Inspiration and Canon from a Historical Viewpoint

  • Jaymes Lackey

    Where does the assumption come from that individual people and texts are the ones under inspiration?

    Is the canon itself not inspired over and against individual texts? (I know this is a debate, just wondering why you fall to the side you do).

    Texts are “inspired” because they are “useful” in building up believers for good works, probably not because of some intangible and unmeasurable. The texts in the canon are the ones the church found useful for discipleship and in accord with apostolic witness.

    I absolutely love your scholarship… I just like Brevard Childs too. :)

    Blessings!

  • http://www.benwitherington.com ben Witherington

    James, Childs is simply wrong about this, and takes an a-historical approach. The theory of inspiration I refer to comes from within the Bible itself, See for example 2 Tim. 3.16 or 1 Thess. 2.13. Inspiration was individual…some persons were inspired some were not, and those who were inspired were inspired to speak God’s Word, reflecting God’s character. God was not interested in the merely useful, he was interested in the truth, as was Jesus. Inspiration has to do with Word of God truth content, not with the after the fact judgments of the church about a set of books. BW3 Inspiration and Word of God determines canon, not the other way around. BW3

  • Patrick

    Question about the “This must be a/the son of God” statement by the centurion. Does the manuscript have “the” added in or is that our English translators? I tend to agree the guy probably meant son of a god in his religious paradigm. Hopefully not after reflection though.

  • http://deartheoph.blogspot.com/ Jaymes Lackey

    Thanks, Dr. Witherington.

    You point to 2 Tim. 3 but do not show us what you mean. When I was offering “usefulness” as the measurement for inspiration I was literally quoting 2 Tim. 3, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful…”

    You claim that it is individuals who are inspired, where are the other letters that Paul mentions? What about all the letters that are attributed to Paul but are probably not Paul (this is significant number as I am sure you well know). How do we claim that the individual is the one inspired when we don’t even know who wrote literally most of the books of the bible? Maybe Mark wrote Mark, but the gospels are ambiguous at best. Paul’s canon is almost divided in half as far as Pauline authorship. Pastorals are all over the place. 2 Peter? Hebrews? This isn’t even including the OT. Even if we follow Markus Barth’s “innocent until proven guilty…” there are still plenty of unknowns. It simply cannot be the individual, it has to be the merit of the text based on the church’s acceptance of it (which is formally called canonization).

    Finally, Childs was a master at historical and literary research. He was quite possibly the best read scholar of his time (and maybe ours). He just realized that the historical pursuit of the original text as an end is futile because it fails to help the people of faith make sense of their scriptures in their canonical form.

    Many blessings!

  • http://www.benwitherington.com ben Witherington

    Jaymes the abandonment of history is the abandonment of historical truth. Childs just got jaundiced with liberal historical criticism and I understand. First of all, its clear from the OT that inspiration was of persons— see the whole corpus of prophetic literature and my book Jesus the Seer. Secondly, Paul says he is an inspired person in 1 Cor. 14, and that his word is God’s Word in 1 Thess. 2.13. Thirdly inspiration is not continual. The lost letters of Paul are irrelevant to this discussion. Fourthly, if you read my commentaries you will see that each of the books of the NT are connected to the named persons on the document, some as sources, some as editors, some as authors. As for the translation ‘useful’ its not very useful in 2 Tim. 3.16. What the Greek says is ‘profitable for….’ BW3

  • http://deartheoph.blogspot.com/ Jaymes Lackey

    Blessings and thanks for spending time with me!

    the last thing I will say is that by subjecting our scripture to the world’s standard of truth, modern conceptions of history, we open ourselves up to losing the meaning of our scriptures. when we subject our scripture to measurement of historical truth alone historical discrepancies within the text discredit the text.

    Scripture, to me, is like a beautiful painting. It is interesting and sometimes helpful to know who the artist was, where they bought their pigments and paints, the humidity levels during the painting, what type of canvas it was painted on, but at the end of the day my ecclesial foreparents have handed me a beautiful painting of which I am to leave its presence transformed. It comes with a history of interpretation, tradition, liveliness, controversy, but it was not given to me to become its critic, to peel back the layers of paint and find the true story or the true artist or the true colors because the world is suspect of its beauty. Its truth is higher than history and not at all dependent on history.

    Again, I own and have read many of your books and absolutely love them. And I appreciate your faith and honesty.

  • http://www.benwitherington.com ben Witherington

    Jaymes critical thinking is one thing, modern notions of history quite another. I’m not interested in imposing modern conceptions of history (for example an anti-supernatural bias) on the Biblical text or on ancient historiography. But what Childs is proposing is a mistake. The historical foundations of our theology are essential. It is as incarnational as Jesus himself. Nothing can be theologically true that is historically false or deceptive or inauthentic. BW3

  • http://deartheoph.blogspot.com/ Jaymes Lackey

    “Nothing can be theologically true that is historically false or deceptive or inauthentic.”

    Genesis 1-2, animals created before or after man?
    Genesis 10 – 11, where the lineage of Shem spreads throughout the whole earth with different families, languages, etc and chp 11 begins with every single human being living in the valley of Shinar?
    Discrepancy between who killed Goliath in 1 and 2 Samuel, David or Elhanan?
    The discrepancy between whether God order the Davidic census or Satan?
    Whether the temple action happened at the end of Jesus’ ministry (Synoptics) or the beginning (John)?
    The discrepancy between the soldiers words at Jesus’ death?
    The discrepancy between the death accounts of Judas?

    Both accounts of each event cannot be historically true. BUT, when we read canonically, understanding that places of tension in the text are places of greatest spirituality insight. Historical fact is trumped by spiritual truth.

  • http://www.benwitherington.com ben Witherington

    Wrong. Historical truth is not trumped by wishful thinking spirituality. What you are listing here is a result of historical misreading of the text…. it needs to be read on its own terms. The Biblical authors were writing as ancient not modern historians, and they had their own criteria. To assume a modern level of interest in specificity is to assume wrongly about such texts. The issue is what did the original inspired author intend to teach us? In the case of those Genesis texts he did not intend to teach us any sort of exact chronology or order of creation. He intended to teach us that God is the creator, and that there is an orderliness in the larger sense to what has been done, and that humans are the crown of God’s creation. BW3

  • D. Foster

    Ben,

    I recently finished Karel Van Der Toorn’s “Scribal Culture” after you mentioned it in a review of Bart Ehrman’s “Forged.” What do you think of the Gospels in light of his theories? Is it possible that letters in the Pauline corpus were written by disciples/scribes of Paul? And if so, wouldn’t that lend (in part, not completely) to Jaymes’s position that letters were included initially because they taught the truth, and not necessarily because an inspired individual wrote it?

    –Derek

  • D. Foster

    I put “Gospels”; I meant “Paul’s letters”!

  • Patrick

    Jaymes,

    I’m not a scholar, but, take your question whether the temple action happened at the end of Jesus’ ministry (Synoptics) or the beginning (John)?

    In ANE literature, folks used “literary conventions” that we don’t do to make a point. A gentleman named Warren Gage wrote a dissertation with a section concerning the placing of the temple cleansing pericope early as John did by demonstrating John and Revelation may be a chiastic structure into 1 book, 2 genres.

    The pericope fits there literarily in consonance with what Revelation has to say in a specific area( forgot it frankly).

    These literary conventions are common in ANE literature. So, which one is chronologically right on that issue?

    The Synoptics, had Jesus done that at the beginning of His ministry He would not have kept telling His people not to tell who He was just yet and the sanhedrin would have murdered Him 3 years too early.

    That is not a contradiction, you can be sure John had read these earlier works and the people of that era fully understood these literary conventions and we about fully don’t it seems in our society.

  • http://www.benwitherington.com ben Witherington

    There are internal claims about authorship in Paul’s letter, and not in the Synoptic Gospels. I think scribal theories are helpful in the case of the latter, but not in the case of the former. BW3

  • http://deartheoph.blogspot.com/ Jaymes Lackey

    I am not the one fighting for historical exegesis. I am the one fighting for theological interpretation. I totally agree that we should read the scripture with a theological bent and not a historical lens.

    Dr. Witherington said, “Nothing can be theologically true that is historically false or deceptive or inauthentic.” I was reacting to that. There are plenty of things in scripture that are historically untrue, but that does not make them any less truth theologically.

    Dr. Witherington, I may be slow, so can you tell me how these two quotes fit together in your argument?:

    (1) “Nothing can be theologically true that is historically false or deceptive or inauthentic.”
    (2) “The issue is what did the original inspired author intend to teach us? In the case of those Genesis texts he did not intend to teach us any sort of exact chronology or order of creation.”

    Remember when I said, “the last thing I will say is that by subjecting our scripture to the world’s standard of truth, modern conceptions of history, we open ourselves up to losing the meaning of our scriptures. when we subject our scripture to measurement of historical truth alone historical discrepancies within the text discredit the text.”

    Somehow it seems like we are arguing for the same thing and just talking past each other. I am saying that using modern notions of history causes us to misread the text. You said the same thing. I fighting to use Childs/Stephen Fowl/Michael Gorman approach at theological interpretation. It seems that you aren’t a big fan of Childs, what about Fowl and Gorman?

  • http://www.benwitherington.com ben Witherington

    Jaymes we do disagree I am not saying there are numerous historical errors in the Bible. I think there are not. I think when the text is fairly evaluated on their own terms there are not. I think that the ancients were perfectly capable of critical thinking just as we are. There views of history in some respects were the same as ours and in some respects different. I am saying that there are certain modern criteria, for example an anti-supernatural bias, or an unnecessary skepticism, that do not reflect good historical analysis in any age. So, its a yes and no proposition when it comes to whether we agree or not. I will say again what I said before. The Bible claims a historical foundation for all theological truth (except of course things that don’t involve historicity like the eternality of God). To deny this is to deny the claims and character of Scripture and to head in a gnostic direction. BW3

  • http://deartheoph.blogspot.com/ Jaymes Lackey

    That did clear things up, thank you!

    Can I be so bold as to ask what you think of theological interpretation from the likes of maybe a Fowl or another UMer like Gorman?

  • http://www.benwitherington.com ben Witherington

    I like a good deal of what Fowl and Gorman do, but not at the expense of history. If you want to see how I think these things should be related—- see my The Indelible Image, the essays at the beginning of the first volume and the end of the second. BW3


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