Posts Tagged With: Paul

Non-Contradictions

You may have come across the “law of non-contradiction” in your religious readings. It appears frequently in apologetic writings that seek to defend certain religious doctrines. It is a simple rule that goes like this:

A concept or rule cannot be true and false at the same time.

Technically, it looks like this:

A cannot be B and not B at the same time.

Now there are truck loads of articles and books addressing this rule, but all I’m really concerned about is how it is used by church apologists to make an argument. This rule was key for me as I developed my theology in college. I was a modernist who rejected all forms of postmodern thinking.

Ravi Zacharias

One of the main illustrations that made the law of non-contradiction clear to me was a story told my one of the heroes from my college years, Ravi Zacharias. It is often repeated in churches, Bible studies, and Sunday school classes; and is one that I have used frequently.

After Zacharias had finished a lecture, a professor of philosophy challenged him on a significant point. Zacharias had pressed the law of non-contradiction. Putting it in simpler terms for his audience, he said that the law might be called an either…or system. Christian theology uses this system. For example,

Either Paul is an Apostle or he is not.

Either Jesus is the Son of God or he is not.

Either Christianity is true or it is not.

You see the rule here:

A cannot be B and not B at the same time.

Paul cannot be an apostle and not an apostle.

Etc.

The irritated professor went to dinner with Zacharias and one other school administrator to talk things over. The philosophy professor insisted that the either…or system is exclusively a western philosophical idea while eastern philosophy uses more of an both…and system of logic. So…

A can be both B and not B at the same time.

Thus…

Paul can be both an apostle and not an apostle.

Jesus can be both the Son of God and not the Son of God.

Zacharias opposed this view with a simple statement: “So you are telling me that it’s either the both…and system or nothing else, is that right?”

The philosopher puzzled over this: “The either…or does seem to emerge, doesn’t it?”

Zacharias added, “You know, even those in India look both ways before we cross the street, because they know ‘It’s either me or the bus, not both of us!'”

The main point is that the either…or system–the law of non-contradiction–is something that even Easterners use in their thinking. This is a very important distinction and has helped me a great deal over the years. It also tended to lock me in a modernist way of thinking, and I think it has done the same to several of my contemporaries.

What I erroneously took away from that illustration was that all legitimate ideas come from either…or thinking; the both…and system of thought is worthless and even deceptive. That worked for me for a while, but I started having some pretty big problems with it when I went to seminary. In my biblical and theological studies I found that you must employ the both…and system to make things work. Otherwise, those who champion the non-contradiction rule will actually contradict themselves!

Jesus is both God and man.

The church is both currently redeemed and not yet redeemed.

God is both a single person and not a single person.

A strict either…or approach would have to deny these principles, even though these concepts are central to historic church doctrines. To be sure, there are many who try to reconcile these doctrines with an either…or system; and it seems to me that the harder we try, the further we separate ourselves from the teachings of the text.

Ultimately, I think we need to learn to use both systems where appropriate (see what I did there?). It seems to me that the “either…or” system promotes a more mechanical and objective style of thinking while the “both…and” system is much more organic and subjective. There will always be a tension between the two of them, but they are both helpful.

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Categories: Biblical Studies, Philosophy, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Must Adam Exist? Part 2

A responsible Bible interpreter is sensitive to the historical context of any given scripture passage. Those who hold to the doctrine of inspiration understand that God didn’t robotically push and pull the hands of the writers. Rather, through the mystery of His sovereign will, he moved them to write what he wanted, utilizing the distinctions of their personalities and cultural norms. Since those ancient writers were writing to an ancient audience, we understand when we see the following mentioned in scripture:

-The earth is upon pillars (“[God] shakes the earth out of its place; so that its pillars tremble.” Job 9:6 [cf. Ps 75:3])

-The heavens are also on pillars (“The pillars of the heavens tremble and are amazed at his rebuke.” Job 26:11 [cf. 2 Sam. 22:8])

-The earth rests upon a foundation (“Where were you; when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you possess understanding!” Job 38:4; [cf. Ps. 104:5])

-The netherworld exists, and it’s underground (“Even if they could dig down into the netherworld [Sheol]; my hand would pull them up from there. Even if they could climb up to heaven; I would drag them down from there.” Amos 9:2. [cf. Ps. 139:8])

The Ancient Hebrew Conception of the Universe--Michael Paukner

The book of Job speaks of the foundations of the earth, that it has pillars upon which it stands, as do the heavens. Amos mentioned heaven as the highest place and spoke of digging down into the deepest place–the “netherworld”–in the same breath. The psalmist marveled at how the Lord could take the four corners of the earth in hand and shake the very ground under our feet. These are just a few examples of how the scripture reflects and interacts with ancient cultures and ideas. As God inspired the writers, he could have led them to write on a level that we would have found more palatable in our modern scientific era. The book of Job could have said that God placed the earth in its orbit and established the heavens around it. Amos could have put a footnote on his comment about the netherworld, stating that there really isn’t a place underground where the dead live out eternity. The psalmist could have put in Hebraic parentheses “I’m just being poetic here!” (there are no parentheses in Classical Hebrew, but if there were…!).

But that’s not realistic. Instead, God interacted with ancient people using ideas common to the ancient world. Scientifically verifiable statements written to such an old world would have been wholly irrelevant to a pre-scientific culture. The writers of scripture were ancient people, and the Holy Spirit moved through them to reveal eternal truths by using pre-scientific conceptions of reality.

The Apostle Paul, too, was an ancient writer who had a pre-scientific awareness of reality. Therefore, we would expect that his theology assumed that Adam was literally the first human being God created.

In my previous post, I described some of Peter Enns’s new book The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins, and I found it a challenging yet enlightening read. He shows how one might reconcile the ideas of evolution with the creation account of the Bible. He argues that Adam may have never existed at all. Perhaps the biggest obstacle to this position is Paul’s view of a literal Adam. Paul’s theology about Christ seems to rest on his understanding about how sin and death entered the world. Paul stated that Adam’s disobedience introduced sin and death to the world. In contrast, because of Christ’s obedience, death, and resurrection, we might all have victory over that sin and death.

So then, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all people because all sinned (Romans 5:12)

For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also came through a man. (1 Cor. 15:21)

Enns makes a very good point here. In the Old Testament, we don’t find the doctrine of depravity or Original Sin as presented in the New Testament. The Hebrew Bible does not highlight the sin of Adam as the bringer of death to the whole world, but Paul (in the New Testament) does. Why? Because that theology was common among the Jewish community during Paul’s lifetime. The idea that Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden developed during the intertestamental period and was a part of the way people thought in Paul’s day. Paul was interacting with the theology of his day. In his own experiences, he had seen how Christ brought forgiveness of sin and victory over death. Based on an ancient yet normative understanding of Adam, Paul proved both of those points. Christ physically resurrected from the dead, and showed that those faithful to Christ would be forgiven of sins.

Saint Paul, Byzantine ivory relief, 6th – earl...

Image via Wikipedia

Paul was an ancient man, who thought that Adam was also a real man. That was a cultural reality in his lifetime, and so to be culturally relevant, God interacted with those concepts to reveal eternal truths. Just like he did through those who wrote about the pillars of the earth, the netherworld, and the corners of the world. These concepts are not scientifically accurate, but we excuse them because they were culturally relevant at the time. In these cases, the theology is correct–scientific truth is not the point! Similarly, Paul’s use of Adam is not scientifically accurate, but we excuse it because it was culturally relevant in his day. The theology is correct–scientific truth is not the point! So, an evolutionary view does no violence to good theology.

Peter Enns’s book has helped me a great deal (Thanks a lot Dr. Enns!). It’s challenged me to grow, giving me a new theological paradigm. I’ve got to say, it is not a comfortable or easy shift for me to make (…thanks a lot, Dr. Enns!). I’m very uncomfortable even posting this entry, but feel it is necessary to codify my new position. I’ve had to remodel my theology in an important way. I’m very happy with the results but I’m certain folks within my own theological circles will not approve. Still, I think that’s the way personal/theological growth goes.

Categories: Creation | Tags: , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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