Re: Something must change

George Murphy (
Mon, 17 Aug 1998 09:02:38 -0400

Glenn R. Morton wrote:
> At 02:05 PM 8/16/98 -0400, George Murphy wrote:
> > The basic problem to which Howard's post calls our attention is not the
> >_truth_ of Scripture but the character or genre of biblical accounts. As
> long >as Christians keep thinking that the Bible can be true only if it is
> accurate >historical narrative, the church will be bogged down in fruitless
> concordism. >(& to forestall a common objection, I'm not saying that
> biblical accounts are >_in_accurate history. Some of them are not to be
> read as history in the >modern sense at all.)
> I was trying hard to stay out of this discussion. While I agree with Howard
> that we must not engage in Bibliolatry (which is paralleled by the
> Israelites believing that the Ark of the Covenant would save them from the
> Philistines), we can't easily dismiss the need for history in these
> apparently historical accounts. Now I want to make clear that I am NOT,
> repeat NOT, talking about Genesis 1 here. So please don't respond about
> some Genesis 1 issue.
> I would agree with you, George, in what you said in your book:
> "Israel's confession of faith is that God acted in human history to bring
> the people out of Egypt. The profession of faith in Dt. 26:5-9 is just this
> statement of Israel's enslavement in Egypt, and of God's salvation which is
> given in the Exodus." ~ George L. Murphy, The Trademark of God, (Wilton,
> Conn.: Morehouse-Barlow, 1986), p. 9
> Why must this be 'in history' if Genesis isn't historical? The entire
> account of how the Israelites went to Egypt is contained in Genesis. For
> something to be historical it must be capable of being verified. And it
> must not already have been falsified.

The historical character of an Exodus event doesn't mean that all the biblical
accounts connected (before, during, & after) with the Exodus are to be read as modern
historical accounts.
It's important to be clear about what I mean by "modern historical accounts." A
goal of modern historiography has been to be able to describe history "as it really
happened" - i.e., to give an objective and accurate statement of the things which really
took place in the Civil War or whatever period is under study. Of course good
historians also try to understand _why_ things happened as they did, and perhaps their
larger significance, but the "just the facts" description is basic.
That is not, by and large, the concern of biblical writers. They are often
dealing with history, but are writing from specific theological viewpoints within the
overall community of Israelite faith. Their accounts are thus edited - sometimes
lightly & sometimes heavily - in accord with those theological views. When they have
more than one account of something they may simply set down both, rather than try to
decide which one is more accurate, or they may interleave them in ways which confuse us.
Some accounts are more strongly "theologized" than others - e.g., Chronicles compared
with Samuel/Kings.
There are portions of the Bible which come reasonably close to modern historical
writing - e.g., the "succession narrative" of II Sam-I Kg. OTOH, there are fictional
accounts, such as Jonah. Even Jonah, however, makes use of the name of a real prophet
and a real city - it isn't set in an imaginary world.

We don't believe the story related by
> the book of Mormon because it says that there are big walled cities in
> North America prior to Columbus, that there were chariots here (when the
> Native Americans didn't invent the wheel), and that there where horses in
> North America between 600 B.C. and 1492. All of this is false and does not
> match the data of archaeology.
> If we are to be consistent we must apply the same standard to the Scripture.

There is archaeological support for the basic claims that some Israelites
conquered part of Canaan, that there were Judean and Israelite monarchies, &c. But some
details don't match up - e.g., Jericho & Ai. There may be historical information there
- e.g., the account of the destruction of Ai may refer to Bethel - but it doesn't work
to read those chapters of Joshua as you would an account of the peninsular campaign in
the Civil War.
Some Christians will be very upset by that. "If we can't believe Joshua
destroyed Ai, how can we believe in the Resurrection of Jesus?" (The rhetorical
question may already have been asked about Jonah.) Even to ask that question shows a
fundamental misunderstanding of Christian priorities - i.e., the idea that the
resurrection is simply one among a large number of true religious facts which the Bible

> You further wrote:
> "God, who created the universe and acted in human history, is still
> active. God is still working, still bringing 'something from nothing' in
> his saving acts. That is why Scripture speaks of the Lord as 'the living
> God,' and taunts the heathen idols who are unable to do anything.
> "Creation out of nothing is God's trademark. It is the sign which
> authenticates all of God's work.
> "When we look at the stories of the Old Testament in the light of this
> idea, with what we have seen of the Exodus and the return from exile, we
> find many more places in which this mark is prominent. God carried Noah
> and his family through the flood waters which destroyed the old world, and
> brought from them new life. God gave old Abraham and Sarah, who were far
> beyond the age to have children, the child of promise, bringing life out of
> the barren womb. God brings hope when all human hope is gone. ('So Sarah
> laughed to herself, saying, 'After I have grown old, and my husband is old,
> shall I have pleasure?'"--Gen. 18:12.)" ~ George L. Murphy, The Trademark
> of God, (Wilton, Conn.: Morehouse-Barlow, 1986), p. 14-15
> How could God carry Noah through the flood if it wasn't HISTORICAL? By this
> I mean a flood that actually happened. And if the account we are given in
> the Scripture doesn't match the data of science, then the account in
> Scripture IS NOT HISTORICAL. PERIOD. If the account in Scripture violates
> observational data then it is FALSE just like the Book of Mormon is FALSE.
> We simply can't engage in a double standard. And if the Flood WAS
> historical, then there must be some evidence of it somewhere that matches
> some part of the story told in Genesis 6-9. If Noah's flood was a
> historical event, then please relate a scenario that matches the Biblical
> account in its details. If we can't, then we don't have a historical
> event.
There are lots of questions here, but at this point I'll just note that you make
a big jump from "there was a flood" to "all the details in the Bible must match
scientific data". I see no reason why that must be the case. I think that the account
of the flood in Gen.6-8 is based upon old traditions of real Mesopotamian floods, a la
Gilgamesh, & that the biblical writers have freely used those traditions to make a
theological statement about divine judgment and grace. The fact that a lot of the
details in the resulting account don't fit with the way a huge flood in Mesopotamia
would have taken place - as you have often argued, & note in the following - is far from

> President Clinton is having difficulties because he appears to be
> unable to produce a scenario which matches the documentary data and his
> own public denials which will at the same time absolve him of wrong doing.
> Clinton's accounts so far have all the appearance of a nonhistorical
> account. And I would suggest that Christians do the same thing when we
> don't provide a scenario that matches the details of the Biblical account.

The assumption that rules of evidence in a modern grand jury proceeding govern
the truth or falsity of biblical accounts is quite wrong. They aren't even the same as
the rules of evidence of science.

> Christians continue to point to Mesopotamia or the Black Sea or the
> Caspian Sea as the site of the flood. Yet none of the scenarios which are
> advocated for those locations match the details of the Biblical account.
> We, like Clinton, have trouble matching our stories with the documents.
> This creates a big disconnect between ACTUAL history as deduced from
> archaeological and geological data and the 'theological' history deduced
> from the Bible. I submit that by advancing a flood scenario, whether
> global or local, which doesn't match the Biblical account, we make the
> Bible out to be as false as the Book of Mormon.

Only if we are trying to argue that all the Bible is modern historical
narrative. It isn't.

>In fact I would suggest
> that when we advocate scenarios that don't match the details of the
> Biblical account, we are engaged in a grand re-write of the Bible to make
> it better match the story we think God should have inspired.

& some might argue that a Mediterranean flood is a good example of such a

> (for those who might want to see my reasons why Mesopotamia can't be the
> Flood location see )
> And by sticking with such flawed explanations of the flood, we are
> implicitly admitting that the Bible doesn't actually match a historical
> event. Of course, after admitting that the details of the Biblical account
> of the Flood aren't to be paid any serious attention, we then wonder why
> so many leave our faith over these issues.

To the extent that this is true, it means that we need to be much more honest
with people about the character of biblical narratives. & this means also that we have
to be much clearer about Christ as THE Word of God to them, so that the kind of domino
theory I noted earlier isn't validated. (& no, saying that Christ is the Word of God
doesn't mean that all the gospels are accurate modern historical accounts.)

George L. Murphy