I have been considering the implications of Peter Enns’ suggestion that, in the light of the evidence, we should understand the Old Testament differently than we have done in the past. In a comment on the post Interpreting the Old Testament, Brisancian has asked a number of questions about how we can know what’s true.
I thought the questions were important enough to answer in a new post. Quotes from Brisancian’s questions are shown as blockquotes.
I recently wrote about how academics in christian universities and colleges in the USA are finding their professional conclusions coming into conflict with the faith statements of their colleges. But this is an issue that to some degree affects all christians.
How should we respond when secular learning seems to contradict traditional christian belief?
It seems inevitable that there will be a tension for christians between academic knowledge and faith. But sometimes the tension becomes very personal in its impacts, and feelings are high on both sides. These issues have come to a head a number of times in recent years at universities and colleges in the USA.
Christians generally believe the Bible, and believe in the Bible, but what should we believe about the Bible?
Probably the strongest claim christians make about the Bible is that it is inerrant – it contains no errors. There are various limits put on this – e.g. it only applies to the original writings, it only applies to the meaning and intention of the writers – but within those limits it is perfectly accurate without the slightest inaccuracy.
We have looked at what Jesus, the Bible and the Bible authors say about the Bible and how they used their scriptures. Now it is time to see what we can conclude about the Bible, and whether some claims about the Bible can be sustained.
First, is it correct to describe the Bible as ‘the Word of God’?
The Bible is divided into two ‘Testaments’. It is obvious that the Old Testament tells about Hebrew history and religion before Jesus, while the New Testament tells about the coming of Jesus and what happened next.
But is that all? Can the differences between the two Testaments tell us something important about the Bible and how we should read it?
None of the four gospels explicitly states who the author(s) is/are, and the names given to them reflect the understanding of the early christians. So scholars are left to determine as best they can whether the names we have were indeed the authors.
Knowing the author probably doesn’t change all that much, but I have always found it an interesting question, especially regarding John.
I am looking at some of the core convictions of the Anabaptists, not because I am an Anabaptist, but because I think we learn from them. We have seen that they emphasise following Jesus, not just believing in him or worshiping him.
I don’t believe in labelling myself, apart from being a follower of Jesus – Paul points out the dangers of this in 1 Corinthians 1-3. But it remains true that my formative years as a christian were within a moderate, moderately reformed, evangelical church. And I am very thankful for that time.
But evangelicalism is under attack, not just from without, but also from within, as evangelical believers increasingly question its underpinnings. This well-written, absorbing and thought-provoking book (A Restless Faith: Leaving fundamentalism in a quest for God, by Keith Mascord) is another milestone along that path.
Just a week ago I commented on the lack of archaeological evidence for Bethlehem at the time of Jesus – it was known only from about the fourth century on. I said:
“Archaeologists have found little that could identify the town of Bethlehem in the first century, leading a few to argue that it didn’t exist at that time. …. I don’t think this question has been resolved yet”
Another common argument used against christian belief is that the New Testament is unreliable and historically inaccurate. The argument focuses on a number of apparent inconsistencies in the gospel accounts, which, it is said, make the accounts unbelievable.