Posted By MSH on December 24, 2008
Just in case. Here is something I just posted as a reply. I think the questions and my response are useful for others to see. The statements in quotation marks (” “) is NOT mine.
1. You wrote: “If the Bible indeed employs ‘flawed propositions’ in order to produce conclusive Divine Truth. Doesn’t that ultimately bring all arguments of the Bible into question?”
MSH: It could (but I don’t think that’s how to view this). I don’t really like the term “propositions” with respect to, say, Paul’s pre-scientific ideas in 1 Cor. 11. I really don’t see him as giving propositional truth for believers (i.e., laying out an idea we are to believe). Rather, I see him laying out an idea (”women, don’t be provocative; be modest”) on the basis of a flawed idea. The proposition there is the former, not the latter. Think of it this way: a Scripture writer can put out an idea that is an eternal truth, but he himself is not eternal, nor omniscient, nor perfect, etc. He himself is very far from omniscient or right on everything, yet he was used by God to give eternal propositions. I think we’d all agree with that approach. I’m saying it’s in operation in a vivid way in 1 Cor 11. We also have all had the experience of making a true, powerful point and then later realizing that our reasoning behind the point wasn’t that good — and yet the point stands, and can actually be made from other intellectual beachheads (even better). I think we all have to admit that argument trajectories and propositions based on those trajectories are different, and do not NECESSARILY unvalidate each other. That’s all I’m saying in regard to Paul and 1 Cor 11.
2. You wrote: “Even if God condescended, why would he use false propositions to come to true conclusions.”
MSH: He didn’t – if by “use” you mean “give” (and it’s not a proposition anyway – see above). God didn’t “give” Paul his unscientific ideas above women’s hair and fecundity. God knows better. That came from Paul who was a product of his world and education. God was after the proposition about modesty. THAT is what he approved; how Paul got there was incidental. If you mean by “used” that God “put up with” these propositions, I’d agree.
Let’s take a more “normal” example. Does God approve of the idea that women should not normally own property? This is laid out in the OT law. In the Mosaic law, inheritance of property carried through the males of the (extended) family. If there was no male heir left, the property was forfeit. The only exception we see is when the daughters of Zelophehad (who were in just such a pickle) appealed to Moses (cf. Num. 26:33; Numbers 27) . Moses allowed them to keep their land — but that’s the point. The LAW itself made no such provision, and so direct appeal to Moses himself had to be made. There are a bevy of other such PATRIARCHAL cases. The Mosaic law often extends directly from patriarchal culture. So…was God dictating (pardon the pun) that culture and its ideas about women? I don’t believe so. I believe it was what it was. God came to humans in THAT time who had THOSE ideas in THAT place, etc. and used the people at his disposal. We can try and sugarcoat what the OT does with women as chattel, or with slaves, but those patriarchal views are in the text, loud and clear – just like hair and fecundity. My view would say that the idea of having the girl’s father decide to force an unbetrothed virgin woman to marry the guy who just had sex with her isn’t a “divine proposition” (Lev. 22:16-17; cp. Deut. 22:28-29; the woman had ZERO power over her own life there). Rather, I would say that God allowed patriarchal figures like Moses to apply the basic commandments within the prevailing culture (where do we have any verse that says all or even most of these laws were dictated? we don’t). I doubt many of us today would think it “biblical” to prohibit women from owning property; we accept THAT part of the Bible as being “culturally passe” — and so I’d like to know why my application of the same stance is so off-base in 1 Cor 11 when it is so obvious that Paul’s ideas are scientifically passe?
NOTE: My distinctions with respect to inspiration are not borne out of isolated examples. I hold these views because of bigger issues like the above (patriarchalism). We simply can’t ignore what the Bible says and downplay it. If God gave us all these words directly, then he gave us the culture. I don’t think we want to go there, and I don’t see anything in Scripture requiring us to go there.