Biblical criticism

Biblical criticism January 6, 2014

A sketch of a Jensonian critique of historical criticism of Scripture:

The Bible must be understood in its historical context. In practice, this means that the Bible’s historical claims are relativized to the discoveries of ancient historical investigation, archaeology, etc. If the bricks and pottery shards say that Jericho didn’t exist when Hebrews entered the land, then the claims of the book of Joshua are historically inaccurate.

Joshua is then re-read as a mythically enhanced account of what actually happened.

What happened was the slow and peaceful migration of scattered Semitic tribes into Palestine; what Israel told was a story of conquest. Joshua isn’t history; it instead gives a theological message about God giving the land. The theological message is true, even if the Bible doesn’t tell of actual events.

That runs into Jenson’s claim that the God of Israel is a God identified with and by historical events. “I am Yahweh who brought you out of Egypt” – but that event may not really have happened, certainly not as Exodus records. “Remember what the Lord did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt” – but what did He do? On critical grounds, we can’t be sure. “The Lord gave Israel all the land He had sworn to give to their fathers” – but how did He give it?

Historical critics can still say that God acts in history, but they can’t identify what exactly He has done in history. Because they cannot identify the acts of God, they cannot (on Jensonian grounds) identify God at all. They cannot pick out the God who chose Abraham and delivered Israel because that God is capable of being picked out of the lineup of gods and pretenders by the things He does.

And if they don’t pick out God by what He has done in history – because they can’t say what He has done – they don’t really the God of the Bible, identified by what He has done in history.

In pursuing a historical analysis of Scripture, criticism loses the genius of Scripture, which is precisely the revelation of a God identified by and with election, exodus, conquest, exile, and return.


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