Does the Bible get it wrong?

25 Aug

From Professor Michael Kruger:

New Series: Does the Bible Ever Get it Wrong? Facing Scripture’s Difficult Passages

MistakeFrom Christianity’s earliest days, the Scriptures have had their critics. Porphyry, a third-century neoplatonic philosopher, was particularly aggressive in his attacks on the historical veracity of the Gospels, often pointing out what he deemed to be their inconsistencies, contradictions, and historical problems.

For example, he pointed out how Mark 1:2 is not really quoting (just) Isaiah as the passage seems to indicate (frag. 9).  Instead, it is actually a composite quote of Isaiah 40:3 and Mal 3:1 (with a little Ex 23:20 thrown in). Porphyry also attacked the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke, claiming they contradict one another (frag. 11).

Feeling the weight of Porphyry’s attacks, Christian thinkers began to respond.  Most notable is a (later) response by Augustine, who spends much time defending the consistency of the Gospels in his On the Harmony of the Gospels.  Elsewhere, Augustine was quite clear about why the truth and consistency of the Scripture mattered:

For it seems to me that most disastrous consequences must follow upon our believing that anything false is found in the sacred books. . . For if you once admit into such a high sanctuary of authority one false statement as made in the way of duty, there will not be left a single sentence of those books which, if appearing to anyone difficult in practice or hard to believe, may not by the same fatal rule be explained away (Letters 28.3)

Augustine’s response paved the way for Christians in the subsequent centuries, and even in the modern day.  He showed that the historical consistency of the Scriptures really mattered.

Of course, not all agree with Augustine. In fact, Peter Enns has recently invited a number of Christian scholars to blog on his website who have come to believe that the Scriptures contain historical mistakes or errors.  The series is called “Aha Moments: Biblical Scholars Tell Their Stories” and is (largely) written by scholars whose beliefs about the Bible had changed after they realized that, at least at some points, the Scriptures were simply mistaken.

No doubt Enns’ new blog series has resonated with many folks who have qualms about the difficult passages in Scripture.  But, I think it is important for these same folks to know that there are other Christian scholars who think there are reasonable answers to some of these difficult historical issues.  These scholars have studied at major universities, have been introduced to the same critical problems, but have reached different conclusions about the truthfulness of Scripture.

Thus, I am beginning a new series here at Canon Fodder where I invite evangelical scholars to respond to some of the critical issues raised in Pete Enns’ “Aha moments” series.  Scholars who have agreed to participate include Craig Blomberg, Greg Beale, Darrell Bock, Andreas Köstenberger, and Don Carson. Other names will be added as we go along.

Of course, this series will not be able to respond to every single issue raised by Enns’ series (last I checked it is up to 15 installments!).  But, it will at least provide some other perspectives on the types of issues raised.

No doubt there are some out there who will look at this new series and dismiss it as typical naive, fundamentalist, anti-intellectual, Enlightenment-driven, apologetic maneuvering.  To deny errors in the Bible, some might think, is equivalent to believing in a geocentric universe.

But, the scholars in this series are certainly not anti-intellectual fundamentalists. They are reputable scholars who have made substantial contributions to their field.  They simply disagree with the insistence that there are no reasonable solutions to these problematic passages in the Bible.  Surely there can be honest scholarly disagreement about such things without the use of pejorative labels.

Moreover, the belief that the historical veracity of the Scriptures really matters is not a new one in the history of Christianity–it is not an American invention nor simply the product of the Enlightenment (as is so often claimed).  Robert Wilken points out how such concerns predated the Enlightenment:

The central issue, as stated by Porphyry and reiterated by Augustine in his defense of the Scriptures, was whether the Gospels provided a reliable account of the history of Jesus…The question of faith and history, so much a part of modern theological discourse since the Enlightenment, was also a significant part of the debate between pagans and Christians in the ancient world (The Christians as the Romans Saw Them, 147).

Thus, this new series is simply trying to do what Christians have always done throughout the history of Christianity, namely to offer an explanation for why we believe the Bible is true in all that affirms.

As a final thought, it is my hope that those who have contributed to Enns’ series will receive this new  series on my website as it is intended, namely as a charitable and collegial engagement over these issues.  Sure, there will be disagreements–even vigorous disagreements.  But, I personally know a number of the scholars in Enns’ series and consider them friends.  I trust that such friendships can endure some healthy dialogue and difference of opinion.

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