Blomberg’s Can We Still Believe the Bible– Part Seven

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Chapter Five (pp. 147-78) deals with the issue of multiple genre of literature in the Bible, and walks through some of the usual pitfalls and questions people raise when a more literarily sensitive approach to the Biblical text is taken. Here Craig deals with Genesis 1-3, Jonah, Job, the possibility of multiple Isaiahs, pseudonymity in the NT, and some related issues. The over arching theme of the chapter is that we must recognize the type of literature we are reading, and interpret it within the parameters and conventions of that ancient type of literature. I completely agree with this approach. This includes recognizing that some texts in the form of narrative are not intended to be the narration of things that actually happened in space and time (see p. 148), and as Craig says, this has been recognized by most serious students of the Bible throughout Christian history.

Here Craig cites article 8 of the Chicago Inerrancy Statement—“We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to the standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selection of materials in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations.” (cited on p. 149). This, one must say, is quite the list of qualifications, and of course it has led to the charge that when you use the Inerrancy word, you end up dying the death of a thousand qualifications. While that in itself is an exaggeration, it does have a point, and the point is this— who gets to define what counts as an error, and what are the qualifications thereof?

The discussion of Genesis is interesting and nuanced (pp. 150ff) and Craig is correct that it is not the case that people have historically always taken the material in Genesis 1-3 absolutely literally, especially in regard to the days of creation. This is simply not true. Craig takes a sort of minimalist approach and says that the only thing that would really be inconsistent with inerrancy would be a denial that God was not behind creation, such that he couldn’t be called the creator. It does seem to me however that these texts are making more claims than that, though not claims about how old the earth is, and how long exactly it took to make everything (notably the first couple of days in Gen. 1 are not solar days anyway, and the last day has no evening and morning conclusion like the previous ones). Craig adds the point that text insists humankind is a unity created in God’s image. This too is true, and a big ticket item in the narrative. I would add that it seems rather apparent the author intends to suggest Adam and Eve were historical persons. This seems to be the view of Jesus and Paul as well, and I agree.

The discussion of Job and Jonah is helpful in some ways. It is possible that a historical prophet named Jonah had a fish tale told about him due to his reluctance to preach to the Ninevites, but apparently he eventually did so. Again it appears Jesus takes Jonah to be a real person, and Noah too for that matter. Craig wrestles with the notion of 3 different authors for the three major parts of Isaiah (1-39,40-55, 56-66) including the discussion of the naming of Cyrus in Is.44.28 and 45.1. He points out that Josiah is personally named in 1 Kngs. 13.2 (see p. 162) nearly three centuries before he reigned, but of course this could be a later scribal addition to the text to make clear the referent. I personally think that the materials in Is. 40ff. reflect a period two centuries after the time of the Isaiah whom we hear about for instance in Isaiah 1-6. The name Isaiah appears 16 times in Is. 1-39, but not at all thereafter. In other words, there is no internal claim of Isaianic authorship for the later chapters, but clearly they do draw on and know the materials in Is. 1-39. Craig’s point is that Evangelicals can come down on either side of this issue without abandoning inerrancy. It would have been helpful if Craig had interacted with the excellent study of Scribes and the Making of the OT era by Van der Torrn.

Craig’s key point is this— “a commitment to inerrancy does not exclude a priori any given literary style, form, or genre that is not inherently deceptive.” (p. 164). I agree.

The discussion of Matthew as a giant midrash is a discussion of a creative, but misguided application of the Jewish concept of midrash to the way Matthew was written, by a fine scholar, Robert Gundry. Midrash, by definition, is a way of treating a pre-existing Scriptural text creatively. Matthew’s source material is not that, or mostly not that. Less satisfactory in my view is the discussion by Craig of pseudonymity. Apart from Jewish apocalyptic literature where no one was trying to deceive and probably no one was deceived by attributing a work to an ancient patriarch (making the work not actually prophecy by history retrojected into the mouth of an ancient worthy, I don’t think the case has been made that pseudonymity was a normal or acceptable part of the literary genre of letter writing. Fortunately, the point is moot, in my view, since we don’t have such documents in the NT. Authorship in antiquity included:1) co-authorship (see 1-2 Thess.); 2) the attribution of a work to its most famous contributor (see 2 Peter); 3) the attribution of a work to its final compiler or editor (see John’s Gospel). None of this qualifies as pseudonymity, or a falsely attributed author. It’s just that we shouldn’t impose our modern definitions and limitations of authorship on the ancients. They certainly did have standards of integrity and authenticity, and were concerned about plagiarism as well, but not in the same ways we are today. I do not think it works to say while we know what the 2nd century church thought about pseudonymous documents from the case if the Gospel of Peter and the Acts of Paul and Thecla, and how the writers of those documents got in hot water, and in one case were defrocked for writing them, that we do not know how first century folk would have reacted to such phenomena. I think we do, and it wouldn’t have been different than Galen’s reaction to people forging his name on documents. Nevertheless, the taxonomy of six different sorts of pseudonimity from David Aune, listed on p. 172 are interesting. I don’t think 1) and 2) on the list that both involve materials from the original author should be on such a list.

The remark towards the end of the chapter (p. 175) that one of the real problems which eventually causes people to abandon the faith, is the failure to allow serious discussion of deeper issues and problems one has with the Bible is right on target. One must be allowed to ask questions and hear a variety of answers, not be straitjacketed into the preacher’s or teachers narrow and singular viewpoint. The failure of Evangelicals to allow, and teach their charges to think critically and carefully about the Bible and its issues is a serious failing, and it still needs some correcting.

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