Tuesday, June 10, 2014

"Ancient cosmology" - The 3-tiered universe?

Philippians 2:6-11 is a beloved passage in Scripture. ... The apostle Paul concludes the hymn in verses 9-11:

Therefore God exalted him [Jesus] to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name
that at the name of Jesus every name should bow
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord.

When singing this hymn, we do not often think about the phrase "under the earth." Yet if we examine the original Greek, it is a translation of katachtoni┼Źn, which is made up of the preposition kata meaning "down" and the noun chthonios referring to the "underworld" or "subterranean world." ... In other words, Paul is referring to an ancient understanding of the structure of the cosmos known as the "3-tier universe"...

... Is the purpose of Philippians 2:6-11 to reveal science and the structure of the universe [3-tier universe]? Most Christians would say no...

... The Greek word katachtoni┼Źnin verse 10 refers to the underworld, and it clearly indicates that Paul accepted the 3-tier universe.

— Denis O. Lamoureux, "No Historical Adam: Evolutionary Creation View," in Matthew Barrett, Ardel B. Caneday (eds.), Four Views on the historical Adam (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013), 47-49

A major point Dr. Lamoureux made against all forms of creationism and against a historical Adam is the issue of "ancient science" and "ancient cosmologies." Since the ancients were clearly not moderns, we need to think of them in terms of their ancient cosmologies. One aspect of ancient cosmologies, so thought, was the model of the 3-tier universe, of which a most bizarre photo is shown, which looks something like this

It is here that Lamoureux makes his argument. From Philippians 2:9-11, he "shows" that Paul affirms this 3-tiered universe, and rhetorically asks if this means that Scripture is lying, since most certainly there is no actual 3-tier universe present today. The obvious answer is no. The ancients use ancient phenomenological language, "ancient science," "ancient cosmology" and "ancient biology" (i.e. animals producing after its kind) which looks true on the surface, but are not actually true. So reading the ancients with this distinction between "message" and "incident" allow us to claim that all the Bible states about cosmology and science are true "on the surface," but might not be true (in fact mostly false) actually.

If one stops the knee-jerk reaction, one can see why this might seem plausible, and how it seems to do some justice to the Bible's claims without sacrificing inerrancy. The main error with Lamoureux's proposed solution comes through a false idea of how the ancients think, which is a failure to let Scripture determine its own cosmology before dealing with the empirical data of the ancients. It is in other words eisegesis, not exegesis, because it allows ANE studies to dictate the context of the Bible instead of using ANE studies as guides to the context of Scripture.

I have previously written on the problems of ANE studies with its Enlightenment ideas. What I want to focus on is this particular assertion of the 3-tiered universe. Lamoureux claims that the 3-tiered universe is most certainly wrong. In response, I would most certainly agree if one means, by the phrase "3-tiered universe," that ridiculous picture of ancient cosmology. However, is that the only way to understand the three tiers of Philippians 2:9-11? Of course not!

Decoupled from such silly pictures, can we hold that there are 3 parts of the universe, namely, (1) heaven, (2) earth, (3) underworld? I should hope so. Christians believe in a heaven, the earth, and hell for starters. Yes, Hades or Sheol is not really hell, but the point is that the biblical testimony shows at least three tiers. In other words, for Lamoureux to be able to claim to remain orthodox, he must hold to the realities of heaven, earth, and hell EVEN today in our modern age. He should not think of them as mere appearances which are actually untrue, the way he takes "ancient cosmology." So why then must we take the biblical data and use it, some of it interpreted in the most literalistic sense, to construct some ridiculous cosmological pictures that the ancients probably might not even own as their own? Lamoureux did place in his sections ancient pictures, but he ruled out a priori any considerations that they are corruptions of the original word-description of the actual creation account passed down faithfully to Moses. Since the creation account is transmitted in the form of words, it is not surprising if the pagan descendants of Noah were wrong in their interpretation of the oral or written account as they drew their pictures.

As I have written, just because something is not scientific does not mean that it is not true. That is the problem with the false dichotomy created by the debate over concordism. A pox on both their houses! All of the "ancient science" and "ancient cosmology" of the Bible are true, if one interprets them correctly, not as interpreted as like some ridiculous so-called "ancient cosmological picture." To Lamoureux's challenge on the 3-tiered universe, I would state that I affirm three tiers in the universe in this modern age, but NOT his false understanding of them.

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