A Developing Doctrine of Scripture: Questions and Answers (Pt 1)

Daniel Kirk recently replied to my previous post asking about how Jeremiah and I have been processing questions about a Christian doctrine of Scripture, so I am going to attempt to make some sort of reply in multiple parts. In this first, part, I’ll explain where I’m coming from as far as my questions regarding Scripture and some of the answers I’ve come to.

I first began to explore ideas about Scripture during my last year of college while in a New Testament survey class with Bart Ehrman. I already knew at that point that I didn’t care too much about trying to integrate the Bible with science—I didn’t think it was meant to be read as a science textbook, though I didn’t yet know anything about Genesis vs. the Babylonian creation myth Enuma Elish or other such things that support this view. I also thought it was silly to care much about how well the Gospels harmonized, since every storyteller emphasizes slightly different things and whatnot.

That doesn’t mean I was without questions, however. Some of the things I was more concerned with included, “Do I care whether or not there was an actual flood or battle of Jericho or census by Quirinius? If so, what do I do? If not, what does that mean for a Christian doctrine of Scripture?” and “Do I care if Isaiah was written by 3+ people or if the Torah was pieced together around the time of the exile or if the Gospels weren’t written by the people whose names got appended to them or if pseudonymous letters are featured in the ‘Pauline’ corpus?”

At Fuller, I’ve explored these questions a bit, but not as much as I might have imagined. With regards to historical events, I suppose I’ve become ok with the possibility that certain events have been recorded with large brushstrokes capturing the meaning or basic idea behind various events without necessarily recording every detail with the same level of precision as a modern historian. For me, this is largely an issue of whether or not I approach to text ethnocentrically. If I insist that the authors of the Bible behave according to my cultural norms, then I can find fault with “inaccuracies,” but if I accept that their focuses and aims in telling stories were not always the same as mine, I can be ok with “mistakes.” At the same time, I think it’s wrong to approach the Bible using a hermeneutic of suspicion. I like to assume it’s generally trustworthy and not dismiss the basic plot of the story, or even the general direction of the details, without a really good reason. I don’t feel this is suppressing the truth about inaccuracies, just not getting too worked up over things that are not a big deal.

With regards to authorship, my answer is a little less certain. I don’t have a problem with the Gospels being written by different people than the authors named, since they don’t claim to be by anyone in particular in the text. I have no problem with the concept of communal authorship. I also don’t really have much of a problem with any person or group writing any part of the Hebrew Bible (like 3+ “Isaiahs”)—I sort of take the Hebrew Bible as it is since it wasn’t mine first. (Is that a cop-out?)

I have a bit more trouble with the possibly pseudonymous letters of the New Testament. It’s seems illogical see Ephesians and 1 Timothy as Scripture because they’re part of the canon if they’re part of the canon because they were supposedly written by Paul if they were not written by Paul at all. (For the record, I am not convinced that a differing vocabulary, etc. guarantees a different author, but I also don’t rule out the possibility. I’m not educated enough, I feel, to be anything but agnostic on the issue.) In the end, I am very cautious to dismiss these books because of their place in the canon and historic value to the church. I also know that various interpretations of the “difficult” passages of these books exist, so that there is not necessarily a reason for a feminist to feel pressure to toss them out of the Bible or relegate them to secondary status. I also feel cautious to insist that the named authors of these books—I don’t think I have a problem with a scribe or affiliate of an individual playing a large role in the composition of a letter. If someone who wasn’t even friends with the “author” was intentionally deceiving people by writing NT books, I would probably have a problem with it—but the fact is, I know nothing of the social networks, private conversations, or intentions of any of these people. I just sort of feel it’s an impossible problem to solve, so while it’s interesting to think about, I’m not very motivated to figure it out once and for all. Again, perhaps a cop-out, but that’s where I’m at.

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1 Comment

Filed under Theology & Ministry

One response to “A Developing Doctrine of Scripture: Questions and Answers (Pt 1)

  1. You should read Luke Timothy Johnson, one of my Candler professors who is FABULOUS and also determined to be a footnote in every academic textbook discussing the pseudonymous letters (he is a good LGBT-supporting liberal who claims convincingly that Paul wrote them all). Very high valuing of canon…. very influential on me.

    yay for back-to-school blogging!

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