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Things I’m Asked: Are the Crazy Stories of the Old Testament True?

by ervte

Non-Christians sometimes point to the miraculous stories in the Old Testament and wonder how a sensible person can believe them.

It’s fair to say that Christians have different views on some Old Testament stories—whether they’re a strict history or stories designed to teach theological truth. What is not in dispute is that the Bible contains many writing styles. It includes poetry (e.g., the Psalms); prayer; stories intended to teach ‘who’ and ‘why’ rather than ‘how’ and ‘when’ (e.g., Genesis 1-3); a love song (Song of Songs); wisdom to live by (Proverbs); and prophecies about the future (e.g., the book of Revelation). Theological integrity requires we treat each piece of writing the way its original author intended… and understand it in its context.Things I'm Asked: Are the Crazy Stories of the Old Testament True?

As such, we would do well to note what one of the great fathers of the Christian church, St. Augustine (354-430 AD), wrote about the creation accounts in Genesis. He criticized those who turned to the Scriptures for answers to cosmological questions that the Bible’s writers never intended to teach. John Calvin (1509-1564), one of the leaders of the Reformation, expressed a similar conviction. He said bluntly, “Whoever wants to learn astronomy and other hidden arts, let him go elsewhere.”

A creation day can be a period of creative activity. But we must be careful not to dismiss the creation accounts at the beginning of the Bible as unimaginative nonsense. Oxford mathematician and theologian John Lennox takes the chronological order of the creation events in Genesis 1-2 seriously but notes that “day” can have several definitions. Lennox believes that the first act of creation (Genesis 1:1-2) is separate from the six following days of creation. The reason he gives for this is that the repeated sentences “And God said” and “the evening came and the morning came” only begin in Genesis 1:3. By separating “the beginning” from the creative events of Day 1, the universe is free to have an indefinite age.

Lennox also explains the creation of the sun and moon after the creative days (in Genesis 1:16) by adopting the idea that the Hebrew word for “create” used in this verse (ayah) also means “to appoint” or ‘to appoint’ can tell. Work in” something that is already there.

In reality, there is no other literature like the first three chapters of the Bible. The creation accounts contain elements of poetry (repeated sentences) and numerology (repeated numbers and patterns). It is a carefully crafted piece of literature that teaches, with peerless prose, that:

There is only one God. God creates all that exists and thinks his creation is ‘good’; God wants a loving relationship with us. Evil is rebellion against God, and God has zero tolerance for it. Suffering is the result of humanity taking a path that God never intended. God has not given up on us. He saves his people and his creation back to himself.

These are truths with which all Christians can joyfully unite.

What about Jonah and the whale? That is, of course, a strange story. Christians are divided on whether this story is used to teach the truth or a historical record. Let me start by saying that everything is possible with God so that it may be history. Naturally, the story is placed in a historical context.

Let’s turn our attention to Moses dividing the Red Sea. The “Red Sea” translation is uncertain and could just as well mean “reed sea”, reminiscent of swamps. A series of shallow lakes exist along the exodus route; some periodically dry out, and the sea crossing may have occurred at one of them. The exodus record states that a strong east wing held back the waters (Exodus 14:21). This phenomenon has been registered. But mentioning these natural phenomena does not mean we deny God’s supernatural hand in saving his people. The departure was a defining event for both Jews and Christians. As such, God likely had a hand in it.

God saves people amid water is a recurring theme in the Old Testament (Isaiah 43:2; 1 Peter 3:20). This is why the Apostle Paul links the event in the Red Sea to baptism (1 Corinthians 10:2). You may recall that the Hebrew people also crossed the Jordan on dry land at a time when they were underwater to enter the Promised Land (Joshua 3). Geologists have identified a site 20 miles (32 kilometers) upriver where earthquakes and landslides periodically block the Jordan. Perhaps God whistled for this natural occurrence.

Through natural phenomena, God can do as much or as little as he pleases. What is not in dispute is that God provided us with the Bible, a collection of books that have stood as guardians over faith for centuries. Despite the Bible being written over 1,500 years, its various parts fit together to form a consistent picture of God’s plan to restore humanity and all creation to itself. Every major principle taught in the New Testament was preceded in some way by the Old Testament.

It’s a remarkable story, and God invites you to make it your own.

Dr. Nick Hawkes is a scientist, preacher, apologist, writer, and broadcaster. He also describes himself as an absent-minded, slightly obsessive man, pathetically weak from cancer and chemo, who has experienced and must experience the grace of God every day.

Nick has written a book, Soar Above the Storm, in which he draws on his experience with cancer to encourage anyone going through a storm to find peace and hope in God. It offers a 40-day retreat to be refreshed and strengthened and to find deep peace in God. Order it from Koorong.

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