From A Freshman Course In The New Testament

When reading the Bible, one thing is undeniable.  Its writing was always aimed at a specific audience of that time with a specific goal in mind.  It was not written for you and me.

This is not my own individual notion.  I got it from an American Baptist minister friend.  Now, I see almost the exact description used by a Professor of Religion who happens to be an American Baptist as well.

The American Baptist denomination, as I understand it, is among the oldest denominations in the U. S. and is more like Methodists and Presbyterians than like Southern Baptists.  It gives much responsibility to individuals to interpret the Bible.

I’ve been trying to grasp how those who both teach academic religion and also believe in the faith handle the history in the Bible.  Specifically, I’ve wondered how they treat stories too over the top to have actually happened but remain the basis of the faith.

Judging from material I read in the Catholic Encylopedia and from the American Baptist’s course material, it goes something like this.  The Bible is not a historical document.  It cannot be treated in the same way a history text is treated.  The reader needs to employ critical thinking and recognize the standards of history were different back then.

By explaining away the history problems in this way, such people can avoid saying, “Much of the Bible was just made up.”  Apparently, avoiding the blunt truth prevents one from being called a flat-out nonbeliever.

13 Responses

  1. Stan

    Am I reading the same article you were? You claim the New Testament is not historical according to what you read. But then I saw this.

    “As an historical document: As historical documents, the texts of the New Testament should be read according to certain historical standards. That is, we should read the New Testament with the same level of appreciation, scrutiny, and critical thinking with which we read all historical documents. Moreover, because these texts are millennia old, we must be careful with the claims we make about the texts and must go no further than the texts legitimately support. Or, put another way, our readings/interpretations of the texts should do not harm to the texts by forcing them to map onto previously held beliefs or assumptions about what the texts really say or mean.”

    You seem to be contradicting the text of the article.

  2. Wanna B Sure

    I don’t believe the article Jon refferences says anything near to what Jon implies. The writer obviously came from, or was aware of the abuses of hyper literalism, and is simply trying to use context and the various literary styles to correct those abuses of that hyperliteralism. He appears to actually use scholarship, something quite lacking in many of those churches, particulairly in the back woods of the South, and so called “pastors” lacking much if any formal Biblical education. One simple example among many would be; How often should one forgive. seven times?, No, seven times seventy. solution; get out calculator or pencil, and do the math. 7×70=490. Yesser, that’s how many times. Not using the philosophical value of numbers of the time, and the understanding of that currently. Jon and I talked about this abuse in regards to listening to late night radio heard years ago. “What is a wooman? A man with a womb.” Some of this still floats around if you can get some skip at about 2 or 3 AM, and if you want some really bizarre stuff, go to short wave eminating from some shack in (I won’t mention the states, or the “named denomination”.) No Jon, far from what you claim, the writer was merely doing some house-keeping in exegesis as verses eisegesis. Both terms you would be unfamiliar with in application.

    1. Wanna B Sure

      Correction; Should have said “named denominations” (plural), or indeed a few noncreedal-non denominational groupies. There are also a few who actually frown on Biblical education, and take Sola Scriptura (a perfectly good term) to an entirely new level. Quite often leading to a cult status. I have seen with my own eyes a “preacher” proudly say that he had no education, and the place erupted with cheers, shouts, and many Amens. Probably a few Halleujahs too.

  3. Stan

    As far as being for a specific audience at a specific time…….Love one another as yourself is outdated? Do onto others is now wrong? Help the widow, feed the children, visit the prisoners is no longer valid?

  4. Stan

    “Specifically, I’ve wondered how they treat stories too over the top to have actually happened but remain the basis of the faith.” Could you bring some examples? If you mean miracles…..what would be left if you removed them?

    1. Stan 1:34 I agree with Wanna to the extent that part of what he was doing in the article was housekeeping–cleaning out super literalism. But, part of his article, probably his appproach to teaching religion in general, involves navigating the unstated and informal rules of functioning in a Department of Religion on some campus’.

      The two people I know best who teach in large State University religion departments, they don’t know each other, tell me the same thing. You put yourself at risk is you are an out atheist. It’s probably hard to be an out believing and practicing pentacostal as well. There is a polically correct way to present what you say you believe and a way to talk about the Bible. So, if you don’t believe Jesus walked on water, or that Paul saw a movie in the desert, you can’t say directly it seems like baloney to you.

      1. Wanna B Sure

        Goes a long way in explaining the internal politics in a state run university. I suspect the same would be evident in the biology, earth sciences, archeology, and geology departments. Of course with a much different emphasis.

  5. Stan

    The problem I found when I went back to school 7 years ago was keeping politics out of every class including Basket Weaving 101. When you say they need to be PC do you mean if they are believers they have to pretend they aren’t or they get fired?

    1. Stan 10:30 I talking only about Departments of Religion, and, only at major state Universities. Further, its only about a couple, but my friends tell me their experience is typical. It’s that the predominent view is a progressive form of protestant or Catholic, that a lot of grant making agencies do not want to hear there is much atheism–nor conservative threads of Christianity.

      1. Wanna B Sure

        There was a term coined in 1913, that has no intent or content what so ever on the usually used context of the words. It needs to be explained for the sake of the intent and content. It is also as, if not more important today as it was applicable in 1913. The term is; ” The Conservative Reformation”. Explained;- – “Conservative” represents = stagnation. ” Reformation”represents – radicalization. Herein lies the paradox. Both are necessary for the healthy tension that must be maintained between the two. Thus preventing both stagnation and radicalization.

      2. Stanta

        Huh, just within the Catholic Church we have progressive and conservative threads. Seems the progressive do a lot of talking and protesting and the conservatives roll up the sleeves and get the hands on work done. Thing is that we still show respect for each other but know we will disagree. No one tries to change anyone.

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