Science and the Sacred

Science and the Sacred


Science and an Incarnational Approach to the Bible

incarnation_inspiration.jpgEvery Friday, “Science and the Sacred” features an essay
from a guest voice in the science and religion dialogue. This week’s
guest entry was written by Peter Enns. Enns is an evangelical Christian scholar and author of several books and commentaries, including the popular Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament
, which looks at three questions raised by biblical scholars that seem to threaten traditional
views of Scripture. This is the first of a multi-part series.

The Problem

It is no secret that developments in modern thought have challenged traditional notions of the Bible–not simply how to handle a verse here or there, but how to think of the Bible as a whole. To say, for example, that the Bible is inspired or the revealed word of God is fine, but it does not really address the situation at hand, for it leaves unaddressed how we are to think of inspiration and revelation in light of these recent challenges.

Two of these challenges crystallized in the nineteenth century and are still very much with us today. In biblical studies, texts from ancient cultures surrounding Israel began to be discovered and deciphered, and these texts bore striking similarities to foundational texts of the Old Testament. The first and still most famous of these discoveries are stories of creation and the flood from ancient Mesopotamia that are older than the biblical account. Although there are important differences between the Genesis stories and these other texts, it quickly became very hard to escape the conclusion that the authors of all of these texts–Genesis included–share a conceptual world about the nature of reality; they “breathed the same air.”

In subsequent generations, as archaeological studies shed more light on the ancient Mesopotamian world, the Old Testament came to be seen more and more as reflecting the environments in which those writings were produced. An entire field of inquiry arose called “The Bible and the Ancient Near East,” or similar designations. It was clear that the Old Testament could be profitably set in its ancient settings, and doing so would yield a deeper understanding of the Bible and its world, even if it challenged some traditional views. This is not to say that the Old Testament is “just like” other ancient writings or could be understood merely on the basis of these comparisons. No two writings from antiquity can be so closely equated, and certainly the Old Testament has many distinctive marks. But the pressure point was the striking similarities.

It is beyond any reasonable debate that the various writings of the Old Testament reflect the ancient contexts in which they were written. The interconnectedness of the Bible and the ancient world can be both confirming of Evangelical instincts regarding the Bible, but also presents very important challenges concerning the uniqueness and historical content of the Old Testament, Genesis 1-11 being a particularly famous example. However one may think through the specifics of these challenges, the more basic point should not be lost: any move to articulate very important concepts like inspiration and revelation cannot blissfully ignore the circumstance described above, but rather must account squarely with the “ancient near eastern way” God chose to speak.

A second challenge to traditional notions of the Bible in the nineteenth century is well known to readers of this blog: Darwin and evolution. Here we have a way of looking at human origins that was persuasive to scientists, spread quickly, and, in tandem with advances in geology from the previous century, called into serious question whether Genesis 1-11–especially creation, the flood, and age of the earth–has any historical value whatsoever.

It was a tough century for Christians. Challenges were coming from the halls of academic inquiry, both biblical studies and scientific disciplines. For traditional thinking about the Bible, the dominoes were unraveling down the slippery slope, so to speak. And judging by the persistent resistance offered by conservative scholars during the latter half of the nineteenth century (particularly at Princeton Theological Seminary), the threat was very real indeed.

It is not at all an exaggeration to say that, for many, “attacking” the Bible in this way was nothing less than an “attack” on the gospel itself. It is fair to say that Fundamentalism and by extension Evangelicalism were born out of this conflict between older views and new discoveries. In my opinion, even though some of the dust has settled, the nineteenth century is a blow from which Evangelicalism has yet to recover–a point demonstrated by the very existence of the BioLogos project.

The work before Evangelicals is essentially one of synthesis. How can we (1) speak of the Bible as God’s word while also (2) facing with integrity things like archaeological discoveries and advances in scientific knowledge of the world? This is an important, even vital, question to consider, for apologetic reasons as well as encouraging the faithful. How can we talk about God and the Bible now, in view of these circumstances?

I would like to suggest that a very helpful way of talking about the Bible that can account for the present challenges is what I call an incarnational model, where the nature of the Bible is understood on analogy with the person of Christ. As Christ is both completely divine and human, the Bible is a book that is both authored by God and by human beings. This has important implications for how we read the Bible, indeed, for what we expect from it.

In my next post I will define more clearly what an incarnational model is before we begin looking at specifics.

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iolanidreams

posted November 6, 2009 at 10:13 am


I am looking forward to your next blog. I believe in the truthfulness of the Scriptures so far as they are interpreted correctly. I also believe that science and the scriptures go hand in hand to prove that there is a higher being of which we are all part of. Looking forward to next time.



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Albert the Abstainer

posted November 6, 2009 at 11:07 am


Errors corrected below from previous message. (Why can’t we edit?)
To moderator: Please remove the previous version.
The 19th century shook the foundations of Biblical literalism, and one response was that which resulted in the fundamentalist and evangelical movements. The other was to attempt to reform interpretation of scripture to align it with emerging scientific discoveries. It is this latter form that BioLogos appears to be following.
For those who are committed to the lens of Biblical literalism the discoveries of science, as well as the disciplines of structuralism, psychology and higher criticism have been a massive frontal assault. I doubt that they can retain their relevance without some form of accommodation or extreme dissociation. It is this struggle with the modern emerging world and the proximity/immersion in a world in which science and its technologies play such a vital role which brings everything to a head.
I understand the fixations with such things as eschatology be it of a Christian, Islamic or other variety. It seems that to preserve the integrity of a religious frame the last and most desperate hope of adherents of these types of religion is that their particular eschatology comes to pass, and soon. This is what is so dangerous. Religious identity and attachment can and does become tightly bound to existential fears for a significant number of adherents. The popularity of the Left Behind series of books, and a generation earlier of books like, “The Late Great Planet Earth”, bears testament to this.
My fear is not of a post-life Hell, and my hope is not of a post-life Heaven. My fear is that those who want to see the imminent unfolding of their eschatology will work towards bringing it about. That is my fear, and that a focus upon the afterlife inhibits dealing with the very real problems we humans are inflicting upon the greater world with its vast interconnected ecosystems and environments. I have no desire to see an environmental eschatology unfold, and I would love to see engagement with the world as a form of reverence from enlightened religious people.
These are challenging times, and they require struggling with ourselves with rigor and brutal honesty. We have to see clearly to act and plan responsibly.



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Daniel Mann

posted November 6, 2009 at 12:29 pm


Peter,
I’m sorry that you, along with BioLogos, believe that you must re-synthesize the Bible. What you regard as problems can also be construed as confirmation for the Bible.
Evidently, you assume that Moses had borrowed from the Ancient NE texts. If, in fact, some of these texts pre-dated Moses, it is more likely that the humble and reluctant Moses had drawn from the same inspired sources as the ANE texts. This would not only account for the commonalities, but might also lend some extra support for the historicity of Genesis.
It is unthinkable that Moses had gotten bogged down in writing Genesis and, in desperation, decided to spice up his narrative with some excerpts from Gilgamesh.



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Angie

posted November 6, 2009 at 12:44 pm


Incarnation is an important concept, but when it comes to the specificities, or ‘form’ then one must allow for freedom of expression. Otherwise, aesthetic value is undermined, which creates meaning and allows for individuality.



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Beaglelady

posted November 6, 2009 at 2:52 pm


Albert asked, “Why can’t we edit?”

Because the system doesn’t require user registration/sign in with a user name, email, and password. Therefore, there is no way of making sure you really are editing your own comments.
I agree it would be nice if we could edit, and it would be even better if we could preview posts. I think that the only honest and transparent way to allow edited posts would be to show the original with strike-through followed by the revised post.



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Pete Enns

posted November 6, 2009 at 3:40 pm


Angie, could you explain further what you mean?
Daniel, you are both misunderstanding and counter-understanding the larger hermeneutical issue as well as my position.
Albert, I would suggest that BioLogos is attempting some sort of synthesis between the two (apparently mutually exclusive) options you mention in your first paragraph



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Charlie

posted November 6, 2009 at 5:03 pm


Enns said “the Bible is a book that is both authored by God and by human beings”. This is the problem, it is humanly impossible to determine which parts are God and which parts are human. Are the human parts the parts that must be wrong or they’re the parts that must be interpreted around our scientific knowledge? In the end, it is up to individual’s intertpretation of the Bible. In that respect, even if there was direct scientific proof that there is no God, the Bible could still co-exist with science because humanity would just change their interpretation of the Bible. My question is, when do the interpretations get so symbolic and figurative that, in essence, Christians think like scientists?



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Beaglelady

posted November 6, 2009 at 5:29 pm


Dr. Enns,
That was an interesting post; thank you. I’m looking forward to reading future installments. Will you be posting them weekly? I will add your book to my “must read” list.



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Beaglelady

posted November 6, 2009 at 5:41 pm


In reaction to “the Bible is a book that is both authored by God and by human beings” Charlie wrote,
“This is the problem, it is humanly impossible to determine which parts are God and which parts are human. Are the human parts the parts that must be wrong or they’re the parts that must be interpreted around our scientific knowledge?”

Charlie,
The Bible is inspired, not dictated. While it isn’t simple to define what inspired means, “authored by God and by human beings” is a good way to put it.
If you really require a dictated holy book, you might try the Quran or the Book of Mormon.



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#John1453

posted November 6, 2009 at 5:53 pm


It would also seem that we cannot talk about inspiration apart from canonicity. Paul wrote at least one letter before 1 Corinthians, but that letter never became canonical scripture. In 1 Corinthians, though, there is no apparent self-awareness by Paul that what he was writing was any different from his previous letter to the Corinthians. Neither is there any self-awareness in 1 Corinthians (or any of his other letters) that he is writing Scripture. The only exception might be the passage where he writes “not the Lord but I say this”, but in that context it seems to refer to quoting Jesus and not to being inspired by the Spirit of Jesus. The Word was fully incarnate in the men who wrote Scripture, so much so that the men themselves did not recognize it (or, more weakly, did not let on that they recognized it). It was only after the writing, indeed much later, that the Spirit breathed aspect of the writings was recognized. The two natures of the writing were so unified in the one document that they were not recognized separately until later. This is much like Christ who, in one person, contained two natures so unified that it was not until later in His ministry that the apostles recognized His divinity—and even then it was only a partial, limited recognition. Jesus, as human, suffered pains, got slivers, banged his thumb, got lost, got sick, etc., and so was fully human. He didn’t have x-ray eyes or superhuman strength. The evangelical perspective on Scripture does not, however, recognize any humanness to scripture at all, other than the fact that it uses human language and has stylistic differences from book to book. If it was truly human, wouldn’t it at least have spelling “errors” (anyone who is a linguist will know that there are no such things as “spelling errors”, but I use the colloquial term)? If the writings were truly human they would participate in the limitations of humanness. What might those limitiations be? Humans are limited in knowledge—even Jesus was so limited and He admitted not knowing all that the father knew (e.g., the time of His return). Would not the human authors and their document also suffer from the same limitation? If the human writer believed that a certain king’s reign was 10 years wouldn’t he write that, even if we later find out from inscription evidence that the reign was 11 years? Why wouldn’t that human limitation on knowledge be incorporated into the document that God was preparing? Does it affect God’s message at all or the ability of God to achieve his purposes and goals for the document? Did Christ’s lack of knowledge affect His ability to achieve His goals or the goals of His father? What about the ancients belief that the earth was flat, or limited in breadth, or that it was the centre of the universe, or that the firmanent was a solid dome? Are not those limitations on knowledge purely human and something that would be part of God’s incarnation of His words? Regards, #John



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ZZMike

posted November 6, 2009 at 7:55 pm


Couldn’t we simplify all this by realizing that the Bible is not about science? In fact, there was no “science” during the time of the Old Testament. As Galileo is said to have said, “The Bible shows us how to get to heaven, not how the heavens go.
When it tells us that the Sun stood still (so Joshua could defeat the Gibeonites and Amorites), it couldn’t have stood still – because the Sun doesn’t move around the Earth.
And was Bishop Ussher that much of a novice that when he calculated the time of Creation to abo about 6000 years ago? (No, he only applied his own [limited - and perhaps literal] understanding of the genealogies.
Is that enough evidence to throw out the whole Bible? Of course not.
Beaglelady: “If you really require a dictated holy book, you might try the Quran or the Book of Mormon.”
If we really believed that, we’d all be either Mormons or Muslims.



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stephen

posted November 6, 2009 at 11:41 pm


Thanks for the post it was nice. My thoughts agree with Charlie, Bible is a book God and it is impossible for humans to decide which parts are God and which are Human. Science has developed over the years, but Bible and its preachings have been there from ages and will continue to be history.



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Robert Landbeck

posted November 7, 2009 at 5:19 am


Ask the wrong question, get the wrong answer. The only reason that ‘accommodation’ between science and religion is even discussed is the assumption that religion cannot conform to the scrutiny we have come to learn and rely upon from science to confirm the efficacy of claims to understanding. And certainly that is true of religion as we have come to understand it from history. That presumption is a considerable gamble. The Bible is neither inspired nor dictated. It is a compilation assembled from a much larger collection of material for the sole purpose of imposing institutional canonical uniformity. So called non canonical material and the discoveries made near the end of the last century, the Dead Sea Scrolls and Nag Hammadi Library strongly suggest the record is incomplete, thus our understanding can only reflect deficiency.
The real problem is human nature itself. Is theology even a valid intellectual endeavor for natural reason? Or is its attempt to patch together something revealed two thousands years ago just chasing after wind? A revelation should be by definition knowledge or insight outside our human potential. And there is no scriptural contradiction to that insight being subject to confirmation by faith. Scripture is filled with a very considerable number of references to false teaching, false witness, anti-christs, false interpreters, etc, etc. With such warnings, the means must exist to discover and know the difference between what can demonstrate itself to be true and what cannot. As all is ‘theological’ who can be true is no one is false?
If in our human condition we were are to comprehend the mind of God,as theology pretends for itself, then there is no purpose for religion to exist. And yet a ‘revelation’ argued and questioned over for two thousand years is no revelation at all.
If the divisive nature of religious history has taught us anything, if any religious ‘truth’ is self-evident it must be this: as in the beginning, it is not God who failed man, it is man who failed God, himself and his fellow man. That is the way of the world.
http://www.energon.org.uk



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Mere_Christian

posted November 7, 2009 at 8:24 am


The value of two copper American coins:
The refining of the message of Christ Jesus through Darwinism such as employed by the BioLogos club membership, is more the “attacking” of the history of European/Western religion. And the danger is that B-L guys are products of European tainted theological morality.
What happened up to Adam with a Darwin made lens, may be politically fascinating for the kinds of people that want to fit the vices and permissiveness of the secular world – now called civil rights issues -into a new “Christian” denomination somewhere. OK fine. That’s an old reality taught from the Bible. And of course we’re going to get people of compromise trying to work their way into leadership positions. That’s the way evil works. Evil that we can see and study by the way.
But the evolutionarians are not shaking the pillars of commitment of anyone following the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The reality of this world shows the words of God in the Bible to be very solid indeed.
That new thought elites are so scared of some religionist blowing up the world, is ignorance in action. It’s fascinating to observe that they are so willing to allow the anti-religionists to blow up the world one shattered human mind after another at a time. Psyche does mean soul.
B-L guys, Darwinian evolutionists et al,
Cutting a deal with evil, so that we can all feel like we can live comfortably into our late 90’s avoiding pain and suffering, has brought the world an amazing amount of trouble all the way to the lascivious and licentious internet (the WORLDWIDE web). A condition of mankind where each does as he sees fit. Where amatuer teen porn and same-gendered sexual activity as an honored way of life, proves the reality of Noah’s pre-flood neighborhood, Lot’s rabble rousers in Sodom (and Gomorrah I’m sure), Molech worship, and “fools” being our tenured and honored role models are not metaphors in any way. We are living the Biblical story.
And sorry guys, like a star, there’s and end to life on earth.
You know, if the “story” of King David was ” . . . and he lived happily ever after” I would be far more likely to see the Bible as just another twice or thrice told tale. It rings as a reporting of incidents and not just a novel.
From the reality of the real world, with real people living real lives, the evidence for the Bible as being the word of God looks very solid indeed.
And of course we all know what the Christians think the Word of God “is.”



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DBK

posted November 7, 2009 at 8:05 pm


ZZmike, you quoted: “Beaglelady: “If you really require a dictated holy book, you might try the Quran or the Book of Mormon.”
And then wrote:
“If we really believed that, we’d all be either Mormons or Muslims.”
You missed the entire point. The point is that the historical Christian understanding of the Bible is that it is not dictated like the Mormons and Muslims believe of their holy texts. In other words, if you’re looking for a faith that believes in a dictated by God holy book, is not in historic Christianity.



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Amy B

posted November 8, 2009 at 12:12 am


Dr. Enns,
I just finished reading your book and greatly appreciated it. It was quite engaging and accessible for the lay person. The incarnational view of scripture has given me a reasonable way to understand the Bible without having to reject it as merely human created literature.
However, I wondered as I read your book, what has caused you to retain your belief in the Bible as an inspired text? You merely assumed that position in your book and spent your time explaining how to make sense of the humanity of the text. I know addressing this question was outside the bounds of your book, but I am interested in your response. I am someone with a background in conservative Christianity who has made a significant shift in how I view scripture and I’m struggling to make sense of it.



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Beaglelady

posted November 8, 2009 at 6:21 pm


DBK,
Thanks for helping explain what I meant.



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Mere_Christian

posted November 9, 2009 at 12:40 am


I just wonder when we’ll get to see the B-L guys without their masks on. I can’t help but feel they’ll look more like Jesus Seminar/Emergent libs when that day arrives.



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Sean

posted November 9, 2009 at 2:37 am


Wow, cool to see Dr Enns posting on this site. His inspirational model has been helpful to me in having a viable faith. Another resource i would suggest to those searching souls seeking to reconcile mother nature with a loving God would be David Foster Wallace’s Incarnations of Burned Children
http://www.esquire.com/fiction/fiction/incarnations-burned-children-david-foster-wallace-0900
Yes, mother nature may be careless but God has made a home for us.
sean



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Peter Enns

posted November 9, 2009 at 6:50 am


Amy,
Great question.
Simply put, belief that the Bible is inspired by God is not something that can be shown as a result of deriving rationalistic criteria from it, but a faith commitment one brings into the entire process. Arguments that say things like “I can prove the Bible is the word of God because it is historically precise; perfect; etc., etc.” come up short.
Also, a pre-commitment to the inspired nature of the Bible does not pre-commit one to any one particular way in which that inspiration works out when actually engaging the text. An incarnational model is one (very ancient) way of articulating what we mean when we say “Word of God.”



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Peter Enns

posted November 9, 2009 at 6:52 am


Mere-Christian,
You realize you are placing Jesus Seminar, the Emergent Church, and Liberals in one category? This does not encourage others to interact with you.



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Paul Bruggink

posted November 9, 2009 at 9:16 am


Mere_Christian,
You can see the B-L guys without their masks on any time you are willing to. Just read any or all of their books. See Resources on the BioLogos site.
They are all evangelical Christians who happen to believe that the central focus of the Bible is God’s relationship with us, that the Bible is not a book of science, that there is more than one way to INTERPRET God’s revelation to us, and that perhaps evolution is the process that God happened to us to create us.
They, and many other evangelical Christians, are thus trying to integrate their understanding of the world with their evangelical Christian faith, and helping others to do the same thing.



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Amy C

posted November 9, 2009 at 10:21 am


Mr. Enns,
I too have been greatly influenced by I&I and my faith has grown by looking at scripture with an incarnational approach. In my mind, the incarnation of Jesus Christ and his hypostatic union was the ultimate relational gift to humans from God. Also, I realize that equating the Bible with this analogy has its limitations, but…
If one looks at scripture as a dictation from God with no possible human discrepancies, could it be that one is placing scripture above Jesus Christ himself (in the sense of how God relates to humans)? Is that a fair statement?



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Martin Rizley

posted November 9, 2009 at 12:01 pm


What Dr. Enns fails to understand is that conservative biblical scholars who hold to the historical integrity of the Genesis narrative do not “blissfully ignore” the theories of 19th Century higher critical scholars who challenged the traditional view of biblical inspiration in the name of theological ‘progress.’ Rather, they believe the assertions of those scholars are seriously flawed, and therefore, should not be allowed to undermine the historic view of inspiration which was the same view held by Jesus and His apostles.
For example, the assertion that the creation and flood narratives of Scripture were derived from “older” Babylonian writings has been seriously challenged by many conservative Old Testament scholars like E. J. Young. As Meredith Kline points out in his introduction to the book of Genesis in the New Bible Commentary, “It is gratuitous to conclude from the mere existence of parallels to Genesis 1-11 in mythological form that the biblical account must also be non-historical. One can also judge that the events of Genesis 1-11 are historical. That being the case, it would not then be at all surprising if the story concerning them should come to be mythologized in pagan traditions, while being preserved in authentically historical form within the stream of tradition of which Genesis 1-11 is the inspired deposit. To what extent special revelation was involved in the preservation of this historical record, both in its initiation and in subsequent renewal and refashioning (including the Genesis stage), we do not know exactly, but we must reckon with special revelation as a prominent factor in the process. .Decisively in favor of the judgment that Genesis 1-11 is not mythological but a genuine record of history is the testimony of the rest of the Bible. The material in these chapters is unquestionably interpreted by inspired writers elsewhere in Scripture as historical in the same sense that they understand Genesis 12-50 or Kings or the Gospels to be historical.”
So conservatives do not ‘blissfully ignore” anything. They simply disagree with the unwarranted conclusions that liberal scholars draw from the data, based on their philosophical assumptions. Those conclusions do not represent “discoveries” that the church must come to terms with, but bad scholarship based on a flawed, and therefore, a pseudo-scientific approach to biblical criticism. Any biblical scholarship worthy of the name “Christian” must approach the sacred text of Scripture from a position of faith, which involves a priori commitment to Jesus’ own view of the Scriptures. Herein lies the greatest failing of the 19th liberal approach to biblical criticism. As the Lutheran scholar Leupold points out, “Of all failings of the critical approach perhaps the greatest of all is the failure to evaluate rightly the attitude and words of Christ and His apostles in reference to books like those of Moses. As Christ treated Moses’ writings so should we.”



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Beaglelady

posted November 9, 2009 at 1:11 pm


You realize you are placing Jesus Seminar, the Emergent Church, and Liberals in one category? This does not encourage others to interact with you.

Professor Enns,
You must understand that mere_christian is completely right about everything and anyone who disagrees with him is completely wrong. That is the fundie mindset.



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Gordon J. Glover

posted November 9, 2009 at 1:21 pm


Martin,
You’re forgetting about the 800-lb gorilla.
“It is gratuitous to conclude from the mere existence of parallels to Genesis 1-11 in mythological form that the biblical account must also be non-historical.” — Indeed. A simple parallel could mean anything. I don’t think any scholar is jumping to any conclusions based on this simple fact alone.
“One can also judge that the events of Genesis 1-11 are historical.” — Yes, indeed one can. And what happends when we investigate those events with all the rigor of a modern day forensics laboratory? We find ZERO evidence for things like a global flood or a recent creation ex-nihilo. In light of these obvious observations, it makes much more sense that the Hebrews drew from the common origins myths of the day rather than believing God would erase all physical evidence of a recent creation and global flood and replace it with a coherent set of evidences for an alternate history.
One of the marks of a good theory is how well it comports with the scholarship taking place in other disciplines. Given the current state of the geological and biological sciences, I’d say that Dr. Enns’ apprach to Scripture makes a lot of sense.



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Beaglelady

posted November 9, 2009 at 1:22 pm


Martin Rizley,
What do you make of the following strictly historical, sober account from the beginning of Genesis 6:

1 When men began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. Then the LORD said, “My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years.”
The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.

I trust that you accept the fact that divine males mated with human females (just like it says) and had baby heroes. Would this not mean that divine beings and humans are of one kind, since everything reproduces after its own kind?



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Pete Enns

posted November 9, 2009 at 2:02 pm


Gordon,
To put it another way, appealing to E. J. Young or M. Kline, as Martin Rizley does, is not the final court of appeal, because neither one deals with science. I understand very well where Young and Kline are coming from, and I have great regard for both of them, but I do not find their handling of ANE data (let alone science) to be persuasive.



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Martin Rizley

posted November 9, 2009 at 2:35 pm


Beaglelady,
Let me say that, despite its great antiquity and the linguistic argument in its favor, I don’t accept the view that the “sons of God” mentioned in Genesis 6 are fallen angels. There are a number of arguments against that view which I could mention, but for me, the most argument against viewing the “sons of God” as angels is the fact that it does not fit the context nearly as well as the view which sees the “sons of God” as members of the godly line of Seth who married pagan wives. In passages that allow for more than one possible interpretations, context must be the deciding factor in choosing the best interpretation. The Sethites would understandably be called the “sons of God” because, in contrast to the descendants of Cain, they worshipped the true God and rejected idolatry in all its forms. In terms of their outward identity, they were “God’s people.” Yet, because of the lust of the flesh, they began to have a cavalier attitude toward marriage. Instead of looking for godly character in the women they took as their wives, their focus became entirely sensual. Physical beauty was the only thing that mattered to them, and consequently, they began to marry pagan women who did not know the Lord at all. As a result, the institution of marriage was debased and the sacred character of family life was defiled, as parents ceased to raise their children in the training and admonition of the Lord.
Now that view, I say, makes very good sense within the context of the Genesis narrative. With regard to the expression “sons of God” itself (bene elohim), although it is true that exact expression is used elsewhere in the Old Testament only with reference to angels, equivalent expressions are used elsewhere to refer to members of the community of faith. For example, in Deuteronomy 14:1, Moses says to the Israelites, “You are the sons of the Lord your God; you shall not cut yourselves nor shave your forehead for the sake of the dead.” Because the Jews were outwardly identified with the true God, being called by His name, Moses calls them “the sons of God.” What he means is that, as a visible community, they were God’s chosen people in contrast to the idolatrous Canaanites. The same thing would have been true of the Sethites in contrast to the Cainites. So what the text seems to be saying is this– that the Sethites, who were God’s “sons” in terms of outward identity and privilege, sold their birthright by abandoning all spiritual concerns when it came to the issue of marriage. They took for themselves whomever they desired as their wives, basing their decision solely upon external beauty and not upon internal character. This focus on sensuality led in turn to the deterioration of society as a whole, as children born to these spiritually empty marriages grew up who were totally ignorant of the Lord and His revealed truth. That in turn led to God to setting a time limit on the time he would “strive” with men, prior to wiping out the entire race in the flood. If someone scoffs at the very idea of God doing such a thing, he had better consider the words of Peter in 2 Peter 3:3-7.
For further study on this passage, see John Murray’s book Principles of Conduct, which has an appendix on this passage.



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Beaglelady

posted November 9, 2009 at 2:53 pm


Martin Rizley,
It says “sons of God” and now you’re saying they aren’t really sons of God? Sons of God must be divine. What happened to your lecture about the historicity of Genesis?



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Gordon J. Glover

posted November 9, 2009 at 3:18 pm


“These are the sons of Japheth in their lands, each with his own language, by their families, in their nations … These are the sons of Ham, by their families, their languages, their lands, and their nations … These are the sons of Shem, by their families, their languages, their lands, and their nations.” (Genesis 10:5,20,31)
“Now the whole earth had one language and few words. And as men migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.” (Genesis 11:1)
Did all nations give up their own languages and adopt a single language somewhere between Genesis 10 and 11? Or is there more going on in the Tower of Babel story than relaying historical fact?



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Martin Rizley

posted November 9, 2009 at 3:21 pm


Beaglelady,
You are simply assuming that the term “son of God” must always refer to a supernatural being, but the Bible uses that term (and equivalent expressions) in other ways. For example, Adam is identified as God’s “son” (Luke 3:38), because, unlike his descendants, who all had human fathers, Adam was created directly by God without a human father (or a primate father, for that matter!) Believers are called “sons of God” because they have been born from above through the grace of the Holy Spirit. And the Israelities are referred to as “sons of the living God,” because of their status as members of God’s chosen nation. So the term “son of God” simply has a broader usage in the Scripture than you are willing to acknowledge. Moreover, there is no contextual reason why the sons of God in must be supernatural beings invading the earth. The other view makes better sense in terms of the context.



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Beaglelady

posted November 9, 2009 at 4:20 pm


Martin,
You are simply assuming that the term “son of God” must never refer to a supernatural being.
Obviously this passage refers to celestial beings marrying human females. How else is it that their coupling produced unique hybrid offspring (heroes and giants)?



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Pete Enns

posted November 9, 2009 at 5:22 pm


The “sons of God’ in Gen 6:2 have been subject to various interpretation throughout history. (1) angelic or otherwise divine beings. (2) tyrant kings. (3) line of Seth. I.e, a material, social and moral distinction, respectively. The first two are the most likely and my clear sense is that the first is the most widely accepted.
As for the second, it is a distant possibility, since the ANE connects kings with gods all the time (descent from gods in some way). The problem, though, is that “sons of god” is not a collective royal designation in the ANE (see Walton, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary). Also, “daughters of man” quite clearly refers to human females. The contrast being made seems clear: divine and human cohabiting.
One way to understand this episode is that divine and human are obliterating the boundaries (the order) God established in the creative act in Genesis 1, where everything has its place. Regardless, the mythic overtones are hard to ignore, to be sure.



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Martin Rizley

posted November 9, 2009 at 7:47 pm


Beaglelady,
Actually, Genesis 6:4 says nothing at all about “hybrid offspring” being produced from the union of angelic beings and human females. That is a classic example of how higher criticism sometimes obscures the meaning of biblical texts, by giving more weight to extra-biblical literature than to the text of Scripture itself and importing into the text alien mythological ideas based on gratuitious assumptions about the worldview of the biblical author.
Who were these “nephilim” mentioned in Genesis 6:4? The Hebrew word “nephilim” literally means “fallen ones.” It comes from the Hebrew verb ‘naphal’ which mean ’to fall.’ The translators of the Authorized Version translated this word as “giants.” Why?
First, in the only other passage in which we find this word, the great physical stature of the Nephilim is emphasized. That passage is found in the thirteenth chapter of the book of Numbers. The Israelites had arrived at the border of the promised land, and they had sent out a group of spies on a reconnaissance mission to spy out the land. When they returned, the majority of the spies gave a bad report by expressing their terror at the gigantic size of the men who inhabited that land. ‘The land through which we have gone as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are of great stature. There we saw the Nephilim. . .and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight” (Numbers 13:31-33). So that is one reason the word Nephilim in Genesis 6 is translated as giants; because the Nephilim in the land of Canaan were people of gigantic stature.
Moreover, the Nephilim in Genesis 6 are described as “mighty men.” The original Hebrew word here describes someone who is very powerful or strong. It is used of warriors and even of tyrants who use their superior strength to oppress and take advantage of others. Thirdly, the verb “naphal” itself, from which we get the word “Nephilim,” is often associated with violence. It can mean “fall upon” in the sense of attacking, or overthrowing others. So the picture that emerges of that of men who are physically large and imposing who intimidate others because of their ability to overpower them. We think of men like the giant Goliath, who caused grown men to quiver in their boots, or even Samson, who killed a thousand men with the jawbone of a donkey. Such “giants,” we are told in verse 4, existed on the earth even prior to the marriages described in verses 1 and 2; so we mustn’t think that the Nephilim were exclusively the offspring of these marriages. Although some of these marriages produced Nephilim, there were other Nephilim who walked on the earth before that. After the flood, as well, and throughout the Old Testament, we read of other men who could be described as Nephilim– for example, the huge king Og of Bashan, who slept on a bed thirteen feet by six feet. No one thinks of giants like Goliath, Og or the “nephilim” of Canaan as “hybrid offspring” of angels and humans, so there is no reason to see such a reference in Genesis 6, either. One must first read that idea into the text by ignoring the context and importing alien mythological ideas that one assumes “must” be there.
The point that Moses seems to be making is that it was such just men– men of brutish strength and violence– that people tended to idolize in the days before the Flood. As society grew more corrupt because of the deterioration of marriage and family life, people put on a pedestal men of great physical strength and prowess as their heroes. No longer did they admire what was truly admirable in a leader– personal integrity and strength of character. Instead, they admired cunning over character, violence over virtue, power over piety. They gloried in the brute strength and strong arm leadership of men who were entirely lacking in virtue. These were the ones they looked up to as their role models.



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Beaglelady

posted November 9, 2009 at 8:38 pm


Martin,
Oh yes it certainly does mention hybrid offspring. As I have quoted:
“the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them.” (emphasis added)
I haven’t mentioned any extra-biblical literature; I am merely quoting Scripture. You are the one not accepting this straightforward, sober, historical account and dragging in all the scholarship, schmolarship.
So we obviously get a divine/mortal hybrid when sons of God breed with human females, no matter what we call them. Since hybrids are usually sterile, that’s probably why they aren’t mentioned again.
And God must have put a stop to this hanky-panky because this isn’t mentioned again, either. As they say, “What happens here, stays here.”



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Martin Rizley

posted November 9, 2009 at 8:57 pm


Beaglelady,
You seem to be missing my point. I am not denying that the “sons of God” begat children by the daughters of men; I am simply denying that the term “sons of God” in this particular context means “angels.” I know there is a plausible linguistic argument to support that view, but it don’t it fits the context of the Genesis narrative as well as the view that “sons of God” are members of the godly line of Seth– that is, human beings. So we have humans marrying humans in this text– no “hybrids” involved. I’ll leave the final word to you, because I think I’ve made my point clear, and I don’t want to belabor it any longer.



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Beaglelady

posted November 9, 2009 at 9:59 pm


Nice dodge, Martin.



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Pete Enns

posted November 10, 2009 at 7:08 am


The “line of Seth” argument goes back to Augustine (maybe earlier, but I’m not sure), and I think it is weak. To say that the line of Seth cohabited with human women makes little sense, seeing that Seth was human. The distinction that would be made is between a godly race and and ungodly one, but that is asking Gen 1:1-4 to support than it can bear.
Also, whatever the result of these unions were (giants, whatever), this story is linked to the cause of the flood along with humanity “doing only evil all the time.” Gen 6:1-4 is about something that would warrant such a divine response.



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Beaglelady

posted November 10, 2009 at 8:39 am


Thank you Dr. Enns. I was really hoping that Martin would tell us why we can’t accept this passage as a sober, historical account. He is always lecturing us about how Genesis should be taken as a sober, historical account. Yet we are barely into chapter 6 when he changes the rules. Why?



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Martin Rizley

posted November 10, 2009 at 8:47 am


Dr. Enns,
I understand that the “angels” view has a better historical pedigree than the “line of Seth” view, but that’s just my point about placing greater weight on considerations external to the text (ANE cultural, rabbinic and early Christian interpretations, for example) than on the text of Scripture itself. It’s perfectly understandable why the ancient rabbis and the translators of the Septuagint thought “sons of God” were angels– because they knew that this exact expression is used of angels in the book of Job. For them, linguistics alone was the deciding factor in determinging the meaning of the text. But that doesn’t mean they were right. Just because a particular interpretation was common in the ancient world doesn’t make it right; after all, the Jewish rabbis were not infallible interpreters of the Word of God. Jesus’ willingness to “buck” rabbinic views with great historical pedigree should teach us better. The Scriptures alone must be our authority if we are going to call ourselves Protestants, not Scripture plus whatever “infalliable grid” we happen to be reading the Scriptures through– whether Scripture plus tradition (a la Rome), Scripture plus naturalistic science (a la Biologos), Scripture plus “the ANE worldview”. The more I have studied this issue, I believe the ‘line of Seth’ interpretation is in fact the only interpretation that makes good contextual sense– if we are able to lay aside all the ‘baggage’ we are bringing to the text. I know the view of many biblical scholars is that it is impossible to “hear” what the Scriptures are saying except through some sort of extra-biblical “grid” that provides the “key to knowledge,” but I don’t buy it; I agree, rather, with H. C. Leupold when he says that oftentimes those “grids” in which people put so much trust cause interpreters to overlook the obvious, such as “the utter dissimilarity of the Genesis record and the legends of the nations (the sober common sense of average Christians has always been able to detect this difference much more clearly than the overtrained scholar, who often loses entirely his sense of perspective).”



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Beaglelady

posted November 10, 2009 at 8:56 am


I understand that the “angels” view has a better historical pedigree than the “line of Seth” view, but that’s just my point about placing greater weight on considerations external to the text (ANE cultural, rabbinic and early Christian interpretations, for example) than on the text of Scripture itself.

That’s my question, Martin. Why can’t we believe the text of Scripture itself here (Celestial beings mated with human females)?



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Pete Enns

posted November 10, 2009 at 9:07 am


Martin,
I understand your point. I am very familiar with what you are espousing. Trust me on that.
So, what do we conclude from “Scripture itself” re: Gen 6:1-4?
Are you suggesting that “extra-biblical” information is irrelevant for biblical interpretation (a view none of the “Old Princeton” or Westminster scholars you appeal to would tolerate)?
The fact is that we are forever and always going “outside of Scripture” every time we say anything about it. The “self-referentiality” of Scripture is an untenable position.
We all have “grids” through which we look at Scripture, and the self-referenetiality of Scripture is one of those “grids” –or “models”, which is the topic of Friday’s post. What you are suggesting is not the default faith or submission to Scripture position, but an hypothesis as much as any other.



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Gordon J. Glover

posted November 10, 2009 at 9:12 am


“The Scriptures alone must be our authority if we are going to call ourselves Protestants, not Scripture plus whatever “infalliable grid” we happen to be reading the Scriptures through…”
Oh really? The Scriptures “Alone”? So tell me this then, Martin: Apart from your extra-biblical knowledge obtained from fallible human observation, what reason to you have to believe that the Earth revolves around the sun once per year and turns on its axis once per day?
I know what the scientific consensus is, but the scriptures are pretty clear: 67 references — all of them state either that the earth is fixed or the heavenly bodies revolve. (see link above for complete list). The only time earth is reported to move in scripture is when God angrily shakes its foundations. The “score” is 67-0 in favor of geocentrism. Please tell me if you accept this teaching. And if not, please tell me by what authority you reject it?
And please don’t tell me that these verses are merely “poetic” or “allegorical” or “phenomonenological” or whatever. This only begs the question. You must realize that you would have absolutely NO way of knowing if these verses were literal science or phenomenological speech apart from extra-biblical knowledge. There is certainly nothing in the text itself that sets them apart. And until the 17th century, these verses most certainly were taken as literal science.
So the burden is on you, Martin, to show us using only scripture to interpret scripture, why you believe the earth orbits the sun.



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Martin Rizley

posted November 10, 2009 at 10:15 am


Beaglelady,
My question to you is, why are you so sure that “sons of God” must be a reference to celestial beings? Have you ever studied the evidence in support of the view that sons of God in Genesis 6:1-2 refers to members of the line of Seth? It seems to me you are assuming that one particular interpretation of a biblical expression (bene elohim, or “sons of God”) is the only possible interpretation, and you can’t fathom why I don’t see that. Let me assure you,there are very good reasons to question the interpretation you are assuming to be true. As I said, read John Murray’s article on these verses in his book Principles of Conduct. We must derive our understanding of biblical terms by studying how those terms (and equivalent expressions) are used in Scripture. The term “sons of the living God” is used with reference to members of God’s chosen people in the Old Testament; therefore, it is no stretch to see the term “sons of God” as meaning essentially the same thing, if that meaning best fits the context of a particular passage– and I believe that in this case, it does. Keep in mind, the text does not say that the nephilim or “giants” were exclusively the union of the sons of God and the daughters of men. If it said that, we might assume that there was something ‘unique’ about these nephilim. However, the text says plainly that these ‘giants’ were on earth before the marriages described in verses 1 and 2, and “also afterward”– therefore, there is no reason to regard these nephilim as “hybrid” half-human, half-angelic beings. They were simply men of great physical stature, born from the union of believers with unbelievers, whose great size and strength (rather than their virtuous character) made them “heroes” in the eyes of a culture that was increasingly alienated from God.



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Beaglelady

posted November 10, 2009 at 10:53 am


My question to you is, why are you so sure that “sons
of God” must be a reference to celestial beings?

Simply because they are called “sons of God” for one thing. So why can’t they be sons of God? For another, it says that these sons of God impregnated human females and had clearly unusual offspring — heroes or whatever. These heroes are a clear example of what is called “hybrid vigor.” (Just think of mules.) It’s difficult to see this as a simple “boy meets girl” or even “nice boy falls for bad girl” kind of thing without some fast and furious tap-dancing. And do me why all of a sudden I’m supposed to read all this extra-Biblical material (only the material that you point out, of course)?



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Beaglelady

posted November 10, 2009 at 11:39 am


One more thing– all the angels mentioned in the Bible are male.



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David Opderbeck

posted November 10, 2009 at 11:43 am


A quick point on the nephilim: take a look at the Biblical books of 2 Peter and Jude, and then the apocryphal book of 1 Enoch. The hermeneutical tradition at the time of the Second Temple was to view this story as a reference to the interbreeding of humans and angels, producing a race of giants that eventually resulted in a race of evil spirits called “Watchers,” which will have some role in the eschatological judgment. Both Jude and 2 Peter refer directly to the tradition reflected in 1 Enoch. So if you want the Apostolic (setting aside questions of authorship) hermeneutic in 2 Peter and Jude to have interpretive authority, then the nephilim story refers to angels — but then that also opens a can of worms about the Apostolic use of apocryphal legends!



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Seth Ehorn

posted November 10, 2009 at 11:54 am


Thank you for a stimulating post, Dr. Enns.
With regard to the “sons of God” discussion taking place, I think it must be conceded that the precise stock phrase “sons of God” (Hb: bene elohim) most naturally refers to “angels” in Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7. The burden of proof would be to show that this was not also the case in Genesis 6. Some have also mentioned other collocations above, “sons of the living god,” etc…, but these are not the same phrase!
Nevertheless, there are those who have built compelling cases in spite of the lexical odds. The most compelling option, in my opinion, is that of viewing the “sons of God” as rulers (cf. John Walton, Genesis NIVAC, 291-94). Walton argues that “son(s) of God” is a royal motif in the ancient world (both in and outside of the Bible) and that the issue involved kings oppressively imposing their will by exercising the rite of the first night (i.e., having sex with a recently married woman before her husband did). The king Gilgamesh is described as exercising this rite in the Gilgamesh epic and this event is offered as his most heinous offense.
Anticipating the response: “but the text says married, not sexually violated…”. It is true that the specific Hebrew construction typically denotes someone taking a wife (cf. Gen 4:19; 21:21; 24:4; 28:2; 34:4, 9, 16, 21; Exod 6:25; Lev 18:18; Deut 7:3; Deut 21:11[!]; Judg 14:3). But this would also be a fitting description for the practice mentioned above and accommodates the language of marriage.
For a fuller treatment of the idea, and a thoughtful response to the “Sethite” view, see Walton’s Genesis NIVAC commentary. Of course, it behooves all of us to not be too dogmatic about such a puzzling text. There is certainly more going on then is obvious to modern readership. That is, although the text was written for us, it was not written to us.



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Martin Rizley

posted November 10, 2009 at 12:51 pm


Beaglelady,
The question you are raising is why Moses would mention the offspring of spiritually mixed marriages between believers and unbelievers (both of them mere humans). The answer is that Moses is describing the deteriorating conditions in the pre-flood world. Whereas earlier marriages between spiritually matched believers produced spiritual “giants” like Enoch, Lamech, and Noah, the spiritually mixed marriages of Genesis 6:1-2 produced no such spiritual giants– only physical giants, men of brute strength who were renowned for their exploits, but nothing more. In other words, Moses is emphasizing the spiritually fruitless character of the marriages that were taking place in that day– the only noteworthy issue of those marriages were the ‘nephilim,’ the ‘mighty men of old.’ No spiritual giants, no heroes of the faith. They were spiritually fruitless marriages. Once again I point out that the text explicitly says that there were Nephilim before this time, as well as afterward– so we are not dealing here with something unique, some supernatural hybrid being or anything like that. Were the Nephilim of Canaan the fruit of angel/human unions? Then why should we see these Nephilim as any different?



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Beaglelady

posted November 10, 2009 at 1:45 pm


Martin,
That was quite a fanciful reply, but where does it say all that? Is there a problem with following what the Bible says? Why do you insist on playing around with the text?
It clearly states,

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.

So whether the Nephilim are an entirely different type of being or just thyroid giants, it doesn’t matter here. It still says that the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them who were clearly unusual and not what you get from a normal human/human mating. Why is this such a difficulty for you?



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Martin Rizley

posted November 10, 2009 at 2:11 pm


Beaglelady,
Talk about fanciful! I’d say the interpretation you are advocating is “fanciful,” because it ignores the context of the Genesis narrative and also the fact that the nephilim are said to have been on earth before the time when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them– as well as after. That is a point you are conveniently ignoring. If the nephilim are hybrid creatures born of angel/human unions, why does the Bible say the nephilim were on earth before those unions even took place? Was there some prior invasion of angels to earth before the one described in Genesis 6:1-2?



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Beaglelady

posted November 10, 2009 at 3:14 pm


Martin,
Whether the Nephilim are an entirely different order of being, or just relatives of Hagrid, it doesn’t matter here. I freely admit that they could be incidental to the story and have nothing to do with the Sons of God and human females interbreeding.
However, Scripture still clearly says that the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them who were clearly unusual and not what you get from 2 humans. Get it?



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Martin Rizley

posted November 10, 2009 at 3:18 pm


Dr. Enns,
I would not deny the importance of understanding the cultural background in which the biblical books were written. Such knowledge informs and fills out our understanding of particular biblical texts. For example, our understanding of Jewish customs from writers like Josephus enriches our understanding of the four gospels. What I object to is the attempt to minimize the differences between the biblical narratives of creation, the flood, etc., and the creation myths of other ancient cultures The mere fact that other nations of the same period kept records that were filled with gross historical inaccuracies, fanciful exaggerations, and mythical explanations (’just so’ stories) provides no justification for putting the Hebrew Scriptures on a level with those writings of pagan origin. Moreover, nothing in the text of Scripture warrants the approach which relegates Genesis 1-11 to the category of myth. In terms of literary form, that portion of Scripture is identical to Genesis 12-50 and to the other historical books of the Bible. The “toledots” that tie Genesis together as one historical narrative, the genealogical lists that take us right up to the time of Christ, cannot reasonably be interpreted as “poetry.” Clearly, these lists and the historical narratives which accompany them are intended to be taken as a record of actual events. One suspects that behind the attempt to reinterpret these passages as ’myth’ lies a reluctance to accept the unabashed supernaturalism of the biblical worldview, and the claim to infallibility that is inherent in the Bible’s own view of inspiration. I mean, once a person really accepts in his heart that a virgin conceived and gave birth to a son, or that a previously dead man got up and walk out of a tomb, what’s the difficulty in believing that God could make an ax head float, or that a woman could talk to a demon-possessed snake, or that God could bring all the different land animals to a man who had built a large wooden box to keep them in for year? Is any one of these events more impossible than another? They’re all impossible according to the worldview of naturalism; not one of them is impossible according to the Bible’s own supernatural worldview. That’s why I find attempts to relegate obvious historical narratives to the category of myth unimpressive and unconvincing. I agree rather with Leupold when he writes that the writer of Genesis, for example, “uses no more figurative language than any gifted historian might, who merely adorns a strictly literal account with the ordinary run of current figures of speech, grammatical and rhetorical.”



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Gordon J. Glover

posted November 10, 2009 at 3:46 pm


“Is any one of these events more impossible than another? They’re all impossible according to the worldview of naturalism; not one of them is impossible according to the Bible’s own supernatural worldview.”
Martin, I totally agree with this. But the issue isn’t about what is or isn’t possible, but is rather about what actually happened. And because everything that happens in nature leaves clues that can be detected, 21st century Christians actually posess the means to answer some of these questions whereas our forefathers could only use the clues internal to the biblical text.
Had the Romans paraded the dead body of Jesus through the streets of Jarusalem after the supposed resurrection and ascention, that surely would have put the breaks on the early Chruch. But that didn’t happen, and here we are 2000 years alive and well.
However, when it comes to origins and flood myths, we can easily test these the historicity of these stories. So to simply say that “with God all things are possible” misses the point. In light of what we know about earth history from a multide of reliable sources, you must also believe that God erased all physical evidence of things like the flood and a recent creation ex-nihilo, and replaced it with coherent evidence of an entirely different history — all the while commanding us to believe that which there is no evidence for and to deny that which the evidence clearly suggests.
Imagine if the Romans had paraded Christ’s body through the streets and nobody recalled seeing him alive after his death. In that case, would it do any good to argue that Jesus really did rise from the dead and ascend into heaven, but God erased all memory of it from his people and planted a Jesus-like body in the same tomb where he was burried? After all, with God all things are possible right? That would be silly. But that is basically the argument you are making with respect to Hebrew mythology and the flood/creation scenarios.



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Martin Rizley

posted November 10, 2009 at 5:10 pm


Gordon,
I guess I am not convinced, as you are, that the work of degreed scientists who are creationists is all quackery unworthy of consideration by any sane person. At this point, I have an “open mind” to consider the scientific theories of YEC‘s as well as those who posit that the earth’s mineral base (for example) may be considerably older. In the end, however, I will reject any scientific theory that contradicts what I understand to be the clear biblical teaching concerning the history of the earth and mankind– because I believe that the teaching of Scripture should take priority over everything else in the mind of the Christian. For that reason, I am not nearly as dogmatic concerning the duration of the creation days (especially days 1-3), as I am concerning the historicity of Adam and Eve. Since the first three days of creation were not “solar” days, strictly speaking, it seems to me at least possible that their duration could have varied from that of days ruled by the sun. If God “stretched” a literal day in Joshua 10 to twice its normal length, it is not inconceivable that He could have “stretched” the first three days of creation the way one might stretch a wad of chewing gum. We are specifically told that the sun did not “rule” the day until the fourth day of creation; therefore, it is possible that earth’s rotation on its axis was not even the mechanism for changing day to night during those first three days. The only thing we are explicitly told us about those days is their composition (each day had a “day” and a “night”), not their duration. Moreover, if we have examples in our own solar system of literal, solar days of varying lengths– Mercury (176 earth days), Venus (243 earth days), Saturn (10 hours, 14 minutes)– I feel that I cannot too dogmatic in positing a twenty-four hour duration for days that are not even solar! So I am open to looking at any scientific theory that does not contradict clear biblical teaching, and weigh that theory in the light of reason, common sense, but above all, in the light of the inerrant teaching of God‘s Word. Why not have a period of daylight of inconceivable length, during which all sorts of things occur! That’s just the sort of thing that might happen in a supernatural universe ruled by a sovereign God.



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Gordon J. Glover

posted November 10, 2009 at 5:44 pm


“I guess I am not convinced, as you are, that the work of degreed scientists who are creationists is all quackery unworthy of consideration by any sane person.”
That’s fair. But I would encourage you to really look into it. There are many quality books authored by sincere Christians that present both the case against creation science and the case for understanding mainstream ideas in light of our faith.
I believe many of these are referenced right here on the BioLogos site.



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Beaglelady

posted November 10, 2009 at 11:28 pm


We are specifically told that the sun did not “rule” the day until the fourth day of creation; therefore, it is possible that earth’s rotation on its axis was not even the mechanism for changing day to night during those first three days.

I hope you realize that the earth doesn’t move.



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Pete Enns

posted November 11, 2009 at 5:13 am


Martin wrote, “I would not deny the importance of understanding the cultural background in which the biblical books were written. Such knowledge informs and fills out our understanding of particular biblical texts.”
The situation we find ourselves in is more dramatic and has been for generations. Our knowledge of the cultural background (which includes, to be sure, a knowledge of religious background) is considerable and affects things not simply by “filling out” how we look at a few verses. It has affected, whether we are comfortable with it or not, our understanding of what the Bible whole as a wis prepared to communicate. To put it another way, it has affected how we articulate what Scripture as a whole is, not just what a some passages mean.
A simple illustration: our knowledge of both ANE creation myths and the state of scientific inquiry has yielded the conclusion that biblical origin texts do not simply “recount events” but are something different altogether. Our understanding of the biblical creation story has not been “filled out” but recast.



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Martin Rizley

posted November 11, 2009 at 12:33 pm


Beaglelady,
Why shouldn’t I believe that the earth moves, since the Bible teaches nothing to contradict that? The mere fact that it describes the sun as “rising at one end of the heavens and making its circuit to the other” is no more of a dogmatic statement about the physical structure of the universe than the statement that God has “pitched a tent for the sun” (Psalm 19:4, 6). Both statements are true statements, using the language of simple description that no one can avoid when describing the world around them. If you insist that such statements are in error, then be very careful what you say tomorrow morning when you get out of bed. If you happen to exclaim, “What a beautiful sunrise!” someone might suspect you of being an ignorant geocentrist! Much safer to say, “What a beautiful earth rotation we are having today!” Then people will know that you are educated person. You say, “People don’t speak that way!” I agree; they never have and they never will speak that way, nor have statements about the sun rising and setting even been anything more than simple, true, descriptive statements about the world around us.



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Beaglelady

posted November 11, 2009 at 12:47 pm


Martin,
Why don’t you read Gordon’s post on this very same thread,
posted on November 10, 2009 9:12 AM, and tell me what you think.



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Martin Rizley

posted November 11, 2009 at 2:58 pm


Beaglelady,
I believe that, whatever the biblical writers may have assumed about the physical structure of the universe, they nowhere dogmatically teach a geocentric view of cosmography in opposition to a heliocentric view, nor do they ever make geocentrism a part of “the faith once delivered to the saints.” When they describe the natural world around them, they naturally do so using the simple language of appearance (as we do today) speaking of the sun “rising” and “setting” and “running its course;” we cannot say that such statements are ’erroneous,’ for to do so would be to ignore their intent; such statements are meant as simple phenomenological descriptions and are not intended to teach science. On the other hand, the intent of biblical statements concerning Adam and Eve is to teach actual history, by giving an accurate record of the origin of the human race and how it fell into sin. The historical intent of the Bible’s teaching on Adam and Eve is clear, not only from the Genesis record itself, but also from the teaching of the New Testament (Romans 5, etc.) Biblical teaching on man’s creation and the fall did form part of the faith that the Hebrews and the early Christians passed on to their children– “the faith once delivered to the saints.” So I don’t think you can put the biblical teaching on Adam and Eve in the same category with phenomenological descriptions of nature that we find in the Bible.



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Gordon J. Glover

posted November 11, 2009 at 4:52 pm


Martin, you said:
“…such statements are meant as simple phenomenological descriptions and are not intended to teach science.”
But how do you know this? John Calvin and Martin Luther strongly warned against such an interpretation. What changed between then and now? Prior to the 16th century, when somebody said “sunrise” and “sunset” they had no idea this wasn’t actually the case. By what authority do you set aside the biblical description of the solar system, and over 1500 years of Christian exegetical precedent, for a man-made version of the solar system that was recently invented? And then you throw the biblical authors under the bus as ignorant tribesmen? Shouldn’t God know better than us how the universe works?
And if the Psalmist describes God’s steadfastness in terms of the earth being immovable, and the earth really does move, how can we trust anything that the Psalmist says about God?
And if Joshua relates a historic battle to us in terms of the sun being stopped and started in its course around the earth, and the sun really doesn’t do this, then how we can trust the historicity of Joshua’s long day? Surely the story of Joshua was intended as a historical account?
“On the other hand, the intent of biblical statements concerning Adam and Eve is to teach actual history, by giving an accurate record of the origin of the human race and how it fell into sin.” — But how do you know this? How can you say that some passages are not authoritative and some are?
I submit that you decide according to whatever extrabilical science you feel comfortable accepting. You have no personal aversion to heliocentricism, so you are more than happy to dismiss those passages as being accommodated to the science of the day — even though Christians once faught over this as dogmatically as you are fighting over evolution today. However, by your own admission, you are not convinced that mainstream science is correct about Earth history, so you chose to believe the story of Adam and Eve being the physical parents of humanity only 6000 years ago. Those of us who understand geology, palaeontology, archaeology, biogeography and molecular genetics well enough to realize that the Adam and Eve story is physically impossible without subsequent miracles to remove the original evidence and replace it with coherent evidence of an alternate story of human origins treat these creation storys as being accommodated to the science of the day — just as you seem to do with heleocentricism.
“So I don’t think you can put the biblical teaching on Adam and Eve in the same category with phenomenological descriptions of nature that we find in the Bible.” — The belief that all of humanity descended from a single human couple was “common knowledge” during biblical times. If there were any other independant evidences for this, then it would either be a case of ancient science converging with modern science, or it would indicate that God intended to speak authoritatively on matters of science and earth history. But given the large amounts of evidence against this view of human origins (and against any recent global flood), I’d say we CAN put the Garden and Eden story in the same category as other inspired accommodations.



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Knockgoats

posted November 11, 2009 at 5:08 pm


speaking of the sun “rising” and “setting” and “running its course;” – Martin Rizley
And of four-footed insects:
Leviticus 11:23
But all other flying creeping things, which have four feet, shall be an abomination unto you.
Still, maybe insects have evolved an extra pair of feet since then?



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Gordon J. Glover

posted November 11, 2009 at 5:34 pm


Knockgoats,
The four-footed insects died in the flood along with the hairy warm-blooded lactating “birds” (ie: bats).
Leviticus 11:13-19



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Beaglelady

posted November 11, 2009 at 5:47 pm


Martin,
What about the hard, shiny firmament over the earth– you know that dome with windows in it for rain to fall (from the heavenly sea above) ?
-Karen



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Martin Rizley

posted November 12, 2009 at 12:05 am


Gordon,
I think your facts on the Reformers must be a bit skewed, at least with respect to Calvin. I have a hard time believing that Calvin would “strongly warn” people against viewing the Scripture’s descriptive language of nature as phenomenological, since he clearly recognized the distinctive between phenomenological and scientific language. In his commentary on Genesis, for example, he writes, “Moses makes two great luminaries; but astronomers prove, by conclusive reasons, that the star of Saturn, which, on account of its great distance, appears the least of all, is greater than the moon. Here lies the difference; Moses wrote in a popular style things which, without instruction, all ordinary persons, endued with common sense, are able to understand; but astronomers investigate with great labor whatever the sagacity of the human mind can comprehend. . .If the astronomer inquires respecting the actual dimensions of the stars, he will find the moon to be less than Saturn; but this is something abstruse, for to the sight it appears differently. Moses, therefore, rather adapts his discourse to common usage.” Here is Calvin, in the sixteenth century, discoursing on the difference between the technical language of science and the phenomenological language of Scripture. Calvin has no problem with that distinction, nor does anyone with common sense; for it is obvious that I may wish to describe heavenly bodies as they appear to the human eye, or as they are related to each other in a cosmographical scheme. Either way, I am giving a literal description of those bodies. Calvin had no problem with recognizing phenomenological language in Scripture, because such language does not violate the principle of literal interpretation which he zealously defended. But the approach to Scripture you and the Biologos team advocates involves a complete abandonment of the literal sense of Scripture in every way– at least with respect to the creation and flood narratives of the Old Testament, because you relegate them to the category of myth, saying they have no foundation in history at all; despite clear biblical evidence that the biblical writers intended them to be understood as history.
To say that the Psalmist intended to teach cosmography, rather than to give a simple visual description of nature, is a completely gratuitous assumption. No matter what ideas the psalmist may have had in his head regarding cosmography, it was certainly not his intention to teach dogmatically a particular view of cosmography as divinely revealed. No, he simply meant to describe nature as he saw it, the way all human beings have always done.
As far as the narrative from Joshua, here again we have a simple phenomenological description of a miracle in the past, as the “big light in the sky” stood still in the sky for the space of a natural day. How was that miracle accomplished– by the earth ceasing to rotate on its axis? By light beams being refracting so that the sun appeared to stand still? I don’t know; all I know is that, had I been there, I would have seen exactly what Joshua saw– the sun standing still in the sky.



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Knockgoats

posted November 12, 2009 at 6:32 am


Gordon J. Glover,
Yes, you can laugh with me at some of the absurdities of the OT, but how about those of the NT? Admittedly, as you said on another thread, the resurrection cannot be disproved in the way the Noachian flood can, by the evidence it should have left but has not – but associated events described in the gospels can. If there had really been a period of darkness during the day of the crucifixion, and if hundreds of people had really left their graves and walked the streets of Jerusalem, these extraordinary events, and the turmoil they would certainly have caused among a highly volatile population, would certainly have been reported to Rome by the local authorities, and witnessed by thousands of literate people. Yet no extra-biblical reports of these events appear anywhere, although Roman writers active around the same time as the gospels were written (Seneca the younger and Pliny the elder) published extensive collections of curious and apparently inexplicable events. Accounts of the crucifixion and resurrection in the different gospels are also contradictory in many respects. Again, we know the gospel accounts of Jesus’s birth cannot be true, because Quirinius was not governor of Syria while Herod the Great was alive; and the Romans would never have disrupted the provincial economy by obliging everyone to return to their ancestral village for a census. Given all this evidence of unreliability, it is utterly irrational to believe that the physically impossible events recounted actually happened. You, and the Biologos authors, are willing to use your critical faculties up to a certain point – and then discard them, just like Martin Rizley.



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Gordon J. Glover

posted November 12, 2009 at 8:04 am


Martin,
“I have a hard time believing that Calvin would “strongly warn” people against viewing the Scripture’s descriptive language of nature as phenomenological, since he clearly recognized the distinctive between phenomenological and scientific language.” — I often use Calvin’s commentary on Genesis as a model of accommodation, as I did in my book. When it came to the controversey over the relative size/distance of the sun, moon and saturn, he was very much willing to allow Moses to speak unintelligently. Even concerning the waters above the heavens (unlike Luther who insisted that it was “wicked” to deny the waters above the heavens).
But when it came to geocentricism, Calvin did not waiver from the traditional Christian view (see his commentary on Psalm 93:1). If you notice his commentary on Gen 1:6, he believed that the purpose of the firmament was to create a boundary between heaven and earth; between the corruptible and the immutable. He warns against any such “mingling” of these two antithetical realms by rearranging the biblical cosmography. If you understand the historic context, this was a direct response to the Copernicans, who insisted that Earth mingled with the other heavenly bodies as a planet that similarly orbits the sun.
Calvin preached a sermon on 1 Corinthians in which he said that the Copernicans are “possed by the devil” and “aim to pervert the order of nature”. Like Lither, Calvin recognized the slippery slope that might occur if we divorce the biblical descriptions of the heavens from reality. Sola Scriptura, right? Of course, as you already pointed out, he had no problem excusing the ignorance of Moses when it came to other issues in Genesis. What’s the difference? The difference was that the science of heliocentrism was brand new in Calvin’s day and there was ZERO evidence for a moving earth. Galileo was born in the same year Calvin died. Calvin literally lived before the telescope. But mathematicians could calculate the relative distances between earth and the other objects in the our solar system, and Calvin obviously was convinced that their work was sound. So he applied a different hermeneutic to these verses.
Now that the evidence for a moving earth is solid, you are comfortable enough with it to excuse Moses and the other biblical authors for their ignorance. But I’m telling you, the scientific case against a recent creation and global is just as great if not greater than the case for a moving earth. You take this on faith more than anything else. You can not see or feel or earth move with your unaided senses (Fouccault’s pendulum nothwithstanding), and it takes very sophisticated insturments to detect the orbit of earth around the sun (telescope capbable of resolving stellar parrallax) but the evidence against a global or recent creation is much easier to observe with the naked eye.
“To say that the Psalmist intended to teach cosmography, rather than to give a simple visual description of nature, is a completely gratuitous assumption.” — Relax man, I was parodying creationism. I don’t believe the bible teaches any science, much less geocentrism.
“No matter what ideas the psalmist may have had in his head regarding cosmography, it was certainly not his intention to teach dogmatically a particular view of cosmography as divinely revealed.” — Totally agree. Now apply this same logic to biology, earth history, and other theories of origins and you’ll no longer need to reject modern science.



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Gordon J. Glover

posted November 12, 2009 at 8:28 am


Knockgoats,
“Yes, you can laugh with me at some of the absurdities of the OT…” — I never said those statements were absurd. They represent knowledge that was common to that era. What’s absurd is how modern Chrisitans bend over backwards to make them seem like something they are not (ie: divinely inspired scientific truth for all time).
“If there had really been a period of darkness during the day of the crucifixion, and if hundreds of people had really left their graves and walked the streets of Jerusalem, these extraordinary events, and the turmoil they would certainly have caused among a highly volatile population, would certainly have been reported to Rome by the local authorities, and witnessed by thousands of literate people.” – Yes, that is a problem. Most likely, the narrative regarding the multitude of dead rising and walking among the living is not factual. But neither is it central to the Gospel message.
“Accounts of the crucifixion and resurrection in the different gospels are also contradictory in many respects.” — True, but they all agree that the tomb was empty.
“You, and the Biologos authors, are willing to use your critical faculties up to a certain point – and then discard them, just like Martin Rizley.” — To call oneself a Christian means that one accepts certain truths by faith. The essential doctrines are the person and work of Christ, and his death and resurrection. I will be the first to admit that no matter how you construct a heirarchy a plausible explanations for why Christ’s tomb might have been empty that morning, the the dead getting up and walking out would have to be last on the list, right below aliens abducting his body.
But nevertheless, whatever happened on that Sunday morning turned the world upside down. Believing that Christ was God and was raised from the dead is a tall order for those, like myself, who are naturally skeptical and consider themselves rational. So to conflate the Christian hope and faith with things are patently and demonstrably false, like a recent creation ex nihilo or recent global flood is to erect unecessary barriers to Christian faith. If the historicity of these events were essential to the Gospel I would have nothing to do with it. The mission of BioLogos, if I might be so bold as to speak on their behalf, is to remove the unecessary rational barriers to faith placed there by creationsim and Intelligent Design, so the the only offense to reason is the Cross itself.



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Knockgoats

posted November 12, 2009 at 9:23 am


Gordon J. Glover,
I never said those statements were absurd. They represent knowledge that was common to that era. What’s absurd is how modern Chrisitans bend over backwards to make them seem like something they are not (ie: divinely inspired scientific truth for all time).
True, and I apologise for misrepresenting what you said. However, just as it is absurd to accept the OT statements as true, so it is to accept the resurrection. It was also common belief at that time that people did sometimes return from the dead.
To call oneself a Christian means that one accepts certain truths by faith. The essential doctrines are the person and work of Christ, and his death and resurrection. I will be the first to admit that no matter how you construct a heirarchy a plausible explanations for why Christ’s tomb might have been empty that morning, the the dead getting up and walking out would have to be last on the list, right below aliens abducting his body.
This concedes my point: you haven’t a leg to stand on when criticising creationists for dropping their critical faculties when they become inconvenient.
But nevertheless, whatever happened on that Sunday morning turned the world upside down.
No, it really didn’t. The rise of Christianity took place over centuries, and we have no good evidence that anything at all out of the ordinary took place “on that Sunday morning”. It is clear enough from more recent events that religions can arise on the basis of nothing supernatural, and generate their own “wonder stories” retrospectively as they do so.
Believing that Christ was God and was raised from the dead is a tall order for those, like myself, who are naturally skeptical and consider themselves rational.
But like the White Queen, you set out to “believe six impossible things before breakfast”. Why?
That someone considers themselves rational is not, in general, evidence that they are: we must look at how they behave and whether they adjust their beliefs appropriately in the face of evidence and argument. Someone who maintains that something which they concede to be logically impossible (the doctrine of the hypostatic union) is nevertheless true, is very far from rationality.
The mission of BioLogos, if I might be so bold as to speak on their behalf, is to remove the unecessary rational barriers to faith placed there by creationsim and Intelligent Design, so the the only offense to reason is the Cross itself.
But why is that mission worth undertaking?



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Gordon J. Glover

posted November 12, 2009 at 10:15 am


“This concedes my point: you haven’t a leg to stand on when criticising creationists for dropping their critical faculties when they become inconvenient.”
There is a difference. The claims of creationism are demonstrably false. To believe them means you must also believe that God removes evidnece of what he does and replaces it with evidence of something he never did — all the while commanding us to believe that which he supposedly did?
For the theist who believes that there is a God who can exercise some measure of top-down causality over the material world, there is nothing impossible about the possbility of Christ being raised from the dead. Now if his dead body were paraded through the streets after he allegedly ascended to heaven, then Christianity would indeed be an falsifiable belief system. But that didn’t happen.
In summary: to believe that Christ rose from the dead doesn’t require one to reject vast amount of data to the contrary (as creationism does). It only requires faith that God could exercise enough top-down causality to make such a thing happen.
We already know that a 3 pound lump of organic material, when arranged a certain way and fed simple sugars and oxygen, is capable of abstract thought, moral reasoning, art, music. Do you ever stop and think how absurd that sounds? But here we are. Moreover, by viture of being wired to other systems, this 3 pound lump can become a causal agent without any outside non-physical influences whatsoever. The emergence of mind and free will from ordinary matter shows us that the physical universe provides a framework for counter-intuitive phenomena that have no sufficient bottom-up (reductionist) explanation. Why then are we so quick to dismiss any possibility of a cosmic intelligence who, by viture of being wired to other systems through quantum entaglement, photon exchange, or other means, could also become a causal agent having a limited capacity to affect physical reality in counterintuitive ways?
“But why is that mission worth undertaking?” — Have you ever been part of a genuine Christian community?



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Martin Rizley

posted November 12, 2009 at 10:42 am


Gordon,
The main point I was making is that Calvin recognized the distinction between scientific descriptions of the natural world and the phenomenological descriptions of nature given by the biblical writers. He may not have been willing to apply that distinction to passages which seemed to him to teach geocentrism, but he recognized (in principle) three things: (1) that the Bible does contain phenomenological language in its descriptions of the natural world; (2) that the use of such language does not mean that the biblical writers taught “error;” (3) that the use of such language does not require us to abandon the principle of literal interpretation, since we are still interpreting words according to the intent of the biblical writers. To relegate Genesis 1-11 to the category of myth, however, when the biblical writers clearly intended those chapters to be understood as factual history, is indeed to abandon the principle of literal interpretation and to impute error to the biblical authors– something Calvin would have abominated.



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Knockgoats

posted November 12, 2009 at 11:39 am


to impute error to the biblical authors– something Calvin would have abominated. – Martin Rizley
Yup, probably have had you burned at the stake for it, Gordon. Ah, the good old days, eh Martin?



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Martin Rizley

posted November 12, 2009 at 12:02 pm


Knockgoats,
Baptists, to my knowledge, have always been advocates of religious liberty. I am not aware of any Baptist who ever advocated burning people at the stake for their beliefs. It is one thing to repudiate theological error; it is altogether something different to castigate with civil penalties those who propagate theological error. I believe in the former, but not in the latter.



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Martin Rizley

posted November 12, 2009 at 5:25 pm


Gordon,
One further commment to explain the basic problem I have with your approach to biblical interpretation. You seem to be minimizing the huge difference between the use of phenomenological language to describe the natural world, and the presentation of fabricated stories as factual history. A person who lacks scientific knowledge of the the solar system (such as Moses or David) is still confronted by the natural world around him– a world which begs description–, so he is compelled to describe it in the only way he can– from the standpoint of how things appear to the human eye. So he speaks in terms of “two great lights” in the sky, because that is what the sun and the moon are functionally to people on earth. There is no error involved in such a description (even though Saturn is actually larger than the moon), nor can the person who speaks in this non-technical way be accused of lying. But a person who creates fabricated stories and presents them as factual history is, from a biblical standpoint, guilty of creating “cleverly crafted fables” and of lying to his hearers. Is that not precisely what Paul says about the resurrection accounts which he and the other apostles presented to their hearers as factual history? “If Christ has not been raised,” he tells them, “we are then found false witnesses bout God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead.” In other words, Paul is saying to his readers, if the historic facts that have been related to you are false, if Jesus’ bones really rotted away in a tomb somewhere, then you have every right to reject Christianity as a contemptible lie– a mere fabrication of men.” The holy God of Scripture does not tolerate the presentation of fabricated stories as facts of history, nor would He have commanded the Israelites to recount the events of the Exodus to their children as factual history (Deuteronomy 6:20-25) if those events did not really occur as recorded in the Word of God. So from a biblical standpoint, great honesty and accuracy is required of those who claim to be relating events of history. If they fabricate those events, they cannot avoid the charge of lying to their hearers. For that reason I say, if the events presented in the Pentateuch as factual history are pure fabrications, then they fall into the category of “cleverly crafted fables” and should be rejected as divinely inspired Scripture.



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Gordon J. Glover

posted November 12, 2009 at 7:53 pm


Martin,
“The main point I was making is that Calvin recognized the distinction between scientific descriptions of the natural world and the phenomenological descriptions of nature given by the biblical writers.”
That’s still begging the question. Apart from extra-biblical knowledge, how does one know when a biblical author is merely waxing phonomenological? Nobody thought these verses were not literal prior to the 16th century.
“He may not have been willing to apply that distinction to passages which seemed to him to teach geocentrism…”
For the same reason that you are not willing to apply that distinction to passages which seem to you to offer a scientific account of origins — lack of extra-biblical knowledge of the way things actually are.
“To relegate Genesis 1-11 to the category of myth, however, when the biblical writers clearly intended those chapters to be understood as factual history…”
How do we know what the biblical writers intended? Calvin and Luther thought they intended to teach geocentricity. What changed between then and now? For the same reason you disagree with them (your knowledge of astronomical reality), I disagree with you about the biblical origins myths (because of my knowledge of geological/biological reality). If what you are saying is true, then the biblical writers DID indeed teach falsehoods! Or else God removed all evidence of their teaching and replaced it with something that tells a different story. Neither of these options is acceptible for the Christian.
Again, our knowledge of the physical world influences how we understand and apply the scinece presented to us in the scriptures. Where the bible gets it “wrong” (the moon is a greater light than the stars, sky-dome, fixed earth, etc…) the obvious conclusion is that the biblical authors used current science that was incidental to the primary message. But how do we know were the bible gets it “wrong” apart from the most current scientific knowledge?



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Gordon J. Glover

posted November 12, 2009 at 8:31 pm


Martin,
“But a person who creates fabricated stories and presents them as factual history is, from a biblical standpoint, guilty of creating “cleverly crafted fables” and of lying to his hearers.”
I don’t think you fully appreciate or understnad how scientific “truth” was captured and handed down in ancient times. Everything was explained in terms of story. How did the sun, moon and stars get here? We have a story for that! How did man get here, what is our condititon and what do the gods required of us? We have a story for that! Etc, etc, etc…
A story about God fabricating an original human couple out of natural elements and animating them supernaturally, in addition to making certain theological points that are relavent to all generations, also served to answer primitive scientific questions of origins. The fact is, each type of animal and plant was “known” to descend after its own kind for hundreds of generations. It doesn’t take much imagination to extrapolate this concept back to an original human couple. But we now know this to be impossible, especially in the short timeframe provided by the geaneologies.
There was no epistemological distinction between science and theology in the ANE. The stories of a culture contained both theological and scientific truth. The difference with the Hebrews is that their prophets wrote down these stories under inspiration. But the stories served the same purpose because the Hebrews were just as much a part of the ANE cognitive environment as the Egyptians or the Mesopotamians. There is nothing wrong with modern Christians using the most up-to-date extra-biblical knowledge available to sort out the timeless principles from the ancient vehicle of their inspired delievery. If we fail to do this, then we force the Scriptures to teach things that they were never intended to teach (like geocentricity, flat earth, flood geology, vapor-canopy theory, etc…).
“Paul is saying to his readers, if the historic facts that have been related to you are false, if Jesus’ bones really rotted away in a tomb somewhere, then you have every right to reject Christianity as a contemptible lie– a mere fabrication of men.”
Of course, but nowhere is this said about things such as a global flood. If that were the case, I could easily take you to a geological outcropping or to a laboratory and show you the “rotting bones of Christ” so to speak. Where then would that leave us?
“The holy God of Scripture does not tolerate the presentation of fabricated stories as facts of history…”
You remind me of the Catholic Church official who stood on Galileo’s rooftop and lectured him about how God would never say the sun orbits the earth were it not the case. Rather than look through Galileo’s telescope at the moons of Jupiter (which proved that bodies could orbit other bodies other than the earth) to actually test this hypothesis about what God would or wouldn’t inspire the biblical authors to write, the official just assumed it was so.
What I’m trying to tell you is this: rather than bring your preconcieved ideas about what God would or wouldn’t inspire men to write, why not bring only your assumption that the Sriptures are inspired and seek then to find out on what level God is capable of communicating truth to us? We need to be open to God using whatever means available, even the foolishness of ANE myths and legends, to reveal Himself to his people.
“If they fabricate those events, they cannot avoid the charge of lying to their hearers.”
I have a food intolerance to salycilates. When the doctor was explaining to me how to manage my diet, he taught me the “bucket theory”. The bucket theory says that your body is like a bucket with a slow leak, and the salycilates you ingest are like water filling the bucket. When the bucket overflows, you have a immune system response. You can overflow the bucket with a slow and steady addition of water that barely outpaces the leak, or you can overflow the bucket with punctuated additions of large quantities of water. The key is not to reach the top, because once you overflow, you have a reaction (which is usually very unpleasant).
I know enough about how the immune system works to know what is actually taking place in my body, and it is nothing like a leaky bucket being filled. In fact, this analogy is completely wrong on many levels. However, when it comes to what really matters to me on a daily basis — ie: avoiding an unpleasant reaction — the bucket theory sums up everything I really need to know using terms and metaphors that I can easily grasp. In short, it is a false, but very effective narrative for managing my situation.
So did my doctor lie to me? Is he guilty of condescending to my lack of medical knowledge? Why couldn’t he have just told me how my immune system is really working? How effective would that be for somebody who has never studies the immune system?
Of course, these charges are without merit. Rather than accuse my doctor of lying, I broaden my understanding of how important concepts sometimes need to be communicated to those who are not in command of the all the relavent facts, and he gets a pass for speaking down to me.
Why can’t we allow the maker of heaven and earth this same luxury? Why must we insist that only 100% scientifically and historically accurate knowledge be inspired by God? Why not actually look to the text itself to see what God atually does (using the other means, like natural revelation) to broaden our understanding of how God communicates truth to us?
“For that reason I say, if the events presented in the Pentateuch as factual history are pure fabrications, then they fall into the category of “cleverly crafted fables” and should be rejected as divinely inspired Scripture.”
It’s a good thing I don’t share this opinion. For if I did, knowing what I know about earth and human history, I would have no choice but to reject God’s Word as outdated nonsense. Is that really the ultimatum you want to give those genuine seekers in the scientific community?



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Beaglelady

posted November 12, 2009 at 11:36 pm


The “Kenosis Hymn” in Philippians 2:5-11 is one of the most important passages in the New Testament. In verse 10, Paul refers to the 3-tier universe that the ancients accepted — heaven above, the underworld below, earth in the middle. So does that mean we should abandon our modern understanding of the universe?



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Martin Rizley

posted November 13, 2009 at 12:53 am


Gordon,
All I can say is that, given the approach you take to Old Testament interpretation, I don’t see any logical stopping point to prevent you from adopting a similar view of the New Testament, as well as the Old. I mean, if it is a legitimate to “demythologize” Old Testament narratives that are presented by the biblical writers themselves as historically factual, in order to extract the kernel of theological truth from the mythical “wrapping” that it comes in, then why not approach the New Testament in the same way, allowing human reason the final vote in deciding which miracles seem reasonable and which seem “unreasonable.” Apparently, from what you said in an earlier post, you find the record of Jesus’ own resurrection reasonable, but you question whether or not others rose from the dead on the same day in connection with His resurrection, despite what the gospel record affirms (Matthew 27:52). You find the one miracle believable, while you question the credibility of the other. On what basis? Can you not see how subjective this approach to Scripture is?
I think the main difference between our way of reading the Scripture is based on a difference in our understanding of how God reveals truth to the human mind. You seem to exhibit boundless confidence in man’s ability to interpret the world around him, apart from the Scriptures– to the degree that he may use the “assured results” of modern science to correct the scientific and historical errors propagated by the biblical writers. I simply do not share your confidence in the ability of man’s mind to do that. In fact, I do not believe that the judgments of man’s fallen mind can ever be on the same level of trustworthiness as those truths to which God has testified verbally and propositionally in Scripture. Our minds are finite, fallen, and fallible in their judgments, whereas the “law of the Lord is perfect converting the soul.” For that reason, we must always give priority to Scriptural teaching in forming our understanding of the world around us. Does that mean that our understanding of Scripture is infallible, and never needs to be corrected by the data of natural revelation? No. As John Frame points out, the principle of Sola Scriptura “does not require the exclusion of all extra biblical data. . .it simply requires that in theology and in all other disciplines, the highest authority, the supreme standard, be Scripture and Scripture alone.” Since God has given us the Scriptures “both to supplement natural revelation (by adding to it the message of salvation) and to correct our misuses of natural revelation, we need to look at nature with “the spectacles of Scripture.”
It might reasonably be asked if such an approach makes the Scripture more divine and more authoritative than natural revelation. No, says Frame, natural revelation is every bit the word of God and absolutely authoritative. “The difference is that Scripture is a verbal divine utterance that God has given us to supplement and correct our view of the world. We must humbly accept that assistance. In so doing, we do not make Scripture more authoritative than natural revelation; rather, we allow the Word. . .to correct our interpretations of natural revelation.” Frame admits that our interpretations of Scripture also need to be corrected at times. “Can natural revelation sometimes correct our understanding of Scripture?” he asks. “Yes, but only insofar as such correction appear on reflection to be justified by the Scriptural text itself.”
To allow Scripture this corrective work, we must accept the principle that our settled belief as to Scripture’s teaching must take precedence over what we would believe from natural revelation alone. . .Otherwise, we do not allow Scripture to be a true corrective to our understanding of natural revelation.”
It is here that you and I seem to part ways in our understanding at the present time. You seem to exhibit boundless confidence in man’s ability to interpret the natural world around him apart from Scriptural revelation, then use those unquestionably true “findings” to declare certain Scriptural teachings false; whereas I believe that the infallible teaching of Scripture must have priority in correcting our misunderstanding both of the Scriptures themselves and the natural world around us.



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Gordon J. Glover

posted November 13, 2009 at 8:35 am


Martin,
“…I don’t see any logical stopping point to prevent you from adopting a similar view of the New Testament, as well as the Old.”
There isn’t one. But do we really need it? Do you make your wife wear a headcovering or prevent her from speaking in church? Or do you recognize this as a 1st century cultural custom not binding today? Do you agree with Paul’s description of the ancient 3-tiered universe? Do you agree that the mustard seed is really the smallest seed? What about the Paul’s vision of being caught up with Christ in the 3rd heaven? And was the Gospel really preached to all the nations during Paul’s day? There are many more statements like this, and they all make much more sense when understand in the context of Ancient Near-Eastern Science. But more importantly, they all remain TRUE when left in that context. They only become “false” if removed out from under the protection of the ANE worldview and subjected to modern western standards of historicity and scientific accurracy. Why do this?
“…then why not approach the New Testament in the same way, allowing human reason the final vote in deciding which miracles seem reasonable and which seem “unreasonable.””
The question is not “what seems reasonable” or “what is possible”. With God all things are possible. The question is what actually happened and if there seems to be a descrepancy between what actually happened and what the Scriptures teach, is it within God’s character to either (1) accommodate his revelation to our human finitude, or (2) erase the physical evidence of his mighty acts and replace it with coherent evidence that tells a different story. When it comes to things like a recent 6-day creation or a global flood, option (1) seems more likely. And when it comes to things like the resurrection, or the miracles performed by Christ during his earthly ministry, the issue of (2) will never come up because these isolated events would have left no clues behind one way or the others. So in that case, we defualt to the eye-witness accounts.
“…but you question whether or not others rose from the dead on the same day in connection with His resurrection, despite what the gospel record affirms (Matthew 27:52). You find the one miracle believable, while you question the credibility of the other. On what basis? Can you not see how subjective this approach to Scripture is?”
What’s the harm in asking questions about things that are not essential to the Gospel? If fact, the way one understands the “other” resurrection has a lot to do with one’s eschatology. I’ve always been a preterist when it comes to these issues so I think there is more to this account than what a plain reading might suggest.
“You seem to exhibit boundless confidence in man’s ability to interpret the world around him, apart from the Scriptures– to the degree that he may use the “assured results” of modern science to correct the scientific and historical errors propagated by the biblical writers. I simply do not share your confidence in the ability of man’s mind to do that.”
But you do! You have no problem with a moving earth even though I doubt you have ever seen direct evidence of it. Given the fact that the bible never mentions a heliocentric solar system and seems make many reference to the geocentric version, I’d say you are just as guity of trusting the science of man over the plain reading of scripture. And unless you have directly witnessed Foucalt’s pendulum or observed stellar parrallax through a powerful telescope or launched your own geostationary satellite, you have nothing but the word of others to go by.
Do you ever stop and think why Christians in the natural sciences are the ones asking these questions? Most pastors and theologians could care less because they are clueless when it comes to the scientific case for an old earth or common ancestry. Christians who work in the natural sciences, on the other hand, must confront the data on a daily basis and need a way to make sense of it that does not compromise the authority of God’s Word. That requires a little bit more “out of the box” thinking than your average Christian is comfortable with. John Frame is a perfect example of this old-school stay-in-my-little-comfortable-box way of thinking. I haven’t kept up with him since I read, “Apologetics to the Glory of God”, but I doubt he has the slightest clue about how science works and what it can tell us about the past. Ignorance is bliss. But the evidence is not going away. It will only get stronger as we discover more. So this work is more important now than ever and guys like Frame will someday be irrelavent unless they are willing to face the facts.
“In fact, I do not believe that the judgments of man’s fallen mind can ever be on the same level of trustworthiness as those truths to which God has testified verbally and propositionally in Scripture.”
Then what makes you so confident that all of the biblical reference to geocentricm are not literal? Show me one Christian prior to the 16th century who believed as you do. You can’t, because these passage were historyically understood to be literal descriptions of how people believed the heavens to work! And yet, you would rather believe the judgement of man’s fallen mind over the plain literal reading of Scripture when Christians for 1600 years read those passages as literal. I don’t think you are being honest with yourself.
“Our minds are finite, fallen, and fallible in their judgments, whereas the “law of the Lord is perfect converting the soul.” For that reason, we must always give priority to Scriptural teaching in forming our understanding of the world around us.”
Then I suggest you link with one of these groups. They believe as you, but they are willing to take it all they way to the bank rather than conveniently pick and choose what bible-science they will accept or reject as you seem to do.
(tripple w) geocentriciy.com
(tripple w) fixedearth.net
(tripple w) staticearth.net
“…the highest authority, the supreme standard, be Scripture and Scripture alone.” ”
How did the church survive for 400 years without the Bible as we know it today? And they turned the Roman world upside down! Today all we do is fight amongst eachother over every little jot and tittle. I’m not sure this “bible-worship” or “bible-idolotry” is even good for the Chruch. And it certainly fall apart when challenged with the facts.
You would enjoy my video series. Follow the link above and start with lesson 01.



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Beaglelady

posted November 13, 2009 at 9:29 am


All I can say is that, given the approach you take to Old Testament interpretation, I don’t see any logical stopping point to prevent you from adopting a similar view of the New Testament, as well as the Old.

For one thing, Martin, we can see what kind of literature each part of Scripture is. We do the same thing in the NT, recognizing hyperbole and other figures of speech. Did Jesus really teach us to poke our eye out if it offends us?
Remember, it took only 6 chapters of Genesis before you rejected the notion of male angelic beings copulating with human females and producing baby heroes. Suddenly Genesis wasn’t quite a sober, historical account.

In fact, I do not believe that the judgments of man’s fallen mind can ever be on the same level of trustworthiness as those truths to which God has testified verbally and propositionally in Scripture

Have you not just invalidated your own judgments here, assuming you are a fallen sinner with a fallen mind?



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Martin Rizley

posted November 13, 2009 at 11:39 am


“You have no problem with a moving earth even though I doubt you have ever seen direct evidence of it. Given the fact that the bible never mentions a heliocentric solar system and seems make many reference to the geocentric version, I’d say you are just as guilty of trusting the science of man over the plain reading of scripture.”
The reason I have no problem with a moving earth is that there is nothing in the Bible that clearly and unequivocally contradicts that belief. If there were, then I would be compelled by the authority of Scripture to reject belief in a moving earth, since “the Scriptures cannot be broken.” However, I would hope that I would have the humility to consider the possibility that my understanding of Scripture is wrong. That’s what the church ultimately did in response to Galileo’s discoveries– consider the possibility that it had misinterpreted the Scriptures for centuries to teach a geocentric cosmos. The church had to ask itself this question: “Is it possible that the Scriptures describe the natural world in phenomenological language, and for that reason, do not assert anything about the cosmographical relationship of the sun to the earth?” Through careful searching of both the Scriptures and the heavens, the church answered that question in the affirmative. In other words, it was not the data of nature alone, in isolation from the Scriptures, but the data of nature interpreted by the light of a rigorous exegesis of the Scriptures that allowed the church to accept a heliocentric cosmology. Galileo’s findings drove the church to study more rigorously those Scriptural texts on which belief in geocentrism had previously been based, which in turn led to the discovery that the church’s previous exposition of those texts had been “sloppy” and the conclusions drawn from them “unwarranted.”
For example, the church realized that to conclude from the statement in Psalm 93:1 (“The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved”) that the earth is physically motionless, is a totally unwarranted conclusion, for a similar statement is made about the psalmist himself in Psalm 16:8, “I shall not be moved.” The Hebrew verb “moved” is the same in both passages. Obviously, the psalmist was not saying that he was rooted to one spot and was physically motionless! He meant simply that he would not stray from the path that God had set for him. So the church concluded, on Scriptural grounds, and in the light of new scientific data that had come to light, that it was perfectly unwarranted to deduce from Psalm 93:1 that the earth is physically motionless and cannot rotate on its axis or revolve around the sun. The psalmist did not intend to teach that at all; he simply meant to say that the earth (and by implication, the course of history itself) would not stray from the path that God had set for it. Because God ruled the earth, the earth would always function in an orderly, reliable, and stable manner, as God designed it to do.
It is true that Galileo’s discoveries drove the church to a closer study of the Scriptural text; but it was not the data of nature alone, but the data of nature interpreted in light of a more rigorous exegesis of Scripture, that allowed the church to embrace a heliocentric cosmology as compatible with the inerrant teaching of the Scriptures.
Now compare that with what you are say. You are saying that the data of nature alone is sufficient to force the church to recognize that the Bible errs in its teaching regarding the history of the universe and mankind. You are giving to natural revelation, interpreted by fallible men, “veto authority” over God’s special revelation. Of course, you would probably respond by saying that passages like Genesis 1-11 do not intend to teach anything about factual history. Their only purpose is to communicate “spiritual” truth, not historical or scientific truth. But such a view doesn’t accord with the facts, or with a rigorous analysis of the biblical text. For example, when Jesus rose from the dead, He said to His disciples “Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter into his glory? And beginning with Moses and all the prophets he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself?” (Luke 24:26-27). Jesus was saying that the Scriptures predicted certain events of history that had to take place in the future, due to the inerrancy of Scripture in all that it affirms. Among those predictions He would undoubtedly have pointed out the prophecy of Genesis 3:15, which predicted that “the seed of the woman” (Christ) would crush the head of the serpent (Satan) and be wounded in the process. That was a prediction of an historical event that had to come to pass. How can you say, therefore, that Genesis 1-11 is not concerned with the events of history? Such a view doesn’t accord with a rigorous exegesis of the biblical text.
“Ignorance is bliss. But the evidence is not going away. It will only get stronger as we discover more.”
I agree that the evidence is not going away, if by “evidence” you mean the physical data on which scientists base their fallible interpretations. But presently accepted interpretations of data may “go away”– that is, they may be radically modified, as new data comes to light and/or as better interpretations of the data are formulated which make better sense of the evidence. So we are justified in our refusal to accept as “gospel truth” scientific theories which would require us to abandon, without Scriptural warrant, our settled beliefs regarding the Scripture’s teaching which are based not on “sloppy,” but on rigorous exegesis of the biblical text.



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Martin Rizley

posted November 13, 2009 at 6:51 pm


Beaglelady,
“Have you not just invalidated your own judgments here, assuming you are a fallen sinner with a fallen mind?”
I have not “invalidated” my own judgments, but I have admitted that they can be in error– of course they can, since I am a fallen sinner with a fallen mind, like anyone else! That’s why we all need humility in the way we hold our beliefs and express them to others; we need to recognize that whatever understanding of truth we may have is a gift of God’s grace, and therefore, there is no room for pride or seeing ourselves as “paragons of wisdom.” The Scriptures warn us not to be wise in our own eyes. So we are all capable of erring in our judgment; but I will add this– the more our fallible judgment is submitted to the infallible judgments of God in Scripture– His testimonies, His laws, His instruction– the less likely we are to err in our fallible judgment.



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Beaglelady

posted November 13, 2009 at 10:11 pm


The church had to ask itself this question: “Is it possible that the Scriptures describe the natural world in phenomenological language, and for that reason, do not assert anything about the cosmographical relationship of the sun to the earth?”

In the case of Scripture’s 3-tier universe it is definitely not all phenomenological language. Consider the underworld; do you think that people just appeared to be descending into to hell?



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Knockgoats

posted November 14, 2009 at 8:54 am


And when it comes to things like the resurrection, or the miracles performed by Christ during his earthly ministry, the issue of (2) will never come up because these isolated events would have left no clues behind one way or the others. So in that case, we defualt to the eye-witness accounts. – Gordon J. Glover
Come off it Gordon! There are no “eye-witness acounts” of these happenings: there are a collection of inconsistent accounts, written down decades after the events allegedly occurred. Every religion has similar tall tales. Even if they were eyewitness accounts, do you know notihng of the research into the unreliability of eyewitness testimony? Martin Rizley is quite right (although, as you point out, himself inconsistent) – if you are going to apply critical intelligence to the Bible, the whole thing must be judged unhistorical.



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Martin Rizley

posted November 14, 2009 at 11:39 am


Knockgoats,
If eyewitness testimony is as unreliable as you say, why is it still admitted as evidence in a court of law to convict people of crime? Of course, the testimony of a single eyewitness can be unreliable; that’s why, in Biblical times, the testimony of two or three eyewitnesses was required to prove a person’s guilt. The more witnesses there are that testify to the same event, the more unreasonable skepticism becomes. If you were enrolled in a college class and missed a day due to illness, and if a fellow student told you the next day that the teacher had come to class wearing only his boxer shorts, you might reasonably be skeptical. But if another student tells you the same thing, and another, and another, your skepticism becomes unreasonable. In the case of Jesus’ resurrection, we have numerous eyewitnesses who all testify to having seen Christ after he rose from the dead. Among the gospel writers, Luke claims to have interviewed multiple eyewitness in compiling his account of Jesus’ life and ministry, and John claims to have been a personal eyewitness of the events he records. In confirmation of Luke‘s claims, the renowned archaeologist William Ramsay, who spent much of his career tracing the footsteps of Paul as outlined in the book of Acts, testified that Luke was an impeccable historian of the first order who knew well and reported accurately the geography, the cultural customs, and everyday practices, of the places and times that he wrote about. Regarding the historical authenticity of John’s gospel, read Donald Guthrie’s Introduction to the New Testament to see the numerous internal and external evidences that confirm that the author of John’s gospel was indeed a Jew living in first century Palestine at the time of Jesus. There is no reason to doubt the historical reliability of the gospels, even though some accounts (like the resurrection narratives) may seem to conflict at certain points. If four people view the same car accident from four different angles, you may well have diversity– even apparent contradictions– in the way they report what they saw. Their reports are not for that reason contradictory, but complementary. It certainly doesn’t render them worthless as history. Of course, the ultimate witness to the events recorded in the gospel is the Holy Spirit Himself, who inspired the gospel writers to give us a trustworthy record of what took place. Only He who inspired these records can assure our hearts of their truth, by removing the blinders of prejudice and unbelief from our eyes and granting us the gift of faith by His sovereign grace. The faith God requires of us is not a “blind leap” in the absence of evidence, however, but a response of trust in the presence of evidences that God has provided in abundance. To receive that evidence, we must be willing to repent of our intellectual and moral autonomy, however; we must be willing to surrender our lives to God, or the blinders will remain in place. To each one of us Jesus says, therefore, what he said to doubting Thomas, when He showed him the marks of the nails and the wound in his side: “Stop doubting and believe!”



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Knockgoats

posted November 14, 2009 at 4:06 pm


Martin Rizley,
If eyewitness testimony is as unreliable as you say, why is it still admitted as evidence in a court of law to convict people of crime?
Uncorroborated eyewitness testimony should be treated with great caution: the law has not yet caught up with the scientific evidence of its unreliability in most jusrisdictions.
In the case of Jesus’ resurrection, we have numerous eyewitnesses who all testify to having seen Christ after he rose from the dead.
We have nothing of the kind. The earliest fragment of a copy of any part of the NT dates from the late 2nd century. This is just a few lines. The earliest relatively complete copies of the gospels are 3rd and 4th century. Even if we accept that these copies reflect what was first written, and that some parts of the synoptic gospels were written as early as the 50s – and that is very generous – that is still at the earliest two decades after Jesus’s supposed death. So what we have is some accounts, which contradict each other about such matters as who first saw the allegedly resurrected Jesus, and which contain obvious nonsense such as hundreds of zombies roaming the streets, written decades after the events described, and of uncertain authorship, which claim there were a lot of eyewitnesses. No reasonable court would take such “evidence” seriously for a moment, especially when what is claimed is patently ridiculous.
Of course, the ultimate witness to the events recorded in the gospel is the Holy Spirit Himself, who inspired the gospel writers to give us a trustworthy record of what took place. Only He who inspired these records can assure our hearts of their truth, by removing the blinders of prejudice and unbelief from our eyes and granting us the gift of faith by His sovereign grace.
In other words, you have to believe this nonsense already to take these claims seriously.
To receive that evidence, we must be willing to repent of our intellectual and moral autonomy
You are clearly happy to be an unthinking, morally irresponsible slave.
To each one of us Jesus says
Jesus, if he lived at all, has been dead nearly 2000 years. He therefore says nothing to anyone.



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Martin Rizley

posted November 14, 2009 at 8:01 pm


Knockgoats,
I won’t try to argue with you over the evidences for Christ’s resurrection, but I believe that they are more powerful than you are willing to admit. Frank Morrison’s book “Who Moved the Stone?” examines them. The first chapter of that book is entitled, “The Book that Refused to Be Written,” because he started out to write a book to discredit the gospel accounts, but the more he investigated, the more convinced he became that Christ had indeed risen from the dead. No other explanation of the evidence made sense. Others, like C. S. Lewis, have come to the same conclusion. I don’t think you have to be a Christian already to consider seriously the truth claims of Christianity– many non-Christians have done so– but it is obvious that if a person has a closed mind to even considering those truth claims– that is, if they are unwilling to consider the possibility that their worldview is mistaken, or that God exists,or that miracles are possible, or that they need God’s help in order to believe– if their mind is simply shut to considering these possibilities, then I don’t see how they can possibly come to faith, until their attitude changes. So I am not saying “In order to believe, you must already believe.” That certainly wasn’t Paul’s attitude. He reasoned with men and sought to persuade them. But I am saying that, as long as you are unwilling to consider the possibility that you could be wrong or that your worldview is too narrow, then I don’t see how you could ever take seriously the truth claims of Christianity, given that attitude.



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Knockgoats

posted November 15, 2009 at 5:40 am


Martin Rizley,
Why are you so unwilling to examine the truth claims of Islam? Why is your mind closed to the salvation Scientology offers you? No other religion is a fraction as ridiculous as Christianity, which is logically impossible. Jesus cannot have been “fully human and fully divine”, because human beings and gods have incompatible attributes. Your mind is, quite evidently, utterly closed to the possibility that you might be wrong. You are quite willing to pretend to yourself that science is a huge Satanic conspiracy in order to maintain the nonsense you believe in. Why on earth would I want to become as deluded as you?
As for “Who Moved the Stone”, Morison’s claim to have been a sceptic before he wrote the book is completely dishonest. He was a churchgoer as a young man, and says in Chapter 1: “For the person of Jesus Christ Himself, however, I had a deep and even reverent regard. He seemed to me an almost legendary figure of purity and noble manhood. A coarse word with regard to Him, or the taking of His name lightly, stung me to the quick”. Throughout the book, he proceeds from the assumption that if the gospels say something happened, it happened. As for C.S. Lewis, it always makes me laugh when Christians refer to him as someone whose intellect is deserving of respect. Someone who could come up with the absurd “trilemma” has proved himself an idiot beyond serious dispute.



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Knockgoats

posted November 15, 2009 at 8:34 am


To clarify on “Who Moved the Stone?”, the kind of “scepticism” Morison refutes is simply that which assumes that the gospels are accurate historical documents – that everything reported in them records a real event – but that no miracles were involved. Of course, if you assume that the gospels are accurate historical documents, you will conclude that miracles did occur. But we know they are not.



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Martin Rizley

posted November 15, 2009 at 11:45 pm


Knockgoats,
“Why are you so unwilling to examine the truth claims of Islam? Why is your mind closed to the salvation Scientology offers you?”
Because, having examined the claims of Christianity, and having become assured of its truth through (1) the self-authenticating character of the gospel message, (2) the “many infallible truths” that confirm it, (3) the internal witness of the Spirit to my heart, it naturally follows that any message which directly contradicts this message cannot be true. If Jesus is the Son of God, then it follows that He cannot be merely a prophet, as Islam teaches. If He died on the cross and rose again on the third day, then it follows that Judas could not have been mistakenly crucified in His place, while Jesus was spared the pains of death, as Islam teaches. In other words, once a person is convinced of the truth of Christianity, he doesn’t need to go on examining the truth claims of other religions, as if they might also be true. If two plus two equals four it cannot also be true that two plus two equals five; in the same way, two religious teachings that directly contradict each other cannot both be true. One could be true or both could be false, but both cannot be true. So that is why my mind is admittedly closed to the truth claims of Islam and Scientology– because I am convinced of the truth of Christianity. When a bank teller is thoroughly acquainted with a genuine dollar bill, he doesn’t need to be familiar with every variety of counterfeit dollar bill to spot a fake. His acquaintance with the true is what enables him to spot a fake.
“Your mind is, quite evidently, utterly closed to the possibility that you might be wrong.”
Although the question regarding the truth of Christianity is for me a settled issue, that is not because I am a bull-headed obscurantist who is unwilling to look at facts or evidence, someone who takes a blind leap to believe what he wants to believe despite the facts. My attitude is not, “I believe what I believe; don’t bother me with facts.” On the contrary, it was through studying the facts and the evidence in support of Christianity that I became a Christian in the first place. God used those facts and evidence– and especially, the evidence of Jesus’ own life and teaching– to convince my heart firmly of the truth concerning the gospel. I believe that we should seek to have an “open mind,” but I don’t mean by that a “neutral mind” or a mind that is devoid of presuppositions. The ideal of having a “neutral mind” is a figment of men’s imagination, because everyone reasons from a presupposition framework of “first principles” that are regarded as self-evidently true. Having an “open mind” involves becoming self-aware of our presupposition framework, admitting our biases, and being willing to examine our deeply held assumptions in terms of their internal logic, consistency, and coherence, as well as their agreement with the facts of human experience, logic, history, the natural world, etc. When I do that, I find that the Christian worldview “fits the facts” like a glove on a hand, whereas non-Christian worldviews (atheism,agnosticism,etc.) fit like a square peg in a round hole.
“You are quite willing to pretend to yourself that science is a huge Satanic conspiracy in order to maintain the nonsense you believe in.”
I do not believe that science, per se, is “a huge Satanic conspiracy.” However, I do believe that many of the current leaders of the scientific establishment in our state-funded schools and science academies, whether knowingly or unknowingly, are trying to pass off philosophical naturalism under the name of “science.” Science was defined by many of the pioneers of science as “the systematic study of God’s created universe in its normal functioning,” a definition that did not leave God out of His universe or presume that every past event in earth’s history could be explained in terms of strict naturalism. Many of those early founders of modern science were supernaturalists who did not discount the biblical miracles as “absurd” the way that many atheistic scientists do today. They respected the fact that science studies only a very limited part of reality, not the whole of reality. Nowadays, however, science is more often defined in the academies as “the search for purely naturalistic explanations of natural events,” which is a fine definition when studying “operations science,” but completely inadequate, from a Christian perspective, when you apply that definition of science to the area of historical science Why? Because Christianity teaches that not every event in earth’s past can be explained in terms of pure naturalism– the creation of the first man and woman, for example, cannot be explained in those terms, neither can the creation of the world itself. If miracle played a part in the creation of the world, that means that science will never be able to explain in terms of pure naturalism how the world came into being. It is no wonder, therefore, that Christians have objected to the pretension of scientists to give an exhaustive picture of cosmic and human origins based on pure naturalism, a picture that leaves no place whatsoever for the miracle-working God of Scripture. So I support science, according to the older definition of science (the systematic study of God’s created universe in its normal functioning), but not the current indoctrination in philosophical materialism being carried on in our schools under the name of science.



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Knockgoats

posted November 16, 2009 at 5:06 am


Martin Rizley,
1) the self-authenticating character of the gospel message
Ah. “It says it’s true, so it must be true.” Brilliant.
(2) the “many infallible truths” that confirm it
There are none.
(3) the internal witness of the Spirit to my heart
“I think it’s true, so it must be true.” Even more brilliant! I’m convinced! Praaaiiiisse the Lord!!!”
Although the question regarding the truth of Christianity is for me a settled issue
As I said, and as you admit, your mind is utterly and completely closed to the possibility you might be wrong.
because everyone reasons from a presupposition framework of “first principles” that are regarded as self-evidently true.
No they don’t – that’s just the excuse believers like to give themselves for their unthinking dogmatism. I place nothing whatever beyond the possibility of revision. There are many, many things that could convince me that science does not work, for example.
Science was defined by many of the pioneers of science as “the systematic study of God’s created universe in its normal functioning,” a definition that did not leave God out of His universe or presume that every past event in earth’s history could be explained in terms of strict naturalism.
Indeed. But experience has shown that they were wrong.
I find that the Christian worldview “fits the facts” like a glove on a hand
Riiight. There’s this zombie, see, who was his own father, and whose mother conceived him without ever getting semen inside her. And his father, see (who’s also himself), created people and the whole universe, and he’s perfect and knows everything, but somehow it all went wrong, so he drowned almost everything (without leaving any evidence of the universal flood), but then it went wrong again, see, so he had his own son, who’s also himself, and who was both omnipotent and omniscient and an ordinary human being, see, tortured and executed so he could forgive us for being made so we would do what he didn’t want us to do. And if you can somehow manage to believe all this, he’ll reward you by taking you to Heaven; but if you don’t, he’ll torture you for ever to show how much he loves you. If you’re in Heaven, you won’t mind if the people you loved most are being eternally tortured.
Have I got that right?
the creation of the first man and woman, for example, cannot be explained in those terms
But science shows conclusively that there was no “first man and woman”. Why would God lie about this?
So I support science, according to the older definition of science (the systematic study of God’s created universe in its normal functioning)
Translation: I support science so long as it doesn’t discover anything that disturbs my dogmatic beliefs.



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Martin Rizley

posted November 17, 2009 at 12:21 am


Knockgoats,
You’re understanding of the Christian gospel is almost completely wrong at every point. The gospel I know says nothing about zombies, nor about anyone who is a father to himself, nor about a God who maliciously “tortures” people (there is nothing malicious about God’s judgment of the wicked– although judgment is necessarily painful– since God in judgment only gives people that which they have chosen for themselves as morally responsible beings– John 3:18-21). I could explain to you why your caricature of Christianity is so skewed, but from the mocking tone of your writing, I think I would be wasting my time. It’s a pity; I really would like to respond to the issues you raise, but I don’t see the point in trying to carry on coa serious dialogue with someone who seems interested only in launching a vitriolic tirade against Christianity.



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Knockgoats

posted November 17, 2009 at 9:27 am


Martin Rizley,
A “zombie” is simply a dead person who comes back to life – so if Jesus was resurrected, he’s a zombie. Since Christianity talks about “God the Father” and “God the Son”, and yet insists it is monotheistic, it follows that Jesus was indeed his own father. It is simply absurd to claim that people would choose to be eternally tortured, or that eternally torturing people can possibly be anything but infinitely evil. Why do you worship infinite evil, Martin?



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Martin Rizley

posted November 17, 2009 at 10:13 am


Knockgoats,
A zombie is a reanimated corpse– usually portrayed in the movies as a mindless, bug-eyed, flesh-eating machine with its skin falling off– which Jesus most certainly was not! Resurrection is not mere “reanimation” of a corpse; it is translation to a higher mode of existence– a mode that does not leave beyond physical and material reality, to be sure, but transforms it, releasing the human body from the present limitations of mortal existence. Unlike mortal bodies, a resurrected body is not subject to pain,disease, death or decay, nor is it bound, apparently, by the same laws of physics to which our mortal bodies are subject– for Jesus was able to appear suddenly in locked rooms without opening the door, immediately after having been in another village miles away. The doctrine of the Trinity affirms that the Father and the Son are eternally one in their being or substance, but eternally distinct in Person; so to speak of Jesus being His own Father is really a denial, not an affirmation, of what the Bible says about the triune nature of God. It is only “oneness” Pentecostals and other anti-Trinitarian sects that would teach that the Father and the Son are the same Person. Does anyone choose to be eternally tortured? If someone’s hatred for God exceeds their hatred of pain, they may well choose pain over God, and that eternally, for they prefer the grim and joyless “triumph” of self-deification over the peace and blessedness of a relationship with God. “My head bloodied, but unbowed” was the defiant cry of William Ernest Henley, and it is the cry of many, who can be described as “self-torturers,” because of their refusal to bless the God who gives them the very breath with which they curse Him. Such deluded individuals believe themselves to be ’free” and everyone else to be “slaves,” but they do not realize that slavery to sin is the worst slavery of all; they prefer to be enslaved to their unruly passions, rather than to be in the “blessed bonds” of captivity to Christ. Their sense of being “totally free” is a delusion, however, for as Bob Dylan put it years ago, “You gotta serve somebody.” I’d rather serve an infinitely wise, just, and loving God, than a foolish, wicked, and blind me!



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Knockgoats

posted November 17, 2009 at 11:24 am


Martin Rizley,
Unlike mortal bodies, a resurrected body is not subject to pain,disease, death or decay, nor is it bound, apparently, by the same laws of physics to which our mortal bodies are subject– for Jesus was able to appear suddenly in locked rooms without opening the door, immediately after having been in another village miles away.
OK, so Jesus is Super-zombie! And Santa Claus brings presents to all the good children, and Mohammed rode to heaven on a horse.
The doctrine of the Trinity affirms that the Father and the Son are eternally one in their being or substance, but eternally distinct in Person
Which is just a load of blithering nonsense.
so to speak of Jesus being His own Father is really a denial, not an affirmation, of what the Bible says about the triune nature of God.
The Trinity is never mentioned in the Bible: it’s a later invention.
as Bob Dylan put it years ago, “You gotta serve somebody.”
No, you don’t.
I’d rather serve an infinitely wise, just, and loving God, than a foolish, wicked, and blind me!
So if you’re foolish, wicked and blind, Martin (and you said it, not me), why on earth would I believe anything you say?



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Martin Rizley

posted November 17, 2009 at 2:55 pm


Knockgoats,
You’re wise not to place implicit trust in what I say (or in those scientists whom you seem to trust so implicitly– after all, they are mere men, too, and fully capable of erring in their collective judgment– if you doubt that, just check out what used to be the scientific “consensus” a hundred years ago concerning the thyroid and pituitary glands, and how thoroughly that “consensus” view has been discredited). A measure of skepticism is healthy, when it comes to the dogmatic declarations of fallible, finite, and foolish men. But you have no reason to doubt the testimony of Him who claimed to be “the way, the truth and the life,” and who proved the validity of His claim by rising from the dead. My prayer for you, Knockgoats, is that someday, you will not only come to believe Him, but also to worship, love and serve Him as His willing “bondslave.”



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Knockgoats

posted November 17, 2009 at 4:20 pm


Martin Rizley,
I suspect I know a great deal more about the history of science than you do. I am well aware that scientists can err – but they are no more likely to turn out to be wrong about the broad facts of evolution and Earth history than they are to discover that the Earth sits on the backs of four elephants, resting in turn upon a giant turtle.
you have no reason to doubt the testimony of Him who claimed to be “the way, the truth and the life,” and who proved the validity of His claim by rising from the dead.
Aren’t you a bit old to be believing in fairy tales, Martin? There is no good evidence at all that he did any such thing, nor even that he claimed to be “the way, the truth and the light”.
My prayer for you, Knockgoats, is that someday, you will not only come to believe Him, but also to worship, love and serve Him as His willing “bondslave.”
You know, that’s exactly the sort of language the masochist in a sado-masochistic sexual relationship would use, Martin. Still, since you worship an imaginary sadistic psychopath, I suppose it’s appropriate. Not my scene, I’m afraid, but pray for me all you want. Tell you what – you pray for me, and I’ll think for you. Deal?



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Martin Rizley

posted November 17, 2009 at 8:18 pm


Knockgoats,
It’s a deal (but you can be sure I’ll keep thinking, as well as praying; it’s impossible for believers to do otherwise.)



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Knockgoats

posted November 20, 2009 at 6:29 am


you can be sure I’ll keep thinking, as well as praying; it’s impossible for believers to do otherwise. – Martin Rizley
Oh, I don’t deny that you think – in much the same way as someone confined to a treadmill can run!



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OGEthics

posted December 16, 2009 at 6:58 pm


Nobody knows when the Second Coming is, only the Father. Hence, the “incarnation model” is perhaps the only way to articulate what we mean when we say “Word of God.”
The second Jesus approach is creating a strong theological suspicion. Please understand the risk involved in being deluded in that false belief that you are Christ: a false Christ!
God knows this concept comes from his Holy Spirit once you receive him in baptism and consecrate yourself to the Lord. Like Paul and many others have said Christ lives in them, the level of commitment is what makes this embodiment of Christ in us with much or less intensity and reality.
The costs for following the Lord are conquerable; we are supposed to yield them as a wonderful sacrifice for the reward of eternal life. When we conquer them and accept they are not going to stop us anymore in our Christian mission, we might delude our conception of the only one savior Jesus Christ in our own benefit and get lost in error.
The second Jesus is that representation/incarnation of the Christ in action in our lives. We are called to be like him. The world needs us to be Jesus.



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