Archive for the ‘Mark Olson’ Category

The Thomas Jefferson + Creed Hermeneutic

April 7, 2010

I was (at first) amused to read a post by Mark Olson (Orthodox Church in America) titled “Noetic Noah and the Fluffy Hermeneutic.” Olson rejects large swaths of the historical text of the Old Testament with fluffy statements like “Giants are mythic or noetic creatures” and, referring to the location of the garden of Eden, he describes it as “the juncture of four rivers. Real rivers which however in reality are nowhere near each other.”

As to Olson’s latter claim, Noah’s flood dramatically altered the landscape of Earth. The rivers we call by the names of the four Eden rivers are rivers named after those rivers. Likewise, the giants of Scripture are real beings.

As explained at 1 Samuel 17:4-7, Goliath was six cubits and a span (about 9 ft. 4 in.) tall, his armor weighed 5,000 shekels of brass (about 150 lbs.), and the head of his spear weighed 600 shekels of iron (or nearly 20 lbs.). This is a real, though very large, human being. Likewise Og, king of Bashan, had a bed that was nine cubits long and four cubits wide (Deuteronomy 3:11), made out of iron, suggesting that he too was a prodigiously large man.

But Olson goes from merely fluffy to blasphemous when he writes:

Did everything recounted in Exodus take place exactly as the text recounts? Well, as a comparison there may have been a historic King of rocky Ithaca named Odysseus but that does not mean he killed a giant man with one eye. That also does not mean that nothing recounted in the Odyssey took place or that the story contains no great moral truths because Polyphemus is purely or mostly noetic.

While we might expect an atheist like Dan Barker to make such a comparison, it should shock us to hear a person who professes to be a Christian making such a comment.

While Olson writes that, Justin Martyr wrote:

Do not suppose, you Greeks, that my separation from your customs is unreasonable and unthinking; for I found in them nothing that is holy or acceptable to God. For the very compositions of your poets are monuments of madness and intemperance. For any one who becomes the scholar of your most eminent instructor, is more beset by difficulties than all men besides. For first they say that Agamemnon, abetting the extravagant lust of his brother, and his madness and unrestrained desire, readily gave even his daughter to be sacrificed, and troubled all Greece that he might rescue Helen, who had been ravished by the leprous shepherd. But when in the course of the war they took captives, Agamemnon was himself taken captive by Chryseis, and for Briseis’ sake kindled a feud with the son of Thetis. And Pelides himself, who crossed the river, overthrew Troy, and subdued Hector, this your hero became the slave of Polyxena, and was conquered by a dead Amazon; and putting off the god-fabricated armour, and donning the hymeneal robe, he became a sacrifice of love in the temple of Apollo. And the Ithacan Ulysses made a virtue of a vice. And indeed his sailing past the Sirens gave evidence that he was destitute of worthy prudence, because he could not depend on his prudence for stopping his ears. Ajax, son of Telamon, who bore the shield of sevenfold ox-hide, went mad when he was defeated in the contest with Ulysses for the armour. Such things I have no desire to be instructed in. Of such virtue I am not covetous, that I should believe the myths of Homer. For the whole rhapsody, the beginning and end both of the Iliad and the Odyssey is— a woman.

– Justin Martyr, Discourse to the Greeks, Chapter 1

Read also this testimony:

Men of Greece, when I came to examine the Christian writings, I found not any folly in them, as I had found in the celebrated Homer, who has said concerning the wars of the two trials: “Because of Helen, many of the Greeks perished at Troy, away from their beloved home.” For, first of all, we are told concerning Agamemnon their king, that by reason of the foolishness of his brother Menelaus, and the violence of his madness, and the uncontrollable nature of his passion, he resolved to go and rescue Helen from the hands of a certain leprous shepherd; and afterwards, when the Greeks had become victorious in the war, and burnt cities, and taken women and children captive, and the land was filled with blood, and the rivers with corpses, Agamemnon himself also was found to be taken captive by his passion for Briseis. Patroclus, again, we are told, was slain, and Achilles, the son of the goddess Thetis, mourned over him; Hector was dragged along the ground, and Priam and Hecuba together were weeping over the loss of their children; Astyanax, the son of Hector, was thrown down from the walls of Ilion, and his mother Andromache the mighty Ajax bore away into captivity; and that which was taken as booty was after a little while, all squandered in sensual indulgence.

Of the wiles of Odysseus the son of Laertes, and of his murders, who shall tell the tale? For of a hundred and ten suitors did his house in one day become the grave, and it was filled with corpses and blood. He, too, it was that by his wickedness gained the praises of men, because through his pre-eminence in craft he escaped detection; he, too, it was who, you say, sailed upon the sea, and heard not the voice of the Sirens only because he stopped his ears with wax.

The famous Achilles, again, the son of Peleus, who bounded across the river, and routed the Trojans, and slew Hector—this said hero of yours became the slave of Philoxena, and was overcome by an Amazon as she lay dead and stretched upon her bier; and he put off his armour, and arrayed himself in nuptial garments, and finally fell a sacrifice to love.

Thus much concerning your great “men;” and you, Homer, had deserved forgiveness, if your silly story-telling had gone so far only as to prate about men, and not about the gods. As for what he says about the gods, I am ashamed even to speak of it: for the stories that have been invented about them are very wicked and shocking; passing strange, too, and not to be believed; and, if the truth must be told, fit only to be laughed at. For a person will be compelled to laugh when he meets with them, and will not believe them when he hears them. For think of gods who did not one of them observe the laws of rectitude, or of purity, or of modesty, but were adulterers, and spent their time in debauchery, and yet were not condemned to death, as they ought to have been!

– Ambrose a chief man of the Greeks (contemporary with Origen c. 185–254), Memorial

That is the historic approach to Homer, to condemn its wickedness, not to liken the Holy Scripture to its idle and wicked tales. Such should be reserved for scoffers like Dan Barker or Thomas Jefferson.

Olson doesn’t go quite as far as Barker or Thomas Jefferson, though. He accepts those things that are mentioned in “the Creed,” but since there are lots of historical passages of the Old Testament that are not specifically he listed in the creed, he views them as adiaphora (a thing indifferent, which one can accept or not).

In essence, the only thing that prevents Olson from denying the virgin birth as a myth is the fact that it made it into the creed. Pontius Pilate? Well, he’s in the creed. Herod better watch out though! We’re not sure whether “maker of heavens and earth” is enough to get Olson to believe Creationism (we seriously doubt it), and Olson plainly denies the flood. His comment in that regard provides the basis for our conclusion:

Finally, you wonder that a person who does believe in the literal flood and I, who does not, can be said to worship the same religion.

Notice how he speaks of worshiping a religion. For us (Reformed Christians) we do not worship a religion – we worship God. Whether we rightly or wrongly worship God is judged by how closely we follow God’s instruction for worship.

Two quick further words of caution. While Olson is attending an OCA parish, and while he is apparently studying to serve in that church in a minor way (as a “reader”), he’s not an official spokesman for his religion. Also, while rejecting the historical narratives of the Old Testament as such is a serious error, it may be that the error falls short of being, in itself, a denial of the gospel.


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