Can what is symbolic point to what is real history?

Posted: March 16, 2010 by Prof. Dan Lioy in Uncategorized

Peter Enns has posted another blog titled “Paul’s Adam” (Part 2). And there’s a comment posted by “Joe Francis” questioning how a writing that is symbolic can “contain real history”. I thought I’d respond to the same, and the following is what I posted:

>>>From my perspective, it is possible that a highly stylized, literary rendition can be both symbolic in content and point to historical and theological truths.

For instance, I think it is possible to regard Genesis 1 as portraying the creation of the universe in a story-like manner that, one the one hand is akin to other ANE stories, and on the other hand is sufficiently distinctive to set itself apart from the latter.

So one historical truth would be that the universe had a starting point. A corresponding theological truth would be that the Creator-King brought all things into existence. Admittedly, some might regard these observations as merely faith-based statements which cannot be proven using the scientific method. Fair enough.

Still, the preceding need not rule out the potential validity of such premises. For instance, Francis Collins, in a recent interview with Charlie Rose, wryly asked “why is there something instead of nothing”. The backdrop of Collins’ Q was the supposition of the universe originally being created by God.<<<

  1. Matthew says:

    Mr. Lioy,
    I wanted to say first that I enjoyed your radio interview and look forward to reading your book. On the topic I was wondering if you would classify the story that Jesus told in Luke 16 of the rich man and Lazarus as a symbolic yet historical narrative? It seems to be in a stylistic literary genre that is symbolic, but at the same time it has historical figures such as Abraham?


  2. Dan Lioy says:


    Thank you for the affirming thoughts and Q. As for parable of the rich man and Lazarus (cf. Luke 16:19-31), yes it is correct to note that Abraham is a historical character. That said, the overall parable itself seems to be cast as a non-historical story, one Jesus used to get at a real theological truth. This would be different than an entire account, such as the Creation narrative, which may have figurative and/or metaphorical elements within it, but which in its entirety points to a real historical event (namely, God creating the heavens and the earth).


    Dr. Lioy

    (not “Mr” Lioy)

    • Dr. Lioy, I read that post by Enns and will give him a future hearing. I never did read his book that got him in hot water at Westminster, have you? I have a local pastor friend who is sympathetic to Enns and we chat from time time about Genesis and “stuff”. I haven’t delved into that much beyond Kline’s “Framework” and listening to some lectures by Bruce Waltke on Genesis. I would like to preach through Genesis in my pastorate, but feel that I do need to do some further reading before I commence.

  3. Dan Lioy says:

    Hi, Pastor Rick,

    I have read Peter Enns book, as well as some rejoinders (esp. Greg Beale). Despite the unfortunate circumstance between Dr. Enns and WTS, the former seems to have moved beyond that in a professionally viable way.

    As for you feeling tentative about preaching through Genesis, I think Walton’s commentary on the same holds considerable promise. That said, I encourage you not to feel skiddish. I have found you to be grounded in your understanding of Scripture and theology. I think your congregants would be blessed should you decide to do so!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s