The Bible has been at the center of many highly controversially issues over the last 2000 years. Believers and non-believers alike have been debating whether it is the true word of God, or just a collection of stories and myths. At the forefront of this debate is the issue of creation. Many Christians believe that God created the world in 7 literal, 24-hour days. Using this theory, they would say the earth is roughly 6000 years old, but there is also a minority who believe in an old earth and that the creation story in Genesis 1 should be taken figuratively. Those who believe that the creation story is written in figurative language hold a variety of different beliefs on the issue, but at the center of their argument is the statement that: “Genesis 1 should not be taken literally, and that there is no way the earth is only 6000 years old”. In order to understand both sides, the true meaning of the Biblical text must be understood.
The most important question one must ask is how should the Bible be interpreted? The first and obvious, yet important thing to say about the Bible is that it is literature. In fact, it is a whole library of books: some of them history, some poetry, and some in the form of letters. When we approach literature, one usually asks the question “How does the author want it to be understood?” When reading the Bible, one should always try and follow the natural understanding of a passage in its context. Dr. John Lennox, who is a professor at Oxford University explains this idea well, by showing how the early Christian fathers used this “literal understanding” to counter a metaphorical interpretation.
The reformers emphasized this in their reaction against the kind of interpretation that took the four rivers mentioned in Genesis 2- the Pishon, Gibson, Tigris, and Euphrates- to represent the body, soul, spirit, and mind, respectively. By contrast with this “allegorical” method of interpretation, the Reformers adopted an approach described by the Oxford English Dictionary in its definition of literal: “that sense or interpretation (of a text) which is obtained by taking its words in their natural or customary meaning, and applying the ordinary rules of grammar.
Many of the basic teachings of the Christian faith are very straightforward and are relatively easy to extract the natural meaning. However, the natural meaning we apply to certain words or phrases may not be what the original author truly meant. The Bible was written 2000 years ago, in a foreign land, and in a foreign tongue. There are also certain words that can be taken literal and have two different meanings. In Genesis 1 there are several instances of this. The word “earth” is first used for the planet, and then a little later for the dry land as distinct from the sea. Both times the word earth is clearly meant literally, but the two meanings are different, as is clear from their context. When modern readers are trying to understand the Bible, it is...