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Should we apply logic and reason to Scripture?

Postby Numbers » Thu Mar 16, 2017 8:05 am

I would classify myself as a legalist compared to most commenters. I believe logic and reason should only go so far as to interpret the immediate context, local context, and whole context of the Bible.
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Re: Should we apply logic and reason to Scripture?

Postby jimwalton » Thu Mar 16, 2017 8:25 am

Absolutely, yes. We should apply logic and reason to Scripture. Paul says (2 Tim. 3.16) that Scripture was written to give us teaching (reliable knowledge), rebuke (detecting and exposing what is false), correcting (the path to restoration and healing), and training in right conduct (practical application of what we know). He says in 2 Timothy 3.15 that the Scripture is able to make us wise. It logically follows that we should apply logic and reason to Scripture. One of the uniquenesses of Christianity is its historical connection. We are able to test at least some of the reliability of a text by looking at the parallel facts in history (using logic and reason). Christianity also teaches that God is the author of science as well as Scripture, so we can expect that the two don't contradict each other (using logic and reason). The Bible has also been a major contributor to philosophical thought, our legal foundations, and ethical principles (all using logic and reason).

Proper interpreters of Scripture use logic and reason in their approach to hermeneutics:

- Scripture has only one meaning and should be taken the way it was meant to be taken.
- Interpret words in harmony with their meaning in the times of the author.
- Interpret a word in relation to its sentence and context.
- Interpret a passage in harmony with its context.
- When an inanimate object is used to describe a living being, we can understand that to be figurative, not literal.
- When an expression is out of character with the thing described, the statement may be considered to be figurative.
- Interpret the words of the prophets in their usual, literal and historical sense, unless the context or manner in which they are fulfilled clearly indicates they have a symbolic meaning. Their fulfillment may be in installments, each fulfillment being a pledge of something more to follow.
- You must understand the Bible grammatically before you can understand it theologically.
- Historical facts or events become symbols of spiritual truths only if the Scriptures so designate them.
- A doctrine cannot be considered biblical unless it sums up and includes all that the Scriptures say about it.

Etc.

All of these analytical tools are based in logic and reason.

But, to be fair, there is also a point where the works of God extend beyond mere reason. Because sin has distorted people's thinking, and, figuratively speaking, has turned our world upside down and our way of thinking inside out, sometimes God's ways are counter-intuitive and appear unreasonable.

- Conquer a city by marching around it and blowing trumpets
- Part waters by holding a stick over them
- Get water out of a rock by hitting it

There are also teachings in Scripture that are intentionally paradoxical.

- Save your life by losing it
- Lead by being a servant
- The last shall be first

Etc.

In other words, we have to interpret Scripture with the best intellectual tools at our disposal, but also understanding the intent of the author. Many passages are meant to be approached in the context of logic and reason; some texts are meant to challenge our notions of logic and reason with a greater wisdom.
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Re: Should we apply logic and reason to Scripture?

Postby Chucky » Thu Mar 16, 2017 11:53 am

Amen, very well stated brother!
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Re: Should we apply logic and reason to Scripture?

Postby Numbers » Thu Mar 16, 2017 11:57 am

I agree wholly with the way you described proper hermeneutics. This addresses the first part of my question, but I need a little clarification. Can logic and reason be used to negate a Biblical command? I feel like I've poorly worded my question.
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Re: Should we apply logic and reason to Scripture?

Postby jimwalton » Thu Mar 16, 2017 11:57 am

The first part of the answer would be to determine if the command was meant specifically for the subject at the time, or if it was meant for all people at all times. After all, we know that though Scripture was written *for* us, it was written *to* someone else. The next layer would be to determine, if it was meant to apply to more than the subject, is it universal or situational. For instance, when Jesus told (commanded) the rich young ruler to sell all that he had, we understand Jesus was talking to this guy alone—that we are not all expected to sell everything we own. But some people do take that to heart and make a vow of poverty, which is all right. But the command was still not issued to all believers for all times.

This is where hermeneutics comes to play. We have to discern the intent of the author and what is being commanded. Generally speaking, to answer your question, if behind the command is the expectation that if you are a follower of God you are required to obey the command, then our logic or reasons don't negate the imperatives of God.

It sounds like you have a specific command, or some specific commands, in mind. It would probably make sense to deal with your particular concern rather than only with generalities (which could lead to confusion, or an inappropriate answer on my part).
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Re: Should we apply logic and reason to Scripture?

Postby Solid State Radio » Sun Mar 19, 2017 3:17 pm

> Christianity also teaches that God is the author of science as well as Scripture, so we can expect that the two don't contradict each other

So when Genesis says God created plants before he created the sun, how do we interpret that? And that God created birds before land animals?
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Re: Should we apply logic and reason to Scripture?

Postby jimwalton » Sun Mar 19, 2017 3:21 pm

There is an approach to Genesis 1-2, to which I subscribe, that understands them to be about function, not structure. Even though God created the world (that is obvious from other places in the Bible), that is not what Genesis 1-2 are about. Instead, Gen. 1-2 are about how God ordered the cosmos and gave it its function as his temple, and humanity as his priest and priestess, co-regents of the earth to care for sacred space. For instance, the creation of light and darkness were to function as day and night, ordering time. The separation of the "firmament" were so that they could function as the source of climate. The separation of land and sea were so that the land could function to bring forth life for survival and balance: agriculture and the circle of life. The sun moon and stars were to function to give seasons: calendar. Birds, fish, and animals function to create diversity, balance, and food. Man and woman were to function to be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and rule it. Function, not structure.

From this perspective, the questions of science are left to science, because the Bible tells *that* God created the universe, but not *how*, by what process, or how long it all took. If science says it was gradual, then it was gradual. Truth is truth. But the Bible tells about its order, function, and purpose: it is God's temple, designed to give him glory and sustain life, and our purpose is to care for it, and to have a relationship with him. Both evolution and Genesis can be true. We don't have to choose one or the other.

In a functional reading (which makes perfect sense to me), Genesis 1 is not about chronology or even material creation, but about how God created the cosmos, and especially the earth, to function—what role everything plays. And in that sense I am applying logic and reason to Scripture.
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Re: Should we apply logic and reason to Scripture?

Postby Solid State Radio » Mon Mar 20, 2017 8:41 am

> Even though God created the world (that is obvious from other places in the Bible), that is not what Genesis 1-2 are about.

Even though they begin with the most obvious statement of "God created the heavens and the world"?

> Function, not structure.

And yet, this interpretation isn't obvious from the text. It seems much more like a chronological account of creation. A history. A timeline.

I don't know why I'd believe that your interpretation isn't a post-hoc rationalisation to account for what science tells us.

> or how long it all took

It literally says six days.
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Re: Should we apply logic and reason to Scripture?

Postby jimwalton » Mon Mar 20, 2017 8:55 am

Thanks for a chance to reply. The opening verse, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" is a title—the heading of the chapter, a literary introduction, a summary of what follows. The chapter then explains what is meant by it. You need to understand that in the ancient world something was "created" when it became functional. The desert, for instance, was uncreated. It was part of disorder. In Egypt, existence was associated with something having been differentiated. In the ancient Near East, it was far more of concern to them to determine who controlled functions rather than who/what gave something its physical form. Something was created when it was given a function.

This interpretation isn't obvious from the text because our mindset and worldview is post-enlightenment Western-oriented modernism (or postmodernism), and the worldview of the ancient Near East. We are guilty of Presentism and anachronism when we read the text.

Any ancient person who would read Genesis 1 would tell you in an instant that it's a temple text. Any modern person reading the text would see it as a chronological quasi-scientific account of material creation. What is "obvious" to us is because of our worldview, not because of the text itself.

The ancients would know it as a temple text. In the ANE, the people would build a temple for their god. Then they would spend 7 days rehearsing the great works of their god and how he would make this building that was already there functional for his purposes. And then on the 7th day this god would come to "rest" in his temple, meaning he would come there to live, to dwell with his people, to function as their god and to engage their daily lives with his presence and actions.

In the Bible God had created his own temple, because any temple made by human hands would be inadequate for him. The cosmos was his temple. The seven days mentioned in Genesis 1 is a rehearsal of how he made the cosmos and the earth to function as his temple and as his dwelling place, and then on the 7th day he came to rest in it, meaning he came to live there and engage his people and be their God.
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Re: Should we apply logic and reason to Scripture?

Postby Solid State Radio » Mon Mar 20, 2017 3:09 pm

> Any ancient person who would read Genesis 1 would tell you in an instant that it's a temple text.

How do you know? I'll obviously grant that our worldview is different from that of other cultures, but what justification do you have for speaking on behalf of those other cultures?

> Then they would spend 7 days rehearsing the great works of their god and how he would make this building that was already there functional for his purposes.

Source?

One would have thought that an omniscient God would account for different cultures' points of view when they came to interpret this ancient text, and realise how it comes across as looking like an obvious and wrong account of a literal creation.

Regardless of whether all of what you say is true, why did Genesis get the order wrong of creation? Were they just making it up for their supposed festival?
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