The Power of Reason

October 24, 2006

In my Bible class right now, we are learning the history of Biblical times in order to understand the context of the Bible.

Our textbook for this particular unit is entitled Early Judaism:  The Exile to the Time of Jesus.

A few quotes from it that I think speak to some of the theological issues dividing the church today on what scripture means (from p. 330-332):

Basic to the Enlightenment is a high regard for the power of reason…One should not arrive at one’s views simply by accepting traditional answers offered by the church or any other authority.

True to its roots in the Enlightenment, much research on the historical Jesus was driven by the conviction that one must separate the Jesus of history from the Christ of faith.  Only by freeing oneself from church doctrine, which demanded specific answers to historical questions and therefore predetermined the outcome, could one do authentic historical research on Jesus.

If we do not ask critical historical questions, chances are we will assume that whatever we think about Jesus is historically accurate.  Indeed, we may even find ourselves heatedly defending our view against “false” views, and we will easily slip into the field of theology and doctrine, not making distinctions between theological and historical judgements.  We will assume that our view is right not only historically but also doctrinally, so that defending it becomes a matter of defending the faith.

How true.  I have written before on the “Facts of the Faith” before (see Faith and others), but I think Murphy makes the same point exceptionally well.  If we do not distinguish between the historical facts that actually occurred in history and the doctrine and theology that tradition has built up around those events, then we are subject to be very shaken when we learn new information about the history.  We have very little room for science, and tend to put science at odds with religion instead of complmenting religion.  We tend to become over-zealous in a need to make the Scripture a historical account, bound in inerrancy, instead of a work of people with their own point of view, agenda, and problems.  Is God present in Scripture?  Of course.  And it is helpful to find God in Scripture if we know how God was working with the authors of the text when it was written.  Why the authors were writing what they were writing.  What came later.  That drives us to ask what we are called to do now.

One more piece from Murphy, as an afterward, from p. 333:

The Gospels are not unbiased.  They are selective in what they report.  Their aim is not to write “objective history” in a modern sense.  They are expressions of faith meant to encourage and support belief.  Futher, each gospel author has his own particular interpretation of the story of Jesus.  There is good historical information in the Gospels, but they are not themselves histories.  One might more accurately call them sermons in narrative form… They add, subtract, and rewrite material to present their own perspectives on Jesus.

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