Re: [asa] Question for all the theistic evolutionists

From: David Opderbeck <>
Date: Mon Mar 19 2007 - 12:53:14 EDT

Rich said:* David, maybe with your background being Reformed in a Catholic
institution could explain the Wikipedia article on Biblical Accommodation.
It appears to have come from from the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913. From my
own Reformed perspective I do not recognize anything that remotely
approaches accomodation in a Reformed context.*

Rich, thanks for pointing this out. I think you mean this Wiki:

This is a different sort of "accomodation" than the one we have been
discussing here. The sense discussed in that Wiki is in applying passages
to contemporary circumstances in ways that are not evident from the context
of those passages themselves. I think, but I'm not certain, that this
notion is linked to the concept of a "sensus plenior" in scripture -- a
meaning, perhaps hidden, that the original authors did not intend (Wiki

Interestingly, I'd suggest that some "concordists" and YECs use this
"Catholic" sense of "accomodation" by proposing modern scientific
interpretations of Bible passages, in ways that would never have occurred to
the original writer or audience.

The sort of "accomodation" we have been discussing is more along the lines
of this Wiki, I think: *("Accommodation
is a theological principle linked to divine revelation within the Christian
church. Also called condescension, the principle of Accommodation is that
God, while being in his nature unknowable and unreachable, has nevertheless
communicated with mankind in a way in which humans can understand and

I think you'd agree that this latter sense is consistent with Reformed
thinking? Interestingly, even the Chicago Statement on Biblical
Hermeneutics, which is tied to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (, recognizes this general
principle: It states: *"As an expression in finite, human language, the
Bible has certain limitations in a similar way that Christ as a man had
certain limitations. This means that God adapted Himself through human
language so that His eternal truth could be understood by man in a temporal
world." *
However, the Chicago Statement (Hermenuetics) attempts to circumscribe this
principle with reference to historical affirmations made by the text:

 *WE AFFIRM that awareness of the literary categories, formal and
stylistic, of the various parts of Scripture is essential for proper
exegesis, and hence we value genre criticism as one of the many disciplines
of biblical study.*

*WE DENY that generic categories which negate historicity may rightly be
imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual.*

*The awareness of what kind of literature one is interpreting is essential
to a correct understanding of the text. A correct genre judgment should be
made to ensure correct understanding. A parable, for example, should not be
treated like a chronicle, nor should poetry be interpreted as though it were
a straightforward narrative. Each passage has its own genre, and the
interpreter should be cognizant of the specific kind of literature it is as
he attempts to interpret it. Without genre recognition an interpreter can be
misled in his understanding of the passage. For example, when the prophet
speaks of "trees clapping their hands" (Isa. 55:12) one could assume a kind
of animism unless he recognized that this is poetry and not prose.*

*The Denial is directed at an illegitimate use of genre criticism by some
who deny the truth of passages which are presented as factual. Some, for
instance, take Adam to be a myth, whereas in Scripture he is presented as a
real person. Others take Jonah to be an allegory when he is presented as a
historical person and so referred to by Christ (Mat. 12:40-42). This Denial
is an appropriate and timely warning not to use genre criticism as a cloak
for rejecting the truth of Scripture.*

The curious thing about this qualification, it seems to me, is that the
"denial" simply begs the question of whether a given set of passages
"present themselves to be factual." A genre determination will help decide
whether a passage "presents itself to be factual," and further will help
define exactly what "factual" means to that genre. The determination that
scripture presents Adam to be a real person -- a determination I happen to
agree with -- requires a prior determination about genre, which, it seems to
me, is far from clear as far as Gen. 1 and 2 are concerned.

My view of Adam as a "real" person *first* looks at genre and other
considerations, including the context of the whole witness of scripture --
which make me wonder whether, even if Adam was a "real" person, he has to
have been, in some modern biological or genetic sense, the only "person"
alive when God imparted his image to Adam. Whatever genre or genres Gen. 1
and 2 are, they surely aren't biology or population genetics textbooks.

This, BTW, is one of the many reasons that, while I still affirm a sort of
fideistic inerrancy, I think the Chicago Statement is a jumbled mess.

Now, back to Fr. Oakes' essay in First Things (
here's what he says about the problem of original sin conceived of as
biologically transmitted:

*But even if we could force Paul to fit Augustine's procrustean bed by
having him assert a doctrine of an imperishable Adam and Eve before the
Fall, and even if we could convince ourselves that the combination of
Genesis 3 and Romans 5 leads to a doctrine of original sin, the massive
discoveries of nineteenth- and twentieth-century geology, biology, and
paleontology block our way. Under their combined and massive impact we no
longer interpret Genesis 1-3 literally, understanding by "literal" what is
meant in ordinary parlance: taking any vivid historical-seeming narrative to
be genuinely historical. Now, at least in professional circles, "literal"
means something else: interpreting a text according to the author's own
intentions independent of later doctrinal overlays (a meaning of the term
"literal" approved by Pope Pius XII in his encyclical Divino Afflante
Spiritu). *

*But however awkward it may be on its own terms, this literalizing scenario
of Augustine's completely collapses under the impact of Darwinian biology
and of the geology on which it rests. Now "literal," at least for those not
schizophrenic about modern science, can only mean taking the biblical
authors on their own terms by bracketing away later doctrinally inspired
interpretations. This method highlights features of the text not previously
noticed, such as how radically variant are the two accounts of creation in
the first two chapters of Genesis and how much both are reliant on ancient
Hebrew cosmology, which itself borrows heavily from Babylonian sources. And
none of these sources recognizes a scenario whereby the first progenitors of
the human race were created immortal. Indeed most mythological accounts of
the origin of man see the human species as the last and weakest of prior,
much stronger, races (as in Hesiod's notion of the Age of Gold declining to
Silver and then to his own wretched Age of Iron, etc.).*

These statements' of Oakes', I think resonate with our proper notion of
accomodation -- though as Reformed thinkers we at some point will probably
point company with Oakes' interpretation of Augustine. Having said that,
Oakes' historical survey of Jewish interpretations of the original state of
Adam and Eve, which he says undermines Augustine's pradaisical view, is
rather interesting.

On 3/18/07, Rich Blinne <> wrote:
> On Mar 18, 2007, at 7:06 PM, David Opderbeck wrote:
> I'd like to just for now dump a link for a Roman Catholic perspective on
> all this (my wife is starting to get annoyed, rightly, that I'm getting
> obsessed with this discussion again). I'm not Catholic, but I teach at a
> Catholic institution, and there are times I think I might be likely to
> become Catholic if I weren't so evangelical and Reformed (for me, converting
> to something like Catholicism would have the social and family effect of,
> say, a Muslim converting to Christianity :-) )
> Anyway, here's a wonderful essay on original sin by Edward Oakes in First
> Things, which doesn't use the term "accomodation," but shows I think a
> deeply historically sensitive and well-rounded heremeneutic relating to how
> to understand that doctrine, Gen. 1-2, etc. today:
> David, maybe with your background being Reformed in a Catholic institution
> could explain the Wikipedia article on Biblical Accommodation. It appears to
> have come from from the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913. From my own Reformed
> perspective I do not recognize anything that remotely approaches
> accomodation in a Reformed context. What are the differences and
> similarities when Refomed and Catholics use the term because we appear to be
> talking a different language?
> As for Glenn's question, I'll use an extreme example. If Christ's
> resurrection is ahistorical, it's time to pack it up regardless of whether
> you come from the accommodationist or concordist camps, cf. the Apostle
> Paul's argument in 1 Cor. 15:12-14 that we Christians would be great fools
> for us to continue in our faith if this is true. I think Glenn's
> misunderstanding is because concordism is often used as a universal hammer
> for every Biblical problem. I realize this is an oversimplification because
> even concordists accommodate from time to time. Concordists use their
> exegetical "tool" in a more limited fashion. We recognize that most of
> Scripture falls more under a concordist methodology, e.g. the resurrection
> example above. Reformed accommodation is more genre-based than it appears
> the Catholic approach. [As I don't really understand the Catholic position
> anyone from that background or understands please feel extremely free to
> correct me here.] The other thing the Reformed perspective brings to this is
> the concept of the "analogy of faith" where Scripture interprets Scripture
> with the clear interpreting the obscure. Gen. 1-11 is clearly in the latter
> category.

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Received on Mon Mar 19 12:53:58 2007

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