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Job: History or Allegory? (1)

One of our readers asked the following question about the nature of the book of Job: "Is the book of Job a true story or an allegory?"

There is no question about it that the book of Job records true history. This is proved by James 5:11: "Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy." The historicity of Job himself and therefore of the book that goes by his name is also proved from Ezekiel 14:14: "Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it [i.e., the land of Judah], they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness, saith the Lord God." Like Ezekiel 14:14, verses 16 and 18 also refer to "these three men," not these two men (Noah and Daniel) plus a figure merely mentioned in an allegory (Job). Ezekiel 14:20 repeats the three names given in verse 14: "Noah, Daniel, and Job."

The book is also infallibly and verbally inspired by the Holy Spirit. In this respect, the book has something unique about its inspiration. Two things about its inspiration ought to be noticed.

First, the speeches of the three friends, Elihu’s speech, Job’s speeches and God’s final speech were not spoken precisely as they are recorded in the book of Job. All these speeches as recorded in our Bibles are in poetry; as they were spoken (with the possible exception of God’s speech) they were probably not spoken in poetry.

Second, there is a difference in the character of the inspiration. All that the three friends and some of what Job said were not inspired as to content. That is, what they said is not the Word of God in the sense that their words contain divine truth. Surely Job’s cursing of the day of his birth was wrong of Job and does not give us a rule for our faith and life. What the friends said was, for the most part, wicked, for they accused Job unjustly. So these parts of the book are not inspired as to content. They are, however, inspired as to the accuracy of what these friends said.

Even though the speeches were most likely not spoken in poetry, the poetic form of these speeches is wholly and completely accurate. It is the Spirit’s repetition of what each man said. It accurately conveys the contents of each man’s speech.

Parts of the book are inspired also as to content. The historical parts were so inspired; some of Job’s words were so inspired, for example, Job 19:25-27, a passage that ministers of the gospel have correctly held up to the people of God as proof for the bodily resurrection of Christ and as an expression of our hope of the resurrection of our bodies. It appears as if Elihu’s speech was also inspired as to content, and certainly this was true of God’s final and conclusive word.

But all this does not alter in any respect the divine inspiration of this book. There are other parts of Scripture in which wicked men spoke that are inspired as to the accuracy of what they said, but are not inspired as to content. Surely at the time of the trial of our Lord, the words of Caiaphas, of the Sanhedrin and of Pilate were not inspired as to content. But they are totally accurate as to form: they truly were said as they are presented in sacred Scripture.

We know that what the Holy Spirit inspires is completely without error, for He cannot err, being God Himself. We do not know whom the Spirit used to write the book of Job, but it may very well have been Job himself. He did not write the book during the exchange of speeches, but only after it was all over. God told him what to write so that it accurately reproduced what was said in the lengthy speeches; but God the Holy Spirit did this in the form of poetry.

That it was written in poetry does not subtract from its verbal inspiration either, for the Psalms and other parts of Scripture were also written in poetry. This is one of Scripture’s unparalleled beauties: there are many different genera of writings, but all are infallibly and verbally inspired.

The purpose of the book is defined by James: It is a demonstration of Job’s patience in suffering, which we are called to emulate; and it is a promise that, because of the mercy and pity of our God towards us in our sufferings, He makes our sufferings serve our salvation (James 5:11).

It might be worth our while to mention that it is higher critics of Scripture who claim that the book of Job is an allegory. But they have an axe to grind. For some evil reason, they do not believe that Job (who lived during the time of Abraham) could possibly know anything, at such an early date in the history of revelation, about the resurrection of the body. Hence, when they come to Job 19:25-27, they give an entirely different translation of the text that eliminates the idea of Job’s confession of the resurrection. There are various such translations around, and the interested reader may consult them. The translation of the KJV is correct.

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Additional Info

  • Volume: 12
  • Issue: 5
Hanko, Herman

Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)

Ordained: October 1955

Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965

Emeritus: 2001

Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Prof._Herman_Hanko

Contact Details

  • Address
    725 Baldwin Dr. B-25
  • City
    Jenison
  • State or Province
    MI
  • Zip Code
    49428
  • Country
    United States
  • Telephone
    616-667-6033

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