Must the Old Testament be taken as symbolic?

Question:

Hello!

I'm a former atheist who recently found God again, but I have one thing I'm really struggling to to get, and that is how I can weave together science and the Bible, in particular the Old Testament? I have, after reading different approaches, personally come to the conclusion that it must be read as symbolic, rather than literally. I really want to know what you think on this! In my opinion the Bible is about teaching us the word of God, rather than boring scientific specifics on how the world was formed. I don't think these interfere with each other, after all the Bible never says how God created the world, just that He did it. I was recommended to submit my question here from World Bible School, and I hope to get a new perspective on this issue!

A last note: I know some read the Bible literally, but so much of it revolves around explaining things symbolically, and usually in ways that everyone can understand, so it would make sense it was written in a simple way and that all we really need to know is God is the engineer behind it.


Answer:

Figurative (or symbolic) language is so common in our communications that we rarely stop to think when we are using it. For instance, you used it in your note when you mentioned "the word of God." You weren't talking about a single word, but a whole book full of words; yet, your sentence was perfectly understandable. We use "word of God" to emphasize that the Bible is a unified, whole document that came from God.

The question really comes down to whether the Old Testament is a historical account that teaches moral principles or a symbolic story. You realize that understanding it as history puts it in conflict with what goes for science these days, so you decided that it has to be symbolic. But notice that you are not using the text to prove this. You started with the conclusion and decided what gives you the conclusion you want. That is not a scientific or reasonable approach to any subject.

Where do we draw the line between literal and figurative? If the biblical account of creation is not literal, then what about the other events in the Bible, such as the virgin birth of Jesus in Matthew 1:18-25? A virgin birth is not scientific; in fact, modern science rejects the possibility of any miracle because it cannot be measured or recreated. Does the fact that some, who call themselves scientists, reject miracles mean that we have to take the resurrection of Jesus as figurative language?

By the way, the Bible does say how God created the world. "God said" is used repeatedly in Genesis 1. The universe came into being because God commanded it. That should not be any more surprising of a miracle than when Jesus told a paralyzed man to take up his bed and walk (Matthew 9:1-8). It happened at Jesus' command.

God's word, the Holy Bible, is simply declared to be truth. "Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth" (John 17:17). That truth was presented in an understandable form. "Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is" (Ephesians 5:17). Such understanding is gained by reading what God said. "How that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)" (Ephesians 3:3-4). From that understanding comes trust or faith in God. "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17).

A literal six-day creation contradicts no currently known facts, though it does contradict evolution and its explanations of the past. That then leads us to wonder whether it is the Bible or evolution that is inaccurate.

If you would, I would like you to look through the following:

Thank you for your answer! You do make a strong point that it's foolish to cherry pick what you read, then who can tell what is literal or not? I will certainly read more about creationism! I've read the articles you linked to, and I see what you mean. I feel a bit stupid for asking this question now, but I will in the future read the Bible as the literal Word of God! I also will look through the previous Q & A's you have done.

God bless you and keep spreading the wonderful news of Christ!