Posts Tagged ‘Biblical interpretation’

Can We Still Believe the Bible? Book Review

July 5, 2014

As you may know there are many books, blogs and articles that make claims about the unreliability of the Bible. Often Christians have similar concerns because they don’t have sufficient information about the Bible. Craig L. Blomberg’s book Can We Still Believe the Bible? An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions doesn’t break new ground in Biblical studies. He doesn’t offer creative responses or a new apologetic. Rather he very clearly presents information Biblical scholars have known for years in order to lay to rest peoples’ concerns about the reliability of the Bible. This book does not offer reasons to be a Christian but focuses on dispelling misconceptions about the Bible.

The book is organized around six questions which serve as chapter titles and each chapter offers a clear and intelligible response.

1. Aren’t the copies of the Bible hopelessly corrupt?

2. Wasn’t the selection of books for the canon just political?

3. Can we trust any of our translations of the Bible?

4. Aren’t several narrative genres of the Bible unhistorical?

5. Don’t all the miracles make the Bible mythical?

In response to these questions Blomberg discusses textual criticism and talks about the number of manuscripts in use and explains their reliability. He talks about what the canon is and how it came about. He offers a very clear and well written explanation about the process and work of translators, including a thorough discussion on the use of inclusive language. Blomberg explains what scholars mean when they speak of Biblical inerrancy and, perhaps more importantly, what they don’t mean. The diversity of genres in scripture is discussed, with particular attention to historical narratives. He explains that ancient writing conventions are not the same as modern practices and then discusses what the biblical authors were doing when they wrote historical narrative. Blomberg’s discussion of miracles explains how miracles function in the text.

Craig Blomberg is a distinguished professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary and his perspective is solidly evangelical. He refers several times to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy and the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics. He is willing to push back against  both Bart Ehrman and extreme conservative Christians to advocate for a biblically faithful and intellectually sound engagement of the Bible. But as a progressive Christian I found myself in substantial agreement with most of Blomberg’s explanations and conclusions.   I particularly appreciate Blomberg’s willingness not to dismiss those who hold different approaches to the Bible.

 

“There are still other approaches to the Bible that Christians can hold without jeopardizing their salvation, even if they might have less than optimal effects on other areas of doctrine and life. My point here is that readers who are not convinced by my defense of inerrancy should not think that I am one of those people who argue in an all-or-none fashion. If I became convinced of a handful of fairly trivial errors in the Bible, I would opt for an infallibilist position instead. If I felt that some of these errors were more serious, I would fall back on neo-orthodoxy. If that became too much of a stretch, I would explore accommodationism or even more liberal Christians epistemologies. I have know too many godly and committed believers in each of these camps over the years ever to countenance jettisoning all Christians options because I found one unconvincing or inadequate. I have never understood why some who deconvert jump directly from fundamentalism all the way to atheism without even exploring the many intermediate positions.”                                                                                                                                                                     Kindle locations 4468-4476

This quote is indicative of the tone of this book. Blomberg knows what he believes and why, but he is also willing to grant others freedom in Biblical interpretation.

Craig Blomberg writes clearly about complex and technical subjects. He defines the terms he uses in understandable language. While he doesn’t assume a high level of Biblical literacy, he also doesn’t talk down to his readers. This book is appropriate for high school age readers as well as adult readers. It may be read individually or in a small group or class setting. It would also be a good addition to a church library.

One note: I received a free digital copy of this book via NetGalley, but no other compensation.

The Bible Says, “Yes and No”

August 24, 2013

“Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. ”  Abraham Lincoln said this in his second inaugural address alluding to the fact that the North and the South each used the Bible to support of their very different views on slavery. Lincoln wasn’t the first or the last to notice that people on opposite sides of an issue can each use the Bible to give authority to their views.

If you simply pick out selected verses and chapters the Bible does seem to contradict itself. If you try to use the Bible primarily as a rule book or road map it can seem as if it says both “yes” and “no” to the same thing. How can the Bible be used to affirm and condemn, war and slavery? How can several views on the status of women and  a variety of views on human sexuality all be justified biblically? The problem isn’t, actually, the Bible. The problem is the way we read the Bible. Modern, western people, for the most part, like linear, logical books. Very few of us read fiction, actually very few of us read anything at all. The few of us us who do read, tend to read for information and we want our information organized and easily assimilated.

“Ten Tips….”

“7 Easy Steps….”

“Three keys to….”.

But that is not how the Bible is written. The Bible is mostly story.  Even the “rules” are told as part of the story. Actually “story” is not quite right. It is “stories” many stories in one book. All the stories combine to give us the big story about how God is at work in the world,  even as the big story is told from more than one perspective.

There are two creation stories- each one telling us important things about God and creation. To ask which one is “right” is to miss the point. The story of Noah, the Ark and the flood is actually two stories mixed together from two different sources which don’t agree on some things. For example, two animals or seven? The book of Joshua tells one account of the conquest of Canaan and the book of Judges tells the story differently. The story of David told in 1 Samuel 15-1 Kings 2 is not exactly the story told in 1 Chronicles 10-29. Some parts are the same, in fact word for word the same, other parts are different reflecting a different point of view.  (See Understanding the Old Testament, Bernhard W. Anderson and Katheryn Pfisterer Darr (Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall for more information). And of course, there are four gospels similar but not identical each telling us important things about Jesus.

The Bible contains a variety of views and perspectives all trying to understand how God is at work in the world. So how do we sort all this out? What do we do with a Bible that condones slavery and condemns it? That treats women as lesser humans and affirms women’s value and worth? That commands war and condemns war? We can go on and on with examples, but that doesn’t solve the problem of how we are to make sense of this?

Here is one way to start untangling things.

At some time, if you hang around pastors or theology students, you may hear someone talk about “the now and not yet”. What they are describing with that phrase is the reality that God’s reign has begun with Jesus life, death, and resurrection but is “not yet” fully present because the world is not yet the way it should be- will be. At the same time, things are changing and moving towards God’s future. And that is an idea we need to bring to the Bible.

When we read historical accounts of laws and events in the Bible we need to remember that we are reading a description of the ancient “now”. Not our “now”. God is interacting with people where they were at that time. When Torah gives instructions for slaves, it is difficult for us to read, but at the time Torah was a step forward toward recognizing slaves as humans not objects or property. The Torah instructions on how to treat women captured in war seem terrible to us. Taking a woman captive and marrying her after killing her husband or father seems horrible but we forget how poorly women were typically treated in those days. An unmarried woman was vulnerable with no status, no protection, no safety net. They begged or prostituted themselves to survive- if they survived. Torah’s instructions to allow women captives to mourn their dead and then to be wives was to treat women captives as human beings with feelings and some level of value. It was a step forward. Forward to God’s future where all persons are valued. That is partly why Christians can eat shellfish and get tattoos. That is why we don’t stone disobedient youth, and so on.

The Bible deals with ancient life as it was and encourages ancient people (and us) to move forward to God’s future of shalom. No war, no slavery, peace, justice, all persons valued. Seeing the Biblical texts in light of “now and not yet” helps us remember that the Bible is not  a collection of timeless truths to be plucked out of context but the story of steps forward toward the new heaven and new earth, the world redeemed and restored.

God, as John Calvin wrote, accommodates God’s self to us. God meets us where we are and then calls us to move forward. God met ancient Israel where it was and called it forward. Jesus met the disciples where they were and called them forward. The Holy Spirit meets us where we are and calls us forward.

How do we know which things in the Bible are particular to a certain time and place and which things apply to all of us? That’s the difficulty isn’t it? It can be difficult. But with God’s help, we work this out together, talking, thinking, praying, reading.


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