Theology Unplugged Broadcast #63

 Question/Answers Segment: The unnecessary assumption of the Bible’s uniqueness in comparison to other ancient sources; Emerging dialogue: does it get anything accomplished?


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    8 replies to "Theology Unplugged #64: Is the Bible Unique? and Emerging Dialogue"

    • tnahas

      Michael and Rhome,

      One way I like to reconcile the recording of Scripture and the happenings of the actual events that took place versus the records of the other cultures is this. The origins of man from Adam and Eve where handed down orally from generation to generation. We can see from the great ages of the patriarchs that the creation and flood stories would have been passed down to Abraham and even later generations from Adam’s first offspring.

      Even before any writing implements or record keeping devices were created, the generations from Adam would have recorded what God “said” to Adam and others along the way.

      For instance, Scripture does not record how Abel and Cain were to deal with sacrifices and yet we can venture that Adam told the boys what God expected of them. Then this oral tradition could then explain and help us understand that while every original thought may not be in Scripture first, it actually took place first with God redemptive people.

      This is why I believe that God did not give us an exhaustive record of history of the world but just an exhaustive one of His people. Moses would then inspired by the Holy Spirit would want to correct the misconceptions of the 300 flood stories and the same number of creation stories.

      A great study that has yet to be undertaken at least to my knowledge would be to track through Scripture how many in the Old Testament does it record that the Gentiles knew of and even feared the one true Yahweh. An example would be the sailors on the boat with Jonah. Once they knew of Jonah’s ancestry they were greatly afraid.

      As the serpent had corrupted the first words from God to man, so did the other “cultures”. The same could be said of Psalms and Proverbs in that while they could have existed in the world prior to the recording in Scripture, they also would have been orally given by God’s redemptive people prior to the other cultures recording them.

      As we know and believe there are no other “gods” or “God” besides Yahweh, just idol worshipping of carved images of stone and wood. Solomon had said, “there is nothing new under the sun”. We have no fear of what other cultures have drummed up that would compete against what the Scriptures have given us.

    • C Michael Patton

      Taffy said: “This is why I believe that God did not give us an exhaustive record of history of the world but just an exhaustive one of His people.”

      That is great Taffy. So many people, Christians and Christian antagonists, don’t recognize this. They start with such a faulty presupposition about how they believe the Scriptures must communicate when there is no justifiable reason for saying that the Scriptures must communicate uniquely. Accuracy and inspiration do not necessitate uniqueness.

      We finally agree!!! There is a God 😉

    • Vance

      Here is a quote from C.S. Lewis that covers the first question quite directly:

      “I have been suspected of being what is called a Fundamentalist. That is because I never regard any narrative as unhistorical simply on the ground that it includes the miraculous. Some people find the miraculous so hard to believe that they cannot imagine any reason for my acceptance of it other than a prior belief that every sentence of the Old Testament has historical or scientific truth. But this I do not hold, any more than St. Jerome did when he said that Moses described Creation “after the manner of a popular poet” (as we should say, mythically) or than Calvin did when he doubted whether the story of Job were history or fiction. The real reason why I can accept as historical a story in which a miracle occurs is that I have never found any philosophical grounds for the universal negative proposition that miracles do not happen. I have to decide on quite other grounds (if I decide at all) whether a given narrative is historical or not. The Book of Job appears to me unhistorical because it begins about a man quite unconnected with all history or even legend, with no genealogy, living in a country of which the Bible elsewhere has hardly anything to say; because, in fact, the author quite obviously writes as a story-teller not as a chronicler.

      I have therefore no difficulty in accepting, say, the view of those scholars who tell us that the account of Creation in Genesis is derived from earlier Semitic stories which were Pagan and mythical. We must of course be quite clear what “derived from” means. Stories do not reproduce their species like mice. They are told by men. Each re-teller either repeats exactly what his predecessor had told him or else changes it. He may change it unknowingly or deliberately. If he changes it deliberately, his invention, his sense of form, his ethics, his ideas of what is fit, or edifying, or merely interesting, all come in. If unknowingly, then his unconscious (which is so largely responsible for our forgettings) has been at work. Thus at every step in what is called–a little misleadingly–the “evolution” of a story, a man, all he is and all his attitudes, are involved. An no good work is done anywhere without aid from the Father of Lights. When a series of such retellings turns a creation story which at first had almost no religious or metaphysical significance into a story which achieves the idea of true Creation and of a transcendent Creator (as Genesis does), then nothing will make me believe that some of the re-tellers, or some one of them, has not been guided by God.

      Thus something originally merely natural–the kind of myth that is found amongst most nations–will have been raised by God above itself, qualified by Him and compelled by Him to serve purposes which of itself would not have served. Generalising this, I take it that the whole Old Testament consists of the same sort of material as any other literature–chronicle (some of it obviously pretty accurate), poems, moral and political diatribes, romances, and what not; but all taken into the service of Gods word. Not all, I suppose, in the same way. There are prophets who write with the clearest awareness that Divine compulsion is upon them. There are chroniclers whose intention may have been merely to record. There are poets like those in the Song of Songs who probably never dreamed of any but a secular and natural purpose in what they composed. There is (and it is not less important) the work first of the Jewish and then of the Christian Church in preserving and canonising just these books. There is the work of redactors and editors in modifying them. On all of these I suppose a Divine pressure; of which not by any means all need have been conscious.”

    • tnahas

      Yes but Lewis, one of my favorite authors, (he’s Christian you know), had a very low view of Scripture as demostrated by this quote. His belief of Scripture falls in the partial inspiration categpry of
      view of Scripture, part man part God, not 100% man and 100% God.

      I don’t think God needed His people to get their stories from Pagan or mythical. He left His witnesses, including His witness, eye witnesses, oral tradition and finally Scripture.

    • Vance

      I think he viewed it as 100% from God, but using Man’s language and style. If he did not view it that way, I can definitely say that I DO view it that way, and have a VERY high view of Scripture, but I can still agree with everything he said above.

      The reason is that, as someone with a degree in ancient history, I see ancient texts a bit differently, based more on how THEY would have seen them. During that time, they viewed the telling of stories about their past ENTIRELY different than us, in a way that we would have trouble getting our head around. If you asked an ancient Israelite in 1000 b.c. whether everything in their ancient stories were “True”, he would say “absolutely”. If you asked him whether they were 100% literal historical narrative, he would just look at you funny. They had no concept or expectation that such presentations of the Creation narrative or the pre-patriarchal stories would be the kind of “history” that we, with our modern mindsets, would expect.

      We view historical writing, writing about the past, as valuable and “true” only to the extent that it is accurate literal historical narrative. To the extent that it is NOT, then it is “false” and untrustworthy, and thus can NOT be how God would present such information to us.

      I give God more latitude than that. I am willing to allow God to present the message of His Creation, etc, in the manner that would be understandable to the human tellers, the human hearers, then the human writers and the human readers, that lived at the time. Rather than try and force their round peg of historical style into our modern square hole of strict literal narrative, I just start with one presumption: God can not lie, God IS speaking Truth. Then I take the text AS IT IS, and attempt to determine HOW God is speaking Truth in that text and exactly what the message is.

      There are a wide variety of genres in the anthology of books we call the Bible. It is a collection of stories written over thousands of years, by dozens of writers. Would we expect someone in the Dark Ages of 600 a.d. to write about their past in the same way we do today? Even now, do we insist on reading Revelation, Song of Solomon, Job and Luke in the same way? Of course not.

      And that is the answer to the question “well, if we think part of it is not true, then what about the Gospel story, or the Resurrection?” This statement has two major flaws:

      1. It assumes that a story that was meant to convey strict historical narrative is somehow not “true” when it does not do so.

      2. That we should read the story of the Resurrection the same way we read the story of Noah.

      Such thinking does a great disservice to the Bible, and ironically weakens it. If we tie our trust in Scripture to its historical and scientific exactitude, then we are setting up our trust to fail. The most dangerous statement in Christianity today, and one that I think is a tool of Satan is:

      “Well, if you don’t believe the Creation story, then you might as well throw away the rest of the Bible.”

      I have actually heard Christians say this! First, that shows a high degree of hubris since it really says that if you don’t accept that the truth of the Creation story is what THEY believe it is, then you should throw away the rest if Scripture (not considering that their entire view of how it should be read could be wrong). Second, this type of “either/or” approach is simply unnecessary, since how we view the Creation story is not a salvation issue.

      Ultimately, I think Lewis actually shows a great deal of humility in the statement above (as does St. Augustine when he made very similar statements). They are willing to let God tell us his TRUTH in any way God chooses, rather than insisting that God can only tell about the past in one way and then giving the ultimatum that if it is not strict historical narrative, they won’t believe it! 🙂

    • JoanieD

      Very nice, Vance. I, too, want to let God be God. I like J.B. Phillips little book “Your God Is Too Small.” I think if an intellectual person is having trouble believing there is a personal God, they should read that book and also C. S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity.” (I know books should be underlined and not with quotations marks, but I don’t see a way to underline my words.)

    • Roland

      Michael,
      I’d like to personally thank you, Rhome and Greg for the time you spend on answering my questions (also the people who have commented this blog with their takes on it). Christianity needs more “reclaimed minds” like those of your program and the listeners.
      My sincere thanks,
      Paul Pinson

    • C Michael Patton

      Paul, thanks so much. I am glad we finally got to your question. I hope it helped/

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