Wednesday, December 3, 2014

How We Read The Bible

Called to Communion has a huge post up that is a review of a huge book. The book is called Politicizing the Bible. It is an analysis of history and philosophy. It is by Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker. One of the commenters on the post said it is for the eggiest of the eggheads. He has a point. There is 400 years of historical data to analyze and they do get into the details. Even the post takes a while to read.

Still the point it makes is huge. It digs into the precise issue that exists with so much biblical analysis. How doe we approach the biblical texts? What assumptions do we make? Do we even know that we make them? That is the key. Lots of people think they are approaching the scriptures in the only rational way you could approach them. Actually they are making huge philosophical assumptions they have never bothered to examine.

Like the title says they do see political motivations in the way people approach scripture. Yet that is not what concerns me. I am more worried about what those presuppositions are and how we can get people discussing scripture to at least recognize what they are. The two main ones they identify:
The two . . . presuppositions that contribute the most to achieving this aim through exegetical method are the bias against the supernatural and the notion that the core of Christianity is moral rather than dogmatic. A critical approach and a deeper knowledge of history do not produce these presuppositions, we shall argue. Rather, the presuppositions determine the way that exegetes are critical and the way they use history. We hope to make this clear to the reader as the following chapters unfold. . . . This union of tools with secularizing presuppositions constitutes what is almost invariably meant by the historical-critical method
If you talk to anyone about biblical scholarship you see these assumptions on display. The anti-supernatural  presupposition is the most obvious. They approach scripture already convinced that none of the supernatural events described in it could possibly be true. That begs what should be the central question. Is it true? The scriptures are in large measure an account of supernatural events. A lot of the stories have no reason to be there except that they describe a miracle. That is the central message. God is revealing Himself to man and we know it is legit because these miracles occurred.

The bulk of modern scholarship does not even consider this message. The assumption is that somebody somewhere somehow invented all the miraculous elements of the story. Yet this is not just one or two stories. The gospels have miracle accounts throughout. So does the book of Acts. This is one reason you see scholars focusing so much on the epistles. They can't make any sense of the gospels. If every miracle claim is a counter-factual assertion then it is difficult to imagine who wrote them and why. It is more difficult to imagine why anyone in the first century took them seriously. 

When you ask people about their assumptions some will point back to Hume. Hume said miracles were infinitely improbable and therefore no amount of evidence would overcome that because natural evidence can only be finitely improbable. The trouble is that takes as a premise that miracles are infinitely improbable. It does not explain why people find that premise so plausible. To find that out we need to go back further than Hume.

In fact, this book goes back much further than Hume. It begins with William of Ockham back in the 14th century. When most people try and find the beginnings of modern scientific humanism they start at around 1700. This book ends at 1700.  The idea is to go deeper. Not to ask how modern philosophy flowed out of the Age of Reason but rather asking what presuppositions the Age of Reason is based on and where did they come from? 

Showing people the source of ideas does not prove those ideas wrong. Yet it does beg the question of whether this process could have or should have gone any differently. This is especially true when you see that many of the major players were  not motivated by a desire for truth but quite often it was a short term political goal they were most concerned about. 

What flows out of this is criticism or the criticism or perhaps skepticism of skepticism. That is to ask whether it makes sense to demand proof for every detail and to reject those that don't pass the test. What you could do is allow the whole thing to stand or fall on its own terms. That is asking whether the story the bible tells is true. If it is then the various pieces of it do not need to be verified independently. They can be deemed trustworthy because the source ultimately is God. 

No comments:

Post a Comment