Symbolism and Realism in the Scriptures

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At this point in time, I believe it is generally accepted among members of the Church that God did not create the Earth in six 24-hour periods. It is generally accepted that the six day declaration is simply symbolic and is probably more accurately six periods of undetermined time.

What I wonder then is if this one thing?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùone quite significant thing?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùcan be figurative, why can other things not be figurative? For that matter, how do we determine what is figurative and what is literal?

How do we determine if Adam really was made by a clump of dust and Eve from his rib? How do we determine if Noah?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s flood covered the entire earth? How do we determine if the Tower of Babel was several kilometers high? How do we determine if Lot?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s wife became a pillar of salt? How do we determine if Jericho fell apart because of some noise? How do we determine if the Nile was turned to blood? How do we determine if Jesus walked on water? How do we determine if Jesus brought Lazarus from the dead?

The list of questions goes on.

How do we differentiate between symbolism and realism?

10 thoughts on “Symbolism and Realism in the Scriptures

  1. A question which presages any of those questions:

    What is the theological import — and more specifically, what is the import to my salvation — if this account is literal or figurative?

  2. Which do you want them to be? Some we have revelation on, the temple tells us in regards to Adam and Eve. Others…does it matter which they are? Either way, much can be learned from them.

    Maybe we should take them both ways and see what we can learn from each.

  3. Don, your comment brings up two comments I want to make.

    1. Why do you consider the endowment ceremony to be revelation?

    2. Why do you consider the endowment ceremony tells us whether the story of Adam and Eve is symbolic or realistic? Isn’t the ceremony itself symbolic?

  4. A nitpick. The 24-day thing isn’t actually a symbol, since the Hebrew word behind “day” in Genesis can also denote a period of time. It’s not symbolic per se, just a broader semantic range in Hebrew than in English.

    That said, we know of at least one element of the creation story that is “symbolic” or not literal- woman being formed from a rib.

    Ben S.

  5. In the scriptures we learn that a thousand years is like a day to God, so it is not outside the realm of possibility that He created the Earth in a mere six Celestial days.

    Moreover, I am not sure that science presents the best baseline whereby we can affirm the timeline of the creation. That being said, I still give science a great deal of credence.

    Our bodies are composed of many elements, sodium being one of them, so it is not outside the realm of possibility that Lot’s wife did indeed turn to salt. I am no scientist, but I am confident that God uses natural laws in such matters.

    Finally, faith is a key component for those things which I cannot explain and/or comprehend. In some cases, further study and prayer help resolve certain issues. It is by this very process that I began to comprehend–in a very small way–the teachings of the endowment.

  6. Our bodies are composed of many elements, sodium being one of them, so it is not outside the realm of possibility that Lot’s wife did indeed turn to salt. I am no scientist, but I am confident that God uses natural laws in such matters.

    Technically speaking, all minerals are salts. Ash is the minerals that are left over after something burns. So if she spontaneously combusted she could have turn into “salt”. However, The hebrews didn’t call ash salt, so this doesn’t work.

    Applying “celestial time” to the Hebrew creation narrative is *not* a good idea. It would be a complete misreading. (See Blake Ostlers rebuttle of New Mormon Challenge’s piece on creation ex nihilo.

  7. Brian, if you are worried about cognitive dissonance, then you would be better off not using the “1-day to God = 1000 years to man” justification, because 6000 years is still many billions of years short of reconciling a literal interpretation of the bible with accepted science.

  8. Jeff,

    While I agree with you that 6,000 years is inaccurate, I’d hardly call it many billions of years short. I certainly would consider 4.5 billion (minus 6,000) to be many.

  9. Point taken. So it should read:

    “6000 years is still 4.5 BILLION years short of reconciling a literal interpretation of the bible with accepted science.”

    Sorry for seeming to exaggerate originally, but the truth is that 4.5 billion is still 750,000 times bigger than 6000. Not a close call by any means.

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