Is the Bible Allegorical?

In March of 2013, Bill O’Reilly stated on his national T.V. program called “The Factor” that the Bible is simply allegory, which refers to figurative language as contrasted with literal language.  He called such things as creation, the story of Adam and Eve, Noah and the Flood and Jonah and the Whale as allegorical and not to be taken in a literal sense.  He also believes that the general theory of evolution is a proven scientific fact. There are many things that I can appreciate about Bill O’Reilly, but when he begins to pontificate on Biblical subjects, he gets way out into left field. He said this as he was interviewing two people, Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, who had made a movie of the Bible broadcast on the “History Channel.” The movie has been well received by the public with high ratings. These people presented the Bible as true history, and Bill O’Reilly strongly disputed that claim.   

One person E-mailed O’Reilly with these words: “Shame on you O’Reilly, you call yourself a Christian. The Bible is not allegorical.” O’Reilly responded with these very sharp words: “You are entitled to that opinion, but you are not entitled to impugn my Christian status.  There are millions of Christians that do not take parts of the Bible literally. If you want to believe that Jonah was swallowed by a whale,  fine!  But don’t demand that I believe it too.  A strong belief system is a very good thing if your faith helps you and others. But if you are judgmental and demanding and demand that people believe the way that you do, that is a very bad thing as we see with the Jihadists.” My message to Mr. O’Reilly is simply this. . . There are also millions of people who call themselves Christians who believe and teach that the Bible is the literal and inspired word of God. It is quite proper to question a person’s religious beliefs. This is not the same as impugning motives.  I have no clue as to why you believe what you do. You tend to use emotionally laden words in responding to people, but my interest is in the substance of what you say.   

My intent here is to defend the Bible record and not the movie makers, who have taken some liberties with the text of the Bible. I strongly disagree with O’Reilly as to what he chooses to believe is allegory. As he explained later, his approach to the Bible grows out of his theological training as a Catholic. The Catholics also teach “Theistic Evolution” which O’Reilly believes. This is simply the position that “the general theory of evolution” is a fact of science and that God used this method to produce mankind after billions of years of evolutionary history. My purpose here is not to get into a discussion regarding the theory of evolution which goes way beyond the space of this article. The Bible does teach “micro-evolution”, that is, changes within limits, which is entirely scientific, but the concept of life having evolved from non-life or that all forms of life existing on the earth evolved from a single life form (macro-evolution) is totally unproven and is scientifically unsound. I can recommend a lot of publications and materials on these points. I do not blame O’Reilly for strongly believing what he does, but he needs to be open to evidence. A man named Saul also had strong views, and he was guilty of putting Christians to death, but he did it ignorantly in unbelief. He learned better.

Figurative Language and the Bible

What I do want to discuss is this whole matter that the Bible is merely allegory, especially in the areas mentioned by O’Reilly. In later discussions, O’Reilly did admit that he believed in the virgin birth and resurrection of Jesus, which are Catholic positions, but he regarded the Old Testament as not to be taken literally. I do not intend to “force” my faith on O’Reilly or anyone else, nor should the Christian use carnal weapons to advance religion, as do the Jihadists; but I do strongly believe that the Bible as a whole is to be taken in a literal sense. No real Bible student would contend that the Bible contains no figurative language, and allegory is just one type of such language. The definition of allegory is simply this: “description of one thing under the image of another. A story in which people, things, and happenings have a hidden or symbolic meaning. Allegories are used for teaching or explaining ideas, moral principles, etc.” (New World Dictionary). The Bible often uses real people and events in an allegorical sense.  Every Bible student I know recognizes this principle. In most cases, the context itself will make this distinction clear. When Jesus said, “I am the vine and you are the branches” (John 15:1) he was using figurative language. No one should understand that he was referring to himself as a literal vine. The Bible contains hundreds of such examples, just like we also use such language in ordinary speech. But even figurative language, if it is to have impact and meaning,  must be based upon something that is literal. An example of allegory is found in Paul’s writings in Gal. 4:22-31. This allegory would have absolutely no meaning or point if it were not based upon real history. If there had been no Abraham, no Hagar and no Mount Sinai in  Arabia, Paul’s use of allegory would be pointless.  

Genesis Is Real History

Now the Genesis record is set forth as real history.  Nothing in the context indicates otherwise. The Bible states that these are records of the generations of  Adam (Gen. 5:1), of Noah (Gen. 6:9), of Shem, Ham and Japheth, the sons of Noah  (Gen. 10:1), of Terah, who was the father of Abram (Gen. 11:27), etc. Take Adam, for example. If Adam did not really live, then that entire account is a fabrication --He did not live 959 years, did not produce children, etc.  None of these details are true. Not only that, all references to Adam throughout the Bible are simply based upon myth. See 1  Chron. 1:1; Job 31:33; Hosea 6:7; Luke 3:38; Rom. 5:14; 1 Cor. 15:22, 45; 1 Tim. 2:13; Jude 1:14, etc.   So O’Reilly has just trashed all of these scriptures and declares that the writers did not know what they were talking about.  What about Noah and the flood? Well, the same thing holds true for this record.  See Isaiah 54:9; Ezek. 14:14, 20; Matt. 24:37-38; Luke 3:36; 17:26-27; Heb. 11:7; 1 Pet. 3:20; 2 Pet. 2:5, etc. All of these accounts stand or fall together.

Years ago, while I was playing major league baseball with the New York Yankees, we had a Catholic priest called “Father Joe” who traveled with the ball club. On one occasion, he and I engaged in a mini debate of sorts in front of about 15 Yankee teammates. This discussion was about the nature of the Bible.  He stated that Moses did not write the first five books of the Bible. I stated that was strange since Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Jesus and Paul quoted from these books and attributed them to Moses. I stated, “Well, who should I believe? Should I believe Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul and Jesus or should I believe you?” The Catholics have a long history of trashing the Bible and keeping it out of the hands of the laity.   

Jonah and the Great Fish

Now what about Jonah and the Whale (or great fish)? Nothing in the context indicates that this is anything but an actual account of what did happen. If this was not factual truth, then Jesus stated a lie in Matt. 12:39-41; Luke 11:29-32. All of the great doctrines of the Bible are grounded upon historical facts. If the Old Testament is all allegory as distinguished from real history, then we have just trashed all of the New Testament and neither Jesus nor His apostles or prophets knew what they were talking about. Are we operating here on facts and evidence, or is it just a matter of what we want to believe or how we feel?  Mr. O’Reilly, sadly some people do not believe that the Bible is the word of God, even though writers of the Bible declares this as fact over and over, but a lot of people do not want to take the Bible at face value. Many people reject the Bible because of statements involving the supernatural intervention of God and the demands it places on moral conduct. Yes, the Bible does contain miracles, because the power of God is above nature itself. That seems to be the whole point.  God is creator and He is above and beyond creation. My problem does not lie in the limitations of God, for nothing is impossible for God, but my problem lies in the limitations of man who arrogantly dismisses the word of God as myth. If we do not believe that God works miracles and is above nature, then what is the point of  believing at all?    Those of us who do believe these things do not want to be compared to Jihadists.   Yes, and I will defend what I believe based upon evidence and facts. But rest assured, no real Christian believes that Christianity ought to be propagated by use of the sword.

“The Factor” is not a debate format.  It is much too short and is mostly “sound bits”. But it would be very interesting to see someone of O’Reilly’s persuasion actually be willing to debate some of these questions. Actually, I know a lot of people who would welcome such a debate. Although “The Factor” is a rather poor way of debating even political questions, I do appreciate a number of positions that he holds. But when he ventures into the area of the Bible and religion, he is way off the mark a lot of the time. This is strange for someone who calls himself a “culture warrior.”  He has announced that he is writing a book about “The Death of Jesus” just as he has written books about “The Death of Lincoln” and “The Death of Kennedy” which I have purchased and read. He has also said that the book about Jesus will contain some surprising facts about the death of Christ. I just hope that these surprising facts do not contradict the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and the words of Jesus as recorded in the Bible.  It should prove to be interesting to see if Bill can uncover things overlooked by Jesus and the apostles themselves.  

Godly Anger

I notice that O’Reilly gets angry about certain injustices that he finds in the world and is quick to point out the corruption that exists in religion [including even the Roman Catholic Church] and in politics. This is genuine righteous indignation that ought to swell up in all of us when we witness crime and corruption that destroys lives, etc. Not only is anger in these cases the proper emotional reaction, and I share that anger, I am also deeply disturbed that there is a constant stream of attacks made on the accuracy and authenticity of the Bible which in fact undermines all morals and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It feels good to get all of this off my chest. Compared to Bill O’Reilly, I am absolutely nothing and have a very small voice, but all of my life I have studied and defended the Bible.  Real evidence and substance can cause me to change my mind, but nothing short of that.  If all of these Bible stories are myths, then the entire integrity of the Bible is in question. The Bible is a pack of lies. If the Biblical record falls, then there is no sound foundation for faith or believing in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As Paul wrote, “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised” (1 Cor. 15:12-15).    --- Lindy McDaniel, March, 2013