Re: The firmament--a barrier to concordism, various responses

From: Loren Haarsma (
Date: Wed May 29 2002 - 16:54:57 EDT

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    On Mon, 27 May 2002, Jim Eisele wrote:

    > Loren writes
    > >So here is a counter-challenge, one which you owe it to yourself to
    > >attempt: Locate a dozen or two creation stories from ancient cultures
    > >around the world. Then allow yourself to do a similar level of
    > >word-redefinition in those stories as you do in the Genesis 1 account, in
    > >an honest effort to make those stories concord with scientific chronology.
    > >How many of them can you make work? Certainly not all of them, but how
    > >many? I'd be curious to know the answer to that exercise.
    > How sad is this? Or how grave an error? It is far more constructive
    > for me to support Gen 1 than trash heathen creation accounts. Loren,
    > nothing comes close to Gen 1. I have been told that Enuma Elish is
    > easily the closest. It was a complete, utter joke.

    If your claim was simply that the Genesis 1 chronology matches modern
    science, I probably would not have suggested that challenge. But you made
    a second claim. You claimed that the Genesis 1 chronology matches modern
    science much better than any other ancient creation stories. This second
    claim is exactly the sort of claim which can either be supported or
    corrected by doing a bit of scholarly work. If you are making this
    second claim on your webpage, then you owe it to your readers to do the
    scholarly work -- or, if someone else has already done the work, list the
    references. What is sad, and a grave error, is when Christians try to
    defend the faith by publishing claims which could be supported or
    corrected by a bit of scholarly investigation, but don't do the work.

    Regarding "light" in verse 1:3: It could be argued that that the original
    author's definition of the term is not that different from modern
    corcordism's redefinition. But go back one verse to 1:2, "the deep." On
    this term, there is an abundance of archeological evidence (and evidence
    in other Old Testament texts) as to what the original author meant.
        I'm not saying that you can't redefine these terms somewhat in order to
    make them fit modern science. Of course you can. What I'm saying is that
    I don't think this is a good hermeneutical strategy.


    Peter Ruest wrote:

    > Can you specify in which way the 11 Hebrew words were "redefined"? In > particular, I'd like to know what you consider to be "redefined" in > "Genesis reconsidered" by Armin Held and myself, PSCF 51/4 (Dec. 1999), > 231-243; > > Under redefinition, I understand an illegitimate or improbable > interpretation or translation. In principle, I accept your definition > of "from the author's original intent" as a point of departure. The > mere fact of a difference from traditional interpretations does _not_ > constitute redefinition! But how do you know the author's original > intent? And, more precisely, we should ask for the original (divine) > Authors's intent (or possibly multiple simultaneous objectives).

    "Illegitimate" is stronger than my intent. Under redefinition, I simply mean a definition different from what the author had in mind when it was written. Which terms are redefined? Trees bearing fruit, "every winged bird", making of the sun and moon, setting the sun and in the firmament/expanse -- and especially -- the terms firmament/expanse and "the deep." These words or phrases must take on new definitions (almost certainly different from what the author had in mind) to make concordism work. How do we know what the author had in mind when writing these terms? Look at all the other passages in the Old Testament, and look at the archeological evidence from the ancient near east. Again, I would point to Paul Seely's web article, the book "Portraits of Creation", and the many other scholarly references contained therein. Those are the references that must be tackled.

    But before anyone does that, can we please address the following:

    Scripture must illuminate scripture. If we're going to talk about Genesis 1, can we please also talk about Psalm 104, Job 38, Proverbs 8, and Isaiah 48? Read those passages again. Is there any doubt that the author had in mind the physical picture of ANE cosmology when writing those passages? If we can't agree about that, then I don't think we can make progress discussing Genesis 1.

    Again, I'm not saying that the words in these passages can't be given a secondary meaning to accord with modern science. I'm simply saying that I don't think it's a good hermeneutical approach.

    And to address that point:


    Mike Slatterlee wrote:

    > Does someone here see a problem with the idea that God might have > deliberately chosen to use words with dual meanings in Gen. 1 to allow > Gen. 1 to be understood in different ways by people living at far > different times? After all, the Bible was not written just for the > ancient Hebrews. It was also written to serve as God's word to men > today.

    This is a very good question, which Peter and Jim also raised.

    A medieval scholar once told me that some medieval theologians read four meanings into every passage of scripture: literal, allegorical ... and two others that I can't remember (I think one of them was christological and the other eclesiastical). (I've tried calling my medieval scholar friend this afternoon, but she wasn't in her office. Sorry I can't be more specific about this.)

    Was this practice of finding four meanings in every scripture passage a good practice? The church has come to reject it.

    I keep coming back to Hermeneutics 101: Taking into account the background knowledge of the author, the original audience, the historical context and the type of literature, we ask ourselves what message the passage would communicate from the author (and therefore from God) to the original audience.

    If you apply this hermeutical strategy consistently to Genesis 1, Psalm 104, Proverbs 8, Job 38, Isaiah 48, or any of the other passages I listed, you hear a powerful theological lesson accomodated to the pre-scientific cosmology of the ancient near east. If, on the other hand, you attempt concordist hermeneutics of Genesis 1, what do you gain and what do you lose? You might gain the claim that Genesis 1 chronology matches modern science (a weak claim, in my opinion, because of the need to redefine so many words). You have lost a consistent hermeneutics. You have lost a great example of how God can work with human limitations to speak his truth. You have burdened yourself with the need to redefine words repeatedly as our scientific understanding changes over time. You have burdened yourself with an apologetic claim which is problematic to defend. You have burdened yourself the question, "How many other biblical words is it OK to assign secondary meanings in order to match modern science?" (Or, for that matter, to match modern economic theory, or social theory, or aesthetics.)

    On what basis, then, would we criticize a theologian who might want to redefine the word "prophet" from "one who speaks God's words" to "one who calls us to live better lives and be nicer to the poor;" or redefine the word "prayer" from "speaking with God" to "attuning oneself to the reality of one's own being and the cosmos;" or redefine "God's law" to mean "good guidelines for living in society;" or redefine "resurrection" to mean "a psychological event in which Jesus' teachings took hold in the disciples' hearts and emboldened them to become teachers themselves." All of those redefinitions could be done in the name of making the Bible more in line with modern science.

    It seems to me that concordist hermeneutics loses more than it gains.

    Loren Haarsma

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