Non-literalist hermeneutics


#38

One must take into account hyperbole, simile, metaphor, and other non-literal uses of language, which are common to languages in general. They are certainly not the sole possession of Hebrew literature.

When there was a famine in “all the world” during Joseph’s day, did the inhabitants of the rainforests of Brazil send men over to Egypt in canoes? Obviously not.

When God ordered the Amalekites to be exterminated, did He mean to slaughter them? Obviously not:

When Christ ordered us to gouge out our eyes and cut off our hands, did He expect us to dig our eyeballs out of our heads and then get the wood axe to chop off our hands? Clearly not.

Etc.

Only a madman could think otherwise. (I don’t want anyone disagreeing with me on this point, because if you do you don’t have eyes to read this message board, and you don’t have hands with which to type! :smiley: )

Where I draw the line is anything like the following, said with an indulgent and self-congratulatory smile: “Oh, those silly Hebrews! They were like ignorant children, concocting just-so stories to explain things they didn’t understand. Their rude, ignorant, and barbaric notions got enshrined in the Old Testament. Fine people such as ourselves are much too smart and sophisticated to take that stuff seriously. They are merely quaint little stories from mankind’s childhood.”

I reject that utterly.


#39

Yes, figurative Lang etc must be considered. I agree, and I had thought I had made that clear in my posts above. Yes, it is not exclusive to Hebrew lit and again I agree and had thought that would be plain. :slight_smile:


#40

I think Geoffrey, you are kind of mixing some things as apples and kumquats there. I mean, there could have been a world-wide scarcity of food, due to say- an unusual solar event or volcanic event. Perhaps not -but perhaps. A person would ot be a madman for thinking such possible.

To compare that with Christ’s obvious metaphor about gouging one’s eyes out is a not quite equal weights in the balance. It would of course take a madman to take that literally. It is a clear metaphor.

As far as OT events are concerned, histories are histories and people ascribe to God the source code for every event, but the situation with Jehu is a good example. Elijah anoints Jehu in the SPirit of the Lord and sends him off to deal with Ahab and Jezebel. Jehu does so, as the Lord instructed, even as had been previously prophesied, and Jezebel’s bones get licked by dogs in the street.

But Jehu adds a twist. He “tricks” all the priests and worshippers of Baal in town into the temple of Baal and then burns down the temple with them in it. God judges him for this in Hosea 1:4

But the original command concerning Ahab’s house, and his son’s, was still pretty stern, and I dont believe it was all hyperbole. So I maintain that as “with the froward God will show Himself froward”, He dealt(and deals) with primitive men in primitive ways, and that God does not see death as we do, being as that everyone is going to die, and everyone is going to live eternal life. “All flesh is as grass”.

The fact for instance that God left Amalekites alive, does not negate the fact there was quite a slaughter and that either Samuel received a word from the Lord, that Saul had sinned by keeping Agag as a trophy, or Samuel made it up out of his own peevishness.

But no, God calls Saul’s action rebellion/witchcraft and stubborness/idolatry and Samuel executes Agag. I think the defenses put up for God with arguments about simile and hyperbole are legitimate to a point, but also kind of thin in the light of the fact that God either did some of these things or didnt. Hermeneutics requires that we apply the same rule to all the questions in the paradigm, not just highlight a few we can manipulate easily within a structure of our own creation.

Did God really burn Sodom and Gomorah entirely? If the flood did not cover the whole earth, wasnt it still pretty horrific over the part of the earth where it killed every living thing? Is God somehow more merciful because he only destroyed a large swath of the planet? Is God using hyperbole when He speaks through the prophets? Men women and children died in Jericho, most likely, by God’s hand, or at least by His instruction (if you believe that Jericho was siesmically destroyed by two million stomping Israelites and a sonic blast :wink:)

Either God killed losta folks in judgments or He didnt. If He didnt, He stands by silently for a lot of things done in His name in books where He is always speaking through prophets.

David numbers the people. God judges David for it by killing a bunch of people, but God incited David to do it in the first place. Seems entirely arbitrary and unjust to me and presents a very simple problem.

Either it is history or it is allegory, and if it is an allegory, what is the moral lesson? None that i can see. Joab, who was pretty cold guy himself, abhored the command to number the people. It was obviously sin to him, but not to David, the man after God’s own heart- and not so obvious to us.

Reasonings abound. God was angry at Israel for something so He used David to judge them. Maybe. Still seems cruel and arbitrary to me. Like beating your daughter because of an argument with her mother.

But then God, who sees all things and causes all things to work according to the counsel of His will is either allowing, or causing, horrible mass death events all over the world all the time- in even greater numbers than in the OT, and remember, these events we read of in the OT had many years between them, we read of several in a half hour or so, but they covered a span of hundreds, even thousands of years.

The history of the Roman Empire for instance, is rife with tremendous upheavals and slaughters of epic proportion, and God has presided over them all. Whole cities, tribes and nations starved in sieges, executed on crosses, burned, tortured and quartered by horses.

So for me the defense of God by hyperbole and simile falls short of explaining the elephant in the room, which is, “Why does God allow so much violence and oppression?” And if we are so intolerant of His exercise of violence in the OT, why are we so tolerant of it in our world today, a world even more primitive, if measured by slaughters of innocents, frequency of wars and genocides, and the hovering clouds of worldwide nuclear, chemical and biological destruction. Mankind now entertains itself with stylilized violence and terror, and then wonders why he must suffer it with gaping mouth, aghast at the violation of some invisible law he was laughing at a half hour ago.

Sometimes I look at Christians who take this “I am abhored that God would kill” attitude, and I get it, I would like to believe it- but I wonder if they ever really look at the world we live in and wonder if God is even slightly in charge of it. I mean really, He is just standing back and allowing all this chaos to erupt on people everywhere but here (for a bit) and yet we still think God abhors violence? God is not in control then I guess. He is certainly not sovereign, If He is sovereign He must hold us in contempt- if we ascribe to Him the motives and means we ascribe to ourselves. Perhaps we are stewards, and must be dealt with as the evil steward who would not yield the fruit of the land to the landowner(so the landowner killed him).

It is no wonder the whole creation is writhing in the anguish of child-birth, anxiously awaiting its deliverance from this futility to which the Creator subjected it. It sometimes seems as if Jesus is delivering us from God Himself.


#41

Yes. My post wasn’t intended as a criticism of any of your posts in particular. I was making general comments. :slight_smile:


#42

And THAT IMO is the bottom line, for example… when Jesus told Nicodemus “ye must be born again” he literally meant it, i.e., such was an imperative to entering into the fullness of the kingdom, BUT he DIDN’T mean it literally, i.e., in such concrete temporal terms that had this religiously-minded leader of Israel stumped… missing the wood for the trees.

Applying some of your thoughts above — this is all metaphor mentioning Israel’s redemption — and the process thereof.


#43

Genesis 41:57 reads in the ESV: “Moreover, all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth.”

Genesis 47:13 reads in the ESV: “Now there was no food in all the land, for the famine was very severe, so that the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan languished by reason of the famine.”

In this context, “all the earth” equals “the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan”.

I think it starts to get into the realm of science fiction to imagine natives of the Brazilian rainforest, Eskimos, Plains Indians, Australian Aborigines, Chinese, Polynesians, Celts, and all the rest coming to Egypt to buy grain during the time of Joseph.


#44

This is why the likes of the Genesis flood can be understood in terms of a regional flood covering the whole land.


#45

So, this would be how to deal with the idea of eight people being the beginning… It would be literal in the sense of who it was talking about but not necessarily literal in the idea of all humanity on the whole earth (cosmos). Davo can straighten me out if wrong… :astonished:


#46

My understanding of the Flood is that is was indeed “local” in terms of geography and “universal” in terms of humanity. In other words, the Flood covered only a small fraction of planet Earth. In so doing it wiped-out every single human being in existence who was not in the ark. Only eight human beings on the entire planet Earth survived:

  1. Noah
  2. Mrs. Noah
  3. Mr. and Mrs. Noah’s first son.
  4. Mr. and Mrs. Noah’s second son.
  5. Mr. and Mrs. Noah’s third son.
  6. Their first son’s wife.
  7. Their second son’s wife.
  8. Their third son’s wife.

Was there a 9th human being alive somewhere on planet Earth? Perhaps in the Americas? Or Australia? Or the Near East? Or Europe? Or Africa? Or Asia? Or Polynesia? Or etc.? No.

While I have many reasons for recognizing that the Flood was local in geography, it is perhaps the creation Psalm 104 that is my single biggest reason for believing so. Here are verses 5-9:

Before God ever created Adam, He had set a boundary that the waters “may not pass over”. Clearly a flood that covered the entirety of planet Earth would involve waters that passed over any conceivable boundary. In short, I believe that a local Flood that killed all of mankind save for eight souls is the plain teaching of the Bible.


#47

Correcto! :sunglasses:

My understanding is that the regional flood took out only those of that region… for the most part Noah’s people, i.e., Adam’s clan. Following the ‘Adam is Israel’ motif I understand the Genesis creation account reflects the story of the account of Yahweh preparing the land for Israel. Thus Adam becomes God’s “first” covenant man — taken from amongst the midst of humanity (the dust of the earth) and placed in God’s garden to be His priest… just like Israel (Ex 19:5-6; Deut 7:6, 26:19; Amos 3:2). Thus Adam is the microcosmic story of Israel with Israel conversely being the macrocosmic story of Adam. Jesus finally comes as the “last Adam” (1Cor 15:45) and “true Israel (vine)” (Jn 15:1; Isa 5:7; Jer 2:21; Psa 80:8-9).

Now the outworkings of HOW the creation of the Land actually occurred I think John Sailhamer’s Genesis Unbound goes somewhere near the mark in explaining this.


#48

Well…history and allegory do not exhaust the possibilities.

We find that Ezra (or whoever wrote 1 Chronicles around 500 years later) in describing the same event, states that it was Satan who incited David to number Israel:

Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel. (1 Chronicles 21:1)

Does this contradict the account in 2 Samuel 24:1 which affirms that Yahweh incited David to number Israel? Not necessarily, if one considers that the revelation of God’s character was progressive. In Samuel’s day, Satan was considered to be an agent of Satan (similar to angels in that respect) who could do only what God directed Him, or allowed Him to do. So if Satan did something, you might as well say that God did it. But about 500 years later, Satan was considered to be able to act independently of God. He was understood to act directly in opposition to God’s purposes, and this understanding extended right into New Testament times. Satan certainly wasn’t an agent of Christ who did His bidding. Rather, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8)

However, modern Orthodox Judaism sees it as they did in Samuel’s day—that Satan is an agent of God.


#49

Can you put in layman’s terms:

:wink:


#50

The scriptures you selected could be as easily read, “There was a severe famine over all the earth, so Egypt and the land of Canaan languished because of it.”

It is not hard for me to imagine at all, seeing some of the prophecies in Daniel, Revelation and the Gospels, that the whole world might at times experience intense destructive events of various kinds.


#51

I agree with all that Paidon. My point wasnt the literality of the account in either book, but rather highlighting the issue of trying to limit the liability of God for violence in the OT by attributing certain events to hyperbole, when the sums of other events still present God in the OT, and even now, as being quite violent, or at ease with violence in some ways. If Satan is the agent of the Lord, a concept I can accept on a certain level, that makes the issue even plainer. God does not fear death like we do. He uses it in ways we cannot wrap our heads around, and all our little attempts to moderate the damage this fact does to the gospel in the eyes of unbelievers is futile, because it doesnt take much logic to figure that if Satan is acting as God’s agent, then there is no reason to portray Satan as an enemy, or the acts attributed to him as despicable. God is the culprit.

And to some extent I am engaging in hyperbolic speech to demonstrate the point that either the OT is allegory, or it is history, or as Paul presented it to the Corinthians-it is history as allegory

“Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” 1 Cor 10:11

An unbeliever will see no more reasonable mercy in wiping out only “most” of the Amalekites, than in wiping out all of them. So I agree that there is hyperbole and simile, but it is not sufficient to wash away the stains upon the reason of men, who see death as an ending, and by any and all means- just want to live. The urge to survive is the beast brain in the man, while Jesus shows man that death is not an ending, and all flesh is as grass…and God confirms this by allowing death to rob and to steal everything that man creates, almost as an object lesson in futility. “You will all die- and if you act like that you will all die sooner rather than later”. Thus when the cup of iniquity is filled destruction rains down from above, whether by Satn’s agency or not, because God is shaping the “human species” even as He is shaping individuals, families, communities and nations. These massive waves of destruction are representative of the deep undercurrents of conflict and chaos- the darkness out of which God is speaking- “Let there be light!”.

I think there is a deeper explanation to the whole issue, and some of it may have to do with God having subjected the earth to the stewardship of mankind, and limiting Himself in someways as we learn corporately that we are more connected than we think we are, and subject to consequences not only as individuals, families, communities and nations- but as a race, a species, a body.

Am I my brother’s keeper?

For this reason we are as sheep led to slaughter all the day. Slaughter is the rule, the norm. The slaughter of innocents is the salvation of mankind, hidden in the river of chaos, crying out from under the mountains and the seas. The storm tossed waves of the currents of universal human consciousness is a very slowly evolving thing, and chaos is the futility by which God has bound all in disobedience that He might have mercy on all- the mystery of iniquity.

Thus(imo) hermeutics requires that we cannot establish a blind circle within a larger circle, in order to exclude evidence that is inconvenient to a preferred view, and always returns to the literal to explain the mystery with shadows and types, comparing spiritual words with spiritual thoughts, to drive us deeper than our denial of the obvious will allow us to proceed.

But then, I may be a madman, LOL.


#52

Therein lays a problem… assuming only a nefarious ethereal angelic being. The adversary rising up against David in 1Chron 21:1 could have been any of his counsel bringing errant or duplicitous advice. A ‘satan’ <σατάν> was simply any opposing adversary e.g., Mt 16:22-23, or as per…

2Sam 24:1/1Chron 21:1 shows that God used whatever agent he so desired to motivate David to do as he did BECAUSE He was furiously angry with Israel… which ultimately cost the lives of 70,000 of their men. BUT, having said that… 1Chron 21:12, 15 does reference the destroying hand of “the angel of the Lord”.


#53

Yea, I agree with that Davo, altho I do believe there is a ‘Satan’, God raises up many adversaries. I was only using te story of David numbering the people as** one example out of many** where God slays (or allows the slaying of, or orders the slaying of)many people, even His own people- and to make a point that God uses death in ways that we, with our survival based morality do not understand.

My point in all this is that there is no simple explaining away of these events by hyperbole or simile, that satisfies the unbelieving mind or reduces the indictment for God’s use of death to shape the world and deal with mankind as a whole.

Used ‘a satan’ or ‘the Satan’ or the angel of the Lord or a person or a nation- it really doesnt matter. If God wiped out 1/10 of the worlds population of 1/3 or all but Noah’s family; 1/2 or 3/4 or 7/8 of the Amalekites that produces no satisfaction, and looking at the argument from a worldy point of view, I find it shallow- because it does not change a thing in explaining the nature of God. Like comparing a mass murderer to a serial killer- the only difference is in scope, the intent and the nature is the same.

Then we see Saul rebuked and rejected for not killing Agag and all the sheep, and the prophet hacks Agag to pieces and goes to choose another King, one after Gods own heart, who is manifested by slaying a giant with 12 fingers and 12 toes, and chopping off his head. Was Samuel speaking for God? Acting for God? Was David?

It is a straw argument. The deep moral quandry for Christians is the use of violence and death by God in the OT, and His use of it and tolerance of it throughout history- even as in your own paradigm, where the signal event in the change of administration is the razing of Jerusalem. Wholesale slaughter.

Like He couldnt have shouted “Abel! Duck!”, just as easily as He said, “Cain, where is your brother?”.

Our abhorence of death is mixed with delusion.Our survival instinct infects our moralizing. Thw whole world is a bloody mess and we made it that way. All flesh is as grass. People around us get up in arms about the violence and death in the Bible. We try to explain it away and justify God with trite sophistries as if the world would be a peaceful place without God and His Bible.

“Let us break their chains
and throw off their shackles.”
4 The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
the Lord scoffs at them.
5 He rebukes them in his anger
and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
6 “I have installed my king
on Zion, my holy mountain.”

As I see it, God is bloody in this age, and in the ages past. He has subjected the world to chaos, by subjecting it to mankind. He is working with the mass of humanity as one, to bring it to its collective knees, and in the all in all, the consciousness we will share with Him will have been arrived at by means of an ages long spin on the Potter’s Wheel, a collective winnowing of grain upon the threshing floor, and will require no justification on His part for the process. When it is all said and done we will see that we were our biggest adversary.


#54

Well I agree… though such is not just limited to “the unbelieving mind” when you consider that such was the trepidatious existence for those under the old covenant era, i.e., it was a bloody part of history for some! Thankfully through Christ, the old covenant era NO longer has any place nor standing… being REPLACED by the new and BETTER covenant of grace to all.


#55

Gosh, that is good :smiley:


#56

Yes, grace to all is the better, renewed covenant. That covenant is ratified in the Lordship of Jesus Christ, who, strangely enough- never apologizes for the works of His Father. He did say that Moses gave divorce because of the hardness of men’s hearts- which I think speaks to much of the law and the OT. To this day, when the law is read- the veil remains, but we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image with ever increasing glory by the Spirit, who is the Lord.


#57

I’ve been reading Enns’s “The Bible Tells Me So”. His thesis is that the origins story (basically Genesis to Judges) was written during the monarchy as an attempt to explain Israel’s then-present situation. He doesn’t think a lot of the stuff reported actually happened. I agree.