Theological Malpractice

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While Bible study, reading books and listening to videos of other great apologists is a good place to learn about apologetics, sometimes hitting the streets is a better way to learn about it through encounters with real people and their ideas. One of the great advantages of being out on the street is that you get to hear the more outlandish arguments and ideas held to by people. My recent trip out for First Fridays allowed me the encounter with a strange combination of theological assertions proposed by an individual. It was a blessing to be able to use the Greek text in my cell phone as well as the Hebrew text to confront him with the Scriptures in their original language and expose some of the fallacies he was expounding.

He made the assertion that since the phrase “tree of life” was used in Genesis and Revelation, Genesis was purely apocalyptic and not a literal historical account of the creation. This rather strange and foolish argument is predicated on certain false understandings related to the Scripture. Because the phrase is used in two different books under two different circumstances does not necessarily mean that the phrase means exactly the same thing both times. This is an important rule of thumb because the passages immediate context has a great deal of bearing on what a phrase means. The second foolish assertion that the gentleman had was that the genre of apocalyptic writing precludes anything within that writing from being actual fact and that all references within the writing must be symbolic. It is not necessarily true that everything in a piece of apocalyptic literature is not actual. Third, just because someone has done a little theological research or has a knowledge of the original languages that consists only of being able to read a few articles on a few words and try to make whole cases out of them makes an argument correct. It is always good to use commentaries and lexicons but oversimplification was at the heart of the fallacy of this gentleman’s reasoning.

Let’s discuss some counters to this gentleman’s rather outlandish way of looking at Genesis. The first eleven chapters of Genesis are Hebrew narrative this is indicated by the formal grammar of the passage. An analysis of the genre based on grammar is terribly important. There is a feature often translated “and” based on a Hebrew prefix which is indicative of Hebrew historical narrative and this specific feature appears throughout Genesis chapters one through eleven. The testimony of the Pentateuch itself we see Moses talking in chapters one through eleven. Since the testimony of the rest of the Pentateuch considers the creation story literal it cannot be regarded as apocalyptic because immediately surrounding this specific section of the Scriptures testimony is given that it is not to be treated as apocalyptic.

The gentleman’s counter accusation is while I understood Hebrew and Greek; I was guilty of putting a North American church gloss on my understanding of the Scriptures. As a Jewish person who came to faith through the Hebrew Scriptures, this charge was utterly ridiculous and was not even a good example of an ad hominem argument. Finally, in a fit of temper, he started stating that if God rested on the 7th day my God was a weak God. However, Jesus believed that God rested on the 7th day and took the creation story literally. Furthermore, the fact that God rested does not indicate that his ceasing from creating new things was related to any sort of physical tiredness at all but rather a voluntary choice. The voluntary choice of ceasing to create does not indicate any sort of weakness on God’s part at all but a choice the sovereign God made.

In short, this gentleman is an example of so much of what I see on the streets and in our society. I call it soundbite theology or individuals piece together parts of Scripture to create their own theology without regard to the proper method of interpretation and sound scholarship. Part of this ridiculousness is due to postmodern thinking that language and grammar are not grounded in objective truth. Our age also demonstrates a certain disdain for logic and scholarship which certainly will result in people being led to ridiculous positions and absurd theology. The Internet can teach us much, but we cannot piece together various Internet videos alone without a framework and decide that we are an expert in that field. The background is important, so is disciplined study and it behooves us to take the time to study the Scriptures and make ourselves accountable to sound individuals who may point out our missteps.