In volume one of Essentials of Evangelical Theology (2 Volumes in 1), Donald Bloesch has a chapter entitled The Primacy of Scripture and a section in his chapter on Total Depravity dealing with The Story of the Fall. We have been discussing both of these issues – and as Bloesch takes a rather conservative reformed evangelical stance over all, it is worth considering what he has to say. (HT dopderbeck who directed me back to this book I’ve had on my shelf for nearly three decades but hadn’t cracked open since the final for my theology class.)
In his discussion of the primacy of scripture Bloesch emphasizes the human and divine aspects of scripture and notes that many have a docetic view of scripture – and that this view is mistaken.
Scripture cannot be rightly understood unless we take into consideration that it has dual authorship. … The Bible is not partly the Word of God and partly the word of man: it is in its entirety the very Word of God and the very word of man. … if we affirm … that the Bible is predominantly a divine book and that the human element is only a mask or outward aspect of the divine, then we have a docetic view of Scripture. Some would even say that the Bible is an exact reproduction of the thoughts of God, but this denies its real humanity as well as its historicity. (p. 52 – page numbers are from the 1978 original I’ve had since college)
What does this mean to Bloesch? (What does it mean to you?)
First – The authority of scripture flows from the authority of God in Jesus Christ.
… we must bear in mind that the ultimate, final authority is not Scripture but the living God himself as we find him in Jesus Christ. … The Bible is authoritative because it points beyond itself to the absolute authority, the living and transcendent Word of God. (p. 62-63)
Bloesch sounds quite a lot like NT Wright here as we discussed Wright’s book last week.
Second – inerrancy and infallibility nuanced.
The enlightened biblical Christian will not shrink from asserting that there are culturally conditioned ideas as well as historically conditioned language in the Bible. (p. 64)
We can heartily assent to this statement [the Lausanne Covenant] but with the proviso that the infallible truth of Scripture is not something self-evident. The doctrine or message of Scripture, which alone is infallible and inerrant, is hidden in the historical and cultural witness of the biblical writers. They did not err in what they proclaimed, but this does not mean that they were faultless in their recording of historical data, or in their world view, which is now outdated. … This is why our ultimate criterion is not the Scripture in and of itself but the Word and the Spirit, the Scripture illumined by the Spirit. (p. 65).
But the nuancing of the idea of scriptural inerrancy is not a new phenomenon. Luther held that the scriptures do not err – but also said:
When one often reads [in the Bible] that great numbers were slain – for example, eighty thousand – I believe that hardly one thousand were actually killed. What is meant is the whole people. (p. 65 quoting from Luther’s Works vol. 54)
Luther also though that an ingenious, pious and learned man added to Job and that there was failure as well as success in prophetic prediction.
Calvin thought that Jeremiah’s name crept into Mt. 27:9 by mistake and doubted that 2 Peter was actually written by Peter despite its self attestation.
Third – The Fall – mythic and historical.
Genesis contains mythic and legendary elements in common with the ancient near eastern milieu of the original audience. The Fall is not a myth – but the text of Genesis is distinctly mythohistorical. It uses myth to convey truth. To read the text as strictly historical is to misinterpret the Word of God, to force our definition of what God would or would not inspire onto the text.
At this point it is important to establish the correct hermeneutical procedure for understanding the “myth” of the fall. In order to discover what the author really intended we must take into consideration the literary genre of the narrative. In this way the literal sense is not less but more respected. … To affirm that there are mythical and legendary elements in the Scripture is not to detract from its divine inspiration nor from its historical basis but to attest that the Holy Spirit has made use of various kinds of language and imagery to convey divine truth. (p. 104-105).
Bloesch affirms a historical fall but not the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis as exact literal history. Adam and Eve may or may not have existed as a unique initial pair.
It seems, however, that the story of the fall does assume that mankind has a common ancestor or ancestors who forfeited earthly happiness by falling into sin. The story has a dual focus: it points not only to generic man but to primal man. Its message holds true in both cases: man is not created a sinner but becomes a sinner through a tragic misuse of his freedom. (p. 107)
He points to the views of CS Lewis and others as he discusses this (see Lewis in The Problem of Pain for example).
The emergence of man is attributed to divine action – but this does not deny the evidence for evolution, the antiquity of the species, or the connection with prior hominoid species. It simply states that mankind is not the result of blind cosmic evolution. In an endnote he says:
We are open to the view of Karl Rahner that the first authentic hominisation (coming into being of man) happened only once – in a single couple. Yet it would not contradict the Christian faith “to assume several hominisations [pre-Adamites] which quickly perished in the struggle for existence and made no contribution to the one real saving history of mankind…” (p. 117-118)
Well, I’ve strung together several quotes from these two sections of Bloesch’s book to try to make the point that science and faith need not be at loggerheads – and that many evangelical scholars and thinkers have long realized this and wrestled with the issues. What trickles down to the local church and the individual Christian is unfortunately often much more rigid and much less nuanced.
I find no reason for an orthodox evangelical Christian to question the general observations of evolutionary biology, paleontology, and paleethnology among others. We deny blind cosmic chance and ontological purposelessness – we need not deny the evidence of our senses and the nature of God’s creation revealed in the creation itself.
What do you think of Bloesch’s view of scripture or of the Fall?
If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail [at] att.net.