The Parsons Test of Biblical Literalism

A number of posts and commentaries recently have argued that even conservative Christian apologists have now largely abandoned the old-fashioned literalist view of scripture. I am still not sure. I don’t know how deep or broad their skepticism is. Hence I offer the following Parsons Test of Biblical Literalism. It is, of course, a completely unscientific test that I made up just for fun. Still, I would be very surprised at many scores of much less than 40 from our evangelical interlocutors. I would also be interested to see how many give low credibility scores to the first eight passages and high ones to the last two. In that case, I would be interested in hearing the reasons for the difference.

INSTRUCTIONS: After each Biblical passage (5 from the OT, 5 from the NT) rate your assessment its degree of certainty or uncertainty of occurrence according to the following scale:

1: Definitely did not happen/Extremely improbable.
2: Somewhat improbable.
3: Maybe happened; maybe not/Can’t say/No opinion.
4: Somewhat probable.
5: Definitely happened/Extremely probable.

1: But the Lord ordained that a great fish should swallow Jonah, and for three days and three nights he remained in its belly (Jonah 1:17).

2: And so the Lord God put the man into a trance, and while he slept, he took one of his ribs and closed the flesh over the place. The Lord God then built up the rib, which he had taken out of the man, into a woman (Genesis 2:21-22).

3: And into the ark with Noah went one pair, male and female, of all beasts, clean and unclean, of birds and of everything that crawls on the ground, two by two, as God had commanded (Genesis 7:8-9).

4: He [Elisha] went up from there to Bethel and as he was on his way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him saying, “Get along with you, bald head, get along.” And he turned round and looked at them and he cursed them in the name of the Lord; and two she-bears came out of a wood and mauled forty two of them (II Kings 2: 23-24).

5: So the sun stood still and the moon halted until a nation had taken vengeance on its enemies…The sun stayed in mid heaven and made no haste to set for almost a whole day (Joshua 10: 13).

6: When he [Jesus] reached the other side, in the country of the Gadarenes, he was met by two men who came out of the tombs; they were possessed by devils, and so violent that no one dared pass that way. “You son of God,” they shouted, “what do you want with us? Have you come here to torment us before our time?” In the distance a large herd of pigs was feeding; and the devils begged him, “if you drive us out, send us into that herd of pigs.” “Begone!” he said. Then they came out and went into the pigs; the whole herd rushed over the edge into the lake, and perished in the water (Matthew 8: 28-32).

7: At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in tow from top to bottom. There was an earthquake, the rocks split and the graves opened, and many of God’s saints were raised from sleep; and coming out of their graves after his resurrection they entered the Holy City, where many saw them (Matthew 27: 51-53).

8: Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him and led them up a high mountain where they were alone; and in their presence he was transfigured; his clothes became dazzling white, with a whiteness no bleacher on earth could equal. Then they saw Elijah and Moses with him, and there they were, conversing with Jesus (Mark 9: 2-4).

9: Early on Sunday morning while it was still dark, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb. She saw that the stone had been moved away from the entrance…(John 20: 1).

10: As they were talking about all of this, there he [Jesus] was standing among them. Startled and terrified, they thought they were seeing a ghost. But he said “Why are you so perturbed? Why do questionings arise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself. Touch me and see; no ghost has flesh and bones as you can see that I have (Luke 24: 36-40).