How evangelical doctrine and Biblical inerrancy can distort the Bible and Jesus

Most christians have been taught to reverence the Bible. This has been especially true of Protestant christianity. The Reformation was built on the doctrine of sola scriptura (by scripture alone). And when conservative christianity felt threatened by evolution, liberal theology and modernist thinking in the 19th century, it developed a statement of “the fundamentals”, one of which was the inerrancy of scripture.

It was designed to preserve the essentials of evangelical faith from attack. It probably did that for a while. Yet I believe it has contributed to a distortion of the Bible and the message of Jesus.

The logic of dogma

The distorting effects of the doctrine of inerrancy occur via several logical steps.

  1. If the whole Bible is without error, then every part of it must be consistent with every other part.
  2. There are many apparent anomalies – apparent differences in teachings and accounts of events – but these anomalies must be illusory.
  3. Therefore christians should seek explanations for apparent discrepancies, and find ways to fit all Biblical teachings into their doctrine.
  4. This is done by “comparing scripture with scripture”, and so re-interpreting some anomalous scriptures to conform with the clearer scriptures.
  5. In this way, the scriptures are harmonised.

That’s the theory. In reality, dogma is developed from a subset of the scriptures congenial to the doctrinal system, and difficult parts of the Bible get explained away. I recall one rather blatant example from my youth.

I had a Reformed commentary on 1 Timothy, and in chapter 2 it was faced with explaining “God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved” (verses 3-4). This of course is a difficult text for reformed (Calvinist) theology, which holds that God only chooses some people for salvation. But the commentator had an “interesting” way to explain away this verse.

It started with 2:1, which urges “petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people”. The commentary suggested that none of us could possibly pray for “all people” (???), so clearly Paul meant “all kinds of people”. It wasn’t too difficult to accept that without thinking too hard. But that meant, when the commentator got to 2:3-4, he could draw on this conclusion and say that clearly Paul meant that God wants “all kinds of people” to be saved.

And so the supposedly infallible scriptures were changed in meaning to fit the commentator’s reformed theology.

Let me give five more serious examples from evangelical doctrine.

Five examples where the Bible is truncated

1. Scripture tells more than one story

The idea that the scriptures give consistent teaching from cover to cover is a modern western cover-up. They manifestly don’t. Examples of divergences are easy to find (see Reconstructing how we see the Bible) – here are just two:

  • Chapters 1-12 of the book of Joshua narrate how the incoming Israelites totally defeated the Canaanites, with 31 cities named as being captured. But chapters 13-24 tell a different story, of slow assimilation with occasional battles. Nine cities which were earlier said to have been captured are now stated not to have been captured at all. There are two accounts, and the two tell quite different stories.
  • There are numerous examples of teachings in the Law of Moses being changed and corrected by the prophets. One example is the Torah teaching that God will punish children for the sins of their fathers (Exodus 20:5, Deuteronomy 5:9), but Ezekiel (18:17-19) corrects this by saying God doesn’t do this.

This seems to have been how the Jewish people approached their faith. They allowed different teachings, different interpretations, to sit side by side, apparently to round out their perspective and understanding. The doctrine that all scripture tells one story is imposed by evangelicals on a Bible that is quite different.

And so we miss something of what God has given us in our scriptures.

2. The New Testament refines the Old

This is a particularly important example of the Bible telling more than one story.

When Jesus and the New Testament writers quoted the Old Testament, they did not always do it literally or accurately. Sometimes they omitted sections or changed the meaning significantly. Often they updated or developed the Old Testament teachings. They certainly didn’t treat it as a text that had one meaning that could never be changed or questioned. Three examples:

  • Most of us are familiar with the fact that Jesus updated OT commandments on murder, adultery, divorce and revenge in Matthew 5, and established a new covenant in the Last Supper (Luke 22:20). But Paul also said the Old Testament Law, including the Ten Commandments, was now superseded by the way of Jesus and the Spirit (e.g. Romans 7:6-7, 2 Corinthians 3:6) and the writer of Hebrews says the old covenant in the Old Testament is “obsolete” (Hebrews 8:13).
  • In John 10:34-36 Jesus quotes Psalm 82 totally out of context to make a completely different point to what it actually says. This was not an aberration, but part of the way Jewish teachers of his day used their scriptures.
  • Both Jesus (in Luke 4:18) and Paul (in Romans 15:9-10, 12:19-21 and 3:10-18), when referencing Old Testament passages, omit sections or reinterpret them to remove sayings on God’s vengeance and instead stress God’s love, mercy and forgiveness and his intention to restore rather than punish.

These are important developments in God’s revelation, and we can easily miss them if we start from the dogmatic position that all scripture is equal and tells the one story.

3. Jesus’ mission was much more than to die for sin

Jesus’ atoning death on the cross is the key focus of evangelical teaching and evangelism. It is an important teaching, but this emphasis can easily obscure the fact that Jesus’ mission was even bigger than that.

When the earliest Gospel writer, Mark, records the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he describes it as the “good news” (the word was normally used for the announcement of the coming of a king) of the coming of the kingdom of God on earth (Mark 1:15). Scholars agree that the kingdom of God, not his atoning death, was Jesus’ main message, and that he saw himself as the Messiah, God’s agent in establishing his kingdom, or his reign on earth.

Luke elaborates on this when he records Jesus teaching in the Nazareth synagogue (Luke 4:18-21) and his answer to John the Baptist’s enquiry (Luke 7:20-22). In both cases Jesus describes his Messianic ministry as one of restoration – good news for the poor, healing for the sick, freedom for the oppressed, etc. God already rules in heaven, but now he calls us to join Jesus in bringing God’s rule of justice and peace on earth.

Of course atonement is a necessary part of that, but it isn’t anywhere near the whole picture. We are not just saved from sin and its consequences, but we are restored in our relationship with God and given the wonderful calling to bring justice and peace on earth. Paul sees the culmination of God’s kingdom as nothing less than the restoration of the whole universe (Romans 8:18-25).

The evangelical emphasis on sin and personal salvation obscures all this “grand plan”. It too easily leaves well-meaning christians sitting quietly in church and Bible study with their ticket to heaven clutched tightly in hand, and missing entirely that Jesus’ gospel is not just about their salvation, but about restoration and shalom. Passages calling for justice and mercy action are downplayed and the Bible’s and Jesus’ messages are distorted.

4. Grace, faith and works

Salvation by grace, through faith, is a fundamental of reformation theology and of the New Testament (e.g. Ephesians 2:8-9). But in their eagerness to avoid the excesses of the Roman Catholic church at the time, the reformers were so diligent in interpreting scripture in the light of their doctrines of sola fide and sola gratia that Protestant christians ever since have tended to ignore or downplay passages with a different message.

But there are plenty of scriptures that emphasise the importance of obedience and good deeds in the kingdom and in salvation, for example:

  • In the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46), Jesus says quite definitely and clearly that our eternal future depends on how we treated “the least of these” people.
  • James says our faith is dead (and presumably useless) if it isn’t accompanied by good deeds (James 2:14-26).
  • Jesus says he wants us to respond to him not just with words, but with deeds (Matthew 21:28-32), and the way we show our love for him is via obedience (John 15:10).

I have been considering this matter for some time, and don’t feel I have yet reached a satisfactory understanding of God’s requirements for faith and good deeds. But evangelical theology ignores the problem and the scriptures that challenge the prevailing evangelical dogma, and so presumably misses some of what Jesus wants us to know.

5. Theories of the atonement

Jesus died to save us from our sin. That is a fundamental christian truth. But how does it work?

The Bible only gives hints as to how it works:

  1. A sin sacrifice to satisfy God’s justice (e.g. Romans 3:25).
  2. A defeat for the devil and all evil (Hebrews 2:14-15).
  3. Jesus is our representative who opens up the way to eternal life for the rest of us (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).
  4. Jesus’ death is a loving example for us to follow (1 Peter 2:21).

All these ideas, and more (there are actually more than a dozen theories of how the atonement works) have been used by christians over two millennia to give different perspectives on the meaning of Jesus’ death.

Unfortunately, in the last century or so, the doctrine of Penal Substitutionary Atonement (more or less corresponding to my #1 above) has been taken up by many conservative churches as the compulsory doctrinal explanation, with the result that other understandings can get lost. This despite the conclusion of such luminaries as CS Lewis, JI Packer and Leon Morris that no one explanation is compulsory and we need all explanations to have a balanced picture.

This is important!

These 5 issues are not trivial! They are key to an understanding of the Bible and Jesus, and our response.

And the common evangelical practice of re-interpreting anomalous scriptures to agree with their own dogma is leading to a truncated understanding of what God has done and is doing in the world.

It is no wonder that many christians are deconstructing their faith, reconsidering what is God’s truth and what is human dogma.

But we must be cautious. I believe much of what most of us have been taught (e.g. the teachings contained in the Apostles Creed) is still correct and found in scripture. For me, that reinforces the importance of also reconstructing our faith on a better foundation.

And that is what I am currently focusing on in this blog.

Read more about faith deconstruction and reconstruction

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons

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20 thoughts on “How evangelical doctrine and Biblical inerrancy can distort the Bible and Jesus

  1. rwwilson147 says:

    UncleE, I do enjoy reading your blogs, which are always interesting and challenging.

    As usual, I am inclined to push back a bit. In particular, I’d suggest that you may not be fully aware of the whole spectrum of the Evangelical theology on which you focus. I don’t have any problem with criticizing Evangelical traditions, the rationalizing absolutisms are easy targets. The problem for me comes in straw man characterizations, however based in real examples one might have encountered and by which one might have been mislead. Nevertheless, Evangelicalism, or more appropriately those who despite its problems still identify as evangelical, include some of the finest minds, hearts, and spirits with whom we can interact intellectually. In my estimation there are no excellent and faithful examples of intellectuals or scholars that identify as Progressive. OK, so I still identify as one who is committed to the evangel, the good news, of Jesus; and am absolutely certain I will not progress beyond witnessing to that good news as contained in scripture.

    Which brings me to my main point and concern in relation to your post. One can deal with all the issues with which we are confronted in trying to understand the sometimes divergent and possibly even contradictory elements of biblical texts and history in positive or negative ways. If one’s argumentation leads to faith in Christ and confidence in the works and promises of God then that is a good thing. But if one emphasizes the problems, discontinuities, and difficulties in understanding how God might be behind and inherently responsible for the very texts we have, and one’s arguments appear to be undermining any possible positive approach to faith in Christ, that is not good.

    Think carefully about how your words might impact the thinking and faith of others.

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  2. tildeb says:

    You have my sympathies, unkleE: like so much of today’s problems created by ideologies and the claims they rely on that are incompatible and contrary to what’s actually the case, pointing out this problem is the real problem!

    “Think carefully,” says our concerned Red Guard RWWilson147, “about how your words might impact the thinking and faith (in the ideology) of others.”

    That’s what makes you a dangerous person, you see, someone willing to undermine the ideology by using what’s true as a defense. And we can’t have that. That’s makes your actions, your words, morally suspect, you see. Therefore, this willingness to point out the problem caused by incorrect claims upon which an ideology relies makes you someone not worth listening to!

    It’s all so 1984ish; what’s true doesn’t matter (obviously, scripture is not innerant because scripture itself contains all kinds of incompatibilities) and so holding respect for this evidence from reality and daring to say as much is the real problem that must be overcome. Think of the poor little ideology you are undermining and those poor little believers in it who might be threatened by what’s true! Bad unkleE. Bad.

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  3. Heather says:

    Great post! I really appreciate your balanced and insightful take on this. It’s something that’s definitely missing in the evangelical/fundamental church.

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  4. unkleE says:

    Hi RWW, I appreciate your comments, and welcome the pushback. But I will push back in return.

    I agree there are some fine minds and some good people in evangelicalism, and I wouldn’t ever suggest otherwise. I owe my start in the faith to some of them. But contrary to you, I also think there are many admirable “progressive” christians.

    And I agree with you that we need to be careful how we address contentious issues. But the fact is that good people are walking out the church door because they see the anomalies and don’t see any answers. I believe there are answers, and we need to share them.

    In the end, the important question is “what is the truth?” Have I quoted the scriptures fairly? I think I have. I haven’t rejected many evangelical doctrines, I uphold the Apostles Creed, but I have pointed to a number of scriptures that are commonly ignored, downplayed or explained away. Surely it can only be helpful to draw attention to neglected scriptural teachings?

    So, is there anything I have said that you think is unfair or incorrect?

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  5. unkleE says:

    Hi Tildeb, it seems RWW has aggravated you. I appreciate your sympathy and your judgment that I am “using what’s true as a defense”, but I think your mockery goes close to crossing the line I’ve set out in my Comment Policy. Please make your points without negative personal comments.

    I think too that you are unfair to RWW. He and I would agree, I imagine, on more than we would disagree, and I respect his viewpoint even while I disagree with some things. He is willing to engage and discuss courteously, and those are qualities I appreciate, especially on the internet, and he quite clearly doesn’t think I am “not worth listening to”.

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  6. tildeb says:

    The reasoning used by RWW for his argument is faulty. Innerancy has to be without error. Pointing out errors of compatibility demonstrates innerancy to be an incorrect claim. It has nothing whatsoever to do with ‘good’.RWW uses the moral stick here. I am simply replying to it.

    What gets me is the introduction of a moral responsibility by RWW that defines ‘good’ as anything that promotes the faith, suggesting that demonstrating why the innerant claim is false is “not good” if it undermines the faith-in-Christ – a point RWW implies is related to innerancy… a point that demonstrates the concern isn’t about respecting what’s true about the claim of innerancy but about undermining the faith.

    This is a textbook example of apologetics-in-action that assumes faith morally trumps respecting what’s true. That assumption is worth criticizing for all kinds of legitimate reasons.

    And this the identical problem of casting/hinting/suggesting moral aspersions on anyone who questions the assumption in today’s ‘progressive’ ideology other than religion, that questioning and doubting certain fundamental claims of the ideology shown to be incorrect by reality is the problem rather than the incorrect claims themselves based on not aligning with what’s true.

    You will find the same kind of moral warning RWW ends his comment with in twitter conflicts daring to criticize some incorrect assumption about a favoured ideology, usually something along the lines of “criticizing such and such about the ideology is defined to be racist or bigoted by ideologues so for you to be or remain a good person means you must put your faith in the ideology ahead of concerning yourself with what’s true and, of course, Do Better.”

    This form of argument is worth criticizing every time it rears its head.

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  7. rwwilson147 says:

    Yes, there are, undoubtably, admirable progressive christians, but I haven’t found any leading theologians/thinkers of that tribe that appear to be content to just affirm what the New Testament says, or what it seems to say to me and other evangelicals. The very meaning of “progressive” inherently implies the practice of going beyond what is taught in the scriptures in order to uphold some “progressive” principle of other. An example of this is the “pacifist” evangelicals, who are practicing progressive principles and being disowned by evangelicals because they don’t believe the Old Testament portrayals of the character of God/YahWeh were true and valid perspectives on who God “really is” according to their perception of how Jesus portrayed God. To do this they not only invalidate massive portions of Old Testament “revelation” of God and his will and commands, but don’t include everything the New Testament says Jesus taught and believed. This is, of course, a cart leading the horse kind of hermeneutic. So, if there are progressive theologians whose teaching you think worthy of ingesting and emulating I’d love to read some of what they say. Please name a few.

    Yes, many are leaving the pews of the church, and some for want of reasonable answers to their trenchant questions. But are the answers we are giving leading to faith, or just to some kind of intellectual numbness that passes for faith. It isn’t a simple matter for anyone in our secularized post-christian culture to believe God can do the things he is said to have done in past sacred history. However, people are believing and experiencing things just like those in the New Testament around the world in cultures that are not in bondage to secular intellectual sophistries, so the contrast is important. We can’t answer unanswerable questions posed by those whose presuppositions determine the outcome of their reasoning; we probably shouldn’t try. If we want to appear to skeptical thinkers as agreeing that their unreasonable assaults on revelatory realities are justified then we will never be able to get back to positively affirming the validity of the supernatural realities we must inevitably affirm as believers in Christ. It just won’t happen. This is why I am more and more convinced that if we focus on the “problems” and “contradictions” of scripture rather than the “solutions and resolutions” of scripture we are doing a disservice to Christ and his gospel.

    I’m no fan of Christian “tradition” _per se_; even the Apostles Creed is post canonical, after all. I’m a radical scripturalist. There is a two millennia long accretion of traditions that are more harmful than helpful, and a lot of that has been incorporated into evangelical doctrines unfortunately. I get that. Articulate the pure and positive gospel and people will be called by God to believe and affirm what is said. Focussing on the arguments used by those who mostly oppose the true gospel, even as a means of garnering “buy in” to a potential restructuring of beliefs, as many post-evangelicals are doing, and you may not ever get to a clear rendering of the truths of scripture.

    OK, here goes. The scriptural story most certainly conveys a unified story; not one of the New Testament texts suggest anything but that. Yes, there are different “stories” told in the Old Testament, and not all of them agree in every detail. This is obviously true in the New Testament too. Is this actually a serious problem? Or is it a major problem mainly for those who don’t want to believe or want to find justifications for their unbelief?

    That Old Testament texts are not just used in the New Testament “literally or accurately” is true and false. Yes, the literal meaning of the texts are applied sometimes in a symbolic, metaphoric, free rendering mode in light of the new actions of God in and through Christ. So, who is committed to a wooden “literal” reading of the Old Testament? Not the evangelicals I know.

    Paul no where denies the ongoing validity of the Ten Commandments—in fact he affirms their validity in numerous ways. Yes, the writer of Hebrews explicitly considers the priestly laws obsolete because God has established an eternal priest to fill all those functions under the new covenant. God foretold that he would establish a new covenant (see Jeremiah 31) and that he would send a new lawgiver like Moses (Deut. 18).

    I really don’t think it is true that “the evangelical emphasis on sin and personal salvation obscures all this “grand plan”. Sure it can and sometimes has, but by and large evangelical theologians, even Calvin, don’t do that. Again, I don’t think it is true that “passages calling for justice and mercy action are downplayed and the Bible’s and Jesus’ messages are distorted.” Just not my experience in studying among evangelicals. I don’t know which evangelical theologians you’ve been reading, but I don’ think it is true that “evangelical theology ignores the problem” of doing good, the problem of “good works.” All of the texts to which you refer are often dealt with directly in the evangelical thinkers I’ve read, and even by the the average conservative Christians with whom I have interacted.

    Yup, Penal Substitutionary Atonement has been overemphasized. I’ll give you that one. On the other hand, the various metaphors we find in scripture are also often affirmed as well. See Scot McKnight: Jesus Creed, A Community Called Atonement; Stanley Hauerwas, Richard B. Hayes, N. T. Wright, and those you reference: CS Lewis, J.I. Packer and Leon Morris, etc. With this, you make a good point but it is one numerous evangelical theologians, if not most, have been making for decades, at least. Reconstruction of our beliefs is an important Protestant/Evangelical doctrine: _Semper Reformandi/a_always reforming. Despite your criticisms of the evangelical tradition you seem to be trying to do exactly what it has always said was necessary.
    Kudos. 8>)

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  8. unkleE says:

    Hi Tildeb, I have no problem with you critiquing RWW’s views, I was only concerned about the personal mockery. I would probably agree with some of what you say here, and disagree with some, but I’ll take those matters up with him. But I think you may miss the fact that psychologists say that all of us use both analytical and intuitive thinking, and that each is best in different situations.

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  9. unkleE says:

    G’day RWW, thanks for your extensive comments. I think it is useful to have this discussion.

    I want to start my response by pointing out a fundamental misunderstanding I think you have. You infer that your/the evangelical viewpoint is true to scripture and the progress/my viewpoint is not, in phrases like “just affirm what the New Testament says” and “progressive” inherently implies the practice of going beyond what is taught in the scriptures in order to uphold some “progressive” principle of other”.

    Let me be very clear.

    1. I have no interest in arguing for “progressive” theologians or approaches – “progressive” is just a word which we haven’t even defined. I am arguing simply for truth.

    2. I think evangelicals have made assumptions about scripture that are unjustified by the evidence of scripture itself (e.g.that it tells one story, that it is inerrant or close to it, that it should be interpreted in a quasi scientific/historical/literal manner, etc). From those assumptions they have built a theological edifice that requires them to distort and ignore some scriptures which, if allowed to speak, undermine their theology. So they do NOT just affirm what the Bible says at all.

    (I think human theologising tends to have this effect of overlaying layers of human thought on the scriptures. The reformers rebelled against this in the Catholic Church, but now we need to re-set because 500 years of protestantism has built up such layers again.)

    3. I am trying to avoid those errors, so I am pointing out the scriptures which undermine that edifice. I do this not because I am some trendy postmodernist (I am about to turn 74!), but because my wife and I read the scriptures together almost every day, we discuss them and study them and pray about them, and that process has led us to see a whole bunch of truths that are contrary to the evangelical doctrine.

    4. So if I am undermining anyone’s faith, it is because that faith is based on an evangelical theological construction that is contrary to scripture. I am simply pointing that out. The sooner evangelicalism recognises this and starts teaching a more scriptural and Holy Spirit teaching, the sooner we we reduce these faith issues.

    5. Therefore the way to show I am wrong isn’t to accuse me of some modernist motivations to avoid scripture or go beyond it, but to show me where my scriptural references and the points I draw from them are wrong.

    So now to briefly address a few particular examples in your comment:

    “they don’t believe the Old Testament portrayals of the character of God/YahWeh were true and valid perspectives on who God “really is” according to their perception of how Jesus portrayed God”

    But Jesus and Paul, and the prophets before them, are the ones who have invalidated those portrayals. Check out my page Reconstructing how we see the Bible for many examples of this. The distortion come from evangelicals insisting on a doctrine that all scripture is equally valid and applicable, when scripture itself shows that it is an unfolding revelation.

    “Paul no where denies the ongoing validity of the Ten Commandments”

    I don’t think this is true. He several times talks of the law as replaced by the new way of the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:6, Romans 7:6-7), and the Romans passage specifically applies this to one of the Ten Commandments. Jesus in Luke 16:16 and Hebrews 8:13 say the same.

    “arguments used by those who mostly oppose the true gospel”

    What is the “true gospel”? For evangelicals, it is the “Romans Road” of sin and salvation, but even Paul says it is more than that (Romans 2:12-16 & 8:18-23), and Jesus’ gospel is way more than that (Mark 1:14-15, Luke 4:16-21, 7:18-23). Again, the evangelicals are truncating the totality of scripture.

    “the writer of Hebrews explicitly considers the priestly laws obsolete”

    Where in scripture do you find the distinction between different aspects of the Law (moral, ceremonial, priestly, etc)? I think scripture says it all stands or falls together. I think this is another evangelical fudge to gloss over the fact that they want to hold onto some parts of the law and not others.

    “the problem of “good works.” All of the texts to which you refer are often dealt with directly in the evangelical thinkers “

    In my experience, evangelicals explain away passages like Matthew 25:31-46 and James 2. These passages don’t conform to their doctrine of salvation by grace through faith, so rather than seek a way to honour the plain meaning of these passages, they re-interpret them to fit their doctrine.

    I think that’s enough. I hope you can see that I really am trying to interpret scripture in the way it is meant, by the authors and by the Spirit. Thanks.

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  10. rwwilson147 says:

    1. First, let me say that I don’t think I have an evangelical viewpoint over against a progressive one. Nor do I necessarily think you have a progressive one; even though you seem to assert that you do, because as you say, it is: “just a word which we haven’t even defined.” I described myself as a “scripturalist,” which is like agreeing with the “scripture alone” dictum of the magisterial reformers in contrast to the “scripture plus church tradition” view of the Roman Catholic church. The always reforming dictum is a good one for all of us, myself included, so I don’t think I have a viewpoint that is “true to scripture” whereas others aren’t. If I’m mistaken I truly desire to be assisted in a more accurate understanding of what scripture teaches; I appreciate your efforts in that direction.

    BTW, grammatically speaking I would “imply” rather than “infer” that my views were “true to scripture” over against others that were not, but I didn’t quite say that mine were true and others’ weren’t, so you inferred that I was saying that but I didn’t mean to imply that. As noted, “progressing” somewhere implies that something is being left behind, whereas “conserving” something implies staying with what already is, which is what evangelicals seek to do. These linguistic definitional differences are not insignificant; and I think that is the truth. 8>)

    2. I tend to think that what you are portraying as evangelical is more properly described as fundamentalist. These definitions go back to the fundamentalist versus modernist theological debates and distinctions of early last century, and they have lead to some rather absolutist pronouncements about scripture in particular thereafter–that way of think has reverberations in our contemporary discussions as well. That seems to be what you are arguing against, rather than evangelical theology as it exists today (some do hold view such as you disparage, but not most, at least those with whom I am conversant.) On the other hand I altogether agree with you that there are layers of merely human protestant tradition that need to be overcome, circumvented, decried, debated, dispatched, disparaged, etc., etc. No question about that. Just wanting to avoid throwing out the faith in baby Jesus (and in the eternal Christ) with the bathwater of reform.

    3. So, again, the aspects of those traditions that you are objecting to are not held by the majority of evangelicals as far as I know, and suggesting they are, is as I implied, a bit of a straw man argument. There is no particular teaching that can be identified as and discarded as “the evangelical doctrine.” That is what I’m trying to suggest is unhelpful because saying things like that does seem to put you definitively in some other camp. I don’t think identifying as a progressive and adhering to the thinking of that tribe will get you or your readers closer to scriptural fidelity.

    4. So whose “evangelical theological construction” … “is contrary to scripture”?

    5. I didn’t “accuse [you] of some modernist motivations to avoid scripture or go beyond it.” My apologies if I even suggested that. What I said was that is what the progressive christians I’d heard or read say and do.

    Sorry, but to say that “Jesus and Paul, and the prophets before them, are the ones who have invalidated those [Old Testament] portrayals [of God]” is, unfortunately, an extremely revisionist statement historically speaking. None of the New Testament texts say anything like that, and in every way possible imply quite the opposite.

    As one example of where you are mistaken, I’d point to is when you say that Romans 7:6-7 says that the new way of the spirit has replaced the OT Law—Paul clearly says that he knew what coveting meant because of the Law that proscribed it. This is not replacement but affirmation and incorporation.

    I have to go help a brother move his stuff tomorrow morning so need to quit here, but hope to come back to respond to other things you’ve said later.

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  11. unkleE says:

    Hi, thanks for that. I’ll look forward to your further response, but just a few comments now.

    I think we can put the word “progressive” aside. I didn’t use it in this post, I only used it in another post to describe a broad range of ideas. I do think it means moving forward, but not from scripture to some other view, but to an interpretation of the New Testament that is truer to the original intention and truer to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Since you don’t believe in the Trinity, I’m not sure what you think about the Spirit’s leading. But I’m not pushing a defined viewpoint I call “progressive” so I think we can leave that aside.

    But since I have used the word “evangelical”, I should try to make myself clear there. I am using it in a broad sense, not a narrow one. It includes all Protestants who hold to fairly conservative views of scripture – fundamentalists, reformed, conservative, evangelical, etc. Perhaps I should have used the word “conservative”, but to me “evangelical” covers that territory the best. But really, my targets are best understood from the examples I give – christians and churches who supposedly value the Bible, but actually value their assumptions about Bible uniformity and their dogma more. They allow scripture to interpret scripture in a way that negates many passages and themes and leads to a distortion of some of what Jesus and the apostles thought and said.

    I think most Protestant churches and preachers/writers do that to some degree, and it is the practice, not the person that I am aiming at. That is why I haven’t mentioned any names in a negative way.

    “an extremely revisionist statement historically speaking”

    I am simply going by what the passages say. Ezekiel and Hosea really do give a different teaching to what was given before by the Torah and by Elisha. Jesus as recorded by Luke really does pointedly omit a statement about revenge from his reading. Paul in Romans really does take passages about God’s vengeance and turn them into passages about love and forgiveness. (And there are other examples.) What do you mean?

    “As one example of where you are mistaken, I’d point to is when you say that Romans 7:6-7 says that the new way of the spirit has replaced the OT Law”

    Paul writes: “we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” That is pretty clear!

    Then to illustrate that the law wasn’t sinful or bad (it was good for its time, but its time isn’t now), he uses an example from the 10 Commandments, making clear that when he says we are released from the Law, and no longer serve in the way of the written code, he included the 10 Commandments in that.

    That same thought is in 1 Cor 3:6, and in Hebrews 8:13 which says: “By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.” Again, pretty clear.

    And Jesus says the same thing in Luke 16:16: “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it.”

    The old covenant and the Law have played their part and are now obsolete, we need to move on. And that means there is progression in God’s revelation, some parts have less value for us now and we need to let go of dogma that assumes otherwise.

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  12. rwwilson147 says:

    RWW: The term progressive undoubtedly applies to a “broad range of ideas.” The progressive “christian” theology I have encountered has generally moved forward to interpretations of the New Testament that frequently has only a tangential relationship to the New Testament because its advocates believe that every interpretation is merely another interpretation. Hence any view that isn’t in conformity to the new “truer” interpretation is not as valid as the “truer to the original intention and truer to what the Spirit is saying to the churches” new interpretation. (Not every progressive christian thinks just this way of course) Unfortunately, this new interpretation typically doesn’t actually adhere to the “whole counsel” of what the New Testament texts actually say. There is a divergence between the symbolic abstractions of the new “truer” interpretations progressives tend to assert and what the texts say. I can get into examples of this with ease.

    You said “Since you don’t believe in the Trinity, I’m not sure what you think about the Spirit’s leading.”

    RWW: I don’t think I’ve ever said I don’t believe in “the trinity.” I do believe in the Spirit of God’s leading, however, and wouldn’t have any confidence in believing much of anything if I didn’t. So there is that, but a long conversation on all that would just lead us inevitably, if we were to be honest, to the conclusion that we really don’t know much about the true and absolute nature of God, or the “God Head.”

    I would absolutely love to “leave that [definition of progressive] aside. But I don’t think we can since it is embedded in the theological landscape through which we journey.

    Sure, there are definite, describable, and criticizable aspects of evangelical theology that need to be critiqued. But what is true of evangelicals is also true at least as much so with progressives, and even more so with liberals or fundamentalists. It is perhaps the case with all of us as you say of evangelicals: “they allow scripture to interpret scripture in a way that negates many passages and themes and leads to a distortion of some of what Jesus and the apostles thought and said.” Good point that needs to be applied more broadly.

    You say “Ezekiel and Hosea really do give a different teaching to what was given before by the Torah and by Elisha.” That may not be easy to verify considering the fact that those who have included them in the canon, Christian and Jew, would not have done so if they thought what you say here were true.

    Yes, “Jesus as recorded by Luke really does pointedly omit a statement about revenge from his reading.” But perhaps not as pointedly as you assume or in order to make the point you are trying to make; that might be a bit of a stretch.

    You may want to reflect a bit on your “that is pretty clear!” understanding of what Paul was saying since that is the kind of affirmation fundamentalists use to affirm their presupposed interpretations. Yes, we all do that sometimes. However, “the new way of the Spirit” can also affirm the validity of many aspects of the Old Covenant Law, so there is no simple open and shut case regarding how what Paul says should be interpreted. Jesus said he came to “fulfill the law” and made it even more stringent as he did so. The new Law Giver (Deut. 18:15) has the right to do that; not just anyone claiming to have the Spirit has that right. Your reference to 1 Cor 3:6 may not have been to the verse you intended; it doesn’t make your point. Hebrews 8:13 and Jeremiah 31 do show the way to a new understanding of the New Covenant. But it is not as though we literally no longer need anyone to teach us because we now obviously have the indwelling Holy Spirit whom we can’t resist or contradict. The main message of the letter to the Hebrews is that there is a new high priest who performs all the priestly functions prescribed under the Old Covenant and more as the full expression as the eternal Priest (the Melchizedekian priest). It is the priestly functions under the Old Law that are obsolete, not the whole law. In the New Testament it is not taught that all Old Covenant Law has been declared obsolete. (Cf.Jesus’ affirmation of the Law in Matt. 5, and the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 regarding gentiles); some many things still apply. Yes, the priestly Law is obsolete; Hebrews does not say the moral aspects of the Law are. Jesus certainly can’t without extreme application of presupposed principles be understood to mean that all Old Covenant Law is obsolete.

    Sure, let go of anything not affirmed as still valid by the teaching of Jesus and his most immediate disciples and representatives in New Testament canon, but hold fast to everything Jesus did teach and teach others to do so also (Matt. 28). So, progress beyond what is taught in the New Testament at your own risk; a risk which may be far greater than you suppose.

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  13. unkleE says:

    Hello again,

    I don’t think I’ll say any more about “progressive”, I’ll just stay with what I think is true.

    Sorry the reference should have been 2 Cor 3:6, not 1 Cor.

    “those who have included them in the canon, Christian and Jew, would not have done so if they thought what you say here were true.”

    I think this is the sort of thing that people say because it seems true to us, but it isn’t Biblical. Consider:

    * Proverbs 26:4 and 26:5 are right next to each other, and contradict each other. Yet the compiler didn’t seem concerned.

    * Ezekiel 26 predicts the entire destruction of Tyre by Nebuchadrezzar, who would ride his horse in the streets, yet Ezekiel 29 recognises this didn’t happen. (Alexander did later destroy the city.) But whoever wrote or compiled Ezekiel had no problems including both chapters.

    * Genesis contains creation accounts that are not totally consistent, yet both were included, apparently without worrying the compilers.

    * Joshua contains two quite different and at times contradictory accounts of Israelite settlement/invasion in Canaan, apparently without concerning the author/compiler(s).

    So what you say isn’t born out by the evidence. None of these discrepancies may be important, but they illustrate that you have not based your statement on scripture. The Jews seemed to be OK with having alternate and conflicting information, for they viewed their scriptures differently to modern westerners.

    As for the rest, I think you are using the sort of arguments I am opposing here, arguments that explain away scripture. You throw doubt on the plain meaning of NT passages without offering any justification. (And there are plenty more – see The Old Testament Law and christians.)

    As far as I know, Hebrews (and the Bible elsewhere) doesn’t distinguish between different parts of the law. Can you show me a clear reference? I can show you references to the contrary: Jesus in Matthew 5:18, James 2:10 and perhaps Galatians 5:2-3.

    Finally, Matthew 5:17-18. On its own, the meaning is arguable. It sounds like he is upholding the Law, but he also says he is fulfilling it, which has the connotation of bringing it to an end. But the parallel passage in Luke 16:16-17 shows the latter reading (fulfil = bring to an end) is the better one.

    I don’t suggest all this is obvious or the only scriptural view, but I am saying it is found all through the NT and there is not much against it, except tradition and those who re-interpret scripture without justification. I fear, despite your protestations, that you are doing that.

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  14. rwwilson147 says:

    We press on.
    Proverbs 26:4 and 26:5 can’t contradict each other because they are wisdom teachings that require application in different contexts; they aren’t declarative statements of historical or doctrinal truth.

    You say: “Ezekiel 26 predicts the entire destruction of Tyre by Nebuchadrezzar, who would ride his horse in the streets, yet Ezekiel 29 recognises this didn’t happen.” However, a quick internet search on this brings up lots of potentially reasonable arguments against such a facile claim for there being a contradiction. I don’t have the time or interest in either defending or supporting claims for either view. I do know that people tend to say things they may not be able to verify in order to make their case for some particular viewpoint, and in doing that they seem to have some agenda or other. I am inclined to think that one can take the side of arguments to undermine confidence in the authority God has given his Word in and through scripture, or one can intentionally do whatever one can to support that God given authority. Are questions like this all a matter of “confirmation bias”? Maybe not, but probably are. This is where Holy Spirit inspired wisdom becomes essential. Yes, it is actually an “are you with me or against me?” question.

    Genesis. Whoooop. I don’t know what that second word means, but I’m guessing that it is probably easier to interpret accurately than Genesis by just about anyone (99.99999%) in our contemporary world. Think about it. Texts meant to convey spiritual meaning to people immersed in cultures of which we don’t have the mere wisp of comprehension are not exactly straightforwardly understood by us. Claiming contradictions in Genesis has got to be the epitome of hubris.

    Joshua. Really? More of the same. Evidence? Were you there? That does, ISTM, apply not just to the time of creation (ie., Genesis), but to the conquest narratives as well (Joshua).

    Ah, I can pretty much agree with you when you say “the Jews seemed to be OK with having alternate and conflicting information, for they viewed their scriptures differently to modern westerners.” So, why would you bring Western (anti-religious?) perspectives to bear against biblical times scriptures?

    I am not at all interesting in or engaging in arguments that “explain away scripture,” but think that others are doing that by bringing rationalistic, antagonistic, dimunizing (made that word up pretty much), arguments against the values, the power, the usefulness, the authority of God through scripture. “You [Me?] throw doubt on the plain meaning of NT passages without offering any justification.” Sorry, that is a rather bizarre claim. I am not the one throwing doubt on the meaning of NT scripture in anything I have said; quite the contrary. Neither did I say there was any clear differentiation between parts of the OT Law, though I think Jesus did something like that when he declared all food “clean.” And I think Hebrews “clearly” implies that the OT Law regarding the priesthood had been superseded by Jesus, the eternal high priest in the order of Melchizedek; it made the distinction, not me.

    When you say “Finally, Matthew 5:17-18. On its own, the meaning is arguable. It sounds like he is upholding the Law, but he also says he is fulfilling it, which has the connotation of bringing it to an end. But the parallel passage in Luke 16:16-17 shows the latter reading (fulfil = bring to an end) is the better one,” you have undermined your whole line of reasoning up to that point. That is actually a counterpoint to what you said before that.

    Peace to all those who are known by and found in Christ.

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  15. unkleE says:

    Hi, it seems to me you have changed the subject here. Recall that I mentioned some discrepancies in OT teaching that show that it isn’t all consistent, and you said “those who have included them in the canon, Christian and Jew, would not have done so if they thought what you say here were true.” I said that wasn’t necessarily the case, especially for the OT, and offered the examples you comment on here. And your response is to more or less agree with me that indeed:

    * Proverbs don’t have to agree;
    * there are explanations of the fact that Ezekiel predicts something that didn’t happen, and didn’t seem to be worried about that;
    * Genesis doesn’t have to be literal history in the western scientific sense because it is a different culture;
    * Joshua does actually quite literally contradict itself at least 9 times, but we can disregard those contradictions because I wasn’t there.

    Then you say “Ah, I can pretty much agree with you when you say “the Jews seemed to be OK with having alternate and conflicting information, for they viewed their scriptures differently to modern westerners.” So, why would you bring Western (anti-religious?) perspectives to bear against biblical times scriptures?”

    That is exactly the point I have been making, and if you believe that, it makes all your “explanations” of the above matters superfluous. If you believe that, then we you can agree with my point that attempts by christians of any persuasion to make the whole OT say the same thing are wrong-headed, because “the Jews seemed to be OK with having alternate and conflicting information, for they viewed their scriptures differently to modern westerners”.

    So do we really agree on that?

    Further, you say “Neither did I say there was any clear differentiation between parts of the OT Law”, but recall that you did actually say “It is the priestly functions under the Old Law that are obsolete, not the whole law.” That is quite a differentiation – parts of the Law that are obsolete and parts that are not (in your view). So that is another place where you seem to be going back on what you said earlier.

    Two other matters briefly:

    1. I asked you for references to the law being composed of parts that can be separated into parts that we should still follow and parts that we cannot. I gave you references to say otherwise. Is it the case that you don’t have any? Hebrews doesn’t say it as far as I can see (I went through all the references), it says the opposite: “By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete”. That isn’t talking about part of the law, it is talking about the covenant, which involved the whole law. Have you any passage that says otherwise?

    2. You seem to be hinting again that I am diminishing God and his scriptures. But let me say again. If the references I have been giving are accurate then I am honouring God and his scriptures by looking at what they actually say, and not avoiding some parts or looking for explanations to fit my dogma. I think those sorts of comments are what is philosophically known as poisoning the well.

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  16. rwwilson147 says:

    Suppose for a moment that we both agree that there are “inconsistencies” in the scriptures. Ah, then we do agree about something because we do think that. So what is your purpose in arguing for inconsistencies? Are there also continuities? If so what are they and why are they important? If flat out inconsistencies lead one to conclude that therefore the scriptures are not trustworthy then why bother with them at all? Isn’t that what most people arguing for the hard truth that scriptures contain untruths are intending us to conclude?

    Your purpose is titled “HOW EVANGELICAL DOCTRINE AND BIBLICAL INERRANCY CAN DISTORT THE BIBLE AND JESUS.”

    Then you muddy the waters seemingly by conflating “Evangelical Doctrine” with fundamentalist traditions. There isn’t one thing that can be identified as “evangelical doctrine.” So debating that isn’t going to get us closer to clarity on why “inerrancy of scripture” is just plain wrong. I do think that was your original intention, perhaps among other things. But you equate evangelical theology with the “doctrine of inerrancy.” Yes, lots of evangelicals do believe in that doctrine, or some variation of it, but it isn’t clear to me why you think that is as big a problem as you suggest.

    To recapitulate:
    Rather than affirming the coherence of the biblical story you start off by trying to refute the idea by saying that “scripture tells more than one story.” So, yes, those who collected, collated, and edited (?) the canon didn’t think they were telling “more than one story.” I don’t think that is changing the subject. It has not seemed to me that you were arguing for affirming ancient Jewish perspectives. It was your stated purpose to undermine and perhaps undo “evangelical” theology perhaps by affirming ancient biblical perspectives. I might have missed your efforts to affirm the validity and coherence of ancient Jewish thinking.

    We may not disagree that it is “wrong-headed” to think that the OT is saying “the same thing” if that thing is that everything was leading to Christ, the Messiah, the revelation of the Son of God, the Jesus of history. That is unquestionably what NT authors thought (however in their own various ways!). I do hope we agree on that!

    Sure, there may be reason to quibble about how to describe aspects of the OT Law that are superseded by Christ, his accomplishments and his teaching, food laws and priestly functions versus other elements, as well as how Paul works out the changes. Its complicated to the point of not being consistent perhaps, right? 8>) God is still working on some of that through us, no doubt.

    As for whether the whole OT law has been made “obsolete” I can only conclude that since Jesus is the new Law giver/revealer, and his teaching has been conveyed to us by the teaching of the apostles through NT scripture, anything they affirm as being still valid is still valid. There are elements of OT morality that are unquestionably confirmed in NT teaching. It isn’t as though they thought the OT was simply obsolete; hence the declarations made in Hebrews and implied in other NT texts regarding priestly aspects of the OT law are apparently to be delimited. You certainly aren’t suggesting that the Ten Commandments are obsolete are you? There are moreover, aspects of the Law that transcend the particularities of the Old Covenant, and there may be reason to consider whether there are various “covenants” even in the OT. Again, its complicated.

    As for Hebrews in particular, is there any passage that says that all of the Old Covenant law had become obsolete? That the Old Covenant has become obsolete doesn’t imply that Old Covenant Law is obsolete. Since Jesus says not a bit of it will pass away until all things are accomplished, I’d want to be a bit cautious about saying something like that. And if I were to get fussy about the text, I’d point out that is says of the Old Covenant that it “is becoming obsolete,” even though it has been made “obsolete.” How’s that for ambivalence?

    I’m certainly not trying to “poison” any well. If your arguments are merely accurate and beyond debate that would be wonderful. If not, then looking for possible resolutions to the problems you are trying to address, ones that at least seem less antagonistic to honoring God, might be more helpful. I am just reflecting the fact that most people who emphasize supposed contradictions and inconsistencies in scripture are actually using their arguments to undermine the authority of God as revealed through scripture, and unquestionably seeking to use them for the sake of their new (non-evangelical) dogmas.

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  17. unkleE says:

    Hi, I’m not sure I have much more to say, and I think I may start repeating myself. I think you are not reacting rightly to all this, but your response is your business, not mine. So I think I will try to summarise what I think and hopefully clarify where I think you are misunderstanding, and we can see if there’s anything more to be said.

    Let’s start be saying again that you are making assumptions and accusations about me that are not correct. I DON’T “start off by trying to refute the idea [the coherence of the biblical story]” and I am not seeking to be “antagonistic to honoring God”.

    I became a christian at age 17 in a reformed and evangelical community. (I suspect evangelical means different things in the US to Australia these days, but let’s be broad in our definitions.) I was taught to believe in the reliability (though not inerrancy) of scripture. I was keen to learn, both doctrine and apologetics, so I read the Bible and I read books. This reading brought up issues that I had to face.

    Gradually a gap opened up between what I had been taught more or less as dogma and what I was learning. I had to decide whether to follow most christians I knew and assume that the gaps were caused by bad intentions (liberal theology, secular thinking, etc) and lack of faith, and so keep on believing the dogma, or to accept the findings of scholarship (whether literary, historical, scientific or whatever) and pursue a new understanding of my beliefs.

    I was strongly influenced by CS Lewis at the time, and I recall reading something he wrote (at least I think it was him): “If God and truth seem to be diverging, follow truth – and you’ll find that was where God was all along.”

    So I read up on evolution and decided it was true. I read New Testament history and found that the Jesus of the historians was more real, believable, exciting and true to the gospels than the Jesus of the churches. I read the OT scholars and found that they had explanations for the sorts of OT issues we have discussed briefly here. I didn’t and don’t accept totally what the scholars say – much of what they say is merely opinion – but where there is a good consensus on fact, I generally accept it.

    With all that in mind, I have come to see the Bible in a new light, especially the OT. Not because I want to dishonour God, but because I want to honour him with truth and I want to understand what it actually is that he has given us in the scriptures. I cannot see how it can dishonour God to prefer what the scriptures actually say and don’t say over a dogmatic assertion that is in places contrary to what the scriptures say. That is why I reference the inconsistencies – not because I want to dwell on inconsistencies, but because they are what shows that some “evangelical” dogma isn’t scriptural.

    You of course have to come to your own conclusions on all that, but to discuss, you need to address the factual issues and not reference dogma alone. So I’ll only briefly comment on what you have written here, to illustrate:

    ”If flat out inconsistencies lead one to conclude that therefore the scriptures are not trustworthy then why bother with them at all?”

    It depends on what you mean by “trustworthy”. I don’t think Genesis gives a “trustworthy” scientific description, but I do think the writer achieved his aims of portraying a different sort of creation to other accounts of the time. So we need to understand as well as we can what the authors intended, not what we’d like to get out of them.

    ”So, yes, those who collected, collated, and edited (?) the canon didn’t think they were telling “more than one story.””

    I don’t believe that is true in every case. If it was, they wouldn’t have included contradictory accounts. This is an example of dogma over-riding scriptural fact.

    ”the OT is saying “the same thing” if that thing is that everything was leading to Christ …. That is unquestionably what NT authors thought”

    It isn’t what the OT authors thought as far as we can tell because they didn’t know the story would end the way it did – that is why the Jewish religious leaders had problems with Jesus. And the NT authors could only get that out of the OT by changing and developing the original meaning. Again, that is why we need to examine how they changed the OT.

    ”anything they affirm as being still valid is still valid”

    Exactly. The OT doesn’t have authority over us because we are not in that covenant. The things that are carried over have authority because Jesus, the apostles and the Spirit affirm them.

    ”is there any passage that says that all of the Old Covenant law had become obsolete? That the Old Covenant has become obsolete doesn’t imply that Old Covenant Law is obsolete.”

    Hebrews 8:13 doesn’t distinguish, it is just “the old covenant. The word covenant is the same idea as the word testament, and the OT is the scriptures of the old covenant. The OT law was part of the old covenant, so if the covenant is obsolete then the law is too. So we have a choice Jesus and Paul clearly give us – take on the whole old covenant, which is burdensome and impossible, or come into the freedom of the new. Why would anyone want to go back?

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  18. rwwilson147 says:

    Thanks so much for maintaining the dialogue; I hope I’m not getting more out of it than you, and especially pray that you don’t think or feel like I am attacking you personally, or making assumptions or accusations about you (though that is what you said). I think I am critiquing your ideas and how they correspond or relate to the larger theological world of discourse. I usually use qualifiers like “seem(s)” and may, etc., to soften the frequent abrasiveness of my discourse.

    I too have lots of divergence from traditional evangelical thinking/theology. However, I don’t think it is helpful to focus on textual “inconsistencies, … because they are what shows that some “evangelical” dogma isn’t scriptural. If some dogma isn’t scriptural it is that because it itself is inconsistent with scripture, not because there are inconsistencies in scripture itself. So, if there are paradoxes, antimonies, even “contradictions” in scripture, those can be shown to lead to better theological understandings, quite true, even lead to undermining “evangelical” shibboleths such as “inerrancy” as defined by some group or other. I am totally with you on that. Extensive, convoluted, humanly developed traditions are not generally useful spiritually, and don’t promote the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Lots of what I said was dealing directly with matters of “fact” regarding scripture. However, everything we understand from scripture is interpreted, and hence becomes “dogma” in some sense anyway. There isn’t a clear bifurcation between the two.

    You said: “I don’t believe that [the ‘canonical’ editors were telling ‘more than one story’] is true in every case. If it was, they wouldn’t have included contradictory accounts. This is an example of dogma over-riding scriptural fact.” Yes, and I think this is possibly one place where your dogma overrides scripturally interpreted fact. Do you actually think there are stories included in scripture that are trying to tell the story of some other god than YahWeh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Really? This is, of course what many “progressive” “christians” are actually saying: the god described in the Old Testament texts is not the God of Jesus Christ. They say this based on their belief that the texts are too inconsistent, too contradictory, too horrifiably unacceptable to be telling the same story. Fact, story, interpretation, dogma. This is the problem I’m trying to address in critiquing some of the ways you are dealing with the texts. If your statements and arguments can directly be used to support anti-biblical narratives then I think they deserve critique.

    Yes, some aspects of NT interpretation and use of OT texts diverges from “original intent,” but not everything. Perhaps not even most (?) of what the NT authors believed they got “by changing and developing the original meaning.” In any case, it is undoubtedly the case that the Christ related events DETERMINED the new clarifying developed understanding of those OT texts as referenced by the apostles and disciples. That isn’t a flaw but a positive characteristic.

    I still think you may be conflating OT covenant with the OT scriptures, even with OT Law. You say “The OT doesn’t have authority over us because we are not in that covenant.” Can you actually find an explicit NT statement that says the texts don’t have any authority over us? I think you might have overstated what you intended when saying the OT doesn’t have authority over us because if it didn’t Jesus wouldn’t have any authority over us—it speaks in many places in many ways of him, and without the OT we wouldn’t know who he was, what he did, and who he is at all. This is after all, the significance of the argument of the author of Hebrews, who appeals to the story of Abraham and Melchizedek against the supposed “permanent authority” of the Levitical Priesthood. The use you made of the text went beyond what most would have understood it to mean at the time. It is this specific priestly aspect of the “former commandment” that the author is addressing in his argument, not the whole system of commandments under the OT. I think reading the whole of Hebrews can hardly be understood as implying otherwise.

    Yes, there is a new and better covenant established, but Hebrews is focussed on the priesthood and sacrifices, on the new high priest and his sacrifice, and the eternal consequences regarding his life, death, and resurrection. Since the author expresses awareness that sin exists for which the sacrifice of Christ is necessary, and that persistent sin has no sacrifice, it seems reasonable to conclude that he doesn’t reject every aspect of OT Torah because it is those particular sins to which he is referring. To make sweeping statements about the obsolescence of the whole OT law goes beyond the intent of the author of Hebrews—and for that one would need prophetic authorization, not just an argument that seems plausible.

    Regarding the question of whether the moral teaching of the OT is still valid, it shouldn’t be necessary to make such a case, since every NT author assumes that it is so. When the author of Hebrews says “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God,,, that no one is sexually immoral,” (Heb. 12:15-16) is he not affirming the validity of at least one obvious aspect of the OT Law? This is an important NT teaching which needs to be affirmed. If one generalizes that truth to claim that the “moral law” of the OT is still valid, objections to that claim are not easily verified. Consider the OT reference in Genesis 26:5 wherein God says “because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” There is much in the OT that suggests that covenant law is a much broader concept than implied in a simple “OT Law is obsolete under NT Covenant” kind of statement. Consider also what Paul suggests regarding those who adhere to the Law: Romans 4:16 “That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.” There are complex dynamics inherent in living a life of faith in covenant with God that often don’t fit neatly into either the dogmas of the christian traditions nor within our best reasoning in opposition to them. As is said in Hebrews 9:15 “Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.” If the redemption and forgiveness under the NT Covenant is for sins committed under the OT Covenant, the Law of the OT is still effective, at least for observant Jews, but probably for we gentiles as well. It is not a matter of wanting to go back to being submitted to the Mosaic Law, but of recognizing that it can still be a tutor to those of us who are still children in the faith embodied and lived by Jesus Christ.

    I am encouraged to know that we do agree that “the things that are carried over have authority because Jesus, the apostles and the Spirit affirm them.” Amen. If they affirm aspects of Old Covenant Law then the Old Covenant (Law) is not as a whole obsolete. Yes, it is not binding on us as a whole, but that doesn’t mean it is not relevant in understanding what aspects are carried over into the New Covenant. If in fact the things that are carried over are the NT interpretations of the OT then it still has authority over us too. Interpreting what that authority is saying to us today is a challenge and I appreciate your efforts to clarify that for us.

    I think we have made progress in understanding one another, and pray that you don’t think I am accusing you of the ill intentions of others.
    Peace to all who are in Christ.

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  19. unkleE says:

    Hello again. No, I don’t feel you are attacking me personally, but I do think you have implied many times that I am undermining faith (an example is this statement: ”I am inclined to think that one can take the side of arguments to undermine confidence in the authority God has given his Word in and through scripture, or one can intentionally do whatever one can to support that God given authority.”), when I am trying to build faith by undermining what I see as wrong thinking. So I think we are talking past each other a little. But let’s see if we can still understand each other better.

    ”If some dogma isn’t scriptural it is that because it itself is inconsistent with scripture, not because there are inconsistencies in scripture itself.”

    We disagree. Your statement implies there are no inconsistencies in scripture; I say there are. There are differences in accounts of events, there are differences in teaching, especially between OT and NT. I have mentioned many, and there are many more. I cannot see how anyone can say otherwise. This is a “problem” if one thinks there are no inconsistencies, but no problem if one doesn’t hold that dogmatic view. So, do you mean there really are no inconsistencies and all apparent inconsistencies can in principle be explained?

    ”Do you actually think there are stories included in scripture that are trying to tell the story of some other god than YahWeh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Really?”

    I’m sorry, but this is a straw man argument. Two different scriptural texts can be inconsistent and tell different stories without necessarily talking of a different God. I’m sorry to be critical, but this is the sort of statement and view that I am criticising in this post – use of a black and white binary choice that obscures the facts of the matter. All of the apparent inconsistencies I have referenced are about the same God, but they still tell different stories. The two stories in Joshua are an example. So your statement avoids the issue and facts I am pointing to.

    ”many “progressive” “christians” are actually saying: the god described in the Old Testament texts is not the God of Jesus Christ.”

    There is only one God, so the OT must be talking about the same God as the NT. Again, that isn’t the point. The question is, what are they teaching about that God? The OT definitely teaches things about God that the NT and other parts of the OT contradict, as I have shown several times. So, again, your statement avoids the issue and facts I am pointing to.

    ”the Christ related events DETERMINED the new clarifying developed understanding of those OT texts as referenced by the apostles and disciples. That isn’t a flaw but a positive characteristic.”

    Of course! We agree here. But that means the OT statements, in context, are either untrue or incomplete. There are numerous examples of Jesus negating the OT law. God has given us an unfolding revelation.

    ”Can you actually find an explicit NT statement that says the texts don’t have any authority over us?”

    Yes, I think Romans 7:6 (“written code”), 2 Corinthians 3:6 (“letter”), Luke 16:16 (“Law and prophets”), all supported by Hebrews 8:13. I think your separation of law, covenant and scriptures/text is artificial – the OT text is the only source we have of the Law and the covenant, and the first few books are referred to as “the Law”.

    ”Regarding the question of whether the moral teaching of the OT is still valid, it shouldn’t be necessary to make such a case, since every NT author assumes that it is so.”

    I think this is another dogmatic statement that is unjustified by scripture. Jesus time and time again overturns the law, and the passages I have quoted make it clear that it was good in its time but no longer applies to us, for we are in a different covenant. Why would anyone want to hang on to part of a covenant that is “obsolete”?

    ”If in fact the things that are carried over are the NT interpretations of the OT then it still has authority over us too.”

    No. The NT has authority. The same teaching may be in the OT, but that doesn’t mean the OT has authority over us, that is poor logic. If Mein Kampf said we shouldn’t steal, that would be true but it wouldn’t make it authoritative over us!

    To conclude: I still think you are working from a dogmatic assumption about scripture that informs all of your statements and leads you to avoid plain meanings and facts. (I’m sorry to be so frank, but that is what I see.) The above are all examples of this.

    We just have to ask ourselves the question: could God have revealed himself through an unfolding revelation that began with legend and gradually corrected wrong ideas, or could he not? Surely he could have if he chose? So then the second question is, which way did he actually choose to reveal himself, through a scripture that contains no inconsistencies, or one that is an unfolding revelation? Since both are possible, which one does the scripture most look like, and which one does it best describe? I am arguing that virtually all the evidence points to the second. Holding onto the first can work for some, but the more I read and examine the Bible, the clearer it becomes that God has given us the second. Instead of dogmatically trying to hold onto something that appears not to be true, I think it is more honest and more honouring to God to accept what he has given us. I think typical evangelical thinking, and your thinking, is trying to avoid that obvious conclusion.

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