Re: Inconsistency on Shroud vs. Genesis.

George Murphy (
Mon, 09 Aug 1999 08:32:08 -0400 wrote:
As you noted, we've gone over some of this ground several times before.
Comments below on some points.

> I agree that it would be good to have physical evidence of the Biblical
> claims around the resurrection. But I fail to see why the Biblical claim of
> creation is less in need of physical evidence or at least a scenario that
> matches what the Bible says.

I think the shroud could be interesting evidence, but have not said we "need"
such evidence for the resurrection.

> To say that the 'idea of creation as
> revelation is more debatable' seems to ignore the very first verse of the
> Bible: In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth.

Certainly it's a truth of revelation (& not only Gen.1) that God is the creator
of all things. What I referred to was the idea that the creation itself is divine
revelation - discussion of which would get us into the whole natural theology question,
Romans 1 &c.

> You want physical evidence for the resurrection but none for
> the creation.

Again, I didn't say I "wanted" such evidence for the resurrection, but if some
comes along I won't ignore it.

> > 4) I believe that the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus were
> historical
> >events (though also in a sense transcending history). The gospel
> accounts, while they
> >are not newsstory-like narratives of these events, contain information
> about what really
> >happened - some of Jesus' disciples saw him after his death & burial & his
> tomb was
> >empty. A good case can be made on theological, historical, and literary
> grounds for the
> >historical veracity of the Easter accounts in this sense. The early
> chapters of
> >Genesis, on the other hand, are different kinds of accounts. They are
> true statements
> >about God's relationship with the world, but they are true in different
> ways than
> >scientific or historical narratives. The Bible contains a number of
> different types of
> >literature - history "as it really happened", poetry, fiction, myth,
> liturgies,
> >theological arguments, laws, &c. One has to learn to distinguish one from
> the other,
> >which isn't always an easy task.
> I see this claim being made all the time, that early Genesis is a different
> type of literature. But prior to the past 200 years, during which time
> Christians have failed to provide a harmony between the Biblical account
> and the scientific account, christians have adopted the view you advocate.
> But when this claim is made, no evidence for this difference is cited. Just
> a simple claim. The ancients read it as if it were a detailed account
> telling them what God did, (not God's relationship). So you can't appeal
> to the way they understood it because it is clear that they thought it was
> a how-to on creation.

1st, this statement is incorrect. Jerome said that the creation story is told
"after the manner of a popular poet", & there was extensive use in the early church
of allegorical interpretation (which I am NOT recommending) of Genesis as well as
other texts. It was particularly with the Reformation that the emphasis was placed on a
single "literal" meaning - usually understood to be historical narrative - of the
biblical text.
But I think we also have to say that, with all the errors and excesses of modern
biblical criticism, we've learned some things about the historical character of
Scripture, the relationships of biblical texts to other cultures, literary types, & of
course scientific understanding of history and the world, which the theologians of the
early & medieval church or the Reformation didn't have. We really have learned some
As has been pointed out numerous times, Gen.1 & 2 simply don't "harmonize" on
an historical level. That in itself is an internal clue that one or both shouldn't be
read as historical narrative.

I often point out that if Genesis is designed to
> point out God's relationship and not the details of creation, then the
> details given should not have been given. The Bible should have jumped
> from Genesis 1:1 directly to Genesis 12:1.

Say for (over) simplicity that Gen.1-11 contains stories. _Details matter in

> > Certainly - it isn't historical reporting of events.
> >
> >>
> >> If God can't create the world,
> >
> > Of course I never said this.
> I know you never said this. What you are saying is that God can create the
> world, but doesn't have the ability to communicate how he did it to a bunch
> of primitive tribesman of 4000 years ago.

No, I didn't say that either. God didn't communicate as you'd like him

> Why God is so tongue-tied or
> incompetent at communication I am not sure. If God can't communicate to us
> about creation, can He correctly communicate to us about the resurrection?
> I would have serious doubts. Both types of communication require God
> inspiring a fallible human. If the human failed with creation, could the
> human have failed in communicating the true facts about the resurrection?

& I don't think it's necessary or profitable to try to "harmonize" all the
Easter accounts as a single historical narrative. There is good literary-historical
evidence for the women finding the tomb empty & appearances of Jesus to some of his
followers. That doesn't mean that all the details of the accounts - how many women
there were &c - can be harmonized historically.

> > 1) What God _can_ do & what God _chooses_ to do & what you or I would
> _like_
> >God to do are different things. If God chose to communicate truth about
> the creation
> >of the world in liturgy or story or theological polemic then we ought to
> accept it &
> >not turn it into something else.
> I see no evidence (except presuppositional bias) that this is a theological
> polemic. Until around 1700-1800 most people believed that God was
> communicating history. Your view is a recent view. And while you are
> correct that God can choose to do what he wants, if God acts inconsistently
> then it becomes difficult to trust Him. How do you KNOW God chose to
> communicate clearly about the resurrection but didn't so choose with
> creation?

I've already commented above on these points.

Where is that stated in the Bible?

Where is it stated that everything in Scripture is accurate historical

> >That is not a sacrifice of the intellect, for it also
> >means that we are free to go ahead and investigate the world
> scientifically without
> >thinking we have to conform our findings to some "Bible science."
> What you advocate is that we are free to ignore the Bible.

As far as doing science is concerned, yes. If it weren't so, S. Weinberg &
other atheists wouldn't get anywhere in science. Of course this doesn't mean should
ignore the Bible _period_.


> > It's clear, quite apart from Gen.1 & 2 that God did use other types of
> >literature to speak of the creation of the world. In several OT passages
> God's creative
> >acts are spoken of using the ancient motif of the _Chaoskampf_, the
> slaying of
> >sea-monsters & the victory over the sea - e.g., Ps.74:12-17, Ps.89:8-13,
> Is.51:9-10, Job
> >26:12-13. These are true statements about God as creator but no one in
> their right mind
> >today would insist that they are accurate historical reports.
> EVerybody cites the psalms.

& Isaiah & Job.

> There is no problem with the psalms being
> poetry. They are clearly poetry. But Genesis 1-11 are not entirely
> poetry.

I didn't say they were. The point is that there is a way of speaking about
creation which runs through the OT which is inspired, authoritative, true & which
no one with any sense reads as historical narrative.

Name the Psalm that is a genealogical list as is Genesis 5 and 11.
> Name the psalm that gives the kind of detail seen in Genesis 1-4. I don't
> find one in my bible.

Of course there are different literary types in Gen.1-11.

> Agreed. But then to make the Bible say (or be) things it obviously doesn't
> say doesn't make it so either. Both views require some presuppositional
> basis. I would argue that if the Bible knows nothing about how the world
> was created, even though the God of the Bible claims to be the Creator,
> then the Bible and the God of the Bible might just as well be impostures.
> If I put on a lot of makeup and try to imitate you (I would have to slim
> down a bit) I wouldn't be able to pull it off. I wouldn't know anything
> about your children, your brothers/sisters/parents/aunts/uncles etc. I
> wouldn't know what you preached on today. Anyone seeing this false George
> Murphy would know quickly that I am an imposture from my lack of knowledge.
> Similarly, if a god claims to be THE God, but knows nothing about the
> creation He is supposed to have made, then he is an imposture also.

> > 2) You've seen the T-shirts with
> > "And God said
> > divE= rho
> > divB = 0
> > curlB = dE/dt + J
> > curlE = -dB/dt
> > and there was light."
> >It's at least a first approximation to something we could call a
> scientifically accurate
> >account of creation. How much sense would it have made to a Hebrew shepherd
> >circa 1000 B.C.?
> None. But God could have simply said 'out of the sea came life'.

With the affective connotations of "the sea" in Scripture (see the Ps, Is & Job
references above e.g.) this would have given Israel a disconcerting picture. Of course
you don't have this problem if you think of "sea" as = "lots of salt water."

> That
> would have made sense to a hebrew shepherd and would be consistent with
> modern science. You take an all or none approach to this. You assume that
> if God can't give the entire scientific account that HE can't give any of
> it. He could have as I just demonstrated.

No, you demonstrated that God could have given a smidgen of a hint of the idea
of biological evolution. But you are misrepresenting my position & to state it
accurately will have to stop refrring to what God "can" or "can't" do. It's a question
of what God chose to do.
God apparently chose to bring about life through processes of evolution. In
doing so (as in other ways) God VOLUNTARILY limited the ways in which he would act in
the world. (This is the basic idea of a kenotic theology of divine action - see my
paper in last summer's Zygon - or the old distinction between God's "absolute" & God's
"ordinate" power.) Given this, it's hardly surprising that at the stage when God wanted
to begin the revelation of himself & his relation with the world to an intelligent
species which had evolved, they weren't ready to understand general relativity, quantum
field theory, stellar evolution, DNA, population genetics &c.

> So that leaves us 2 choices. Either Jehovah is an imposture and doesn't
> really know anything about creation or we are misinterpreting Genesis 1-11.
> I prefer to take the latter position.

So do I! I think that in significant ways you're mininterpreting Genesis 1-11.
It's good that we agree on something:)
> .......................................
> My new address is 70 Harvest Wind Pl., The Woodlands, Tex 77382. I would
> love to see it.

I attached the paper to an earlier off-list post. Let me know if you didn't get

George L. Murphy