Friday, September 15, 2006

Removing Tradition -- Clarity of Original Intent or an Attempt to Rewrite Christianity?

Often times in seminary one is asked to set aside one's preconceived ideas about the past, and about scripture, and read it again fresh, read it new. Read it without the constraints of two thousand years of commentators. Read it for how it originally was.

First of all, let me say that I am all for this practice -- it is genuinely helpful to approach a topic fresh, without carrying in all of the baggage that came before. HOWEVER, once one has done this, it is vitally important to reconnect with tradition. Why? Obviously we do not hold to tradition as being equal to scripture. However, sometimes we forget that our historical distance from the text prevents us from seeing some things which the ancients saw.

It's interesting, because a lot of time professors will want you to "read without preconceptions," but what they really mean is "read with the preconceptions imposed by the humanistic scholarship of the last two hundred years."

For example, the "mythic" status of Genesis. It has been suggested that we read this as the ancients would -- as a story that conveys universal truths, not historical truths. By why would he say that the ancients would regard it in this way? In fact, the weight of the evidence shows that this was regarded as history for as long as there has been commentary. Josephus certainly regards the Genesis history as real (even relating it to other ancient histories). Jesus likewise. So who are all of these ancients who thought that Genesis was not a real history but a "universal truth"?

What's even more amusing is that after pointing out that Genesis is scriptural because it is a universal truth instead of history, the professor then went on to say that it isn't so much "universal" as only applying to the society in which it was written. Of course, there were _some_ parts that were still useful today. So what is happening is that we are the judge of scripture, not the other way around. This is what scripture calls "being wise in one's own eye". We take the parts that we think are useful, and leave the rest. Frankly, you can do that with any writing.

At the same time, the professor had us look at Genesis 3:8, where God says "where are you?" Many of us in the class took this as God giving them time to fess up on their own -- much like we would treat children. But the professor called that "reading our own presuppositions about God into the text" (not exactly quoted). How ludicrous! It has nothing to do with presuppositions about God and everything to do with how you treat children who have done something wrong and are hiding. What the professor wanted us to see was that the God in Genesis did not know everything. This gets into a thorny theological bush that I don't want to get into right now, but let's just say no matter how that question turns out, what was clear was this: the professor did not want us to view it just with the lens of tradition off -- he wanted us to view it with the lens of the modern secularist view of ancient culture on.

Likewise, this happens a lot with the resurrection. Modern secular scholasticism has placed the resurrection idea as a late one, yet there are several psalms and even Job refer to the idea of resurrection. They would have us read the OT with our "blinders off" to grasp it as the author's audience would have heard it. But really they just want to give us their own set of blinders to work with.

I guess what I'm saying is that often times tradition is there because other scholars have invested a lot of time researching, and it is silly to throw it all away just for the latest fad in biblical scholarship. I agree that it is good to stop and go back to the text and read it how someone in the ancient culture would have read it, but sometimes the heavy push to do that comes from individuals wanting to impose their secular views on your reading, and the easiest way to do that is to remove all of the assumptions so that any assumption we do make while reading will be that of the professor, and not that of the testimony of Christianity thoughout the ages.


At 9/16/2006 9:48 AM, Anonymous cseminarian said...

The Psalms reference is based on the paper The Afterlife in the Book of Psalms. Towards the end he quotes Geoffrey Grogan, saying "Such passages deserve to be looked at again, with special reference to the significance of awakening and seeing the face of God. Is it possible that in a desire not to claim too much for the Old Testament hope and to understand it on its own terms rather than those of the New Testament, in itself quite right, we have sometimes ended up claiming too little?"

I have to agree. I also have to say that, if we are to believe that the Bible is inspired by God, that we must look at it _both_ from the original AND New Testament perspectives. It is clear from the NT that there is much in the OT which was waiting for the NT to be fully understood.

At 9/18/2006 2:29 AM, Blogger Oloryn said...

This rang bells with me, prompting a comment long enough to deserve a post, which can be found here

At 9/30/2006 9:35 AM, Blogger Salvador T. Cordova said...


I've been reading through several of your posts.

I am of the opinion that God has ordained His Word such that it conceal and hide truths which we must later discover.

Proverbs 25:2 says, "it is the glory of God to conceal a matter, and the glory of kings to search it out".

The apparent incongruities in the Word are there by design, to make those stumble who are willing to stumble.

In the end there will be harmonization. I end up seeing that happen over and over again. But it can only be seen by those willing to perceive it.


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