This is the eighth and final post in a series on inspiration, inerrancy, and hermeneutics.
So anyway 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 (and final?) 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 in the sense of a predilection for sinning, but retains free will so that he is responsible for the actual sins he commits. Now, what if I told you that “original sin” is a biological condition? What if that tendency to look out for ourselves was used by God to create us? Think of it this way: when animals strive for their own survival, in some cases killing other animals not only for food but to extend their territory and in other ways simply doing what we would characterize in humans as “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.
Thus my position on 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 most evolutionists. 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.
I’m not going to wax eloquent on this issue. If you’re at all interested, see the applicable links on the right to encounter evolution from a Christian perspective.
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 anything, including the OT. Do we really believe these men were infallible? Even the men who shared Jesus’ life for three or four years didn’t understand the spiritual nature of the Kingdom of God, despite Jesus’ explicit teaching on the matter; in fact (as we preterists argue) most of the Christians who lived through the destruction of Jerusalem apparently did not even notice the coming of the Kingdom 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.
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 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.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 is the same way historians read all first-hand accounts. An historian reading Julius Caesar can assume that the main content of his accounts are true, whether he embellished, downplayed, or simply missed some details. If we hold the Gospel writers to at least the same standard as scholars hold most ancient historians (and why shouldn’t we?), we have at least Christ’s resurrection on the concord of four separate first-century documents; we also have the testimony of extra-biblical history, which attests the meteoric rise of a religion that turned the world upside down within a generation’s time originating in a two-bit territory under Roman occupation, not to mention the otherwise unexplainable willingness to be martyred on the part of the apostles. No wonder Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 lays the weight of the whole gospel upon Christ’s resurrection — notice he didn’t have a canon to appeal to, and yet was more than confident in the legitimacy of his faith based upon that one event.
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 blasphemy; the person and work of Jesus show Him to be the definitive divine revelation, the Word of God, and 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 recognition of the limitations of the authority of men’s testimony 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.
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 understood it.Tagged with: Ancient Near East • Bibliology • evil • evolution • Hermeneutics • Inerrancy • Scripture • The Fall • Theology