Re: [asa]The Barr letter( request for some resources)

From: Don Nield <>
Date: Mon Jun 18 2007 - 19:42:28 EDT

I am returning to this ASA thread after locating my copy of Barr's book
. I cite extracts from Barr's book below, between rows of 8's.
Barr is clearly of the opinion that both the YECs (as represented by the
AiG people) and the OEC scientific concordists have at the outset made a
category error. They have made a mistake in identifying the genre of
Genesis 1:1-2:4b.
The OEC scientific concordists have also violated a basic hermeneutical
principle -- that the meaning of a word should be ascertained in its
context rather than invoking the full semantic range of the word.

James Barr, Escaping from Fundamentalism, SCM Press, 1984

p. 132-134 [T]he biblical writers knew nothing about the manner in which
the world had come into being. They knew nothing of questions about the
origin of species, either one way or the other. They were not attempting
to answer that sort of question, which had never entered their heads.
The writers of Genesis … had only the following information to guide
them. First, they had ancient and inherited legends of the beginnings of
the world… The second kind of information … was their own experience of
the world around them plus the tradition of attempts to classify its
phenomena and to understand them. … Thirdly, the stories of creation
were shaped and formed by the influence of the theological problems that
were current within Israel. This is particularly clear in the case of
Gen. 1. The problem was: how should the relation between God and the
world to be stated and understood.

p.135. [N]o one in the Bible said, and no one in ancient times in Israel
supposed, that God had told, or revealed, or related the story that now
stands as the first chapter of the Bible. It simply does not say in the
Bible that the material in Gen. 1., of any of the narratives of
creation, is there because it was spoken or revealed by God. This was
“Wisdom”, the product of men of faith who had observed the world with
such means as they had and integrated into the story of creation their
balanced judgment on numerous theological problems which had best the
religion of Israel. By placing this account at the very start of the
Bible they gave deservedly high importance to it. But they did not
regard it as direct divine revelation and nowhere did they say so.

p.136-7.Since science caused most people to accept the very great age of
the universe, some fundamentalist interpreters have sought to show that
this is allowed for in Genesis it self. Of the first verse of the Bible:

"In the beginning god created the heaven and the earth (Gen. 1.1)"

the Scofield Bible says that:

"The first creative act refers to the dateless past, and gives scope for
all the geological ages."

This makes the Bible true at one point by making it false at another. By
completely ignoring the literary form of the passage, its emphasis upon
the seven-say scheme, and all questions involving the intentions of the
writers, this interpretation is as effective a denial of the truth of
Genesis as any atheistic writer could produce. The same is true of
interpretations which suppose that the seven ‘days’ of creation are not
actual days but long ages, ages of revelation, or the like. These are
all transparent devices for making the Bible appear to be factually
accurate by altering its meaning at awkward points.

Don David Campbell wrote:
> As far as I know, qualifications of those advocating a framework or
> other symbolic interpretation of the days of Genesis 1 are solid.
> Major problems include a) did the ancient Hebrews even care about the
> date and physical geography of these events, as opposed to who and
> theologically why? If not, then the writer of Genesis probably was
> not intending to convey such information. b) how does one distinguish
> between belief in a "global" event (or rather, whatever the equivalent
> would be without knowledge of the shape and size of the earth) and use
> of "global" imagery to convey the magnitude of an event known to be
> local (or of unknown geographic extent)? Genesis 1:2 refers to the
> earth as formless and void, and references to the Flood sometimes
> depict it as a return to such primordial chaos (e.g., II Pet. 3:6).
> This sounds like a global event, but so does "I looked on the earth,
> and behold it was formless and void; And to the heavens, and they had
> no light", which in Jer. 4:23 portrays the coming destruction of
> Judah. Likewise, "all that breathed" were wiped out in the Flood and
> in Joshua's invasion of Canaan. (Kitchen points out that Joshua's
> tactic of raids on major cities, leaving escapees to be dealt with
> later, divided the Canaanites into the quick and the dead. )
> "Commentators universally understood Genesis in a straightforward way,
> until attempts were made to harmonize the account with long ages and
> then evolution."
> In addition to the implicit claim that YEC is the straightforward
> reading and that such reading must be correct, this is historically
> incorrect. Long ages do not seem to have been an issue behind the
> more figurative approaches taken by early Christians such as Origen or
> Augustine. Rather, they were trying to harmonize Scripture with
> Scripture and with their theological presuppositions. Origen (and
> similar exegesis) is widely regarded as having been far too quick to
> go for symbolic interpretations of the OT whenever he had a problem
> with it, but there's certainly no excuse for claiming that he was
> swayed by geology. Of course, the popular YEC definition of evolution
> to include anything they don't like makes it easy to then, e.g.
> attribute evolutionary views to Augustine.

Donald A. Nield
Associate Professor, Department of Engineering Science
University of Auckland
Private Bag 92019
Auckland 1142, NEW ZEALAND
ph  +64 9 3737599 x87908 
fax +64 9 3737468
Courier address: 70 Symonds Street, Room 235 or 305
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Received on Mon Jun 18 19:43:25 2007

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