What is True in the Bible ?

Are there some texts of the Bible that are only 'morally true' ?

I am wondering particularly about the Creation story in Genesis 1 (which appears to be a myth) and the books of Ruth, Jonah, Esther and Daniel (which appear to be moral fables or literary constructs).

Does it matter if a text is only a literary construct or can it still be regarded as being inspired scripture (2 Tim 3: 16-17; 2 Peter 1: 21; John 10: 35) ?

How can we determine the truth of what is written in the Bible ?
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Comments

  • mr cheesymr cheesy Shipmate
    What is this thing "truth" anyway?
  • mr cheesymr cheesy Shipmate
    edited March 23
    For me, the endless pointless discussions about truth (particularly with a certain kind of conservative - who usually hasn't thought much about what they are saying) is a total waste of time.

    The main important question is not if it is true but if it is in any sense helpful.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    Pilate asked Jesus, 'What is truth ?' (John 18: 38). Perhaps he was also dismissing the idea that there is such a thing as truth.
  • Schroedingers CatSchroedingers Cat Shipmate, Waving not Drowning Host
    If you mean scientific empirical truth, that is irrelevant.

    Genesis is true. the fact is it myth does not take away from this. All of the Bible is true, IMO, but only if you properly understand the nature of truth from the different forms of writing.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    Now that is precisely what I would like to understand. Can you please elaborate further?
  • balaambalaam Shipmate, 8th Day Host
    edited March 23
    Or maybe Pilate was rolling his eyes when the person on trial, whom he had the power to free, was talking about philosophy.

    Pilate being Pomo seems unlikely.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    I think John is making the ironic point that Pilate did not recognise the Truth when it was standing right in front of him.
  • Schroedingers CatSchroedingers Cat Shipmate, Waving not Drowning Host
    Genesis 1-3 is myth. Myth is a story that reveals truth - in this case, that God made the universe, that he was responsible for the creation. It is not a scientific presentation of HOW, it is a story helping us understand WHY the world exists.

    Psalms - these are songs, reflecting our emotions, our feelings (positive and negative) about our experience of the divine.
  • The creation myth states several times that the creation is good. That is a truth (if you accept it) that is not scientific empirical truth.

    It also states the truth that humankind, male and female, is in the image of God.
  • Barnabas62Barnabas62 Purgatory Host, Dead Horses Host
    I doubt whether the nature of truth in scripture can be discussed for very long without bringing in the Dead Horse of biblical inerrancy. The argument that verses of scripture must be true in some sense or other seems to me to be at the heart of the OP. So I'm going to ask an Admin to transfer the thread to its proper home.

    Barnabas62
    Purgatory Host
  • Curiosity killedCuriosity killed Shipmate, 8th Day Host
    Well, before this gets corralled with the Dead Horses, inerrancy being a dead horse here ...

    There are many truths - emotional truth, moral truth, literal truth, scientific truth, mathematical truth, historical truth. Which truth are you asking about?
  • You've left out spiritual and theological, which are the two that matter to me in the case of the Bible. And the history of a relationship, which could be said to operate on all of those levels.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    What interests me is how to properly determine the nature of truth from the different forms of writing in the Bible. How does genre affect our understanding of scripture? Do we put more reliance upon the historical books of the Bible because we think that they are more likely to be evidence based accounts?
  • [moved to Dead Horses]
  • Oh dear. Just oh dear. Of what possible relevance is the "evidence based" account? You'll have to do better than relying on the current cultural obsession.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    Because every generation interprets the Bible afresh. What prejudices do we bring with us? How do we filter scripture through the lens of our own culture? How does modern education influence our reading of the scriptures? A C21st hermeneutic needs to consider all these factors. But I would agree that the metanarrative of the Bible is the history of the relationship between God and His people.
  • Curiosity killedCuriosity killed Shipmate, 8th Day Host
    You've left out spiritual and theological, which are the two that matter to me in the case of the Bible. And the history of a relationship, which could be said to operate on all of those levels.

    True dat.
  • Every generation builds on the history of interpretation, as well as bringing its own eyes to the text itself. Those eyes are formed, formulated, etc., by the history of interpretation independent of consciousness or will, but the effect is far more subtle and sympathetic if this is done consciously, i.e. if the interpreter understands the history of interpretation to which they are contributing. Again, none of those levels of interpretation is irrelevant, though cultures (including those of faith communities) may favour one form over another.
  • Aren't what are called historical books still not evidence-based because for them the important truths are the interpreting of history through a theological understanding of God's action in the world and His approval and disapproval of the actions of nations and their kings?

    I assume that "The heavens declare the glory of God" is not the sort of evidence you are thinking of.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    edited March 23
    Rublev wrote: »
    What interests me is how to properly determine the nature of truth from the different forms of writing in the Bible. How does genre affect our understanding of scripture? Do we put more reliance upon the historical books of the Bible because we think that they are more likely to be evidence based accounts?

    Historical truth is irrelevant to the fiction woven around it by the people who lived through it. Just as it is now. It's a simple logical fallacy, mousethief will know the name: the historical context of the storyteller is true therefore the story is. The storyteller often pretends to have lived before the history to claim prophecy as the justification for whatever further claim they make.

    Virtually nothing claimed about God in any regard in the entire Bible or by its believers can possibly be true, except in rare isolation. For God is love. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son. Everything else we - including that Son - make up. And we well might be making that up too.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    edited March 23
    Something that I found very helpful to my interpretation of scripture was to read Jewish commentaries which follow the rabbinic method. Consequently they play close attention to the use of parallels and where the same words occur in different passages of the OT. This helps to decode how different texts are speaking to each other.

    Some of them are continuing with a similar theme. Some of them are raising new questions. And some of them are having arguments with each other. The book Subversive Sequels illustrates the subtle conversations which are happening throughout the OT. Often a later book of the Bible will pick up upon an unanswered question raised by an earlier book. For example, it's likely that Ruth and Jonah are both arguing the case for inclusivity and universality against Ezra and Nehemiah.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    edited March 23
    @LatchKeyKid

    Yes, I would completely agree that our view of a historical text is completely different from that of an ancient historian. The chroniclers of David are clearly putting quite a spin upon the story of the fall of the House of Saul and the rise of the House of David. Although they do draw a line at his murder of Uriah. It is interesting that that episode is not being discreetly veiled at all.

    However, Luke is clearly doing his best to be accurate in his accounts, according to the best standards of his time. I'm always impressed that he was apparently the only one of the four evangelists who spoke to Mary and so recorded the story of the Annunciation in the NT.
  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    Rublev wrote: »
    Pilate asked Jesus, 'What is truth ?' (John 18: 38). Perhaps he was also dismissing the idea that there is such a thing as truth.
    Pilate isn't a very good source on whom to base a theological principle. 😜
  • Rublev wrote: »
    @LatchKeyKid

    Yes, I would completely agree that our view of a historical text is completely different from that of an ancient historian. The chroniclers of David are clearly putting quite a spin upon the story of the fall of the House of Saul and the rise of the House of David. Although they do draw a line at his murder of Uriah. It is interesting that that episode is not being discreetly veiled at all.

    However, Luke is clearly doing his best to be accurate in his accounts, according to the best standards of his time. I'm always impressed that he was apparently the only one of the four evangelists who spoke to Mary and so recorded the story of the Annunciation in the NT.

    I don't see it in those terms at all. This is surely a key element of his Christology rather than his chronology. Jesus as an event in history, as embodying the relationship between God and creation, and the need for human co-operation in the divine plan of love. Not a historical account of an encounter between a human being and almost certainly mythical divine agent.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    edited March 23
    @Enoch

    Pilate is an illustration of spiritual blindness. It's one of John's favourite themes in his gospel narrative (cf John 9 and the man born blind). Pilate ignores his own conscience to condemn Jesus. And also ignores the divine warning sent in his wife's dream.

    But what if Pilate in his freewill had not condemned Jesus? I suppose that satan would have awaited another 'opportune moment.' It's another question about foreknowledge in the Bible, isn't it?
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    edited March 23
    @ThunderBunk

    Luke tells us that he decided to write an orderly account in his gospel after investigating everything carefully from the very first (Luke 1: 3). That suggests to me that he went and talked to Mary. And he includes other unique source material including the four Canticles to express his theme of joy at the birth of Christ.

    We could open another thread to explore the reality and meaning of angels in the Bible, if you like.
  • Rublev wrote: »
    @ThunderBunk

    Luke tells us that he decided to write an orderly account in his gospel after investigating everything carefully from the very first (Luke 1: 3). That suggests to me that he went and talked to Mary. And he includes other unique source material including the four Canticles to express his theme of joy at the birth of Christ.

    We could open another thread to explore the reality and meaning of angels in the Bible, if you like.

    I still read that as an essential rhetorical, textual advice, saying that his account is to be taken seriously, and is not purely metaphorical. On the other hand, it doesn't say to me that in fact every event is given a purely factual account. It is still Christology, not history, if you read that paragraph as a whole, not verse by verse.

    If any cleric is in hell, it's the idiot monk that broke the bible up into verses. This was the single most stupid move in the church's history, because it has made statements like yours look sensible.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    If you think that Luke did not talk to Mary then you are suggesting that the story of the Annunciation is a literary construct to express his view of Christology. Do you have any reason to propose that other than your incredulity of angels?
  • As with any language about God it strains the potential of linguistic expression. Whether it recounts an objective experience or a truth of Mary's subjective experience as the mother of God I don't know, but what I read is the latter.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    I have just opened a thread on this discussion topic if you care to elaborate further.
  • But for me it's the same subject. It's a matter of the approach one takes to the attribution of truth value to biblical texts. As such I would insist that the discussion belongs here.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    We have now arrived at the crux of the OP which is helpful. Are the story of Creation in Genesis 1, Ruth, Jonah, Esther, Daniel and the Annunciation to Mary all examples of literary constructs in the Bible? And does it matter if we think that they are?

    Are they 'morally true' stories which are being used to express the theology of the writer?

    How do we classify 'inspired' scripture? Does it include moral fables or would only the genre of prophecy really fit the description?
  • I would answer your last question as yes, and the others as therefore fundamentally irrelevant.

    It's a matter of expanding our consciousness of God, by all available means. Anything that does this, for this purpose, is true.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    edited March 23
    There is a line being drawn by the canonists. The Apocryphal books were excluded as not being inspired scripture. Tobit is classified as a moral fable. Certain Biblical texts such as Ecclesiastes, Esther and the Song of Songs were the subject of considerable debate.

    Luther placed the Letter of James at the end of the NT letters because he thought it was a right strawy epistle in terms of its theology. So who makes the distinctions and on what grounds?

    Are some Biblical books and genres more inspired than others? Should there be a 'league table' as it were? Luther in his introduction to his translation of the German NT particularly commended John's gospel and Paul's letter to the Romans to his readers for the way of salvation. Other people such as Marcion and Benjamin Franklin have gone so far as to censor the Bible to suit their preferences. Do we all have a 'Bible within the Bible' that supports our own personal theology?
  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    Rublev wrote: »
    Are there some texts of the Bible that are only 'morally true' ?
    Rublev wrote: »
    However, Luke is clearly doing his best to be accurate in his accounts, according to the best standards of his time.

    I'm amazed that anyone asks this question of a book that's full of parables. Let's take an example from Luke.
    A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. . . .

    Does the meaning of the story of the Good Samaritan depend on there actually being a man who was attacked by robbers on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho? I'd argue that trying to cram this tale into the "literally true" box not only misses the point, seeing it as a commentary on the hazards of foot travel on the Jerusalem-Jericho road allows one to derive a completely different meaning (beware of robbers!) than the one that Luke is attempting to convey.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    edited March 23
    Here we have a genre within a genre. Luke is quite varied in his source materials - he is the only evangelist to include the canticles and so he is called the musical gospel. He also includes the largest collection of Jesus' parables which are teaching devices to promote spiritual revelation.

    But Luke himself would probably be quite affronted to be accused of composing a gospel that was only morally true. His introduction makes it clear that he is seeking to compose an orderly account of the life and teaching of Jesus. By his own lights he is acting as a serious historian.

    But of course, historians in the ancient world operated on a different value system of historical truth from modern historians. It was quite acceptable to include literary constructs and rhetorical speeches. Hence the discussion about whether the Annunciation describes an actual historical event or is a vehicle for Luke’s theology of the incarnation of Christ.
  • Curiosity killedCuriosity killed Shipmate, 8th Day Host
    @Rublev much of what you are asking has been recently discussed here and here. You may find that some of your questions are answered in either of those threads or the legacy thread on Ye Olde Shippe™ that is linked at the beginning of the first of those threads.
  • Jengie JonJengie Jon Shipmate
    edited March 23
    Rublev wrote: »
    If you think that Luke did not talk to Mary then you are suggesting that the story of the Annunciation is a literary construct to express his view of Christology.

    Not really. I do not need to suppose Luke talking to Mary, all I need to suppose is that Mary's account became part of the tradition that Luke drew on. That is a far weaker assumption. For instance, perhaps she told it to John who then at some stage happened to mention it in a conversation with the other disciples. Then this became part of the Jerusalem church stories that Luke picked up when he was writing his gospel. That may sound far fetched but it is no more far fetched than Luke talking with Mary. We can think of other possible routes of transmission

  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    edited March 23
    You could think of it like the hadith if you like. We know that Mary was present in Jerusalem with the apostles at the time of the ascension (Acts 1: 14). However, the other evangelists do not have much to say about Mary, except John who records the miracle at Cana.

    Luke is recording a unique source concerning the Annunciation and the Presentation. The reason why I think that he is communicating with Mary is that it is a very personal and detailed account. And we are told after each narrative that 'Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart' (Luke 2: 19; 2: 51). They clearly weren't known to everyone.
  • Jengie JonJengie Jon Shipmate
    You could or you could see the reason for inclusion to be based in Luke's narrative designs. The four Gospel writers are writing their accounts from different perspectives. I think that all four (plus quite a bit of the epistles) are required to obtain a rounded understanding of the importance of the Christological event. The different perspectives are a combination of different sources and differing intentions. Putting the inclusion of one story down to such a specific source sounds to me speculative.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    edited March 23
    All very true. But the Annunciation to Mary is such a remarkable episode that it seems extraordinary for the other evangelists not to reference it in passing. Certain events are included in all four gospels because of their importance: the baptism, the feeding of the five thousand, the anointing by Mary, the triumphal entry and Peter's denial. For this key event to be unique to Luke seems to suggest that he had access to a particular source that the others did not. The Annunciation is the basis for the theology of the incarnation together with John 1: 1-18. No gospel writer would overlook the importance of this episode in the life and identity of Christ.
  • Jengie JonJengie Jon Shipmate
    Why do you not imply the same argument to Matthew's accounts of Joseph's dreams?
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    It's thought that Joseph was dead by the time Jesus began His ministry. So Matthew could not have spoken to him.

    But if you were a gospel writer who wanted to demonstrate to your readers the divine identity of Christ - and you had access to all the source materials and were merely selecting according to your perspective - which key episodes would you include in your narrative? First, the resurrection but secondly the incarnation, surely.
  • Rublev wrote: »
    @LatchKeyKid

    However, Luke is clearly doing his best to be accurate in his accounts, according to the best standards of his time. I'm always impressed that he was apparently the only one of the four evangelists who spoke to Mary and so recorded the story of the Annunciation in the NT.

    This raises the question as to what is meant by an "orderly account" for Luke/Acts. The intro states
    Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.
    So other "gospels", which may include non-canonical gospels, the author also regarded as orderly, even though their chronology is different.

    And the hymns of Mary and Zechariah I would take to be a development of an early Christian community rather than a record of extemporary praise.
  • Rublev wrote: »
    It's thought that Joseph was dead by the time Jesus began His ministry. So Matthew could not have spoken to him.

    The legends about Joseph grew over time to support a developing Christology. There is little in the canonical gospels about him. The legend later makes him an old man, too old to have sex with Mary. Then was added the idea that he was married previously to explain that Jesus' brothers were actually step brothers. And these were mixed up with stories such as a midwife checking that Mary was still a virgin after the birth and receiving a withered hand for her impudence.
  • You've left out spiritual and theological, which are the two that matter to me in the case of the Bible. And the history of a relationship, which could be said to operate on all of those levels.

    True dat.

    Rublev,

    Why the focus on moral truth, which I take to be but a part of the spiritual/theological truth that I understand the books to be focused on?
  • W HyattW Hyatt Shipmate
    It's a matter of expanding our consciousness of God, by all available means. Anything that does this, for this purpose, is true.

    Yes, I would say that spiritual and theological truth comprise anything that shows us how to love God and our neighbor.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    Jengie Jon wrote: »
    Rublev wrote: »
    If you think that Luke did not talk to Mary then you are suggesting that the story of the Annunciation is a literary construct to express his view of Christology.

    Not really. I do not need to suppose Luke talking to Mary, all I need to suppose is that Mary's account became part of the tradition that Luke drew on. That is a far weaker assumption. For instance, perhaps she told it to John who then at some stage happened to mention it in a conversation with the other disciples. Then this became part of the Jerusalem church stories that Luke picked up when he was writing his gospel. That may sound far fetched but it is no more far fetched than Luke talking with Mary. We can think of other possible routes of transmission
    I don’t think it’s far fetched at all. It’s more or less what I’ve always assumed—that it was part of the tradition that was being handed down.

  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    @LatchKeyKid

    To answer that question you would first need to unpack the purposes for which the apparent moral fables of the OT were being written.

    The story of the virtuous Moabite proselyte Ruth you could interpret either as legitimising propaganda for the House of David and / or a counter argument to the exclusivist views of Ezra and Nehemiah.

    Jonah also seems to be promoting a universalist theology about the God of Israel - and gently challenging the diehards in his own community about their own intolerance.

    Esther and Daniel appear to be answering the question of how a person of faith should behave during a time of persecution. The figures of authority in the faith community are urged to stand firm and see their positions as having been given 'for such a time as this.'

    Tobit is a moral fable recorded in the Apocrypha. It shows how God rewards human faithfulness with deliverance. But it fails to meet the standard to be considered as inspired scripture. Maybe Sarah's demon guardian Asmodeus was just too much for the canonists.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    On the question of morally / spiritually / theologically true texts in the Bible:

    A moral fable is a story told with fictitious characters to express a moral message. So a text that is morally true can exemplify virtue to the reader. But it doesn't need to concern real characters or events. So the Book of Ruth includes characters with unreal names to signal to the reader that we are entering the realm of story.

    For a text to be spiritually or theologically true, is it enough that it is moral but fictitious? Shouldn't it concern real people and events and reflect an underlying reality of truth like the resurrection?

    That's why there is a discussion going on about the Annunciation to Mary. Was the angel real? Or is the text a literary construct to present Luke’s theology of the incarnation?

    Anyone who can answer this question really well will qualify themselves for a Blue Peter badge in Christian Unrest.
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