Are you as excited as I am reading through the account of how God created the heavens and the earth ex nihilo or out of nothing? How He established day and night, divided water from dry land, and created every living thing—from every kind of plant to every kind of animal. And God saw that “it was good.”
And then God created his finest work: He made man in His own image.
Astounding! And every word reliable! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Popular TV personality Bill Maher has made a cottage industry out of ridiculing Christianity. In fact, he has gone so far as to dogmatically pontificate that the Bible was “written in parables. It’s the idiots today who take it literally.”
Even a cursory reading of the Bible reveals that Scripture is indeed a treasury replete with a wide variety of literary styles that range from poetry, proverbs, and psalms to historical narratives, didactic epistles, and apocalyptic revelations. To dogmatically assert that the Bible was “written in parables” as Maher asserts and that those who read it literally must be “idiots” is at best an idiosyncratic form of fundamentalism and at worst a serious misunderstanding of the literal principle of biblical interpretation.
In order to read the Bible for all it’s worth, it is crucial that we interpret it just as we would other forms of communication—in its most obvious and natural sense. Hence, as you read through your Bible, pay special attention to what is known as form or genre.
In other words, to interpret the Bible as literature, it is crucial to consider the kind of literature we are interpreting. Just as a legal brief differs in form from a prophetic oracle, so too there is a difference in genre between the historical accounts set forth in Genesis—the first book of the Old Testament—and the prophetic visions given to John set forth in Revelation—the last book of the New Testament.
The Book of Genesis is largely a historical narrative interlaced with symbolism and repetitive poetic structure. More specifically, the first eleven chapters are Hebrew historical narrative with poetic elements; Chapter 12 to the end are Hebrew historical narrative. Keep in mind that while the historical books of the Bible consist of accurate records of historical events and personalities, they, like all other ancient historical narratives, involve intentional selection and structure of the events recorded.
Getting back to Maher, if the events recorded in Genesis were merely reduced to “parables” for “idiots,” devoid of any correlation with actual events in history, the very foundation of Christianity would be destroyed. Taking this a step further, if the historical Adam and Eve did not eat the forbidden fruit and descend into a life of habitual sin resulting in death, there is no need for redemption.
Finally, keep in mind that while the Scriptures must indeed be read as literature, you and I must ever be mindful that the Bible is not merely literature. Instead, the Scriptures are uniquely inspired by the Spirit. As Peter put it, “No prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20–21). We must therefore fervently pray that the Spirit, who inspired the Scriptures, illumines our minds to what is in the text.