How many animals did Noah take on the ark?
Not total mind you, I mean how many of each type of animal did Noah take?
Take a minute. Got an answer? Did you write it down? Its reveal time:
“Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground according to its kind, two of every kind shall come in to you, to keep them alive.”
So the answer is 2! I bet you knew that. You were right! Well… at least you were right for three verses. Then we got here:
“Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and its mate; and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and its mate; and seven pairs of the birds of the air also, male and female, to keep their kind alive on the face of all the earth.”
Uhhh…. what? Which one is it? Did Noah take 2 or 7 of each. And what’s up the all the cleanliness stuff. I am sure clean would be good – Noah is going to need a really big liter box! But seriously.. 6:20 and 7:2 can’t both be right, can they?
So about taking scripture as literal fact… You cannot actually do it.
Let me say it again: you cannot actually take scripture as literal fact. It wasn’t written that way!
If you think you do – you are, to quote scripture, deceiving yourself. Scripture is many different stories written at different times by different people. Inspired? Sure. But not without contradictory materials. God’s word, and the inspiration of the Spirit in its recording, was okay playing loose with the details to the point of occassionally being blatantly inaccurate or contradictory. Its not only impossible to maintain literal facts across books written by different people with different contexts and agendas, it is actually not always possible to do so within the same singular story that is in fact two different accounts written by two different groups with two different agendas that don’t fit nicely together.
One author of the Noah account wishes Noah to make a sacrifice of animals to God after the flood (Genesis 8:20) an so needs there to be more than 2 (one male and one female) of the clean animals so there are some to be sacrificed. One author doesn’t believe you are allowed to make sacrifices away from the Temple so cannot fathom having a story that approves of sacrifice before there is a Temple, and so mandates only two animals to insure there could not have been any such sacrifice.
Two different stories in contrast (and even competition) with each other over TRUTH.
And amazingly, wonderfully, and frustratingly… the tradition that became our scriptures maintained BOTH stories in a single woven together account that enfolded such contradictions into the very fabric of our formative stories.
Truth versus Truth and to their competition the Spirit said a decisive… yes. (Can you hear those two sides yelling, “No! Pick one, tell us who is right!?!?!” And the Spirit shrugs and says something like: Sorry… doesn’t work that way. That’s why this is called faith.)
The claim to biblical inerrancy or literalism is well intentioned. I understand the “fear of the slippery slope.” But such a claim can only be maintained through lack of knowledge of the full content of scripture… or intentionally maintained blindness to its inconsistencies and our our picking and choosing what parts to pay full attention to on a daily basis. There are just too many different voices to keep them all aligned all at once.
I find scripture to be a simultaneously flawed human account and a unique and authoritative word of God. The tensions between those two realities is exactly why Paul calls preaching foolishness. It is faith, not fact. And then I come to this maddening and yet alluring point: If God wanted an absolute Truth, historically factual account of God’s Word in our midst we would have one Gospel Account. Not four.
I love Scripture. I love the Bible. But I grow tired of the abuse it suffers by trying to force it into the glass slipper of our making so we might be “married” to the god we wish to worship rather than that God that is. We wish to worship certainty. And God, holy other, asks us for trust, faith, and hope. Not a solid rock after all… but a tenuous, twisting, free fall into love.
God will not be pinned down. And I’m not so clever and right that I can manage to do what God eludes. Thanks be to God.