Legitimate ignorance vs. willful deception in biblical language

February 7, 2011

A recent comment suggested that language in the Bible such as
storehouses of snow, the dome over the earth, the earth's immovable
character, and so on, might all be metaphorical. After all, we use such
language metaphorically today.

But our use of it is a hangover from a bygone era when that language was presumed to be literal.

And so the metaphorical approach seems to me to imply that the authors
of the Bible used language metaphorically which their contemporaries
would presume was meant literally. They did so without ever informing
their readers that they were using the language metaphorically. And so
they willfully deceived their initial readers, it seems.

Can someone explain to me why this viewpoint is preferable to one that
regards the Biblical authors to have assumed the truthfulness of the
cosmological knowledge of their era? Why is willful deception considered
more religiously appropriate than not knowing things that no one in
that time could know?

Originally posted at Exploring Our Matrix.


A Literal Sore Spot?

You have provided very little context, so I don't know the comment that has touched such a nerve in you. Nonetheless, I take comfort in knowing that "literal words" notwithstanding, just like your post, scriptures can tell as much through what they do not say as what they do. You have asked for responses, but since you have chosen not to provide enough information for a reasoned reply, it is hardly a stretch to suggest that no reasoned answers will be acceptable to you. It would not matter that God's challenge to Job about the snow was a reference to mankind's ignorance about the weather, that people are incapable of moving the earth, etc. Yet, despite "modern" advances in meteorology and astrophysics, weather forecasters still make lousy predictions about snow. Rocket scientists cannot change the earth's path through space by a single degree. The earth is moving, but we cannot move it. God could challenge us just as powerfully--and just as literally--today as He ever did. We know a few more facts, but we are not smarter. We are not stronger. We certainly are not wiser.

As a teacher of the New Testament you know that those who sought to test Christ used similar tactics frequently. They would construct a question or scenario with a "gotcha" at the end. He simply allowed His adversaries to hang themselves on their own assumptions, their own ambiguities, and their own omissions. That's a pretty broad menu. Which do you prefer today?

May you find peace in knowing the Truth. Facts are facts, but the Truth will set you free.


I suspect that the authors were expressing, in many cases, their best understanding of what really was (to the extent that 'the real reason' was important to them). Now that we know the earth has no dome over it, we can still appreciate it as a metaphor, or even leave it alone and go on to more meaningful texts. So I don't see a real problem.