Re: Does the Bible teach a flat earth?

From: Peter Ruest (
Date: Tue Jan 14 2003 - 00:51:03 EST

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    George Murphy wrote (06 Jan 2003):
    > Peter Ruest wrote:
    > > (snip)
    > > > GM: we can't say that Genesis was written by Moses simply
    >because Jesus, _en passant_, affirmed that traditional Jewish view.
    > > (snip)
    > > PR: 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. <<
    > GM: 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. <

    PR: Your formulation of begging the question is _not_ what I wrote or
    implied, see above. What I did say or imply is
    (1) the suggestion that Jesus' indicating Genesis as written by Moses
    reflects an erroneous Jewish view is based on the _previous_ assumption
    that this view is erroneous;
    (2) this assumption is based on the source-division hypothesis of the
    Pentateuch (which I believe to be mostly false);
    (3) the suggestion about Jesus is not supported by Jesus' words or their
    context or the entire context of the NT;
    (4) I believe, not just on the basis of such remarks by Jesus, but from
    the whole OT + NT context, that Moses indeed was the redactor (not
    author) of Genesis;
    (5) I don't know whether Jesus _knew_ this (directly or by faith) or
    just took it as obvious.

    > GM: 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, <

    PR: No, this IF is not the core of our dispute, because you and I agree
    about this statement. Where we start disagreeing is about the meaning
    and implications of this limitation.

    > GM: 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. <

    PR: Your adding "automatically" conceals your actual opinion about this
    statement. If the restriction is included, I might agree in a merely
    formal logical way, as it might have been God the Father who each time
    inspired the required knowledge in Jesus and who exercised the power
    through him (cf. what I wrote last time, see below). But it seems to me
    that you are begging the question about whether these things actually
    happened as recorded. If they did not, that is, if these are _nothing
    but_ theological statements, it would indicate, in my opinion, that
    _all_ simple Christians, and the Church as a whole, have been wrong,
    misled by the texts, about the proper understanding of the Gospels for
    most of Christian history. If this is so, I don't understand what your
    disclaimer of considering these passages to be "simply false" really
    means. Do we want to go back to Bultmannian scientism?

    > > > 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).
    > > 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. <<
    > GM: 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 part. <

    PR: Isn't it a true kenosis (and the central reality revealed in Phil.
    2:5-8) if he systematically, throughout his life, refrained from using
    divine power _for his own benefit_, or to evade the cross, although he
    could have used this power? Else, what would his saying mean, "Do you
    think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me
    more than twelve legions of angels?" (Mat. 26:53)? Jesus is certainly
    not given to empty boasting! The same can be said about knowledge. His
    being hungry would only become "acting a part" if he had turned stones
    into bread in the desert, and analogously for other limitations, which
    he really shared with humanity, but of his own accord. If he couldn't
    have turned stones into bread, or jumped unharmed from the pinnacle of
    the temple, or assumed dominion over all the kingdoms of the world and
    their glory (cf. Mat. 4:1-11), his temptation would have been a sham.
    And what would be the theological message of that? If he couldn't have
    come down from the cross (Mat. 27:42), his staying there wouldn't have
    been a becoming "obedient unto death, even the death of the cross"
    (Phil. 2:8).

    > > > > PR: 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
    > > > > 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. <<
    > >
    > > > > PR: 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 !
    ght. <<<<
    > GM: 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"). <

    PR: I agree only with your first sentence. There is a world of
    difference between acknowledging occasional possibly later, minor
    redactional remarks, added to explain some detail, and wholesale claims
    of the text originating up to 1000 years later, changing all of the
    previous, theologically important history ("Heilsgeschichte"!) of

    And what's wrong with the Canaanites being around Shechem (Gen. 12:6),
    and they and the Perizzites around Bethel (Gen. 13:7), at the time of
    Abraham? In Moses' time, the Canaanites dwelt "by the sea and along
    Jordan", whereas the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites occupied
    "the hill country" (Num. 13:29), including Shechem and Bethel. Now, if
    the remark in Gen. 12:6b about the Canaanites is a later redactional
    remark, this just implies that the original of Gen. 12 predates Moses.

    > GM: 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. <

    PR: In many cases, harmonization isn't even needed, as there is no real
    contradiction. Only a very small fraction of the alleged contradictions
    recounted in Alexander Rofe's "Introduction to the Composition of the
    Pentateuch" (Sheffield Academic Press, 1999, ISBN 1-85075-992-8) don't
    have fairly obvious, noncontradictory solutions, cf. my post of 25 Nov
    2002, starting the thread "The Pentateuch dissected and revised".

    And when is historical harmonization not appropriate, and why?

    > > > 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. <<
    > GM: 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! <

    I agree that her virginity _in partu_ has no biblical foundation, Luther

    > > PR: 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. <<
    > GM: 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. <

    PR: I never took headings (in any translation) as anything but a help
    for finding particular texts. They clearly don't have any revelational
    standing. My belief that, essentially (i.e. with the exception of a few
    added remarks), Moses was the redactor of Genesis and the author of
    Exodus through Deuteronomy has nothing to do with the headings "... Book
    of Moses".

    > GM: 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 assumptions.
    > 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. <

    PR: Why do you say that? If, by "accurate historical reporting", you
    mean "according to the modern scientific standards of historical
    research", you are probably right. But if you imply proven erroneous
    statements, I don't know what you are talking about. In a court case,
    the defendant is assumed innocent until proven guilty. Some biblical
    scholars apparently don't hold to this ethical principle when dealing
    with the bible. Yes, the bible isn't a defendant in court, but often, I
    perceive a lack of reverence towards the primary Author of the bible, in
    marked contrast to the respect we (rightly) use towards possible

    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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