I am the one in ten…

August 27, 2006    By: Geoff J @ 6:44 pm   Category: Mormon Culture/Practices,Scriptures,Sunday School Lessons

Okay, actually in this case I am the one in twenty but that UB40 song called One in Ten popped into my head so went with that for a post title. What I mean is that when the instructor in priesthood asked how many of us in the room thought the story of Jonah was a parable (read: inspired fictitious literature instead of accurate historical account) I raised my hand. I looked around the room expecting 1/4 or even 1/3 of the hands to lazily raise too (in true LDS High Priest style) but instead I saw no other hands raised. Now lest you think that I was the only person awake (it was HP group after all), the instructor asked how many in the room believed the the tale of Jonah was “true” (read: an accurate historical account) and basically all of the hands went up. I refrained from using my Gob impression and shouting “Come On!” and the lesson came off without a hitch.

Do you think this small sampling of twenty men is basically reflective of Mormons in general? Is it true that 95%+ of the church reads the story of Jonah and thinks “yeah, that sounds like an accurate historical account to me”? Where do you stand on the subject?

[Associated radio.blog song: UB40 – One In Ten]


  1. Maybe because it was HP group? I imagine a younger group might have a different response.

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 27, 2006 @ 8:21 pm

  2. Maybe… but there were 3-5 of us under 40 in there and there was still no non-literalist support.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 27, 2006 @ 8:27 pm

  3. I dunno, Geoff. Aren’t there 19th century accounts of seamen who supposedly somehow survived — I don’t know how — short periods swallowed by whales?

    What did your HP group leader say after he took his little poll? I mean, most probably hadn’t thought about the question before and weren’t in any position to know with any certainty. They would either say “That goes against everything I know about science — it’s baloney” or “The Bible is true — it really happened.” I wonder what the point could possibly be for asking people to take public stands on something like that? Since you all took your positions based on ideology rather than any specific knowledge of this particular event, what could anyone on either side say to enlighten or sway someone on the other side? What did your group leader gain by polarizing the class in that way?

    I really have no idea how the majority of Mormons would respond to the question (I teach family history rather than attending Gospel Doctrine, so if it has come up in this year’s study I’m ignorant of it.) Frankly, I don’t have an opinion — and that’s all it would be, an opinion — one way or another. Common sense says it’s poetry rather than history, but absent any real knowledge I have to allow the possibility that the Lord worked in a mysterious way as He did on other occasions.

    It’s not like the historicity of Jonah has the same consequence as that of the Book of Mormon.

    Comment by Ardis — August 27, 2006 @ 8:39 pm

  4. Ardis,

    I don’t think the question was polarizing to the group. Nobody got worked up about it or anything. Our group leader was genuinely interested in the issue so he was checking to see what we thought. I’m glad he asked because I found the informal results very interesting. (Plus it gave me fodder for a post…)

    The interesting part to me is the hermeneutic approach people in the church take to such questions. You said “common sense says it’s poetry rather than history” but you still aren’t willing to come down (even tentatively) on that side of the fence in your comment. My approach is to default to the “common sense” interpretation on such questions (which is often a non-literal interpretation when there is a paucity of evidence for literalism (think worldwide flood, Job, Jonah, etc.)), but I sense that most people in the church have their defaults set to “Literal”. In other words I get the feeling people in the church read the OT as “literal until proven figurative”. I don’t begrudge people using such an approach, I guess I was mostly surprised that my approach was not more common in this small sampling.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 27, 2006 @ 9:11 pm

  5. Happens to me all the time Geoff. I sometimes wonder about your question, am I that different than those around me? I even remember making a comment once at T&S about something I thought was very matter of fact about the sacrament, and the silence was deafening. Crickets chirping and all. Those types of situations just confirm to me that progression is certainly personal.

    Comment by chronicler — August 27, 2006 @ 9:22 pm

  6. Well, our teacher in Gospel Docterine said a modern-day sailor spent a few days in the belly of the whale and he went insane because of it. What I took from that is we really can’t blame Jonah for being a butthead once he got out of the whale.

    He is of course responsible for his actions BEFORE he went into the belly of the well.

    Comment by Kristen J — August 27, 2006 @ 9:54 pm

  7. Yes, Geoff, you’re a freak! :)

    The thing that kills me about the Jonah story is that by concentrating on the whale, we miss two important things.

    The first has to do with historicity. The idea that Nineveh — the heathen capital of Assyria whose history is very well known — converted to Yahwism is more preposterous than the whale story. And you know what? The ancient Jewish audience would have known that too. They would have seen it as allegory; we’re so dumb we think it’s true.

    The second thing is that the greatest truth told by the Book of Jonah comes at the end, and has to do with God’s love for all his children.

    Ack. When did Mormons become biblical inerrantists?

    Comment by Ronan — August 28, 2006 @ 2:02 am

  8. I think many latter-day saints have the feeling that if we say that a book is fiction that we are saying that it is false. And if we say it is false…well…that suggests our beliefs are false. That is faulty thinking but I think it is how many people feel, largely because most of us haven’t given much thought about it – our beliefs don’t hinge on getting the Jonah/Job books mastered. It seems obvious to me that the book of Jonah is not historical, even though Jonah may have been a historical character. Same with Job. Besides the things mentioned in other comments, just the style of writing suggests these are poetic in nature.

    Comment by Hal H. — August 28, 2006 @ 3:38 am

  9. Geoff:

    I think that the poll results are probably about right church wide. We, as a group tend to take things quite literal, especially doctrinally. You are slowly breaking me of some of that.

    I would also say that in general, HP may be more likely to think of things as symbolic than EQ.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — August 28, 2006 @ 5:48 am

  10. My question has always been who would of written Jonah. Is there a second book where Jonah wises up, repents and then decides to write about what happened? The ending throws the whole authorship thing in the air. Which of course makes it even more likely the story is allegorical.

    Comment by Doc — August 28, 2006 @ 5:52 am

  11. Maybe we should take our cue from the Temple where it tells us the man and the woman are simply figurative, and still the majority of LDS believe in a literal Adam and Eve.

    Comment by Bored in Vernal — August 28, 2006 @ 6:18 am

  12. Geoff,
    As I’m sure you are aware, there is a common LDS reasoning which I think goes back to JFSii which says that if Christ referred to Jonah as alluding to him, then just as Christ is real, so must Jonah be. Personally, I’m not sure it matters whether Jonah really happened or not. It matters much more if the text was given to us by God, and if so what the value of the Text was. The greatest exegesis on the text I have read was in Farrel’s “the Peacegiver” which I recommend highly.

    Comment by Matt Witten — August 28, 2006 @ 7:30 am

  13. Excellent comments all around — thanks.

    I love the point about Ninevah never actaully converting to Yahwism Ronan — that is something we can test. And the point of view test (as well as the poetic feel test) is a good one too. And I also appreciate your point about Adam and Eve, BiV.

    Yes, the “Since Jesus referred to it, it must be historically accurate” argument was mentioned in passing yesterday. Of course I think that is a silly argument. Jesus mentioned it to cryptically decribe the timing of his death and resurrection — there is no support for the tale of Jonah being historically accurate in that. Prophets tell stories as instructive allegories in general conference regularly even in our day. There is no rule that men of God can’t reference allegories to teach truth and Jesus is obviously no exception.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 28, 2006 @ 8:56 am

  14. Like Paul H. Dunn? :)

    Comment by Eric Nielson — August 28, 2006 @ 9:15 am

  15. Does the Hebrew Bible say that Ninevah converted to Yahwism or merely that the city repented? It’s not entirely clear what that repentance connotes except for fasting in sackcloth and ashes …

    (btw, I’m not arguing for or against Jonah being a historical account here … just looking at one specific argument)

    Comment by danithew — August 28, 2006 @ 9:28 am

  16. Well Dan, if the pattern we know today was the pattern back then, repentance always follows faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (or Yahweh in their case).

    Eric – Nice.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 28, 2006 @ 9:31 am

  17. Many people think that our modern-day scriptures tie us into a literal view of things written in the old testament. For example, the D&C speaks of the the earth having a 6 thousand year period of temporal existence, with no death of any kind prior to this. The books of Moses and Abraham reaffirm the events in Exodus. The 2/3 of Isaiah in the BOM, and the randomness of the selections, minimize the possibility of additions to the book after 600 b.c. Where some may study the OT in terms of literal, allegorical, historical, mythical, and other categories; LDS are hesitant to do so. If I recall correctly, the institute manual (at one time, and still probably does) show the Noah flood dated to around 2,500 b.c., completely destroying all animal and human life except that which was on the ark.

    Comment by larryco_ — August 28, 2006 @ 9:42 am

  18. Geoff (or others):

    I have been thinking more about this. One of the important things to me about literal or symbolic people in the scriptures is if there is a geneology given. When ancestors and posterity are mentioned I start leaning toward leteral people. When they are not I am more open. I can’t remember, do we get a geneology for Job or Jonah? I think not.

    Is this a silly test to apply?

    Comment by Eric Nielson — August 28, 2006 @ 9:45 am

  19. I live in a married student ward (mostly med students). Our SS instructor (one of the more orthodox members of the ward and a former bishopric counsellor) began by noting that we don’t know for sure whether the story represents a straightforward historical account or is a parable. He then read us a quote, supposedly from J. Golden Kimball, who, when asked if it really happened replied “if I see Jonah in heaven, I’ll ask him.” The questioner followed up, Well what if he’s not in heaven? “You can ask him then.” I don’t know if the JGK story is true or a parable, but it was a quick and effective way for the instructor to broach the subject of historicity and then leave it behind for the rest of the lesson.

    Comment by Brad — August 28, 2006 @ 10:18 am

  20. Eric, #18: Jonah is mentioned in 2 Kings 14:25 as the son of Amittai, from a town near Nazareth. Does that pass your geneology test?

    Comment by BrianJ — August 28, 2006 @ 10:31 am

  21. I was released from my calling this past year as GD teacher for implying that not everything we read as part of the OT and NT should be taken literally. My stance during class was that the historicity of the events is irrelevant to the spiritual lessons taught by the stories. I’ve been a member of my current ward less than a year and I’m just fortunate that I secured my temple recommend before being called to teach. I have a feeling that a little more than a year from now when it’s time for me to renew I will not pass muster with my bishop who felt “inspired” at the time to call me to repentance for believing that Noah’s “flood” was not a world-wide event.

    I have a hard time understanding the mind-set that confuses and intertwines facts and truth. I find that mindset similar to the one that tries to find divine involvement in our everyday lives (i.e. stories about finding lost keys).

    Comment by endlessnegotiation — August 28, 2006 @ 10:32 am

  22. My ward is apparently behind, as we had the Job lesson yesterday, but it applies to this topic. I happen to see Job as an allegory. Perhaps Job was real a real person and he had some problems, but then his story was expanded into fiction. I see no doctrinal problems with Job-as-allegory. It does not detract from the point of the story. However, I was definitely alone in yesterday’s lesson. Everyone seemed to agree that Job and his tale was real, except for the part about God bargaining with Satan. It really surprised me, especially since my ward is crawling with scientists.

    Comment by Tanya Spackman — August 28, 2006 @ 10:44 am

  23. Geoff J: Nice post. As some of the comments have alluded, it would have been interesting if the instructor had asked, “Raise your hand if you think Jonah is about missionary work.”

    I completely agree with what you say in #13 about the “Jesus mentioned him” argument. There are too many examples of people he mentions that are clearly allegorical for us to think the argument is a good one for Jonah. Did Jesus really know “ninety and nine” sheep and one lost? Was there really a merchant who went away and left 1 talent with one servant, etc? And what about that Lazurus and the rich man story?

    Ronan, #7; Danithew, #15: The Hebrew uses both Yahweh and Elohim in the Book of Jonah. Yahweh makes the call to Jonah, the sailors pray to Elohim to calm the sea, after the sea is calm they sacrifice to Yahweh, Nineveh cries “mightily” to Elohim (3:8), wonders whether Elohim will show mercy (3:9), and then Elohim repents “of the evil, that he had said that he would do” (3:10).

    Comparing the “diety switch” with the sailors to the people of Nineveh raises some interesting questions….

    Comment by BrianJ — August 28, 2006 @ 10:59 am

  24. Tanya:
    I would have thought the Job part where god compares himself to Leviathon and other monsters would have come accross as allegorical to some people as well. Of course, while the OT institute manual says there are arguements for and against the literallity of Job, it is felt that it would be unfare for God to compare JS suffering to Job suffering if Job were not real. This however seems a hard pill to swallow next to God comparing himself to Giant monsters within the text of Job itself. Again, as will Jonah, I think the greater questions are is it inspired and if so, to what value to us? Personally, I can happily believe in a literal existance of both Job and Jonah, because it isn’t that important to me to decry their existence. Jesus Christ, however, and Joseph Smith, these people I have worked hard at understanding the existence of, and have happily found they do exist.
    I teach SS to the 16-18 yr olds, but I pretty much said “Jonah was a missionary” then taught them a lesson bout missionary work and the importance of retention. I noted to them that EoM says about 75% of LDS go inactive for a year or more, and that while 60% of these come back, only about 48% are active in US and only 30% active in our ward. We then talked about what could be done to help this and how “beginning with the end in mind” when it comes to missionary work is very important. Next week is Hoseah and repentance… Not sure how I’m gonna tackle that one.

    Comment by Matt Witten — August 28, 2006 @ 11:17 am

  25. Brian J:

    Thanks for the info. Of course if I then apply my weak geneology theory I would then lean to Jonah as a real person. I don’t know if a geneology is a good ‘test’ or not.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — August 28, 2006 @ 11:35 am

  26. Remember that even if Jonah was a real person, that doesn’t mean that the book of Jonah reflects real history. People can have stories made up about them, as I have told police officers several times.

    Comment by HP — August 28, 2006 @ 12:50 pm

  27. I have a problem with the choices that were offered by the teacher. Like #3, I really don’t have an opinion. (Plus, as an introvert I hate it when teachers demand class input, which I think should be voluntary).)

    Like #19’s ward, our gospel doctrine teacher (me, as it turned out) raised the issue of questionable historicity but also concluded that it didn’t really matter. I didn’t use the Kimball quote, but rather the more serious Penrose one about how correct principles were being taught, irregardless of the literality of that particular story about that particular character in that book of scripture.

    I really don’t waste time worrying about stuff like that. As I scientist, I have to accept that many things are simply unknown because we haven’t (yet) developed the assay tools or a powerful enough telescope or whatever. For me, the Proclamation on the Family was pivotal in this regard. Before that, I thought that gender was a characteristic that started only in earth life, and that we got to choose it. Well, no, it turns out we didn’t. And I can accept that as revelation.

    As a result, I think a lot of these things like the Jonah story are like that–we’ll know eventually, so it isn’t worth it to bother with an opinion in the absence of knowledge.

    Comment by Naismith — August 28, 2006 @ 12:59 pm

  28. I noticed that CES materials take the “historical account” position. In the current Institute manual for the OT, I found the following comment on Jonah 1:1:

    “That Jonah’s story is a true one, and not an allegory as some scholars maintain, is evidenced by 2 Kings 14:25 and three New Testament references. ‘The story of Jonah was referred to by our Lord on two occasions when he was asked for a sign from heaven. In each case he gave ‘the sign of the prophet Jonah,’ the event in that prophet’s life being a foreshadowing of Jesus’ own death and resurrection (Matt. 12:39-41; 16:4; Luke 11:29-30).’ (Bible Dictionary, s.v. ‘Jonah.’)”

    Then this comment on 1:17:

    “The account of Jonah being swallowed by a ‘great fish’ has been the subject of much ridicule and controversy on the part of the world. They use this verse as one argument to sustain the belief that the book of Jonah is simply a parable and not a record of historical fact. Speaking to those who take such a position, Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said:

    ‘Are we to reject it as being an impossibility and say that the Lord could not prepare a fish, or whale, to swallow Jonah? . . . Surely the Lord sits in the heavens and laughs at the wisdom of the scoffer, and then on a sudden answers his folly by a repetition of the miracle in dispute, or by the presentation of one still greater. . . .

    ‘I believe, as did Mr. William J. Bryan, the story of Jonah. My chief reason for so believing is not in the fact that it is recorded in the Bible, or that the incident has been duplicated in our day, but in the fact that Jesus Christ, our Lord, believed it. The Jews sought him for a sign of his divinity. He gave them one, but not what they expected. The scoffers of his day, notwithstanding his mighty works, were incapable, because of sin, of believing.

    ‘He answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the Prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.’ (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:314-15.)”

    Comment by Justin — August 28, 2006 @ 1:42 pm

  29. With rock solid evidence like that DofS quote above, I don’t know how anyone can doubt the historicity of the book of Jonah.

    Comment by Jacob — August 28, 2006 @ 2:21 pm

  30. Hehe. Um thanks for that Jacob.

    Nice references Justin. It seems to me that that DofS quote has powered a lot of the literalist approach in the church for decades, sort of like how several Mormon Doctrine quotes still get a lot of play today. I knew that a literalist approach to the Jonah story would most likely be the default of the majority but I was surprised at the 19-1 vote in this informal poll.

    Naismith – The good news is that nobody got remotely excited about the poll results in that lesson. There was nothing contentious about the event. This is a group of saintly men and I think most have a similar opinion on the subject that you expressed.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 28, 2006 @ 2:32 pm

  31. I am of the camp that I can see it as both.

    Ninevah, in 612 BCE came under the control of the Babylonians, a Zoroastrian nation, meaning they were monotheists. I have no trouble believing there may have been a historical figure – even by the name of Jonah – that went to Ninevah and preach to them the mercies of the one true God. That would not mean that they became Yahwists, but may have accepted more readily the faith of their conquerers the Babylonians. This may have saved them from destruction from said conquerers as well – rendering the whole Jonah story probable. Babylon conquers Ninevah, Ninevah refuses to cave to Babylon. Jonah, (remember there is no date for the Jonah story) recognizing the destruction of Israel, goes to Ninevah to warn them of their eminent destruction is they do not cave to their captors. Ninevah accepts the Babylonian religion. Ninevah is saved.

    The whale and plant may be more parables than fact, yet their message is clear – God cares for all peoples, and God cares for each of us – evn when we are disobedient.

    Comment by Gilgamesh — August 28, 2006 @ 2:37 pm

  32. I could be wrong on this, but I thought both Assyria and Babylonia did not fall under Zoroastrian influence until after Cyrus and the Persians conquered the area 100 years later. This would account for the idols and altars talked about in Ezekiel and Daniel, both of which were banned by Zoroastrians

    Comment by larryco_ — August 28, 2006 @ 3:37 pm

  33. Since I am not a Zoroastrian scholar I will not debate the time frame, though I think even if it was a century later – there is no date to Jonah – it would work. In this case Persia conquesrs Babylonian principalities, of which one is Ninevah – and there is the threat of destruction unless they reject their idols.

    Comment by Gilgamesh — August 28, 2006 @ 5:24 pm

  34. Naismith – The good news is that nobody got remotely excited about the poll results in that lesson. There was nothing contentious about the event.

    Maybe it’s a Mars-Venus thing, but at Relief Society, what was SAID might have little relationship with how people FEEL about it. We are trained to be nice to each other in person, but may simmer about it and complain later. So something could indeed be contentious without appearing so at the time.

    Comment by Naismith — August 28, 2006 @ 5:35 pm

  35. Here is a snippet from Alexander’s Mormonism in Transition (pg. 283) that relates to this conversation:

    In October 1922, while Heber J. Grant was in Washington, the First Presidency received a letter from Joseph W. McMurrin asking about the position of the church with regard to the literality of the Bible. Charles W. Penrose, with Anthony W. Ivins, writing for the First Presidency, answered that the position of the church was that the Bible is the word of God as far as it was translated correctly. They pointed out that there were, however, some problems with the Old Testament. The Pentateuch, for instance, was written by Moses, but “it is evident that the five books passed through other hands than Moses’s after his day and time. The closing chapter of Deuteronomy proves that.” While they thought Jonah was a real person, they said it was possible that the story as told in the Bible was a parable common at the time. The purpose was to teach a lesson, and it “is of little significance as to whether Jonah was a real individual or one chosen by the writer of the book” to illustrate “what is set forth therein.” They took a similar position on Job. What is important, Penrose and Ivins insisted, was not whether the books were historically accurate, but whether the doctrines were correct.

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 28, 2006 @ 9:09 pm

  36. Although my question and Geoff’s answer appear a ways back, I just want to say that I think repentance on many levels can happen without wholesale conversion to “the one true religion” or that in fact repentance to some degree can happen without “faith in the Lord Jesus Christ” as Geoff states.

    I have not gone back to the text of Jonah to investigate this closely but in general I think repentance can simply be a recognition of wrongful acts and a decision not to commit them again. I don’t know what sins the people of Ninevah were committing, but I am assuming that if they were ripe for destruction that they were committing serious sinful acts. Their repentance may have been simply to cease committing those acts. For all I know they were polytheists and continued to be polytheists … a religious stance that may permit a belief or acceptance of the God who is actually the true God.

    Comment by danithew — August 29, 2006 @ 6:46 am

  37. It is interesting to me that questions like this (the historicity of Jonah) and others like the worldwide-full-immersion-flood function as tests of faith for many members. As several people have mentioned, it doesn’t really matter if the three days in the whale is myth or fact, but it becomes a big deal to people because it is viewed as a cop out to say it is just a story. Notice the disdain shown to the scholars who question Jonah expressed by people like Doctrines of Salvation. Not because they are clearly wrong, but because it is inferred from their doubt that they think they are smarter than God, and we can’t wait to see them proved wrong and embarrassed for having no faith. It is quite curious.

    If it turns out that the more spectacular parts of the story didn’t happen, I imagine we’ll all be in the spirit world blogging about who turned out to be right and who turned out to be wrong, and I predict that the people in Geoff’s HP group who believed in the historicity of Jonah will feel better about assuming the Bible to be literally true and being wrong, than they would about assuming it was myth and being right. In general, members view it as meritorious to have the guts to believe in the literal truth of something (in some ways without regard to whether or not it is true). The more difficult to believe the better, because it demonstrates more faith.

    Comment by Jacob — August 29, 2006 @ 9:39 am

  38. Interesting point Jacob. Sort of a “Better to have false faith than to take a chance at incorrect skepticism” approach… Yeah I can see that. Doesn’t Mark Butler like to paraphrase Joseph about “no one was ever damned for believing too much” or something? That is the same concept I suppose. (Of course the problem is that this is not a questions of how much one believes but of what one believes)

    Comment by Geoff J — August 29, 2006 @ 11:11 am

  39. Don’t worry, the reference works fine. The “no one was ever damned for believing too much” quote comes from the Sermon in the Grove and referred to what one believes too.

    Comment by Jacob — August 29, 2006 @ 1:17 pm

  40. No one was ever damned for believing too much — but they leave in the Church in droves for believing too much and then finding that their excessive beliefs won’t match reality.

    Comment by Blake — August 29, 2006 @ 2:17 pm

  41. Amen Blake. I have never thought that quote from Joseph was safe for general application–more of a bad argument Joseph made because he was frustrated by his critics who wouldn’t accept things he learned by revelation. So, I always feel free to apply it to anything I have learned by revelation.

    Comment by Jacob — August 29, 2006 @ 2:28 pm

  42. Should have finished: …anything I have learned by revelation and nothing else.

    I mean that as an actual point rather than a joke because I do think it is possible for personal revelation to leave one in a position of over-belief relative to the party-line of the church.

    Comment by Jacob — August 29, 2006 @ 2:32 pm

  43. I think in context the Joseph Smith quote refers to principles clearly taught by scripture or revelation. Certainly not off the wall, uninspired, and unendorsed speculations – the rigorous belief in which will damn a soul just as readily as adherence to any creed after the manner of men. Theology must always be a tentative enterprise – legislated theology is a abomination. In other words, it is not nearly as much what people believe, as to the stubborn refusal to adapt under inspiration and revelation that damns a person or a denomination.

    Comment by Mark Butler — August 29, 2006 @ 4:23 pm

  44. Nice comment Gilgamesh.

    Traveling prophets calling groups to repentance and repentance by the group is a fairly common motif in the ancient world.

    No where near requiring a faith in the Triune God (oops, or the real one for that matter) …

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — August 29, 2006 @ 6:33 pm

  45. For the record, I believe that the book of Jonah is a generally accurate historical account, including his tenure inside the fish/whale. I see no reason why the Ninevites would automatically reject an itinerant prophet for any god, especially if they were able to recognize their own weaknesses. I would also suggest that a 90-95% figure is probably pretty accurate for most Gospel Doctrine classes along the Wasatch Front.

    Comment by Mark Butler — August 31, 2006 @ 2:45 am

  46. Where there you go Mark — you are apparently the 1 in 20 for commenters on this thread but perhaps among the 19 in 20 among the larger pool of members.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 31, 2006 @ 8:27 am

  47. Brad over at Defensor Veritatis had a nice quote from Blaise Pascal about how people how believed in God could have a real problem with the idea of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I am kind of the same way – if I cannot think of a good theological reason, or a relatively compelling scientific or scholarly reason to bar some scriptural event, I am inclined to believe it to be accurate.

    The classic example of this is the resurrection, which is the core of our faith, as the Apostle Paul testified. And yet most scholars regard the idea as utter foolishness. I do not see how I can maintain the reality of the resurrection of nearly all mankind while automatically denying wildly out of the ordinary events in history, because some sort of divine intervention would be required for them to take place.

    That is the same reason I am skeptical of LDS who believe in a non-interventionist version of evolution. I think presumably any faithful member believes that a spirit body can be re-clothed with more tangible matter in a the span of a few moments, and some how the Lord is barred from lifting a finger over six hundred million years or more, such that human and animal biology is fit for his purposes? I don’t think so.

    Comment by Mark Butler — August 31, 2006 @ 1:53 pm

  48. if I cannot think of a good theological reason, or a relatively compelling scientific or scholarly reason to bar some scriptural event, I am inclined to believe it to be accurate.

    Why? And what do you consider compelling? No one is disputing that God could have caused these things to happen. The question is did he do it if so why did he do it. Further, the issue is with the ancient narrative itself — I think that it was never intended to be taken literally or as a precise historical account. But we have a modern Western lens that defaults to such a view.

    The sad part is what Jacob mentioned — that many see it as some great virtue to believe in the literalness or historicity of every Biblical story. The problem is that they then sometimes assume that anyone who disagrees with such a literalist view is faithless. Of course the problem is that the first principle of the gospel is not faith; the first peinciple of the gospel if faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. I suspect some literalists make the mistake of assuming every ancient narrative is a literal historical account is the same as having faith. It is certainly something one can choose to believe, but doing so is not the same as fulfilling the first principle of the gospel.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 1, 2006 @ 12:11 am

  49. I agree with much of what you have said, Geoff. I simply prefer to err on the side of the historical integrity of the scriptures. Some people say that the only thing that matters is the principle. I say that in many accounts such as this, God’s actual intervention (in this case on behalf of the Ninevites) is the principle to be learned.

    If one starts divorcing symbols from the realities for which they stand (which may indeed be somewhat different from a strictly literal interpretation in many cases), he enters the road to a philosophical religion, intead of a faith in the living God. One account or two may not do this, but I find it telling that many do not believe in the prophecies of the latter days, the literal second coming of the Savior, the reality of the resurrection, the personal ministration of angels, and on and on.

    I would believe that way in a pinch, but I have knowledge through my own experience alone that the Lord occasionally intervenes in miraculous ways beyond our ordinary comprehension, and my faith in the greatest miracle of all time, the Resurrection, is based in the witness of the Holy Spirit. And if I believe in the Resurrection, I find it hard to doubt any account that does not have crippling theological or scientific problems.

    I take the Garden account as metaphor due to a combination of both. Jonah, by and large, I can see no theological problem with, and no compelling scientific reason to believe otherwise (e.g. the fossil record, strict natural impossibility, etc.). Some prefer to doubt anything they cannot prove, based on mere improbability.

    I say that the glory of God himself is (originally speaking) the most radically improbable thing in the universe, as is the At-one-ment. And yet that improbability, reversed through the suffering sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, has risen to the level of the most significant reality in existence. Radical improbability has become absolute certainty, through the merits of Him who has power to save.

    Comment by Mark Butler — September 1, 2006 @ 7:52 am

  50. Mark,

    You are pointing to the typical slippery slope. If I doubt Jonah, what will keep me from soon denying the resurrection? The answer is that no one (here) is doubting Jonah based on a disbelief in miracles in principle. It is a judgment made after considering several internal and external evidences which lead people to believe the book was not actually written or intended as a faithful history. Thus, a blanket default to assume historicity might still allow for a person to doubt the historicity of Jonah without leading to the full skepticism regarding God’s working that you fear above. I think many of the people here doubting Jonah’s historicity are open to the idea that he could have been an actual person. I personally tend to think he was a real historical figure.

    Comment by Jacob — September 1, 2006 @ 11:45 am