[Guest Post] A Christian Lit Nerd Reads the Bible

Long ago, I asked Christians to explain how they read the Bible.  At the time, no one wanted to tackle such a complex question in a blog post, so I tried to pry out some answers by including a question on this topic in the Ideological Turing Test.  Today, I’m delighted to announce that Christian H. of The Thinking Grounds has stepped up to the plate (you may remember him from my frequent links to his series on the connection between the self and the body).

Christian has written two posts: today is a more holistic overview and tomorrow has an example of how he approaches a specific passage, so sit tight if you want to see these principles in action.  Next week, Julie Robison from The Corner with a View will also guest-post on this topic.

Many thanks to them both for working through a complex question.  Don’t hesitate to ask questions if you’re unfamiliar with a reference or an argument.  Christian and Julie are both kind, intelligent people, so take this as an occasion for dialogue, not an opportunity to complain without offering a substantive objection.  Take it away, Christian…

In a moment of nigh-unfathomable hubris, I offered to produce a guest blog post for Leah in response to one of her long-standing questions about reading the Bible. I do not set myself up as typical or admirable; I’ll simply file this under “educating non-Christians about the variety of Christianity.”

So, how do I read the Bible? 

The short answer is really quite simple: poorly, idiosyncratically, and with difficulty. And this is why I shied away from writing this guest post for so long. But eventually I realized that out of the caveats and positioning and uncertainty, I could make something that seemed to resemble a method. Moreover, that method was perhaps one that I could communicate to this audience here at Unequally Yoked and that might also make a certain amount of sense to some members of this audience.

I must begin, though, with that positioning. I am non-denominational, I suppose, with ties to a few different traditions: I was baptised and confirmed in the Lutheran church and taught Sunday school there while in high school; I attended a congregational-turned-evangelical church when in my undergraduate (and I’ll note that Canadian evangelical churches are different from American ones, so don’t necessary equate them); and I have since then joined Anglican churches wherever I have lived, due in part to the liturgy and in part to the Anglican church’s more progressive attitude toward homosexuality. Given this history and my exposure mainly to mixed-denomination fellowships, my personal theology is a patchwork. Perhaps as a result of this but more likely as a result of my own disposition, I hold doctrinal positions very weakly. I am sceptical that salvation rests on my comprehension of the heresy of Docetism—or, for that matter, the true nature of the Trinity—and while I’m interested in these things, I don’t think that there’s any need for me to be certain about them. I also doubt our ability to be justifiably certain about most things, so when the stakes are low, I try not to worry about it. The last piece of positioning I think you should know is that I’ve been academically trained in literary analysis. I’m enrolled in a Master’s program in English literature. My relationship with texts is complexly theorized. I realize many people don’t actually know (or care, sadly) what goes on in literary analysis and I haven’t the space to get you up to speed. (Try getting me up to speed for a graduate program in physics in the introduction to a single blog post.) You should at least be aware that when I read any text, including the Bible, I am trying out assorted literary analytical tools on it. Not only that, but I am expected to be ready and able to revise or reject those tools based on the texts I am dealing with; if I find that formalism (aka New Criticism) cannot deal adequately with a certain text (say, The Haunting of Hill House), then I must suggest a change to the theory, not a misreading of the text, no matter how elegant I find the reasoning behind that theory. If it can’t deal with the text, we can’t accept it.

The question that most likely bothers you at the moment, though, is not what my background is but whether I read the Old Testament literally—or which parts I read literally and which parts metaphorically—and how I can make a distinction between a metaphorical Old Testament and a literal New Testament. I’m afraid I must give you the most unsatisfactory response: I don’t really know. Most of my thinking about the early OT (and the Book of Revelation) is that it’s metaphorical; the further along you go, the more it becomes literal (with the possibility of distortion or poetic embellishment.) It bothers me, this not knowing. The OT is most difficult because a lot of the time I would really prefer if it wasn’t literal. But truth, I think we know, doesn’t always bear much resemblance to what we’d like it to. This has led to more than one minor crisis.

The good news is that I’m not much interested in the dusty wars of minor kings in a distant country in a distant past. History is pretty darn cool, yes, but I’m not sure I’d bee-line for Canaan if I wanted to read about ancient dynasties. Rather, when I read the Bible, I’m interested in ethics, pragmatics, community dynamics. When I read the Bible, I want to see what happens when people go to war for faith, when people choose to obey principles over laws, when people call out kings and emperors who have been unjust. Whether these things have happened or not has no bearing on this aspect of my reading, and this is the most important aspect of my reading. Of course there are still problems here. In places in the OT, it seems as though the text encourages us to emulate characteristics of the protagonists which I do not want to emulate. The ethical teaching seems a touch off. (Or monstrously off, in the cases of genocide.) How do I deal with this?

Again, the truest answer is pretty flip: I deal with it badly, with a lot of stress and worry. But, also importantly, I deal with it fluidly. I’ll call it a mobile heuristic or a dynamic heuristic. I check the text against my moral intuition, my readerly skill, my sense of history, my personal experiences, and my faith. I also check the most obvious reading of the selected passage against where it sits in the Bible as a whole; taken on its own, it may appear to mean one thing, but as part of this much bigger text, one piece in a quilt of meaning, it may point to something quite different. I also try to check my assumptions at the door. Much of the Bible has been written over with interpretations in the course of Christian history. It’s hard to discern whether my reading of this passage is influenced unduly by previous people’s readings. I also keep a close eye on genre. (What is the intent of the passage? What are the expectations of this kind of writing? How might these two factors change what is being emphasized and what is being occluded in this particular book?) I’ll point out that this is a constantly shifting process; as I read the Bible, the content I encounter can potentially change my heuristic. For instance, if I’m reading something with little resistance and suddenly come across an exhortation for genocide or something that strikes me as uniquely sexist, my relationship to this section, and therefore my way of reading it, shifts. My way of reading the Bible as a whole may shift as well, depending on what it is I’m reading.

I want to go back to checking my reading against my faith. I maintain that most Christians come to the Bible through Christianity, not the other way around. Belief in Jesus’ divinity and crucifixion, belief in a just, merciful Creator God and an indwelling Spirit, belief in human sinfulness and salvation, belief that Christianity (of some sort or another) gives access to the best chance of understanding this, these basic beliefs precede beliefs about the Bible. It is because I am Christian that I find the Bible valuable; I am not Christian because I find the Bible valuable. Therefore, if I find that my reading of the Bible contradicts something that I believe prior to the Bible, I will attempt to consider how the distorting factors I’ve mentioned already might be leading this passage into that contradiction.

But I’m willing to say that, at times, I don’t know. Something does not make sense to me, either as a piece of doctrine or as a detail that would be important to include. (Why, for instance, must we know the figurehead of the boat Paul travelled on? What is it about this detail that matters?) I’m not very comfortable not knowing, but I try to live with it. That isn’t to say that I’m not curious, that I don’t try to know. It just means that I recognize that unsatisfied curiosity is not only a fact of life but an ethical necessity. That I can say that I don’t know doesn’t weaken my position, though; if you come against something you just don’t understand in science, you don’t (and certainly shouldn’t) throw it away. If you find contradiction, you don’t say it’s all false. You try to reconcile it, rather. I’m thinking here of the problems reconciling quantum mechanics and relativity, or the problems reaching consensus about string theory v. loop quantum theories of gravity (I suggest reading Smolin’s The Trouble with Physics for more on that). Like any domain of knowledge, theology (I am suggesting) is developing. As time goes on, as our ethical and political knowledge becomes more and more refined, we have better tools for interpreting revelation. I think this is perhaps recapitulated in my mobile heuristic.

In this penultimate paragraph, I’ll mention tradition and other readers. I do at times consult how other people read the Bible: these can be friends, fellowship members, clergy, bloggers, and authors and commentators (though I have serious trust issues towards these, since I am usually disappointed with their knowledge of how texts work). These comprise, after all, the developing domain of knowledge that is theology. But I also check these readings against the distorting factors I’ve mentioned. You can see that this process does not really generate anything like certainty, but rather moves me closer to a point that remains ever afar. I also check against tradition, another vehicle of revelation in the Anglican tradition of which I am a part (and, most probably, the real entry point into Christianity, whether Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, or otherwise).

And since I’m on the topic of other readings, I’ll end with a confession: part of why I offered to do this is that I hope showcasing my ignorance of Biblical literacy will spur other Christian readers of this blog to offer their own better, more coherent ways of reading. This might be helpful to atheist or otherwise non-religious readers, but it could certainly be helpful to me.

Tomorrow, Christian will be back to offer an application of his approach using texts from Acts 13

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06204114144456815104 Michael Haycock

    "It is because I am Christian that I find the Bible valuable; I am not Christian because I find the Bible valuable."I really like this.

  • http://southernbelleatyale.wordpress.com/ southernbelleatyale

    I've never really understood what people mean by Biblical "literalist"… Obviously this guy is not a Biblical "literalist", and it seems to me he doesn't even accept the veracity and completeness of the Bible. Is what is meant by Biblical literalist: someone who believes the Bible is factual, complete, and without error?

  • http://nssphoenix.wordpress.com drdave

    If you are not a literalist, and "I check the text against my moral intuition, my readerly skill, my sense of history, my personal experiences, and my faith", do you (or can you) gather any morality from the bible, or should you rather build your morality with the reasoning skills you exhibit here?

  • Blamer ..

    Excellent post.Belief in Jesus’ divinity and crucifixion, belief in a just, merciful Creator God and an indwelling Spirit, belief in human sinfulness and salvation, belief that Christianity (of some sort or another) gives access to the best chance of understanding this, these basic beliefs precede beliefs about the Bible.This part seems a little shakey. These basic beliefs are preserved through Christian tradition presumably because of antiquated ways of reading of the text. That starts looking pretty circular. How do we reconcile this?Perhaps by maintaining an additional basic belief that the "antiquated way" or "the text" has unique integrity because God is preventing corruption.That might square things away for Catholics and Biblical-literalists. What about you?

  • Patrick

    southernbelleatyale- I can't answer for literalists, but I can for inerrantists.Inerrantists will tell you that they believe the Bible is "inerrant," but the word "Bible" and the word "inerrant" have a special meaning when they say them. They don't mean the actual words written in the Bible will, if you read them as they're written, cause you to obtain a truthful understanding of Biblical events. Its perhaps best to illustrate with an example.In one gospel, Judas dies by hanging himself. In other gospel he buys a farm, and while plowing it, falls on a rock and explodes.Now you might think that this is a contradiction, and therefore disproves inerrantism. Turns out that's not how they work though.They spend an awful lot of time on "harmonization." That's where you have two passages that have an "apparent error" or "apparent contradiction," and you come up with a reason why its not a REAL error or contradiction. One common harmonization of these two passages is to claim that Judas bought a farm, was plowing it, suffered remorse, pulled out some rope he had for some reason and tried to hang himself with it, but the rope broke or something and he fell on a rock and exploded.Now you might think that this is ridiculous because neither passage contains that narrative. But that's what harmonization does- it crafts a new narrative by merging things. In this case, the passage that claims that Judas hung himself doesn't say that he DIDN'T do it in a field, and it doesn't say that the rope DIDN'T break or that he DIDN'T fall on a rock and explode. It just says that he hung himself. And since omission is (they say) not contradiction, the fact that these events are not included does not mean that the passage denies them. Which means you can merge the two passages and create a new narrative that wasn't previously in either individual passage, and which ensures that no individual factual statement is technically false in the most strict and legalistic of senses.See, when they say that the "Bible" is without error, they don't mean that the actual words of the Bible are without error. They mean a sort of derived, super-narrative that is crafted by taking seemingly contradictory passages of the Bible and harmonizing them at gunpoint. That's the thing that's without error. The only warranty that they'll give to the individual lines of the Bible is that they aren't technically false… but they may be misleading in the most blatant of senses.At times this can get really strained. Like gospel passages that claim that Peter denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed… and then in another gospel three times before the cock crowed twice. So they conclude that Peter denied Jesus six times, because neither passages say that Peter denied Jesus ONLY three times. Or the passages about the scene at the tomb of Jesus- some say there were guards, others say there weren't guards, others say there were angels outside, others say there were angels inside, some say that the stone was in place when the women arrived and had to be moved, others say it was already rolled away… to harmonize this they bend and twist and create a new narrative where there were soldiers at first, who then ran away, the stone was in place and was then moved (the claim that it was "already" rolled away is technically true if the speaker watched the stone be rolled away, and then remarked on the fact that it happened), that angels were outside and then inside too, etc.Inerrantism is its own weird little animal. Its fascinating, but other than as a psychological study of its practitioners, not particularly meaningful.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10019240793982424774 Christian H

    Hi. I am reading the comments and will respond, but everything is in disorder right now, so I might not get a chance to respond immediately. Beyond this, some questions are quite thoughtful and will require a thoughtful response, which in turn requires time to think.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10019240793982424774 Christian H

    That sounded so passive aggressive. "Some questions are thoughtful." Geez, Christian. I simply mean to say that the factual questions are handled already, I think (thanks, Patrick), and the interpretive questions will require thoughtful response.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10019240793982424774 Christian H

    "I really like this [excerpted quotation]."Thank-you!"Obviously this guy is not a Biblical "literalist", and it seems to me he doesn't even accept the veracity and completeness of the Bible. Is what is meant by Biblical literalist: someone who believes the Bible is factual, complete, and without error?"No, "this guy" (the name's Christian) is not a literalist. As to veracity and completeness… I'm sure I'll drive lots of people crazy saying this, but I would distinguish betweens kinds of truth before speaking about veracity. I wouldn't say that Bible is complete, though: as much as any text has a near infinity of internal relationships, I would not limit God to a near infinity. He exceeds what any text can witness. To say the Bible is complete is, to my understanding, Bibolatry (idolatry of the Bible).A literalist says that the Bible is not only true, but is best read literally rather than metaphorically. A literalist and inerrantist, therefore, is likely to be a young-earth creationist.As I hope is clear, my relationship to this text, including my orientation toward the labels you've mentioned, is evolving.Word Verification: godsalt

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10019240793982424774 Christian H

    "If you are not a literalist, and "I check the text against my moral intuition, my readerly skill, my sense of history, my personal experiences, and my faith", do you (or can you) gather any morality from the bible, or should you rather build your morality with the reasoning skills you exhibit here?"Well, to come at this from a perhaps unanticipated angle, I don't think we can build morality from reasoning skills alone. I am sceptical of human reason's ability to learn things about the physical world with certainty, let alone learn things about the metaphysical/epistemological/axiological world with certainty. So morality cannot come solely from reasoning up from logico-mathematical a prioris. We need a grounding in values first, and those values must be taken as assumptions, it seems. There can be persuasive arguments for them, but no proofs.Moral intuition seems like a good grounding to begin with, but to get to your question about the Bible, I would say that my ethics are very Biblical. When I look to the Sermon on the Mount and to some other of Jesus' teachings, I see an ethical system that has a strong appeal to me. I would defend that system with reasoning, yes, but I find that when I discuss ethics with someone who has, at bottom, a slightly different grounding of values (which includes most non-Christians and many Christians, actually), reason cannot cover it and appeals to shared moral intuition fail (becuase it isn't shared).This leads to me wonder (but nothing more concrete than wonder) if those basic beliefs I mentioned that precede Biblical beliefs undergird in subtle ways my values. For instance, whenever I am led to question my own strongly altruistic ethical philosophy, it is in the realization that strong altruism is ultimately a Christ-like ethics that I finally rest my mental struggle. So I think I derive my ethics in part from the preceding beliefs, in part from those threads (patterns? chords? motifs?) of the Bible I find I am not resistant to, and in part from reasoning (which also helped determine whether or not I resisted).Again, this isn't terribly satisfying, but it is where I am.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10019240793982424774 Christian H

    "This part [about some beliefs preceding the Bible] seems a little shakey. These basic beliefs are preserved through Christian tradition presumably because of antiquated ways of reading of the text. That starts looking pretty circular. How do we reconcile this?"You think it's shakey? I'd say it's about the only rock-solid part of the post, but maybe that's just me. I guess I approach this by considering that much of our doctrine was ironed out (insofar as it has been ironed out, which, you know, isn't very) before the Bible was compiled and taken as canon. Or before parts of it existed, even, considering how late the Gospel of John was probably written, let alone the Book of Revelation. Anyway, even in the case of preservation, I think that these beliefs are fairly regularly preserved, and passed on, through popular theologies (parents teaching their children about Jesus), literature (Milton has likely done more for our conception of Satan than the Bible itself), language and folk wisdom, sermons, ritual/liturgy/the whole body of tradition, assorted personal devotions and heresies, and the myriad other ways cultural ideas move through generations. The Bible plays a role, yes, and Christianity would not be the same without it, but a Christianity not squarely centred on the Bible could exist. (Many people would say that it does, in the form of Catholicism/ Eastern Orthodoxy/ Anglicanism/ Baptism/ etc.).Beyond which, on a personal level, how many people really believe that the Bible is inerrant before believing in God and Christ? The answer to that question should indicate which belief requires the other as one of its premises. (Taking "premise" in a very loose sense.)Incidentally, it's from Catholicism that I am borrowing the skeleton of this idea.I would be interested in knowing from which background you are asking this question…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10019240793982424774 Christian H

    @Patrick: Thanks. That was very interesting and informative. I've seen people in the process of doing this sort of thing, but I'd never quite understood it in the way you described until now. It seems as though any attempt to take the text at face value will discover contradictions, and so people will try assorted things to take it both at face value and not at face value simultaneously. Hence the contortions you mention. It seems you at the very least need to admit error into the text OR admit metaphor.For what it's worth, I can understand the appeal of the sort of approach you describe. I just think it fails.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08572976822786862149 Darwin

    If I can expand on Christian's 10:49 comment a bit (with the proviso that we clearly as somewhat different in our theologies): I think one of the things that can be a bit hard to understand about how Christians deal with the process of understanding morality and receiving it from scripture is that it's an iterative and interpretive process. It's not as if the Bible lays out some vast schema of exactly what everyone should believe is right or wrong, one reads it, and then comes to the conclusion that it is right or wrong. The Bible contains a huge number of pieces written by different authors at different times and in different genres. Typically the process a Christian is going through is one in which at some point he or she assents to the idea that God exists and that Jesus was the incarnation of God on earth. This is done through come combination of reason, moral intuition, experience of how Christianity has affected other people, one's own religious experience, and some kind of act of the will — a decision to cross the line from not being sure to giving the benefit of the doubt.Typically, someone doesn't do this alone — there's a whole set of influences and some sort of Christian community or communities that one is moving in (whether one was born into it or is in the process of converting) and so someone is getting information both in the form of people tell him, "This is what Christians believe and this is why," and actually reading the Bible himself to some extent. What this means is that when you confront some particular passage that might seem troublesome (picking a famous one, say the one in Exodus where it says that "God hardened the heart of Pharaoh" so that he refuses to let the Israelites go, you're not coming at it cold but rather with certain ideas of what God is and what the overall tradition of Christian thought is already established. It's these other things that prompt Christians to ask, "Okay, so does this mean literally that God forced Pharaoh to refuse to release the Israelites, and then punished him for doing this thing he didn't even freely do, or is it more in keeping with what Christianity and the Bible overall are telling me to take it that this is a narrative device — that the author saying 'God hardened Pharaoh's heart' was taken quite possibly even at the time as a way of saying 'Pharaoh still refused to change his mind'?"Now, of course, it's possible to take this approach in the direction of just rationalizing away anything one doesn't like. At the same time, given that the Bible contains a whole mix of genres from mythology to folk history to history/biography to poetry to prophecy and apocalyptic narratives — and these are all coming from cultures which are not necessarily immediately familiar to us, I think it's pretty reasonable that one would use internal cohesion as one of the checks that one would use to signal, "Wait a minute, am I reading this narrative the way it was intended to be read," and even, "Is the way that the author intended this piece in fact the way that it is 'true' in the deeper sense or is there somethign else we should be getting from this — other than what the author intended?"–DarwinCatholic

  • Patrick

    "or is it more in keeping with what Christianity and the Bible overall are telling me to take it that this is a narrative device — that the author saying 'God hardened Pharaoh's heart' was taken quite possibly even at the time as a way of saying 'Pharaoh still refused to change his mind'?""And this is where I get off the boat in terms of the intellectual credibility of modern Christian Biblical scholarship.The tools you outlined might give you a way to claim that modern Christianity should interpret that phrase as a metaphorical statement to the effect that "Pharoah still refused to change his mind."But to go from there to claiming that EVEN AT THE TIME this was the interpretation is just impossible. You literally cannot get there from here."reason, moral intuition, experience of how Christianity has affected other people, one's own religious experience, and some kind of act of the will"None of those things enable you to make factual claims about the what historical persons did or did not believe. You are trying to use a personal, subjective, and interpretive schema in order to answer a purely empirical question. No. You cannot do this, because it cannot be done.I have a number of other problems with the interpretive setup you listed. You treat it as "what Christians do," when that is nothing close to true: it is, at most, what some Christians do. Were I to refer to inerrantism as "what Christians do" I would be rightly called out on it, and the fact that you're a Christian changes nothing on that score.Additionally, its worth noticing that the interpretive schema you use relies very, very heavily on intuition, and on historical appeals to other people's intuition. The track record of this sort of textual interpretation is not good.But all of that pales massively in comparison to the fact that you are using tools for tasks they simply cannot complete.And the fact that the elision you just performed is so common in Christian scholarship is yet another reason why I find it so… aimed away from truth. As you correctly note, the process is iterative. And once you conclude that your personal intuitions can let you decide that ancient people's held specific theological beliefs, that new, modified information about ancient people's goes back into the iterative process. Your error becomes a premise in future reasoning, and you spiral further and further away from reality.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08016230732925516069 Gilbert

    @PatrickBut to go from there to claiming that EVEN AT THE TIME this was the interpretation is just impossible. You literally cannot get there from here.You may well be right, but I wouldn't put any money on it. The Romans, for example, didn't actually believe that woolfs suckle exposed human children, despite their histories reporting that happening to Romulus and Remus. The genre of Roman history just wasn't like what we today call history but more like what we might call "morality tales with historical characters". Now how about Hebrew history? Frankly, I don't know. We know that the Jews where taking it literaly by rabbinical times, and that is a good argument for your position. On the other hand, there are also good arguments for the other position. Like, for example, the internal consistency of the bible.

  • Patrick

    Gilbert- I'm not going to bother arguing whether the ancient Hebrews took that passage literally or not. I'm inclined to think that they often took portions of the Bible as just being stories- Jonah, for example, is obviously a morality tale. It even has a punchline with a moral.What I will argue, at length if needed, is that one's moral intuitions and the experience of living a Christian life will never, ever be the sorts of information that help you learn historical information about the belief system of an ancient people.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08572976822786862149 Darwin

    Patrick,I have a number of other problems with the interpretive setup you listed. You treat it as "what Christians do," when that is nothing close to true: it is, at most, what some Christians do. Were I to refer to inerrantism as "what Christians do" I would be rightly called out on it, and the fact that you're a Christian changes nothing on that score.This is a completely fair criticism — I did suggest too much in places that the approach I would take to influencing my understanding of my faith via reading scripture was a universal one among Christians. Goodness knows that Christians are not all the same, and I apologize for failing to make that clear. Though FWIW I would argue that although the way that Christians go about this process and the assumptions they bring to the table are very different, most of them (even those who claim that they are inerrantists) do something along these lines. I've spent enough time debating creationists about their beliefs to be pretty clear that they are not in fact literal in all their interpretations — just some of them. What I will argue, at length if needed, is that one's moral intuitions and the experience of living a Christian life will never, ever be the sorts of information that help you learn historical information about the belief system of an ancient people. I don't particularly disagree with that. Note that I said that the phrase might "quite possibly" have been taken at the time as a narrative device rather than a description of divine intervention. At root, the question of what the author or the original audience thought is not, as far as I'm concerned, the main question. Certainly, when dealing with an ancient text produced by a different culture, one does put a fair amount of effort into looking for consistencies and interpretations that would help one understand what the work meant to its original author and audience. (Classics was my field in college, so the examples I could think of in this respect would mostly come from Greek and Roman works.)But as a Christian reading the bible devotionally, I'd be using that toolset in order to ask, "What is being conveyed to humanity in general (as opposed to the culture and time specific meaning) in the context of Christian revelation by this passage."

  • - Blamer ..

    much of our doctrine was ironed out (insofar as it has been ironed out, which, you know, isn't very) before the Bible was compiled and taken as canonFor me that just shifts the logical shakiness down to a deeper level than the Bible, to the doctrinal text. Do you read doctrine differently to the way you read the Bible?I think by doctrine you mean something like the Nicene Creed. So for now I'll still maintain that "These basic beliefs are preserved through Christian tradition presumably because of antiquated ways of reading of the text".For example, I would expect a traditional belief in Salvation to be a belief in it being salvation from a physical Hell where bodies are tortured endlessly.As for those other more conventional ways of passing cultural ideas down generations (which I agree includes basic beliefs), they seem profoundly fluid and corruptable.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10019240793982424774 Christian H

    @Blamer: I'm slightly confused. You seem mainly to be saying that there's an epistemological shakiness if tradition and other avenues of transmission are flawed. I can buy this. But at times you seem to be saying that the claim that some doctrines precede the Bible is shakey, which, frankly, I'm not going to buy for the reasons I've outlines amply, I think. The bare fact that people believe in certain things without the Bible seems sufficient proof of that.And, yes, I think it is true that these other forms of transmission are themselves corruptible, but at least the content is vastly more compact than the Bible's and less easy to lose in cultural translation due its basicness. (Though, thinking about it, basicness may not be all that good a bet after all. I'll need to consider it. Hmm.)But I'll also point out that an apologetics (one not based on authority, which is what our discussion so far has amounted to) for those basic claims is also easier to mount than an apologetics for the Bible as a whole, which would be another reason they precede. Shakey epistemology doesn't scare me very much, anyway; I'm rather postmodernist, so I think ALL epistemologies are fissured.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08572976822786862149 Darwin

    I ran across on another blog a quote which I thought covered what I was trying to get across fairly well:Timothy Carmody elaborates on these points in his book, Reading the Bible: A Study Guide: Christians claim that the Bible is inspired. This does not mean that every word in the Bible was dictated to the authors or that every word is a word of God directed to humans for their salvation. There are many words in the Bible that reflect human wisdom and are human opinion. Rather, the claim of inspiration says that the entire book expresses God’s desire for humans.. . . Inerrancy means that as a whole the Bible does not lead to error but will lead to a deeper and truer understanding of an relationship with God. . . There is no claim of total inerrancy, where every historical or scientific fact is regarded as true. The truth claim of the Bible is restricted to God’s plan for human salvation (4).[source]Obviously, this is not an interpretation that all Christians would agree with, nor would all Christians who agree with it agree on what the bible says even though they might say they are coming at it in the same way, but I think it's representative of a fairly large number of Christians.

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