When I was a senior in high school my brave high school English teacher taught a unit on “The ineffable experience.” I say he was brave because I personally can’t imagine trying to bring up that word, let alone that concept, let alone teach anything meaningful about it, in a room full of high school seniors. Bravo to you Mr. Bruce Johnson!

  • Definition of ineffable 1a: incapable of being expressed in words INDESCRIBABLE ineffable joy b: UNSPEAKABLE inefable disgust 2: not to be uttered TABOO the ineffable name of Jehovah

Obviously he was successful in teaching it, because that’s almost the only thing I remember from high school English other than having to memorize the Prologue to The Canterbury Tales in Old English (“Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote, The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote, …, etc., etc., etc.”).

The Bible is full of words attempting to describe the ineffable… assuming that the Kingdom of God is ineffable, at least to worldly humans.

I’m starting to think maybe that’s why so much in the Bible is poetry and songs. Because poetry and music are ways that humans try to communicate that which is ineffable.

But that’s where I get kind of confused about the Bible. I thought the Bible is the Word of God and is literally true. But there is so much in it that is poetry and songs and parables and prophesies that can’t possibly be literally true. Like Matthew 7:3 when Jesus says, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” I don’t think he was literally talking about a literal log in any literal person’s literal physical eye, because that would never happen. Logs are the wrong size of thing to literally physically be in literal human people’s eyes. He was speaking metaphorically.

So then how do you tell whether any given thing in the Bible is supposed to be taken as literally true or metaphoric or poetic?

Like the creation of the universe in 7 days. Is that literally true or poetic? And how could you know which way it is meant to be understood?

I’m definitely confused.

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