Is Genesis all literal, all allegory, or somewhere between?

Discussion in 'Sacred Scripture' started by ZachT, Jun 27, 2021.

  1. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    Arguably Scripture itself teaches that. That makes it supersede the Anglican formularies anyway.
     
  2. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    Not really. It’s an unfalsifiable, modern hypothesis, and because it only applies to the original manuscripts, it’s useless for all practical, exegetical purposes. In other words, its assumption doesn’t yield an understanding of any individual text that would otherwise be unavailable. However, if anyone wants to believe in plenary verbal inspiration, no one is saying they can’t, as the Anglican formularies do not mandate any specific view of inspiration as a prerequisite to receiving either Sacrament.
     
  3. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    I wasn’t talking about inerrancy, I was talking about inspiration. You’re right about inerrancy being new, but inspiration is as old as the Church Fathers. Heck it goes back to Scripture itself, because Scripture teaches inspiration.
     
  4. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    I was talking about plenary verbal inspiration. It and dictation theory both entail unqualified inerrancy. The argument is valid by Modus Tollens:

    Major: If every word of Scripture was explicitly ordained by God, then unqualified inerrancy is true.
    Minor: Unqualified inerrancy is false.
    Conclusion: Therefore, every word of Scripture was not explicitly ordained by God.

    It’s possible that the major premise could be refined somewhat (I worded it the way I did in order to try to maintain some conceptual distinction between plenary verbal inspiration and dictation), but however much we may refine it, the minor premise is a statement of fact, not principle, and the conclusion would not fail to follow from it.
     
  5. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    It’s the first premise that is incorrect. Every word of Scripture being explicitly ordained by God does not imply unqualified inerrancy. For example the poetic language of God riding upon the cherubim is inspired, but not inerrant. But neither is it errant. Applying questions of errancy to poetic language is a category error. Is the song Jingle Bells, right or wrong?

    And thus, I entirely agree that inspiration is a far stronger defense of scripture than inerrancy, which is why the fathers and divines adopted it.
     
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  6. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    I think even the most ardent inerrantist or proponent of plenary verbal inspiration would admit that neither need not mean “literal” exclusively. Poetic description of a person or event could be true insofar as the images evoked by it don’t conflict with the literal account of the original person or event. That’s a charitable reading, but it does highlight a certain ambiguity in the word “inerrancy”. If God inspired something to be said or written, then the message God intended to convey by it cannot be false. So much for the major premise.

    But plenary verbal inspiration goes further than this: not just the message, but the means by which it is communicated, must be free of any error, formal or material (i.e., internal contradiction or lack of correspondence with the external world). Taken at face value, this is demonstrably false. The only evidence we have of any original autographs is the extant body of manuscripts. Even when these manuscripts agree with each other as to what the (original) text said, there are still differences between accounts such that they can’t both be accurate and be referring to the same events. So, it’s quite difficult to see what epistemological value either plenary verbal inspiration or inerrancy has. Only propositions are true or false. Individual words on the other hand are neither true nor false.

    The ancients did indeed believe that every last detail was “inspired” in the most robust sense, but to them this meant that individual words and in some cases individual letters had some special meaning to impart, which went beyond what “plain sense” exegesis might reveal. (Oftentimes this was connected with numerology.) In some cases, this “special meaning” not only directly contradicted the plain sense but was in fact taken to be the passage’s true meaning. This was necessary because the text - coming from God, as it did - was assumed to be obscure. Modern interpreters don’t hesitate to call this approach eisegesis. So to translate plenary verbal inspiration into a modern context where the original assumptions in which it was embedded are no longer held, produces some genuinely puzzling results. It is enough to say that the Scriptures are the Word of God. The task of figuring out what the intended message of the Word of God is still belongs to the exegete. I don’t think we have to rehash the Fundamentalist/Modernist Controversy to arrive at that point. If an interpretation disagrees with a finding of modern science (for example), then that interpretation is likely incorrect. If that interpretation is incorrect, then it also wasn’t the message the Word of God was intended to convey, and we need not worry. The Comforter will guide us into all truth. This isn’t a peculiarly modern, Enlightenment attitude; medieval theologians understood the need for correspondence between Scripture and science (as they understood it) in basically the same way. In that regard, the position I have outlined and to which I personally adhere is the most self-consciously traditional one I know.
     
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2021
  7. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    Hysterical you mean, surely? :laugh:
    .
     
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  8. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    No, it's not that it must be free of any error. That's a simplistic understanding of God's will. There are many statements in Scripture which are attributed to God, literally come out of his mouth, that are counterfactuals, or even flat out wrong. Those verses are understood as, God said them so as to accomplish his ends.

    So it's not the statement that must be inerrant, but the End for which God said it.

    Go back to the movie, The Matrix (1999), specifically the Oracle. That's a very profound character for our conversation. She specifically tells Neo something she knows is wrong; but he uses that (false) knowledge in order to act differently, and thereby accomplish the (right) final goal that she wanted from him all along. Sometimes you have to tell someone a lie, in order for them to accomplish their end.

    God's will is manifest in the Ends he accomplishes, and the specific things he says, or that are written about him, can have varying degrees of formal truth, of poetic truth, etc.

    Secondly, the manuscript transmission is also a part of God's plenary inspiration. What we can say is, the Scripture that we have today is precisely as he wanted it. This is the perfect End for which he ordained the many wanderings/meanderings through which the holy Scripture has been over the last 4000 years.

    It is a strawman from 'modern scholarship' (ie. quasi-atheists) to say that the 'original' Aramaic autograph was the only thing that's inspired. The great biblical scholars of the 19th, 18th, 17th, 16th, etc, 4th, 3rd, 2nd centuries saw it differently. Today, all the big names like Barth, Tillich, most modern biblical scholars, almost everyone today is an apostate. That's why the church is so corrupted; modernism rots everything. I would not trust any modern scholar. You have to go to prior scholars to get anywhere near the actual truth. You're treating the modern scholars as a magisterium that is somehow 'more right' than everyone else who came before them.
     
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  9. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    That’s what I’ve been saying this entire time, almost verbatim. What the heck are we arguing about? :hmm::laugh:
     
  10. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    No what you're saying is that Scripture is not inerrant, which therefore means that potentially the whole thing could be a (beneficial) lie. That is not at all what I am saying. I am saying that Scripture is inspired. A select subset of it is not true at face value, as compared to all the surrounding verses before it and after it. The preceding and succeeding verses we take at face value, but this one we do not.

    If we adopt the doctrine of inerrancy, then the presence of false verses disqualifies Scripture as a whole. If we adopt the doctrine of inspiration, then the presence of false verses does not disqualify Scripture. Even the fact of a mutilated manuscript transmission over millenia does not disqualify Scripture. The doctrine of inspiration preserves the authority of Scripture against all things, even against the evidence of errors and imperfections.

    Which brings us back to Genesis: Genesis was dictated to Moses by the Holy Ghost. He was inspired when he wrote it; the factual verses, the counterfactual verses, the poetic verses, all of it. Not everything was factual, but everything was 100% inspired and dependable.

    This is the way of the divines and church fathers.
     
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  11. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    Perhaps we’ll have to rehash the Fundamentalist/Modernist Controversy after all. Is there any kind of evidence you can think of that could falsify the hypothesis of Mosaic authorship?

    If you’re conceding that “not everything was factual”, it’s even less clear to me now than it was before why a ‘functional’ interpretation of Genesis 1 like the one proposed by Walton - and with which I more or less agree - would be objectionable under the standard you have proposed. It’s a distinction without a difference.
     
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  12. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    Num 23:19 God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?

    I think there are better ways to reconcile seeming discrepancies or conflicts in scripture without resorting to such a concept as, "God sometimes tells lies."
     
  13. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    Of course. If there was a dispute among the Church Fathers about who wrote it. Boom, question raised, doubt planted.

    Or if we discovered a 6th century BC inscription that said, Jonah, son of Zebedee, living in Babylon, has put together the books containing the wisdom of Moses. Or heck, if the Babylonian inscription said, Moses, son of Zebedee, has put together the Pentateuch. (meaning we misunderstood which Moses was meant all along.)

    Or if we discovered a lost fragment from an Apocrypha, that said that a Jeremiah son of Jacob raised a family of scribes that then recorded and updated the Penateuch over course of centuries.

    There are tons of ways to falsify the Mosaic authorship. And it's not a core doctrine at all, just something I use to needle people flirting with modernism. Anyway that's for Moses. I don't really want to derail the topic, let's get back to Genesis.
     
  14. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    Those are all examples of external evidence. What about internal evidence? That takes us directly into what the Documentary Hypothesis is all about.
     
  15. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    If the Hebrew of the Pentateuch was found to have Greek or Persian slang (a person familiar with Greek or Persian wrote it), would be one example.

    I don't know of the entire argument made by Walton, so I'm only going by what you have said here. A 'functional' interpretation cannot extend to the Genesis as a whole, because some parts of it are taken as factual by later inspired authors, especially by the Logos Himself. And are corroborated as shockingly factual by modern science.

    So if Genesis does have parts that are only 'functionally' true, it is only some parts. On those we can agree. But other parts of it have to be taken as factual, for necessary supernatural and natural reasons.
     
  16. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    It’s been a number of years since I’ve read Walton (the relevant book is titled The Lost World of Genesis One), but if my memory is correct, it is specifically to the first chapter that Walton applies his ‘functional’ theory. And Walton’s no liberal. He’s an evangelical at Wheaton. His approach is one to admire, in that he tries to do justice to the text itself, the context in which it was likely written, and findings of science, without distorting any of these. I have always found the days=eons approach to be far-fetched exegetically as well as lacking explanatory power. When Genesis 1 says “days” I think the context makes it abundantly clear that it means just that. But we also know from a host of disciplines that the earth and solar system can’t be less than 10,000 years old. Walton’s approach, in my opinion, satisfactorily resolves this dilemma.

    Archaeological evidence unearthed so far has indicated that the written Hebrew script of the Old Testament didn’t exist at the time Moses is supposed to have lived. Even barring the Masoretic standardization of vowel points, if you took a Hebrew OT back in time, Moses would not have been able to read it, and thus could not have written it in its current form. That by itself doesn’t prove that a person living in the 13th-12th centuries BC couldn’t have been responsible for Genesis’ content, however.

    That’s where the internal evidence comes in. The history of the Documentary Hypothesis has noted enough anomalies that I think Mosaic authorship is extremely unlikely, but the hypothesis isn’t perfect. For one thing, the theory has grown more complex over time. For another, there have been no manuscripts discovered consisting of solely the J or E (or other) source, and barring that kind of evidence, it will always remain a hypothesis that just happens to fit the available facts. Fortunately, assuming God to be the ultimate author of Genesis in its canonical form, I don’t think anyone’s salvation depends on who the human author(s) was (were).
     
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  17. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    Let's look at a short passage of Genesis Ch. 3 and compare the effects of interpreting it: (H) Historically and (S) Spiritually.

    Gen 3:1. Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”

    (H) Satan is a beast of the field then and God made Satan. The serpent is craftier than any other beast God had made. This most crafty 'beast of the field', (not an angel in any literal or historical sense), could talk and ask questions in a language that 'the woman' could obviously understand and reply to.

    (S) The serpent is an allegory for the spiritual entity which epitomises opposition to God our creator. It does not need to 'talk' because its principle means of beguiling us is temptation, which comes in the form, not of language but of desire, fear, lust, vengeance etc. It resides in the seat of our emotions. It is another 'still small voice' in opposition to God's, and is already deep within at the core of our human psyche from birth.

    Gen. 3:2. And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”

    (H) The woman repeats what she thinks God told Adam before she ever existed, but embellishes it adding that even touching it will bring death to her, yet she only may be correctly stating the prohibition applied to both herself and Adam, because she uses the personal pronoun 'you' rather than the plural 'we'. This leaves the possibility that Eve considered the penalty might only apply to the one it was originally addressed to, namely Adam. The story does not indicate that God had told Eve anything concerning the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We may assume that she got all her information from Adam.

    (S) The human race in its entirety has only scant knowledge of God's original command to our first ancestors regarding how to discern the difference between 'what is good' and 'what is evil'. We struggle at the best of times to agree on what either 'good' or 'evil' actually are. We have a gut feeing that something has gone wrong with us, and the world we live in, it is as if our consciences are accusing or excusing us on garbled information concerning right conduct. Usually our conscience seems to exaggerate the extent that God forbids us certain freedoms, rather than feeing the freedom of action that God actually allows. (We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden). But God said, (and here is the prohibition - we mustn't get knowledge of good and evil - it will kill us even to touch it - best remain ignorant and live, like the rest of the beasts of the field, [including the crafty serpent]), but this is not possible for mankind, we must learn or die through ignorance. From the moment of birth we have no choice but to learn, but the knowledge of how to differentiate between good and evil, belongs to God, and WE still do not know how to properly use the knowledge we have illicitly gained against God's advice. We simply have to accept the consequences of our choices.

    Gen.3:3. But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

    (H) The snake said something.

    (S) The entire human race is convinced at the core of its psyche that it knows what is right to do for its own survival and self preservation. All human action or inaction is governed by fear or greed, fight or flight. To be like God though we would have to have immortality and therefore no fear of death or greed for gain. That is why the human race has not actually got the knowledge of good and evil, and the problem is that it thinks it has, and therefore thinks it's God.

    It is only when an individual surrenders to Christ and actually discovers the real difference within themselves of good and evil, and is willing voluntarily to let God regain the initiative over them to decide what is good and what is evil, and be willingly obedient to God, that we can receive life in abundance as God originally intended for us.
    .
     
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  18. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    In addition to H and S, there is also ‘F’: the story was a fable whose original purpose was explain why (some of) the Israelites’ ancestors lived a semi-nomadic existence. As part of a larger canon, the story was later coopted by Christianity to be the source of our first knowledge of ‘original sin’. So goes the dominant modern theory, more or less.
     
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  19. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    The (F) component of the truth of scripture for the actual people it was originally written for, is most obvious in the explanation of why childbirth seems so much more traumatic and dangerous an experience for human beings, than it is for most other creatures. Why agriculture in Canaan was so difficult, The dangers of serpents in standing grain fields. The necessity for a Patriarchal system of family management in a bronze age environment etc. etc. The story contains within it origins and explanations for the currently, bronze age, status quo.

    It is a huge mistake to impose upon the text only a historical meaning. History to many people is boring, especially when all it is is facts and dates.
    .
     
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  20. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    ...
    How silly. Now, why don't you try to use the same "H and S" analysis on 1 Cor 15:45, 2 Cor 11:3, and 1 Tim 2:13-14? See how far it gets you.