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.”

Nerve-wracking and Dangerous Theological Disputes

Theological disputes must have been nerve-wracking…and dangerous!

The standard texts of OT introduction often begin with the rise of historical criticism in the 17the century with Spinoza. This is followed by a parade of critics who questioned and substituted the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch with the ‘Fragmentary Theory’ or ‘Documentary Hypothesis’: beginning with Jean Astruc (1753), Johann Eichhorn (1780-1783), De Wette (1805) and climaxing with Julius Wellhausen’s JEPD, “Documentary Hypothesis” (1876-1878). I am probably dated in terms of OT expertise, but it is arguable that this standard theory is most strongly advocated by Otto Eissfeldt, The OT: an Introduction (1934); translated by Harper & Row (1965).

I was amused/alarmed when I came across John Calvin’s reference to doubts cast upon the Mosaic Authorship of the Pentateuch way back in 1559: Continue reading “Nerve-wracking and Dangerous Theological Disputes”

Who is an Evangelical? Part 2: Supplementary Notes

Related Post: Who is an Evangelical? Part 1

Some of you looking for a sweeping historical account of evangelicalism may want to read the five-volume “History of Evangelicalism” co-edited by David Bebbington and Mark Noll and published by Inter-Varsity Press.

In volume 1, The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys, Mark Noll offers a panoramic view of the origins of evangelicalism. He begins by agreeing with the significance of the Reformation.

Martin Luther, the first great Protestant leader, proclaimed an ‘evangelical’ account of salvation in Christ over against what he considered the corrupt teachings of the Roman Catholic Church…In the heat of conflict, the positive and negative connotations of ‘evangelical’ multiplied rapidly:
•    it stood for justification by faith instead of trust in human works as the path to salvation;
•    it defended the sole sufficiency of Christ for salvation instead of the human (and often corrupted) mediation of the church;
•    it looked to the once-for-all triumph of Christ’s death on the cross instead of the repetition of Christ’s sacrifice in the Catholic mass;
•    it found final authority in the Bible as read by believers in general instead of what the Catholic Church said the Bible had to mean; and
•    it embraced the priesthood of all Christian believers instead of inappropriate reliance upon a class of priests ordained by the Church. [p.14.] Continue reading “Who is an Evangelical? Part 2: Supplementary Notes”

Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism Part 2

Appropriation and Constructive Use of Historical Critical Method in Biblical Studies

To read part 1 – The Promise and Perils of Historical Critical Method in Biblical Studies LINK

Some readers may conclude that we have been unduly alarmist in our discussion of the impact of historical criticism which have proven detrimental to the faith of some evangelical scholars. It would be good to recapitulate our concerns by referring to a recently published book – Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism ed., Christopher Hays and Christopher Ansberry which presents the current state of the historical critical method in evangelical scholarship. The authors are self-confessed evangelical scholars teaching at two venerable evangelical institutions and their book carries endorsements by several established evangelical scholars.

Reading the book confirms the concern that adoption of historical criticism could result in a shift towards liberal teachings: 1) denial of the historical Adam and Eve, 2) doubts about the reliability of the Biblical account of the founding of the nation of Israel, 3) the book of Deuteronomy was not written in the time of Moses. It was a produced much later at the time of King Hezekiah. The various books of prophecy were not written by the purported prophets but by some anonymous groups of followers who codified an ongoing collective tradition. Since it is impossible to identify the actual writers, it would be more accurate to describe these writings as pseuepigraphy, 4) New Testament criticism shows the events narrated in the gospels do not accurately reflect the original context as later anonymous authors took the liberty to redact and collate the texts to serve their own theological purposes. Finally, 5) the Book of Acts is demonstrably not historically reliable as critics conclude that there are discrepancies in historical details and theology between the Paul of the Book of Acts and the Paul of the Pauline Epistles. Continue reading “Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism Part 2”

Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism Part 1

The Promise and Perils of Historical Critical Method in Biblical Studies

How is it that access to modern tools of learning which evidently has help many Christians deepen their understanding of the Bible results in some losing their confidence in its historical reliability? It seems we have a classic case of the paradox of knowledge of good and evil which brings blessings and curses in a fallen world. Wonder drugs work miraculous cure but if taken excessively, would poison the body. Atomic energy generates massive electric power but it can also be used for weapons of mass destruction. Historical criticism which enhances our understanding of ancient scripture can also destroy faith – if it is applied without regard for the object of its investigation, the Bible with its self-attested divine authority. In this article I shall examine the process, promise and perils of the historical critical method for the study of the Bible.

Christians today can access many tools of modern knowledge to study Bible. Obscure words are clarified using Greek and Hebrew lexicons, strange ancient customs are explained by Bible encyclopedia and puzzling passages are illuminated in Bible commentaries. Understanding of the Bible becomes more concrete with new knowledge gleaned from recent archaeological excavations.

Leaders in the Malaysian evangelical churches in Malaysia welcome these tools as they will spur vigor and enthusiasm in systematic study of the Bible. After all, the evangelical churches have traditionally prided themselves as a Bible-centred movement. However, there is concern that some scholars have cast doubts on the evangelical doctrine of verbal plenary inspiration and infallibility of the Scripture as they deem the doctrine to be inconsistent with modern scientific study of the Bible that is promoted vigorously in the Western liberal academia. Continue reading “Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism Part 1”

The End of Democratic Constitutionalism in Malaysia?

Many of you probably missed my debate with some Malay nationalists or ‘political royalists’ on the Social Contract, Islam and the special position of the Malays way back in 2006. Click on highlighted yellow link in the right panel of this site (Debates on Social Contract/Multiculturalism). LINK. Don’t miss the sections containing historical records on the formation of the Federal Constitution. Part 1 and Part 2

I post here a recent article by the distinguished scholar Clive Kessler, as it provides incisive insights on how the debate has escalated because of heightened existential anxieties (angst) of some influential streams of the Malay ruling elite. These politically astute, influential and powerful zealots intend to sweep away very democratic foundations of our Constitutional democracy.

We are faced with a frightful, clear and present danger. It is incumbent that everyone of us, regardless of our racial and religious background, go beyond our parochial self-interests, set aside our relatively minor differences and unite to defend our fragile democracy.

God forbid that we continue to “main-main masak” or just “masak-masak” while extremists have started a dangerous fire in the kitchen! Continue reading “The End of Democratic Constitutionalism in Malaysia?”

Galileo’s Trial on Trial: From Teleological Science to Mathematical Empirical Science

Precis:  Secular critics of Christianity typically appeal to the infamous trial of Galilee Galileo in Rome (1616) as indisputable evidence that Christianity is an intolerant and intellectually bankrupt system. The secular critics’ story is one of the inexorable retreat of Christianity into the backwaters of social progress, and of its being left behind in the advancement of the knowledge enterprise. Consequently, one would have expected the Christian religion to wither at the margins of society and eventually go the way of the gypsies. But this has not been the case. It calls to mind Mark Twain’s remark, “The report on my death was an exaggeration.” Continue reading “Galileo’s Trial on Trial: From Teleological Science to Mathematical Empirical Science”

The End of the World: Getting it Right (Part 2)

End of the World or the beginning of God’s New World? Biblical prophecy is God-centred. It strengthens faith and assurance by reminding us the God is sovereign in history regardless of increasing chaos in the world. Repent from itchy ears that seek to hear the latest ‘revelation’ from God. Make eschatological hope (concerning end-time matters) a foundation for faithful living and growing conformity to Christ, not an escape from discipleship. Continue reading “The End of the World: Getting it Right (Part 2)”