Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Longman-Adam Follow-up

The really sad thing about this video clip and the others in the series, is that it is produced and promoted by the Wilberforce Fellowship (, named after William Wilberforce. What these folks apparently fail to realize is that Wilberforce's campaign against slavery was founded on the fact of a single human being, Adam, created in the image of God, from whom the first woman was formed, and from whom all subsequent human beings have descended. This formed the theological basis for Wilberforce's campaign, and the denial of it destroys the force of of Wilberforce's outrage. And if they aren't bothered by Longman's theological waffling about evolution, maybe they need to watch Ben Stein's Expelled for a look at what evolutionary thought leads to.

Longman on Adam, or Why I'm Not Surprised

The following video clip has been making the rounds of Facebook and evangelical and Reformed blogs for the past couple of weeks.

In this clip, Longman denies an historical Adam, seeing rather and evolutionary process at work, and is not even willing to affirm, at the end of an evolutionary process, God setting apart a unique person or persons as the first distinct human beings. Now anyone who has read much of Longman knows that he has little confidence in the historical reliability of the Bible, so these conclusions should not be surprising.

But let us examine his views a little more closely. Aside from the fact that he clearly has bought into the whole evolution thing, he is obviously greatly influenced by Ancient Near Eastern materials, arguing that the Bible is simply using ANE categories to talk about the creation of man. Many of the ANE creation myths are readily available in such anthologies as James B. Pritchard's The Ancient Near East, Vol. 1: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures or Documents from Old Testament Times by D. Winton Thomas (out in a new edition in 2005). SO you can read for yourself. Then ask yourself the question: Does Genesis 1-2 sound like these ANE materials? If you can honestly say yes, then you can agree with Longman. However, the differences are far more striking than the similarities, not only in content but in style. Only if someone is already convinced that the Israelite material is essentially unoriginal, and was more or less borrowed from its ANE neighbors can Longman's thesis stand.

Further, his dismissal of virtually the whole history of not only Christian, but Jewish, interpretation of Genesis as simply "literalistic" is arrogant beyond belief. Such arrogance can only be sustained by isolation in a cultural setting in which you can dismiss all those who disagree with you as intellectual troglodytes and get away with it.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

On Avoiding Over-Interpretation

This post was provoked by a student's request for some guidelines after some remarks I made in class about the danger of over-interpreting the Bible. I thought the comments might be more generally useful. If you follow this advice, you should save yourself from any major embarrassment in the pulpit.

First, use some common sense. If it sounds like it might be overly interpretive, it probably is, especially if you are a beginning student in the languages.

Second, make sure you know the grammar. By this, I don't mean that you've memorized Wallace's Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics or Waltke-O'Connor's Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax. Instead, I mean that you have made use of the indices to look up the particular passage you're working on, or you've studied the particular construction you're interested in beyond what you might have picked up in your beginning language course. Grammar won't answer every question, or solve every dispute, but it will keep the beginner from making stupid mistakes out of ignorance.

Third, make sure you know the lexicography. If you're dealing with a particular word, or even a context, make sure you have consulted one of the major reference lexica. By this I don't mean Thayer's for Greek, or Gesenius for Hebrew. Unfortunately, I mean Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich-Danker for Greek, and the Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament for Hebrew. Yes, I realize the former is $120.00 in hard cover, and the latter is $216.00 from CBD. But these are resources that you will use for a long time. In addition, they may be available for your Bible software at a somewhat reduced price. Also, by "consulted," I don't mean that you looked up the word and scanned through the discussion for the meaning you want. What I mean is you read through the entry; you have considered the possible connotations of the word, and you have considered the limitations on those possibilities made by context. It is true that BAGD and HALOT are not inerrant, and academic specialists certainly have quibbles with particular entries, but again, they can keep beginners from stupid mistakes. All that being said, there is still a place for Thayer's and for the Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon, especially as a place for beginners to start. The big reference lexica can be daunting for beginners who are overawed by the crowded page and the cryptic abbreviations that they present. In addition, with regard to BDB, the articles on the prepositions are mines of information in themselves. The beginner will learn a great deal about the functioning of the prepositions in Hebrew syntax from those essays.

Fourth, make sure you're familiar with the commentary literature. Again, I don't mean here that you have read all the commentaries on the passage, but rather that you have read a representative sample, enough to know the parameters on the meaning of the passage. Two caveats here. First, don't begin with the commentaries. Work through the passage yourself first, and be pretty comfortable with your understanding, then consult the commentaries. Second, most students read too many commentaries. My rule of thumb is 3-4, with maybe as many as 6 on a particularly difficult passage. Make sure that the commentaries you choose represent a variety of types. You should have at least one pre-critical commentary on your list. You should also have one that deals with technical matters of language and text. Then you should have one that is more sensitive to the theology of the text. Types two and three rarely co-exist within the same covers. Further, the pre-critical commentaries are generally much more aware of the theology and overall biblical context of the passage than are more recent ones.