Re: Does the Bible teach a flat earth?

From: George Murphy (
Date: Mon Jan 06 2003 - 09:57:24 EST

  • Next message: George Murphy: "Re: spong's bad assumptions and virgin births - for jim"

    Peter Ruest wrote:
    > George Murphy wrote:
    > >
    > > Peter Ruest wrote:
    > >
    > > > The close parallel between scripture and christology is
    > > > very important. Just as Jesus is "fully human and fully divine", so is
    > > > scripture. But what does "fully human and fully divine" mean? Certainly,
    > > > Jesus being "fully human" does not mean that during his earthly life he
    > > > was "nothing but" human! Jesus did empty himself, but (according to
    > > > Phil. 2) in the sense of not using any divine power, or any other
    > > > privilege beyond what the poorest humans had, for _his own_ benefit.
    > >
    > > GM: No, he is not "nothing but" human - but also not
    > >"nothing but" divine. & the latter has a more subtle but no less
    > >dangerous temptation than the former. Denial of the divinity of
    > >Christ is usually fairly obvious. But it's possible to make a
    > >formal & good faith affirmation of his humanity while in fact making
    > >that humanity simply a temporary disguise for God. The uproar among
    > >some Christians a few years ago over the film "The Last Temptation
    > >of Christ", with its idea that Christ really was tempted, is
    > >illustrative of this.
    > > If Christ was fully human then he lived under the
    > >conditions of other 1st century Jews in Palestine, participating in
    > >the common cultural assumptions about scripture, expectations for
    > >the hope of Israel, &c. This doesn't mean that he couldn't - as
    > >human - have transcended some of those beliefs, but it means that,
    > >e.g., we can't say that Genesis was written by Moses simply because
    > >Jesus, _en passant_, affirmed that traditional Jewish view. & to
    > >the extent that Jesus did transcend traditional views (e.g., about
    > >the role of women), it cannot have been because the divine mind
    > >simply supplied him with the right answers.
    > PR: This almost sounds like the caricature of divine inspiration of the
    > scripture being conceived of as "mechanical dictation".

            Caricature or not, there are many people who in practice have
    such a "dictation"
    view of inspiration & many who have docetic christologies - & often
    they're the same

    > But I mostly
    > agree with your two paragraphs above. Yet if "we can't say that Genesis
    > was written by Moses simply because Jesus, _en passant_, affirmed that
    > traditional Jewish view", we can't say, either, that Jesus' affirming
    > that traditional view just reflects his ignorance and is therefore
    > irrelevant. The possibility must be taken seriously that his affirmation
    > may reflect a reality he knew, or rightly took as obvious, namely that
    > Moses was in fact the redactor of Genesis.

            I will make some points on details below but note here a
    general argument in
    response to a good deal of what you say here. My original point was
    that there is a
    close parallel between the Incarnation and scripture and,
    specifically, between the
    human limitations in both. It begs the question to argue as follows:
            A. The gospels picture Jesus as having supernatural
    knowledge and power.
            B. Jesus affirmed that Moses wrote (or was the redactor of) Genesis.
            C. Therefore Moses did write (or was the redactor of) Genesis.
            IF (& of course this big IF is the core) the Bible is God's
    Word in the form of
    human words which were limited by the cultural context &c of the
    biblical writers, then
    passages in the gospels which speak of Jesus exercising supernatural
    knowledge and power
    during his earthly ministry do not automatically show that Jesus of
    Nazareth did in fact
    operate in that way. This does _not_ mean that such passages are
    simply false. They
    are theological statements that Jesus of Nazareth was in fact the Son of God.

    > > GM: Kenosis is not the same as krypsis, concealment. The
    > >latter means that Christ simply didn't use certain powers during his
    > >state of humiliation. The former means that he actually gave them
    > >up. There are problems with kenotic christology but some are
    > >traceable to the assumption that God must work from a standpoint of
    > >strength as we normally understand it - i.e., that God had to hold
    > >on to his power. But that is what I Cor.1:25, II Cor.12:9, & the
    > >theology of the cross in general, deny.
    > PR: I see the distinction between kenosis and krypsis. But are you
    > really suggesting he fully gave up all of his divine prerogatives and
    > power? This doesn't seem to square with the most natural reading of much
    > that is related in the Gospels, as I pointed out in the quote just
    > below, - unless we assume that the power and wisdom he so obviously
    > displayed was not his own, but that his sinlessness and absolute
    > obedience and confidence in his Father allowed him to let the Father do
    > all those signs through him. I could go along with this. His promise
    > that his disciples were going to do similar signs, and greater ones
    > (John 14:12), would fit with this interpretation.
    > But if, in this way, all of his Father's power and knowledge were - for
    > the asking (Mat. 26:53) - "at his fingertips", this would have placed
    > him, to all practical purposes, on a level quite different from all of
    > his contemporaries - and us moderns (cf. Rom. 1:21; 3:11-12), and we
    > cannot claim with any confidence that he shared all of his
    > contemporaries' errors and ignorance (which is the focus of our
    > discussion).

            Where then is the kenosis - or even the concealment - if this
    is the case? If
    Jesus was walking around Galilee working miracles, knowing what
    people were thinking,
    and having accurate knowledge of the world without benefit of any
    natural source for
    such information, all by divine power, where is there any sharing in
    the limitations of
    humanity? His being tired or hungry & so forth seem to be reduced to
    just acting a
    > I don't assume that "God must work from a standpoint of strength as we
    > normally understand it - i.e., that God had to hold on to his power."
    > This is not my problem.
    > > > But he certainly kept exercising his divine power where this was shown
    > > > him by the Father to be appropriate in the pursuance of his task, like
    > > > raising the dead, healing the sick, casting out demons, changing water
    > > > into wine, walking on the surface of the lake, stilling the storm, etc.
    > > > He retained the power to command legions of angels. He knew what was in
    > > > men's hearts, what they thought, etc. He uttered many prophecies
    > > > concerning the near to very far future. He knew of the many prophecies
    > > > in "all the scriptures ... concerning himself" - prophecies none of his
    > > > contemporaries recognized as such. With a power that astonished and
    > > > scared all his contemporaries and silenced their leading theologians,
    > > > the carpenter expounded the true meaning of the Scriptures they had
    > > > missed - no one ever taught like that.
    > >
    > > There was indeed a severe kenosis, but we must not overextend it above
    > > > what Scripture teaches us. He did share our human nature completely, but
    > > > not to the complete exclusion of his divinity. This is underscored by
    > > > the virgin birth and by his sinlessness.
    > > >
    > > > Can we conclude that Jesus didn't know anything his contemporaries
    > > > didn't know? I doubt very much that this conclusion would be correct,
    > > > although I would agree that during his human life he didn't know
    > > > everything God knows. But where exactly is the line? We don't know.
    > >
    > > GM: More to the point, a natural reading of several passages
    > >indicates that there were things that he _didn't_ know.
    > PR: We would have to look at them and their relevance for hermeneutics.
    > > > Similarly with Scripture: the conclusion that none of the biblical
    > > > authors could write anything not known by his contemporaries would be
    > > > claiming too much. God is free to reveal himself in ways he deems
    > > > appropriate. We know that Jesus spoke to his contemporaries in a way
    > > > they could understand if they wanted to. But we believe - in the same
    > > > words - he also speaks to us in a way we can understand (without being
    > > > experts of Ancient Near Eastern specialties). To exclusively apply
    > > > rulers external to the bible to decide what is meant by the text, and
    > > > what the writer "could not know", and what is incorrect, or what is
    > > > "ancient mythology" is _not_ proper hermeneutics for a text which is not
    > > > only "fully human", but also "fully divine". I think the proper respect
    > > > for God requires a corresponding respect for God's Word (both Jesus and
    > > > Scripture - and I would add Creation), which can only be met by a
    > > > readiness to try to harmonize aspects which appear contradictory at
    > > > first sight.

            The question isn't what God was free to do but what God did. There are
    indications that the Pentateuch as a whole wasn't written or redacted
    in the time of
    Moses (e.g., Gen.12:6, which was apparently written at a time after
    "the Canaanites were
    in the land").
            Whether or not "harmonization" is appropriate depends on the
    level at which it
    is carried out. Theological harmonization is appropriate.
    Historical harmonization
    sometimes isn't.

    > >
    > > GM: The full humanity of Christ means, first, that he was
    > >_born_: Virginal conception (not "virgin birth") does not change
    > >that. He was subject to all the weaknesses to which we are subject.
    > >That is what "became flesh" means. He got tired & hungry & thirsty,
    > >didn't know some things, & could suffer & die - & did that as God
    > >Incarnate.
    > PR: You're right about the virginal conception. I never thought about
    > the distinction between the two concepts, but always understood it in
    > the way the scripture emphasizes. On the other hand, we also have Mat.
    > 1:25, which extends Mary's virginity up to Jesus' birth.

            See my nore to Rich F. _Virginitas in partu_ does not mean
    just that Mary
    hadn't had intercourse at the time Jesus was born, but also that her
    virginity was
    preserved in giving birth. I think it is an unfortunate notion -
    though Luther seems to
    have held it!

    > But should his
    > virginal conception really be irrelevant for the quality of his human
    > life or the character of his emptying himself? Doesn't it point to a
    > very intimate unity with his Father - even as fully human?
    > I also agree that he was subject to all the human weaknesses. How far
    > this includes participation in his contemporaries' errors, however, is
    > questionable, in my opinion.

            It is not simply a matter of "errors". I do not cross out
    the heading of
    Genesis in the King James translation or Lutherbibel that calls it
    "The First Book of
    Moses". That means that it is part of the tradition that in some
    sense goes back to
    Moses & the Exodus. But I don't think Moses wrote it.
    > > GM: In the same way (I am just quoting myself) the Bible is
    > >a collection of human documents, subject to all the vagaries of
    > >human authorship. As a human document it is the witness to the Word
    > >of God. Since it is the human witness inspired by the Spirit, it
    > >can be called God's Word. But the fact that it is in that sense
    > >divine does not mean that it cannot properly be studied by all the
    > >techniques that are used to study other ancient literature. That
    > >would be like saying that the divinity of Christ requires that the
    > >normal rules of human physiology didn't apply to Jesus.
    > PR: It _is_ a collection of human documents, yes, but is it subject to
    > _all_ the vagaries of human authorship? To treat the Bible as any other
    > book certainly does not do it justice. There _are_ differences. We would
    > have to discuss what these are. It _is_ a human witness inspired by the
    > Spirit, yes, but what do we mean by "inspired"? If that doesn't give it
    > a certain measure of reliability _beyond_ those of other books, what use
    > would it be as a witness? What is this difference?
    > Can it properly be studied by _all_ the techniques that are used to
    > study other ancient literarure? In principle, I would say yes. But quite
    > often, it is not just a question of techniques, but of presuppositions,
    > as well. And if we begin with the presupposition "it is a text like any
    > other ancient Near Eastern text", we are certainly wrong. There was _no_
    > corresponding divine inspiration of any non-biblical author. There was,
    > on the other hand, a divine intent of revelation going through _all_ of
    > canonical scripture, and this revelation is intended to reach _all_
    > humans of all times and cultures. If we arrive at the conclusion that
    > much of the history of Israel we can read about in the bible never
    > happened like this, something with our hermeneutic must be fundamentally
    > wrong. A technique must be appropriate for its subject. But always first
    > looking for contradictions between different parts of the biblical texts
    > or between these and reality as we know it, even where we know of other
    > plausible interpretations avoiding these co-called contradictions and
    > errors, does not appear to be a proper use of a technique as applied to
    > texts written under divine inspiration.
    > Jesus' human physiology, which no one would question, has nothing to do
    > with these problems.

            Last point first. I think the analogy I gave is fairly
    precise, but of course
    an analogy isn't intended as a proof.
            I agree that we need to be careful about the presuppositions
    with which we
    approach the biblical text. Many NT scholars imagine that we know
    far more about
    conditions in Palestine between 1 & 70 A.D. than we really do.
    Assertions that certain
    things couldn't have happened as the gospels say because we
    supposedly "know" that Roman
    or Jewish practice wouldn't have allowed it often have little
    foundations (Statements
    about Jesus' trial before the Sanhedrin are a case in point.) But
    those are errors of
    historical scholarship - often motivated, it's true, by various philosophical
            But it's just as wrong to assume that the only way that the
    gospels can be true
    is if they are accurate historical reporting in all their parts.

    George L. Murphy

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