Exegesis or Eisegesis?

From: Peter Ruest (pruest@pop.mysunrise.ch)
Date: Thu Dec 27 2001 - 11:17:28 EST

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    "Howard J. Van Till" wrote:
    > >From: Peter Ruest <pruest@pop.mysunrise.ch>
    > > Doesn't Scripture
    > > tell us He creates [bara'] individual human beings (Is. 43:7), who are
    > > fathered and borne by natural procreation? Ps. 139:13 gives a similar
    > > idea, and v.16 includes the individual's life history. What does God do
    > > here? Nothing? In scientific language, an individual's personality and
    > > life history is conditioned by his or her genome, some as yet poorly
    > > understood epigenetics, and many even less well understood aspects of
    > > the environment, whereas theological language adds God's providence. If
    > > God is responsible for an individual's personality (not sin, of course),
    > > wouldn't it be by means of some kind of (non-coercive, not violating any
    > > physical law) hidden intervention in a huge number of details like
    > > selecting, during meiosis, whether gene xyz of the ovum-to-be comes from
    > > the mother's or the father's side, or letting a C-14 atom decay near a
    > > given cytidylic residue at a given moment, etc.? No highly improbable
    > > elementary events need be implied, the improbability arising from the
    > > large number of bifurcation events composing the influence in question,
    > > be it in the creation of an individual human being, or in the evolution
    > > of a novel functionality.
    > 1. The genre of all of the texts cited above fall in the broad
    > category of poetry. Are you telling us, Peter, that you consider it
    > responsible exegesis to employ these samples of Ancient Hebrew poetry
    > as the basis for a modern theory of divine action involving hidden
    > interventions that determine the outcomes of quantum events involved
    > in genetic processes at the molecular level?

    Howard, I am sorry, but I get the impression that you still have not
    understood what I have been trying to say for quite a while. Have I
    really failed to communicate my ideas? So let me try once more, although
    this forces me to repeat various points I brought up in my PSCF papers
    and on this list.

    I consider the Bible as God's Word, not as just a collection of ancient
    poetry (or other style pieces). If divine inspiration has any meaning at
    all, biblical texts will often contain more than meets the eye of
    secular exegesis. They will comprise a unity in which different passages
    and different books may illuminate each other. No biblical text will be
    fully characterized by a genre label like "poetry". Poetry is a mere
    form designator, which will help to guide our exegesis but cannot
    determine it fully. Biblical texts were written by fallible human
    authors, but under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. How do you know how
    much influence this guidance exerted on the writers' choice of ideas,
    sentences, expression, and even words? And how do you know how much
    influence was exerted by the cultural environment of the prophet? Is it
    a foregone conclusion that nothing but the ancient middle eastern
    culture is relevant? Or is there space for a spiritual (I hope)

    A divinely inspired text (no matter how exactly this inspiration is
    defined) has a dimension mostly impossible in other texts: the
    _possibility_ of multiple layers of meaning. If it is the same Creator
    who originated and guides the whole creation and who inspired a prophet
    to write about it (e.g. Genesis 1-3), then the text may very well be, at
    the same time, (1) formulated in ancient near eastern language and
    thought forms, (2) poetical in form, (3) basically theological in its
    central message, (4) formulated in a language appropriate to the
    specific theological message to be conveyed by the passage, (5)
    understandable by people of all cultures and all times, (6) a narrative
    basically transmitting a history which actually happened, (7) free of
    basic errors of fact - even with respect to facts unknown to the
    prophet, and possibly occasionally (8) allegorical.

    Therefore, I am e.g. very skeptical about an "exegesis" reading Gen.1-3
    as "myth" - I consider this to be eisegesis.

    I never claimed to be formulating _the_ true and _comprehensive_
    exegesis of the biblical texts I quote in support of my ideas. Neither
    did I ever claim to be proposing a scientific theory explaining things
    like quantum events or any other possible deterministic or stochastic
    causes of mutations etc. All I am proposing is some ideas about how, on
    the metaphysical level, I think a harmony between scientific
    observations and theories, on the one hand, and the biblical text and
    reasonable interpretations, on the other hand, might be attainable. Is
    this something basically different from what you are doing with your
    idea of "creation's functional integrity"? Why should it be considered
    strange that a given event or process might have complementary aspects,
    scientific, metaphysical, theological ones?
    > 2. Are you telling us, Peter, that God manipulates the genetic makeup
    > of every person so as to actualize particular individual
    > personalities? If so, is God then responsible for some of the
    > miserable personalities that I am acquainted with? May I, for
    > instance, blame God for my own personality defects?

    Again, you are reading something into my text which I didn't write
    (eisegesis). You derogatively talk about God's "manipulating", where I
    considered divine providence - as it might be seen from a metaphysical
    viewpoint. Similarly, you talk about God being responsible for our sin,
    which I explicitely excluded. The straw man of determinism you impose on
    my formulations is just as eisegetic and unjustified. I am surprised
    that you should believe, as it appears from this comment of yours, that
    God should _not_ be directly responsible for _any_ part of an individual
    human's personality. This question doesn't even depend on any theory of
    ours about _how_ he would create an individual person. Or do I
    misinterpret you here?
    > 3. Are you saying that an individual's life history is also determined
    > by God? If so, then wouldn't many pious believers with painful life
    > experiences be inclined to question God's life determining skills?

    Same comment as above. I never said or implied any such thing. I do
    believe in God's perfect foreknowledge, but not in an ineluctable
    predestination of everything, and I am convinced this is the biblical
    > Peter, you have also said in your PSCF Communication (Sept. 2001):
    > "The Old Testament explicitly applies [the word bara'] to God's
    > creating individuals -- not only humans [Ps 102:18, Is 43:7, Malachi
    > 2:10], but even animals [Ps 104:30]."
    > 4. Are you telling us that you believe that God determines the
    > individual personalities of even the animals? Their individual life
    > histories also?
    > Howard Van Till

    Again the straw man of determinism, which I have always clearly
    repudiated! From science, I know that there are many fundamentally
    "blind spots" for scientific investigation. From metaphysical
    considerations, I conclude from this that God has plenty of "hidden
    options" if he chooses to use them. From the Bible, I know that God
    cares about his creatures, including animals, and that he guides various
    aspects of history, using various means, up to and including
    undisputable miracles such as Christ's resurrection. From science, I
    know that a huge set of processes can be described by a reliable
    combination of deterministic and stochastic laws. From metaphysics, I
    speculatively conclude from this that God's acts of specific guidance
    are probably mostly done by using "hidden options", and that his
    specific predetermination probably doesn't include a majority of
    individual events.

    Peter Ruest

    Dr Peter Ruest, <pruest@dplanet.ch>
    CH-3148 Lanzenhaeusern, Switzerland
    Biochemistry - Creation and evolution
    Creative providence in biology (Gen.2:3):
    "..the work which God created (in order) to (actively) evolve it"

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