Is Biblical Faith a Kierkegaardian Leap?

These reflections were prompted by the first chapter of David Crump’s Encountering Jesus, Encountering Scripture: Reading the Bible Critically in Faith.

In his introduction, Crump is very clear that his understanding of faith has been heavily influenced by Soren Kierkegaard. Crump explains,

“Arriving at faith in the Word incarnate is not the inevitable result of a logical syllogism and doesn’t follow as the obvious sum of a line of convincing evidence. It is always a step, perhaps even a leap, across an otherwise unbridgeable gap.”

To test this, I want to compare it with Adam’s faith-response in the naming of Eve. Arguments similar to the one I’m about to make could be pursued with Abraham’s faith-response to the promise of Isaac and with Abraham’s faith-response when he was commanded to sacrifice Isaac, but to keep this manageable I will limit myself to Genesis 3.

In some ways this is less about Crump and more about Kierkegaard, since these are Kierkegaard’s ideas that Crump has adopted and is heralding. The question comes down to this: does the Bible present faith as a leap or as something else? What that something else might be will become apparent as we continue, but those who would like a hint at where I’m going can take a glance at Romans 10:17 (and to anyone who wants to allege that Paul is controlling how I read narrative, I reply that Paul’s statements are summaries and interpretations of the narratives, meant to teach us how to read narrative–and turn the question back on my accuser: do you follow Paul or some other teacher?).

Adam had been told that he would surely die in the day he ate the fruit (Gen 2:17). He ate the fruit, then he heard the footsteps and hid (3:8).

When the Lord began to speak words of judgment in Genesis 3:15, he told the serpent that there would be enmity between him and the woman. Attentive readers might pause and ponder the fact that enmity seems to involve an ongoing conflict, which already begins to suggest that the death of Adam and Eve might not be immediate. That the author of Genesis intends to present Adam and Eve arriving at this conclusion shortly becomes apparent.

The suspicion that the death of Adam and Eve will not be immediate is confirmed by the next words of Genesis 3:15, where the Lord tells the serpent that along with the enmity between serpent and woman, there will be enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. This means that neither Adam nor Eve face immediate execution, for both are necessary for offspring to be born. In the final statement of Genesis 3:15, the serpent is told that he will receive a head wound from the seed of the woman, only delivering a heel wound himself, suggesting that the seed of the woman will defeat him.

When God speaks to the man and woman, the idea that though they will eventually die, their death is not immediate, becomes a necessary working assumption. The Lord tells the woman she will have pain in childbearing and a difficult relationship with her husband in 3:16, then he tells the man that his toil will be painful and eventually he will return to the dust from which he was taken in 3:17–19.

So Moses has presented these characters as going from the expectation of immediate death on the basis of what God had said in 2:17 and what they did in 3:6, to now having reason to think, to believe, that they would live, have at least one child, and that this seed of the woman would bruise the head of the serpent, hopefully triumphing over and defeating the one who brought evil into the world.

The next thing Adam does in Genesis 3:20 is give his wife a name that sounds like the Hebrew word for “life,” accompanied by the explanation that “she was the mother of all living.” They expected to die, but now they believe they will live. On what is their faith that they will live and have children, with the hope that the child will triumph, on what is that faith based?

Is that faith a leap?

Rather than being a leap, Adam’s act of faith in the naming of Eve was a response to the word of God.

God made a statement that Adam and Eve had reason to believe. The word of God prompted their faith. Faith came by hearing, and hearing by the word promising a future redeemer.

Kierkegaard was an important philosopher who said challenging things to his generation, but when he talks about faith he does not present it the way the biblical authors do.

5 Responses to Is Biblical Faith a Kierkegaardian Leap?

  1. michaelm December 14, 2015 at 6:39 pm #

    Sorry old boy I’m not aqainted with these cerebal essays and it is quite difficult to appreciate what they achieve . If they don’t reason as the apostles or or want to understand what THE Apostle to the Gentiles says , then there is not much point in extending the debate here , is there ?.
    Perhaps they may be more suitable for those pursuing degrees at Cambridge for example .?. But thanks for thinking of mee 🙂 no reply expected .

  2. Paul Snider December 15, 2015 at 1:22 pm #

    Thanks Dr. Hamilton, I have never considered Gen. 3:20 the way you brought it out.
    Practically speaking, it would seem that a ‘leap of faith,’ (I agree with you that the Scriptures do not teach this), places all the action of leaping on man’s response to God’s law, and not God through Christ making “access by faith in the grace in which we stand” Rom 5:2. Would you say that would be true, based on what you read from Crump?

    I thank you for your diligent convictions to the objective truth that encourage men in the ministry.

  3. Chuck December 15, 2015 at 3:51 pm #

    I don’t know you; I just came across this post because my friend had commented on it on Facebook. I am inclined to disagree with you on Adam having faith as a result of reason and not a leap.

    Up until the point of God making the promises he makes in genesis 3:15, he has made only one promise in 2:17: “On the day you eat of it, you shall die.”

    So they eat the fruit, and they do not die. God is now 0/1 on his promise record to Adam. The serpent, on the other hand, is 1/1. To then believe what God says in 3:15 onward cannot be a result of reason.

    • JMH December 15, 2015 at 3:59 pm #

      Sure it can–because there are other features of the narrative that show: 1) the snake is not to be trusted because doing what he said led to obvious regret, shame, and judgment; 2) God is good and merciful–the snake lied about God’s character–and God showing up in person would be obviously compelling; and 3) God does keep the promise – the man will die, as will the woman – he only mercifully postpones it, and with the mercy comes a promise that provokes hope for salvation.

  4. alex December 15, 2015 at 4:38 pm #

    Since Paul wrote to living folks: “you were dead in trespasses and sins” the kind of death God was speaking about in the garden was a spiritual one. The serpent offered an independence from God which is spiritual death defined.

    Ro. 12.3 and 2Pe. 1.1 seem to indicate saving faith is God given. If the seed of the woman (plural) was known by God when He spoke the curse on the serpent, then it appears He saw all believers at that point contained in the fallen pair.

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