Scripture and the Truth???

Last summer I was in Ecuador for work. In that time, I had the opportunity to read some ten or eleven books. One of the few that stands out to me is William Dever’s Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From? It’s a pretty astounding book that I picked up in the bargain section at a Mardel here in OKC. Dever’s goal in this book is to lay out a manageable amount of the archaeological data pertaining to ancient Palestine and demonstrate his analysis of it, in a way that the average reader could handle. I think that he did an excellent job.

But my intent here is not to review a book I haven’t picked up in a year. I’d like to make a proposition about scripture itself, based on Dever’s conclusions, which are essentially that the earliest Israelites were natives of Canaan, and that they reformed the stories that were characteristic of the pagan Canaanites and made them part of the YHWH cult. At first this was a challenge for me to accept. I was raised in a borderline fundamentalist household where the truth of scripture was that it was all historically true and anyone who said otherwise was not a believer.

But what I’m reading here, in Dever, is that maybe there is a need for a much more nuanced view of scripture than what I was raised with. How do we challenge the very rigid definition of truth that has infiltrated the thinking of believers in the U.S. without totally rejecting truth?

Should we say, with John Dominic Crossan, that the authors of scripture meant what they wrote to be taken as metaphors or allegories? No, that would be to ignore the fact that the cultures from which the scriptures came were not beholden to the deceptive idea that knowledge of reality is only contained within propositional statements. There should be room for the creative liberties taken by the evangelists with their respective tellings of the gospel story without throwing them into the rubbish heap of fiction.

Not long after I read Dever’s book I came across a review by Craig Blomberg of one of Bart Ehrman’s books. Ehrman questions the truth of scripture because there are so many differences in the different texts. Ehrman seems to think that if the Bible were divinely inspired, there would have been no real human involvement in its transmission and therefore there would not have been errors. Ehrman is, I believe, the jaded result of an intensely fundamentalist upbringing. Here are the last few lines from Blomberg’s review:
“It would have been a far greater miracle to supernaturally guide every copyist and translator throughout history than to inspire one set of original authors, and in the process it probably would have violated the delicate balance between the humanity and divinity of the Bible…”

I believe that the stories in the Old and New Tesaments are true in a way that transcends fact. I believe that even in the cases when a story is not historically factual they are true in that they offer a way of somehow grasping the transcendence of YHWH. We see in the flood, not an account of primary history similar to what we call the news. Rather we see a people trying to redeem one of the stories of pagan communities to tell a tale of YHWH’s faithfulness.

Even in the case of something that happened within history (e.g. the resurrection) the truth is not contained in the facts but in the transformation that comes about from such an earth-shattering event. It’s a telling of a story to live in its wake. This is why so many of the messianic movements in the first century attempted things like re-crossing the Jordan to introduce the new conquest of the land. They weren’t digging up artifacts to determine the truth of the stories they were told any more than we challenge the truth of TV and movies. Today in the west we believe that we have separated ourselves from the “fiction” that we see, hear and read. Yet people are driven to plastic surgeons by the clearly air-brushed images in magazines. We look to movies, TV and music to shape our identity in the same ways that stories, poems and songs influenced the early Israelites. The difference is that we think modern science has become our way of knowing.

I hope this sparks some conversation.

Grace and Peace,



Filed under Book Reviews, Faith, For the Kingdom..., Story

8 responses to “Scripture and the Truth???

  1. Wow

    Good stuff, I want to comment further about this later on when I think about it some and then I will come back to it. I just wanted to say that the thoughts were good and made me think some today. Appreciate and glad to see you’re blogging again. Keep it up


  2. anglopressy

    Thanks. It was a little odd to write again, so let me know if there’s anything that doesn’t make sense.

  3. I like how you put things. For example to me the Creation story is not “like the news” but there to tell us about God, and how He created us from the primal elements of the earth, and how we choose our own path (not to wisely). It also tells us that we don’t always get to choose what is good and evil in our lives.

    None of that changes if the story was historical or not.

  4. anglopressy

    I read an essay in the Westminster Theological Journal by a guy named Paul Seely where he uses the term “VCR account” which is a better one that what I used. So I’ll re-word what I said in the post.

    The Bible is intended to be truer than a “VCR account”. Rather than approaching scripture for data as though it were a history book in terms of what we use in US History to 1877. Rather than just giving an account of what happened in a purely physical way, scripture came from cultures where people used stories to tell what happened and what it means. And this was done not by telling a moral at the end. Rather it was achieved by simply telling the story.

  5. stormydayz

    As someone who was raised in a household where science was valued and as someone who values science themselves I have read the creation story in Genesis trying to reconcile it with modern scientific theory. I don’t claim to be right on this, and I doubt anyone ever will be unless God sits down with us in heaven and tells us, but I think the creation story, as 100% true, can be compatible with modern scientific theory, that while likely not wholly correct is getting closer by the year. So long as one recognizes that the two are from totally different perspectives (God trying to explain creation from His view in a way that the ancient Israelites would understand, and modern man trying to make sense of the universe we live in through observation and experiment.) No one back then would have known what the big bang was and would have had only a very simple understanding of concepts like gravity, so the story had to be told in words they understood. I think the Bible makes more sense and can be understood at a much deeper level if you try to put it into the context of when if was written. Truth is truth, but out of context it can make little sense.

  6. Jared

    I have to disagree with you on this one. There is more than just a difference in perspective here. Much of the thinking that drives modern western science is arrogant idolatry. Beneath the surface of what you just said are the traces of progress. We know more than they did so we can put it in a better way than they could. We have found ways to observe the physical universe and have taken that to mean that we know more and understand better than the people behind us.

    That is false. In many ways they knew better. Their stories were not intended to be blind reportage or “VCR accounts”. They were small bites of the universe. Long, deep gulps of truth and understanding that we don’t get.

    What we call science does not shape or lead people to knowledge, rather it keeps us from a truer knowledge of ourselves and the world around us because it tries to tell our story without any story at all.

    That’s not to say that there are no benefits from modern science. But all idols and emperors bring some benefit. Otherwise no one would bow to them. I will not acquiesce to materialism because it helps in some way my ability to survive infectious disease.

    Grace and Peace,

  7. When I was in college, I probably spent a good part of the first year trying to figure out where I stood on issues like this. Scripture was and is so odd to me, often unlike anything I have read before or read since, and I think that most of it comes from the fact that there is something about the texts that transcend the usual ways we read other works.

    What I mean is that there is a combination of historicity, story, poetry, prophecy (not the rapture-ready kind), and other genres included. Also, unlike the view I had growing up, many of the authors, if they were to read the other books, would probably argue and disagree with other viewpoints and statements. The bible is not as univocal as we often think, and yet there is something that is intriguing about that. Now with that statement you might call me a heretic, who knows, but the reality of it is that you have many different voices saying many different things about God. Somehow that is where your faith has to come into play much more as you read through the scriptures, not because there is some kind of test to find out which authors are more correct and which can be trusted more, because on some level, they all call for some kind of trust, because they all call attention to the movement of God in this world. That movement, the God above the text and yet working through it, is the ultimate authority.

    Maybe I am way off track with where this conversation is going, but I just needed to articulate that.

  8. anglopressy

    No I don’t think there is any heresy in what you’re saying. I agree completely. What we call the Bible is the result of centuries of a community’s growth and experience in the world. The single author model is not really the best way to look at scripture. The Psalms, for example, are the praises and lamentations of a pretty wide historical array of Israel’s people. As are Isaiah, Genesis, Deuteronomy and much of the Hebrew Bible. The New Testament has nearly as many hands on it. There is a good chance that several of the Pauline epistles are not letters Paul actually wrote. they were the result of pauline communities. Even with the books that were penned in the first century we see a transformation throughout the churches history as it travelled to different scribes, monks and other redactors. That heritage, I would say, lends to the validity of scriptures. Again, I’ll defer to Craig Blomberg:
    “It would have been a far greater miracle to supernaturally guide every copyist and translator throughout history than to inspire one set of original authors, and in the process it probably would have violated the delicate balance between the humanity and divinity of the Bible…”

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