Literal History Versus Objective History

I did not watch the debate between Ken Hamm and Bill Nye. At this point, I have witnessed or listened to a dozen debates between these two sides and they all come out the same. Both sides claim victory, everyone that paid attention only sees what they want to see, and those of us that don’t fit neatly into one of two extremes get left out of the conversation.

At some point, I need to write my blog post about why the Bible does not confirm nor deny the possibility of evolution if you read what it says literally and don’t add anything to it. But that will have to wait for another day.

The debate has made me very uncomfortable identifying as one that reads the Bible literally, because as I have examined before, you have to add a lot to the Bible to come to a young earth creationist (YEC) belief. To me, there has always been something… off… about those that describe themselves as Biblical literalists yet come to a YEC belief. They never seemed quite truly… literal… to me.

Reading an interview with William Dever, Professor Emeritus at the University of Arizona finally shed light on where my discomfort lies:

We want to make the Bible history. Many people think it has to be history or nothing. But there is no word for history in the Hebrew Bible. In other words, what did the biblical writers think they were doing? Writing objective history? No. That’s a modern discipline. They were telling stories. They wanted you to know what these purported events mean.

There you have it – people that call themselves Biblical literalists are actually not that at all. When defining the word literal, the second most common definition is usually attributed to translations: “representing the exact words of the original text.”

The exact words of the original text of Genesis or any other section of the Hebrew parts of the Bible were never meant to be objective history, since that concept did not exist in the minds of the people writing them. “Biblical literalists” are actually “objective historians,” seeking to pull a concept out of a text that was not written that way in a culture that didn’t understand that idea. Denver continues by saying:

The Bible is didactic literature; it wants to teach, not just to describe. We try to make the Bible something it is not, and that’s doing an injustice to the biblical writers. They were good historians, and they could tell it the way it was when they wanted to, but their objective was always something far beyond that.

Reading the Bible literally would mean representing the words in the Bible exactly as they were written, and they were written to tell a story. So it really doesn’t matter if Genesis is proto-poetry or historical narrative. Either style would have been used to tell a story, not record exact historically objective events. Modern minds are interested in objective histories; ancient minds were not.

The great Achilles Heel of old earth creationists is that even when reading Genesis as proto-poetry, that still doesn’t nullify the term “yom” used for day. Proto-poetry could have still been used to describe a real 7-day creation week. The Achilles Heel of young earth creationism is that the creation order is full of logical holes and contradictions from an objective history standpoint. Some YE Creationists attempt to fill those holes with concepts about Gap theories and two floods and two separate creation of man – all of which require one to add a massive amount of thought to the Bible that is not there to make it all work. Didactic literature means that neither side really matters in the “Big Picture.” Genesis is true and literal and poetic and it did happen but the details were left out because they didn’t matter to the story.

While we are at it, can we just acknowledge that there is no way ancient man would have understood a 14 billion year old universe… or even what a universe was for that matter. So at best you can prove that God simplified the creation story so that ancient man would understand it. Kind of in the same way we simplify and cut down all kinds of facts to help our children understand them as they grow and mature. This idea would have been fine in Hebrew thought.

metamodern-faith-avatarBut to say that the Earth has to be 6000 or 10,000 years old because Genesis says so, when there was no option at all for God to even explain the concept of a big bang 14 billion years ago? Come one – its not even fair to make such absolute claims like that. That’s kind of like saying no one in the world was having sex the first years of your life, based solely on the “proof” that you had no idea what it was, and therefore it must not have happened anywhere at all.

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