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Biblical Inerrancy


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#1 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 21 May 2011 - 01:31 PM

Some Preliminaries:
I kept noticing over the last week or so that some rather unfortunate things were being said in other threads about the Biblical doctrine of Inerrancy. I'm collecting these unfortunate remarks together and will respond to them here in order to encourage more conversation on the topic. However, I've also learned in past discussions not to take anything for granted, so adding to excerpts of Pope Pius XII provided by SDG, and of Justin Martyr, Hippolytus, Jerome, Augustine, & St. Gregory provided by Ryan H., here's some other thinkers to help lay the groundwork for this discussion. I consider this stuff elementary, but might as well begin with it.

RC Sproul -

A contradiction is a statement that violates the classical law of noncontradiction. The law of noncontradiction declares that A cannot be A and non-A at the same time and in the same respect. That is, something cannot be what it is and not be what it is at the same time and in the same respect. This is the most fundamental of all the laws of logic.

No one can understand a contradiction because a contradiction is inherently unintelligible. Not even God can understand contradictions. But He can certainly recognize them for what they are - falsehoods. The word contradiction comes from the Latin "to speak against." It is sometimes called an antinomy, which means "against law." For God to speak in contradictions would be for Him to be intellectually lawless, to speak with a forked tongue. It is a great insult and unconscionable blasphemy to even suggest that the Author of truth would ever speak in contradictions. Contradiction is the tool of the one who lies - the father of lies who despises the truth.

There is a relationship between mystery and contradiction that easily reduces us to confusing the two. We do not understand mysteries. We cannot understand contradictions. The point of contact between the two concepts is their unintelligible character. Mysteries may not be clear to us now simply because we lack the information or the perspective to understand them. The Bible promises further light in heaven on mysteries we are unable to understand now. Further light may resolve present mysteries. However, there is not enough light in heaven and earth to ever resolve a clear-cut contradiction.

Summary:
1. Paradox is an apparent contradiction that under closer scrutiny yields resolution.
2. Mystery is something unknown to us now, but which may be resolved.
3. Contradiction is a violation of the law of noncontradiction. It is impossible to resolve, either by mortals or God, either in this world or the next ...

The Bible is called the Word of God because of its claim, believed by the church, that the human writers did not merely write their own opinions, but that their words were inspired by God. The apostle Paul writes: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God" (2 Timothy 3:16). The word inspiration is a translation from the Greek word meaning "God-breathed." God breathed out the Bible. Just as we must expel breath from our mouths when we speak, so ultimately Scripture is God speaking ...

Christians affirm the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible because God is ultimately the author of the Bible. And because God is incapable of inspiring falsehood, His word is altogether true and trustworthy. Any normally prepared human literary product is liable to error. But the Bible is not a normal human project. If the Bible is inspired and superintended by God, then it cannot err.

Isaac Watts -

Propositions are next to be considered according to their sense and signification, and thus they are distributed into true or false. A true proposition represents things as they are in themselves; but if things are represented otherwise than they are in themselves, the proposition is false ... Note, It is impossible that the same proposition should be both true and false at the same time, in the same sense, and in the same respect; because a proposition is but the representation of the agreement or disagreement of things; now it is impossible that the same thing should be and not be, or that the same thing should agree and not agree at the same time and in the same respect. This is the first principle of human knowledge.

Yet some propositions may seem to contradict one another, though they may be both true, but in different senses or respects, or times: as, man was immortal in paradise. But these two propositions must be referred to different times; as, man before his fall was immortal, but at the fall became mortal. So we may say now, man is mortal, or man is immortal, if we take these propositions in different respects; as, man is an immortal creature as to his soul, but mortal as to his body. A great variety of difficulties and seeming contradictions, both in Holy Scripture and other writings, may be solved and explained in this manner.

C.S. Lewis -

It is common enough, in argument with an unbeliever, to be told that God, if He existed and were good, would do this or that; and then, if we point out that the proposed action is impossible, to be met with the retort, "But I thought God was supposed to be able to do anything." This raises the whole question of impossibility.

In ordinary usage the word impossible generally implies a suppressed clause beginning with the word unless. Thus it is impossible for me to see the street from where I sit writing at this moment; that is, it is impossible to see the street unless I go up to the top floor where I shall be high enough to overlook the intervening building. If I had broken my leg I should say "But it is impossible to go up to the top floor" - meaning, however, that it is impossible unless some friends turn up who will carry me. Now let us advance to a different plane of impossibility, by saying "It is, at any rate, impossible to see the street so long as I remain where I am and the intervening building remains where it is." Someone might add "unless the nature of space, or of vision, were different from what it is." I do not know what the best philosophers and scientists would say to this, but I should have to reply "I don't know whether space and vision could possibly have been of such a nature as you suggest." Now it is clear that the words could possibly here refer to some absolute kind of possibility and impossibilities we have been considering. I cannot say whether seeing round corners is, in this new sense, possible or not, because I do not know whether it is self-contradictory or not. But I know very well that if it is self-contradictory it is absolutely impossible. The absolutely impossible may also be called the intrinsically impossible because it carries its impossibility within itself, instead of borrowing it from other impossibilities which in their turn depend upon others. It has no unless clause attached to it. It is impossible under all conditions and in all worlds and for all agents.

"All agents" here includes God Himself. His Omnipotence means power to do all that is intrinsically possible, not to do the intrinsically impossible. You may attribute miracles to Him, but not nonsense. This is no limit to His power. If you choose to say "God can give a creature free will and at the same time withhold free will from it," you have not succeeded in saying anything about God: meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prefix to them the two other words "God can." It remains true that all things are possible with God: the intrinsic impossibilities are not things but nonentities. It is no more possible for God than for the weakest of His creatures to carry out two mutually exclusive alternatives; not because His power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.

Wayne Grudem -

... the Bible clearly teaches that God cannot lie or speak falsely (2 Sam. 7:28; Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:18). Therefore, all the words in Scripture are claimed to be completely true and without error in any part (Num. 23:19; Pss. 12:6; 119:89, 96; Prov. 30:5; Matt. 24:35). God's words are, in fact, the ultimate standard of truth (John 17:17).

Especially relevant at this point are those Scripture texts that indicate the total truthfulness and reliability of God's words. "The words of the LORD are words that are pure, silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times" (Ps. 12:6, author's translation), indicates the absolute reliability and purity of Scripture. Similarly, "Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him" (Prov. 30:5), indicates the truthfulness of every word that God has spoken. Though error and at least partial falsehood may characterize the speech of every human being, it is the characteristic of God's speech even when spoken through sinful human beings that it is never false and that it never affirms error: "God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should repent" (Num. 23:19) was spoken by sinful Balaam specifically about the prophetic words that God had spoken through his lips.

With evidence such as this we are now in a position to define biblical inerrancy: The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact.

This definition focuses on the question of truthfulness and falsehood in the language of Scripture. The definition in simple terms just means that the Bible always tells the truth, and that it always tells the truth concerning everything it talks about. This definition does not mean that the Bible tells us every fact there is to know about any one subject, but it affirms that what it does say about any subject is true.

It is important to realize at the outset of this discussion that the focus of this controversy is on the question of truthfulness in speech. It must be recognized that absolute truthfulness in speech is consistent with some other types of statements, such as the following: 1. The Bible Can Be Inerrant and Still Speak in the Ordinary Language of Everyday Speech ... 2. The Bible Can Be Inerrant and Still Include Loose or Free Quotations ... 3. It is Consistent With Inerrancy to Have Unusual or Uncommon Grammatical Constructions in the Bible ...

Robert L. Thomas -

A mark of hermeneutical change in the 1970s was the first appearance of evangelical commentaries on the Synoptic Gospels that freely advocated the use of historical-critical methods of analysis. Those commentaries illustrate a drastic change in hermeneutical method among evangelicals that began during that decade. In 1978 the International Council of Biblical Inerrancy was convened to deal with such issues. Evangelicals saw that they must define biblical inerrancy more precisely. The council issued its statement on biblical inerrancy, but postponed its specific findings on hermeneutics until a future meeting. Rather than define evangelical hermeneutics more carefully at this second meeting in 1982, the theologians' discussions initiated more confusion about biblical interpretation than had exited before.

One reason for the hermeneutical turbulence was publication of Anthony C. Thiselton's The Two Horizons: New Testament Hermeneutics and Philosophical Description with Special Reference to Heidegger, Bultmann, Gadamer, and Wittgenstein ... Thiselton transformed the search for propositional truth into a search for subjective human bias. From the 1960s, home Bible studies had pooled the ignorance of untrained Christians as each participant shared "what the passage means to me." That sort of approach was not to be the basis for discussions at meetings of evangelical theologians ...

Henry A. Virkler & Karelynne Gerber Ayayo -

In the study of Scripture, the task of the exegete is to determine as closely as possible what God meant in a particular passage, rather than "what it means to me." By accepting the view that the meaning of a text is what it means to me, God's Word can have as many meanings as it does readers. Such a position provides no basis for concluding that an orthodox interpretation of a passage is more valid than a heretical one: indeed, the distinction between orthodox and heretical interpretations is no longer meaningful ...

If Jesus Christ is, in fact, the Son of God, then his attitude toward Scripture will provide the best answer to the question of inerrancy. A full discussion can be found in John W. Wenham's Christ and the Bible. Several points are summarized here. First, Jesus consistently treated the historical narratives of the Old Testament as straightforward records of fact ... Second, Jesus often chose as the basis of his teaching those very stories that most modern critics find unacceptable ... Third, Jesus consistently adduced the Old Testament Scriptures as the authoritative court of appeal in his controversies with the scribes and the Pharisees ... Fourth, Jesus taught that nothing could pass from the law until all had been fulfilled (Matt. 5:17-20) and that Scripture could not be broken (John 10:35). Finally, Jesus used Scripture in his rebuttal to each of Satan's temptations ... Jesus does not seem to have made any distinction between the validity and accuracy of revelatory versus nonrevelatory (historical, incidental) matters. His attitude, as recorded in the Gospels, seems to be an unquestioning acceptance. Harold Lindsell points out that even liberal and neoorthodox scholars, who themselves deny biblical inerrancy, agree that Jesus viewed the Scriptures as infallible ...

St. Thomas Aquinas -

Therefore that first signification whereby words signify things belongs to the first sense, the historical or literal. That signification whereby things signified by words have themselves also a signification is called the spiritual sense, which is based on the literal, and presupposes it ... The multiplicity of these senses does not produce equivocation or any other kind of multiplicity, seeing that these senses are not multiplied because one word signifies several things, but because the things signified by the words can be themselves types of other things. Thus in Holy Writ no confusion results, for all the senses are founded on one—-the literal—-from which alone can any argument be drawn, and not from those intended in allegory, as Augustine says (Epis.48). Nevertheless, nothing of Holy Scripture perishes on account of this, since nothing necessary to faith is contained under the spiritual sense which is not elsewhere put forward by the Scripture in its literal sense ...

The parabolical sense is contained in the literal, for by words things are signified properly and figuratively. Nor is the figure itself, but that which is figured, the literal sense. When Scripture speaks of God's arm, the literal sense is not that God has such a member, but only what is signified by this member, namely operative power. Hence it is plain that nothing false can ever underlie the literal sense of Holy Writ.



#2 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 21 May 2011 - 01:41 PM

Links to our at least semi-related threads on 'Christian faith and belief in the scriptures: a brief apologetical sketch' (Feb - Mar 2005), 'An Evangelical Manifesto' (May 2008) and 'The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture' (Mar 2011).

#3 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 21 May 2011 - 04:56 PM


The beginning of Genesis 2 is the Garden of Eden, not the planet earth.

The phrase "the earth" occurs five separate times in Gen. 2:4-6, but you both want to maintain that the chapter is not about the earth?

2:1-3 is clearly concluding the events of chapter 1. 2:4 is clearly summarizing and beginning a new section that focuses on more specifics than chapter 1. Since the writer of Genesis 2 specifically mentions the Garden of Eden in verse 8, verse 10, and verse 15, it is simple to conclude that he is writing about the Garden of Eden. Similar to the English word earth, the Hebrew word eres has more than one meaning depending upon the context.

The chronologies are rather more tangled than has been discussed thus far.

In Gen. 1: Vegetation on day 3; stars, moon and sun on day 4; birds and fish on day 5; first animals, then humans, both male and female, on day 6.

Although, it is not clear from 1:16-18 that this is the precise time period where God created the sun, moon and stars ex nihilo, particularly in light of 1:3-8.

In Gen. 2: Man, then vegetation, then animals, then woman. Possibly this all took place in one day, if "day" in 2:4 means the same thing as "day" in 2:3. But in that case, which day was it? The phrase "in the day that the LORD God made earth and heaven" (2:4) doesn't correspond to any of the days in ch. 1, since in ch. 1 earth and heaven are made before the first day. If it's the day when vegetation was created, perhaps it's day 3 ... except it would have been inconvenient for man to name the animals without any sun to give light for him to see what they looked like.

A literal reading of the passage as inerrant does not require that chapter 2 be read as ordered chronologically rather than topically. It is again important to remember that, similar to the English word day, the Hebrew word yowm can mean (1) a 24 hour day (Gen. 7:11), (2) the daylight period of the day (1:5, 16), or (3) a period of time (2:4, and as I would argue from the context, 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31 and 2:2-3). In any case, a simple reading of the context easily distinguishes between the different means of "yowm" in 2:3 and 2:4.

A historical-critical analysis of Gen. 1 & 2 would simply suggest that the two stories are separate but partially overlapping accounts of the same events (neither one, obviously, being an eyewitness account), collected from divergent strains of oral tradition.

One or two authors, Christianity teaches that both stories are part of the inspired Word of God.

But an inerrantist has to maintain that both chapters are written by the same author — who apparently gives great attention to a strict, ordered chronology in ch. 1, and then goes off his meds in ch. 2, since the chapters don't have a prayer of being reconciled unless you assume that ch. 2 is completely non-linear.

Simply not true. Which human writer wrote which chapter is a question that does not affect taking the text literally and as without error. If you pay attention to the use of the past tense (which does exist in Hebrew) and conjunctive adverbs, no part of chapter 2 contradicts the chronology of chapter 1. For example, 2:19 does not demand the conclusion that God created man before the animals.

In the end, inerrantists shred the text to chop suey in order to maintain their preconceptions. I'd just rather shred my preconceptions and take the text as I find it.

I fail to see how, whether one takes the account of Creation and the Fall as a historical account or as poetry, it shreds the text merely to note that there is a difference in writing style.

Name one apparent contradiction that can't be reconciled and I'll personally ditch believing in Biblical Inerrancy.

First we need to agree on what we mean by "reconciled." For instance, you try to "reconcile" one of the contradictions in Genesis by claiming that "The beginning of Genesis 2 is the Garden of Eden," when in fact the garden isn't even planted until 2:8, after the man has been created. If you are allowed to "reconcile" textual difficulties by proclaiming falsehoods about the text, then you are playing with a stacked deck and there is no way I can win.

True, it does look as if man were created before God designed the Garden of Eden. Indeed, I wouldn't be at all surprised if Adam got to watch God form the Garden of Eden. His planting of one single garden does not logically demand that plant life, in and of itself, still wasn't first created in the third time period, while Adam was created in the sixth. So what's the problem? I'm getting the impression that (1) you disagree with a literal reading of the passage, and then (2) that you're also insisting that an exaggeratedly literal reading of the passage is the only way to take literally a story that was obviously written artfully.

I too find it remarkable the lengths that inerrantists seem willing to go. To me, their best (worst) arguments have an air of "Alice in Wonderland" about them. To the degree that historical-critical analysis functions like a solvent to remove the dross of overworked exegesis that is wedded to inerrancy, more power to it. Christians ought to welcome historical-critical analysis for the light that it does shed on the Bible. Why should we remain in ignorance (about the Bible, and how it came to be)? Surely God does not want that for us. The tricky thing with historical-critical analysis is to know when it's done all it can reasonably do, so we can move beyond it (while not forgetting what we learn from it). Because when we overuse it, it can turn even those biblical passages that resemble hard rock candy jawbreakers into pea soup (solvents just keep dissolving, indiscriminately – it's up to us to know when to stop applying them).

If all the "historical-critical" method of Bible interpretation meant was looking at culture and history to help one understand the text, then that would be nothing new. But unfortunately, the "Historical-Critical Method" is term that most often refers to a school of thought that adopts certain presuppositions that deny the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture (see Schleiermacher). However, you can look at history and culture to help you better understand a text without adopting these presuppositions - which are coming from an entirely different question anyhow. Studying Biblical history does not, in and of itself, challenge anything about inerrancy in the least.

I think a similar process is in play with creationists, who literally believe that the earth is about 6,000 years old. Christians ought to welcome science for the light that it does shed on nature. Why should we remain in ignorance (about nature)? Surely God does not want that for us. The tricky thing with science, once again, is to know when it's done all it can reasonably do, so we can move beyond it (while not forgetting what we learn from it).

Incompetent interpretative method is engaged by both those who believe in Biblical Inerrency and those who don't. There are plenty of Christians who [a] believe the Bible is literally true (and without error), and [b] do not believe the earth is only 6,000 years old. Read about the Thomas Aquinas debate with Siger of Brabant.

Maximus the Confessor -

And just as the world hides God in a revealing way and reveals God in a hidden way, the Scripture is a disguised and confused voice like the rolling of thunder, which says nothing clearly; it is a kind of voice of the elements. For every word of God that is written down for man is, as long as this age lasts, the precursor of another word, which uses it as an instrument to proclaim itself to the mind in an unwritten, intellectual way, and which, in the age to come, will be revealed in a more perfect form. As it is proclaimed, it bears truth within itself, but does not show it in an unveiled, naked way.

Um ...
Luke 1:3-4 - ... it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.
John 21:24 - This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.
I Corinthians 15:3-8 - For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

Or, again, as when Maximus wrote in his Centuries on Theology (second century, from sections 74 and 75):

For an understanding of Scripture that does not go beyond the literal meaning, and a view of the world that relies exclusively on sense-perception, are indeed scales, blinding the soul's visionary faculty and preventing access to the pure Logos of truth.

"... it reveals itself as though in the sound of a delicate breeze." The greatest film directors, such as Tarkovsky and Ozu, have understood this mode of revealing very well.

We are talking about the written Word, right? Tarkovsky and Ozu are film directors of a poetic mindset, and I like them for that. There is poetry in the Bible as well. But there's also historical narrative, law, prophecy, proverbs and theological arguments. There are different sorts of Biblical literature. There are different sorts of Biblical language (literal, figurative, and symbolic). Making these distinctions is vital to being able to understand anything you read at all.

Edited by Persiflage, 21 May 2011 - 06:03 PM.


#4 mrmando

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Posted 21 May 2011 - 05:29 PM

It might help to begin with a working definition of inerrancy, stated in your own terms for the purpose of this thread.

As Peter noted, you are not using the classic definition, so you might as well enlighten us as to which one you are using. Your responses above to several of my objections seem to boil down to "The inerrancy you're objecting to is not the inerrancy I'm talking about." Very well, so which inerrancy do you have in mind? To which canon does it apply? Which manuscripts? Autographs only, or copies as well?

I don't speak Hebrew, so I may well be at a disadvantage in some of these discussions. Whether or not Gen. 2 should be read chronologically, for example, depends a great deal on the translation you read. The NIV uses the pluperfect in a few verses, including 2:19, in an apparent attempt to guide readers away from thinking chronologically, whereas the ESV renders 2:19 as the logical and chronological next step after 2:18.

BTW, are you claiming that Gen. 1 is chronological and Gen. 2 isn't? Or that they're both non-chronological? Also, is there anything in Gen. 3-11 that should be read non-chronologically when it appears otherwise? Does non-chronological structure in Genesis come and go when it's theologically convenient, or is there another purpose for it?

I wonder about the law of non-contradiction. We resolve one of the biggest theological questions of all—Was Jesus human or divine?—by saying he was both, and somehow we don't seem to think this violates the law of non-contradiction ... or if we do, it doesn't bother us.

Edited by mrmando, 21 May 2011 - 06:00 PM.


#5 Ryan H.

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Posted 21 May 2011 - 05:48 PM

As Peter noted, you are not using the classic definition, so you might as well enlighten us as to which one you are using.

Since you've challenged Persiflage to provide a working definition of his stance, what do you consider the "classic" definition of inerrancy?

Edited by Ryan H., 21 May 2011 - 05:48 PM.


#6 mrmando

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Posted 21 May 2011 - 06:30 PM

It's his thread, not mine, bub. He can go first.

Edited by mrmando, 21 May 2011 - 06:32 PM.


#7 Ryan H.

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Posted 21 May 2011 - 06:46 PM

It's his thread, not mine, bub. He can go first.

Well, you've made a claim that his POV doesn't fit with the "traditional" stance. So I'm just wondering how you got there, 'cause, as far as I'm aware, the "traditional" stance on inerrancy isn't quite as clear-cut or narrow as you and Peter are making it out to be.

#8 mrmando

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Posted 21 May 2011 - 06:53 PM

Once we have a clear articulation from Persiflage of the kind of inerrancy this thread is about, I'll be able to say whether I understand inerrancy differently.

#9 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 21 May 2011 - 06:57 PM

Re: the chronology of Genesis 2, don't verses 18ff pretty clearly indicate that the birds and other animals were created AFTER the first man, as God tried to find "a helper suitable for him"? And would this not contradict the chronology of Genesis 1, in which birds are created on the fifth day while humans and other land animals are created on the sixth?

Turning to other matters, what would an "inerrantist" reading of a passage like, say, Matthew 1 be? This is the passage which famously lists Jesus' ancestors, going back to Abraham, and groups them into groups of 14. On a plain surface reading, this passage clearly contradicts the words of Kings and Chronicles, which tell us that there were *18* generations in one of those groups, rather than 14. (For the clearest and most succinct demonstration of this discrepancy, compare Matthew 1:7-11 with I Chronicles 3:10-16.)

There are ways to explain what Matthew is doing here: The number 14 is the numerical value of the name "David" in Hebrew (D+V+D = 4+6+4 = 14), and Matthew wants to show that Jesus is the son of David, or something like that. But the simple fact remains: Matthew seems to edit the Old Testament, to make it say something that it does not, in fact, say. And if anyone today were to use the Bible this way, inerrantists in particular would point out the interpreter's divergences from scripture and laugh him out of church.

Perhaps, using the Catholic definition of "inerrancy", we can say that Matthew 1 is "inerrant" because it "asserts" that Jesus was the Davidic messiah, and perhaps we can say that it never really "assert" that there were 14 generations between Solomon and Jeconiah even though that would seem to be the plain surface meaning of the text. But then, if we go that route, would we really be using the word "asserts" to mean what most people mean by the word "asserts"?

Does it all come down to what the meaning of "is" is?

Would all our talk of "inerrancy" and "assertions" actually clear anything up for the average churchgoer in the pew, or would it just sow confusion and bad exegesis? Might the doctrine of "inerrancy", in fact, do more harm than good?

#10 mrmando

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Posted 21 May 2011 - 07:07 PM

Re: the chronology of Genesis 2, don't verses 18ff pretty clearly indicate that the birds and other animals were created AFTER the first man, as God tried to find "a helper suitable for him"? And would this not contradict the chronology of Genesis 1, in which birds are created on the fifth day while humans and other land animals are created on the sixth?

That's what I was trying to get at with the comment above about the ESV and the NIV. It seems to me that the ESV endeavors to make this chronology explicit while the NIV tries to get around it.

One additional question for Persiflage: Did the authors/compilers of the Biblical texts bear the law of non-contradiction in mind while writing their books?

Edited by mrmando, 21 May 2011 - 07:08 PM.


#11 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 21 May 2011 - 07:45 PM

But if words like these sound altogether too "mystical" to control, and the first thing that leaps to your mind is the danger of theological speculation, then perhaps nothing I might say would assuage your fears (which I acknowledge are not without basis). Still, I wonder where this spiritual timidity in so many of us Christians comes from, and if it is truly necessary. It's as though we imagine that "the way" is like a one-inch wide board fence, the top of which we must tread with the strictest possible adherence (to orthodoxy), leaving no room for deviation – the slightest of which would send us tumbling headlong into perdition. I guess that's one way to try to "control" people. In a different spiritual tradition from Christianity, Shunryu Suzuki took a wider view of the matter, and we all might learn something – and to be less controlling, spiritually – from him ... If we tried listening to the word of God a little more recklessly, perhaps we might actually come nearer to that "inner principle of Holy Scripture" which Maximus had in mind when he wrote about "the intellect which through the total abandonment of its natural activities [i.e. recklessly?] is able to attain a glimpse of the simplicity that in some measure discloses this principle."

I gotta be honest with you. I don't understand any of this. Mystical? Timidity? Controlling people? What on earth does this have to do with trying to copy Christ's use of Scripture as both authoritatively and completely true?

A passage that places so much emphasis on 1st day, 2nd day, etc., is somehow not chronological????!!!

Well, the "literary framework" view has many different varieties, but some would understand the emphasis on the days as a way of evoking temple dedication ceremonies, a passage that essentially paints the poetic picture of the world as God's temple. Other close cousins, like the point of view put forward by John Walton, who keeps the idea of God speaking on days, but suggests the text isn't actually about material creation at all (he bases his argument primarily on a revised understanding of the word bara).

Hugh Ross & Gleason L. Archer, The Genesis Debate, pgs. 269-277 -

In critiquing our long-day interpretation of the text, the framework essay argues that the Hebrew verb haya (used in Genesis 1:3, 6, 9, and 14) is essentially synonymous with bara, "create." While we agree that haya can carry the same meaning, its predominant usage is the Bible more closely parrallels our English "be" verbs. The fact that bara appears just three times in Genesis 1 and each time in the context of something entirely new and dramatically significant - the universe, soulish animals, and humans (vv. 1, 21, and 27) - suggests to us a deliberate distinction. We see nothing in the context of Genesis 1 that would compel any meaning other than the commonly interpreted "let be" for haya ...

The degree of symmetry and parallelism the framework [view] imposes on the text of Genesis 1, though not compelled by the text, may indeed have some merit. The triadic interpretation of Genesis 1 imparts a certain beauty and grandeur to the prose and, in that respect, makes the apologetics of Genesis 1 all the more compelling. However, we see nothing in the [framework] view of the text that diminishes or destroys a chronological interpretation of the Genesis creation events ... Few would deny that the Bible employs metaphorical constructs. The problem with the framework position is that the text offers neither internal cues nor subsequent biblical corroboration (from Jesus or others) that an allegory or extended metaphor is intended in Genesis 1 ... Beautiful prose in no way "proves" a nonliteral message.


Well, the "literary framework" view has many different varieties, but some would understand the emphasis on the days as a way of evoking temple dedication ceremonies, a passage that essentially paints the poetic picture of the world as God's temple. Other close cousins, like the point of view put forward by John Walton, who keeps the idea of God speaking on days, but suggests the text isn't actually about material creation at all (he bases his argument primarily on a revised understanding of the word bara).

Are such views attractive to inerrantists, though? I suppose there may be some exceptions, but I figure most people who want to argue for inerrancy would also prefer a reading of these texts that is literal to some degree.

I personally know some, and while they ascribe to inerrancy, they seem to have enormous difficulty in pinpointing where precisely the narrative of Genesis is supposed to suddenly turn from poetry into historical narrative ... when Cain murders Abel? (some say that's still too symbolic) ... Noah and the flood? (some say it's a scientifically impossible poetic myth) ... Abraham?

In my experience, these views are relatively popular - or at least part of the open discussion, without outright dismissal - among inerrantists of a not-so-deeply fundamentalist stripe. After all, many definitions of inerrancy allow for genre to inform how we understand what the text does and doesn't suggest.

Actually, I've never run across even a single definition of inerrancy that didn't allow for the fact that the Bible contains different kinds of literature. Show me an inerrantist who actually believes, when the lover tells his beloved that her eyes are doves (Song of Solomon 1:15), that she has literal birds for eyes and I'll show you an inerrantist who is only 6 years old.

It might help to begin with a working definition of inerrancy, stated in your own terms for the purpose of this thread.

As Peter noted, you are not using the classic definition, so you might as well enlighten us as to which one you are using. Your responses above to several of my objections seem to boil down to "The inerrancy you're objecting to is not the inerrancy I'm talking about." Very well, so which inerrancy do you have in mind? To which canon does it apply? Which manuscripts? Autographs only, or copies as well?

This is how I've always understood inerrancy. If anyone else thinks this isn't somehow classical or traditional, speak up -

Wayne Grudem -

... With evidence such as this we are now in a position to define biblical inerrancy: The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact. This definition focuses on the question of truthfulness and falsehood in the language of Scripture. The definition in simple terms just means that the Bible always tells the truth, and that it always tells the truth concerning everything it talks about. This definition does not mean that the Bible tells us every fact there is to know about any one subject, but it affirms that what it does say about any subject is true ...

Of course, this is taken along with the fact that, if God wants to, He is powerful enough to actively ensure that the reliability of His Word is preserved in future translations of the original manuscripts. As Dr. Virkler points out on pg. 35 in his Hermeneutics textbook -

The careful work of Jewish scribes in transmitting the text and the present work of textual critics combine to give us a text that reflects the wordings of the original with a very high degree of accuracy. The vast majority of variant readings concern grammatical details that do not significantly affect the meaning of the text. The words of F.F. Bruce are worth repeating in this regard: "The variant readings about which any doubt remains among textual critics of the New Testament affect no material question of historic fact or of Christian faith and practice." The question of the authority and veracity of the biblical texts as we have them today should be decided on bases other than the fact that we do not possess the autographs.


Whether or not Gen. 2 should be read chronologically, for example, depends a great deal on the translation you read. The NIV uses the pluperfect in a few verses, including 2:19, in an apparent attempt to guide readers away from thinking chronologically, whereas the ESV renders 2:19 as the logical and chronological next step after 2:18.

When it comes to Bible translations, and you can research this, there is a difference between essentially literal translations (based on formal equivalence or "phrase for phrase") and paraphrase translations (based on dynamic equivalence, or "thought for thought"). Both sorts of translations are useful for different purposes, you just need to be aware of which kind you are reading. The ESV is one of the former, the NIV is one of the latter.

BTW, are you claiming that Gen. 1 is chronological and chronological Gen. 2 isn't? Or that they're both non-chronological?

Looking at each chapter in context, Genesis 1 is more general and ordered chronologically while Genesis 2 is more specific and ordered topically. Even claiming this, no single sentence from Genesis 2, when you examine it carefully, necessarily logically contradicts any of the stated chronological order of Genesis 1.

Also, is there anything in Gen. 3-11 that should be read non-chronologically when it appears otherwise? Does non-chronological structure in Genesis come and go when it's theologically convenient, or is there another purpose for it?

The book of Genesis, as far as Biblical literature goes, is historical narrative. This doesn't mean it doesn't still include poetry, genealogies, songs, or hints of other literature (i.e., Lamech's poem in 4:23-24, Noah's curse and blessing in 9:25-27). All I'm saying, man, is that Biblical writers, just like any other writer, are allowed to focus in and focus out during the story. Details are going to be mentioned, even in a historical narrative, outside of exact minute chronological order. In order to read the book literally, one does not have to absolutely insist on every event having exactly occurred after the exact prior listed event. Simply because his birth isn't mentioned until Genesis 4:25 does not mean Seth was born after Cain's great-great-great-great grandsons, whose births occur in 4:17-22. Genesis 5 takes us all the way to Noah and his sons. The start of Genesis 6 zooms back to before Noah. We ought only insist on a chapter being chronological when the writer insists upon it (by making clear distinctions between specifically numbered days in Genesis 1, or by counting and numbering days and months in Genesis 7 and 8). Do the events in Genesis 11 occur after all the people mentioned in Genesis 10? I don't know. If God had wanted it in there, He's powerful enough to have ensured that the writer put it in there. It's not there, so it doesn't really matter.

I wonder about the law of non-contradiction. We resolve one of the biggest theological questions of all—Was Jesus human or divine?—by saying he was both, and somehow we don't seem to think this violates the law of non-contradiction ... or if we do, it doesn't bother us.

The Incarnation (John 1:14) is not something I would ever pretend to fully understand. There is, however, a difference between a miracle and a logical contradiction. It's just poor usage when some Christians start applying mathematical formulas to it. When you say Jesus was 100% human and 100% divine, you are applying numbers to an abstract idea. It doesn't quite work that way. But Scripture does explain Christ's full humanity and divinity to a certain extent. There was an extent to which Christ set aside some of his divine attributes according to Philippians 2:5-11 (much of his power, his omnipresence, and his infiniteness had to be laid aside in order to take human form). His human birth was supernatural (Matt. 1:20, Luke 1:35; 3:23). He took on human flesh (I John 4:2). He could get tired (John 4:6), thirsty (John 19:28), and hungry (Matt. 4:2). He constantly refused to exert his omnipotent power, essentially laying that aside as well (Luke 4:1-13, Mark 15:30-32). Setting these attributes aside did not make Jesus any less God.

Understand, there were heretics that the doctrine of the Incarnation was designed to refute who argued Jesus wasn't fully human (that he was just a spirit walking around), but he refuted this himself, in Luke 24:39, even after his death and resurrection. Others have argued he couldn't be fully human because he was sinless (2 Cor. 5:21, I Peter 2:22), and yet he suffered and was tempted just like us (Hebrews 2:18, 4:15-16). So while it is obviously hard to understand, none of these verses actually contradict each other. The doctrine itself has been traditionally explained in the church in order to correct error. But, if you insist on defining the word "human" as sinful, then Jesus wasn't fully human. Scripture simply states He was a human being. If you insist on defining the word "God" as omnipotently incapable of physical weakness, then Jesus wasn't fully divine. But Jesus said He was and so they crucified him.

Edited by Persiflage, 21 May 2011 - 07:55 PM.


#12 mrmando

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Posted 21 May 2011 - 07:55 PM

2:1-3 is clearly concluding the events of chapter 1.

Agreed. It would have made more sense for chapter 2 to begin with verse 4, but that's not a problem.

2:4 is clearly summarizing and beginning a new section that focuses on more specifics than chapter 1.

It begins a new section, but 2:4 itself is clearly focused on the earth and the heavens in general. Later on there is a specific focus, yes, but where exactly do we change focus from general to specific?

Since the writer of Genesis 2 specifically mentions the Garden of Eden in verse 8, verse 10, and verse 15, it is simple to conclude that he is writing about the Garden of Eden.

Perhaps a bit too simple, since you appear to be claiming that 2:5-6 is focusing on something that hasn't even been mentioned yet.

Similar to the English word earth, the Hebrew word eres has more than one meaning depending upon the context.

Does it mean something different in 2:5 than in 2:4?

Is there anything intrinsic to 2:5-6 to suggest that the author is suddenly talking about a particular patch of ground that has no rain or plant life, whereas 2:4 talks about the earth in general? Or are you saying that only out of theological necessity? If it's just a patch of ground, is it contiguous with what later became the garden? Is it larger? smaller? Does it matter?

A literal reading of the passage as inerrant does not require that chapter 2 be read as ordered chronologically rather than topically.

So if I wanted to claim, as some early Mormon teachers did, that God made Adam on another planet and then decided to make the earth and put him there, that could be construed as a "literal reading of the passage as inerrant"? Are you saying that chronology plays no role whatsoever in our understanding of Gen. 2? And if so, again, where else in Genesis (or for that matter, the Bible entire) is it necessary to throw chronology out the window, the better to cling to inerrancy?

For example, 2:19 does not demand the conclusion that God created man before the animals.

This needs a little unpacking ... see Peter's remarks above.

I fail to see how, whether one takes the account of Creation and the Fall as a historical account or as poetry, it shreds the text merely to note that there is a difference in writing style.

It shreds the text to say, "Yes, v. 19 comes after v. 18, and in v. 18 God states the reason for doing what he does in v. 19, but that's no reason to assume the events in v. 19 took place after the events in v. 18."

His planting of one single garden does not logically demand that plant life, in and of itself, still wasn't first created in the third time period, while Adam was created in the sixth. So what's the problem?

The "problem" is v. 5.

Edited by mrmando, 21 May 2011 - 08:41 PM.


#13 mrmando

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Posted 21 May 2011 - 08:01 PM

This is how I've always understood inerrancy.

What, in your own words, do you mean by "this"?

<edit> OK, you're saying that by "inerrancy" you mean what Grudem said about original manuscripts.

Well, we don't have any of those, do we? What a shame. Let's just chalk up all the textual difficulties to copyists' errors and go out for Chinese food, shall we?

Grudem needs to define what he means by "fact" and state whether it's synonymous with what he means by "truth." I don't know anyone, even the most literal six-day creationist, who believes in a flat earth surmounted by a bowl-shaped "firmament," which serves to keep the celestial waters from covering the earth except when it rains. Yet that is the cosmology we are given in Gen. 1. So in what sense is that a "fact"? It certainly isn't a scientific fact.

When it comes to Bible translations, and you can research this, there is a difference between essentially literal translations (based on formal equivalence or "phrase for phrase") and paraphrase translations (based on dynamic equivalence, or "thought for thought"). Both sorts of translations are useful for different purposes, you just need to be aware of which kind you are reading. The ESV is one of the former, the NIV is one of the latter.

I see. So in establishing a "literal" reading of Gen. 2:18-19, it's best to ignore the literal ESV and rely instead on the paraphrased NIV. Got it.

Edited by mrmando, 23 May 2011 - 11:59 AM.


#14 Ryan H.

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Posted 21 May 2011 - 08:06 PM

There are ways to explain what Matthew is doing here: The number 14 is the numerical value of the name "David" in Hebrew (D+V+D = 4+6+4 = 14), and Matthew wants to show that Jesus is the son of David, or something like that. But the simple fact remains: Matthew seems to edit the Old Testament, to make it say something that it does not, in fact, say. And if anyone today were to use the Bible this way, inerrantists in particular would point out the interpreter's divergences from scripture and laugh him out of church.

Really? That would seem to be a POV that many of my firmly inerrantist professors from my Wheaton College days wouldn't reject; they suggested similar approaches to other passages. And I could see it being taught in my fairly conservative, traditional evangelical church without any riot occurring afterward.

#15 Ryan H.

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Posted 21 May 2011 - 08:21 PM


A passage that places so much emphasis on 1st day, 2nd day, etc., is somehow not chronological????!!!

Well, the "literary framework" view has many different varieties, but some would understand the emphasis on the days as a way of evoking temple dedication ceremonies, a passage that essentially paints the poetic picture of the world as God's temple. Other close cousins, like the point of view put forward by John Walton, who keeps the idea of God speaking on days, but suggests the text isn't actually about material creation at all (he bases his argument primarily on a revised understanding of the word bara).

Hugh Ross & Gleason L. Archer, The Genesis Debate, pgs. 269-277 -

In critiquing our long-day interpretation of the text, the framework essay argues that the Hebrew verb haya (used in Genesis 1:3, 6, 9, and 14) is essentially synonymous with bara, "create." While we agree that haya can carry the same meaning, its predominant usage is the Bible more closely parrallels our English "be" verbs. The fact that bara appears just three times in Genesis 1 and each time in the context of something entirely new and dramatically significant - the universe, soulish animals, and humans (vv. 1, 21, and 27) - suggests to us a deliberate distinction. We see nothing in the context of Genesis 1 that would compel any meaning other than the commonly interpreted "let be" for haya ...

The degree of symmetry and parallelism the framework [view] imposes on the text of Genesis 1, though not compelled by the text, may indeed have some merit. The triadic interpretation of Genesis 1 imparts a certain beauty and grandeur to the prose and, in that respect, makes the apologetics of Genesis 1 all the more compelling. However, we see nothing in the [framework] view of the text that diminishes or destroys a chronological interpretation of the Genesis creation events ... Few would deny that the Bible employs metaphorical constructs. The problem with the framework position is that the text offers neither internal cues nor subsequent biblical corroboration (from Jesus or others) that an allegory or extended metaphor is intended in Genesis 1 ... Beautiful prose in no way "proves" a nonliteral message.


This would not be an effective retort to Walton's POV, which retains the chronological and literal nature of the text. Walton's understanding of "bara" is not the one responded to here; Walton argues that for the Ancient Near Eastern mind, creation was not a matter of bestowing material existence, per se, but of bestowing function or purpose, and that we have to understand Genesis 1 as embodying not a material ontology but a functional ontology. He sees Genesis 1 as essentially God performing the opening temple ceremony of the earth over a period of seven days, bestowing function to the luminaries of the cosmic temple (temple dedication ceremonies of the period follow the seven-day form we get in Genesis 1), and then "resting" in the temple in a way that is beyond what has been traditionally understood, not just ceasing to work, but God entering into it, filling it with his presence. In his reading, "formless and void" is not so much a statement about material make-up, but that the earth had not yet been given its declared, direct purpose. If you're curious about Walton's view, I suggest you check out his book on the subject. I'm personally not wholly convinced, but his POV on Genesis 1 raises some compelling points.

Edited by Ryan H., 21 May 2011 - 09:31 PM.


#16 mrmando

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Posted 21 May 2011 - 08:27 PM

There are ways to explain what Matthew is doing here: The number 14 is the numerical value of the name "David" in Hebrew (D+V+D = 4+6+4 = 14), and Matthew wants to show that Jesus is the son of David, or something like that. But the simple fact remains: Matthew seems to edit the Old Testament, to make it say something that it does not, in fact, say. And if anyone today were to use the Bible this way, inerrantists in particular would point out the interpreter's divergences from scripture and laugh him out of church.

Really? That would seem to be a POV that many of my firmly inerrantist professors from my Wheaton College days wouldn't reject; they suggested similar approaches to other passages. And I could see it being taught in my fairly conservative, traditional evangelical church without any riot occurring afterward.

Indeed, when Matthew (2:14-15) talks about Jesus' family hiding out in Egypt, he quotes Hosea: "Out of Egypt have I called my son." Of course, in Hosea this is a reference to the Exodus, and the "son" is the Hebrews. Matthew reinterprets the verse so that the son is Jesus. Here, then, is another example of Matthew making the OT say something it does not, in fact, say ... and it's very convenient for the Hal Lindseys, Tim LaHayes and Harold Campings of the world.

#17 Ryan H.

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Posted 21 May 2011 - 08:42 PM

Indeed, when Matthew (2:14-15) talks about Jesus' family hiding out in Egypt, he quotes Hosea: "Out of Egypt have I called my son." Of course, in Hosea this is a reference to the Exodus, and the "son" is the Hebrews. Matthew reinterprets the verse so that the son is Jesus. Here, then, is another example of Matthew making the OT say something it does not, in fact, say ... and it's very convenient for the Hal Lindseys, Tim LaHayes and Harold Campings of the world.

Well, the question then becomes what "prophetic fulfillment" looks like, especially as we look at Christ as the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets entire, and whether these sort of bringing a second meaning to OT texts on part of the preservers of the apostolic witness is a no-no. I am quite comfortable with admitting that Hosea, in its original context, would not have suggested a messianic prophecy to its author or audience, and I know many, many committed, conservative evangelical inerrantists who would be comfortable with that as well. Nevertheless, I would not criticize Matthew for doing what he does here. But I get the feeling that you seem to say that when we spot Matthew doing something like this, we should take him to task for it (hence your "Matthew opens the door for Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye and Harold Camping" comment).

Edited by Ryan H., 21 May 2011 - 08:54 PM.


#18 mrmando

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Posted 21 May 2011 - 09:10 PM

But I get the feeling that you seem to say that when we spot Matthew doing something like this, we should take him to task for it (hence your "Matthew opens the door for Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye and Harold Camping" comment).

I'm not sure if I am saying that ... after all, if Matthew repurposed scriptures, at least he did so inerrantly, under the guidance of divine inspiration, which is something that modern-day "prophecy" teachers cannot claim (or had better not, if they know what's good for them). If we want to be inerrantists, we have to come up with a definition of inerrancy that allows for this kind of repurposing within the canon of scripture. There are many other examples of this, too ... some a grade or two less straightforward than Mt. 2:15.

On another note, when we see repurposing taking place, we have to make a distinction between the original meaning of the original verse and the repurposed meaning. Many Christians assume that Isaiah's "Suffering Servant" passages are meant to be messianic, but that could be due to the fact that they were repurposed in the NT to apply to Jesus. Whether they were originally meant to be messianic is harder to say.

#19 Ryan H.

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Posted 21 May 2011 - 09:29 PM

I'm not sure if I am saying that ... after all, if Matthew repurposed scriptures, at least he did so inerrantly, under the guidance of divine inspiration, which is something that modern-day "prophecy" teachers cannot claim (or had better not, if they know what's good for them). If we want to be inerrantists, we have to come up with a definition of inerrancy that allows for this kind of repurposing within the canon of scripture. There are many other examples of this, too ... some a grade or two less straightforward than Mt. 2:15.

Ah, okay. I was reading your comments with a certain tone that was likely not intended.

I'm acquainted with a great many conservative (significantly more conservative than I am, at any rate) individuals who take this re-purposing, as, in fact, re-purposing (though "re-purposing" may be a poor choice of words, theologically speaking, since if we are looking at God's purposes in Scripture, I think we must be open to the possibility that there lay in earlier Scriptures things unrecognized by its author and original audience). Others have often pointed out that OT quotations may also, on occasion, be less an attempt to interpret the OT and rather appropriating the OT as a way of providing emphasis, in the same way we might re-contextualize movie quotes in contemporary conversation to provide emphasis here and there.

I'll be interested to see when this discussion moves towards questions of canonicity, and all the ambiguities and difficulties encountered there, particularly regarding the Apocrypha. I recently purchased an ESV with Apocrypha; I'm increasingly unhappy with how the Protestant tradition, which I nevertheless firmly claim as my theological heritage and community, wholly tossed the Apocrypha aside and now pretends as though it doesn't exist.

Edited by Ryan H., 21 May 2011 - 10:07 PM.


#20 mrmando

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Posted 21 May 2011 - 09:33 PM

If you're about Walton's view, I suggest you check out his book on the subject. I'm personally not wholly convinced, but his POV on Genesis 1 raises some compelling points.

This is helpful ... for the record, I think I'd be much more favorable to a non-chronological reading of Gen. 1 than of Gen. 2 ... it still seems counterintuitive to maintain that Gen. 2 is specific about who, what, why, and where, down to the names and characteristics of the rivers in the garden, and even gives some attention to how, but doesn't care a fig (leaf) about when.

I'm acquainted with a great many conservative (significantly more conservative than I am, at any rate) individuals who take this re-purposing, as, in fact, re-purposing (though "re-purposing" may be a poor choice of words, theologically speaking, since if we are looking at God's purposes in Scripture, I think we must be open to the possibility that there lay in earlier Scriptures things unrecognized by its author and even original audience).

Hm. Well, earlier Scriptures must have had SOME meaning for their original audience. To hear Tim LaHaye talk, you'd think that large chunks of the Bible meant nothing at all until sometime after 1948. I think that's a case of reading a repurposed interpretation back into the text, with no regard for what it might have originally meant.

Others have often pointed out that OT quotations may also, on occasion, be less an attempt to interpret the OT and rather appropriating the OT as a way of providing emphasis, in the same way we might re-contextualize movie quotes in contemporary conversation to provide emphases here and there.

Is that what Matthew is doing in 2:15? He's saying that the Flight to Egypt fulfills a specific prophecy ... that seems like something more than contextual emphasis. Furthermore, he takes something that wasn't even couched as a prediction in the original text -- it was a statement about the past -- and seems to suggest that it really was a prediction, i.e., a statement about the future.

And this would seem to be another place where the law of non-contradiction is mysteriously suspended. Was Hosea talking about the past, or the future? Surprise! He was talking about both! Or at least Matthew seems to think so.

Edited by mrmando, 21 May 2011 - 10:11 PM.