Friday, November 13, 2009

The Argument from Reference

In today’s gospel (Luke 17: 26-37), Jesus makes reference to the figures of Noah and Lot from the book of Genesis. Some apologists for a literalist reading of scripture jump upon such references to endorse their view that everything recounted in the Bible is a historical fact. I think it’s a weak argument. It’s not uncommon for people making rhetorical speeches to make reference to fictional literary characters or fictionalized events in the life of historical figures. Why should we assume that Jesus would not use common cultural references is his discourse?

I can imagine myself importing fictional characters to make a point. For self-sacrifice, I might cite Gandalf’s confrontation with the Balrog in Moria. For determination, I might refer to John Henry’s contest against the hammering machine. For pride and failure, what better illustration could there be than mighty Casey’s famous strike-out. No lengthy explanation of the back-story or literary origins of the characters would be necessary. I would assume that everyone knows who Gandalf, John Henry, and Casey are.

Do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that Job was a fictional character, that the flood never occurred, or that Jonah was not swallowed by a fish. All that I’m saying is that the argument for historicity from reference by Christ is a rather weak argument.

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