Re: Seely's Views

From: <>
Date: Tue Aug 17 2004 - 20:21:10 EDT

> PHS: When missionary translators went to New Guinea, they found a primitive
> people who knew nothing of sheep, but had an economy and culture based upon
> pigs, and they very highly valued pigs. Now the absolute truth is that in the
> OT pigs are UNCLEAN, and were not used for sacrifice. Further, the absolute
> truth is that John the Baptist said of Jesus, "Behold the Lamb of God who
> takes away the sin of the world."
> But, in the interests of good communication the missionaries made
> concessions to the deeply pre-ingrained cultural ideas, and they translated the text,
> "Behold the Pig of God who takes away the sin of the world."
> Looked at from one angle, the missionaries made that Bible verse False,
> simply false; but would you say it is no longer inspired?
> GRM: I would say that I find such arguments quite compelling of the
> conclusion that theology doesn't matter. Sure it is harmless to the concept to
> replace sheeps with pigs. But why stop there? What is the brake on this sort of
> substitution? Maybe sin was something the ancient hebrews understood that
> other cultures of the time didn't and thus God talked about sin, to get across to
> the Hebrews other concepts, say God's love?
> One can probably make a case that in the OT, the word 'heaven' means merely
> the sky, not the place of eternal bliss. Did God accomodate his theology to
> the beliefs of the mid-east culture of 2000 years ago and add the concept
> that there was a heaven, when in fact there isn't one? And did God accomodate
> his theology to the understanding of first century that there must be a
> returning political king and make up all that nonsense about his physical return?
> Did God accomodate his theology to that extent? Give me a non ad hoc
> explanation for why that couldn't have occurred? What exactly defines the line
> across which your substitutionary approach must cease? Your approach seems to
> have no coherent stopping point to me, which is why I find it so wrong
> PHS Or can genuine inspiration employ concession to deeply pre-ingrained
> cultural ideas while at the same time communicating absolutely true spiritual
> truth?
> GRM: Sure we can communcate that way. But one has no natural stopping point
> for this type of concession.

PHS: Terry Gray has raised the same issue; and it is one that must be faced
and dealt with. Where does the concession stop and the divine revelation begin?
How can we separate the one from the other?

I fear that writing anything less than a book will be less than convincing
especially to those who would like to think that if we just hold on to a literal
interpretation of the Bible, we will not have the problem. So, I write with
the caveat that this is only a preliminary statement, and that I expect to
learn something from the criticism offered.
The problem is not new. It has existed for centuries, not with regard to
accommodation to the science of the times, but with regard to OT faith and morals.
Jesus opened the real can of worms when he indicated that the permissive law
of divorce in Deut 24:1-4 was an accommodation to the hard-hearted cultural
practices of the times. Other OT laws raise the same question. Assuming, for
example, that one is a slave-holder (I heard on PBS that there are now twice as
many slaves in the world than all the slaves who ever came from Africa to
America) and you give a female slave as wife to a male slave, if you follow the OT
law for Hebrew slaves to let the male slave go after 6 years of labor, is it
100% ethical or is it an accommodation to keep the wife and the man's children
as slaves unless the male slave consents to be a slave the rest of his life
(Ex 21:2-6)? Calvin railed against the "ethics" of this law and saw it as
accommodation, but decide for yourself

How about this law: "He who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be
put to death" (Ex 21:15)? Is it 100% ethical, or an accommodation? There are a
number of other such laws, some of which I deal with in my book. The point
is, the question is not new, and holding that the Bible is accommodated to the
science of the times is minor compared to the historic problem of trying to
decide which laws in the OT a Christian should accept and which one should reject
as accommodations.
The International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, who in the 1960's produced
the most thorough definition of inerrancy for Evangelicals, also produced a
book on hermeneutics, Hermeneutics and Inerrancy, in which they deal with this
same question as it occurs in the N.T. The question is phrased as cultural vs.
absolute rather than accommodation vs.absolute, but the issue is the same. The
interesting thing is they could not come to a clear consensus. The assigned
group of scholars could not answer the question you are asking me to answer.

I offer then some of my thoughts as to how to answer the question, but expect
to sharpen my thinking with time.

1. Christianity is ultimately a walk of faith. There are reasons to believe,
but no objective proofs. So, I see the buck as stopping with faith in Jesus
Christ. If a person has not met him personally, if the Father has not revealed
to a person who he is (Matt 16:17; 13:16), then that person has no basis for
answering the question.

2. If you do accept him as the ultimate revelation (Heb 1:2), then his
teachings become a canon within the canon.
3. In practical terms, when a biblical passage raises an ethical question, it
must be subjected to the two-fold command: Love God and love your neighbor as
yourself as well as to any specifics given by Jesus.
4. Doctrinal questions such as you ask about heaven are also submitted to his
teachings, which on that point are clear and unambiguous.

5. In addition to the teachings of Jesus, there are themes of revelation,
such as God as Creator, which are found repeatedly throughout the Bible. I see
Jesus as perceiving these themes and accepting them as authoritative revelation.
So, in conjunction with the work of his Spirit, I do too.

6. Lesser and more ambiguous revelations can be submitted to these themes as
well as to the teachings of Jesus to see if they line up.

7. On scientific issues, I cannot find any revelation which tells me God has
revealed such matters; and I can often see from the science of the times that
they match the science of the times; and this carries through from Genesis to
Revelation. The consistent finding of ancient science in the Bible tells me
this area of knowledge is accommodation, not revelation.

8. On historical issues, the Bible writers of history never claim that they
got their information from revelation, never say, as do the prophets, "the word
of the Lord came to me" or the like. They almost always cite human sources as
either their sources or the sources they would have you use to add to or
check their work. Accordingly, the historical value of any passage is contingent
on the sources which can be perceived as having been used. In order to talk
about accommodation, there has to be something culturally pre-ingrained before
the prophet gets there. In the case of history, about the only place I see such
a circumstance is in the stories of Gen 1-11, which match closely earlier
Babylonian stories and motifs.

So, about your specific questions:
 <<Maybe sin was something the ancient hebrews understood that other cultures
of the time didn't and thus God talked about sin, to get across to the
Hebrews other concepts, say God's love?>>

This is not a good example because if they understood something "that other
cultures of the time didn't" it is not an accommodation.

<<One can probably make a case that in the OT, the word 'heaven' means merely
the sky, not the place of eternal bliss. Did God accomodate his theology to
the beliefs of the mid-east culture of 2000 years ago and add the concept
that there was a heaven, when in fact there isn't one?>>

First off I see from Jesus' teaching on divorce that accommodation in the
realm of faith and morals is something that occurred when Israel had
_pre-ingrained_ cultural beliefs, mores, that were contrary to what God would have said if
they had not had such prejudicial views.

Secondly, the Bible evidences discrimination when it comes to surrounding
cultural views, even when the Israelites wanted to believe such views. For
example, the history of Israel shows a desire to add gods, especially fertility
gods, to the worship of Jehovah; and the Israelites did this over and over again.
But, this is never accommodated, but always rejected by the prophets. The same
thing is true of adding a goddess or consort for Jehovah.

Thirdly, you seem to be talking about borrowing rather than accommodation
when you raise the question about the heaven of bliss. It makes for an
interesting discussion. The Hebrews believed in Sheol after death, a rather dismal
shadowing existence; and the OT reflects that view from beginning to end, with
only glimmers of something better. The view was common among the Mesopotamians,
and later among the Greeks. It appears that Sheol may be an accommodation. If
so, it is awaiting a more accurate revelation, the heaven of bliss, which is
found in the NT

Now suppose the heaven of bliss concept was borrowed from some other people.
Would that automatically make it incapable of being true? I don't see why it

As it turns out, the heaven of bliss seems to come into Judaism with the hell
of punishment after the exile, and if it was borrowed, it probably came from
Zoroastrianism. However, the Sadducees did not accept the heaven of bliss or
hell (they stuck with the OT view of Sheol). Given the OT doctrine of Sheol and
the Sadducees' rejection of the new doctrine of a heaven of bliss, the heaven
of bliss cannot be considered a truly pre-ingrained belief when Jesus came on
the scene, Consequently it is a weak candidate for accommodation. Jesus
accepted it, and he did not accept everything he found in the Jewish culture, so I
think there is a good case for a Christian, that the belief is not an
accommodation; and even if borrowed, the borrowing is irrelevant.

GRMMy question goes deeper than merely enhancing communication. It concerns
given several millennia of these concessions, would we have any way to tell the
difference between concession and non-concession? Would we have any means to
discern the real message. I note, with disappointment that you didn't
address the islamic and Moonie cliams that they superceded the Christian theology.
Is God in the process of trying to correct the misunderstandings which come
from his concessions to the first century Christians? Please answer this
because it goes to the heart of the problem I see with your approach.

I hope you can see from what I have written above that concession
(accommodation) is bounded and is not all that common even in the OT. It does not open
the OT to becoming a game of playing "telephone."
I did not see the Islamic/Moonie things earlier because I have been to busy
to follow the whole thread. (I just pop in when I sense my name is being used
in vain. ;-) I can only say I have not seen anything in Islamic or Moonie
teachings which would lead me to believe that the supremacy of Jesus Christ has
been superseded, and the NT is fundamentally a development of the seeds which he
sowed. I accept his resurrection as God's ultimate statement about his
supremacy, a statement unspoken about either Mohammed or Sun Moon, or whatever his
name was.


Received on Tue Aug 17 20:40:58 2004

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Tue Aug 17 2004 - 20:40:58 EDT