Bible - Purpose and intent
Joe Carter seems to think that the first chapter of the bible, Genesis 1, should not be read as if it talks about how long God took to create the universe. Whilst I agree with Joe on almost everything else, be it Philosophy, Intelligent Design, Morality, or Pat Robertson, I have to say that the approach he seems to be advocating smacks of eigesis (The process of pushing your own ideas into the bible, as opposed to exegesis where you let the bible push its own ideas into you). Joe quotes Roy Clouser, who says
It ignores the Bible's own central theme and purpose, and instead of trying to ascertain the literal meaning of the text (where "literal" means the intent of the author), it tries to force the text to yield truths about matters which never crossed the minds of its author(s)Joe expands saying
Clouser contends that the creation account of Genesis, like all scripture, should be understood as focally concerned with the covenant by which we stand in proper relation to God. The intention of these early chapters, which he views as a prologue to the Mosaic covenant, is to reveal a teleological order to the process of creation. Because the account is of the teleological order rather than the chronological or causal orders, the explanation is not at all the same as either a scientific explanation or a description of what an observer would have seen. “[A]ttempting to read it so as to satisfy scientific curiosity,” claims Clouser, “is a blatant distortion which obscures [the texts] religious significanceand concludes his post saying
It should be noted that Clouser is not advocating a poetic or allegorical reading of Genesis. He takes the Bible seriously as the inspired word of God. In fact, he argues that “the mistake of such views as "scientific creationism" is not that they take the text too literally but (partly) that they don't take it literally enough.”
Like Closer, I too believe that Christians do not take the Genesis account “literally enough.” I am also distressed by the way some claim that believing that the Bible is inerrant – as I do – requires accepting a specific interpretation of the creation passages. Most often the charges are thrown out by “six-day” creationists who disagree with their fellow believers who accept an “old-earth” position. But I’ve also noticed some Christian advocates of intelligent design claim that theistic evolution is incompatible with an orthodox interpretation of scripture.
While I certainly agree that there are certain theories (i.e., undirected evolution) and interpretations (e.g., Genesis is completely allegorical) that should be rejected, I believe that most other readings should be weighed and judged on extra-Biblical evidence. The Bible, as Clouser points out, was not written to be a scientific text and should not be treated as such. But because all truth is God’s truth, I believe that both of God’s “texts” – Creation and the Bible – are ultimately compatible. Just as the study of nature (through such methods as science) can aid us in interpreting special revelation (the Bible), I believe that the Bible can often provide a framework for interpreting general revelation (the created universe).
Now I want to look at the ideas here as there are MAJOR problems with it. Before I go into those problems, it is important to remember that as Christians, the bible was not just authored by men, but by God.
The problems with Clouser and Carter's approach however is that
1) They are deciding what the intent of the author was.
How are they deciding this? It seems they are using today’s ‘scientific evidence’ of supposed old age and deciding that the text obviously can’t be referring to actual time periods. How do I know this? Because the text was clearly interpreted in the past (before materialism took over science and assumed the universe was old) as talking about 7 Literal days. The only other aberration from this interpretation was when the took Greek philosophical concepts and decided God created the world in an instant.
But it is important to remember that the text itself does not tell us this intent. It is being decided by Clouser and Carter.
So how do we try and determine the intent of an author, if they don’t explicitly state it? We look at the literary style and how people of the time period would have interpreted it. The literary style of genesis is historical narrative.. Other parts of the bible clearly reinforce the idea of 6 days of creation (e.g. God created Male and Female at ‘the beginning’ Mark 10:6 , and ‘for the Lord made heaven and earth in six days’ Ex 20:11)
2) Jesus also gives us the comment that if he tells us of earthly things and we do not believe, how can we believe heavenly things - John 3:12.
Why should we ignore the bible when it speaks about earthly things? If science tells us a man cannot rise from the dead, do we reinterpret scripture because obviously it wasn’t trying to tell us that he ‘actually rose from the dead’ but was only communicating a spiritual truth? So even though the bible is not a science textbook, it clearly tells us we can trust it when it refers to earthly things.
Using the same logic, you can decide the intent and purpose of any passage, based upon your own pre-existing ideas, and so support whatever idea you want. This is exactly what Christians who are practicing homosexuals do. (Eigesis!)
The attempt to spiritualize the bible (To take it out of the field of history and worldly accuracy) has resulted in many such reinterpretations.
Doesn’t it seem somewhat convenient (and self-serving) to be able to spiritualize away any observation that could possibly contradict inerrant scripture?
3) The scriptures never tell us to elevate man’s understanding of nature to an equal or higher level of authority than the bible
Notice how Joe confesses that ‘the study of nature (through such methods as science) can aid us in interpreting special revelation’
Does this seem to indicate that he is reinterpreting what the bible says (or the authors intent) based upon current scientific knowledge, even though the original audience for the text DID NOT have that knowledge . In doing this his is placing man’s fallible interpretation of nature (and this interpretation is based on assumptions that are incompatible with Christianity), against man’s (admittedly fallible) interpretation of scripture.
The question is, do you think we should trust changing science based upon uniformitarian and materialistic assumptions that try to extrapolate back 7 or 8 orders of magnitude more than one of the most clear cut pieces of scripture in the bible.
If the author did not intend for genesis 1 to mean a literal 6 days, then why did he go to so much trouble reinforcing the point time and time again. Not only did he mention that it was the 1st, 2nd, 3rd days etc, he also mentions that there was evening and morning AND then reiterates in exodus that God created the universe in 6 days. If the author didn’t intend to convey 6 literal days, he certainly went to a lot of trouble for nothing.
Joe concludes his post with
In fulfilling God's mandates, we should ardently search for the truth and hone our interpretations to make them conform to what God has revealed. But neither "text" should be treated like an encyclopedia. Some mysteries, whether about God or his creation, may never be truly known. We must accept with humility that just because we have a question does not mean that God has revealed the answer.
Yet we should accept with humility and trust when God clearly tells us he made the universe in 6 days as opposed to pridefully leaning upon our own understanding (Pro 3:5)