Second Follow-Up Reply to Chris

Posted By on December 24, 2008

Back to the rest of Chris’s reply. This is good stuff since it prompts discussion and brings other examples to the discussion.

Chris was questioning me based on three items. The first two I replied to, and subsequently posted. I’ve posted my response to some follow-up discussion and his third item here, and let him know in a quick reply directly to his comment.

Chris writes: “how about other propositions that are equally based on the human author’s ‘limited knowledge base,’ such issues as homosexuality, women senior pastors, and abortion (among others).  All of which can be argued as unbiblical with the Bible if your view of inspiration/inerrancy is adopted.”

I would say that rejection of homosexuality as a permissible behavior does not depend on the author’s limited scientific knowledge, because homosexuality isn’t all or even mostly about science. Those who want to argue it is genetic are getting their information from TIME and other popular magazines, not the peer-reviewed literature. What I mean here is that if you actually go to the sources TIME and others dilute, you will read that the scientific community does NOT accept genetic determinism. For example, consider this statement:

Biologists have known for a long time that gene expression is complex and DNA does not determine biology, let alone other characteristics of physical and mental health, behavior and intelligence. Nevertheless, over the years, thedeterministic model that genes alone define biology has become enshrined as the prevailing paradigm. This dogma was manifested on a large scale in the pursuit of the Human Genome Project. Why do scientists, with the full knowledge that various aspects of the cellular machinery and the environment work in cohort, continue to apply and propagate the DNA mantra? The motivations may be many, but chief among them is the simplicity of the “DNA is everything” model, and the outside commercial and scientific incentives available for such a focus. The application of DNA ideology has led to a problematic construction of race, sexuality, and intelligence, as seen through a lens of genetic determinism and has fostered the belief that for each of us our physical and mental well-being are pre-programmed and reflect the composition of our individual DNA. This scientific interpretation enhances a sense of inevitability and forecloses efforts at promoting social justice by presenting them as futile.1

Paul did not base his argument against homosexuality on pre-scientific views about sexuality. Rather, he argued that it was against the natural order of things in Romans 1, an idea that would have been based both on general observation (most species reproduce sexually and that requires heterosexuality) and on the Mosaic law – which also does not base its laws on science, NOR are those laws unique to patriarchal culture.

While it is true that Scripture nowhere forbids abortion specifically, I do not consider that an argument for the pro-choice position at all. In fact, I don’t even consider the life of the mother a good argument for abortion (my wife won me over there), since the fetus is not an enemy; it is not trying to kill the mother with intent. It just IS and its specific circumstances are what they are. Now, if I were in the delivery room with my wife, my instructions to the doctor would be “do the best you can to save all the lives in question.” I might tell him to save my wife (against her wishes) for other ethical considerations (such as the effect of her death on my other children), but not out of some reflect that her life is worth more, or that the fetus is an enemy combatant.

Scripture’s argument against abortion is not set forth in proposition (“thou shalt not abort a fetus”); it is set forth in a worldview that views any animate human being a complete being (with respect to humans, flesh + nephesh [animate life] = a complete human being).2 You might say, “well, isn’t that pre-scientific?” I’d say “I’ll agree that it is — when you can show me a modern scientific alternative that has greater explanatory power.” Fact is, you can’t. An abortionist may deny personhood to the living contents of the womb, but he or she can’t deny that it is alive and it’s genetically human.  And there is no science that supports the idea that a third (biological) ingredient is what makes a living human fetus a person.  Scripture doesn’t go beyond the flesh + nephesh idea to speculate about an “added ingredient” that makes the living human a human person. And since so many scientists today will agree that you don’t need a third ingredient for personhood (that would be the pro-life crowd), we can’t conclude that the pro-choice view is the scientific one. It’s about political agendas and pseudo-scientific ideas on the part of moderns [well, THIS single organ carries personhood with it - and if they really believed that, there would be no abortion beyond brain formation - it's politics, not science]. So, we can’t say Scripture’s view on what constitutes a human being is pre-scientific or scientifically wrong. We CAN say we know MORE now that is complementary [unlike the hair has something to do with fecundity, which is nonsense]. To the biblical person, flesh + animation = a complete human being. A biblical era woman knew she was “with child” when her body told her so (hormonal changes, activity in the womb. That is certainly correct. Our science pushes back the animation (the definition of life: is it growing, drawing nutrition, drawing oxygen – if so, it’s alive), but IT DOES NOT CONTRADICT the biblical idea – it just goes further.

Regarding the women in ministry issue, methinks you are under-studied on that one. That issue is more about exegesis of certain passages than culture, regardless of the egalitarian rhetoric. Personally, I have questions for the pro-women in ministry view that have never been answered exegetically in all I’ve read [I tend to ask different questions than most]. I can’t think of a single exegetical argument unambiguously in favor of it. That said, I’m not terribly bothered by the idea that someone could come along and produce a profound piece of exegesis in favor of it that answers all my questions (I’m not holding my breath, though). I’ve seen women in pastoral roles practiced in places that are not out to move a feminist agenda forward, so that slippery slope argument isn’t airtight.

Chris’ third item:

(3) There are core doctrinal truths that are not concluded directly in Scripture: such as the Trinity, hypostatic union, and others, which must rely on a systematic treatment of singular propositions found in Scripture and then seek to harmonize them in order to come to Biblical conclusions.  However, since you have placed doubt upon the propositions and only total reliability with the conclusive truths; you are in turn casting doubt upon those core doctrines (I know you do not do this intentionally).

I haven’t placed doubt on propositions. It’s perfectly evident from reading the Bible that not everything in the Bible is a propositional truth claim. Some (a lot, actually) of it is descriptive, not prescriptive. Paul isn’t issuing a propositional dogma when he argues FROM a pre-scientific view TOWARD a proposition of truth. His proposition isn’t that a woman’s hair has something to do with having babies; his proposition concerns modesty and not being provocative. Frankly, if you’re right here, then we have the propositional truth that women shouldn’t own property unless an appointed divine authority says otherwise (I guess we’d need the Magisterium for that) and a whole boatload of other “propositions” that I doubt you’d want.

  1. Council for Responsible Genetics; see http://www.gene-watch.org/programs/determinism.html.
  2. Note the issue here is completeness / oneness, as in there are no more needed ingredients to have a living human being. Flesh + animation can also mean a complete animal, as in there are no more needed ingredients. Animal and human life are distinguished in other ways, but that’s too much of a digression here.

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6 Responses to “Second Follow-Up Reply to Chris”

  1. cwmyers007 says:

    Mike,

    Good response here…you cleared up some issues. I especially appreciate your distinctions made between propositions and that which is descriptive and I’m sure we could make some other helpful distinctions. But you did touch on the patriarchialism again. I responded to this in the comments of the post before this. I hope that you see that this patriarchialism is no problem for my view of verbal plenary inspiration. Something that I would like to add here is that the only way you could prove that patriarchialism is a problem for my view is if you could produce a text similar to this, “Thus says the Lord, women are not equal to men, so wives must be totally subjected to their husbands in everything and men have absolute sovereignty over their wives.” The fact is that no propositional truth like this occurs, instead we have the Mosaic Law that is words given by God to GOVERN the culture that he is approaching and revealing himself too. And if you study specifically how the law protects and provides for women, the poor, needy, and lame, then you will see this patriarchialism in the law much differently–this righteous governing was directly relevent and righteous in their day and age and it was indeed given to Moses from God. If you can show one verse of the Law which is inherently (and according to God) UNRIGHTEOUS and UNJUST, then I cannot hold my view of verbal plenary inspiration any longer. But I think that you cannot do that.

    Grace be with you,

    Chris

  2. cwmyers007 says:

    RE: I Cor. 11

    Mike,

    You are saying that Paul’s proposition is modesty. But this is not all clear in the text. According to the text he is proposing that women must cover their head when prophesying or praying. Was it immodest in the first century to expose one’s hair–YES, only when praying or prophesying before the Lord. In normal day activities, it was NOT something required–some scholars argue that it was required for married women, but I need to confirm this myself before I accept the arguments of these scholars and I will get back to you on it. I think that most scholars have not jumped on this interpretation because it is so blatantly forced! Did you notice that much of your article argued for a interpretation of the Greek that came from earlier medical resources than the first century….why would Paul use such an obscure use of the Greek-a use that was largly confined to medical terminology of earlier Greek medical practicioners? This is forced interpretation. It is much easier and more understandable if Paul is saying the same thing that we would say today! We would say, “It is just more natural for men to have short hair,” and we acept this even in our culture, then why not Paul’s in his?

  3. MSH says:

    @cwmyers007: This is weasling a bit. If God gave the words of the holy text that denigrate women to secondary status, then those words came from God’s mind and will. YOU need to explain how God can give the writers words and have that NOT be the case.

  4. MSH says:

    @cwmyers007: I think the modesty (maybe “propriety” or “fidelity” would be better) aim is clear from (a) the sexual nature of the hair covering issue and (b) Paul’s warning that this is important “because of the angels.” Angels are associated with reproduction / sexuality in the OT in one passage: Gen 6:1-4.

  5. cwmyers007 says:

    Mike,

    Can you think of those passages real quick that you say denigrate women? I wanted to study them a bit. Are you sure that they are propositional?

  6. MSH says:

    @cwmyers007: There are several issues that come to mind: (1) The daughters of zelophehad in Numbers 27. Milgrom, whose scholarly focus is biblical law, has a nice excursus on it in the JPS commentary on Numbers. (2) Exod 22:16 – what if the woman in question didn’t WANT to get married? Tough luck for her, since she was the property of her father. If you were willing to pay the “penalty” of the dowry and not being able to divorce the woman, a guy in Israel could seduce an unbetrothed woman in Israel and that would result in her having to marry him. Nice deal. (3) There is no provision in Israelite law for a woman to divorce a man in any circumstance. It’s not even considered.

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