This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/brad-kramer-the-evolving-evangelical/using-science-to-interpret-scripture-celebrating-gods-accommodation
Thanks again to @LorenHaarsma for his contributions. He and I are both available to discuss this crucial topic. Specifically, I’m interested in these questions: If the Bible describes the physical world according to pre-modern, pre-scientific customs, is God’s Word still trustworthy? Is God lying to us when Genesis describes a solid dome in the sky?
@LorenHaarsma , I appreciate your perspective on the use of myth in the ANE as well as accommodation. However, your premise of the use of myth seems a bit too expansive. Your thought is this from what I can tell.
Primitive people had a primitive understanding of the world, so God accommodated to their understanding. “Everyone knew that Adam and Eve for example were fake people when they were used by Jesus for moral illustrations”. This is my quote, but is this what you are saying?
From my studies, the Talmudic Rabbi’s believed Adam and Eve to be real for example. So how can you describe how Eastern thinking was concerning the Torah without including some of the original Torah interpreters?
Did I misunderstand your analogy? Do you believe as the Rabbi’s taught that Adam and Eve were real people?
Loren, although you make some good points, I agree with Brood. You said…“In that culture, in that time and place, it was not considered wrong for them to make up fictional stories involving human characters, provided all the listeners knew that it was a fictional story involving fictional humans…” Do you think all the Jewish people in ancient times thought the first eleven chapters of Genesis to be fictional? It has only been in the last few hundred years that we have learned so much about nature why would people know better thousands of years ago.
I am not exactly sure what Calvin understood by accommodation. My understanding of it is that the people at the time the Bible was written actually thought the sky was solid, the earth was created in six days, Adam was the first human, and the whole world was at one time under water. The people who thought these things were mistaken and we know better today. However, God did not correct these mistakes but rather accommodated them. This understanding of accommodation would seem to rule out the need to suppose the ancient peoples knew these stories were fictional.
TGR, Calvin like many Reformers taught the idea of God’s accommodation to man in many levels. The incarnation for example was an extreme accommodation. I think C.S. Lewis said something like “A human becoming a turtle to save turtles.”
I believe in accommodation in the OT. The ark was built around Pharaoh’s throne imagery. The law accommodated to things like polygamy and slavery because it was so engrained in the culture.
However, it is ironic that Calvin is quoted to support accommodation, yet Calvin himself as far as I know believed in a literal 6 day creation, and a real Adam and Eve. I’m not a six day creationist, but I do think Adam and Eve were real.
Brood and TJR, thanks for your comments.
Rabbis of the Old Testament era probably did assume that Adam and Eve were real people. They also believed in a real solid dome firmament. The point of my blog is that those facts, by themselves, don’t settle either issue. Other factors must be considered. There are many blogs at BioLogos.org discussing theological reasons for and against thinking of Adam and Eve as more or less historical. Save those issues for another time. The point of my blog was more narrowly focused.
Ancient Near Eastern cultures, who had no concept of modern heliocentric astronomy, had beliefs about the origins of a firmament dome involving battles among the gods and chaos monsters. God inspired scripture which didn’t correct the ancient picture of a solid dome firmament (that wasn’t the point); God inspired scripture which poetically corrected the theology. (There is only one God; God said “Let there be…” and it happened.) The point of my blog is this: even if the original audience assumed that there really was a solid dome firmament, but God created the Earth in a different way, we shouldn’t think that God “did something wrong” by inspiring that sort of scripture. If we feel unease about that sort of scripture, it’s because we’re imposing our modern culture’s practices about scientific and historical accuracy, to origins stories about ancient history, that simply weren’t the cultural practices when the scripture was written.
Here is how one might extend that to Adam and Eve to make a very limited point. Ancient Near Eastern cultures, who had no concepts about evolutionary origins of species, had beliefs about the origins of human beings involving the gods forming the first few humans by divine shaping of earthy material (by, for example, shaping clay and mixing it with the blood of a slain god). God inspired scripture which didn’t correct their beliefs about the physical origins of the human species (that wasn’t the point); God inspired scripture which corrected their theology. Even if the original audience assumed that all humans descended from a literal pair Adam and Eve who lived a few thousand years ago, but God created the human species in a different way, we shouldn’t think that God “did something wrong” by inspiring that sort of scripture. If we feel unease about that sort of scripture, it’s because we’re imposing our modern culture’s practices about scientific and historical accuracy, to origins stories about ancient history, that simply weren’t the cultural practices when the scripture was written.
Again, there are many blogs at BioLogos.org discussing theological reasons for and against thinking of Adam and Eve as more or less historical, including discussions of Paul’s theological references to Adam, which aren’t addressed by this blog.
Loren, I see what you are saying. I don’t have a problem with the idea of God accommodating to thinking of that day. If I believed science could perfectly prove all of humanity didn’t come from one pair, then it wouldn’t shatter my faith. I would then try to re-evaluate the Adam and Eve story. However, I am not yet convinced science has this knowledge, nor can I explain many of Jesus and Paul’s prescriptive commands based on Adam and Eve if they never in fact existed.
Good article. Much to think about.
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