Can Faith Be Rational in the Face of Evil?

The final Adult Bible Study Guide for 2022 focuses on death. Its writer, or “principal contributor” is Alberto R. Timm, who was named last month to be the associate director of the apologetics-focused Biblical Research Institute at the General Conference. In 1995, Timm earned his PhD from the Adventist Theological Seminary with a dissertation titled “The Sanctuary and the Three Angels’ Messages.” Originally from Brazil, Timm previously served as president of the multicampus Latin-American Adventist Theological Seminary. In this video, he explains that this quarter’s topic was not his choice but suggested by Cliff Goldstein, the ABSG editor. 


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/12010
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I don’t see how a completely fictional beginning proposition to the problem of evil can be minor. It is like building your 10 story building on bales of hay, no matter what you build on top of it, it will fall. As the great song “the problem” says the problem is me. Downhere - The Problem - YouTube

Everyone should read the BRI-written GC Statement on Abortion (2019), because it is heavily influenced by the heresy of the immortal soul and the corollary heresy of the pre-existence of the soul. This catastrophic Statement is the result of BRI’s apologetics-focused approach, which invariably fails when changing facts and circumstances put a mind that is only capable of parroting to the test. It is easy to regurgitate SDA teaching on what happens after death. BRI is capable of doing that. But if you change the issue to what happens before life, BRI is demonstrably incapable of handling that bioethical issue in a biblically informed way that is free of the aforementioned heresies. It is the changing of facts and circumstances, (coupled with the influence of right-wing politics), that has overwhelmed BRI in its consideration of the issue of abortion.

I wish the Sabbath School Lessons for this quarter offered more than traditional SDA apologetics. What we need in the Seventh-day Adventist Church are thinkers, not apologists. If you are not capable of applying biblical teachings to all of the facts and circumstances of life, then you have never really understood those biblical teachings.

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I read the statement over and I don’t see anything about a pre-existence of the soul or immortal soul. Please point out where you see those ideas. Biblical View of Unborn Life and Abortion - Adventist.org

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The words “immortal soul” and “pre-existence of the soul” are not in the Statement. And BRI would say that it does not believe in these heresies. But the hermeneutical endeavor requires that we go behind the words, simplistic and misleading as they tend to be, and attempt to discern not only the author’s thoughts that inform his or her words (Schleiermacher) but also the author’s unconscious mind (Freud and Ricoeur). Sorry, but I don’t have time or space to do this for you right now.

So the ideas are not in the statement, The words are not in the statement. Those who wrote the statement don’t believe in those ideas. But you can discern the author’s thoughts and unconscious mind! I can see why you don’t have the time and space to develop that pile of assumptions!

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The heresies are in the Statement. I sense your plea for help. You seem like a nice guy, so I will give you an explanation in a nutshell.

SDAs know that the Bible teaches the following:

  1. A living soul comes to be at birth. Genesis 2:7.
  2. The fetus is not a living soul. Id. The killing of a fetus is not murder but a tort that is remedied by the payment of monetary damages. Exodus 21:22-23.
  3. The reproduction process is natural, not supernatural. In other words, although there are rare miraculous births, (for example, the birth of Isaac, Samuel, Jesus), God is generally not involved in the reproduction process.

Given these clear biblical teachings, why would BRI declare that abortion is murder? The answer is simple. BRI has been conditioned by decades of Roman Catholic theology, which sets forth the following unbiblical teachings:

  1. The reproduction process is always and everywhere supernatural, because God places in every fertilized egg at conception a soul.
  2. Because the unborn possesses a soul, the killing of the unborn is murder per se.
  3. A living soul comes to be at conception, not birth.

Heresies never die. They never go away. They continue to exert enormous influence on people, including SDAs. Contrary to what you might think, mining the thoughts and unconscious of an author for heresy is not that difficult a hermeneutical endeavor.

Notice in the Statement the many erroneous claims that God is the author of life and that He is involved in the reproduction process. These claims mirror what has influenced BRI, which is the Roman Catholic teaching that God places in the fertilized egg a living soul. Also notice in the Statement how BRI accords personhood to that which is in the mind of God even if that something has not even been conceived. How can God highly regard something that does not exist? The answer is what is unwittingly implied, which is that the immortal soul does exist before the body comes to be. The same verses cited by BRI were used by Origin to support his doctrine of the pre-existence of the soul.

BRI could have chosen a different approach. BRI could have argued that Scripture is historically conditioned, that the ancients were of a primitive and pre-science background, and that the breath of life does not actually exist and should be regarded as symbolic. Furthermore, BRI could have pointed out that the ancients did not know, as we know today, that a fetus at a certain stage of development is viable outside of the womb and that life is not just a function of breath but of morphological development, a beating heart, etc. But these are sophisticated arguments that require an understanding of hermeneutics. BRI does not understand hermeneutics. This approach would result in a belief that a living soul comes to be not at birth but at fetal viability. This approach is well-reasoned, practical, and biblical, but BRI chose the hardcore Roman Catholic approach.

Another approach that BRI could have taken is to argue that even though the fetus is not a living soul, it is human life that is worthy of a measure of respect. But determining what different measures of respect should be accorded various fetuses based on different facts and circumstances would remove this issue from the sphere of theology and place it in the sphere of bioethics. BRI has no understanding of bioethics. Therefore, BRI chose to take the hardcore Roman Catholic approach.

I have not given you a line-by-line critique of the Statement to show you how the heresies of Roman Catholic theology have heavily influenced the Statement. But I think if you carefully read the Statement again and study more deeply the heresies I have discussed, you will see how the Statement and those heresies align with each other. Certainly, no one should be surprised that a Statement that declares that abortion is murder with no exceptions allowed for rape, incest, or life of the mother is radical, wrong, unbiblical, and necessarily influenced by heresies. I think you are safe to follow that heuristic shortcut if you don’t quite understand what I have written.

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I’m unsure of your premise. Adventists don’t believe that God places a living soul, they believe that a living soul is the result of body plus breath of life.

Also, it is not necessarily a valid criticism of a theological point to say that Roman Catholicism believes it as there is some truth in RC such as Christ is the savior of the world and moral beliefs about family, etc. The Adventist belief about death and the soul is the antithesis of belief in the immortal soul (see above clarification).

I’m not sure I want to take my chances in the judgment believing that life begins at birth and that the fetus is not life and can be destroyed at will. But, if God does see it your way, then I’m hard-pressed to see how He would be upset that someone holds the fetus in higher regard than He

You are correct that conventional SDA understanding is that a living soul is the result of body plus breath of life, as it were. That’s Genesis 2:7. You are also correct that the ad hominem argument fails, but I am not making that argument. I am opposing the heresy of the immortal soul and the corollary heresy of the pre-existence of the soul, both of which have been endorsed in Roman Catholicism.

The fetus is human life. The sperm and the unfertilized egg are also human life. But none of these forms of human life constitute a living soul. I don’t believe human life should be destroyed at will with no ethical restrictions. Human life is entitled to a measure of respect. What measure of respect we should give is a bioethical issue that is informed by all of the facts and circumstances.

Finally, regarding your last point, I think anyone who persecutes women for their legitimate healthcare choices will have to answer for that in the judgment. We don’t know if any women will die as a result of the BRI Statement, but we do know that various prohibitions of abortion have led to the loss of life for many women.

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As with most other things if one begins with a false premise the conclusions will most always be wrong as well. I thought you were making a pile of assumptions when you made your comment now I will show you some of those errors.

Most Adventists do not hold what you say they hold as most Adventists hold to body and soul as one indivisible unit. So the assumption that the soul goes into the body at birth is incorrect to Adventist thought. Even the verse you use could not work for a baby. the verse says: " 7 Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being." The body of a prenatal infant is not dust it is in fact living organic material.

In point 2 you act as if the only consequence for killing a fetus is a tort. That is untrue as well because you did not even carry through with the text you referenced. Exodus 21: 22 “If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. 23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

Point 3 might be correct but sorely limited because you have for some reason forgotten the Adventist view that body and soul are indivisible. So while the reproduction process is natural the possession of the soul is also natural for human beings and there is no reason to believe that the soul is added to the body with the first gasp of air. So again those are not clear biblical teachings, the first 2 being completely untrue to the Bible and the 3rd is a questionable conclusion. That you assume that the BRI is Roman Catholic influenced even when they disagree with RC teaching is likely true but influence is part of any education it does not mean they are following those teachings at all. They may have been influenced to write in a way to avoid sounding like the Roman Catholic church. In short, your assumptions are mostly incorrect to the facts.

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I did not write that the soul goes into the body at birth. I agree with you that the body and soul is an indivisible unit. This indivisible unit is called a living soul, which comes to be at birth. Genesis 2:7. As per this text, a “prenatal infant” does not have the breath of life and thus is not a living soul. SDAs have not made much ado about the difference between dust and organic matter, because the text teaches about the nature of not just Adam but the entire human race.

The “giving birth prematurely” language in Exodus 21:22-23 refers to a miscarriage. The “serious injury” and “eye for eye” language refers to the woman, not the fetus. Accordingly, the text sets forth that the killing of the fetus is a tort and is recompensed by monetary damages. But if the woman is seriously harmed or dies, then an “eye for eye” punishment is required. The BRI Statement tacitly agrees.

The idea that a just because an unborn baby is not breathing 100% on their own then they don’t have the breath of life or are considered a “soul” or “living being” is absurd. We can disagree about when an unborn baby reaches consciousness, etc. but an unborn baby can think, feel, react, breathes thru their mother, move, etc all before it actually comes out of the birth canal. Their is absolutely NO difference in the development, consciousness, awareness, or personhood of a baby a day before it is born that it magically receives the moment it’s delivered.

The fact that it hasn’t taken a full breath on its own changes nothing, is a person on a breathing machine that is awake no longer a soul? Your logic and arguments make no sense. Adam was not conscious before God breathed into him. An unborn baby in late stages of pregnancy is no different from a newborn except that it is inside the womb and breathes on its own. And your assertion that breathing on its own means it’s not a being makes no logical sense.

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In an earlier comment, which I think you overlooked, I offer an alternative interpretation of Genesis 2:7 that holds that a fetus that is viable outside of the womb is a living soul.

BRI, because it does not understand hermeneutics and is incapable of discerning deeper meaning below the surface of the biblical text, could not see in Genesis 2:7 anything other than the surface meaning, which is that a living soul (comprised of body and breath of life) comes to be at birth. Therefore, BRI chose to ignore Genesis 2:7, which is SDA’s principal text regarding the soul, and write a Statement that is heavily influenced by Roman Catholic dogma, which holds that God places a soul into a fertilized egg at conception.

No doubt BRI has strong feelings about abortion. But strong feelings are not a substitute for the Word of God.

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No, they ignore your particular interpretation of the verse. God breathing life into an inanimate form is not at all similar to birth.

That would make no sense as the text is talking about damage to a pregnant woman. No damage does not refer to a miscarriage but that her going into labor with no serious damage to the infant. If one assumes it is simply a miscarriage that is something that really is not a minor deal in a woman who is say above 5 or 6 months pregnant. In any case, the law is directed at those who inadvertently damage the woman, So, in that case, it would be a life for a life if the woman died but that would very likely happen if a six-month pregnant woman was caused to miscarry. A high percentage of women died in child birth so whether both the woman and the baby died it would likely be the same thing.
A good article on the Ancient cultures and this text is found at https://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/37/37-2/JETS_37-2_169-184_Fuller.pdf

It’s conclusion reads: Exodus 21:22 does not indicate that the Bible values the fetus as less
than human or as nonhuman. The argument that different punishments imply differences in personhood fails, root and branch, both in the larger ancient Near Eastern legal context generally and in the Bible specifically. In
fact Exod 21:22 contemplates only an unintentional, negligent assault on a
pregnant woman, not an intentional assault on the fetus. Thus to postulate
from this passage that abortion on demand is acceptable under Biblical law
is irresponsible and unconscionable. Moreover the literature of the ancient
Near East, including the Bible, portrays the fetus as a life that cannot be
willfully destroyed. Even Exod 21:22 may suggest the personhood of the fetus by referring to the fetus as a yeled. Furthermore, other Biblical passages
more clearly indicate that the fetus is more than a lump of tissue. It is God’s
work, a life under his watchful eye and providential care. "

I am aware of the article you cite. You overlook that the author persuasively argues that Exodus 21:22-23 refers to a miscarriage. p. 180-184. “But notwithstanding the recent ascendancy of the premature birth interpretation, at least among evangelicals, the miscarriage interpretation has the most impressive interpretational history and the securest exegetical foundation.” p. 184. (I find the other arguments the author makes to be a mixed bag, but I don’t have time or space to address them).

SDAs could take your position that the creation of Adam and birth are so different that Genesis 2:7 does not teach us anything about the nature of humanity, particularly the soul. But SDAs have historically regarded Genesis 2:7 as the principal text that explains the nature of humanity, particularly the soul. BRI chose to ignore Genesis 2:7, because what this text teaches–that a soul is comprised of the body and breath of life–is not helpful to BRI’s position on abortion.

This quarter will be interesting because there are so many false ideas floating around about life and death. My preferred view is to identify God’s role in the process. Gen 2:7 is instructive because it illustrates God’s role. G-d is the source of life and is present any time life is present. In the case of Adam, God gave life to an inert sculpture if you will. In the case of natural conception God sustains (or imparts) life in the ovum and sperm and zygote. This abstract interpretation of the “breath” of God is what I understand to be the traditional Adventist view, but your mileage may vary. Thus the suggested Adventist view and the presented RC view must both be wrong.

You’re right, if you argued that a viable unborn baby is a soul/being then I missed that. I saw this quote and response which is arguing the opposite

Is your issue with BRI that they arrive at the correct conclusion but using faulty or incorrect hermeneutics? I guess I’m having difficulty figuring out your personal view…

In my comments, I have provided two biblically sound interpretations of Genesis 2:7, both of which BRI ignores, as BRI’s position is fundamentally based on Roman Catholic heresies–the heresy of the immortal soul and the heresy of the pre-existence of the soul–rather than the Word of God. The first interpretation I offer focuses on the surface meaning of the text and is what SDAs have historically believed and taught. The second interpretation focuses on the deeper meaning of the text, as informed by hermeneutics, and can be regarded as an extension of the first interpretation offered.

Abortion is a bioethical issue, not a theological one. BRI has no expertise, training, or life experience in bioethics. Accordingly, BRI’s Statement on abortion is the absurdity one expects from people who are incompetent. That’s the first problem. The second problem is that BRI has been unduly influenced by Roman Catholic heresies, as evidenced by the Statement itself. The third problem is that BRI does not understand hermeneutics and is thus incapable of interpreting Scripture.

I reject BRI’s Statement on abortion in its entirety. The purpose of my comments is not to explicate an alternative statement on abortion–(I don’t have the time or space for that)–but to show how SDAs have been influenced by wrong ideas about death and the soul.

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The problem with evil is that we oftentimes don’t recognize that WE are evil.

When Jesus was on Earth, the Jews thought that the problem of Israel was the Romans. And Jesus showed them that the problem of Israel was… Israel.

Nowadays we may have the same attitude. For many Christians, the face of evil is the Other, most of the times the non-Christian, but if Christian, not Christian like them.

The Bible is clear than none of us is good, even when we call ourselves Christian.

So faith is about believing what God says about our condition and believing that God has the solution, that, while WE were still sinners, Christ died for us to redeem us.

This is the good news of the Gospel, that God can deliver us from the evil which is in each of us.

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original sin is a difficult concept to grasp, let alone accept…yet our lost starting point is fundamental to understanding the gospel, including some of its more interesting details, such as the nature of christ, and the nature of our salvation…