Distinguishing figurative language from fact

Apparently – though I have always suspected that such groups may be satirical – there is such a thing as a “flat-earther”. This belief may even be associated with the Bible, yet I would like to denounce this notion: not only does a flat earth completely fly in the face of observable science, it is also unbiblical, and has never gained widespread traction, not among the ancients, and not in the medieval world. The prophets who wrote the Bible, thereby preserving the very Word of God for posterity, were neither stupid, nor deluded, nor deceived by God. In various places in the Old Testament, the Hebrew word chug which has to do with drawing around, or making a circle, alludes to the awareness of a spherical earth and the circuit of the winds which go around it.

Nevertheless, some will point to the biblical phrase “four corners of the earth”, which Christians will happily accept as figurative language. They may ask, Why should some parts of scripture be interpreted literally and others figuratively? This is especially a challenge for those Christians, like me, who uphold six-day creation as historical fact instead of the inconsistent evolution embraced by naturalists. How can I say that the corners of the earth are figurative and simultaneously insist that the six days of creation are literal? Am I cherry-picking?

The answer is no. There are consistent ways of interpreting the Bible. I won’t go into much detail in this post other than to state that to be consistent with interpretation of the Bible, we cannot isolate one word, phrase, or verse from the rest of the Bible; that we must consider context, purpose, grammar, and genre. The phrase “four corners of the earth” is found in Isaiah and Revelation, both prophetic books, which we would naturally expect to be rich in figurative language, poetry, and types. In a previous post, I wrote about the day-year principle, in which days can signify years (as we find in Daniel, Ezekiel, and Revelation). Old-earth creationists and theistic evolutionists will point to this principle and say that the same applies to the days in the creation account of Genesis. However, I allege that they are not being consistent. The day-year principle properly belongs to the genre of prophecy, whereas the creation account is history. This is not to say that there is a total absence of poetic language within the historical books, but the context of the first verses of Genesis informs us of its true intention: the days are clearly demarcated by morning and evening so that they can be no other than literal 24-hour days. The 24-hour day is also affirmed in the perpetual ordinance of the Sabbath day. Furthermore, from a linguistic perspective, according to Dr C. Van Dam, “Nowhere in the Old Testament is ‘days’ (the plural) used in any but a literal sense. If the days of the fourth commandment (in six days the Lord created) are actually ages or the like, then this is a unique use of the word and without any explanation or hint that it is symbolic for a long period of time.”

So Christians need not fear figurative language in the Bible and slanderous allegations of cherry-picking: biblical interpretation is not arbitrary. And we need not fear observable science because scripture does not contradict it. Theories such as natural selection leading to new species are no threat to us: the Bible nowhere says there cannot be variation within God’s created kinds, only that the creation account disallows that all kinds originated in a “primordial soup”, and that we have a common ancestor with apes (both of which are beyond the realms of observable science, and justified logically only on the premise that there is no Creator). Rather, the scientific evidence for shared attributes in all life forms only supports the biblical teaching that we have a common Creator, a truth which we have suppressed by our unrighteousness (Romans 1).

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