Saturday, March 21, 2009

Hermeneutics - The days of Genesis

Today I want to look at a specific example of the necessity of proper hermeneutics. Sometimes you hear the much debated argument over whether the days of Genesis 1 are of 24 hours length or periods of time. This debate has been going on over and over during my life time, but much of it I believe is wasted breath due to poor hermeneutics. I’m not saying that asking the question isn’t important, indeed it’s a proper and good question, it’s just that there are so many educated people around who talk nonsense all because of a failure of their hermeneutics, or a failure to properly apply hermeneutics.

Hermeneutics requires that we ask the historical and grammatical questions of the text. So we need to ask ourselves who wrote Genesis and when? This is the historical part of our hermeneutical principle. It is generally agreed that Moses wrote Genesis. Indeed most take it Moses wrote the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. Again Scripture itself attests Moses was the writer of the law ( torah ) John 1:17. I think that when Jesus says that Moses wrote the Torah that should settle it, John 5:46-47, John 7:19, Matthew 19:7-8 etc. It seems to me to be a bit of an arrogant furphy to say that he was just accepting a common understanding among God’s people of attributing the Torah to Moses, where is the Biblical evidence for that? If Jesus proclaims that Moses wrote it, and Paul declares all Scripture is breathed out by God as 2 Tim 3:16 states, then are not Jesus’ words Scripture?

There is of course the further question of the resources that Moses used to write it – whether he drew on oral traditions, or other documents kept by God’s people that had been recorded from earlier oral communication. However deciding on the answer to those questions will not prevent us I believe from determining the day issue of Genesis 1.

It’s generally taken that Moses wrote Genesis during the time of the Exodus of God’s people from Egypt. The first and major point to draw from this is that he wrote Genesis in the language concepts of that time. So when Moses said “day” it meant a numerical 24 hour day unless it was qualified in some other way in the context. Let me explain this a bit further. In Genesis 1 Moses not only says “one day”, “second day” etc but he also associates evening and morning with it. Now we need to ask how did the Hebrews of Moses time understand those words of “evening” and “morning” when Moses said them? Clearly they understood them as to what they signify. To give them any other meaning is to talk gibberish. What some commentators have further added here is that when the Hebrew word yom is qualified by a numeric for example “one”, then it stands for a 24 hour day. When yom is not so numerically qualified, as when we say for example “in the day of the horse and cart” we don’t mean a 24 hour period but a time period. Another example from the Bible in this regard is “in the day of the Judges”. Indeed if Moses had wanted to clarify that the days spoken of here were extended periods of time he could have used the Hebrew word olam which means just that.

Now some like Kevin Nelstead a Christian who is a geologist and believes in an old earth, have argued that yom is used also in Genesis 2:4 in a non-literal sense standing for a period of time, however, that is not an effective argument against 24 hour creation days because there is no number associated in the phrase with yom in verse 4 unlike in Genesis 1! If I might be so bold yom should not be said to be used in Genesis 2:4 in a “non-literal” sense, rather the word itself is literally day, but the phrase is figurative for “in the days of …” as I pointed out above. Just because we follow a hermeneutic based upon the literal sense of words doesn’t exclude figures of speech or metaphors or the like. Indeed you don’t have figures of speech or metaphors or any other literary device unless you take the word literally to begin with. And moreover, I would like to point out that what that word signifies has a limited range of meaning. Otherwise language becomes gibberish again and no communication is at all possible if for example the word “dog” signifies rock and dog and cat and horse and tree stump and house and so on and on.

Given the present contortions of so many people when trying to understand the meaning of days in Genesis 1 one has to wonder if they have the same difficulties with the New Testament when they come across statements like “Herod is a fox”. Will they suddenly devote hours of speculation about someone having a pet fox called Herod? And then write papers on the point the gospel writer was making by talking about this fox called Herod? Nonsense breeds nonsense doesn’t it!

A second issue that some have raised about the text being written during the time of the Exodus has to do with its purpose. One assumption given by some is that it was written to encourage the people of God as they walked in the wilderness after having left all behind. They needed to know that the Lord God is the creator of all things and sovereign over all. Now this has to be more than just an assertion, it needs to be buttressed by evidence from Scripture itself, it needs to be carefully argued for, and I for one so far have not read, nor found any clear indication in Scripture that this was the purpose of the creation accounts. It seems rather that Genesis 1 & 2 provide a theological grounding for understanding man’s present sinful state, how God did not make creation or man that way and that God has a plan to save mankind through the seed of a woman Genesis 3:15, a prophesy about the Messiah. Indeed Genesis 1-3 provide the basis for understanding the rest o the Bible.

So keep that in mind, but in the meantime we will just wait to see if any really good evidence for that theory arises. Regardless of that outcome I don’t believe it changes the understanding of the text as to the meaning of the word day.

You will no doubt have noticed how we have begun our investigation of the day issue of Genesis from a purely historical grammatical approach. Now we may buttress our understanding by taking notice of theological implications from the rest of Scripture. By this I mean that when we consider the argument put forth in Exodus for the Sabbath day it gives implications that cannot be dismissed about the days of Genesis. Again this Exodus passage was written by Moses! I am sure Moses didn’t have a brain freeze like some of us and had already forgotten what he’d said in Genesis chapter 1!

The argument presented in Exodus for the Sabbath to be observed is that since God created in 6 days and rested on the seventh, so we are to rest on the seventh day. The argument becomes nonsense if we say the day there represents time periods. What then follows from that kind of thinking? Could we say that we can work flat out for 6 months and then take the seventh off? Or let’s work for 6 years and take the seventh off? The Sabbath then becomes something we determine by whim, and not as God directed. Sadly it is rare that I hear anyone take seriously the argument of Exodus in relation to Genesis 1 but they certainly need to.

I have merely drawn our attention above to the importance of Hermeneutics regarding the lenght of days in Genesis 1. A lot more can and should be said about the issue, it's just that that is the place we are to start!

In Christ,

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Into the wild - book review and analysis

Into the Wild. By Jon Krakauer.

Into the wild is basically the story of Chris McCandless who left college family and ties, gave his savings to charity, burned the money in his wallet to trek around United States of America with the ultimate aim of going alone into the wild of Alaska. It tells of this journey, his relationships with different people he met on the road and the final arrival in Alaska and sad demise in an abandoned bus about 25 miles from the town of Healy.
Some very simple book reviews can be found on the internet, bookrags have a study guide to buy, as do MonkeyNotes, and pop critics wrote a good review likening Chris to Jack Kerouac' On the road, a similarity I also picked up on when reading this book. Consider also fyrefly's book blog for a helpful round up of some of the words used in the book as well as a good review.

‘Nemo gets lost’Nemo gets lost – or does he? Nemo we are told in the novel is Latin for nobody. But the stark reality is that somebody, a person made in God’s image, who had a family despite whether he chose to acknowledge it or not, and who met people who cared about him, was lost. And alone he died.

What do we learn from this novel?

Biography or “historical novel”?
Into the wild is a novel that can be analysed from a couple of angles. One can see it as a modern “historical novel” by Jon Krakauer in which he gives a portrayal of the story as he sees it, of Christopher McCandless. That is, it is a fictional novel which has used the historical situation of the life and death of Chris McCandless as a framework. You would then have to ask just how much of this story is fiction. That is, how much are they the theories and opinions of Krakauer about Chris McCandless whilst purporting to tell the story of McCandless as he hits the road on an adventure to Alaska?
In such an analysis you would need to ask what importance and impact each of the chapter quotes that begin each chapter. Just what purpose are they intended to serve. Do they want to justify the authors understanding of the life and behaviour of McCandless and in a sense try to justify it? Do not such quotes by authors such as Jack London, and in chapter 2, the quote by Chris himself “Jack London is King – Alexander Supertramp May 1992” and Leo Tolstoy in chapter 3 influence the reader to a certain reading of McCandless’ “thought process”? For example Thoreau and Tolstoy were two of McCandless’ favourite authors, so much so he carried books by Tolstoy, Gogol and Thoreau into the wild with him and annotated parts of the books with his own comments. Thoreau gives a certain slant on the beauty of nature saying in his novel ‘Ktaadn’, quoted by Krakauer in chapter 17 “Nature was here something savage and awful, though beautiful..” pg 171. London and Thoreau have much to say about the external realm of nature whereas Tolstoy focused a lot in the internal realm or relationships [ eg. The Kreutza Sonata ], “denial of wealth and privilege to wander among the destitute” pg x. and certainly the spiritual side of life. One still must wonder how much of Tolstoy McCandless internalised since in his later life McCandless, to a large extent, avoided the destitute even though he certainly seemed to reject wealth.

For what literary purpose does Krakauer include these quotes? I believe we find an indication in the Authors note at the beginning of the book. There he tells us that he “spent a year trying to understand McCandless”, Authors note pg x, and even more significantly “I won’t claim to be an impartial biographer .. I interrupt McCandless’s story with fragments of a narrative drawn from my own youth.” then last of all, a very important statement found here when he speaks about whether McCandless was admirable or a reckless idiot “My convictions should be apparent soon enough.” Doesn’t such a literary structure direct the reader to a specific conclusion and does it leave the reader really able to “form his or her own opinion of Chris McCandless”? pg xi

Yet the above statement by Krakauer indicates he believes that he is writing a biography, just that he’s not impartial which would then exclude taking the book as a fictional account built around the framework of an historical character. It certainly isn’t an autobiography. If that’s the case, then you need to ask whether Krakauer succeeds in his attempt.

One can then also attempt to see the novel as an attempted objective account of McCandless’ adventure, indeed a biography of sorts. An historical chronicle of McCandless tragic journey into the wild. Yet this is much more difficult to do as Krakauer presents a non chronological account and intersperses it with chapters about his own youthful experiences with family difficulties and mountain climbing brushes with death. It is difficult with such literary license then to agree that the author has “tried to minimize my authorial presence” pg x. However if you think Krakauer succeeds in an objective account you would want to read the surrounding debate about his actions, how people have interpreted his journal entries and the like. You would soon find out that Krakaeur’s take on what the cause of Chris’s death, the accidental poisoning by eating a wrong plant is actually untrue. The plain reality is that Chris died of starvation. And even more tragic is that he refused to take any map with him into the Alaskan trek, yet there was a food stocked warm cabin 6 miles away which he could have made it to even when he found the river un-crossable. In fairness however, I must point out that Krakauer does allude to this on pages 164 and 173.

Let me look at some central chapters and related themes throughout the novel in an attempt to see then if it succeeds as biography or as fiction.

Intimacy and relationships:Chapter 2 is headed ‘The Stampede Trail’ and is introduced with a quote by Jack London. It’s in this chapter that we read of Chris’ death and the last note he left pinned to the door of the bus.
S.O.S I need your help. I am injured. near death and too weak to hike out of here. I am all alone, this is no joke. In the name of God, pleas remain to save me. I am out collecting berries close by and will return this evening. Thank you, Chris McCandless, August?
Quite interestingly Chris signed his plea for help Chris McCandless. Whereas all during the time of his trekking across America he’d not told any his surname and had signed the note on arrival at the bus, Alexander Supertramp. Was it that now he recognised he needed to tell other’s if he died who he was? Had he finally come to value his name and thus his family as identification of who he was? That no one really “is an Island” that Simon and Garfunkel’s famous song speaks of.

What intimacy of relationships does Chris show throughout the book? It’s quite clear that he disdains his parents, but his actions towards his sister reveal a similar disdain. Though she was the only family he wrote to, and though we read how he supposedly cared deeply for his sister Carine, “taking her by the hand to school”, yet he would not play second chair French horn to “his damn sister”. Pg 110.

In Chapter 6 Krakauer depicts much about Chris’ involvement with Ronald Franz. Franz had spent a fair amount of time with Chris during his “adventure” and taught him leatherworking skills etc. But the telling remark by Krakauer is on pg 56
On March 14th Franz left McCandless on the shoulder of Interstate 70 .. McCandless was thrilled to be on his way North, and he was relieved as well – relieved that he had again evaded the impending threat of human intimacy, of friendship, and all the messy emotional baggage that comes with it. He had fled the claustrophobic confines of his family. He’d successfully kept Jan Burres and Wayne Westerberg at arms length flitting out of their lives before anything was expected of him. And now he had slipped painlessly out of Ron Franz’s life as well.”

The above quote is also a good example that is crucial to understanding how much of this novel is a biography or whether it’s an historical novel. How does Krakauer know that at that point, McCandless was relieved, and that Krakauer knows the reasons for that relief? We are not told that this comes from any travel diary Chris might have kept!

Chapter 7 continues the theme of relationships when we read of McCandless’ sojourn in the town of Carthage.
Krakauer’s introductory Quote is illuminating.
It is true that many creative people fail to make mature personal relationships, and some are extremely isolated.. also true that in some instances, trauma, in the shape of early separation or bereavement, has steered the potentially creative person toward developing aspects of his personality which can find fulfilment in comparative isolation. But this does not mean that solitary, creative pursuits are themselves pathological…” Anthony Storr ‘Solitude: a return to the self.’ pg 62

At Carthage Chris finds work with Westerberg which enables him to raise funds for surviving the present and preparing for Alaska. Westerberg had thought that the reasons Chris had for his attitude towards his parents must have been good, so left them alone, but now he was dead he’d “be tempted to chew him out … [there’s] a lot worse” pg 65. Krakauer reflects how Chris “brooded .. over his father’s moral shortcomings, the hypocrisy of his parents lifestyle, the tyranny of their conditional love. Eventually Chris rebelled .. with characteristic immoderation.”

What were these shortcomings of his parents? On pg 121-122 of chapter 12 Krakauer related the family background of Chris. How his father Walt had started up a relationship with Billie and run two households while going back and forth between them. How even after the birth of Chris to Billie, Walt had kept up the relationship with Marcia, even fathering another son Quinn with her 2 years later. These were his parents secrets that Chris finally found out about in 1986. Krakauer points out that “children can be harsh judges when it comes to their parents” pg 122 Yet “curiously Chris didn’t hold everyone to the same exacting standards. One of the individuals he professed to admire greatly over the last 2 years of his life was a heavy drinker and incorrigible philanderer who regularly beat up his girlfriends.” Pg 122.
When it came to his literary heroes, he “similarly he didn’t hold the same high standards”. “Jack London was a notorious drunk, Tolstoy despite his famous advocacy of celibacy, had been an enthusiastic sexual adventurers as a young man and went on to father at least 13 children…” pg 122
In a little bit of overstatement Chris had declared to Carine that due to the deception of Walt and Billie “his entire childhood seem like a fiction.”

It’s certainly paradoxical but understandable given the sinful nature of man that such ambiguities in moral expectations exist. Chris we are told held supposedly high moral standards, yet didn’t think he had to operate by the rule and even laws of society, and he would frequently disregard signs and hop free rides on freight cars.

What are we to make of Walt McCandless’ statement on page 104 “[that he ] spent a lot more time with Chris than any of the other children”, even though Krakauer states on page 105 “[Walt is] he’s accustomed to calling the shots... taking control” and Walt was said to have a “famous temper”. These again are the inconsistencies of sinful human nature, yet many children in the past have lived with those inconsistencies. They have not taken the extreme stance of rejecting their family outright.

Is the answer to be found in what Krakauer suggests in chapters 14-15, ‘The Strikine Ice Gap’ by alluding to his own childhood and youth ambition to climb the devils thumb? Pg 133f.
Krakauer himself came to see the reality of less than perfect parents and children in his own imperfections. Pg 147 unlike McCandless.
Again we are told how Krakauer’s own father “drilled into me that anything less than winning was failure”. Pg 147. High expectations from parents can be onerous, but one also needs to see that we all need forgiveness.

Then on page 149 we read how Krakauer’s father “[had] instilled in me a great and burning ambition; it had simply found expression in an unintended pursuit. He never understood the devils thumb was the same as medical school, only different.”
Krakauer is wrong – the point is not about having a great and burning ambition per se, it’s what that burning ambition is for! Is it for others, for relationships? Helping others by going to medical school is much different to climbing a mountain for self-glory! To be able to say “I did it.” Consider carefully the reflective statements on pg 149.
For Krakauer “at the age of 23, personal mortality – the idea of my own death – was still largely outside my conceptual grasp. When I decamped from Boulder for Alaska, my head swimming with visions of glory and redemption on the devils thumb..”

Then on page 150-151 we again read from Krakauer of his own life similarities. Krakauer says he found he was “forced to acknowledge that volition alone, however powerful, was not going to get me up the north wall. I saw, finally that nothing was.” How true it is that some things are beyond our ability or enthusiasm, no matter what some educationalists say to their students by way of encouragement!
He concludes the chapter of his own life experience by saying on pg 154 “it’s easy when you are young, to believe that what you desire is no less than what you deserve, to assume that if you want something bad enough, it is your God given right to have it.” And “when I decided to go to Alaska that April, like Chris McCandless, I was a raw youth who mistook passion for insight and acted according to an obscure, gap ridden logic.” Pg 154.

The Authentic Life:There’s been a tendency over the last generation or so, perhaps, strengthened by university professors of a generation ago musing that the life of the ancient forebears was in some sense more authentic and real, lived with integrity than now. As though civilization corrupts mankind, just consider Estwick Evans quote on page 156 at the beginning of the chapter,
I wished to acquire the simplicity, native feelings, and virtues of savage life, to divest myself of factitious habits, prejudices and imperfections of civilisations.. and to find amidst the solitude and grandeur of the western wilds, more correct views of human nature and of the true interests of man….”
It may be in folk lore that some think that the notion that earlier on the evolutionary scale man was better, life was better than today with Bush and Bosnia and Iraq and so on. Yet this is a picture which has little to do with reality.

Is the life portrayed of Chris in the novel all that authentic? We read again and again of his high moral standards, yet these high Standards that Chris held to did not prevent him from sponging of others for food and lifts, something quite evident in the novel yet not questioned by Krakauer. Just one case will suffice, that of Gaylord Stuckey who gave Chris a lift to Alaska in the RV he was delivering there says “he wanted to prove to himself that he could make it on his own, without anybody else’s help” pg 158 yet this encounter with Stuckey, we find that Stuckey fed him all the way to Alaska – it took 3 days, and Stuckey drove him there! Pg 159 It seems Chris’ ideals couldn’t recognise this reality even when it was pointed out! It’s presumptuous isn’t it to claim to be independent while all the time relying on the generosity and hard work of others?

At the bus Chris wrote his declaration of independence. Signing it Alexander Supertramp May 1992. Pg 162
Two years he walks the earth, no phone, no pool, no pets, no cigarettes, ultimate freedom. An extremist. An aesthetic voyager whose home is the road[1]. Escaped from Atlanta. Thou shalt not return, ‘cause “the west is the best”. Now after two rambling years comes the final and greatest adventure. The climatic battle to kill the false being within and victoriously conclude the spiritual pilgrimage. Ten days and nights of freight trains and hitch hiking bring him to the great white north. No longer to be poisoned by the civilisation he flees, and walks alone upon the land to become lost in the wild.”

Is it a paradox that no longer poisoned by civilisation that as Krakauer believes, he’s now poisoned by the wild? Or even if he merely starves to death is it not a paradox that in the wild he cannot exist for long! When he got there as the above quote shows, he is full of exuberance, signing his name Alexander Supertramp. Yet as the book began, he pleas for salvation as Chris McCandless.

As Krakauer points out on page 173, “in coming to Alaska, McCandless yearned for uncharted territory, to find a blank spot on the map… but there were none – not in Alaska. But Chris with his idiosyncratic logic, came up with an elegant solution. He simply got rid of the map. In his own mind, if no where else, the terra would thereby remain incognita.”
Yet such behaviour severely limited his chances of survival. It is not authentic to spit into the wind.

No one questions that it’s extremely difficult to walk more than a couple of miles a day in winter, and even more so when it begins to thaw, yet how much in the wild he is? By Alaska standards it doesn’t count as wilderness. There are four [ stocked with basics ] cabins within 6 miles of where he stays, there’s a major thoroughfare [ highway ] just 30 miles to the east. 16 miles away is a major tourist spot which gets thousands of daily tourists over a road patrolled by the National Park Service! Pg 164.
Of course he did try to trek 500 miles across real wilderness to Tidewater, but after 14 days and only covering 15 miles “he turned around” pg 164. Reality has a habit of finally hitting home.

The Inner Journey:Krakauer declares that unlike Muir and Thoreau, Chris “went into the wilderness not primarily to ponder nature or the world at large but to explore the inner country of his own soul.”
However even as Krakauer points out, his “journal” contains not many reflections on the wilderness at all, but rather “entries that dealt mainly with food.” Pg 182. Granted Chris scribbled notes in the margins of the books he took with him that deal with purpose and relationships, as we read at the rear of the book he was writing on as a journal,
I am reborn. This is my dawn. Real life has just begun …. All true meaning resides in the personal relationship to a phenomenon, what it means to you.” Pg 167.
After two months it seems McCandless decided to return to civilisation. “He seemed to have moved beyond his need to assert so adamantly his autonomy, his need to separate himself from his parents.” Pg 167.
but this is hardly convincing evidence that his purpose had been to explore his own soul, references to the inner being notwithstanding. Such references to Chris’ inner search are meagre and the most powerful is a mere phrase in the single quote written as his Declaration of Independence on page 162 to “kill the false being within”.

The journey of youthful naïveté?
Krakauer won’t accept that McCandless was some “loopy young man, some feckless slacker adrift and confused, racked by existential despair.” Pg 183
Though he admits he made “dumb mistakes” and “screwed up” yet “I admire what he was trying to do” pg 184. However one should ask Krakauer whether admiration really addresses “dumb mistakes”.

Krakauer’s friend suggest that we fail to recall because we are adults, the “passions and longings of youth”. Pg 185. However again passion doesn’t excuse recklessness. And further, pitting Adulthood against youth isn’t a complete answer. Rather we need to recognise that sin and arrogance and self-centredness afflict all ages.

As Krakauer has informed us earlier while making a comparison with Rosellini, Waterman, McCunn, “McCandless was a seeker and had an impractical fascination with the harsh side of Nature .. and displayed a staggering paucity of common sense .. [yet ] he wasn’t mentally ill.” Pg 85. Krakauer would rather have us see Chris as more like Everett Ruess chapter 9, pg 87f, who loved the beauty of nature, which certainly comes across in ‘Into the wild’, but Krakauer has hinted at other avenues which hold allure such as Chris journey to explore his own soul but which in the end are not convincingly argued due to lack of first hand writings from Chris himself.

So is it a journey of youthful naïveté by someone who made some dumb mistakes or was Chris really racked by existential despair? Was he loopy or passionate? Was he mentally ill or just exploring his own soul? On Krakauer reading of Chris' life we know prefers to see him as a young man who was passionate and just made some dumb mistakes, and he wants the reader to come to understand Chris by Krakauer’s relating his own life experiences, saying on pg 154 “it’s easy when you are young, to believe that what you desire is no less than what you deserve, to assume that if you want something bad enough, it is your God given right to have it.” And “when I decided to go to Alaska that April, like Chris McCandless, I was a raw youth who mistook passion for insight and acted according to an obscure, gap ridden logic.”
It seems to me that overall the novel is an attempted biography with a lot of interpretation on Krakauer's part. Whether you see it that way will depend on how you weigh any supporting evidence Krakauer gives the reader for understanding him this way. Certainly the many chapters dealing with Krakauer's own life and those of other mountaineers tend to be the authors justification for his reading of Chris' life.

The Movie:When you look at the movie ‘Into the Wild’ you are faced with another dilemma. The movie romanticises his journey, it humanises Chris McCandless far beyond what Krakauer’s account does, the media of film has a tendency to do that anyway. It starts with Chris ending College and preparing to set out on his adventure and his sisters observation that "it was inevitable that he would breakway and he did so with characteristic immoderation." Later we find in the movie that Chris is badly beaten up by a railroad “security” man, whereas in the novel this is not alluded to at all. Still we cannot allow reality to get in the way of a good movie can we?

Finally:What are to make of McCandless and his journey? Such a well read young man, whose literary heroes of Jack London and Tolstoy we can say both seem to have greatly inspired Chris, and yet maybe we need to heed what one critic in Krakauer’s book wrote “Jack London got it right in ‘To Build a fire’, McCandless is, finally, just a pale 20th Century burlesque of London’s protagonist, who freezes because he ignores advice and commits big time hubris...” pg 72-73. How can one read such an author as Jack London and not take heed to warnings about getting into situations for which you are not equipped or not well prepared? Is such behaviour merely excused by youth and idealism? If we consider today’s present youth generation and our culture which has been heralded as postmodern, where Absolutes are subjective and that what counts is brute personal experience then maybe we do get to understand McCandless a bit better.

Either way, you can see it as representative of a young man in search of something. In one sense it could be seen as a modern version of the beatnik Jack Kerack’s who wrote ‘On the road’. No one should mistake the notion that this novel is nonetheless having an impact upon the present generation. As others have observed of Chris McCandless’ life and final death, the bus where he died in Alaska has become a place of pilgrimage. It is being seen as something significant, even if we are unsure about what that significance is. When you understand that this novel is a required English text of many high school students, you start to see its broadening influence.

What will be the impact of such a novel on the present day postmodern generation? We must warn them that to spit into the wind can have dire consequences!

[1] These lines are a nod to Chris’ favourite song by Roger Miller. Pg 178.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Hermeneutics and Inerrancy

I just could not avoid looking at the issue of Inerrancy, there’s so much waffle going on about it these days. A google of the internet will quickly show just how misguided some are on this issue. Fortunately there are still some who have addressed it with care and clarity. You might like to look at Tim Challies 3 blogs on this where there’s some excellent definitions given or look at John Ankerberg’s site and also Jollyblogger’s blog. I promise I will get back to hermeneutics with some examples soon on how important context is. For now do you remember in my blog about hermeneutics I stated that
"The context can make all the difference can’t it? I remember hearing Dr Edwin Orr many years ago talking about Science and the Bible and saying that different explanations are evoked by different contexts. So that if you were at his house and asked him “Dr. Orr why is the kettle boiling?”, he might reply “because of the heat due to the flame under the kettle causing the water molecule to agitate and bump against each other with kinetic energy etc etc”, or he might merely reply “because my wife is making me a cup of tea!” Both are valid explanations, and both can be true, but the required explanation depends on the context."
Now this has a very important implication concerning the issues surrounding the question of the infallibility of the Bible and Biblical inerrancy.

I stated that context has big implications for the meaning of a person’s statement, whether that statement be given in a verbal declaration or in written format such as a book. The context must be considered to come to an understanding of the authors intended meaning. Now I don’t want to glibly ignore the issue of authors intention, but to me it’s a minor issue and easily dealt with and has been well addressed by others. Perhaps one day I will get to it, but there’s more important things for the present.

When you talk about Hermeneutics I think you need at some time to consider the whole issue of infallibility and inerrancy. I am not saying that such things are questionable, but rather given so many are confused on the issue of inerrancy and there’s so much debate about it, then it is worthwhile to associate hermeneutics with the issue of infallibility and inerrancy.

If as I have suggested context is crucial to understanding the meaning of the text then it’s important that we can trust the text. That we can regard the text, the Scriptures as Authoritative, in all times and in all places for all people. And the moment we speak of an Authoritative scripture then we need to consider the questions of Infallibility and inerrancy. What makes the Scripture infallible? Is it the words that are without error or the thoughts and concepts being put forth that are without error?

A long time ago Homer C. Hoeksema wrote a little book, so it’s easy to read, called ‘In the beginning God..’ He wrote this in 1966 and he nicely addresses the confusion then that people had about infallibility and inerrancy.

He points out on page 24 how in 1961 the synod of the Christian Reformed Church { in America } made a report which stated “what is seen as inaccurate from a merely historical point of view is recognised as wholly accurate for the reporting of sacred history.” Pg 25 They were saying that the Bible could be in error as to history but not in regard to scared history. Hoeksema points out that sadly this statement had been largely ignored or unaddressed. What is amazing is that you have the same statements being said today as appeared in that report. And without any idea that maybe an answer has already been given, as it was back in 1966.

How is the apparent inconsistency answered then? Well you must first know where you are standing as a Christian. What is your foundation? Read Hoeksema’s book, it’s well worth it and has more gems than I could summarise.

Hoeksema begins by speaking of Scriptures infallibility, and saying it is infallible because it is God’s word primarily, and that in the most basic sense Scripture is Authored by Him, not by men. As the Bible tells us it is men as moved by the Spirit who said what God wanted said, having been prepared by all their life to say what God wanted said in words, not thoughts but words. That truth expressed in words is what God wanted made clear. Then he draws our attention to the fact that the Church - ie Christians are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets Eph 2:19-20. What he’s saying is that the church, God’s called out people, are built on the apostles and prophets teaching, and that teaching is the Scriptures. Clearly for us, it’s the Scriptures that we are to listen to since the apostles and prophet s are dead.
Then Hoeksema declares “if you chip away at those Scriptures, you are chipping away at the very foundation of the Church.” Pg 23

I would add here to Hoeksema’s words that not only when one chips away at the Scriptures, by calling into question their authority and infallibility, the result is the endangering the foundation, but a further result is that Christ himself is discarded. Notice how in Ephesians 2:19-20 Paul tells us that part of that very foundation is Christ Jesus who is the cornerstone. Once the foundation of a building is undermined then the cornerstone is also dislodged. Is it no wonder that as a consequence of questioning the Scriptures we see many today also questioning Who Jesus is? To eventually deny him by redefining him? This is exactly what we are seeing today by some in the emergent crowd in saying Jesus wasn’t God but just a man who was more enlightened about Who God was. A view which was early in the life of the Church seen as heretical and dealt with as such by God’s people. Christ and His word can not be torn asunder without the Whole foundation of Christianity being made nonsense.

Hoeksema says again “[all the attacks on the foundation ] have one element in common, that they exalt man’s subjective judgment above the Word of God. Man, then, decides what is the Word of God and what is not, what is accurate and what is inaccurate, what is truth and what is error.”

Wise words. We do well to listen to Jesus’ reply to satan in the temptation narratives. “Has God said?” That should settle the matter.

Then he says “Every thought must be in submission to the Scriptures, the only infallible rule.”

What are we doing in regard to this foundation? Are we contending for the faith once for all delivered? Jude 3. That’s my responsibility, and that’s your responsibility.

The autographs:
Let me end by saying here one more gem from Hoeksema about the Scriptures and their being inspired. Some are quick to assert that it is the original autographs which were inspired and then they point out that we no longer have these! So we need to ask what this means for us today? Well Hoeksema says ”while we do not have the autographs, that makes no real difference for us..[ for several reasons ]” which he expounds. Pg 11. Get his book and read them they are thought provoking.

One powerful reason is implied by Paul’s words to Timothy in 2 Tim 3:14-16. Timothy had been faithfully taught the holy Scriptures from childhood. But Timothy had not been privileged to hold the original autographs in his hands from which to learn from, just as neither you nor Paul nor Jesus was privileged to in regard to the Old Testament Scriptures. Yet even in spite of this! Paul could go on to proclaim as he does in 2 Timothy 3:16 that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God..” Ask yourself why Paul would bother to say that if the Scriptures that were available, that is all those copies, were not the autographs as he indeed knew. This speaks to the reliability of the copies as God’s Word, carrying with them the full Authoritative force of God himself. That is why the Scriptures he goes on to say are useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.

I would add some Scriptures from the Lord Jesus that say the same thing. Such as Matthew 22:29-31. Here Jesus say “have you not read what God said to you.” Jesus here says that the Old Testament is God’s Words and we need to understand that though Jesus knows they don’t have the originals, that doesn’t matter. What they do have is just as Authoritative! Just as reliable. The problem Jesus tells them is that they are in error because they do not know the Scriptures. It’s not the Scriptures that are in error but men!

I have just raised a couple of things here today. We do well to think about such things and respond to the Lord as He has spoken in Scripture. To study more on this you might like also to read the volume by James Montgomery called 'God's Inerrant Word'.

In Christ