Living and dying with Inaccurate History (was:NTSE Report #1 (fwd))

Glenn Morton (
Sat, 01 Mar 1997 12:20:02 -0600

At 07:40 AM 3/1/97 -0500, Murphy wrote:
>Glenn Morton wrote:
>> >> > But perhaps an equally pressing question: Why do people, as you
>> >> >say, "Want to hear" that Methuselah was a real human being who lived 969
>> >> >years &c? Is the problem perhaps that no one has called their attention
>> >> >to the fact - obvious once it is pointed out - that there are different
>> >> >ways of being true besides being chronicle-like narrative?
> Since you are going to point out what I didn't respond to in my
>last post, let me point out that you don't seem to want to address my
>last question here concerning the assumption about the character of

I thought I had answered that one in a previous post where I pointed out
that the text of Genesis 4-12, gives all the journalistic type of features,
who, what, when where why and how. Thus I think it is fair to check these
assertions of who what when where etc against the facts of history as we
understand them. The account reads like a histories which were produced in
that ancient time. Herodotus is quite similar in style to what I see in
Genesis. Herodotus would have asserted that he was telling the facts of
history. Like Herodotus it is fair game to check the assertions made
against the facts. However, the difference between Herodotus an Genesis is
the importance of the issue and the nature of the claims made for the book.
Herodotus does not claim to be a record of God's interaction with mankind
nor does he claim to be a conduit for information about God. From this
alone, I would hold Scripture to ha hgiher standard.

> I have no intention of giving up the historical character of the
>life of Jesus, but that doesn't mean that everything in the gospels is
>historical narrative. Your suggestion that this leaves everything up
>for grabs because accounts are "inaccurate" shows that you are not
>taking seriously the possibility that _some_ (N.B.) are "accurate" but
>in another way than historical narrative. (I'm going to have to make up
>an acronym for this!)

Yeah we need more acronyms :-) How about HOB, "History or Bust" Not very
catchy though, but you could then make the valid claim that I was HOBBLED. :-)

The problem is that it does leave everything up for grabs. Important issues
require high standards of truth. Suppose you are on trial for murder. The
chief witness against you, Larry, says he saw you shot the victim, Charlie,
at 12 noon in Downtown Dallas, on the courthouse step. He claims that you
and Charlie had a partnership in which sold widgets to Tierra del Fuegians.
Larry heard you telling Charlie that Charlie needs to give back the money he
had embezzled from your company or you were going to kill Charlie. Larry
also said that your dog, Fido was with you on the courthouse.

During the trial, it is established that

1. You were on business in Seattle on the day of the killing
2. You were not in business with Charlie
3. Charlie was stabbed to death
4. Charlie died not at noon but at 3 in the morning in Deep Ellum
5. Your dog's name is Fido.

The Jury convicts you of murder based not upon the accuracy of Larry's
testimony because they didn't expect accuracy out of Larry. But they were
able to conclude that something like this must have happened because Larry
knew your dog's name.

Being true to your epistemology, you would quietly accept the verdict
knowing that true things do not always have to be historical. You would try
to prevent your lawyers from immediately filing an appeal. But, being
lawyers and seeing lots more money in your case, they file anyway.
Eventually the Supreme Court agrees that a nonhistorical account can still
relate truth so they uphold your conviction. As they insert the needle in
your arm at Huntsville, they comfort you by saying "We know that not
everything in Larry's testimony was accurate, but the jist of it was correct."

Consistently living within your epistemology, you happily close your eyes as
the sodium pentathol enters your arm.

> I recognize that one can go too far in this direction & abandon
>concern about history entirely. I don't. OTOH, one can go to the other
>extreme & think that the historical accuracy of every bit of the gospels
>is essential for salvation - & then lie awake at night worrying about
>whether Jesus restored the sight of 1 or 2 blind men at Jericho &
>whether they were entering the city or leaving it. (& the fact that
>some "harmonizations" answer triumphantly "all of the above" is a

I agree that parables are not history,that is not the issue. What if Jesus
never said anything like the statements reported? As the story above
clearly shows, an epistemology like the one you are applying, does indeed
leave everything up for grabs. If the account is perjorous, full of
unbelievable items, then in my opinion that reduces the credibility of the
whole. I apply the same standard to the young-earth creationist books and I
would bet that you do also. When you find factual error in those books
(like their claim that light can get here from distant galaxies in 6000
years) your respect and trust for what they are saying goes down. Why
should this standard not apply to the Scripture? I can only see on reason:
To retain belief in the Scripture regardless of what it says.

> Again the assumption, "if not accurate chronicle-like history,
>then _in_ accurate chronicle-like history. You are unwilling to
>entertain the possibility of texts not being chronicle-like history at

I did entertain the idea and then rejected it as being so damaging to the
determination of truth that it is useless as a measure of truth. (see the
story above)


Foundation, Fall and Flood