Word of God: Part 4

Continuing our look at Timothy Ward’s book Words of Life, we now turn to his doctrinal outline of the attributes of Scripture. He begins by expositing the necessity, sufficiency, clarity and authority of Scripture. I skip over these here to move on to what has been an area of interest to this blog in the past: inerrancy and infallibility. Ward’s location of the doctrine is a helpful place to start:

What I shall say here about the question of the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture should not be thought of as the doctrinal climax to which the previous sections in this chapter have been leading. Nor should it even be thought of as a section to be set alongside Scripture’s necessity, sufficiency, clarity, and consequent authority, equal in significance to those topics. Instead the claim that Scripture is inerrant is an outworking of the authority of Scripture. Specifically it is an outworking of the trustworthiness of Scripture…” (130).

In an important follow-up statement, Ward claims, “In other words I shall argue that inerrancy is a true statement to make about the Bible, but is not in the top rank of significant things to assert about the Bible” (130). Infallibility, as Ward defines it, means that the Bible does not deceive, while inerrancy adds the additional claim that it does not “assert any errors of fact.” Ward offers 3 qualifications against misinformed critiques of inerrancy: 1) First, the concept of inerrancy is not, as many assume, the invention of modern rationalism; 2) biblical inerrancy accepts issues of common language use (genre, colloquial approximations, grammatical forms, metaphor, parable, hyperbole, etc.); and, 3)biblical inerrancy does not thrive when Scripture is whittled down to facts and compilations, but when God chooses to speak of himself as faithful (hence, presumably, the large use of narrative, etc.).

Ward builds on this to offer two summary points for his understanding of inerrancy, which he goes on to unfold: “inerrancy is no more and no less than a [1)] natural implication of the fact that Scripture is identified as the speech act of a God who cannot lie, and [2)]who has chosen to reveal himself to us in words” (135).

What do you think? Is this the kind of account you would want to offer? Why or why not?

23 thoughts on “Word of God: Part 4

  1. 1) Just a minor point: is it true that God cannot lie?

    In the Bible, God often “hardens” and deceives people’s “hearts”; and sends “evil spirits” to deceive them.

    Is there some special, qualified definition of “lies” here?

    2) In the meantime: Ward seems to be doing a fair job of showing the logical interrelationships of various elements of scripture, relating to covenants/God’s “words,” inerrancy, and so forth. As a Saussurian system of interrelated, interdependent elements; none of which is alone necessarily primary. Indeed, many of which are needed before the whole emerges. Classic linguistics and systems theory.

    So what’s wrong? Care to tip your hand? What exactly do YOU think he might be doing wrong?

  2. Kyle,

    Ward’s presentation strikes me as fundamentally correct in its broad outlines. But “the devil is in the details,” as we have previously discussed with regard to the implications of Kenton Sparks’ thesis in his God’s Word in Human Words, which speaks to Joe’s first question above. If the events of the Exodus, for example, did not really occur as fundamentally represented by Scripture, I think the doctrine of inerrancy (to which Sparks as an “evangelical” attempts to ascribe) needs radical redefinition; and this in more ways than simply qualifying the definition by clarifying the “misinformed critiques of inerrancy” that have arisen from excessively rationalistic hermeneutic approaches to Scripture.

    Those who have followed my previous comments about speech-act representations of Scripture will recognize that this reflects God’s own description of the method by which he creates and redeems his creation from the sequellae of sin. He is first and foremost—to our constrained view as metaphysically limited humans—a speaking God, from whose speech (and the “acts” underwritten by his speaking) we are left to infer what kind of God he fundamentally is. If those same “acts” are not themselves true and supernatural in some kind of fundamentally material way, then it seems to me that we have a basic epistemological failure, which then results in a failure in the trustworthiness of what God has said.

    In my view, one aspect of such epistemological failure would be this: When truth is not seen as deriving from material reality we ironically return to a kind of Platonic dualism, at best, or a gnostic kind of denial of the material, at worst. I think Sparks’ work takes a significant step in that direction, and I would be curious about the “details” in Ward’s scheme, which seems to move us back in the right direction: God’s speech indeed has a material impact on the created world.

  3. Jim, I think that Ward would follow your same basic contours. He is an early Ph.D student of Vanhoozer’s and so he is basically, in this analysis here, offering a broadly Reformed view of Scripture through the mechanics of speech act theory.

    I think it is true, Joe, that God cannot lie, for the very reason Jim points out – God’s words do things. Now, that must be qualified according to some of your concerns – but I think that has more to do with our epistemic naivety than it does with God. I’m fine with Ward’s view, as an introductory text. I would like to see him dive deeper into these issues, as both you and Jim point to, plus some others. I personally would like to see more dogmatic work up front rather than speech act theory itself doing the work. I don’t have a problem with speech act theory, I just think we have language in dogmatics itself that can carry more of the load, while speech acts can function in more of a descriptive mode.

  4. Still: 1) if we regard “words” as being substantial, material, what about false words? Or “empty words”? The Bible often warned that there would be many words issued in the name of God, that did not really have the force of God behind them; and so would be “empty.”

    Or 2) what about words from God, that God retracts? As when in Ezekiel (?) God says he once gave bad laws and statutes to a people, to punish them.

    And 3) what about words, commands, that people don’t follow?

    Regarding all of these: do they really have immediately material results?

    4) For these and other reasons, I think we should retain the dualism or distinction, between mere empty “words,” and actual performance; material results.

    5) This might be supported Biblically. When the Bible suggests “my word will not return to me empty,” that would imply that indeed, God’s words will have real effects; but also that after all, there is a difference between the word, and the material result.

    FIRST words; THEN results. Related, but distinct.

    God’s non speech-act dualism?

  5. I agree though that all those qualifications, regarding parables and hyperbole and so forth, would – and probably should – change inerrancy etc. a great deal.

    Is God speaking merely metaphorically, often? As when he promises miracles? In which case, here too by the way, his “word” is less directly efficacious than one might think.

  6. Joe is my alter ego; so I have to integrate him into my thought, and agree.

    In this case, I have earlier said that I have no objection to Speech Act analysis, in a relative way: suggesting that it fits with, dovetails into, classic solo scriptura, “word” oriented theology.

    At the same time though, out of deference to Joe, I’d have to admit that both classic Speech Act analysis, and much scripture-oriented and “word” theology, have problems of their own, in turn.

    The main problem with both, is their fixation on words, language – as an end in themselves. Instead of words being mere steps on the road to ultimately, real material, physical acts and goods: physical “fruits,” “works,” “signs,””deeds,” “proofs.”

    To refer to words, as “acts,” attempts to get around the problem that after all, real religion, is supposed to generate not just words, sermons, but also real material good. Prosperity; wonders; physical health, etc.. Speech Act theology, attempts to get around lack of physical miracles, miraculous works in our time, say, by asserting that the mere generation of words is enough – because mere words are the same as objects; or they are material “acts.”

    But the objection would be, as Joe pointed out, that God himself seems to point to a distinction between mere words – which can be “empty” after all; empty or “false promises,” “empty consolations,” the mere “East” “wind” – and words which result finally, in real physical things.

    “The map is not the territory”; the promise or even the “hope” of a material kingdom, is not the same as the real thing. A picture of a pipe, is not a pipe. It is a mere thought, or symbol; not the thing itself. As many artists and semanticists have noted before.

    The hope of a kingdom, is not the kingdom itself.

  7. I think Griffin/Joe misconstrue speech-act theory as employed by people like Vanhoozer and end up with a “straw man.” Words are not ends in themselves but are “spoken” with a telos that constrains the kinds of words that can produce the desired effects in an obedient people. The “communicative acts” that Vanhoozer and others talk about do not refer to the words per se, but rather to the effect, “torque,” leverage that these words have on real people, with a view to eliciting an appropriate response to these revelatory acts.

  8. Still, what should we say for a theology that often, if not always, seems to aim only at getting only mental/spiritual results … ? That feels the mental effect that a given “word” creates in our mind or spirit, is all Christianity needs to do? Stopping at mental sensations … without going on to deal with physical problems? With so many physically sick people in the world.

    Theologies that concentrate on “word” and “spirit” all too often tend not to see these as instrumentalist at all; but as ends in themselves. Feeling “hope” for example, is a sensation in our own mind or spirit that feels good. And therefore many word -oriented theologies seem to aim just at that; to stop there. But what is the difference between hope, and dope, then? Heroin also makes us feel good.

    I appreciate your cautions. Still, I think it is even inevitable that any theology that sticks mainly to the “word” level of analysis, will obscure and weaken the connection between having the mental or spiritual sensations caused by words, … and then using those words or sensations as maps, guides to real action in the physical world.

    Remaining too long on the “word” level of analysis, tends to in effect, insert the dividing line between “word” and “world.” To create the huge spirit/world dualism that dominates spiritual religion. As it tends to imply that simple words, feelings, spirits, are all one needs to engage in, to be good. Forgetting the importance as James said, of our “works.”

    Beyond 1) causing pleasant mental sensations, and 2) even motivating people’s behavior acts, is another level we need to engage. A 3) real theological science, should guide people to material effectiveness. It should be materially fruitful.

    Thanks for your qualifications here, to be sure.

    See James 2.14 ff, about the shortcomings of the (today massively predominant) theology that gives us words, spirits, sermons … but no physical food.

  9. In response to Jim’s comment:

    “In my view, one aspect of such epistemological failure would be this: When truth is not seen as deriving from material reality we ironically return to a kind of Platonic dualism, at best, or a gnostic kind of denial of the material, at worst. I think Sparks’ work takes a significant step in that direction …”

    I don’t see how this can describe my book, which is an explicit critique of anti-realism and argues for a kind of practical realism that is ties our interpretations to real things with real properties.

  10. Hi Kent!

    Yeah, in response to your comment, I distinctly recall feeling a major “disconnect” as I tried to reconcile the epistemological foundation you laid early on in the book with the logical ramifications of the “negative” results you cited for any evidence of an Exodus as it is substantially depicted in the text we have.

    I am personally confused as to how you can testify to the reliability of the evidence supporting a physical Resurrection—the bedrock of evidence for faith in Messiah’s promises among the people of God in this age—and yet also dismiss the miraculous element in the events of the Exodus, simply because we have not yet found any evidence for an event of this magnitude and consequence among the extant archaeological findings or recorded annals of Egypt’s history. Your argument is an argument from silence and thus hardly infallible; it is only one piece of evidence for the literary theory you advocate to understand the Exodus account. The Exodus as substantially attested in Torah is no less the bedrock of faith in the promises of the God of Abraham for the people of God in that age than the physical Resurrection of Christ for the people of God now.

    The whole point of a covenant-keeping God repeatedly his people of the events of the Exodus is to provide them with reliable, material testimony that he is able to materially fulfill his promises and deliver them from the jaws of death. If your argument to sustain some version of a doctrine of Inerrancy is to hold up, I would think the issue of the material reliability of the Exodus would be every bit as crucial as the material reliability of the evidence for a physical resurrection. I am willing to concede much of the substance of your argument for taking into account accepted contemporaneous literary practices in shaping our hermeneutical approach to any given narrative in Scripture. However, such a hermeneutic cannot be grounded on an epistemology that is at cross-purposes to the strategic intent of the text and still yield a meaningful doctrine of Inerrancy.

    Hence, in my view, to claim that a denial of the substantial material reality of the Exodus as related in Torah is consistent with the rhetorical style of that literary genre is in direct contradiction of the very strategic intent of that same narrative: to inspire trust in the God who “powered” the Exodus to bring physical deliverance out of physical death on a scale commensurate with the entire people of God for any who trust him.

    If I’m going to put my faith in the God of Abraham to deliver this world (including my own personal destiny) to its originally created telos, I don’t see how I can do that if the Exodus was (in substance) some kind of literary ruse by the human author(s)/redactor(s). By analogy, trusting Messiah’s capacity to fulfill his promises of life to the people of the Second Temple period was directly predicated on the material reality of miracles that occurred in real time to attest the supernatural power that could deliver those promises.

    I do not deny your basic thesis for a doctrine of Inerrancy that takes into account the results of higher criticism; however, I would test the plausibility of any particular theory about the events of a given narrative against the “final purpose” of that text as revealed by God and insist on epistemological consistency between the literary strategy and the ultimate strategic intent or telos of that same text. You can’t perform a magic trick for an audience (e.g., saw a live body in half) and then show them the smoke and mirrors behind the illusion and expect them to trust you to saw their body in half in real time without the illusion and actually live, unless the promise is figurative or “gnostic” and not materially substantial.

    If I believe in a physical Resurrection as substantially attested in Scripture, then I’ve got to believe in a physical Exodus as substantially attested, or there is no doctrine of Inerrancy in any meaningful form.

    • Hi Jim (and Joe),

      Thanks for the conversation.

      There is a great deal of difference between the historical evidence for the resurrection and that for the exodus. The resurrection had a profound effect on history in the Mediterranean basin and, ultimately, world wide. Even the Romans admit that Jesus existed, was crucified, and that reports of his resurrection spawned a new religion. And all of this within a generation or two of Jesus’s life. But in the case of the Exodus, the problem is that the Egyptians don’t know anything at all about “a great cry, such as never was or will be in Egypt,” as the Bible suggests. We have LOTS of textual evidence from the New Kingdom period (1550-1200 BC) … it just didn’t happen or, if it did happen, it was a minor series of events that has become magnified by the time it shows up in biblical tradition.

      Also, if we wish to accentuate the Exodus as an HISTORICAL foundation of Israelite faith, then we should realize that for the author of Isaiah, its foundational importance was alongside another event:

      “Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD; awake, as in days of old, the generations of long ago. Was it not thou that didst cut Rahab in pieces, that didst pierce the dragon? 10 Was it not thou that didst dry up the sea, the waters of the great deep; that didst make the depths of the sea a way for the redeemed to pass over?” (Is 51:9-10)

      This text reflects a time when Israelites credited God with the creation of the cosmos through conflict with a dragon, split to create the universe (as we see in Mesopotamian tradition), and when they credited God with the creation of Israel by splitting the Red Sea. The final form of the canon rejected the “conflict creation” tradition in favor of Gen 1, which turns the dragon goddess Tehom into the inanimate sea of tehom. My point is that our questions about the historicity of the Exodus are not so different from the historical that the biblical authors raised about Israel’s conflict myth.

      More to the point … I think, Jim, that from your description of the matter I have the impression that you’re using speech-act theory, or something of that sort, to preserve a version of inerrancy that applies not only to God but also to the human author. This is a mistake, I think, but I find your approach much more healthy and flexible than appears among some fundamentalists and evangelicals.

      Nevertheless, to see how speech-act theory breaks down, consider the two accounts of Paul’s post-conversion experience in Acts and Galatians. In one we are told that Paul went quickly to Damascus and then, not too long after, went to Jerusalem to meet the disciples there (Acts). In the other, Paul explicitly denies that he went to Damascus and Jerusalem to meet the disciples … he went instead to Arabia, where he spent several years before coming back. Now Acts certainly intends to give us history, and Paul specifically says that he “is not lying!” respecting his own account. So there is a clear contradiction at precisely the level of the authors’ intentions … to tell us what happened in Paul’s early Christian life. Speech act theory is merely another version of the genre solution … it helps sometimes, but it simply doesn’t resolve all of the problems. Human beings err … and the Bible was written by human beings.

  11. Regarding the factual historicity of Exodus vs. the resurrection? Jim Reitman’s resume here is pretty impressive regarding physical evidence; he’s an MD apparently. And his sense of physical fact is probably pretty good. As for its historical accuracy? I’ve got one of my graduate degrees in an historical discipline; and would not accept these accounts as historically compelling.

    I think the main point Jim and I would make, on the importance of the historical/factual question, is that in fact, the force of any account, even mythic, even religious, depends in part on its groundedness in physical, factual reality. If our God did not make the physical universe for example, then he is less powerful … and perhaps should not be followed. Even for his spiritual virtues. Since he is only a half god; one that rules over spirits, but not physical things.

    We should not just forget about the historical and scientific accuracy of these accounts then. And by the way to be sure, I see that you seem to regard them yourself, at times (if not consistently) as potentially flawed.

    Still, you defend a physical resurrection.

    So look at that for a second. Strictly speaking, as I recall, 1) the first Roman accounts of Christus or “Chrestus,” do not simply verify the reality of the account, but note that “the Jews” believed such things.

    If 2) later on, Romans reported the old rumors as true, then after all, sometimes even Romans accepted false reports as true. Indeed, if you believe that all Roman reports are factual and accurate, then you are also committed to belief in Zeus or Jove.

    While 3) aside from all ancient reports, in any case of course, our science today is rather more accurate even than the Romans. And we find that even Roman rationality and science – and history – was somewhat lacking.

    4) And of course, modern science of course suggests that long-dead and rotting people rising up from their graves alive, simply does not happen, and is scientifically impossible. Even though it was often said to happen, in ancient times.

    As you note 5) to be sure, it does appear certain that many, many people later believed that Jesus was Christ; and was resurrected. But that just testifies to Belief. Not to the facticity of the event. Many people for example long believed that the world was flat; that did not make it true.

    6) Furthermore, I would suggest that even the Bible itself does not quite fully insist on the physical resurrection. In many translations (RSV?), if you read the Biblical accounts a little closer, you find there is much ambiguity about whether the dead people are really dead, or “asleep.” Unconscious. While then too, though Jesus was said to have been raised from the dead, there are different accounts, different types of resurrection reported: on the road to Emmaus, Jesus “appears” within a stranger, after scriptures are read; suggesting that Jesus is reborn or resurrected in us, when we read of him. A different type of resurrection.

    7) If you want to suggest that the Jews themselves questioned the historical accuracy of their own accounts? E.g.: “was it not thou” that did these other things? Then indeed that is a useful point. Thank you for a useful point of Biblical semantics here. Many people do not realize how often the Bible was not making firm STATEMENTS, but was actually asking open (if leading) QUESTIONS: “was it not thou”?

    And I think the question of historical factuality is still important. Most scholars want to get away from the historicism, and simply concentrate on the mythic power of the text. And to validate it without any firm factual evidence; as a moment in the “spirit” or some such. But in fact, remember that a God that does not really rule the physical universe, is a half god.

    8) By the way, if you are interested in the interface between myth and material fact? The “dragon” Tehom, might well actually be logically and even physically related to the “inanimate” sea tehom. In that perhaps many ancient rivers and in-lets and so forth, were characterized as “dragons” – because of their many serpentine turns. While even rivers – as any river rafter knows – are not entirely “inanimate.” But are indeed dragon-like in their turns, their power. So that the identification of the dragon Tehom with a tidal pool or some such, is not entirely unrealistic, or mythic, or linguistic; but might be based on common physical characteristics. (Though I’d have to go back and check these terms to see if the original language reflects this tie).

    Which would suggest that the account did not entirely reject the “conflict” model, but simply subsumed it; finding common characteristics between it, and the “separation” or “exodus” of Judaism from Egypt and its false gods.

    Of course, crossing the Nile delta and its tidal pools, Moses [whose name is clearly Egyptian – cf. “Tut-moses” – and attests to an Egyptian captivity] was at least crossing or creating a cultural division; leaving Egypt and its gods, for a rather different land and God. This cultural division or separation, would have been reinforced … by having a major physical division or two between Israel and Judah. (I.,e., the Nile and the Red Sea)

    Myth and physics often work together. And to fully know and see all of God, we need not just spirituality, but also physical science.

  12. Joe/Kent:

    Joe, I’m not sure how much credence I’d put in the MD, but thanks for the “vote of confidence.” I was musing over Kent’s latest post when Joe’s response chimed in, and I have to say that he brings up a number of things that I was also thinking.

    Kent’s argument in the book is very transparent and well-articulated, and he basically summarizes this in his response above. Not being a scholar in historical criticism, much less the period of Egyptian history that he references as overlapping the estimated time of the Exodus, I can’t comment on the absence of any evidence for contemporary historical accounts of a “cry in Egypt” that Kent insists should have been documented for an event as profound as the death of all firstborn and then the wholesale destruction of an army in pursuit of the fleeing Israelites. However, I think Joe’s points are legitimate and complement my own prior comment about the historical argument being an “argument from silence”; it certainly is not determinative in and of itself.

    Joe probably articulates the points he makes better than I could, so I won’t belabor them, but I do offer an extension of the logic begun in Joe’s his second paragraph. Joe has correctly assessed our concurrence on the point he makes about a God over the physical universe. My point takes off from Kent’s comment on my use of speech-act theory to support my view of inerrancy. I still think Kent misses a point about this I tried to make earlier—I believe that Vanhoozer’s model elevates the use of speech-act theory to something more than a mere heuristic device to employ in his development of a meta-hermeneutic that “respects” inerrancy. Let me try to explain why I think speech-act theory is more than a mere heuristic by appealing to the revealed character of God:

    It seems incontrovertible to me that God is presented by the authors of Scripture—before anything else and then totally consistently—as a God who speaks. Some might object that Gen 1:1 first addresses ex nihilo creation, however John Barton has made an excellent case that this is not in fact the main subject of Gen 1. Indeed, these creative acts wrought by divine speech involved a “decree” of order and function out of chaos, telos out of purposelessness involving material “stuff,” however that stuff got there in the first place. God-speech then continues by addressing humanity with a decree: a commission of human agency to implement the divine telos. But when the Fall ensues, God-speech must then “evolve” to redeem the Creation commission by promising life in the Seed to reverse the curse of death. God then continues to speak throughout revelatory history in his giving of the law and progressively filling out the details of his promise of life in the Seed.

    Now consider a new Bible version in which—by analogy with the popular “words of Christ in red” editions of a few decades ago—we were “blessed” with an OT version of the “words of YHWH in red.” Wouldn’t it be nice to just go from Genesis to Malachi and nail down every speech-act of God. What would we find? We would find a lot of direct dialogue with Moses, as well as numerous prophets who repeatedly testified that the dabar YHWH came to them on such and such a day in such and such a month of such and such a year, “and he said ‘….’ ”

    Now think of the number of times we might run into “red” words that said something to the effect of “Am I not the God who brought you out of Egypt on eagle’s wings and preserved you alive to be a people for my own name?” Pretty transparent rhetorical question, would you agree? It seems to me pretty clear, Kent—and this is my “logical extension” of what Joe started above—that if you impugn the integrity of the Exodus as represented in the Scriptural account, you basically undercut the reliability of YHWH’s promise of life at any point following the “error-laden” account of the Exodus on which the telic thrust of YHWH’s promise of life depends. IOW, how can any hearer of transmitted oral tradition (or reader of a written account of that tradition) rely on the promise of a God who speaks, when we can’t rely on the substantive basis for that promise to be true in the same sense that the ground for that promise is represented?

    If the “words of YHWH in red” can’t be trusted because of “historical evidence” that screams from silence, then it seems counter-intuitive to me that there can be any meaningful doctrine of inerrancy. Why not then—as Joe has intimated—default to a “super gnosticism” of spirituality based on “the mythic power of the text”? Taking the next logical step, if the people of God to whom the promise of life was available on the basis of the purported physical reality of the Exodus is really to be understood only for its “mythic power,” why must we then insist on a physical resurrection and throw in 1 Cor 15 (by that annoying fellow Paul) for good measure? The two scenarios (Exodus and Resurrection) should be epistemologically parallel in addressing the people of God from the standpoint of speech-act theory (as I envision its use), with “message” (or “locution”) and “telos” (or “perlocutionary intent”) being mutually informing). Yet Kent’s argument distracts Exodus from Resurrection and introduces a profound discontinuity that cannot be supported from either a canon-conscious or metanarrative point of view. It also creates a lacuna in the logic of Kent’s argument, because it contradicts his own counter-anti-realism hermeneutic and in fact ironically introduces an element of anti-supernaturalism by granting favored status to historical criticism over what might be called a “genre solution” that takes seriously what I call “the words of YHWH in red” as reflecting a God who speaks (reliably).

  13. Thanks Jim. Though I’m confused about this: if Kent S. advocated 1) “counter-anti-realism” – that is a double negative (“counter-anti”). Which would in effect resolve into Realism. A realism which would be consistent with, not opposed to, 2) “anti-supernaturalism.”

    Normally, Realism is considered allied to, and all but identical with, Naturalism; and opposed to supernaturalism.

    To be sure, “speech acts” occupy an interesting place between naturalism and supernaturalism.

    I think we agree that a survey of speech acts in the Bible would be an interesting research project. Though still, can we really make speech acts entirely physical and scientifically supportable? At times, speech acts seem rather magical. As in conjuring. The magician says a magic word, and things appear out of thin air, ex nihilo; like a magician saying a few magic words or prayers – and then making a rabbit appear in an empty hat.

    Speech acts do have a physical effect it seems; but it is hard to come up with an account of their mechanism, that is consistent with say, the doctrines that regulate and inform physical effects: with hard science.

    For that reason, since it is hard to justify the BIble in physical terms, most theologians today simply give that up. Or they metaphoricalize/spiritualize both the Old Testament and the New. And tell us, that it’s all spiritual. So that now, allegedly, we have the appearance of consistency between Old and New Testaments. Simply by assuming there is no physical reality at all, underlying either testament.

    How are the old physical promises metaphoricalized? Commonly it is said for example, that 1) Jesus metaphoricalized bread from heaven; by suggesting that his own spirit was a kind of nourishing spirit – or “bread indeed.” And 2) in the same way, theologians today commonly (albeit anachronistically) read the same metaphoricality into Moses getting bread (“mana”) from heaven.

    To be sure though, there are many scholars who are now objecting to this “spiritualization” and “metaphoricalization” on many interesting grounds.

    Does Kent S. do this? In a way, his allusions to the physical reality of the Resurrection seem delivered in a deliberately inadequate, throwaway manner; as if he intended to give dogmatism its due … but then move on to more serious matters. I suspect that deep down, Kent S. is not quite as convinced of the simple physicality of the Resurrection as he seems at first.

    And by the way, why insist on dead bodies rising from graves? When 1) the evidence against it is enormous; while furthermore 2) carefully read, even the Bible itself does not insist on it. Other accounts of Jesus reappearing in a more metaphorical and yet real way exist. As when a stranger on the road to Emmaus reads scripture .. and is suddenly seen as Jesus. This describes a simple but real phenomena; when we read the words and ideas of someone, and believe them, then a bit of the spirit of the writer, is reborn in us. The ancient author “lives on” in us.

    This Resurrection might seem rather too spiritual /metaphoricalizing. But my own studies in the cultural, social transmission of ideas, of culture, suggests that after all, this is real enough. Ideas, spirit, live on through culture; books. LIke the Bible.

    So, to have a consistent physicality to both Old and New Testament, and to support the physicality of the entire Bible, it is not really necessary to speak of literally, physically dead bodies rising up alive from their graves, as Kent seems to. There are other, better models of resurrection available, even in the Bible itself. Models consistent with the sciences of Psychology and Sociology.

    Incidentally, Kent: as for specifically defeating “dualism” by defeating the water dragon; I don’t think dualism was defeated at that time. It seems clear that Christianity remains extemely Manichean to this very day, in its good-vs.-evil, God-vs.- Satan, word vs. “world,” spirit vs. “flesh” thinking.

    Augustine was originally a Manichean; and I think the quintessentially Manichean Good vs. Evil framework subtly entered Christianity inextricably, by way of the undertones of his philosophy.

    So that the rift, the dualism between God and Man, word and world, heaven and earth, remains. And it will have to be healed in some other way than by 1) the most common method in theology today: an allegedly all-enveloping spiritualization. Nor 2) for that matter, will that rift be healed by reductionistic physicalism. And to be sure, I personally don’t think it can be done 3) by Speech Act theory either. (Though I listen with interest to this theory).

    How do we end the rift, the distance between God and earth? Religion and the world? How do we bring heaven down to earth again? To do that, I favor the 4) Behavioral sciences: Psychology, Sociology. And more remotely, Culture Studies. Which can speak about the mind or spirit – even its immortality or resurrection – as a real thing, after all.

  14. Thanks for that, Joe, I find this fascinating.

    Your comment about my confusing neologism “counter-anti-realism” is entirely appropriate. But you understood it correctly. Kent’s hermeneutic seeks to avoid the anti-realism he sees underlying more conventional evangelical hermeneutical presuppositions by according hard science and historical criticism their full due. The result is “counter-anti-realism” in that sense only and does not rise to the level of antisupernaturalism. However, since both I and Kent subscribe to a physical resurrection (thus my facetious comment about 1 Cor 15), my point was that Kent’s denial of a physical (i.e. “real”) Exodus actually does boil down to anti-supernaturalism. Just as you pointed out, why does he insist on a physical resurrection? It is not because he believes the Bible attests to it but rather because the “historical evidence” supports it. However, this introduces a profound inconsistency in God’s self-representation and actually makes it harder to trust Scripture, very simply because it’s harder to trust God to be true to his promises. The epistemic parallel between Exodus and Resurrection is way too transparent from a speech-act perspective, assuming an ontological consistency of the character of God in his dealings with—and “speech” to—man. This impugns the theological “simplicity” of God and leaves us with no hermeneutical “true north.”

    Which brings us to your “conjuring” analogy, now that I see where you’re coming from, philosophically. As I intimated above, I do in fact believe that 1 Cor 15 teaches a physical resurrection, though I see what you’re saying, even for that passage. I assume you would cite the end of the chapter, “Flesh and blood do not inherit the Kingdom of God” to support your contention that it does not teach a physical resurrection. This is not the venue to argue Paul’s precise referent and what he then means by “we will all be changed,” but that would need to be ironed out hermeneutically. For the purposes of our discussion, I think we need to see the personal eschatology taught in the OT and NT as parallel in some meaningful epistemic way—they are either both “conjuring” (to use your analogy) or both “physical.” I do see God’s redemptive speech-acts as “addressing” the psychological, social, and cultural, but there is an undeniable eschatological component to God-speech that will not be consummated until the end of this age, and I believe the metanarrative does teach an irreducible physicality to that consummation.

    Again, this invokes systematics in another very important way, namely anthropology and the question of physicality in man’s constitution and how that relates to personal eschatology. Wow. Shazaam! Kinda makes me wonder whether you (Joe) should hang onto the hem of my garment when Jesus returns, or I should hang onto the hem of yours (cf. Zech 8:23). (BTW, I do have Jewish blood.) One of us will be very surprised. :-)

  15. Jim and Joe,

    In many respects, I can’t say that I see your comments responding to or reflecting what I’ve said. I’ve never described evangelicals as “antirealists,” and I am not particularly an advocate of “counter-anti-realism,” nor am I trying to give the “hard sciences” and “historical criticism” their particular due. I am a pragmatic realists, who argues that there are such things as right and wrong interpretations and that human interpretations never reflect that reality precisely but only (potentially) adequate or usefully. So the correspondence between human ideas and the world itself is a matter of practical correctness. Science and traditional historical criticism tend to be more positivistic than I would be, though I do thing that the historical critics are close to the mark on many things they say.

    Joe: I do believe in the resurrection, and I further believe that we have before us the kind of post-resurrection historical evidence that we might expect if such a resurrection occurred. On the other hand, I don’t believe that most people believe in the resurrection because of historical evidence; there must be something about the story itself that is particularly appealing as an answer to the human situation.

    Jim: Because I believe that the Bible is both divine and human, I’m quite happy to admit that the biblical authors sometimes errantly attributed worlds to God that were mistaken, such as Ezekiel’s failed prediction that Tyre would fall to Babylon. In such cases, we have the strange paradox in which errant human discourse about God is included in God’s inerrant written words. A proper parallel to the phenomenon would be that God is inerrant as creator and sustainer of creation but, nonetheless, his creation includes error and evil which does not belong to him … though it is precisely HIS creation that causing the problems. The problem of Scripture is merely a permutation of the larger problem of pain and evil, this being the perennial problem faced by successive generations of humanity. So, if the biblical authors based all of their hopes on the death of the firstborn in Egypt, and if that never actually occurred, then they simply misunderstood the proper foundations of the faith.

    BTW, to deny any given miracle in the Bible on the basis of historical evidence is not anti-supernaturalism. Anti-supernaturalism would be to deny all miracles.

    There is the possibility that the Exodus story does remember a more modest historical event in which God was faithful and which could serve as a basis for human hope. Also (as I argue in the book), even if all of the evidence is against it, one could conclude, as a matter of faith, that the Exodus took place. That’s fine if that how one feels about it, but I just disagree.

    IMO, the bible is as filled with human errors as the cosmos if filled with error and evil. Any hermeneutical strategy that denies this is akin to the Christian Scientist who argues that pain and suffering is an illusion.

  16. Kent,

    I should probably be more careful with neologisms, so your point on pragmatic realism is well taken. I also appreciate your desire to accurately represent the argument you made in your book, as far as it went. And for those readers who have not yet read your book, I for one can testify that your responses here are entirely consistent with what I got from reading the book, even though I disagree with your conclusions.

    I’m not sure we can get much further in the dialogue at this point; I simply don’t share the presuppositions behind your well-articulated version of pragmatic realism. For example, if it appears that Ezekiel screwed up on Tyre, then my intuitive response is to look for another solution, like other prima facie “dead ends” in the history of interpretation that were eventually “solved.” While this approach continues to rely on induction and deduction for such solutions, it requires as a minimum presupposition a version of authorial intention that accepts Vanhoozer’s sine qua non: a foundational “respect” for the inspired author(s)/redactor(s) that can guide our inquiry in the inductive/deductive cycle whenever we get stuck. When we grant that kind of respect, we leave open the possibility for a solution that eventually may explain the apparent Scriptural contradiction with archaeology, the historical record, etc., rather than reaching the kind of premature “closure” that IMO largely characterizes your Scriptural examples of human “error.”

    I guess I am left with only one question. You drew this conclusion:

    So, if the biblical authors based all of their hopes on the death of the firstborn in Egypt, and if that never actually occurred, then they simply misunderstood the proper foundations of the faith.

    It is precisely this kind of conclusion that I find counter-intuitive from a teleological perspective. If we can’t draw the “proper foundations of the faith” from what God has revealed to/through the authors themselves, where then do we find the “raw materials” (so to speak) to construct those foundations and properly respond to the text? The Resurrection of Christ can’t really carry that freight for those generations of the people of God who did not know the identity of Messiah. How would those people of God construe the “proper foundations of the faith”?

  17. The simple answer might be that the alleged escape from the death of “all” firstborn might just have been standard ANE – Ancient Middle East – rhetoric. But still, after all, even the escape from say, the execution of “man” of the firstborn, might have been at least wonderful. If not strictly miraculous. And one possible basis for faith?

    While in any case, there might have been other wonders, on which our faith is better based.

    Though to be sure, one hopes that Kent S. does not here simply mean, (rather chauvinistically?) that Jews, say, can be saved only by the Christian resurrection? Even conservative Catholic theology is today beginning to consider the possiblity of some kind of salvation for the Jews, prior to Christ.

    Incidentally, if you insist that only Christ saves us? THen there are of course many prefigurations of (in effect early appearances of?) Christ in the Old Testament; or in effect, Jewish literature.

    And if only the physical resurrection of Christ guarantees salvation? There even elements in the Old Testament that have been taken to suggest such a resurrection. The prophet (Ezekiel? Elijah) finds himself in a field full of bones; bones that come together to form a living corporate body.

    So that if, say, resurrection is your major criterion for a valid basis for faith … then there is already one in the (in effect Jewish?) books of the Old Testament. Even a prefiguration of the resurrection of Jesus. (Who by the way, Paul found as the “rock” guiding the Jews in the wilderness. Paul thereby placing Jesus … in the time of the Jews).

    Is this an argument between Jews and Christians? One might hope that Jews and Christians (and Muslims, etc.,) might likewise one day come together in a corporate body. Which alone in fact, I suggest, would be broad and strong enough to create the foretold “kingdom” of God and good. “On earth as in heaven.” As foretold.

    Could our Christian fundamentalist theologians therefore, get beyond intimations that “only” the resurrection of Christ is the thing that saves us? HOw about the life of Christ? How about previous resurrections? HOw about the Holy Spirit? What about other miracles?

    Or if it is only the resurrection of CHrist that does it? Then … after all, we can find that, even in the Old Testament; and therefore, in the Pentateuch, Torah, Tanak, of the Jews.

  18. Hi Jim:

    I wrote: “So, if the biblical authors based all of their hopes on the death of the firstborn in Egypt, and if that never actually occurred, then they simply misunderstood the proper foundations of the faith.”

    You responded: “It is precisely this kind of conclusion that I find counter-intuitive from a teleological perspective. If we can’t draw the “proper foundations of the faith” from what God has revealed to/through the authors themselves, where then do we find the “raw materials” (so to speak) to construct those foundations and properly respond to the text? The Resurrection of Christ can’t really carry that freight for those generations of the people of God who did not know the identity of Messiah. How would those people of God construe the “proper foundations of the faith”?”
    Whatever the foundation of faith is, it must be something that exists apart from an explicit knowledge of either the Exodus or Resurrection … unless one wishes to deny that faith existed among human beings before biblical revelation came on the scene. That foundation, I surmise, is “faith” in God … and hence, any story or tradition that epitomizes and gives expression to faith (even if that story is not historical) … is a useful and helpful window into our relationship with God. That Jesus came, died, rose again, and ascended historically is the reason that faith in every age is possible … but I’d say that explicit knowledge of Jesus’s ministry, or of any other events or traditions, is not necessary for one to have faith in God.

    Trusting biblical authors, as Vanhoozer suggests, is wise … but giving them carte blanche passes to perfection is obviously a mistake because there are too many problems in Scripture. That your judgment is otherwise is yours to make, of course, and I understand the impulse to want an inerrant Bible. But, personally, I don’t see how one can really read the Bible and not see hundreds of obvious errors. If I had to believe in the inerrancy of Scripture’s human authors in order to be a Christian, I simply wouldn’t be one.

  19. I appreciate your honesty.

    By the way, one of the apostles that iscredited with writing our New Testament – James – admitted that even the apostles, even those attributed authors of our Bibles, made mistakes: “for we all make many mistakes,” James said in his part of the Bible.

    We might safely assume, that by “we all,” James included himself, and all the other apostles as well.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s