Staff & Sling

Joseph E. Hébert, Ph.D.

98119 N 3745 Rd
Okemah, OK  74859
918 623 3078

True v Real

Have you ever heard anyone claim, "Anyone can make the Bible mean anything they want it to." Or maybe you've heard it said, "The Bible is too full of metaphors and analogies, figurative speech, for anyone to be certain what it means." I'm confident you've at least heard others say things like this, and in fact you may well have said something to this effect yourself.

Let's think about this. Okay, so the Bible is replete with figurative speech. But do you really believe that makes it less clear? Do you really believe that figurative speech is less concise, or somehow more confusing, than literal speech?

If so, or if you're just uncertain, I invite you to read any garden variety novel or newspaper, and then read any randomly selected legal contract. Go ahead. I'll wait.

All done? Okay, now you tell me. Which was harder to understand? When the reporter wrote that the burglary victims were shocked to find their home broken into, did you really think, even for an instant, that maybe they'd been electrocuted?

In point of fact, figurative speech makes communication more clear, more understandable, not less. By explaining the unfamiliar in terms of what is familiar, analogies, metaphors and similes make communication more understandable, not more confusing. If you want confusing go back to that very literal legal contract. Or just keep listening to the Deceiver. After all, obfuscation and confusion are the tools with which deception is wrought.

Yes! We have an adversary, the Deceiver, the Devil, and he's very real. Really! And interestingly enough, the very first word God used to describe the Serpent in the Garden was "subtle," (Genesis 3: 1). Why is that interesting? Because it has been well said that Satan's greatest deception was convincing men that he isn't real, and it is that very distinction, be it ever so subtle, between "true" and "real" that lies at the heart of our issue.

This is important, so follow carefully. Many people will say that the Bible is true, but then start making excuses about how it can mean one thing to one person and something else to another. They will say the Bible is true, but that you can't take it "literally." They rationalize this position by making a distinction, albeit perhaps subconsciously, between "true" and "real."

When you think of it this way, Aesop's Fables are true. That's not to say that the myth of the mouse and the lion ever really happened, but there is a truth (a moral) to be learned from the story. Thus, they are true, but they are not real.

Sadly, this is how many people think of Scripture, that it is true, but it isn't real. They don't believe that Daniel really survived the night in a lion's den, or that three men named Shadrach, Meshach and Abednigo actually survived being thrown in a fiery furnace. Many people believe there is value in courage whether an adolescent shepherd boy really killed a giant with a sling shot or not.

Indeed, even today people like to equate themselves with the shepherd boy, the underdog, when confronted by a greater foe. But they miss the point of the story of David and Goliath. The point of the story is not the value of courage. The point of the story is that is simply isn't possible for an adolescent shepherd boy to take on a battle-hardened veteran warrior giant in combat and win. The point of the story is that David's victory is proof of God's intervention, and thus of both His existence and ultimately His love of man.

Do you see? In order to understand the point of the story of David and Goliath, or Daniel and the Lion's den, or the tale of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednigo in the Fiery Furnace, or of anything else the Bible tells us, you must first accept that Scripture isn't just true. It's real.

Scripture actually is what it purports to be, the Word of God revealed to man. It's what God wants us to know.

All scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. II Timothy 3: 16, 17

    Now given that, let me ask a question. Do you really believe that God would intend His Word to mean one thing to one person, and something else to the next?

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. II Timothy 2: 15

    There it is. You must study God's Word in order to "rightly" divide the Word of Truth. That means that there is a way to "wrongly" divide His Word. In fact, there are many. Any rationalization of Scripture to make it mean anything other than what God meant is "wrongly" dividing the Word of Truth, and men have been doing just that since God gave us His Word.

But in vain they do worship me, teaching [for] doctrines the commandments of men. Matthew 15: 9
Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching [for] doctrines the commandments of men. Mark 7: 7

So it should be no surprise that men still rationalize Scripture to mean what they want, but they don't have to. If you study God's Word seeking to learn what God wants you to know, you will find it no more difficult to understand than a letter from a loved one, metaphors and all.

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: Matthew 7: 7

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all [men] liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. James 1: 5

And so this is my answer when asked if I think the Bible should be read literally, that the question is disingenuous, intended to deceive through confusion and obfuscation. The better answer is that I absolutely believe that the Bible, like God, is real.