Re: [asa] Santayana on Accommodationalism

From: David Opderbeck <>
Date: Tue Mar 13 2007 - 10:19:13 EDT

*But I would suspect from what he says that if you do allow
> the Illiad and Odyssey obligate your life, it would be ok because it is a
> history--there was a trojan war. Beowulf, on the other hand, probably not.

There was "essential history" -- there was a trojan war, but not a
nearly-invulnerable Achilles who was dipped in the Styx. And while there
may have been some historical figure who took a journey after the trojan
war, I doubt there was a real Odysseus who blinded a real cyclops. There's
an interesting article in the most recent BAR about the essential history in
Homer, BTW, in which William Dever parallels the mixed mythic/historical
nature of the Homeric epics with the mixed mythic/historical nature of
Biblical literature:

Now, how about if I say the Illiad and Odyssey don't "obligate" my life, but
that they "enrich" my life by teaching me valuable truths about human
nature? And, somewhat similarly, what if I look at scripture not so much as
an "obligation," but as a "delight" (see e.g. Ps. 119) and as something that
allows me to enter into fellowship with God and experience life and
freedom? We affirm that scripture is "authoritative," and for the modern
mind that has a negative connotation. "Why should you accept something
authoritative that contains literary elements that can be viewed at some
level as myth?," the skeptics on the Internet boards say. The answer isn't
to deny there is any genre element of myth/history anywhere in scripture.
The answer is to understand what we mean by "authoritative" and what sort of
connotation that has for us. The affirmation that scripture is
authoritative in matters of faith and practice shouldn't have a negative
connotation for us who make that affirmation in faith. The authoritative
nature of scripture for faith and practice is a unique blessing by which God
incarnationally speaks his love and redemption to us.

*Accommodationalism is a perfectly good word--I said it; you understood what
> I meant.*

I understood what it meant because I've participated in this discussion with
you and other folks here for over a year now. My point is that calling it
an "ism" distorts what most people who use the term mean by it. An "ism"
can too easily be dismissed as completely misguided. A principle of
hermeneutics, however, can't so easily be dismissed. Nearly every
responsible Bible scholar acknowledges accomodation as a valid principle of
hermeneutics (even the staunchest Chicago Statement inerrantists). The
question is only to what extent, when, and how scripture is accomodated to
human limitations.

Peter Enns, BTW, discusses this in a very helpful way in a recent essay in
JETS ("Response to G.K. Beale's Review Article of Inspiration and
Incarnation", JETS 49/2 (June 2006) 313-26).

*If you believe that there is essential history, tell me what that essence
> besides the mere fact that God created--every religion says that.*

This is a huge question that depends on exactly what story in scripture
you're referring to. We can talk about the exodus from Egypt, which perhaps
was a relatively minor event from the Egyptian perspective even though it is
an enormous, world-shattering event in the Biblical perspective. We can
talk about some of the battles described in the OT, where the battles really
happened generally as described but some casualty figures perhaps are
rounded or exaggerated. We can talk about the flood, where perhaps an event
that would seem too "local" and "small" from our perspective underlies a
literary genre that borrows from a more expansive Babylonian mythology.

(A side note here: take Lake Tharthar, 120km northwest of Baghdad, a
man-made lake created by flooding a smaller salt lake. I stumbled across
this description of it on a military helicopter pilot's blog:
  The pilot describes flying over Lake Thartaras follows: *"We were lucky
to fly over Lake Tharthar, the largest body of water in Iraq. Tharthar was
created by flooding a large basin containing a much smaller salt lake with
flood waters from the Tigris River. When we were out over the lake, all we
could see in every direction was water. I could have been flying over the
North Atlantic, the scene was the same." *From our perspective, looking at
a map of the middle east, Lake Thartaras is a little blue dot. From the
helicopter pilot's perspective, it was as expansive as the North Atlantic.
Is the helicopter pilot lying or erring by comparing Lake Thartaras to the
North Atlantic? Is the pilot's blog post the same literary genre as the

The overall point here is, there is no neat, simple way to integrate all of
Biblical literature with every present finding from geology, archeology,
anthropology, or whatever -- and there doesn't have to be. Why can't we
sometimes just say, honestly, "I don't know?" I do know there are many
things that support the essential historicity of the Biblical witness as a
whole, particularly through the crucial lense through which all the text
must be viewed, the life, death and resurrection of Christ. I also know the
scriptures are given to us in a human form through a wide and disparate
variety of literatures. And I know that I myself am historically situated.
I won't have final answers to some questions about how to understand
scripture and history, but that's ok. Isn't this a better apologetic
approach -- to acknowledge, even be excited about, the unique incarnational
nature of scripture, to admit our limitations, questions, even doubts, and
yet to affirm the integrity and life-giving nature of scripture's witness to
God's ultimate self-revelation in Christ? True, this won't satisfy a
hardened positivist -- but his positivism is the problem, not the

On 3/12/07, Glenn Morton <> wrote:
> 3-12-07
> This is for David O and George M.
> >Does Santayana think the Iyiad and Odyessy and Oedipus and Beowulf and
> Pilgrim's Progress and Hamlet and the
> >Narnia Chronicles and etc., etc., ad infinitum, bear no relevance to our
> personal convictions?
> >
> I don't know, he was dead before Narnia was published and I have not run
> across a commentary on the Odyssey, Illiad, Beowulf, PP or Hamlet. Guess
> will never know. But I would suspect from what he says that if you do
> the Illiad and Odyssey obligate your life, it would be ok because it is a
> history--there was a trojan war. Beowulf, on the other hand, probably not.
> >BTW, "accomdationalism" is not a real term. "Accommodation" is a
> hermeneutical principle, not an "ism." And the
> >principle of "accommodation" doesn't necessarily mean there is no
> "essential history" in the early Biblical narratives. I'd
> >venture to say that most people who use the hermeneutical principle of
> accomodation -- certainly as Calvin viewed it --
> >agree that there is essential history in those narratives.
> Accommodationalism is a perfectly good word--I said it; you understood
> I meant.
> If you believe that there is essential history, tell me what that essence
> besides the mere fact that God created--every religion says that.
> > -----Original Message-----
> > From: George Murphy []
> > Sent: Sunday, March 11, 2007 2:19 PM
> > To: Glenn Morton;
> > Subject: Re: [asa] Santayana on Accommodationalism
> >
> >
> > a) Whatever rhetorical flourishes he may have about Venus,
> > Lucretius is popularizing the effective atheism of Epicurus
> > et al. To call his poem "religious" is a little odd.
> Invoking Gods is odd for a total atheist! Yes, I am aware of Epicurus and
> his connection with Lucretius, but most atheists I know don't start by
> praying to Jehovah.
> >
> > b) The Genesis creation texts use figurative language but
> > they aren't "poems." Ps.104 is a creation poem.
> >
> > c) I don't know who you think is arguing that the texts are
> > "poems" and therefore that they can't be be conveying truth
> > about the natural world but I certainly never have.
> George, why is it that you always think I am speaking about you? I am
> But over the years I have heard this expressed by many on this very list.
> Jan de Konig is a case in point. He wrote:
> "God wrote a poem in Gen.1, followed by another story in
> Gen.2 and following, to show who made everything, followed by a story who
> made a mess out of it."
> You obviously haven't paid attention to what some of your fellows here
> been saying, and then act terribly surprised when I think of their replies
> along this line. Your reply is a bit like Groucho Marx who was kissing a
> girl when his movie 'wife' walked in on them. He asked, "Who ya gonna
> believe, me or your lying eyes?"
> > More to the point is the fact that we have 2 creation
> > accounts which don't agree as historical/scientific accounts.
> >
> They do if one refuses to think anything new or novel about the accounts.
> They fit together quite nicely within my interpretation, but, of course,
> theology wouldn't really want to think anything new, now would we?
> > d) Genesis 1 & 2 are both talking about the real world which
> > we inhabit, not a purely poetic world. That doesn't mean
> > that those accounts have to be read as historical narrative
> > or science. Your problem is that they don't say the sorts of
> > things about the world that you want them to say so you (like
> > most concordists) read what you want into them. You also (unlike most
> > concordists) construct imaginary scenarios of mutant ape-like
> > creatures & survivors of 5.5 Myr ago floods & then think
> > you've got correlation with historical data.
> >
> And you believe accounts which you admit are not real science or history
> think they are deeply inspired and show the hand of God. One wonders who
> more idiotic.
> As to imaginary, it is a fact that there was a geologic event which
> actually matches the biblical description--it happened long ago. It is a
> fact that the genes in us wee humans have ages as long ago as that event
> before the genes coalesce (which is the date of the gene). It is a fact
> you believe that man descended from the apes, so in what way is my
> more imaginative than yours? At least I base mine on an interpretation of
> what the scripture says, you on the other hand, simply add things willy
> nilly when they are needed regardless of whether there is any biblical
> for it at all. (just remember George, you started this with your crack
> about imaginary scenarios of mutant ape-like creatures). Do you not
> that mutations lead from apes to humans, or have you suddenly left belief
> evolution? Do you believe we should never deal in scenarios? What do you
> think your beliefs are, if not imaginary scenarios???
> glenn
> They're Here: The Pathway Papers
> Foundation, Fall, and Flood
> Adam, Apes and Anthropology
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Received on Tue Mar 13 10:19:29 2007

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