Fables&Figures of Speech?
Q. I wonder about the figurative nature of stories in the Bible. What about the fables? I wonder how literally these stories should be taken. (M.A.)
Good questions. I'll bet lots of people are asking the same thing.
Collection of Short Books
The Bible is actually a collection of books. That's where we get the word "bibliography." In those 66 short books there are at least 200 literary forms-of-speech. Some of these literary devices are things like parables, metaphors, allegories, poetry, narrative history, and so on.
Unfamiliar forms of Speech
Due to the fact that the Bible is an ancient collection of books it also contains forms of speech unfamiliar to many of us. For example, rather than poetry consisting of "rhyme" as we understand it, ancient poetry consists of contrasting parallelisms, completive syntheses, and complicated things like that.
Needless to say, when God is described as a "bird with feathers" in the Bible, we do not take that figure of speech "literally." Instead, we take this literary device "seriously." Big difference.
This is why it is important - crucial, in fact - for all readers to acquire a good, modern translation of the bible with study notes added by top-notch scholars. For ease of reading we recommend the Life Application Study Bible in the New Living Translation. This is a good, basic study Bible for new students.
Myths contain hidden Truths
In many ancient cultures we find stories of mythical giants, of gods who married human women who in turn had hybrid kids. We read stories of a worldwide flood, and other similar narratives. When myths like these are persistent and worldwide, many historians and mythologists suspect there may be elements of truth hidden within these common stories.
But in fact, it surprises many people to learn that there actually IS evidence of a worldwide flood. There are bone fragments and skeletal remains of giants anywhere from 8 feet to 36 feet tall! There are even carvings of what look to be hybrid human and animal beings throughout the world. Who knows? I suppose it is up to the reader to decide what this all means. (Missler 1997).
Fairy Tales&Beloved Fables
Yet, it is important to remember that just because something is a "fable" or a "myth" doesn't mean it holds no learning value or truth for its readers. For example, we teach our children valuable lessons through stories such as The Boy Who Cried Wolf, The Little Red Hen, and other fairy tales and fables.
40 Authors over 1600 Years
Nevertheless, it is important to understand that the Bible was written by more than 40 authors over a period of at least 1600 years. Yet, there is incredible consistency and unity of thought from Genesis through Revelation. That is why for more than 2000 years scholars have written volumes upon volumes of detailed, comprehensive works analyzing all that the Bible contains.
This is an astonishing fact. Modern men can't even write an encyclopedia that doesn't need to be updated and changed yearly! Yet, the Bible never needs to be "corrected." It is always coherent and systematic - unlike an encyclopedia written solely by human beings.
Round Earth suspended in Space
As an example, when ancient peoples thought the earth was carried on the back of a gigantic turtle or was carried on the shoulders of Atlas, the bible said the earth is round. (See Isaiah 40:22 and Job 26:10). Furthermore, not only did the Bible maintain that the earth is round - it also said it is suspended in space! (Read Job 26:7).
Sun rotates the Galaxy
Added to that, not only does the Bible state the earth is round and is suspended in space, it also says our sun makes a circuit around the "heavens" (it rotates around the galaxy - Psalm 19:6).
Belief in the accuracy and divine origin of the Bible is also enhanced by thousands of archaeological discoveries and fulfilled prophecies which serve to support the Bible's accuracy. For now, just understand that there are more than 25,000 archaeological discoveries that have verified the names of people, places, ancient customs and events in the Bible!
In fact, the Bible is so accurate that many famous historians and archaeologists have used the bible as a "map" to find remains and writings of ancient cultures in Mesopotamia and its surrounding areas.
A visited Planet
Doesn't it make sense that if there is a God He would find some way to communicate with us? Wouldn't He leave some evidence of His existence? Wouldn't He leave us with instructions and tell us what to do? Wouldn't He inform us about the real nature of our world and our universe?
Of course He would! And He did…
He spoke to us through the collection of books known as the "Bible" and through an "extraterrestrial visit" from Jesus. As the famous literature professor C.S. Lewis noted, "We are a visited planet."
Our job is to listen to Him and read what He says to His planetary beings.
Life Application Study Bible, New Living Translation. 2004. Carol Stream, ILL: Tyndale.
Missler, Chuck. 2002. Learn the Bible in 24 hours. Nashville, TN: Nelson.
—-1997. Alien encounters. Coeur d'Alene, ID: Koinonia House.
Muncaster, Ralph. 2004. Examine the evidence. Eugene, OR: Harvest House.
Photo Credit: Battle of Kurukshetra from Wikipedia. Source: www.atributetohinduism.com/Hindu_Scriptures.htm.
Photo Credit: David&Goliath. Osmar Schindler (1869-1927). Wikipedia Commons.
Authors Valorie Mays Emilio holds an M.A. in History from UCLA. Ken received his M.A. in Biblical Studies from Louisiana Baptist University. They both know they are just a "vapor" that appears for a little while on planet earth, and they must make the most of the time remaining (James 4:14, Ephesians 5:15).