Accomodation (Was Re: Seely's Views 2)

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Mon Sep 06 2004 - 09:40:22 EDT

Glenn -
    No doubt you will be frustrated & perhaps annoyed by the fact that I'm
not going to respond to your arguments about information theory in any
detail. I'm sorry about that but I simply don't see that they do more but
provide an analogy for your other arguments, & I'd rather address those
arguments directly. I will comment on one of your statements from another
post & hope that that will give a clearer idea of the reasons for my
skepticism. I quote a whole paragraph of yours to indicate what I'm
referring to but will address only the 1st sentence which makes a key (& I
think mistaken) assumption:

"Suppose there are two possible cases for a Biblical passage,
true or false, and we are transmitting at a rate of 1000 passages per
second with probabiltiies p0=p1=1/2. Thus our source is producing
information at the rate of 1000 bits per second. During transmission the
interpretation, exegesis etc, all introduce errors so that, on the
average, 1 in 100 passages is perceived incorrectly (a false statement
as a true statement or a true statement as a false statement). What is
the rate of transmission of information? Certainly less than 1000 bits
per second since about 1% of the received passages are perceived
incorrectly. Our first impulse might be to say the rate is 990 passages
per second, merely subtracting the expected number of errors. This is
not satisfactory since it fails to take into account the recipient's
lack of knowledge of where the errors occur. We may carry it to an
extreme case and suppose the problems of interpretation and exegesis is
so great that the perceived truth of the passages are entirely
independent of the transmitted truth values. The probability of
perceiving a passage to be true is whatever was the original truth
value and similarly for false statements. Then abut half of the received
passages are interpreted correctly due to chance alone, and we would be
giving the system credit for transmitting 500 passages per second while
actually no information is being transmitted at all."

"Suppose there are two possible cases for a Biblical passage,
true or false, ..." This seems to assume that we can take a text like Gen.1
apart into independent propositions which can each be evaluated as T or F -
v1 T, v2 F, &c. But that's not what accomodation means. Verses 14-19 are
true statements that God created the sun, moon & stars. In the context of
the whole account they are statements about the theological value of the
heavenly bodies relative to humanity. Seen in the light of modern
scientific knowledge, the placement of these verses in the whole account
after the creation of the earth & vegetation is wrong if the account is read
as a scientific report about the development of the universe. The truth of
the text and the falsity, by modern scientific standards, of the worldview
to which it's accomodated can't be taken apart as easily as you suggest.

Again: Assume for the sake of argument that the events in Jesus's Good
Samaritan story never happened. In that case every statement in it - "A man
was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho," he "fell into the hands of
robbers," &c - is false by the standards of "history as it really happened."
And the entire story is true.
To put it more sharply, the whole story is false at one level and true at
another (deeper) level.

Or another example in which nothing has to be assumed for the sake of
argument: Was Tony Bennet telling the truth or a falsehood when he sang "I
left my heart in San Francisco"? The answer is yes.

> And I noticed George, that you didn't answer the questions I asked of
> Don. Why is it that that list of questions simply is never answered?
> We always go off on other tangets.

This is the 1st time I've seen these questions. They were posed to Don I
don't read every post on the list in detail. But I'm glad to deal with
these now.

First I have to expand upon something that I've said before in other forums
about accomodation, but perhaps haven't emphasized sufficiently in this
setting. As far as I'm concerned, accomodation isn't just an ad hoc way of
protecting a kind of partial truth of scripture but is something more
fundamental. It has the same character as the divine kenosis in the
Incarnation. In assuming human nature the 2d Person of the Trinity took on
the limitations of a single male in the Galilean culture of 2000 years ago.
More than that, he came "in the likeness of sinful flesh." There were
things he didn't know. ("Who touched me?" The "that day or hour"). He got
tired & thirsty. He was afraid of dying. The nails through his wrists

You'll probably ask, "Did he ever say enything that wasn't true?" In your
sense, yes. The mustard seed is not "the smallest of all seeds on earth"
(Mk.4:31). Either he didn't know that & was just wrong or he knew and was
"accomodating" his speech to popular belief. I think the 1st is most
likely, but in either case God himself was accomodated to the limitations of
humanity in a particular culture.

What does this have to do with the Bible? 1st of all, Christ is the Word of
God in the primary sense. The Bible is the record of the primary witnesses
to the Word and the basis for proclamation of him. 2d, scripture is about
Christ - cf. Jn.5:39. & if God's primary revelation is accomodated, it's
hardly suprising if the witness to it is as well?

Is this an entirely modern idea? No - cf. e.g. Luther's comparison of
scripture with the manger which held the Christ Child. The wood is not the
revelation. But it's true that it's really only with the development of
modern science & historical consciousness in the last few centuries that
we've been brought to see the need to take this idea of accomodation in
scripture seriously. I see no reason to be apologetic about that: We do
learn things.

Then to your questions:

> 1. Why does accommodation only apply to JudeoChristianity?

    The question is only meaningful if one assumes that there are other
religious texts besides the Bible which are genuine witnesses to divine
revelation, & I see no reason to assume that. The primary criterion for any
such claimant is whether or not it witnesses to Christ, & of course the vast
majority of texts of other traditions don't. Those that do refer to Jesus -
the Qur'an, The Book of Mormon &c - are either obviously dependent on the
Bible and/or distort the biblical witness to the significance of Christ.

> 2. Why do we know that accomodational revelations have stopped?

    1st we have to know whether or not revelation has stopped. Most
protestants would say it has because the central revelational event has
taken place and there are no more apostolic witnesses to it. No more
revelation, no more accomodated revelation. If, for the sake of argument,
there have been or will be further revelations then I see now reason why
they might not be accomodated to the then-current state of knowledge in the
culture to which they come. I'll leave it to any RCs or EOs who wish to to
expand on their understanding of post-apostolic revelation.

    However, accomodation in communication of God's word hasn't stopped.
Paul & I have given examples of such accomodation in (respectively)
translation & preaching. You don't like them but that's your problem.

    And while later dogmatic statements of the church do not have the status
of scripture, it's significant that they too are accomodated. Consider,
e.g., the Nicene Creed's "he came down from heaven" or the use of the
concepts of "nature" and "person" from Greek philosophy in the Definition of
Chalcedon. (In the latter case one can't say that those concepts in
themselves are "false" but use of them does mean that Christ is understood
within a particular philosophical framework which is not, as we realize
today, unique.)

> 3. How do I tell what is and isn't accommodation other than my personal
> feelings of what is and isn't?

    a. By what they say about Christ.
    b. By comparison of one biblical text with another (e.g., Gen. 1 & 2).
    c. From external evidence. (E.g., the sun & moon weren't created on
the 4th day. The mustard seed isn't the smallest.)

> 4. Where in the Scripture (indeed any scripture from any religion) does
> it say God accommodates? (Paul's examples in his book are not
> satisfactory for me--the case of divorce)

    The fact that they aren't satisfactory to you doesn't invalidate them.
But try Heb.1:1 & think of some of the "various ways" God communicated in
the OT - like urim & thummim.

> 5. What is truth and is it possible to attain it under this shifting
> sand epistemology?


(Probably you know the hymn with the refrain
    "On Christ the solid rock I stand,
    All other ground is shifting sand.")

> And the final question I asked was:
> 6. And why exactly should I then automatically assume that God's
> intention was as you describe it? Just because I might be wrong doesn't
> automaticaly make you correct. The whole thing might be farce. This is
> another question I would like to see addressed and actually answered.

    I didn't say that you should "automatically assume" anything. What I'm
saying is that you should start from faith in Christ. When you read the
Bible and are confronted with the kinds of issues you've described at length
about the age of the earth, evolution, the flood &c, take seriously what the
Incarnation suggests about God's way of communicating.

Received on Mon Sep 6 09:59:04 2004

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