Thursday, March 20, 2014

Biblical Criticism and the Betrayal of the Gospels

We are a product of our culture, and we tend to underestimate this fact. Ironically, this is perhaps even more true of those of us with advanced degrees. After all, we have spent more time conforming to societal/professional expectations and seeking the approval of our colleagues.

This seems to be especially true in the world of biblical/textual scholarship, where we spend our efforts trying to understand the Bible from a scholarly perspective. Sadly, our cultural conformity often escapes our awareness and leads us in an unbiblical direction.

For example, the skeptics, noting the verbal similarities among the Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke – charge that they are not independent accounts of the life of Jesus, but reflect the fact that these Gospels have borrowed from each other. (Actually, Luke admits that his Gospel is the result of his investigations of various eyewitness accounts.)

The more conservative scholars have countered that the Gospels represent the corporate oral traditions of a vast body of eyewitnesses, and this would account for their many verbal similarities.

However, both of these groups overwhelmingly fail to reason from the fact that the Gospels are not just the word of man but also the Word of God (1 Thess. 2:13). In other words, while the Bible-believing scholars believe that the Bible is the Word of God, this truth is often absent from their defense of the Gospels. Instead, they seem to exclusively treat the Bible as the word of man.

Jesus’ commission of His Apostles stands in direct opposition to this misguided emphasis. He informed them that their teaching ministry – at first oral and then written – would be the product of the Spirit, who would reveal all things to them:

  • “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26)
  • “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” (John 15:26-27)
  • “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.” (John 16:12-14)

In view of these teachings, the word of the Apostles – and they had been eyewitnesses from the beginning – was not primarily their own word (1 Peter 1:9-11; 2 Peter 1:19-21) but the Word of the Spirit. He would teach them all truth and remind them of everything.

Our research methods determine research results. If we start with methods that only take into account the humanity of the Bible, the findings will only reflect a human Bible. Although Scripture is partially amenable to human analysis, it also comes from above. As such, it is not amenable to further analysis. Instead, when we analyze it as if it is merely man’s word, we betray the teachings of Jesus and our faith.

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