What Do You Mean By Literal? (RJS)

What Do You Mean By Literal? (RJS) September 16, 2010

A common question raised any time the question of creation and evolution comes up is the impact of this discussion on our understanding of scripture.   After all, if we can’t take Genesis 1 literally why take any other part of the Bible literally? This is one of the four common questions Tim Keller reports from his 35 years of pastoral experience, it is a question I’ve gotten in church and one we have come up against on this blog. While this question is not specifically mentioned in Dr. Mohler’s reasoning in his recent speech, Why Does the Universe Look so Old?, is based significantly on the veracity of scripture as the Word of God.

Clearly our understanding of the bible  is an important question, one we must think through carefully. I think we believe in the bible as the Word of God because we believe in God and his work in the World. When we make the bible the foundation we have it backwards. This means that we need to look to scripture itself to understand what it means for scripture to be the Word of God.  We cannot impose criteria from the outside.

BioLogos has had a series of posts recently that may help reason through some aspects of this question. The first is an excerpt from a video conversation between Peter Enns and N. T. Wright on the literal reading of scripture. The second two are posts by Peter Enns on the problem with literalism – especially apparent when comparing Samuel/Kings and Chronicles (one, two).

The title of this post gives the question we need to address.

What do we mean by literal?  Does this impact the way scripture can convey truth?

In this excerpt from the video conversation between Pete Enns and Tom Wright the discussion centers around the meaning of the word literal – as in the literal reading of scripture.

The word literal is not synonymous with concrete, physical, or historical. Wright suggests that the literal meaning of a text can be concrete, physical, or historical; but it can also be something abstract – an idea or a fundamental truth. We have to look at a text in a broader context to determine the meaning of the text.  Wright’s comments are summarized in part on the BioLogos blog:

So when we ask if Genesis can be taken literally, that doesn’t settle the question of what it refers to. This should be an open question, Wright says, when we read any text: what does it refer to and how does it intend to refer to it? When it says in the Gospels, “Jesus was crucified,” the literal reading refers to a concrete event. But when Jesus tells a parable, the literal reading points to an abstraction or a metaphor—though it may have a concrete application.

Wright then considers what the writers of Genesis intended to do by the creation story and points out that in context, telling a story about someone who constructs something in six days is a temple story. It is about God making heavens and the Earth as the place he wants to dwell and placing humans into that construct as a way of reflecting his own love into the world and drawing out the praise and glory from the world back to himself. “That is the literal meaning of Genesis,” says Wright, “and the question of the formal structure has to sit around that as best it can.”

But this is not first and foremost a science question. It is a Bible question. Even if we assume a young earth, six day creation, Adam, Eve, and a snake we will run into problems with a rigid “literal” view of scripture as history. This brings us to Pete Enns’s posts on the books of Chronicles.  In these posts Pete outlines some of the problems reconciling the historical accounts in Samuel/Kings with the historical account in Chronicles. He notes that all of these books claim to be histories. We are not mixing genre – comparing poetry and history for example. Yet there are fundamental differences. Differences that are best understood if we consider how the Chronicler is using the history of Israel to convey a message for Israel after the exile.

The promise of God related by Nathan to David is one such example – discussed in Pete’s first installment. In 2 Samuel 7:16 Nathan says to David: “Your house and your king will endure forever before me. Your throne will be established forever.” In 1 Chronicles 17:14 Nathan conveys a message “I will set him over my house and my kingdom forever; his throne will be established forever.” The word change, Pete suggests, is significant.

In his second installment Pete describes more completely the depth of  the differences. The Chronicler is reshaping Israel’s history to convey his message. David and Solomon become great kings, their failing are ignored. The story of the succession from David to Solomon is whitewashed.

Again, these two accounts of Solomon’s succession are not two complimentary angles on one story, but two versions. The transition of power is utterly different. The two accounts are incompatible if we approach the Bible expecting historical accounts to provide no more or less than literal accuracy. “Literalism” cannot explain why these two accounts are so different.

Chronicles, although undeniably written as an account of history, is not a journalistic, objective, blow-by-blow account so his readers can know what happened back then. And he is certainly not writing to distort the past by white-washing it. The Chronicler is presenting an ideal David and Solomon to cast a vision for the future.

But, and this is the main point, none of this undermines scripture as the inspired Word of God. Rather the message conveyed in Chronicles is the inspired message from God.  Pete concludes where I conclude:

Chronicles is no less the word of God because of its reshaping of history to make this theological, pastoral, point. Rather, reshaping the past to speak to the present is precisely what this author was inspired to do.

The Bible is the inspired Word of God – and we must let scripture itself tell us what this means.

What do you think? What do you mean by literal as you look at interpretation of Scripture? When is the ‘literal’ reading a useful filter for understanding the truth conveyed in scripture?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

You can subscribe to a full text feed of my posts  at Musings on Science and Theology.

"" Concern for rank, privilege, authority, " I think you described most congregations here very ..."

Not as the World Sees It ..."
""Concern for rank, privilege, authority, etc. are worldly values. They have no place in the ..."

Not as the World Sees It ..."
"Thanks for these 3 posts, Scot. May we never forget this great civil rights giant. ..."

The Dream Of The Letter
"This is truly beautiful, inspiring us to get into the presence of God so we ..."

Priests To One Another

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Tim


    I truly appreciate scholars such as Wright and Enns in highlighting where a fundamentalist hermeneutic of the Bible fails to allow an honest and accurate reading of the text. However, I still feel that they would prefer the Bible to never be just plain out-and-out wrong on topics, even though in my view it is very hard to argue that it is not in certain places. So I think there is some rationalization and motivated reasoning here.

    So yes, in the instance of the variations in presentations of history in Chronicles with respect to Kings, you have a perfectly acceptable record of events if your literary genre is one of historical propaganda, where similar to other ancient near east texts, the historical recording of events is subservient to the message the author wants to convey in the account.

    However, there really are accounts within the Bible where it appears that the honest intent of the author yielded a plain out-and-out inaccurate text. For instance, I fully agree with John Walton that Genesis conveys a temple and functional account of creation. However, it also clearly conveys a material account of creation. It really does appear that the author truly believed that, for instance, God created an actual firmament and put it into place to separate the heavens from the Earth. It really does appear that the author truly believed that God specially created mankind out of a primordial pair, and says as much. It really does appear that the author truly believed that God flooded the Earth catastrophically by opening the windows to the firmament to let in the waters of the heavens and opening the gates under the Earth to let in the waters of the deep. I think it is in a way intellectually dishonest to so strain a reading of the text to argue otherwise on these points.

    So why “protect” the Bible by creating the impression that historical inaccuracies in the text can be handled by truly understanding authorial intent? I submit that in many instances (though not in Chronicles of course), it actually was the authors intent to present what they felt was a truly factual account of reality, in ways that we now understand cannot be possibly true.

  • rjs


    Perhaps you are right about Genesis, but I rather doubt it – entirely. While the authors of the various pieces pulled together in Genesis (and I do not think it is univocal) had a view of cosmology that was in error, they were not making that view up themselves and passing it off as true, teaching that view. They were assuming that view in what they were teaching.

    With respect to the flood – I think (although others are free to disagree) – that the story was part of “common knowledge” and was incorporated into the text. Again it was not made up and passed off as true by the authors and editor of Genesis.

    dopderbeck will likely disagree with some of this – perhaps he’ll weigh in.

  • Tim


    I agree with what you say in that the authors of Genesis likely took what they assumed to be true from the culture within which they lived and incorporated it into the text. I also agree with the idea that a past “global flood” was common knowledge across the ancient near east as a part of their mythological landscape. However, I’m curious as to why you lead off with an assertion that you doubt the points I’ve made with respect to Genesis are correct. I never asserted that the “primary” point of what the author in Genesis was trying to convey related to this cosmological and mythic background information, but I was asserting that they certainly did mean to convey it as fact, nonetheless, because…well…they took it as fact as did everyone else at that time. Is there any disagreement here between our views here or not?

  • rjs


    I am not sure then of the point of your first comment.

    Perhaps the author really believed what was “common knowledge” about cosmology, perhaps not – I have no clue what was in the mindset of the ANE cultures as they contemplated such things. Most likely he or they never even stopped to think about it. There are things we say as though true, but most of us don’t really think are true, as part of our common cultural heritage. But I think that is irrelevant to a reading of the text of Genesis for message – literal meaning.

  • scotmcknight


    It seems to me you want to force the issue of “error.” But what you mean by “error” and what they meant by “error” are probably not only different but miles apart. So what if they had an ANE cosmological set of categories rolling around in their head and through which they sifted all things — and through which they explained all things. Yes, we’ve shown that those things are not how things are, and in one century some of the things we think are so cock-sure clear will turn out to be in need of modification. That doesn’t make us “erroneous” but “knowledgeable in context.”

    Maybe I’m pushing back here, but it seems to me you want to push hard to get others to admit “error” but you are using a modernistic sense of “error.” In fact, the whole notion of error in their perception is anachronism because, in stead of reading the text literally, it imposes an alien set of categories on the text. Like saying the kosher foods were really about hygienic categories.

  • Tim:

    I’m not sure you’ve read Walton’s book thoroughly. He denies that it is a material account.


    Great analogy of kosher laws and hygiene. The myth persists that kosher is about health and cleanliness. Judaism denies this clearly and thoroughly. The dietary laws are arbitrary and for the sake of heaven, not scientific.

  • scotmcknight

    Derek, but the food laws are by and large about taxonomic irregularities, something consistently of concern to the priestly traditions (namely, order). Do you not think they are about taxonomic irregularities, visible to anyone who cares to observe?

  • Scot:

    The theory that the animals deemed unclean do not fit regular taxonomic categories (fish without scales, hooved animals that do not chew cud) may be in the background. More significantly, all the purity laws are a symbolic system separating God’s presence from death (see Jacob Milgrom). The kosher laws restrict the slaughter of animals in Israel to a limited number of species, thus protecting the life of most species and limiting death in the land (Milgrom).

  • Tim


    I think that saying “who knows?” with regard to authorial intent any time the text asserts something we now know to be false is a form of obscurantism – as we don’t do this with areas of the text that are more factually or theologically comfortable.


    I am making assertions that go beyond just cosmology to mythology as well. Cosmology would deal with the firmament, for instance, while a worldwide flood, making people out of clay, a perfect garden, etc. would deal with mythology as present in a number of ANE texts. So I am asserting both mythological as well as cosmological “accommodation.” In terms of “error”, what I am arguing for is something I feel Kenton Sparks would be very comfortable with. Perhaps Enns or Wright might not be, but I never claimed any agreement with them on this point. Also, with respect to “forcing” an issue, I don’t think that this is a fair criticism if just left to stand alone perhaps on a basis of disapproval. I think the issue is whether the issue you see me as “forcing” with respect to “error” has warrant or not. I think this latter question is something that can yield fruitful conversation, while the former does not.


    I read Walton’s book thoroughly, and am well familiar with many of the ANE accounts that he references throughout his book in support of his arguments. I understand he argues against material creation, and while I consider his case for functional and temple creation to be very well supported, I consider his case against material creation to be rather strained and specious.

  • scotmcknight


    Not surely I know what you are saying about “forcing” so let me re-phrase. By the term I’m referring to using modern categories (scientific etc error) for ancient texts. That’s all I meant.

  • scotmcknight


    I don’t see that reading — limiting death — to be on the surface of the text much in the levitical codes. Order seems to me to be the ruling motif. I could be wrong; I’ve dabbled in Milgrom, who disagrees with Douglass, but I can’t see how not eating lobster has to do with death. Explain?

    And if you really want to minimize death, be vegetarian or vegan.

  • DRT

    If it is not too difficult, would someone please summarize the temple creation = 6 days of creation concept? I am not quite getting it.

  • Tim

    …followup on my last reply to Scot,

    I wanted to respond to your assertion that I’m imposing anachronistic standards on the text. I am using, of course, “error” in a modern way when communicating to a modern audience. So error in this context means something that is not factually true. With respect to how ancient near east cultures saw “error”, I imagine it was far different. Knowledge at that time was imbued with mythology in every respect. How seriously did they take their mythology as representative of actual “fact”? I have no idea. I assume mythological “fact” wasn’t seen as sterile or set in ancient’s minds as modern fact is in our contemporary minds. Nonetheless, I think the ancient near eastern people did see a strong enough correspondence between their mythology and reality/fact/truth. In this respect, I think any claim that the author(s) of Genesis did not make a truth claim for what I listed above in my original post is specious and strand – however, I am open to arguments to the contrary.

  • Tim


    Looks like we were both typing at the same time 🙂

    However, luckily my follow-up directly addresses your latest reply.

  • rjs


    No in the case of Genesis I don’t think that it is obscurantist. The problem is we are some 3000 to 4000 or more years displaced from the culture of the author of the text. While I think that we can overdo cultural differences and make divides greater than they really are, it is very hard to have any real understanding of what ANE culture viewed as the “truth” of their cosmology. We are so saturated with our present day outlook that it is difficult to conceive of different ways of thinking.

    But – human nature doesn’t change, and the truth and insight contained within the text is profound independent of all of the other issues. The key issue is the God-Human-Creation relationships. I do think that there is an inspired revelation of the reality of the work of God within creation and of the schism between mankind and God arising from the Fall (however one unpacks that).

  • Tim


    Temple creation was a 7 day account, not 6, with the 7th day being of utmost importance as that is when God settles into his temple. It is actually this 7th day that lends substantial support to the account being temple creation in the first place, as without it the first 6 days wouldn’t really provide any adequate support. In order to understand how Genesis 1 deals with temple creation, you have to have some familiarity with ANE creation accounts and how cosmology is intertwined with temple worship. Or you could just read The Lost World of Genesis One.

  • Tim


    I have no qualms with Genesis being opaque in some substantive degree to modern insight. The hermeneutical challenge is certainly severe without a doubt. However, it is the SELECTIVE stressing of this hermeneutical challenge that I object to. It seems that a selection criteria is being applied, where aspects of Genesis that are congruent with modern understanding seem to not have this hermeneutical challenge brought up to the extent that it is in those aspects of Genesis that are seen as unlikely to be true given modern knowledge. For instance, the fall of man is still upheld. Why? Why doesn’t the hermeneautical challenge apply as much to this aspect of the story as it does to the other aspects now deemed unlikely by modern knowledge?

  • jordan

    I’m a bit unsure what would count as non-literal according to Wright’s definition of literal, it seems to boil down to “literal is whatever the author intended”. Am I missing something?

  • I appreciate the difference between literal and metaphorical (or figurative) and that any of the Biblical genres may contain each ~ so that Genesis, which I take to be a historical fame, may contain metaphors and figures and speech, and Revelation, an apocalyptic form, may contain literal elements.

    The comparison of 2 Samuel 7 and 1 Chronicles 17 is interesting, but at the end of the day, we are left with two passages that inform one another, and the truth of one is not contradicted by the truth of the other. Is it David’s throne and David’s kingdom? Yes. Is it God’s throne and God’s kingdom? Yes. It belongs to both ~ literally. It 2 Samuel, it may be the words Nathan delivered to David; in 1 Chronicles, it may be God explaining to Nathan ~ Nathan understands that it is both David’s house and God’s, David’s kingdom and God’s. He speaks it, in 2 Samuel, as David’s ~ he understands, in 1 Chronicles, the divine dimension. The prophet delivers the message, but we need not suppose it to be constricted by some sort of “dictation theory.”

    So, here we have two accounts that inform each other and do not contradict each other. They are not metaphorical but literal, and together they give us a deeper dimension. I take them both as historical, but from two different perspectives.

    How should this apply when we come to Genesis 1? Is there another account that tells us we should not take it as historical? I appreciate John Walton’s theory of “functional creation,” and it is a very helpful way of understanding something of the purpose of God. But identifying a functional aspect of creation does not thereby disprove the material aspect of creation. There is not reason why both aspects cannot be present, a point that Walton himself admits, and I don’t think he has disproved the material aspect of the creation account.

  • DRT

    I don’t mean to be insulting and don’t think that I am in this response. This difficulty reminds me of the commercial on TV where the kids are duped by the guy who says the girl can’t ride her bike outside of the square on the ground, or the other little girl who did not get a real pony etc.

    I would like to put forward that the primary purpose of scripture is the allegorical, figurative or metaphorical meaning. That we should first assume that as the foundation for what it is saying. Is it not obvious that the primary purpose of a religious text is its religious meaning? Why is that not obvious?

    Then, the onus of proof or dissimilarity should be on the factual content of scripture. I believe the resurrection is part of that content due to the multiple and explicit threads that lead to that conclusion.

    I also have a big problem with the use of the word literal. Literal to most people means the tin ear version of the text and I don’t think we should try to coopt that version to mean the most obvious interpretation. That will only lead to confusion among everyone.

    The most important part is the obvious, non-technical or nuanced version of the words to people on the street. Literal meaning when applied to bible is probably a tin ear reading.

    I advocate for coming up with a new word. The obvious interpretation. The literary meaning. Whatever. But not literal being coopted to mean something else.

  • What distinguishes the religion of the Bible from
    surrounding cultures of the day and their myths is that it bases religious meaning in history, not apart from it. For the OT Hebrews, the great saving event was the deliverance from Egypt into the Promised Land. It is full of religious significance, and yet it is taken as part of the history of the children of Israel. For the NT Christians, the great saving event is, of course, the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. It too is full of religious meaning, but is taken as a part of history for Christians. Apart from the historical veracity of those events, the religious meaning would not be worth a bucket of warm spit.

  • Tim


    There are a number of approaches one can take to any ancient text, including the Bible. One can evaluate the text for historical content. One can focus on authorial intent. One can investigate how the text was viewed and utilized by the society that valued it long after the author has come and gone. You can evaluate a text along a number of dimensions.

    However, if your interest is authorial intent (as is usually mine), then I would suggest a historical-critical approach (minus the anti-supernatural presuppositions of the secular scholars, of course). In this case, there should be no a priori preference for literal, as opposed to allegorical or any other interpretation. What should be ascertained is what type of interpretation most has warrant. I think the Bible, as an anthology, employs a broad use of literary genres and devices in this respect.

  • @ 18, Jordan

    I don’t think you’re missing anything. Something can be literal and still not be historical.

    The author(s) of Genesis literally used the name Adam. That does not mean that Adam was an actual person in history. Literal does not equal true/historic, it is just a way to clarify the actual subject matter.

    Wright makes the point better than I do:

    “When it says in the Gospels, “Jesus was crucified,” the literal reading refers to a concrete event. But when Jesus tells a parable, the literal reading points to an abstraction or a metaphor—though it may have a concrete application.”

  • david carlson

    No one takes the bible literally. They may say the do, but they don’t. You can’t.

    Is the mustard seed truly the smallest seed?
    Have you plucked your eye out?
    Do you require women to wear head coverings in church?

    We all adjust seemingly literal statements – it does not make the bible any less true or accurate to understand that words are used in many ways.

  • The literal interpretation, as used by those who practice it, does not deny but recognizes that there are parables, and metaphors, and a variety of figures of speech, as well as various genres used in the Bible. Apart from very miniscule number, the only ones who flatten out the literal approach to a “wooden” literalness are the critics, not the proponents.

  • Tim

    David Carlson,

    The last one, the requiring of women to wear head coverings in church, was meant to be taken literally. It can certainly be argued to be to be culturally relevant, and no longer applicable today due to changes in the cultural landscape. But I think it certainly was meant to be taken quite literally in its own day.

  • jordan

    JoeyS (#23)

    Right, but this use of “literal” makes me confused as to what non-literal would be. If “literal” = “read it as it was meant to be read” then I don’t really see the point. If “literal” includes parables and metaphors and poetry, what would “non-literal” include?

  • Josh Mueller

    I believe the whole hermeneutical battle stems from a tension that the narrative itself creates by insisting on the one hand that faith is pointless without an objective reality independent of our individual perception and interpretation (i.e. the factuality “extra nos” of creation, cross and resurrection, and second coming of Christ), and on the other hand that the facts themselves do not automatically provide in themselves the intended meaning and appropriation that ultimately has a life-giving effect (which is evident in 1 Corinthians for example in the misinterpretation of the cross by both Jews and Greeks).

    The whole thing starts to derail when we seek to establish parameters which determine indisputable proof that those facts are indeed facts (which goes actually against the very nature of faith itself) and to what degree ALL seemingly historical type of narratives are meant to be read in a concrete way only, in order to safeguard the factuality of the indispensable and central pillars of faith.

    What we need, IMO, is simply a greater humilty in admitting that we’re not always sure what the original intended meaning was (including the assumed temple setting in Genesis 1) and at the same time an insistence that our faith stands or falls with God’s actual incarnational work of redemption in space and time. We don’t have to prove the latter in order to experience their life-changing effect but at the same time we also have no need to be afraid of a continued investigation to what degree historical and natural science may lead us to re-interpret certain texts that appeared to be mainly historical and concrete at first sight but revealed a very different picture in a broader context.

    To sum it up in two biblical phrases: our Christian faith continues to live in the tension of “knowing and having full assurance whom we have believed” and yet still “seeing dimly as through a mirror”. This tension will not cease until we will see Him face to face.

  • JoeyS,

    The literal approach, which recognizes figures of speech, metaphors, parables, etc., is distinguished from interpretive approaches that allegorize everything, or see everything as symbols for something else, or mythologize, or “spiritualize” everything, disconnect everything in the Bible from physical, historical reality of significance. It stands in contrast to the suggestion that only the “religious meaning” is significant.

  • Excuse me, my comment above was directed to Jordan, not JoeyS, to whom Jordan was responding.

  • Ben Wheaton

    I’m not sure I agree with Enns’ point regarding the accounts of Solomon’s succession in Kings and Chronicles. He states that they cannot be reconciled because they are utterly different, and not merely differing perspectives on the same event. But why aren’t they compatible? The account in Kings refers to the troubles at Solomon’s succession as having a pretty limited scope, namely within the society of the royal court itself. When Bathsheba prodded David into affirming Solomon, the People as a whole responded fairly quickly, which may have been as a result of their knowledge that he already was the intended successor of David. The swift break-up of Adonijah’s plot may have gone unnoticed by most people. So Chronicles’ account of the public impression of the succession of Solomon is by no means an error.

    Of course, Chronicles does shape the pattern of events to make a theological point, and certainly leaves out certain events to make a theological point, but then so does Kings. Why don’t we hear of Ahab’s success at Qarqar? Because it wasn’t in the Deuteronomist’s agenda in writing the book.

    This doesn’t mean that they make up history or falsify it, but shape it; everyone did this in ancient histories. The modern historical discipline that records everything scientifically is a result of the scientific revolution, not a direct successor of the tradition of ancient Mesopotamian compressed and theologicized annals.

    This was a major criticism of Enns’ book when it came out, that he rejects all harmonization even when such harmonization makes sense.

  • I’m no expert on biblical cultures but I’ve been coming to a conclusion over the years, based on cultural analysis of theologians like Kenneth Bailey and others.

    Theology for us today is largely about the arrangement and rearrangement of isolated facts and propositions into a system. I get the sense that for the Ancient Near East/Middle East world that “theology” was about living into an ecosystem of interconnected and interrelated truths … a story.

    Bailey, among others, points to the use of stock stories in ANE culture. The listener is invited into the story, to walk around inside it, to experience the interconnected truths the story reveals. So in our culture, for instance, I might say “May the force be with you.” That instantly calls to mind an entire world of characters relationships and interconnected realities without saying more. (I’m not saying there is a direct parallel between creation accounts and Star Wars as genres but rather pointing out that historicity can be irrelevant to communicating a complex theological truth.)

    Note that most of Jesus’ most memorable parables are presented in the context of teaching the disciples and confronting the religious leaders. In other words, they aren’t cute stories to illustrate a point to the simpleminded (while Paul the master theologian will come along later and do the heavy lifting), but rather the parables are masterful pieces of Middle Eastern theology … stories you are drawn into, and in so doing, you learn the truth.

    I’m not saying that creation stories were parallels to modern fiction and they aren’t quite parallels to Jesus’ parables, but I do think there is something to the idea of entering ANE stories for interconnected constellations of truth.

    So when we press at the idea that authors were in “error” because the science does not equate to what we know of science is something like saying we can’t trust Star Wars to have conveyed truths about our human condition because scientifically we know it is impossible to travel faster than the speed of light. There may be other reasons for doubting Star Wars wisdom but it isn’t because the science doesn’t all pan out. So Genesis is in “error” about the science and George Lucas was wrong about space travel … why is that significant to the theology?

  • jordan

    The problem is the vast majority of people I talk to won’t consider the theological meaning/truth if not backed up with at least significant historical meaning/truth. It’s all good and well for us to toss about how the ANE hearers would have understood the texts, but people want to know if the Bible is really real. If it’s just about explaining why things aren’t always in 100% factual agreement, fine, I think that’s understandable. But if we’re saying “the facts and historical reality don’t matter, only the theological meaning is important” things are different. If it matters not at all if Adam or Noah or Moses or David or Isiah even existed, I’m not sure why I would expect somebody to believe any of the theological stuff that comes from those stories.

  • Scot:

    Regarding your question about kosher laws as minimizing death in the land (while allowing meat consumption and animal offerings):


  • Josh Mueller

    Another interesting question to consider is to what degree the average lay person needs the mediation and explanation of the historical and theological experts in order to gain a proper understanding of ancient cultures, their habits and consequently a better understanding what questions a text may address and what its actual purpose is. Is it just an added benefit to have this additional information or is it crucial for proper interpretation? And if it is the latter, doesn’t it create de facto a magisterium of historical and theological scholars? And what happens when scholars themselves disagree? How does all of this jive in the end with Jesus’ promise that the Spirit will lead us (including the “amateurs”) into all truth? What is the approach we need to take to balance both aspects properly – direct spiritual insight and historical investigation?

  • #33

    Fair points. But I come back again to genres. Genesis 1-11, of course including Noah, are in one grouping. The stuff we see in Chronicles and Kings are another. The gospels are yet another. I don’t mean to imply that there is a complete disconnect between the genres and historical events. But what I doubt ever happens in Scripture is an attempt by any author to give cold objective accounting historical facts. The authors are always crafting a narrative.

    By way of another analogy, one of may favorite movies is Gettysburg. The movie attempts to reenact the events following the basic time line at the actual locations. But there was no one there 150 years ago recording the dialog. Furthermore, the historical record shows places where the movie makers combined events or created composite characters in order to facilitate the telling of the story. Following a rigid factual account would have hampered comprehension of the significance of what was happening. To make it even more complex, the movie was made from a book that took its own liberties.

    So I ask, was Gettysburg a historical movie? No and Yes. If you mean was it an entirely precise factual account of historical events, then no (but it is clearly closely tied to them.) But if you are asking if it transports you through time into the mindsets of the players and gives you insight into the significance of the event, then likely yes. And furthermore, could we have a second movie about Gettysburg that keys on different scenes, elevates or demotes various characters in their behavior, renders some differing judgments about the merits of significance, and have it also still be an accurate historical film. I think the answer is yes.

    The singular historical reality that shapes and defines everything is the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. All other interpretation, going back or going forward, originates there.

  • Josh #35

    I sympathize with what you are saying. However, I think the challenge is that more and more people are confronted with issues of science, history, and other disciplines that appear to create a direct challenge to the authenticity of Scripture if the nature of the Scriptural texts aren’t understood.

    Peter Enns has said suggested that our Sunday preaching and teaching to novice Christians should probably shy away from extensive discourse into the OT, spend more time on the NT, and particularly on Jesus teaching. I think there is some merit in that.

  • Rick

    Ben #31-

    I agree. Enns seems a little quick to jump the gun on that example. Others a Biologos, commenting on his series, have brought up your point as well.

  • John W Frye

    Josh #35,
    The term “Pharisees” is not in the Old Testament. When you open the Gospels, the Pharisees are everywhere. Are you suggesting that it does not matter to the average Christian Joe and Jane where the term “Pharisee” came from? and who they were? They seem very significant in the life of Jesus. Do we just let the Bible alone speak? If history helps with the term “Pharisee” (origin, beliefs, etc), why not let other disciplines help us understand the Bible as well. Do you want me doing heart surgery on you with just my seminary training? Why? Can’t the Spirit guide me into all truth, including medicine?

  • DRT

    FWIW, I find the Gettysburg analogy compelling. I also don’t think it would be lost on the layperson. As a matter of fact, I think that is the natural reading of the text. When we think about it a lot it gets all wrapped up in the axle…

  • rjs

    Rick and Ben,

    The problem I have here – and with the process of harmonizing in general – is that it must be done over and over again applying bandaids to scripture. It starts when we compare Genesis 1 with Genesis 2 and continues through the gospels and in the comparison of accounts of Paul’s travels in Acts and in his letters.

    The sheer weight from the number of times it has to be done is a real problem. Any piece-meal rationalization of individual texts casts doubt in my mind on the overall veracity of scripture as the Word of God.

    On the other hand, a global view of scripture that allows us to understand and follow the mission of God and his work within creation makes much more sense. I think this is what Pete is getting at, I know it is what I am getting at. Perhaps not clearly articulated yet – but I think we need to stop trying to squeeze scripture into the mold we think it should fit, let scripture be scripture and learn from the text. Maybe this opinion arises from my cultural blinders and I still don’t get it – but it is where I am at this time.

    What grand theory unifies how you read scripture?

  • Tim

    Scot & RJS,

    I was hoping I could solicit any further feedback for my responses #9,#13, & #17. It seemed initially a very promising conversation, and seems a shame to just end where it did. Nonetheless, I understand you are both very busy professors, so no worries if you don’t have any time or interest in continuing. Thanks!

  • rjs

    Tim, As far as I am concerned it has more to do with time than interest.

  • Tim

    I just realized I intended to direct #32 your way but failed to do so.

    DRT #40

    “a lot it gets all wrapped up in the axle” I love the expression. I may have to steal that one.

  • DRT

    Michael, which Gettysburg movie do you like best? I want to buy one. I am currently taking a course in the american history and we are up to the civil war.

  • Josh Mueller

    John W Frye # 37,

    Of course not. That’s why I was talking about a proper balance. And I think there’s hardly any dispute what constituted the thinking and acting of a typical NT time pharisee. Quite a bit of that information is contained in the narrative itself.

    What I was trying to get at was not to do away with historical scholarship but raise the question to what degree it can really provide the answers we need to understand and live(!)the story we find ourselves in, particularly at those junctions where there is no clear consensus among the scholars themselves.

  • Ben Wheaton


    I’m not sure I understand what you’re getting at. If we are going to ask questions that go beyond the text, like, “what actually happened in 10th century BC Jerusalem,” then such harmonizations are inevitable. They are the result of different texts using different perspectives. If you don’t want to discuss such topics, fine; by all means let’s stick to the text. But Enns doesn’t do this. He does seek to go behind the text to find out what’s happening, and makes a judgment that I think is premature to say the least, not to mention impious.

    You say,

    “The sheer weight from the number of times it [harmonization] has to be done is a real problem. Any piece-meal rationalization of individual texts casts doubt in my mind on the overall veracity of scripture as the Word of God.”

    But saying that the Chronicler is reporting a falsehood casts doubt in my mind on the overall veracity of scripture as the Word of God.

    If you want such harmonizations done within a “grand unified theory of everything,” fine; but I don’t think Enns’ theory of incarnation is a good one. I would prefer it that we see Scripture as not only true in its understanding of God, but also accurate with regards to His work in creation and the deeds of His servants. I don’t think that they are separable, since God is a God of history. Surely an understanding of inerrancy that takes genre into proper account, and understands Scripture as accurate within the standards of its own time (which, while not accurate to our degree of precision, were still there), is sufficient.

    Or how about this: harmonization within an understanding of the respective agendas of the Chronicler and the Deuteronomist, and of the literary conventions of the day.

    And I end with a question: are harmonizations of two historical texts dealing with the same event ever legitimate?

  • The movie is simply titled “Gettysburg.” Came out in 1993. Martin Sheen plays General Lee. It is based on Michael Shaara’s novel “Killer Angels.” Be warned that it is nearly 4 hours long but IMO well worth it. Lots of interesting lessons about leadership and decision-making.

  • jordan

    rjs (#41)

    I understand the “global view” thing I think, but what gets problematic for me is when I then try to focus in on particular passages, the close-up view.

    As maybe somewhat of an example, if somebody asks me about something to do with Adam & Eve I have a dilemma if I go with this global view. If I treat them as literal/historical figures then it feels like I’m lying to the person, if I treat them as mythological figures I may likely lose the person in a discussion of the historicity of Adam & Eve.

    Related to Michael (#36), I don’t think people have much issue with the Gettysburg analogy, but the thing is, it’s still very much rooted in history. I feel Gettysburg would lose a whole lot of the power of its message if there never was a Civil War.

  • rjs


    I am not defending Pete’s incarnational model – he can do that. But with respect to the issue in Chronicles, I don’t think that he is saying that the Chronicler is giving us a falsehood – but that within the literary conventions of the day he shaped his telling of the events to make a point.

    From our perspective it appears that the Chronicler is “lying” but the problem is with us, not with him or with scripture as inspired.

    This is also true when we look at the gospels, and especially apparent when we compare John with the synoptics. The evangelists shaped their telling of the story of Jesus to make a desired point with specific emphasis.

    From our perspective it looks like someone must have been lying, but the problem is with us, not Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. From their perspective and within the literary conventions of their day – they were telling the truth and playing by the rules.

    I see harmonization as an attempt to make the ancient inspired texts play by our rules. Why is this not true?

  • rjs


    Maybe we are talking across each other a bit – harmonization can be a useful exercise, even in historical accounts in scripture. It can provide important insight.

    But I don’t think it is useful exercise when the purpose is to eliminate apparent error and save the veracity of scripture according to our cultural historical literary convention.

  • DRT


    Though addressed to rjs, I will give my 2 cents (rjs, is the a cent key on the keyboard anymore?).

    My current view of the bible says that they reported and started with that which is evident. It is evident that there is a creation, there is not perfection, there is sin, there is woman and man, night and day, life and death etc. Therefore, there is a Gettysburg.

  • rjs


    As in my 2¢? No not on the keyboard directly – you need shortcuts or codes.

  • jordan


    OK, but if the Bible (at least significant portions of it) is just “that which is evident”, where’s the revelation? Where’s the inspiration? Since I know a lot more about how the universe came into being compared to the ANE writer of Genesis, would it be fine for me to replace Genesis 1 & 2 with my own “Gettysburg”?

  • DRT

    jordan, I feel the retrospective portions of the bible may be of the genre “that which is evident”. The revelation is not the how, but the why. Not terribly specific, but I actually do think it is remarkable that the writers of the bible did not get more specific about the actual mechanics of the how. Here we have a really big book about the nature of the world and all of man and god and yet there are very few things about the actual mechanics that can be refuted. That says inspired to me in a very big way.

    If I were writing the history, well, let’s just say that David would not just be a regular old king (what do you think the D in DRT stands for).

  • Ben Wheaton

    I’m not sure we disagree, RJS. I fully agree that the Chronicler is shaping history to make a point, I fully agree that he is playing by the rules of the literary conventions of his own day, and I fully agree that we cannot make facile harmonizations in order to squeeze ancient texts to fit our modern day literary expectations. John and the Synoptics are a perfect example of this.

    But it seems to me that that’s not what Enns is saying; he’s saying that it’s not simply a matter of different perspectives, of the Chronicler shaping actual history to make his point; he’s saying that the Chronicler is reporting an event that didn’t actually happen.

    Why couldn’t it be that both the Chronicler and the Deuteronomist are dealing with a general pool of source material (the Chronicler would have had Kings in this material, but not only Kings) and choosing to relate different events to make their point?

    Let me use an example. Say I were to write a book relating the history of WWII with the point that it was a conflict between Good and Evil. I would select occasions, such as the Battle of Britain, D-Day, Lend-Lease, Leningrad and other such things to portray the effort of the Allies, and the Holocaust, the occupation of France, the rape of Nanking, and other things to portray the Axis powers. My narrative would use real history, but would leave things out; and it would be a true narrative, because I think most nowadays can admit that the Allies were by and large on the right of it.

    Now pretend another person were to write a history about WWII using it as an example of the general depravity of man. Oh, he would state that the Allies were on the right of it, but he would include in his narrative such things as the bombing of Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the internment of the Japanese, and the cruelty of Stalin. This, too, would be a true account. Could I harmonize between the two of them?

  • rjs


    Certainly there could be a harmonization in such a situation – but the biblical texts seem to go beyond this.

    Isn’t there also a shaping of the data, not just a selection, to make a theological point? I think we see this in the gospel of John (likely Mt, Mk, Lk as well) – Jesus didn’t cleanse the temple both early and late in his public life, and he was not crucified on both passover and the day before.

    If we accept from the data that we have that the evangelists and the Chronicler operated according to accepted literary methods of their day I don’t think that this is a problem.

  • Josh #46:

    You said, “And I think there’s hardly any dispute what constituted the thinking and acting of a typical NT time pharisee.”

    Pharisees, of course, aren’t the topic here, but I had to challenge your statement. Actually there is a major divergence on the essence and nature of Pharisaism. Not sure why you thought it was cut and dry.

    Derek Leman

  • rjs

    As a postscript to my last comment (#57), I don’t think we have in either Chronicles or the gospels a case where the writer made things up to tell the story. The events happened in some significant historical fashion. But a great deal (by our standards) of liberty was taken in telling the story of and with those events.

  • Jordan #49, 54 Ben #56

    I would distinguish Genesis 1-11 from Chronicles and Kings and genres literature. I think my Gettysburg comparison is to some degree useful with Chronicles and Kings, not with Genesis 1-11.

    Chronicles and Kings are dealing with “recent” events. Even if writing in post-exilic times, everything written about in Genesis 12 forward occurred in within the preceding millennium. When go to Genesis 1-11, we are now dealing with events in the deep recesses of history.

    My thinking is this. Ancient people were in their context, trying to make sense of their context. Their starting point was to look around them and see the function things, animals, and humans served. The natural human drive is to form these observations into a story that legitimates the function of entities in the observed world. The story is not the same as a cute fairy-tale. The story is a regulating force in the community holding people accountable to their roles, informing them of the role of the gods, and making sense out the chaotic natural events they encounter. Thus, while the story is by no means scientific/historical it speaks powerfully to the truth of why things are the way they are. Origins (in the scientific sense) are not of interest except in the sense of identifying who it is that gave things their purpose. The “how” question borders on meaningless.

    God enters into this ANE world of cosmologies. How will he communicate into this culture? I suggest that through inspired authors and the gathered community, God crafts stories of the ANE type that communicate integrated truths about who God is, what the function is that God has assigned to the various aspects of creation, and most importantly that God is the one gives the functions and directs them.

    Again, the story is not about history or science, but it is just a cute fairy-tale. It is a story with regulating force in the community that explains the functions things serve and God’s sovereignty behind it all.

  • RD

    Ben @ 31 wrote, “I’m not sure I agree with Enns’ point regarding the accounts of Solomon’s succession in Kings and Chronicles. He states that they cannot be reconciled because they are utterly different, and not merely differing perspectives on the same event.”

    Perhaps these scriptures weren’t the best example. A more telling example, which has distinct theological implications, is the two tellings of David’s taking of the census. 2 Sam 24:1 reads, “Again, the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and HE incited David against them saying, ‘Go and count Israel and Judah.'” David does as God commands, and for doing so God sent a plague on Israel that killed 70,000. Yet, it was God who incited David to take the census. 1 Chr 21:1 re-tells this same story (almost verbatum) but with a very major theological twist. It reads, “SATAN rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.” David takes the census and, as in 1 Sam, God sends a plague that kills 70,000. The different accounts cannot be reconciled. They are reflections of two differing theologies. The earlier Samuel account reflects the idea that God caused everything that happened (good, bad, blessing, curse, reward, punishment, etc). The Chronicler wrote much later (likely) and reflects a different theology entirely; that Satan, not God, “incites” people to do things that will result in God’s wrath and punishment.

  • Josh Mueller

    Derek #58

    Maybe you can enlighten me what is still controversial regarding pharisaism. I’m well aware of the the debates about “the new perspective on Paul” and to what degree “legalism” would be a proper description of 1st century Judaism. But that’s more a debate about our interpretation of Paul and whether his own past as a Pharisee plays a significant role in his statements about the Torah.

    Are you suggesting that the Gospel writers deliberately altered a more proper view of Pharisaic thought found in the Rabbinic sources?

  • Ben Wheaton


    I think that we are in substantial agreement (although Craig Blomberg makes an interesting argument about the cleansing of the temple bit in his book “The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel” regarding its historicity). For example, the Sermon on the Mount is likely a compilation of sermons, not one occasion, and a compressed compilation at that. We must take the ancient texts as they were intended to be taken, not otherwise.

  • Josh #62:

    No, the issue is not rabbinic lit being more or less accurate than the NT about Pharisees. The issue is how much of rabbinic lit’s depiction to believe about Pharisees and their role in 2nd Temple Judaism. Best stuff is Shaye Cohen’s From the Maccabees to the Mishnah and E.P. Sanders’ Judaism: Practice and Belief, 63 BCE – 66 CE.

    Then the question becomes even more complex. Why is the NT depiction negative? What was deficient? Why Paul’s continued involvement in Pharisaism? Etc.

  • John W Frye

    Josh at #46 and your comment thread with Derek Leman (see #64),
    My point is being made…the Gospel texts are amplified, expanded with meaning by incorporating knowledge from the discipline of historical studies regarding “Pharisees.” All truth is God’s truth. And I don’t want to engage the NPP. Now, why cannot scientific disciplines also enrich our knowledge of understanding biblical texts (cosmology)? If we agree that such information is helpful, we move beyond the realm of expertise of the general Bible readers, just as RJS is more competent than I am in science. Do we need all this incorporation of other disciplines to enter into and enjoy the salvation of God? Of course not. So no elite group is controlling what matters the most about the salvation Story and its impact of humanity. Read Michael Kruse’s comments in this thread. The issue is the wide gulf between an post Enlightenment of “truth” and the ANE categories. We err greatly in reading our modern definition of “error” into biblical texts, e.g., the Kings/Chronicles discussion here.

  • John W Frye

    John Frye @ #65,
    Oops! Sorry, Josh. I should proof read my comment before I post it. Number 65 should read…”…wide gulf between our post Enlightenment categories of “truth” and the ANE categories.”

  • Rod Light

    I have reviewed much of the comments and would like to ask a question that I don’t believe has been discussed…
    How does the perspective of the NT affect how we view the OT? Is there any value in looking at how the NT looks Genesis?

    After all Paul built his entire concept of the origination of sin from the story of Adam (Romans 5:12ff). Was he under the inspiration of God taking the Genesis account ‘literally’ (as in, there really WAS a ‘first man’)? And if it is not true, how does that affect his theology of sin?

    Was Jesus in Matt 24:37-38 knowingly continuing the “cute fairy tale” (per Michael #60), or did He in His ‘limited state’ only know what He was taught?

  • Tim

    There is no verse 0 in either of the first two chapters of Genesis.

    Fundamentalists read the two passages, assume that verse 0 is a big banner over the chapters saying “THIS IS HOW IT ALL HAPPENED – REALLY”.

    Everyone else looks at it, looks at the real world, and says, “well what we’ve got here is a tribal fable”.

    (It might have had its origins in the Temple worship, as NTW hints – one of those classic inversion cases where a fundamentalist thinks the Temple worship patterns were based on Genesis, where others see that Genesis was written to suit the practices and thoughts of folks at the time – or it might have been the sort of thing to be recited (ritual-style) by an elder to occupy an evening sitting in a tent. Matters not: we can but speculate.)

    Perhaps the lesson is that “literal” is this assumption of one degree more historicity than is realistic.

  • Jeremy

    Rod: I think that was a typo and was supposed to read “not a cute fairy tale.” I don’t think Michael, at least from other comments I’ve read, would ever propose that the creation story is nothing more than a interesting story.

    Also, as far as Jesus and Paul go, their points do not hinge upon the fact or fiction of Adam. They are making a much bigger point within the cultural context of their day. Whether or not Adam existed literally is of little concern. The concept behind Adam is what’s more important and THAT, most Christians will not contest.

    Also, scripture seems to indicate that Jesus emptied himself of Godhood in incarnation and relied completely on the Father for knowledge and wisdom. What that means for him as far as believing things we now know aren’t true, I don’t know. I do find it highly unlikely the Father felt the need to explain the inner workings of the universe to him though, as really, what would be the point? He wasn’t here to enlighten us on that sort of thing.

  • Rod Light

    Thanks, Jeremy. You are probably right about Michael’s comment. I wasn’t sure I understood why he would say that…didn’t think it might just be a typo.

    I can buy the concept that Jesus did have ‘limited knowledge’ during His human existence and would have been led by the ‘teaching of the times’. (Although to your comment of “things we now know aren’t true”…can we ever really KNOW with certainty the reality of any historic event that occurred prior to the recording of history?).

    However, Paul theological argument related to sin does seem to hinge on the ‘fact’ that sin originated from ‘one man’. If that is not the case, would that not have an effect on further theological concepts (e.g., the universal need for salvation)?

  • Jeremy

    I look at it this way: If it’s possible that Jesus didn’t know, why would Paul? RJS did a series on the historical Adam which might be worth a read. The comments are where a lot of the back and forth about Paul is.

    I don’t doubt for a moment that Paul thought Adam was a historical fact, as far as “historical fact” was something ancient, pre-Scientific people thought of them. I also don’t view justifiable ignorance as “wrong” or “error” in any real, concerning sense.

    That said, I think that even with Paul, the historical veracity of Adam is unimportant. He’s tying Jesus’ mission to our inability to hold up our end of the bargain. There are deep theological meanings tied to Adam that Paul would have been trying to communicate. It makes no sense whatsoever for Paul to turn everything believed at that time on its head for the sake of post-Enlightenment sentiments regarding historical fact. No one would have known what the heck he was talking about! The idea of man’s falling away from God is tied to Adam and so tying Jesus to that event (one man to one man) would be the best way of going about it.

    Paul’s rightness or wrongness is concerning only in so far that Adam being myth leaves us wondering about the actual mechanics of the rift between humanity and God. The theological truth being communicated survives quite intact. Frankly, I don’t think any of the Bible’s authors gave one whit about the mechanics.

  • Tim

    #68 was not posted by me. Looks like we have two Tim’s here. If he’s a regular poster I’ll probably have add to my name at some point.

  • As usual, I’m late to the party. Not disastrous, though, as I usually have nothing much to add, and I will probably never, ever, with the exception of this very sentence, write the word “hermeneutical.”

    Be that as it may, I continue to rush in where angels fear to tread. I think when we try the Holy Bible in the court of public opinion, it is done in a civil court (verdict by a preponderance of the evidence) rather than in a criminal court (verdict beyond a reasonable doubt). Of course there are discrepancies in the testimonies. Of course the witnesses don’t agree down to the smallest detail. Each witness is different and has his or her own perspective. So even though we call them “synoptic” gospels, the genealogies of Jesus are different, and Matthew quotes Jesus as telling Peter he will deny him three times before the rooster crows, while Mark quotes Jesus as telling Peter he will deny him three times before the rooster crows twice (in Mark the rooster crows the first time after Peter’s first denial, which contradicts what Matthew said Jesus said would happen). Matthew makes no mention of a young man in a linen garment who flees naked from the garden of Gethsemane; Mark does (and maybe it was Mark himself). Is Matthew wrong or is he merely leaving out a detail that to him was unimportant?

    The discrepancies are endless. If the story of Noah is not real and the story of Jonah is not real, why did Jesus speak of them as as though they were? Was he just wrong? Paul calls Jesus the last Adam, but if no first Adam existed, should we just ignore Paul?

    The point I’m trying to make is that from a preponderance of the evidence from 66 different sources (more if you include the Apocrypha) we will form an overall picture of truth, of God’s actions throughout history. Is it all beyond a reasonable doubt? No. But then, this is not a criminal trial.

  • Peter Beacham

    I does not see to have occurred to any of the posters that scripture is, by necessity, metaphor, parable, allegory, etc. Literalism and the ‘evidence’ of the senses, so valued by science and academics, is dependent on dualism. But God is everywhere all the time and is not an individuated entity. To reference God or the sacred by using language, which itself depends on dualism, requires that language be used in poetic ways that attempt to transcend both the literalist limits of language and the literalist mind set of the reader. Even Jesus said that he, by necessity, spoke in parables.

    The creation story in Genesis could well be a metaphorical description of the gradual revelation of God’s nature as the spiritual intuition accessed the higher aspects of the seven principle chakras. At the seventh chakra, one has ‘God Consciousness’ and there is no need for any thing else so the person ‘rests’.

    The story of Adam of Eve could well be a description of having God Consciousness, i.e. being on intimate, conversational terms with God, but purposely severing that type of sacred awareness in order to play with the delights of the senses. The consequences are that once the connection to higher sanctified consciousness is severed, it is not easy, or even possible, to regain that consciousness while encumbered with an addiction to sense data and sensations.

    Even the Bible’s reference to Israel refers not to a piece of physical real estate but rather to a sanctified state of God awareness. If Zionists possessed such a state of intimate God awareness they would not be spending their time fighting to possess another peoples’land.

    Nor is it required that because some of the Bible is parable and metaphor, that all of the Bible should be so. The miracles of Jesus, his principal teaching method, are literal. They did occur. But they had the same force as parable in that they encouraged those who saw them to rethink their mind sets as to what was possible. The miracles of Jesus are only miracles to those who do not know how he performed them. To those who do know, those miracles are demonstrations of how to play with the illusions of a dualistic world. One can only perform miracles if they are comfortable in another wider field of being.