RE: Something must change

Jan de Koning (
Tue, 18 Aug 1998 13:52:10 -0400

At 11:54 AM 18/08/98 -0400, Howard J. Van Till wrote:
>Some of your comments indicate that we are having a communication problem.
>The "concordism and harmonization" that I characterized as something thet
>"simply won't work" is the familiar sort that takes something like Genesis
>1-3 and simply _assumes_ that this is a _chronicle_ that specifies what
>happened when. Concordism and harmonization efforts have led to such
>proposals as 1) Creation Science and its attempt to reinterpret selected
>empirical data to fit a literalistic, young-earth reading of Genesis
>already in place, or 2) various day-age propositions that attempt to
>harmonize the chronological structure of the Genesis 1 narrative into the
>timescale derived from empirical science.
>In contrast to both of those "concordistic" approaches, your eloquent
>rearticulation of the fundamental message of Genesis 1-3 and of Psalm 8 in
>the conceptual vocabulary of the late 20th century is an example of what I
>am calling for. Keep it up.
>On the matter of general procedure you offered this: "I think that it is a
>far better (more conservative) assumption to start out my search for truth
>in the Bible by taking what it says as a historical fact, and then test it
>for its historic accuracy."
>The key phrase there is "what it says as a historical fact." Discerning
>what the Bible "says as a historical fact" requires far more informed
>judgment than many Christians are willing to recognize. One of the very
>first steps, it seems to me, is the expenditure of a great deal of effort
>to become acquainted with the historical, cultural, religious, and literary

>contexts in which a particular portion of the biblical text was written.
>Following closely would be the expenditure of a comparable effort to
>identify the literary genre of the particular text in question and the
>manner in which that text functions in the context of the whole of the
>biblical canon.
>Therefore, rather than beginning with the assumption that all biblical
>references to historical events are _chronicle_ in genre, I would rather
>begin with the assumption that there is in the Bible a rich diversity of
>forms of historical literature, and that one important way of respecting
>the biblical text is to discern the genre before formulating an
>I have a suspicion we are not too far apart on these matters.
>Howard Van Till

I tried to stay out of this, and it took quite a bit of effort. We have
been talking about these issues before. Most people, including scientists,
do look at the world around them including the world of the past as if
everyone thinks and acts like them. That is not so. Even when we divide
the world in Christians and non-Christians, we cannot assume that the basic
outlook of Christians is the same. All of us are influenced by a
particular outlook on life (philosophy) and as long as we try not to talk
about that we will not get anywhere. Few of us do realize the background
of their own thinking as it is often influenced by the schooling we had.

A further difficulty is that most North Americans do not have any sense of
history: that is a sense of becoming, of growth. We do learn about that in
our particular areas of specialization, but exclude growth from the
development of language. Consequently we use the word "truth" in the
present "scientific" sense, but do not realize that in biblical times it
has more the sense of faithfulness. The Bible tells us the stories of
God's faithfulness. Since God is faithful, they are true, but not in the
sense the word "true" is used now. Truth is the same word as troth, only
the meaning of these words differ now, but not in biblical times.

The bible we have now, we have in many translations, which often disagree.
We do not have the original transcripts, and sometimes the copies we have
differ considerably. Of course, transcribing, copying and translating are
human endeavors, and thus not faultless. What remains the same, though, is
that God is holding on to us, even when we make it more difficult for
ourselves by wanting to read the Bible as a book of historical, scientific
facts. Let us ask ourselves in the first place: Why did we receive this
book written thousands of years ago? And than thank God for His faithfulness.

Jan de Koning
Willowdale, Ont.