ANE in an AC World

Posted by
I want to thank Dr. Evans for his extended and thoughtful response to my recent post on Scripture and the ancient Near East. In that post, I expressed my concern that his appeals to ANE data for reading Genesis 1 imputed error to the writers of Scripture in their expressed understanding of the cosmos--error that we, the more scientifically enlightened, now recognize for what it is. I also suggested that this line of reasoning and conclusion are inconsistent with Scripture's inerrancy, sufficiency, and authority. I trust that the readers of this blog will indulge this clarifying response. By it, I mean to convey my abiding, and now, intensified concern regarding Dr. Evans' apparent position.

Dr. Evans perceives that my view of inspiration allows for "no hint of human limitation or error evident anywhere in the text of Scripture", nor even error (or limitations?) in the human writers' "underlying assumptions". Well, I certainly reject that Scripture contains errors. But nowhere in the quote Evans offers do I deny that the biblical writers were finite or occasionally ignorant (see, e.g., 1 Cor 1:16; Dan 12:8; Acts 1:6). As for faulty "underlying assumptions", how might any of us gauge this other than by examining what they wrote? (This question also echoes my original concern about Dr. Evans' use of ANE data, but more on that below). What I believe we must affirm, what I originally wrote, and what I believe Dr. Evans is on the verge of losing, if he has not already lost it, is that the Spirit who carried the original writers along (2 Pet 1:21) prevented any error from "intrud[ing] into the text of holy Scripture" on account of their finitude, biases, ignorance, pagan surroundings, and the like. The point then, as science intersects with Scripture, was not to pose an "antithesis" between the two, but to say that where they may diverge, science should not be allowed to find what it deems in Scripture to be erroneous.  Science should not be seen as the standard of whether what God has inspired is true. If anything, at those points, it is the other way around.
Later, Dr. Evans indicates that I said we must ascertain the meaning of a biblical text "without reference to 'anything extrabiblical.'" But what I wrote, what Dr. Evans himself quoted, what also relates to the heart of my concern over Dr. Evans views of ANE literature, and what I now fear he has functionally denied in his appeals to ANE literature for reading Genesis 1, is that we must find the "authoritative" guide for meaning and the "divinely sanctioned" locus of meaning within the canon of Scripture itself. This is just to say that the "infallible rule" for interpreting Scripture is...Scripture itself. It is to say that nothing extrabiblical--no matter how it may appear to "mesh well" with Scripture, and especially if what is being meshed is erroneous--may dictate the meaning of Scripture. For me to say that, is nothing but glorious, Westminsterian vanilla. Frankly, I struggle to see how Dr. Evans sees it any differently.

All of this brings me to my initial, very real, and now growing concern regarding Dr. Evans' view of the relationship between ANE literature and how we ought to read Genesis 1. In his most recent post, Evans reaffirms his belief that the biblical writers wrote like "primitive peoples" should be expected to write, using ANE terms to communicate ANE cosmological beliefs that we now, in our A.C. (After Copernicus) world, know were erroneous. In other words, what they wrote was wrong, and their error now lies forever exposed in the pages of Scripture, and we should try to read through, beyond, and despite its embedded errors. The key today, he says, is to realize the "limits on how literally we can interpret" the faulty details we now understand are recorded in Genesis.

As I see it, using a "non-literal" hermeneutic for the purpose of evading allegedly faulty cosmological descriptions in Genesis is like holding your nose as you cross the front yard of your residence because you believe the neighbor's dog has paid a visit. It may get you to the street without risk of olfactory offense, but it does nothing to solve the problem you perceive. I take Dr. Evans' point that Scripture does not read like a modern science textbook, and that reading it faithfully means taking its genre and other literary features into account. But that is far different from saying that Scripture speaks error. Interpreting Scripture and finding error in it are two dimensionally different things. And I fail to see how it "effaces common grace" to say that modern science is not qualified to find error in Scripture. To be sure, science informs our reading of Scripture, but it cannot countermand what Scripture teaches.

A Reformed doctrine of Scripture--a biblical doctrine of Scripture--does not "pit Scripture against human knowledge" or common grace. It certainly doesn't deny to Christian young women an opportunity to study biology (!), as Dr. Evans understands my view to do. Incidentally, it may surprise Dr. Evans to know that I was a pre-medical student in my undergraduate days and even considered majoring in chemistry for years before heading toward the ministry. I have a high regard for the scientific enterprise.

I include that autobiographical point as background to what I hope is a future encounter. Were I to meet the young woman Dr. Evans mentioned, I know what I would tell her, and would encourage her to shout from the rooftops: a Reformed doctrine of Scripture (more precisely, a Reformed doctrine of the God of Scripture) provides the only sufficient foundation for any scientific enterprise to proceed, including a proper evaluation of extrabiblical ANE texts. Go boldly, then, and put on a space helmet, an archaeologist's hat, or a snappy pair of Visorgogs, but be sure to put on the spectacles of Scripture first, not second.  
Posted October 15, 2011 @ 10:51 PM by Carlton Wynne

Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, Inc. © 2005-2018   |   |   800.956.2644   |   Frequently Asked Questions   |   Login