[I’m continuing to interact with Rodney Stark’s book.]
Earlier this year I had 2 posts addressing troubling or odd things in the Bible. One post was entitled: Understanding weird or disturbing Old Testament laws. The post got a lot of response, which you might want to check out. There is some genuine and calm dialogue between those with differing views.
One thing I emphasized was that the Old Testament was written in a completely different time, place, and culture – so, of course, some things are going to seem odd or disturbing to us in the 21st century. All laws are written within a culture and reflect the culture. In order for some things in the Old Testament to make at least a little more sense, we need to take the time to understand life in the ancient near east. We must realize that this was the situation God was “stepping into” in order to call out a people to Himself.
Another key point [that was made more in the comments of the post] was that God graciously condescends himself and communicates with people in a way that matches the time and place in history, as well as the ability to comprehend. If God used methods totally foreign to the place and time, likely the people would be frightened, confused, or otherwise not understand. Therefore, we will naturally see similarities between the way God was working and the surrounding culture at the time. For me, this makes sense and is actually a supporting argument for God and the Bible.
Yet, some see it differently. Nate left these comments:
But to offer a different perspective, it seems to me that the striking similarity between the Old Testament and other ancient writings shows it to be just another product of its time. I find it unlikely that a God who transcends time and space would inspire people in the time of Moses to write things that fit with other writings from the time of Moses. Why should we assume that required inspiration at all? I think if you appeal to the Code of Hammurabi and such like in an effort to show its similarities to the Bible, then it becomes harder to make the case that things like the Code of Hammurabi are uninspired, but the Bible is.
So, you see, different people can interpret or perceive the same facts or evidence in a different way. See the comments for more of Nate’s articulate thoughts.
Well, I am getting around to Stark’s book! This idea of God condescending himself and communicating with people in a way that matches the time and place in history, has an actual name for which I was unaware. It is divine accommodation. Stark is addressing some other biblical issues, and not these specific Old Testament concerns, but the concept applies here as well.
The doctrine of divine accommodation holds that God’s communications with humans are always limited to their current capacity to comprehend. As St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote in the fourth century, God is so “far above our nature and inaccessible to all approach” that he, in effect, speaks to us in baby talk, thereby giving “to our human nature what it is capable of receiving.” (Stark, page 83)
…All Scripture was revealed within the confines of human comprehension at the time. Here we confront one of the most fundamental, yet remarkably neglected, of all Judeo-Christian premises, that of Divine Accommodation. This premise holds that God’s revelations are limited to the current capacity of humans to comprehend – that in order to communicate with humans God is forced to accommodate their incomprehension by resorting the equivalent of baby talk. (Stark, pages 292-293)
While Stark is emphasizing the content of the communication, I think the method of communication certainly applies as well. God has revealed himself at times throughout history, and in his great wisdom, God shares what people are ready for and in a way that they can understand it. I am thankful for this type of God.