1. Julie D says:

    Something about this argument unsettles me. I’ve heard Revelation labeled speculative before–though it’s properly eschatalogical—but I don’t know about the two you mentioned. This argument could be easily used to shut down all “religious” elements in speculative fiction, which would present an equally false view. I know that’s not your goal, but it could be used that way.

  2. Just thinking aloud here, Julie. I don’t really think the question presented by the Sadducees could properly be called “speculative fiction,” but it did present a “what-if” scenario. This post merely shares some thoughts that occurred to me as I read that passage a couple weeks ago. I don’t see any potential for changing Christian speculative fiction one way for another.

  3. notleia says:

    I want to facepalm because I’m getting really tired of literalist readings (I’ve recently had to sit through 17 Sundays of treating the story of Joseph like a biography. SEVENTEEN.), but you’ve already established yourself as a literalist, Anderson, so I ought to know what I’m getting myself into.
    My personal favorite interpretation of the Sadducee challenge story is that Jesus is a feminist. The Sadducees were all “so who does this woman belong to, because women have to belong to some dude” and Jesus was like “you be crazy, ’cause women are worth considering as complete souls in of themselves.” There are tons of arguments against this reading, “Biblical” or otherwise, but I think it’s worth considering.

    • Why on Earth should we presume the story of Joseph is not biography?

      What’s in it for us, even from a mere-selfish perspective? The story has no spectacular miracles, beyond dream-forecasting and providential timing. The story does not even have direct prohibitions against certain sins that are really fun. So why presume that it’s not biography? What assumptions lead to this presumption?

      Of course, there are plenty of organizations at which even simple Biblical biography is presumed to be simple little stories meant to teach Morals, insulting both the genre of story and the intelligence of the hearers. Switch to one of those?

      But “Literalist” is at best a vague term. No Christian is a “literalist” according to this odd, stereotypical definition. Rather, Biblical Christians seek to read and enjoy and apply Scripture in context, respecting the genre and authors’/Author’s intentions. It’s the same way you would want your own writing to be read. Even if you were dead and lived thousands of years ago, you even as a human-only deserve that.

      I want to facepalm because I’m getting really tired of literalist readings

      Hm. I read this to mean that notleia absolutely loves biography in the Scripture. 🙂

      • notleia says:

        To define what I mean by literalist, I mean the notion of inerrancy that means that the Bible is literally, factually, historically, etc true. Young Earth Creationism (which Anderson has talked about before) specifically is about taking the Creation account as literally, factually, exactly what happened at the beginning of the world. No nuance, no metaphor, none of that. There are some inerranists who hold a more nuanced view and believe in genre and metaphor and cultural perspective and good stuff like that, but I don’t have a problem with them.
        And let’s just look at how Genesis was passed down to us. Genesis/the Pentateuch in general is accredited to Moses, but the earliest records we have found for it come from ~500 BC (or BCE), give or take a century or so. That’s a few thousand years of difference between events happening and them being recorded. Even if it was Moses, the contents of Genesis would have been a few hundred to a few thousand years removed from him. Whatever your views of inspiration (and I don’t believe God dictated it out word for word), you can’t deny that the books and words are in human hands, with all the change that implies. The New Testament is a slightly different story than the Old, because those were written roughly within the same century that the events happened, but there’s still issues of authentication and interpretation and all that good stuff.
        And I’ve got links to throw around:

        • Julie D says:

          I think that’s a whole different conversation than what we meant to have here.

          • Julie D says:

            And because I can’t edit that post:I was going to say it doesn’t exactly connect with the theme, but a more honest answer is that I don’t have the time or emotional energy to continue this discussion right now, so I’ll bow out and leave it to others.

          • I think that’s a whole different conversation than what we meant to have here.

            Yes, but that’s notleia‘s fault. 😀 And given the confusion over what Christians believe about the Bible — that God out of love gives us His clear, accurate Word, and the parts the Author/authors meant to be literal history are literal history while the parts the Author/authors meant to be figurative poetry are figurative poetry, etc. — I don’t mind a breakaway conversation, at least, if Yvonne doesn’t. 🙂

        • dmdutcher says:

          I think this is correct, but it only applies to a relatively brief section of the Bible that deals with prehistory. Once you get to Moses and Joseph, the tone switches and I think it’s as about as realistic and literal as later accounts. They aren’t figurative tales or fables. I think it’s meant to show that they are historical accounts that were directly witnessed or recorded by someone.

          You have to be careful that nuance and metaphor aren’t stretched to cover a different view entirely-like say, supernatural events recorded never happened, or that maybe a person didn’t exist. Or that literalism is used incorrectly to create sort of a new patriarchal religion that ignores the progression from old to new testament. Or that some content is metaphorical means the entire Bible is invalid at worst, figurative at best. It isn’t easy.

          • notleia says:

            The change in tone is interesting and worth considering, but it’s entirely possible that though there were some historical people who the stories were based off of, it’s also possible that the bulk of the legends were built up around them, like the King Arthur legends.
            As for the supernatural….I’m at the point where I honestly don’t know what to make of it, but I think the stories still have worth even if they are just stories. Take Jonah. Of the whale species in the Mediterranean, I think none of them have the capacity to swallow a man, their throat sphincters being too small, but I think the story has worth in telling us not to be racist jerks who throw fits about offering salvation to people we don’t like.

        • Notleia, I am considering a special Christmas holiday heartwarming miracle: that if you would send me your address, I would send you a copy of How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth. It’s an excellent, applicable, and readable little book, which summarizes what Christians mean by “inerrancy” and how the very reading in context, with regard to human factors and history, etc., is exactly what leads us to conclude that the Bible is still true across its books’ genres.

          I’m not sure who/what has taught you, but for example, no Biblical Christian reading the Psalms would conclude that God has nostrils or literally makes thunderclouds His chariots; this is clearly the poets using figurative language that only the dull and unimaginative would either fail to capture, or else presume that the poets were stupid and primitive. Conversely, no Biblical Christian reading the Joseph narrative would fail to realize that the human author, right or wrong, intended this to be seen as literal biography. The same is true for the accounts of Christ’s ministry. And that is ultimately where we end up: in questioning any Scripture portion’s historicity, we’re left to conclude that Jesus Himself is imaginary. And if He was, and therefore He (if He even existed) cannot save us from our sin, then we are doomed.

          As for questions about how Moses, the human author, would have known about the narrative — recall that Exodus itself mentions the escaping slaves carried the bones of Joseph back to his ancestors’ land. Clearly this account was passed down from generations, the account of how the sons of Jacob migrated to Egypt, after which their children ended up in slavery. I suggest using a little informed imagination about how human authors collect and edit information from previous sources, and that you reject any infiltrating memes about the ignorance of previous generations simply because they did not have, say, the scientific method, indoor plumbing or the internet.

          This also doesn’t even speak of God’s ability to communicate His Word to His people. In saying that His Word is somehow inaccurate or confusing, which leaves us stumbling about trying to figure out what He wants (or else relying on Expert Authorities as spiritual leaders to guide us), you’re actually calling into question the fundamental concept that: God Is Love.

          Here I dare to say this is also quite unimaginative. You’re presuming against not only historical people’s intelligence, but God’s love and power to work the miraculous. Why reject the wonder of this holiday season, and life itself?

          • notleia says:

            The Church of Christ peeps I hung out with during my dorm-dwelling days gave this “Biblical” reason for their not having instrumental music in worship: There are some verses in Psalms about praising the Lord with trumpets and cymbals and a heap of other instruments, and then they flip to Paul and his doing away with the old law, ergo that means we should praise the Lord without instruments. Now, I don’t care if they don’t use instrumental music, but that was a really flat interpretation and some hardcore tone-deafness for genre. (They’re nice people, but there were quite a few times when I wanted to rattle their cages by pointing out the no-sense-making.) So while I don’t really have a problem with inerrantists, just some questions about inerrancy, I do have a problem with literalists. I hope that distinction eases your unease.
            And I’m not one to think that just because some portions of the Bible are more legend than fact that it means it’s all worthless. I think it’s a false dichotomy to set it up as a choice between believing every last descriptor or throwing it all out.

            • Yes, that is “wooden literalism.” It is forcing Scripture to mean something the original authors, to say nothing of the Author, meant it to mean. The Psalmist, for example, is not in the “mode” of issuing commands about music at all. He’s simply “putting on a show.” You may as well shut off the film version of The Sound of Music and conclude it’s a condemnation of Protestantism. But what I’m saying is that concluding Biblical biography is simply legend, without presumption of the author’s intention to describe historical truth, you’re actually doing the same think your Church of Christ peeps were doing: You’re saying to the authors/Author of Scripture, “I don’t care much what your genre or intentions were, I am going to read if this way.” And none of us wants this same treatment for what we write — do we? 🙂

              • notleia says:

                I think I’ve directed you at reader-response literary theory before, haven’t I? Here’s the link again. Author intention isn’t the end-all-be-all. As for capital-A Author, the assumption I feel safest in making is if it mattered that much, He would have straightened it out before now.

              • You did. And I used a reducio ad absurdum “reader response” on you, twice. 🙂

                Yes, the reader engages with a work, but absolutely I state that in order to respect an author, this reader engagement should seek to understand the author’s original meaning (taking into account, of course, influences on the author). Have you read The Screwtape Letters? Then you may recall Screwtape’s gleeful statements that his kind have managed to make more readers ask about an author’s background, influences, etc., without asking whether what he writes is true. The reader should not arrogantly presume to know the author’s thoughts, or the content’s meaning, better than the author. Just as I should respond as best I can to the comment you wrote, rather than the comment I may wish you wrote. How would you feel if I didn’t even attempt to respect you like this?

              • notleia says:

                Well, to start with the easy part, we look at the author’s background and influences for the context of his/her work. The writer may come from the context that this or that is true/good/whatevs, but a reader only has to understand that context, not necessarily believe it. I can respect a writer without believing in his/her conclusions, or at least I can respect that s/he believes this and is making conclusions reasonable for the assumptions at hand. Doesn’t always stop me from getting frustrated or angry with an author for having those beliefs and making those conclusions when I very much disagree with them, but I’m just human.
                And at this point I think it’s readily obvious that neither of us is going to convince the other, but I can’t promise that I won’t give in to a childish urge to get the last word should you have further comment on my comments.

              • The writer may come from the context that this or that is true/good/whatevs, but a reader only has to understand that context, not necessarily believe it.

                This is what I’ve been getting at. I’ve challenged your refusal not only to believe something is true — say, that the account of Joseph is literal history — but your bias that the account was never meant to be literal history in the first place. I’m saying: “Understand that context, even if you do not believe it.” I hope that is clarifying.

                Here’s the Screwtape quote to which I was referring.

                Only the learned read old books and we have now so dealt with the learned that they are of all men the least likely to acquire wisdom by doing so. We have done this by inculcating The Historical Point of View. The Historical Point of View, put briefly, means that when a learned man is presented with any statement in an ancient author, the one question he never asks is whether it is true. He asks who influenced the ancient writer, and how far the statement is consistent with what he said in other books, and what phase in the writer’s development, or in the general history of thought, it illustrates, and how it affected later writers, and how often it has been misunderstood (specially by the learned man’s own colleagues) and what the general course of criticism on it has been for the last ten years, and what is the “present state of the question”. To regard the ancient writer as a possible source of knowledge – to anticipate that what he said could possibly modify your thoughts or your behaviour – this would be rejected as unutterably simple-minded. And since we cannot deceive the whole human race all the time, it is most important thus to cut every generation off from all others; for where learning makes a free commerce between the ages there is always the danger that the characteristic errors of one may be corrected by the characteristic truths of another. But thanks be to our Father and the Historical Point of View, great scholars are now as little nourished by the past as the most ignorant mechanic who holds that “history is bunk”[.]

                The Screwtape Letters, chapter 27 [bold emphasis added]

                Was my differentiation between “wooden literalism” and the actual view of Biblical inerrancy — mindful of culture/genre — helpful?

                Does it make sense to say that if we disregard the authors’ genre and intended meaning, that will lead in the same wrong direction as the wrongheaded folks with their notions about instruments?

              • notleia says:

                Dude, I know where you’re coming from. I can believe that the authors of the Bible wrote it in earnest. I grew up being taught that it was biography and real history, and I did believe it for a long time. I just find other theories more plausible or compelling now. And I’m sure the authors of the Gilgamesh epic wrote it in earnest, too. Author earnestness is not terribly relevant here.
                I’m not so sure you understand what I’m trying to tell you because you just seem to be looking for an opportunity for a Lewis quote or some other out-of-hand rejection. And I base this assumption on the textual evidence that you keep talking about genre and author intent when I have already acknowledged that and have tried to explain my reasoning for coming to different conclusions than the Real, True Christian(TM)-mandated weltanschauung promotes. I’m sorry if I’ve done a crappy job of it, but you’re really frustrating me at this point.

              • I’m enjoying the discussion; I see little need to attempt “last words” either way because I view this as a discussion, not an argument. 🙂

                Per that enjoyment (I hope it’s not just on my end), I had wondered:

                1. Was my differentiation between “wooden literalism” and the actual view of Biblical inerrancy — mindful of culture/genre — helpful?
                2. Does it make sense to say that if we disregard the authors’ genre and intended meaning, that will lead in the same wrong direction as the wrongheaded folks with their notions about instruments?

                A couple more not-intended-as-the-cliched-“last-word” challenges:

                1. What, I’m curious, leads to your greater sympathy to the “other theories”? One can say, “objective academic pursuit of the truth,” and that sounds very fine, and yet we are full persons who (as you have already indicated) pursue truths in different directions based on the nonsense we’ve seen from people who say they hold the opposite-direction truth. You’ve already indicated, for example, that “literalists” came up with nonsense.
                2. Do you believe Jesus Christ would hold the same view of Old Testament Scripture in particular? Or in the NT, did He exhibit a view closer to that of “it’s literal history and applies to us as such”?
                3. Can a “Christian” disagree with Jesus about anything and still rightfully lay claim to the label? If so, is there anything that someone can’t believe or do and still lay claim to the title “Christian” (by definition: “one who imitates Christ”)?
              • notleia says:

                After mulling this over at work, I discovered my reading comprehension derp. I’d thought you’d understood the contextual difference between my stance and my CoC peeps’. They align themselves with the author intent, so that internal inconsistency is what’s funny, not to mention there was faulty logic involved. I don’t necessarily align myself with the author intent, so it’s not inconsistent for me to consider the traditionally considered historical texts as equally true and false as the Psalms. (And I think I just turned into the guy who explains the joke.)
                You’re seem to be assuming that author intent is what determines genre, but textual evidence is what determines genre. The form and function of the (traditionally considered) historical books are more similar to the mythic Persian accounts of Alexander the Great that I can’t remember the name of. There are points where the Bible doesn’t fit the pattern, and that’s worth discussing, but for the most part it follows the mythic form and function, that is, prioritizing tribal identity over boring old facts.
                And to answer the not-last-word questions, the short answer to what makes me sympathetic to other theories is education. As for Jesus’ view of the historical accuracy of the OT, I think that’s strung up in questions of context. Did they make the same distinction between myth and truth that we do? Herodotus’s histories have plenty of not-factually-true stuff. As for disagreeing with Jesus, it’s rather vague whether we would actually be disagreeing with Jesus or just going at cross purposes. He said some things that could be readily pointed out, like “don’t be a jerk to poor people,” but then there is a lot of difference in opinion in what constitutes being beneficent to poor people.

        • bainespal says:

          To define what I mean by literalist, I mean the notion of inerrancy that means that the Bible is literally, factually, historically, etc true.

          I would be a literalist by that definition, because I believe the Bible is true, even if not transmitted through the ages with perfect accuracy.

          But believing the Bible to be true is one thing, and believing that the Bible is absolutely necessary is another. I think it’s important for self-identifying “Biblical Christians” to acknowledge that for historical purposes, the Bible describes the events that are important to our faith, but the description of the events themselves is not necessarily what is important. The Gospel is not what is written in the Bible, but what actually happened in human history. The account of a thing is not the same as the thing itself. That’s why I prefer calling Jesus Christ the Word of God to calling the Bible the Word of God. (I’m okay with giving the Bible that title if the “w” is lower case — “word of God” — although personally I prefer to simply consider the Bible to be inspired Scripture.)

          This could be a heated debate, and you guys don’t need my third opinion to make the argument any more complicated. But since this discussion has been pretty quiet today, I finally decided to throw in my hat. Hope nobody minds.

          • notleia says:

            By your description, I’d say you were an inerrantist but not a literalist (literalism is inerrancy, but not all inerrancy is literalism, at least in the system I’ve set up in my head). There’s actually quite a bit here I can agree with. What’s important in the accounts is not that they happened exactly, historically as it describes, but they carry a meaning for us.

            • bainespal says:

              What’s important in the accounts is not that they happened exactly, historically as it describes, but they carry a meaning for us.

              That’s not quite what I meant, although I see the importance of deeper meaning. I think what is important is that the accounts happened in real history, that they were experienced by real people in this real world, rather than the nuances of the biblical text that describes what happened.

              It’s like the Inklings’ concept of True Myth. It is myth, and the myth is important, and the myth carries meaning apart from the question of whether or not the myth is historical. However, that is not enough. If the myth is not anchored in reality, we’re only deceiving ourselves with platitudes, and life is ultimately meaningless.

              • notleia says:

                The first sentence of the second paragraph is where I agree with you, but I guess we just take too different stances on what constitutes meaning, or what is sufficient meaning to…well, mean something. Something worthwhile.

  4. dmdutcher says:

    I get the impression from this Q & A session between the Sadducees and Jesus that God isn’t fond of imaginings that fail to take his truth and his power into account. When we speculate about things that contradict the scriptures (say, for instance, ancient gods and goddesses joining forces with Jehovah, or people performing miracles through powers of their own)we betray our ignorance of God’s truth and invite his censure. Christian fiction should illustrate and glorify the truth, not draw our minds away from it.

    I’m not sure I’m comfortable with this. I mean I get the point, but then it’s hard to justify writing Christian fantasy at all unless it’s the pseudo-realistic type like a Game of Thrones and that there is a direct correspondence with our reality in all things. I don’t see much of a point in reading that over historical fiction.

    • bainespal says:


      I also fail to see a direct connection between Jesus’ rebuke of the Sadducees’ speculation and speculative fiction. The Sadducees weren’t writing fantasy; they were making a flawed and deliberately unfair philosophical argument.

      They had an agenda. They wanted to confirm their own philosophy. Even if you can argue that every writer has some kind of agenda, not every writer is trying to engage in philosophical debate. I think this is even more true of fantasy and speculative fiction than other kinds of fiction.

  5. HG Ferguson says:

    Well, Sister — Yvonne I mean — I’m sorry, but I agree with you. I once read of persons who shall remain nameless of writing about “Jesus dressing up like Thor” and passing that off as okay. That very idea is an affront to the God of All Truth Who has made His feelings quite clear about any form of idolatry. What does Christ have in common with Belial? Or Thor? This is what happens in the speculative community when “anything goes is okay, we’re just speculating.” When it contradicts His Word, afraid not. God calls it for what it is, sin, a dirty word today. This is not “legalism,” it’s testing the spirits to see whether they be of God! But you are right. God bless you for standing up and being counted for what God says is true, whether that makes you welcome, popular, accoladed — or not.

    • I once read of persons who shall remain nameless of writing about “Jesus dressing up like Thor” and passing that off as okay.

      Though I have no idea what you’re referring to and the idea sounds more silly than sinful, my contrarian devil’s advocacy requires me to comment that I’ve often theorized what the iconography of Christianity would be in an alternate history. If the Norse had been in charge of Judea at the time of Christ rather than the Romans, there would be no cross. That is not to say Chris would not have died, only that the method of execution and resulting symbol of said act would be different. Similarly, once this Germanic/Nordic world converted, the images we have of Christ would be influenced by that style of art rather than classical Greco/Latin. It would then become entirely possible for a Thor-like Jesus to show up in places of worship (though I doubt it would look like the modern Marvel getup).

  6. Cathie Adams says:

    I agree with Yvonne and HG Ferguson…..when involving God or Jesus, one must follow Scriptural truth. notleia needs to treat the Truth of God (as told in the Bible) as literal where It says the account is literal and figurative where the Scripture says It is figurative. Jesus used hyperbole to point out human errors about God’s words. (e.g. the camel going through the eye of a sewing needle) But He said it was not a literal action in the context. And Joseph really lived and his “story” is a biography of factual occurrences. Moses was told what to write about the history that preceded his life, and guided by the Holy Spirit, wrote in his own voice the things he was told to record. The Bible IS mostly literal.

  7. Having read all the discussion, I have nothing further to contribute that would be useful. Like Horton the elephant, I said what I meant and I meant what I said.

What do you think?