I would like to take this blog article to write about a few things I heard on a very popular conservative political talk show recently. What was said was in the context of discussion on the new TV series, “The Bible.” The commentator was explaining his views to a pastor he had on the show, that he did not believe in Jesus’ divinity, and that many of the stories of the Bible (particularly in the “Old Testament”) are “allegory” and not “actual” historical events. Stories such as the creation account, Adam and Eve, Jonah being swallowed by a giant “fish” and then being spit up on 3 days later, this commentator, and many people, from those who don’t identify themselves as Christians to those who do, feel these could not be true accounts but allegories or parables to communicate or illustrate “moral” or “spiritual” lessons. So let’s talk about it!
First of all, one common misconception is that the Bible is simply a book on “morality.” It is true that the Bible teaches how one ought to live, distinguishing between right and wrong, but it is something so much more than this. The Bible is the very Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16). That means that while it was written by men it was inspired by God who moved on these men to write what they wrote. It is the record, the testimony, the revelation of God Himself. It is first of all about Him and what He has done to bring sinful human beings back into relationship with Him for all eternity. And this is what the Bible calls the “Gospel” or “Good News” which revolves completely around Jesus Christ who died on the cross and rose from the dead to save us from our sins.
The “Old Testament” is primarily about God’s choosing of a particular people through which this “Messiah” (Jesus) was promised and prophesied to come from. It is the story of God’s dealing with the people of Israel as He prepared the world for His coming. The New Testament is the fulfillment of those promises, prophesies and preparations.
The difference between the Bible and other religious books is that the Bible reveals the reality that we have sinned (“fallen short of God’s glory” (Romans 3:23) that is His perfection) and cannot save ourselves by our religious activities or moral living. But Jesus came and lived a perfect life and fulfilled all the requirements that we failed in, and then went to the cross as our substitute, dying for our sin, in our place, bearing our punishment, so that through faith in Him, we might be forgiven or pardoned and reconciled to God!
This is what the grace of God is all about. He has done for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves. Instead of having our own “self-righteousness” He clothes us in “Christ’s Righteousness.” (Romans 1:17). His perfection is credited to our account being He paid the debt of our sin! We simply receive this by believing on Him, trusting in Him to save us, instead of trying to save ourselves. The commands in the NT then are not to save ourselves and make ourselves right with God, but are too be obeyed because He has saved us and made us right with Him! (Romans 5-6).
But the point is, Jesus Christ is the focus of the Bible. Therefore knowing who He is and who He claimed to be is absolutely essential. So does the bible and did Jesus make claims or claim to be God? Well consider the following:
John 1:1-4 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”
(Side note: Interestingly the Jehovah Witnesses’ bible changes this to say that “…the Word was a god” to get around the truth of the bible that Jesus is God in human flesh as John goes on to say…)
John 1:14 “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (If you read on in John chapter 1 it becomes perfectly clear that John is referring to and talking about Jesus).
But here in John chapter 1 we see Jesus is identified as the Creator of the universe. The Bible declares elsewhere that God is the creator. Thus Jesus is equated with being God. It also explicitly states that “the Word” (Jesus) was not only “with God” in the beginning, but “was God.” And if you read carefully the rest of the Gospel of John this is in fact the very issue that the Jews found fault with Jesus in and sought to kill Him over. Consider the following:
John 5:17-18 “Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”
John 8:56-59 “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” “You are not yet fifty years old,” the Jews said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.”
(Side-note: Jesus was not just claiming to have existed before Abraham was even born. That statement alone would have been a pretty remarkable claim, but Jesus said far more than that by using the phrase “I am.” The Jews knew exactly what He meant by that. That was the name God had given Moses when He revealed Himself to Moses! Exodus 3:14 says: “God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” For Jesus to say “I am” was a claim of divinity; that He was God!).
John 10:27-33 “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” “We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”
All of these passages show clearly that the Bible teaches and Jesus believed and His opponents understood that He was claiming to be God! And it wasn’t just His words but His actions that proclaimed this. For example, Luke 5:21 tells us: “The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Jesus did things that only God has the authority and power to do. Thus His works, not just His words, proclaimed He is God!
To reject the truth and teaching that Jesus is God is to call Jesus a liar and declare the Bible contains errors. This then opens the door to pick and choose what to believe and what not to believe. It opens the door to question other stories and accounts and statements the Bible makes. And that brings us to the last piece of this, whether the stories in the Bible are fact or fiction as well?
Let’s start with Creation and Adam and Eve. I will say upfront that whether you believe stories such as these are literally true or not does not determine whether you are going to heaven or hell. The issue that determines salvation is whether you believe Jesus is who He claimed to be and did what the Bible declares He did in dying for our sins and rising from the dead. If you turn to Him in faith and trust in Him for salvation you will be saved, not whether you believe these stories are literally true or allegorical. And I understand there are various viewpoints on the Creation account among genuine Christians. Some do not hold to a strictly literal 6-day creation account for example. Personally I do, and feel strongly the Bible teaches this clearly, and that not believing has other problematic ramifications, but going through that is beyond the scope of this blog article.
What we are looking at is Adam and Eve and whether they were the first created human beings or “represented” all human beings created at that time. Were they the first or were there many others? Genesis 2, to me, is the decisive and definitive answer to this question. It describes and details God forming from the dust of the earth “man” and breathing into him the breath of life. It also describes how from man he later made woman. But it is clear from reading Genesis 2 that Adam and Eve were the first two (and only) created human beings at that time. It doesn’t speak of “man” but “the man” and “the woman.” For example: Genesis 2:18 says: “The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” And then Genesis 2:22 says: ‘Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.” It is then after this that the bible says something (Genesis 2:24) that Jesus would later quote from. In Matthew 19:4-6 Jesus said this: “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” Jesus certainly took this literally. To not do so ourselves is moving down a dangerous slope of blurring the lines of fact and fiction, literal and allegorical.
But what about stories like Jonah being swallowed by a giant fish? Certainly something like that is too fanciful to believe as literally happening? But if we believe in a God who created the universe, why is something like this (and any other miracle recorded in scripture) so hard to believe? I find it hard to understand why those declaring themselves “Christians” have a hard time with believing stories in scripture of miraculous content. Our entire faith and salvation is contingent on whether we believe in the ultimate miracle, Jesus being raised from the dead! (Romans 10:9). And interestingly, Jesus compared His resurrection with the story of Jonah and the context of that is a rebuke of those challenging Him to show them a miraculous sign even though He had already performed numerous miracles and they had still refused to believe! Matthew 12:38-40 records this: “Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.” He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
If the story of Jonah being in the belly of a huge fish for three days and three nights was simply an “allegory,” then shouldn’t we question whether Jesus’ “resurrection” was an actual literal historical event or just another “allegory?” But we profess that Jesus did truly, actually, bodily, physically rise from the dead. We declare that as a real historical event as real as Him being crucified on the cross. And this means Jonah was really, truly in the belly of a “huge fish” (or sea creature—as this word is broader than “fish” as we think of it. In fact both the sperm whale and Great white shark can technically swallow a human being whole; although I still believe God supernaturally protected Jonah while in the belly of the “fish.” In fact I think trying to find ways to “explain” miracles to make them more “believable” is evidence of unbelief in the power of God. Many of the miracles in the bible may have incorporated natural elements, (God used a strong wind in dividing the waters of the Red Sea, provided a real “fish” to swallow Jonah, used water to turn into wine, multiplied real loaves of bread and fish, etc. But miracles by definition are “suspensions” or God “super-ceding” normal and natural “laws.” If there is a natural explanation for them then they are not miracles. And again, why is this hard to believe that God can do these things?). But anyway, Jesus was clearly teaching that Jonah being in the belly of the “huge fish” and being spit up was a literal, historical (miraculous) event, not a mere allegory.
Many people today in the age of “reason” and “science” do not think miracles are “reasonable” explanations of reality or compatible with science. Many are putting more stock in their own reasoning abilities than the revelation given in the bible. Many trust their own intellectual conclusions than the inspired clarity of the bible. Many see “science” as more definitive than Scripture and thus believe what science says if it conflicts with what the Bible says. But scientific “certainties” have been proven wrong before and God’s word proven right time and time again! The real question is are we going to trust what God says (and that the bible is the word of God) or what man says? That is not to say science and truth are incompatible. In fact, true science, will support scripture not contradict it! And one big misconception about faith is that true faith is “unreasonable.” Many feel believing Jesus rose from the dead for example is “unreasonable” and flies in the face of reason and reality. But when the evidence is weighed and eye-witness accounts considered what is found is that the only “reasonable” explanation is in fact that Jesus did rise from the dead! This will be the subject of the next blog, so stay tuned!
But for now, Jesus rebuke of the Sadducee’s (a sect that did not believe in miracles, angels, a future resurrection and judgment) in His day, in Matthew 22:29-30, would still apply in many cases and circles today: “Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know (believe) the Scriptures or the power of God.”
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.