In the last post I asked if the Bible was ‘man’ made. Now, I want to ask if God is a Rock.
If you say ‘No’, then someone will point to one of the many passages like Psalm 18:2
The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
If you say “Yes – God is a rock”… then you have some explaining to do. Are you being poetic? Symbolic? Is it analogy? Allegory? or is it exacting and univocal?
This is why it is so important to understand what Nancey Murphy is saying in Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism. It is essential to know the difference between Representative Language and Expressive Language.
Is God literally a rock? of course not. The author was saying that God is strong and trustworthy like a rock – the immovable foundation upon which we build. This is not representative language which works in a 1:1 ratio. It is expressive language. It was expressing something that the author believed and wanted to communicate.
There is nothing more important to get right if you want to read the Bible.
The reason is so powerfully illustrated when it comes to reading the Book of Revelation – perhaps that is why it garners so much attention and causes so much confusion.
Are there literally 7 lamp-stands over a city or a monster that comes out of the sea? Most people will acknowledge that this is symbolic language.
Are the streets of heaven literally paved with gold? I think that is coded language for ‘it will be amazing’. Will Christ reign for 1,000 years? What if that is coded language for a long time? Would it interest you to know that both of those illustration would have made 1st century readers think about Caesar imagery?
The so called ‘literal’* reading of the Bible ignores two important things:
- Numbers were used as a poetic device in Hebrew literature. For instance, four is a number that represents the earth. There are 4 winds, 4 seasons, 4 directions, etc. Multiply that by ten (which represents intensity) and you have 40 days of this and 40 years of that which shows up over and over in the Bible – every-time is connected with the earth. These are neither exacting language (like a newspaper report) nor are they meaningless. They are trying to tell you something. I believe that something is very important.
- The books were written in genres of literature that carry with them techniques and elements that are embedded with meaning. The genre that a book is written in is essential to properly understand its content.
This also applies to some important parts of the gospels. Jesus talked of poking out your eyes and chopping off your own hands. No one I know takes that literally – thank God. They understand that it is expressive language
That is the thing: we have been tricked into thinking that if language is not exacting (representative) that it is less valuable. That is a lie. The language of the Bible is often expressive (symbolic) but what it expresses is so valuable!
Are rocks god? no. Is God a rock? no. but God is like a rock and that is really important. We make an error if we think that the Bible only speaks exactly (univocally). We make an equally grave error if we think that expressive, symbolic, or poetic language is not important and powerful.
In part 3 we ‘open the scroll’.
* no one actually reads the Bible literally. No one.