Historical Criticism and Textual Interpretation – Part 3/3.

Part 3: Biblical History & Textual Interpretation

Related Posts:

Part 1/3: Contested Foundations of Archaeology

Part 2/3: Archaeological Evidence – A Reality Check

God’s verbal revelation to Israel is inscribed in written texts. The inspired authors of scripture crafted the revealed words into whole texts and into differing literary forms, such as narrative, wisdom literature, poetry and prophetic proclamation. Narratives comprise a significant portion of the inspired texts. These narratives depict a literary constructed world (textual world) which is meaningfully related to the real world. That is to say, the literary constructed world necessarily conforms to the requirements of the real world in order to present a world that bears semblance to empirical reality or life as we experience. This may be represented diagrammatically in figure 1

Sailhamer Interpretation Fig1

 

As a reader reads a historical narrative he is ‘drawn’ into the world of the text, but the text also makes an “ostensive reference” to the real world behind the text which may also be accessed by the reader by other means, e.g. archaeology, relevant historical texts etc. But the two worlds (the world of the text and the background real world) must not be confused or identified. Continue reading “Historical Criticism and Textual Interpretation – Part 3/3.”

Historical Criticism and Textual Interpretation – Part 2/3

Part 2: Archaeological Evidence – A Reality Check

Related Post

Part 1: Contested Foundations of Archaeology

Part 3: Biblical History and Textual Interpretation

Why do controversies rage among archaeologists whose expertise is of the highest order? Perhaps a reality check on the nature of archaeological evidence is in order. Edwin Yamauchi points out in his book The Stones and the Scriptures that archaeological evidence is inherently fragmentary because of the following contingencies of history:

1) The fraction that has survived (this is self-evident).
2) The fraction that has been surveyed. All told, close to 2,000 sites were examined by the Israeli teams, of which about 800 were previously unknown.
3) The fraction that has been excavated. Way back in 1963, only 150 of 5000 sites were excavated and only 26 were major excavations. More than 1000 new sites have been identified since then.
4) The fraction that has been examined. With limited sampling from excavation, negative conclusions can be premature and dangerous. Continue reading “Historical Criticism and Textual Interpretation – Part 2/3”

Historical Criticism and Textual Interpretation – Part 1/3.

Part 1: Contested Foundations of Archaeology

Related Posts:

Part 2: Archaeological Evidence – A Reality Check

Part 3: Biblical History and Textual Interpretation

One of my readers suggests I have been too simplistic when I dismissed the Documentary Hypothesis and questioned the validity of historical criticism. After all, rational discourse demands interrogation of texts. He submits that my rejection of historical criticism is erroneous as Christianity is a faith grounded in the “God Who Acts in history”. Worse still, insulating the Bible from rational historical criticism amounts to adopting a dogmatic mindset that is no different from that of the Islamists.

It is true that I reject the Documentary Hypothesis for literary and historical reasons. However, my assessment of historical criticism is more nuanced. Unlike the Islamists and other extreme fundamentalists, I make careful use of the historical method. To be sure, there is historical method and there is historical method. The historical method that I reject is that based on the Enlightenment rationality championed by Ernst Troeltsch who taught that history is a closed continuum that precludes reference to divine revelation. Human reason becomes sovereign in historical judgment with pretensions of neutrality in interpretation. Not surprisingly, critical scholars who elevate human reason above divine revelation display skepticism towards the reliability of biblical history and its truth claims. However, their claim of neutrality has been debunked by the hermeneutical critique of Hans-Georg Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur.

My presuppositions for relating history and the biblical texts is one of believing criticism and post-critical hermeneutics. I seek to apply a historical method that is consistent with belief in God’s manifestation of himself through mighty acts, prophetic interpretation of the vicissitudes of the history of biblical Israel, and the final inscription of God’s Word in the Bible. Such a belief is rejected by critical scholars who then deploy a critical historical method that takes liberty with the biblical text which they do not regarded as inspired or authoritative. Continue reading “Historical Criticism and Textual Interpretation – Part 1/3.”

The NIV (2011) Gender-Neutral Translation Controversy and New ‘Gold Standard’ Bible

It is astonishing to see prominent theologians like Wayne Grudem and Vern Poythress vigorously disputing with fellow evangelical theologians like Don Carson and Craig Blomberg! Indeed, the dispute is supremely important as it pertains to whether the church should adopt the New International Version for preaching and Christian education.  To avoid confusion, it should be stressed that the NIV in question is not the ‘classic’ NIV (1984), but the NIV (2011) which was published earlier in 2005 as the TNIV.

The dispute arose when scholars like Grudem and Poythress rejected the gender-neutral or gender inclusive language policy adopted by Biblica, the publisher of the NIV, on grounds that the policy often gives rise to translation that deviates from the original meaning found in the Hebrew and Greek texts. Continue reading “The NIV (2011) Gender-Neutral Translation Controversy and New ‘Gold Standard’ Bible”

Reading the Bible as God’s Word: The Redemptive Historical Method and Progressive Revelation. Part 2

To read Part 1 of this article – Reading the Bible as God’s Word: The Redemptive Historical Method and Progressive Revelation. Part 1

I. What is the Redemptive Historical Method (RHM)?

The Redemptive Historical Method (RHM) is based on three affirmations:

1) RHM is Christo-centric. The RHM begins with the assumption that God’s plan of salvation for humankind was progressively revealed in mighty acts and prophetic word through various divinely appointed human agents in the history of Israel. RHM affirms the finality of Scripture as “God has in the past revealed long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son [Jesus Christ].” (Heb. 1:1-2)

2) RHM affirms that the Bible has a coherent message, with Christ as its centre and final fulfilment.
Jesus said to the two disciples on the Emmaus road, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke 24: 25-27).

3) RHM affirms the divine inspiration and sufficiency of Scripture. As Paul writes, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it succinctly, “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture.” (1:6)

It should be clear that these affirmations result in a “hermeneutic of affirmation” rather than a “hermeneutic of suspicion” that is prevalent within the dominant paradigm of historical criticism. To read the Bible is not to dissect a lifeless ancient document. It is to approach the Bible humbly with expectation that the Bible as the living Word of God also reads us and speaks to us. Continue reading “Reading the Bible as God’s Word: The Redemptive Historical Method and Progressive Revelation. Part 2”

Reading the Bible as God’s Word: The Redemptive Historical Method and Progressive Revelation. Part 1

This article is dedicated to the seminary student who is troubled by the “methodological atheism” framework of contemporary historical criticism, and is looking for a believing scholarship that is consistent with the Church’s affirmation of the Bible as the Word of God.

To read Part 2 of this article – Reading the Bible as God’s Word: The Redemptive Historical Method and Progressive Revelation. Part 2

I. The Challenge of “Methodological Atheism” and the Historical-Critical Method

Seminary studies is vital for equipping aspiring pastors with skills in biblical interpretation. However, seminary studies may prove to be hazardous for some students when they are introduced to critical scholarship which treats the Bible just like any other Ancient Near Eastern texts. Students are told that the origins of the Bible is obscure because of its antiquity and because the authors of the biblical texts in truth are anonymous. The historical reliability of the Bible is cast in doubt as critical historians (the biblical minimalists) privilege silent excavated artifacts over informative historical texts and declare that the Bible contains more myths than history. Finally, critical scholars conclude that alleged cultural and religious commonalities between biblical stories and ancient mythological texts render questionable, the traditional Christian belief that the Bible is unique because of its divine origins. Students who are overwhelmed by these critical ideas soon lose their passion for preaching and pastoral ministry.

Critical scholarship is alluring because of its claim to be a rational inquiry that continuously advances the frontiers of religious knowledge, in contrast to conservative scholarship that is constrained by dogmatic authority. To be sure, this Enlightenment inspired narrative has been contested by recent scholarship. However, rather than outlining an alternative historiography which can be both intellectually robust and consistent with the biblical worldview, this article shall focus on how critical scholarship based on “methodological atheism” challenges the faith of students. Continue reading “Reading the Bible as God’s Word: The Redemptive Historical Method and Progressive Revelation. Part 1”

Second Thoughts on the “New Perspective on Paul”. Part 1/2

It is arguable that the most significant, but controversial development in New Testament studies in the last 30 years is the “New Perspective on Paul (NPP)” that is forcefully promoted by articulate scholars like E.P. Sanders, James Dunn and N.T. Wright.

 

The NPP represents a paradigm shift from the traditional view on the Apostle Paul inherited from Reformers like Luther and Calvin, who understood Paul’s epistles to be polemics against the legalism or work-righteousness oriented religion of Judaism of his times (variously described as 2nd Temple, Palestinian or NT Judaism). E.P. Sanders’ landmark book, Paul and Palestinian Judaism (Fortress Press 1977), asserts that in reality Paul was in substantial agreement with Palestinian Judaism on the close relation between grace and work for salvation: “On the point at which many have found the decisive contrast between Paul and Judaism – grace and works – Paul is in agreement with Palestinian Judaism… Salvation is by grace but judgment is according to works’…God saves by grace, but… within the framework established by grace he rewards good deeds and punishes transgression” (p. 543). That is to say, Paul was not disputing with Palestinian Judaism which should more accurately be described as “covenantal nomism” – “the view that one’s place in God’s plan is established on the basis of the covenant and that the covenant requires as the proper response of man his obedience to its commandments, while providing means of atonement for transgression” (75). Continue reading “Second Thoughts on the “New Perspective on Paul”. Part 1/2″

Allah and Tuhan in Bible Translation

Why It is Not Possible to Substitute Allah with Tuhan in Bible Translation

Muslims in other parts of the world (Arabs, Persians, North Africans, Pakistanis and Indonesians) have no objection and are not worried about getting confused when Christians use the word Allah. In contrast, some Malaysian Muslims claim to be confused; a strange phenomenon indeed.  This observation lends credence to the suggestion that the Allah issue is an artificial Malay issue and not a genuine Muslim issue. The truth is that the current orchestrated protests against the recent High Court decision to allow the Catholic Herald (and Christians) to use the word Allah must be seen as cynical manipulations by Malay politicians to gain votes from their community. Continue reading “Allah and Tuhan in Bible Translation”

Translating the Names of God

TRANSLATING THE NAMES OF GOD: Recent experience from Indonesia and Malaysia
D. Soesilo

Note – This is partial reproduction of the original article. Reproduced with permission from the author

The Situation in Malaysia
The situation in Malaysia in regard to the use of the divine names is different to that in Indonesia in one important respect, which has more to do with politics than with language. It is that some years ago some states and the federal government prohibited the use of the name  Allah  by non-Muslims.
It is partly fear of this that has led some organisations to make changes in the rendering of the names of God in Malay and Indonesian, in both their own writing and in quoting of Scripture. (Each time the word  Allah  “God” occurs, it has been consistently changed to  Tuhan “Lord”, with the result that there is no difference between the renderings of the two Hebrew names YHWH and Elohim.)
Continue reading “Translating the Names of God”

Response to Prof. Dzulkufli Abdul Razak Misreading of the Malay Bible

Tan Sri Prof. Dzulkufli Abdul Razak, Vice Chancellor of University Science Malaysia wrote an article on the use of ‘Allah’ in the Malay Bible, Alkitab (Bahasa Indonesia version) in the SUN on 11 March 2009. LINK

It would have been easy just to dismiss this article since its premise is flawed from the word go: He compares the Malay translation with the New King James Version when the base text of the Bahasa Indonesia version has never been any English version. Indeed the Alkitab makes it clear that it is based on the Biblia Hebraica text for the Hebrew/Aramaic Old Testament and the Nestle Aland text for the Greek New Testament. Continue reading “Response to Prof. Dzulkufli Abdul Razak Misreading of the Malay Bible”