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December 13, 2011

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Do we use the current philosophies of science to dictate our understanding of Scripture? Letting the trends tell us how to interpret the Bible, especially Genesis, sure saves on a great deal of conflict!

A Soldier for Jesus is right (if I understand him/her correctly). Some folks simply refuse to interpret Scripture in a way that puts it at odds with what we know from science, even if that means sacrificing the plain sense of the text. And then they go around boasting of the great harmony of faith and reason that they artificially rigged with their methods and a priori dogmatic commitments!

Take this business about whether any animals were carnivores before the appearance of humans, for example. Here are some of the relevant passages:

Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. [Gen 1:29-31]
Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything. [Gen 9:1-3]

The first passage seems to suggest that prior to and even during the first part of humanity's existence, animals were all herbivores. The second passage seems to suggest that humans were permitted to eat meat only after the deluge. So is that the way the apologists take it? No, because they know that it is utterly ridiculous to believe that animals were all herbivores before humans showed up. In this case, the plain literal sense of the text is sacrificed in order to maintain this false peace between the human claims contained in the Bible and reason. Someone may pretend to not know what these passages are saying, but that is just tactical skepticism strategically employed only in order to preserve belief in this unbroken harmony between Scripture and reason.

Hume never ceases to put things well:

I am the better pleased with the method of reasoning here delivered, as I think it may serve to confound those dangerous friends or disguised enemies to the Christian Religion, who have undertaken to defend it by the principles of human reason. Our most holy religion is founded on Faith, not on reason; and it is a sure method of exposing it to put it to such a trial as it is, by no means, fitted to endure. To make this more evident, let us examine those miracles, related in scripture; and not to lose ourselves in too wide a field, let us confine ourselves to such as we find in the Pentateuch, which we shall examine, according to the principles of these pretended Christians, not as the word or testimony of God himself, but as the production of a mere human writer and historian. Here then we are first to consider a book, presented to us by a barbarous and ignorant people, written in an age when they were still more barbarous, and in all probability long after the facts which it relates, corroborated by no concurring testimony, and resembling those fabulous accounts, which every nation gives of its origin. Upon reading this book, we find it full of prodigies and miracles. It gives an account of a state of the world and of human nature entirely different from the present: of our fall from that state: of the age of man, extended to near a thousand years: of the destruction of the world by a deluge: of the arbitrary choice of one people, as the favourites of heaven; and that people the countrymen of the author: of their deliverance from bondage by prodigies the most astonishing imaginable: I desire any one to lay his hand upon his heart, and after a serious consideration declare, whether he thinks that the falsehood of such a book, supported by such a testimony, would be more extraordinary and miraculous than all the miracles it relates; which is, however, necessary to make it be received, according to the measures of probability above established.

Good post.
I am reading through Acts again and love the parts about Paul reasoning with his hearers daily, or every week in the synagogues, proving to them from Scripture that Jesus is Messiah.
One implication that strikes me is that he didn't have to convince anybody that Jesus lived, was Crucified, etc.; what he had to do was show them that His life and death were those of the promised Messiah.

What is assumed to already be known by his opponents are the details we have to so often establish for today's skeptics.

Mal, the "plain literal sense" is not always so plain. For example what about the plants and animals outside the garden. A plain and literal reading of Gen 2:15 indicates that Adam was created outside the garden and then God moved him into the garden. So it seems the most simple understanding is that there was a part of creation apart from (outside) the garden. Could animals have been omnivores outside the garden? Could plants (let's say perennials) have gone through what appears to be their natural cycle, dropping leaves in the fall, which die and rot, to recycle nutrients back into the soil (i.e. death before the fall)?

I think one can read scripture "literally" and still gain information and understanding of scripture from extra-biblical sources. I read Genesis literally - but I understand that Genesis' literary genre is not that of a textbook. So I do not read it as such.

In fact that is exactly what Paul calls it in the book of Romans1:20-25
Unreasonabale unbelief.

Right on Brian, biblical exegesis can be quite destructive if left to unstructured methods. Genre confusion accounts for many misinterpretations.

On the other hand, those who attend the assembly of their religion of materialism are just as guilty of misinterpretation and faulty conclusions appearing to embrace a faith without reason--as Damians point makes.

I should add, that the biblical revelation accounts for both kinds of people, and both kinds are afraid of something. One kind is afraid of the light, and the other is afraid of the dark. Both kinds have a faith seeking understanding and hoping for a coherent worldview. Only those who are not afraid of the light have access to the the source of truth that is consistent with the world we experience. This access to the truth provides the foundations for a comprehensive and coherent worldview that is supremely unique.

So, it's good to use historical science inference to interpret Scripture? The plain reading does say that everything was herbivore, and to suggest that animals outside the Garden of Eden were not herbivores smacks of eisegesis. So what if critters are carnivores now? That does not mean they were that way during the first days after creation.

I prefer to trust the Word of God rather than the ever-changing whims of man-made science philosophies about the past by people who were not there.

Hi Soldier, I appreciate the keen sense and desire to guard the truth. I didn't read Brian to be making a definitive statement about what was outside the garden, but suggesting rather that the scriptures leave room for a compatible, reasonable answer to a possible objection.

The Reformed believe that the garden was Gods temple on a wild Earth and that Adam was to expand the garden til it filled the whole Earth. I haven't explored the proof for this view, but I'll take some time to search the reasoning behind it later.

>The Reformed believe that the garden was God's temple on a wild Earth and that Adam was to expand the garden til it filled the whole Earth. I haven't explored the proof for this view, but I'll take some time to search the reasoning behind it later.

>>Thanks Brad B. I never heard of this but it seems well worth looking into.

>> "Do we use the current philosophies of science to dictate our understanding of Scripture? Letting the trends tell us how to interpret the Bible, especially Genesis"

Yes

Haha, Tony, that's great.

Soldier - let's see where a "plain and literal" interpretation of scripture (without the use of secular knowledge) get us.

1. The Bible violates the laws of logic (Gen. 4:17). There is no record of Adam and Eve having conceived any other children prior to Cain and Able. So where did Cain find a wife? The "plain and literal" reading of scripture does not allow us to reason that Adam and Eve had children other than those mentioned in the text. That would be eisegesis wouldn't it?

2. God is not omniscient, did not direct the writing of scripture, or cannot do arithmetic (1Kings 7:24). Of course any 6th grader can calculate the ratio of a circle's diameter and circumference and find it to be slightly greater than 3.14. Yet scripture plainly tells us that the ratio is 3.0. Oh, sure we can appeal to the fact that the point of this account is not a lesson in mathematics but about the Glory of God and his majestic character as exemplified in the ornate and beautiful fixtures of the Temple. Nope, that's not a plain and literal reading.

Well, I could keep going as many have. My thesis is this. Malenbranche, Soldier, and all of us, use extra Biblical sources to inform us regarding our understanding of scripture. Our reason informs our faith. Dave was right in saying that some put those extra Biblical sources above scripture - and that is a serious problem if one claims to be a disciple of Christ. ToNy's post regarding Christian's selective support of extra-Biblical information brings to light an important issue to consider. Many believers love to point out how science, or psychology, or archeology support the reliability of scripture, yet we criticize those same sources of information when they don't agree with our interpretation of scripture.

"plain and literal" reading of scripture - no such thing.

Brian-

There's also no such thing as the plain and literal meaning of your last post.

The objections you raise are so silly that I have to conclude that you are an inerrantist.

The first argument you raise is a ridiculous appeal to silence.

As for Solomon's cast sea, if the thirty cubits measure the circumference, that gives us a diameter of 9.55 cubits or about 172 inches. According to I Kings 7:26, the thickness of the brim is a handsbreadth. Or about 4 inches. So the brim to brim measurement would be 172 + 4 (for one edge) + 4 (for the other edge). Or 180 inches. That's about ten cubits.

WisdomLover, I am curious, what is your take on this issue? Do you believe that extra-biblical sources are useful in illuminating Scripture?

I do agree that reason is not diametrically opposed to faith. They describe different functions--reason is part of our arsenal in determining truth, faith is about trusting in what we know to be true.

Hi Marie, think of faith as the lens that you view all sense perception through. Of course I'm using faith in an analogous way intending to convey that part of a human being we call our heart. Christians have faith through grace from God. The non believer has faith that there is no true God besides themselves[still believing the lie].

As you rightly say, faith is about trusting what we know to be true, it is no different for the non believer. Both use reason, Christians have a legitimate claim to this tool, others do not. One is informed by God Himself through the Spirit, the other is rooted in the liar, Satan. Christians can be consistently coherent while reasoning[not saying we always are], because the starting point is correct--that God Is. Non believers can and do use reasoning tools, and yet because of the starting point, never come to the truth, and they like it that way. This is why reasoning [alone] with an unregenerated person will never produce true conversion.

Wisdom lover - I'm not sure you actually read my entire post. Your response seems to be to arguments that I do not hold.

Could you explain why the first line of reasoning is "silly" in light of its intended use - to demonstrate that a "plain and literal" reading of scripture (as proposed by Soldier) can lead us to a "silly" understanding of scripture.

Your response to the second example seems to support the fact that the numbers just don't add up. Your numbers give Pi a value of 3.001. So your response doesn't undercut the example, it strengthens it.

Perhaps you didn't pick up on the sarcasm in my last post. That is the downside of incarnational beings trying to communicate through a disincarnate medium.

Brad B, while I still think reason/experience/perception comes before faith, I do agree with your point—reasoning can only go so far. If someone does not want to believe they won't. No amount of arguments, no matter how logical, can convict someone whose mind is made up.

Brian-

Look at my numbers again. They imply that the ratio is about Pi. The confusion is that the brim of the cast sea had a width of 4 inches. The diameter of the basin itself, calculating from the measured circumference of 30 cubits (or 540 inches)using pi is 172 inches. Now, the flared brim of the sea is four inches wide. Measuring brim-to-brim (so you are measuring the diameter of the sea once plus the width of its brim twice) gives you 180 inches. That is, it gives you exactly the measurement you expect given that the ratio of diameter to circumference is pi.

Now as for the argument from silence, that's clearly in full flower in your post: The Bible doesn't say that Cain had a sister, so Cain had no sister.

Now, I know you don't think that's good reasoning, but why attribute it to Soldier? He didn't use it. He just said that there was no meat eating before the fall. He said he preferred the teaching of Scripture to the claims of science. He never claimed that the Bible is a compendium of all knowledge (so that where the Bible does not assert something, we may deny that thing).

Clearly it is not exhaustive in that way. The Bible does not contain, for example, the rules and vocabulary of Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic grammar by which it is read. No one would claim that it is exhaustive. You are making Soldier into a straw man.

The Bible does say that Death entered the world with Sin. If there was no death before the fall, then there was no meat eating before the fall. Unless animals were donating body parts ;-). That is the plain literal meaning of Scripture.

Marie-

Perhaps the tail end of my comment to Brian also answers your question. Of course extra biblical sources are important to understanding Scripture. Hebrew, Greek and Latin grammars and lexicons are crucial, but are not contained in Scripture, for example.

Soldier's point is much more limited than saying that there shall be no use of external material to understand the Bible. That's a ridiculous view that no one holds. His point was that when some external source and the Bible appear to conflict, we do not re-interpret Scripture to agree with that source because we, effectively, trust that source more than the Bible. And I agree with Soldier 100%.

By the way, nothing about that prior statement implies that some external source can't occasion a re-interpretation of Scripture. That is, if an apparent conflict of Scripture with a heretofore trusted outside source causes me to re-examine Scripture and as a result of that re-examination I discover that my interpretation was wrong, there's not a thing wrong with that.

I do that with my Pastors all the time. I trust them. I sometimes find that what they are saying conflicts with what I took Scripture to be saying. As a result, I go back and re-examine Scripture. I often, though not always, find that they were right, and my prior interpretation of Scripture was wrong.

WL - Let me first acknowledge that in my last post I attributed a specific quote ("plain and literal") to Soldier, when it was Malebranche who made this statement in support of Soldier's position.

Let me ask you this question to help me and others understand your perspective on reading and interpreting scripture - should we always use the plain and literal (most obvious) sense of scripture to interpret extra-Biblical information? If not, when is it appropriate for extra-Biblical sources to be used to help us interpret scripture beyond what may be the plain and literal sense?

I offer a caution to you all when referring to particular commenters instead of directly to ideas that some people pose as something they are not as a satirical mockery.

Brian-

I'd say the plain reading of Scripture is always dominant. Note that the plain reading of Scripture is not always literal. Sometimes Scripture speaks in metaphor, allegory and so on.

The plain reading is not necessarily easy to get.

For starters, we may have lost, for now, the historical context that makes it plain. As I said before, the Bible doesn't spell out the mechanics of the languages it was written in. It also doesn't spell out the cultural nuances and literary allusions it might be making that would make the reading plain. But that context might have been lost to us in the grinding years. Perhaps it will only be rediscovered if, and when, God has provided that it would.

Furthermore, it is the plain reading of Scripture we are after, not the plain reading of individual passages. The plain reading of a part of Scripture may only come out in the interplay of passages.

For example, if you read either Genesis 1 or Genesis 2, the plain reading of those individual passages seems to be that they are providing chronologies for how the created order came into being. Problem: these chronologies conflict in some points (for example, which came first, Man, plants or animals?).

So what is the plain reading here? Well, as I've said before, I think it has to be that the texts aren't trying to present chronologies. Not anymore than Dickens, for example, intended to be making a contradictory theological claim about the afterlife when he wrote "we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way" in his famous opening paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities

One of our Lutheran Theologians, Reed Lessing, came to my church recently. He made an interesting point about Scripture: The Bible wasn't meant to be read. It was meant to be re-read. The plain reading of Scripture often won't be the knee-jerk reaction we have when we first let the words of a passage pass before our eyes. It will be what we get from the passage after having reflected on the rest of Scripture and returning to the passage.

WL - thanks for your response. I agree wholeheartedly with your perspective.

So let's get back to death. You referenced Romans 5:12 - just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin... Is Paul speaking of physical death or spiritual death? Everyone dies physically, even Paul.

He rephrased his point again for emphasis in verse 18. Here, when Paul restates his thesis, he speaks of eternal separation from God (condemnation) not death. Even Paul died a physical death but was not condemned because he stands justified before God through Christ's righteousness. So to me the most contextual reading of Romans 5 does not lead me to conclude that there was no physical death before the fall.

People in the New Earth don't die physically.

If you want to know what the unfallen earth was like, look to the description of the New Earth. It isn't the same of course, but it's closer than this fallen accursed world.

Also I Corinthians 15:21 makes a parallel between the death of Adam and the resurrection of Christ. Christ's resurrection was not simply a spiritual resurrection. He goes out of His way to show that (by eating fish, having Thomas examine his wounds and so forth). It was a physical resurrection.

If so, then Adam's fall brought physical death into the world.

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