God incarnate, Balaam’s ass, the book of Genesis, and faith like a child

05 Jan

Although the Christian rejoices to confess the Nicene Creed, for example, he rejoices to hear the Biblical narratives even more.  After all, the primary purpose of theological truth extracted from Scriptures in Creeds and Confessions is not to become the primary way of teaching the faith, but to fight error when it becomes necessary.

Hence, when Arius denies that the Son of God always was, the Church, in keeping with the Rule of Faith, goes back to the Scriptures to confirm the truth they have known, however tacitly or explicitly – that Jesus was the Son of God.  Likewise with the other Christological controversies.

For we live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.  His words are Spirit and life.   We treasure every word of the Word incarnate.  We rejoice in every jot and tittle of the whole.

In regards to this, Luther said something to the effect that it would even be unacceptable to deny that Balaam’s ass spoke.

Of course, there seems to be a real difference here in denials.  If one says that Jesus was not God, this directly undermines the foundation of the Christian faith.  The person believing such a thing can have no confidence that such a Jesus is strong enough to save them.  It seems clear that denying that Balaam’s ass spoke would not necessarily undermine confidence in the same way.

And yet – it is easy to see how such a denial could have implications as well (this is not to deny that there are not “open questions”, which the LC-MS has never denied [though not all questions purported to be “open” really are….]).  When one picks at one thread through denial, it does not take long for all of it to come apart….  If a “Balaam’s ass did not speak” movement arose and gained momentum, it seems to me that such a notion might need to be addressed in the Church’s confession.

Very interesting here are the comments of Origen (c.185-254 A.D.), commentating on Genesis 1-3 (located here):

What intelligent person can imagine that there was a first “day,” then a second and a third “day”—evening and morning—without the sun, the moon, and the stars? [Sun, moon, and stars are created on the fourth “day.”] And that the first “day”—if it makes sense to call it such—existed even without a sky? [The sky is created on the second “day.”]

Who is foolish enough to believe that, like a human gardener, God planted a garden in Eden in the East and placed in it a tree of life, visible and physical, so that by biting into its fruit one would obtain life? And that by eating from another tree, one would come to know good and evil? And when it is said that God walked in the garden in the evening and that Adam hid himself behind a tree, I cannot imagine that anyone will doubt that these details point symbolically to spiritual meanings, by using an historical narrative which did not literally happen. (p.71)

Cited from Origen’s “De Principiis“ 4.1.6, translated by Marcus Borg, “Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously But Not Literally“ (2001).

Hmm.  What does it mean to be child-like? Childish? (literalistic?)

On this thread, which inspired this post, one woman said the following

Joanne, at comment #82:

The New Testament writers and Jesus take God’s creation account at face value. They believe it. The Hellenes found that account and pretty much all of the plan of salvation to be a scandal. The Hellenes great philosophical knowledge (we call much of it science), convinced them that the world simply does not agree with God’s account.

From day one, Christians maintained the creation account against the erudite Hellenes. As the quotes from Origen so clearly indicate, highly educated Hellenes who converted to Christianity were deeply embarrassed by its simplicity and its simple Greek. Surely, collating Christian belief with Hellenic philosophy, what we would call science today, would greatly improve Christianity in the eyes of the wise.

By which I mean to say that the unbelievers have always been modern and wise in the knowledge of this world. It was not in their nature to believe miracle stories or simplistic accounts of creation. In every age the believers are a stumbling block to the Jews and a scandal to the Hellenes.

And God’s simple message just might be, “believe my simple stories and you will live with me forever.”

On the other hand, another, Kitty at comment #84, said this:

It’s almost like we earn extra points for being crass literalists. Or was metaphor a product of our fallen nature? Or perhaps it’s the handiwork of the devil?

The whole thread is worth reading, I think.

What does it mean to be child-like? Childish?

And what do we make of the fact that Luther, for example, evidently believed animals died before the fall (see comment #2 and this for more)?

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Posted by on January 5, 2012 in Uncategorized


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