Re: St. Basil's 400AD view of the Days of proclamation

George Murphy (
Thu, 26 Aug 1999 09:44:05 -0400 wrote:
> At 08:43 PM 08/25/1999 -0400, George Murphy wrote:
> > wrote:
> >
> >> In some churches it is allowed to say AMEN! What you said in (2) is what
> >> bothers me about the "theologically true but historically false" approach
> >> to the Bible. THere are lots of theologies and everyone gets to pick their
> >> poison. That, imo, is a bad state of affairs.
> >
> > Still -
> > 1) All the historical & scientific accuracy in the world doesn't do the job
> >of theology. Suppose there was a Noachic flood, or that a bunch of Hebrew
> slaves
> >escaped from Egypt, or that there's pretty good evidence that a Jewish
> carpenter who
> >was crucified was seen alive after his death. Unless these mean something
> about God &
> >God's relationship with the world & human beings now, so what?
> I absolutely agree with you here. I would ask you, if there was NO Noachic
> flood, and NO a bunch of Hebrew slaves escaping from Egypt, and there was
> NO evidence that a Jewish carpenter who
> was crucified was seen alive after his death, would it still be theological
> truth? I know you would not believe it was theologically true under those
> conditions and neither would I.

The Bible deals with the history (in the broad sense - i.e., including the
history of nature & not just humans) of the real world. Even when legendary, mythic,
fictitious &c elements in a text are strong, there is some reference to the real world.
That, in fact, _is_ an important aspect of biblical theologies. To that extent we're in
However, I do _not_ with your last sentence above. We need not at this point
get back into debates about the historical character of the parable of the Good
Samaritan or the Book of Jonah, but I think each of them makes a very clear theological
statement whether or not one thinks the events actually happened. & in fact in the
latter case the reason the primary theological thrust gets deflected is because people
have gotten hung up on the historicity of the big fish which (whether one thinks the
events really happened or not) is simply a means for getting the main character from
point A to point B.
I confess myself unsure just how much historicity you require & why that
particular standard is adopted. I think there was a real prophet Jonah, & a real
Nineveh which the Israelites hated a la Nahum, so there is some historical basis for the
book. But I know you're not satisfied with that - you want Jonah to have gone to
Nineveh, preached there, had lots of people converted &c. OK, I understand that
position though I don't agree with it. But in dealing with the flood, e.g., you say (on
a parallel thread this a.m.) that you don't care if Noah had 15 pairs of each animal, &
insist that your position is not one of simple literalism. OK, I understand that too &
am largely in agreement. But I don't see how your 2 arguments cohere?

>I just don't see how we can separate the
> two parts of this coin. We need reality at the base in order to have
> theological truth. They are inseparable.

The first thing we have to do with a text is try to discern what kind of
literature it is, & that includes trying to find to what degree it contains historical
material & what that material is. We shouldn't just jump right in & start mining the
text for doctrinal material. But the theological task has to be undertaken sooner or

> Some interpretation in
> >terms of God - i.e., a theological interpretation - of those events is
> necessary.
> >We still need to find out what the texts means theologically, though we
> may have
> >thought it proper to delay that task until we'd looked at the other
> matters. & when
> >we do ask theological questions, we have to confront the problems of
> diversity of
> >interpretation we would have had at the beginning.
> I agree with you here. We do need to understand the text theologically.
> > 2) It might be easier if all the biblical writers had shared exactly the
> same
> >theological viewpoint, but they didn't. There are "lots of theologies" in
> the biblical
> >text itself, before we even get to post-biblical interpretations. The
> theological task
> >is not to ignore the differences or homogenize the theologies of the
> different writers,
> >but to discern & explicate the "one faith" of Eph.4:5 which is expressed
> in those
> >different ways.
> I would go back to caution that if there are lots of theologies in the
> Bible, it is even more crucial that there be an objective basis to those
> events. If all we have is theology, then which theology is the correct
> theology? Some of them (like the passages that could be interpreted as
> indicating polytheism), are contradictory with others (like the passages
> that indicate monotheism). There is no middle ground in those cases.

I still think you're making too strong a correlation between historical accuracy
("objective basis") & theology. No Christians have any disagreement about the claim
that Jesus died on the cross under Pontius Pilate, but there are quite different ways -
both in the New Testament & beyond - of speaking theologically about the significance of
his death. OTOH, as I noted above, even if the Good Samaritan story never happened, its
significance is quite clear & not really subject to much debate.


George L. Murphy