To err is human. To learn to take the time to revise and improve on first drafts of one’s work may not be divine but it sure is important.
In the freshman class I teach, students are required to submit a first draft of most papers, which is then graded and given feedback, after which they have to revise the paper and submit their revised version.
It is an attempt to teach freshmen the importance, indeed the necessity, of doing this even when a professor does not require it.
Everyone who writes in connection with their profession learns sooner or later that it is essential to good writing that one learn to revise. And whether one is writing novels, reports, or even music, being open to revising is usually required, particularly if one wants to go from the stage of having a good idea to the stage of producing a masterpiece.
I found myself thinking about this as I read the IO9 article about earlier drafts of the iconic opening monologue from the original series of Star Trek. It did not come into existence in a single step. Would it have been as powerful or as memorable if one of the earlier drafts had been treated as the final form? Click through to read some, then come back and let me know what you think.
I wonder if the reason why some conservatives object to redaction criticism, the study of the history of editing of the Bible, is precisely that it makes it all too human. A text that is powerful and appears fully formed in the mind of an author and is written in precisely that form can naturally lead to discussion of the person being “inspired” whether in the religious and supernatural or the more mundane sense.
Working through sources and drafts to produce the final version, on the other hand, reminds us that the authors of the Bible were as human as we are. They didn’t get it right the first time, and while the final product has often proven powerful and stood the test of time, even that is not above criticism (in either sense of that word).
Acknowledging the editing process that was involved in producing the works which are now part of the Bible is important, both for recognizing their humanness and non-ultimacy, and also for recognizing their value as classics. Classics are works which maintain their value and continue to be found to be worth reading long after they were created, long after the style of literature or music in which they were expressed has ceased to be popular in the same way. It can be helpful in reaching that point at which one appreciates Biblical literature for what it is, without either expecting it to be the end all and be all of literature, and without feeling the need to try to tamper with it to make it contemporary.
One reason why conservative Christianity has a problem with the Bible is that it is determined to treat the Bible as something other than a human work, and is determined instead to treat the Bible as a definitive revelation. That places the conservative Christian believer in the impossible situation of trying to both hide the evidence for the Bible’s human authorship, and try to make it speak directly to today’s issues.
Is it not better to accept and appreciate the Bible for what it is, and acknowledge that we, like the Bible’s authors, will regularly have to revise our thinking and our statements on various topics?
Is there not as much of a lesson for us today, if not more, that emerges from a consideration of what the Bible is and how it was put together, as one gets from the study of what the Bible says?