I have embarked on this slippery slope of analyzing the biblical narrative. More accurately I should say biblical narratives. It is 9:04 in the morning and my Hebrew Prophets class is having a beautifully intense discussion on the prophetic book of Jonah.
Last night we were instructed to read the book of Jonah and 4 commentaries on it that are very intensive, encompassing very different perspectives. A conservative might ask, "what perspectives are to be had" for they were raised to think, "Jonah lived... he got swallowed by a whale... the whale spit him out... his story made the biblical canon, so the story is a factual/historical narrative." A liberal might say, "Great story... good message... I don't know about the whale thing... but the moral of the story holds truth."
Asking these questions is not new to me. I have been asking these questions about almost every biblical theme and narrative for the past 3 years now, and I am finally beginning to feel comfortable in my not knowing... or my faith. For a common church goer, even entertaining this question is intolerable.
My question is: Is the factual element to a story the only criteria in administering truth?
What if Jonah did not get swallowed by the whale? What if the story was allegorical and was purposed to relay a greater message; Love your neighbors.
In our culture we are used to truth in fiction. Going to movies and reading fictional books are two of American's favorite leisure activities because they assist us in entering an alternate reality that may be more eventful or entertaining. We are voyeurs.
Do I think that Jonah got swallowed by a large fish, lived in that fishes stomach for three days, was spit on the shores, and went to Nineveh to preach? Yes, and no.
I believe that the story holds truth with out being exactly historical. In this way I believe that the story is true. I do not think that Jonah was swallowed by a giant fish and lived for three days in the fishes belly. I think that this is a story that is parabolic to try to communicate a message more effectively.
This way of biblical interpretation is a slippery slope. Once one biblical narrative, be it Jonah and the Whale, Noah's Ark, Adam and Eve and the creation story, or all of the end times narratives, becomes allegorical, legendary, or parabolic, when can you discern which are historical and which are not. Is the virgin birth historical fact? Is the resurrection? Are the miracles? I do not know and I am not comfortable deciding.
What I do believe is that "truth" is different from "historical". A truthful message can shine through in fiction.