Sunday, June 13, 2010

what do you do...

... with historical doubts about the OT?

Like if I find it hard to believe that Moses brought THAT many people out of Egypt. It's not that I think God couldn't have done it - I'm confident that God can do whatever he wants - but could the wilderness actually hold that many people?

And the flood. Am I liberal if I think it was localised?

I'm not losing sleep over this stuff. Just wondering if I should be.

Is it possible to have doubts about these things and still be absolutely committed to the inspiration of scripture (as I am)?

Or am I on a slippery

into liberalism?


  1. 1. Suppress them.
    2. Yes. It probably had many cacti filled with nutritious liquid. How could we possibly know what the wilderness then could sustain?
    3. Yes, but who cares?
    4. Probably. OT lecturers have been fired for less.
    5. Yes. It's about genre recognition, and core issue recognition.
    6. Sounds like you're already there.

  2. Slides can be so much fun, I say "slide away"!

  3. The wilderness is / was pretty big (we're talking the Arabian peninsula after all) - I'm sure it could hold a few million people. After all, they didn't live in suburbia with 400 - 600 m2 individual house lots and they didn't have to grow their own food.

    As for the flood, one of the problems with believing it was a localised flood is that (a) it calls God a liar for saying that it was a flood of the whole earth and (b) it makes God a liar for saying that he would never cut off all life from the earth the way he did in this flood - but there have been localised floods since so that negates that promise.

  4. Gosh, Simone, I'm going to become your resident liberal! I have no problems with these kinds of questions or concerns because the way that we've written history in the last couple of hundred years in the west - our emphasis on factual accuracy as the definition of 'true' in particular - is not universal. I do think that the Jewish writers were interested in what actually happened - and in that sense I certainly take the OT accounts as describing actual events. But I have no problem with the idea that they aimed to tell the story in a way which showed the true meaning of events - and this could mean using numbers or geographical locations that showed those meanings. I don't consider that lying, I consider it a highly sophisticated form of historical memory & record
    Having said that, I do believe God can do anything & I alsothink it is probably difficult for us to judge what is credible or incredible regarding such a distant time and place!

  5. Thanks everyone.

    None of these 'doubts' are new. Jo, that's the kind of answer I was looking for. With my amazing prophetic skills I can foresee big debates (fights) over these things in our neck of the woods pretty soon.

  6. I read this yesterday and have been thinking about it lots - just so refreshing to hear you voice those thoughts!
    Here are my poorly put thoughts. Jo says things better (of course):
    The OT accounts are true, they are inspired.
    They are prophetic - in that they are God's view of the event, as he wants us to read them, not necessarily as we may have seen them had we been there, or how we would have recorded them, had they been recent events.

    If we insist on reading Scripture within the framework of what is expected from a modern scholarly point of view, are we letting secularists define what is true?

  7. Thanks, Cath, I agree. Actually, emboldened by this positive response I will go futher out on a limb. Andrew and I were talking about this last night because we were thinking about the gospels as the end product of the tradition of history-writing that develops in the OT. I was thinking that in our culture (sadly) the discipline of history and the art of story telling are often very separate - this really impoverishes our history-writing, I think. There is no way modern-day historians could or would produce texts of the richness and complexity of the gospels - and if they did, I'm not sure we would know how to read them.
    Secondly, Andrew had been listening to some lectures on the NT, in which the lecturer suggested that when the writer of Luke and Acts says that he wants to give an 'orderly' account of events, he means 'theologically orderly'. Whether or not this is the case, it reminded me again that we need to think hard about what the writers are trying to say rather than what twentieth/twenty-first century writers would mean.

  8. Thanks Jo and Cath. This is very helpful.

  9. Perhaps another question to ask is: When the writer recorded these events, what techniques did he/she (well, we all know it was a he, but check it out, I'm sensitive and stuff) employ in order to make sure that not only what happened was not forgotten, but that the significance of what happened was communicated to the reader.

    This is nothing more than what has been said by the rest of y'all, but I like it as a way of putting yourself in the shoes of the theological historian who's sitting around the campfire thinking, like a good pastor, "How can I make sure that they understand, remember and imbibe just how important what God did back then actually was?"

  10. And the answer is not by dishonesty, but by carefully choosing details and telling the story in such a way that the careful listener can't but help to understand what the writer was trying to get at.

    Makes pastoral sense to me. We do it all the time in our personal gospel conversations.