Friday, August 26, 2016

Evading Genesis

I recently got into an impromptu Facebook debate about Noah's ark:

Steve Hays 

"Christopher May: If your belief about Genesis helps you live a more Christ-centered, Christ-like life then go on believing whatever you wish."

So we shouldn't believe something because it matches reality. 

"A belief is considered 'Christian' if it produces a Christ-centered Christ-like Christian."

What about considering a belief to be Christian if it corresponds to how the NT defines the Christian faith?

Steve Hays Actually, what's modern is denying the historicity of the text under the guise of hermeneutics. A deceptive conflation. It's a face-saving way of saying you don't believe the Bible without having to forthrightly admit you don't believe the Bible.

Steve Hays 

"Sharad Yadav: It is quintessentially modern to deny that one is already engaged in philosophical hermeneutics on your own view while characterizing it as transparent, default and obvious."

You're stereotyping people who disagree with you. I never said anything to suggest that we can engage in presuppositionless exegesis. 

There are lots of readers, including some professing Christians, who reject the historicity of Gen 6-9 because they don't think Noah's ark and Noah's flood are scientifically possible. That's a "quintessentially modern" viewpoint since the ancient narrator and the ancient audience didn't share that outlook. 

Indeed, some professing Christians will outright say Gen 6-9 is unscientific because primitive people didn't know any better. Not their fault, but unlike them, we're in a position to know better.

However, some professing Christians don't want to say the Bible was wrong. So they try to recast this as an issue of interpretation rather than historicity. Moreover, they try to put "literalists" on the defensive by alleging that "literalists" are superimposing modern assumptions on the text. 

But keep in mind that what motivates their denial of the narrative's historicity is their belief that it's scientifically false or even scientifically impossible. Yet that means their reinterpretation is, by definition, anachronistic. It is they, and not the "literalists", who are using modernity as their controlling frame of reference. They, and not the "literalists", who are construing the text in a way that wouldn't occur to the ancient audience. 

Now, there's no doubt that Ham's reconstruction of the ark, especially the interior, involves a lot of conjecture. You also have scholars who think the text describes a local flood. Those are worthwhile debates.

What is dishonest is to pretend that denying the historicity of the account is just a hermeneutical issue. There's no reason to suppose the narrator didn't think he was giving a factual description of a real event. Modern skepticism reflects distinctively modern scientific objections.

Steve Hays 

"Sharad Yadav: Steve - I fail to see how your view was 'stereotyped' - the point about hermeneutics being a 'guise' fails to recognize the assumptions about history and its relationship to theology…"

Well, in the Bible, the relationship between history and theology is that true theology is grounded in the one true God's revelations and redemptive deeds. That distinguishes Biblical faith from pagan falsehood. 

"The point is that your assumption that in order for the Scripture to function as revelation the ancient writers had to have been incapable of being wrong about incidentals of science, history, geography or other such matters is an unwarranted modern hermeneutical premise not present in the text or borne out by the history of Christian interpretation."

i) Well, the immediate topic under consideration is the narrator's claim that God destroyed the whole human race, due to the extent and intensity of evil, but saved a godly remnant. Is an event of that magnitude just an "incidental" of history?

ii) In the prologue to his Gospel, Luke stresses the factual accuracy of his account. 

Likewise, in the Gospel of John and 1 John, the author repeatedly emphasizes different kinds of testimonial evidence that attest the divine mission of Christ. 

So their concern with narrative veracity is not a "modern hermeneutical premise," but an ancient biblical hermeneutical premise (to use your own categories). By contrast, the way you demote the veracity of the Biblical record reflects your unwarranted modern hermeneutical premise, in the teeth of the text.

"Scripture was written by ancient writers using the language and notions available to them in their own cultural currency in a way that was appropriated by the Spirit of God for divine discourse."

What's your evidence for that claim? Certainly the Bible never says the Spirit of God appropriated the notions available to them in their own cultural currency for divine discourse. Since you didn't get that from Scripture, what's your source of information about the Spirit's intentions? I know that I didn't get the memo.

"it won't allow one to drive a wedge between the original authors and the word of God"

So the "word of God" is errant. Does that mean God is errant?

"it won't allow us to baptize the entire body of cultural assumptions of the original authors as infallible."

Because you'd rather jettison the historicity of various biblical narratives to make room for baptizing your own 21C, ethnocentric assumptions.

Steve Hays 

"To say that an author's invocation of historical reportage guarantees that anything and everything said in that text, even the content of each individual speaker in the text, must be construed as historical reportage is a bizarre and demonstrably absurd assumption"

Actually, I was responding to your dichotomy that concerns about historicity are "modern" concerns rather than ancient concerns. So I gave some counterexamples–which could easily be extended.

"Moreover, it's my understanding that this is the ordinary and uncontroversial understanding of inspiration - am I mistaken there? For those who don't take a dictation theory of inspiration, it is commonly described as the Holy Spirit utilizing the ordinary abilities and capabilities of the authors."

You went beyond that. You implied that the Bible writers were confined to the culturebound notions available to them. That's not inspiration at all.

According to the organic theory of inspiration, God does, indeed, makes of use of the experience and personalities of prophets and Bible writers. However, God providentially gave them their particular experience and personalities to prepare and equip them for the task. It's not as if God was stuck with the material at hand. 

Moreover, Scripture is often counter-cultural. Bible writers aren't limited to their social conditioning.

Furthermore, there's the phenomenon of direct revelation, which transcends their natural abilities. That's a supernatural disclosure. 

"I doubt very much whether you would like to take every cultural assumption of the authors of Scripture as revelation from God."

The question at issue isn't the cultural assumptions of the prophets, apostles, and Bible writers, but their communications. What they assert to be the case.

Steve Hays 

"Bobby Grow: I didn't realize bib interp was so simple ... sweet!"

Bobby, is your comment directed at anyone in particular? On this thread, who is guilty of this?

Bobby Grow: Steve Hays as if historicity isn't a hermeneutic itself.

Steve Hays Well, Bobby, I think you need to expand on your claim. On the face of it, conflating historicity with a hermeneutic itself subverts the distinction between truth and interpretation. 

For instance, do you think the role of the reader is to assign meaning to the text, or is his role–indeed, his duty–to listen to the text? Does the text constrain the range of legitimate interpretations?

Steve Hays 

"Bobby Grow: Steve Hays no I'm saying that historicity itself is funded by a hermeneutic; whether that be realist or not."

i) Shouldn't our hermeneutic be funded by historicity?

ii) How can an antirealist hermeneutic fund historicity?

"I'm also saying that the history in the Bible, is not a naked history for Christians…"

i) What does that mean? A rejection of positivism? The affirmation that Bible history is interpreted history? 

ii) I think there's an equivocation of usage. What do you mean by "history". Do you mean the past? What happened? Or do you mean historical accounts? How to represent the past? 

"but instead it flows from a confessional commitment that God has spoken in His Son…"

According to Heb 1, God has also spoken through the prophets. 

"So along with Matthew Levering I am rejecting the simplistic notion of linear history (which owes more to history of religions and higher criticism)…"

What do you mean by "linear history"? There's an obvious sense in which time's arrow is unilinear. So you must mean something else.

"and saying that a proper understanding of historicity in the Bible is participatory understanding that history is God's history."

What do you mean by "God's history"? Do you mean something like God is the cosmic novelist and main character in his own story?

"It is within that frame that facticity etc ought to be read"

So we can't affirm a past event (e.g. "It rained in Albuquerque last night") without filtering that through a whole Barthian hermeneutic? Isn't that awfully Baroque? 

Or is your hermeneutic confined to Bible history. If so, that bifurcates Bible history from world history. 

"(i.e. without apologetic or naturalist concerns)."

What's wrong with having apologetic concerns?

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