Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Development of Doctrine and Israel

One of the things we can see when we study religions of the period from the time of Moses to the time of Jesus is that the religion of Israel stands out. They had some doctrines that were quite different but many nations had beliefs we would consider unusual. Theirs was more unusual but it is hard to pin down exactly what was different in the nature of the teachings. What is easiest to notice is how little that religion changed over that 1500 year period. They had times where they strayed but they always came back. They had additional prophesy, especially about the Messiah, but they didn't seem to leave big pieces of their faith behind. You follow other people groups of the time and you find gods came and went. Morals changed. Stories about creation and whatever else they had changed. The Israelites stuck with the same 10 commandments, the same creation out of nothing (which was unique to them all this time), the same story of the promised even the same liturgies and feasts. Even today the Jews practice basically the same religion. It is quite remarkable.

But if you ask the question about the various religions of that time. If you wonder which one could be basically the true religion while the others are lesser attempts to arrive at truth. One thing you would expect if one such faith existed would be that it should be remarkably immutable. So if we don't assume all religions are the same but examine them to see if one stands out as having truth claims that are inherently more believable then we are likely to focus in on the teachings of Moses and the Israelite prophets.

Now some would argue that Israel was unique and that it's religion was remarkably unchanging but there are other explanations for that. That is other than God actually revealing Himself to Israel in a special way. That is a logical possibility. Often their ability to pass on information accurately from one generation to the next is cited. There are a few problems with that. One is that it describes what was unique about Israel but does not explain it. Why did they have an ability to pass on information without distortion? We don't know. We are just sure it was not a grace from God. Is that rational thinking?

The other problem with this theory is it proves too much. If Israel is good at passing on information accurately then we should believe all the stories about God's miracles? They don't want to go there. They want to say most of the stories are false. But how do you say the source of the information is good and yet the content is all wrong? We are not talking about one or two miracles. There is basically a constant stream of these stories over a long period of time. Some involved a small number of witnesses but many involved battles that would have been witnessed by thousands. Could such good record keepers record all these events if they didn't happen?

This is the essence of development of doctrine. That God's truth should logically have a certain character. It is going to look different from man making up stuff about God. It is going to transcend time and place. If we find such character where we would not humanly expect it then we can rationally argue that God is working in some special way. Most of the time development of doctrine is applied to the New Testament era. The argument is exactly the same. I shall go there in another post.

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