I think the Old Testament books of Joshua through Esther record Israel’s history as accurately or even more accurately than other ancient histories of the same time period. They describe real people and real events. I think we need to understand the conventions of how they recorded history before we go around deciding certain features are objective facts. For example, numbers could have symbolic meanings and weren’t always arrived at by counting. Often the results of military conquests were described with hyperboles. In any history, what is included and what is left out, what is embellished and what is downplayed serves the purposes of the people telling the history. I don’t think the Old Testament is free from bias or perspective just because it is inspired. There are reasons the Canaanites come out looking so terrible that probably don’t stem from the Canaanites being an objectively terrible people group. What do you mean by historically accurate?
That’s not to say that I think Genesis, Exodus, and Deuteronomy don’t record history, I just think historical facts aren’t the primary focus of the narratives, it’s God’s intervention in human history and the establishing of his covenant with people.
I can start to see some historicity with Joshua… even with questions of whether there was a conquest or more of an infiltration (continuously debated in all the archaeology blogs).
Judges is a hodge podge of mythology and heroic tales. Samson, for example, is a “Hebrew-ized” version of a story of a Solar God - - where the magical hair represents the suns rays… and the blindness of Samson represents the solar god in eclipse. There was no man with magical hair.
Further: there was no talking donkey. Interestingly, Judges 1 and Judges 19 seem to book-end Jebus (the city of the Jebusties, aka Jerusalem) as a place the Hebrew took possession of … and which is repeated in the stories of David, when - - for some reason, David has to take possession all over again (or maybe just a different version of the same event).
The timeline is certainly fractured all over the place.
Esther is the Hebrew version of the “Slaughter of the Magi” as described by Herodotus. He tells us why the Persian Empire celebrates an event that is parallel to the celebration described in Esther.
Historicity of the Jewish people in the Old Testament starts to firm up with the Babylonian Exile.
Agreed, though I would include Genesis through Deuteronomy as well.
Here I would disagree. Surely if it is truly inspired by God it would be unbiased, since God is the only one in all of existence who is able to look at something without any biases since He knows the one true perspective. What is your definition of “inspired”? (theopneustos in 2Ti 3:16).
Essentially, if we had a TARDIS and could go back in time, nothing we saw would contradict the Bible’s account of that time. For example, if we were to go back to c. 1100 BC, we would be able to witness Samuel anoint Saul as king of Israel, and it would match up all the details we are given in 1Samuel 10; the anointment with oil, Samuel’s telling Saul the donkeys were found, Saul’s conversation with his uncle, etc. We would certainly find out new details that aren’t in the Bible (Saul’s exact height, his age when he became king, etc), but those new details wouldn’t contradict anything in the Bible.
(sorry for the Doctor Who reference, I’m a bit of a nerd )
If these books are about God’s intervention in human history, wouldn’t historical fact be a primary focus since God’s intervention is a historical fact? I fail to understand how an account of God’s invention in human history wouldn’t need to be historically accurate. If it isn’t historically accurate how can we be sure God intervened in human history the way the Bible says He did?
Also, just because historical facts aren’t the “primary focus” doesn’t mean the account isn’t historically accurate.
I will watch the video when I have time (I’m rather busy with school at the moment).
Considering the Bible makes a point that the Israelites failed to drive out all the Canaanite tribes, I can see why “infiltration” might be a a more accurate description, but that seems like a matter of semantics to me. They still spent over 6 years battling kings, taking over cities, and driving some of the Canaanite tribes from the land.
I totally agree that there was no man with “magical hair.” Samson’s strength came from God, not his hair. There was nothing “magic” about it. His failure to keep his promises to God is why he lost his strength.
I’m assuming this is referring to Balaam’s donkey? Could you explain why this miracle couldn’t have happened as described in Numbers?
Considering that the Benjamites failed to drive the Jebusites out of the land (Judges 1:21), and that the time between the allotment of land and David’s reign was several hundred years, the Jebusites could easily have reclaimed/rebuilt Jerusalem by the time David came around.
I have heard this idea before. Why couldn’t both events have occurred as recorded by their respective sources?
Archaeologists tell us there were nothing resembling Sea People settlements in the southern Levant until the Pelest were defeated by the Egyptians, circa 1100 BCE. And archaeology concludes that the Egyptians were driven out of the Levant and Sinai by 1130 BCE. This would have been the earliest that the Exodus could have happened.
Exodus specifically names the Philistines as the reason the Exodus party did not flee Egypt along the coastal road. And if the Exodus party had settled for 40 years in the middle of the Sinai, the Egyptians would have chopped them to pieces in order to retain a secure rear-area while they continued to send troops and supplies up through Syria to the northern front facing off the Hittites.
So, when you speak of 1100 BCE, Samuel not only wouldn’t have been in Canaan … but Exodus hadn’t even occurred as early as that.
My definition isn’t “written from God’s perspective.” Look at many of the Psalms which are unabashedly written from David’s perspective to wonder about and even question God’s perspective. I agree that God is free from human bias, but humans wrote Scripture, influenced by God, not utterly possessed by him.
Inspiration to me means God has adopted human stories and feelings and histories to communicate his story and his messages. I also think inspiration is just as much or more about the fact that God chooses to use Scripture as the main way the Holy Spirit brings conviction, discipline, wisdom, guidance, and comfort from God to people today. So inspiration is an ongoing act of the Holy Spirit, not just something God did to or through the authors. Many of the books of Scripture, especially in the OT were not products of someone sitting down with a quill and scroll and writing stuff down, like we think of authorship. The written word was a backup copy to oral authorities, and the copies were edited. Scribes were not authors. Orality is an important thing to take into consideration when you are trying to figure out what inspiration means and how it works.
It’s all nerds here, haven’t you noticed?
How do you correct your expectations for different narrative conventions though? For example, in the Gospels, it was not considered important that things be presented in chronological order if a different order highlighted the author’s theme better. So we can’t assume that because something is mentioned first it happened first. Matthew doubles things all over the place compared to the other synoptic authors (demon possessed men in ch 8, blind men in 9 and 20, donkeys in 21). It’s important to ask whether those details are “historically accurate” facts or a literary technique that would have been recognized at the time as a way of emphasizing important details. I think if we could understand things the way the original audience understood things we would end up with a historically accurate picture of what happened. But some stuff does get lost or confused in the translation through centuries, languages, and cultures. And I suspect some stuff would have clearly been identified by the original audience as not intended to be interpreted as a factual account, but a spiritual or moral lesson.
No, revealing God’s character is the primary focus. I think stories can reveal truth without sticking to facts. The authors crafted stories that best revealed what God wanted to reveal about his character and mission. So, for example, I think Noah was a real person in history. I think a flood happened. But I think the story of the flood recorded in Scripture is not there to give us a blow by blow account of exactly what happened to Noah. I think it is there to teach a lesson about the fact that God judges sin but in his grace always provides a way of redemption and always vindicates the righteous. The ark foreshadows the free gift of salvation offered in Jesus and the reaction of Noah’s contemporaries foreshadows the fact that many Jews would reject Jesus and face judgment. If we get fixated on whether the animals came on two by two or whether the flood indeed covered the whole earth to the highest mountains, or whether the entire population of the earth can be traced back to Noah’s sons and their wives (i.e. treat it like its purpose is to record historical fact), we miss the point of the story entirely. And we have to explain why all sorts of physical and anthropological evidence doesn’t match up at all with the “historical facts” recorded in the story. Same with the Tower of Babel. It works much better as a story revealing how God wants to be approached and worshiped than a historical account of how all languages on earth began. Does that mean there was never a group of people who built a ziggarut and inspired the account? No, it could be based in a real historical event, but the point of the narrative was not to write a newspaper article about what happened so posterity would remember facts, it was to teach a lesson, so posterity would remember God does not have needs that humans can manipulate for their own benefit, and, as the following chapter shows when Abraham is introduced, it is God who makes a name for his people, not people who make a name for themselves. That’s how Babel fits in the story of God in Jewish history.
I wanted to see if you’d be willing to elaborate on your position here a bit more, because, I’m afraid I’m not following. I’ll reference the two famous Chicago statements that you linked.
From the 1st statement, in the Preface:
Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history
Notably, though, there seems to be (maybe ?) some wiggle room w/ regards to modern science & evolutionary theory in Statement I, Articles 22 & 23 (emphasis mine):
WE AFFIRM that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.
WE DENY that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.
WE AFFIRM the propriety of using inerrancy as a theological term with reference to the complete truthfulness of Scripture.
WE DENY that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations.
But in the 2nd Statement, there’s Article 22 (emphasis mine again):
WE AFFIRM that Genesis 1-11 is factual, as is the rest of the book.
WE DENY that the teachings of Genesis 1-11 are mythical and that scientific hypotheses about earth history or the origin of humanity may be invoked to overthrow what Scripture teaches about creation.
Since the historicity and the scientific accuracy of the early chapters of the Bible have come under severe attack it is important to apply the “literal” hermeneutic espoused (Article XV) to this question. The result was a recognition of the factual nature of the account of the creation of the universe, all living things, the special creation of man, the Fall, and the Flood. These accounts are all factual, that is, they are about space-time events which actually happened as reported in the book of Genesis (see Article XIV).
The article left open the question of the age of the earth on which there is no unanimity among evangelicals and which was beyond the purview of this conference. There was, however, complete agreement on denying that Genesis is mythological or unhistorical. Likewise, the use of the term “creation” was meant to exclude the belief in macro-evolution, whether of the atheistic or theistic varieties.
So I read this that if the Chicago Statements represent the de facto definitive position on biblical inerrancy amongst evangelicals, where is the compatibility w/ evolution, even when “properly understood?”
If you take the time & trouble to respond, thanks for doing so.
Good question. First off, let me say that I personally do not see reason to affirm the Chicago Statements, but instead affirm the Lausanne Covenant. Do deal with your points, one by one,
The insistence on “verbally God-given” is idiosyncratic, and many who even affirm the statement do not believe that. The mechanism of inspiration is often considered a mystery.
Yes! However, what does Scripture teach us about the creation and the flood? That certainly is an open question.
This is a key point. This is correctly claiming that we do not use modern standards to adjudicate these matters.
Once again, what exactly is the passage teaching?
This is not part of the doctrine of inerrancy, it is non-sequitur to anti-evolution presuppositions (in place of the teachings of Scripture), and cannot be justified. Science cannot speak of when God does and does not act, because of methodological naturalism. In the same way, those who affirm the Chicago Statement cannot make hermeneutical claims against evolution without begging the question with circular reasoning.
Just remember that the anti-evoltuionism is not part of inerrancy, that is an addon that cannot be justified from scripture or hermeneutics or theology.
In contrast, there are a few very helpful principles for faith science conversation in the statements:
Since all facts cohere, the truth about them must be coherent also; and since God, the author of all Scripture, is also the Lord of all facts, there can in principle be no contradiction between a right understanding of what Scripture says and a right account of any reality or event in the created order. Any appearance of contradiction here would argue misunderstanding or inadequate knowledge, either of what Scripture really affirms or of what the extra-biblical facts really are. Thus it would be a summons to reassessment and further scholarly inquiry.
This is a very good statement of inerrancy. It is not that everything fits, but that if we see contradiction, we impute error on our understanding. That is a key part of the doctrine.
What the Bible says about the facts of nature is as true and trustworthy as anything else it says. However, it speaks of natural phenomena as they are spoken of in ordinary language, not in the explanatory technical terms of modern science; it accounts for natural events in terms of the action of God, not in terms of causal links within the created order; and it oflen describes natural processes figuratively and poetically, not analytically and prosaically as modern science seeks to do. This being so, differences of opinion as to the correct scientific account to give of natural facts and events which Scripture celebrates can hardly be avoided.
This also helpful. It is, I would summarize, claiming autonomy of language for both science and theology. The understanding must cohere, but the language can diverge.
It should be remembered, however, that Scripture was given to reveal God, not to address scientific issues in scientific terms, and that, as it does not use the language of modern science, so it does not require scientific knowledge about the internal processes of God’s creation for the understanding of its essential message about God and ourselves. Scripture interprets scientific knowledge by relating it to the revealed purpose and work of God, thus establishing an ultimate context for the study and reform of scientific ideas. It is not for scientific theories to dictate what Scripture may and may not say, although extra-biblical information will sometimes helpfully expose a misinterpretation of Scripture
This also is helpful, in that questioning of scripture based on scientific findings is legitimized.
In fact, interrogating biblical statements concerning nature in the light of scientific knowledge about their subject matter may help toward attaining a more precise exegesis of them. For though exegesis must be controlled by the text itself, not shaped by extraneous considerations, the exegetical process is constantly stimulated by questioning the text as to whether it means this or that.
Just to draw application to common ancestry in science and theology.
Autonomy of language means that:
Theology can use (especially historically) the term “genetic” without meaning DNA.
For the word ancestry, theology can mean genealogical, even though science usually means genetic.
Science can define “human” however it likes, and so can theology, and they need not map to the same definition.
Legitimacy of questions means:
From the inference of large population size in last 100 ky, we can ask if Scripture really teaches there was no one outside the garden.
We can ask if mankind was created in Genesis 1 and then later Adam was created in Genesis 2?
We can ask if Scripture really teaches Adam is our sole genetic progenitor? Or if it is possible it is teaching that he is our sole-genealogical progenitor?
Critically, the Chicago Statements do correctly distinguish between Scripture and what we think Scripture says. THere can be many errors in the latter, without errors in the former.
I don’t understand how it is appropriate to use “sole-genealogical” like this. Are you making the claim that genealogy began with Adam, that no one else previously or concurrently tracked their ancestors, and that every historical figure we have record of either himself descended from Adam or else left no descendants? Am I missing something of your meaning?
If I may be so bold as to comment, I believe Joshua’s checklist of questions, which includes the 2 questions you quoted above, are meant to gently challenge the idea that the Bible excludes the idea that there could have been an existing population of humans prior to the special creation of Adam and Eve.
Certainly it is not surprising if someone concludes that Adam was the first of all humans, but if (one way or another) Adam-and-Eve have become one humanity’s of universal progenitor, how is the message of Adam changed just because there may be other universal progenitors?
Is the message of Adam and Eve based on their having a Monopoly on the role of progenitor? Or is the message based on the idea that Adam and Eve’s influence on the rest of humanity is definitive and according to the plan and glory of God?
To Digress Just a Little:
According to the La Peyrere article (below), the first Christian interest in the theory of a pre-Adamite people came from the Calvanist Isaac La Peyrere: “The existence of pre-Adamites, La Peyrère argued, explained Cain’s life after Abel’s murder which, in the Genesis account, involved the taking of a wife and the building of a city.”
“In such an intellectual atmosphere, Pre-Adamism appeared in two different but not wholly incompatible forms. Religious writers continued to be attracted to the theory both because it appeared to solve certain exegetical problems (where did Cain’s wife come from?) and exalted the spiritual status of Adam’s descendants.”
“Those of a scientific bent found it equally attractive but for different reasons, connected with a desire to formulate theories of racial difference that retained a place for Adam while accepting evidence that many cultures were far older than the few thousand years humanity had existed, according to biblical chronology. The two varieties differed primarily in the evidence they used, the one relying principally on scriptural texts and the latter what passed at the time for physical anthropology.”
[Footnote: Barkun, Michael (1996). Religion and the Racist Right: The Origins of the Christian Identity Movement. UNC Press. ISBN 0-8078-4638-4, page 153.]
Of course I welcome your thoughts, but my confusion is narrower than you think.
I know @Swamidass believes there were other humans in Adam’s day. I do too. I am just wondering how and why the word “sole” was added to “sole-genealogical progenitor” in his view. Was Adam the only person we were genealogically descended from?
I was very interested to read later in the Bible that not only were there other humans when Adam was expelled from the garden, some of them were even kings!
Sole-genealogical progenitor is in reference not to biology but to theology. If “human” (as we understand it today) is defined by a special theological status exclusively inherited by genealogical descent from Adam and Eve, then they would be the sole theological-progenitors of us all, by genealogical descent from them. This is not to deny the presence of other genealogical ancestors, but to emphasize the way we arise alone (by the current definition of “human” in theology, God-Imaged and Fallen) by way of them.
The problem with La Peyrère is two fold.
A scientific error: he did not realize that if Adam existed, we were all descendents of him. So his entire effort was motivated by this error.
His ideas end up being used to justify racism, as people overlaid the notion that GOd created different types of races, each with different intrinsic biological and theological worth and capabilities.
In contrast, a genealogical Adam denies both #1 and #2. Adam and Eve, if they existed, were the same biological kind as everyone else. Theologically, there is a lot of flexibility, but as I read Scripture, they are associated with the Fall, not with the Image of God. So, if anything, those “outside the garden” were better than us, not deficient somehow. Moreover, they are no longer with us, as we all descend from Adam now.
For this reason, it is important to distinguish a genealogical Adam from “pre-Adamites” and “non-Adamites” and La Peyrère, and those who came after him. These are distinct concepts that are not compatible with one another and cannot be linked. He questioned the unity of all mankind, while a genealogical Adam strongly affirms the theological and biological unity of all of us.
Thanks for the explanation. I think it makes sense now.
But … if you will forgive me having an opinion, I don’t think anyone would know what you meant by the words you used unless you explained like this. Saying “sole theological progenitor” or “universal genealogical ancestor” make sense. But “sole genealogical” seems to me to invite misunderstanding.
It seems we are just going in circles on this issue. I know of no Biblical chronologists that dates the Exodus at 1130 BC. The chronological data given in the Bible data suggests a date of about 1500 BC or earlier. As is often the case in archaeology, absence of evidence is not always evidence of absence.
This is one of the reasons why I think Mt Sinai is not in what is now called the Sinai Peninsula, but rather located somewhere on the other side of the Gulf of Aqaba (the part of the Red Sea crossed by the Israelites) in what is now northwest Saudi Arabia.
So in your chronological framework when did the Israelite monarchy begin? To my knowledge the earliest king we have direct archaeological evidence for is Omri of Israel in the Mesha stele.
I am not convinced of that.
The idea of God needing to borrow from human stories does not sit right with me. It seems more likely that He would simply have the authors write down the actual history He was involved in.
I am not saying that people’s perspectives cannot be recorded in scripture. I was referring specifically to historical accounts, which are recorded in a way that reflects how they actually happened without bias. For example, there many unflattering accounts of the patriarchs and kings that made them out to be terrible sinners.
Just because the other gospels only mention one man instead of two doesn’t mean the other man wasn’t there. There are many reasonable explanations of these apparent discrepancies without resorting to contradiction.
I agree that stories can reveal truth without being true stories, but I see no reason to assume that the historical accounts in Genesis are crafted rather than taken from real history.
I agree. Genesis only gives a brief account of the year-long Flood, and does teach a valuable lesson about God, but that I don’t see that as a reason to discount it as accurate history. Some of the best lessons we can learn come from real historical events.
Even if its primary purpose is simply to teach a lesson about God, that’s doesn’t mean it can’t also be a record of historical fact. Any piece of literature can have more than one purpose.
I think the evidence matches pretty well, if it didn’t YEC probably wouldn’t be as prominent as it is today. We can’t explain everything, but I have yet to see any evidence that totally and completely destroys YEC’s interpretation of history or the Bible.
again, I don’t see why it can’t be both a lesson about God and an account of accurate history. The two are not mutually exclusive.
I think that’s my point, @EvD97. The whole Bible chronology has to be re-worked once one accepts the fact archaeological findings, and written Egyptian accounts, leave no possibility for an Exodus during the high point of Egyptian power and hegemony in the entire region.
@EvD97, when the Nubian Pharaoh of Egypt sweeps through Palestine, he makes no note of a Kingdom called Judah. But he does raid a number of city states. The first mention of Jerusalem as the head of a kingdom, instead of just an Amarna-like city, is the middle of the 700’s BCE… after the Assyrians had conquered and deported Israel, and refugees from the north flood down to the south.
So the historicity of Jerusalem kings running a state would start shortly after the fall of Israel. Solomon, or Shlomo, is the name of a mythical king, word-play on Ur-SHLM (Jerusalem), written up to explain the origin of the city, rather than because he actually existed.
David seems to have existed as some kind of war lord, but may well have been a Philistine warrior making a name for himself up in the highlands once Assyria removed Israel as a threat.
What evidence do you have for this? If Solomon was mythical, who built the first temple?
David was a philistine, one of the people groups he helped dominate? Where’s the evidence for that? Next you’re going to say he was best friends with Goliath! (whom I assume you think is a myth too, right?)