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January 7, 2014 / compassioninpolitics

Is the Bible to be understood as a Scientific document, Historical document, or something else entirely

Interesting points. All those seem to boil down to 2 criticism:
1) the Bible isn’t exactly like comprehensive historical textbooks of the 2000s–therefore it seems dubious (or it wasn’t meant to be historical)
2) the Bible doesn’t cover something I deem historically important (ergo its not meant to be historical or it isn’t a historical document.)

Journals in many cases are historical documents, particularly those of historical figure or early American settlers–yet they don’t fit the mold you attempt to put the Bible in.

You may have point.
1) The Bible wasn’t supposed to be in the model of a modern historical document. That doesn’t seem to prove anything. Especially that it had to appeal or connect with the Jews & Gentiles of the era of 30 A.D.
2) It has historical purposes but those historical purposes are understood in the context of other purposes and even larger purposes about changing the course of history (affecting or shifting might be a more appropriate word here–I’m not sure).

Its not meant to be a textbook or comprehensive. (Not to mention that it might be 3x to 5x in size.)

Its more analogous to telling the story of the US Civil War. Or perhaps US military history. There wasn’t a need to cover a civil war in China or Chinese military history in such a book. Besides, such second guessing is analogous to monday morning quarterbacking someone–when they handily won a game. Or perhaps analogous to second guessing Stephen King about plot details when he sold millions of copies. While such excursions are academically or trivially interesting–the second guesser or critic in this case didn’t make the decision & doesn’t fully understand the rationale or purposes or contexts of the author or doer in question. That you don’t know the reason they made the decision–isn’t a reason its a bad one.

Creators and editors are notoriously interesting and peculiar individuals. God, being the ultimate Creator, I don’t think would be any different. Moreover, to think of Him as a textbook writer is perhaps to miss the point (as logo centric & analytical mind of the age of science are apt to assume). God wasn’t issuing a textbook into history. Far from it–he was releasing a transformative story and document into history. Much more like the Declaration of Independence or The I Have a Dream Speech than either Science 101 or History 101.

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You suggest: “If the Bible was written to “connect” with people who lived 2,000 years ( your words) then it really doesn’t have much to say to people who live now,does it?’

But I would suggest: First, this sets up a false dilemma. Speaking to one generation doesn’t mean not speaking to others. Various works you read in literature were meant to speak to a particular generation, but transcended those lines. It had to use familiar metaphors and stories to create a bridge of communication.

You suggest: “The events which occurred at the time the Bible is set directly effected the lives of the people who were extant at that time. Failing to note them is a failure to accurately relate the times it portrays.”

But I would suggest: Well, I don’t think most historians even think like this in terms of the Bible–it seems odd that you would.
Second, the purpose wasn’t the telling of history in a larger sense–it was telling human story and the Jesus story. Jesus stands at the center of history. Everything else pales in comparison. That is the most important history. One might argue that the Bible while portraying physical events is more about a spiritual history of that area.

Well, it does claim to have a philosophical view. I think it has one which has stood the test of times. The Sermon on the Mount (love) and the Golden Rule (do unto others), along with the virtues including grace and forgiveness is perhaps one of the greatest philosophical treatises of all times. It certainly highly influenced the classics which informed our rights, democracy, and Constitution.
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You suggest: “If the Bible was written to “connect” with people who lived 2,000 years ( your words) then it really doesn’t have much to say to people who live now,does it?’

But I would suggest: First, this sets up a false dilemma. Speaking to one generation doesn’t mean not speaking to others. Various works you read in literature were meant to speak to a particular generation, but transcended those lines. It had to use familiar metaphors and stories to create a bridge of communication.

You suggest: “The events which occurred at the time the Bible is set directly effected the lives of the people who were extant at that time. Failing to note them is a failure to accurately relate the times it portrays.”

But I would suggest: Well, I don’t think most historians even think like this in terms of the Bible–it seems odd that you would.
Second, the purpose wasn’t the telling of history in a larger sense–it was telling human story and the Jesus story. Jesus stands at the center of history. Everything else pales in comparison. That is the most important history. One might argue that the Bible while portraying physical events is more about a spiritual history of that area.

If you apply that standard to any other history or document–it would sound silly. Telling about Asia during the Civil War doesn’t make sense. Your assumption that history must be complete or be told in a particular way is pretty much wholly ungrounded. The only texts we might put that responsibility on is Textbooks, even then though there are specific textbooks about events. Theres no reason why a book or history shouldn’t be thematic. In some ways the Bible overturns your assumptions–it says there are these events–the most important event is the Cross–every thing else is should be understood through that prism and framework. Christ’s affect on history is 1000x any other historical event besides perhaps Creation. It implicitly prioritized meaning over body count. Theres no rule that history texts can’t or shouldn’t do that. To some extent this criticism sounds like the criticism of Ben Mezrich has received for his book–despite him basically telling the core story & being very upfront about how he writes the books. The Bible understands history slightly different than the academy does. The Bible doesn’t have to follow the cannon or the archetype of historical literature. Perhaps a better analogy is documentaries which stay true to their subject, but re-frame or re-define what it means to be a documentary. I just can’t see why your assumption is necessarily true–it seems contrived and a model that lots of historical documents don’t stand up to. Part of the beauty of the Bible may indeed be its lack of categorization–it transcends categorization–its life, its love, its philosophy, its literature, its poetry, and its history. Its all of those things. It doesn’t have to follow paint by numbers definition of what anyone says should define history.

Well, it does claim to have a philosophical view. I think it has one which has stood the test of times. The Sermon on the Mount (love) and the Golden Rule (do unto others), along with the virtues including grace and forgiveness is perhaps one of the greatest philosophical treatises of all times. It certainly highly influenced the classics which informed our rights, democracy, and Constitution.

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Well. The false dilemma is created by the idea that literature is always written to a specific audience, but it also can appeal to and have impact on a larger swath of humanity. That is empirically the case with a number of texts we consider classics. The Bible in this regard has stood the test of time (best sellers list).

Jesus being at the center of history changes everything. A bio on Thomas Edison wouldn’t have included references to Canadian inventors or Mexican inventors. Every author and creator and historical decides on a purpose and scope and often a theme of their writing. All of these 3 choices create a focus rather than a “everything in World History” or “everything in regional history” everything but the kitchen sink approach to recording or writing history. Given that….I don’t see the straw person you seem to suggest. The purpose of the author is different than yours–that is all. There is no reason why history has to be complete–especially given the point is to turn physical history on its head in terms of focus (more spiritual and less material–and inward versus outward distinction).

I think you’re also missing that I’m pointing out that the Bible transcends the confines of assumptions & academia & the defining walls of disciplines. It further transcends the critics who come 2000 years later with post-hoc re-approrpriations of what it should have done. This is not unlike Star Wars is. But he should have done X, Y, or Z. But he didn’t….and its still a classic. His purpose is different than your purpose. That doesn’t mean his purpose is bad or it invalidates his art or project. The idea that the creator of the universe needs to meet the potentially endless checklist requirements of critics in 2013 seems a bit dubious to me. The critics are always going to have something to say–thats their job. There’s always a rationalization of another layer of hyper-skepticism that can be added.

Your argument essentially is “I think History should be comprehensive and that History thats focused is bad or even not to be trusted.” The Bible took another view–instead of looking at things horizontally–it looked at them vertically–over time. Moreover, it looked at the spiritual, identity, community, and ethical components of history in some respects.

Given all of the above–thats why it has priority over the other books. It also does a better job in terms of internal consistency than the other books.

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Well…no one would say that about any academic discipline which all have conflicts.

Second, most people of Christian faith agree on the core tenets of the Bible. And in terms of the differences there is quite literally saving “grace.”

Some would argue that those differences actually inform a healthy dialog & diversity. Again, most folks would say some agonism is good–in fact Hegel seemed to say just that.

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This whole notion of “cherry picking” assumes someone has overridden what the text means. Words have multiple meanings (not necessarily opposite) but related meanings. For instance love. Not the best example, but it helps clarify a bit. To me there are two types:
1. Disagreements in which honest people, pastors, or theologians can disagree
2. Disagreements caused by human ego.
My guess is the author or creator of a text has problem with the later and not the former–both in terms of staying true to the text. Basically this takes into account the tenor of a person’s heart (or in short their intent behind what occurred). This is a standard both in interpretation as well as in terms of ethical philosophy. And the Bible seems to suggest a similar slant. And moreover, it seems to be a reasonable one.

But…why are they cheery picking? Whats the root cause? Human weakness. Its not directly related to Christianity itself. Blaming Christianity for human weakness is placing the responsibility in the wrong hands.

People “cherry pick” in every academic endeavor. I’m not sure why a Pope like interpretation makes you feel better about things. If artists wanted their art to have a singular meaning–they wouldn’t be artists. The richness of poetry and art and literature–is often in the interpretation.

In terms of cherry picking–science & medicine both have aspects in which there is disagreement outside cannon–for instance a medical professional’s “standard of practice” in various areas isn’t agreed upon. This is part of the wonder of the mystery & discovery & adventure of the whole thing.

If I receive detailed instructions on how to do something (anything) but I voluntarily decide to ignore the positions which conflict with my “worldview” doesn’t that either weaken the narrative or my understanding?

Given the above. I can probably say yes. But not the core worldview–it probably weakens the persons commitment to the system they’ve said they are committed to. I’m not entirely sure how God might deal with such issues–but the issue of grace and forgiveness is there for people who are committed Christians and ask for forgiveness.

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