This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/archive/on-being-right-or-wrong
Great insights, Dr. Walton. Thank you for sharing. So often we let our egos overshadow what is important, both in theological arguments, scientific arguments and in life in general, when we are called to do as Paul suggested in I Cor. 9:… I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
However, I suspect Paul is voicing his ideal, as he too had his struggles as do we.
Congratulations to Biologos editoral staff for reposting this important lesson at this time. I urge all who see this community of faith and science as a critical resource for so many seekers to take John Walton’s advice to heart, and perhaps pause in prayer and reflection about what might be “wrong” about our own positions. The eyes of many are on this holy project, and we must all (certainly not excluding myself) choose our words with care, and our thoughts with charity. Christ told us to love each other, and I take that literally. Amen.
I was most interested in this sentence:
"Ultimately, it is true that one view is right and others are wrong, but such absolute vision is not always available. "
In fact, when it comes to Christian disputes, I am stunned by how often both sides are just as wrong as can be.
I agree. And this is one of the problems with trying to use the argument of “relativism” against non-believers. You say you have access to absolute truth in the Bible? Then why do Christians disagree among themselves about the absolute truth? What good is absolute truth if there are various versions of it? Sounds a lot like relativism to me, even on the Christian side of the equation. Thus, I would have taken Walton’s case a step farther. Almost every opinion we have about God is a mixture of truth and error. If we think ourselves 100% correct in our opinions, we are 100% wrong about that belief.
I like Pascal’s angle on it:
"Let us then take our compass; we are something, and we are not everything. The nature of our existence hides from us the knowledge of first beginnings which are born of the Nothing; and the littleness of our being conceals from us the sight of the Infinite. Our intellect holds the same position in the world of thought as our body occupies in the expanse of nature.
"Limited as we are in every way, this state which holds the mean between two extremes is present in all our impotence. Our senses perceive no extreme. Too much sound deafens us; too much light dazzles us; too great distance or proximity hinders our view. Too great length and too great brevity of discourse tend to obscurity; too much truth is paralysing. … Extreme youth and extreme age hinder the mind, as also too much and too little education. In short, extremes are for us as though they were not, and we are not within their notice. They escape us, or we them.
"This is our true state; this is what makes us incapable of certain knowledge and of absolute ignorance. We sail within a vast sphere, ever drifting in uncertainty, driven from end to end. When we think to attach ourselves to any point and to fasten to it, it wavers and leaves us; and if we follow it, it eludes our grasp, slips past us, and vanishes for ever. Nothing stays for us. This is our natural condition, and yet most contrary to our inclination; we burn with desire to find solid ground and an ultimate sure foundation whereon to build a tower reaching to the Infinite. But our whole groundwork cracks, and the earth opens to abysses.
“Let us therefore not look for certainty and stability. Our reason is always deceived by fickle shadows; nothing can fix the finite between the two Infinites, which both enclose and fly from it.”
We both agree?! Would I be overly ironic to think we might be in trouble?
It’s a sure sign of the apocalypse.
I like the idea of the possibility of many faithful interpretations.
But I do not see why John thinks that “allowing a range of possibilities (e.g., the Jerusalem Council).” is an example of this.
To me, there does not seem to me to be any range of possibilities for a believing gentile in the letter, they are to obey the 4 commandments derived from Lev 17-18 for gentiles living in Israel, per Bauckham, in addition to the obvious commandments of a God fearer. Perhaps I am misunderstanding what John is claiming. Any help?
I think the guidance from the apostles that came out of the Jerusalem Council was related to the Gentile’s behavior not their beliefs. The focus was on living at peace in community, not on getting everyone on the same page with what they thought was right or best.
In my opinion most people are not right or wrong, but are somewhere along a continuum between mostly right and mostly wrong. The most important point is whether they are in right relationship to the truth, that is, are they actively seeking it or not?
Can you give me a specific source for this Pascal quotation? And it is a concise overview of how Teilhard saw the relationship between Biosphere and Noosphere. If Teilhard gave Pascal credit for this view, I missed it.
The specific quote is from Note 72 here. Keep in mind that Pascal’s “book” was actually a series of notes for a book of apologetics he planned to write but did not live to finish. His “pensees” (thoughts) were collected and published after his death. A searchable, online version of Pensees can be found here.
Just below that note, Pascal takes issue with his contemporary, Descartes, in what could be a modern disagreement about God’s action (or non-action) in evolution:
I cannot forgive Descartes. In all his philosophy he would have been quite willing to dispense with God. But he had to make Him give a fillip to set the world in motion; beyond this, he has no further need of God.
Edit: I could see how Teilhard might arrive at the same idea independently. He may not necessarily have borrowed it from Pascal.
Certainly the behavior of the believing gentiles is the concern of Acts 15. My take is the leaders figured out that gentiles needed to remain gentiles in order for some prophecies to be fulfilled, so conversion to Judaism for all was off the table. I see that the laws in the Pentateuch depend on the status of each person. A law of the high priest does not apply if one is not a high priest, for example. Most of the laws are for Jews, as a category. Some are for gentiles/sojourners in Israel and the least are for gentiles everywhere outside of Israel. The 4 Acts 14 rules already applied to believing gentiles in Israel, per Lev. 17-18, so the apostles decided that these 4 holiness code laws also applied to believing gentiles outside Israel, so that there could be table fellowship between believing Jews and believing gentiles among the nations.
What you are describing doesn’t sound like the complete paradigm shift you see in Acts and Paul’s letters. They stopped referring to the Law to constitute community membership and started referring to manifestations of the Holy Spirit. The compromise was not about fulfilling the Law so much as keeping the Jewish Christians from being so utterly revolted by the culture of the Gentile Christians that it prevented them working together.
No believing gentile or believing Jew is to drink blood, per Acts 15 and Lev 17. Jesus knew this when he participated in the last supper. If a literal physical meaning is impossible, then it must have a spiritual meaning and it does.
And here are the figurative words of Jesus:
Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.
For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me…
These things said he in the synagogue, as he taught in Capernaum.
Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is a hard saying; who can hear it?
When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you? What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?
It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.
But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him. And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.
From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?
It’s one thing for Jesus to be quoted as saying something that is figurative or a parable. But it is quite another when his disciples are taught to say the very same words where there is no attempt to explain how eating bread and drinking wine are not to be construed as literally eating God’s flesh and blood.
@DonJ, are you a Young Earth Creationist? Young Earth Creationists are not enthusiastic about having literal words contrived as figurative parables. When Jesus describes the importance of eating his flesh and blood, do you think he is presenting a Parable?