Re: Kurt Wise on the creation crisis in Christian colleges

From: Peter Ruest <pruest@mysunrise.ch>
Date: Sun Feb 05 2006 - 14:48:42 EST

D. F. Siemens, Jr. wrote:
"I don't think metaphor is the problem. What is needed is an honest translation
of the ancient terms. The /raquia`/ was translated /stereoma/ in LXX (solid) and
/firmamentum/ (support) in the Vulgate. It cannot be understood as atmosphere.
It has water above it and sluice gates to let the water out. The water was still
there when Psalm 148.4 was written. The heavenly bodies were stuck onto the
firmament."

Dave,
I sympathize with your frustration about the YECs' resistance to more reasonable
interpretations. You are probably aware of the fact that I accept an old
creation and a common descent of all species including humans (e.g. P. Rüst,
"Dimensions of the Human Being and of Divine Action", PSCF 57/3 (2005),
191-201). On the other hand, insisting on an extreme "accommodationist"
interpretation of Gen.1 as the only possible interpretation will not help in the
creation crisis in Christian colleges (or other environments susceptible to YEC
influence). Nor will labeling attempts to harmonize the creation story with
science as a "half-way house", as has recently been done on this thread.

The history of translations has shown that translating ancient terms is not
always such an easy matter. It is not appropriate to automatically label
divergent views as "dishonest". It stands to reason that LXX and Vulgata were
influenced by the predominant philosophies of the Graeco-Roman world of those
times. These usually included eight concentric, spherical, transparent shells
(not just one and not a dome!) revolving around the equally spherical Earth, one
each for moon, sun, 5 planets and the fixed stars. Nothing of this is found in
Genesis 1. The translation of /raqia^/ by /stereoma/ or /firmamentum/ is not
guaranteed to be reliable.

Similarly, claims of finding in Genesis 1 traces of Egyptian and/or Babylonian
mythological "cosmologies" (such as seas below and above a solid celestial dome
over a flat earth) depend on the assumption that the biblical text must be
derivable from what its author(s) could take over from their environment and
culture.

Also, there is the equally questionable assumption that the author clearly
distinguished between theological truth and cosmology etc., the former being
taken from divine inspiration, the latter from what people say (what their
contemporary culture "knew").

Alternatively, it is assumed that the author did nothing of the sort, but just
went ahead and talked/wrote what came to his mind, in the way the concept of
"inspiration" is used in modern secular language. Of course, this is extremely
questionable, if theology is to have any solid basis at all.

It is sometimes claimed that God "inspired" the author by guiding him to
understand some correct theological concepts, but leaving him completely free to
formulate whatever he had understood, in the context of whatever wild and
erroneous worldview was current at the time. This is called God's
"accommodation". I consider this a questionable view. Of course, the prospect of
having to dismiss, in practice, 90% of the Gen.1-11 text as theologically
irrelevant trappings is profoundly disturbing to most Christians believing in
divine inspiration in any orthodox sense.

Such clear distinctions between theological and "worldly" matters don't look
right in view of the holistic perspectives we find throughout the Bible.
Distinctions like "Heaven good - Earth bad", "soul good - body bad" etc. are
pagan Greek, not biblical thinking. God's creation is good in its entirety.
Wherever, whenever, whatever God wanted to communicate to his creatures (and
particularly to us humans!) should presumably be considered to be good. And
whenever a prophet of God was conscious of God talking to/through him, or moving
his thoughts, he presumably wouldn't try to find out what exactly of these
thoughts coming to his mind was truly divine inspiration and what were his own
ideas.

Of course, we would be mistaken to expect God to have "taught" the ancients our
"modern science". But that is quite different from saying that God may have
guided his prophet in such a way that no factual errors crept into his writing,
although he wrote within the thought frames of his time and environment,
ignorant of this aspect of God's guidance of his thoughts. The flexibility of
all natural languages (non-math) leaves ample leeway for such a possibility.

The fact is that we just don't know enough about God's method of inspiration.
But what we can do is to investigate the text to find out whether the
formulations we do have (in the best available manuscripts) can be reasonably
interpreted in a way that is compatible with what we know of reality. Such
investigation, of course, has to consider the immediate and wider context, up to
the entire Bible, as well as solid knowledge of the extra-biblical environment
in whatever disciplines are available.

Although some denigrate such an approach as "concordism", I think it is more
reasonable than starting with global, up to centuries-old, source-critical
models which have never been built on solid findings independent of
pre-conceived world-views. Attempts at harmonization, as I prefer to call it,
would often be content to find possible alternative readings which would avoid
both conflicts with reality and mythologization of the text, without claiming
exclusive correctness.

Taking a biblical text as "literally" as possible (in the above sense) should
not be such a bad idea. That's what N.T.Wright does to a large extent in his
800-pages "The Resurrection of the Son of God", which I am in the midst of
reading: he scrutinizes each important word of the text, its form, connotation,
other uses inside and outside the Bible, the cultural context, etc., and it's
amazing what deep and solid insights can be gleaned from such careful work!

But back to the example of /raqia^/ in Gen.1! The word occurs only in two
contexts: (1) in Gen.1 (v.6,7,8,14,15,17,20) and related in Ps.19:1 and
Dan.12:3; and (2) in Ezek.1 (v.22,23,25,26) and 10:1, where it refers to
Ezekiel's vision of the Lord, designating something between the four winged
living creatures below and the Lord enthroned above. Ps.150:1 "praise the Lord
_in_ the /raqia^/ of his power" may belong here. From these contexts we can
hardly deduce that /raqia^/ is a solid dome. It may very well be an "expanse"
(or its equivalent in other languages), as it is translated in several Bible
editions.

The noun /raqia^/ is derived from the verb /raqa^/, meaning to spread out. It
may be used in the context of spreading out a layer of gold over the surface of
a cast idol (Isa.40:19), but also of God spreading out the earth and the plant
cover over it (Isa.42:5). The essential idea seems to be the spreading of
something into a thin layer, rather than the nature or consistency of the
substance being spread out. This is supported by related words like /raq/ (1.
thin, slight; 2. a little, only), /raqiq/ (flat bread) in Hebrew; /rakaku/ (to
make thin), /rukku/ (sheet, plate) in Assyrian; /raqqa/ (to be thin), /marquqa/
(farmers' flat bread), /rakaáh/ (to spread out a dye), /rukáh/ (extension of an
area) in Arabic; /riqo^/ (to make thin) in Syrian.

The consequence of taking /raqia^/ to mean "firmament"/"solid dome" is of course
that we are _forced_ to make a mythological cosmology out of the Gen.1 text,
whereas taking /raqia^/ to mean "expanse" leaves open the option of considering
Gen.1 to be what it looks like, a narrative (whether or not it concurs with the
early history of the Earth). In both cases, a theological background of "God did
it" remains untouched. In fact, with "expanse" as the thin layer of the
atmosphere, a consistent harmonization with what we know of the evolution of the
Earth and of life is possible (cf. A. Held & P. Rüst (1999), "Genesis
reconsidered", PSCF 51/4, 231-243;
http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1999/PSCF12-99Held.html).

Using the "water above it and sluice gates to let the water out" as an argument
for a solid dome is irrelevant because this depends on the hypothesis of Noah's
flood having been global, which is wrong in any case (C.A. Hill (2002), "The
Noachian Flood: Universal or Local?" PSCF 54/3, 170-183;
http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2002/PSCF9-02Hill.pdf)

Peter

-- 
Dr. Peter Ruest, CH-3148 Lanzenhaeusern, Switzerland
<pruest@dplanet.ch> - Biochemistry - Creation and evolution
"..the work which God created to evolve it" (Genesis 2:3)
Received on Sun Feb 5 14:50:43 2006

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