Creationism and Jesus’ Blood – literally a problem

[From the archives.]

I have no knock against six day creationists. I don’t ascribe to that doctrine myself but cannot see why I should say that others can’t hold to it as a way to read Genesis 1.

I do, though, have a knock against someone who says that if you do not ascribe to a literal reading of a six day creation you cannot claim to recognize the authority of the Bible. Like this:

This is not about young earth or old earth creationism or any other reading of the first chapters of Genesis. This is about someone claiming to be an expert on Scripture and the earth’s origins who is set on denigrating the faith of people who disagree with him.

But let’s take Ken Ham at his word for a moment. Genesis 1, he says, must be read as a narrative of a literal six day period of creation. Such a claim is startling to evolutionists as well as old earth creationists, but let’s take him at his word that this is the only way to read that passage.

How about we look at another passage with a plain meaning on its face.

BreadWhile they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant … .”  (Matthew 26:26-28.)

It’s absolutely clear to anyone who reads the passage literally: Jesus took bread and turned it into his own flesh and he took wine and turned it into his own blood. Flesh and blood, not bread and wine. Not metaphorical flesh and blood either, but real flesh and real blood.* That’s what this passage says on its face. According to Mr. Ham’s position on the authority of Scripture, the hunk of bread became a hunk of meat and the wine became plasma and platelets, etc.

That’s the consistent position to take from his tweet, isn’t it? But I suppose Mr. Ham might say the bread and wine were merely symbolic of Jesus’ body and blood. If he says that, I am in complete agreement with him. He might even say that this meaning is consistent with “the absolute authority of the Word of God.”

To get there, of course, the reader needs to allow for metaphor in Jesus’ words. I think they should. Yet if someone tells me they read this passage literally, I wouldn’t question their faith or commitment to the authority of Scripture.

But I would suggest to Mr. Ham and others who insist on there being only one way for a Christian to understand a passage like Genesis 1 – and that by way of reading it literally – that they stop being literal and instead be literary. That is how we read everything else, after all. We come to understand the meaning of a writing by understanding the literary nature of the writing. It’s called reading literarily, as opposed to reading literally.

The Bible deserves our fullest attention, and we should bring all our reading comprehension skills to its study. We can learn from one another as we go along, too. But let’s have no more nonsense about literal readings being required in order to prove our position on the authority of the word of God.


* This post is not about transubstantiation or consubstantiation, remember. Just about how to read the Bible responsibly.


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25 Responses to Creationism and Jesus’ Blood – literally a problem

  1. dswoager says:

    When I know someone who is going to college I like to warn them that, even at Christian colleges, you are going to have idiot professors who are going to try to tell you that the disciples didn’t literally partake of the blood and flesh of Christ. There is a whole world out there that is against you and the best way to combat that is to dismiss everyone who disagrees with you as a heretical moron.

    • Tim says:

      What’s the intent behind your warning to those college students?

      • dswoager says:

        Well first off, I was being sarcastic. I don’t do this, it is based off a sermon in a former church where graduating students were being warned against the evils of evolution with nearly those same words. It would be enlightening to know the exact motivation behind the rant… I would suspect fear and an over developed persecution complex.

  2. It is my favourite metaphor to use with Creationists because evangelicals, who make up the majority of young earth creationists, have always stood against the traditional Catholic interpretation that bread literally does become the body of Christ.
    It is also very handy too because literalists frequently claim the bible always tells you when it is being metaphorical. Now sometimes it does, ‘and Jesus told this parable…’ but often it doesn’t and the last supper is one of the metaphors Jesus used that isn’t labelled as a metaphor.

    • Tim says:

      They actually say it always labels its metaphors as metaphor? There are so many figures of speech that one wouldn’t know without knowing the original language (I was reading Micah 1 and 2 last night and those lines are stuffed full of word play that I wouldn’t have caught if the editors of the translation hadn’t pointed them out from the Hebrew).

  3. Scott says:

    Well put, Tim. With every post, you just keep proving to be my brother from another mother! Be blessed.

  4. Lea says:

    Fun fact, genesis has two ‘literal’ creation stories and they differ on order of creation. One is apparently much older than the other.

    • Tim says:

      Right. 1 and 2 both cover creation, but in different tellings. It’s much like in Revelation how John keeps saying “and then I saw…”. He’s describing the same events through different visions.

  5. “That’s the consistent position to take from his tweet, isn’t it?”

    That was where you lost me, as you developed your argument, to put down Ken Ham. I feel fairly confident of being able to interpret a passage of the bible properly, or at least to be aware that I cannot easily interpret a particular passage. But I simply don’t have the same confidence in myself as you seem to have in yourself, that I can correctly squeeze all the meaning that you can manage to squeeze, out of a single tweet, refuting the theological error in the tweet, in an essay-length refutation, without there being a hint of straw man about my essay’s argument, refuting the tweet.


  7. This is good, Tim. Just last night I was in a study where we were reading Revelation 5, and the leader warned that we not take literally the words “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne”: it doesn’t mean a bloody sheep standing on a big, jewel-encrusted chair. But even if somebody really believed that’s actually what it looked like, that would be OK — provided they didn’t say that was the only way it COULD be interpreted by a person who looked to the Bible as authoritative.

    • Tim says:

      Darrell Johnson, professor and pastor, is the writer who opened my eyes to the significance of phrases such as “looking like” and “looking as if” in the Bible.

  8. zechariahzavid says:

    Thanks for posting this Tim – full of grace as always. I personally do hold to a literal six day creation as that is my understanding of the passage. In Exodus 20 Moses says that “in six days God created the heavens and the earth” as a basis for the six day working week. And the fact there was “evening and morning”, it makes the most sense to me. I am open to hearing other views because my suppositions may be wrong. The “plain meaning” of 1 Corinthians 11 tells us that women should wear hats in church but even many “literalists” don’t practice this. They rightly point out that there was a specific cultural context to that passage.

    I do not like the way Ken Ham and others denigrate those who teach other views. I also don’t agree with what many creationists extrapolate from Genesis – including their legalism on gender roles and Sunday. All I conclude from Genesis is that God used one man and one woman to start the human race and that he set a pattern of days, months and seasons. It does not mean that everyone and everything must be forced into this pattern. Some people (like Daniel and Jeremiah) stayed unmarried and some had multiple wives (like David and Moses which is ironic because they teach that he wrote Genesis), Most Western societies work 5 day weeks and not 6. Genesis is descriptive not prescriptive, and some of their dogmas based on it go beyond the text into pure speculation.

    • Tim says:

      Going beyond the text with speculation or not going far enough with the text, both are dangers I hope to avoid. I don’t know that I always succeed, but I try.

  9. Nancy2 says:

    Warning: my child-like curiosity, as well as my smart mouth, always gets me in trouble with “certain” people.

    According to KH, Jesus was a self-cannibal who turned his apostles into cannibals. So, God promotes cannabalism? Yeah, right.
    (Sidebar: If a husband claims to be the prophet, priest and King of the home who sanctifies the wife and shepherds her soul, should the wife stick a fork in him?)

    Literal 6-day creation, as in 6 (24 hour) days as defined and measured by mankind? Okay, a day is measured by the revolution of the earth in relation to the sun, right? Yet, God did not make the sun until the 4th day, so how was that day and the 3 preceding days measured in actual (24-hour-day) time? No one has been able to explain that to me.

    • Tim says:

      Me too, Nancy. If a day is a measure of rotation on the earth’s axis relative to the sun shining on it, how does it get measured before the creation of the sun?

  10. markmcculley says:

    Eating the living blood of Jesus which the Jesus still living with blood hands out, so that not only the disciples get to keep living in Jesus but also Jesus gets to keep living in them (even when he’s dead for the three days)?

    David Scaer–T”he truth is that simply pointing to the outward work of receiving communion is not the Gospel. It fails to do the hard work of telling us why we should want Christ’s body and blood. John 6 does proclaim Christ’s atonement and self-giving for the world. But Communion is not open for all (especially the unbelieving Jews to whom Jesus directs His words) to receive, as is the Gospel. It is the preacher’s job to connect the text and its context … This a much more difficult task than simply ripping John 6 out of its context by an exegetical sleight of hand. The real question should be: Is John 6 a plain historical narrative or something else, not indicated by the text ” Scaer, “Reformed Exegesis and Lutheran Sacraments: Worlds in Conflict,” CTQ 64 (Jan.\ 2000), no. 1:18-19].

    • Tim says:

      Intetesting. As I said, though, this post isn’t about the elemental nature or theology of communion or creation. It’s about the arrogance of telling people who don’t hold to literal Genesis creation that they aren’t serious about the Bible.

  11. Lane Blessing says:

    I just returned from a BioLogos conference in Houston. This organization was began by Francis Collins, a Christian and the head of the human genome project, currently serving as the head of the NIH. BioLogos seeks to harmonize science and Scripture. A speaker at the conference, theologian John Walton, has written “The Lost World of Genesis One”. He articulates a different perspective on origins by looking at how the ancient audience of Genesis would have interpreted it, not through the lens of our modern world view. He also has other books that are helpful. I encourage anyone to read his book to understand how you can read and interpret Genesis truthfully while examining the truth we find in science. I met many Christian scientists and Christian theologians who thoughtfully and graciously dialog to enhance further understanding.

  12. Yes, however, wooden literalists like Ken Ham generally affirm the notion “if the plain sense makes perfect sense, seek no other sense.” Most Protestants will see your application of a wooden literalism to Christ’s words about his body and blood as not making perfect sense on it’s face (being Protestants of the Calvinist variety, and their derivatives–Lutherans not included!), which is why they will correctly affirm the figurative nature of Christ’s words, while a passage like Genesis 1 the plain sense of which speaks in terms of six ordinary days will make perfect sense, so they over-confidently assert the woodenly literal nature of that passage, and will overlook the hermeneutical clues that lead more careful exegetes to find that it may just be figurative language as well.

  13. You have made some really great points here about making sure you know the language of the Bible and what it’s true meaning and audience is before reading into it or in between the lines. I understand your example of comparing Matthew to Genesis, however, I do not think it makes sense to compare the two.

    Looking at the language of Genesis, at least 1-11, it was written literally. That is, it was written to be taken as a historical account. When the ancient Hebrew is compared to other historical Hebrew writings, such as the book of Numbers and also writings outside of the Bible, the language and verb use within Genesis is very similar. However, when it is compared to Hebrew poetry, such as Psalms, the language of Genesis is drastically different. So, the author wrote Genesis for it to be taken literally and for it to be a historical account of the creation story. Also, concerning the comments of two creation stories, it is not that they differ in order of creation so much, but that the focus of the account is different. The first is an orderly, chronological account of what God created on which day. The second account is more specific and focuses on Man and who he is. Jesus quotes both of these together, showing that the two compliment one another, not go against.

    There must be, as you stated, be room for an understanding of metaphor and simile within Jesus’ words about the last supper. These uses of language were also common to Jesus’ teachings throughout the Gospels and it would make sense for it to be a metaphor or simile. Studies of the language used also reflects this. My point is, your example, I believe, is comparing two very different things and withholds the understanding of the language used and what the author or speaker was intending to say.

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