The ten plagues described in the Book of Exodus were supernatural occurrences that demonstrated the power of the One and only True God. Unfortunately, there are modern evangelicals and other biblical commentators that undermine the obvious literal, supernatural plague events. As Lubenow states, “…modern evangelicals are seeking to minimize the miracles of the Bible in order to make the Bible more acceptable to modern secular man.”1 The writer views these compromising views on the literalness of the Exodus plagues to those who question the literal six days of Creation. This paper reviews four evangelical views on the literalness of the ten plagues.
John D. Hannah
Hannah addresses the issue of interpreting the plagues literally. For instance, he states: Some commentators have suggested that the water did not literally become blood, but simply became reddish in color. Cassuto suggests that this red color came through “minute fungi and other red vegetable matter, or tiny insects of reddish hue”2 Hannah then explains the “natural” explanation by Cassuto is unwarranted since it doesn’t take into account the “suddenness of the miracle.” Lubenow makes a stronger case when he points out that the blood was not confined to the Nile but also everywhere in Egypt, even in the wooden buckets and stone jars (Ex. 7:17-19).” 3
Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe
Critics often bring up the question of how could 2 million people cross the Red Sea in such a short period of time. The argument is often made that it would be physically impossible for that many people to cross the Red Sea so quickly. Therefore, this passage is not to be taken literally according to literal critics. Geisler and Howe respond to this criticism by taking a literal approach to Scripture without putting limits on what the scripture states. For example, they argue in Ex. 14:22 that the Israelites in the morning began their trek across the Red Sea. It does not however give a specific timeline as to how long they walked for. Next they argue that even if the crossing took place in 24 hours it would not be impossible. They base this on the notion that Scripture never states the Israelites walked across in single file. Geisler and Howe make an interesting proposal, “it is much more likely that God had prepared a section several miles wide…. When the time came for the people to cross on dry ground, they probably moved as one magnificent throng, moving as a great army advancing upon the enemy lines.” 4
MacArthur feels strongly that the ten plagues were to be read literally. He states:
The obvious miraculous nature of the 10 plagues cannot be explained by identifying them with natural occurrences to which Moses then applied a theological interpretation. The specific prediction of, as well as the intensity of, each plague moved it beyond being normal, natural phenomena. The notification of the specific discriminatory nature of some of the plagues, distinguishing between Hebrew and Egyptian, or Goshen and the rest of the land, as they did, also marks the supernatural nature of these events.”5
The writer agrees wholeheartedly with MacArthur.
Morris scoffs at the liberal reduction of the Red Sea Miracle as a passing through of shallow waters. He explains:
The Biblical description, however, is clearly of a mighty miracle—not merely of a wind driving the shallow waters seaward. Instead, it describes a great path opened up through deep waters, supernaturally restrained as a wall on both sides of the wide freeway, deep enough to drown all the hosts of Pharaoh when the waters later collapsed. … The crossing was, of course, over a narrow northern arm of the Red Sea, enabling the Israelites to cross into the wilderness of Shur (Exodus 15:22), but it was nevertheless a great miracle.” 6
Morris then astutely cites the Song of Moses and 1 Corinthians 10:1, 11 for New Testament support of this miraculous crossing of the Red Sea. The writer feels the New Testament collaborates the miraculous crossing that occurred in Exodus.
The ten plagues and the Red Sea crossing were historical events in the Book of Exodus that should be taken literally. The writer feels that a natural explanation of these events is ludicrous in light of the detail given by Moses. Additionally, New Testament writers support the literalness of these events, particularly with the parting of the Red Sea. The writer has cited four reputable evangelical scholars who support this literal view.
1 Marvin Lubenow, Historical Survey of Israel Course Notes (El Cajon, CA: Southern California Seminary, 2006), 76.
2 John Hannah, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scripture (A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, p. 98) (Colorado Springs, Co : Cook Communication Ministries, 2004), 121.
3Marvin Lubenow, Historical Survey of Israel Course Notes (El Cajon, CA: Southern California Seminary, 2006), 81.
4 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe, When Critics Ask ( Grand Rapids, MI:Baker Books, 2006),75.
5 John MacArthur, annotator, The MacArthur Study Bible (Dallas, TX: Word, 1997), 102.
Geisler, Norman and Howe, Thomas. When Critics Ask Grand Rapids, MI:Baker Books, 2006.
Hannah, John. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scripture (A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, p. 98). Colorado Springs, Co : Cook Communication Ministries, 2004.
Lubenow, Marvin. Historical Survey of Israel Course Notes. El Cajon, CA: Southern California Seminary, 2006.
MacArthur, John, annotator. The MacArthur Study Bible. Dallas, TX: Word, 1997.
Morris, Henry. “ Walking In The Midst Of The Sea.” Institute for Creation Research Website, 2006.Internet. Available http://www.icr.org/article/18601/. Accessed October 15, 2006.