An Observation About Biblical Studies

It is fascinating to me that many biblical scholars today deride their discipline’s captivity to modernity and modernity’s methods while they at the same time continue to accept conclusions about the biblical text that are clearly tied to a modernistic approach. I’ve recently read articles and monographs by TIS proponents, biblical scholars approaching their topic from a “postmodern” perspective, and evangelicals that argue we should move beyond a modernistic model of biblical scholarship. This in and of itself is a welcome proposal, given modernity’s quest for objectivity, focus on the particulars at the expense of the whole, and dependence upon a whole host of philosophical underpinnings which clash with a Christian worldview. But this proposal is almost always accompanied by a concession to modernistic biblical scholarship’s conclusions about the text, whether it be date or authorship or transmission or redaction.

How does this make any sense? With our left hand we ask the guild to stop capitulating to modernity’s methods, and even sometimes, among the most careful of thinkers, to stop building on its philosophical foundations, while with our right we hold tightly to what we have received from it. Why do we not say instead, “Modernity’s philosophical foundations are suspect, and therefore so are its methods. We ought therefore to reconsider all of its conclusions, and especially those that arise from the so-called historical critical method and its tools.”

5 thoughts on “An Observation About Biblical Studies

    • N.T. Wright discusses this very thing in The New Testament and the People of God. It’s from 1992 so there are probably more recent resources, but Wright tackles it head on, plus bibliography.

  1. Hi Jacob, although I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, Michael Legaspi’s “The Death of Scripture and the Rise of Biblical Studies” continues to be mentioned to me. Craig Bartholomew’s opening chapter in vol. 1 of the Scripture and Hermeneutics Series (“Renewing Biblical Interpretation”) gives a thorough treatment of the issue. Those are the two that come to mind immediately, although I’m sure there are others.

  2. Read this in a book review today and it reminded me of your thoughts here:

    “Osborn’s objection is not so much literal interpretations per se, as to the literalists’ insistence that their way of reading Scripture is the only way to read Scripture–that they alone honor God and revere the authority of the Bible. What they revere, he tries to show, is philosophical ‘foundationalism’: the belief that everything, whether in matters of science or literary interpretation, depends on one clearly marked foundation, which cannot be critiqued.”

    Tim Stafford from CT reviewing Ronald Osborn’s Death Before the Fall

  3. Hi Matt,
    Great comments. Not only is Evangelical biblical scholarship taken captive by modernity, but also by science. I find it strange where Evangelicals say the Bible is the authority but the supreme authority is science which either verifies it or interprets it!

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