Historical Criticism and Textual Interpretation – Part 1/3.

Part 1: Contested Foundations of Archaeology

Related Posts:

Part 2: Archaeological Evidence – A Reality Check

Part 3: Biblical History and Textual Interpretation

One of my readers suggests I have been too simplistic when I dismissed the Documentary Hypothesis and questioned the validity of historical criticism. After all, rational discourse demands interrogation of texts. He submits that my rejection of historical criticism is erroneous as Christianity is a faith grounded in the “God Who Acts in history”. Worse still, insulating the Bible from rational historical criticism amounts to adopting a dogmatic mindset that is no different from that of the Islamists.

It is true that I reject the Documentary Hypothesis for literary and historical reasons. However, my assessment of historical criticism is more nuanced. Unlike the Islamists and other extreme fundamentalists, I make careful use of the historical method. To be sure, there is historical method and there is historical method. The historical method that I reject is that based on the Enlightenment rationality championed by Ernst Troeltsch who taught that history is a closed continuum that precludes reference to divine revelation. Human reason becomes sovereign in historical judgment with pretensions of neutrality in interpretation. Not surprisingly, critical scholars who elevate human reason above divine revelation display skepticism towards the reliability of biblical history and its truth claims. However, their claim of neutrality has been debunked by the hermeneutical critique of Hans-Georg Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur.

My presuppositions for relating history and the biblical texts is one of believing criticism and post-critical hermeneutics. I seek to apply a historical method that is consistent with belief in God’s manifestation of himself through mighty acts, prophetic interpretation of the vicissitudes of the history of biblical Israel, and the final inscription of God’s Word in the Bible. Such a belief is rejected by critical scholars who then deploy a critical historical method that takes liberty with the biblical text which they do not regarded as inspired or authoritative. Continue reading “Historical Criticism and Textual Interpretation – Part 1/3.”

Inspiration, Scripture and Reason: An Appreciation of J.I. Packer’s Fundamentalism and the Word of God

1. For a defence of the inspiration and authority of the Bible. I first go to B.B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible because of its solid exegetical analysis. Next, I turn to E.J. Young Thy Word is Truth for its engagement with modern criticism. Finally, I refer to John Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God for a sober and theologically integrated formulation of the doctrine that meets headlong the latest theological assaults on the authority of Scripture. However, for an engaging read, I recommend J.I. Packer, Fundamentalism and the Word of God (Eerdmans reprint, 1977).

Packer describes ‘fundamentalism’ as “maintenance in opposition to modernism, of traditional orthodox beliefs such as the inerrancy of Scripture and literal acceptance of the creeds as fundamentals of protestant Christianity.” [p. 29] **See below for a longer discussion of the definition of fundamentalism, liberalism and evangelicalism. Continue reading “Inspiration, Scripture and Reason: An Appreciation of J.I. Packer’s Fundamentalism and the Word of God”

Critical Consensus and Believing Scholarship

Believing Christian scholars are accused of being closed minded as they fail to take seriously critical scholars, which is a euphemism for scholars who don’t believe in the divine inspiration of the Bible. For these critical scholars, believing scholarship is an oxymoron. But, why should believers subject themselves to the judgment of unbelievers? Apparently, the authority of these critical scholars stems from their learned and objective scholarship. That these critical scholars are learned is duly acknowledged, but the objectivity of their scholarship is the issue in dispute. Continue reading “Critical Consensus and Believing Scholarship”

Reading the Bible as God’s Word: The Redemptive Historical Method and Progressive Revelation. Part 2

To read Part 1 of this article – Reading the Bible as God’s Word: The Redemptive Historical Method and Progressive Revelation. Part 1

I. What is the Redemptive Historical Method (RHM)?

The Redemptive Historical Method (RHM) is based on three affirmations:

1) RHM is Christo-centric. The RHM begins with the assumption that God’s plan of salvation for humankind was progressively revealed in mighty acts and prophetic word through various divinely appointed human agents in the history of Israel. RHM affirms the finality of Scripture as “God has in the past revealed long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son [Jesus Christ].” (Heb. 1:1-2)

2) RHM affirms that the Bible has a coherent message, with Christ as its centre and final fulfilment.
Jesus said to the two disciples on the Emmaus road, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke 24: 25-27).

3) RHM affirms the divine inspiration and sufficiency of Scripture. As Paul writes, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it succinctly, “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture.” (1:6)

It should be clear that these affirmations result in a “hermeneutic of affirmation” rather than a “hermeneutic of suspicion” that is prevalent within the dominant paradigm of historical criticism. To read the Bible is not to dissect a lifeless ancient document. It is to approach the Bible humbly with expectation that the Bible as the living Word of God also reads us and speaks to us. Continue reading “Reading the Bible as God’s Word: The Redemptive Historical Method and Progressive Revelation. Part 2”

Reading the Bible as God’s Word: The Redemptive Historical Method and Progressive Revelation. Part 1

This article is dedicated to the seminary student who is troubled by the “methodological atheism” framework of contemporary historical criticism, and is looking for a believing scholarship that is consistent with the Church’s affirmation of the Bible as the Word of God.

To read Part 2 of this article – Reading the Bible as God’s Word: The Redemptive Historical Method and Progressive Revelation. Part 2

I. The Challenge of “Methodological Atheism” and the Historical-Critical Method

Seminary studies is vital for equipping aspiring pastors with skills in biblical interpretation. However, seminary studies may prove to be hazardous for some students when they are introduced to critical scholarship which treats the Bible just like any other Ancient Near Eastern texts. Students are told that the origins of the Bible is obscure because of its antiquity and because the authors of the biblical texts in truth are anonymous. The historical reliability of the Bible is cast in doubt as critical historians (the biblical minimalists) privilege silent excavated artifacts over informative historical texts and declare that the Bible contains more myths than history. Finally, critical scholars conclude that alleged cultural and religious commonalities between biblical stories and ancient mythological texts render questionable, the traditional Christian belief that the Bible is unique because of its divine origins. Students who are overwhelmed by these critical ideas soon lose their passion for preaching and pastoral ministry.

Critical scholarship is alluring because of its claim to be a rational inquiry that continuously advances the frontiers of religious knowledge, in contrast to conservative scholarship that is constrained by dogmatic authority. To be sure, this Enlightenment inspired narrative has been contested by recent scholarship. However, rather than outlining an alternative historiography which can be both intellectually robust and consistent with the biblical worldview, this article shall focus on how critical scholarship based on “methodological atheism” challenges the faith of students. Continue reading “Reading the Bible as God’s Word: The Redemptive Historical Method and Progressive Revelation. Part 1”

Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism Part 2

Appropriation and Constructive Use of Historical Critical Method in Biblical Studies

To read part 1 – The Promise and Perils of Historical Critical Method in Biblical Studies LINK

Some readers may conclude that we have been unduly alarmist in our discussion of the impact of historical criticism which have proven detrimental to the faith of some evangelical scholars. It would be good to recapitulate our concerns by referring to a recently published book – Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism ed., Christopher Hays and Christopher Ansberry which presents the current state of the historical critical method in evangelical scholarship. The authors are self-confessed evangelical scholars teaching at two venerable evangelical institutions and their book carries endorsements by several established evangelical scholars.

Reading the book confirms the concern that adoption of historical criticism could result in a shift towards liberal teachings: 1) denial of the historical Adam and Eve, 2) doubts about the reliability of the Biblical account of the founding of the nation of Israel, 3) the book of Deuteronomy was not written in the time of Moses. It was a produced much later at the time of King Hezekiah. The various books of prophecy were not written by the purported prophets but by some anonymous groups of followers who codified an ongoing collective tradition. Since it is impossible to identify the actual writers, it would be more accurate to describe these writings as pseuepigraphy, 4) New Testament criticism shows the events narrated in the gospels do not accurately reflect the original context as later anonymous authors took the liberty to redact and collate the texts to serve their own theological purposes. Finally, 5) the Book of Acts is demonstrably not historically reliable as critics conclude that there are discrepancies in historical details and theology between the Paul of the Book of Acts and the Paul of the Pauline Epistles. Continue reading “Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism Part 2”

Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism Part 1

The Promise and Perils of Historical Critical Method in Biblical Studies

How is it that access to modern tools of learning which evidently has help many Christians deepen their understanding of the Bible results in some losing their confidence in its historical reliability? It seems we have a classic case of the paradox of knowledge of good and evil which brings blessings and curses in a fallen world. Wonder drugs work miraculous cure but if taken excessively, would poison the body. Atomic energy generates massive electric power but it can also be used for weapons of mass destruction. Historical criticism which enhances our understanding of ancient scripture can also destroy faith – if it is applied without regard for the object of its investigation, the Bible with its self-attested divine authority. In this article I shall examine the process, promise and perils of the historical critical method for the study of the Bible.

Christians today can access many tools of modern knowledge to study Bible. Obscure words are clarified using Greek and Hebrew lexicons, strange ancient customs are explained by Bible encyclopedia and puzzling passages are illuminated in Bible commentaries. Understanding of the Bible becomes more concrete with new knowledge gleaned from recent archaeological excavations.

Leaders in the Malaysian evangelical churches in Malaysia welcome these tools as they will spur vigor and enthusiasm in systematic study of the Bible. After all, the evangelical churches have traditionally prided themselves as a Bible-centred movement. However, there is concern that some scholars have cast doubts on the evangelical doctrine of verbal plenary inspiration and infallibility of the Scripture as they deem the doctrine to be inconsistent with modern scientific study of the Bible that is promoted vigorously in the Western liberal academia. Continue reading “Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism Part 1”

The Logic of Christ and the Bible (Part 2) – From Reliable Historical Document to Trustworthy Word of God

Link to: The Logic of Christ and the Bible (Part 1)

The Classical Argument in Proving the Bible as the Trustworthy Word of God.

1.    The Bible is basically a reliable and trustworthy historical document.
2.    On the basis of this reliable document we have sufficient evidence to believe confidently that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
3.    Jesus as the Son of God is an infallible authority.
4.    Jesus Christ teaches the Bible is more than generally trustworthy; it is the very Word of God.
5.    Conclusion – on the basis of the infallible authority of Jesus Christ, Christians believe the Bible is utterly trustworthy, i.e. infallible Word of God. Continue reading “The Logic of Christ and the Bible (Part 2) – From Reliable Historical Document to Trustworthy Word of God”

The Logic of Christ and the Bible (Part 1) – The Bible as a Reliable Historical Document and Trustworthy Word of God.

Link to Part 2 – The Classical Argument in Proving the Bible as the Trustworthy Word of God

The Bible as a Reliable Historical Document

Critics of Christianity often assert that we cannot trust present copies of the Bible as they do not accurately reflect the original text (autograph). This criticism is echoed by Dan Brown in his popular fiction, The Da Vinci Code:

The Bible did not arrive by fax from heaven…The Bible is the product of man, my dear. Not of God. The Bible did not fall magically from the clouds. Man created it as a historical record of tumultuous times, and it has evolved through countless translations, additions, and revisions. History has never had a definitive version of the book. [Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code (New York: Doubleday 2003), 231].

Dan Brown’s criticism is a deliberate distortion of history. In truth, there is an abundance of early Bible manuscripts. Continue reading “The Logic of Christ and the Bible (Part 1) – The Bible as a Reliable Historical Document and Trustworthy Word of God.”