(This is Part 2 from yesterday’s post: Is a far-fetched story like Noah’s Ark enough to dismiss Jesus?)
One is to reject the Bible all together. I can’t believe in talking snakes and a first man who was created from the dust, so I reject everything in the Bible and hope for the best. If I stand in judgment of a holy God someday, I’ll tell him the beginning of his book didn’t make enough sense for me.
Another is to take it all just as it appears on the page. Around 5000 years after the world was created (Genesis 1-3), God gave Moses the book of Genesis as an archeological and scientific guidebook for his people. God can do anything and so bringing every species of animal from all over the planet to a single boat and being cared for by a small family while the entire globe was swallowed in water, or the fact that a talking snake conversed with the first two humans regarding a tree with supernatural powers is no harder to believe than the miracles in the New Testament. God can do anything, no matter what logic or science says, case closed.
There are also two middle options, the first of which I ascribe to:
What if we read the Bible hermeneutically? That is, ask questions like, “Who wrote Genesis? Why did they write it? Who was it written to and for what purpose?” I did a sermon and blog on this topic earlier this year entitled, “Should We Read Genesis Literally?” In short, my answer is yes, we should read it literally: literally the way Moses wrote it and for the reasons he wrote it. Not like a science or archaeological text book, as that is never why it was written. It was written to communicate a very specific sermon to a lost and chaotic people who had no identity and didn’t know who God was anymore. This approach says we are asking the wrong questions today. The question of “Was there really a talking snake?”, or “Was there really a boat full of animals?”, or “Did the flood cover the whole earth or just their local region?”, aren’t relevant as these things simply did not concern the Israelites of the year 1400 B.C. who were just freed from Egyptian slavery (the people Genesis was given to). God asked, “What do my people need at this time? They need to know who I am and who their believing predecessors were, so I will reveal that to them in a way they will relate to and understand. This view is not saying that there were or weren’t dinosaurs on the ark, or that a snake did or didn’t not talk, nor is it making any claims about the age of the earth. Anything is possible to God. It simply isn’t saying anything about these questions because they have nothing to do with why Genesis was written. Those are all a debate that take place outside of the intent of the Bible. They are a complete side conversation, apples and oranges to the text itself. Does your life ever feel lost and full of chaos? Then Genesis is the book for you. Are you curious about the age of the earth or about what happened to the dinosaurs? You need to look elsewhere.
Don’t go to a pizza buffet asking for an enchilada.
Especially when the pizza is the best in the world.
Whether these accounts (talking snakes, supernatural trees, boat full of animals, etc.) were or weren’t the exact way these things played out is debatable, obviously, because we debate it so fiercely! What isn’t debatable is that they weren’t written down until long, long after they happened. It wasn’t as if Adam was keeping a diary of his life. He simply wasn’t. We have nothing to lose by being honest about this; God can cover his own back here in the way he delivered the Scriptures to us. Everything before Genesis 12 has no date to it. Genesis 12 (Abraham from Ur) is dated around 2100 B.C., which is still around 650 years before it was written down by Moses. So what isn’t debatable is that there are only a small number of ways the accurate info got from Point A (Adam, Abraham, etc.) to Point B (Moses writing these things down long after they happened).
One of them is God simply told Moses everything verbatim in the many recorded personal encounters the two of them had, including the extended time on Mount Sinai when Moses received the 10 Commandments.
Or there was a long history of oral tradition where these things were passed down.
Or Moses had access to other sources of knowledge, such as the Egyptian library he grew up around.
(Some Christians claim there was some kind of tablet that was passed on from Adam to Moses. It’s hard for me to even respect this view as it feels so fabricated to try to defend something that doesn’t need to be defended. I feel these Christians have staked their faith on their view of science instead of staking their faith on the gospel of Jesus. There is simply zero evidence biblically or otherwise that such a tablet existed, let alone the realistic plausibility of such an item.)
Or, and what I feel is most likely, is a combo of these things, with the first one guiding the rest: God did supernaturally reveal himself to Moses and spoke to him on what to write down, and these were written through Moses’ unique style and person. Just like the book of Luke has more medical terminology than any other Gospel due to Luke’s medical knowledge-base from being a doctor, so Moses’ knowledge-base of oral history and Egyptian thought were used by God as avenues to channel his divine truths. Now, how the particulars of this play out are certainly debatable, but my point is the particulars we think matter didn’t actually matter to Moses or the Israelites. If we read those particulars into the text, we have created a new “Bible” message that God never intended. The identity of God mattered and their identity as his people mattered. These are the things that should matter to us. The message should matter to us, not the linguistic and thought-construct understandings God chose as the most effective way to deliver them in the year 1450 B.C.
For those who hold fast to the all-literal view I described as Option #2, my approach likely doesn’t appeal to you and it may even upset you. For the record, I’m not saying your view is untrue, I’m saying we need to stop making it the gospel that saves people. We need to stop evangelizing it. We need to make Jesus the gospel! Jesus saves people! The empty tomb of Jesus is what saves people!
Please don’t take this personally, but you aren’t my concern with writing this. You are already my brothers and sisters, headed to eternity in heaven with me. My concern is my friends who are throwing out Jesus because the Genesis stories they heard in Sunday School are no longer making sense to them. I hope they are your concern as well.
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Not gonna touch that with a budding staff……
Curious about whether there are things in the OT that you do believe as written, eg. the fall of Nivevah, David slaying the giant, et al.
( I have a son that attends crossroads, was just there on July 3rd, as well as a son that works at the creation museum.)
Noah Filipiak says
Hi David, that’s a great question. I believe everything in the Bible is as written. The point I’m making is we need to really ask the difficult question “how was this written by the author?” — not how did my Sunday School teacher growing up think it was written? This is stuff that most conservative seminary professors talk about and teach on a daily basis, but makes a lot of us in the Church nervous, but we don’t need to be. It’s better that we understand that Moses wrote Genesis than that Adam or Abraham wrote it (which is what I assumed growing up).
It’s not that the Creation Museum perspective of Genesis must be thrown out as rubbish, but it needs to be approached with humility because it’s just not the only way to interpret those ancient texts, it’s one of several sound biblical hermeneutics of that text, knowing what we know about who wrote them and why they wrote it. Other texts don’t have this ambiguity, but at the end of the day God revealed to us what he wanted us to know (I love Deut 29:29 for that), and it’s safe to say there were certain things about Genesis 1-11 he didn’t care if we knew or not, and other things that are essential that we know.
Does that help? I’d love to interact with you more on this.
Thank you for this viewpoint. I know I’m writing this a few years after you published, but thank you nonetheless. It is liberating to know that, whether you take each verse of the Bible literally or not, the whole message is Jesus and that God is Love.
Noah Filipiak says
Thanks Brian. If you struggle with the Old Testament, something helpful to remember is that the whole thing points to Jesus, like an arrow on a map or on a road sign as you drive down the highway. It brought us to the Messiah, so in that sense “it did it’s job” well. We have the benefit of being able to read the Old Testament through the lens of the Messiah, which helps us apply its greater purpose.
In your opinion, if I simply don’t believe the stories I can not be a “true Christian”. I grew up in a very religious home and no one in my life except one person excepts my way of thinking. I just refuse to believe that a God who created all of this would be so trivial to have an all or nothing mentality. I’ve been taught that that is no mature way of thinking. I have been very turned off by Christians as it the Bible is a way of proving a point not an open discussion and there is no multiple ways of interpretation with the people I have come in contact with. It is their way or the highway. I’m just curious based off what you wrote to see what you think I will not be hurt either way I’m just curious to see where your opinion lies. Thank you for your honesty
Noah Filipiak says
Hi Jake, thanks for the comment and question. I wrote this post in 2013 so rather that interact directly with it, I’ll just try to answer the question you are asking. Yes, I think you can be a true Christian and not believe all the stories in the Bible. To be a true Christian you have to believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins, resurrected, and is your Lord.
This is a more multi-layered question and answer than the scope of this comment box (I could prob write a whole book on it), but that’s the simple answer. I asked Prof. Mike Wittmer a similar question in a recent podcast interview I did with him that might be helpful for you: https://www.noahfilipiak.com/ep-39-interview-with-mike-wittmer-on-the-bible-theology-and-how-to-not-leave-your-faith-over-conflicts-with-science-and-archaeology/
Hope this helps!