Old Testament Storytelling Apologetics
By Brian Godawa
For many Christians, the word apologetics conjures a picture of defending the faith with philosophical arguments, archeological evidence, historical inquiry, and other rational and empirical forms of discourse. Apologetics also involves polemics, which are aggressive arguments against the opposition. Sometimes a good offense is the best defense. But what is often missed in some apologetic strategies is the biblical use of imagination. This is illustrative of a distinct imbalance when one considers that the Bible is only about one-third propositional truth and about two-thirds imagination: image, metaphor, poetry, and story.1
With the discovery in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries of pagan religious texts from ancients near eastern (ANE) cultures such as Babylon, Assyria, and Ugarit, biblical scholarship has discovered many literary parallels between Scripture and the literature of ancient Israel’s enemies. The Hebrews shared many words, images, concepts, metaphors, and narrative genres in common with their neighbors. And those Hebrew authors of Scripture sometimes incorporated similar literary imagination into their text.
With regard to these biblical and ancient Near Eastern literary parallels, liberal scholarship tends to stress the similarities, downplay the differences, and construct a theory of the evolution of Israel’s religion from polytheism to monotheism.2 In other words, liberal scholarship is anthropocentric, or human-centered. Conservative scholarship tends to stress the differences, downplay the similarities, and interpret the evidence as indicative of the radical otherness of Israelite religion.3 In other words, conservative scholarship is theocentric, or God- centered. In this way, both liberal and conservative hermeneutics err on opposite extremes.
The orthodox doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture states that it is composed of “God-breathed” human-written words (2 Tim. 3:16). Men wrote from God, moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:20–21). This is a “both/and” reality of humanly and heavenly authorship. While I affirm the heavenly side of God’s Word, in this essay I will illustrate how the authors of the Old Testament used the imagination of their enemies as a polemic against those enemies’ religion and deities. In my book, Word Pictures: Knowing God through Story and Imagination, I describe the nature of this subversive storytelling as the act of entering the opposition’s cultural narrative, retelling it through their own paradigm, or worldview, and thereby capturing the cultural narrative. God used literary subversion in the Bible as a means of arguing against the false gods and idols of that time…
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