Itís a problem in dealing with skeptics as often as Iíve done in the past that we get hung up in discussions about the historicity of this or that story in the Bible. Common hang-ups occur with Adam and Eveódid they really talk to a snake? Or the global flood of Noahís dayóthat would cause serious issues and create unanswerable problems and difficulties such as issues with salt water and freshwater fish and predator/prey ratios.
Christians donít help the matter, either.
Thereís those of us who believe in an Old Earth, siding with science in concluding that the earth is really millions of years old. Thereís others who defend a Young Earth, concluding that the Bible tells us so and therefore we ought to believe it even when the evidence for an Old Earth is far more conclusive. Thereís people who think that Adam and Eve were actual, historical people. Thereís those who think otherwise. There are camps who believe in a Flood that covers the entire earth, and thereís others who believe that the Flood only covered a large geographic area.
And then thereís the liberal camp. They donít think that any of it happened. Not a syllable of the Bible is a real, historical event. They think that all of the stories were morality tales no different than Aesopís Fables or the Arabian Nights, with just as much historicity.
If we canít get our stories straight, how can we expect the skeptic to? One group is right, and everyone else is wrong. To believe otherwise is the death of objective, knowable truth.
I believe in an Old Earth. I believe in a local Flood. I believe in a historical Adam and Eve, who talked to a snake and ate a literal fruit from a literal tree. Many good Christians would side against me on all of those issues. Which one of us is right? I donít know.
I think that thereís a step we should come to before we try to decide who is right. Letís illustrate.
Thereís what I call Picking the Story to Death, which is what skeptics often do; and thereís the Take Away Value, which is what I think that we need to get from the story before we ever consider its implications from a historical or archaeological or paleontological perspective.
In other words: We can sit here and debate a historical Adam and Eve until the cows come home. We can scoff at the talking snake and speculate that an omnipotent/omniscient God would never have made the Fall of man so easy as taking a bite of a single fruit from some tree. Or, we can just forget the historicity of the story for a moment and try to find the Take Away Value. What can we get out of this story that is objectively true, and all sides will agree with?
God made man in his image. God gave man a choice--obey him, or find our own understanding of right and wrong. We chose to go our own way. Now, we are separated from God. That's whatís important.
You can scoff at the silly story of the Tower of Babel. God punished people for building a skyscraper? How tyrannical is that! Or, you can realize that the people were building a man-made structure to try to bridge the gap between earth and heaven. God wants to define how salvation works, and reconnecting us to heaven is his sole domain. Not ours. Hence, cultures and geographic distribution, leaving us essentially to our own devices to create philosophies and theologies without the benefit of cooperation. We canít get to heaven by anything man-made, religion, philosophy or an added layer between the people and Christ. Thatís your Take Away.
The Take Away Value of the Flood is simple: God is so intolerant of sin that he wiped out all flesh in an unprecedented display of might and power. It wasnít just flooding; the Bible talks about earthquakes and volcanoes, too. It was a divine judgment, the first of many. And God has promised not to cut off all flesh with water anymore; indeed, the waters of baptism now restore us to him, symbolizing our death to sin and our burial with Christ, and reminding us of the great Flood that God used to judge all flesh. So, as the rainbow seals Godís promise for no more water judgments, water itself now seals our covenant with God to walk in the footsteps of his Son.
The immediate and obvious criticism is that Iím saying that we shouldnít care about the veracity of Godís word in the Scriptures. Thatís not what Iím saying at all. I believe not just in a historic Adam and Eve, but in the necessity of a historic Adam and Eve. I will stand up for that to anyone who disagrees, skeptic or Christian.
I think, however, that sometimes an undue emphasis is placed on historicity, when we should really be using the Bible to teach people how God has dealt with mankind, and will deal with mankind. Treating the Bible as any other historic document, we can find problems and doubts about it. Contrary to the beliefs of some, it cannot be used to age the earth. Hebrew genealogies were often abbreviated for clarity or for ease of memorization, and the "date of creation" is arrived at using the genealogies in Genesis.
The Bible, however, has held up better under scrutiny than any other historical document, so its difficulties shouldnít trouble us. Given the divine superintendence over its authorship, we should have no difficulty placing our hope in the fact that many (if not most) of these problems will be worked out as we gather more evidence from archeology and read more corroboration in other ancient scrolls as they become available.
The skeptic who just wants to talk about the historicity of events in the Bible is missing one of the great complexities of Scripture, and how multifaceted God's word really is. And, when we Christians get embroiled among ourselves in these types of debates, we also lose sight of the rich depth built into Godís word. I don't think our interpretation of it matters so long as we never lose sight of the Take Away Value--what the story reveals about mankind and (most importantly) what the story reveals about the character of God.