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Monday, September 17, 2012

Luther's Chronology, Part 6a (James Barr review)

[2017-10-28: added notes in red below]
In Part 5 of this series (Table of Contents in Part 1 here), I commented on the modern scholar Professor James Barr († 2006) who wrote several articles about Biblical chronology:
Professor Barr "was ordained to the ministry of the Church of Scotland" which is Presbyterian in doctrine – essentially Calvinist.  Judging by his professorships and life, he would have claimed to be a Christian.  However in his 1999 article for the American Philosophical Society, he said the following:
...the question of modern “creationism,” which will certainly be in the minds of some of you. Modern creationists commonly want a world with a shorter duration than evolutionary theory requires, a world perhaps twelve thousand or fifteen thousand years old. Such a figure would be more like the biblical world but would not agree with it exactly or literally. A literal biblical chronology would mean a world created in seven days about 4000 b.c., give or take one or two hundred years. But many creationists do not want to be biblical literalists. Of course the Bible in a general way is a big source of inspiration for their movement, but the exact figures of the Bible are not a matter of principle for them, as I understand them.  In my opinion it was a big mistake for many of the mainline religious organizations when they opposed the creationists by saying that the Bible should not be taken literally. This is not what the creationists do. It is, on the contrary, what the churches and other organizations should do: that is, to argue that, in this respect, the Bible’s figures should be taken literally, because it is when they are taken literally that it becomes clear that they are not historically or scientifically true.
Professor Barr wanted to appear to be on the "fence": one foot in Christianity, one foot in modern science.  He wants us to take the people of the Bible "literally", but "not historically or scientifically true".  By saying this, Professor Barr could keep his membership in both Christianity (he is a "modern creationist") and the American Philosophical Society (Bible's figures were not historically true).  Although the "Bible in a general way is a big source of inspiration" for Professor Barr, he does not believe that Holy Scripture is inerrant and infallible.

One can contrast this with what Franz Pieper taught in his Christian Dogmatics, volume 1, pages 317-318:
Scripture does not treat everything a man can know, for example, the things pertaining to the sphere of earthly or civil life.  Scripture is certainly not, as some have put it, "a general encyclopedia of human knowledge." It is not a textbook of agriculture or architecture or of medical science. It is not "a manual of history and geography."  Natural reason teaches these things, as Luther often reminds us, if men will only use their reason.  But remember: When Scripture incidentally treats a scientific subject, it is always right, let "science" say what it pleases; for πασα γραφη θεοπνευστος.  Thus Luther says concerning the chronological data of Scripture that the Bible is the only book in which historical errors cannot occur (St. L. XIV:491). And when the "enthusiasts" of ancient and particularly of modern times assert that wine is under all circumstances "poison," we know from Scripture that this is not true. (John 2:1-11; 1 Tim. 5:23; etc.)  Nevertheless, it must be maintained that the Bible is not a textbook of "universal human knowledge."  There is a large area of human knowledge that is based on natural reason and human experience.
So we see before going into the details of Professor Barr's article on Luther's Chronikon that he will surely find fault with Luther who does not find fault with Holy Scripture.  But will he find something of use?

In the next Part 6b, I will go into the details of Professor Barr's article on Luther.

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