Pastor Swaim continues his sermonizing at BioLogos in “Maker of Heaven and Earth: Part 3.” Here he addresses the crucial question of which parts of the Bible are true, and which merely metaphors that nevertheless express some “truth.”
The answer: whether the language is “poetic” or whether the writer clearly says he’s expressing historical truth. Clearly, the first part of Genesis, including the critical creation and Adam-and-Eve stories falls into the former category, and so isn’t literally true (ORLY?):
I contend that there’s more truth—about theology, anthropology, and ecology, and spirituality, and human dignity, and human responsibility packed into this short chapter than a hundred normal books could describe on their own. Like the parable of the lost son, that’s why it’s so powerful. It’s truthful, it’s just not historical. But don’t get tricked into thinking that’s the only kind of truth. But if Genesis 1 is not literal history, then how do we know that the story of Jesus’ resurrection in Luke 24 is literal history? Is that just another poem? How can you tell the difference? Usually it’s pretty obvious from the context. If I say, “Yesterday Pastor Eugene drove me to the store,” you understand I mean something very different than if I say, “Yesterday Pastor Eugene drove me up a wall.” One is clearly literal and the other is clearly symbolic, but they both may be one hundred percent true. Jesus and the gospel writers poked fun at the ignorant literalism of the people who didn’t understand the obvious metaphors when Jesus said things like, “You must be born again” or, “You must eat my flesh and drink my blood.” He was speaking life-changing truth, but he was not speaking literally. They should have been able to distinguish between things that are symbolic and things that are scientific. One is not more true than the other. They’re just different ways of expressing truth. So I’m not saying that we shouldn’t take Genesis 1 seriously. To the contrary, I’m suggesting we fail to take it seriously when, like a parable, we insist on taking it literally instead. When we make it about six days, when we make it simply a recipe for baking a galaxy. In contrast, in Luke 1, Luke insists that he’s reporting historical events carefully checked against the testimony of eye witnesses. That’s an unmistakable sign that he expects to be taken literally.
So what’s the stuff in Luke 1 that’s literally true, because it’s reported as history? Here’s some:
10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.
11 And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.
12 And when Zacharias saw [him], he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.
13 But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.
26And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
27To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name [was] Mary.
28And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, [thou that art] highly favoured, the Lord [is] with thee: blessed [art] thou among women.
29And when she saw [him], she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.
30And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.
31And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.
32He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:
33And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
34Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?
35And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
You know the story, and surely must agree with Swaim that because this is in historical language, its literal truth can’t be doubted! As he says, it’s obvious from the context! Imagine if we all divined historical truth from things like “context” and language rather than evidence.
And about Genesis, Swaim says this:
Most scholars agree that everything after Genesis 11 is intended to be literal history, and modern archaeology and anthropologists have accumulated libraries full of corroborating evidence. But scholars are divided about chapters 2 to 10.
Here’s some literal history from post-chapter 11 Genesis:
1And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I [am] the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.
2And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly.
3And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying,
4As for me, behold, my covenant [is] with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations.
5Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee.
6And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee.
7And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.
8And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.
9And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations.
10This [is] my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised.
11 And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.
14And Lot went out, and spake unto his sons in law, which married his daughters, and said, Up, get you out of this place; for the LORD will destroy this city. But he seemed as one that mocked unto his sons in law.
15And when the morning arose, then the angels hastened Lot, saying, Arise, take thy wife, and thy two daughters, which are here; lest thou be consumed in the iniquity of the city.
16And while he lingered, the men laid hold upon his hand, and upon the hand of his wife, and upon the hand of his two daughters; the LORD being merciful unto him: and they brought him forth, and set him without the city.
17And it came to pass, when they had brought them forth abroad, that he said, Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed.
18And Lot said unto them, Oh, not so, my Lord:
19Behold now, thy servant hath found grace in thy sight, and thou hast magnified thy mercy, which thou hast shewed unto me in saving my life; and I cannot escape to the mountain, lest some evil take me, and I die:
20Behold now, this city [is] near to flee unto, and it [is] a little one: Oh, let me escape thither, ([is] it not a little one?) and my soul shall live.
21And he said unto him, See, I have accepted thee concerning this thing also, that I will not overthrow this city, for the which thou hast spoken.
22Haste thee, escape thither; for I cannot do any thing till thou be come thither. Therefore the name of the city was called Zoar.
23The sun was risen upon the earth when Lot entered into Zoar.
24 Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven;
1 And Sarah was an hundred and seven and twenty years old: [these were] the years of the life of Sarah.
7And these [are] the days of the years of Abraham’s life which he lived, an hundred threescore and fifteen years.
8Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full [of years]; and was gathered to his people.
And so on, all the way through Genesis 50. All literal truth; all “science.” All a fairy tale.