Did Church fathers and Jesus see the Bible as metaphor?

by leavingwt 22 Replies latest jw friends

  • leavingwt

    Does anyone here believe that Jesus viewed Genesis as being a metaphor? What about Paul? If they believed it to be a historical account about real people, what are the implications? As a JW, I wasn't allowed to publicly entertain such questions.

    In other words, whether you think Genesis was allegorical or not, Paul, the architect of much of modern Christianity, clearly thought it was historical.

    . . .

    If you accept Jesus as God (or part of the Holy Trinity) then you are forced to hold him to a higher standard of historical knowledge than either Paul or Augustine.

    So what does Jesus say about the historicity question? For the most part, very little, but what he does say is telling. In the gospel of Luke, for instance, he mentions Abel, the son of Adam and Eve, in historical terms:

    So the people of this time will be punished for the murder of all the prophets killed since the creation of the world, from the murder of Abel to the murder of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the holy place” (Luke 11:50-51).”

    Despite some desperate attempts at apologetic explanations for these words, it remains clear that many in the early church, including Jesus, thought that Genesis was based on historical events and real individuals.

    At Pastor Keller’s BioLogos post, the idea that Jesus was wrong about history is troubling a few people in the comment section. Commenter KevinR sums up the implications nicely:

    “The point should be clear – if you do not belief in a literal Genesis 1 and Adam and Eve, you are calling Jesus a person who does not know history. This would be a really strange phenomenom for someone who was there in the beginning, and through whom (sic) everthing was made. If that is the case then Jesus cannot be God either and thus is unable to be your Saviour.”

    This is the essential dilemma faced by BioLogos. Modern science doesn’t just show that creationism is wrong about history. It shows that Jesus was wrong too.


  • OnTheWayOut

    Jesus, as represented in the accepted 4 gospels, does fully accept the Genesis/Exodus account as fully historic.

    Those that realize that science has debunked most of the Genesis/Exodus account, but cannot let go of Lord Jesus, will simply say that Jesus is misunderstood by the metaphors/inaccurate account of the 4 gospels.

  • slimboyfat

    Paul used the Genesis account to justify men having authority over women, after all "the woman was made for the sake of the man, not the man for the woman". So either he believed the Genesis account or he was knowingly basing the subjection of women to men upon a false premise.

  • Phizzy

    I doubt that Paul approached scripture as the Bible Literalist today does. He had learned at the Rabbinic schools, and they were not in to viewing their scripture as history or literal truth at all, they would often change the stories when they used them as teaching for their own day.

    See Leolaias thread on Midrash.

    The Jesus of the Gospels it as been argued may have referred to Noah much as we may say "in Gullivers day when he travelled....". about a fictional figure. That argument is poor in the extreme I think, but something similar to the Rabbinic method could have been going on with Jesus.

    Of course, we have no way of knowing what the Historical Jesus said about anything, the Gospels are works of fiction as fantastical as Gullivers Travels.

  • leavingwt

    Side question: What does it really mean to be a 'Bible-believing' Christian? In recent news, Kirk Cameron expressed that he didn't understand why people were surprised by his views on homosexuality, because he is a 'Bible-believing' Christian.

  • Londo111

    "These things are an allegory: the women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, which gives birth to slave children; this is Hagar. "--Galatians 4:24

    "The Law is a shadow of the good things that are coming, not the real things themselves."--Hebrews 10:1

    "Whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction so that we could have hope through endurance and through the encouragement of the scriptures."--Romans 15:4

    I don't believe Paul, Philo, Origen, even Augustine took everything literally, especially the Creation accounts. These were viewed as allegorical, prophetical, or as parables from which moral lessons can be derived.

  • slimboyfat

    I have never heard anyone ever say "in Gulliver's day when he travelled..." People don't talk about fictional stories that way.

  • Midget-Sasquatch

    Origen loved to allegorize different OT texts to make them more meaningful/appealing to some types of people. He raised some pretty good points on why the Genesis creation account shouldn't be considered actually historical. He was later than Jesus' time though.

    Really hard question to answer about the Historical Jesus. If he was significantly like the Essenes in how he viewed the OT texts, then he'd read more into the texts than just the "historical/factual" surface we get on first reading. Philo who was around the same time as Jesus also viewed alot of the OT as allegory.

    Personally I think the superficial reading is exactly what was meant to be read in many of those OT texts like Genesis.

  • slimboyfat

    I may be wrong but I think early church fathers believed in allegorical interpretations of scripture in addition to the plain meaning, not instead of it.

    There is a fashion among modern liberal believers to say that real Christians never took the Bible literally anyway and therefore evolution is no problem and liberal interpretations of the historical narratives are no problem. But do they really mean to suggest that believers never took the biblical explanation of human origins for a truthful account? For all the sophistry of the liberal rewriting of doctrinal history I find that proposition singularly implausible.

  • I Want to Believe
    I Want to Believe

    slimboyfat: I have never heard anyone ever say "in Gulliver's day when he travelled..." People don't talk about fictional stories that way.

    But they do, just not in those words:

    "This is just like when Neo took the red pill and his eyes were opened."

    "After being away at college I agree with Dorothy, 'There's no Place Like Home.'"

    Frequently these are brought up (like the old Chris Farley sketch): "Remember when..." even though those in the conversation know that the incident in question was fictional, they never spell it out to the other. Just reading the conversation would you assume they thought it was real?

  • mP

    i think its safe to say people two thousand years ago had very different beliefs. take xianity in egypt, it was obviously influenced by local gods. isis became mary, horus became jesus. the great thing in this arrangement is in an instant an entire religion was adopted into christianity with minimal cost. all the old statues simple got new names. old temples with all that art and idols didnt get destroued. its hard to know if worshippers even knew when the assimilation began. we also see this in the adoption of xmas. how is it possible that the empire of believers took a holiday they would have known was solar worship? why did they adopt the celebration if it was new and belonged to a sun god? perhaps the answer is, they already knew jesus had a human history but ultimayely he was the sun. we see this in the cross, art where a crown of thorns ot halo or sun disc with rays are always used. ,

  • Band on the Run
    Band on the Run

    Why do we believe that earlier generations were stupid compared to us? Greek and Latin literature has only begun to lose its grip on higher education. I don't believe Homer believed the Iliad and the Odyssey literally. Perhaps there were always fundie. Literature that endures does not take Bible stories as literal truth. I believe Jesus understood Old testament stories both as stories and metaphor.

    I doubt the historical details in the Bible for many reasons. Yet when I discuss these stories with friends, I often speak as though I do. The next conversation I can discuss what it truly means and the values behind the words. Jesus was fairly educated. Carpenter remain s olidly middle class. Complex geometry is involved. He used stories that everyone could reference. Their status as Jewish holy scripture helped to legitimize his work.

  • slimboyfat

    You might as well ask why do people believe earlier generations were any smarter tha us. After all most American Christians believe in literal interpretations of Genesis. Why do a liberal minority believe historical Christians were any different.

  • Knowsnothing

    Colossians 2:6-12

    6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

    8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces [a] of this world rather than on Christ.

    9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. 11 In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh [b] was put off when you were circumcised by [c] Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

    I doubt it.

  • Band on the Run
    Band on the Run

    I ewxpect that more educated upper classes saw metaphor and the illiterate people saw a literal view. So many commentaries exist from ancient times that see layers of meanings. Gnosticism appealed to the upper classes. It was the main reason why what is now called orthodox Christianity triumphed. One can read several layers at once.

    When I first read Jack London's Call of the Wild while in junior high school, I was certain it was a sad story about a nice fat, suburban dog gone wild. I reread recently. With more experience, I see London's larger themes. It is about humans, not dogs. A story about a dog used to reveal the human condition.

    We are not smarter or more sophisticated than the ancients. Technical proficiency is not intelligence.

  • mind blown
    mind blown

    That's a good question.

    From what I'm finding, who really knows exactly what original books Jesus read from or for that matter Paul. There's many books not yet found. There's also many other books that were incorporated in past bibles which church fathers did not add to the reformed cannon. These books did not fit with thier agenda of appeasing the masses. Some sects believed the Father and Son were seprate, but as you can see FatherNSon are One made it into our current bible cannon, which majority ruled by vote.

  • Terry

    References to Genesis are cultural.

    We could make Star Wars references and nobody would think we seriously considered Jabba the Hut an historical personage.

    Jesus knew semitic people shared common knowledge of the Genesis stories.

    There is no basis for insisting he was literally affirming the historical certainty of those stories. None at all.

  • designs

    Jesus taking a literal reading of Genesis would put him more on the side of the Sadducees than the more progressive Pharisees. One thing to keep in mind about the Torah-Pentateuch is that was considered a continuously growing and developing Scripture that gained authoritative status around 444 BCE. Layers on laws and social organization are seen as constantly becoming more complex. Jesus own sermons show he is constantly going back in time to a simpler law and progressive in trying to deal with the reality of modern life, such as it is, in a Palestine occupied by Roman Armies.

  • mP


    Theres a famous quote by Seutonius about religion that the poor blieved, the rich doubted, while the rules found it useful. In that one sentence we find out why religion was invented.


    Paul used the Genesis account to justify men having authority over women, after all "the woman was made for the sake of the man, not the man for the woman". So either he believed the Genesis account or he was knowingly basing the subjection of women to men upon a false premise.


    Not quite, Paul never says he believed the story to be true. His usage works just as effectively with Geneis being a story or truth.

  • still thinking
    still thinking

    Interesting thread...marking to read later...thank you

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