Friday, May 8, 2009

The Bible As History

When I first became a Christian, I was told that the Bible was the inerrant word of God, a reliable historical source that would tell me how things were, how they are and how they will be. My first lessons were in prooftexting - taking selected verses out of their context and applying them literally into my own. However I was soon keen to start reading the Bible for myself and this inevitably challenged such understandings again and again.

One doesn't have to go very far - take these three texts from the first book of the Bible as an example: Gen 12:10-20; 20:1-18; 26:1-13. This is clearly the same story repeated three times with minor changes in character and setting. If the stories are historical they demonstrate either unbelievable co-incidence or bizarre manipulation on the part of the protagonists and/or God (if God is thought to be the shaper of history).

Taken individually, the stories are quaint and even vaguely amusing at times. However together they cannot fail to challenge a historical literalist view of the Bible. Is it more likely that God twists historical circumstances towards deja vu experiences or that ancient storytellers reframed their tales with new characters and settings to re-iterate moral points?


Bernard Martin said...

Hi Jason,

Thanks for your post, and sharing your perspective on this.

However, I do not see the problems you have raised with these passages, and am confident of their historical reliability. To me they show how God continued to further His purposes of redemption down through the generations despite the shortcomings of his people, even when they did not learn lessons from previous generations.

When I first became a Christian, I wasn't specifically told that the Bible was inerrant, but I now believe that is so, and that it is indeed a reliable historical source.


Bernard Martin

Nicky said...

Sorry Bernard, but I'm with Jason on this one. I think that when we say the Bible is not inerrant we are not saying that it is full mistakes, I think we are saying that it is not a literal example of history. I'm not sure if people get this but I'll try to explain how I understand this.

There are two accounts of King David's historic reign. One comments on David's affair with Bathsheba the other doesn't. Two different accounts. Two different objectives and views of David.

Recently in a town where I live, there were two deaths, believd by all accounts, to be a murder suicide. I had the challenge and priveledge of doing the funeral of the suspected murderer.

Our local newspaper never reported so much as a paragraph about the murder. Now in a small country town of 6-7 thousand people this is news worthy. This was, for whatever reason, censored by our local press. This newspaper account in twenty or so years, when some historian looks up the newspaper from our time, will have an incorrect (or at least inaccurate) picture of our history if not looked at with other newspapers from our area.

I think that the Bible is the same. If we look at some passages out of context we have an incorrect understanding of the overall message of Scripture.

How ever did we get to the point of believing as individual Christians that we have the whole truth? We have to, I think, at least acknowledge that every individual brings their own world view and understanding of Scripture. Somewhere amidst all that we can hope fully find truth for our generation and time, just as every generation from the time of the earliest writings has had to do.

Jesus didn't abolish slavery, William Wilburforce did.

I could go on for ever, sorry. I hope this adds to this discussion.

God's grace and peace to you all


Bernard Martin said...

Hi Nicky,

Thanks for your helpful explanation of your position.

I would accept that no account details every aspect of a particular recorded event, and that the same event can be presented with a different mix of the original details, as your personal example illustrates.

However, I believe that when the Bible presents records of historical happenings and events, those details that are recorded are recorded accurately and without error.

I would also recognise that the historical accounts that the Bible records are not just for the conveyance of facts, but for the communication of a message or messages. Also, that when I read those accounts, I come to them with my own background and current worldview etc. However, I would see these as reasons why we so need the Holy Spirit to help us understand what God was/is saying through what is recorded in His Word (including the historical sections).

With regards to your point to Christians saying that they have the whole truth, my understanding would be that in the Bible we have all the truth that God wants us to have until Jesus returns, but that that body of truth is not all the truth that exists. As Paul says, 'Now we know in part ...'.

Trust this helps.