An accidental blog

"If God is sovereign, then his lordship must extend over all of life, and it cannot be restricted to the walls of the church or within the Christian orbit." Abraham Kuyper Common Grace 1.1.

Thursday, 6 October 2005

Genesis and God's accommodation

In an earlier blog I mentioned I would outline an accommodationist view of Genesis. The advantage of this view is that it takes Genesis and its cultural context seriously.

Paul H Seely has shown that the ancient near eastern views of the world were portrayed in Genesis. In a series of papers [‘The firmament and the waters above. Part I: the meaning of raqia‘ in Gen 1: 6-8’, WTJ 53 (2) (Fall 1991); ‘The firmament above. Part II: The meaning of “the water above the firmament” in Gen 1: 6-8’, WTJ 54 (Spring 1992); ‘The geographical meaning of "earth" and "seas" in Genesis 1:10’, WTJ 59 (1997), 231-55; ‘The date of the Tower of Babel and some theological implications’, WTJ 63 (2001), 15-38] he has shown that the firmament (raqia), was conceived of as solid, the waters above earth means, not clouds or water vapour, but rather a large body of water above the solid roof of the universe, and that the conception of the ‘earth’ in Genesis 1 is most probably that of a single continent in the shape of a flat circular disc – all these ideas conform to the cosmology of the times. This then leaves us with a number of options: we acknowledge that Genesis contains scientific errors; we can claim that the language of Genesis is equivocal; or with Calvin we see that God has lisped (Calvin Institutes 1.13.1) in his scriptures.

For who is so devoid of intellect as not to understand that God, in so speaking, lisps with us as nurses are wont to do with little children? Such modes of expression, therefore, do not so much express what kind of a being God is, as accommodate the knowledge of him to our feebleness. In doing so, he must, of course, stoop far below his proper height.

The second approach is one that is most popular. However, a close examination of the term firmament shows that it can only be understood as being solid; therefore, the case for understanding it within a present-day scientific worldview fails. (On the failure of concordist attempts, see Paul H. Seely ‘The first four days of Genesis in concordist theory and in biblical context’ PSCF 49 (1997), 85-95 ). This then leaves us with the third approach: this is the approach of Seely and he follows to the logical conclusion Calvin’s accommodation principle. God has graciously accommodated his revelation to the limited scientific knowledge of the day. A. H. Strong, Charles Hodge, B B Warfield as well as Calvin (See, for example, his commentaries on Gn 1:16 and Ps 136:7) and, more recently, Sidney Greidanus, who writes:

Does the Bible make use, here and there, of ancient “scientific” concepts? The answer would be affirmative since language, culture, and thought forms are all intertwined … the language appears to reflect (not teach) the ancient cosmology of the three-storied universe’, in ‘The use of the Bible in Christian scholarship’, Christian Scholar’s Review 11 (1982), 141-2

all recognised that there is some accommodation in the scriptures to the science of the times (for example, hares chewing the cud (Lev 11:6)): hence, it seems the world picture of Genesis is that of the ancients, but at the same time its polemical thrust is to subvert the contemporary worldview.

1 comment:

Bruce Wearne said...

Steve: I can agree with your accommodationist view but I think it needs to be developed literarily in the way Genesis 1 -2:4 is then read of story of Divine Creation. For instance there seems to be military imagery in the way the lights in the heavens obediently do what their chief commanding officer requests. Likewise the birds fly is an aerial display of the glory of God. The whole creation is depicted as being filled and fulfilled with God's word even if they do not have human speech (see Psalm 19). God may be lisping but the hallelujah of His creation is surely one which invites us to "join in the chorus, sing it one and all ..."
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