The Figurative Truth of Genesis

A debate is going on over the initial passages of Genesis. It is often characterized as a choice between a natural, literal interpretation, and mere figurative speech. This difference is then often characterized as believing the Bible is true, or not. Such comparisons are strongly influenced by our world view. In order to avoid a worldly bias, let’s think about this from a Biblical perspective:

And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the LORD make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream.” Numbers 12:6 (ESV)

In this passage, God is addressing Miriam and Aaron as they challenge Moses’ authority. Although the point of the passage is God’s rebuke of that challenge, it’s interesting to note the implication of His statement.

God is pointing out something that is evident throughout Scripture, that when He speaks most directly, He uses figurative terms. This is clear in the prophetic and poetic books, but is also clear in Jesus’ teachings and Paul’s letters. It is obvious that God does not consider figurative language to be inferior in some way. In fact, He uses it for some of His most direct communications (such as when speaking through a prophet) and for some of His most profound concepts (such as Jesus’ descriptions of our relationship to him).

This type of communication is difficult for worldly minds, and a natural worldview rejects such things in favor of viewpoints anchored in the natural world. We have to be careful not to allow that natural bias to cause us to reject God’s chosen styles of revelation. This inevitably affects how we think of the Word. It is the worldly perspective that sees figurative descriptions as somehow less significant; this is not based on a Biblical perspective. We can even end up criticizing the very techniques chose by God Himself if we’re not careful.

Also, consider how the Bible describes the difference between natural reality and spiritual reality. The temporary natural world is described as shadow. Eternal spiritual reality, on the other hand, is described as substance. (Hebrew 8:5 and 10:1, for example.) The Word describes the truth that spiritual reality is more significant than natural reality, even though our senses disagree.

Therefore, figurative descriptions of spiritual truths are more real than literal descriptions of natural events. Consider the beginning of Genesis. Why would God start the Word with mere historical narrative?

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