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‘What the Bible shows itself to be’

‘What the Bible shows itself to be’ January 30, 2012

One from James McGrath and two from Peter Enns …

James F. McGrath: “Why Doesn’t the Bible Contain Superior Medical Advice?

You will look in vain in the pages of the Bible for a recommendation that people cover their mouth and nose when they sneeze and cough. You will find mentions of strong drink, but nothing about distilling the alcohol and using it to clean wounds or disinfect anything at all. Nor will you find the Bible’s authors recommending that drinking water be boiled to kill dangerous bacteria.

Answering the question of why these things are not in the Bible is simple, if one has a view of the Bible that is realistic, and based on what the Bible shows itself to be. In those times they didn’t know about germs, about viruses or bacteria, and thus neither mention them nor offer a means of avoiding their harmful effects (although they do occasionally mention the “angel of death” in such places where we might mention outbreaks of disease).

But if one views the Bible as containing something superior to modern biology, geology, physics and astronomy, as young-earth creationists and other such groups do, then the absence of any such useful health care information is astonishing – and ought to be unsettling.

Peter Enns: “Once More, With Feeling: Adam, Evolution and Evangelicals

If evolution is right about how humans came to be, then the biblical story of Adam and Eve isn’t. If you believe, as evangelicals do, that God himself is responsible for what’s in the Bible, you have a problem on your hands. Once you open the door to the possibility that God’s version of human origins isn’t what actually happened — well, the dominoes start unraveling down the slippery slope. The next step is uncertainty, chaos and despair about one’s personal faith.

That, more or less, is the evangelical log flume of fear, and I have seen it played out again and again.

… It has to do with what evangelicals expect from the Bible.

Evangelicals look to the Bible to settle important questions of faith. So, faced with a potentially faith-crushing idea like evolution, evangelicals naturally ask right off the bat, “What does the Bible say about that?” And then informed by “what the Bible says,” they are ready to make a “biblical” judgment.

This is fine in principle, but in the evolution debate this mindset is a problem: It assumes that the Adam and Eve story is about “human origins.” It isn’t. And as long as evangelicals continue to assume that it does, the conflict between the Bible and evolution is guaranteed.

… Evangelicals tend to focus on how to protect the Bible against the attacks of evolution. The real challenge before them is to reorient their expectation of what the story of Adam and Eve is actually prepared to deliver.

Peter Enns: “Why I Wrote The Evolution of Adam

I know many Christians who understand the scientific issues and are convinced that evolution explains human origins. They are looking for ways to read the Adam story differently. Many more others—at least this is my experience—are open to the discussion, but are not ready simply to pull the trigger on evolution. They first need to see for themselves that the Adam story can be read with respect and reverence but without needing to read it as a literal account of human origins. Both groups are thinking hermeneutically, though they approach the issue from different sides.

… Of course, there is a downside to this type of discussion. Many readers seeking alternate ways forward experience tremendous cognitive dissonance and social pressure, for they are part of ecclesiastical communions that historically have not looked kindly at the kind of hermeneutical synthesis the evolution/Bible discussion requires. In fact, not to overstate, but there are theological and ecclesiastical bodies that have a vested interest in seeing to it that these conversations don’t happen.

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