theology (Was Re: Did Peter walk on water?)

From: george murphy (
Date: Mon Sep 30 2002 - 10:02:42 EDT

  • Next message: Walter Hicks: "Re: Did Peter walk on water?"

         Both Wayne and Walter have posted similar comments about use of theological
    terms and arguments on the "Did Peter Walk on Water? thread. As one who is
    responsible for some of the
    material which has provoked complaint, let me respond, first to Wayne & then to
    Walter. wrote:

    > I respond to two recent posts
    > Bob Schneider wrote:
    > <<
    > I strongly believe that anyone reading Matthew or other biblical texts
    > will be able to derive much that would enlighten his mind or "the eyes of
    > his heart" (Eph. 1:18) and bring him the message of salvation to his great
    > benefit; millions have over the centuries. But we all would gain a much
    > deeper appreciation, and perhaps greater spiritual fruits, if we were
    > willing to benefit from the work of devoted scholars who can teach us, for
    > example, how to recognize and interpret a midrashic text in a gospel or an
    > epistle.
    > >>
    > I did not for a moment mean to say, suggest, or
    > in any way imply that the study of scholarly texts
    > is foolishness. In one of my posts on Jonah I had
    > suggested that it would be wise to take a few
    > courses on theology before getting worked up on
    > interpretation of scripture.
    > However, "haggadic midrash" strikes me as a bit
    > obscure. Church libraries in Japan are typically
    > small, so maybe this is the fault of lack of
    > resources, but I had to look pretty hard to find
    > NT references to it and they were all as clear as
    > mud on its specific role. My own commentaries have
    > less than a paragraph on the subject. I am not a
    > theology major, nor do I sense any call whatsoever
    > to be one. If anything, my mission would be to
    > show that Christians can do good science, at least
    > as good as any atheist. At this level of difficulty,
    > I surmise that it becomes an exercise
    > approaching mastering the literature in some narrow
    > disciple of biology. I simply do not have time for
    > such exercises in biblical studies --- period.

         The term "haggadaic midrash" was used in a passage that I quoted from
    Gundry. Perhaps I should have explained briefly what it meant then.
    I attempted
    to do so in response to Wayne's earlier post. In any case, I appreciate the
    difficulty that a non-specialist may have in encountering technical
    especially in a location where there are few resources.
         I would point out, however, that the internet makes a lot of resources
    available. A quick look at Google gave something like 12000
    "haggadah" and 67000
    "midrash" sites. Admittedly one would have to do some hunting among
    them to get
    an idea of what "haggadaic midrash" might mean but it's not
    impossible. Actually
    I'm pretty old fashioned about such matters & woudl suggest looking at
    the corresponding articles in _The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible_ or a
    similar encyclopedia.
         But of course the question is deeper than that.
         A person doesn't have to be theologically sophisticated to know,
    appreciate &
    believe the Christian message: Karl Barth said that "Jesus loves me, this I
    know, for the Bible tells me so" was his most profound theological discovery!
    But not all Christians are called to be teachers of things regarding the faith,
    and those who are need to have some theological understanding. If one is going
    to do apologetics in a scientific context, one needs to have a decent knowledge
    of both science and theology. Think of all the damage done by people who are
    well-trained in scripture (or think they are!) & know little about science but
    still think they can discuss issues of creation & evolution &c.
    Knowing science
    but not theology can be just as dangerous. Of course it takes time & energy to
    become reasonably knowledgeable in more than one discipline but that's just the
    way it is.

    > So first is leaving theological pronouncements at an
    > inaccessible level where I cannot even assess whether
    > they are true or false. I realize that it is a challenge to write
    > these kinds of things, but one
    > should not assume that everyone on this list has a
    > Ph.D. in their own particular area of expertise either. Nor is even a
    > Ph.D. and years of experience likely to
    > be adequate in a lot of cases.

         I can understand the frustration that leads a person, on encountering a
    phrase like "haggadaic midrash" to say "What in hell does that mean?" But it
    seems kind of odd to go further and say, "I don't know what that means so it's

    > The second point is whereas
    > I suppose I shouldn't expect translators
    > to point out delineation's for me, I cannot
    > see any obvious way to trim the message
    > of Mt 14:22-33 in such a way that I don't
    > end up hacking off the whole thing. Whereas
    > the subject of the thread is _Peter_, I cannot
    > see the fine lines of separation between Jesus
    > and Peter clearly, and if I keep working this
    > way, where does that lead me? Since I confess
    > a faith in Christ as God crucified and raised,
    > I must certainly reject hacking off the whole
    > thing, but what then?

             First, it is not obvious that faith in Christ crucified and risen
    requires one to believe that Jesus walking on the sea was an actual historical
    event. I think it's most likely that it was but that's not essential to the
    faith. But waiving that, I suggest that the clear line of separation you're
    looking for is present just in the fact that Mk - who is almost certainly Mt's
    source for the first part of the text - as well as John have nothing
    about Peter
    walking on the water. This ought to at least raise the question of whether or
    not that latter part of the text is a theological elaboration of the original
    story by Mt or whether he had some independent historical source. As far as
    getting some insight into scripture is concerned, whether or not one
    accepts the
    answer that Gundry or anyone else gives to that question seems to me not as
    important as a willingness to ask the question.

    > At least without a clear picture of how I am
    > supposed to do this kind of fine razor job, I
    > am inclined to go on faith, even if it challenges
    > my scientific and intellectual faculties to do so.

         The job that is required is not as "fine" as you suggest. Once one is open
    to the possibility that scripture contains different kinds of accounts from
    different viewpoints, many of the things that previously seemed quite
    arcane just
    jump out at you.

    Walter Hicks wrote:

    >I brought up this question to the list, because I wanted to see how many could
    >call this text "true" and then turn around and say that it never
    >really happened
    >and is not historical. That is just an opinion poll. However, what
    >you have said
    >below goes well beyond that.

    >The difficulty as I see it, is that you have just ruled out any possibility of
    >we poor non theologians ever studying the Bible and getting the
    >proper message.
    >Not only must one study under a scholar, but you imply that only
    >those scholars
    >who agree with you are qualified to interpret the scriptures.

    >I have a number of Bibles with references and Commentaries to assist in Bible
    >study. Frankly, the theological opinions often presented on this
    >particular list
    >(like that below) are rarely found in any commentary that I have ----

    >and I get
    >my references from Christian bookstores in liberal Kennedyland. My primary
    >reference for New Testament is the Tyndale Commentaries. It totally disagrees
    >with the view that the text we have been discussing is non-historical and does
    >not offer any suggestion at all that is a midrash. Yet, if others on this list
    >suggest it is historical in nature, we get a lecture about our lack of
    >theological understanding.

         Some of what I said above applies here.
         I have found some of the Tyndale commentaries helpful though they do lean
    heavily in the direction of insisting that everything in scripture is
    historically accurate. I don't think it's a good idea to get one's biblical
    interpretation only from one kind of source with a uniform point of view.
         For those who can get ahold of it, I would suggest reading
    Gerhard Lohfink's,
    _The Bible: Now I Get It!/ A Form Criticism Handbook_ (Doubleday,
    1979). It has
    a lot of cartoon-like illustrations & looks at first glance like a kiddie book
    but it isn't. Whether one agrees with it or not, I think this will
    help give the
    non-expert some insight into modern biblical criticism.
         I would also suggest that one of the Bibles you use for study (I would even
    say the primary one) be the Oxford Annotated edition of either the RSV or NRSV
    with the Apocrypha.

    >What is a poor engineer or scientist to do? If ASA is truly a "Big
    >Tent" where
    >many members of the Christian Faith may abide, then where would describe the
    >relative position of the viewpoint below with respect to the ASA center of
    >gravity (to use some "scientific" lingo ;-)?

             I think Bob Schneider's comments (snipped here) are
    left-of-center in the
    ASA but not in the church catholic. I'd put myself in pretty much the same
    position theologically. I know that a lot of people in the ASA regard me as
    quite "liberal." OTOH in wider religion-science discussions such as those at
    Templeton conferences, as well as in the religious circles I frequent
    in general,
    I'm often seen as quite conservative.



    George L. Murphy
    "The Science-Theology Interface"

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