You are hereScripture as Literature: What about the Fall?

Scripture as Literature: What about the Fall?

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By Ransom - Posted on 23 April 2007

by Stephen Douglas
Preliminary Remarks

The purpose of this essay is to examine my perspective of the doctrine of the Fall, and specifically how it is influenced by my view of the Bible. The purpose of this talk is apologetic rather than polemic: my purpose is less to convince anyone of the view I hold and more to explain how someone who holds it deals with doctrinal issues. I wrote a couple columns (1, 2) for Planet Preterist a while back arguing that our Scriptures are not inerrant and are not in fact completely without scientific and historical errors.
Preliminary Remarks

The purpose of this essay is to examine my perspective of the doctrine of the Fall, and specifically how it is influenced by my view of the Bible. The purpose of this talk is apologetic rather than polemic: my purpose is less to convince anyone of the view I hold and more to explain how someone who holds it deals with doctrinal issues. I wrote a couple columns (1, 2) for Planet Preterist a while back arguing that our Scriptures are not inerrant and are not in fact completely without scientific and historical errors.
I also made a plea for interpreting the Bible as literature; that is, we need to recognize that the words of Scripture were not completely isolated from the words written by their authors' contemporaries, and identify the literary genre in which they were set down. I cautioned against a view of the nature of Scripture that overspiritualizes its origins, pointing out that if God had wished to set down a series of unanalyzable propositions free from all impurities and the influence of man's fallibility, He could definitely have chosen a more suitable means than using words written in three different languages over many centuries that must in turn be passed down through many more centuries and translated into countless other languages. Moreover, Christians are left bickering and head-butting each other while trying to determine the supposedly undistilled, pristine, immutable, and uncontradictable truth for almost any given passage. The fundamentalist might understandably wish that God had provided an inerrant and infallible key to interpretation, one decidedly more reliable than the deceptively straight-forward "literal whenever possible" model, which itself all too rarely yields a single, indisputable outcome in its application.

The problem is that the idea of not having an inerrant and hence perfectly uncontestable final authority makes many Christians uncomfortable, and sets many to wondering how rejecting inerrancy limits the Bible's value and usefulness. This talk is meant to address two concerns related to that question. First, I will summarize my belief in the Bible's origins and nature; second, I want to present a case study of the resultant hermeneutic, with a brief and tentative exposition of how I interpret the passages that have resulted in the doctrine of the Fall.

Basic assumptions

The participants in any debate come to the table with a number of presuppositions and assumptions. I don't believe it's possible to nearly divest oneself of them all, but I would like to be as honest as possible in divulging the ones I've identified and consider relevant.

First, I affirm that God intended the whole canon of Scripture for His Church’s use. Throughout history, God has interacted with His creation, revealing Himself to mankind and guiding it towards better and better understandings of Himself and His ways. Rather than entrusting this cross-generational, accumulative knowledge of His truth solely to word of mouth transmission, He called men to testify to these truths using a somewhat less mutable mode of transmission: the written word. This impulse to testify with the pen manifested itself on each occasion in a form of literature familiar to its authors and original recipients. God naturally had interest in seeing that those writings most profitable for His Church be recognized as such and dubbed with a notable authority and accessibility; this concern was addressed with the canonization of Scripture.

By "authority", I simply refer to the unique status of certain works of literature that were plucked from the rest and elevated to a special status. This status is rooted in the principle Paul articulates about the Old Testament in 1 Tim. 3:16-17: “All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The church's successive efforts at canonization extended the virtue of profitability for theological and pragmatic insights to the New Testament, and this gave the whole Bible (more or less as we have it) a Providential seal of approval that I refer to as “authority”. I make no claims about the Bible being “authoritative” in the same exaggerated degree that most evangelicals do, because this is surely an overextension of Paul's principle: he could very well have stated the supremacy of the Scriptures' authority if he wished, and I see it as a clear abuse of his measured description of their usefulness to claim that he meant to establish the “verbal, plenary” view of inspiration.

The inerrantists agree with the presupposition of Scripture being authorized by God. Many argue that this presupposition is proved, or at least affirmed, by the alleged fact that the Bible is completely without error of any kind; if the Bible is not inerrant, these often see no other possible basis for believing in its authority. While it is true that inerrancy would constitute almost undeniable evidence of the Bible's authority and its teachings' validity, nonetheless, denying inerrancy does not negate either, especially when there are other grounds for belief in them.

Specifically, another of the philosophical underpinnings of my view already alluded to, is very similar to one that has long been the guiding force of Catholicism, and its surest justification. The role of the Community of Believers in parsing and passing on divine revelation is the basis for Roman Catholic ecclesiology. Protestants have customarily been horrified by the Catholic rejection of sola scriptura in favor of scriptura et traditio. A Catholic puts Holy Scripture alongside Church tradition because the two are in origin and essence indistinguishable: Holy Scripture is itself a form of Church tradition, the testimony of ancient believers affirmed and handed down by subsequent believers. By this same standard of approval, we rightly esteem Scripture as having seniority because the same timeless, Providentially-guided body that created it has ranked it so.

Case Study: The Fall

The traditional doctrines of the Fall and of Original Sin teach that the first man's first sin caused a rupture in the whole race's ability to interact with God. How the death that Adam experienced because of his sin was passed on to all his descendants has been explained in various ways; the federal view says that Adam's fall from God's favor was effective for all humanity because he was the "head" of the race. Another view is that the Fall corrupted Adam's very genetic makeup, causing humanity to be a slave to its own sinful and fallen flesh, which explains how it was passed on to his children, and thus the whole race.

Regardless of how every human is born sinful, most Christians believe that God considers all humans straight out of the chute as culpable of sin, a stance of separation from God called "Original Sin". This position explains why every human sins, and why we automatically start out life estranged from God. That we all sin and by nature act in ways that do not please God from early childhood at least is apparent to most (excluding, perhaps, some strains of hyperpreterism!). For this reason, it is accurate to say that unredeemed mankind is, as a race, "falling", but as for "fallen", what did we fall from? Or, more importantly, what caused this Fall? Do we - or perhaps I should say, did those prior to AD 70 - each come into the world as a slave to sin because of one sin that we did not commit? My intention here is not to mount a polemic. Allow me to present you with an alternative interpretation based on a view of the Genesis account as etiology.

I hope it is obvious to all why we should recover the mindset of the author and the original audience when interpreting Scripture. We must do the same when reading the writings of NT authors, who were in many cases themselves interpreting the OT. Comparing early Genesis material to ANE mythology or any other ancient genre would have been even further off the radar screen of a first century Jew in the Greco-Roman world than it is for so many 21st century interpreters. For the ancient Israelites, the mythology in Genesis was the mythology to end all mythology, intended by the compiler(s) of the Pentateuch to replace and render all competing mythology in the land obsolete. The sole artifact of the genre was crystalized in the form we see in Genesis such that later Hebrews would have no knowledge of its origins. The NT writers would not have thought of doing comparative literary analysis on genres no longer familiar. Nevertheless, anyone who looks long at ANE literature and then looks at Genesis 1-11 will see a striking similarity in certain aspects of style and substance. Paul, as a learned Hellenistic Jew, probably saw the Fall story as history in much the same fashion as those of us in the modern world tend to. Yet none of the stories of Genesis were written in that mode that fits the modern view of “history”. The genre of historiography has evolved even since it became a conscious concern during the Hellenistic era, and the narratives of the Old Testament were written quite independently of this movement.

The theological insight we look for in a given Old Testament narrative is related not to what the story says directly, but rather to what the story was meant for. Moreover, if we believe God chose the stories to be included in the Bible, we must assume that His sovereign hand ordains them beyond the author's intent, so that although the author's intent is valuable for understanding it in its original context, its continuing, cross-contextual usefulness is assured only through God's intent for it. Thus there are often at least two strata of meaning, the author's and God's, although these do at times coincide. In the event of successive authors and redactors, as with the case of the Genesis mythology (the cultural myth and the version adapted by the creator[s] of the Pentateuch), there are more strata still.

The NT writers used the OT in ways that we would often not feel comfortable doing. Specifically, Paul for example read all kinds of typological observations into the Scripture, as part of the interpretive tradition among Jewish scholars of that time. I personally think there is a lot of truth to be distilled from a healthy appropriation of typology. Typology does not require that the story containing the types be historical. We can see Christ's substitutionary atonement in the ram in the thicket, whether or not there ever was an actual ram in an actual thicket discovered by a man named Abraham under the precise cirumstances mentioned in the story. In 1 Tim. 2, Paul draws a typological parallel to substantiate his take (v. 11) on how women should act in worship services. Although he may have taken it for granted, the historicity of the events referenced is not required for his analogy, because as he himself admits, his position is based on a principle he sees in the Genesis story. Typology is the art of recognizing and applying patterns, and Paul asserts that he sees one in this controversial passage.

Now let's take a look at the most seminal passage for the whole discussion on the Fall and Original Sin.

Romans 5:6-19 (NIV)

6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned— 13 for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.

15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

18 Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

Here (as well as in 1 Corinthians 15) Paul draws the parallel between the first Adam and the last Adam, Jesus, because he saw symmetry between the two. Notice, though, that the validity of Christ's work for all is not stated to be dependent on sin coming through one man, as is often construed. Paul's analogy seems a somewhat rhetorical anticipation of the objection, "How can one man's work create life for all?" Paul's response to this theoretical objection is that, if one can accept that sin entered the world through one man, one can also understand that one man could bring life to all. The symmetry he saw between the two was no less valid for one of the characters being non-historical. Suppose we substitute for the Fall story another myth altogether. I often point out that Paul's parallel between Adam and Christ is to some extent duplicated (albeit less elegantly) with the following statement: "For as from one vessel (Pandora's box) all evil entered the world, so from one vessel (the tomb of Christ) sprang the remedy for all evil into the world." It's a rough substitution, but does the obviously mythical referent in the comparison (much less the unfortunate clunkiness of the parallel) lessen the truthfulness of the parallel? The analogy to Adam adds the credibility of typology to Paul's contention that Jesus' redemptive work was for all. Using typology to justify a position is propositional and not authoritative, because at best all that can be done is the citation of precedent and an assertion that the principle holds for the present issue. When one cites typological analogy, he asserts that the type and the matter at hand share a pattern, not that the type existed solely to foreshadow and thereby prove the matter at hand, nor does it demand the historicity of the allusion. In short, it doesn't matter whether Paul believed an historical character named Adam literally fell and passed death down to all his descendants in some genetic or federal fashion through resultant "original sin". Adam's sin did not necessitate Christ's work: every man's sin necessitates Christ's work. In contemporary rabbinical fashion, Paul deftly creates a typological comparison in inverse position: one was a death-giving person, and one a life-giving person.

Etiologies, myths intended to explain the causes and origins of various things, are the most common sort of mythology. Our modern culture, while looking on myths as useless lies, continues to seek the answers to the whys and hows of everything: we tend to look to science and history, facts that tell us what created current situations. But what about cases in which those details are obscure or unrecoverable? Are we content to shrug our shoulders and say, "It's just unknowable"? Not usually: there will be no end to speculation about those things, whether the subject is cosmic (what is the meaning of life?), or more incidental (why did that politician change his stance on that issue?). This discontedness to resign oneself to mystery is one of the very things that has occasioned the birth of etiological myths across the world.[1] Humans have always been speculative. The difference between the ancient and the modern motivations for and method of speculation about unknowns is that the ancients used mythological stories in order to apply meaning to the subject of their speculation and we tend to use scientific enquiry to sever meaning from the subject, and are thus generally skeptical that any meaning can or should be applied. The ancients were content to be ignorant of the mechanics of how, as long as they knew why. Modernists feel satisfied to have discovered the natural causes, the how's, and seem convinced that this abolishes meaning. The theory of evolution was very early on hijacked by atheists who thought that explaining how things happened obliterated even the possibility of any why's (let alone the necessity of the big Who). This nihilistic naturalism is incompatible with a Christian worldview in which all that matters, at the end of the day, is meaning.

Another way of making this distinction between the ancient and modern mindsets is articulated by John Walton, a professor of Biblical Archaelogy at Wheaton. He and others who study ANE literature and culture have noticed that while the modern world tends to think that structure determines function, the more common conviction in a pre-scientific world was that function is a consequence of purpose: the universe runs because it is supposed to, not because its physical make-up or structure determines it. Again, how it happened was seen as nowhere near as important as why it happened. The ancients concocted fanciful, fantastic, mythological explanations of how as place-holders, vehicles to the destination of finding meaning and purpose in the events described. Unfortunately for them, the pagans were as unable to know why as how the universe was created, because they had no special revelation of God. Enter Genesis 3.

The third chapter of Genesis is etiology at its finest: why men have to toil by the sweat of their brows just to make a living, why women have such horrendous pain in childbirth, why people feel shame at nakedness, and, as a dead-ringer for etiology, it explains why snakes don't have legs. It also seeks to explain why there is sin in a world that a holy God created. The value of mythological etiology is that it does not need to use facts to illustrate meaning. We see the truth of the God-man struggle illustrated in the story of the Fall whether or not that struggle was the cause for our world being less paradisiacal than we might wish. Of course there are other truths and observations about God's nature embedded in the Fall narrative, many of which I haven't personally teased out. But we risk missing out on them if we insist on interpreting the stories of Genesis as impeccable 20th century-style historiography.[2] Suffice it to say that the Fall narrative is no more a revelation about the historical causes for man's natural state of rebellion and the hardships of life than it is an explanation of why snakes don't have legs.

How do we decide what truths the etiologies were meant to convey? As you may suspect, this cannot be answered in an easily quantifiable manner. However, a principle I already alluded to helps guide us. Remember, the main purpose of the Bible, Genesis to Revelation, is to reveal Jesus as the Door between man and his estranged Creator. It follows, then, that the key without which we cannot decode the Bible's truth is its testimony to the work and words of Jesus. The Old Testament is a window to truth, a window of glass peppered with cracks and imperfections, streaked with the incomplete understanding of its authors and dusty by the great antiquity of its origin. The New Testament is a window newly washed, benefiting from the more immediate proximity of its Witnesses to the Truth, Who was Jesus Himself. Naturally, the truth we see revealed in the New Testament would thus be the more essential for life and godliness, which is another reason I extend Paul’s description of the usefulness of the Old Testament to the New.

Let me be clear: I am not trying to make the meaning of Scripture unjustifiably vague, as "liberal theologians" often appear wont to do. I think it important, however, to correct the common misconception that the story of the Fall is an allegory, the type of story in which every detail maps into some spiritual truth. Instead, the details must be taken as strokes in a larger picture, finding the concepts they were seeking to convey, the notions they wished to counter, or the themes they were trying to address. The original legends and mythologies, whether or not originally intended by the proto-Israelite sages and storytellers that first formulated them, were used to explain how things could have gotten so screwed up from a presumed pristine beginning. They could not imagine a God that would have created a world that did not meet the ideals they held. Moreover, the presentation of the story of the Fall was incorporated into what we now call Genesis, fitting into a larger thematic emphasis, what Boadt describes as “a four-part story of sin, God's warning punishments, divine mercy, and then further sin.”[3] This pattern plays prominently throughout the OT books. This was a didactic method intended by the authors to warn and advise the original audience. Paul's analogy of Adam and Christ is, in effect, doing the same thing that the person(s) who added the Fall story to the Genesis material did, using it to illustrate the cycle of grace  sin  punishment  grace. After all, that pattern is in fact an accurate representation of how we perceive the individual's life experience: a man is born (the gift of life a grace in itself), a man sins, the penalty of expulsion from God's presence is exacted, and God offers the fallen man the grace of being born again. Every human is Adam. Paul, however, noticed the end to this cycle with Christ succeeding where everyone else fails: His punishment and God’s resultant grace is efficacious for all, and removes us from the consequences of (and perhaps, some argue, the inevitability of) the calamitous God/man struggle.

These early Israelites understood God does not create things that are not good. We see this belief explicitly stated seven times in the first chapter of Genesis. The world was indeed sinless (i.e. was not at odds with God and His purposes) until sentient beings with God-consciousness chose to do what they knew was wrong. This is where God's intent for the Genesis mythology enters despite the authors’ misconceptions: whether or not there was an original paradisiacal state, we do see that mankind falls because it chooses its own interests over God's. We are all Adam and Eve: all fall prey to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.

Some may object that, if the Fall is simply another exposition of the God-man struggle, it reveals nothing new and therefore rings hollow, inconsequential. First, I respond that this is not the story's only value, only that this emphasis was one of its primary purposes. Second, for the original audience, it was indeed a revelation, albeit an incomplete one. Appealing to later revelation to explain earlier revelation of less apparent interpretation is a fundamental principle of hermeneutics. Jesus is the Word of God, revealing God and His ways to man far better than the OT could ever do. Augustine was dead-on when he said, "The New Testament is in the Old Testament concealed; the Old Testament is in the New Testament revealed." Sometimes what we get from Genesis (and the Old Testament in general) has to be read back into it from what we know about God revealed perfectly and definitively in the message of Jesus. Far from superfluous, these early glimpses at truth reveal a continuity of testimony to a timeless revelation.

The problem with a viewpoint like the one presented here is that there is much more ambiguity about spiritual truths behind passages than is usually posited by Fundamentalists. We usually prefer to have systematization, and as little confusing ambiguity as possible. But, as I always say, God could have chosen a much less leaky vessel than men through whom to communicate His truths to us, but He obviously chose to do so. I choose to embrace the mysteries as mysteries, even as I always seek to unravel them.

My current position on the issue of the Fall and depravity works in tandem with my conviction that the vast majority of scientists Christian and otherwise have not all gone off their rockers, and neither are they opposing God with a massive conspiracy. In short, I believe that the prevailing scientific consensus on the origin of species is on its way to accurately describing how we got here. Despite warrantless accusations to the contrary, science does change, evolving as it is challenged and improved upon, so I'm not about to say that the current understanding of the mechanics of evolution is complete or wholly accurate. Neither would any evolutionist. But most of the basic premises are not likely to need overhaul any time soon. The God that used evolution to birth, nurture, and shape His creation is a patient, masterly, and above all, sovereign God. Natural processes are not naturalistic, not godless, and not ultimately susceptible to the winds of change: the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof. When our ancestors were microscopic organisms, He knew each of our names, and knew how He was going to get us here. I find this scheme even grander and more miraculous than Creationism.

What about the Fall? If no one human is the cause for our sinful natures, what is? Depravity for me is summed up by self-centered living, which is inexcusable for a species that has achieved consciousness of the divine. We are all sinners because we all start off life living for ourselves, which, after early childhood and the awareness of Otherness sets in, becomes sin. Sin is a state of estrangement from God. Over long eons, God brought His children up biologically so that mankind became sentient and came to know that it had a Maker. At that point, God chose a different means to mature our species. We still struggle to subdue and tame our own biological impulses that lead to our detriment and God's displeasure, but we master them not through natural selection, but by the overcoming power of the Spirit of God. Christianity is the next phase in the evolution of God's creation.

After all, one common interpretation of the Fall is that every human is born with original sin, but retains free will so that they are responsible for the actual sins they commit. What if I told you that "original sin" is a biological defect? What if that tendency to look out for ourselves was created in us? Are animals living for their own sustainment, in some cases killing other animals not only for food but to extend their territory, and otherwise simply living for themselves, are these animals thumbing their nose at God? Would we consider this self-centered living to be rebellion against the Creator? Is God going to hold them accountable for their actions? No. Why? Because God has not revealed Himself to these animals and told them that self-centered living is against His plan for them. The survival of a being without God-consciousness is dependent on this sort of behavior, a behavior we would call narcissistic in humans. God brought our forbears along in this way until a point at which we became aware not only of ourselves, but of something – Someone - higher than ourselves. It was at this stage that we became human. However, whether there was a stage of humanity that was aware of God and not in rebellion, as C.S. Lewis believed, or whether, as I suspect, the very first humans aware of God were unable to walk with God in full communion, the fact remains that self-directed living was no longer acceptable, and has remained thus as the bane and chief failing of our species.

The Fallout

I may be accused of devaluing the place of history in unforgivably post-modern fashion. Actually, I view history, and specifically the history of our Lord made flesh, as the centerpiece of the faith. The record of His actions in the Gospels (perhaps this is why we have four of them) and Acts are actual photographs, whereas everything else in the Bible ranges from stylized and caricaturized medieval paintings to the crudity of cave drawings in comparison. The Old Testament and the epistles are but interpretations, each part a believer's honest but ultimately subjective impression of the Lord Who appeared.

The actions and teachings of the historical person of Jesus comprise easily the single most reliable and important subject of Scripture. No one person can recover all the truth within a passage of Scripture; indeed, some passages seem to defy any attempts at extracting spiritual insight. Yet if all else were to fail, we have been entrusted with the largely historical testimony to the Word incarnate. This is why He and only He is the Word of God. Even if (and I emphatically reject this) Paul is wrong in all his intepretations, we believe that Jesus the Son of God died for our sins and rose after three days! This is the basis of the faith and of the gospel, which is the only truth that someone needs to enter a relationship with God. This, not the inerrancy of the Bible, is the bedrock of the faith, and it is very nearly idolatry to place undue faith in any other device.

I am deeply disturbed by one reaction my view of inspiration receives: indignation that leads to a virtual charge of blasphemy. Articulating a view of Scripture that denies inerrancy and affirms its nature as a work of literature is considered by many to be tantamount to heresy. Those who aver that the whole Bible is divinely-revealed truth come dangerously close to heresy; the Bible is a testimony to the history of revelation by men of God given to us, in which we do catch many a glimpse of divinely-revealed truth. My belief in the limitations of revelation is also why I cannot be a part of the Catholic Church: because (even redeemed) humanity is flawed and fallible, no segment or institution of humanity, however historically well-grounded, can wield authority to the degree that Catholics claim for their leadership and tradition.

I have come to the unsettling conclusion that Christians want the Bible to be proved completely and utterly inerrant so that this will justify their beliefs to themselves and unbelievers. Any claim that questions inerrancy is seen to undermine the credibility of the whole Bible. In effect, it's the equivalent of a two-year-old who's been given one piece of candy and who, when denied another piece, throws down the one he has in defiance. We want our Bible to be the Word of God, dadgummit, and we won't settle for any less! I'm convinced that another reason many Christians cannot let go of their belief in inerrancy is that they prefer to be on the us side of an us vs. them debate, and if need be they will manufacture such a debate: they hold unpopular beliefs because they think that what is true must necessarily be unpopular among unbelievers, and because inerrancy, young earth creationism, and certain other doctrines are hated by non-Christians, this somehow bolsters their odds at being correct. These sorts of mindgames are needlessly devisive, and prohibit anyone who is not predisposed to explain away and deny the warts they see when they look at the Bible from drawing close enough to hear the words of truth and life contained within.

A Necessary Qualification

I have been asked, "Is there a legitimate reason that we can or should use these stories differently from the way the apostles and writers of scripture did?" There is, in fact, very good reason: our mission is to interpret correctly, no matter who interpreted incorrectly. There is an underlying assumption in that question that everything the NT writers believed was accurate - but I would turn around the question and ask if there is a legitimate reason that we should take their word on how to use these stories unquestionably. Were they not fellow travelers? Their close exposure to the Word Himself didn't automatically correct all the misconceptions they might have held about the OT. Do we really believe these men were infallible? Listen, we're preterists: most Christians who lived through the destruction of Jerusalem apparently did not even notice the coming of the Kingdom of God, the consummation of human history, right under their noses! Even in the NT, we are forced to re-evaluate the authors’ understandings and intents and not incautiously accept everything they believed. Of course this can be taken too far, and so let me temper this with a necessary qualification.

Because I have spent so much time talking about the errancy of Scripture, I fear that some will exaggerate my view out of an overreactive reflex. I am not saying that most or even much of Scripture is incorrect in scientific or historical detail. On the contrary, we have no reason to doubt that they truly believed everything they said, and moreover, that the NT writers especially had very good reason to believe it. They had no reason to fabricate any of the science, history, or doctrines expounded in the New Testament out of thin air. They were liars and hypocrites indeed, if these men whose leader proclaimed Himself the Truth willfully disregarded truth in order to concoct testimony and gain a following; if deceivers, they were underachievers, because there are definitely points at which their fabrications could have been a bit more comprehensive and coordinated. No, for honest testimony related by humans capable of unintentional error, our Scriptures certainly bear the expected signs. We should not expect to see error without having good cause.

Commonly, we see those who have what may be truly called a low view of Scripture making attempts to blame unpopular doctrines on an author’s erroneous beliefs (e.g. Paul on feminism or homosexuality). We cannot guard strongly enough against throwing something out just because we don't happen to like it or understand it. When certain of the Witnesses’ theological beliefs appear erroneous, surely it is arrogance to do anything but assume ignorance on our part unless we know a reason why they would have been sincerely and honestly misled on those issues. I can't think of a reason to discount Paul's views on walking in the Spirit. Nor can I imagine why his view of eating food offered to idols might be incorrect. The assertion that by Jesus the worlds were framed cannot be attributed to anything but revelation or speculation, and that last possibility is too incendiary to be entertained without its own evidence. There is, however, good reason to believe that Paul was mistaken about the Fall, because the reasons Paul would have believed the story was historical are apparent: it was the belief of all Jews at the time based on a Hellenized interpretation of the erstwhile Ancient Hebrew myth adopted as Hebrew Scripture.

If we can't trust their historical, scientific facts, how can we trust their spiritual teachings? If an accomplished professional plumber wrote a plumbing handbook in which he shared his vocational expertise, but peppered it throughout with his speculations on the history of plumbing, his views on politics, etc., would inaccuracies in these last two cast doubt on how he says to proceed in choosing piping for your new bathroom addition? Of course not – you bought the book because you wanted to know about his area of expertise, and the value of his book for its primary purpose rests ultimately on his credentials as a plumber, and would not be tainted by the fact that he has erroneous beliefs in unrelated subjects!

Similarly, the men who wrote the Bible were experts, licensed to practice by God Himself, and the theological Better Business Bureau called the Church has given them its seal of approval. Note that these commendations stop shy of making the Witnesses infallible. Yet it is foolishness and arrogance to claim that they were wrong on any spiritual matter without good cause.


This view is one that makes the acknowledged and calculated leap of faith that men have met God and that God has wanted to leave us a record of their interactions. With that in mind, of course there is the possibility that we may go too far and take their word for something that they were incorrect about. But one of the benefits of having an inspired Scripture is that even when we accept every thought within it uncritically, God is still able to communicates a truth practical for our Christian life. I view this serendipity as part of God's commitment to ensuring all Scripture as profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness; behind every misconception of a truth there is nonetheless a real, unassailable truth; behind every blurry view of an object, that object exists regardless. This is why we are able to note something like the God-man struggle pattern out of Paul's likely belief in a Fall that probably never happened in the way he envisioned it.

[1] People even today have been known to set out to write their own etiologies. For example, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote a remarkable set of etiological myths in the first few chapters of the Silmarillion, but what we glean from his stories tells us mainly about his view of God and the universe, and not at all about the true-to-life historical particulars of our own universe, or the purpose of man in this world, etc.

[2] Notice I say 20th, not 21st century - one of the blessings of post-modern thought is its mistrust of the morally naked empiricist epistemology. We are gradually moving away from historiography as the modernists did it, which is bad for historiography, but good for understanding ancient storytelling.

[3] Lawrence T. Boadt, Reading the Old Testament.

Starlight's picture

I wanted to share just a little sidebar about the possibility of species adaptation.
Recently on PBS there was a story concerning the development of dogs from the wolf. Those knowledgeable about wolves will tell you that you cannot tame a wolf. So how did this development come about as there is an innate fear or incompatibility between man and wolf? Some theorize that some how wolves started hanging around campgrounds scavenging from humans but their shyness and incompatibility with man would preclude them from bonding until something happened. Some how a wolf with a genetic predisposition to not fearing man came around that allowed the two species to start the development of companionship. How did this happen? Either it was a miraculous event or it was a genetic event. Men somehow noticed this change and appropriated that variant and started the ball rolling toward the loving companionable dog that we know today.

How do genetics account for this bonding with men? We know that archaic man such as Neanderthals existed because we have their remains available to examine. We also know that their DNA shows 99.5 % compatibility with our DNA. But this difference although somewhat sleight is of monumental importance in physical difference. Estimates consider that mutational changes of this magnitude would take between 500,000 to 700,000 years to occur naturally in the hominoid species. As a comparison the DNA of wolves and dogs are essentially identical.

The development of dogs has only occurred in the past 12,000 years. But the important thing to remember is that somehow this friendship of man with wolves was lurking within the genetic makeup of wolves all along and was brought forth when they begin to interact. There became a physical change that allowed for this relationship to blossom and many theorists speculate that it was a sudden appearance that was then appropriated for the benefit of man. So if this friendship with man was lurking within the genetic pool of the wolf but came forth suddenly why was it there? Maybe it was by design of the one who created man. Where else would friendship with man come from?

Conversely where does friendship with God come from in man? We have observed how a unique attribute can suddenly appear out of no where that brought a drastic change within a species. The natural question arises; when did God bring forth within man who is created of dust the innate ability to have friendship with Deity. The next question; is it a random act of chance that produced the dog/man friendship or was it a gift from the creator to demonstrate His majesty and wonderment.

This has been just a simple little evolutionary exercise to demonstrate that adaptation is not completely physical in its scope. Dog’s are many things to us humans; much of which is indeed related to the physical, but those of us who love dogs and know the companionship that dogs provide to single and elderly people especially recognize that it is the friendship that we most highly value.

I realize that many have a high propensity of apprehension toward the term evolution but as I have highlighted many of us can also recognize the beauty that God has embellished within its capability. There is no way that one can convince me that these evolutionary capacities are random mindless acts derived from nothing. Our tendency even for OEC is the setting aside of these somewhat disturbing ideas and not contemplate what is obviously set before us.

For one example many OEC give lip service to the Neanderthal discoveries but will not join into a discussion of what these specimens represent, we again are revisiting the old see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil approach. Out of sight out of mind is the rule because they are so intimidated by the term evolution that many will just simply bury their head in the sand. Friends, I do not have the answer for you on most of these questions but I’m not going to stick my head in the sand and act as if they don’t exist. I think so many are afraid of incurring the evangelical world’s wrath that they will not allow themselves to venture too far from its corner.



tom-g's picture

Hey Ransom,

I obviously am not in agreement with your argument so we can not progress beyond that point.

But, for my information, in a response you said: "The other claims in this essay follow perfectly logically, if not necessarily, from that premise."

How is it defined as perfectly logical to have conclusions that do not necessarily follow from stated premises? If your other claims do not follow from your stated premise then from what premise do they logically follow?

Since you claim it is only one premise from which your following conclusions do not necessarily follow, how is that logical? How are the laws of logic followed without two propositions containing two terms both of which are the same, or not the same, to a third term that occurs in both propositions? The only law that I can think of is that a true consequent can not follow from a false antecedent. Or maybe, from a false antecedent no consequent validly follows.

Just for my own information, is this an example of postmodern deconstruction of logic?


KingNeb's picture

Starlight's picture


I've erased about two pages that I wanted to say so that I could instead speak what I should.

I love you brother.



Ransom's picture

There has been a lot of misunderstanding on this essay. Allow me to explain.

I believe that modern Biblical interpretation has been hijacked by anachronistic, non-contextualized understandings of Scripture, an interpretation ironically created by the hyper-empiricist rationalists. We cannot read all stories in the Bible in the fashion in which we read our newspapers. Genesis 1-11, in particular, was never intended to be taken in the way that modern creationists have taken it. Genesis 1-11 does not give us historiography, but rather gives us myths that were written to fill in the gaps because the actual history was unknown and presumed unknowable.

In other words, the Bible does not tell us the actual mechanics of how the earth was created, so I then ask, "Do we otherwise know how the earth was created?" My answer is: ask the guys who study this sort of thing. Many hate that I listen to the scientific consensus. That's fine. My point in this article was to state my interpretation of the Fall based on that tentative premise. Can evolution be incorrect? Heck yeah! If it is correct, how would I view the Fall story? That's what my essay was about.

MiddleKnowledge's picture


I can see the continuity in this article from your recent blog, "DeMar tickles Creationists ears."

But this is the problem I have. Neither that blog or this article define anything. What did you mean by "creationist"? Do you limit that to young-earth creationists? Old-earth creationists? Do you include Theistic Evolutionists in that?

And what theory of evolution are you suggesting has debunked all this "creationist" nonsense? P.E., or Darwinian gradualism?

The impression I get is that those details don't really matter to you (or you would have defined what you were talking about with those terms). But they matter to me and a host of other people. Old-earth creationism is not anything like young-earth creationism (indeed there are variations even within that). TE is different still. And some classify TE as creationism because of the "Theistic" qualifier. Was DeMar tickling their ears too?

From my perspective, communicating in such broad strokes with such sweeping characterizations in this field is futile.

Let me show you what I mean. Everyone believes evolution. It's true. Tom-G, and the hard-core YEC guys believe in evolution of the post-flood animals and climates. They even agree with classic Darwinian theory regarding natural selection as a mechanism as well as migration (in the post-flood world). But would it be accurate in labeling them "evolutionists"? No, their biological evolution fits into a different paradigm and serves a different purpose.

Now, I can point out how YEC accepts evolution on a grander and faster scale than any Darwinian has ever proposed. But it would be a mistake for me to equate their evolutionism (post-flood) with Darwinian or P.E. forms of evolution. They simply are not synonymous.

I say all that to make this suggestion. It would be helpful if you defined the terms you use in approaching this subject.


Tim Martin

Ransom's picture

A "creationist" in the way that I am using the term is someone who believes the creation accounts of Genesis were meant to describe how the world was created. Some theistic evolutionists try to allegorize the days of creation, and therefore qualify as creationists. I am defining "creationism" vis-à-vis the view I espouse, which is that the Genesis accounts do not, nor were ever intended to, speak to the mechanics of how we got here, but were meant to replace the incorrect pagan myths of why we got here and Who is responsible. This position does not equal "theistic evolution", and definitely doesn't in theory rule out the possibility of instantaneous, ex nihilo creation. As I have said countless times, the theory of evolution makes sense to me, and is nowhere near as problematic as most would like to believe, and so it is my current position. I reserve the right to change my mind at any time.

Parker's picture

the Genesis accounts do not, nor were ever intended to, speak to the mechanics of how we got here, but were meant to replace the incorrect pagan myths of why we got here and Who is responsible.

This point is acceptable to a degree. However, I think it has limitations, too. Jesus and Paul fancy Adam to have been a real historical figure that had a real fallout with God with real consequences for the human race. If somehow it could be proved that Adam was a fictional character with a fictional fall (which can't be proved, but is suggested by many evolutionary views), it's lights out for Christianity.

This position does not equal "theistic evolution", and definitely doesn't in theory rule out the possibility of instantaneous, ex nihilo creation.

Good point.

As I have said countless times, the theory of evolution makes sense to me, and is nowhere near as problematic as most would like to believe

It is problematic, especially if the process is said to be random and unguided by a designer. It may make sense to you in theory, but you are banking a lot on theoretical construct there. After all, there is no real-world evidence of species change and no way of testing the theory of it. No one has ever observed species change like people have observed genetic mutation and selection. Cats have huge variety, but cats don't become dogs, pigs, worms, or humans.

MiddleKnowledge's picture


That's the first time I've ever seen that definition of "creationist." Do you know of anyone else who uses it?

Tim Martin

Ransom's picture

Sure, many of the people I've ever interacted with on the issue. Surely you understand where I'm coming from. I've heard some theistic evolutionists call themselves evolutionary creationists, so that's not exactly necessarily the same thing. Would you care to coin another term for me? I'd gladly use it.

MiddleKnowledge's picture


You can use whatever terms and definitions you like. That's not the source of the difficulty I'm having.

Here's the deal. There are a lot of people out there, like me, who are not creationists by your definition: "A "creationist" in the way that I am using the term is someone who believes the creation accounts of Genesis were meant to describe how the world was created."

At the same time, these people, like me, also do not believe in the general theory of evolution which suggests that life sprang naturally from non-life at some point in the past.

The way you have framed the discussion and definitions, we are "neither" creationists nor evolutionists. Some of these people I speak of are nationally known scientists. And I'm not sure that anything DeMar said in that article suggests he was supporting your definition of "creationism," anyway.

My question is what would you call us who are neither "creationists" by your definition nor "evolutionists" according to the classical view Darwin proposed?


Tim Martin

EWMI's picture

Hang on Tim,

"Everyone believes evolution. It's true. Tom-G, and the hard-core YEC guys believe in evolution of the post-flood animals and climates. They even agree with classic Darwinian theory regarding natural selection as a mechanism as well as migration (in the post-flood world)."

How are you defining evolution? Are you saying that the YEC folk and old school creationists believe that after the flood, new species emerged with different DNA along the traditional evolutionary line that says that lizards woke up with wings and took to the air?

Are you implying that YEC and traditionalists think that Darwinian natual selection is really a driving force in this mechanism?

Evolution of climates is noting like evolution of animals, what animals are we supposed to believe have evolved post flood and how?

MiddleKnowledge's picture

I'll let them say it in their own words:

"The biblical creation/Fall/Flood/migration model would also predict rapid formation of new varieties and even species. This is because all the modern varieties of land vertebrates must have descended from comparatively few animals that disembarked from the ark only around 4,500 years ago. In contrast, Darwin thought that this process would normally take eons. It turns out that the very evidence claimed by evolutionists to support their theory supports the biblical model."

Jonathon Sarfati (AiG Author)

"The evangelical advocates of a local Flood... claim that most of these animals were probably created in the ecological niches where they are now found... An unusual feature of this division of opinion is that, in certain respects, most advocates of a universal Flood join the evolutionists in contending for the migration of animals from distant areas, as opposed to the theory of a special creation of animals in their present (post-diluvian) ecological zones."

Whitcomb and Morris, The Genesis Flood, p. 80.

Here is an explanation from Old-earth critics:

"Thus, young-earth creationists propose an efficiency of natural biological speciation greater than the most optimistic Darwinist has ever dared to suggest."

Gleason Archer and Hugh Ross, The Genesis Debate, p. 127.

Here is an explanation from an outside observer:

"[George McCready] Price was not that bothered by evolution as such. Geology and the flood were what really counted to explain the diversity of species we see today. He was prepared to allow a fair amount of organic change after the animals came out of the Ark, since clearly Noah did not have room to take two specimens of every living kind."

Michael Ruse (Darwinist), The Evolution-Creation Struggle, p. 239.

Young earth creationists are very open about their beliefs regarding the role natural selection plays in the post-flood world. They teach that the climate pressures in the post-flood world forced rapid change/evolution in all the animals. That's how we get desert animals, high mountain animals, deep sea life, etc. in all these new environments after the flood. So, yes, they promote natural selection. The only difference is they start with a "seed stock" from the ark and then have an evolutionary "Big Bang" to the life we witness today.

You can't separate the change in climate from the change in the animals. Think about it. A change of climate means the animals have to evolve to match it. Consider polar bears and penguins.

I have a whole powerpoint presentation available on this issue. If you want it, I can send it to you.

But my point to Ransom was simply that these issues need to be better defined and explained before conclusions can be drawn. Or we should at least acknowledge that the conclusions apply within a specific context.


Tim Martin

EWMI's picture

I would like a look the powerpoint, if it is small enought to email (Less than 5 meg) send it to:

Jer's picture

"I believe that modern Biblical interpretation has been hijacked by anachronistic, non-contextualized understandings of Scripture, an interpretation ironically created by the hyper-empiricist rationalists."

I can agree with that statement. However, in light of the above, I would clarify this statement:

"...our Scriptures are not inerrant and are not in fact completely without scientific and historical errors."

I would make it clear, if this is in fact your position, that error is brought to scripture by the expositor and his "anachronistic, non-contextualized" interpretative framework.


P.S. I didn't take the mamby-pamby thing personally ;)

Parker's picture

Articles like this appear to be attempts to prop up a debunked religion.

If Jesus and St. Paul believed Adam to be an historic character upon whom their entire theology of fall and redemption rests, and if in fact they were wrong about the historicity of Adam and his fall, then Christianity's goose is cooked. Plain and simple.

My reading of Jesus and Paul tells me that they believed Adam to be an historic person whose fall from grace plunged the human race into ruin. If no such thing ever happened in actual history, then humanity is not "fallen" at all and therefore does not need a "savior."

Virgil's picture

I wouldn't call it a "fall" as much as I could call it a "death." If there is no historical death, i.e. separation between the Creator and us, there is little purpose or sense to our faith.

Starlight's picture


It’s interesting that Adam and Eve simply had their “eyes opened” (not that they were physically blind) and entered into the new covenant separation of “sin and death” at the fall therefore recognizing their “nakedness.” There doesn’t appear to have been any physical change to the creation other than that perception description.

Likewise in Paul’s rendition of the end of “sin and death” as he describes in 1 Cor 15 we simply have the “many” entering into the new covenant with the simple “twinkling of an eye” and again with no discernable physical change. Paul also recognized that those in Christ will no longer be “naked” but now will be “clothed,” ”For the perishable must CLOTHE itself with the imperishable.”

. It looks to me that Paul had this concept down concerning spiritual “death” but even many Preterist still languish over just what that change entailed that Paul describes will occur. Ed Stevens I believe even went as far as to declare a physical rapture.



Virgil's picture

Norm, yes, Ed went on the physical rapture route for some strange reason, more in an attempt to come up with some explanation for "the rapture" instead of sticking with the language of Paul and his understanding of death and reconciliation. More surprisingly, quite a few people got raptured by his theory too.

Leave one mud hole to jump in another :)

Starlight's picture


I ‘m not as interested in Ed’s misapplication as I am with how many Preterist still look at Genesis 3, Romans 5,6 and 1 Cor 15 in a physical literal manner. I may not completely agree with Stephens’s method of interpretation but I think he is right to want to examine those sections as he has in this piece.

But I believe it should be with an eye toward the apocalyptic mindset albeit a historical one. That was the nuance of my post which is to draw attention to the similarities between the two forms of genre and how Paul seamlessly uses Adam in his work dealing with this subject.

I think Stephen is on to something but just hasn’t developed the proper hermeneutic method to explain it. He too is toying with it in the literalistic scientific manner which is going to severely limit dealing with apocalyptic language accurately.


Ransom's picture

I am the anti-literalistic/scientific-method guy! My whole point is that you cannot look at the Bible in literalistic/scientific terms, or else you come away thinking that it is all bunk. You have to get into the Sitz im Leben and take the Bible on its own terms. This essay was meant to make Christians uncomfortable with assuming that our modern twenty-first-century mindsets will get us to the truth of what was written in the Bible.

However, the only way we can get into the author's minds is to study history and ancient literature as we understand it. Genesis is not "apocalyptic" any more than 1 Chronicles. It provides the vocabulary to which certain apocalyptic literature alludes, but it is frightfully anachronistic to call Genesis "apocalyptic" in genre.

Starlight's picture


I will have to somewhat debate the genre of Genesis with you. Apocalyptic may not be the best description of the form of literature with which to describe Genesis as it seems to follow its own form. Poetic, symbolic, metaphorical may be more appropriate but it’s definitely not straight narrative literature. I think in my post to you earlier I described the complexity of Genesis so that most anyone could see that it is a very special form of literature. Call it what you may but it is not even close to straight historic literature which means that it calls for special evaluation. Especially so since Paul and John utilize it’s metaphors in a manner which are consistent with this special genre.

I mentioned Paul’s comparison of Adam in 1 Cor 15 with the twinkling of eyes and John uses the tree of life and curse. There are other examples as well, especially the long lives of the Seth lineage and the corresponding numeral values applied to Abraham, Issaac and Jacob rendering the age of Joseph to be 110 years. Check out my article here on PP titled “East of Eden to read about that feature. I especially believe it also uses numerology to denote the special 100 year meaning of life spans that are picked up by Isaiah 65 denoting eternal meanings. Consider the birth of Isaac the seed of Abrahams promise was born at the age of 100. These ideas are picked up by the Jewish writings of Jubilees and others which lend credence to that understanding.

I don’t believe you can postulate your discussion concerning Romans 5,6 without properly recognizing these indicators of this special language. Otherwise your position invites the anachronistic rendering that you imply toward me.



Ransom's picture


Please read my clarification comment on the main article page. I definitely think that Genesis is complex literature, and definitely not "straight historic literature".

Sam's picture


I will stand with the Roman Catholics on this.


Parker's picture

Very thought provoking, Stephen. I'll be chewing on it for a while. Thanks for writing and posting this!

Jer's picture

Hi Ransom:

Without commenting specifically on Adam and Eve, it seems you assume that "story," without historical referent, is somehow untrue. Or if the Bible does not present a "scientific" explanation of phenomena it is also errant. These are unnecessary conclusions. They are the result of the method you have adopted. The etic strategy, i.e., the outsider's perspective, you employ necessarily removes the text from its cultural framework and breaks it down into foreign categories created by the analyst. Analysis now occurs "outside" the cultural system - meaning is no longer "local." This approach is useful for cross-cultural studies, but it has its shortcomings. The emic view, which I have been advocating implicitly in my articles, approaches data from inside the culture. In other words, it would be wrong to call "story" (emic) errant because is doesn't line up with our notion of history (etic). It would also be wrong to assume the author was trying to present what we call history. It's an unfair assessment of the text from the outside. More to the point: the errancy may only exist in the categories you created for analysis.

Have you read Interpretation of Cultures by Geertz?


P.S. There is nothing inherent in "myth" that requires the characters to be fictitious, which is the position you appear to be taking. Although, this might technically be "legend."

MiddleKnowledge's picture


I was wondering what you would say if/when you weighed in. I can clearly see the difference you reference.

It is one thing to put ourselves into their shoes and understand the context and meaning of their teaching. Particularly as it has to do with cultural views which were incorporated. That's what I loved about your presentation (and article). I believe that is honoring the teaching as it was truly meant to be honored.

Saying that Jesus and the apostles were in error about historical items or aspects of their teaching is something entirely different. If that is the case, then the question of what they taught is secondary. Suppose I demonstrate something from their teaching with due diligence to communicate the context. Who's to say that they weren't mistaken about it from the get-go?

At that point, it really doesn't make any sense to REALLY try to understand their teaching. There is something else primary. The primary goal is a methodological evaluation of whether what they said was valid or not. I can't see how objectivity would exist at any level on those terms. Who gets to make the decision and according to what rules?

So, I'm not ready to go there. But I do want to truly understand their teaching as it comes to us in the origial contexts. Then I can honor the teaching as it was meant to be honored. I can also recognize errors, not in the teaching of Jesus and apostles, but in other Christians' attempts to understand them. This is not doubting the text; it is honoring the text.

The other thing I appreciate is that you point out that there is a huge assumption in asserting that "myth" is not historical at any root level. My understanding is that anthropology is showing "myth" to be rooted in historical events and traumatic experiences virtually everywhere we look. Anthropology is throwing the classic "mythological" approach a very big curve-ball in these studies. The deeper anthropologists look, the more history they find.

But if the history is not communicated in the manner that we as moderns would expect, that is not error. Or more rightly, the error is with our expectations, not the text. That is the real problem I see, and I have invested a few years in study in Genesis to blow the cover on those who insist on fostering that problem today. The errors spring from our mistakes, not the mistakes of Jesus and the apostles (and the original author(s) of Genesis).


Tim Martin

Jer's picture

I think we're on the same page. For me, anthropology and other social sciences help create models for reference, the social world of people we are studying. For example, kinship, purity/pollution, gender roles, honor/shame, etc. had very different meanings to ancient Mediterraneans. We must understand these areas of their culture to know how such values or concepts play a part in the text.

An analogy might help illustrate my take. Think of a painting in a dimly lit room. The theme can be made out, but some of the details are too dark. Then, a switch is thrown and little more light shines on the corner. As more light becomes available, a better view of the artist's work can be had. The art itself has not changed; we just see it better. Anthropology and the similar disciplines help throw light on the details. They're just tools... much like the people who use them :)

And just a few things about myth in general... there is no unified definition. At its most basic level, we might say that myth is a traditional story, usually involving gods and heroes, which has been passed down orally from generation to generation. (Some have been committed to writing.) The distinction between an etiological myth, a nature myth, a charter myth, etc. is artificial. Whether we side with the ritualists, the rationalists, the structuralists, Muller (w/ an umlaut but I can't find it), Freud, or Jung says more about us than the story. (Freud was a complete loon as far as I'm concerned, especially when it came to myth.) Mythology is a tool. Some of these things may be helpful, but ultimately, true knowledge cannot be validly obtained from empirical generalization.


Ransom's picture

I think I am on the same page, Jeremy, in all practical ways. I agree that "error" sounds much too derogatory; my use of it is concessive. In my first "Bibliology and Hermeneutics" article (here on PP), I clarify that an "error" that we in the scientific age identify may well have been a completely acceptable treatment of the facts in the genre and era in which the matter was written.

If you define "error" as not matching the "scientific and historical details with impeccable precision", you must admit that the Bible does contain those sorts of issues. If you define "error" as "not being successful at the thing for which it was intended", we coincide much more closely with your emic view and the Bible is absolved of that sort of guilt. It is nevertheless the fact that people in a modern age will consider your emic view to be a mamby-pamby way of saying that errors are not errors.

Jer's picture

Hi Ransom:

If you define "error" as not matching the "scientific and historical details with impeccable precision", you must admit that the Bible does contain those sorts of issues. If you define "error" as "not being successful at the thing for which it was intended", we coincide much more closely with your emic view and the Bible is absolved of that sort of guilt.

Yes, but science and history are moving targets. They require not only interpretation, but reinterpretation as new "facts" become available. And as we all know, value free research is noble but unattainable goal. As such, science and history are inevitably subjective.

I think my view has one subtle difference, which may be more alethiology than anthropology. Truth must be found from within. This also implies, for me, that error cannot be imputed from without.

It probably is mamby-pamby :)


Ransom's picture

I didn't mean the "mamby-pamby" comment as an honest critique from my point of view. What I am referring to is the response of people like Sam and others who will view some of the conclusions you come to and say, "I don't care how you couch it, you're saying there are errors in the text." I'm cutting them off at the pass. Perhaps I'm cutting them off a little too far down the pass, but in the end, I don't think our views are too far apart. All I want to do is show that we in our modern era ivory towers interpret Scripture differently than those who wrote the Bible and their original audience, and that we cannot impose our science on to the text.

My essay is deconstructive of old conclusions, and your view is more constructive of new conclusions. Mine would be the first chapter of a book, and yours the rest of the book.

mazuur's picture

I think this is a good critique, Jeremy. If I may import some postmodern thinking into the discussion...

What you're saying sounds a lot like what Jean-Francois Lyotard called the differend. It is unjust for us to pass judgment on a text using rules which belong to a different type of discourse. This would be like discovering and claiming an already inhabited island, and then prosecuting the natives for trespassing. :-)

It's one thing to point out that if judged consistently by the standard of many inerrantists the scriptures would be declared 'errant'. Their failure to make this judgment simply illustrates their inconsistency. It's another to actually go ahead and make the judgment, which we should not do since it is unjust. However, I think that Stephen is only trying to do the former, even if the articulation sounds like the latter.



Ransom's picture

Thanks, Jared. That's it exactly :)

Jer's picture

This would be like discovering and claiming an already inhabited island, and then prosecuting the natives for trespassing. :-)

That's called Manifest Destiny :)

It's one thing to point out that if judged consistently by the standard of many inerrantists the scriptures would be declared 'errant'.

I would agree with this... because they typically use the etic approach as well, e.g., Creation Science. Yet it sounds like Stephen, too, is using the criteria of "history" and "science" to determine "error" from his perspective.


Starlight's picture


It’s kind of interesting that Jeremy is basically reinforcing your premise concerning discrepancies in the Bible. Especially in his illustration concerning the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus which he declares was a modified Jewish adaptation of Hellenistic myth. This is disconcerting to many but not all due to the recognition that we find interspersed within scripture the pagan myths. It is especially upsetting to some that Christ himself would be accused of bringing in this material.

I think it interesting to note that this appropriation of myth by the Jews has gone on from the beginning where we see huge similarities of appropriating the Babylonian myths that were abounding at the time. An interesting aspect though was that the scriptures utilizing this myth were exploited to declare the worthlessness of the contemporary gods. We see this in Genesis Chapter 1 with the sun and moon and again used later to illustrate the destruction of the Egyptian Gods through the plagues. Moses through God brings against their deity these signs which ends with the death of the first born of Pharaoh thus extinguishing his right to God status.

One of the greatest illustrations for me concerning the beauty and complexity of Genesis was from a Commentary by Bruce K. Waltke. It had never dawned upon me the complexity of that literature until he illustrated the outline that we find within Genesis. He puts forth an adaptation of the Rendsburg analysis of the main cycles. There we find the use of Alternating and Concentric patterns that are breathtaking to consider. The author of Genesis not only told a story but he or they told it in unparallel organizational format.
The complete book of Genesis is broken down into these organizational schemes and then within this structure we have a further breakdown.
I’m going to illustrate just one section here so that the readers may understand what I am alluding to. This is from the flood account and is a section from within a section.

A. Transitional introduction:superscritption 6:9a
B. Noah and his world at the time of the Flood 6:9b-12
C. Provision for the Flood with a divine monologue establishing God’s covenant to preserve Noah, preceded by reflections on Noah and human behavior 6:13-22
D. Embarkation 7:1-5
E. Beginning of Flood: Noah and animals are main actors 7:6-16
F. The triumphant Flood: 7:17-24

X. God remembers Noah 8:1a

F’ The waning Flood 8:b-5
E’ Ending of Flood: Noah and birds are main actors 8:6-14
D’ Disembarkation 8:15-19
C’ Provision for the post-Flood world with a divine monologue to preserve the
earth, with reflections on human behavior 8:20-22
B’ Noah and the world conditions after the Flood 9;1-17
A’ Transitional introduction 9:18-19

Now here is a further breakdown

7 days of waiting for the Flood 7:4
7days of waiting for the Flood 7:10
40 days of flooding 7:17a
150 days of water triumphing 7:24
150 days of water waning 8:3
40 days of waiting 8:6
7 days of waiting 8:10
7 days of waiting 8:12

Again another insight on the chiastic pattern:

A God’s resolve never again to destroy the earth or humanity 8:20-22
B Command to be fruitful 9:1
C Legislation with regard to blood 9:2-6
B’ Command to be fruitful 9:7
A’ God’s covenant and sign never again to destroy all flesh 9:8-17

Acts 1 and 2 reveal an alternating pattern:

A Genealogical introduction 6:9-10
B Setting 6:11
C Poem 8:22
E Epilogue 9:1-17

A Genealogical introduction 9:18-19
B Setting 9:20
C Narrative 9:20-24
D Poem 9:25-27
E Epilogue 9:28-29

As you can see Genesis is the furthest thing imaginable from hap hazard literature, in fact I will be so bold as to declare Genesis possibly the most complex literature ever written. This small snippet that I just illustrated is just the tip of the ice berg on its diversity of beauty. We haven’t even touched upon the diverse literary forms that are found within or a breakdown of the theological aspects all working within this highly stylized framework. We actually find this pattern throughout Genesis.

I bring this to bear because one could come away from your article thinking that scriptures are random and not coherent. I personally did not do so but I want to illustrate again the complexity. I think we also have to keep in mind what Tim alluded to was the apocalyptic and poetic nature of Genesis which means we need to use our Preterist understanding that we put to good use in deciphering Revelation and bring it to bear upon the genre of literature found here.

I want to touch upon your analysis of Paul’s Roman section you quoted. You have brought up some interesting points that I would like to examine as I have long recognized that there is an understanding here by Paul that goes deeper than I may readily see. I am not ready to declare Paul in error but I’m inclined to recognize what Paul understands goes beyond my momentary understanding and I believe there are underlying assumptions that we make because of our literal tendency. My focus has been that the truth lies within but my limitation to understanding it properly is limited by my not having the chance to interrogate Paul concerning this section about Adam, this goes for 1 Cor 15 as well. I do think you are on to something in regards to Paul’s Adam and Christ discourse but I’m not inclined to frame it in the manner that you have. I also must acknowledge that it sometimes takes me awhile to absorb new ideas so I need to spend more time with your discussion there.

Stephen continue to be courageous in your search for answers but do not forsake those who may not agree with you whole heartily upon all your premises. Hopefully some will give constructive feedback to you here that you can adapt to your reasoning. Don’t be afraid to change positions when a better approach might be mentioned to you. If we lock ourselves into a paradigm that is immovable we may not be able to reach our ultimate goal of truth. I do agree with your assertion that we should follow truth where ever it leads us. I find that two or three minds checking each other is better than one mind left alone.

I would deem your considerations honorable if they honor God as it appears to me that you have attempted to. There is a very good standard for measuring one’s relationship to God and it is found in Romans 14. We need to be very careful in judging our fellow brothers when they are striving to be servants of God.

(Rom 14:3 NIV) The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind…..
For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone.
If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. …
You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat.



Jer's picture

Read my reply to Ransom. We are coming from completely different perspectives :)


P.S. I'm not reinforcing discrepancies in the Bible. I'm illuminating discrepancies in our traditions and the Bible. That is a huge difference.

Starlight's picture


Sorry, I rushed my response to Stephen and failed to fully clarify what I meant about your reinforcement. I meant to imply that some (Parker as an example) would throw Stphens and yours conclusions together when they are derived from different points of view. Some would consider your conclusion and approach as wrong even though it appears to me you have made a rational case but both approaches are not considered legit by contemporay Believers today. This does not mean that the crowd mentality is the correct one.
My term reinforce simply implies new approaches that can confuse some minds.



Life14all's picture


I would have to agree with Sam that this was a well written piece. Let me simply add this from my perspective as an artist.

Altough we are all entitled to our own view or expression, as an artist I must take very slight offence to these comments of yours.

"The record of His actions in the Gospels (perhaps this is why we have four of them) and Acts are actual photographs, whereas everything else in the Bible ranges from stylized and caricaturized medieval paintings to the crudity of cave drawings in comparison."

I actually agree with you here that it is impossible to capture God's breathed Word on a canvas. Whereas if the bible is a set of actual photographs then I would suggest that not everyone is using a quality camera:-)

At least with art you would have to agee that just like in your article, it is an expression of the individual himself. So if life is God's canvas then the only thing that really matters is that it is His own expression and interpretation that matters anyway.

Jim K.


Ransom's picture

Appreciate your thoughts, Jim. I hesitated in putting the line in question in the essay because I definitely meant no slight to the value of those "crude drawings" - my daughter's drawings might appear "crude" to someone looking for Van Gogh quality, but for us Christians, even the crudest drawings in Scripture (by the world's standards) are a source of unspeakable wealth and truth because they were meant for us.

Ransom's picture

I actually posted this to get Tim and Sam united on one front against something! :D

Sam's picture


Well written article, but, of course it does not have to be believed. I am an inerrantist. You wrote, "We should not expect to see error without having good cause." "Good cause" then becomes the standard of what is and what is not truth. You have already stated your faith in evolution. Thus, evolution is a "good cause" to deny the historicity of Adam. But, what other "good causes" can we come up with? I remember one Lutheran minister who wrote that Paul was definitely anti-homosexual, but "why should I listen to Paul? He was just a man, and his words are not inspired" like the Fundamentalists want to say. Oh, he may be theologically oriented, and quite wise, but that does not mean I should follow him as if his words were inspired by God himself. Besides, look at how many homosexuals are peaceful and loving, and look at the strides they have made in culture and the arts. It would be "good cause" to accept their lifestyle as legitimate as any other. Certainly, the Bible and the Church have stood in the way, claiming an inerrant document as their basis. But, you have just underminded that, whether you want to admit it or not. It logically follows.

Sam Frost

Ransom's picture

Christians can stamp their feet and say, "But I want an inerrant Bible, dang it!" I'm sure you're aware, however, that this won't make it so. You, like Tim, are arguing from undesirable result. Christians who insist on "my way or the highway" in their doctrinal interpretations are naturally resentful of someone calling into question their favored trump card.

As for your example about homosexuality, two people with my viewpoint can come to two conclusions on that issue. Some could indeed say Paul was wrong about homosexuality (for which they could amass absolutely no evidence), and some (like me) would say that there is no reason to believe he is incorrect. There are loving adulterers, liars, and thieves contributing to society in many positive ways, so that's certainly not evidence for homosexuality's legitimacy. Now, are there some beloved doctrines that may eventually change according to this view? Doubtless. But then again, "...our mission is to interpret correctly, no matter who interpreted incorrectly." Preterists should understand this quite well.

This view requires a shift of faith from the Bible to the Person behind the Bible. It requires a measure of humility when propounding a dogma, which admittedly doesn't make as good for shut-em-down arguments. It requires one to examine, "Do I believe in God because of the Bible, or do I believe in the Bible because of God?"

Sam's picture

You can make me out to be a "stamp your feet" person. I am calling into question your view. You have a "view". I have a "view". I don't agree with your view.

Now, before accusing me of being "resentful", I am not. I cannot resent someone for holding on to a faulty view. You noted in the article that we all have presuppositions. Mine is that the Bible is the word of God, written. As such, by nature, it must be free from error, for the simple reason that God cannot lie.

You have not dealt with the problem that something "may" be an error. There may not be any "good cause" for rejecting it, but one day, there may be. Thus, you hold these things open. As stated, a "good cause" for you is evolution (which, for me, is an absolutely hideously reasoned faith). So, if such a flimsy view as evolution can cause you to charge the Bible with error, then surely one can reason a homosexual-evolution (as many have). Face it, your view has no real force to it when it comes to these things. Continuing to ridicule Tim or me won't work.


Ransom's picture

Your presupposition that "the Bible is the word of God, written" is baseless and near-idolatrous. You can't point to anything that says that God made the Bible to be free from error. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to come up with a passage in the Bible that even refers to itself. The only entity referred to as the "word of God" is Jesus Himself.

I'm not ridiculing you, Sam. I try to stay away from that method of discussion. I am simply astounded that you cannot come up with any a posteriori reason to discount my view. You just don't like the way things would stand if it were true.

Sam's picture


I have. You don't like my presupposition. But, you sound as if the doctrine of inerrancy has not been defended in the myriads of books that have, in detail, shown that it is not a "baseless" view. This is ridicule. "near idolatrous"? Because I believe God to have inspired men to write on paper what God wanted them to say? Is that all that you have?

As for a response, one will be posted tonight on our website, an audio response, to the view you espouse, and why there is no point in believing anything in the Bible if what you say is true.


davo's picture

Ransom: This view requires a shift of faith from the Bible to the Person behind the Bible.

Well noted -- that would be the difference between being a "Biblican" or a "Christian".


MiddleKnowledge's picture


Thanks for your work. I personally disagree with a myriad of assumptions and statements in your article, but I appreciate your efforts to bring this perspective to the table.

The token comments I would offer is that if I believed your view, I would not be a preterist.

Consider the implications of what you say here:

"I have been asked, "Is there a legitimate reason that we can or should use these stories differently from the way the apostles and writers of scripture did?" There is, in fact, very good reason: our mission is to interpret correctly, no matter who interpreted incorrectly. There is an underlying assumption in that question that everything the NT writers believed was accurate..."

Perhaps the apostles were mistaken about their expectations? If they were mistaken in their understanding of historical events in their past, then there is no problem with them be ing mistaken about their statements of things to come. Isn't this a common argument against preterism? I can't see how you could respond in consistency, assuming you are a preterist. I am a preterist, fundamentally, because I believe the apostles were not mistaken in their teaching.

The other issue is this. If no single man was responsible for the fall (I'm interpreting this federally/covenantally), then what would be the problem with saying that no single man is responsible for redemption? No matter how you take Paul, he made a clear parallel. To apply your thoughts to one end (Genesis) implies that same principle to the other end (NT). So, if I held your views, I would reject your centerpiece of the Christian faith.

Then there are dinky issues that would trouble me greatly. If Adam was not a historical person, then what is he doing in the NT genealogy of Christ. If the apostles were wrong about that, doesn't that torpedo their polemic for Christ as the Messiah? Their entire case would then be based in error at a point they knew was crucial for their claims about Jesus Christ. Would the Jews have good reason to reject the apostolic message if they were incorrect in their genealogy of Jesus Christ?

I could go on with my problems from "seeing" things the way you do. They are legion to my mind at this point, and I honestly have tried to follow you and understand your comments.

I believe there is a better way of approaching the early chapters of Genesis. They communicate by apocalyptic genre (like Revelation), and therefore, include historical events recounted under the priority of communicating the covenant meaning of the events, rather than a literal chronology/detail of the events. I'm still looking for someone to beat Milton Terry's approach.

Thanks for the read,


Tim Martin

Ransom's picture

"If no single man was responsible for the fall (I'm interpreting this federally/covenantally), then what would be the problem with saying that no single man is responsible for redemption?"
The problem with saying that is that it contradicts all the other teachings of the New Testament. This is a preponderance of evidence.

As for preterism, the best reason to believe the apostles and Jesus' predictions of the end of the age occurred in the first century is that the outwardly-visible predictions actually occurred. Your book goes into great detail showing Josephus' substantiation of many of the specific claims. This extra-biblical evidence significantly bolsters the preterist's claims. Besides this, Jesus Himself is quoted in multiple gospels as having believed that "the end" would come within a certain time frame: what possible reason would Matthew, Mark, or Luke have had for creating ex nihilo the oft-attested claims of Jesus, especially when their quotations of him are quite problematic without a first-century fulfillment?

Don't go overboard! The errancy of the Bible does not make it more errant than other books! It just removes the unsubstantiable aura claimed by fundamentalists. We may find reasons to call some things that Tacitus says in Germania into question. We may have reason to believe that Julius Caesar's Conquest of Gaul is less than wholly accurate. But do historians chunk them as garbage? No. What they disprove, they disprove. What they can't, they assume is correct. That's all I'm asking for, with the significant booster that Christians were more committed to truth than Tacitus, Caesar, or any non-Christian of the era.

Ransom's picture

Thanks for the kind words and manner, even though you obviously disagree with me. Unfortunately, you are not answering my assertions.

You have not told me why my thinking is wrong or why my logic is off. The worst thing you say is that my view is a slippery slope - but we can't decide the lay of the land based on our preferences. Many Christians like you hate the implications, and so reject the premise. I understand this feeling, but I learned a long time ago that I have to follow the evidence where it leads, even if I don't like where it leads. As I have stated elsewhere, if I can show you even one instance of the Bible not matching reality or showing an internal discrepancy, I have proven my first premise. I have met that condition (especially in my earlier articles), and you yourselves can doubtless find instances of such inaccuracy in the Bible that you'll probably go to great lengths to explain away. The other claims in this essay follow perfectly logically, if not necessarily, from that premise.

Fredrico's picture

You bring many questions and doubts about the Bible and what the Bible says. Your claims of inaccuracies and contradictions are nothing new. Your attempt to tear down God’s Word has been tried by many lost individuals. Whatever you can invent that accuses the Bible of error will not make one once of difference. All of humanity could come against the Bible but it would continue to stand as it always has.

Believe the Bible and you will know that it is true. Even if you do not believe the Bible, it is still true. Can you, any individual, or any group silence God’s Word or prove it wrong? I do not think so. Say what you will about it because this very moment it is speaking to some lost soul and transforming their life.

Isaiah 55:10-11
10 "For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Do what you will against the Wonderful Word of God. You human weakling cannot stop it. Whatever you say or whatever you do against it will never be able to diminish the power to save a soul. I am not afraid that you can hurt it in any way. The hurt will be on you for not believing. Your hurt will be that lack of joy and peace. That hurt will be missing the assurance and instead of a heart filled will love it will be empty. The hurt will be the vanity of life that has no meaning.

Puff up your chest and take pride in your own imagination but for what? You will grow old and die, that will be the sum of your life, here for a little while, and then you are gone.


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