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Romans 5: Part 2 – Adam (RJS)

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Adam and Eve in the Garden Cranach ds.JPG

Romans 5:12-21 proves to be one of the key texts in any discussion of
science and faith these days.  We began a discussion of this passage last week with a consideration of the meaning and nature of the death introduced in Gen 3.  Another issue in the conflict or reconciliation of scientific knowing with the gospel message strikes us full force in v. 14:

Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. (NASB)

Now we have Adam named as a historical individual alongside Moses, another historical individual. Yet it is hard to reconcile the Adam of Gen 1-4 as a historical individual with our understanding of the age and development of the world.

There are six New Testament passages that deal explicitly with Adam and/or Eve. Only one of these is in the Gospels – in the genealogy of Luke 3. One is in Jude where Enoch is identified as “in the seventh generation from Adam.” The other four references are in the letters of Paul: Romans 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:20-22 and 42-49; 2 Cor. 11:2-3; 1 Tim. 2:12-14. The passage in 2 Cor. 11 is an allusion in passing, but the other three are more substantive.

In his discussion of Romans 5:12-21 NT Wright notes:

Paul clearly believed that there had been a single first pair, whose male, Adam, had been given a commandment and had broken it. Paul was, we may be sure, aware of what we would call mythical or metaphorical dimensions to the story, but he would not have regarded these as throwing doubt on the existence, and primal sin, of the first historical pair. (p. 526, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 10)

And this leads us to the key question of the day:

Does it matter that Paul thought Adam was a unique individual living ca. 4000 years earlier? Does the inspiration of scripture require us to assume that Paul was right?

The conflict or reconciliation of scientific knowing with the gospel message has several different facets.  Some of these are theological – they deal with the essence of the Christian message, the gospel. The nature of death and decay as a result of the fall is a theological consideration.  Incarnation and atonement are theological issues – including the interpretation of the atoning work of Christ.  But some of the questions deal more with the nature of scripture and the inspiration of scripture than with roots of Christian theology.  I know that some think that the lines are not so neat and clean – but this is a blog post not a doctoral dissertation – so please allow the distinction for the sake of the present discussion. 

I don’t find any fundamental theological conflict between science and faith, rather I think that the significant conflicts involve our understanding of the nature of inspiration and of scripture. Paul’s belief in Adam and Eve as a unique first pair impacts first and
foremost our understanding of the inspiration of scripture.

I am agnostic on the precise nature of the original humans graced with creation in the image of God, whether there was a unique pair or a community.  I am convinced that the original sin was a rebellion against God and that the fall was inevitable but not preordained.  I am convinced that Gen 1-3 is mytho-historical not literal-historical.

I think that we misunderstand the nature of scripture as the inspired word of God and the nature of scripture as authoritative when we insist on a literal precision of fact in all parts equally without a role for discernment, interpretation, and the Holy Spirit.

Paul was inspired to develop and write out an exploration of the theology and purpose behind the very real historical events of the life, death, resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is inspired of God, formative and authoritative for the church. But the form of the document we have is in the context of an educated and intelligent first century Jew writing to a first century church of mixed heritage, Jew and Gentile. Inspiration is not dictation, and inspiration does not remove the author (in this case Paul) from his cultural context, located in time and place.

Paul is relating the gospel revealed to him, the story of the resurrection of Jesus Christ as the atonement for sin, the victory over death, the turning point in human history, and the inaugral event ushering in the ultimate kingdom of God.  There was no reason for anyone of the day and age to suspect that Adam and Eve were not historical and no reason for Paul to transcend that understanding.  The essence of the story does not depend on the literal-historical or mytho-historical nature of Adam and Eve.

Scot talks in Blue Parakeet about discernment (why are some laws and commands for today and others not?) – with the suggestion that God spoke in Abraham’s days in Abraham’s ways; Moses’s days in Moses’s ways; David’s days in David’s ways, (Paul’s days in Paul’s ways), Peter’s days in Peter’s ways – a paraphrase (and interpolation) not a quote.

I suggest that this applies not only to events and laws related in scripture, proscriptions and prescriptions, but to scripture itself. God accomodated his revelation to the forms and culture of the day,  Those forms and that culture are not 20th and 21st century western forms or culture.  We err when we expect to see 21st century science reflected in the details of the text and we err when we expect the modern ideals of history (hence the discrepancies and contrasts in Samuel, Kings, Chronicles; the diversity in the Gospels, especially the synoptics compared with John).  We err when we expect God to have removed Paul from his context. With respect to Romans 5, God spoke in Paul’s days in Paul’s ways and through Paul in Paul’s context.  

My answer to the question: No it doesn’t matter.  What do you think?



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Larry

posted February 24, 2009 at 7:56 am


The argument of Romans 5 is that we became sinners the same way we become righteous–through the act of another person.
In the argument of Romans 5, if Adam wasn’t real, or if it was a community, that has profound affects on the the NT teaching on soteriology. If we were condemned by the act of a community, then we can only be redeemed by the act of a community. If we became sinners through the act of some ideal man who didn’t really exist, then we become righteous through the act of some ideal man who doesn’t really exist. If Adam wasn’t real, then we didn’t become sinners through Adam and we can’t become righteous through Christ (unless Paul was wrong).
So I think there is a lot at stake here.



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Scot McKnight

posted February 24, 2009 at 8:21 am


Larry, I agree: there is a clear correlation between Christ and Adam, and Adam and Christ. Do you think it is impossible for Adam to be a “cipher” for “original man and his sin” whether that is more than one person or not.
Now this too: clearly “Adam” is not simply one man; there is also an “Eve” in that “Adam” so that “Adam” has some lack of correlation with Christ (unless you go with co-Redemptrix! Ha).



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D C Cramer

posted February 24, 2009 at 8:29 am


I recently finished reading John Hick’s classic, EVIL AND THE GOD OF LOVE. He argues that our understanding of soteriology has been shaped more by Augustine’s interpretation of Paul than anything else. Hick thus doesn’t see taking a mythological interpretation of Genesis 3 as problematic for Christian belief per se, but rather, for Christian belief shaped by the dominant Augustinian tradition. Taking the lead from the Eastern Fathers, particularly Iranaeus, Hick develops an alternate understanding of the fall and its implications for soteriology. One might not agree with his final proposal, but I think many of his discussions are helpful for the question here.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted February 24, 2009 at 8:57 am


“There was no reason for anyone of the day and age to suspect that Adam and Eve were not historical and no reason for Paul to transcend that understanding. ”
Assuming it was mytho-historical and that it was revealed in this to accommodate their limited understanding, what would it have added to their understanding to have been given precise delineation between mytho-historical vs. literal-historical elements? How exceedingly hard it is to escape our western post-Enlightenment lens of precise factuality.
“I don’t find any fundamental theological conflict between science and faith, rather I think that the significant conflicts involve our understanding of the nature of inspiration and of scripture.”
Bingo!



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D C Cramer

posted February 24, 2009 at 9:20 am


Also, for an account of a fascinating debate on religion and science between two leading philosophers (Plantinga and Dennett), which took place just last weekend, see here: http://prosblogion.ektopos.com/archives/2009/02/an-opinionated.html



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Larry

posted February 24, 2009 at 9:21 am


Scot,
I am certainly not in favor of a co-redemptrix, as you can probably figure.
However, you ask “Is it impossible …?” I suppose it isn’t impossible, but it certainly seems to me to be perhaps the hardest reading of the text, and a most unnatural one. It doesn’t seem to arise from the text itself. So I struggle to accept the explanation offered here (and in many other places). It just seems, to me at least, to stretch the point of Paul farther than it can be stretched without doing some fairly severe damage to the point.
I do agree with the author here that there are some specific issue dealing with bibliology that are key to this discussion (as well as a host of others in this vein).
BTW, I am currently preaching through 1 Peter, and I have greatly enjoyed and benefited from your commentary on 1 Peter in the NIVAC. Thanks for your work on that.



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John L

posted February 24, 2009 at 9:24 am


“I am convinced that Gen 1-3 is mytho-historical not literal-historical.”
And given what we now know from genomics, it’s the only rational way to read J/Xnty. Totally agree with you that the essence of the story does not depend its literal-historical or mytho-historical nature. Xlnt essay.



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Travis Greene

posted February 24, 2009 at 9:28 am


Does it matter that Paul thought Adam was a unique individual living ca. 4000 years earlier? Does the inspiration of scripture require us to assume that Paul was right?
I agree, no and no.
If we can go back to the subject of death for a moment, what does it mean that Paul says death reigned until Moses? What changed with the coming of the Law? Clearly, people and animals still died. Moses died. So what does Paul mean here? It certainly seems to support a more symbolic or spiritual understanding of how “death” is used.
Larry @ 1, “The argument of Romans 5 is that we became sinners the same way we become righteous–through the act of another person.”
Yes–that is the point. But I don’t follow you here:
“If we were condemned by the act of a community, then we can only be redeemed by the act of a community.”
As Scot points out, we were condemned by the act of a community: Adam and Eve. Paul is pointing out what Jesus’ death and resurrection undoes. If it was a community of people that initially rebelled and not one man named Adam (although, there would still have to be one person that got the ball rolling, right?), would that really nullify what God did as and through Jesus?
I understand why people believe Adam was a historical figure. I really do have a hard time seeing why he must have been, or else you toss out Romans and the entire faith collapses.



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John L

posted February 24, 2009 at 10:02 am


DC Cramer (#5) – thanks for the link to the Plantinga / Dennett debate. Really interesting read. I’m sympathetic to both Dennett and Plantinga – they are both passionately engaged in the conversation of truth. I think anyone who remains this passionate about life, regardless of their conclusions (or level of snark – behavior is always malleable) is someone I can respect and call my colleague in the quest.



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ChrisB

posted February 24, 2009 at 10:29 am


RJS said: “I am convinced that Gen 1-3 is mytho-historical not literal-historical.”
Can you point us to where you have explained why Gen 3 isn’t historical?



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BOB

posted February 24, 2009 at 10:34 am


“Do you think it is impossible for Adam to be a “cipher” for “original man and his sin” whether that is more than one person or not.”
If Adam wasn’t a real literal person who along with Eve sinned then who was the first person to sin? How exactly did sin get started?
God would know who the culprit(s) were so why not identify them?



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donsands

posted February 24, 2009 at 10:39 am


“And Jesus Himself began to be about 30 years of age, being as was supposed the son of Joseph, who was the son of Heli, who was the son of Matthat, who was the son of Levi, …..who was the son of David, …who was the son of Juda, who was the son of Jacob, who was the son of Issac, who was the son of Abraham, …..who was the son of Shem, who was the son of Noah, ….who was the son of Seth, who was the son of Adam, who was the son of God.” Luke 3:23-38
Seems from this that Adam was the first man. But the whole world as we have it now, the 6 plus billion people, are from Noah and his wife, and there three sons and wives really.
Good study.



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J. K. Gayle

posted February 24, 2009 at 11:24 am


“Does it matter that Paul thought Adam was a unique individual living ca. 4000 years earlier?”
If I understand you, Scot, wouldn’t Paul’s “thought [that] Adam was [historical]” be a blue parakeet for us? Should we clip its wings?
“Does the inspiration of scripture require us to assume that Paul was right?”
Wasn’t “the inspiration of scripture” made for mankind – not mankind for the “inspiration”? I like what Jesus assumed when he asked the scripture reader, “What is written? How do you read it?”



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Travis Greene

posted February 24, 2009 at 12:12 pm


Bob @ 11, “If Adam wasn’t a real literal person who along with Eve sinned then who was the first person to sin? How exactly did sin get started?”
Who cares?
“God would know who the culprit(s) were so why not identify them?”
Sure He would. But God didn’t inspire the Bible to satisfy our curiosity about theological conundrums. The Bible exists so that we may be thoroughly equipped for good works.
I quote him too much, but here he is anyway (emphasis mine):
“For long centuries, God perfected the animal form which was to become the vehicle of humanity and the image of Himself. He gave it hands whose thumb could be applied to each of the fingers, and jaws and teeth and throat capable of articulation, and a brain sufficiently complex to execute all of the material motions whereby rational thought is incarnated. The creature may have existed in this state for ages before it became man: it may even have been clever enough to make things which a modern archaeologist would accept as proof of its humanity. But it was only an animal because all its physical and psychical processes were directed to purely material and natural ends. Then, in the fullness of time, God caused to descend upon this organism, both on its psychology and physiology, a new kind of consciousness which could say “I” and “me,” which could look upon itself as an object, which knew God, which could make judgments of truth, beauty and goodness, and which was so far above time that it could perceive time flowing past…. We do not know how many of these creatures God made, nor how long they continued in the Paradisal state. But sooner or later they fell. Someone or something whispered that they could become as gods…. They wanted some corner in this universe of which they could say to God, “This is our business, not yours.” But there is no such corner. They wanted to be nouns, but they were, and eternally must be, mere adjectives. We have no idea in what particular act, or series of acts, the self-contradictory, impossible wish found expression. For all I can see, it might have concerned the literal eating of a fruit, the the question is of no consequence.” (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain)



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Larry

posted February 24, 2009 at 12:22 pm


Travis,
You say, As Scot points out, we were condemned by the act of a community: Adam and Eve.
I disagree with that because I don’t see that in the Scripture. All mankind is charged with the sin of Adam, not Adam and Eve. So I don’t think it was a community sin (whether two or more). God seems to place the issue at the feet of Adam.
You further say, If it was a community of people that initially rebelled and not one man named Adam (although, there would still have to be one person that got the ball rolling, right?), would that really nullify what God did as and through Jesus?
I would say it would certainly corrupt the argument that Paul is making, in my view.



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RJS

posted February 24, 2009 at 12:28 pm


Larry,
I don’t think that it corrupts the argument that Paul is making at all.
The argument that Paul is making is that we are all guilty, Jew, Gentile – before or after Moses. This guilt is intrinsic to our nature as humans and is a result of human rebellion against God from the very beginning. Jesus, through his life, death, and resurrection has provided the solution for this problem.



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dopderbeck

posted February 24, 2009 at 12:47 pm


I find this both theologically and Biblically more difficult than RJS and some of the other commentors.
I’m not comfortable with the separation of the theology of inspiration from other theological concerns here. I agree that if we focus only on what human evolution means for the theology of inspiration vis-a-vis Paul’s use of Adam, the issue is much easier (though still not simple). But, there are other consquences if Adam is here a mythic type rather than a concrete individual. Therefore, it’s hiding the ball to suggest the main issue is inspiration.
I’m not sure, though, that the main theological difficulty is the origin of sin and the atonement. Paul’s parallel between Christ and Adam obviously is not one of exact correspondence. The overall point may simply be that Christ had to become incarnate — a man — because sin originated with man. In other words, sin is a human problem, and therefore requires a human solution, particularly in that the sacrifice of Christ supersedes the previous temporary sacrificial system involving animals. Final atonement can come only through a like offering — another human.
However, problems multiply if we fold into this mix the Biblical idea of covenants. For covenant theology it is crucial, I think, that Adam have been a historical individual who broke the moral law and with whom God entered into the first covenant of grace after expulsion from the Garden. The subsequent covenants — Noahide, Abrahamic, Mosaic — prefigure the New Covenant accomplished by the blood of Christ. If the old covenants, including the Adamic, are not real agreements between God and representative human beings, then the significance of the New Convenant sealed by the blood of the incarnate lamb of God seems lost.
For these reasons, as well as some of the others that have already been expressed — including the problems raised for the theology of inspiration — I think it is important to think of Adam as a real person, the true “first human” with whom God initially was in perfect relationship. I’d also add that the Church has always thought in such terms, which is not determinative, but which shouldn’t I think be brushed aside lightly.
At the same time, I think our understanding of the natural sciences concerning human evolution forces us to think of Adam as the first human not primarily in biological terms, but primarily in spiritual terms. Adam as the “federal head” of the human race, which apparently in biological terms included others who were human in form and contemporary with Adam, seems to me a better way to try to reach an interdisciplinary understanding of human anthropology.
This is the approach, BTW, taken by John Stott in his commentary on Romans 5 and by Denis Alexander in his recent book (endorsed by J.I. Packer among others). I believe this is also the dominant Catholic approach today, following Karl Rahner (I need to get hold of a particular older Rahner text to confirm this, though). And I suspect — and I’d love to hear whether this is so — that John Walton will take a similar approach as well in his forthcoming book. Arguments from authority, of course, are not meaningful, except that I personally feel more comfortable allowing for views that seem untraditional when a community of scholars I respect seems to be congealing around a particular alternative.



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RJS

posted February 24, 2009 at 12:49 pm


ChrisB (#10)
I didn’t say “not historical” I said mytho-historical not literal-historical.
I think that it is not literal history for for several reasons that have to do with the form of the story in the text:
(1) Reading the text as literal history requires logical gymnastics … the text itself is not internally consistent when read as literal history.
(2) The genre and relationship of the text to the ANE culture makes it difficult to hold to a literal-historical interpretation.
(3) Our scientific knowledge of human and planetary history makes it impossible for me to hold to a literal-historical interpretation.
We can discuss all of these.



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Eric

posted February 24, 2009 at 1:15 pm


dopderbeck,
You say “For covenant theology it is crucial, I think, that Adam have been a historical individual who broke the moral law and with whom God entered into the first covenant of grace after expulsion from the Garden.”
Why isn’t it possible that the covenant was with a community, rather than individualistic? The covenant with Abraham has its deepest meaning as applied to Abraham’s people, rather than just Abraham as an individual, for example. (I’m not suggesting that Abraham wasn’t a literal figure — just that the covenant seems to be with the Israelites as a group too).
And isn’t the new covenant in NT with the people of God — i.e., the church — rather than everyone as an individual?
I’m not an expert on covenant theology, but it seems to me that it is often group-based in many respects.



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Travis Greene

posted February 24, 2009 at 1:42 pm


dopderbeck @ 17,
You raise good points, but I’m not sure this idea of multiple separate covenants is really in the text. I don’t see much evidence for an Adamic covenant after the fall (unless you’re referring to the clothes God made?), and I think Moses is very clearly part of Abraham’s covenant. The Noahide laws have been understood by the Jews as binding on all humans, but I’m not sure they constitute a covenant. Point being, I don’t really see how the historicity of Adam affects the New Covenant of Jesus.
That said, I agree with the idea of Adam as the first spiritual human. It certainly helps makes sense of the age-old questions about who married Cain, and so forth. It also fits with C.S. Lewis, as quoted above and in his Space Trilogy.
RJS @ 18,
If I can add to your list,
(4) If we make belief in evolution/old earth and belief in Scripture mutually exclusive (and I believe, based on the text itself, it is we who are doing it, not God), people will reject Scripture. We will cut our own legs off, missionally, if we insist upon a literal-historical interpretation.



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BenB

posted February 24, 2009 at 2:14 pm


Goodness gracious, school keeps me too busy to stay up with this before there are already too many comments to read them all without spending a whole day on this instead of homework or class.
My answers are “no” and “no.”
However…
Dopderbeck (#17):
I like your explanation of “a human problem needing a human to remedy it.” I think that’s exactly the problem raised here, is we live in a post-Augustine western context, whereas the pre-Augustinian fathers, specifically Irenaeus (and the Eastern Church since) has always focused on Incarnation and Theosis. I think this is Paul’s argument/point. Through mankind sin and death entered, and through God’s becoming man, we have been set free (already/not yet).
Scot and Larry:
As far as his use of “one man” as correlating Adam and Christ… doesn’t it serve as a tool for making his case clear, as opposed to a definite statement of fact on Paul’s part (as far as what he thought or supposed). Couldn’t it be that the Jews of his day new the story of creation, and understood reality in terms of the story… Adam (and Eve) taking center stage… and Paul tells their NEW story, their NEW reality in relation to the previous one, with Christ taking center stage? After all, this is his point through Romans correct? God’s faithfulness to His covenant in the form of Jesus, the Messiah?
As far as covenant theology goes… Doesn’t it seem that a “covenant of works” doesn’t seem to work well? After all, wasn’t Adam in the Garden (covenant?) simply by the Gracious Gift of God’s creation? He only stayed in the garden through obedience? Small hint of covenant nomism maybe? Not saying I buy E.P. Sanders all the way, and I certainly think that covenant theology as a whole has been MASSIVELY important for our understandings of scripture in allowing covenant to take center stage and frame the whole story… but hasn’t God always worked with PEOPLE and with creation, not on an individual basis, but, in the terms of N.T. Wright, on a PERSONAL basis?
So i find the communal aspect to not cause us to lose any of the story or power of the theology.



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AHH

posted February 24, 2009 at 2:30 pm


On the inspiration side of this issue, RJS asks:
“Does it matter that Paul thought Adam was a unique individual living ca. 4000 years earlier? Does the inspiration of scripture require us to assume that Paul was right?”
This is not the only option if “Adam” is typological shorthand for “sinful humanity”. I think we have two options (same as with Jesus calling the mustard seed the smallest of all seeds):
1) Paul, either as a scholar or via inspiration, “knew better” but wrote what he did for the sake of effective communication in his context (a culture that thought of Adam as a literal first individual).
2) Paul did not “know better”, but God, in inspiring Paul, did not bother to “correct” him because the main message (which is not about Adam but about Jesus undoing the effects of human sin) did not depend on this detail.
Like RJS, I lean toward #2, but some (as I recall from previous discussion about Jesus and the mustard seed) might prefer #1.
The idea of inspiration not overriding the cultural conceptions (and misconceptions) of the writers on incidental matters has a good pedigree, not only Calvin but also B.B. Warfield (not to mention Peter Enns). Without such a view of “accommodation,” it is pretty much impossible to deal with many passages (2 Peter 3:5, Genesis 1:6-7, Mark 4:31, Leviticus 11:6) within a high view of Scripture. Once you accept that inspriation can work via accommodation, it becomes a candidate to be applied to other problematic passages such as Romans 5.



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Larry

posted February 24, 2009 at 3:00 pm


RJS,
You say, The argument that Paul is making is that we are all guilty, Jew, Gentile – before or after Moses.
Actually, I don’t think that is the argument Paul is making at all. He is making the argument about how we got that way, and how we are counted righteous. In other words, his argument is about the M.O. of becoming a sinner and becoming righteous. It is not about the universality of sin.
That we are all guilty is without question. I simply don’t see that as the point he is making here. That point is ably made elsewhere.



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Bprjam

posted February 24, 2009 at 3:08 pm


Travis (#20):
And to take that 1 step further, the Augustinian interpretation of Paul mentioned in #3 includes such “outs” for reasons of science based on his famous quote about Christians talking nonsense to scientists. While Augustine did the best he could (and better than I could have done), he was wise enough to realize that time changes many things.



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RJS

posted February 24, 2009 at 3:10 pm


Larry,
I agree – how we got there is an important part of the argument. We are guilty because of human rebellion – there is a MO aspect not just a “universality of sin.” But I think that the position of guilt in Paul’s argument is essential.
We discussed Blocher’s book Original Sin last fall – and I found this book dense but interesting. Blocher holds to adam as an individual – but not because of Romans 5:12-21.
When I say that Gen 3 is mytho-historical I don’t think that it is an etiological myth explaining the universality of sin. I mean that it relates the historical fact that mankind rebelled against God in a story form – appropriate for the time and place and culture.



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phil_style

posted February 24, 2009 at 3:15 pm


Larry, interestingly I’ve only ever seen this text as trying to explain how the work of Christ can apply to non-jews.
I’m not saying this is the way it should be read by any means, just that, without any explicitly obvious external influences telling me how I should read it, that’s what I’ve always thought Paul was getting at here. Although I find parts of Romans rather confusing . .. sometimes I even wonder if Paul knew what he was on about! (that last bit is intened as humour)



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ChrisB

posted February 24, 2009 at 3:29 pm


RJS,
Can you elaborate on #1 & #3?



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Your Name

posted February 24, 2009 at 3:45 pm


How do you reconcile what donsands #12 says? One of the stories of the Fall is that we are significant, that is, action causes effect in that Adam and Eve sinned and the curses then. If they are myth then there is no significance, just a good story of how things can go.



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Travis Greene

posted February 24, 2009 at 4:16 pm


Bprjam @ 24,
Good point.
phil_style @ 26,
You got it.
Your Name @ 28,
There’s no such thing as just a good story…



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Bob Brague

posted February 24, 2009 at 4:20 pm


Does it matter that Paul thought Adam was a unique individual living ca. 4000 years earlier? Does the inspiration of scripture require us to assume that Paul was right?
In the words of Ronald Reagan to Jimmy Carter, “There you go again.”
It obviously doesn’t matter to you. It matters to me.
Nothing requires us to assume anything. Jesus did not say, “All things are possible; only assume.”



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Chris E

posted February 24, 2009 at 4:28 pm


>>>Does it matter that Paul thought Adam was a unique individual living ca. 4000 years earlier? Does the inspiration of scripture require us to assume that Paul was right?



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RJS

posted February 24, 2009 at 4:30 pm


Welcome back Bob.
All things are possible relates to prayer and faith in what God can work through us, not to the appropriate or possible interpretations of scripture. We disagree on the latter, but I think are in substantive agreement on the former – The gospel of Jesus Christ.



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Bob Brague

posted February 24, 2009 at 5:08 pm


If I may be so bold, if possible interpretations of scripture are not related to prayer and faith, perhaps we have compartmentalized Holy Writ just a teensy-weensy bit too much.
If you can believe, all things are possible to him that believes. Even a young earth. Even a literal Adam. I wasn’t there. Were you?



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Bob Brague

posted February 24, 2009 at 5:22 pm


I would say, yes, we are most definitely in substantive agreement on the gospel of Jesus Christ.



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Tony Johnson

posted February 24, 2009 at 5:37 pm


Bob, I am sorry for interloping into the discussion. But here I go anyway, you make the statement and then ask the question, ‘I wasn’t there. Were you?’ Of course, none of us were there, but the writers of Genesis and Paul weren’t there either, that is, at creation. What’s more Paul isn’t here now. Maybe we would do well to hear the Spirit speak the Word of God to us today, in our context. Me thinks that even if one has great faith to believe that the earth is flat, that faith is misguided ‘for it ain’t so’.
Tony Johnson



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Bob Brague

posted February 24, 2009 at 5:56 pm


Tony,
Of course there is such a thing as misguided faith. The question is where does the slippery slope begin? Of course the moon isn’t made of green cheese. Of course the earth isn’t flat. Of course the earth isn’t 6000 years old. Of course virgins can’t give birth. Of course one man couldn’t atone for anyone else’s sins, let along the sins of the whole world. Of course no one can rise from the dead. You get the picture….



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Tony Johnson

posted February 24, 2009 at 6:20 pm


Bob, please correct me if I have misunderstood or if I am getting the wrong picture.
Are you saying that as people of faith, we can put our faith in anything, even the moon being made of green cheese? Where does reason come into picture? Or is faith something completely and utterly apart from reason?
I am not quite sure what you mean by faith. I am working from the presupposition that faith can be reasonable. When I look at a theological issue I employ the following: Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, albeit quite inadequately. Reason and science tell me that the moon is not made of green cheese. Scripture tells me that Jesus was born of a virgin. I don’t see how such a belief is either unreasonable or contrary to science.



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Bob Brague

posted February 24, 2009 at 6:43 pm


I see what you’re saying. But if something is compeltely reasonable, where does faith enter the picture at all? I mean, if you can reason your way to it, no faith is required. Faith can be reasonable, but it is not a requirement.
While we’re at it, please tell me how you don’t see how a belief that Jesus was born of a virgin is either unreasonable or contrary to science. It’s extremely unreasonable and completely contrary to science (human science, that is). That’s why I believe it, because it is impossible. That’s why I accept it, because it is incredible.
But I sincerely hope you don’t think I was saying I believe the moon is made of green cheese! Or that “people of faith” do. Wishing doesn’t make it so, and never did.



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Cam R

posted February 24, 2009 at 7:08 pm


Does it matter that Paul thought Adam was a unique individual living ca. 4000 years earlier? Does the inspiration of scripture require us to assume that Paul was right?
I would say ?it could? to the former and a ?that depends? on the latter.
It matters if Adam being a unique individual is part of what Paul is trying to communicate–if that is what Paul was intending to communicate.
For me, any idea of infallibility or inerrancy or ?rightness? that is implied by inspiration is ultimately linked to how we interpretation of scripture. If inspiration means that scripture has co-authorship–God and man then infallibility or inerrancy is tied to determining what did the authors intend to communicate and then the scope of truthfulness is restricted to that intention.
Too often I bring my own ideas or questions to scripture and then make it try to answer my questions when maybe that story or letter was never meant to answer those questions I bring to it. So it is a hermeneutic issue.
But it gets tricky?
If God ?accommodates? our own incorrect views to communicate what he intends to communicate then that is His prerogative. Probably a lot of our view of reality is skewed. But then on some level He is communicating untruth to communicate His intended message.



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Your Name

posted February 24, 2009 at 7:20 pm


Bob, of course, I don’t think that you believe that the moon is made of green cheese. That was just a bit of internet banter. I am sorry if I have offended you, I didn’t mean to do so.
The virgin birth (if one believes that it is a ‘historical’ occurance, which is one theological position amongst others)is not contrary to science in the sense that it cannot either be tested in a test tube or observed in scientist’s lab. I believe that God has ordered the natural world and that God is free to intervene in the natural order whenever God so chooses. Moreover, granting the ‘historicity’ of the virgin birth means that a virgin birth is not impossible, it is more than possible, it actually occured.
Incredible? Absolutely! Do I need faith to believe in the virgin birth, of course I do. In all of this, I do not beleive that I am either fleeing from reason or science as I continue to believe in Jesus Christ. As a sidenote, a belief in a virgin birth is not perculiar to the Christian faith.



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BenB

posted February 24, 2009 at 7:41 pm


Bob,
I feel like you made a category error. How old the earth is, and the virgin birth, do not go together. One has to do with what “can” happen (and God CAN do anything). The other has to do with what is known. The earth is NOT 6,000 years, just like the moon is not green. Believing it is so doesn’t make it so. Also, believing God can do it, doesn’t reconcile anything… bc he didn’t do it. As opposed to the virgin birth, whether it did or did not happen, we do not know. It comes down to a “can or cannot,” and if you believe it can, then you believe it did. Same goes for the resurrection and atonement.



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RJS

posted February 24, 2009 at 7:43 pm


Bob,
If we deny God – deny the supernatural altogether – then the virgin birth is unscientific and impossible.
But If we accept God – then the virgin birth is a specific one-off event with a specific purpose. Jesus was fully human but not merely human. Science says this isn’t the normal course of events, but that’s ok, there is actually no conflict – scripture also tells us that virgin birth is emphatically not normal routine.
The age of the earth etc. is a different issue. In this case we have a great deal of evidence – overwhelming – not just “normal” or “ordinary” experience. I simply do not believe that God created the world to look old, to look as though evolution was his mode of creation, and gave us Genesis so that we would know the truth. This is not not a lack of faith, it is looking at a rational, reasonable creation and the God revealed in scripture. Yes this reasoning then influences my view of the nature of scripture as the inspired word of God.
I am a university professor in chemistry working at the interface of chemistry, physics, and biology. From where I sit if we take the firm God cannot lie approach it is a no win situation – either he “lied” in Genesis or he “lied” in the nature of the world we see. But this is a false antithesis – he didn’t lie in either and is revealed in both. We have to look for him in his creation and in his word. With respect to Genesis – for a variety of reasons – the clear choice is that it is not literal-historical, and many, perhaps most, evangelical OT scholars will agree for reasons unrelated to science.



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RJS

posted February 24, 2009 at 7:51 pm


And Bob, I doubt I’ll convince you, but I still enjoy your contributions to our conversations.



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RJS

posted February 24, 2009 at 8:45 pm


ChrisB (#27)
#3 is elaborated on a bit in my comment #42 – and I’ll try to come back to it eventually.
#1 consists in large part of the age old conundrums – such as the origin of the crafty snake to tempt the woman, where Cain got his wife, the “sons of God” in Gen 6,two creation stories (Gen 1 and Gen 2), the nature of the Gen 4 – Gen 5 connection … Answers to such questions consistent with Genesis 1-11 as literal history require reading into the text things not there – and I think require logical leaps. Yes – all of these issues are old and have been worked over, but when they are added to #2 and #3 the effect snowballs. I find it much more reasonable to look at the pieces in Gen 1-11 as truth in stories, with roots in history, but not literal history.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted February 24, 2009 at 9:03 pm


?The movie (a parody inspired by the television series Star Trek) is about the washed-up stars of a fictional 1978?1982 TV series called Galaxy Quest. On the show, the actors played the crew of a spaceship, the NSEA Protector and are recruited by aliens who believe that their fictional adventures were real.?
TV broadcasts have traveled through space to Thermia, a distant planet where the inhabitants have no concept of acting or fictional stories. They simply refer to the shows as the ?historical documents.? They have built their entire culture based on the ?historical documents.?
When the Galaxy Quest crew realizes what the Thermians have done, they are in disbelief. One of the actors, Gwen DeMarco (Sigourney Weaver) has this exchange:
Gwen DeMarco: They’re not ALL “historical documents.” Surely, you don’t think Gilligan’s Island is a…
[All the Thermians moan in despair]
Mathesar [a Thermian]: Those poor people.
Acknowledging the mytho-historical qualities of Genesis 1-11 no more undercuts miracle claims in the gospels than does acknowledging the fictional qualities of Gilligan?s Island undercuts the historical legitimacy of a History Channel documentary. There are different genres of books (and different genres within books) in the Bible, just like there are different genres of television programs.
The reason for the insistence on the strict literal-reading of Genesis 1-11 is because of pre-determined conclusions that have been brought to the text not because of anything the text claims for itself. The Thermian?s Gilligan?s Island folly is the same folly we exhibit to the world with our rigid insistence on ALL ?historical documents? and it undermines the witness of the church.



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Travis Greene

posted February 24, 2009 at 10:00 pm


Michael,
The Galaxy Quest analogy is inspired. Thanks for that.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted February 24, 2009 at 10:17 pm


Thanks Travis. I somehow lost the first couple of lines from what I intended to post so here is the full version.
**********
In reflecting on the persistent claims of literal-historical readings of Genesis 1-11, I?ve come up with a new hermeneutic. I?m calling it the Thermian Hermenuetic.
Back 1999, there was a movie called Galaxy Quest. As Wikipedia explains:
?The movie (a parody inspired by the television series Star Trek) is about the washed-up stars of a fictional 1978?1982 TV series called Galaxy Quest. On the show, the actors played the crew of a spaceship, the NSEA Protector and are recruited by aliens who believe that their fictional adventures were real.?
TV broadcasts have traveled through space to Thermia, a distant planet where the inhabitants have no concept of acting or fictional stories. They simply refer to the shows as the ?historical documents.? They have built their entire culture based on the ?historical documents.?
When the Galaxy Quest crew realizes what the Thermians have done, they are in disbelief. One of the actors, Gwen DeMarco (Sigourney Weaver) has this exchange:
Gwen DeMarco: They’re not ALL “historical documents.” Surely, you don’t think Gilligan’s Island is a…
[All the Thermians moan in despair]
Mathesar [a Thermian]: Those poor people.
Acknowledging the mytho-historical qualities of Genesis 1-11 no more undercuts miracle claims in the gospels than does acknowledging the fictional qualities of Gilligan?s Island undercut the historical legitimacy of a History Channel documentary. There are different genres of books, and passages within books, in the Bible, just like there are different genres of television programs.
The reason for the insistence on the strict literal-reading of Genesis 1-11 is because of pre-determined conclusions that have been brought to the text not because of anything the text claims for itself. The Thermian?s Giligan?s Island folly is the same folly we bring to the world with our rigid insistence on ?historical documents? and it undermines the witness of the church.
Insisting that each and every document in the Bible is a literal-historical account leads to the Thermian error of mistaking Gilligan?s Island for an historical event.



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BeckyR

posted February 24, 2009 at 10:38 pm


RJS, how do you reconcile what was said in #12 which was the Luke account of ancestral lineage?



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Scot McKnight

posted February 24, 2009 at 10:42 pm


BeckyR,
I’m not speaking for RJS, but this is one clear option: Luke is tracing an ancestry through the Bible so that he provides a “biblically-based” geneaology. If “Adam” is a cipher for more than one person, then that doesn’t matter to Luke. It would be like Greeks tracing theirs back to Homer and Romans through the characters in The Aeneid.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted February 24, 2009 at 11:14 pm


#48 I’m also not RJS but I would offer that these are not the all inclusive generation-by-generation genealogies we are accustomed to. There can be several generations between mentioned individuals. They were used to establish identity according to tribe and clan. Matthew ties Jesus back to Abraham. Luke connects him back to Adam. Both do so for theological purposes.
Genesis 11: 12-13:
?12 When Arphaxad had lived 35 years, he became the father of Shelah. 13 And after he became the father of Shelah, Arphaxad lived 403 years and had other sons and daughters.?
Turn to Luke 3:35-36:
?35?Shelah, 36 the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, ??
Genesis 11 ? Arphaxad to Shelah
Luke 3 – Arphaxad to Cainan to Shelah
The authors are attempting to communicate something other than a precise historical genealogy.



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Ted M. Gossard

posted February 24, 2009 at 11:35 pm


I intend to read comments here. But first just to say, RJS, that your thoughts here I find quite helpful. And I agree.
“Adam” would be representative of any man who as part of the human community rebelled against God. Really probably representative of the entire human community of that time. Yet it just may be easier to come to terms with the admission of what you say here. And that such a reality does not in any way lessen Scripture’s claim to be God’s word.
But just some thinking before I read on. I need to keep working on this for myself, yet. But I find your stance here certainly plausible.



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Your Name

posted February 24, 2009 at 11:49 pm


“If “Adam” is a cipher for more than one person, then that doesn’t matter to Luke. It would be like Greeks tracing theirs back to Homer and Romans through the characters in The Aeneid.”
That doesn’t matter to Luke? I’m not quite sure what you are trying to say? Could you expound a bit.
Real quick. I think Luke was thinking there was ….Adam, who God created out of dust. Adam had a son named Seth. And on it went to Noah, who lived 950 years. He had a son, Shem, who was actually alive and well when Abraham lived, and even left Ur for Canaan when he was 75 years old. Abraham may have known Shem, perhaps. Or at least known of him.
God bless.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted February 25, 2009 at 12:22 am


#52
The idea of that Shem was alive during Abraham’s day only makes sense if the genealogies are all inclusive of each generation. The internal evidence clearly shows they are not. (Just one example in #50.) We can’t read our idea of genealogy back onto the text.
I suspect the line back to Adam is to show Christ’s connection to all humanity, not just to the Jews as with the Matthew genealogy.



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RJS

posted February 25, 2009 at 6:38 am


BeckyR,
Scot is the NT scholar, so his answer is worth more than mine. I didn’t think that the reference to Adam in the genealogy was as significant because the genealogy is stylized and follows a form to make a point – connecting Jesus with the history of Israel. So it is a “biblical” genealogy, meaning the form and the names come from the OT documents, not some other inspiration or source.
Good point Michael # 53 – both Matthew and Luke connect with Abraham, but only Luke explicitly goes back to Adam (although this would be implied of course in Matthew).
I also think that the fact that we have two different genealogies (Matthew 1 and Luke 3) should be a clue as to how these are to be read and their essential intent.



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donsands

posted February 25, 2009 at 7:29 am


“We can’t read our idea of genealogy back onto the text.”
I’m not sure what you mean?
But Shem was 98 years old when he got on the ark. And after the flood was over and the water subsided, and it was the 601st year of Noah, and Shem and his family left the ark, along with all the animals.
“God bless Noah and his sons, and said to them: ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” And so they did. Shem was 100 years old and had Arphaxad two years after the flood, and Shem lived 500 more years.
And when we get to Abram being born, Shem had to still be alive if you add up all the years.
I’ll have to check it once again later today.



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Bob Brague

posted February 25, 2009 at 8:46 am


RJS (#54), let me get this straight. There is “truth” (which can be shown through the interface of chemistry, physics, and biology) and there is “biblical (wink, wink) truth” (which we all know, or should know, is false). I don’t think so.
Re the two genealogies, one is probably descendant-of-David, blood-line genealogy (and therefore Mary’s) and the other is probably the legal, through-the-“father”, husband-of-Mary genealogy (and therefore Joseph’s).



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Bob Brague

posted February 25, 2009 at 9:09 am


Sorry, that should be “biblical” truth (wink, wink)….



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RJS

posted February 25, 2009 at 9:16 am


Bob,
I’ve heard the Mary vs Joseph explanation before. But it is not in the text and cannot be obtained from a literal reading of the text.
The texts say:
Mt 1:15-16
Eliud was the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob. Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.
Lk 3:23-24
When He began His ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age, being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph, the son of Eli, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melchi, the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph…
The suggestion that one was of Mary and the other of Joseph is an imposed assumption or inference based on a theory of inerrancy and what inerrancy must entail. Both cannot simultaneously be “literally inerrant” and of Joseph, of course they also cannot be “literally inerrant” and not of Joseph as both explicitly say that they are of Joseph.
I prefer not to make such an assumption of what inerrancy must entail. I prefer to let the text tell us what it is by the nature of the text we have. The nature of the text we have tells us that the typical evangelical definition of inerrancy is a modern fallacy.



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RJS

posted February 25, 2009 at 9:24 am


And I don’t think that there is “truth” and “biblical” truth (wink, wink). I think that there is truth period. And all of God’s revelation is truth – he “lies” in none of it – but we have to be able to interpret through the power of the Spirit.
And Bob – I don’t drop this because I’ve seen far too many students, colleagues, and contemporaries over the years hit this wall and be unable to reason around it. I have seen too many talk about faith, hit this wall and be unable to cross over. I am convinced that this antithesis “literal inerrancy” or “no gospel” is a tool of Satan. I dislike the “third way” language – but in this there must be a third way.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted February 25, 2009 at 9:36 am


Donsands #55
What I?m saying is that the genealogies, like in Genesis 5, are not describing literal sons and fathers. My great-grandfather, Carl P. Kruse, came to the U. S. from Denmark. If I were to write my paternal American genealogy I would write:
Carl P. Kruse, father of Carl H. Kruse, father of Carl W. Kruse, father of Michael W. Kruse
What if I wrote?
Carl P. Kruse, father of Michael W. Kruse
We would say I had erred. I skipped two generations. Not so with the Hebrew genealogies. When we see ?X was N years old, he became the father of Y? we naturally picture a literal father and son. I?m saying the more accurate reading is that ?X was N years old, he became the ancestor of Y.? There can be multiple generations between who is listed as ?father? and ?son? in these genealogies. The meaning of ?father? must be determined by the context.
Compare the Genesis 11 account (similarly written to Genesis 5) with the same account given in Luke 3:
Genesis 11: 12-13:
?12 When Arphaxad had lived 35 years, he became the father of Shelah. 13 And after he became the father of Shelah, Arphaxad lived 403 years and had other sons and daughters.?
Turn to Luke 3:35-36:
?35?Shelah, 36 the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, ??
Genesis 11 ? Arphaxad to Shelah
Luke 3 – Arphaxad to Cainan to Shelah
Despite Genesis 11 saying Arphaxad became Shelah?s father at age 35, it is not literally true. He became his ancestor. There was at least one intervening generation: Cainan. There could be many more generations between Arphaxad and Cainan, and between Cainan and Shelah. This true for all the genealogical links given.
Doing the math on the Genesis genealogies as though they mentioned literal fathers and sons isn?t valid. I did a post on genealogies at my blog that says more if you?re interested. Click here.



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MatthewS

posted February 25, 2009 at 9:36 am


I am the student, not the teacher. But at this point, it is too far of a stretch for me to say it didn’t matter whether Paul believed that Adam was a literal historical character if in fact Adam is a mytho-historical concept but not one literal man. Part of this is rooted in my respect for genre: I hate it when people wrest texts away from the intended genre. My present feeling is that if Genesis was intended by its human author(s) to be mytho-historical and interpreted as such by Paul, then we would be idiots to coerce it into any other genre. At the other extreme, if it were intended by its human author(s) to be literal-historical and interpreted as such by Paul, then I cannot so easily accept essentially an interpretive genre-change based on the original audience’s ignorance of scientific matters.
It gives significance to the author’s choice of genre if the author knew what he doing. I feel it attacks the significance of genre if the author made an ignorant choice. Why even pay attention to genre at all if the OT authors and NT interpreters were ignorant in their choice of genre? It moves too close to reader-response for my tastes. (Nobody here is using reader-response, I’m just talking continuum).
I wish that a theologian of Scot’s stature or a scientist of RJS’s would weigh in here on the other side of RJS’s claim of “No it doesn’t matter.” Perhaps one does not exist that takes that side, I don’t know.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted February 25, 2009 at 10:14 am


MatthewS #61
I want reprise something I wrote in a comment on an earlier post.
Two four year olds are asked where their newborn baby brother came from. The first child says, ?My mommy and daddy wanted another baby so one day a large white bird with a big beak brought my brother in a basket and left him outside the front door. My mommy and daddy opened the door one morning and there he was.? The other child responds that, ?My mommy and daddy wanted another baby so one day my daddy put a seed in my mommy?s tummy. It grew up into my brother until one day when he was big enough he came out and here he is.?
The first story has no concordance with actual historical events. The second clearly does. Is it complete? No. Is it precisely accurate (non-mythical)? No. But it does closely concord with historical realities. I would not send a scientist to the second child to learn how babies are born but I would affirm that from a four year old?s perspective, the child has a good grasp of historical realities.
Discussing origins to a pre-scientific Ancient Near East culture is much like explaining birth to a four year old. Rather than a stork fairytale about origins, God instead chose to reveal a description that corresponds with historically realities but was comprehensible to its audience.
The revelation of origins was given to ?four year olds? (in scientific terms) in the Genesis account. It was passed down, interpreted, and applied by other ?four year olds? like Paul. So here is what I would say.
Was Genesis 1-11 mytho-historical? Yes
Did the ANE writers and Paul know it was mytho-historical? Probably not anymore than the four year old understood his brother?s birth story to be mytho-historical.
Does science now show these stories to be in error? No. Not anymore than learning about human reproduction in biology class at school reveals that the story you heard about birth when you were four could be shown to be in error in light of the limited knowledge you had at the time.



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RJS

posted February 25, 2009 at 10:33 am


Michael,
I think that your analogy is useful – but it can be pushed too far, primarily because the analogy of (child –> adult) to (intelligent adult 3000 years ago —> intelligent adult 2000 years ago (Paul) —> intelligent adult today) is not quite right.
MatthewS,
It is hard to get into the heads of past cultures (especially distant past) and understand how they would have viewed these stories. Gen 1-11 is clearly a compilation, one editor but not one author. It is also clear that the editor didn’t consider the tensions between different pieces of the text to be significant. This is one guide as to the intent and expectation of the day.
I think we see the same type of compilation and tension in Exodus as well. Again the editor/author didn’t seem to think that this was significant.
So I am led to the conclusion that some of the issues we have today are because we read our expectation of the text back into the text. This is a cultural problem of our day and age, not a problem with the text itself.
But I brought up the issue of Paul because I think that this is a very serious question and was worth discussion. I don’t claim to have the last word on all of the intricacies by any means.



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Bob Brague

posted February 25, 2009 at 10:41 am


ANE writers were “four-year-olds”. St. Paul was a “four-year-old”. In our generation, of course, we are all post-graduate students, except for the small number of truly enlightened among us who have become post-graduate professors.



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Bob Brague

posted February 25, 2009 at 10:42 am


My remark was directed to Michael Kruse, but RJS’s comment showed up in-between…



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Scot McKnight

posted February 25, 2009 at 10:45 am


Bob,
I’m glad you put those thoughts in public, because this has to be discussed.
Yes, it can sound like we enlightened folks — and I include you in this crowd of moderns — can look down our informed noses at the ancients and see how uninformed they were about some things, including scientific things. In the realm of science, we have advanced way beyond them.
This is the point.
But, we become arrogant if we miss out on the profundity of their wisdom, and that we return to the Bible — after all these years — proves that our stance toward the Bible’s revelatory message is not arrogant but (I hope) the humility of listening to what God says to us.



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Bob Brague

posted February 25, 2009 at 10:45 am


Logic would tell us that in many ways we are probably still four-year-olds. Ask the people in the 31st century, if there is a 31st century.



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Scot McKnight

posted February 25, 2009 at 11:01 am


Bob,
You made the point I was going to make.
If we don’t look at even our advances as only anticipating the genius of the next generations, we will also become arrogant.



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dopderbeck

posted February 25, 2009 at 11:13 am


RJS said: I am convinced that this antithesis “literal inerrancy” or “no gospel” is a tool of Satan.
I respond: This point needs to be continually emphasized. The gospel is about the living presence of the incarnate, crucified and risen Christ. The center of scripture is Jesus Christ, and scripture is given that we may know Jesus Christ. The creation stories in scripture help explain the coming of Jesus Christ. They help explain the absolute power and transcendence of the one creator-God, the universality of human sin, and the helplessness of the human condition apart from God, all with a view towards God’s provision of grace in Jesus Christ. God does not err and the scriptures accomplish every purpose for which they were given without leading us into error.
But we err when we make a particular understanding of the scriptures the litmus test for the truth of Jesus Christ. We need to read scripture according to the ancient “rule of faith” — that scripture testfies to God’s revelation in Jesus Christ — rather than imposing on scripture other rules drawn from formal logic or other such disciplines.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted February 25, 2009 at 12:09 pm


Bob #64, #67
“ANE writers were “four-year-olds”. St. Paul was a “four-year-old”.
As it relates to matters of science and how things work in nature, without equivocation, YES!!! This has no bearing on the timeless human/divine relationship truths and theological truths revealed by God to the ancients.
The four year old learned from the story that baby brother was wanted by mom and dad. He learns that it is out of their relationship that baby brother was born. It gives baby brother an identity and a context. It conveys relational truths in a form he can understand.
What would it add to a four year old’s knowledge to enter into a detailed discussion of the act of sexual intercourse? To then explain how life begins with the fusion of two gametes? To then explain how a fertilized egg begins to grow? To explain how the presence of certain chromosomes is what determined baby brother would be a brother and not a sister? To explain the role of DNA directing the development of certain traits? Yada yada yada. It wouldn’t add anything and it would profoundly confuse. The timeless truth still holds that baby brother emerged from a loving relationship between mom and dad.
God gave the ANE folks a stories that show him as creator of all. It shows that our origins were an intentional act of God. It shows that we somehow broke the relationship and it needs mending.
What would it have added to these pre-scientific folks to explain how truly ancient the earth is? What would it add to explain the process through which cells emerged and specialized over time, evolving into more complex life forms before one day God breathed sentient life into one of the beings he had evolved. Why not just say to these scientific four year olds that God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed life into him? It has no bearing on the the relational and theological truths communicated in the story. It would profoundly confuse these scientific four year olds.
I think I was crystal clear in what I wrote:
“The revelation of origins was given to ?four year olds? (in scientific terms) in the Genesis account.”
You wrote:
“Logic would tell us that in many ways we are probably still four-year-olds. ”
I couldn’t agree more! The relational and theological truths are just as real and poignant now as they were then. And they will be so in the 31st Century and all eternity. Yet our appreciation of the “hows” of nature will almost certainly expand greatly.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted February 25, 2009 at 12:16 pm


RJS #63
“I think that your analogy is useful – but it can be pushed too far, primarily because the analogy of (child –> adult) to (intelligent adult 3000 years ago —> intelligent adult 2000 years ago (Paul) —> intelligent adult today) is not quite right.”
As it relates to matters of science and how nature actually works I do think the analogy works. I wrote:
“The revelation of origins was given to ?four year olds? (in scientific terms) in the Genesis account.”
As an astronomer friend of mind likes to point out, we’ve learned more about astronomy in the last decade than in all of previous human history. I’m not clear how people 3,000 years ago and 2,000 years ago could be considered anything but “four year olds” in scientific matters compared to today’s knowledge.



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RJS

posted February 25, 2009 at 12:26 pm


Michael, The analogy is certainly useful (I used it after all in one of the posts) but I think that Scot’s comment #66 actually gets at some of my uneasiness with it. There is scientific ignorance – but profound, real, thoughtful, inspired, adult wisdom in the text – not 4-year old wisdom.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted February 25, 2009 at 12:53 pm


RJS #72
“There is scientific ignorance – but profound, real, thoughtful, inspired, adult wisdom in the text – not 4-year old wisdom.”
Amen! Technical knowledge and wisdom are different arenas. I didn’t understand what I wrote to be communicating to the contrary.



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Chris E

posted February 25, 2009 at 1:31 pm


RJS (and others) –I’m trying to make sure that I get the flow of your arguments.
There is a hermeneutical dialectic being expressed in this thread. Namely: 1) Genesis 1-4 makes assertions that, if taken to be literally true, could not be squared with modern scientific knowledge, 2) we can be more sure of our scientific knowledge than we can be of how we should interpret these ancient Hebrew texts, 3) among other sources, ANE literature provides us with examples of a mytho-historical genre that can be used to interpret Genesis 1-4 in a way that does not conflict with modern scientific knowledge.
Is that a fair sketch? What would you change?



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Your Name

posted February 25, 2009 at 2:58 pm


“I’m not clear how people 3,000 years ago and 2,000 years ago could be considered anything but “four year olds” in scientific matters compared to today’s knowledge.”
Once again, I’m not quite sure what your saying, and perhaps I’m not in the same league here.
But…
Jesus certainly wasn’t a “four year old”. As God He knew all things, though He also allowed Himself to be ignorant, in the best sense, as a human being, yet divine.
And the Apostle Paul, who actually visited the third heaven, and came back, with things he saw that he dare not utter, wasn’t a “four year old” I’m sure you agree.
I’ll have to check your “post on genealogies” out. Thanks.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted February 25, 2009 at 3:23 pm


Chris E #74
I’ll take a stab at it.
#1 Essentially yes, but we don?t have to go as sophisticated as modern scientific knowledge. They can?t be squared with our everyday experience of reality. Either something utterly supernatural happened or we are encountering a storytelling device. We can?t just take it as natural occurrence. The question is how to reconcile the incongruity.
#2 I?d qualify this to say:
?we can be more sure of our scientific knowledge of how the natural order works than we can be of how we should interpret these ancient Hebrew texts as they touch on natural events and the precise historical nature of each event described.?
#3 I don?t like the wording of this. I think its because it seems to suggest I started with science and began looking for a tool to subject the Bible to science. I believe science (part of general revelation; how God ordered the world to work) and the Bible (special revelation; God’s purposes in creation) originate from the same source: God. I want to understand how the two interrelate. I think that Gen. 1-11 should be treated as a type of ANE mytho-history not because it preserves science but because that is what it appears to actually be.



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RJS

posted February 25, 2009 at 3:31 pm


Chris E
Here is my basic hermeneutic: And all of God’s revelation is truth – he “lies” in none of it – but we have to be able to interpret through the power of the Spirit.
If you ask a why question – why we exist, why are humans screwed up, why did Jesus die,… or similar questions – what is the meaning of the atonement, where is our hope — clearly I hold scripture as the revelation conveying the essential truth. But I don’t think that scripture was ever intended to teach astrophysics (or medicine). Thus imposing our presumptions on the text to make it a science text is a fallacy.



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Scot McKnight

posted February 25, 2009 at 3:32 pm


Michael,
I would add that science presses upon us to see the text differently. Apart from science, we would be pre-Medieval on these sorts of texts. Once we have a firmer view of science, we are prone to see mytho-historical where previously we might not have.
Copernicus’ insight pressed upon Bible readers to understand statements about the sun as phenomenological rather than scientific statements.



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Darren King

posted February 25, 2009 at 3:37 pm


Your Name,
What I perceive in your comment that, because Paul visited the third heaven he couldn’t possibly be considered a “four year old”, is an assumption that I think is flawed. We human beings piece together a reality that is coherent via a worldview. This worldview/paradigm is a construct built via our culture, our personality, our familiar heritage, and many additional factors… Visiting the 3rd heaven does not completely wipe clean this worldview. Certainly it will add detail to it – cause tweaking, etc… But, at an essential level, we still attempt to incorporate new experiences (even 3rd heavens) into the framework of our existing worldviews. This is simply what it means to be human. So… all that is to say, Paul could very well experience profound revelation… and still be subject to the limitations and biases of his worldview. Indeed, we all are.



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Cam R

posted February 25, 2009 at 3:46 pm


Scot,
You mentioned God’s accommodation in scripture a while back in the thread. What are people’s thoughts on God accommodating our inaccurate models of reality in his message for us?
At first glance, I want to say God won’t accommodate us because he is the God of truth and how does he say something untrue but so much of our models of reality are far from perfect. So at the ultimate level, all my models aren’t perfect.
The tough part is determining what parts could be accommodation and discounting them as such. I work in research science and while we are learning more and more about the natural world we are also finding that there is still a lot we don’t know or understand.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted February 25, 2009 at 4:17 pm


#78 Soct
Excellent point. I agree.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted February 25, 2009 at 4:47 pm


#75 Donsands (I think that is you.) :-)
Here are a couple of examples of ancient Greek medical knowledge at buzzle.com:
?Ancient Greeks developed a logical system to analyze a disease. It was based on four humors or substance of the human body. The four humors were blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm. The Greeks believed if the four humors were balanced the person is healthy and any unbalance would cause health problems.
Another point worth mentioning is ancient Greek physicians believed that reducing the amount of blood would help to bring down the body temperature. The Greek physicians used to create a small cut on the arm of a patient or put leeches on the arm to drain blood. Hence, ancient Greek physicians were often called “leeches”?
I ask you, if you develop a serious illness, who do you want to see? A) a doctor with ancient Greek knowledge of medicine or B) a modern doctor using present day medical knowledge, using modern state of the art equipment? Why?



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Jim Thompson

posted February 25, 2009 at 5:00 pm


I disagree with the notion that we should accommodate the Bible to 21st century science. We would do better to begin with the Bible and use science to help us get the story right. In this case the notion that death began with human sin is crucial to the Gospel and a key to understanding the operations of the physical universe. As I demonstrate in my book, The Physics of Genesis, the assumption that human observations play a huge role in determining the physical shape of reality is a crucial part of quantum physics. With that in mind, it is clear that the sin of Adam was the necessary foundation for the death ridden condition of the world as we experience it today. The connection between Genesis 2-3 and Genesis 1 becomes clear when we understand that in its own words Genesis 1 is describing the construction of a blueprint or software package for a potential universe, a universe actualized by human observation. The healing of the human heart by way of the Gospel begins the healing of the whole universe by going to the heart of the cosmic problem, just as Paul contends in Romans 8.



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donsands

posted February 25, 2009 at 6:36 pm


“I ask you, if you develop a serious illness, who do you want to see? A) a doctor with ancient Greek knowledge of medicine or B) a modern doctor using present day medical knowledge, using modern state of the art equipment? Why?”
My first choice would be Dr. Luke the gospel writer, when he was hanging tight with the Apostle Paul.
2nd choice would be Dr. Ben Carson.
I get your point.
Jesus knew how He wanted to allow the world develope even before He created it. I can take much comfort in our sovereign eternal infinte Lord. He is sovereign over every cancer cell that ever existed. He knows every thought of every man that has been, and that will ever be.
And it’s this same “God who works in us both to will and to do, and so we work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.”
A bit of a rabbit trail I know, but I shall be pondering the challenges you have given me. Thanks.
To Christ be all glory in my life, heart, and mind.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted February 25, 2009 at 9:35 pm


So all I?m saying is that People in Moses? day had an exceedingly limited understanding of what we would today call medicine, biology, geology, astronomy, etc. This presents a challenge from the standpoint of special revelation at those points where such revelation touches on issues related to these bodies of knowledge. Does God,
A) bring the hearers of the story entirely up to speed on these bodies of knowledge so he can give them a precise accurate accounting of something like how life came to be? (Keeping in mind that the ?how? is peripheral to the revelation.)
B) present the timeless truths he needs to communicate to hearers of the story in concepts and forms that will be comprehensible to them but imprecise and sometimes inaccurate to an audience more knowledgeable on these bodies of knowledge?
I?m saying it is the latter. Revelation is always delivered into a socio-historical context. When we read scripture we are not reading something written to 21st Century westerners. We are ?listening in? on a conversation from another socio-historical context, the record of which was superintended by God so that, as Doperdeck wrote in #69, ?God does not err and the scriptures accomplish every purpose for which they were given without leading us into error.?
Therefore, we can boldly and confidently claim that this record of revelation is an authoritative accurate account of God revealing himself into a particular socio-historical context. We live in a different socio-historical context and it is reasonable to expect that if God was giving such special revelation today he would use different concepts and forms appropriate to us. It would have to accommodated to our level of understanding on many issues. Since he is not giving special revelation in the form of new scripture, we read scripture, ever mindful we are ?listening in? on revelation in another socio-historical context accommodated to their ignorance of medicine, biology, geology and astronomy.
The strict literalist position makes no allowance for the contextual accommodation for ignorance of these scientific bodies of knowledge and ends up making the accommodating explanations the supreme measure of truth for all time. It metaphorically sets up the story given to the four year old as the measure to which all scientific knowledge must now conform.



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phil_style

posted February 26, 2009 at 7:50 am


Just wondering if anyone else had seen Channel 4 (UK) recent series “Christianity: A History”. The most recent episode was presented by Colin Blakemore. See his article in the Guardian this week: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/feb/22/genetics-religion
No denying where this chap sits on the continuum. . . .



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sam

posted August 20, 2009 at 12:25 pm


So, what do you make of all the genealogies throughout the bible?
What is the purpose of a genealogy in a quasi-historical setting?
Wouldn’t it better not to put such genealogy if
the stories are not meant to be taken as historically accurate?
I think there is only one interpretation possible for any culture
to record actual genealogies, that is to be historically accurate
in the description of their lineage
I mean think of the all the implications in any culture if one were
to make a genealogy!
I think genealogies were seriously (meaning literally) taken
for many issues (legal, property, authority)



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Diamond Glass

posted October 27, 2010 at 5:27 pm


Honestly I think that is one of my favorite verses, but it’s not as powerful as where it says in Timothy that we are to be examples of the believers. Essentially, the only thing we CAN control in life is the way we act, think, and speak. So those things need to be exemplary of Christ’s life.



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