Monday, 10 December 2007

Problems With Creation Science VI: Must Genesis 1 Be Taken Literally And Without Reference To Science? Part 3

This leaves the other prong of the concern. Doesn’t a rejection of a strictly literal reading of Genesis 1-3 (at least, and possibly as far as Chapter 11) mean that the Bible is being subordinated to the findings of modern science? Aren’t evangelicals guilty of changing what the Bible says to fit what science declares about the nature of the world, and doesn’t that ultimately mean that science, not the Bible, calls the shots?

Part of what is at issue here is the difference between sola scriptura and what at least some writers have begun calling nudis sciptura.

The latter idea moves from the idea that Scripture is the sole authority in the Church to the idea that it has to be interpreted without reference to anything outside it. The best way to read the Bible, which can never be achieved in reality, is to know nothing of the world, have no human thoughts to get in the way, and know nothing of how the Bible has been traditionally understood. The best Bible reader would come to the Bible with a tabula rasa (a blank slate). Traditional readings, readings that fit with what we know of the world, readings that make rational sense are all suspect precisely because they are traditional, fit with the world, and make rational sense. All human knowledge and wisdom just gets in the way of the word of God. (I suspect that this view is part of the cause of the phenomena that Bruce has labelled ‘ClergyBibleWorld’ in his comments on this blog). The Bible should be interpreted in a hermetic vacuum, as far as possible.

If such a view does have any pedigree within Protestantism, then I think it should be traced to the Anabaptist end of the spectrum of the 16th Century, than to Calvin, Luther and the like. My growing suspicion is that this wrong view of the nature of Scripture is one of the reasons why the Anabaptists eventually turned on guys like Calvin and Luther and declared them to be a false church as much Rome. Just as the split between the Reformers and Rome was over both the nature of the gospel and the nature of the authority of the Word, so the split between the Reformers and the Anabaptists was over the nature of the gospel and the nature of the authority of the Word.

The Magisterial Reformers held to a different view of the nature of the Bible’s authority, and that was sola scriptura. On this view, the Bible is the final authority in the Church. It is the final authority because it alone is the source for theology, for the knowledge of God. Sinful people cannot come to know God except through his word, whatever we may debate about whether creation would have sufficed for Adam and Eve before they ate. However, as was implicit in the Reformers, and was spelled out more explicitly in the centuries after them, the Bible is not intended to be read in a vacuum.

Three other authorities exist and serve us in the way we hear the word of God. These are normally stated as Reason, Experience, and Tradition (listed here in no particular order, at least as far as I’m concerned). Unfortunately, as Liberalism has gotten a stronger hold on much of Church life in the West, there is often talk of the ‘Wesleyan Quadrilateral’ or the ‘Lambeth Quadrilateral’. This is unfortunate, because it often gives the impression (wrongly in my view) that Scripture is just one of four equally ranked authorities, and so can be trumped by another authority in theology. Classically, Scripture is the sole authority when it comes to the knowledge of God, and the knowledge of salvation. The other three exist to serve us as we receive and submit to that authority. They themselves are ruled by Scripture.

However, I would suggest that there are several things to note with this basic position on the relationship between Scripture on the one hand, and Reason, Experience, and Tradition on the other.


  1. Each of the three subordinate authorities are authorities in their own right when it comes to issues of life in this world that are not part of knowing God and are part of their ‘portfolio’. It is entirely right and proper for one country to enjoy pasta while another enjoys potatoes. One country can adopt a Parliamentary Democracy, another an Athenian, and still another a Presidential (and seeing democracy is almost unquestioned these days, it’s worth saying that another country can be undemocratic) and it be a valid form of government. In areas such as national foods and styles of governments you’re in the realm of Tradition. If you’re pursuing logical arguments, philosophy, or mathematical theorems, then Reason is King. And experience is a powerful authority—Proverbs itself indicates that it is a mark of the fool and the simple that they do not learn life lessons from the events in their lives.

    Science, like the Arts, doesn’t really fit neatly into this schema, which shows that the Tradition/Reason/Experience break-up is not an infallible tool, and shouldn’t be used as a Procrustean Bed where everything is shoved into one and only one category. Science is a community of shared and inherited wisdom that rationally reflects upon experience. It makes use of all three categories as it undertakes its endeavours. Nonetheless, what this suggests is that there is a right and proper domain where Science is King, and where its findings should not be challenged by the Word of God. Because God has set up the world so that the Word of God isn’t the sole authority about everything in the world.


  2. Because the Bible speaks about the world and about life in the world, what it says about such matters are a source for other disciplines. The Bible’s descriptions of events and cultural practices in the history books of the OT and NT can be validly used by history and even such disciplines as psychology and anthropology. Much of the wisdom of Proverbs (so the commentators assure me, I’ve never learned another dead language to check it out for myself) have parallels in the traditional wisdom of other people groups—some aspects of living wisely in this world are part of common grace, even as the Bible issues them as part of its special revelation. And I’d want to hold that when the Bible does say things on such matters that are part of the ‘portfolio’ of other disciplines or spheres, it does so without error (which for me is a distinguishing feature of inerrancy as opposed to infallibility).


  3. Because the Bible is a book that is entangled in this world, in that it isn’t speaking of some ideal world hovering above our world, or some kind of ‘spiritual truth’ that bears no reference to the world we live in, it can in principle be overthrown by a challenge from one of the three subordinate authorities. If Jesus’ bones were discovered tomorrow I would cease to believe that Jesus rose from the dead. As a result I would reject the entire NT at least (I’d then have to look carefully at Judaism). Irrespective of what Scripture said, Jesus can’t have risen from the dead if Jesus’ bones are still in the ground. At this point Scripture’s claims hang upon the reality of the world matching the state of affairs that the NT describes. While not the focus of Paul’s words in 1 Cor 1:1-19, it does seem to me that Paul is implicitly acknowledging this point. Paul doesn’t respond to what appears to be a view going around the Corinthian Church that there will be no resurrection from the dead by simply stating that Christ rose and that, as the Word of God says it, it must be believed. He points out the different witnesses who could all independently testify. The logic of his argument suggests that if many or most of them came back and said, ‘actually this whole thing is a fabrication’ then Paul would be found to have testified falsely of God.

    In other words, even the heart of the Christian faith is ‘vulnerable’ to an attack from our knowledge of the world. Which is why Christians have taken a lot of interest in the historicity of the Gospels.

    And I think that’s a good thing. Ideas and beliefs that are not falsifiable even in principle are not genuine views of the world. They’re conspiracy theories. Human knowledge is knowledge of finite creatures, which means it is never free from the possibility of error, or the need to repent. Part of the great strength of Christianity is that it is at least theoretically able to be falsified, and so reflects the nature of human knowledge. (And if you think that has anything going for it, you’ve got an easy answer to the solipstic concern of ‘what if I’m a brain in vat and I’m just hallucinating all this’ a la The Matrix. The doubt can’t be falsified, which means it is automatically suspect. You can avoid Descartes’ attempt to locate an absolutely certain foundation to build all knowledge upon, and accept that human knowledge, like human beings, is limited.)


  4. Finally, there is a place for the subsidiary authorities to serve us in the way we understand Scripture. We do read the Bible in certain ways because the Word uses Reason, or Tradition, or Experience to teach us to read it that way. I’ll offer two examples, neither of which, it has to be said, are uncontroversial. However, even if neither specific example is accepted by someone, they should still illustrate the general point sufficiently for it to be grasped.

    The first is the issue of the law of non-contradiction. A cannot be non-A. An idea cannot be right and wrong simultaneously in the same sense. (For example, it can’t be the case that 1+1=2 and that 1+1=3 given standard bases and the like). It seems to me that the Bible presupposes this very basic law of rational thought throughout. Because the Bible regularly argues that ‘Because X, therefore Y’. If things could be both true and false simultaneously then no rational argument has any force. No rational argument would have any force because the argument could be true and false at the same time. And one could legitimately draw both one conclusion and the opposite conclusion at the same time from the same premise. The fact that the Bible argues that ‘because X, therefore Y’ is implicit testimony to the validity of the law of non-contradiction.

    Guys like Tertullian, Luther and Barth all probably rejected the law of non-contradiction either due to a radical view of God’s omnipotence or a radical view of the noetic effects of sin. Nonetheless, in practice Bible scholars recognise the law of non-contradiction whenever they say, “This view cannot be right, because it contradicts what the Bible says over here.” Without the law of non-contradiction, a contradiction would not be a good reason to reject something. In other words, the Bible is rightly read when it is read in a rational way.

    The second example is the doctrine of the Trinity. Christians today learn to read the Bible to see how it teaches the Trinity. It happens fairly naturally and tends to be taken for granted. But it is a gift to us from the first five or so centuries of Christians. It took hundreds of years to work together a clear grasp of what the Scriptures were saying, and there were a lot of mistakes made along the way—and not just by the heretics, even what the orthodox theologians said in most of the centuries leading up to Nicaea can make one’s hair stand on end. We avoid those struggles and difficulties precisely because of tradition. We pick up where earlier Christians left off.

    Most people find that the more they sit with Scripture, the more they see, the more connections they perceive, the more implications shine through. Tradition works like that on a bigger scale. The whole people of God pass on an inheritance to the next generation that enables them to see more than if they had to start again from scratch. And this is why the Church’s historic understanding of doctrines and passages needs to be respected and taken seriously. It is not to be taken as automatically right—the Reformation showed just how badly off track the Church could get. But it does need to be recognised as a gift from God to us for our good and accepted as such.


It is this last point about subsidiary authorities serving us in our reading of Scripture that I think is the key one for the issue of reading Genesis in the light of science. Generally speaking, Creationists tend to give just two options. Either Genesis one and two are historical accounts that are roughly analogous to modern historical accounts and so are eyewitness narratives. Or they’re false, and the Bible isn’t what it claims to be. It is pitched as a basic conflict between science and Scripture.

But this setting up of an opposition doesn’t take into account that our knowledge of the world is supposed to be something that helps guide our reading of the Bible. I’ll offer four examples that I hope will illustrate the point:

First, there is the following statement by Jesus:

Matthew 19:23-24 And Jesus said to His disciples, "Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. "Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

There are two basic options here. Either Jesus is using some kind of poetic device when talking about a camel going through the eye of a needle, or he’s speaking of an actual physical gate in Jerusalem known as the Needle Gate, where it was difficult to get a fully laden camel through. It’s either a historical reference or it isn’t.

It seems to me the only way such an exegetical decision can be made is to allow what we know of the world to shape our reading of Jesus’ words. There is no evidence anywhere (last time I checked) of a gate referred to as either “The Eye of the Needle” or “The Needle Gate” in Jerusalem. And so most people take it that Jesus’ words here are a metaphor, they aren’t speaking of a gate because we know from sources outside the Bible that no such gate existed.

We could, however, run the standard Creationist arguments used for Genesis 1 at this point:

  • Jesus was actually there, modern historians aren’t.

  • Surely Jesus’ words can be trusted, for he says, “I am the truth”.

  • Just because there is no evidence that it existed, there is nothing that says categorically that it didn’t exist.

  • Human beings (modern historians, Jesus’ contemporaries) have evil hearts and so their views can’t be trusted.

And so we conclude that there really was a Needle Gate, and we can only trust the Bible for this knowledge of the world.

Once again, there’s nothing in Jesus’ words that indicate that it is a metaphor. The only way you can decide it is, is if you think that our knowledge of the world has a legitimate role in determining how we are to understand the Bible. At this point most of us work from our knowledge of the world, to how we read Jesus’ words: Because we know there’s no Needle Gate therefore it must be a metaphor.

The second is Paul’s words to Timothy:
1 Timothy 5:23 No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.
How again are we supposed to take such words? They’re in the Bible, so they must give some kind of reliable information about the world. I’d suggest that if we took the kind of view that seems implicit in creationism’s arguments then we should see this as important medical advice, and would hold that regularly taking a little wine is an important aspect of dealing with frequent ailments. Sickly people should regularly drink some wine.

Let’s run the arguments again: Who knows the human body better? Doctors, or God who made the body? This isn’t poetry, it’s a statement about an actual historical Timothy and his actual historical stomach. It’s either reliable medical information or it’s false, and so the Bible’s claims about itself fall to the ground. And who should Christian doctors or modern Christians receiving medical advice believe? God? Or unbelieving modern medicine?

If we knew nothing about wine or about ailments, then I’d suggest we’d probably take Paul’s words as offering a reliable way to better health for the sickly. Our instincts (quite rightly) are to see the implications of what the Bible says as widely as possible. We don’t see these words as normative counsel on dealing with ailments simply because we allow our knowledge of medicine to shape how we take Paul’s words. And so we see it as advice for Timothy in particular, or as like much folk medicine of earlier centuries, capturing something, but not the final answer on dealing with ailments.

The third is the relationship of the sun and the earth:

Joshua 10:12-14 Then Joshua spoke to the LORD in the day when the LORD delivered up the Amorites before the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, "O sun, stand still at Gibeon, And O moon in the valley of Aijalon." So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, Until the nation avenged themselves of their enemies. Is it not written in the book of Jashar? And the sun stopped in the middle of the sky and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day. There was no day like that before it or after it, when the LORD listened to the voice of a man; for the LORD fought for Israel.
Psalm 19:4-6 In them He has placed a tent for the sun, Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; It rejoices as a strong man to run his course. Its rising is from one end of the heavens, And its circuit to the other end of them; And there is nothing hidden from its heat.
I suggest that if we had no knowledge of astronomy, and were looking to the Bible to give reliable astronomical information, then the most natural way to read these two passages is as they straightforwardly appear. The sun moves around the earth in the same way the moon does. The psalm fairly clearly presupposes that the sun runs a course each day. And the Joshua passage draws a parallel between the sun stopping and the moon stopping, which would, if you hadn’t already known about the earth being a sphere that rotates, suggest that both sun and moon move around the earth in the same way. And it occurs in a historical narrative, where the narrator himself (and not just Joshua) says that the sun stopped.

There’s nothing in the text that suggests that such descriptions should not be taken in a strictly literal sense. We could run the same creationist arguments again (but I’ll spare you, you should be able to do it yourself now), and show how here too we have a conflict between what the Word of God declares and what Science declares and so we have to choose who we’ll believe: God or the unbelieving astronomer. As far as I can see, the only reason why someone doesn’t take such descriptions literally is that:

a) they don’t think that the Bible is particularly concerned to give good astronomical insights

b) they read these statements in light of what they already know about the world.

And so we conclude (quite rightly) that such descriptions are not intended to give a strictly literal account of ‘what actually happened’. It speaks of historical realities, but not with an eye to teach good astronomy.

In this sense, it’s a bit like Judges 4 and 5, our final example. Both chapters relate the same event: the overthrow of Sisera’s dominion over Israel and his death at the hands of Jael and a trusty hammer-and-tent peg combination. Chapter 5 is a song that, by and large, seems to be retracing the event in fairly historical terms, not in metaphors. But then we get statements like the following thrown in:
Judges 5:4-5 LORD, when You went out from Seir, When You marched from the field of Edom, The earth quaked, the heavens also dripped, Even the clouds dripped water. The mountains quaked at the presence of the LORD, This Sinai, at the presence of the LORD, the God of Israel.
Judges 5:20-21 The stars fought from heaven, From their courses they fought against Sisera. The torrent of Kishon swept them away, The ancient torrent, the torrent Kishon. O my soul, march on with strength.
Like other details that we would consider more obviously historical, these lines in the song these words don’t relate to anything we find in the account in chapter four. So what do we do with them? Some commentators will try and suggest that there were some miracles that occurred in the battle—particularly that the river Kishon swept away some of Sisera’s forces. Their reason seems to be, as far as I can see, that the song overall reads like a historical account. And hence, they slot it into the historical genre and so look for some kind of strictly literal referent to these words. But that just seems a bit odd given what we know about the historical event from chapter 4. If God had entered the field of battle in some kind of physical manifestation, why would he call for a small army of human warriors? Why go for a miracle with the Kishon river getting involved, but not also argue the same about the stars joining in the battle?

For me, such a feature of the song suggests that the Bible doesn’t always draw the strong distinction between ‘historical fact’ and ‘theological interpretation’ that we have inherited from the Enlightenment. The Bible recounts the past to tell us about God and about how to live. It’s not interested in the past for the past’s sake. And so what is for us two separate steps: what happened, and what it means, are often interwoven in the Bible. And sometimes the meaning is more highlighted than the historical reporting. This means, I would suggest, that the Bible does at times not follow principles that we consider important for a factual account.

You can see this in the way in which it is hard to reconcile the different accounts of who saw what at Jesus’ tombs in Matthew, Luke, and John. Matthew says there was one angel, Luke and John says two. John gives the impression that Mary was on her own, Matthew and Luke name the other women who were with her. John indicates that Mary saw the angels and Jesus after fetching Peter and John. Matthew implies that the women saw the angel and Jesus before going to see the disciples. And Luke tells us that the women saw two angels (and doesn’t mention seeing Jesus) before they went and fetched the disciples.

Again, I think such discrepancies can be reconciled. But such discrepancies don’t fit the way we tell history. We wouldn’t accept saying there was one angel if there was two. Nor would we be all that inclined to pass over the fact that the women saw Jesus if we were giving an orderly account (you mentioned that the women saw angels, but passed over the fact that they saw Jesus? Just what sort of account is this?). Such features reflect an approach to history that subordinates just recounting facts for a broader purpose in showing the the meaning of the events. That such surface discrepancies arise, shows that the Bible’s concern isn’t to give us our kind of account of ‘how things really happened’. There’s more options in the Bible’s reporting than either ‘absolutely precise history’ or ‘false’, and they have to ascertained on a case by case basis.

(If you want my take on Genesis 1-11 in a nutshell, that’s pretty well it. I think it’s historical, but is an account that is speaking of the historical reality it narrates first and foremost in terms of its meaning. And this means, like Apocalyptic, or like Judges 5, the details mightn’t be historical records in our sense of ‘historical’.)

In other words, there is nothing wrong with reading the Bible in light of what we know about the world from other sources. Every time we appeal to archaeological findings, or even turn to a Greek lexicon to ascertain what a word meant, we are reading the Bible in light of our knowledge of the world. There’s nothing wrong with doing that. The Bible is designed to be read that way, that’s how its authority is supposed to be expressed over us.

Our knowledge of the world is supposed to serve us, by guiding us to read the Bible rightly, and this is part of what it means to correctly understand the nature of the Bible’s authority. Sola scriptura not nudis scriptura.

To sum up:

What this means is that the relationship between the Bible on the one hand, and experience, tradition, and reason on the other is not simply dictator to functionaries. The Bible has a central concern. The Westminster Shorter Catechism calls it the principal teaching of the Scriptures:
Q. 3. What do the Scriptures principally teach?
A. The Scriptures principally teach, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.
In this kind of area, then Scripture speaks fairly much on its own. It gives us the knowledge of God, and how we are to live so as to please God.

But Scripture also makes statements that bear upon the world we live in. In those areas where Scripture speaks to spheres where other authorities have a legitimate role, there is more give and take between what we think the Bible is saying, and what we know (acknowledging that human knowledge is fallible) about the world from other sources. Despite what creationists claim, this is not, in itself, a liberal failure of nerve about the Bible. It is recognising that the Bible has its own area of concern, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism indicates, and so what it says focuses on that sphere.

Each case of an apparent conflict between what we thought the Bible was saying and what we think of the nature of the world therefore needs to be addressed on its merits. God hasn’t promised the church that it would get everything right in its reading of the Bible. And science is anything but infallible (and scientific popularises have a long history of using the respect that science is held in to claim certain views as 'scientific' that are outside the field of science).

In seeking to address such tensions, I’d suggest the test that should be applied is not some criteria of literalness. I’d suggest that the proper test is theological, because that respects the fact that the Bible’s primary teaching is the knowledge of God and how to live. Does a possible revision of our understanding of the Bible’s teaching about the world undermine our knowledge of God in Christ Jesus or what it means to walk in the light? If so, then that needs to be resisted. If not, then the proper domain of science needs to be respected.

Such a test doesn’t force an issue—in practice literary features of the text, tradition, knowledge of the world, how such a text is treated by other parts of Scripture, and the implications of a possible reading for the Bible’s teaching as a whole are all going to be factors that will need to be weighed. Someone, could, in my view, weigh everything up and still decide that Genesis 1 is a fairly strictly literal account of things.

Nonetheless, the basic point from this should (hopefully) be clear. There’s nothing wrong with a reading of the Bible arising because we know something about the world that we didn’t before. There’s no such a priori formal law that governs the word of God. Each case must be looked at on its own merits. And so, for example, it can be entirely consistent to accept current scientific consensus about cosmological age and biological evolution on the one hand, and reject homosexual practice on the other.

30 comments:

michael jensen said...

Again, I think such discrepancies can be reconciled. But such discrepancies don’t fit the way we tell history.

Hmm. I am with you until you get to the gospels. Essentially you are saying literary genres relate differently to history. That works for Gen 1-11, especially as we are not dealing with eyewitness accounts.

But do we see the gospels this way? Don't we pin a great deal on their care for historical accuracy delivered in a fairly flat sense?

Rick said...

I agree with Michael's point that we care very much about gospel's historical accuracy (as, I'm sure, does Mark :-).

But I guess it turns on what we mean by 'a fairly flat sense'. Most of the time it's easy to tacitly recognise when something is historically accurate, and when it's not; but I think it's a much bigger job to say explicitly what we mean by that.

Apart from anything else, the whole business about selection of material gets complicated. It's a truism these days that 'all narrative accounts are selective in what they record'. But that selection operates on lots of levels e.g. not only what you record, but what aspects of it strike you as important, what perspective you view them from, what categories you describe them with, etc.

One very simple (and hopefully not-too-controversial) aspect of this that I remember tripping over years ago was the issue of what 'many' is contrasted with. Is it 'many (and not a few)' or is it 'many (and not all)'. Eg. a few verses from Matthew:

Mt 19:30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.
Mt 20:28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
Mt 22:14 "For many are invited, but few are chosen."
Mt 26:28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

It seems to be that sometimes the gospels use the 'many-vs-few' contrast in situations where my instinct would demand the 'all-vs-some' contrast. To my instinctive way of thinking, I want to know, 'Is it all who are last who will be first or only many?' 'Does the Son of Man give his life for all or only for many?' 'Are all invite or only many?' 'Is the blood poured out for all, or only for many?' (Obviously some of these have tuLip implications.) As I said, my instinctive, fundamental criteria of selection would contrast 'all' with 'some' - and so 'many' seems to be a version of 'some (but not all, even if quite a few)'; whereas in the gospels, I think 'many' is in fact being contrasted with 'few' and so 'many' simple doesn't directly address whether it means 'all' or 'most' - it just means 'lots'.

That's one small example of what might need to be addressed in a fully explicit description of what historical accuracy involves, especially once you're dealing with more than one tradition. I think some of Mark's other examples also touch on criteria of selection in a related way. Within our tradition, 'number' vs 'number' is weighted very highly - we place a very high priority on knowing whether there was one angel or two, or three, ...; or on whether there was one demoniac of the Gerasenes (Mark 5), or two (Matt 8), or... . Within our tradition it would be an error either to say there was one when there were two or to say there were two when there was only one. And it would be an error because we are making very precise claims with each of 'zero', 'one'/'an'/'a', 'two', ... . They are all in contrast to each other.

But within the gospels' tradition it seems like (sometimes at least) they place a higher priority on explaining whether there was 'any' or 'none'. It seems like it's not a problem to to use 'an angel' to mean 'angels where present not absent'. I think that's because 'an' isn't being contasted with '0'/'2'/'3'/... but with 'none'. Now, presumably, within that rank-ordering of priorities, it would still be a problem to say 'two angels' when only one was present; but the problem arises, I think, because 'two' now introduces a higher level of precision much akin to our default. 'Two' really is in contrast to 'three'/'zero'/etc.

I know this raises a hold stack of other questions - but I guess that's the nature of it. (And anyway, it was Mark who raised them even more sharply with his talk of 'an approach to history that subordinates just recounting facts for a broader purpose in showing the the meaning of the events' :-)

I really do think it (generally) is easy to get a tacit feel of when something is historically reliable, and when it isn't - we don't want to lose hold of that, or let it get buried under a mountain of qualifications. One one level it's simple. But, equally, on another level it's complex (don't you love pluriformity?) It would be a big job to spell out explicitly all the details of what that means - there is a mountain of qualifications out there somewhere, and they are of importance in their own place. (Perhaps Mark would like to tackle that once the 6 day business draws to a close? :-)

michael jensen said...

So: were there two angels or one?

Has inerrancy painted us into an unnecessary corner here?

Rick said...

:-)

I reckon there were two angels (and, for that matter, two demoniacs, and two blind men [Mt 8 / Mt 20] ). But perhaps the very fact that I've thought long and hard about that before betrays my Western, modernist tendencies. :-)

I think that in these contexts, "1" - or rather "a"/"an" - can happily mean "1+". But I think that's partly to do with different conventions/ expectations about what is being affirmed and denied. Here I think "a"/"an" primarily means "not none" and only secondarily suggests "precisely 1". In our culture it might be more normally expected to mean "not 0, or 2, or 3, or 4, or ..." i.e. "precisely 1" is the primary meaning.

I think inerrancy is a useful word, but by no means a simple word. The problem with it - or better, the challenge/task - is: Who gets to define "error", and on what basis? The danger with inerrancy is that we import our pre-existing (Western? modernist?) definitions of error into the debate. That's when we paint ourselves into corners of our own creation. The corrective, as ever, will be to refine our understanding of error by being shaped by the Bible's own (explicit and implicit) usage.

Appa said...

Thanks for your assessment of the wider issues behind reading Genesis 1, Mark. Some of the Creation Science rhetorical arguments lose their force when we realise we've already changed our view of the galaxy to a solar-centric one. Also, didn't Augustine think (under neo-Platonic influence, no doubt) that everything was created in a moment, showing at least some variation in historical interpretations of Genesis 1.

Random observations aside, two questions:
1 - is there any value in postulating on the narrative of human development/evolution from the big bang to the time period of Genesis? (eg. did God supernaturally start life on earth, did God supernaturally change human development at a specific point to create them in the image of himself?)
2 - if so, have you heard a good one or do you have any plans to produce a speculative one? (the creation scientists at least have a concrete "this is what happened and then this and then this" whereas we tend to say "the Bible is focusing on the why more than the how" and leave the actual proto-historical theories to the evolutionists)

qraal said...

Hi All

Paul Seely wrote an essay covering the anachronistic ideas in the Bible which don't fit with what we know now, but made sense "back in the day" - Mark has mentioned the "firmament"; Seely adds the ancient idea that the heart is the seat of thought, not the brain, and a few others. Another occurs to me as I read "Genesis" and other naturalistic passages - the idea that the "breath" is what makes living things out of the dust of the Earth, and makes the living "heavenly hosts".

I'm going out on a limb but I think the ancients saw a direct connection between the phenomena of wind and the phenomena of life - that one essentially powered the other. This idea is present in so many ancient cosmologies - Plato and Aristotle have "soul" as an ever moving animating fluid, while the Chinese have "chi", and so on.

I'm not saying we abandon the Biblical language of the Spirit, but the old metaphor of "spirit=wind" needs a rethink.

Just my $0.02 worth.

michael jensen said...

Well Rick, yes: but have you any material evidence about the use of numbers in this way in the ancient world?

And, since Matthew by most accounts wrote AFTER Mark, it would seem most plausible to say that he added a (theological) second demoniac/angel etc for (theological) effect. As well he might.

I fail to see how inerrancy is anything but confusing given what you've said we have to do to qualify it! You are right to say it doesn't quite fit with the categories ancients used. So, why not describe it differently? Simple.

CraigS said...

MJ, I've struggled with the inerrancy hot potato as well. Sometimes it appears to require gross special pleading to maintain, and that makes me uncomfortable.

But I've been leaning back toward it on what amount to pragmatic grounds. Looking at the history of some US seminaries, it seems that as soon as they let go of "inerrant", the flood gates opened to all sorts of compromise. "Inspired" and "Infallible" don't seem enough.

I guess I'm guilty of the slippery slope fallacy. But all I can say is that I'm very wary of dismissing this doctrine.

Nathan said...

Hi Mark,

Thanks for your thoughts. Very interesting. Forgive me if this posts twice - I tried once and I don't think it took. It might turn up again though.

Anyway, I wanted to ask for your reflections on the historicity/otherwise of the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11. In your opinion, how should these be read?

The interesting thing about these ones, as opposed to all others in the Bible, is that they give each fathers age when the son was born, in an unbroken line from Adam to Abraham:

"X was N years old when he fathered Y... Y was M years old when he fathered Z..."

Since the line is unbroken, with ages recorded, simple arithmetic places Adam at around 6000BC - far later than (say) Aboriginals were supposedly in Australia.

Do we conclude:

1) A factual error in the genealogies
2) That aboriginals are not descendants of Adam (with remarkable consequences for understanding Romans 5, for example!!!)
3) An error in modern scientific dating techniques?

If we accept the general time line of the scientific establishment, how do you propose that we understand the unbroken genealogies?

Bruce Yabsley said...

Regarding nathan's question: I'm sorry to keep going on about elephants in the room, but isn't there a missing option here,

4) That these chapters take place in a mythical (or semi-mythical) past.

Lots of nations have (semi-)mythical pasts. There is lastingly great literature set in such periods. And so the shame in considering this option regarding Israel is ... what, exactly?

Dave said...

Hi Mark. I thought this was a posting relating to Genesis 1? You have given many examples from different parts of Scripture, and how they should be read, and I agree with you on how they are understood, but you have failed to convince me that the way I understand Genesis 1 should be different.

Dannii said...

Hi Bruce,
There would be huge theological problems if Abraham was a mythological figure, so I'm sure everyone here would accept he was a real historical person. If he was historical... then he must have had historical parents, and so on. If you were to say that the list of names starts mythologically and ends historically, when does it change? What textual evidence is there of a change?

Dave said...

Just wanting to clarify, are you saying that we should conclude Jesus is using a metaphor in Matthew 19:23-24? If so, why? Surely Jesus is talking literally. It is most certainly harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus' whole point is that it IS impossible, and so we should take his words literally. Thankfully what is impossible for man is possible for God! Have I misunderstood you?

Bruce Yabsley said...

danii you might as well come right out and say that the genealogies commit one to believing the human race 6000 years old, because your argument "If he was historical... then he must have had historical parents" will run all the way back, as your "and so on" notes. If one doesn't believe that, it's time to start re-examining premisses of arguments.

My point was that nathan's list of options was truncated --- I note you don't dispute this --- in my opinion, I might add, perversely truncated. Because the sort of thing I'm pointing out is obviously an option, even if you (or "everyone here" for that matter) find it distasteful.

As for what evidence there is for a change of pace or setting between Gen 1-11 and Gen 12 onwards, these chapters are not habitually grouped together in this way for nothing. Where do you want me to start? Supernatural beings walking around as a matter of course? Creation-ending floods? People who live nine hundred years? An ancient world-city from which all humanity is dispersed in confusion? The implied world in which Father Abraham lives is positively normal by comparison.

I repeat my charge that the shame which some correspondents consider axiomatic --- the shame in considering various parts of Genesis to take place in (variously) mythical or semi-mythical pasts --- is itself an imposition on the text. The distinction between "(semi-)mythical past" and "straight historical narrative" is relatively abstract and ideal, by no means shared by all cultures throughout time, and just because it is important to the kind of questions we are discussing here, it doesn't mean that the Bible writers were hung up about it. I should rather say that they were not.

Baddelim said...

A few responses together,

Michael, I think I'm basically on the same page as Rick as far as your discussion.

Rick, as far as suggesting still more things for me to write on.... :P

It's interesting that the language of 'subordinate' is so provocative, but I supoose I should have expected that. For what it's worth, I think it's a complementarian, and not an egalitarian, subordination. :)

Appa, I'm not really going to be taking these things much further. I think a lot of the questions you are asking is up to science. For my part, I think we have an old earth, and creatures appearing a different points in time as a creative act of God. As I've said, evolution stretches my credibility to the breaking point, but I don't think anything theologically hangs upon it.

Nathan, as far as the genealogies go, I'd tend not to see them as exhaustive. I think they're sketching the lines of descent, but I'd tend to think that generations get passed over.

I'll pick up some more in the next comment.

Baddelim said...

Dave,

Hi Mark. I thought this was a posting relating to Genesis 1? You have given many examples from different parts of Scripture, and how they should be read, and I agree with you on how they are understood, but you have failed to convince me that the way I understand Genesis 1 should be different.

Hi Dave,
Well, it's not so much about Genesis 1 as about what the debate over Genesis 1 raises for me about our understanding of the nature of Scripture--it's clarity and how we hear it.

If you've gotten all the way to the end (no small feat, given how long it is) then you'll see I'm not really interested in convincing people to abandon a non-literal reading. I am interested in some of the arguments used to require a literal reading however.

Just wanting to clarify, are you saying that we should conclude Jesus is using a metaphor in Matthew 19:23-24? If so, why? Surely Jesus is talking literally. It is most certainly harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus' whole point is that it IS impossible, and so we should take his words literally. Thankfully what is impossible for man is possible for God! Have I misunderstood you?

Hmmmmnnnn. Good question. I suppose it could be argued that if it was referring to a historical gate, then that would be 'metaphorical' (the gate was named 'the Eye of the Needle' as a metaphorical indicator of how hard it was to get through) while the other option would be a literal statement about a camel and needle. I think that works for me too. I had thought of a camel and a needle as a figure of speech, but it's much of a muchness either way.

The basic point that we make the decision based on whether we think there was a Needle Gate still stands, and that's all that example was trying to show, I think.

Baddelim said...

bruce,

My point was that nathan's list of options was truncated --- I note you don't dispute this --- in my opinion, I might add, perversely truncated.

Yellow card. Nathan's done nothing to raise grounds for an accusation like that. Just tackle the argument, we don't need your suspicions of his bona fides in arguing.

Dave said...

Thanks for the discussion Mark!
With regards to what Bruce said, (As for what evidence there is for a change of pace or setting between Gen 1-11 and Gen 12 onwards, these chapters are not habitually grouped together in this way for nothing. Where do you want me to start? Supernatural beings walking around as a matter of course? Creation-ending floods? People who live nine hundred years? An ancient world-city from which all humanity is dispersed in confusion? The implied world in which Father Abraham lives is positively normal by comparison.)
So how do we view the time when Jesus lived, with a Virgin birth, miracles like turning water into wine, demons entering herds of pigs and bodies of dead saints walking again? And what about other OT happenings post Abraham, such as hands writing on walls and idols falling down before the Ark of the Lord?
Surely we do not just accept anything we cannot explain scientifically in the Bible as mythical?

Bruce Yabsley said...

Two points of clarification:

(1) My statement was meant to be about the effect of nathan's list, not his bona fides in composing it. Not knowing nathan it would not be proper to make a public statement about his bona fides on so slim a foundation as one post.

But I do maintain that so truncated a list of options closes down the discussion at precisely the point it should be opened up: we don't want to make decisions that turn on premisses that are not explicit. Along these lines, I don't think simply adding my option-4 makes the list exhaustive: not even close.

(2) dave asked "Surely we do not just accept anything we cannot explain scientifically in the Bible as mythical?", and indeed we should not. But consider the responses to the miraculous. Contrary to the lazy slander that some people direct against the New Testament and Joseph in particular: Joseph knows perfectly well where babies come from, and that virgins don't get pregnant; indeed, that knowledge drives his initial response and is one of the points of the narrative. Likewise the public responses to the miracles of Jesus. The people there may not view the world the same way we do, but it's recognisably our world, and they recognise what happens around Jesus as exceptional, as indeed we would.

Genesis 1-11 is not like that. Eve does not say "What is this? A talking snake?". There are slippages between person and setting (consider the wider social world that Cain and Abel seem to inhabit), and oddities like the Nephilim that are matter-of-fact to the story, but from our point of view frustratingly under-discussed. The incredibly long lives of the patriarchs in this time are merely mentioned: Abraham's age, by contrast, is discussed. Abraham indeed, for all of the odd things that happen, lives a situated life that is still recognisable. But where do the events in Gen 1-11 take place?

I am not making any argument so strong as "anything we cannot explain ... [must be] mythical". I am pointing out the difference in implied world between 1-11 and 12-50. I thought this point was a commonplace.

Dave said...

Thanks for that Bruce. I agree with your comment to Nathan, "We don't want to make decisions that turn on premises that are not explicit." It is interesting, given this how we seem to come to different conclusions about how to read Genesis. What I would say is explicit, I assume you would say is part of a mythical story.
If I understand you correctly you are saying that Genesis 1-11 is different to the rest of the Bible as the exceptional is not recognised as exceptional, one example being Eve who appears to calmly accept the talking snake. My response to this is, how do we know what was exceptional for Eve? After all, just before she came along the animals were brought to Adam who named them, because it was thought one might makes a good helper for Adam. How do we know the animals could not communicate? After all, the animals seemed to cooperate with Noah, and Balaam's donkey was not told how to talk, but rather God merely opened his mouth. It was, I believe, Jurgen Moltmann who made the comment that since the fall our ability to communicate with creation and creation with us broke down. I do not know if snakes talked in the Garden...well actually I do, because the Bible tells me at least one did - but I would be making an assumption to say that it was not a common occurance! The 'slippages between person and setting' really depend on our understanding of the 'setting'. I assume part of the reason this discussion has come about is because we have allowed science to dictate to us what life was like before the fall and in the years closely followed, and yet scientists were not there to record the events that took place.

Nathan said...

Bruce,

In reference to your points, I'm not really sure how you would come to a position like this one:

"I am pointing out the difference in implied world between 1-11 and 12-50. I thought this point was a commonplace."

Clearly Paul thought that the fall was a historical event and Adam a historical person (Rom 5:12-18, 8:20-22, 1 Cor 15:21-22). Clearly Peter thought the flood was a historical event (2 Pet 3:5-7). Luke seems convinced when he "writes an orderly account" of it that the genealogies of Gen 5 and 11 record historical events (Luke 3:23-38). Jude believes Enoch to be a historical man (Jude 14). Similarly the author of Hebrews does not seem to have a pre-Gen 12 distinction in mind. He passes right from affirming the stories of Cain and Abel (11:4), Enoch (11:5) and Noah (11:7) to discussing Abraham (11:8) in the very same context.

I would have thought that if such an "implied difference" existed between the world of Gen 1-11 and ours then that might be something that the apostolic witness might also have picked up on.

Even if the apostles were 'confused' on the figurative nature of Genesis, we might have expected better from Jesus. Yet in Matthew 24:37-39 Jesus seems persuaded of Noah and the flood. And in Luke 17:27-28 Jesus puts the Noah history from Gen 6 in the same basket as the Lot history from Gen 19 without seeming to distinguish this "commonplace" divide at Gen 12 at all!

I do not think that the apostolic and divine(!) use of scripture supports your distinction between the "figurative history" (whatever that might be anyway... how can Jesus have figurative ancestors??) and actual history. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think the phrase "figurative history" is one we would be better off without.

michael jensen said...

Nathan: with this long list of examples I am struck by the implication here that a reference or allusion to the OT figure or event must always mean that it is a matter of 'history' (in the sense we moderns mean it) that is intended by the author. So, if the flood is alluded to it is alluded to as 'history'.

But our job in reading the text is not to inquire into the mind of the author so much as to read the text. An allusion to a text may or may not imply or demand a view as to the direct historical reference of that text.

Dave said...

Hi Michael, interesting comments! I just wanted to say:
1 - I do not believe that Nathan was referring to 'allusions', but direct references, and as he said, it would appear Jesus was clear in his understanding of the OT passages referred to by Him.
2 - What does the statement "An allusion to a text may or may not imply or demand a view as to the direct historical reference of that text" mean? It almost sounds like we can read the text anyway we want.
3 - I agree with the statement "our job in reading the text is not to inquire into the mind of the author so much as to read the text", and would like to encourage us all to do just that with Genesis 1-11! ;-)

Bruce Yabsley said...

And a Happy New Year to everyone. These replies will be coming a little late to you as far as real-time is concerned, as Mark seems to have (reasonably!) been taking a Christmas break from blogging, as indeed have I.

dave your initial reply, along the lines that we don't know what was exceptional for Eve etc., is ingenious but it does not address my argument.

I am open in using extra-Biblical evidence, as perusal of this blog will readily show. And I have not argued that the Bible alone drives one to consider parts of Genesis to be set in mythical or semi-mythical pasts. What I have claimed is that such a hypothesis can find some support from the text of Scripture. All that this argument needs in order to go forward is the prima facie strangeness of Genesis 1-11, which I discussed. You have said nothing that dispels that strangeness.

You speculatively claim that all of the rules may have been different in this period, which you thereby take to be historical: but this cannot be used to argue against the possibility of the period being mythical, because this assumes the very point under dispute. If you want to attack my "Gen 1-11 is strange" argument, you must come up with some internal inconsistency, or some mismatch with external data. You cannot do it by simply raising an alternative hypothesis: all that does is establish an alternative possibility. And one, I might add, in unsustainable tension with extrabiblical evidence.

nathan: You have not actually challenged my argument; instead you seem to claim that we are not allowed to entertain the (semi)-mythical conclusion, because (you say) other Biblical authors do not agree with it. Michael has already addressed this. I am in partial agreement with what he says: myself, I would wish to emphasise that the distinction between literal history and other kinds of story, the
is-this-what-a-hypothetical-camera-team-recording-the-events-would-have-seen
question, is our question and not necessarily one that preoccupied the authors of Scripture. They had other fish to fry and they were not burdened with our scientific and historical knowledge. The discussion we are having is our discussion, and they are being anachronistically recruited to it: caution is therefore required. It will not do to take every sentence as if it strikes a blow in a controversy in which the writers were not involved.

As for your specific references to Scripture: in the interests of completeness I am composing a second post that speaks to all of them. (There may be some delay, as I need to go read The Book of Enoch (!!) to make sense of the implications of your use of Jude.)

But let me briefly note that I never claimed that the apostles were "confused"; and while "figurative history", as you muse, may be a phrase we can do without, I do not see the relevance, as it's not a phrase I've used.

Dave said...

Thanks for the interaction Bruce. I am about to go on 3 weeks break, so I am sorry if this is not as clear as it should be, but I lack time!
My ‘ingenious’ (thanks J) and ‘speculative’ (I can admit it is, though it is not inconsistent with scripture) hypothesis simply hoped to illustrate that the claimed ‘strangeness of Genesis 1-11’ is not necessarily ‘strange’, and surely this, as you have admitted is what gives the hypothesis that we should not read Genesis 1-11 literally, legs. Genesis 1-11 I accept might appear ‘strange’ to many, I am simply saying that rather than ‘strange’, it is unique, and I do not think that many holding to the existence of a ‘pre-fall era’ would argue that it is not unique.

Bruce I am confused by your argument. You say, “I have not argued that the Bible alone drives one to consider parts of Genesis to be set in mythical or semi-mythical pasts. What I have claimed is that such a hypothesis can find some support from the text of Scripture. All that this argument needs in order to go forward is the prima facie strangeness of Genesis 1-11, which I discussed.”
How is your argument an argument gain support from the text of scripture? Because a time, that scripture itself claims was unique, is different to now? That sounds like a comparison between the internal evidence, the text, and external evidence – the world as we know it. How can you say your support comes from the text? It is the text plus external evidence, and this I have a problem with…
For me, I believe that much ‘extra Biblical evidence’ is flawed, if you are referring to evolution and long earth theory (and I am assuming this…). Although Evolution is often taught as fact in our schools in Australia it remains itself as nothing more than a hypothesis. You, if I read you correctly, would like me to deal with scripture being inconsistent with the ‘extra Biblical evidence’ so that my hypothesis can have legs. Why? If my hypothesis is consistent with Scripture, why is the burden of proof on me to ‘prove’ the scientific hypothesis (extra Biblical evidence) wrong? Should we not wait for science to first prove the ‘extra Biblical evidence’ as correct?
I understand that I have made some assumptions with where you might be coming from exactly, so please forgive me if I have taken you wrongly!

Finally, and this goes back to what Nathan was saying earlier, it appears as though Jesus certainly accepted the flood as a historical event (Mat 24:37-39). So much so that Jesus used it as reasoning to “Stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming”. If Jesus used a ‘mythical’ event as reasoning for us to take his second coming seriously, do we take his second coming as mythical? Hope not! Jesus’ point only has legs if the flood was historical.
My point though is, if Jesus did not see the need to correct the inaccurate understanding of Genesis 1-11 of those around him, why is there this strong push to insist on a non-literal reading of Genesis 1-11?

Bruce Yabsley said...

dave I will spell out the point briefly again, but really it is not so complicated. Imagine the following sequence:

(1) Some person, call him John, thinks on the basis of his reading of Scripture and in the light of his understanding that Gen 1-11 should be understood as straight history.

(2) John then learns various things about the world, including its staggering oldness. He goes back to Scripture again, puzzled, as a result.

(3) John notices --- what he may not have noticed before, but is nonetheless there in the text --- that some mighty odd things happen in Gen 1-11, even by the standards of the rest of Genesis. The possibility that the period described here may be a mythical one, then occurs to him.

I claim that this process is legitimate. nathan (who introduced this kind of example in the first place) rules out my step (3) from the beginning, with the argument that (a) NT writers believe these chapters historical, and (b) John (or whoever) is not allowed to hold a different opinion to NT writers. As mentioned, I will address this argument later.

Other than this, you must attack at point (2) or point (3). The usual method of attack at point (2) ends you in the predicament of trying to establish that astrophysics, geology, nuclear physics, archaeology, biology, and genetics are all engaged in an intergenerational and international conspiracy against you. Good luck with that, by the way.

Attacking at point (3) involves trying to deny that strange things --- exactly the sort of things, once you have worked out the category of "mythical past", that you think of as happening in a mythical past --- happen in Gen 1-11.

I claim the following: you cannot deny that very strange things, in this sense, occur in Gen 1-11.

And you do not in fact deny it. You have an alternative explanation for the strangeness, but you do not deny the strangeness. And since my argument was that step (3) above --- the possibility that Gen 1-11 occurs in a mythical past --- deserves a place in the list of possible conclusions for a Christian to reach in this situation, I claim to have carried my point.

Later, you seem to attack at point (2) in a different way: claiming that one must understand things based on Scripture to the absolute exclusion of everything else. If so, I refer you to Mark's discussion of sola scriptura as opposed to nudis scriptura.

Nathan said...

Bruce,

You are right. I have ruled out your step (3) from the beginning on the hermeneutic basis that scripture interprets scripture. If I do not know what to make of Genesis 1-11, and I turn to the rest of scripture and find that without exception it treats it in the same way that it treats the history of Samuel or Kings (for example), then I have no hermenutic basis for supposing Gen 1-11 to be a different kind of history.

My list of references, by the way, was nowhere near exhaustive. It was what I came up with from the top of my head at the time. On top of those I mentioned previously, I might also add (off the top of my head again) Ex 20:8-11, Matt 19:4-5 (Mk 10:6), 1 Cor 11:8-12, 1 Tim 2:13-14, 2 Cor 4:6.

Some of these passages, I grant you, are difficult. Nevertheless, all treat Gen 1-11 as history as the basis for the argument that they propose.

Regarding your friend, John. He has another option. He might realise that his world-view is Kantian and not biblical. If he does this he would realise that he should allow certain facts (previously considered noumenal) to speak on the issue of history. He would furthermore use these "noumenal" facts to shape the way that he interprets the phenomenal facts. If John were very clever, he might see that, were every scientist to suddenly recognise God's word as a valid source of data, and were they to have the spiritual discernment necessary to understand it rightly (1 Cor 2:14), then science itself - using its own methods - would re-interpret the world around it drastically.

The fact that scientists interpret the world around them the way they do, I argue, is a symptom not of ignorance or conspiracy, but of spiritual blindness and group-think. It is not biblical to suggest that observation about the physical world is the only source of sure sure knowledge about the physical world (particularly its history!). It is Kantian.

I am not hereby arguing against what Mark has outlined on this blog. In fact, I agree. We should use our experience and knowledge of the world to interpret scripture, and in fact we have to. I am just proposing that neither should we swing back the other way. We must also use scripture to interpret our experience and knowledge of the world.

Because of this, Christians have no right to rule out a historical understanding of Gen 1-11 simply because it contradicts the scientific consensus (if such a thing even exists). Rather, we must decide on exegetical grounds, trusting scripture to interpret itself. I refer you therefore to the (growing) list of references where scripture interprets Gen 1-11 as history.

Critias said...

The 'Baddeley Award' has been posted!
See http://sydneyanglicanheretics.blogspot.com/2008/01/baddeley-award-trophy.html

Dannii said...

My point was that nathan's list of options was truncated --- I note you don't dispute this --- in my opinion, I might add, perversely truncated. Because the sort of thing I'm pointing out is obviously an option, even if you (or "everyone here" for that matter) find it distasteful.

Your fourth option doesn't work well. Aside from "semi-mythical past" being a ridiculously silly idea, what you're basically asking me to believe is that between Adam and Abraham we have two crosses of the mythical divide with no literary distinctions.

As for what evidence there is for a change of pace or setting between Gen 1-11 and Gen 12 onwards, these chapters are not habitually grouped together in this way for nothing. Where do you want me to start? Supernatural beings walking around as a matter of course? Creation-ending floods? People who live nine hundred years? An ancient world-city from which all humanity is dispersed in confusion? The implied world in which Father Abraham lives is positively normal by comparison.

Okay, there are definitely big unique plot events here! But are there any literary distinctions? In any case, the genealogies pattern continues throughout. Nothing changes to the pattern does it?

Genesis 1-11 is not like that. Eve does not say "What is this? A talking snake?".Yeah, but she was a bit gullible ;)

I am pointing out the difference in implied world between 1-11 and 12-50. I thought this point was a commonplace.

I would have thought chapters 10-11 fit right in well with what we know of the ANE. Look at all those places mentioned in chapter 10. Chapters 1-9 are very different of course, but they happened before/during the flood, when the world-that-was was destroyed.

Dave said...

Thanks Bruce for spelling out the point once more for me, but I agree with you, it is not very complicated at all. It is not because I do not understand what you are saying that I do not agree with you.
Thanks Nathan for responding so clearly. I agree with what you have said. I do want to say just a few more things, if anyone is still out there!
I made some assumptions in my last comment, but I can see from your response Bruce that my suspicions are confirmed. In regard to your second point, poor old John has swallowed hook line and sinker what he has been told by some members of the scientific community. If he had not, then he would never even think about moving onto point 3. But he has – but! Should he have swallowed an old earth theory without looking into it himself, before accepting it blindly and returning to scripture to see how he could read scripture to fit into the latest scientific postulation?
If John is smart, and perhaps a geologist as well he might in fact return to scripture for evidence that exists in scripture that accounts for the natural evidence that some geologists have interpreted as evidence for an old earth. The global flood would provide him with the answer he needs. A global flood that laid down millions of tons of sediment along with the bodies of drowned animals, as well as causing massive erosion of landscape. Not over thousands of years, but possibly 5 years!
It is up to John, as Nathan said, as to what angle he chooses to interpret the evidence from. It depends on his worldview as to the conclusions he might reach.
This all happens at point 2.
Nathan has dealt well with point 3.

It seems that at the heart of the argument is whether or not we accept the posturing of some of the scientific community over scripture. I am not saying science is not useful or helpful in understanding scripture, but I do not want it to rule my interpretation of scripture, which is what John is allowing in point 2. I do not have a problem with a lot of the findings of geologists (as just once example of science), but rather the timing that they conclude from the evidence. To me John does not have to leave point 1. I personally took the journey of points 1-3, and then moved to point 4, which looks exactly the same as point1!

Finally Bruce, I refer to two of your comments:
"As for your specific references to Scripture: in the interests of completeness I am composing a second post that speaks to all of them. (There may be some delay, as I need to go read The Book of Enoch (!!) to make sense of the implications of your use of Jude.)"

"As mentioned, I will address this argument later."

It seems to me that you have not fully looked at all the references (at the very least the Jude one), and yet you seem to feel that you can ‘deal’ with them in a way that will support your argument. I am not sure if this is a great way to approach scripture! I look forward to reading the post!