Re: Does the Bible teach a flat earth?

From: Peter Ruest (
Date: Sat Dec 21 2002 - 00:42:38 EST

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    Hi Michael

    > In response to Peter Ruest's reply to Bob Schneider.
    > 1) Biblical criticism is not necessarily contrary to holding to inspiration.
    > Basically every book on biblical studies in the IVP catalogue accept both
    > criticism and inspiration. It is impoosible to read the bible with holding
    > to some kind of criticsim, whether source-, historical- redaction- or
    > anything else.

    I agree. I'm sorry if you got the impression that I reject any kind of
    criticism, or that I reject at least some of the types in principle.
    What I emphasized is that often it is being overdone very much, and that
    much speculation is treated as if it were the only valid interpretation.

    > To write as you do you aresaying Luther, Calvin, Blocher and every other
    > scholar who holds to full inspiration is lying or misguided.

    Of course I am not. I wrote to Bob: "I don't suggest that you don't
    believe in a divine inspiration of Scripture, but rather that you too
    easily adopt (at least some of) the source fragmentation hypotheses of
    the historical-critical method." This is a rather restricted criticism.
    I might have some disagreements with any of the scholars you mention,
    but I would certainly apply it in the same restricted manner, not
    calling them lying or misguided.

    > 2) Consider Calvin who lived for a time in Geneva. He stressed that God
    > "accommodated" himself to the thought forms of the day and thought questions
    > on astronomy were theological irrelvant and Moses wrtoe for the "rude and
    > unlearned" Remeber Galileo - the bilbe teachs how to go to heaven and not
    > how the heavens go.

    As for Galileo's saying, I explicitely said the bible doesn't teach a
    spherical earth (corresponding to his "how the heavens go").
    Accommodation can be interpreted in different ways. One aspect is that
    God took care that his prophets formulated what He wanted to reveal in a
    way conducive to being understood by unlearned people. I agree with
    that, and Calvin may very well have meant this. Quite different is the
    claim that God didn't care whether whatever errors the prophet's
    contemporaries might have held were incorporated in the text or not, as
    long as it would not touch a theological truth. Here I have very serious
    reservations. First of all, some include moral or ethical issues among
    the defects tolerated (I don't think Calvin did). This is a very
    dangerous idea, for how are we going to distinguish between these and
    "theological" issues? A very similar problem is the question of
    historical reality. Much of biblical revelation is closely linked with
    history. Finally, I doubt whether we can always clearly sort out the
    different types of truth into those tolerating factual errors and those
    not tolerating them. Calvin's saying that astronomical questins are
    theologically irrelevant (which he did) is not the same as saying that
    the Bible contains astronomical errors (which he probably did not).

    Those opposed to harmonization never seem to take into consideration the
    possibility that a given formulation may sometimes be capable of
    different interpretations, all of which are linguistically admissible
    but not all of which are compatible with the same views of the physical
    world. The Hebrew "'erets" may legitimately be translated "earth" or
    "land", but in the case of Noah's flood, "earth" is incompatible with a
    spherical earth, but "'erets" is compatible with both a flat and a
    spherical earth. So why must we insist that here "earth" is the only
    correct translation, just because we moderns know it would have to be
    "land", if anything?

    It is rightly emphasized that the original text must be understandable
    by the contemporaries of the prophet. But why don't we apply the same
    measure to modern people? Surely God wants to reveal himself to us just
    as well! Evidently, the YECs don't understand some texts like Genesis 1
    correctly, because they are fixed to a particular interpretation, rather
    than being open to the fluidity of language. The same applies to the
    dogmatic source critics. Didn't the rather radical source critic Rofe
    concede as much, as I showed last time? I think God is flexible enough
    to accommodate himself and his revelation to the ancients' and the
    moderns' understanding with the same text.

    > 3) > The historical-critical method has rewritten virtually all of Israel's
    > > OT history and made suspect or irrelevant much of the theology conveyed,
    > > in God's plan, by this history. A historical-critical analysis ignoring
    > > divine influence and inspiration of the entire canonical Bible as a
    > > whole is sure to go off on a tangent.
    > This is a gross half-truth as it depends on what presup[ositions one has
    > behind one's use of critical methods.

    I don't understand what you mean. Of course, very much depends on the
    presuppositions behind one's use of critical methods. One example I
    hinted at is the question of how one tries to "solve" a contrast between
    two texts: does one immediately conclude that it is a contradiction, in
    order to use it as a criterion for dividing sources, or does one first
    try to find a harmonization? You accuse me of a "gross half-truth", but
    you don't show me what is wrong with the points I made. As you might
    conclude from what I said before, I am not condemning _any_ kind of
    historical-critical analysis, nor accusing _all_ scholars doing some
    historical-critical analysis, but I am trying to point out the traps I
    think many scholars have fallen into. Wellhausen confessed to having
    lost his christian faith due to his historical-critical method. I don't
    think he was the only one.

    > 4> "The Bible claims to be inspired by God. He designed it for all
    > > cultures, but letting it be contaminated with gross errors would
    > > compromise it in some of them.
    > The Bible has to use the thought forms of the day.

    The Bible has to use the (flexible) language of the day, in a way
    compatible with God's intentions for _all_ of subsequent history.

    > I think Peter you overstate your case. It is most likely that the OT
    > writers were flat-earthers but Luke and Paul were not. Also one cannot
    > expect biblical writers to write in a compatible way with modern science -
    > there aim was to expalin the ways of God to the common man.

    This argument assumes a very modern, computer-like, inflexible view of
    language. X means exactly such-and-such, never anything else. And, even
    more disturbing, it seems to assume that the ancients of a few thousand
    years ago were more "primitive", less intelligent than we are. Of
    course, we have accumulated more scientific data, but aren't we moderns
    sometimes in danger of undervaluing the mental capacities of the
    ancients? If I am not capable of explaining somewhat complex issues in a
    way uneducated people can understand, without oversimplifying too much,
    this doesn't mean God couldn't do it when giving his messages through
    his prophets.

    > Regards
    > Michael

    Grace and peace,


    Dr. Peter Ruest, CH-3148 Lanzenhaeusern, Switzerland
    <> - Biochemistry - Creation and evolution
    "..the work which God created to evolve it" (Genesis 2:3)

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