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

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

  1. ZachT

    ZachT Well-Known Member

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    I would posit we can talk about both, this forum can have multiple active threads at one time, the Church can contain many more simultaneous discussions than this forum can. I agree that disagreement on the necessity of the bible for salvation is a more important issue than if Genesis is more allegory than history, but I also think that thread would be much less contentious than you seem to think it would be.

    The bible contains within it all things necessary for salvation. God's Will is the supreme authority in our lives as Christians, and Scripture is our best mechanism for determining what His Will is (and, to repeat, it contains everything necessary to accurately determine His Will). If Scripture informs us God's Will is contrary to a cultural practice or norm or even law, it is the duty of any Christian to obey God first.

    Anglicans in Communion with Canterbury may disagree with you on an interpretation (e.g. whether women can be ordained), but that doesn't mean they reject the supremacy of God. I don't think any Anglican would answer "no" to your questions if they were to read them in good faith, no matter what tradition they belong to.
     
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  2. ZachT

    ZachT Well-Known Member

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    For my two cents I think "inerrant" is at best a trap and at worst a street sign built by the adversary to lead people down the wrong road. I think "infallible" is a great word if we can properly divorce it from associations with "inerrant". Scripture cannot fail in its purpose - so it is infallible, of this no one has any doubt. From that mutual foundation we can proceed to build a shared understanding. "Inspired word of God" is great for the biblically educated, but for someone who is only beginning their spiritual journey I don't think it's particularly informative or digestible. A new convert, or someone who belongs to a different faith (or no faith) won't really understand all of the things that we're trying to articulate when they hear it.

    I'd vote for "infallible" being the most robust term.
     
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  3. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    Here's the thing: when people will not believe that the word of God is God-breathed, and instead believe that it was written by fallible men who were 'inspired' in the normal sense of the word (as, say, Michelangelo was inspired to paint), upon what basis do they hold God as supreme? After all, "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10). The low level of inspiration (and therefore accuracy) of the things written in the Bible makes it such that it hardly qualifies as "the word of God" for such people. The Bible becomes a book of 'good advice' with little special about it and no authority behind it.

    The Bible is what gives testimony to the supremacy of God... but to those who hold such a low view of its inspiration, that testimony is subject to whatever opinion or interpretation they wish to apply to it.
     
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  4. Ananias

    Ananias Well-Known Member Anglican

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    Those two things do not go together.

    The Bible specifically enjoins women from pastoral authority over men. Nowhere and in no way does it ever sanction such a thing. The same goes for allowing practicing homosexuals into the clergy. (In fact, on this issue the Bible is even more explicit.) It's not a matter of "interpretation"; it's a matter of ignoring or flouting the plain meaning of Scripture. This is what I mean by "authority of Scripture" -- you (and I mean the corporate "you", not you personally) seem to want to have things both ways. You cannot reject New Testament Biblical injunctions while at the same time claiming to follow them. It's incoherent, and it's why (in my experience) proponents of these extra-Biblical innovations never ground their arguments in the Bible, but in egalitarian arguments that "we must be modern" or "we have to get with the times".
     
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  5. Ananias

    Ananias Well-Known Member Anglican

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    C.f. Jefferson's Bible. Thomas Jefferson was exactly this sort -- he was arrogant enough to razor the parts out of his Bible that he deemed "erroneous". The utter gall of the man! I was unsurprised to find out that he was a reprobate in his private life. Truly one of the worst of America's founding fathers.
     
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  6. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    So inspiration doesn’t really mean inspiration. Alright, your turn: define “God-breathed.” It’s obviously a metaphor since God, lacking a body, does not breathe. What does it mean? Where does Scripture define “inspiration”? :wicked:
     
  7. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    Sure, happy to reciprocate.

    In the KJV:
    2Ti 3:16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
    2Ti 3:17 That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.


    The ESV words it thusly:
    2Ti 3:16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
    2Ti 3:17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.


    Barnes' Commentary describes the word in question as follows:
    All this is expressed in the original by one word - Θεόπνευστος Theopneustos. This word occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It properly means, God-inspired - from Θεός Theos, “God,” and πνέω pneō, “to breathe, to breathe out.” The idea of “breathing upon, or breathing into the soul,” is that which the word naturally conveys. Thus, God breathed into the nostrils of Adam the breath of life Gen_2:7, and thus the Saviour breathed on his disciples, and said, “receive ye the Holy Ghost;” John 20:22. The idea seems to have been, that the life was in the breath, and that an intelligent spirit was communicated with the breath. The expression was used among the Greeks, and a similar one was employed by the Romans.​

    So, when I say that scripture is God-breathed, I mean that God supernaturally inspired the writers to place His thoughts and intents, the things He wanted to communicate to us (for we have need of them), with sufficient precision that we can accept them as God's perfect message to us, a message that contains no errors but that does contain everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Notice the important point made by verse 17 above: God gave these God-breathed, God-inspired writings so that we might become perfected and well equipped to live as Christians. Documents written by mere men with normal inspiration would be patently insufficient to perfect or equip the saints, but documents given to us by God through the pens of men at His inspiration and purposeful behest are fully sufficient for those purposes (hence we speak of the 'sufficiency of the scriptures,' Art. VI).

    Somewhat tangential to this, Jesus promised in Luke 21:33, Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away. God the Son promised that His words would not pass away. Implicit in this statement is an assurance from God that He will not allow His words, God-breathed as they are, to become so corrupted as to be unreliable. On this basis, I believe that God has actively worked to preserve His written word through the hands of godly translators so as to maintain its integrity until such time as He returns bodily to earth. Just as He worked within the unique thought patterns, linguistic patterns, and writing patterns of the various writers whom He chose (Paul, Peter, David, etc.) to produce an 'end product' that glorifies Him, in like manner He works through the translators; this is why we see some variations in word choices and sentence structure from version to version, yet the ideas conveyed remain the same.

    Allow me to add that the Bible is, at its roots, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Even in the O.T. we see plenty that pointed out Christ to those people (and points out Christ to us). Romans 1:16 says, For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. The Bible is a container for God's power unto salvation to every one that believeth. The Bible is head, shoulders, sky, and stars above mere mortals' writing by normal inspiration. That is why so many people have become spiritually reborn Christians through reading a Bible or hearing its words spoken aloud (faith comes through hearing the word of God, Rom. 10:17).
     
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  8. ZachT

    ZachT Well-Known Member

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    Sure, according to you. My point is that it's a dispute over interpretation. Neither party denies the supremacy of God. If you could convince a female bishop of your interpretation their response would not be to say "Okay, but actually modern standards are a higher authority than God" - they would resign their post and renounce their orders. So there is no (relevant) party in the WO debate arguing scripture is secondary to their own opinions, they're arguing scripture doesn't say what you think it does.

    I don't want to turn a thread about the historicity of Genesis into a debate about women's ordination, but I just had to flag that the very opposite of this is true. The often quoted passage on homosexuality is Romans 1.26-27:
    For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

    The often quoted passage on female headship is 1 Timothy 2.12:
    I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.
    How on earth you could deem the former passage more explicit than the latter is beyond me. The former relies on several logical connections from unrepentant sin, to unsuitable to be ordained. The latter requires no additional knowledge.

    Note: I'm not saying the anti-WO reading of First Timothy is correct, I just didn't want to let such an obviously incorrect statement pass. I also think that the case against homosexual ordination is much stronger, but it also relies on passages that are much, much less explicit.
     
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  9. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    Are you calling the church fathers Muslims?

    “There is, brethren, one God, the knowledge of whom we gain from the Holy Scriptures, and from no other source… so all of us who wish to practise piety will be unable to learn its practice from any other quarter than the oracles of God. Whatever things, then, the Holy Scriptures declare, at these let us look; and whatever things they teach, these let us learn.”
    -St. Hippolytus

    “For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures; nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech. Even to me, who tell you these things, give not absolute credence, unless you receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures.”
    -St. Cyril of Jerusalem (Catechetical Lectures, IV:17)

    “What is the mark of a faithful soul? To be in these dispositions of full acceptance on the authority of the words of Scripture, not venturing to reject anything nor making additions. For, if ‘all that is not of faith is sin’ as the Apostle says, and ‘faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God,’ everything outside Holy Scripture, not being of faith, is sin.”
    -St. Basil, (Moralia)

    “It is impossible either to say or fully to understand anything about God beyond what has been divinely proclaimed to us, whether told or revealed, by the sacred declarations of the Old and New Testaments.”
    -John of Damascus, not a church father but suffices for showing this point.





    Just to be clear: once you allow that Scripture has multiple genres, then some human agency in interpretation is inevitable. It then is up to us in some way, deciding what is of what genre. How do you manage this without causing a catastrophe? By having the Church do it, rather than single individuals. As Anglicans we reject private interpretation, so there is no danger to doctrine as you ascribe above. The only other way to save yourself from this quandary is to deny multiple genres, and say that Scripture is all composed of a single uniform genre, something like scientific propositional reporting in the style of 20th century. The Song of Solomon would like to have a word with you.

    It is a simple fact that Scripture has multiple genres, and the sooner the orthodox and faithful come to terms with that fact, the sooner will they cease being eaten alive by the liberals in every debate.
     
  10. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    Thank you. This is Dictation Theory, the very same thing that Muslims claim for the Quran: God puts the words He wants to speak into the mouth of Gabriel, then Gabriel repeats them verbatim to Muhammad, who in turn writes the words down exactly as he hears them (despite, we are told, having been unable to read or write). This curious parallel does not by itself discredit the theory, but there is no way to evade that we’re talking about exactly the same kind of “inspiration.”

    The first problem that such a theory runs into is the fact that the texts cited use no such language of direct control of the authors by God. 2 Peter 1:3 makes no explicit reference to the Scriptures at all, as it turns out. The entire case for a Dictation Theory interpretation that applies to every instance of inspiration is thus being built upon one metaphor, that is found in only this one verse (2 Tim. 3:16) in the entire Bible, as Barnes’ commentary points out. Since the passages cited don’t actually use the language of control to define the metaphor of being “breathed” - not spoken - “by God”, other interpretations are possible, and the only way to decide between them is to test which of them explains the most Scriptural data, using the ordinary canons of human reason.

    The second problem follows from the first. There are indeed some parts of the Bible - parts of the Pentateuch, some of the prophetic writings, etc., - where God is recorded as speaking in the first person. For Dictation Theory to be true, the entirety of the Scriptures would have to be in first person, just like the Quran. But as we all know, more often than not, especially in the NT, the human authors speak in their own voice and do not claim to be repeating words they heard elsewhere.

    There are other problems, but that’s it in a nutshell. The texts cited simply do not make the claims that are being attributed to them, the language defending those claims is circular, and the Scriptures as we have them do not match what we should expect to see if Dictation Theory were true. Those of us who deny the feasibility of Dictation Theory do indeed believe in the inspiration of Scripture by God, and that it is authoritative for our lives. We simply do not believe “inspiration” means what arguments such as your own claim it does.
     
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  11. Botolph

    Botolph Well-Known Member

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    μὴ γένοιτο ! (me genoito!) By no means!* And there is nothing in what you have posted from them, or John of Damascus that I do not endorse.#

    The Islamic understanding of the Quran is that it is the very words of Allah in Arabic perfectly and faithfully written down by the Prophet. This is why the whole idea of any discipline such as we have in 'Biblical Criticism' is an absolute anathema to them, and indeed even the notion of translation is highly questionable.

    John of Damascus of course is the only one to be after the life of Muhammad, by about 100 years. For some considerable time there was a confusion amongst many who perceived that the followers of Islam were indeed a flavor of Arian Christianity, which thanks to the work of many including John of Damascus we came to see was not the case. Part of this was undoubtedly due to the notions within Islam venerating Abraham, Noah, and Jesus as prophets and giving high honor to Mary the Mother of Jesus. John helped pave the understanding of Perichoresis as a proper understanding of the mutual indwelling of the person of the Holy Trinity. He also stood firm against the iconoclasts. It is quite possible that the passage from John of Damascus was as much a rejection of the Quran as much as an endorsement of the Old and New Testaments.

    *Romans 6:2
    # but you knew that.
     
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  12. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    There was so much activity last night, while I was sleeping, that my comments can't be addressed to any one contributor individually:

    Probably not, though Islamists have a similar attitude to their scriptures to that adopted by Literal Fundamentalist Biblical Inerrantists, of the (scripture was dictated by God) variety.

    I have no qualms in contradicting church fathers, they were not the authors of scripture. The scriptures are not the only source of our knowledge of God. A reliable source, if interpreted correctly but not the only one. A Holy Spirit informed conscience is another reliable source, otherwise we would have no scriptures from which to gain knowledge, and logically, those who put the scriptures on papyrus with pen and ink could only have repeated what knowledge they could gain only from previously written scripture. That was never the case. Someone must have written scripture at some time having had no previous scripture to gain knowledge with which to write such scripture that they wrote. So the proposition that the scriptures can be the only source of our knowledge of God has to be logically defective.

    Or do Biblical Literal Fundamentalists also insist that The Holy Spirit does not lead us into all truth, but the knowledge we gain can only come from the Church's and their interpretation of the meaning of the scriptures?

    All very well, if what we are talking about is the moral and spiritual application of the knowledge scripture contains, but Literal Fundamentalism demands more. It demands even the subservience of scientific discovery and two full millennia of reason, to the 'old world' views and oft-times erronious assumptions of the Bible's bronze age, Iron Age, and Apostolic Age writers, just because their world view and understanding of the way the natural world 'worked' is recorded in the Holy Scriptures, which must therefore be infallibly correct, as literally interpreted.

    This I agree with, but even what has been revealed to some is far from having been revealed to others, who unfortunately are utterly convinced that their literal interpretation of that revelation is the only correct one.

    So true, and it even needs to be admitted that there is the possibility that even the genre of 'fiction' is included in the pages of scripture on some rare occasions. The books of Job and Jonah being prime candidates. That would render them none the less 'inspired' if that indeed were the case.
    __

    So back on the subject of whether God dictated word for word what we now read in the Holy Scriptures.
    Exactly! The Bible is not merely an infallible rule book we can use to enforce laws, such as "Women are not permitted to speak in church", "Keep off the Grass", "Health and Safety and the 1867 Factory Act" or "The American Constitution" with all of its many amendments, added because it was so originally 'imperfect'.
     
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  13. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    If we don’t put the accusations of Islamism aside, I don’t see how I can proceed to participate in this conversation. As long as you insist on the liberal framework not on the facts alone, but from external psychological fears that our view is tantamount to Islamism, there is nothing persuasive I can say to you. You guys are chasing the phantoms fears and shadows inside your head, completely closed to the arguments from the other side, and therefore are not debating this topic in good faith.

    Even the church fathers are disrespected. I bet you could throw a few pejoratives at them as well.

    Oh? Could’ve fooled me.
     
  14. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    I’m not sure where this is coming from, honestly. It’s not our fault the Islamic and Christian fundamentalist views of inspiration are basically identical. All we’re doing is locating them in the appropriate category, so there’s no more waffling about what’s really being said, with those of us defending a more moderate position being labeled “liberals” over and over again, even though there are huge differences between us and a straightforwardly unbelieving perspective implied by your use of the word “liberal”. Also, this is the 21st century: I do not use other religions as pejoratives to score debate points. The knee-jerk reaction to Islam is not a perspective I share. Sorry if the mentions of Islam offend you for some reason but I don’t think that’s what anyone was trying to do. We are noting a structural similarity that is plain for all to see, with the implication that all the problems with the Islamic view that Christian apologists have noted for centuries apply just as well to the Protestant Fundamentalist view.
     
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  15. Botolph

    Botolph Well-Known Member

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    Do you see there is a place for the discipline of Biblical Criticism or not?
     
  16. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    I am confident that my description of the inspired nature of scripture differentiates itself from dictation theory. I neither said nor do I propose that God told the writers, "Inscribe this, verbatim...." What I said was this: God supernaturally inspired the writers to place His thoughts and intents, the things He wanted to communicate to us (for we have need of them), with sufficient precision that we can accept them as God's perfect message to us, a message that contains no errors but that does contain everything we need for life and godliness. I also stated that He worked within the unique thought patterns, linguistic patterns, and writing patterns of the various writers.

    Thus the writers were 'free agents' to choose the fine details in expressing God's thoughts and intents, but God, foreknowing how they spoke and thought and commonly wrote, utilized that knowledge in His inspirational guidance to them so that the writing thus produced would contain no errors and would express what He wanted it to express.

    I hope you can perceive the significant distinction between this and dictation theory. I believe this does away with all of the common objections to dictation theory, but perhaps you will spot something I haven't.
     
  17. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    You're not supposed to sleep. You're supposed to stay up all night, reading and posting on the Anglican Forum! What else is there in life, anyway? :biglaugh:

    :gnight:
     
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  18. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    From Theopedia online:
    Biblical criticism is an umbrella term covering various techniques for applying literary historical-critical methods in analyzing and studying the Bible and its textual content. The word "criticism" is not to be taken in the negative sense of attempting to denigrate the Bible, although this motive is found in its history. Technically, biblical criticism simply refers to the scholarly approach of studying, evaluating and critically assessing the Bible as literature in order to understand it better.​
    "It's just like the Koran" is not Biblical criticism, it's a faulty 'guilt by association' argument. Simple mud-slinging. If, as Invictus says, it is merely coincidental that that 'dictation theory' is favored by some proponents of the Bible as well as many proponents of the Koran, then that coincidence should be disregarded and left unsaid because mere coincidences don't factor into the discussion; they prove nothing. So the only rational reason for mentioning such a coincidence is to make 'dictation theory' itself, and those Bible believers who favor the theory, look guilty.

    I know I'm not addressing particularly what you wrote, but I did want to point out that Stalwart and I are not opposing proper Biblical criticism.
     
  19. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    It’s not intended as a “guilt by association” argument. It is simply the recognition that the problems involved in the Islamic version of Dictation Theory apply to every other version of it, including the Christian one.
     
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  20. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    So you would agree that the writers chose the exact words?