Concepts – Interpretation

The History of Allegorizing the Bible

From Dennis R. MacDonald:

Jewish and Christian biblical interpreters inherited a long tradition of allegory from Greeks. The Iliad and Odyssey had become targets for exculpatory allegory already in the sixth century B.C.E., largely because of Homer’s depictions of Olympian gods as dishonest, violent, and lustful. In the allegorical view, Homer’s gods did not actually represent the Olympians the Greeks revered; instead, they were symbols of natural phenomena or human emotions. This practice of allegorical apologetics became so widespread that the Athenian philosopher Plato debunked it at length (Republic 376e-380c). Despite such critiques, the practice continued.

One of its more fascinating practitioners, Heraclitus, (a contemporary of the New Testament writers) defended allegory, saying that if Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey can’t be taken allegorically, then they must be totally “sacrilegious fables”—something that would have been hard for Greek readers to accept (Homeric Problems 1.1-2).

Heraclitus then resolved a long string of “Homeric problems” by allegorizing them, often based on forced etymologies of proper nouns. For example, he related the one-eyed Cyclops (Kuklopes) to hypoklopon, “one who steals,” to anger that steals one’s cognitive powers (Homeric Problems 70.5). Indeed, “Odysseus’s wanderings as a whole, if carefully studied, will be found to be allegorical. Homer has produced in Odysseus a sort of instrument of every virtue” (Homeric Problems 70.1-2). Rather than taking Odysseus’s adventures as mere titillation, they become an allegory for moral development.

In the third century B.C.E. Alexandria became the center of Homeric scholarship; the translation of Jewish Scriptures into Greek (creating the Septuagint) took place there at about the same time and was subject to the same philological and exegetical scrutiny. Just as Homer suffered at the hands of allegorists, Moses did too.

In the middle of the second century B.C.E. an Egyptian Jewish intellectual named Aristobulus, who was profoundly aware of affinities between the writings attributed to Homer and Moses, allegorized parts of the Pentateuch. For example, he said God did not literally descend to earth at Mount Sinai; after all, God is omnipresent, with no need to “descend.” Instead, Aristobulus thought that Moses wrote this account to symbolize God’s revelation of majesty.

Philo of Alexandria, a contemporary of the apostle Paul, is our most important source for Egyptian Jewish allegory. Philo’s own allegories at first sight seem capricious, but they are more conservative and often quite sophisticated. Like Homeric commentators, he identified problems in the text and resolved them through word histories (etymologies) and other literary tools, either to harmonize the Pentateuch with Greek philosophy or to demonstrate Moses’s superiority to or affinities with the likes of Plato.

Fishbane on Mythmaking and the Bible

W Scott Taylor of ideoamnostoutheou posts a quote from Micheal Fishbane on the Facebook group The Open Theist Reformation: Biblical Open Theism:

Myth, Anthropomorphisms, Cosmic Plenum and Ancient Near Eastern ‘tendentious and presumptive dismissal of biblical language about God’. *
“A striking feature of contemporary attempts to differentiate ancient Israel from myth often depends upon definitions that first define myth in terms of polytheistic paganism, and thus juxtapose this definition to features of biblical monotheism—concluding thereby that ‘myth’ is absent from the latter. For example, on the argument that an essential variable of ancient Near Eastern paganism is the origin of the gods in a cosmic ‘plenum’, from which substance: they emerge as differentiated personalities, but upon whose elemental character they are necessarily and inherently dependent, the figure of a singular God with a transcendent will, who is (apparently) distinct from the natural world to which He gave created form, is of a fundamentally different sort. Hereby, myth is linked with the natural gods of polytheism and totally dissociated from supernatural monotheism. Accordingly, it is presumed that any hint of myth as recognizable from the ancient Near East (in terms of divine action, imagery, or personality) can only be harmless vestiges of a figurative (or metaphorical) sort and thus neither true nor living myth.

But this is a self-serving and fallacious line of argument. Whether or not these characterizations of polytheistic paganism or monotheism are in any way accurate, the exclusive identification of a literary phenomenon (myth) with a specific religious cultural form (natural polytheism) is both tendentious and tautological: the first, because the defintion is arbitrary and selective; and the second, because the identification is always self-confirming, and without any means of checking its circular or redundant character. Such argumentation is also based on certain essentialist views regarding polytheism and monotheism, though it generally avoids this stigma through the pretense of comparative historical study, and conceals an old cultural animus against brute ‘myth’ (the heir of Hellas) under the cover of an analytical phenomenology of religion. [22] Nevertheless, such intellectual practices reveal just how much the category of myth still serves as a container for all the cultural forms of ideologies that one has purportedly transcended (like irrationality, polytheism, and paganism) — for the sake of others assumed to be superior in kind (like reason, monotheism, or historical inquiry) and with which one identifies.[23] The result is a lamentable impoverishment of the notion and nature of myth, and its formulations within biblical monotheism; but it is also a schematization of monotheism that equally impoverishes its inherent and complex features. Indeed, the upshot of much recent writing is to claim differences between monotheism and polytheism that are arguably more polemical than propeadeutic, and that need to be thoroughly reconsidered.[24]

Equally tendentious is the presumptive dismissal of certain apparently mythic features of biblical language (its unabashed and pervasive deptions of God in anthropomorphic and anthropopathic terms) that blatantly occur in the monotheistic canon of Scripture—as if these were merely due to ‘the inadequacy of human language’ and ‘limitation of human thought’, or to some sort of necessarily ‘indirect grasp’ of ‘spiritual concepts’ by ‘images…that emphasize the sensual’.[25] But on what grounds are such assertions made? Surely there is nothing in Scripture itself that would point in this direction, or suggest that the representations of divine form and feeling in human terms are anything other than the preferred and characteristic mode of depiction. [26] Moreover, on what basis should one assume that the plain sense of Scripture is some (quasi-allegorical) approximation of a more spiritual or purely metaphorical content? And would would that content be, we may well ask, and is it even possible to get past the thick immediacy of biblical language and its concrete and sensible accounts of God? [27] One can only conclude that the evasion of the direct sense of Scripture that such attitudes represent are attempts to save Scripture from itself—for oneself, and must be considered a species of modern apologetics.[28]

[26.] Cf. the judicious concern of Jame Barr, ‘Theophany and Anthropomorphism in the Old Testament’, Congress Volume, Oxfort (SVT 7; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1960), 33, who urges the interprete to shift from the question ‘Is God conceived of as essentially in human form”‘ to ‘When he does appear in a forma at all, is it thought that the human form isthe natural or characteristic one form him to assume?’ ”

* NOTE: the previous paragraphs (not the title) were taken from the Introduction :

“Biblical Myth and Rabbinic Mythmaking”, by Micheal Fishbane (see free preview via Google search on the title.

Neyhart Explains Her Hermeneutic of Love

Open Theist Jennifer Neyhart presents her hermeneutic of love by which she reads the Bible:

Well, when Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment, he responded by saying “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

In light of this passage, I would argue that the love of God and our love for God and people should be a lens for interpreting Scripture.

Fiorenza on Augustine’s Platonistic Hermeneutic

From Systematic Theology: Task and Methods

In On Christian Doctrine, Augustine developed principles and rules for the interpretation of the Scriptures. In so doing, Augustine provided important and influential contributions to rhetoric, education, theology, and hermeneutics. Augustine’s hermeneutical theory should be understood in relation to his Neo-Platonic background and his attempt to come to grips with the incarnation of the divine wisdom. The Platonic chorismos schema—namely, the distinction between the changeable and unchangeable, the temporal and eternal—provides the background theory to his rules of interpretation. The changeable should be interpreted in relation to the unchangeable, the temporal to the eternal, the world to the transcendent, historical events to the divine plan of salvation, and the human Christ to the divine Word. Augustine’s hermeneutical theory bases signification on the ontological priority of the unchangeable eternal to the changeable and material.

This conviction (concerning the ontological priority of the transcendental reality over the material sign) leads Augustine to his basic principle of hermeneutics: what is of primary importance is not so much our knowledge of the material sign that enables us to interpret the eternal reality, but rather it is our knowledge of the eternal reality that enables us to interpret the material sign. This hermeneutical principle applies not only to allegorical and typological but also to literal interpretation. To understand the words of the Bible properly as signs of eternal reality, one must acknowledge that reality.

Apologetics Thursday – Boyd Explains That God Does Not Hold False Beliefs

From reknew.org:

Does God Hold False Beliefs?
I turn now to seven specific charges that Ware brings against the open view.

Ware alleges that in the open view, “God must…possess innumerable false beliefs about what will happen in the future.” In my opinion, the claim is quite unfounded. It is of course true that Scripture reports Yahweh as revealing that at times he “thought” or “expected” something would occur which didn’t come to pass (e.g. Jer. 3:7–8, 19–20; Isa. 5:1–5; Ezek. 12:2). And it’s true that open theists find no compelling reason to not take this language at face value. But only a most unsympathetic reading of Jeremiah’s and Isaiah’s language—and of the open theists who simply repeat it—would conclude that this language entails that God holds false beliefs.

A more sympathetic explanation is readily available. When God says he “thought” or “expected” something would take place that didn’t take place, he is simply reflecting his perfect knowledge of probabilities. When the improbable happens, as sometimes is the case with free agents, God says he genuinely “thought” or “expected” the more probable outcome would happen. Because God is infinitely intelligent, we cannot conceive of God being altogether shocked, as though he didn’t perfectly anticipate and prepare for this very improbability (as much as if it was a certainty from all eternity). But relative to the probabilities of the situation, the outcome was surprising [viz. improbable].

Jeremiah and Isaiah (and open theists who repeat their language) can only be accused of ascribing false beliefs to God if they claim that God was mistakenly certain something would occur which did not occur. But no biblical author, or open theist, has ever said this.

To turn the tables for a moment, if I may, the question Ware must answer regarding such passages is this: Why does God reveal that he “thought” or “expected” something was going to occur which in fact did not occur if he knew from all eternity (or predestined from all eternity) that it would not occur? If one insists that open theists have difficulties in taking passages like Jeremiah 3, Isaiah 5 and Ezekiel 12 at face value, must we not concede that those who anthropomorphize these passages because they do not square with the doctrine of exhaustively definite foreknowledge face difficulties at least as serious as these?

Boyd Makes the Case for Open Theism

From A Brief Outline and Defense of the Open View:

Some examples of these Scriptures include:
The Lord frequently changes his mind in the light of changing circumstances, or as a result of prayer (Exod. 32:14; Num. 14:12–20; Deut. 9:13–14, 18–20, 25; 1 Sam. 2:27–36; 2 Kings 20:1–7; 1 Chron. 21:15; Jer. 26:19; Ezek. 20:5–22; Amos 7:1–6; Jonah 1:2; 3:2, 4–10). At other times he explicitly states that he will change his mind if circumstances change (Jer. 18:7–11; 26:2–3; Ezek. 33:13–15). This willingness to change is portrayed as one of God’s attributes of greatness (Joel 2:13–14; Jonah 4:2).
Sometimes God expresses regret and disappointment over how things turned out—sometimes even including the results of his own will. (Gen. 6:5–6; 1 Sam. 15:10, 35; Ezek. 22:29–31).
At other times he tells us that he is surprised at how things turned out because he expected a different outcome (Isa. 5:3–7; Jer. 3:67; 19–20).
The Lord frequently tests his people to find out whether they’ll remain faithful to him (Gen. 22:12; Exod. 16:4; Deut. 8:2; 13:1–3; Judges 2:20–3:5; 2 Chron. 32:31).
The Lord sometimes asks non-rhetorical questions about the future (Num. 14:11; Hos. 8:5) and speaks to people in terms of what may or may not happen (Exod. 3:18–4:9; 13:17; Jer. 38:17–18, 20–21, 23; Ezek. 12:1–3).
The Lord frequently speaks of the future in terms of what may and may not come to pass (Ex.4:1-7; Ex. 13:17; Ezek 12:3).
Classical theologians often consider only the passages that demonstrate that the future is settled either in God’s mind (foreknowledge) or in God’s will (predestination) as revealing the whole truth about God’s knowledge of the future. They interpret passages (such as the above) that suggest God faces a partly open future as merely figurative. I do not see this approach as warranted on either exegetical or theological grounds. I am therefore compelled to interpret both sets of passages as equally literal and therefore draw the conclusion that the future that God faces is partly open and partly settled.

Answered Questions – Open Theist Hermeneutics

From the Open Theist Facebook page:

Have any open theists outlined a specifically open hermeneutic?

1. From Bob Enyart’s debate with Lamerson:

But because the argument based on God’s attributes and His redemption intervention in history stands not on a few proof texts, but on the combined force of the entire Word of God, whatever they concoct will have little persuasive effect, and the Openness movement will win over Christians in growing numbers and by far more biblical and powerful evangelism, increase the harvest of souls.

Jehovah’s
Obvious
Nativity
Attributes
Hermeneutic

JONAH demonstrates that attributes like relationship and love take precedence over immutability, knowledge, and power, thereby establishing the truth of Openness by obliterating the only justification for the Settled View.

And by JONAH, we can therefore use NOAH, the:

New
Openness-
Attributes
Hermeneutic

NOAH resolves conflicting interpretations by selecting those which give precedence to the biblical attributes of God as being living, personal, relational, good, and loving, and by rejecting explanations derived from commitment to the philosophical attributes of God such as omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, impassibility, and immutability.

2. From Rightnerve:

The Eight-Year Hermeneutic:

Definition: Ask an 8-year old, “What does this verse mean?” Almost always…you’ll hear what it means.

An 8-year old isn’t educated enough to spiritualize away obvious meanings. It takes a Master’s Degree in Theology or a serious reading of several dead Germans to become stupid enough to try that.

The Eight-Year Hermeneutic’s Corollary #1: If the 8-year old is home-educated, the hermeneutic’s accuracy rate increases 518.42%.

The Neo-Christianized Hermeneutic:

Definition: If most Christians say it, it’s probably wrong.

The Neo-Christianized Hermeneutic Corollary #1: In most cases, the more a Christian quotes a verse, the less likely it’s in the Bible.

3. From Walter Brueggemann’s Theology of the Old Testament:

We may now consider the peculiar and characteristic way in which Israel formulates its testimony about God. Here I suggest what appears to be a normative way in which such utterance is given in Israel, a way that constitutes the primary witness of Isreal…

It is important, first of all, to recognize that Israel’s utterance about God is characteristically stated in full sentences, and the sentence is the unit of testimony that most reliably is taken as revelation. Here we do well to follow James Barr in his warning against overreliance on isolated words. 14 I insist that God is embedded in Israel’s testimony of full sentences and cannot be extracted from such full sentences…

Second, Yahweh the God of Israel, who may variously be designated by many titles and metaphors, is characteristically the subject of the active verb. 16 Thus the characteristic claim of Israel’s testimony is that Yahweh is an active agent who is the subject of an active verb, and so the testimony is that Yahweh, the God of Israel, has acted in decisive and transformative ways… For our large purposes we should note, moreover, that such testimonial utterance in Israel is characteristically quite concrete, and only on the basis of many such concrete evidence does Israel dare to generalize.

The third element of this standard testimony of Israel is that the active verb has a direct object, the one acted on, the one for whom transformation has been wrought. 19 In the first instant, the direct object may be a personal pronoun— me, us— as the witness speaks about his or her own changed circumstance . Or this direct object may be expressed more formally as “Israel,” who is regularly the recipient of Yahweh’s direct activity. 20 But then, as we shall see, the direct object may vary greatly to include all of creation or even nonhuman parts of it, or the nations who are acted on by God in this rhetoric.

Apologetics Thursday – Historical Literal

By Christopher Fisher

In response to a 2008 post by a skeptic, Bob Laser says:

I have an insight into the debate of unfulfilled prophesy and God being all knowing and all present. One thing that atheists and fundamental Christians have in common is a concept that the bible is all truth, hence they will either believe it all or will not believe any of it.

The elusive obvious answer to this question is that the God of the Old Testament is a man made projection of whom he believes God to be. Being man-made it would contain error such as unfulfilled prophesy.

Remember that just because it is a man made idea that does not negate the reality of an all knowing God and does not negate the fact that Jesus came to tell us about the true God, not the man-made one.
It is our concepts of belief that prevent us from seeing the truth when it comes to spiritual matters and reconciling tough issues which arise from these root concepts.

Bob Laser cuts to the heart of the matter. There are two types of individuals:

1. Those who want to understand what the original author of any particular book of the Bible was attempting to communicate to his audience and see that communication as legitimate (taking into account genre and idioms).

And

2. Those who wish to reinterpret the events described in the Bible as written to men but not necessarily representing reality. Onto this we project other realities, as Mr Laser does.

If people take the second approach, there is no room for Bible debate. Any text in the Bible can be overshadowed by any theory. Competing theories can clash, but not in relation to the Bible.

For those who take the first approach, ground can be gained on the Biblical front. Books such as Kings and Chronicles are fairly hard to argue that they are not written to be taken as historical literal (as opposed to poetry or myth), yet the events described frustrate many Christians:

1Ki 22:19 Then Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by, on His right hand and on His left.
1Ki 22:20 And the LORD said, ‘Who will persuade Ahab to go up, that he may fall at Ramoth Gilead?’ So one spoke in this manner, and another spoke in that manner.
1Ki 22:21 Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD, and said, ‘I will persuade him.’
1Ki 22:22 The LORD said to him, ‘In what way?’ So he said, ‘I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And the LORD said, ‘You shall persuade him, and also prevail. Go out and do so.’
1Ki 22:23 Therefore look! The LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these prophets of yours, and the LORD has declared disaster against you.”

Paralleled in 2 Chronicles 18:

2Ch 18:18 Then Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing on His right hand and His left.
2Ch 18:19 And the LORD said, ‘Who will persuade Ahab king of Israel to go up, that he may fall at Ramoth Gilead?’ So one spoke in this manner, and another spoke in that manner.
2Ch 18:20 Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD, and said, ‘I will persuade him.’ The LORD said to him, ‘In what way?’
2Ch 18:21 So he said, ‘I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And the LORD said, ‘You shall persuade him and also prevail; go out and do so.’
2Ch 18:22 Therefore look! The LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of these prophets of yours, and the LORD has declared disaster against you.”

To those who want to maintain dedication to the text of the Bible and who also want to maintain the classical view of God, they will hesitate before answering straightforward questions about the text:

Describe the events that the Micaiah depicts. Who talks to who, when, what is discussed, and what resolution is achieved?

Did these events happen as described?

Only the Open View can take the face value communication of Micaiah as true.

Perry on Repentance

From Greg Perry of rightnerve:

One of the most convicting aspects of the course is how much baggage we put upon Scripture. I like to say that most of us – we included, perhaps more than many – filter the Word through the world instead of filtering the world through the Word.

A good starting point to understand Scripture, to understand God’s will, to understand our place in the universe is simply this: If God didn’t mean what He said, then He would have said something else…

I believe God says He repents more than 25 times in Scripture. He says a fewer number of times that He doesn’t repent. Yes, we have to work out what’s going on here. God isn’t psychotic or bipolar; we must read His Words and figure out what He is teaching us when when He uses context to teach us. (Hint: It turns out that this seeming contradiction is one of the simplest things to understand in Scripture. God often was either going to bless or bring destruction onto a person or nation and then, due to man’s change in one direction or another, God rethinks and changes what He said would happen. Or, due to man’s stubbornness to not change direction, God didn’t rethink or change what He was going to do. Those times He refuses to repent.)

Still, if we only used the number of times God says something as having more weight, God certainly seems to repent of what He was about to do several times.

By sticking to what words actually mean, we can begin to attack errant beliefs. And by “errant” I truly mean errant from the literal Word of God, not just those who disagree with us.

For full post, click here.

Perry on New Hermeneutics

Greg Perry of rightnerve suggests a couple new hermeneutics:

The Eight-Year Hermeneutic:

Definition: Ask an 8-year old, “What does this verse mean?” Almost always…you’ll hear what it means.

An 8-year old isn’t educated enough to spiritualize away obvious meanings. It takes a Master’s Degree in Theology or a serious reading of several dead Germans to become stupid enough to try that.

The Eight-Year Hermeneutic’s Corollary #1: If the 8-year old is home-educated, the hermeneutic’s accuracy rate increases 518.42%.

The Neo-Christianized Hermeneutic:

Definition: If most Christians say it, it’s probably wrong.

The Neo-Christianized Hermeneutic Corollary #1: In most cases, the more a Christian quotes a verse, the less likely it’s in the Bible.

For full post, click here.

Mcmahon on Being Dragged – John 6:44

Excerpt:

Our passage in John 6 contrasts the first and third of the above designated groups. Jesus was explaining to the Jews who rejected Him that their refusal to believe in Him stemmed from their basic refusal to trust in God (in whom they falsely claimed to trust); that those who, in contrast, were now turning and following Him were the true believers in God, the true Jews. That’s what He means when he says that “everyone who listens to and learns from the Father comes to Me.” He isn’t talking about unbelieving Gentiles being regenerated (without even realizing that’s happened) and believing on Christ because they’re elect. He’s talking about Jewish people who were in personal relationship with God believing on Jesus because through their existing faith they recognize His divine origin. This model is not directly applicable to the human race in general today.

For PDF, click here.

Calvinist Says Old Testament Should Not Be Taken Seriously

From a critique of Open Theism:

Pilch and Malina in the Handbook of Biblical Social Values [50ff, 56ff] note the emphasis in the Biblical world on dramatic orientation as a point of honor. To be expressive in word and deed was to “gain, maintain, and enhance personal and group honor.” Expressions of eloquence, which involve exaggeration and over-assertion, may at times “not [be] intended to be taken seriously but are made solely for effect and are heartily appreciated and applauded by an audience that enjoys such eloquence when it hears it.”

Free and unrestrained expression of emotion was normal and acceptable, but may not always be taken seriously; note that this is NOT (as one critic of this article suggested) a matter of “honesty” for contextually in this setting, there is no “lie” being perpetrated (i.e., everyone KNOWS the expression is not “real”). Consider in this light the Jewish practice of paid mourners who were paid to wail, but obviously had no personal grief to speak of.

For full post, click here.

Sanders on the Being Attacked for Believing the Bible

From John Sander’s paper Be Wary of Ware:

I am not stating a position but asking how simple foreknowledge handles a set of biblical texts that we all must address. What do we do with those texts where God says (unconditionally) that something will happen and then it does not happen? For example, God made an unconditional announcement that Nineveh would be destroyed (Jonah), and God made an unconditional announcement to Hezekiah that he would shortly die (2 Kings 20), but neither of these came to pass. As an aside, it is interesting that what really offends Ware is that we actually believe what the Bible says in such passages! For Ware, anyone who believes these biblical texts mean what they say is a heretic and should be thrown out of the assembly.

Perry on Repentance

Best selling author, Greg Perry of RightNerve talks about Repentance:

As I said above, “repent” – meaning to change one’s mind – is an extremely close approximation to the original Greek and Hebrew words. So, what does that mean for us?

It means that when we read the English word repent in Scripture, we should stick with its accurate meaning of changing one’s mind. Anything else we add does little but subtract from God’s Word. Until we’re smart enough to win Jeopardy against God, we should probably stick with just listening to Him and taking Him at His Word.

God’s Word helps us understand God’s Word. Often, the immediate context of a word in Scripture, the surrounding context, the book it’s in, the time period it’s written in, and its place in Biblical history will all help us understand a word better.

…God says He repents more than 25 times in Scripture. He says a fewer number of times that He doesn’t repent. Yes, we have to work out what’s going on here. God isn’t psychotic or bipolar; we must read His Words and figure out what He is teaching us when when He uses context to teach us. (Hint: It turns out that this seeming contradiction is one of the simplest things to understand in Scripture. God often was either going to bless or bring destruction onto a person or nation and then, due to man’s change in one direction or another, God rethinks and changes what He said would happen. Or, due to man’s stubbornness to not change direction, God didn’t rethink or change what He was going to do. Those times He refuses to repent.)

Still, if we only used the number of times God says something as having more weight, God certainly seems to repent of what He was about to do several times.

By sticking to what words actually mean, we can begin to attack errant beliefs. And by “errant” I truly mean errant from the literal Word of God, not just those who disagree with us.

For full post, click here.

Perry Talks Hermeneutics

Best selling author, Greg Perry of RightNerve talks about Hermeneutics:

One hermeneutic is to take the Bible literally. This is Dr. Cone’s approach. This is also my desired approach. Certainly some things in Scripture are metaphors and analogies and parables that use one thing to illustrate something else. That “something else” is often a spiritual truth. In spite of metaphors and analogies and parables existing in the Bible, the literal hermeneutic says, “Let’s first and foremost just assume that the Bible means what it says. And if we read certain passages and find that God’s giving us an analogy of some kind, that will be fine. But we first assume it’s literal and it grammatically means what it grammatically says.”

For example, Dr. Cone has shown that Noah used a literal hermeneutic to understand God’s Word:

God told Noah: “Build a boat.”
So Noah built a boat.

If Noah wanted to spiritualize God’s Word, he would start analyzing all the things God possibly could have meant when He told Noah to build a boat. If Noah had a time machine and looked forward to learn all about Greek philosophy, Noah could have guessed that the “boat” was actually an anthropomorphism for Noah swimming in the sea of sin all around him.

For full post, click here.

Sanders Asks How Calvin Knows What God is Like

John Sanders from The God Who Risks:

…the notion that God grieves has long troubled many scholars. Many held that it is not appropriate to attribute such changes to God. Instead, such language should be understood as divine “accommodation” to our level of understanding. That is, God is not actually like these biblical depictions. John Calvin, for instance, in reference to the biblical text about God experiencing changing emotions or changes of mind said that such texts do not inform us what God is really like. Rather, he claimed that in these texts God “lisps” to us as does a nursemaid to a young child. Though God may be lisping to us in the biblical depictions, the question is how we know this. After all, we know that the nursemaid is speaking “baby talk” because we know what “adult talk” is like. But if Scripture is “baby talk,” then from where do we get our “adult talk” about God? Do we obtain it from natural theology? If the Bible contains both baby talk and true talk about God then we need a criterion by which to distinguish between them. Unfortunately, Calvin does not disclose how he decides which biblical texts go into which category.

Apologetics Thursday – Geisler’s False Dichotomy on Repentance

By Christopher Fisher

Norman Geisler writes in his Creating God in the Image of Man:

And 1 Samuel 15:29 affirms emphatically, “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind: for he is not a man, that he should change his mind.” What is more, this is affirmed in the very context that states that God does change his mind, something that the author of 1 Samuel thought to be consistent (15:11). But this could only be the case if one of these two is taken literally and the other not. But which is which? Once again the answer comes only by seeing which is best explained in the light of the other.

Notice Geisler’s False Dichotomy: There are two verses that contradict each other; one must trump the other. Geisler is appealing to his reader not to see the common sense third answer: that both texts are literal and should be viewed in the way that the original author intended.

When 1 Samuel was being written, the author did not think that in verse 11 he would describe God repenting only to affirm 18 verses later that God is immutable. In fact, if the Samuel’s entire point is quoted, the point is that God had just taken Israel from Saul:

1Sa 15:28 And Samuel said unto him, The LORD hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbour of thine, that is better than thou.
1Sa 15:29 And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent.

To Geisler, this is how he views this conversation:

So Samuel said to him, “The LORD has taken your kingdom, and by the way, have I ever explained to you about God’s incommunicable attributes such as immutability and impeccability?”

Because Calvinism is dependent on “proof texts” ripped from context, they tend force odd readings onto texts. It would be unnatural for Samuel to add a random sentence into his conversation explaining immutability. What was his point? What was he trying to accomplish? What is Samuel communicating to Saul? Context is key for understanding what sentences mean.

Here is the context of the entire chapter:

King Saul has just violated God’s command not to take spoils of war:

1Sa 15:9 But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them: but every thing that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly.
1Sa 15:10 Then came the word of the LORD unto Samuel, saying,
1Sa 15:11 It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments. And it grieved Samuel; and he cried unto the LORD all night.

This leads God directly to “repenting” of having made Saul the king of Israel. Samuel hears God’s message, and the next morning confronts Saul on his spoils of war. Samuel explains to Saul that “Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king.” Saul immediately repents, and asks for mercy (for his kingdom to not be taken away):

1Sa 15:24 And Saul said unto Samuel, I have sinned: for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD, and thy words: because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice.
1Sa 15:25 Now therefore, I pray thee, pardon my sin, and turn again with me, that I may worship the LORD.

Notice Saul’s deep repentance. Saul seeks pardon and wants to go worship God. But this is denied. Samuel says:

1Sa 15:28 And Samuel said unto him, The LORD hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbour of thine, that is better than thou.
1Sa 15:29 And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent.

The context of God not repenting is “repenting that He made Saul king.” When God says He will not repent, God is saying “I will not repent of repenting that I made Saul king (taking his kingdom away).” God is not making a general claim of immutability. God is making the claim that Saul cannot expect to convince God to give him back the kingdom. God has made up his mind.

To set up a parallel to really drive home the point: Pretend I allow my boys to play with GI Joes. Pretend I have given them instructions on how to play gently such that they do not destroy those action figures. If my boys then play with those GI Joes, destroy a couple, then I might then take away those toys. If my boys apologize and promise to be more careful in the future, I would be well within my rights to say: “I am taking the GI Joes. I will not change my mind. I am not your mom that I would change my mind.”

For someone to come along and claim that I am immutable would be a disservice to the context. My statement was limited to the events in question, and extrapolating and mystifying would be a gross injustice. My words, taken literally, are that my mind is made up on this one issue.

Interestingly enough, Geisler fails to mention the text then recounts God’s repentance again:

1Sa 15:35 And Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death: nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul: and the LORD repented that he had made Saul king over Israel.

When Geisler talks about having to interpret one verse in light of the other, this reveals his flawed method of interpretation. The best means of interpretation is to ascertain exactly what the author of any specific text was trying to communicate to his readers. Implications of verses should only be secondary. Geisler would rather read his theology into the text than gain his theology from the text. He tries to distract by assuming the way he sees a particular verse is a literal understanding, when it is the farthest thing from it.

I Am Who I Am – Paul

Craig Fisher recounts the time Paul uttered the words that Jesus was nearly stoned for saying:

God, perhaps himself irritated at Moses’ desire for a more useful name, says “I AM WHO I AM.” (אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה) To understand this statement, it helps to understand how others have used it in scripture. Paul, after explaining his own unworthiness, uses the same words in Greek to explain to the Corinthians his apostleship:

1Co 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am

Paul is saying he knows that he is not worthy of this apostleship. In his checkered past, he has persecuted Christians, but God transformed him into an apostle, preaching the good news to all who would receive him. When Paul says “I am who I am”, he means “what you see is what you get”, nothing more or less. Paul is not claiming to be an immutable, simple and incorruptible god, a claim made by leading Calvinists.

For context, click here.

Bible Readers Should Be Detectives

From W Scott Taylor of IdeoAmnosTouTheou on Facebook Group Open Theism, Moral Government Theology, Pentecostal:

“The Openness of God” at one time could to be taken as a “Biblical” challenge to traditional understanding of God, but we have since learned that word “Biblical” was more elastic to some of the authors than many who read it. If one reads it with that understanding there is great value in it. A new kind of caveat emptor need accompany some works.

Really, one could read the Bible itself and take seriously the revelation “and God changed His mind” and allow oneself to be drawn into the Bible itself as it’s own coherent interpreter.

And the the reference to the Lord’s paradigm for us for prayer was not quite in context.

“After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”

The obvious seems to be generally missed in our Lord’s direction, and that is, “God’s will is not being done on Earth as it is in heaven!”

One does not pray that the Sun will come up in the morning or that the law of “cause and effect” will continue for another day.

One pray’s for that to be changed which is out of conformity to the revealed will of God.”

Sometimes I wonder if people would be more benefited by reading a few episodes of the famous “Sherlock Holmes” and apply his method to the interpretation of Scripture *first* than other works that bring one to the precipice of confrontation with even greater dizzying mental constructs.

W Scott Taylor