Thursday, October 27, 2005

A deal-killer?

I finished my last book (the very excellent Galileo's Daughter) before any of my new Amazon purchases arrived, so I headed out to Border's and picked up Who Wrote the Bible. As I delve further into the Bible I struggle to put it into historical and cultural perspective -- all those years of sleeping in while my friends were in Sunday school have left me constantly thinking, "What on earth is this guy talking about? And who is this guy anyway?" as I try to get through its text. So I've found Who Wrote the Bible to be invaluable in bringing these cryptic texts to light for me. Suddenly all the different versions of stories and little contradictions in facts make sense.

But the book is not necessarily pro-Christian. It's not anti-Christian, but the goal is to present accurate historical information moreso than to uphold Christian traditions. (I should note that this author seems to be one of the few people who is actually balanced on this subject rather than having a hidden anti-Christian agenda.)

So far I've only gotten through the first couple of chapters where he's talking about the Pentateuch. As I was reading his riveting case for who the books' likely authors are, I realized that I am just never going to believe that Moses wrote these books. I am also never going to believe that all of these Old Testament stories are literally true. I think some of them were written for personal or political gain.

Personally, I can probably find a way to reconcile this historical data with Christian beliefs, but I'm not sure if that's contradictory to being a Christian. So my question to those of you who are familiar with the Bible is this: is this a deal-killer? Is there anywhere in the Bible that specifically says something like, "All the stories in this book are 100% true and you are not a Christian if you don't believe them." I know there are a lot of people who hold that opinion, but what does the Bible say?

Any verses you could direct me to would be helpful.

5 Comments:

At October 28, 2005 7:17 AM, Blogger Colleen said...

No, it isn't a deal killer! Now there are certainly people/denominations that hold to (or try to hold to) a very literal interpretation of the Bible and consider each and every book to have been "dictated" by the Lord himself. But that is nonsense.

The Bible is many kinds of writing produced over many hundreds of years. It contains poetry, history, fable, reportage, etc. Take Job, for example. That book starts with a sort of "Once upon a time" introduction. It is clearly a story with a purpose. The Psalms are songs.

There are books of history. They are as accurate as any books we have from the ancient world and read with special profit in conjunction with accounts of ancient archaeology. What we have learned about the ancient world in the last 50-75 years is simply awe-inspiring.

What you need to believe is that Jesus is who He says He is. Understanding everything else hinges on that and is subordinate to that.

To put it another way-- the miracle of Christianity is that God chose to intervene in human history at a specific point in a particular way. This historical event is not lost in the mists of time so ancient that no one can point to when, where and what.

I hope SteveG weighs in on this. He has wonderful insights on this, as on most topics!

 
At October 28, 2005 3:03 PM, Anonymous SteveG said...

Oh, I am here, and of course I have lots to say (when don't I) ;-)

I'll start by agreeing with what Colleen has said, and flatly state that I see no 'deal killer' in what you've said. But, that is from a strictly Catholic understanding. I imagine that some denominations would indeed disagree with us. Now onto something meatier.

First, I want to again mention a most fundamental issue that I've brought up a couple times here that gets to the heart of the fundamental diffrence between how Catholicism and Protestantism might answer this. As an example, i'll refer you to a brief discussion I had with a commenter here on your Big hurdles: The Adam and Eve story post as an illustration.

As a Catholic, I am obviously going to biased towards one view, and think I can make strong arguments for that paradigm, but that is not my main point. The point I want to draw out here is that I think you may need to face this fundamental difference sooner rather than later as it will ultimately guide you in how you are able to answer such questions. Indeed it is THE fundamental difference that exists in Christendom. That difference is in regards to scripture and how we read it, and who has the authority to teach it's meaning. I am going to oversimplify terribly here, but it's unavoidable lest I write a book length answer. Here are the two basic paradigms offerred by Catholicism and Protestantism.....

Protestantism -
*God gave us the scriptures as our source for discovering His word and truth.
*Scripture alone is to be the guide and source of doctrine regarding what a Christian is to believe.
*The believer, guided by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit can read the bible and determine what is right belief.
*Scripture ALONE is AUTHORITATIVE in the life of the believer.
*This is a belief known as Sola Scriptura.

Catholicism -
*Jesus intended to establish a Church.
*Jesus selected 12 close disciples (the apostles) and explicitly gave them authority in the Church he was establishing (see Matt 16 & Matt 18)
*The apostle Peter was singled out and given a key role as the 'head' of the apostles. (see Matt. 16:18)
*Jesus promised the apostles that the Holy Spirit would protect them from error and lead them into all truth.
*After Jesus Resurrection and ascension, the apostles began building the church and spreading the gospel.
*The apostolic 'office' is attested to in the NT, and as the apostles died, they appointed successors to their 'office'. These successors were known from the beginning as Bishops.
*Each Generation of bishops was succeeded by another generation of bishops, and this continues until today.
*These successor bishops, with the successor of Peter at their head, are guided by the HS (as promised by Jesus)and responsible for ensuring, and protecting the truth of the faith from generation to generation. This includes guiding the faithful in the meaning, mode, and understanding of the words of scripture.
*The Church as lead by the Bishops,with the the successor of Peter at the head is AUTHORITATIVE in the life of the believer
*It is in the light of BOTH scripture AND tradition that we are to undestand the faith.

...I need to admit first off each point is something that Protestants and Catholics have spilled endless amounts of ink debating and fighting about (unfortunately). So, I am not trying gloss over them, or say that a Protestant has no challenges to the Catholic premises, but just laying out the basics of the paradigms so I can make some observations about them.

Observation 1: America is fundamentally a Protestant nation. The idea of just picking up the bible and being able to discover God and Christ is deeply ingrained in this culture to the point that the average American with no foreknowledge of Christian history (yourself for example), would think this is the norm. They would thus likely do exactly what you are doing. They would get a bible, start reading, and start trying to discover those truths (and in fact a good bit CAN be done via this method).

But as far as the wider history and culture of Christianity goes, this is an approach that was....

1)Unthinkable prior to the Reformation
2)Impossible prior to widespread literacy and the advent of the printing press
3)Even today the minority view in worldwide Christendom since rougly 75% to 85% of Christendom is Catholic or Eastern Orthodox and rejects Sola Scriptura (though this last point might seem hard to fathom since most of America is Protestant and such a high percentage of that minority is concentrated here and dominates much of the discussion).

Observation 2: There are some inherent problems with Sola Scriptura which make it somewhat self-refuting. The fundamental issues are that the bible nowhere claims for itself that it is authoritative. And even if it did, the issue of the canon (what to include in the bible) destroys it as being workable. In the early church history, there were many books claiming to be inspired (Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of the Hebrews, etc., etc.). Unless the bible itself provides an infallible index as to what's suppossed to be in it, there is no way we can know from the pages of scripture itself which books should be included/excluded.

In fact, the canon of the bible was determined over hundred's of years and was guided and approved by the Church (in the body of the bishops at the ecumenical councils) which deemed some books as being in keeping with what had been passed on to them from the apostles. The bible didn't drop out of the sky after all, and even Protestants in a sense rely on the Catholic Church as having protected the canon (in particular the New Testament) as having been correct as to which books to keep and which not too.

Observation 3: The bible, by definition is not meant to be picked up, and read as if it were a novel. Without adequate knowledge of the source languages, without knowledge of the history and culture of the writers, without knowledge of traditional teachings of Christianity, without expertise in ancient manuscripts, without an understanding of the literary modes of ancient cultures (and in particular the modes of any given book of the bible), and a multitude of other factors that come in to play, reading and UNDERSTANDING the whole of bible becomes nearly an impossible task.

A book such as the bible, written over such a vast period of time, in different languages, in different cultures, etc. demands an interpreter. It demands expertise to handle (actually expertS) it. It demands a guide (actually guideS) to walk us through it. You've already tacitly aknowledged this by purchasing a book to help guide you because you were unable to accomplish this on your own. That's nothing to be ashamed of. Neither could I acomplish this, and neither could any other single person. Likewise anybody who picks up a bible study guide admits the same (and ALL Christians would need to in order to make sense of much of scripture).

With that reality established, the question then becomes WHO it is we turn to in order to help us make sense of it all. This is such a fundamentally crucial question. If you believe as I do that it's the Church, moored and linked by the history of it's established chain of succession from Christ to the apostles to the Bishops, and so on, and so on, then you will look to that body to help guide you in this.

If you step outside of that historical continuity, you are basically on your own. You have to find experts, pastors, friends etc. who can *hopefully* guide you, and you may or may not be getting good advice. One thus puts themself in a position that what they ultimately come to believe and understand is subject to the sources they happen to be exposed to. Those sources may or may not be informed on the issues I've highlighted above, or may be informed on some of them to varying degrees.

I hate to make this sound like a Catholic apologetic, but I want to strongly suggest that you may want to address this fundamental question of how you are going to handle and inform your reading of scripture before getting too much further along. I say that because if you continue down the path of 'me and the bible', the danger is that you will come to conclusions of your understanding that at bottom will be subjective interpretaions that may, or may not conform to what Christianity has always held. Once one starts down that path, the tendency is to start looking for a church that agrees with oneself. At that point, we are in a sense making God in our own image as oppossed to trying to find him and then conforming ourselves to his image.

Who Wrote the Bible. As I delve further into the Bible I struggle to put it into historical and cultural perspective -- all those years of sleeping in while my friends were in Sunday school have left me constantly thinking, "What on earth is this guy talking about? And who is this guy anyway?" as I try to get through its text. So I've found Who Wrote the Bible to be invaluable in bringing these cryptic texts to light for me. Suddenly all the different versions of stories and little contradictions in facts make sense. But the book is not necessarily pro-Christian. It's not anti-Christian, but the goal is to present accurate historical information moreso than to uphold Christian traditions. (I should note that this author seems to be one of the few people who is actually balanced on this subject rather than having a hidden anti-Christian agenda.)

So far I've only gotten through the first couple of chapters where he's talking about the Pentateuch. As I was reading his riveting case for who the books' likely authors are, I realized that I am just never going to believe that Moses wrote these books. I am also never going to believe that all of these Old Testament stories are literally true.


But why do you trust this particular book? Why this particular author/scholar? I am not arguing that this isn't in fact a fine book, and finding a seemingly objective source on this topic must feel like a breath of fresh air, and I am thrilled for you that it's been helpful. But are you REALLY sure that he's unbiased? Again, I am not saying he isnt', I am just trying to point out the problems with the approach of trying to make sense of it all in isolation using just the bible and one scholars opinion on it.

I'd like to offer here that his is but one interpretation on an issue that in truth none of us can be sure on. JEDP is but one scholarly view that's got some very good analysis and arguments behind it, but it ultimately is just an unprovable theory. I've read very compelling cases that seem to sink JEDP and support the traditional thinking on authorship, and they are equally riveting.

Beyond that, I really don't know if it matters. Does it change the content or harm the faith if it wasn't Moses? I don' t think so, and the Catholic Church certainly wouldn't say so. Certainly this is not a deal killer by any stretch. And it's taken as fact (and nearly always has been) by Catholics that indeed the whole of scripture is not 'literal' history.

Personally, I can probably find a way to reconcile this historical data with Christian beliefs, but I'm not sure if that's contradictory to being a Christian. So my question to those of you who are familiar with the Bible is this: is this a deal-killer? Is there anywhere in the Bible that specifically says something like, "All the stories in this book are 100% true and you are not a Christian if you don't believe them." I know there are a lot of people who hold that opinion, but what does the Bible say?

And again, you show an unbelievable insight here. It doesn't say any such thing, and as I've pointed out, it doesn't say which books should be included, and doesn't say it's the sole rule of faith. I recently was in a discussion with a 'fundamentatlist' on this very issue, and I flat out asked them to show me where the bible says it must be taken literally. They had no answer whatsoever to this other than to basically say 'because I say so.'

Finally, I'll point you to a series of wonderful post by Jimmy Akin (an incredible apologist) which talks about some of this in a more detail in response to a reader of his blog who asked some similar questoins....

Adam, Noah, And Science
Blunt Commands In The Old Testament

 
At October 30, 2005 12:29 PM, Anonymous NicoleW said...

I fyou have time, check out the post entitled "Ever struck up a conversation with an atheist?" on this site...

http://forum.catholic.org/viewforum.php?f=59

There is a very insightful guy, Walter, that was an atheist and echoes some of your thoughts. He is now Catholic and he was giving me some helpful advice (on page 3).

 
At October 30, 2005 1:27 PM, Blogger Jennifer F. said...

But why do you trust this particular book? Why this particular author/scholar? IBut are you REALLY sure that he's unbiased?

Good point. Unfortunately I was really distracted when I wrote that post so I didn't make myself clear. I didn't mean to overstate the case for Who Wrote the Bible and the JEDP theory. Reading that just reminded me of other research I've done and opinions I'd previously formed that I cannot accept that every single line in the Old Testament is the literal truth and not exaggerated at all. Overall I find it to be an impressive work with great insights and many historically accurate stories, but I've had some people tell me that if I question it at all then I cannot be a Christian.

 
At August 31, 2009 8:54 PM, Blogger V said...

Your Catholic beginnings....

 

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