Conservative Theology

January 29, 2010

The Bible / John Hobbins on Inerrancy and Haiti


Going back through my RSS reader, I found a few excellent pieces by John Hobbins:

I have no idea how John manages to put out so much thoughtful content so often. 

As for inerrancy, I don't entirely agree or disagree with John.  I agree with his basic points, but think that the history and the art are much more intertwined than John's post implies.  My belief is that, for God, the history is the art.


I also found this (slightly older) post of John's: Why believers must complain about and criticize biblical texts

What matters is the context in which complaints and criticism occur. Do I make the criticism because I expect God or scripture to answer my questions and I will not rest until I find my rest in God and his Word? Or because I've decided that God and his Word are something I need to protect myself against, because I've found a higher standard of truth by which to judge them both?...




May 27, 2009

The Bible / Is Scripture the Norm, or Do Our Readings Reflect Other Norms


Ancient Hebrew Poetry has a great post about reading scripture.  The point as a whole is that (a) we always read scripture in the light of our existing cultural norms, and we can't get away from that, but (b) we should always be allowing our cultural norms to be informed by and judged by scripture.

The two poles that are often setup for us are:

  1. that the Bible is God's word and its teaching perfect and infallible, just what God intended, or
  2. the Bible is imperfect and fallible - except for the parts we like based on some external criterion
The problem with this dichotomy is that we have a basic trust of scripture, but our understanding of it is always colored by our culture.  John goes on to say:

But the really important thing is that Augustine sees Scripture as norma normans (the norm that norms all other norms) which nevertheless gives rise to norma normata (norms normed by it and derived from it, such as the Nicene Creed) which in turn serve to focus and provide criteria for the interpretation of the norm.

So, imposing an exterior hermeneutical criteria is not necessarily anti-scriptural, so long as that hermeneutic is itself open to revision from scripture.

February 20, 2009

The Bible / The Problem of the "Original Text"


This post over at ETC shares a lot of my issues with the notion of a single "original text".  Check it out!  It's wierd that so little of this nature of multiple authorial texts is discussed in seminary.  Even at a liberal seminary, the operating assumption is that there is a single "original text".  If you imagine the process of handwriting each copy, its actually possible (though remote) that _all_ variants are actually part of some "original text".

December 29, 2008

The Bible / The "Plain Sense" Meaning of Scripture


Over at Ancient Hebrew Poetry there is a fascinating conversation going on about hermeneutics and the "plain sense" meaning of scripture.  The context is a post about complementarianism/egalitarianism, but I found the general conversation in the comments about the "plain sense" meaning to be much more interesting.

December 09, 2008

The Bible / Modern Pharisees


Wade Hodges made an interesting post about the righteousness of the Pharisees, but I think he has it exactly backwards.

I'll have to disagree here, because  Jesus was explicit about the Pharisees' problem.  At various time, Jesus offered these criticisms of the Pharisees:

  1. They followed man's commands/traditions instead of God's commands, using their own traditions to trump God's commands.  See especially Matthew 15.
  2. They made rules for others that they themselves broke (23:2ff)
  3. They held the outward appearance of righteousness but lacked the heart (Matthew 15:19-20)
  4. They misrepresented what the primary concerns were from the secondary concerns, emphasizing the secondary but ignoring the primary (Matthew 23:23)

Jesus's criticism of the Pharisees was absolutely NOT that they were too focused on scripture, it was that they weren't focused enough, and instead were too focused on themselves.  They used scripture as an excuse for doing/believing what they wanted to do, instead of listening carefully to what scripture was saying.

The discussion about "We keep it simple, we follow the Bible" was almost nonsensical.  It's a matter of epistemological priority - how would we know what Jesus said to follow Him if we didn't follow the Bible?  In fact, I have seen it happen that many try to put words and meanings into Jesus' mouth which clearly are not Biblical.  I think this is a better representation of a modern Pharisee - someone who uses Jesus as leverage to get what they want, self-justify their attitudes/actions, feel good about themselves, and live righteously according to their own self-determined standard of righteousness, rather than submitting to scripture and what scripture says about Jesus and the community of faith. 

This happens from both liberal and conservative ends - conservatives can hold too tightly to traditions which have arisen (which may have even made sense at the time) but which are non-Biblical, and elevated those traditions above scripture's commands.  Liberals tend to take their own sense of morality (whatever it is), then make a general feel-good argument about the kind of things Jesus would do (without actually studying the scriptures to see if this is true), and then claim Jesus' authority for their own beliefs and actions.

I think these are the modern  representatives of the Pharisees - those who favor human tradition and knowledge above God's revelation.

I actually think that this post of Wade's is a bit Pharisaical itself - he could have easily spent the time to study what it is that Jesus did or said about the Pharisees, and then followed Jesus, but instead decided to use Jesus as a means of attacking people and ideas that he himself finds disagreeable.

September 21, 2008

The Bible / Be Perfect or You Will Be Perfect? - Matthew 5:48


UPDATE: I've made a few clarifications

In our Greek readings class we came across Matthew 5:48, which reads:

εσεσθε ουν υμεις τελειοι ωσπερ ο πατηρ υμων ο εν τοις ουρανοις τελεις εστιν

This is usually translated "Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect."  While this is a possible translation, the verb εσεσθε is actually morphologically a future tense verb.  This can be used in a jussive sense ("you shall be perfect" - simplified to "be perfect"), but I think the context may be indicating that we treat it just as a straight future.  In this case you might read it as "then [i.e. if you do this] you will be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect."

I think the key to this is Matthew 5:45, which tells us that God "makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust".  This is in the middle of a whole description of action in which Jesus said that we aren't just to do good to those who do good to us, but to others as well.  Give to those who ask, even if they can't repay.  Love those who hate you.  Pray for those who persecute you.  Greet people who you don't know. 

It is obvious from the state of the world that bad people can have it good.  It sometimes seems that evil people are blessed by God.  In fact, it may so happen that they are!  As these verses indicate, part of God's perfection is that God blesses those who hate him.  God blesses those who are just and unjust.  God blesses those who use that blessing against Him.  It is part of His perfection to do this.

And so, at the end, Jesus is saying that if we treat others the way that God treats them, we will be perfect.

This solves for me a moral problem and a theological problem that I've wondered about for a while.

The moral problem:

  • If I sell products or services, should I sell them to evil people as well (provided it doesn't require me myself to do evil).  Answer: Yes - God gives to the good and evil, so should we.  For instance, it would be fine to be an accountant for an abortion facility.  It would not be fine to do the abortions.  Also, being their accountant would not mean that you are to be silent on the ethics of their operation, just that you wouldn't withold services on account of them practicing evil (interestingly, I am aware of one abortion doctor who was converted because of his accountant and then stopped doing abortions).  Now, especially for those in the services (as opposed to products) industries, there is the whole question of time allocation - since you, unlike God, cannot be in two places at once, perhaps you may choose to not render your services to some group or other.  I think that this is your own choice, and it depends on what God has called you to do.  However, I don't think we should necessarily withold our services when someone requesting them is corrupt or immoral.

The theological problem:

  • Why are there so many people who hate God but appear to have God's blessing?  Answer: Because God gives to the good and the evil

Now, the problem that it adds is whether or not those who have taken God's name and received His Holy Spirit also receive more than those who do not (by more I do not mean material possessions).  I think the answer is a qualified yes.  I think that by receiving God's spirit and submitting to God's will then our gifts will be used for God's glory, in consonance with God's purposes.  It also means that we know to ask God, while those who do not know God do not know to ask.  There is probably more here, too - this is not the whole story, it is only one part of the Bible.  But the point is that God does in fact give to both the righteous and the unrighteous (and takes aways, as well).

I think we need to stop translating this as a jussive/imperative and just make it future tense, because it makes better theological sense of what is going on.

September 15, 2008

The Bible / Epistemology and the Canon


Michael Patton has a very interesting discussion about knowing with certainty versus knowing with probability, and how that affects the way we look at the Biblical Canon.

September 04, 2008

The Bible / Biblical Studies Carnival XXXIII


Find it here.

August 03, 2008

The Bible / Biblical Studies Carnival XXXII


There is so much going on in the world of Biblical studies, that this months carnival had to be split into three parts! (part 1, part 2, part 3)

Some notes of interest:

Lots of interesting things are happening in the Biblical Studies world, especially with regards to digital document publication.

July 15, 2008

The Bible / Is the Bible Scientifically True?


One thing we need to be careful of in interpreting and translating ancient documents (such as the Bible) is the categories in which people speak, because there is no objectively true set of categories.   I don't believe the Bible is true scientifically, not because I think it is in error, but because the Bible does not use the same categories as science does.  I think it can be used within science (that is one of my personal research interests), but when doing so one always has to remember the categories that people are using.

For instance, let's say I said "the meteor came in out of the ether and glowed for several minutes until it's phlogiston ran out."  To someone in the 18th century, that statement makes a lot of sense.  To someone in the 21st century, that makes no sense whatsoever.  It may be a true _historical_ statement, but the categories being used in the 18th century are not the same ones being used in the 21st.

Are the categories inerrant?  The problem here is that the question itself is non-sensical.  Categories are neither true nor false.  They are simply the conception of reality you are dealing with.  The "ether" hypothesis might be true, but it is no part of 21st century science.  Even if it is not true, it is still a useful category in discussion as a placeholder for other unknown concepts.   In the 22nd century we might come back to "ether", or have a whole new set of categories that make 21st century science seem archaic.

Even if there were a complete set of objectively true categories (which I doubt they exist), it would be stupid for the Bible to use them, as it would cause the Bible itself to be meaningless to us who aren't familiar with those categories!

And, as such, I don't treat the statements in the Bible as scientifically true, though I certainly think that they can be used to inform scientific topics.  Going back to the example of the meteor "coming out of the ether" - if I am doing a scientific study on meteor observations, I can safely include this 18th century description as a valid description of the event, just knowing that his categories for description need translation.

I have blogged on this topic before, though this is a slightly more thorough treatment of the matter.