Archive for the 'Historicity' Category


Scholarly Integrity and DSTV

manuscript.jpgBeing at my parents place for the last few days I’ve been watching quite a bit of satellite television (DSTV – in South Africa). Being a bit of a history junkie I spend a lot of time watching The History Channel, National Geographic and the Discovery Channel. I’m sometimes intrigued watching a lot of these ancient conspiracy theory type shows in the ‘Dan Brownish’ category. The one thing though that is a bit disappointing is the level of scholarly integrity in these shows. I know you should expect it being popular television and all but it does become a bit frustrating after a while. For the naive viewer these ancient conspiracy theories sound fascinating and they’re presented in such a way that they must be the gospel truth.

Yet having a bit of background in reception studies and how ancient texts work it doesn’t take long before you start noticing a whole lot of cracks in the arguments presented as well as the withholding of important information about dating and reliability of certain ancient documents cited. Its a bit dishonest really, and whilst I know that its what should be expected in popular media of that variety, I just wish there was a higher level of integrity in these ‘documentaries’. A lot of people are watching them, and often a lot of people are being fed a load of rubbish.


Witherington and Progressive Revelation?

I’m a firm believer in progressive revelation, as you can see by the number of posts I’ve written categorized ‘biblical theology‘, but when we talk about the revelation of scripture progressing does that mean that everything in the bible is progressing all the time? The short answer is no: God, the ultimate author of the scripture (albeit through human authors) is the same in terms of his attributes throughout the bible storyline. God’s attributes do not progress through the bible so that you get some sort of angry, kill-joy God in the Old Testament who turns into a loving caring and gracious God in the New Testament.

So whilst God remains constant the story of his redeeming a people for himself is in a state of progression with Jesus Christ at the pinnacle. This is most clear in Paul’s writing in Ephesians 3:2-7 where Paul talks about ‘the mystery’ that has now been made known, and verse 7 clarifies that ‘the mystery’ was in fact the gospel of Christ. In the past it was hidden but now, in Christ, is revealed – a clear example of progression in the story and the revelation.

I think these two observations are pretty clear and we’d all be in agreement about them. The big question though is whether or not there are other kinds of progression in the bible. One such type of progression that I’ve recently encountered is the contention that the doctrinal understandings of various Old Testament saints were in a state of progression. So Ben Witherington, for example, in his recent discussion about what he feels are erroneous views concerning sovereignty was confronted by one commenter concerning the fact that Job seems to attribute his hardships directly to God in his well known statement:

“The LORD gives and the LORD takes away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.”

Now clearly Job’s doctrinal position doesn’t agree with Witherington’s critique of Piper. However Witherington doesn’t see this as a problem because as far as he is concerned Job’s theology…

“… is an imperfect, and indeed inaccurate one, not one that a Christian should affirm.”

So because, as Witherington goes on to explain, the bible is a progressive revelation so too is the doctrinal quality of the Old Testament saints. So Job, being one of the earliest saints had a ridiculously inadequate theology of the attributes of God according to this view because he was right at the beginning of the progression.

Now this sounds to me like a bit of a moving of the goal posts. Let’s take this to some logical conclusions: Firstly the whole creation narratives are completely useless in terms of doctrinal content because they stem probably from some extremely early oral traditions that Moses picked up on, in fact Moses must have spent quite some time re-working the creation narrative and sorting out all the doctrinal error since he was probably a bit further along the line in terms of progressive revelation, but then he couldn’t have got it all right either and he must have had some pretty big errors in his writing because he’s still fairly early in the whole progression. As for David and his psalms, well they’re really just a bunch of nice songs now that helps us empathize with him in his struggles, but as far as doctrinal content – useless – he’s at least 1000 years too early in the progression to be of any use doctrinally.

Come on Dr. Witherington, if we go that way where does it end?


Reflections on Emerging Theology #1

I’ve been reading a number of sites dealing with emerging theology over the last few days. As I’ve been reading I’ve started to notice some recurring themes which I thought I’d make mention of. Now I need to qualify so as not to create a storm of any kind here. Firstly, my reading has not encompassed all of emerging theology, I’m limited, I can only read so much. Secondly, these are just initial thoughts and reflections. And thirdly, I’m a historic evangelical and so whilst I have much sympathy and empathy for the emerging church, I read things through a historic evangelical lens, this is not to say that I don’t personally critique my lens time and time again. So here are my reflections:

Reflection #1

I’ve mentioned this before elsewhere, but it seems to me that a lot of the EC’s critique of evangelicalism deals with abuses within modern evangelicalism and not so much with historic evangelicalism. So for example I’ve seen people taking evangelical views of scripture such as authority and infallibility. The reason behind the challenge though does not always seem, to me, to stem from an intellectual or reasoned disagreement with the doctrines themselves (although this follows), but initially it seems to stem from frustrations with abuses of the doctrines.

So here’s the logic in an example: The Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa used the Old Testament to justify apartheid. How do we stop people from doing this in the future? Well we neutralize the authority of the Old Testament. We have a dilemma – we can’t correct apartheid interpretation of the Old Testament because that would then be to impose our own interpretation which is governed by our time/cultural lens. So because we can’t correct we rather diminish the authority of the Old Testament. So instead of the OT being God’s Word it now instead becomes the writings of a small Jewish community trying to figure out what it means to follow God in their context.

Historic evangelicalism doesn’t pit those two against each other – the OT is God’s authoritative Word as well as being the writings of a small Jewish community within a particular context. The two are not necessarilly natural opponents as some would make it seem.

So whilst I think this sort of theology brings a healthy indictment upon much evangelical reasoning it fails, in my mind, to provide an accurate way forward.

Whilst on the subject of scripture, I’m also a bit alarmed at the poor knowledge of manuscript evidence when dealing with things like the integrity of the original manuscripts. Having a background in Classical Civilization, and therefore the study of ancient texts and their transmission, I have a bit of an upper hand on most – but I still hear arguments about whether the Bible has significantly changed over the centuries. I have secular Classics Professors who will testify to the integrity of the Old and New Testament manuscripts with far more conviction than some emerging folk.

Anyway, that’s my first reflection for now.


Ben is Brilliant

Dr. Ben Witherington is at his best again as he takes a new Discovery Channel special to pieces. The Discovery Channel will air a show on the 4th March (not sure how the dates match up with DsTV in South Africa) claiming the discovery of Jesus’ tomb, his bones and the tombs of his family members, including a wife and his child Jude. That sounds like an amazing discovery … WELL … Dr. Ben pulls out some of the facts to demonstrate why the show and the accompanying book are anything but an amazing discovery – why, once again, the Titanic will sink.

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