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The Primacy of Scripture and The Fall (RJS)

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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.



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josenmiami

posted June 4, 2009 at 8:03 am


makes sense to me — thank you!



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Deborah

posted June 4, 2009 at 8:36 am


RJS,
I agree with your comments and agree that we can be orthodox, evangelical and people of science. My daughter wants to pursue a career in genetic research and we have talked about the battles that rage…and how she can indeed be a Christian and a scientist (she is not yet convinced).
I can not deny the fossil evidence of dinosaurs and I personally have issues with young earth theory so when someone quizzes me about evolution, science, etc I share my thoughts that isn’t it wonderful that God, anticipating our needs one day would provide dinosaurs and fossil fuels and other resources that we have yet to discover.
I believe we have to be in a serious and thoughtful dialogue with the things that our culture says we Christians are out of touch with…or we really are irrelevant.



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JET

posted June 4, 2009 at 9:36 am


It seems that Bloesch wants to insist on an historical Adamic couple. (If there were “several hominisations”, all but the Adamic couple “quickly perished”.)
Why would he introduce the messy ideas of myth, legend and the literary genre of the narrative, only to then insist on the historicity of the Adamic couple?
Bloesch says: “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.” However, does his interpretation of Genesis really account for the literary genre of the narrative, or is it ultimately driven by his interpretation of Romans?



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Jim Marks

posted June 4, 2009 at 9:40 am


I will never understand this striving to endlessly assert the primacy of Scripture, or sola scriptura or whatever anyone wants to call it. Three of the appeals in this write-up to bolster the position come from the writings of historic figures (Luther, Calvin, Lewis)!
Whether we like it or not, our understanding of Scripture is utterly and completely subsumed by the historic, hermeneutic tradition in which we learned our understandings of the Scripture. If at some point we come to a new understanding, it is almost certainly through insight provided by some new voice in the tradition. We are the end products of two millennia of people reading, thinking about and writing about the scriptures. There is not an active Christian alive who has the capacity to ignore all of that and to put the Bible above these things.
The creeds we espouse, the liturgies (or lack of) in which we move, the doctrines we embrace, the sermons we write and listen to, all these things flow from the tradition of interpreting scripture, not from scripture directly. It is impossible to assert on the one hand that Scripture is fully divine and fully human and on the other hand then assert that the human part can be ignored so that our creeds and doctrines and spring fully formed directly from the divinely inspired truth of the Bible into our minds. It is total nonsense.
Even this blog entry is a response to an author’s words about the nature of Scripture. It is more of the tradition -about- the Scriptures. Any truth in this post, any truth in the book about which it is, came from the tradition about Scripture, not from Scripture itself.
To truly put Scripture first, one could never reference Lewis, Luther, Calvin, Augustine or anyone else when bolstering an assertion about a doctrine, you could only reference Scripture. But no one does this!



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Scot McKnight

posted June 4, 2009 at 9:46 am


Jim,
Wow, that’s a bit tough-minded of you. Let me come at this from a slightly different angle.
Yes, influence is palpable and notable in everything we say and think … but
Isn’t the relationship between the human, Christian reader more dialectical: Sacred Text, more or less sacred tradition, and the Reader (in his/her own context)?
And, do you think the Text can reshape the Reader and even transform the Reader? (Let me confess it has to me, and in ways that sabotaged my own proclivities.)



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eric

posted June 4, 2009 at 10:33 am


well, it’s a shame that in america we are so black and white.. either a “bible believing “christian (ie, 6000 years ago creation, evolution a tool of the of the devil, etc.) or outside the christian loop. I am glad to be a methodist now where a little free thinking is allowed. Too bad a fundamental preacher ruined my daughter’s faith when she was young with the usual false dichotomy. I fully endorse Bloesch and see he is not far from Peter Enns way of looking at things (although he maybe gives a little too much away to biblical criticism.) We need to always remember why God with human authors wrote this book to us and what is He saying to us.It sure is dialectical and changes over time to a degree, but one with a good pneumatology could explain that each era hears what God feels they need to hear, so we always “hear” something a little different depending on where and when we live.So in response to Jim, the message is the same at it’s core, but the translation will vary with time/place/needs.



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Kenny Johnson

posted June 4, 2009 at 10:46 am


“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 absolutely agree with this. I know you and I butted heads a couple times on this, but I think it’s mostly because I’m not ready to give as much to critical Biblical scholarship as you would. I actually like much of what Bloesch wrote.
I’m also skeptical of the full claims of the evolutionary theory. But neither do I deny the possibility. Believe it not, I have my A.A. in Anthropolgy from a secular school. I spent an entire semester on human origins. :) I respect all those Christians such as yourself and Colins, though I’d disagree.
But, it’s funny. This just came up last Tuesday at my Bible Study. A friend asked if I was scared of my son learning about evolution in public school. I said no, that I think he should learn about evolution which really surprised my friend, who I suspect is a YEC, though I didn’t ask.



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Darren King

posted June 4, 2009 at 11:00 am


Maybe Jesus Creed is trying to bridge worlds for Christians coming from both old-school, traditional viewpoints, and more progressive viewpoints. But, still, I don’t quite understand the fascination with this topic. Doesn’t there come a point when we delve to such a degree that we actually are counterproductive in our inquiry? Where we lose the forest for the trees?
Secondly, its one thing to say Scripture is both human and divine in origin – but what does this really MEAN? It looks nice on a doctrinal statement. But its still a very, to use an NT Wright expression, “muddled” concept. To me its a rather simple equation – in the abstract – but one we can’t spend too much time or energy trying to define – lest we actually lose, not gain, clarity. Scripture is the result of human beings writing down inspired experiences with the God of the universe. And so, of course, human error and cultural biases creep into the final result. There really is NO OTHER CONCLUSION to draw once we take into account a realistic view of human nature and human experience. These writers had no choice but to take the revelation they experienced and filter it through their own culturally-specific, individual-specific, history-specific filter. There’s really no other way that process can be imagined to have taken place. Of course, for many of these writers, they would have been completely ignorant of the role their own filters played, but, nevertheless, it is OBVIOUS this happened – and MUST ALWAYS happen in such circumstances. Its true for them, true for us. Period.
I am sure that Scot, RJS, and many others here already believe this. So why do we continue to debate and strike-up these topics? Is it to help those who have yet to make this interpretive transition? Or what? I’m honestly asking.



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Kenny Johnson

posted June 4, 2009 at 11:20 am


Darren
I’m curious to hear for myself, but I suspect that Scot and RJS wouldn’t agree with your definition of inspiration.



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Randy

posted June 4, 2009 at 11:38 am


I disagree with the conclusion of Dareen King’s Post #8. I commend Scot and RJS for repeatedly bringing up these topics. This is not because they do much for me, but because our young people need to see Christians seriously discuss such topics, and different young people will come to this blog at different points. I am glad that anyone who reads it for a week is likely to catch some thread of such significant conversations.
That said, this particular post does not engage me where I am at presently. I feel like in my case this one at this time does lose the forest for the trees.
Peace,
Randy
Gabrielse



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Scot McKnight

posted June 4, 2009 at 11:42 am


Randy, thanks for your ongoing contribution to this blog.
I do think this post is valuable for all of us, not the least being those who think the only way to deal with these issues is either to announce with dogmatic certainty or to denounce those who struggle with what they think is certain.



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Your Name

posted June 4, 2009 at 12:02 pm


Sounds like a bunch of gobbedlygook to me. You mean God made sure the Bible was half true? And that even though half of it may not be true in a strict sense we’re supposed to take it for granted that the other half is?
Nuanced? I call this desperate.
Mythohistorical? Does that even make any sense? Sounds like an oxymoron to me.



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Darren King

posted June 4, 2009 at 12:04 pm


Scot and Randy,
I think what would most help our young people is an honest accounting of what biblical inspiration and authority actually looks like based on a 21st century understanding of the human condition. And believing something strongly is not the same thing as holding to dogmatic certainty – I hope that can be acknowledged in light of Scot’s last comment.
My point is this: isn’t there a time when the way to move us forward, the way to allow Christianity to fully engage the 21st century with real vitality, is to come out and say “this seems to be the most balanced way to understand this equation”. It seems to me that once we’re done with this 20th century inerrancy debate, we can actually move on to expressing faithful commitment to Kingdom values in a way that honors Jesus and really impacts the world in the here and now.
So I guess I’m calling some people out. Scot, RJS, others, if this is already a decided issue for you, say so. If its not, fine, I’d love to hear where the wrestle is then.
Peace and love,
Darren



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Travis Greene

posted June 4, 2009 at 12:46 pm


Darren,
I don’t think RJS could possibly be any more clear than: “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.”
As to your earlier question, “So why do we continue to debate and strike-up these topics? Is it to help those who have yet to make this interpretive transition? Or what?”
I think it’s partly to help those who have yet to figure all this out, or at least arrive at a settling point. Some of us come from traditions where the options are inerrancy or apostasy, and it’s enormously helpful to know that you can take Scripture seriously, fervently honoring it as Scripture and centering your life around it without sticking your head in the sand or twisting into all the intellectual knots creationism requires.
It also matters missionally. Evangelistically. Young earth creationism isn’t just bad science and bad theology (though it is both those things). It’s hurting our mission in the world. People are rejecting Jesus Christ because we’re telling them to believe in the Flintstones.
Also, this is a theology blog! Why are you surprised to find debates about Scripture here? As you can see from the number of comments every time, this is obviously a hot topic. It matters for us today.



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Darren King

posted June 4, 2009 at 12:56 pm


Travis,
Sure, this is a theology blog. But sometimes it feels like we’re debating the theological questions of a previous century. Perhaps a more potent, relevant “theological” question is: in light of our new understanding of Scripture, how should we then tackle issues such as ethics, pluralism, sexuality, the environment, etc.



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BenB

posted June 4, 2009 at 1:23 pm


Darren (#8),
I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of Scripture, but would want to focus more on God’s divine guidance of some of these traditions.
However, why should we not continue to talk about such matters here? As Travis has already said, many here are still ironing these things out, or need to hear more options. Many come from traditions, homes, churches, schools, where it is inerrancy or apostacy. So these are a big deal.
Likewise, Jesus Creed has never been a closed community that simply talked about what everyone who already comes here wants to talk about. It is run by a missionaly-minded Biblical Scholar who has a heart for deep issues in Evangelicalism and is committed to being a part of moving the church forward in ways that will help us be a missional people for God’s Kingdom (Thank you very much for this, Scot). You’ve been posting here long enough, I’m sure you already know this. However, that means that he is (I’m guessing here) committed to allowing these types of posts to continue to run as long as they are beneficial to the evangelical church.
This means that if ONE person who does not usually visit here, comes and reads this topic through a GOOGLE or YAHOO search, and it causes them to wrestle with a dogmatic view of inerrancy, it’s worth it, even if 100% of Jesus Creeders already agree (though I believe it’s clear that we all don’t).
Lastly,
If you don’t like these posts, you don’t have to read them. RJS taking her time to post them is not doing anyone any harm. It’s not taking up space from other posts. Why would it be a problem that they keep getting posted? At the very least, you could just not read them.
Grace and Peace,
Ben



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John L

posted June 4, 2009 at 1:23 pm


Scot, I think Jim (#4) makes an eloquent case. How can the fallible parse infallibiljty?
To be of any spiritual power at all, scripture must point us beyond itself: beyond logic, propositions, religious rationale. It?s not that we abandon textual truths and principles, we simply mature beyond the point of finding religious security in a God utterly reduced to our own understanding.
St. Paul’s “dim view” metaphor speaks into our conversation. The KJV glass is DARK. The Peterson fog is THICK. The NAS/YLT mirror is DIM and OBSCURE. Our best understanding of God, via text, is dark, thick, and obscure.
From this perspective, we should be more concerned about our own sense of religious significance in light of the infinite reality that exists beyond text, beyond semiotics and transient tribal familiarities. The text often asks us to transcend our common ways of understanding (2Cor12:2, Pr3:5, Jn17, etc.)
On the other hand, I’m fine with anyone who feels the need to ascribe spiritual power to letters on a page. I get the deep emotional / family attraction to this need. If our texts (or videos, etc.) inspire a cross-centered life, they have done the job. They are adequate. But, like Jim (#4), I’m convinced that “our understanding of Scripture is utterly and completely subsumed by the historic, hermeneutic tradition in which we learned our understandings of the Scripture.”



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BenB

posted June 4, 2009 at 1:31 pm


Darren,
I think we have done a lot of potent, relevant “theological” posts on the questions of Ethics, Sexuality, and Environment on this blog.
Again, I’m not seeing how dealing with this topic is taking away from dealing with those. I don’t think this is questions of the previous century…
I believe we are at a point where we might finally, through posts like these and other academic efforts, be able to nip “inerrancy” in the bud once and for all.



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Darren King

posted June 4, 2009 at 1:45 pm


Ben,
I think we’ve touched the surface on some of these other issues… but we’ve yet to really delve into (as much as we could) the implications that arise out of a more nuanced view of scriptural inspiration.
So I’m not saying we should absolutely be done with these kinds of posts, but I am saying I’d like to see a shift in the balance to discussing more of the implications – and not just the root issue debates.



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BenB

posted June 4, 2009 at 1:49 pm


Darren,
I can agree with that sentiment, which would be something to direct to Scot, to see if he can get into this more. However, I don’t think RJS’s posting these would need to change (to accompany that)… nor do they need to or should they in general.
At the very least, I must say that what you expressed in your most recent comment did not come off at all in your previous posts.



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RJS

posted June 4, 2009 at 2:14 pm


Darren,
Well, I don’t foresee another post directly on the nature of scripture in the near future – although I will certainly write one if a good book, event, or question triggers it. I don’t think the topic is a dead horse yet, too many people still struggle with the issues.
My purpose with this post was really to point to yet another resource and to come back to the issue of Adam, Eve, and the Fall – which I think is the real sticking point for many.
And Randy (#10) — thanks, this is a diverse audience and different people are at different places thinking through all of the issues. In some posts I am thinking in public and sometimes I am simply putting out ideas or positions to generate conversation.



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Darren King

posted June 4, 2009 at 2:16 pm


Ben,
I concluded my first post by saying: “I’m honestly asking”. I don’t know why you therefore took it so negatively. I was sincerely trying to understand the reasoning behind the frequent posts on this particular topic.



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dopderbeck

posted June 4, 2009 at 3:26 pm


I think anyone from an evangelical background who is wrestling with these issues ought to read Donald Bloesch. He was “third way” before it was cool! In his book “Holy Scripture,” he draws out these views in more detail. His book “The Ground of Certainty” also is excellent, and provides an epistemological basis for his views.
I agree with some of the commentors that Bloesch is hedging his bets perhaps a little to finely in this passage on the fall. But, OTOH, this seems appropriate to me. What else can we do? There is no tidy way of harmonizing the Biblical story and the scientific evidence, yet we want to affirm that both are true and important to a holistic understanding of Truth (even if our understanding of both the Bible and of the science are not complete or final). The beauty of Bloesch’s overall approach is that tidy harmonizations, for him, are a mistake to begin with. He’s willing to play in the mystery of the divine-and-human, which seems good to me.



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RJS

posted June 4, 2009 at 3:30 pm


JET (#3),
I am not sure that Bloesch does insist on an historical Adamic couple. He is comfortable with the idea – and comfortable with the idea that there were other hominoids preceding and contemporary with “Adam.” He also seems comfortable with the idea that the primal man represented in Genesis 3 was a community rather than a unique couple. He is comfortable with Lewis for example and this is CS Lewis’s description in “Problem of Pain.”
?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 thumbs 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 stage for ages before it became man: it may have even been clever enough to make things which a clever archaeologist would accept as proof of its humanity. But it was only an animal because all its physical and psychical processes where directed to purely material and natural ends. Then in 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 is 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 the universe in 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 must eternally be, mere adjectives. We have no idea 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, but the question is of no consequence.?



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Dru

posted June 4, 2009 at 3:46 pm


It seems to me that it’s helpful to try to read Gen 1-11 not as isolated stories, but as the intro to Torah. So that the first questions are around the intent and strategy of the narrative of Gen-Deut. Written so Iron Age tribals can begin to understand their God and themselves and their need for a messiah.
Helpful also to me is to read early Genesis as a model. When I was in elementary school, we still had those models of the solar system, made of wood balls and wire, like a desktop mobile. It was over simplified from an “adult” scientific viewpoint, but it actually communicated pretty well the overall shape and organization of our solar system to young kids. Isn’t that what’s going on in Genesis?
In other words, as Hans Frei pointed out, aren’t both the “friends and enemies” of inerrancy failing to actually read Genesis as a text, and as a introduction to the larger text of the Torah?



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Michael W. Kruse

posted June 4, 2009 at 3:58 pm


I’ve been wrestling (with various degrees of intensity) with this nature scripture question all my adult life. I still don’t have an entirely coherent answer to the question. Maybe I never will.
I’m fully convinced of the mytho-historical qualities of some portions of scripture and the importance of genre in general. I’m convinced there is accommodation of God’s message to human cultures. I’m convinced that there are different and conflicting accounts of certain events in the Bible. So I don’t find the traditional inerrant position convincing.
Yet too much of what I’ve read by scholars using historical criticism has struck me as so heavily agenda/ideologically driven that it causes me to doubt the legitimacy of their conclusions, some of which may indeed have legitimacy.
Finding the voices that really help sift this stuff out amid the din of unhelpful voices, is exceedingly difficult for a non-professional like myself to find. I really appreciate these posts and the discussion they inspire.



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Scott Morizot

posted June 4, 2009 at 5:33 pm


I find some of these discussions interesting at time, if somewhat perplexing. I don’t tend to grasp why anyone finds “inerrant” a useful category at all for interpreting any text, whatever they may mean by it. It’s not a matter of whether or not I think some or any of the definitions are convincing. Even if I simply granted that one of the definitions I’ve heard people give were true, I still don’t see how it’s helpful. So I just tend to bypass that one.
And I guess I’m just far too “postmodern” (or whatever you want to call it) for the Sola Scriptura or Prima Scriptura perspective. Absent interpretation, no text of a depth or richness to say anything even vaguely interesting actually “says” anything at all. Here I find the “inerrantists” and the “modern textual historical critics” simply two sides of the same coin. Most of them seem to be attempting to uncover or reveal what the text “really” says as though it had some independent, uninterpreted meaning or life of its own. The question is not so much: What does Scripture say? (Though for those of us at a complete cultural and linguistic remove from the original text, that is some part of the battle.) No, the question is more: Which lens is the appropriate one through which to interpret Scripture?
Nevertheless, as I watch some of the back and forth on these things, I do begin to get a little bit of insight into the various lenses people use, their authorities, and the path that has shaped the interpretation they hold. That’s helpful.



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Kenny Johnson

posted June 4, 2009 at 7:27 pm


So then everyone agrees with Darren’s definition of inspiration? That it’s just a witness to revelation? A witness to inspiration? But not directly inspired by God?
At least that’s how I understood, “human beings writing down inspired experiences with the God of the universe.”
I can say I don’t agree with that.



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Andrew

posted June 4, 2009 at 8:11 pm


I agree with Michael Kruse (26). The questions that are raised are ones that I wrestle with. For example. the creation story definitely seems to be written in the genre of myth, and personally I am unsure if there was “one adam”. Yet Paul in Romans 5 seems to construct his argument based on “sin entering the world through one man”. If one is lost, then does the rest unravel?
Hearing evangelical voices discuss and muse upon issues such as these is something I find very helpful.



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Phil M

posted June 4, 2009 at 8:25 pm


[Puts up his hand and says meekly] I’m interested.
Regarding the discussion about the worth of these kinds of posts – I am someone who is struggling through the issues. I am finding these posts helpful (and confusing, and frustrating).
I guess I need to read the book (my list is HUGE). My default position is a typical evangelical view of scripture, not an inerrant position and certainly not a fundamentalist position – but still view that would put more emphasis on God’s hand in the formation of scripture than this post would describe.
I know that scripture is physically written by flawed and culturally bound humans – but there are so many OT passages around the life/death/resurrection of the Messiah that, although nuanced by the writer’s culture, are fulfilled completely in Jesus. And it seems to me that human weakness has always been accommodated for in God’s plan; Saul being made king springs to mind. So I’m not yet ready to move to the side of the room described by Darren in #8. I think it’s possibly for our flaws to still result in exactly what God would like to have said. That is not to say that there are not potential details (time/location/person) that may be in error. I can almost compose the responses to this paragraph and all I can say is that I’m still working through the issues.
I think dopderbeck (#23) just identified the elephant in the room:

“There is no tidy way of harmonizing the Biblical story and the scientific evidence”

which would be my response to RJS’s statement that:

“I find no reason for an orthodox evangelical Christian to question the general observations of evolutionary biology, paleontology, and paleethnology among others.”

The fact is – it’s not cut and dried. It takes a lot of massaging and squinting just right. Especially in topics around Adam and Romans. I’ve been following this blog for a long time on these topics and appreciate the discussion and the work to try and harmonise these issues. I want those efforts to succeed spectacularly and provide a cogent, coherent alternative to YEC and biblical infallibility. I am stuck between the two extremes on such issues and want the discussion to continue.
But both sides need to recognise that for now “we see dimly” and that the contentious issues are not as easily dismissed as RJS would have us believe.



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RJS

posted June 4, 2009 at 10:23 pm


Kenny (#28),
Bloesch certainly holds to inspiration not simply a witness to revelation.

In our view inspiration is both conceptual and verbal, since it signifies that the Spirit was active both in shaping the thoughts and imagination and also in guiding them in their actual writing. … Verbal inspiration must not be confused with perfect accuracy or mechanical dictation. … The divine activity does not supersede the human but works confluently with the human so that the Scriptures are the joint product of both God and man. (p. 55)

He finds that inspiration is in the message and the doctrine – and this is infallible, but garbed in appropriate human forms. The role of the Holy Spirit was indispensable in the writing of Scripture and is indispensable in illuminating the human reader.
I haven’t thought much about the nature of inspiration (a good topic for a future post perhaps) but I do believe that the message and doctrine is inspired of God – by the work of the Holy Spirit. But infallible inspiration of the message and doctrine need not mean factual perfection and may use myth and story, history and prophecy, among other forms and genres.



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Terry

posted June 4, 2009 at 11:18 pm


I too am actively working through these issues and find the ongoing essays, reviews and discussions to be great grist for the mill. RJS, though I didn’t request it, this general topic over the last many weeks is exactly what I could have asked for when I emailed you last fall. I am very, very grateful. So, at least from my perspective (cf: #21) please jump back in with anything of further relevance.
Though it may not easily be understood by someone with their own settled position, as a life long fundamentalist, I can fairly say that these discussions are of watershed signifigance to me, and obviously to others. There are no dead horses here.



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EricG

posted June 4, 2009 at 11:47 pm


I also find these discussions helpful, and found the description of this book very interesting. I’ve been wrestling with these sorts of issues for most of my adult life, and will probably continue to do so for the rest of it (not that I find anything wrong with that).
The original post above says: “What trickles down to the local church and the individual Christian is unfortunately often much more rigid and much less nuanced.”
Why do you think that is? Its easier? People want certainity? Line drawing? They hate evolution? Any other reasons?



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Darren King

posted June 4, 2009 at 11:57 pm


RJS,
When you write:
“I haven’t thought much about the nature of inspiration (a good topic for a future post perhaps) but I do believe that the message and doctrine is inspired of God – by the work of the Holy Spirit. But infallible inspiration of the message and doctrine need not mean factual perfection and may use myth and story, history and prophecy, among other forms and genres.”
I agree that this would be a good future post. In fact, it seems like this whole chain of posts would be incomplete without it. We probably all have assumptions about the nature of inspiration – but the question is – where do these assumptions come from? The Bible, our traditions? Our best guesses?
I think this would be an excellent trail to blaze next.
Perhaps you could begin by telling us why you believe what you believe about the nature of inspiration.



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eric

posted June 5, 2009 at 8:53 am


ONe comment was made on Genesis 1-11 as an intro to Torah. Many modern scholars concur.. It could be considered as an ethnic origins tale..Do Jews regard Adam and Eve as a story of original sin? No.. that’s a Pauline/Augustinian interpretation (read Elaine Pagels book Adam Eve and the Serpent, but be careful re/ her other highly unorthodox fringe works.).So, while I certainly tend to think the stories are based on some legitimate communal memory, they have been greatly dressed up to teach religious points about the gradual attrition of our race and a new start in Abraham. check the commentaries..but as posted above be careful of liberal commentaries, they can be very astute , but some are very secular and no faith based. How literally one takes the story of Eden is one’s choice and should NOT be a dealbreaker for christian fellowship in the church.



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RJS

posted June 5, 2009 at 12:40 pm


Terry,
Thanks. I’ve been focusing on this topic partly because I wrestle with aspects of it myself, partly as a result of comments and conversation on this blog, and partly as a result of e-mails I’ve received directly or via Scot.
EricG,
I think many people want clean answers – not the rather messy reality we have. It takes effort to work through the details.
I also think that pastors have a big job. For trickle down to be effective someone would have to invest a great deal of effort into the enterprise; usually for a relatively small number of people. This simply isn’t “cost-effective” (or “effective time-management”).



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Darren King

posted June 5, 2009 at 1:34 pm


RJS,
So, curious, what aspects of this topic do you still wrestle with yourself?
I guess that was my original point/question, I was curious what part you still wrestled with.
-Darren



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Darren King

posted June 5, 2009 at 1:40 pm


Also, when Kenny asks:
“So then everyone agrees with Darren’s definition of inspiration? That it’s just a witness to revelation? A witness to inspiration? But not directly inspired by God?”
To this, my question would be: What exactly does “But not directly inspired by God?” mean?
Again, I hear us throw these supposed “explanations” around, but we never take the time to unravel them into their component parts.
If Kenny means that *somehow* God is involved not only with the message, but also the recording of the message, then I’d say “sure”. But again, that’s all pretty vague. And, of course, we have to be aware of not running into contradictions where God’s will is overriding that of the writer’s either.
So, again, the reason I bring these things up is that I don’t know that we’re actually paying enough attention to the real crux of the issue.
Thoughts?



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RJS

posted June 5, 2009 at 3:35 pm


Darren,
Isn’t the crux of the matter that scripture is from God for the purpose of revealing God’s story, revealing his message and doctrine, revealing the meaning of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection? The Spirit was active in the assembly of the text, the preservation, the early church, and the canon.
I hold to this first on the basis of the testimony of the church from the very beginning and second on the basis of self attestation in scripture (in a general sense – not in specific isolated “proof texts”).



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Darren King

posted June 5, 2009 at 5:10 pm


RJS,
You write:
“Isn’t the crux of the matter that scripture is from God for the purpose of revealing God’s story, revealing his message and doctrine, revealing the meaning of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection?”
Sure, but there is still a lot of wiggle room there. And when you factor in some form of accommodation, one can still draw vastly different conclusions of how much of the text we’re meant to take as – to use the phrase – “written in stone”.
And, if one lands closer to the far side of that “wiggle-room” continuum, then accounting for certain scientifically factual or journalistic “errors” become much less of a concern – because one can hold to a view that this was never promised – or even implied – to begin with.



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Dan Martin

posted June 5, 2009 at 6:13 pm


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.
I just wanted to underline your closing remark, RJS. It’s cogent, sensible, and I think it’s a great way to get beyond the usual fights around Genesis. I agree completely.
And Darren (#40) I think any thoughtful approach to scripture has got to leave some “wiggle room” and I’d hate to see us take it all out. I believe the demand for undeniable certainty may be one of the reasons we get so muddled when we look into the topic. Other faiths (notably Buddhism) seem to have a lot less trouble with paradox than at least Western Christianity; I have heard that the Eastern Christian traditions are also known to embrace paradox. Whatever, I think we would do well to get a little (a lot?) more comfortable with not knowing much. Maybe that’s part of what Paul meant in 1Cor 2:1-5?



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