Accommodationism's Illusion of Solving Biblical Problems - Creation and Evolution

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Accommodationism's Illusion of Solving Biblical Problems

English > Fields of Research > Biblical Theology

P. Rüst (2004), Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 56/3, 235-236;
Original web publication by the American Scientific Affiliation (but with defunct e-mail address):

A response to the claim that God accommodates himself to mythological worldviews, making Genesis 1-11 necessarily unhistorical.

Main points:

We know ancient Hebrew from virtually nothing but the biblical texts. With rare expressions, we may not know which of several possible interpretations is "correct". They may not even be mutually exclusive, but ambiguous, like some messianic prophecies.

This openness allows both the Bible and the scientific data to freely say what they say, even things unknown at the prophet's time. A theory of biblical inspiration must allow for the possibility of God gently directing his prophets' thinking to choose formulations compatible with reality.

Source critics fragment the texts and rewrite Israel's history. Early Genesis chapters are claimed to be late copies of Mesopotamian myths. This may lead to unnecessary or even destructive offenses to the unwary. There is sufficient unavoidable offense in the cross of Christ.

God gave the Bible for all times and all cultures, and he may have had his reasons for preventing avoidable offenses for later readers. This expectation of harmony cannot be proved, but it seems significant that no unambiguous case of explicit incompatibility with known facts has been documented.


Rock climbing in the Säntis massif (2502 m, cantons of Appenzell Innerrhoden, Appenzell Ausserrhoden, St.Gallen), Switzerland: view from the Fänli climbing route southeast of the Hundstein (2157) down onto Lake Fälen (1452 m). The white slopes are not snow or ice, but solid white limestone rock, ideal for climbing.

I am the lower one of the two climbers you see, while our guide is ahead, securing our ropes and taking the picture. My companion seems to be taking advantage of a secure stand to resolve some rope crossovers, before he can continue. Don't bother about enlarging the picture: you won't recognize me anyway, due to the helmet and insufficient resolution.

- Rock climbers need maps, both survey and detail maps, both of them very precise. If any small detail is faulty, the climbers may be misled into a part of the wall where they cannot continue - or even get into danger. They also must be able to keep the overview over the whole route, and even the global picture of the mountain range. All of this must be reliable information.

- Even much more important for the hobby climbers shown in the picture is the invisible guide whose hold on the ropes must be absolutely reliable. He is the one who knows exactly where the route is leading, where his guests will be able to pass through, and how long they will be able to climb without unnecessary fatigue. He may even choose some variants in the route.

- A further important aspect for success is some external knowledge, like the weather forcast, as well as the fact of having prepared oneself properly for the climb.

- This is a metaphor for a proper interpretation of a biblical text, such as Genesis 1. If the text were faulty, we as simple lowly created humans would be in no position to distinguish between aspects of the revelation that come from God and others that are due to corruption. In important questions, some help may be found by comparing different parts of a text and its wider context, up to the whole canonical Bible and extrabiblical facts. But we cannot come to any reliable conclusions if we must assume that there are serious factual errors in the text.

- Much more important even is the invisible guide above who holds us in every detail. He gently keeps the rope taut, pulling it exactly at the speed we can manage. He even gives us some leeway when we are having trouble, so we can always climb ourselves at our own speed and disposition, without hoisting us by force. In this sense he does accommodate himself to our weakness, but always keeping us in the straight path, in his dependence. It all works only for those who are tied to the guide by the rope which is a metaphor for a complete confidence in him, based on a personal decision of faith.

- Those who reject the complete reliability of the biblical texts operate with the concept of God "accommodating" himself to the errors of the addressees. Some hold the first readers' culture, including even erroneous beliefs, to be the sole key for interpreting a text correctly, ignoring the possibility of genuine revelation and real prophecy.

- Even more troublesome is the concept of God accommodating himself to the faulty morals of the people addressed. This idea flies in the face of God's justice and holiness, which he will never violate. This is a principle made clear throughout his revelation. He does reveal gradually, stepwise, but not in a way that would mislead sincere believers. He doesn't lie, but is reliable throughout.

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