Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Scripture and Incarnation

posted by xscot mcknight

In my teaching career, especially since I’ve been at North Park and started with this blog, I’ve had more than a few questions that are now being given a fresh examination by Peter Enns, in his new book, Inspiration and Incarnation. I want to narrow our conversation today to a specific question, and I’m going to ask that you keep to the question.
Here’s the kind of letter or question I sometimes get. My son/daughter went off to college, heard that the story of the flood has a corresponding story among the Babylonians called the Atrahasis, their professor convinced them that the Genesis account is rooted in that Babylonian myth and responds to that myth by asserting the Lordship of Yahweh, but now they have big questions about their view of Scripture.
Here’s the question I hear being asked today by many, and Peter Enns has tried to address this question. His book has been endorsed by Dick Averbeck at Trinity, Hugh Williamson at Oxford, Bruce Waltke at Regent and Reformed, by Bill Arnold at Asbury, and by David Baker at Ashland.
I’d like to know what you think of this question — and I think it is pressing for many of us and in need of serious attention and effort by all of us:
Does our view of inspiration or of our view of Scripture permit the author of Genesis to have captured an ancient myth and responded by deconstructing the other myth and asserting an entirely different theology even using mythical form? Is our view of Scripture capable of having mythological stories? Or does our view of Scripture demand that every narrative correspond to something in history/reality? (And if the latter, just what do we mean by ‘correspond to reality’?)
Here’s another way of asking this question, and I think this is what Peter Enns is doing in his new book — and this book challenges my thinking and forces me to ask some questions I’ve been thinking about: What would our view of Scripture, our view of inspiration, look like if we discover mythological/mythic elements in those Scriptures?
Enns proposes that the “incarnation,” taking into consideration that Jesus is the God-Man and that Scripture is the divine-human text, is a good model for considering how we view the Bible. That is, God accommodated himself to the ancient Hebrew world by including — for those people in their times — what might just be some mythological elements.
I’m not asking if you think Genesis 6–8 is mythological or historical, but whether you think the evangelical/traditional view of Scripture and its inspiration is flexible enough to handle mythic elements in the Bible? (Obviously, one way of dealing with this would be to say “there aren’t myths.” That would end the discussion by saying “maybe or maybe not, but since there aren’t myths, we don’t have to worry about it.” The question is this: Does our view of Scripture permit such?



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Chris Tilling

posted November 3, 2006 at 4:05 am


Thanks for this thought provoking post, Scott.
In response to your question, I would suggest it perhaps depends on how ‘hard’ our definition of inspiration is. If we take the Chicago statement as the guiding rule, I can’t see how we can allow for the adoption, in Scriptures, of a foreign Myth of the flood unless one insists that the Atrahasis was itself inspired by God in terms of that which was adopted by the Scriptures. Of course this is possible, and my more conservative brothers and sisters have been claiming this a long time about the use of 1 Enoch in Jude, and some of them the Egyptian and Mesopotamian influence in the book of Proverbs.
Personally, I feel this approach can deter, in practice, from an appreciation of what the biblical writers were doing in adopting and using this material to their own ends. In relation to the Flood story, for example, we may spend so much time trying to justify it historically (I think in vain), that we miss what we can learn from what the links with the Babylonian myth can tell us about the strategy of the biblical author.



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Shawn

posted November 3, 2006 at 4:18 am


If I understand the question, then no and nor should it. In a sense the Bible can, and does, contain all myths/stories within itself, and it can be read with a view to seeing archetypes and mythic cycles in its revelation to us, but the bottom line is that the Bible is true, not just spiritually but historically as well. I don’t think the authors of Scripture appropriated a Babylonian myth in this case anyway.



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Tim Gombis

posted November 3, 2006 at 4:36 am


It certainly seems that “our view” of Scripture ought to be able to accomodate this. The thrust of even the inerrantist view is that when all the statements and expressions in the Bible are understood as to their function or meaning, they will be seen to be without error. So, if the function of a text is to render reality via certain fictive or mythic elements, then that’s no problem.
Wouldn’t this have been Robert Gundry’s claim back in 1984 with his Matthew commentary? You may know more about this, Scot, than many of us, but it seems that his claim was that Matthew’s intention was to write a Midrash and if that was what he was doing, then a faithful (“inerrantist”) treatment of that Gospel would take that approach into account.
Also, Shawn (#2), “mythological” is somewhat opposed to “historical,” but not to “real” or to “truth.” That is, both of the first two are alternative approaches to coming to grips with “reality.” Is reality (or truth) more faithfully rendered through history or through myth?



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Shawn

posted November 3, 2006 at 4:58 am


“Also, Shawn (#2), “mythological” is somewhat opposed to “historical,” but not to “real” or to “truth.” ”
Tim, I understand that (I have had a long term interest in Jungian archetypal psychology) but my point was that while we can read Scripture mythically in the sense you mean, we must keep in mind imo that it is also historical. For example, I understand that a lot of mythic meaning can and should be read into Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana, but I also think Jesus actually went to a wedding and actually turned water into wine.



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Tim Gombis

posted November 3, 2006 at 5:35 am


I agree, Shawn, I think.
To the point of Scot’s question, however, it seems that our view of Scripture does indeed allow for mythological description. I wonder if the rub comes from the defensive posture of evangelical culture. For instance, I’ve brought up in class issues along this line and some students who have actually wrestled with some of these passages will nod as if they’re taking on board my suggestions as possible solutions to rightly reading certain texts (the text in question was Rev. 21, with the city being spoken of as a cube).
Other students, however, will jump all over me for not reading these passages “literally,” even if they’ve never actually read the text I’m talking about!



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Ted Gossard

posted November 3, 2006 at 6:18 am


Yes. I take it the mythic is corresponding to reality in some way is so being used. Scripture is true, as to what it is getting at in any genre it is using.



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Ted Gossard

posted November 3, 2006 at 6:19 am


And it would almost surprise me if something of this isn’t happening somewhere in Scripture. Even inclusive of using a real story to do so.



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RJS

posted November 3, 2006 at 6:46 am


A short conscise answer to the question as posed:
Our view of scripture must permit such, or we are in trouble. We who remain will lapse into the absurd, and many will simply walk away shaking their head in wonder or bewilderment.



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Jamie Hollis

posted November 3, 2006 at 7:29 am


This is my first year at seminary and I thought my view of scripture would be changed, but it is changing more than I had planned! In a good way, I think. It is scary though and beautiful all at once to learn of the stories and mythology that are echoed in various places throughout the Bible. Scary because I never heard this before and beautiful because it gives everything a layer of depth that did not exist for me before. If only some of these things were taught to me when I was a child in Sunday School my world would be shaking slightly less right now.



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Ben

posted November 3, 2006 at 7:45 am


A review of Enn’s book in the May/June 2006 ed. of Books & Culture magazine by Susan Bauer, “Messy Revelation: Why Paul would have flunked hermeneutics,” offers a brief
overview for any who don’t have the book in question. You can read it on line at http://www.christianitytoday.com/bc/2006/003/3.8.html
I’m in a class going over the early chapters in Genesis and facing some of the things Scot has mentioned. Enns’ book is definitely helpful.



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Brian

posted November 3, 2006 at 8:05 am


RJS,
I agree with you completely. Quite apart from the external evidence and scientific issues, there are serious internal problems with taking parts of Genesis at face value. The time between Noah and Abraham is just not enough to account for the rise of Egypt.



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Allan R. Bevere

posted November 3, 2006 at 8:11 am


Yes, it is possible; of course, some elements dare not be mythical, such as the Incarnation.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 3, 2006 at 8:16 am


Allan (and others),
Whenever these issues arise in my Bible survey class (eg, do snakes talk, from Gen 3?), inevitably students wonder about the slippery slope: if we see the flood as fictional rewriting of Atrhasis (or a tradition behind it and like it), how do we know the resurrection isn’t myth?
So what about the slipperly slope?
And, while some love this sort of logic, is it inevitable?



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Brian

posted November 3, 2006 at 8:19 am


Scot,
I agree about the slippery slope. This is a very serious problem. Thanks for raising the question. I rarely find anyone with whom such a question can be discussed.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 3, 2006 at 8:25 am


Brian,
I don’t want to jump ahead of others’ thoughts, but I find the slippery slope to be rhetorically effective but practically deceitful. The facts are that there are plenty who believe Gen 6-8 are mythic but who believe in miracles, who believe the import of the story, and who believe in incarnation and inspiration. It is almost always disingenuous to use the slippery slope argument.



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Brian

posted November 3, 2006 at 8:31 am


Scot,
Ok. I’ll sit and wait for you to come back to it. I am aware that there are plenty who believe Gen. 6-8 are mythic, but still believe in the other things you mention. Just how this holds together is unclear to me.



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Beyond Words

posted November 3, 2006 at 8:34 am


Some people’s faith is shaken by the possibility of myth and figurative narrative in Scripture, some people gain a deeper sense of God’s truth for all times. I fall into the latter category. I read “The Privileged Planet,” by Gonzalez and Richards, earlier this year–and gained a deeper appreciation for Genesis, because the reality we’ve discovered in astronomy demonstrates so many attributes of God’s nature and character. If I were to take the narrative literally, I would miss the point of the orderliness, patience and extravagent generosity inherent in God’s design for a creation that supports life for his body-mind-spirit creatures–a creation for which he has wonderful, eternal plans!
As far as the Jesus stories go, isn’t it true that they were circulating while eye-witnesses were still alive–and in an oral culture, eye-witness reports were considered more credible than they are today? Myths take hundreds of years to become established.



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Tim Gombis

posted November 3, 2006 at 9:05 am


The “slippery slope” imagery assumes so many dynamics that it is utterly unhelpful! Is the standpoint that assumes that the Bible should be saying something other than it does say a “safe” position? A “stable” one?
Furthermore, shouldn’t it be that we fear the slippery slope of “shaving off” mythic or fictive language from the Bible? Where does THAT stop?
If Exodus says, “Yahweh cast horse and chariot into the sea,” is it “safe” to say, “Well, of course, that’s not REALLY what happened, that’s just mythic language used to speak poetically about something that, on a historical reconstruction, looked quite different.”
Now, THAT’S a slippery slope I don’t want to go down! But one that many who read the Bible as “literalists” headed down some time ago, in response to apparent attacks on the historicity of biblical accounts.



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Tim Gombis

posted November 3, 2006 at 9:14 am


The safeguard against reading the Bible badly is not found in making sure we read it “literally.” The ultimate “check” is reading Scripture within a community of wise interpreters who are humbly committed to skillfully hearing the voice of the Lord and performing the text in such a way that incarnates (or, images) the Lord Jesus. That’s what prevents going down the slippery slope.



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Bob Robinson

posted November 3, 2006 at 9:16 am


Scot,
In my mind, this post is related to my comment on your post, “Westminster and Writing for the Church,” in which you challenge seminaries to train their pastors to speak in common terms while holding up high academics. Here’s why:
Until I went to TEDS, I had simplistic presumptions about “myths” – how they were “false stories” made up by men, while the Bible is the literal truth. But my thinking about this was challenged, especially by my Old Testament professors (you mentioned Dick Averbeck, also Barry Beitzel, Dennis Magary, and Ray Ortlund Jr) who made us grapple with other Ancient Near Eastern texts and the mythological stories that they told and how they related to the Old Testament Scriptures. Through that grappling, I came to understand how God accomadates to our culture in order to make his message clear. Yes, he takes ANE myths and re-tells them in ways that explains his glory and mercy and hesed.
So, does this make the Bible stories untrue? I don’t think so, in that I beleive God is Sovereign – meaning that he not only can use established myths to reveal himself to humanity, he can also create (and has indeed created) the myths themselves to reveal himself to humanity.
So, was there a flood? Yes. Did it become mythology and folklore in cultures other than Hebrew culture? Absolutely. Did God want this? Yes. Did God then explain the meaning of this event through Genesis 6-9? Yes, and that’s the point. Was it a “Universal Flood”? I don’t know; maybe it didn’t have to be in order to create the myth in order to tell humanity what God wanted revealed.
So, as a pastor, I explain to my congregation (in terms that they can understand and in logic that they can follow) these ideas I learned in Seminary so that when someone’s son or daughter goes off to college and hears that the story of the flood has a corresponding story among the Babylonians they say, “Yep. I know that. Isn’t God awesome?!”



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Dustin

posted November 3, 2006 at 9:28 am


To be upfront, I did not read through all the comments, but proceeded directly to the comment section where I could leave my thoughts.
This discussion brings to mind something that Paul Tillich deals with in his “Dynamics of Faith,” in that myth is the vehicle or method we use to communicate our ideas of ultimate concern. In our world, we have come to believe that “myth” necessarily equates to something false, yet for Tillich and others, this was not the case.
Our view of the underlying message contained within scripture should not change, regardless of whether mythical elements have been utilized by the authors themselves.
Should we discount Jude because the author quoted from the book of Enoch? Should we discount any biblical author for included aspects of thoughts which would be outside our pale of Christian orthodoxy? Those are all questions a person must answer within themselves.



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Bryan

posted November 3, 2006 at 9:35 am


I have to hearken back to what Chris said in the first response. While I tend to shy away from the inherency debates, manly because it always reminds me of those painful middle school years of not really fitting in. I see the appropriation of myth in the Hebrew Scriptures as not merely a useful component of the texts, but the foremost component of the texts. The exodus event, and nearly all of second Isaiah, are made impotent if you take away the mythical aspects of the texts, impotent because the driving agenda of these text is to lift up the incomparable Yahweh over against the ‘gods’ of the nations. I have often wondered, often to myself, but know more openly, what is the point of tracing the ‘route’ of the exodus?
Cheers,



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Jacob

posted November 3, 2006 at 9:46 am


“Does our view of inspiration or of our view of Scripture permit the author of Genesis to have captured an ancient myth and responded by deconstructing the other myth and asserting an entirely different theology even using mythical form? Is our view of Scripture capable of having mythological stories? Or does our view of Scripture demand that every narrative correspond to something in history/reality? (And if the latter, just what do we mean by ‘correspond to reality’?)”
Great questions. I’d note John’s use of the word logos, which seems to do precisely what you’re questioning. But with John using Logos there is indeed a historical reality corresponding to the “myth”.
I’d think that the author of Genesis could indeed have borrowed from “myths”, but under the influence of inspiration. For me it’s a bit difficult to read a passage that would have been understood as literally true, and then giving up a pretty tight correspondence to reality. Even so I don’t think the primary message is usually contained in the details having to correspond to reality. My view of inspiration would not be terribly shaken if it was somehow proven that the author of Genesis was mostly “telling stories to make a point”, because the point of the stories seems to point to the same truths as the details.



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Brian

posted November 3, 2006 at 9:50 am


How we size up the Genesis accounts has to include consideration for how the NT authors viewed them. In what sense if any did they consider those accounts to be myths?



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Hunter Beaumont

posted November 3, 2006 at 10:00 am


Could there be some category of “historical myth” that is in some way rooted in actual events of history yet has also built mythical characters and explanations around those events in order to explain what the event means about “ultimate reality?”
So, for example, there seems to be a variety of ancient flood stories. These stories are “mythical” in that their characters and explanations vary and draw different conclusions. But they all point to a flood, which could be just as easily be an argument in favor of an actual historical event. Perhaps the cultural memory of the flood was so strong in the ancient near east that people were compelled to try to make sense out of it, hence the multiple myths.



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RJS

posted November 3, 2006 at 10:19 am


There are a variety of mythic flood stories – possibly, even probably, because of a real massive flood event. But a real Mesopotamian flood is a long cry from Genesis 6-9. Even with a real event the Genesis story has many elements that read as myth.
So as a question to Bob in #20 or Hunter in #25 or others: Did God then explain the meaning of this real event through Genesis 6-9 in mythical form? Is this consistent with your understanding of scripture and the meaning of “inspiration”? Or does the Genesis account have to be in detail true for the Bible to be the inspired word of God?



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garver

posted November 3, 2006 at 10:25 am


Do considerations of literary genre (and how genres are marked out and identified in a principled way) do anything to help with the “slippery slope” problem? After all, if the Gospel accounts (for instance) are evidently a different genre from Genesis 6-8, then we would interpret them in an accordingly different way, in much the same way we interpret the more historical Kings in a different way from the more apocalyptic Zechariah.
If that’s on the right track, then the question turns to what those genre-markers are, how such textual genres functioned for ancient audiences, and where particular biblical texts fall among such considerations.



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T

posted November 3, 2006 at 10:30 am


My first reaction to your question is “No.” Having said that, though, my ultimate thought is that I have to take scripture as it presents itself, meaning, if I could be convinced that Moses, or whoever wrote Genesis, actually did what you describe, it’s really irrelevant whether I actually think that’s the way scripture should have been done. I have to take it as it actually is given to me and deal with the implications.
I will go ahead and voice, though, the pastoral concern that you mentioned regarding the slippery slope. Whether with myself in business, my friends at church (and those outside of it), my business law students–getting people to actually count on God’s current and decisive action in this world is an ongoing battle, I would even say the ongoing battle in my life. If you think of the gospel in terms of trusting Jesus wholistically, and if you think of measuring trust in terms of what we actually do, giving people reasons for really counting on God is the whole of ministry. The only way for people to effectively stop trusting all the other things and ways that they are currently using to get by in this world is to help them come to the conclusion that God is a viable and functioning alternative in THIS life, and the one to come. Because I have personally seen this exact slippery slope at work within actual people who used it to confirm their overall view of God as removed from this present world, I am personally extremely skeptical about mythical arguments regarding the historical books (i.e., just another reason not to hope in Him.)
My above statement still holds though–I will take scripture as it actually is, not as I wish it to be even for pastoral and missional concerns–but the burden of proof for me on this issue would rest on those arguing for myth (again, within the historical books), and for me the burden would be high, because the force often driving these arguments in my world are the powers that seek to have God further removed from being a functional alternative in this world.
Thanks again, Scot, for not holding back.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 3, 2006 at 10:31 am


Garver (and others),
Indeed, the genre marking element is important — but not all texts stand up and tell us “Hey, reader, this one is myth.” For me, there is a historical sensitivity — through training and awareness of the ancient world and context and surrounding literatures — that forms the most solid foundaiton we have for making such a judgment.
That is, once one reads Enuma Elish, Gilgamesh, and Atrahasis, one walks away thinking differently than if one has listen to Duane Gish or a systematic undertaking of bibliology (which often doesn’t mention genre and the like).



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Scot McKnight

posted November 3, 2006 at 10:35 am


T,
Not sure I’m not holding back… but that’s a different post.
Question for you: I surely understanding your point, the pastoral one, but isn’t this the problem? That the assumption many bring to the text is that it is history and pastorally dangerous to suggest otherwise, so don’t suggest otherwise? Is this wise? Is it fair? Peter Enns suggests we need to think about the wisdom of this approach.
Now, I see I’ll have to post next week on “critical thinking skills and myths in the Bible.” And I hope to get some educators to weigh in on developmental issues involved.
But, back to the question: is it pastorally wise to permit the assumptions?



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RJS

posted November 3, 2006 at 10:52 am


It is not pastorally wise to permit the assumptions. Not if you are talking about the assumption that expression in the form of myth is inconsistent with the concept of scripture.
An earlier post (actually quite a while ago) talked about the loss of youth from the church after high school as people go to college or out into the world, as high as 75% or so. A significant part of this loss is because we do not teach a believable Christianity. We ask kids to make a very hard choice and many, when confronted with reality, run from the church. It is not “tinkering around the edges” that gets us to a known reality consistent with an absolutely literal or even primarily literal interpretation of Genesis.



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T

posted November 3, 2006 at 11:32 am


Scot,
LOL re: holding back.
I wouldn’t say mine is an assumption here, as much as a conclusion that was taught to me by otherwise trustworthy people. There is always, of course, un-learning and learning going on, though. And, to agree with you, just because someone uses the existence of myth in scripture as a reason/excuse to not take God as actually involved in this life, that doesn’t make it good logic to do so; similar to finding out that a given Christian leader’s faith is a ‘myth’–it doesn’t logically disqualify the truth of the faith generally, but it sure doesn’t help, practically speaking. But covering up the myth by the faithful only makes it worse, pastorally speaking. I’m not in a ‘cover up’ mentality at all, I just don’t entertain, to continue the metaphor (slight pun intended), certain claims against scripture without a certain level of proof, which may be higher depending on what’s being alleged and what that would mean.
To clarify my earlier comment with an example of my thinking, I don’t really think that the point of the creation narrative, for example, is to give a timeline of events (even though that was also a conclusion I was taught and initially held). And I realize that one of the arguments against a ‘non-literal’ reading of that text was a pastoral one that was ill-founded, in my view. But neither am I surprised that the general acceptance of the ‘myth’ view on this text has helped many people feel better about looking at much more of scripture that way, including the NT, and I hate that, even if it’s poor logic.
More directly to your questions, though, and I tried to imply this in my first comment, what I think of as pastorally dangerous isn’t really relevant–or fair to use–in deciding what scripture is doing and how. Or, even if it is relevant, you’re right–it’s not wise to say we’re not going to entertain otherwise valid questions about scripture–at all–just because we think there will be unfortunate results (short or long term) pastorally. Galileo comes to mind. The truth is routinely if not always the best ally of the pastoral work in the long run. I don’t know how representative I am of others, but I’m always open to the truth about scripture and people, I’m just more skeptical of certain arguments/allegations than others, especially when they involve an authority like scripture. Is that fair? Wise?



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phred

posted November 3, 2006 at 11:36 am


Regarding Enns book…I actually had a seminary professor (who taught me everything in Pete Enns book while I was in seminary) tell me that while he has all that same data and believes the book to be true, nonetheless he thought the book irresponsible on the grounds that it would shake the faith of too many Christians and young pastors.
I cannot for the life of me understand this argument. In my context I am constantly challenged on different portions of the text of Scripture, and being able to speak with the depth of what I learned in seminary, and of what Enns writes about, has been pastorally wise and effective, not faith shattering for anyone. If anything, faith is strengthened in these conversations. I think Pete has written an excellent book, and I look forward to any follow ups he may write.
Scot – slippery slope being “rhetorically effective but practically deceitful”… absolutely.



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T

posted November 3, 2006 at 11:39 am


In reading my comment, I should say “claims regarding scripture” rather than claims “against” it. In this case, they are not claims against scripture, only claims against my own understanding of it, which is markedly different.
(And Scot, if you’re holding back, you’re doing it well!)



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Scot McKnight

posted November 3, 2006 at 11:48 am


T, Yes I think that’s fair. The Bible, after all, has had plenty of scrutiny over the years. What Peter Enns does here is not reveal new facts; but ask evangelicals to consider a view of Scripture that deals more directly with the realities (or at least possible realities) of the ancient near eastern context and genres. Bravo, I say. We need to think about this in such a way that we demonstrate integrity.
Not to say other views don’t have it. But some duck when they see Atrahasis in the air. Enns stands there and takes it — and I like it.
Here’s what I fear: Enns has created the possibility of dialogue and conversation. He’s surely open for conversation; open to be shown wrong, that sort of thing. But, will it be the case that once again Evangelicals slam the door shut and avoid once again to look at that evidence. Will they nitpick on the meaning of “incarnation” or will they say, We’ve got to ask this question? Others are asking this question, so let’s see what we get when start considering this?



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Matthew

posted November 3, 2006 at 11:54 am


Scot,
Yes and no. Here are some of my presuppositions:
1) The label “myth” could easily be a cop-out for someone who would deny Scripture anyway but now can now use a literarily-informed hermeneutic to do so in a friendly manner.
2) If the biblical author intended to use a myth and his audience understood it as such then it would violence to the text to assume otherwise.
2.5) This means that someone who thinks he or she is protecting the text by defending an historical-literal interpretation of such a story would actually be doing the opposite.
3) If the author witnessed an event and then interpreted it and recorded it by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit it would similarily be violent to the text to handle it as a myth.
4) If the author did not witness an event but believed it to be an actual event and then interpreted it and recorded it by inspiration of the HS and the audience received it as historical then, as above, we must not treat it as myth.
5) The same sort of question arises with prophetic imagery but that is probably a different post for a different day.
6) Whenever an event occurs where God works in human affairs in some special way, there will always be people who will deny it. These people are like the “fools” of the Psalms and Proverbs.
For the “No” part: a story that was intended and received as objectively true but yet never happened implies that the Holy Spirit lied. My personal view of inspiration does not allow for such.
However, stories may exist such that I am under the impression that God’s people received a story as truth but my impression is mistaken – the audience never believed it to be so. If credible evidence arises that suggests the story was written and received as myth then my view of inspiration does allow for this. I consider this a direct consequence of genre.



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Matthew

posted November 3, 2006 at 12:03 pm


A quick addition to #36 (already approaching Kruse-proportion lengths :-) ) –
Sometimes people are too quick to draw parallels between myths of other cultures and stories of the Bible. It would be possible for another culture to have a myth which is written in a fantastic manner befitting myth that sound somewhat similar to some biblical event. If the biblical event is recorded as sober fact then the fantastic myth does not need to call the biblical account into historical question.



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Allan R. Bevere

posted November 3, 2006 at 12:10 pm


Scot:
I am not much into the slippery slope argument simply because it can be used in almost any kind of argument. To speak of the mythic character of Genesis does not mean that the resurrection of Jesus is a myth. Each must be dealt with on its own merits.
As far as the resurrection of Jesus, is concerned, the first Christians seemed quite sure that Jesus had actually been raised bodily. Paul, of course, hangs the truth of the Gospel on it in 1 Corinthians 15. Those who would reinterpret, therefore, have the burden of proof.
Perhaps another way to get at this is not to ask what in the Bible is historical, but what or who in the Bible needs to be historical in order for the faith to be believed? For example, Whether or not Jonah was an actual person in history makes no difference in the big picture of the integrity of that biblical narrative, but given the theological and historic connections the NT makes between Jesus and David and Abraham, it seems to me that if the latter two figures are mythical (as well as Jesus), we have a serious problem.
I would also say that since the resurrection of Jesus is the central motivating factor in the rise of Christianity, everything starts there. In order words, if Jesus has been raised from the dead, the Gospel is obviously true. What we do with Genesis, then, is less of an issue.



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RJS

posted November 3, 2006 at 12:27 pm


Matthew and others
“The label “myth” could easily be a cop-out for someone who would deny Scripture anyway but now can now use a literarily-informed hermeneutic to do so in a friendly manner.”
Probably – but I think that the bigger problem is not this cop-out, but making the statement, as many do, that either (A) all of it is absolutely literally true, no room for myth, genre etc or (B) none of it is true.
Faced with this either or statement many are driven to (B) not as a cop-out but as a logical conclusion. Then there is nothing to fall back on.
I agree with Allan, to speak of the mythic character of Genesis does not mean that the resurrection of Jesus is a myth. Each must be dealt with on its own merits and the facts and merits of each case are very different.
I fear that the insistence on a literal interpretation of Genesis, the denial of the possibility of a mythic component, provides an easy cop-out for not even dealing with the facts of the resurrection story.



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Brian

posted November 3, 2006 at 12:39 pm


Allan, RJS,
I agree with you in part about considering the gospel and Genesis accounts separately. However, picking up on my post (#24), do the NT references to certain parts of Genesis and Jonah leave room for myth in the hermenutical picture? I’m not sure they do.



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Matthew

posted November 3, 2006 at 12:40 pm


RJS #39,
I think that the bigger problem is not this cop-out, but making the statement, as many do, that either (A) all of it is absolutely literally true, no room for myth, genre etc or (B) none of it is true.
I agree this is a problem. I think the presence of word-play in the OT prophets is enough to break the above claim.
But I have a question for you: what if the original author intended a story to be accepted as sober fact? Is it OK for us to treat such a story as myth today?



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RJS

posted November 3, 2006 at 1:11 pm


Matthew
Here is a quick response. My basic assumptions: The personal, triune, creator God exists. The story of Jesus is accurately represented in scripture. God, in accord with his revealed character, did not design this world or the universe with the intent to deceive or test us.
So the answer to your is a resounding maybe – I would need a specific example to give a specific answer.



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RJS

posted November 3, 2006 at 1:17 pm


Or better typed:
So the answer to your question is a resounding maybe – I would need a specific example to give a specific answer.



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ChrisB

posted November 3, 2006 at 1:36 pm


I think the evangelical view of scripture can make room for fables as it does for parables, poetry, and metaphors. But the historical-gramatical approach requires the author to clue us in that this is a fable rather than history. I can’t see where any of the passages that would be classified “fable” by most modern people give us such clues.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 3, 2006 at 1:41 pm


Chris,
I’m wondering why the “historical-grammatical approach” would require that the author “clue” us? Cannot this be done at the level of assumption?
Does Jesus tell us in Mark 13 that he is now going to be giving us some “apocalyptic” stuff, or some “prophetic” stuff, or that sort of thing?
What we probably need are finer sensitivites; we also clearly need not to assume something that is not warranted — in both directions in this issue.



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T

posted November 3, 2006 at 1:57 pm


Scot,
We’re in agreement. I remember reading Wright say that “because I’m a Christian . . . I must do serious business with history” and I wholeheartedly agree. If that’s what Enns is doing in a thoughtful way, amen. Denial is not pastorally helpful, though it can be tempting in the short term.
On a note related to this overall topic, in my business law class this week, we got to the section on litigation and I had students read some of Jesus’ statements about loving one’s enemies, lending to them, etc. Then I asked for some reactions or thoughts how Jesus’ words related to litigation in a business context, and the very first response I got was, “Well, I think there are lots of things in the Bible that we shouldn’t take literally, and I think this is one of those things.” I had some follow up questions about Jesus’ own example that I think appropriately re-routed this thinking, but the slippery slope is still taking plenty of people for a ride, especially in my area. That doesn’t mean, though, that the solution to this is to say, “No! everything in scripture is to be taken literally!” The solution is to be able to know and teach the best insights and approaches we have regarding all the different kinds of writings we have in scripture, and the reasons behind those approaches.
Thanks again for the good topics.



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B-W

posted November 3, 2006 at 2:26 pm


Quick response: I think that an evangelical (although I hesitate to use the word “traditional” as if it meant the same thing) interpretation of Scripture allows for mythic elements. Indeed, if a “myth” is any story from which we derive meaning in a metanarrative sense, then all of the Bible is a myth, including parts we assume to be “literally true.”
A bit longer reaction: Although I do not require that the flood have happened “literally,” word for word as Genesis records it, I do not find it impossible to believe it happened this way, nor do I have problem with the existence of an independent legend regarding an event that is already understood to have a universal nature. Of course a believer from a religion outside of the “true one” would have a different religious perspective on that same “universal event!” (Of course, all this begs the question of how the person recording this event, be that person the Biblical writer or the writer of the Atrahasis, learned of the “universal event” in the first place, given the deaths of nearly all of humanity in the Biblical account) What is important is that we take the existence of these independent accounts seriously, as we seek understanding of “really happened,” regardless of whether our conclusion corresponds with the “literal” Biblical account or a “mythic” understanding.



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Matthew

posted November 3, 2006 at 2:35 pm


RJS #42,
One specific example might be Genesis 6-8. If the author of Genesis believed that the flood actually happened, must you also believe so? If you conclude that the flood is a myth, must you necessarily conclude that the (human) author of Genesis also believed so?



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Michael Kruse

posted November 3, 2006 at 2:59 pm


#37 Matthew
“already approaching Kruse-proportion lengths”
I saw that! :)



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James Gregory

posted November 3, 2006 at 3:08 pm


has anyone brought up the use of Greek thought on the sort of levels of hell in Jude (Tartarus is directly in my mind)? It seems to me that early Christians, including the inspired writers, had no problem using other thoughts or texts from the surrounding cultures. The use of such outside sources in no way diminishes the inspiration of the text anymore than my papers are no less inspired by me just because I quote someone else.
In other words, if the existence and possible use of ANE creation accounts did not affect Paul’s view of the inspiration of God, why should it affect ours?
As you can tell, it just doesn’t bother me to know that there are such similarities or syncretism in the biblical text. I have no problem with it and fully believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God.



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ScottB

posted November 3, 2006 at 3:34 pm


Matthew #48 – Enns does an excellent job imho addressing this in the book. Genesis 1 is a better example here. The author of Genesis 1 clearly bought into an ANE cosmology, in which the “waters” represent primordial chaos and out of which the cosmos arises. The sky separates these waters and holds back the “waters above”, while the ground holds back the “waters below”. So, because the author of Genesis 1 believed this was how the universe functioned, must we believe that as well?



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Michael Kruse

posted November 3, 2006 at 3:35 pm


RJS #37
“Probably – but I think that the bigger problem is not this cop-out, but making the statement, as many do, that either (A) all of it is absolutely literally true, no room for myth, genre etc or (B) none of it is true.”
This is well said, RJS. I wonder if some of the issue is not with us reading back into the story. If the early Genesis stories have historical merit, then it is possible that folks had not spread out beyond lower Mesopotamia. If we also keep in mind that “earth” for them was not a globe in space revolving around the sun but simply the place where humanity lived, then a regional catastrophic flood would in essence be a “global flood” for them. Such a flood is deeply embedded in cultural myths across the plant. Indeed, there is archaeological evidence that just such a flood occurred sometime in the past 50,000 years in Mesopotamia. Scientist friends I know talk about the remarkable correspondence of the Gen 1 account to the sequence of the earth’s formation as formed by scientists. So I am unwilling to abandon asking historical questions about the accounts.
All that said, take something like evolution. How do we relate evolution to a preliterate, pre-scientific people? How about “God formed man from the dust of the earth?” Is this myth? Is it historical? Is the introduction of the serpent a way of symbolizing an “event” like evolution that was simply to complex for “the audience?” (and maybe even for us today?) I think it possible that these stories are historical realities and mythical truth woven together and it may not be possible to entirely extricate the two. I tend to resist a dogmatic historical/ahistorical either/or choice.



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ScottB

posted November 3, 2006 at 3:39 pm


Brian #40 –
You said,

However, picking up on my post (#24), do the NT references to certain parts of Genesis and Jonah leave room for myth in the hermenutical picture? I’m not sure they do.

Why not? Can’t these references simply indicate that the authors shared a common narrative context? If I said to you something along the lines of, “Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father,” that doesn’t mean that I’m required to believe that either of those persons are historically real. It simply means that we share a common, assumed reference – unless you’ve never seen The Empire Strikes Back, in which case we have bigger problems on our hands. ;)



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Matthew

posted November 3, 2006 at 4:06 pm


Scott #53,
I agree with your premise that Jesus could theoretically have referenced contemporary fables. However Jesus refers two times to Jonah, in both Matthew and Luke. He says, “The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.”
I have no problem with the idea that if Jonah were only a fable to Jesus and his hearers then we should let him be a fable. However, in my reading, Jesus used the historicity of Jonah in reference to the future judgement. If Jonah didn’t happen then I doubt the judgement will either.
If Jesus only approached Jonah as a fable then we should do the same. But it doesn’t look to me like he did. If Jesus approached Jonah as historical fact, then we err not to do likewise.



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Michael Kruse

posted November 3, 2006 at 4:21 pm


ScottB #51
“The author of Genesis 1 clearly bought into an ANE cosmology, in which the “waters” represent primordial chaos and out of which the cosmos arises.”
Yet it is possible that this is reading a Greek cosmology onto the ANE cosmology. The Hebrew “formless and void” is tohu wabohu found elsewhere only in Isa 34:11 and Jer 4:23, where it simply means a “barren desolate wasteland.” Gen 1:1 serves as a preamble saying that at some prior time God created all that is. From Gen 1:2 on, we are telling the story as though standing on the face of the earth as our narrator tells us how things around us came to be. In others words, “Here, where we are standing, was a barren wasteland covered in water. Then …” If this is accurate, then it has nothing to do with the primordial chaos of the Greeks or likely with other ANE traditions. It also means this story is distinctive and matches what scientists now about the formation of the earth; that it started out as a lifeless globe covered in water with a very dense atmosphere. I only use this as an example of what I fear too often happens when we try integrate the stories with our assumptions that the story must not have a historic referent.



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M Dunn

posted November 3, 2006 at 4:29 pm


To think so many of you spend hour upon hour thinking “deep thoughts” truly wears me out – i guess somebody’s got to do it. Speaking as a suburban mother, i am surprised most of you have not referred to the new testament references to these so called “mythical” stories. IIPeter 3:5 ..but they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed…vs6 By these waters the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. Peter certainly believed in these literal, historical events. If it was good enough for him it is surely good enough for this housewife.



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RJS

posted November 3, 2006 at 4:31 pm


Matthew #48,
“One specific example might be Genesis 6-8. …”
For this specific example, no I don’t think it matters what the author or authors thought. I also don’t think that we have any way to know what he/they thought or how the book was originally assembled – but maybe someone out there is more knowledgeable than I am on this topic.



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Matt Wiebe

posted November 3, 2006 at 4:42 pm


Scot: terrific post once again. You’re hitting home for me a lot as of late; dealing with stuff that I’m butting against on a daily basis.
Back to the original question: I don’t think that most evangelical views of Scripture really have room for myth. Particularly, the Chicago Statement-inerrantist view would not really have room for myth. I think that the sooner we get away from mining the Bible for propositional truths, the better.
I’m surprised that nobody has mentioned C.S. Lewis’ thoughts on myth here yet. I’m not completely familiar with the depth of them, but his atheist period was caused partly by seeing the similarities between Christianity and other myths that he was very familiar with. But later, he believed that Christianity was “true myth” and that these other myths had been echoes and ripples of the truth. I think that he even called the Incarnation “myth became flesh.” Now I have to go read some Lewis again! And this book by Enns looks very interesting too.



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Michael Kruse

posted November 3, 2006 at 4:43 pm


This conversation is also reminding me of observations by Kenneth Bailey about Middle East Culture and the use of stock stories in the teaching. Teachers draw on a stock story and but they change aspects of it. The hearers knowing the story and knowing what has been altered, are invited into an alternate reality from which to explore a teaching. It is precisely the departure points that are instructive. I wonder if some of the stories given in Genesis are not stock stories that divinely inspired authors have tweaked to teach their hearers about God and his work in the world.



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RJS

posted November 3, 2006 at 4:44 pm


Matthew,
First of all I do think that the story of Jonah likely has a real referent of some sort. However in these two reports of one event (Matthew and Luke) I also have no problem believing that Jesus was using a well known story to make a theological point about the judgement.



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Matthew

posted November 3, 2006 at 4:49 pm


RJS #57,
You said, I also don’t think that we have any way to know what he/they thought
But this contradicts your earlier claim: >The author of Genesis 1 clearly bought into an ANE cosmology…
Where I believe I differ with you is that if a passage can be shown to be intended as fable, then take it as fable. I am cool with making the best effort we can to construct the illocution from the locution (for the purpose of perlocution :-) ) (hello, VanHoozer!) I am cool with taking a passage as intended. I think understanding genre is a critical part of interpretation. But (here is where we differ) I disagree with deciding that the author was mistaken or else doesn’t matter and we know better than he/she/them. If the author intended something to be taken as factual, then I believe it is inconsistent with an orthodox view of inspiration to treat the passage otherwise.



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RJS

posted November 3, 2006 at 5:01 pm


Matthew,
I didn’t comment on Genesis 1 – but I could. ScottB and Michael Kruse commented on it. And I think that the author of Genesis 1 could have brough in an ANE cosmology and either believed it literally or figuratively.
What is an “orthodox view of inspiration”?



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RJS

posted November 3, 2006 at 5:13 pm


Or to finish the though in #60 – Having now look at these passages in Matthew 12 and Luke 11 – I have no problem believing that Jesus was using well known stories to stress the importance of repenting and following him – listening and acting on the message he was bringing.



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Brian

posted November 3, 2006 at 6:21 pm


There is more to say about Matthew 12. There Jesus declares himself to be greater than both Jonah and Solomon. The dual comparison loses force if the Jonah narrative is not factual.



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David Johnson

posted November 3, 2006 at 6:25 pm


My question is somewhat different. I find the “wisdom” of the Proverbs to be profoundly different from the “wisdom” of the Incarnation, the “wisdom” of the cross. I want to affirm it all as Scripture. I want to say that it’s all “God-breathed”. And yet the “healthy, wealthy, and wise” posture of Proverbs looks so very different from the “self-emptying” of Christ and his disciples.



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RJS

posted November 3, 2006 at 6:43 pm


Brian,
First – I regard the Jonah narrative as predominantly factual. So this isn’t the best example.
Second I don’t think that the dual comparison would lose force in the minds of those to whom he was speaking. They would know exactly what he meant – and we pretty much know exactly what he meant. So whether or not it is factual has no impact on my trust in the gospels.
I do think that we have to be flexible enough in our understanding of inspiration to accomodate the possibility of mythic elements. And the crying shame is the fact that we generally are not because it is easier to avoid the “slippery slope” by building a fence.
We are turning people off because of this – people who, because of this stance, will not even consider the merits of the Gospel. And we are losing young people raised in the church to believe that is it either/or, who when they can’t believe the first option (completely historical/literal), therefore take the “or” (all a bunch of fables myths and legends).



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Shawn

posted November 3, 2006 at 6:58 pm


Having been for a few years in a mainline liberal church I do have concerns about the slippery slope issue because I have seen it in practice. “It Starts With Genesis” should be the title of a book, but thats what I observed first hand.
First the historical nature of Genesis is dismissed because there are similar accounts/ideas in other Near East material. But then it quickly gets to the New Testament and within a short amount of time the Trinity, the Incarnation and virgin birth, the dual nature of Christ, Christs saving work on the cross, a literal resurrection, and any notion of Biblical morality are out the door. After all if the Biblical story of the flood is a cultural myth then so are prohibitions against sexual immorality in the NT, especially homosexuality, right?
This is not an exaggeration, I witnessed the process first hand in an Anglican Church heavily influenced by people like Bishop John Spong. So part of my concern is that what is to stop the Evangelical Church going in exactly the same direction of the mainline churches? Because it started with Biblical criticism there, and its ended with gay Bishops who support abortion and congregations voting with their feet and leaving in massive droves. The church I was in had seating for 200 people but was lucky to get 50, none of them under 40 years of age, and none of the who cared enough to die for the Gospel and none who thought Jesus was anything more than a good liberal/left moral guide, a kind of cross between Oprah Winfrey and Che Guevara.
I’m not putting this out there in the conversation as an attack or a warning, but as a genuine concern from a person who is struggling with these issues and looking for answers.



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Shawn

posted November 3, 2006 at 7:06 pm


By the way, just as an observation, the Evangelical churches don’t seem to be losing all that many young people compared to the mainlines, and in fact in my local Vineyard we don’t have the problem at all because we keep the 18-30 year olds engaged and we teach them how to think about and understand criticisms of the Bible. Perhaps the problem is not with the Bible or how it is being understood, but a problem with those in teaching and leadership positions who are not creating effective ministries to the 18-30 yr age group and who don’t do a good job of defending the Bible. But seriously, the catastrophic decline in the mainlines over the last thirty years makes evangelical Churches look far better by comparison.



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jinny

posted November 3, 2006 at 8:21 pm


Haven’t finished reading the posts.
To answer the original question of reconciliation,
I would cite the studies done on the and Odessey of Homer as an examples of how erroneously modern people read ancient works. People wrote off both as flights of the imagination of a blind man. What he wrote in the Odessey just be true people used to say. That is, until some brave (or foolish) group of people decided to build a boat as historically accurate as possible to retract the voyage in the Odessey (more in the interests of locating Troy, I think).
To everyone’s surprise, the events so fantastically described in the Odessey were a lot like what these modern-day sailors experienced!
Portions of the Bible are older than Homer (aren’t they? One website says Homer was born ca. 750 BC, others say they don’t know a thing about Homer…). I think many a reader of the Bible today has no clue what to do with the unusual figures and stories in the Bible because we don’t read or write history in the same fashion.
As my Hebrew Exegesis professor says, “You don’t need some fantastical find to prove something is true or historically accurate. It’s the little things, the details that prove the Bible is accurate.” (but note, it might not be ‘accurate’ according to our ignorant criteria!) The Odessey revelation was fantastical. Archeologists have tried to find Noah’s Ark or Mt. Ararat. Some claim they have.
I think subtler things point to the flood’s historicity. Biologists claim they can only trace back human mitochondria to 3 women (DNA from there ONLY come from one’s mom). They like to say, ‘See, this is evidence that people didn’t all descend from one person!’ But I think biologists aren’t reading the Bible carefully enough. The flood comes in between us and Eve. It’s quite possible that only 3 women had children after the flood: the wives of Ham, Japeth, and Shem, but I might be speculating, since we don’t know if any of them practiced polygamy. :)
For me, when I first read the Epic of Gilgamesh, I only took it as confirmation that something really big happened a long time ago…to the point that those who have forgotten God, still remembered that event!
As I’ve studied, I’ve discovered some stories have patterns that directly contradict the doings or understandings of pagans gods. I think the flood is one of those, “too good to pass up!” stories to point a reader away from the hopeless end of the epic (basically Gilgamesh goes looking for immortality and answers to why his best friend died, and doesn’t find any).
On reconciliation, I would also address the idea of genre and the Bible as a teaching tool. The curse on the serpent is often used to explain why snakes don’t have legs; the flood account is followed by an explanation for rainbows’ appearances (it is also a forever covenant, by the way Gen 9:16). Yet these stories are not without significance!
What does the snake/Satan or a rainbow represent?
We’re studying Jonah in Hebrew Exegesis at this time. There are interesting historical questions about Jonah, but I’ll focus on the fantastical swallowing by the big fish (the Hebrew doesn’t use their word for whale here). The significance is not so much the actions, but the why. Why did God provide a big fish? Why did God save such a punk from drowning in the middle of the Mediterranean? Why did he save me or you from dying according to our sins?
“It’s because He’s just that kind of God,” says K. L. Younger.
The Bible tells us about God through others’ stories. Hallelujah (Let us praise our God!)!
I’m willing to wrestle with the text, and I believe my Hebrew professor when he says were he to apostasize it would never ever be on the basis of intellectual knowledge because he knows too much that proves the Bible is true (it would be on the basis of sinfulness).



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queue ball

posted November 3, 2006 at 8:24 pm


The pastoral implications of the question are the kind of thing that keeps me up at night. I have little fundamental difficulty admitting myth to the table, and in fact it seems to enrich the canon so wonderfully to do so…but so many of my friends are already in a fragile enough place that to compound their fragility with fuzziness on seminal OT stories might push them over the edge.
(Heard from the peanut gallery: Hey, qb, why not just push them over the edge and trust that God will rescue them in due course? Mainly because they have vulnerable children…but then I suppose the same question could be asked concerning the kids and God’s faithfulness, ad infinitum.)
There’s another thingy, too. Those of us who are not well practiced in these kinds of textual criticism end up almost immediately stepping off into woods too deep for us if we even steal a glance down this path. Even the thought of it is kinda disorienting. It’s not so much a question of how it would affect my *image* with them as it is a question of whether or not I would retain enough cred to pull them back from dangerous places after having shown my ignorance in such matters. Then again, wherein lies the faith of one who shoulders the rescue burden that rightfully belongs to God?
Maybe “don’t try this at home” is the best advice I could give myself.
qb



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jinny

posted November 3, 2006 at 8:25 pm


oops! Correction: people thought what Homer wrote inthe Odessey just couldn’t be true. (must have goofed up the html).



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Scot McKnight

posted November 3, 2006 at 8:34 pm


Shawn,
On the slippery slope: you’ve said it well. Here’s my contention, and you respond as you wish: I don’t think it works like that. In other words, I don’t think folks deny Gen 1-2, and then sin in Gen 3, and then miracles, and then resurrection, and then Trinity … It works like this: someone is skeptical, or has lots of doubts, and once they cross the line, the whole house of cards collapses, not because one follows the other, but because the line was crossed.
I know far too many who have not crossed that line, who don’t think Isaiah wrote chps 40-66 or that Jonah was in a real whale, who think Jesus was raised, who think Jesus is God incarnate, who believe in Trinity, who believe in inspiration. So, what I’m saying is that it is rhetorically effective to say one leads to the other, but the facts don’t support that slippery slope.
The facts are not that easy. Deep inside of me I’ll tell what I think is at the bottom: I think it has to do with a person’s heart, with “faith seeking understanding,” and not logical consistency. I don’t think it is one logical conclusion after another, but one heart orientation.



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Shawn

posted November 3, 2006 at 8:55 pm


Scot,
thanks for the reply, and I happen to think your right. Many of the people I knew in that church didn’t just have questions or doubt, though thats what they claimed, they had a high degree of secular inspired cynicism, a virulent hatred of anything they thought was “fundamentalism”, and imo a deep desire to make the gospel fit their political views at any cost.
So yes, I think that what is in a persons heart is the real issue.



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Michael Kruse

posted November 3, 2006 at 8:59 pm


“I don’t think folks deny Gen 1-2, and then sin in Gen 3, and then miracles, and then resurrection, and then Trinity … It works like this: someone is skeptical, or has lots of doubts, and once they cross the line, the whole house of cards collapses, not because one follows the other, but because the line was crossed.”
Yes!



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Michael Kruse

posted November 3, 2006 at 9:07 pm


Jinny #69
“I’m willing to wrestle with the text, and I believe my Hebrew professor when he says were he to apostasize it would never ever be on the basis of intellectual knowledge because he knows too much that proves the Bible is true (it would be on the basis of sinfulness).”
I think this is key too. There is so much of what we know that does “hang togehter” that the “problems” seem almost inconsequential. We don’t need an air-tight, bomb proof systematic theology to get on with being the Church. Still, the “problems” are real and worthy to be probed.



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Anthony Stiff

posted November 3, 2006 at 9:17 pm


Scot,
Thanks for posting something on Enn’s book. As I consider the question you raised my answer is a qualified yes. The way I understand it, theology has levels of discourse, the higher you go the more qualifiers you need to demonstrate and convey your point of view.
In my estimation Pete has chosen a very approachable level of discourse to suggest his ‘incarnational analogy’ (he’s not the first to do this in the Reformed heritage, both Kuyper and Gaffin before him have raised the analogy up for consideration). Its very helpful to me as I struggle with things that according to my modern estimates shouldn’t be present in scripture. And the analogy provides, at least me, with two metaphorical dimensions to explore – the divine and human.
I can live with an incarnational scripture because I can live with an incarnational savior…
Thanks again for this posting.



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RJS

posted November 3, 2006 at 10:41 pm


Scot and Shawn and others,
With regard to the “slippery slope” issue – I don’t think it is a domino effect either, with doubts about Gen 1-2 leading to doubts about sin in Gen 3, and then doubts about miracles, and then resurrection, and then Trinity etc. I think that most have serious doubts about everything simultaneously and crossing the line leads to a collapse.
Unfortunately we exacerbate this by tying everything together on an equal footing. But the evidence in favor of the resurrection can be persuasive unless one takes a hard line, as in miracles never occur, or of course God doesn’t exist. But this is a heart issue.
On the other hand the evidence against a literal interpretation of Genesis is overwhelming. One who looks into the facts cannot take a literal approach to this part of the OT without denying pretty much everything we know about physics, chemistry, geology, cosmology, biology, paleontology, and much of archaeology. Tinkering around the edges gets you nowhere.
Not only this but it pretty much requires accepting a position that has God creating a beautiful and intricate world with this overwhelming evidence embedded for no reason other than to deceive us and test our “faith”.
So I still hold the position that we have to be flexible enough in our understanding of inspiration to accomodate the possibility of mythic elements. I say this because my heart tells me that the triune creator God exists, sent his son for us and that God is a loving God calling us to love him.



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Matt Dabbs

posted November 3, 2006 at 11:20 pm


Is it a myth just because there are parallel accounts from other cultures?
Is it possible Moses/author of Genesis is saying to those in a culture who knew competing stories – “Here is how it really took place”?
We have all heard the arguments that scripture was not meant to be a scientific text. I agree. But I also want to point out that just because there are competing stories doesn’t make the story of how things happened in Genesis any less valid.
I appreciate your parallel between inspiration and incarnation. I think that is an interesting thought. One place you will find God using profoundly culturally significant language is in his use of suzerain-vassal treaty terminology in the covenant.
A summary/excerpt from Steven McKenzie’s book on Covenant, p.32-33:
“The most influential proposal regarding the organizational principle underlying Deuteronomy’s structure holds that it follows the ouline of ancient Near Eastern treaties. There are six elements typically present in such treaties.”
(1) preamble – “identified the suzerain or overlord by titles and ancestry”
(2) historical prologue – “described the past relationship between suzerain and vassal, emphasizing the suzerain’s beneficence.”
(3) “stipulations assumed by both parties, but especially the obligations of the vassal toward the suzerain”
(4) “provision for the deposit – usually in the temple of the vassal’s deity—and periodic reading of the treaty document”
(5) “list of gods as witnesses, by whom both parties, but especially the vassal, swore allegiance to the treaty”
(6) “the list of curses and blessings accruing the vassal for success or failure in complying with the treaty’s stipulations.”
Here is the parallel to this culturally meaningful/understood covenant language between God and his people in Deuteronomy…
“Yahweh, was cast in the role of the suzerain and Israel in that of the vassal. The six elements of the treaty form appeared in Deuteronomy as follows:
(1) Deuteronomy 4:44-49 fulfilled the function of the preamble;
(2) chapters 5-11 were the “Historical-parenetic prologue”;
(3) 12:1-26:15 represented the stipulations;
(4) provisions for depositing and periodic reading may be found in 10:1-5; 31:9-13, 31:24-26;
(5) there is no mention, of course, of other gods as witnesses, but heaven and earth are invoked instead (4:26; 30:19; 31:28), and oaths are taken before them (29:10-29)…and
(6) 28:1-68 contains the blessings and curses.”



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Matt Dabbs

posted November 3, 2006 at 11:23 pm


And by the way – See Sarna’s commentary on Genesis for countless examples of ancient parallels to the contents of Genesis. There are a bunch.



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Shawn

posted November 3, 2006 at 11:35 pm


“On the other hand the evidence against a literal interpretation of Genesis is overwhelming.”
How do you take the work of groups like Answers in Genesis then, out of curiosity?
http://www.answersingenesis.org/



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Michael Kruse

posted November 3, 2006 at 11:41 pm


RJS #77
RJS, are you familiar at all with Hugh Ross and his organization “Reasons to Believe?” I have read a few of books and know scientists who regard much of his work highly. His testimony is that as young unchurched guy his attention was caught by how Gen 1 read like a scientist describing the formation of the earth and how the essential details about the evolution of the planet are in correct order. Ross would suggest that much of our perceived prolems are from A) reading the stories from the vantage point of one looking at the earth’s formation as though abstractly out in space vs. the vantage point of standing on the planet’s surface and watching it develop around you, and B) reading into the story a host of assumptions about things like primordial chaos that aren’t (in his opinon) there. I know this probably raises about 100 “Well what about…” issues but my point is that Ross and other scientists I know see a stunning convergence, not contradiction, with science.
That brings me back to not wanting to be too quick to dimiss historical analysis but also not wanting to ignore the metaphorical, if not mythical stylized nature of the stories. The Genesis 1 account is a particularly novel account and I want to understand its construction in contrast to other ancient stories. I stongly suspect that a key issue is its connection to historical chronological events.
But as you say, the explicit historicity is not central in the way the resurrection is to faith. On that point I am with you.



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Shawn

posted November 3, 2006 at 11:44 pm


While I think that Scot is right, that there is the issue of what is in peoples hearts, I’m still not sure we should entirely ignore the slippery slope issue. The wide scale apostasy and decline of the mainline churches began in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with Biblical criticism and critiques of the historical reliability of Scripture. While it took time, decades in fact, there is a connection between that academic Biblical critique and where the mainlines are now.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 4, 2006 at 7:16 am


Shawn,
It is not that these folks haven’t given up on most everything orthodox; it is thinking that one thing leads to another. We say these things — we can’t prove them causally and that means the slippery slope is both rhetorically effective and practically deceitful.
Now, here’s my contention: what happened with the mainliners was that they embraced a view of the ancient world — say the flood since it is a concrete example — that saw it as myth for the ANE; then they said, “That means our view of the Bible is wrong.” Since everything was tied to that singular view of Scripture (in which myth could not have a place), they threw it all way.
So, what I’m saying is that in part the problem is a view of Scripture that is not flexible enough to permit permutations on history and the realities we have discovered in the ancient world.
I come back, however, to my point: faith seeking understanding. That, I think, is central to the whole issue.



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RJS

posted November 4, 2006 at 8:09 am


Shawn,
“How do you take the work of groups like Answers in Genesis then, out of curiosity?”
I can tear apart every argument groups like this make – and I do it as one who is committed as a Christian, but actually knows quite a lot of science etc.



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Brian

posted November 4, 2006 at 10:44 am


RJS,
You and I are actually in strong agreement on most of what is going on here. My main contribution to the discussion is to say that if certain parts of the OT are myth then Jesus does not indicate that he was aware of it.
Scot,
My thought above takes the slippery slope in a new direction by adding the hypothetical point that Jesus seemed to be unaware of how history actually transpired. Can you help me with that one?



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Scot McKnight

posted November 4, 2006 at 10:56 am


Brian,
On Jesus mentioning Jonah — I doubt anything historical can be proven by his mention. He could be talking about Jonah the way I talk about Ebeneezer Scrooge.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 4, 2006 at 10:57 am


Brian,
As my English colleagues remind me regularly in banter — who is to say that Scrooge isn’t “real”? What does “real” mean? I see him as “hyper-reality.”



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jinny

posted November 4, 2006 at 11:16 am


Well, for all we know, all fairytales could be based on some true story/life lesson that was then embellished and morphed (Ever After is a movie with that premise–based on Cindrella).
Haven’t parents told true stories in fictionalized guises based on real people (i.e their own children, themselves–There once was a little boy/girl/prince/princess named _______….) to tell their children something?



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Brian

posted November 4, 2006 at 2:36 pm


Scot,
I agree with you and RJS that the Jonah reference does not have the same kinds of provability issues as with the Noah references in the gospels (as well as in 2 Peter and Hebrews). The question of whether the NT authors think Jonah is historical is still important to the primary discussion about the place of myth in our bibliology.
If we stick to the Noah issue there is still the question of whether or not Jesus agrees that history occurred much as indicated in Gen. 6-8. I don’t see indications that Jesus saw Noah as any less historical than other OT people or events.
For many Christians this forces them in the kind of direction that RJS is concerned about. For them I think the issue is not merely that allowing a mythical flood starts them down a slippery slope, but that this allowance undermines the credibility of Jesus. That is an issue on which I and many others are in need of a better response.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 4, 2006 at 3:02 pm


Brian,
I’m not sure I agree with you. Here’s an example:
If you are not careful with your life morally, you will end u in the hands of the White Witch from the North, or in the hands of Darth Vader, or something on this order … does it mean that the warning, since it uses a mythical figure, not have substance? Not to me.



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Shawn

posted November 4, 2006 at 3:37 pm


Scot, #83
“So, what I’m saying is that in part the problem is a view of Scripture that is not flexible enough to permit permutations on history and the realities we have discovered in the ancient world.”
Or it was so flexible it ceased to have any authority for them. The problem is that you say the slippery slope is practically deceitful yet I have yet to see you provide evidence to support that contention.
#90
Er… the warning would be meaningless because the implied threat is untrue. If a man said I should be careful of my soul because Darth Vader will get me I would laugh at him. Thats the point. Myth has its uses, but myth not grounded in reality has no real moral force, and more importantly, it can te
And I think Brian has hit on a real issue that came up here recently with regards to Nick’s accusation that none of the Bible was the Word of God. One of my responses to that is that the fact that Jesus treated the OT not only as the inspired Word but as history. We may speculate that he did not think parts of it where, but we have no evidence for that view, and what evidence of Jesus’ mind we do have clearly points to Him believing that it was historically reliable. On that basis I don’t see the view your taking as having a strong biblical foundation, and it also requires speculation and assertion about Jesus that we have no evidence for.
RJS #24
The issue for me is that in recent weeks I have begun corresponding with scientists (not from AIG yet) and reading the work of scientists/biologists who are well educated on the issues and who also believe that Genesis is historically reliable. So I’m not convinced the historical reliability of Genesis can be as easily dismissed as you say.



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Shawn

posted November 4, 2006 at 3:40 pm


Scot, #83
“So, what I’m saying is that in part the problem is a view of Scripture that is not flexible enough to permit permutations on history and the realities we have discovered in the ancient world.”
Or it was so flexible it ceased to have any authority for them. The problem is that you say the slippery slope is practically deceitful yet I have yet to see you provide evidence to support that contention.
#90
Er… the warning would be meaningless because the implied threat is untrue. If a man said I should be careful of my soul because Darth Vader will get me I would laugh at him. Thats the point. Myth has its uses, but myth not grounded in reality has no real moral force, and more importantly, it can tell us nothing about our actual relationship to God and the salvation of our souls.
And I think Brian has hit on a real issue, one that came up here recently with regards to Nick’s accusation that none of the Bible was the Word of God. One of my responses to that is that the fact that Jesus treated the OT not only as the inspired Word but as history. So the issue of Jesus’ credibility is at stake. We may speculate that he did not think parts of it were history, but we have no evidence for that view, and what evidence of Jesus’ mind we do have clearly points to Him believing that it was historically reliable. On that basis I don’t see the view your taking as having a strong biblical foundation, and it also requires speculation and assertion about Jesus that we have no evidence for.
RJS #24
The issue for me is that in recent weeks I have begun corresponding with scientists (not from AIG yet) and reading the work of scientists/biologists who are well educated on the issues and who also believe that Genesis is historically reliable. So I’m not convinced the historical reliability of Genesis can be as easily dismissed as you say.



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Shawn

posted November 4, 2006 at 3:40 pm


Oops, sorry for the double post.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 4, 2006 at 4:01 pm


Shawn,
Make that a triple post! (It’s a kind of set in basketball, too.)
I’m not sure what you mean by evidence. Let’s take Hugh Williamson, who doesn’t think Isa 40-66 is from the fella who wrote Isa 1-39. In the slippery slope mentality, the one who denies Isa to 40-66 is on the road. He clearly doesn’t. I don’t know what Hugh believes about Gen 1-11, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for him to say “all history” unless one expanded one’s sense of history. I once heard John Goldingay say he couldn’t think of any prophet who wrote all the words in the prophetic book. Does anyone question his faith orientation?
What I’m saying is that it is not inevitable that once one denies something traditionally understood — authorship and the like — that one will then begin knocking down everything else.
Here’s the point: I don’t dispute what you are saying about denominations, so let’s understand that we agree there. What I’m saying is that I don’t think the cause of that is to be found in the slippery slope of historical conclusions or view of Scripture. I think it derives from what one believes.
Another point: nor do I think the slippery slope is without merit at some idealistic logical level. If one denies the Bible as God’s Word, one might then chip away at other features — Jesus’ deity, etc.. But, I see all those as logical corollaries of one’s faith system rather than one’s historical judgment.
The reason I’m concerned about this is because for 30 years I’ve been involved in biblical studies and have met exception after exception of the slippery slope argument. I’ll speculate: I doubt very much FF Bruce believed in inerrancy, but I don’t think many would question that he believed in the surety of the Bible as God’s Word. NT Wright, the same. I could go on and on.



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Shawn

posted November 4, 2006 at 4:11 pm


Scot,
Just a disclaimer, I’m not meaning to sound combative or accusatory, I’m just tossing this stuff around because I’m working through it all myself.
I do get what your saying. I have a tendency towards absolute either/or thinking on issues.



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RJS

posted November 4, 2006 at 4:20 pm


Shawn,
I do get the feeling that these are honest questions, not combative. Let me help my credibility and define a little better what I mean by – “knows quite a lot of science.”
I have a Ph.D. in science from the top University in the country in my discipline, am active in research, and on the faculty of a major University. And I am a Christian – who believes in the divinity of Jesus. This is an issue I have struggled with, quite a lot in fact.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 4, 2006 at 4:44 pm


Shawn,
I don’t think you are too combative. You express your views clearly; you defend them well; that’s all we can ask. You don’t get personal or sarcastic toward others.
I’m thinking through some of this too. It comes up every semester when I deal with Gens 1-11 and Job. I don’t deal with Jonah — can only cover so many prophets. But, Jonah generates questions about how long humans can survive in whales and it detracts from study of the prophet’s book.



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Robert E. Mason

posted November 4, 2006 at 6:09 pm


We should make as clear distinction between myth and mythopoeic language (the verbal stuff out of which myths are crafted). If the narrator of Genesis uses ANE mythopoeic language to convey a truth (historical, emotional, or spiritual), we need not assume that the narrator is smuggling an ANE myth in whole or in part into the narrative. Scripture is salted with figurative, including mythopoeic, terms. If our view of inspiration accommodates “lamb of God,” “light of the world,” etc., why not language borrowed from ANE myths?



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Michael Kruse

posted November 4, 2006 at 6:23 pm


As I was reading back over earlier posts I thought I might ad one example of how I have thought about some of the Genesis issues. Imagine explaining to a three year old where babies come from versus explaining to a thirteen year old where babies come from. I see a similar dynamic in trying to explain origins to a pre-literate, pre-scientific people. Metaphor and myth are a necessity in order to communicate what needs to be known.
From science, we know that the earth formed about 4.6 billion years ago. I initially it had a dense atmosphere and the surface was covered in water. About 4.25 billion years ago, an object at least the size of Mars collided with earth. It ripped away much of the atmosphere and altered the rotation and function of the earth. (The theory is that much of the debris coalesced into the moon.) Over time, an opaque atmosphere gave way to a translucent one, making visible heavenly bodies, thus clearly delineating day and night. Atmospheres above the earth’s surface including water vapor formed creating a pocket of atmosphere between the upper atmospheres and the waters covering the earth. Land began to emerge and so on.
The ANE perception of waters above the earth and bodies moving across the waters in the sky is clearly evident in the story. The movement from opaque to clear atmosphere matches the idea of light appearing before the appearance of the heavenly bodies. Is it possible that metaphorically/mythically this is an accurate description of a historical reality made comprehensible to the “three year olds” listening to the story? It is not a historical description in our modern sense, but is it an accurate myth that relates historical truth?
My faith in Jesus Christ or trust in the authority of scripture hardly depends on it, but I think these are questions worth probing. I don’t need for it to be all neat and tidy.



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Anonymous

posted November 4, 2006 at 6:37 pm


Sacred Journey » Blog Archive » Inspiration and Incarnation on Jesus Creed

[...] I’m going to have to toss in my crown as the king of comment-generators for Pete Enns’s Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament. Scot McKnight posted this morning about the book, and he already has 39 lengthy, thoughtful comments as of 12:30 the same day! [...]



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Matthew

posted November 4, 2006 at 7:15 pm


Shawn #91,
FWIW, I personally believe that the slippery slope argument is almost always the wrong argument to make. The implication is that only one side of the argument is dangerous while the other side is well-defined and safe. However, this is rarely the case. Example: Someone reading through Galatians might begin serious consideration of freedom from legalism. Which slippery slope do you worry about – the slope of becoming more legalistic and disobeying Paul’s direct teaching, or the slope of becoming a libertine and squelching the leading of the Spirit in your life? Both sides have pitfalls. It is more like a constellation of issues rather than a decision where one direction is safe and the other is dangerous.
With inspiration, if we teach our Sunday School kids that every word in the Bible is 100,000% literal and anybody who says anything different is lying, then we set them up for denying their faith when they discover otherwise (slope 1). Slope 2 would be the slope you and I would worry about: deny Genesis, then Jonah, then the miracles, then Jesus, then…
I don’t agree that Jesus’ quotes have the same effect whether or not Jonah was historical. I think it matters and I think Jonah was historical. Your slippery-slope concern was well-stated and I agree with it.
Scot had said that slippery-slope arguments can be rhetorically effective but deceitful. I think this is one reason why. Just wanted to throw my $.02 on the whole slippery-slope thing.



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Anonymous

posted November 4, 2006 at 8:25 pm


Sacred Journey » Blog Archive » MilePost 5

[...] Those Knights must be on vacation today, because Scot McKnight’s thread on Inspiration and Incarnation by Peter Enns has now exceeded 100 comments…and not one person so far has accused Pete of single-handedly undermining the Christian faith! [...]



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RJS

posted November 4, 2006 at 8:49 pm


Matthew,
I don’t think that there are two slopes – but your two are one and the same. Christianity is a matter of faith – logical reasoning does not get anyone all the way to faith. Faith is a matter of the heart and acceptance of the gift of God. And it requires a commitment that must be lived out. People can and have given thousands of reasons for not taking that leap of faith.
Now let me tell you where I am coming from – I come from a background where faith was lived not just given lip-service. We attended a strong church where it was clear that many of the people were genuine strong committed Christians.
As I went away to school and studied more and more science in particular it became clear that in fact the evidence against a literal interpretation of Genesis was absolutely overwhelming as I said in earlier posts. This caused a significant crisis of faith. On the one hand I saw the reality of the Christian faith acted out in people, on the other I knew the science.
After several years and a fair amount of anguish over this I came to the conclusion that the problem was with my understanding of scripture and inspiration – not with the Christian faith. But — I know many, many people for whom the realization that a literal view of inspiration was indefensible, particularly with respect to the creation story and some of the rest of Genesis, led to a total break with faith.
Now in one sense this is your slippery slope – deny Genesis, then Jonah, then the miracles, then Jesus, then…
But my contention is that the evidence requires an understanding of inspiration sufficiently flexible accommodate the possibility/probability of mythic elements. I say this because my heart tells me that the triune creator God exists, sent his son for us and that God is a loving God calling us to love him and because I know the scientific facts.
Sorry Scot, this one breaks the rules on length – but I am going to post it anyway.



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Shawn

posted November 4, 2006 at 9:45 pm


RJS,
I’m still curious about the fact that there are those with equivalent scientific educations to yours who support the historical accuracy of Genesis.



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RJS

posted November 4, 2006 at 11:30 pm


Shawn #104,
That is a hard question to answer in a short way in this forum. However, looking into what is said by some of these people, I have found none of it convincing and most of it very easily refuted.
At this point though none of this challenges my faith, and I know or know of quite a large number of committed Christian scientists for whom this is true. Taking this position does not mean denying the doctrine of the trinity or the inspiration of scripture.
While you are looking into Answers in Genesis, look at what some of these people say as well. If you want a place to start try the American Scientific Affiliation web site (http://www.asa3.org/) or try “Science and Christianity, Conflict or Coherence” by Henry F. Schaefer. Start with his story in Chapter 9, then look at anything that interests you in the rest of the book. You might disagree with his conclusions, but are not likely to question his faith.



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Shawn

posted November 5, 2006 at 2:15 am


RJS,
thanks for the link. So far after just a quick look though I don’t see any evidence that they deny the historical reliability of Genesis, only our understanding of it.



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David Johnson

posted November 5, 2006 at 4:11 am


There has been much written here about Jesus’ (and the apostles’) attitude towards Genesis (as revealed through Jesus’ comments about Adam and Eve, as well as through the mentions of Adam and Even and the Flood narrative throughout the New Testament). Many have argued that Jesus’ and the apostles’ references to these things clearly indicates that they understood the Creation narrative and the Flood narrative to be a literal and accurate literary representation of actual, factual history. Others have argued that Jesus and the apostles could easily be utilizing such stories as “stock stories”–elements that their audiences would be familiar with, from which they could make theological and doctrinal application.
My question is: why does the fact that Jesus and the apostles use these stories imply anything about the factual accuracy of the narratives? Do we honestly expect Jesus or his disciples to say of the Genesis accounts:
“They were accounts written to a people who could never have understood some of the things that happened there at the beginning, so don’t insist that they’re 100% factually and literally accurate….here’s what really happened, from a scientific standpoint….”? What would we be thinking, expecting Him to do something like that–even if we accept Genesis 1-11 as a theologically accurate but not factual presentation? For instance, Jesus often made theological points by inventing stories. The stories of the Good Samaritan and of the Prodigal Son could carry the same disclaimer as our movies do: “Any similarity between actual person(s), living or dead, is purely concidental” (and I’m not suggesting that our movies are comparable in their essential truth to either the Creation and Flood narratives or the parables of Jesus).



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Doug johnson

posted November 5, 2006 at 7:20 am


RJS #105 I am a member of ASA. But I wonder if many writers there have the room for myth that Scot has asked us about. While most take an old earth approach rather than a young earth/literal approach, most of the writers still try in one way or another to fit the text to a scientific explanation.



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Dan Brennan

posted November 5, 2006 at 8:23 am


Doug, #108
I think you raise a good point.



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RJS

posted November 5, 2006 at 3:19 pm


Doug,
You are right I think – but they did have Francis Collins (head of the human genome project, outspoken evangelical Christian, theologically conservative, member of the National Academy of Science) as a speaker last summer and he doesn’t. His book is featured on the front page of their web site. I don’t belong to this group – and hadn’t heard about it until last year. But I do know that most there do not hold to a young earth/literal view. The statement of faith is written to uphold the ancient creeds – i.e. belief in incarnation, resurrection and the doctrine of the trinity, and to uphold the Bible as inspired scripture authoritative in areas of faith and conduct.
Do you have a better resource? I couldn’t come up with any easy to access resource off the top of my head last night. And this blog isn’t really the place to go into details.
I will tell you though – my real concern here is not to convince people that I am right about any specific passage or interpretation. My real concern is to convince people that pastorally we must not make a specific view of the nature of scripture and the nature of inspiration into a stumbling block for people to come to, grow in, and stay in the church as followers of Jesus. And in this day and age this requires an understanding of inspiration sufficiently flexible accommodate the possibility of mythic elements.



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Doug johnson

posted November 5, 2006 at 6:10 pm


RJS No I do not have a better resource. I have felt that there is dialogue and a diversity of viewpoints interacting with each other within ASA and this is refreshing. The ASA forum at least represents an effort to explore alternative perspectives while at the same time holding to core beliefs as you well note.
My main focus was to tie ASA discussions in some general way to the focus of this post. In this way, I have sensed that sometimes the scientist/engineer (spoken from an engineer!) bent of many of the ASA writers has meant a strong effort to make all texts fit in some way with a modern historical/scientific explanation that does not account very often to genre or contextual (read cultural) perspectives.



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RJS

posted November 5, 2006 at 7:47 pm


Doug,
OK I did get a bit off topic, largely because Shawn asked about “Answers in Genesis”. This organization teaches that the only possible interpretation of Genesis is a literal young earth with 6 24 hour days created something like 10000 or so years ago, a total world covering flood etc. Therefore the evidence is “interpreted” in light of this assumption. This is not a scientifically viable position and requires a God who created an elegant world with a lot of subtle evidence designed to test or trick us.
Many Christians, including many in the ASA, take an old earth approach and try in one way or another to fit the text to a scientific explanation, allowing interpretation of the text (eras not days etc.). This isn’t my position, but this is a worthwhile discussion. It is also the approach taken by Hugh Ross I believe, although I’ve only listened to him speak. I haven’t read any of his books. As you point out – this is not quite the same as allowing a mythic element in the Bible.
Others take the position that there is a mythic element in the way some of these stories are presented as inspired scripture. I know many committed Christians who would take this position. These are not people to deny the incarnation or the doctrine of the trinity. This is the position I take. But this isn’t the place to give all my reasons.
I deny the cause and effect assumption in the “slippery slope” hypothesis. This is a matter of the heart, not the specific view of inspiration. People find many reasons or excuses to avoid God.



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Doug Johnson

posted November 5, 2006 at 9:09 pm


RJS Thanks for the interaction. I need to go take care of today’s business but will write again in about 12 hours (I live in Thailand).
May the grace of God fill your day.
Doug



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Justin D

posted November 5, 2006 at 10:13 pm


Gee, these comments are longer then the book.



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Shawn

posted November 6, 2006 at 12:51 am


“Many Christians, including many in the ASA, take an old earth approach and try in one way or another to fit the text to a scientific explanation, allowing interpretation of the text (eras not days etc.)”
This is the position that makes the most sense to me.
And as I understand its the position taken by my two favorite apologists, C.S Lewis and Francis Schaeffer.
Just thought I would name drop to give my post some gravitas ;)



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Doug Johnson

posted November 6, 2006 at 7:18 am


A couple more notes on ASA from their web site
under Learn More–Creation-Evolution there is a section called Spectrum of Views Whether or not one agrees with this, I think it is a marvelous example of a direction to be pursued–this is so rare
under Learn More– Bible and Science just before the appendix is this comment by the editor: “In the last decade there has been some serious interest in the hermeneutics of early Genesis by evangelical scholars. However, these “novel” treatments have not been received with much enthusiasm by ASA scientists. It is hard to break-away from older “concordistic” traditions.”
Finally from the Sept/Oct 2006 ASA newsletter, reporting on one of the sessions of their recent annual meeting is the following: “Another important theme is that God’s revelation is two-fold– in creation and in Scripture. Conflicts may arise in our interpretations of the two revelations, but not between God’s revelations themselves. Thus science as a fallible human interpretation of God’s revelation in creation may be in tension with theology as a fallible human interpretaion of God’s revelation in Scripture.”
So there would seem to have been limited openness to including mythic elements within this subset of Evangelicalism in the past but the desire to present different points of view and this last comment may hint at the possibility of this shifting.
My own perspective on one suggestion made above. It was suggested that our view of a text should be limited by the perspective of the original author. If the author believed an actual description of events was being made, then we should agree with her. While I believe the author’s understanding of what she was writing is very important, I do not feel entirely constrained by this. I can envision the author expressing something (with God involved in the process)in terms that speak truth at that time but at the same time, God knows that things were different.
Set methods seem to break down in the particular.
Grace to all who read these words.



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RJS

posted November 6, 2006 at 8:10 am


Shawn,
Many Christians with equivalent scientific educations to mine will take your position in #115, and many will take a position more along the lines of mine. This is a valid discussion. (Unlike the AIG position – which I can pick apart.)
My reasons for my position actually have as much to do with some of the other discussion on this thread (ANE myths etc.) as with pure science.
But, I reiterate – I don’t think the “slippery slope” is a clean cause and effect relationship. Faith is a matter of the heart. We need to be able to have tolerant thoughtful discussions.
This has been good.



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Brian

posted November 6, 2006 at 8:24 am


Doug,
Could there be two believers named Doug Johnson in Thailand? The Covenant Church has a missionary by that name in Roi Et.



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Shawn

posted November 6, 2006 at 6:10 pm


“We need to be able to have tolerant thoughtful discussions.”
Sure, especially as far as this blog goes, out of respect for our host, and because its good to have a place to discuss these things.
I guess to wrap up, my position is that while its fine to interpret the Bible from a mythic/archetype pov as one layer of meaning, we need to defend the historical reliability of the whole of Scripture, especially when it clearly claims to be speaking history. Because I stand by my contention that there is a slippery slope issue here as far as Biblical history goes.
Also the more I learn about Scripture and the history of the ancient NE, the more I find that the Bible gets history right, so I don’t think there is a real threat to it from reliable sources. And I don’t consider secular sources from academia remotely reliable, given the underlying but virulent hatred for orthodox Christianity that exists amongst secular liberal elites. Which brings me to my final point. If the Church in the US is losing young people when they get to university, perhaps the issue is not our approach to Scripture, perhaps the issue is that they are going into environments where much of the academic establishment is deeply hostile to the Christian faith. Rather then take a defensive/reactive approach to this we should take the fight to the Academics and expose their bias and dubious scholarship. The best defense is a good offense.



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Doug Johnson

posted November 6, 2006 at 7:09 pm


Brian, one and the same.



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Brian

posted November 6, 2006 at 8:28 pm


Doug,
Nice surprise. You were in my home about three years ago. I’ll send you an e-mail when I get a chance.



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More Blogs To Enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Jesus Creed. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Red Letters with Tom Davis Recent prayer post on Prayables Most Recent Inspiration blog post Happy Reading!  

posted 11:15:58am Aug. 16, 2012 | read full post »

Our Common Prayerbook 30 - 3
Psalm 30 thanks God (vv. 1-3, 11-12) and exhorts others to thank God (vv. 4-5). Both emerge from the concrete reality of David's own experience. Here is what that experience looks like:Step one: David was set on high and was flourishing at the hand of God's bounty (v. 7a).Step two: David became too

posted 12:15:30pm Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Theology After Darwin 1 (RJS)
One of the more important and more difficult pieces of the puzzle as we feel our way forward at the interface of science and faith is the theological implications of discoveries in modern science. A comment on my post Evolution in the Key of D: Deity or Deism noted: ...this reminds me of why I get a

posted 6:01:52am Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Almost Christian 4
Who does well when it comes to passing on the faith to the youth? Studies show two groups do really well: conservative Protestants and Mormons; two groups that don't do well are mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics. Kenda Dean's new book is called Almost Christian: What the Faith of Ou

posted 12:01:53am Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Let's Get Neanderthal!
The Cave Man Diet, or Paleo Diet, is getting attention. (Nothing is said about Culver's at all.) The big omission, I have to admit, is that those folks were hunters -- using spears or smacking some rabbit upside the conk or grabbing a fish or two with their hands ... but that's what makes this diet

posted 2:05:48pm Aug. 30, 2010 | read full post »




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