For several years as a Bible & Philosophy major in undergrad and as a seminary student I have had an interest in academic theology and what professing Christians from various traditions believe about the doctrine of Scripture, miracles, demons and spiritual powers, Jonah being a historical figure, etc. As a self-professing Reformed evangelical that has a healthy respect for orthodoxy, I am amazed when I see Christians, even so-called evangelicals, cast doubt on a number of important issues.
“Does a real, actual being called ‘Satan’ exist? And did he really use a snake for a mouthpiece to deceive Eve?”
“Jonah was swallowed by a big fish for three days and lived to tell about it? That seems far fetched.”
“I like the idea of angels, but belief in demons is too much.”
“How is it that God can put his Word in human writing, through human writers, and accomodate himself…and there is no error?”
“God really drowned the entire Egyptian army but spared Israel?”
“The book of Isaiah must have another authlor for the latter portion. How could Isaiah had known all those future events?”
In a day when it is claimed that we are past modernity, modernist epistemology is still with us, even in the church. But, never fear! My other favorite love besides theology is here to rescue us from this predicament! As a new heavy-duty hermeneutical rule, I introduce…the Seinfeldian principle!
What is the Seinfeldian principle? Simply put, event a, which is being disputed as to its truth value, is compared to b which is deemed true. In attempting to decipher the truth value of a the comparison is made to b as to its plausibility. This is seen in Seinfeld when after season seven, Larry David left the show and Jerry Seinfeld and co. finished the final two seasons of the series. In putting together storylines, there would be occasional banter that a storyline wasn’t believable. For example, in season nine, Kramer finds the entire set of The Merv Griffin Show in a dumpster and assembles it in his apartment. Producers and writers would complain as to how believable such a scenario was. Jerry would respond, “Remember in season four the episode of ‘The Marine Biologist’ when Kramer was hitting golf balls into the ocean, and one ball got stuck in the blow hole of a whale that then washed up on shore and was saved by George only to reveal the same golf ball to Kramer in the final scene? Now, is this current scenario any less believable than that?” In other words, there was a prior standard for believability that the writers could follow.
In Christian theology, what is the equivalent of ‘The Marine Biologist’? The equivalent is the incarnation, death, and bodily resurrection of God the Son, Jesus. The Apostle Paul claims that the truthfulness of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is the gospel and is what brings hope, not pity, to Christians (1 Cor 15).
So, let us look at some supposedly unbelievable scenarios that professing Christians may want to dispute. Do beings such as demons and Satan exist, possessing people and running to and fro on earth trying to devour and deceive? Even if we ignore Jesus’ own interaction with Satan and demons, and that Jesus appeared to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8), there is nothing irrational or unbelievable concerning these types of creatures existing and exerting influence on the cosmos. Indeed, if Scripture strongly implies their existence, there shouldn’t be any intellectual barrier to accepting their existence.
Historical miracles such as Jonah being swallowed by a fish and living to tell about it, the Exodus event, a talking serpent, or even a talking donkey are all plausible so long as the Bible intends to teach their historicity. These events are no more miraculous that the Son of God dying and rising from the grave. Indeed, they are less miraculous. (Though, if Jesus is the better Jonah, perhaps Jonah also died inside the belly of a fish and was resurrected on the third day?)
What about prophecies in the Bible? Did Isaiah really write chapters 40-66 and prophesy these future events? Well, if God is able to kill his Son and then bring him back to life through the Holy Spirit, can God tell someone about the future and have them write it down? Of course. Christianity, by Paul’s definition, is supernaturalistic.
This final example throws some Christians, including professing evangelicals, for a loop. Is it possible for God to communicate his Word and have it be put in writing through finite, sinful, human authors and still be inerrant? Well, Jesus conquered death and the grave, I think he can use his grace to restrain the fallenness of our faculties so as to preserve his Word so that it may not be broken. (John 10:35)
With this unique hermeneutic, we should read the Bible and find out what God’s Word says about Jonah, the serpent, demons, inerrancy, and the like. And even when skeptics challenge the Christian faith, we may use this principle to point them back to Jesus and the resurrection. Any argument that wishes to discredit Christianity in appealing to an ‘unbelievable’ story like Jonah has not grasped the most unbelievable event in biblical history…the God of the universe living, dying, and rising from the grave.