Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Has Historical Criticism Proved the Bible False?

Thomas Schreiner on the Historical Reliability of the Bible:
Historical criticism of the Bible began in earnest in the eighteenth century, flowered in the nineteenth century, and became the dominant approach to the Scriptures in the twentieth century. Historical criticism has at times been rejected by conservatives because it has called into question the accuracy of the Bible. For example, in the nineteenth century, most scholars delving into the life of Jesus provided rationalistic, not supernatural, explanations of Jesus’ miracles. New Testament scholar F. C. Baur argued that the theologies of Peter and Paul contradict one another if one reads the NT historically. Old Testament scholars, such as Julius Wellhausen, maintained that the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible) was not actually written by Moses. Careful literary and historical study, it was claimed, indicated that the Pentateuch had various sources that were written over a period of hundreds of years and that the final document was put together by an unknown editor.

Still, it is important to recognize that the rise of historical criticism has also benefited the church. The Christian faith is rooted in history. God has manifested Himself supremely in the person of Jesus Christ. He lived and ministered in a particular time and place—in Palestine in the third decade of the first century. As Christians, then, we believe that our faith is historically rooted. Paul insisted that Christians were foolish to believe in the Christian faith if the resurrection of Jesus did not actually occur (1 Co 15:12-19). Hence, we have no fear of historical study but welcome it, for we believe historical research can assist us in understanding the message of the Scriptures.

The benefits of historical study are numerous. It has cleared up the meaning of obscure terms. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has cast light on the environment within which the NT was birthed. Study of the ancient Near East and the Greco-Roman world has clarified the extent to which the Scriptures are similar to and dissimilar from documents that came out of surrounding cultures. Historical criticism has also demonstrated that some traditional views were not credible. It was once thought that the NT was written in a special “Holy Ghost” language, but study of sources from the era of the NT has demonstrated that the NT was written in the common Greek of the day. The King James Version of the Bible was an outstanding product of the scholarship in its day, but we now have many more manuscripts for both the NT and the OT, and hence our English Bibles are even closer to the original today because of recent manuscript discoveries and the careful work of scholars in text criticism....

Though evangelical scholars have often solved problems raised by historical critics, conservatives have not solved them all. This does not mean that the Scriptures are inaccurate in such instances but instead that we could resolve such problems if we had enough information. To make such a claim is not a sacrifice of one’s intellect. Comprehensive answers are lacking in every historical discipline since the evidence is fragmentary. We can be grateful to historical criticism since it has helped us understand the Scriptures better. But we must also be on our guard. Often historical criticism has veered off into unsubstantiated allegations about the accuracy of the Scriptures, and it has routinely approached the Scriptures with an antisupernatural worldview. Historical criticism has not demonstrated the Bible to be false. The Bible, rightly interpreted, has stood the test of time.

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