Different Ways of Writing & Interpreting The Bible

We discussed previously the different time units and expressions that the Holy Bible used in general and that Moses used in particular. We assumed that if Moses decided to re-write the Book of Genesis, which expressions he would use, and whether he would use the same expressions or change them to comply with the givens of the age, which we live in. We also explained that the five books of Moses were all historical and law giving books and they have to be dealt with literally. Why should we then exclude the story of creation and deal with it in a symbolic way against the will of the divine inspiration?

Now, I would like to discuss the danger in the symbolic interpretation of what is meant to be literal in the Holy Bible.

Those who claim that the day of creation could be millions of years and not an ordinary 24-hour day, based on the idea that ‘the day with the Lord is one thousand years and one thousand years is like one day’ (Psalm 90:4, 2 Peter 3:8), can get us into many troubles. The following questions then dictate themselves on us:

  • Is the first chapter of the Book of Genesis written in a symbolic style?
  • Are some people trying to explain the Book of Genesis in a symbolic style to be compatible with some scientific theories?
  • Is the Book of Genesis written in a historical style with the exception of the word “day – Yom” that has a symbolic meaning?
  • According to the answers of these questions, how could we differentiate between what is symbolic and what is real?

To understand the nature of these questions, and the extent of the danger of the symbolic interpretation of the word “day”, we will give some biblical examples with fake, hypothetical, scientific and theological explanations to them, and see how much these explanations go well with the biblical teachings and the orthodox dogmas. The examples we will use are:

  • The three days that Jesus Christ spent in the tomb
  • The issue of opening the paradise
  • The three days that Jonah spent in the belly of the whale.

Jesus Christ Has Not Risen Yet

A family tomb was discovered recently between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. They claim that they found in it the bones of “Joshua Son of Yosofos” (Jesus Christ), the bones of “Maria” (Saint Mary) and the bones of “Matthai” (one of Saint Mary’s relatives) together with the bones of many other relatives of the Holy Family [1] .

Parallel to the Evolution Theory, someone may attempt to explain the findings of the alleged bones of Jesus Christ in the following manner: When Jesus Christ said; “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day Luke 24:46, He did not mean three ordinary days. Instead, He meant “three eras” because the day with God is as 1000 years and 1000 years is as a day, the alleged bones of Jesus will arise from death on the third day and the day could be millions of years. Does this explanation befit our Christian belief? Should we defy this “historical theory” or defy the authenticity of the Holy Bible and claim that this theory has been scientifically proven?

The Paradise Is Not Open Yet

Jesus said to the thief on the cross “Today you will be with me in paradise”. Did He mean ‘today’ literally or did he mean the day with God is as 1000 years and 1000 years is as a day and that day could be millions of years? Thence, the thief has not entered paradise yet because the paradise has not been opened yet. Does this go well with our dogmas?

Jonah

It is amazing how we believe that Jonah the Prophet stayed in the belly of the whale for three days and three nights, although there was no witness to this story except Jonah himself and the reference that Jesus Christ made to this story. Despite Jonah not seeing any daylight in the dark belly of the whale nor having a watch to know the time, we simply believe it because God inspires the Holy Bible. On the other hand, we find it hard to believe that the day of creation is a normal day even though God the Creator and the Author wrote it Himself.

Different Styles of Writing and Interpreting

Here it is legitimate for us to discuss the symbolic interpretation style as many of the laity get confused between the divine writings in a symbolic way and the symbolic interpretation of literal writings, spiritual contemplations and prophecies.

First: Writing in a Symbolic Style

The most obvious example for it, in my view, is the Book of Song of Songs by Solomon the Wise, as it was actually written in a symbolic way. The reader of it must be familiar with the symbols mentioned in that book so he can be able to understand it.

Second: Symbolic Interpretation of Literal Writings

An example for this is when we say that the Jewish Passover is a symbol for ‘Christ, our Passover’. This is what Saint Paul used in “For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us” 1 Cor 5:7. The Jewish Passover was real. The Jews used to celebrate it every year. Even Jesus Christ is mentioned to have celebrated it three times before He was crucified. Therefore, we can say that the Jewish Passover was a symbol and fore-sign to the Christian Passover without voiding the first from its literal meaning. Jesus Christ used this style when he referred to the stories of Jonah, Solomon the Wise, the Queen of Sheba and Sodom and Gomorrah, etc. The School of Alexandria excelled in this style. Origen was one of the most enthusiast for it. On the contrary, the School of Antioch, excelled in the historical, geographical and literal interpretation of the Bible, lead by St Basil the Great and St John Chrysostom. This symbolic interpretation is accepted with a condition that we understand that the stories or events have really happened in history and we only give it a wider interpretation to include more general and deeper meanings.

Third: Spiritual Contemplation Style

In this style, the Christian reader of the Holy Bible tries to live the commandment or the event and apply it on himself or on others. The Lord Jesus Christ used it when He asked His followers to contemplate on the birds of the sky and the lilies of the field and how the followers are much better than them. Another example is St Anthony, how he felt that the lectionary reading of the day was addressing him. Consequently, he left everything and went to the desert to start the monastic life. An additional example is, when you see a good person’s deed, compare it to the Good Samaritan, and are moved by it.

Fourth: Prophecies The Holy Bible is rich in this style

This style is written in a coded way to tell the reader of events that will happen in the future. Examples to that are the blessings of Jacob to his sons at the end of the Book of Genesis, the Prophetic books in the Old Testament, Chapter 24 of the Gospel of Matthew and the Book of Revelation.

Conclusion

We cannot succumb the interpretation of the Holy Bible to the given knowledge of the age; otherwise, it would be a changeable book and would not fit all times. We can convert neither what is literal to symbolism nor what is symbolic to realism. We must not to empty the word of God from its literal contents to give to it symbolic dimensions. Although, it is acceptable to give to it symbolic meanings in addition to what it literally means. The Holy Bible encompasses literal, symbolic, spiritual and prophetic writings. They are also the known styles of interpreting it. The commentator must be able to distinguish between them and ensure not to confuse one for the other. It is wellknown that the Holy Bible explains itself by itself. When the Lord Jesus Christ wanted to define the daylight period of half an ordinary day, he said “Are there not twelve hours in the day” John 11:9.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lost_Tomb_of_Jesus

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