On Scripture using Accommodated Language

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable…”

2 Tim. 3:16

“And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies.”

Josh. 10:13

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Subsection

On Geocentrism & Heliocentrism

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Order of Contents

Articles  4
Quotes  3
Historical Theology  4+
Latin

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Articles

1600’s

van Mastricht, Peter – chs. 1 & 5  of Vindications of the Truth & Authority of Sacred Scripture in Philosophical Matters Against the Dissertations of Dr. Christopher Wittich  (Utrecht, 1655)  in ch. 4, pp. 67-77 & 84-104  of J.A. Schlebusch, Cartesianism & Reformed Scholastic Theology: A Comparative Study of the Controversy  a Master’s thesis  (Univ. of the Free State, South Africa, 2013)

Ch. 1 discusses the unity and differences between philosophy and theology, a Christian philosophy, and legitimate and illegitimate principles of accommodation in the language of Scripture. 

In ch. 5, van Mastricht examines and vindicates 15 Scriptures that Wittich brought to claim that Scripture uses approving language of people’s false beliefs in, not just natural, but practical, moral and spiritual things.

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1800’s

Hodge, Charles – ‘Charles Christian Tittmann on Historical Interpretation’  in Biblical Repertory: a Collection of Tracts in Biblical Literature  (Princeton Press, 1825)

Fairbairn, Patrick – Part 1st, Section 5th, ‘Of False & True Accommodation, or the Influence that should be Allowed to Prevailing Modes of Thought in Fashioning the Views & Utterances of the Sacred Writers’  in Hermeneutical Manual…  (Edinburgh, 1858), pp. 85-102

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2000’s

Guenther, Dan – ‘The Accommodation Doctrine’  (2010)  a paper for a systematic theology class under J.I. Packer

Not every opinion in this paper is recommended, especially with regard to the author’s tolerance for a non-historical reading of Gen. 1 and his breadth of what accommodation may encompass, but the paper is generally substantive, insightful, thought-provoking and helpful in its discussion, especially with regard to evangelical authors in the contemporary discussion, and working through the issues.

Abstract: “In fact, many scriptural difficulties can be resolved in this way: ancient views of nature, ethical inconsistencies, anthropomorphisms, irregular histories, genealogies and numerical problems. However, some contemporary theologians take issue with the idea that God would speak in “errant” language—making his Word less than completely truthful. This paper will argue that the doctrine of accommodation is fully consonant with the doctrine of inerrancy, when (a) accommodation is understood as an essential guide for biblical interpretation, and (b) inerrancy is understood in light of its motivating principle.”

Madueme, Hans – ‘Inerrancy & Divine Accommodation’  (2018)  Table Talk Magazine

Dr. Madueme has been a reformed professor of theological studies at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, GA.

Van Raalte, Theodore G. – ch. 11, ‘Another Wax Nose?: Accommodation in Divine Revelation’  in eds. te Velde & Visscher, Correctly Handling the Word of Truth: Reformed Hermeneutics Today  Pre  (Lucerna; Wipf & Stock, 2014), pp. 226-252

Van Raalte is a professor of ecclesiology in the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary in Ontario, Canada.

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Quote

John Calvin

Commentary on Gen. 1:15

“By this method (as I have before observed) the dishonesty of those men is sufficiently rebuked, who censure Moses for not speaking with greater exactness. For as it became a theologian, he had respect to us rather than to the stars. Nor, in truth, was he ignorant of the fact, that the moon had not sufficient brightness to enlighten the earth, unless it borrowed from the sun; but he deemed it enough to declare what we all may plainly perceive, that the moon is a dispenser of light to us.

That it is, as the astronomers assert, an opaque body, I allow to be true, while I deny it to be a dark body. For, first, since it is placed above the element of fire, it must of necessity be a fiery body.†  Hence it follows, that it is also luminous; but seeing that it has not light sufficient to penetrate to us, it borrows what is wanting from the sun.”

† “Cavlin understood that the moon’s surface consisted of a reflective element and thus did not emit light itself.” – Hoon J. Lee

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Commentary on Gen. 1:16

“16. The greater light I have said, that Moses does not here subtilely descant, as a philosopher, on the secrets of nature, as may be seen in these words.  First, he assigns a place in the expanse of heaven to the planets and stars; but astronomers make a distinction of spheres, and, at the same time, teach that the fixed stars have their proper place in the firmament.  Moses makes two great luminaries; but astronomers prove, by conclusive reasons that the star of Saturn, which on account of its great distance, appears the least of all, is greater than the moon.

Here lies the difference: Moses wrote in a popular style things which without instruction, all ordinary persons, endued with common sense, are able to understand; but astronomers investigate with great labor whatever the sagacity of the human mind can comprehend. Nevertheless, this study is not to be reprobated, nor this science to be condemned, because some frantic persons are wont boldly to reject whatever is unknown to them. For astronomy is not only pleasant, but also very useful to be known: it cannot be denied that this art unfolds the admirable wisdom of God.

Wherefore, as ingenious men are to be honored who have expended useful labor on this subject, so they who have leisure and capacity ought not to neglect this kind of exercise. Nor did Moses truly wish to withdraw us from this pursuit in omitting such things as are peculiar to the art; but because he was ordained a teacher as well of the unlearned and rude as of the learned, he could not otherwise fulfill his office than by descending to this grosser method of instruction.  Had he spoken of things generally unknown, the uneducated might have pleaded in excuse that such subjects were beyond their capacity.

Lastly since the Spirit of God here opens a common school for all, it is not surprising that he should chiefly choose those subjects which would be intelligible to all. If the astronomer inquires respecting the actual dimensions of the stars, he will find the moon to be less than Saturn; but this is something abstruse, for to the sight it appears differently. Moses, therefore, rather adapts his discourse to common usage. For since the Lord stretches forth, as it were, his hand to us in causing us to enjoy the brightness of the sun and moon, how great would be our ingratitude were we to close our eyes against our own experience? There is therefore no reason why janglers should deride the unskilfulness of Moses in making the moon the second luminary; for he does not call us up into heaven, he only proposes things which lie open before our eyes. Let the astronomers possess their more exalted knowledge; but, in the meantime, they who perceive by the moon the splendor of night, are convicted by its use of perverse ingratitude unless they acknowledge the beneficence of God.”

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Commentary on Gen. 1:5

“I do not doubt that the most ancient fathers, to whom the coming night was the end of one day and the beginning of another, followed this mode of reckoning.  Although Moses did not intend here to prescribe a rule which it would be criminal to violate; yet (as we have now said) he accommodated his discourse to the received custom.  Wherefore, as the Jews foolishly condemn all the reckonings of other people, as if God had sanctioned this alone; so again are they equally foolish who contend that this modest reckoning, which Moses approves, is preposterous.

The first day: Here the error of those is manifestly refuted, who maintain that the world was made in a moment.  For it is too violent a cavil to contend that Moses distributes the work which God perfected at once into six days, for the mere purpose of conveying instruction.  Let us rather conclude that God himself took the space of six days, for the purpose of accommodating his works to the capacity of men.”

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Historical Theology

The Whole of Church History

Benin, Stephen – The Footprints of God: Divine Accommodation in Jewish & Christian Thought SUNY series in Judaica  (State Univ. of New York Press, 1993)  ToC

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On the Post-Reformation

Quote on Reformed Theology

Richard Muller

PRRD (2003) 1.262

“accommodation occurs specifically in the use of human words and concepts for the communication of the law and gospel, but it in no way implies the loss of truth or the lessening of Scriptural authority.  The accommodation or condescension refers to the manner or mode of revelation, the gift of the wisdom of infinite God in finite form, not to the quality of the revelation or to the matter revealed.”

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Articles

Lee, Hoon J. – ”Men of Galilee, Why Stand Gazing Up Into Heaven’: Revisiting Galileo, Astronomy & the Authority of the Bible’  JETS 53/1 (March 2010), pp. 103–116

Lee earned a PhD from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. The article first recounts the heliocentric controversy surrounding Galileo and the Romanist Church, then it analyzes Augustine’s doctrine of accommodation, and lastly it surveys Galileo’s appropriation of Augustine’s doctrine. 

Wedgeworth, Steven – ‘Theories of Accommodation in the Theology of John Calvin’  (2015)  The Calvinist International

Lee, Hoon J. – ‘Accommodation—Orthodox, Socinian & Contemporary’  Westminster Theological Journal 75, no. 2 (2013)  Ref

Klauber, Martin & Glenn Sunshine – ‘Jean-Alphonse Turrettini on Biblical Accommodation: Calvinist or Socinian?’  CTJ, 25, no. 1 (1990)  Ref

Graves, Neil, D. – ‘[John] Milton & the Theory of Accommodation’  Studies in Philology, vol. 98, no. 2 (Spring, 2001), pp. 251-272

Goudriaan, Aza – 4. ‘Theories of Accommodation’  in ch. 2, ‘Creation, Mosaic Physics, Copernicanism & Divine Accommodation’  in Reformed Orthodoxy & Philosophy, 1625–1750: Gisbertus Voetius, Petrus Van Mastricht, And Anthonius Driessen  Buy  (Brill, 2006)

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Books

Balserak, Jon – “Deus humanitus saepe cum suis agere solet”: an Analysis of Divine Accommodation in the Thought of John Calvin  PfD diss.  (Univ. of Edinburgh, 2002)

Shin, Jung Woo – God Hidden & Revealed in Luther & Calvin  PhD diss.  (Univ. of Edinburgh, 2005)

Lee, Hoon J. – The Biblical Accommodation Debate in Germany: Interpretation and the Enlightenment  Pre  (Palgrave)

This work is excellent.  Calvin significantly used the principle of accommodation in a variety of ways in his commentaries.  The first person since the Reformation to have prominently taught that God accommodates the false beliefs of his hearers appears to have been Socinus.  Descartes followed.

The second chapter surveys the rise of the issue in the 1600’s, Netherlands.  The focus of the book on the literature debate in Germany, from 1761-1835, is because that is when the doctrine of Accommodation, during the rise of the Enlightenment, came into the greatest focus and debate in Church history.

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Latin

Voet, Gisbert – ‘How Far doe the Authority of Scripture Extend Itself?’  in Disputations, vol. 1

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Related Pages

Hermeneutics