Friday, 30 November 2007

Problems With Creation Science V: A God Who Uses Death In A Good Creation? Part II

A quick note to say that this is part 2 of a two-parter that were posted together. Please go to the previous post to pick up where this argument starts.

In light of the previous post, I would want to argue that it is not at all obvious that animal death is inconsistent with creation being good. Calling something ‘good’ reflects two things about the thing, its nature and its purpose. It’s not good for the man to be alone. That tells you something about the man—what he is, and what he is intended for. The fact that this can only be solved by creating someone made out of his very bone and flesh tells you even more about him and the woman—what they are, and what they are for.

But is it ‘not good’ for a rock to be alone? Or a tree? How about a cloud? Or a star? How about a bolt of lightning? How about a mathematical equation?

‘Good’ is not a ‘one size fits all’ category. What is good is going to be different as we move from one thing to the next. It is good for human sex to occur in the context of marriage. But animals don’t get married—is that ‘not good’? Some species mate with more than just one partner in the one mating season, others change partners from one season to the next, still others mate for life. Are we supposed to think that all the reproductive patterns except the last one are due to the Fall, and if it wasn’t for sin, all species of animals would be monogamous? (And that would still fall short of God's Law, which requires marriage and not just monogamy.) Or, is it that God’s commands are intended for human beings and are good for humans, and have nothing to say to animals, for whom good will be different according to their nature and purpose? Some will reproduce asexually, some monogamously, some with other mating patterns.

And if that is even partially accepted, why stop at death and draw the line there? If it is ok for plants to die in the absence of sin, why think it’s an assault on the goodness of creation if animals do? As I’ve already argued in post IV, I think there is good reason in the Bible to think that animals’ nature and purpose is different from humanity’s at this point. Animals weren’t made to live forever, and don’t have the kind of nature that fits with immortality (they aren’t in the image of God, and they cannot be united to Christ by faith). I suggest that animals dying isn’t any problem for the goodness of creation—unless you anthropomorphise them.

However, I think it is fair to say that arguments against the incompatibility of animal death are really arguments against animal suffering (as the person who offered the needle sticking experiment showed—an argument about death was immediately moved to an argument about pain). After all, we live in an age where voluntary euthanasia is taken seriously as many of us instinctively feel that people should have the right to escape suffering. Pain, rather than death, is the ultimate evil for us.

I don’t think there is a knock-down answer at this point, because, no matter where you stand on these issues, there are minimal biblical statements on the issue. The following issues would seem to be pertinent however, and I’ll list them in no particular order.
  1. It is possible that while death is natural, suffering only began with the Fall. That is, being eaten alive would have been a painless experience for animals before the Fall and now isn’t. This is pure speculation, so I’m against it on principle, but it can hardly be said to be more speculative than the idea that when the Fall occurred God changed a fair chunk of the animate world and turned them into carnivores (God mentioned the appearance of thorns and thistles in Genesis 3:18 but neglected to mention that you might want to rethink playing with the nice big yellow pussy cat with the large mane any more...), and transformed the entire ecology to cope with the new situation. So if you’re a Creation Scientist, which seems to involve a fair bit of speculating to make the selective literal readings work, you’re hardly any worse off.

    At this point, I suspect someone is going to raise Genesis 1:29-30
    Genesis 1:29-30 Then God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food"; and it was so.
    Here, it is surely fairly clear that there are no carnivores at the point of creation. Only plants are given for food. And this is for both humans and animals.

    The problem with taking this that strictly is when one looks at when this command is broadened and meat is also put on the dining table:
    Genesis 9:3 "Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant.
    Two things need to be noticed here. First, this is not a result of the Fall. It is what happens in the wake of the Flood. So there's still no direct connection to Adam's sin. You need to hold that there were no carnivores until after the Flood. This means that, according to a strict literal reading, Adam's sin was many centuries in the past when the entire ecology changed, and a large number of species were fundamentally transformed. Even more, the change happened after the Flood, in the context of God blessing the human race and establishing how to live again now that judgement has passed. All of which makes it hard to relate carnviores as some kind of automatic effect of sin, and not a creative work of God.
    Second, the passage doesn't say that animals are allowed to eat other animals now. Humans are, but animals are not given permission. If you are going to take 1:29-30 in a strictly literal sense and argue that all animals ate plants and only plants, then you need to take 9:3 strictly literally and say that animals were not given permission to broaden their diet from plants. Hence, there should be no carnivorous animals. Because the stricture of 1:29-30 is never lifted for animals (and thorns growing does not mean carnivores appearing, especially if you think the big divide is between plant life and animate life...).

    So, if you are into a strict literal reading of these chapters and you hold that there are animals who eat other animals, you do so in the face of what the Bible clearly teaches in Genesis on the basis of that strict literal approach. Namely, that all animals eat plants and only humans are given permission to eat animals. What you think you know about the world (that some animals do eat other animals) and what other parts of the Bible seem to say (that some animals, like the hawk, are carnivores) contradicts Genesis 1-8 on your strictly literal approach.

  2. It would seem that suffering is one of those things that will not exist in the new creation:
    Revelation 21:4 …and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.
    Here suffering is linked with things that are clearly the result of sin in the world: death, mourning, and crying. This would seem to fairly clearly indicate that suffering too is a consequence of sin. There are two possible mitigators for this, however. The first is that as you move from verse 4 to the broader context of Revelation 21 and 22, not all the changes that take place are due to the absence of sin—it’s hard to say, for example, that there being no sun or moon is because the sun and moon only existed due to sin. So it is possible (although I agree it is highly unlikely) that ‘suffering’ is the odd one out in this set in verse 4, the only member that is not due to sin. The other possible mitigator is that, as always, Revelation is human-centric. It doesn’t really care all that much about the animal world. It explains the new creation in terms of its ‘cash value’ for human beings. So you have to make a jump from this verse to animals to decide that it shows that it is not good for there to be a creation in which animals suffer. Nonetheless, I think this does give some support to the idea that suffering isn’t good.

  3. However, I still want to claim that our obsession with pain is wrongheaded. We elevate it way too high in the ‘evils’ that exist in our world (and I say that as someone who has an embarrassingly low pain threshold). When Romans 8 looks at the ‘good’ for God’s people, suffering is actually an instrument in accomplishing the good:
    Romans 8:28-30 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren; and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
    Romans 8:35-37 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, "For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered." But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.
    Here in Romans 8, the good that all things work together for is to be conformed to the image of God’s Son. It is not to avoid pain or suffering. ‘Good’ is to be conformed to Christ’s image. Suffering, or the lack of it, is quite irrelevant to that definition. In fact, as the later material in 8:35-37 indicates, suffering in its various forms can actually be the things in which we overwhelmingly conquer. Far from being opposed to the good, they are used by God to bring about the good. In the world we find ourselves, even pain serves God’s purposes to bring about good. And if that is the case, its presence may not cut against the goodness of creation. If it serves the purposes of blessing it is an ally of good, even if we’d rather not experience it. Pain is not the great evil we make it out to be, even though it is part of the glory of the new creation that there will be no suffering. It’s part of the parochial patheticness of our day and age that our existence is getting increasingly defined by the attempt to avoid deprivation at all costs (with the resulting cost that that has for those around us). On the criteria of Romans 8, animal suffering is compatible with good (even if it is not quite good itself) if there is some way in which it serves the purpose of creation—to conform us to the image of God’s Son.
Behind this last point is Luther’s Theology of the Cross. This is something that I was introduced to by Mark Thompson when he taught my year the Reformation and that, as the students to whom I’ve taught the Reformation can attest, has had an ongoing provocative effect on me. It has lodged away and I keep returning to it and wrestling with it. The term ‘theology of the cross’ is a phrase that people have lifted from Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, the key points of which (for our purposes now) are:
19. That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened [Rom. 1.20].
20. He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.
21. A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.
They were points for a disputation and, as the connected ‘proofs’ showed, drew heavily on 1 Cor 1-4 for the ideas embodied in these brief, allusive statements. In it Luther is comparing two basic paths to knowing God.

The first is described in point 19, it is a ‘theology of glory’. In it, the theologian holds that when we look at things around us we can clearly see God. This is often described as natural theology and was intended by Luther to include mysticism as much as rational attempts to reason to God’s existence and character from looking at the world around us. If one reads the rest of the Disputation, it becomes clear that Luther sees this approach to knowing God as tied to a self-righteous pursuit of achieving one’s own righteousness by works. However, the focus of points 19-21 is on the two paths to knowing God. And the theology of glory tries to go straight to God’s eternal glory by reading it off the glory of creation. Because we can see that this thing in creation is good, or strong, or whatever, we can deduce God’s goodness or strength or whatever as a larger version of it.

The opposing way is radically different. Here the theologian looks only at the cross for the knowledge of God. And when he or she looks at the cross he or she sees God through suffering and death. God’s glory and strength shines forth in that which a theology of glory finds scandalous. We come to know the righteous God of life by looking to the cross where Jesus dies under the judgement on sin. In the cross God comes to us as the opposite of what we would expect from him. And, Luther indicates, a theology of the cross sees this as the paradigm for understanding God and his ways. God’s work will always be a scandal to sinners. It will always offend our notions of love, righteousness, glory, justice and the like.

The point from this is that Creation Science is a natural theology par excellence. (In fact, the complaint of one of the guys I spoke to was that, by not accepting Creation Science, ‘the Sydney Diocese’ prevented people from being able to reason their way to God by looking at the world around them, He complained that we were stopping almost the very thing that Luther is attacking! It was one of those bizarre moments when, as Luther says, the theologian of glory calls good evil.) Creation Science tries to move to God’s glory by reading it off those things that we find glorious, and explain away those things that offend our notions of good and the like (like suffering).

But the cross opposes such methods every bit as much as it opposes attempts to erect one’s own righteousness. The cross is the revelation of God. And it is a scandal. Because in the cross God is associated with everything that we consider unfitting of him. His glory is revealed in the suffering of his beloved Son.

In other words, don’t assume that our notions of ‘good’ can be trusted, and don’t need to be overturned. For if you do, you are radically underestimating just how enslaved to sin you really are. By nature you call evil good and good evil, even as you do something really evil (justify yourself before God) rather than something truly righteous (throw yourself on God’s mercy). Only the cross teaches you to approach God differently than what comes naturally. And only the cross (and not nature) gives you the knowledge of God.

We need to learn from God what good means. And it may be the opposite of what we take for granted. After all, the cross was.

Problems With Creation Science V: A God Who Uses Death In A Good Creation? Part I

This then raises the next stage of the theological argument. “How could God have made a ‘good’ creation if animals died?”

Behind this argument is the view that I think is fairly common among Creation Scientists. On this view, God made every creature a herbivore, and (presumably) without the equipment to kill other creatures, and without the biochemistry to be sustained by a diet of meat, and without the complex and synergistic ecology that the world now enjoys that depends upon some species eating other species for everything to work properly. Death, and the associated pain of being killed violently, on this view, is fairly obviously ‘not good’, so how could creation be ‘good’ if the death of animals is not due to sin? And, in the discussion, there were some fairly heated words said over the issue: I was asked to go a stick a long needle in an animal to see how it reacted to see if that was ‘good’, and the kind of God involved was described as a ‘monster’.

There are however, I think, serious problems with such arguments. We’ll start with the most emotive and easily dismissed one, and move out to some of the others.

The suggestion to stick a long needle in an animal to see how it reacts, betrays a very poor grasp of the difference between God and us. Unless you are a radical Open Theist (a view that God not only is not in control of what happens in the world as per classical arminianism, but doesn’t even know for sure what will happen in the future—and so all sin and suffering is really a consequence of God guessing wrong, rather than him standing by and allowing it to occur on his watch) then every animal that is poked with a long needle is poked with God’s full knowledge and acquiescence. God, even for the arminian, stands by and lets it happen. If a human stands by and allows an animal to be tortured when they could prevent it we would consider that to be culpable (and it might even be illegal). But can such criteria really be applied to God?

Everyone who dies, dies at God’s command in some sense, because God sets the limits of our life—when we will be born, and when we will die. But only a fool (and I use that word deliberately in its biblical sense) would suggest that somehow God is a murderer, or culpable for humans dying. God is not a human being. He gives life and takes it away. That is what it means for him to be God. Aslan is not a tame lion.

If God can rule over a world in which suffering and death exist and be good (and most Christians would argue against atheists that he can) then it is not immediately obvious that God couldn’t make a world in which suffering and death exist and still be good. After all, unless you are an Open Theist, you accept that God made the world knowing that that is what actually happened. In other words the ‘torture animals’ argument betrays a ridiculously poor grasp of the difference between God and us. You can argue that it is not good for God to do that, you can’t just presume that what is not good for you to do is not good for God to do. Because you don’t sit on the throne of Heaven.

The next point is for me the most decisive. I think it is fairly clear that God takes credit for carnivores and other aspects of the animate world that we tend to consider ‘not good’. The key passage for this is Job 39-41.

The book of Job has been set in motion by a scandal—righteous Job experiences monstrous suffering. As is commonly known, most of the book is taken up with a ‘debate’ between Job and his three friends. The three friends are concerned to justify God in the face of Job’s suffering and so blame it, in different ways, upon some heinous sin in Job’s life. Job (like the reader) knows that’s not right, and, with increasing vigour protests his innocence and demands some kind of vindication, all the time getting bolder and bolder in the way his statements imply some kind of problem with how God has treated him.

God finally appears and speaks to the debate. The problem could have been settled easily by explaining the nature of suffering in a world in which sin exists, or even by explaining that it was really due to Satan’s agency (after all, we the reader get that information so it’s hardly a state secret). But God does no such thing. He parades before Job item after item that shows that Job is not in a position to interrogate God in this way. Job can’t do any of the things that God does all the time in managing his creation. Job has neither the wisdom, nor the power, to be God. So on what basis does he think he should be a backseat driver about any part of God’s management of affairs? It is a powerful statement of the profound limitations on our knowledge of God. And I think Christians should pay far more attention to it than they do. It would reduce the number of flippant ‘that kind of God would be a monster’ type of arguments that seem irreverently frequent these days, among other things. (Have people not read what happened to Job’s friends?)

In this context we find the following three examples that God puts before Job. The first is the ostrich:
Job 39:13-18 "The ostriches' wings flap joyously With the pinion and plumage of love, For she abandons her eggs to the earth, And warms them in the dust, And she forgets that a foot may crush them, Or that a wild beast may trample them. "She treats her young cruelly, as if they were not hers; Though her labor be in vain, she is unconcerned; Because God has made her forget wisdom, And has not given her a share of understanding. "When she lifts herself on high, She laughs at the horse and his rider.
God’s point is that the ostrich is a fast, stupid bird. It is so stupid that it ‘treats its young cruelly’, leaving its egg in the sand and moving on. And the reason given is not that this is a Fallen world—that would defeat the entire point of God’s response to Job in these chapters! (Something that the guys I was debating with could not or would not recognise. They opted for a reading—that all these examples I'm about to list were due to sin—that overturned the message of the entire book of Job rather than take the plain meaning of the passage. And they did so with no evidence in the text to support it.) The ostrich lacks wisdom ‘because God has made her forget wisdom’—and this in a context where God is speaking of his wisdom and power, and not the conditions of sin. The ostrich is dumb because that’s how God made it. As a consequence, its young aren’t looked after.

It is similar with the hawk:
Job 39:26-30 "Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars, Stretching his wings toward the south? "Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up, And makes his nest on high? "On the cliff he dwells and lodges, Upon the rocky crag, an inaccessible place. "From there he spies out food; His eyes see it from afar. "His young ones also suck up blood; And where the slain are, there is he."
This one is particularly pertinent because it comes immediately before the first of Job’s two repentances in these chapters. It is the clinching argument of the first section. And here the hawk is spoken of in unambiguous terms as a carnivore whose ‘young ones also suck up blood’. There is no squeamishness about its carnivore nature. The hawk’s search for prey is directly linked to God’s understanding and God’s command, and the hawk is unambiguously linked with death (where the slain are, there is he). And there isn’t even the hint that these carnivore features that God highlights are due to sin. Quite the opposite, they are held up as manifestations of God’s wisdom and power. Otherwise, why would Job repent of asking for an explanation, rather than say, "thanks, now I have an answer"?

Finally, there is good old Leviathan in chapter 41, who, along with Behometh in chapter 40, is a favourite of creation scientists wanting to prove that dinosaurs were alive concurrently with the humans of Job’s time. In the long description of Leviathan we find the following:
Job 41:8-10 "Lay your hand on him; Remember the battle; you will not do it again! "Behold, your expectation is false; Will you be laid low even at the sight of him? "No one is so fierce that he dares to arouse him; Who then is he that can stand before Me?
What is being held up here is the inherently violent nature of Leviathan. Just putting one’s hand on him leads to a battle of fearsome proportions. In fact, ‘no one is so fierce that he dares to arouse him.’ And God draws the implication, ‘who then is he that can stand before me?’

If Leviathan’s violent nature is the result of the Fall (for which there is no evidence in the text), this argument doesn’t completely fail, but it does become weird. It’d be analogous to God saying “Look at how destructively powerful the devil is. You can’t stand up against him, so you can’t beat me either.” It’s not impossible for God to argue that way, but it would seem to be incongruous in light of God’s normal stance towards evil. God doesn’t normally compare himself as like to like with evil. He normally sets himself over against it as a binary opposite.

No, the spirit of the passage suggests that Leviathan’s destructive power is to be connected to God’s power, not to the Fall.

Hence, what we have in Job are a number of indications that foolish animals, carnivores, and awesomely violent animals are an expression of God’s wisdom and power.

In light of this, I would be cautious about attributing the power of the lion, or the shark, or the hawk as they pursue and kill their prey to the Fall. The only thing we have from the Bible that speaks to this at all links it to God’s unfathomable wisdom and irresistible power. And it does so to remind us that we are not qualified to judge God on how he has managed his creation. That suggests that such features of the world are good, but the kind of good that is not domesticated to us. They are the good works of the God whose ways are unfathomable and whose judgements are beyond finding out.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Problems With Creation Science IV Supplemental: A Naturally Unnatural Death

Martin and Bruce have raised a good question about the naturalness of human death that wasn’t covered in Post IV. Probably foolishly, I thought it was an implication from my earlier post on Human, All Too Human, and so passed over it. No doubt it was only ever present in my own mind, so I’ll take a few words to try and spell it out a bit.

Bruce’s question is a good place to start:
I often hear from the pulpit, or in pious Christian talk, reflections on the sheer unnaturalness of [human] death. In a sense one knows what this means: it is contrary to our individual value and --- how shall one put this? --- spiritual nature. It is offensive. And yet ... as animals, we die: we are mortal. This is uncanny, and recognised as such even by quite secular figures, but it is obviously unnnatural only in a certain sense.

Bruce is putting his finger on the fact that death seems to fit in very well with the universe as we know it. It is not as though human beings run along from strength to strength and then, out of the blue death appears and takes them away. There’s no mystery to death, in the sense that its causes can’t be discovered. We can see the natural processes that led to death occurring, and all of them seem ‘natural’, well fitted to life in this world. More than that, we struggle to imagine what would be involved in such processes not existing or not leading to death.

This appears to be part of the context into which the second half of 1 Cor 15 is written.

From 1 Cor 15:1-34 Paul appears to be addressing a claim by some of the Corinthians that there is no resurrection of the dead. Paul deals with the issue by showing how Christ’s resurrection is a constitutive element of the gospel and is the basis of our resurrection. He then in verses 23 to 28 deals with the fact that Christ has already been resurrected but we have to wait for ours as a ‘group lot’ and shows how this order in resurrection links to bigger programme that God has going, of putting all of Christ’s enemies under his feet, with the final result that God will be all in all. He then brings out some implications.

Then in verse 35 Paul addresses a related issue:

1 Corinthians 15:35 But someone will say, "How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?"
As becomes apparent in the ensuing verses, this is a challenge to the hope of a resurrection. From the way that Paul deals with the question, it appears that the question is getting at the naturalness of death for bodies as we know them and the incongruity of suggesting that a physical body could last for ever.

This is particularly clear in the following material from 1 Cor 15, where Paul unfolds the answer:
1 Corinthians 15:42-55 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So also it is written, "The first MAN, Adam, BECAME A LIVING SOUL." The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.

Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, "DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. "O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?"
Paul’s argument here is predicated on a strong difference between Adam and Christ. Indeed, they are held up as contrasts. Adam’s body (and our bodies) are perishable, dishonoured, weak, and natural. The resurrection body of Christ (that we will also be given) is imperishable, glorious, powerful and spiritual.

More than that, Adam and Christ, not ‘just’ their bodies, are contrasted. Adam is earthy—he was made out of the earth and of the earth. He is made of the stuff of this world, and so is well suited to life here. Accordingly, in creation he became a living soul (alluding back to Gen 2:7—the breath, or spirit of God entered into Adam and he became a living soul). But Christ is radically different. He is heavenly—his source is heaven, the right hand of God from which he came and to which he returned. He is no mere soul in whom life has been infused from without. He is himself the Lord of Life, he is a life-giving spirit—a source of life for others. (Incidentally, this part of Scripture is hard to reconcile with any idea of a bipartite or tripartite understanding of humanity as body, soul, spirit: Adam and Christ are soul/spirit, not have a soul/spirit).

And Paul concludes that phase of his argument by indicating that just as we have worn Adam’s image, we will in the resurrection bear the image of Christ. This suggests that ‘image’ is here being used in an ontological sense—Paul has in view a fundamental change in human nature that is going to occur.

The key bit is the implications of this in the final paragraph. Resurrection of the body is not more of the same. It involves a change. Perishable bodies will become imperishable. Mortal bodies will become immortal. And Paul makes it very clear with his statement that ‘flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.’ The New Heavens and New Earth will be so radically different, that a different kind of humanity (a different image) will be needed for us to inhabit that realm. It’s not just what we have now without end, it’s a different kind of existence. It is radically better and more glorious.

It is, I suggest, gloriously head-spinning stuff, and far beyond us to grasp in anything other than through a mirror darkly.

What is important for our discussion however, is the way in which Paul here seems happy to intermingle conditions arising from sin and conditions arising from creation without any attempt to distinguish them. Adam is earthy, he is from the earth, and is living soul. Accordingly his body is natural, and so is mortal, perishable, weak, and ends in dishonour. Paul is very clear that death is the final enemy, and is the result of sin—he returns to this theme in the next verse after what I’ve just quoted above. And yet, the way he talks about Adam in contrast to Christ in these verses makes the difference seem primarily to do with creation versus new creation. After all, he is focusing on Adam’s natural body, the fact that Adam is from the earth and so is earthy, and the nature of Adam in Gen 2:7. Nothing about what he says here about Adam seems drawn from chapter three.

That is, the basic picture in 1 Cor 15 seems to be both that death is a tyrant, and Christ’s final enemy and that Adam and his image-sharers (us) are by nature mortal and perishable and that we need to be fundamentally changed to be made immortal.

How is this to be understood? I’ll highlight three ways I think Christians have often sought to understand this. This isn’t an exhaustive list, and there are variations of how these views could be expressed, and they can be combined in different ways, but it’ll give some pegs for thinking:

First, Adam was immortal but lost it through sinning. In the beginning Adam had life in himself, but when he sinned there was a basic change to the fabric of his nature and he became mortal. I think this view is probably the most common position among popular Evangelicalism. I also think it is the hardest to square with the tree of life in the Garden, as the tree of life suggests that Adam and Eve needed a source external to themselves for their life to be continued. Immortals don’t need a tree of life.

Second, Adam was mortal but would become immortal if he passed a period of testing by not eating the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Here Adam is not inherently immortal, but there was an implicit offer of being translated to the kind of condition Paul is speaking of in 1 Cor 15 without sin and Christ’s death and resurrection as the means to get there. That could have all been bypassed. My impression is that this is the view of Calvin and others.

Third, Adam was mortal by nature but immortal by participation. That is, left to ourselves, death is as natural to human beings as it is for all other parts of the animate creation. There is nothing inherently immortal about flesh and blood—which is why flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God but must be put off for us to put on imperishability and immortality. What Adam and Eve were given was a source of life external to themselves that enabled them to enjoy a share in God’s own eternal life and so be kept from death. This was mediated through the Tree of Life.

On this view death is unnatural when at looked at from the point of view of God’s purpose in creating humanity. We were made to stay connected to God through trusting his word and obeying it and so stay in the realm of life by being caught up in something greater than ourselves. Yet death is natural when looked at from the point of view of humanity’s nature. Humanity was made mortal like all creatures and so once we were cut off from God, we faced death like every other animal.

It is the image of God that made the difference, and this worked dynamically, not statically. It related us to God through his Image, his only begotten Son and so we were partakers in Life.

It’s probably clear that I strongly favour this last view, despite the fact that, as far as I can see, it is a minority position within Evangelicalism. That’s for two reasons.

One, I think it fits with Scripture better, as I’ve tried to briefly indicate.

Two, I think it is arguably the dominant position of the early church. It’s not the only position in the early church, my impression is that Tertullian, for example believes that human souls are inherently immortal. Nonetheless, the view I’ve tried to unpack briefly here is held by a number of respected and orthodox teachers in the early church. I’ll give some brief extracts from Athanasius as an example:
For the transgression of the commandment was making them turn back again according to their nature; and as they had at the beginning come into being out of non-existence, so were they now on the way to returning, through corruption, to non-existence again. The presence and love of the Word had called them into being; inevitably, therefore when they lost the knowledge of God, they lost existence with it for it is God alone Who exists, evil is non-being, the negation and antithesis of good. By nature, of course, man is mortal, since he was made from nothing, but he bears also the Likeness of Him Who is, and if he preserves that Likeness through constant contemplation, then his nature is deprived of its power and he remains incorrupt. De Incarnatione §4

Here, I hope, it should be clear that the basic schema is fairly similar to what I’ve outlined. Humanity is by nature mortal ‘of course’ (!). This is because he is a creature, and so has been made from nothing (a common link among the early church fathers in my reading—that which has a beginning naturally has an end as well). Hence, returning to non-existence is natural for humanity. But because humanity bears the Likeness of the Son, that underlying nature ‘is deprived of its power’ and humanity ‘remains incorrupt’. I’ll give one more example to show this isn’t an exception:
For God is good—or rather, of all goodness He is Fountainhead, and it is impossible for one who is good to be mean or grudging about anything. Grudging existence to none therefore, He made all things out of nothing through His own Word, our Lord Jesus Christ; and of all these His earthly creatures He reserved especial mercy for the race of men. Upon them, therefore, upon men who, as animals, were essentially impermanent, He bestowed a grace which other creatures lacked—namely, the impress of His own Image, a share in the reasonable being of the very Word Himself, so that, reflecting Him and themselves becoming reasonable and expressing the Mind of God even as He does, though in a limited degree, they might continue for ever in the blessed and only true life of the saints in paradise. De Incarnatione §3

Here Athanasius indicates that men naturally die because we are fundamentally animals: ‘men who, as animals, were essentially impermanent.’ What makes us different from all other animals is a particular grace we have that nothing else has—we are made with an impress of God’s own Image, and share in the rationality of the Word of God. This is ‘so that, reflecting Him…they might continue for ever…in paradise.’ Here Athanasius is briefly stating my key points—human beings are animals and so are mortal. Our immortality came through our link to God forged by our sharing in the nature of the Word because we had the imprint of His Image within us.

This is hardly unique to Athanasius, the idea that animals are mortal and human beings were able to transcend their natural mortality because of their being made in the Image of God is, as I’ve said, a common teaching in the early church.

Athanasius’ comment about Paradise picks up an issue that Martin Kemp raised:

Also Bill Dumbrell has written some interesting stuff (if I am remembering him correctly). He notes that Adam was made outside the garden, and then placed in the garden where there was the antidote to death in the the form of the tree. I think some interesting things follw from this observation:1. Sin existed outside the garden2. Adam was formed outside the garden in the realm of death (allowing for evolution)3. Inside the garden it's not that death didin't exist, it's just that there was an antidote.4. Adam and Eve's punishment was that they were barred from the antidote.

I’ve already noted scepticism on my part about evolution, and I’d not see any need to see sin already existing before the events of chapter three. But I’d want to support the idea Marty is putting forward that there is something special about Eden.

Creation Science, in my experience, seems to speak as though the Garden was what was happening for all of creation. That the conditions pictured in chapter 2 were the conditions throughout the world. And yet, Genesis 2 seems to suggest that there is something very different about life in the Garden and in the rest of the world (for example, there are no plants alive anywhere on the planet). Far from the Garden being the paradigm of pre-Fall creation, it seems in some ways to be something unique, a ‘paradise’.

Long before we wrestled with these issues Athanasius seems to be sensitive to the issue of the status of Eden in relation to the rest of the world because in the material just after what I’ve quoted he contrasts ‘living in paradise’ with ‘dying outside it’. That is, he doesn’t just see the issue as ‘immortal people now die’. He sees the other aspect of the issue: people who were in paradise, and so could avoid death, have been removed from paradise and therefore die. In other words, death seems to be, in some sense ‘natural’ for life outside the Garden. The judgement is to be removed from the Garden, and so denied access to the Tree of Life, which is the antidote to (otherwise natural) death.

When we look back at the original conditions of humanity, what do we think was happening then? Three kind of options: Immortal but had immortality taken away. Mortal but an offer of being changed into immortality if passed a test. Mortal, but rendered immortal through connection to God’s eternal life through the mediatorship of the Word.

My argument in IV in many ways reflects that I hold to the third of these options as the one which best reflecting what Scripture says. All this is a long way of saying, I think that death is natural to humanity’s nature, but is unnatural in terms of God’s intention and purpose of humanity. We were made to live without end, and God set things up so that we would not go the way of all flesh despite the fact that that is natural for a creature. We were made with a nature that was mortal, but capable of immortality.

In the New Heavens and the New Earth we will be by nature immortal, so nature and purpose will come together. But here too it will come ‘from without’—it will be because through his becoming man and then dying and rising to life that the eternal Son of God has united himself to creation and to humanity and is now the head over creation. Out of that relationship, forged through redemption, a whole new kind of existence is opened up to us in which death will be, not just unnatural in terms of God’s purposes, but an impossibility in the Kingdom of God.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Problems With Creation Science IV: When Death Isn’t Death

One of the few theological arguments I have heard from Creation Scientists involves the issue of death.

The first part of the argument goes like this (it’s my summary, not an actual quote):
“If we don’t accept an earth approximately 8 000 years old, then that would suggest that death existed before sin occurred. And the Bible says that death is the consequence of sin.”
The argument picks up on the link that the NT makes between sin and death:
Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned…
1 Corinthians 15:21-22 For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive.
1 Corinthians 15:56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law…
Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
That is, death is a consequence of sin—it is the wages of sin, or the just reward for evil. And so sin is the ‘sting’ that brings the poison of death. Sin is the cause of death.

And in this schema, Adam has a pivotal position because his primordial sin brought death into creation, and all other death flows from his welcoming death in and giving it lordship over creation by his rebellion.

If life existed before Adam, and presumably died (because, for example, dating of bones would be taken as more or less trustworthy) doesn’t this mean that the link between death and sin is broken?

The question here, I would suggest, is what ‘death’ means in these passages. Does it mean death of anything living, or is it referring specifically to human death?

Creation Scientists seem to assume that ‘death’ means ‘death of anything alive’. In fact, I would argue that the Bible has in mind only the death of humans when it talks of death being the judgement for sin.

The starting point is to recognise that there is no explicit statement that non-human death is one of the consequences of Adam’s sin in the Bible. I’d like to show you some Scripture to that effect but I can’t. You can’t show something that isn’t there.

What we do have is Romans 8:
Romans 8:19-22 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.
Here there is a clear statement that creation was affected adversely by human sin, and that its redemption will be found when we receive ours—it will share in the ‘freedom of the glory’ that we will receive as God’s children. The key phrase would seem to be the statement of creation’s ‘slavery to corruption’. It’s an easy step to take this as alluding to non-human death, because death leads to the decomposition (corruption) of the body. But that’s too narrow. This part of Scripture is looking at creation as a whole. The whole of creation is in slavery to corruption—animals, and plants yes, but also rocks, water, wind, sun, moon and stars. Even more than that, such creaturely realities as light, sound, energy, even creaturely love and reason have to be included. All of it is under the slavery of corruption. So singling out animals dying as the meaning of the phrase seems a bit strange.

This is the best one has when it comes to establishing that a link between Adam’s sin and non-humans dying exists. And it doesn’t establish that. Not by a long shot.

In actual fact, the teaching of the Bible on the connection between sin and death suggests the opposite. The Bible is clear that sin and death are connected, that death is the wages for sin. Animals don’t sin. Sin is a distinctly human (and probably demonic) phenomena, something that only moral beings are capable of. So, the Bible’s teaching that death is God’s judgement on sin would seem to include only humans within it. Death in animals cannot be the wages of sin and that's the only link the Bible explicitly draws between Adamn's sin and death.

There are four other lines of evidence that I would suggest indicate that ‘death’ refers only to human death.

The first is that the tree of life in Genesis 2 and 3 seems fairly straightforwardly to be a tree intended for human beings only. That is, the gift of enduring life, seems to have been offered only to humans in the Garden, just as only humans are the focus of being driven out of the Garden and barred from the tree of life. So the gift of life without cessation seems to have only been intended for humans. Otherwise, you’d have to argue that the thrust of Genesis 2 & 3 is supposed to suggest that humanity needed the tree of life, but animals didn’t. This seems strange, to say the least. Why would animals contain life in themselves while humans don’t? Surely it is a more noble nature to contain life in oneself than to have to look to something else to sustain it? And if that’s the case, why do animals start dying once the tree of life is withheld? Immortal animals effectively ignores the tree of life.

The second is that only humans are in the image of God. The seriousness of human death seems to be linked to the fact that human beings are unlike anything else in all creation. We alone are in God’s image, hence the seriousness of murder:
Genesis 9:6 "Whoever sheds man's blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man.
And even cursing:
James 3:9 With it we bless our Lord and Father; and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God;
It is fairly obvious, that such serious strictures are not placed around the death or cursing of animals. This suggests a unique sanctity of human life. This in turn would suggest a unique meaning to the ending of human life.

The third line is that only humans are spoken of as receiving the Holy Spirit and of being united to Christ. Both of these are, in the NT, directly linked to eternal life, and are given only to humans, by faith. They aren’t for animals, and so there is no means to enter into eternal life held out to animals.

Finally, only humans are offered the resurrection of the body. Only humans are actually given redemption from death. When I die, I die in the hope that death will one day release its hold on me and I will stand and see my Lord with my own eyes. No such hope is there for the goldfish or faithful Fido. Even if fish and dogs are in the New Earth, there is no promise that any dog that has existed will be resurrected.

What God offers human beings is not offered to animals. It’s not just the continuation of a species but the life of the individual that is the Christian hope. And that is promised to humans alone.

In other words, the general thrust of the Bible’s teaching about human beings and eternal life tends to draw a distinction between human life and non-human life. ‘Life’ and ‘death’ as blessing and judgement tends to be significant only for human beings, in the Bible’s spotlight. So death as a consequence of Adam's sin is most naturally read as human death being the result of one human's sin.

Creation Scientists, in my experience, tend to obscure this distinction between human and non-human. They replace it with a distinction between plant life and animate life (human and animal). The reason for the distinction is argued to be the way the Bible speaks of the latter as having ‘the breath of the spirit of life.’ Plants don’t have this, and so, on this view, plant ‘death’ is not linked to sin (it’s not biblical ‘death’). Both animals and humans do have ‘the breath of the spirit of life’ and so, on this view, both ‘die’ in the Biblical sense, and hence as a consequence of Adam’s sin.

I have already given the substance of my response above, namely that the fact that both have the breath of the spirit of life is not enough to indicate that ‘death’ as a consequence of sin encompasses both in the absence of any explicit text to that effect and against the lines of evidence drawing a distinction between humans and everything else.

But I’ll add a small extra point just to point out (again) how this kind of approach only selectively reads the Bible literally.

In the Flood, God states his intention as:
Genesis 6:17 And behold, I, even I am bringing the flood of water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life, from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall perish.
Here God states that he intends to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life, ‘from under heaven’, and then restates it in good Hebrew parallelism with a complementary statement: ‘everything that is on the earth shall perish’. So all flesh under heaven which has the breath of life shall be destroyed and all life on the earth shall perish.

This suggests, fairly straightforwardly:
  1. everything that has the breath of life will die.

  2. everything that lives on the earth will die.
And this is what happened:

Genesis 7:21-23 And all flesh that moved on the earth perished, birds and cattle and beasts and every swarming thing that swarms upon the earth, and all mankind; of all that was on the dry land, all in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, died. Thus He blotted out every living thing that was upon the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky, and they were blotted out from the earth; and only Noah was left, together with those that were with him in the ark.
All ‘in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life’ died. All ‘living things that were upon the face of the land’ were blotted out. Only Noah and those in the ark were left.

The problem is what do we do about life in the water?

Is it classified as having ‘the breath of life’ in it? Do turtles, dolphins, whales, and seals have the breath of life? How about fish life? If so, then they should be included in the total death that God was brought through the flood.

Yet, that can’t be done because they don’t live on the earth, and the two terms (has breath of life/lives on the earth) are in parallel. This therefore suggests that they are not included as entities that have the breath of life in them. They are effectively ‘plant life’.

And so we get the bizarre position that the death of land animals and birds is the result of Adamn's sin, but the death of water life (mammal and fish) is not….

In fact, the Flood, like Genesis 2, has no interest in water life at all. And this in an account which another part of the Bible (2 Peter 3) states is an account of the destruction of the world on a par with the destruction by fire of the Day of Judgement! It again suggests that it isn’t trying to answer scientific questions…

This is a bit of an excursus, but the basic point is to show that ‘having the breath of the spirit of life’ is not the primary category of division. It is not animate life on the one hand and plant life on the other as the big issue when it comes to ‘death’. For in the great OT experience of the day of judgement, water life is left out of this division (and that’s a lot of life to be left out if you’re concerned about trying to square things with science).

So, I’d suggest the following:

  1. The Bible makes a far bigger division between human life and the rest of creation than between animate life and plant life.

  2. Life and death is primarily linked to humanity.

  3. The link between sin and death is only linked to humanity

  4. Animal death as the consequence of Adam’s sin is nowhere explicitly stated by the Bible.
Accordingly, I’d suggest the best way to submit to the Bible’s teaching on this subject is to (at a minimum) profess no position on the relationship of animal death and human sin (which still means that animals dying before Adam's sin is not a theological issue) or (at a maximum) follow the trajectory of the Bible’s teaching that ‘death’ as a wage for sin relates to humans only.

In other words, death is natural for Fido, and is a scandal for human beings. That’s why we have funerals for humans but don’t (or at least shouldn’t) for animals. ‘Death’ is more than just ‘cessation of biological activity’. Looked at theologically, it means something very different when a human dies and when an animal dies. Humans were never meant to die. Animals were never intended to have eternal life, because they are not human beings and are not in the Image of the eternal God.

Or in other words, Christ came into the world to save sinners, which means he came to save human beings, not dogs or cats or humpback whales. Redemption may catch them up as well (and it may open up a kind of life for them that is radically new), as it brings in a New Heavens and a New Earth that is different from everything that has gone before it. Nonetheless, the gospel of salvation from sin and death is for the children of Adam alone.

Problems With Creation Science III: A Tale of Two Chronologies

I dislike the way various Creation Scientists I have encountered handle the relationship of Genesis 1 and 2.

On the face of it, the first two chapters of Genesis give differing accounts of the formation of the world. Whether you then see that as complementary perspectives or a fundamental disagreement that Moses was too stupid to pick up reflects your basic stance towards the Bible (and your I.Q. in my view. Do you really think that wouldn’t have been noticed?)

Genesis 1 recounts the creation of the heavens and the earth over six days, with plants coming into existence on day three, birds and water creatures on day four, and animals being created on day five before humanity, which is presented as being created male and female in one hit. All these things were made just by the simple word of God. God said, ‘let there be…’ and there was.

Genesis 2 recounts the creation of the heavens and the earth ‘on the day (same word as for the seven days of Genesis 1) they were created’. In Genesis 2 man is created first. Then plants are created just to make a garden (the rest of the earth is bare of plant life due to a lack of rain, and a lack of human cultivation—suggesting a fairly critical role for humanity in the filling of the world with life). Then God creates animal and bird life together (no mention of water life being created at all). Then he creates the woman. In none of the cases of man, woman, animal or bird does God create with just a word. Man, animals, and birds are fashioned out of the dirt. Woman is fashioned from Man’s rib. (Only plants, interestingly enough, are created the same in each chapter: both are produced by the earth, one part of creation being used to create another part).

The chronologies of the two passages cannot be reconciled. Neither can the modes of creation be easily reconciled. This would seem to suggest that what we have here is quite possibly a non-literal account of creation in either chapter or in both chapters. That is, having two parallel accounts suggests that the interest is not in giving you an eyewitness account, but in disclosing the meaning of creation, to interpret the world you live in for you. It’s true, but it’s not scientific truth (any more than Christ’s death paying the penalty for our sins is a scientific truth. How would you experimentally validate it?)

However, the guys I was chatting with, like most Creation Scientists I have encountered, insisted that chapter one has to be taken as a literal, eyewitness account. Hence, they were prepared to take chapter 2 as not offering an actual, trustworthy chronology (you can see the irony here I hope). The literal nature of Genesis 1 was secured, from what I could make out (it was, as I said, a difficult conversation, so it wasn’t always easy to work out what substantial points they were making) by appeal to Exodus 20:

Exodus 20:8-11 "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. "Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. "For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.

Here, the argument seemed to go, another part of the Bible is taking Genesis 1 as speaking of seven concrete twenty-four days as the reason for the Sabbath command. Therefore, Genesis 1 is to be taken literally, and Genesis 2 less so.

The difficulty, is that the NT draws upon the chronology of chapter 2 and not the chronology of chapter 1 to make its points about how to live:

1 Timothy 2:11-15 Let a woman quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being quite deceived, fell into transgression.

1 Corinthians 11:7-9 For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman's sake, but woman for the man's sake.

In both passages, implications for how men and women are to live are drawn from the chronology of Genesis 2.

It could be suggested that this is the only part of chapter 2 that is a literal chronology—that in the sixth day of creation, God made man first, some of the stuff of chapter 2 ‘kind of’ happened and then Eve was created. But that kind of speculative exegesis is exceptionally strained and distorts the meaning of both chapters—you’ve essentially fused them together to create your own Genesis chapter 1.5.

In other words, even for the Creation Scientist another part of the Bible can appeal to the chronology of a ‘non-literal’ part of Genesis to make authorative demands on God’s people. Exodus 20 appeals to days in chapter one. Paul appeals to the chronology of chapter two. And both Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 can’t be historical chronologies, because they can’t be reconciled.

Whichever way you go there, you can’t just point to a passage like Exodus 20 to show that the days are meant to be historical twenty-four days and Genesis 2 is less literal. Because the exact same argument can be derived from Paul to ‘prove’ the historical chronology of chapter 2 and hence the less literal nature of chapter one.

And if the same type of argument can be run twice from the same body of evidence to deduce mutually incompatible results, that indicates that the argument itself is wrong.

One part of the Bible using the chronology of Genesis to establish a point about how God’s people are to live shows that Genesis is designed to tell us how to live. It doesn’t establish that it was meant to offer us a ‘better science’, by telling us what we would have seen if we had been there.

It may do that as well, but the Sabbath command doesn’t prove it.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Problems with Creation Science II: On Taking the Bible Literally

Creation Science wants to claim that it takes the Bible literally and alternative approaches don’t (they don’t take literally things that disagree with science), and so it can claim to be the right position fairly easily.

The problem is that, as far as I can see, Creation Science doesn’t take things literally, but shies away from literal readings of things that disagree with those bits of science that they accept.

The most well known example is probably the second day of creation:

Genesis 1:6-8 Then God said, "Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters." And God made the expanse, and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so. And God called the expanse heaven.

A literal reading of this isn’t hard to see. The cosmos is full of water, and to create the space for land to appear God first creates an expanse (or firmament, the word suggests a physical barrier) that separates the waters that were below from the waters above. This physical barrier is called heaven.

Then dry land appears on the third day when God gathers the waters under the expanse and locks them into fixed locations—oceans, seas, lakes etc, and so dry land appears.

So the literal picture is of a universe full of water where God creates a space for earth to exist. One suspects that that fits neatly with the fact that we see blue when we look up—we’re looking at the water on the other side of the barrier, heaven.

If, however, science calls the shots, then that is nonsense. And so Creation Scientists will, when pushed, read this non-literally. It is a metaphor (or ‘poetic’). The most common suggestion I’ve heard is that pre-Flood the earth was covered in a permanent blanket of thick clouds. It’s a strained reading (and is strange science. Unless they think physical laws changed with the Flood, why wouldn’t this cloud cover build up again after the Flood?) Their exegesis at this point is hard to understand, unless they draw back from readings of Scripture that they are fairly sure don’t square with the world as they know it. In fact, 2 Peter seems fairly straightforwardly to read Genesis the way I've suggested:

2 Peter 3:5-7 For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water...

The earth was formed out of water and by water. This suggests water being more significant to Genesis 1’s picture of creation than the idea of a thick cloud cover above the earth.

And this world in the midst of water makes much better sense of the Flood:

Genesis 7:11 In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on the same day all the fountains of the great deep burst open, and the floodgates of the sky were opened.

The barriers that made a division between water above and water below and water below and dry land and are taken away. The water pours in and covers the land:

Genesis 7:18-20 And the water prevailed and increased greatly upon the earth; and the ark floated on the surface of the water. And the water prevailed more and more upon the earth, so that all the high mountains everywhere under the heavens were covered. The water prevailed fifteen cubits higher, and the mountains were covered.

Two things I want to point out here. First, the amount of water involved in covering every mountain on the earth is far in excess of the amount of water that we are, pretty sure, exists on the planet. Speculations (such as I’ve heard by Creation Scientists) that what happened was a lot of water coming together into a series of large tidal wave-like phenomena are not what the text is saying, it’s another fudge. The text is painting a picture of constant rain and water coming out of the depths of the earth covering the land, not of a periodic wave smashing everything to bits. That’s why the waters subside over a long period of time rather than waves just ceasing. And how the ark would survive waves like that is beyond me—at that point you’d have to leave science behind again and suggest another miracle to preserve the wooden ship (which then raises the question of why a ship at all?).

The second thing I want to point out is that the preoccupation to read this passage in the light of science misses the meaning of the passage. The Flood is held up in the NT as a type of the final destruction of the universe by fire. Back to 2 Peter again:

2 Peter 3:5-7 For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. But the present heavens and earth by His word are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

2 Peter 3:10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.

It’s not just a lot of water killing off all land creatures. It’s more than that. It is meant to suggest the end of creation, ‘the world at that time was destroyed’. Flooding the world with water is supposed to get a point across that is far more than just a huge natural catastrophe. It was the undoing of creation. The world was made out of water and by water, as the waters above and below were separated by an expanse called heaven, and the waters below were separated from the dry land.

When the floodgates of the sky and fountains of the deep are opened then this basic structure that enables life ceased. The world returned to its formless and void state—no separation between waters or between water and land, and no life. The world was destroyed.

Again, if you’re exegeting the Bible through science that’s nonsense. Matter, energy, space, time, all exist. There’s still a planet, there’s still a universe. Nonetheless the Bible portrays the Flood as on a par with the final Day of Judgement, the world was destroyed by water and will be destroyed by fire.

Thus, the Flood has a cosmic theological significance. It was the undoing of creation, just as much as the Day of Judgement will spell the end of this world and the beginning of the New Earth and the New Heaven.

I take it that is why there is that obscure note in Revelation:

Revelation 21:1 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea.

Why is there no sea in the new heavens and earth? If you put the science away for a moment and think about the significance of water in Genesis 1-8 then I think it comes into light. Water is related to that formless and void state at the beginning of creation.

Genesis 1:2 And the earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.

Here, before anything is said by God, there are apparently waters over which the Spirit of God moves. Again, if science is in the driving seat, you either have to say that creation began before God said anything in verse 3 (‘Let there be light’). Or you could accept what seems fairly obvious, that ‘water’ signifies more than just physical water. It signifies the formless and void state before there was a creation.

Hence, the end of the Flood is meant to allude to Genesis 1:2

Genesis 7:24 - 8:1 And the water prevailed upon the earth one hundred and fifty days. But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark; and God caused a wind to pass over the earth, and the water subsided.

The word for ‘wind’ in 8:2 that passed over the earth is exactly the same as the word for the ‘Spirit’ in 1:2 who hovered over the water. The end of the Flood conjures up the picture of creation.

That’s why the Flood is linked with the final end of the Universe by fire, because large bodies of ‘water’ is meant to conjure up the original formless and void state. The fact that creation could be so easily undone by God just taking away the barriers gets at the inherent impermanence and insecurity of the Universe. At any moment it could be swamped by inrushing uncreation and return to nothing. Hence, the great statement of OT trust in God:

Psalm 46:1-3 God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; Though its waters roar and foam, Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride. Selah.

It’s not just an earthquake that is being put forward here, it is the cosmos coming apart at the edges. Even in the face of that God is our refuge, so we will not fear. That's a powerful statement of security in God!

So ‘sea’ would be a bit like the snake in the garden, or the ability of Adam and Eve to disobey God. It gets at the fact that while the creation is good, it does not have the imperishable glory of the New Creation. Creation is vulnerable, guarded only by the word of God that keeps the basic structures that makes life possible, and that light the path for humanity to walk in the light. This word of God is questioned, challenged, disobeyed, and with it life is turned to death and creation is in constant danger of being undone.

Yet the New Creation has Christ as its head. It participates in and lives in him. And so it will have no snake, no sin, no possibility of death, and no sea. It will not have any chance of being undone. It will be immortal, invincible, secured by its unbreakable link to the eternal Son of God who is its head.

All these connections are in danger of being overlooked when one finds the Bible’s talk of an expanse scandalous in light of modern scientific knowledge, and so explain it away.

The result is a strained reading that is arid and untheological and that obscures connections within the Scriptures. It’s also not literal.

Problems With Creation Science I: Absence of a Theology of Creation

My encounter with this anti-Sydney Diocese blog has strengthened my concerns about Creation Science. As I’ve indicated, I don’t have a problem with the idea of a literal six day creation in the abstract. What does concern me is that, almost without exception in my experience, people who are into creation science seem to be disinterested in theology, and in understanding the world theologically.

I have lost count of the number of videos, magazine articles, internet articles, and teaching sessions I’ve been part of that have gone over Genesis 1, the Flood, and Behemoth from Job 40. And it is always the same. These passages are mined to show:

  1. That the world is 8 000 years old
  2. That if we had been there, we would have seen that Genesis 1 gives us a journalistic account of how creation came about. That is, it is pretty much what we would have seen with our own eyes.
  3. That there was a flood that covered the world with water, and so contemporary geological theories are fatally flawed.
  4. That there were dinosaurs still in existence at the time of Job.

These might be true or not, but none of them really touch on the core concerns of the Bible. These are the kind of questions that are of interest primarily to post-enlightenment empiricism. They are scientific questions about the world.

What is always passed over (and so one presumes that it is considered uninteresting or unimportant) is the theological interpretation of the world. Some examples include:

The way in which creation comes about in the first three days by creating order through making divisions—light versus day, heaven versus earth, land versus sea. And then the second set of three days seems to return to these basic structures and fill them: sun, moon on day four; birds and sea creatures on day five, land creatures and humanity on day six. This suggests a basic understanding of creation as being structured through binary opposition and then filled. Thus, in Genesis 1 we get a move from the original state: formless (no structure) and void (empty) and finish with a structured universe in which entities exist. When one sees that making a separation between two things is fundamental to creation, then, for example, the holiness laws, with their separation into holy and profane, clean and unclean, make far more sense.

What is also passed over is the way in which creation exists to serve humanity:

Genesis 1:14-18 Then God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth"; and it was so. And God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also. And God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, and to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good.

Here the existence of the sun and the moon are explained simply as to give light to the world and to regulate day and night. They, along with the stars exist simply to regulate seasons, days and years. They are the celestial equivalent of a wrist watch.

That’s hardly a scientific answer. What about stars we never see on earth without the aid of, very, very powerful telescopes? What about the sun’s role in keeping the solar system stuck together, and providing energy for the other planets? What about the other planets in the solar system, or asteroids? What about the fact that the stars are actually other suns?

But it is a powerful theological answer. Humanity regularly falls into worshipping the sun, the moon, and the stars or awarding them immense power over our lives, as astrology indicates. Here Genesis 1 shows us that they are not lords over the earth. They are mere servants. Night lights for human beings. They exist for our sake.

And this is the clear teaching of the NT:

1 Timothy 6:17 Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.

1 Timothy 4:3-5 …men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods, which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.

Everything made by God is good, and so nothing is inherently off limits. The fact that this world has been filled with good things (as Genesis 1 painstakingly shows with it’s enunciation of the six day process of setting the universe up) tells us something about God, that God ‘richly supplies us with all things’. That is, that God is superabundantly generous to the human race.

It also tells us the stance we are to have towards the world. God has given us all things for us ‘to enjoy’. Christianity is pro-aesthetic. Things in the world are good and so should be enjoyed for their own sake. Christianity is anti-ascetic: advocating the abstaining from foods and forbidding marriage (and I would suggest that these are indicative examples, not intended to exhaust the kinds of things people who teach demonic doctrines (from 1 Tim 4:1-2) might say) is criticised in some of the harshest language Paul ever uses.

The purpose God had for creating things was so that those of us who believe and know the truth (i.e. are Christians) would gratefully share in them, sanctifying them by our reception of the word of God (believing the gospel) and prayer. That is, we are to enjoy things, and to enjoy things in a non-secular way. We are to enjoy the world as a gift from God, and so be grateful to God for it, and pray to use things for the purposes God gave them for. What we don’t do is find our security, or place our hope in the abundance of good things we have. We recognise God alone as the giver of life, and the giver of all good things.

Hence, the call on Christians to deny themselves, to pursue Christ wholeheartedly, to live a life of sacrificial love for others, needs to be understood against this backdrop. Christians are to forego enjoying the things of this world. But that is because of the demands of faith and love in the last days—the days when the ascended Christ rules over this rebellious world and all his enemies are being put under his feet. It is forgoing the good out of love, it is not asceticism for asceticism’s sake. Because everything is given for our good, we are free to use or not use them, depending on the demands of the circumstances in the context of love.

For me, this has transformed the way I relate to creation and tackle issues from alcohol, to culture and art, to work, and love of money. And I haven’t even begun to touch on the strong NT teaching about the relationship between the Lord Jesus Christ and creation!

And here’s the problem. It was only after I stopped reading Creation Science stuff on the topic and started reading material that they consider to have fatally compromised on the doctrine of creation, that my eyes were opened to begin to grasp this much bigger vista of a theological approach to the world.

Even if Genesis 1 is intended to be taken literally, I am very grateful that God has allowed me to grasp this way of seeing the world as existing as his good gift to his people, to be enjoyed with gratitude. I consider myself to have gained by losing the one to gain the other. Grasping this world as God’s good gift changes everything. It gives purpose and meaning, not just to human beings, but to all things.

The Day The Music Died

I have recently brought an end to a very discouraging couple of weeks on another blog. I was informed that there existed a blog written to declare to the world that the Sydney Diocese was heretical for not being adherents to Creation Science. I went over with the intention of getting an understanding of where they were coming from (and discovered that others had tried to speak to them, some under their own names like Michael, others anonymously). I was, to put it mildly, surprised that a group of people would write a blog for no other purpose than to call the Diocese heretical on a secondary point of doctrine.

In the end I decided to start a conversation (or argument, the two are fairly synonymous in these contexts) with some of the contributors. There were a couple of reasons why.

The first is that I had been a Creation Scientist up until my mid 20’s—I naturally tend towards taking biblical passages at their most straightforward and literal sense, and Creation Science tends to be a litmus test of orthodoxy in evangelical type circles in Brisbane.

I moved away from the position while still in Brisbane for a number of reasons. Some of those reasons will become clearer in some of what I say later. It wasn’t a full move. I’m still fairly sceptical about evolution, and I think it’s pretty obvious that there is no currently workable theory about life beginning on earth given current models of earth’s atmosphere and the like—one of the reasons why renown atheist philosopher Anthony Flew turned theist. But the objections are primarily scientific rather than theological. If ‘evolution’ turns out to be true I doubt it will matter. I believe God can work within nature and against it. Both nature and supernature are in the hands of God to accomplish his purposes.

I have moved away from any idea of a young earth. This is because of scientific reasons, not geology, but astronomy. Unless current astronomic theory is fatally flawed in multiple areas (which has been known to happen in science, but that’s not really a basis for dissenting, it’s a bit too sceptical in the bad sense) then it would seem that we receive information here on earth about events that occurred a long, long, long, long time ago (about things far, far, far, far away). So, the universe is old. (But again, if that’s wrong and science returns to an 8 000 year old cosmos, I don’t think that will somehow ‘vindicate the Bible’. If people won’t accept the apostles’ testimony about Jesus’ resurrection from the dead I doubt a young cosmos, or finding Noah’s Ark, will suddenly create faith).

So, I’m not a creation scientist. First, because I think the universe is old. But more importantly, because I think it’s a scientific question first and foremost, and not a biblical question. But I think that science is demonstrably fallible, and that a literal reading of Genesis 1 has a good pedigree in church history, so as a theological position a literal reading of Genesis 1 has credibility for me. So I’m willing to listen to the concerns of Creation Scientists.

The second main reason why I started the discussion is that I have been noticing (particularly since the Diocese’s 10% goal, interestingly enough) a number of accusations of heresy (or something similar) against the Sydney Diocese. Obviously, there is the subordinationism charge that I’ve been involved with. And I’ve spoken with Anglicans who consider any idea of lay presidency at the Lord’s Supper as ‘heretical’. But these charges are from areas far more theologically divergent in their views of Scripture and the nature of the gospel.

More troubling is that I’ve also heard of graduates of Moore being hassled in Presbyterian circles for not caring about ‘true worship’ when the church gathers, and people writing off their ministries as (more or less) ‘heretical’. There’s also been criticism from some overseas quarters, I understand, because Moore engages with some of the contemporary non-evangelical theologians and isn’t only critical of them. Creation Science seems to be the other main area of complaint, generally voiced by people who seem to think that almost every problem in the modern world can be traced back to evolution and so see any position other than an explicitly anti-science literal reading of Genesis 1 (and both the anti-science and the literal reading are necessary) as surrendering the farm.

My trouble at this point is that I don’t like people thinking I’m (or those I’m connected to) a heretic. Strange of me, I know. But heresy is a very serious charge. A heretic is so wrong theologically that they cannot be saved. I take theology seriously, but ‘heresy’ is the theological equivalent of WMDs. Bringing it out is far more serious than conventional theological criticisms that such and such a view ‘isn’t in line with the Bible’, ‘dishonours Christ’, ‘is potentially fatal to the coherence of the Christian faith’ or the like. ‘Heresy’ is in a class all of its own.

When the people making this accusation against me are theologically divergent themselves (not accepting the creeds, or rejecting Scripture as the word of God) then the accusation can (almost) be a badge of honour. But when the criticisms come from closer to home, so to speak, I take the concerns more to heart. Ironically, if it had been a thread on a forum just generally discussing evolution versus creation science I would have yawned and moved on. But a charge of heresy makes things far more serious.

The final reason for talking is that I have pursued a policy of deliberating engaging people who I might otherwise disregard, because they’re ‘obviously’ wrong. This is partly because I think true humility is shown by taking seriously even people who seem unlikely to be right. If we are sinners, and can’t trust that our minds will always add two plus two to get four (and I would have thought any experience of human beings will produce countless examples of otherwise sane and intelligent people who, in some situation or area of life, can’t see the nose on their face while looking in the mirror) then sometimes we are going to be most wrong when we think that it’s ‘just obvious’ that we’re right. There’s no silver bullet to this dynamic, but being prepared to hear out people and reconsider what they say has to help, particularly when it is a corollary to our sitting in humility under the enscripturated Word.

So I started a conversation. Given my approach things, it was a debate or argument. I have never thought (and still don’t) that listening to another person carefully means just agreeing with them or not challenging what they are saying. Truly listening can mean pushing them on areas of their position that you find problematic or unconvincing, so that they have the chance to try again to win you at that point.

However, this conversation went badly. I thought that would happen. But it managed to match some of the worst expectations I could set (and I’m a pessimist). It went very badly. It was unpleasant, and both Jen and I breathed a sigh of relief when it came to an end, the spiritual atmosphere at home lifted enormously. Given just how bad it was, I think it’s probably worth some reflection, so I’ll be doing that over the next couple of entries.

By the way, for the curious or aggressive reader out there, please don’t go searching out the blog with the intention of ‘putting them right’. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s one of those groups that needs an enemy to feel that it’s truly ‘doing the Lord’s work’. If you have to track the blog down (and I’d advise against it, there’s much more positive expressions of Creation Science on the net) then I’d suggest not making comments. I don’t think it’ll have any kind of positive effect, sad to say.

Friday, 16 November 2007

And You Were Doing So Well

I have been working on Origen for the first of my (probably) two research projects. I’ve been thinking about how the thinking about the relationship between the Father and the Son and the relationship between the Godhead and creation develops between the Apologists in the second century and Origen in the third.

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks, and my opinion about Origen has been steadily growing as I read more of him, and not just rely upon common stereotypes. In particular, I think I’m fairly sceptical of his reputation that he’s a Platonist of any shape or kind. Origen clearly combines both a deep mind and a rigorously biblical mind. Many of his problems seem to appear, not because he imposes cultural ideas of his time upon Scripture, but because he’s prepared to be very radical in his exegesis and integration of Scripture. Sometimes that pays off amazingly and he helps formulate the nucleus of ideas that later Fathers develop. Sometimes it misfires badly. The following quote is in the latter camp, I stumbled across it after several pages of great stuff, and thought I’d share my disappointment.

Since the Saviour through the illumination and salvation given to him by the Father fears nothing…secretly he asked for another (death) which would have been more of an ordeal, so that by a different cup he might achieve more benefits. This was not the will of the Father which was wiser than the will of the Son or the Saviour’s vision as he ordered the economy of the events. Ex. Mart. 29

Origen here is one of the first theologians to grapple with one of the issues that Christians keep returning to—what do we make of the prayer of Gethsamane? What does it mean for Jesus to pray for something to happen which wasn’t in the Father’s will? It’s a big issue where wisdom suggests a fair degree of caution in how one approaches the matter.

And there’s something impressive about Origen’s freshness in how he reads the Bible. He doesn’t assume that asking the cup to pass from him means that Jesus is trying to avoid death. He looks at outside the box and suggests that it meant that Jesus wanted an even more intense kind of death than crucifixion. And looking outside the box is a good ability to have—if we are going to avoid just reading our own ideas into the Bible, it’ll only be because we’re prepared to take roads not just less travelled, but never travelled.

But this is one time when staying in the box would have been so much better. Origen’s concern in context appears to be the incongruity between the idea that Jesus shrank from death in contrast to the courage of Christian martyrs. Origen’s own father was martyred and (debatably) his mother only prevented Origen from joining him by hiding his clothes. (Embarrassment for a seventeen year old male was as effective then as now).

But the solution here is disastrous. The idea that deaths can be ranked and some deaths might achieve more benefits because their ordeal is greater—as though Christ’s death worked by some kind of mechanistic rule completely undercuts the Biblical idea that death is death is death. There’s no ‘good’ ‘bad’ or ‘worse’ death. We might find certain ways of dying really difficult and have our own lists of ‘ways I’d rather go’ (burning to death, for example, can’t say I’m a fan. Dying in my sleep? Or dying by being hit by a meteor by surprise. I could live with that.) But from the point of view of the meaning of death, death is death. It’s judgement. And it’s an enemy.

Even worse is that Origen explains the prayer and answer in terms of a difference in wisdom between the Father and the Son, as though the Son isn’t quite as wise as the Father is. I think for once I’m at a loss for words… MDB

Monday, 5 November 2007

Eusebius of Caesarea Contra Aulen

Gustaf Aulen wrote a seminal little book called Christus Victor. In it he sets out three accounts of the atonement—what Christ accomplished by his life, death, and resurrection. The three accounts he saw as dominant over the past 2000 years of reflection upon the meaning of Jesus’s death were:

1. Jesus’ death was to satisfy the Father’s justice, paying the penalty for our sins. Here the notions of justice, and of the death being directed to the Father predominate. It also tends to be explained in legal terms—and so reflects a purely Western hang-up with legality.

2. Jesus’ death paid the ransom for our release from Satan’s tyranny. In the hands of certain thinkers, Jesus’ death is actually paid to Satan.

3. Jesus’ death defeated Satan and so rescued us from his tyranny. You get a version of this in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe.

Aulen is quite passionate about his subject, and I have listed the views of the atonement in ascending order of his appreciation of them. That is, he really doesn’t like the idea that Jesus’ death pays the penalty for our sins. He can sort of live with the idea that it is a ransom. And he loves the idea of the atonement as the defeat of Satan (hence the name of his book…).

One of the ideas that has become ‘common knowledge’ since his book is that of these three views, only the latter two really exist in the Early Church. The first view doesn’t really appear until Anselm, and is then picked up by Reformers and Roman Catholic Church alike.

However, a number of scholars have shown that Aulen’s nice little schema is (at best) over statement of the evidence—more of an impressionistic advocacy for his view than a carefully considered statement of the evidence overall.

And today I came across another example of the satisfaction view of the atonement as I was reading Eusebius for a research paper on the Trinity and Creation. Eusebius offers two reasons for the death of Christ.

First, that by dying and coming back to life, Jesus showed that the promise of resurrection that he offered his followers was stronger than death. It was the only way to convince us that there is a certain hope for us.

Second, by dying and coming back to life, Jesus manifests his own invincible power over death as the Lord of Life. To be in death’s grasp and to uncurl death’s fingers from the inside of his palm—that underscores Christ’s deity in a way that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

So far, these would fit under the Christus Victor idea. But then Eusebius gives us the final reason. It’s a long quote, but bear with it:

I may offer you even a third reason to account for the salutary death. He was a sacrifice offered up to the All-Ruling God of the Universe on behalf of the entire human race, a victim consecrated on behalf of the flock of mankind, a sacrificial victim for averting demonic error. And in fact, once this one great sacrificial victim, the All-Holy Body of Our Saviour, had been slaughtered on behalf of the human race and atonement offered for all races formerly ensnared in the impiety of demonic error, thereafter all the power of the impure and unholy demons was destroyed, and all earthbound and guileful error immediately yielded to a stronger power and was done away with. Thus was the salutary sacrifice—that is the physical instrument of the Logos—taken from the midst of men and consecrated on behalf of the common flock of mankind. This, then, was the offering given over to death about which the work of Holy Writ proclaimed, here saying, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” there predicting that “He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not his mouth.” They also give the reason, declaring: “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes are we healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Thus the physical instrument of the divine Logos was sacrificed for these reasons. But He who is the Great High Priest dedicated to the All-Ruling and Almighty God, who is distinguished from the sacrificial victim as the Logos of God, the Power of God, and the Wisdom of God, not long after recalled His mortal body from the dead and presented it to the Father as the prototype of our common salvation, having raised it on behalf of mankind as a trophy of victory over death and the demonic host, and a safeguard against the human sacrifices that formerly were performed. Oration “On Christ’s Sepulchre”

Now Eusebius is a bit of a dark horse. He was a Bishop of the fourth century. He signed the Nicene Creed, but was a defender of Arius and many of Arius’ views. He and Athanasius were, shall we say, not the best of buddies. So it would be easy to dismiss this little statement as the marginal comment of a heretic. But Eusebius was also an astute Church leader who had the respect of much of the Church and the newly converted Emperor Constantine for his learning and moderation. Eusebius saw his own view on the Person of Christ (incorrectly, but not without some justification) as the traditional view. He wasn’t an innovator by temperament. He was also well respected in his day—one of the reasons why Arianism got the support it did. None of these square with the picture of someone who was coming up with weird and wonderful ideas left, right, and centre. So these words he uttered in his sermon were most likely uncontroversial.

And what we find here is a fairly straightforward statement of Jesus’ death as a sacrifice offered up to the Father with John’s comment of the Lamb of God being understood in light of the Suffering Servant Passages in Isaiah—classic sacrificial atonement ways of interpreting Christ’s death. Indeed the Isaianic passages appear to have so shaped his thinking at this point that the language there of us being sheep that have gone astray, appears to have affected the way he speaks about humanity calling us “the common flock of mankind.

Now the preoccupation with evil spiritual forces are there, with the mention of ‘demonic error’. And there’s some dodgy stuff coming out of Eusebius’ poor Christology when he suggests that Christ’s body is the sacrifice while the Word himself is the Priest who offers it, rather than grasping that Christ is both Priest and Sacrifice.

Nonetheless, even if it can be shown that the Early Church tended to speak in terms of victory and ransom more often, it’s another piece of evidence that sacrificial language is hardly a legal or mediaeval innovation. Eusebius explains it at some length in fairly classic terms. And Eusebius is no legal-minded Western Churchman. He is as Eastern as the rising sun.

Another bit of evidence to show that a sacrificial view of the atonement isn't just at the heart of the Biblical material. It is also every bit as classic as other accounts.