    The difference between you and me is that I SUBMIT to the very words of the Word of God. You don’t. It’s that simple.


  • Nancy Rosenzweig

    Jeff, that’s true, the pillars or foundations are not mentioned in Genesis 1. But the pillars or foundations that apparently held up the world is the example discussed in the excerpt from Lennox’s book. Genesis 1 does, however, describe a firmament that separated the waters of the earth from the waters of the heavens, and in which God placed the sun, moon and stars. So my question can just as well apply to that description – did the writers of Genesis believe that this was a physical description of the form of the universe, or was it – like the pillars – a metaphor for something else? My point is the same. If all these physical descriptions are metaphor, what did the writers and their audience actually believe about the physical nature of the universe?

  • Rick

    Did the early writer(s) see these descritions at referencing a temple?

    Also, since pinpointing the genre of Genesis seems difficult (as has been discussed on this blog in the past), how do determine how they looked at, and used, such descriptions?

  • Jeff Doles

    Nancy #56,

    I have addressed pillars and foundations of the earth because that is the example Scot brought to us from Lennox’s book. And I think I have made a strong case why it is a metaphorical usage (numerous poetical uses, but not one use where it counts–in the creation text).

    I think the use of “firmament” (Hebrew, raqiya), is a phenomenological us, a figurative use. It may have looked like firm, beaten bronze, but the Israelites saw that birds fly through it. John H. Sailhammer, in his commentary on Genesis in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, understands its use in the OT to mean, not a solid partition, but “that place where birds fly and God placed the lights of heaven.” For example, Deuteronomy 4:17 speaks of “the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the sky [shamayim].” If Moses and the Hebrews understood that the birds fly in it, it seems to me that they did not take it to be solid.

    Even historical accounts can use metaphors, so the presence of metaphors in a narrative does not disprove the historicity or it.

  • scotmcknight

    Jeff, I’d suggest you read GB Caird’s brilliant book, Language and Imagery of the Bible, in which he has some very good analysis of how to determine a metaphor. You’ve not proven your case, you’ve only argued that if it is in poetry and not in narrative it is a metaphor — that is not enough to establish a case. There are many more factors to consider, and Caird’s study is incredibly helpful.

  • scotmcknight

    Jeff, one more: John Walton’s fuller study of Genesis One and ancient creation stories (published by Eisenbraun’s) will be published this Fall, and he offers so much evidence for the sorts of things you are raising today.

  • DRT

    Jonathan 21, the KT boundary is due to an asteroid, not the flood. I have not read the rest yet so excuse if this is already answered.

  • Patrick

    I share chaplain Mike’s view of the researchers like John Walton, they don’t devalue Scripture by researching the ancient culture it was written from, they shed light on it.

    Whether Genesis is discussing a creation reality with antiquated scientific ideas along the lines of Walton and functionality or along the lines of Lennox and metaphorical motifs, both views demand historic research.

    Reading Joshua, it’s hard for me to see that “the sun stopped” comment as anything but support for Walton’s view.

    Joshua believed what all pre science folks believed and said so, IMO. No metaphor there, clearly he was wanting more daytime to wipe out his foes.

    How does Isaiah’s “flat disc earth” act as a metaphor?

    Pillars as God, yea, I can visualize that easily.

  • Jeff Doles

    Scot #60,

    I have also offered a further reason for taking “pillars” and “foundations” of the earth as a metaphor: It does not appear even in the creation narrative, where we should expect to see it if it was anything more than metaphor. So I think I have demonstrated, by a few lines of reasoning, a pretty good case of probability. I don’t look to “prove” anything anymore because, after all, I am always aware that I am not infallible and that my interpretation could be wrong. And isn’t that what your quote from Lennox encourages us to do?

    OTOH, I have asked you to offer a reason for taking it as intended to speak of an actual physical pillar upon which the earth rested. But you have not done so. I appreciate that you direct me to another book or two to read, but it will probably take me a while to get to them, if at all.

    In the meantime, it does not make for a very high recommendation to me when you do not even bother to offer any sort of reason, as I requested, for a non-metaphorical understanding. I would be happy to consider your argument, but you have, after all, not actually offered one — only an assertion.

  • normbv

    Yes we have crossed paths on these subjects and I’m not alone in challenging some of your concepts. I will state up front though that I really appreciated your book once I read it. I really don’t disagree with a lot of what you bring to the table but I differ on what to do with it from the context of how it affects a comprehensive understanding of scripture. One of our big disagreements has been over whether Paul interpreted “death” spiritually or physically and it appears from your book that you believe the Genesis author or authors intended it only from a physical standpoint. It also appears you believe that Paul interpreted it entirely from a literal reading, intending it physical as well; pages 315-316 in your book. I fail though to see a total consensus of scholars following your understanding in the academic world.

    In fact I like the way Daniel Harlow frames the discussion in his Article “After Adam: Reading Genesis in an Age of Evolutionary Science” where it appears he is diametrically opposed to your literal application of the Hebrew intent.

    Here is Harlow’s view from his ASA article concerning Death in Genesis and Paul’s application.

    “What the man and woman experience on the day of their eating the fruit is not physical death but a kind of living death- an estrangement from God, …”

    “Death is not the punishment but “only the mode in which the final stage of the punishment works out.” Their expulsion from the garden denies the man and woman access to the tree of life, which would have granted them immortality. According to Genesis, then, human death was a natural part of God’s created world, not part of the fallout of a fall.”

    More from Harlow

    “More than this, the Adam and Eve story does not have as its main themes sin and death but knowledge and immortality.”

    “What kind of death does Paul think entered the world through Adam? … Since Paul goes on in Romans 5 (verse 21) to contrast death with eternal life, HE IS PROBABLY THINKING IN VERSE 12 NOT OF PHYSICAL DEATH, BUT OF SPIRITUAL DEATH- THE ESTRANGEMENT FROM GOD THAT RESULTS FROM SIN. In Paul’s thought, though, spiritual death and physical death are ultimately related: sin leads to spiritual death and spiritual death finally includes biological death. “
    End of Harlow quotes:

    Denis; your position versus Harlow’s is really the crux of the debate concerning how to presently interpret Genesis, Adam and the Pauline application of the historicity of Adam literally. I actually agree with you that Adam as described literally in Genesis is not a factual account and therefore does not represent a truly historical character due to the nature and implication of that account. However having stated that: it is assumed from a Hebrew position that the Adam character represents the origins of a “priestly lineage” that lead to Israel and ultimately to Christ. The implications of Genesis then are the establishment of the origins of “Law or commandment” and it’s ramifications for Israel as a contorted means of walking with God: not the origins of the human species. One can assume then that the legalism of Israel does indeed have an original beginning and therefore Adam represents that historical understanding. Paul is reflecting that idea in his writings in Rom 5-8 and 1 Cor 15 in which his “main” point in overcoming the “law or commandment” is the dissolution of the Law through the Last Adam Christ.
    It’s very clear that Paul subscribes to a “spiritual” understanding of “death” as an estrangement from God in Ephesians 2 and Colossians. To infer that he switches gears to only mean a physical understanding in Romans 5 is a big assumption and frankly not sustainable except for a dependence upon the historic church literal reading which obviously Harlow is challenging as well.
    Here are a couple of contrasting Pauline quotes clearly illustrating his concept of “spiritual death”.
    Eph 2:1-5 And YOU WERE DEAD in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked … among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (4) But God, … even when WE WERE DEAD IN OUR TRESPASSES, MADE US ALIVE TOGETHER WITH CHRIST—
    Col 2:13 And YOU, WHO WERE DEAD in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,
    Denis there’s plenty to agree with you on but there are subtle disagreements that have far reaching hermeneutic implications. And I’m not a biblical concordist and I am a “theistic evolutionist” yet I see the Hebrew purpose differently than you do because it was laden with symbolism and not literalism. You imply that reading the scriptures literally is the right approach and one can accommodate the ancient errors through faith. That may be true for you but my premise is that you are submitting to a forced literal reading that you have acquired ultimately through a traditional heritage which is under a modern review as well. I submit that you are therefore mixing unnecessarily hermeneutic principles that force you to accommodate more than is called for. That is also what I perceive the premise of this posting today is somewhat about.


  • Taylor

    One thing we haven’t quite introduced yet, but might be helpful to the discussion; from a poet’s standpoint, metaphor serves several purposes. It certainly isn’t the bald, one-dimensional blunt object of this discussion. Metaphor can be equally used to picturesquesly describe concrete truths, to communiacte feeling, and to illustrate abstract concepts.

    In otherwords, it is possible, from a literary standpoint to consider the creation account to be poetic, yet factual in the details it illustrates, if not the specifics of their enactment.

    It is alsot reasonable that ‘pillars’ in the specific poetic texts is an intentional metaphor for one or both of the latter two reasons for metaphor. First, the idea communicates attitudes regarding God’s faithfulness, as well as a picture of His steadfastness. Second, it is distinctly absent from the, possibly, poetic creation account.

    That leaves us with terms used in poetry that may have wrongly been assumed by their authors to have cosmological significance and yet were used rightly in their poetic context. Since the authors outside assumptions haven’t been canonized, that puts no strain on inspiration, or a literal, yet literary reading of the text.

    In much, much shorter terms. Metaphors are about what the poem is about.

  • Dutch Rikkers

    My feeling is that creation scientists (of the 6/24 sort) belittle God’s Word and evolutionary scientists (of the materialist sort) belittle God’s world: “belittle” in this context going back to the old meaning of making something less than it is.

    Nothing in God’s world is ever going to fit perfectly into any human scientific categories. Nothing in God’s Word is going to fit perfectly into any human theological categories. We have to be humble enough to accept that.

    At 69 I’ve learned to sit humbly on the fence on the matters where God’s two revelations don’t presently mesh. From than vantage point “Know-it-alls” on both sides make it seem like I’m viewing a circus. At some point their Job moment will come: “Then Job answered the LORD:’I am unworthy—-how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth.I spoke once, but I have no answer—-twice, but I will say no more'” (Job 40:3-5).

  • normbv

    Don’t take my difference with Walton and company too far. I’m very beholden to a lot of their good work. However if you followed my interchange with Denis Lamoureux, then it really boils down to how one properly interprets OT scripture through NT insights. My example to Denis contrasting his views with another well respected OT scholar; Daniel Harlow demonstrates the flux of the debate that is going on even within scholarly circles today.

    One of the big differences the past few years was between Pete Enns and G. K. Beale on their OT applications and hermeneutics. It got quite testy to an extent between two of my favorite authors I might add. Beale has written a magnificent book “The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God” which should be must reading for all serious students of Genesis as it helps present a total biblical view from Genesis to Revelation (something sorely missing in most approaches). However he has a problem with Enns and thinks that he’s taking Genesis implications too far. I tend to split the baby in half and take what I consider good from both of them as I believe both have a tendency to hold on too much to “orthodoxy” keeping one foot in while not being declared heretical. Enns lost that battle once at his former teaching assignment when he got too far out ahead of his peers. Same thing happened to the esteemed Bruce Waltke also and recently to one of Harlow’s buddies at Calvin College.

    It’s a tough row to hoe in biblical scholarship today to remain “orthodox” enough. Since I have no restrictions on myself and come from a more independent minded movement then I’ll exert my prerogative to challenge what I perceive as inconsistencies out there that inhibit a full bodied examination of biblical literature. Trying to remain quote “orthodox” and perform due diligence upon a comprehensive understanding of scriptures has always been a questionable endeavor from the point of view of the status quo orthodox church (whatever that truly represents is anyone’s guess).

  • DRT

    I don’t think the duality of spiritual or physical death is the point, it is both. If you think you are going to live forever then you really don’t care how, you trust god. If you are going to die and not live forever, it is spiritual and physical. If god tells you that you will be resurrected and live forever, it is spiritual and physical.

  • normbv


    And that is exactly my point as well. A spiritual life through Christ is ultimately rewarded with the gift of eternal life at the end of our biological life. “Death has been defeated”

  • Steph

    About the Genesis 1 author/authors: If you accept what your local context tells you is true about the universe and creation, but you also tell that story as an intentional metaphor, what is it a metaphor for? How do I in the 21st century sift out the local context-ancient story of origins from the truth in the intentional metaphor? How can I trust the truth in the metaphor if the other truth you are imparting isn’t true? (Unless, of course, it doesn’t matter what you say and God is making sure His truth is coming through regardless. I don’t think I have faith that God “wrote” the Bible in that way.)

    If you reject what everyone else around you thinks about the story of the origins of the earth, on what grounds? It would seem you would have some other knowledge to counter it? Then why not base your intentional metaphor on that other knowledge? Why speak metaphorically at all?

    Finally, if you reject what everyone else around you holds as common knowledge regarding how the earth came to be, but you don’t have exact knowledge yourself, yet still you make intentional use of the common story/knowledge in order to communicate some other truth metaphorically, well then, you’re being subversive. Then it becomes very interesting to look at the differences between the Genesis 1 story and other stories. What is it you’re trying to teach in your telling of the story?

  • Steph

    That’s assuming there’s an author or authors actively retelling the story and subversively making changes rather than a collector or collectors of a story that changed in the retelling of an oral tradition so that it became fully theirs, fully believed and transmitted as truth, the only story that they had regarding origins but changed by constant “handling” in a monotheistic belief system.

    When I contemplate this, I wonder if all these ancient writers, the compilers of the first five books particularly, met God at all, and if so, where? Where in the text is God? It keeps me awake at night … b/c I should be sleeping right now.

  • Jonathan Bartlett

    DRT –

    Actually, the standard idea is that the *iridium* found at the K/T boundary is from an asteroid, not the K/T boundary itself (though many think this is responsible for the mass death at this point). Interestingly, this is not in necessary conflict with this being the end of the flood. In any case, deluvialists tend to have a much different view of the geological column and its causes than uniformitarian or actualist geologies.

  • TJJ

    I take the Genesis creation account(s) to be divine revelation, first and foremost to an ancient people, in an ancient, pre-scientific culture. It was revelation that answered and corrected the pagan mythology and the theology contained therein of other ANE cultures. It was itself mythology, albeit a new mythology, not entirely original in all it’s aspects, but profoundly superior than all that had come before it. Thus the revelation is given in a way ANE peoples and cultures could and would understand.

    It was profound, majestic, powerful, and it’s underlying theological principles were true. It is still so today. The creation accounts give divine revelation on a great many things (the sun is not a god being just one example). And they do not provide revelation on a good many other things (how old creation is, being just one thing it does not tell us).

    To what degree did ANE people and cultures understand that the ANE mythologies wee not “literal history” is I think a rather open question, but there is some reason to believe that ANE cultures did understand these type of accounts to be “sacred” stories, and thus in some fashion different and unique, and not the same as other kinds of normal, historical based accounts. Aboriginal cultures also have historically had this kind of understanding. Not that hey saw them as metaphor, per se, but as “sacred” and unique and “magical”.

  • Taylor


    About Genesis 1; when God placed the two great lights in the sky, or when it is stated that the great lights ‘govern’ the day and the night, the language is metaphoric, not scientific. It is language that doesn’t necessitate God placing the sun and the moon with his bare hands, nor the sun and the mon to be sentient beings able to govern their spheres of influence.

    On the other hand, that doesn’t automatically discount the idea that God did somehow dictate that the sun and moon end up where they were or that those two objects are what He uses to provide light during the day and the night.

    (As far as the other ANE creation accounts go, I would argue that they were similar not because the author of Genesis was trying to facilitate them, but because they were still close enough to creation that their own cultures had warped the truth not by creating myths, but by ascribing truth to the wrong beings/idols. that would leave us with an author who was being quite the reverse of disingenuous.)

  • TJJ

    …and ANE cultures understood there kinds of stories/mythologies to commnicate profound truth, in a way that “normal” accounts, or normal history, or non-sacred accounts could never do.

  • Rick

    TJJ #75-

    “…and ANE cultures understood there kinds of stories/mythologies to commnicate profound truth, in a way that “normal” accounts, or normal history, or non-sacred accounts could never do.”

    Part of the difficulty is distinguishing the point at which God stopped using this type method (if He was using such a method), and the point in which He started communicating through “normal” history.

  • phil_style

    “part of the difficulty is distinguishing the point at which God stopped using this type method (if He was using such a method), and the point in which He started communicating through “normal” history”

    This is where we need to listen to archaeologists I would have thought.

  • Rick

    “This is where we need to listen to archaeologists…”

    That’s assuming they can provide all the answers.

  • rjs


    I don’t know how you use the term “listen to” but for me it doesn’t mean expect all the answers – it means take seriously their data and expertise. Evaluate and incorporate as appropriate, but don’t discard and dismiss or ignore.

    The same goes for science and scientists (of which archaeology is a branch).

  • Rick


    I agree and am all for looking at such research. But then brings us back to the (potential) blur between the categories of expressing truth that TJJ mentioned in #75.

    We see God as One who has worked and expressed Himself in real space/time/history. The OT and NT relies on that method of expression. But then we have the connections of “historical” people and events, with what appears to be a different genre that may not be “historical”.

    How are do we push the non-historical into what was appears to be historical if archeological evidence is not sufficient, or potentially indicates a differing genre?