Sunday, March 03, 2013

TorahBytes: The Bible Is Not Fiction (Va-Yakhel & Pekudei)

According to all that the Lord had commanded Moses, so the people of Israel had done all the work. (Shemot / Exodus 39:42; ESV)

Last week's TorahByte's message (Don't Overcomplicate) made some people nervous. So nervous, in fact, a whole slew of people unsubscribed. I don't know for sure why they decided to no longer receive TorahBytes, but I think I can guess. The last time I had this kind of response was three weeks earlier when I wrote a prolife piece (Protecting the Preborn). With regard to last week, however, I chose an inaccurate word to describe some of the Bible's writing style. It's too bad that it appears some people reacted instead of interacted. One comment was pretty aggressive and, in my opinion, extreme, but at least they were willing to confront me.

The ill-chosen word I am referring to is "fiction." I should have realized that for many people there are few things worse that can be said in relation to the Bible than this word. The point I was trying to make stems from how the Bible uses a wide variety of writing styles to convey its message. There is everything from legal language to poetry, short wisdom sayings to letters. There are also parables, which are stories purposely designed to make a point. Parables are found in the teachings of Yeshua and in a few places in the Hebrew Scriptures (e.g. Shoftim / Judges 9:7-15; 2 Samuel 12:1-4). Parables are not descriptions of actual events. They are made up. So are they fiction?

If I wrote a book about a real person who traveled around the world telling made up stories to children in order to teach them life lessons, is my book, fiction or non-fiction? The stories told by the real-life person are not descriptions of actual events, yet the book is relating to the reader something that actually happened. Therefore the book is non-fiction. But what about the stories told in the book? Is it accurate to call them fiction?

What if I wrote another book about an imaginary character who told stories of actual events? Isn't the book fiction, since the storyteller lives in my imagination even though the stories he tells are truly historical? Is this getting too complicated?

While the Bible is accessible, it is not a simple, straightforward book. It can be hard to understand at times. Once of the reasons for this, is that its various writing styles are even more complex than my two book examples I just mentioned.

Determining whether or not a book is fiction has to do with what it is claiming to portray. Regarding the Bible this has to do with whether or not it describes actual events, which it does, including the telling of the parables. While parables as a type of story by nature are fictional, biblical parables were really spoken by real people to real people in actual places at actual times. Therefore the Bible is not fiction.

I have been surprised that even using the word "story" at all when describing biblical events upsets some people as if "story" always means "fiction." It doesn't. There are true stories that describe actual events and there are made up, imaginary stories. The Bible describes actual events. It is not fiction.

For example, take this week's Torah portion. It describes in detail the building of the Tabernacle (Hebrew: mishkan), the predecessor to Solomon's temple. This is not the stuff of fiction. In fact the more we read the Bible, the more we discover that no one could have made it up.


Katie Black said...

sad that some people will never even see the explanation since they unsubscribed over one comment. I enjoy getting my faith stretched & hearing dissenting opinions--this is how we learn what is truth & how to share that truth with others. thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts & beliefs!

Joseph Defina said...

This is a good topic, Alan. It has actually been on my mind heavily the last little while. Timothy Keller actually has a sermon titled "Literalism: Isn't the Bible historically unreliable and regressive?" I strongly feel that everybody should listen to this. Its available for download for free from the Redeemer website.

Have a blessed week, Alan!

Sandra said...

Shalom Alan,
Yes I did see "The word "and i did a double take,but I have been receiving your Torahbytes for sometime now and that caused me to look past 1word and to remember all the other words you have shared. I think you have proven over and over again what seems to me a heart that longs to encourage the body of Messiah.
Thank you , Sandra
Hebrews 6:10 WEB
"For God is not unrighteous, so as to forget your work and the labor of love which you showed toward his name, in that you served the saints, and still do serve them."

In His Image said...

I am relieved to read the clarification in todays post. I admit I considered unsubscribing after I read the previous days post. I decided to wait and see what else would be taught or corrected before I withdraw and possibly lose some good teachings. It's too bad that those who unsubscribed didn't get to read the clarification. As our Eloheim teaches us, we are to be slow to speak and quick to listen. We are not to act in haste and judge one another so quickly.

Jan Davis

Alan Gilman said...

Here is the sermon by Tim Keller that Joseph Defina references above:

Alan Gilman said...

To Sandra,

Thanks for this. I have received some of the most precious responses to this week's message from others like you who have been most understanding. Several of these have come by email, not through comments on the blog site.


prbrown said...

I understand that when you mentioned fiction that you were referring to the Parables that Christ used to teach Christian values. It was used to illustrate a lesson was trying to teach His disciples, and they have been effective in teaching the lesson was trying to teach.

Chuck said...

While a parable may be fiction in some cases, there is no reason to believe that they are in this case. As someone who proclaimed to tell the truth, or BE the the truth, it would be unnecessarily risky to use fictional stories to make a point about truth. said...

You've made the same assumption as others. Parables are not, by nature, fiction. They are, by nature, written to illustrate parallels between man's real experiences, and God's intended message. There need be no fiction involved.

Alan Gilman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alan Gilman said...

Response to "Chuck" and "", it all depends how one defines the word "fiction". Parables are true; the life lessons they illustrate are true. The details of these parables did not necessarily happen. We can let language and literary experts debate how to describe this time of thing.