June 2, 2020

Testing Scripture: A Scientist Explores the Bible- by John Polkinghorne, Chapter 5- Israel’s Bible

Testing Scripture: A Scientist Explores the Bible – by John Polkinghorne

Chapter 5- Israel’s Bible

Polkinghorne begins this chapter by noting that even though he believes that parts of the Old Testament convey deep truth in the form of symbolic story that in other parts God chose to reveal the divine nature through a particular relation with an actual chosen nation of real people; so gaining knowledge of the actual history of that people must be of considerable importance.  He believes, as do I, that Scripture is more than a symbolic story-book.

Nevertheless, the identification and evaluation of the historical content of the Hebrew Scriptures is a complex matter involving the work of dedicated scholars.  Polkinghorne is not naïve to the fact that the world of scholarship is not immune from its own version of the tides of fashion, like any other human endeavor.  To some people, the notion that we will judge the Bible like we judge any other human work of literature borders on blasphemous.  It is like we are judging God; how dare we?  Since it is the only book given by inspiration of God, it contains no errors, and it cannot be judged by the same critical standards which are used to judge the reliability of merely human works.  I understand this position, I really do, and I do believe that the Bible is a unique book inspired by God.  But if you don’t believe the Bible should be judged by the same standards of reliability and believability which are used to judge any other work of literature or history; to me you are making the Bible a magic book, which I think disrespects it rather than honors it.  You are engaging in the fallacy of “special pleading” i.e. applying standards, principles, and/or rules to other people or circumstances, while making oneself or certain circumstances exempt from the same critical criteria, without providing adequate justification.  To me, it’s a cop-out, if you believe the Bible is true and reveals Jesus who is TRUTH himself, then you won’t be afraid to subject it to a reasonably objective investigative process just as you would any other document that purports to give an account of some historical events.

Polkinghorne cites the generally accepted view that the Hebrew Bible was compiled in its present final form during and immediately after the Babylonian exile.  Yet he finds it difficult not to believe that the editors were working with much material that had originated centuries earlier in Israelite history, providing a record of events that they needed to treat with great seriousness and respect.  It seems to him that there is a good deal of evidence of such material still visible in the final form of the text.

For example, consider the book of Judges, with its account of happenings in Israel after the death of Joshua and before the formation of the kingdom under Saul.  The book has a formulaic structure of fighting with neighboring tribes/nations followed by 40-year periods of calm while “the land had rest”.  Polkinghorne says:

Sampson at the temple by Chagall

There is a primitive savagery about these stories—for example Jael’s murder of Sisera (ch. 4), the bloody tale of Abimelech (ch. 9), Jephthah’s rash vow that leads to the sacrifice of his daughter (ch. 11), and the highly ambiguous figure of the swaggering strong-man Samson (chs 13-16)—which accords well with these stories originating in the events of a turbulent archaic society, rather than being made up in a later period of calm reflection.

He notes that in archetypical events, such as the Exodus from Egypt, modern scholarship states that the exodus narrative is not history in the modern sense, since no archeological evidence has been found to support the historical accuracy of the biblical story.  Nevertheless, he believes that the accounts cannot be mere confabulations and that it must surely be the case that there is a historical deposit contained in them, even if its detail has been developed and extended.  In evaluating such evidence as can be gleaned from the attitudes toward Israel recorded in other Ancient Near Eastern chronicles and then using them in an attempt to provide checks on the historicity of the Hebrew Bible, we need to remember that the latter was written from the standpoint of Israel, while from the general standpoint of the ancient world, Israel must have been seen as simply a small nation sandwiched between the really great nations of Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon.  Events in Israelite history need not be expected necessarily to have attracted the attention that would have caused a great nation to record them.  He states:

The significance that we retrospectively recognize in Israel derives from the religious heritage that it has given us, and not from its geopolitical standing in the Ancient Near East.  From a worldly point of view, Israel would surely have been seen to have an inflated estimate of its own importance.

Jewish thinking divides its scriptures into three sections: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings.  The Law (Torah) is contained in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible also known as “the Books of Moses”.  Polkinghorne notes that the ancient world did not have our modern concern for the identity and integrity of the work of an individual author.  In consequence, a book or books with a single name attached to it may quite often contain material not only from its apparent initial author, but also from later writers working in the same tradition.

Scholars believe there are several law codes in the Pentateuch, of which the oldest is thought to be the “Book of the Covenant” (Exodus 20-23) associated with the covenant at Sinai that contains the Ten Commandments.  Although the code contains some primitively harsh injunctions, such as prescribing death for cursing parents, there are also significant injunctions to mercy and compassionate care.  You are to return the cloak of a poor person before sundown as it might be their only cover (22:26), you shall not oppress the resident alien for you yourselves were once aliens in Egypt (23:9), even return an enemy’s animal to him (23:4).

The Prophets contain not only the latter prophets or the writing prophets, like Isaiah and Jeremiah, but the former prophets like Elijah and Elisha (Joshua to 2 Kings).  Since those books contain extensive historical narrative, Polkinghorne believes that Israel saw the will of the Lord as being revealed as much through historical events as through explicit proclamations of judgement and hope.  The Former Prophets seem mostly to have operated in the context of the court and issue warnings about political and religious policy addressed to the king.  The later Writing Prophets condemn repeated acts of national apostasy, the forsaking of the Lord to follow false god of Canaanite religion, but they also fearlessly denounce exploitation of the poor and the vulnerable.

The view that conservative evangelicals promote, that Israel knew Yahweh as their only God from the time of Abraham, and how well they did as a nation depended on remembering that and worshiping and obeying Yahweh alone, is complicated by 1) the Bible’s own hints that at a more complicated early history, and 2) the growing body of scholarly knowledge of religion in the Canaanite region of which Israel was a part.  As Pete Enns puts it:

“…the Hebrew scriptures contain a record of Israel’s diverse and changing views concerning God, where the experience of the Babylonian Exile was a major turning point in the emergence of monotheism (the belief that only one God exists) out of monolatry (many gods exist but only Yahweh is worthy of worship).”

This scholarly knowledge of how the Hebrew Scriptures came to be put together and their relation to the times and context of which they were a part cannot be un-learned.  To me, there is no going back to a time when the earth was a flat disk supported by pillars and the sun and stars revolved around the earth; the church has moved on from those days.  Eventually, in the near future, most of the church will move on and acknowledge the earth is ancient, the cycle of living and dying has gone on for a long time, that the history of that life, as revealed in its layers of rock, shows a developmental process has occurred which finally resulted in creature who can look back on that history and comprehend it and still give glory to the God who brought it all forth.  The same is true of our knowledge of how the Hebrew Scriptures came to be.  The way forward is, as Enns puts it:

Studying the Bible and Israel’s past is a regular reminder to me that my ultimate object of trust is God, not the Bible (or how I understand the Bible). That’s not knocking the Bible. It’s acknowledging that the Bible—even where it talks about God—is a relentlessly contextual collection of ancient literature that takes wisdom and patience to handle well, and in doing so drives us toward further contemplation of God here and now.

The third section of the Hebrew Bible is called the Writings and has something of a miscellaneous character.  It includes much material that was valued for its spiritual insight and authority but didn’t fit into the Law or the Prophets.  The longest, and surely most important, book in the Writings is the book of Psalms.  The range of spiritual experience and expression to be found in the Psalms far exceeds anything in any other hymn book.  The Psalms write with great frankness and honesty, rejoicing in God’s goodness but not afraid to protest in times of difficulty and suffering.  A frequent and powerful form of the Psalms is “Lament”.  A lament starts with protest at affliction, but is able to end with renewed trust in the ultimate goodness of God.  As Polkinghorne says:

The Hebrew Bible was the scripture that permeated the thought of Jesus and the first Christians.  It has the strangeness that come from its particular times and cultures, but it is also full of great riches.  I believe that it is very important that the Old Testament retains it traditionally important place in the worship and thought of the Christian Church.

I know it seems troubling to some to portray the Scriptures as messy and troubling; not where everything lines up and makes sense all the time.  But I don’t think the real problem is the scriptures, but the false expectations we sometimes bring to it.  I don’t think the scriptures need to be protected or defended—if they are truly “God-breathed”, then as the book of Job says, from the negative viewpoint, about those who “…argue with useless words, with speeches that have no value… they will not escape the darkness; a flame will wither his shoots, and the breath of God’s mouth will carry him away.”(Job 15:3, 30).  From the positive viewpoint, as you put your faith in the God the Scriptures portray, particularly Jesus, then God breathes the breath of Life into you and you become truly, fully alive.  Perhaps, when we let the Scriptures be the Scriptures we have, rather than what we expect it ought to be–or need it to be–we will find a deeper faith in the process.


  1. This is a really good post, Mike the Geo. It has a lot of depth that would be great to discuss in a group face-to-face.

    –> “I know it seems troubling to some to portray the Scriptures as messy and troubling…”

    Yep. And to others of us, it’s troubling when THOSE people think there’s something wrong with those of us who believe the Scriptures are messy and troubling.

    It’s a battle that need not be fought, but some seem to insist it’s a hill that needs to be defended.

    • Many people are opposed to the idea that the Scriptures are messy because they believe that God needs us to have exact knowledge in order for Jesus to save us. Consequently, they think that those of us who believe the Scriptures are messy don’t possess the knowledge that will save us, and that’s what they think is wrong with us: we’re not saved, because we have deficient knowledge of the information that would save us. Their understanding of Christian truth overlaps significantly with Gnosticism: we must know and believe certain things to be redeemed. Unfortunately, much of traditional Christianity down through the ages has shared their Gnostic perspective and understanding: if we don’t know and believe certain things, and engage in certain practices, then we cannot be saved and will go to hell to be tormented/tortured forever. To counteract such a deeply rooted and ancient understanding of Christianity, we have to figure out a way to divorce Christian faith from any essentially Gnostic interpretation and understanding of it, otherwise we are playing the same game they are, on their ball field.

      • flatrocker says

        I think it’s simpler than that. In our otherwise chaotic and somewhat out of control lives, we yearn for a God who is predictable and tidy. And if scripture is his word, by consequence it too must be predictable. No room for messiness here. For if it’s messy, then to whom or what do we cling to during the chaos? To survive we rationalize the messiness away by domesticating the divine. He’s much safer when He’s tame.

        “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

        • I acknowledge that there’s truth in what you’re saying, flatrocker. But at the same time, if suffering eternal hell is the comeuppance for getting things wrong (and it certainly has been a significant threat held over the heads of Christians for two thousand years), that ups the ante for suppressing the cognitive dissonance involved in the inevitable doctrinal uncertainty that comes with acknowledging messiness. You know, lots of Christians are really afraid of going to hell if they get it wrong. The fact that their current Christian beliefs don’t produce the change in their behavior that they think salvation/sanctification should produce frequently leads them to consciously or unconsciously question the veracity of their beliefs, and either look for a more “effective” set of doctrines, or spend much energy suppressing their doubts and proselytizing their current views.

          Christian churches have been good at making people afraid of hell, but not so good at assuring them that the dogmas they teach for avoiding hell are certain.

          • flatrocker says

            look for a more “effective” set of doctrines, or spend much energy suppressing their doubts and proselytizing their current views.


            We survive by compartmentalizing.

          • –> “You know, lots of Christians are really afraid of going to hell if they get it wrong.”

            I run a coffee house at our church twice a week. Late last year for two months straight, a middle-aged man came in every time we were open to “discuss” (it was pretty much a one-way conversation) this idea that “if we get it wrong, we’ll be judged on that!” and that “we better get it right!” (He had a couple of scriptures that would seem to support this notion.)

            Those of us there would try to make our points that he was a little obsessive over this (it was pretty much all he would talk about) and that his obsessiveness was hurting not only his relationship with others (like those of us sitting there, listening to his monologue), but also hurting his relationship with God (we tried to tell him that God’s loving nature is a lot wider/broader/deeper than this one thing) and hurting his witness to others.

            I guess he decided he’d preached to us enough, because we haven’t seen him in about two months.

            • Headless Unicorn Guy says

              I guess he decided he’d preached to us enough, because we haven’t seen him in about two months.

              After shaking your Hardness-of-Hearts dust from his feet?

              • No doubt. I actually challenged him once by suggesting he ask one of us something about what we believe. The stunned look on his face was priceless, and a bit sad.

                • There’s also the sayings of Jesus about receiving the Kingdom like a little child. Children don’t scientifically analyze and systematic – they just trust the ones they love.

                  • –> “…they just trust the ones they love.”

                    And they trust the ones (the One) who love them.

                    And they trust THE LOVE of the One who loves them.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            You know, lots of Christians are really afraid of going to hell if they get it wrong.

            “FEAR ALWAYS WORKS!”
            — Acting mayor Bellwether, Zootopia

            They need Eternal Hell — a never-ending Cosmic Auschwitz — to make their alternative — becoming a mindless worship/praise bot in Fluffy Cloud Heaven forever — look good in comparison

        • As for myself, I strive to affirm to myself (and others, if the occasion arises) that the whole damned business of hell was burned up by Jesus on his cross. Human beings may be as capable as angels of isolating themselves away from relationship to God forever, but God is more capable of overcoming that isolation in Jesus Christ, and that is in fact is what God has done.

          • flatrocker says

            Am with you (mostly). However, how then does this not fall into the “total depravity – I can’t resist the will of God – free will is an illusion” view of the reformed? i.e. Once God has willed it, there is nothing I can do to resist or reject his intent. Can our lives actually be predestined regardless of what we do, say or believe?

            I’m rather partial to the phrase – I know there’s a hell and I pray that it is empty.
            This allows for the reality of everyone’s freely given will to unite with the source all goodness.
            This also allows for the possibility of one’s freely given will to reject the source of all goodness.
            And I continue to pray hell is empty.

            Maybe he’ll surprise us all one day and bring them home.
            Now that’s an unpredictable messiness I could get behind.

            • Well, I believe humans can resist the will of God, but there are two limitations: Human will is finite and exhaustible, divine will is neither; and God’s infinite love transcends our definition of both human and divine will. Human beings can willfully make hell in this life, but I expect (without absolute knowledge) that a loving God will not choose to honor that product of human engineering. I’m banking on that expectation; you can call it presumption if you like, but I don’t see how you can end up anywhere good if you start out with belief in eternal hell, so I give it as little credence as I can in my approach to theology and faith, and in my discussions with others about them.

              At the same time I, unlike most progressives, believe that God does hold sin and evil in judgement, and does judge; but his judgement is subsumed in the love that played and plays itself out in the life, death and ongoing life of Jesus Christ. Divine judgement is real, but penultimate; God’s love, and his mercy in Jesus Christ, is ultimate.

              I will find it surprising if he doesn’t bring them, or me, home.

            • Also unlike most progressives, I pray for the dead. We are saved together, and we participate in each others journeys toward God and redemption in Christ, whether in this life or the next. I also ask for the prayers of those who have passed on.

              • Burro [Mule] says

                I wish more “progressives” included the Church Triumphant in their meditations, Robert. It alleviates a mountain of evils, not least if which is the idea that the redemption of Christ proceeds in a straight line from the fountain of God’s benevolence to the ocean of man’s salvation without flowing through the fens and bywaters of our participation.

              • Headless Unicorn Guy says

                Also unlike most progressives, I pray for the dead.

                Anyone rip into you as “ROMISH” for that?

                • Christiane says

                  Headless, he might have heard about the Maccabees. (?)


                  he might have figured out something about the Body of Christ that was not in his previous understanding (?)


                  the last reason is so sad, I cannot write about it except to say that it has to do with love being ‘eternal’

          • Father Stephen writes that whatever “hell” may be, Christ is there – he goes to the lowest place, because that’s the humility of God.

            The Orthodox Church doesn’t officially teach universal reconciliation, but EO has the only theological framework in which hope for it can exist. That’s one of the big reasons I’m there. I’m sitting at the feet of St Isaac of Syria.


        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          I think it’s simpler than that. In our otherwise chaotic and somewhat out of control lives, we yearn for a God who is predictable and tidy. And if scripture is his word, by consequence it too must be predictable. No room for messiness here.

          The now-defunct “Church For Men” website had an essay page stating that this was Islam’s major appeal to Western men. Everything spelled out in predictable exact detail.

      • john Barry says

        Robert F. My 97 year old Mother believes she is saved by faith by grace though faith and not from anything she has done. My Mother believes the Bible is the only source of where to find Jesus. She believes John 3.16 fully and completely. I do not think she is overlapping with Gnosticism. My Mother would have no idea of what that means nor would she care.
        So I somewhat understand where you are coming from, I think. However at the very beginning the Bible was pronounced the word of God and the other gnostic writings not.
        I am in the same place as my Mom but have get there much as Polkinghorne does and he does such a good job , that I nod in agreement of much of his observations. Jesus is my personal savior, we find and learn about Jesus in the Bible. Now my Mom thinks the Bible is without error and takes that literally and to her that means accepting the Bible as is without any questions as that is not needed because of her faith.
        I am using my Mom as an example as I have known her well my whole life. She was with me when I was born and we bonded. I am not trying to drag my Mother into a discussion except to me she is a good example of a evangelical who completely accepts the Bible as truth conveying about Jesus, who she knows is the word.
        So my Mom can go to Grand Canyon , know the Canyon is well over 6k years old but accept the truth of the Bible and reconcile any doubts and questions about some “facts” with her faith that the Bible is where she learned about Jesus.
        So my Mom, simple and unquestioning and I simple and questioning, Polkinghorne smart and questioning are in the same place I think.
        My train of thought is becoming derailed and I hope you can decipher my meaning , it is not mystical or to deep for sure, it is for sure even hard for me to follow and I thunk it.
        Sum up, Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. I take the journey with Polkinghorne to arrive at that song’ message, My Mom takes the message of the song to heart with absolutely no questioning other than God will let me know the answers some day, complete faith.

        I was so ugly when I was born , the Doctor slapped my mother, RIP Henny Youngman

        • God bless your mom, jb. I mean no insult to your mother or anyone else by saying that many, maybe most or even all, Christians now and down through the ages have been partly Gnostic in their understanding of salvation. I will fess up to the fact that my own understanding and approach to faith has significant Gnostic elements; Gnosticism is a perennial feature of all human religiousness. It would be impossible to root it out, even if that were a good idea, which I don’t think it is.

          But I think that, to the degree that we think we need to possess certain kinds of religious knowledge, and engage in certain religious practices, to avoid going to hell, we make it difficult for ourselves and others to coexist with the kind of messiness that Polkinghorne and so many of us encounter in the Bible. As a result, many people try to suppress the obvious messiness of the Scriptures under systems of interpretation that allow little or no room for disagreement. Your mom is not one of those people, but they do exist in great number, as I’m sure you know from your own experience.

        • Thanks for sharing your mom’s story, John Barry. Some good insights into “other thinking” for some of us who don’t see things that black-and-white.

          –> “So my Mom, simple and unquestioning and I simple and questioning, Polkinghorne smart and questioning are in the same place I think.”

          Great line! The problem arises only when someone from one of those two tribes (simple and unquestioning or smart and questioning) drifts into tribalism by declaring that there’s something wrong with “those OTHER people, who are WRONG.”

          • john barry says

            Robert F and Rick Ro. thank you both for civil and gentlemanly reply concerning my Mom. I was going to put in my comments that even though I was using my Mom as sort of a generic “person” I realized I might put some people in a bind as they would not want to be critical of someone’s Mom. I should have not been so specific but my mind goes where it goes. I think you both caught the gist of my thoughts. Thank you both for your thoughtful courtesy .
            Actually if my Mother and many people like her felt the need to explore further they would sum up Polkinghorne or many others here with “as long as you believe in the Lord”. Many people do see the ‘gray’ area replace the black and white area as they grey.
            So I will stay away from putting commenters here in a difficult position of disagreeing with someone’s close relative.
            So my Mom is in Ft. Lauderdale Fl, when she was 80 years she would say Jesus if coming for her and he is in Atlanta Ga. (800 miles), at 85 Jesus was coming for her and he was in Jacksonville ( 600 miles )away at 90 she reported Jesus was in Vero Beach (250 miles away) coming for her, last visit a few days ago she told me again Jesus in now in West Palm Beach (20 miles) getting on I-95 heading toward Ft. Lauderdale. God has blessed her with a good mind she has retained and she is at peace and trusts God.
            When young visitors and relatives come to visit my Mother and I show up she introduces me as her “baby” boy, which I am but they do not know whether my Mom has lost it or if it is true. The usual reaction I get when I mention I am visiting my Mother is “Your Mom is still alive! Wow.
            One thing I have learned from my Mother is attitude counts and keeping an active mind full of new and insightful thoughts. That is one reason I like this site and people like you guys even when you are wrong and do not agree with me.

  2. Susan Dumbrell says

    A day after , but so much thanks for the support yesterday, Robert F and Rick Ro.
    My husband was quiet and somewhat responsive today. Cut his Birthday Cake.We had a visitor from the past, my husband had no clue who he was but our old friend stepped into the scenario and the visit went fine.
    Daughter, her partner and their little children are coming tomorrow.
    I am sure our daughter will see great changes in the couple of month since see saw her father.
    Life is a constant ‘come on Susan, get up and make an effort’.
    Our friend asked me if I visit every day and I replied ‘no way’. I would not cope with the complexity of my husband’s daily responses to his environment.
    I have to preserve my own mental health.
    Blessings to all IMonkers.


    • senecagriggs says

      Blessings to you Susan. You are a true witness of a loving wife in difficult circumstances. Sen

    • –> “I have to preserve my own mental health.”

      My dad learned this the hard way in taking for my mom in a situation similar to yours. Care-givers MUST take care of themselves or else they’ll need care, too.

    • john barry says

      Susan I second and third what senecagriggs, Rick r. and Robert F. have stated. I find your post very human, very honest and inspiring to me as a person. The concern and empathy that the long term commenters here have for you comes though the impersonal internet we communicate with.
      Great advice from Rick R. , I am sure you will heed it. I personally appreciate your updates and how you as a person is faring.
      I am looking for a way to preserve my mental health but friends say I may have waited to late. That is joke from up yonder which is where I live so do not get down, down under. Maybe if you take a trip to your great city of Vienna it will cheer you up, I do not do well at Jeopardy.
      Seriously God Bless.

  3. I think one point not adequately appreciated is that for most people over the last 3000 years all this was a moot point anyway. They were illiterate and either heard the stories retold orally or at best heard them read a little at a time. (And probably a few stories were told over and over and most were ignored until special occasions.) Literacy changed everything.

  4. Ronald Avra says

    Great post and discussion! This helps clarify a great deal for me. Appreciate everyone’s thoughts.

  5. Burro [Mule] says

    All of this is well and good, but what disturbs me is the unspoken assumption that there is a well-swept and well-maintained ‘field of rational inquiry’ or ‘scholarly consensus’ that surrounds the Scriptures, and allows us to stand in judgement of them. Now we no longer believe such ridiculous notions such as that the earth was a flat disk supported by pillars and the sun and stars revolved around the earth, but have no problem with others which are equally ridiculous. In other words, the feeling of false security that our Enlightenment underpinnings give us allow us to be the masters of Scripture in a way that still makes me uncomfortable.

    It’s good to be afraid of Hell, of eternal conscious torment. It’s even good to be a little bit unbalanced by it.

    I’m no fan of Enns. Any one of Flannery O’Connor’s loopy street preachers would chew him up for breakfast, and do him a favor by doing so. Heck, even Richard Beck has inadvertently admitted that “progressive” Christianity produces Democrats rather than saints.

    • –> “…“progressive” Christianity produces Democrats rather than saints.”

      And “fundamental” Christianity produces Republicans rather than saints. Two sides of the same coin!

    • Mike the Geologist says

      Mule, I did state in the post: “Polkinghorne is not naïve to the fact that the world of scholarship is not immune from its own version of the tides of fashion, like any other human endeavor.” I probably should have expounded more on this. I feel more strongly about this with regard to the New Testament and “Jesus Seminar” and the like stuff. Beck’s piece was honest, and I agree that you can take the rational enlightment critique of scripture to the point where you simple have nothing left to believe in. It’s a bridge too far and Polkinghorne agrees.

      • Burro [Mule] says

        The Old Testament is a good place in which to feel a bit “out to sea”. The feeling of reading something which is as distant in time from the editors of the Great Synagogue as the editors are from me is a wonderful tonic for the religious imagination. Reading scholarly accounts of the composition of the Bible always strike me as being akin to those accounts from the late 50s when the CIA was dosing people willy-nilly with LSD and making measurements of their body temperature and galvanic skin response. The insides and the outsides of the phenomena were almost entirely unrelated.

        • Yes. We forget that for the very first Christians, for the first couple hundred years,
          the OT ****was Scripture.****

          Noted Jewish OT scholar James Kugel, whom Fr John Behr likes to quote, reminds us that in the ancient world and into Medieval times, Scripture was in fact understood to be
          1. opaque and cryptic – not necessarily meaning what is “literally” written, but possibly/likely having a deeper meaning;
          2. contemporary – written to those in the time period of the books’ authors, not as a record of history but as something from which to take lessons for today;
          3. non-contradictory – therefore, always relevant on the basis of #1 and #2;
          4. a revelation given by God – especially of the narratives contained in it.

          This was the background, along with their experiences of Jesus risen from the dead, that undergirded the early Christians’ interpretation of the OT, which made it for them entirely about Jesus – his incarnation, death, resurrection and rule as God. Typology was the only way to make sense out of a lot of it, and it made the best sense – much more than the literalism we have demanded for the past 500 years.


    • “In other words, the feeling of false security that our Enlightenment underpinnings give us allow us to be the masters of Scripture in a way that still makes me uncomfortable.”

      Substitute “infallible church tradition” for “Enlightenment underpinnings” and the shoe fits snugly on the other foot too.

  6. Question for anyone who knows this answer…

    In all of Jesus’ sermons, parables, speeches, comments, statements, and discussions recorded in the four gospel accounts, does he ever give a message directly about the scriptures being God-breathed, inerrant, infallible, unmessy, etc. etc.? I know he quotes scripture a lot, and references it at various times to make a point, but I don’t recall him ever sermonizing on it (like some people do today).

    In fact, if anything, today some would possibly consider him blasphemous and heretical when supersedes scripture by stating, “You have heard it said (in scripture) X, but I tell you it’s Y.”

    • He doesn’t really touch on that. Actually, the closest He gets is when He rebukes the Pharisees about “diligently search(ing) the Scriptures because in them you think you have eternal life. It is they that testify about Me…”

      • Right. He seems most condemning of the people who KNOW the scriptures and abuse them for their own purposes.

        • There’s also the bit about “Not a jot or tittle is the Law will pass away until it is fulfilled”. Of course, the rest of the NT makes it clear that HE fulfilled it.

  7. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    There is a primitive savagery about these stories—for example Jael’s murder of Sisera (ch. 4), the bloody tale of Abimelech (ch. 9), Jephthah’s rash vow that leads to the sacrifice of his daughter (ch. 11), and the highly ambiguous figure of the swaggering strong-man Samson (chs 13-16)…

    My standard like for that is “Welcome to the world of Bronze-Age Semitic Tribal culture”.

  8. I was reading an article on Biblical Archaeology review by a professor at Yale and I was struck by how fundamentalist it sounded. He waxes eloquent
    ‘Whence the welcoming Jesus then? Here we need to consider at least four other sorts of meal stories or traditions, also interesting but more problematic, as evidence of a historical Jesus who could be agreed upon by the usual standards of critical scholarship.’

    And throughout the text he has a hermeneutic of suspicion of anything that does not confirm his rationalist mindset. It strikes me as being a fundamentalist of a different sort.

    Being an Anglican (Episcopalian for y’all from the south) I have seen this type of fundamentalism for years. It effectively eviscerates the Christian message and turns us into a social club. So for those of you who are escaping your evangelical fundamentalist path be aware that progressive Christianity has a similar stream. Its the opposite side of the same coin.

    • –> “Its the opposite side of the same coin.”

      Yep. I’ve said the same thing several times here before. We need to always examine ourselves and look in the mirror to make sure we haven’t become that which we preach against.

      • “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster.” – F. Nietzsche

        (Too bad he didn’t follow his own advice)

  9. john barry says

    Mike the G. Man , I have to do my customary and sincere thank you for bring the articles you have posted here the past weeks I have been following. I had “heard” about Polkinghorne but you spurred me on. I just recently caught on to who Pokémon was so it all dovetails.
    I am slow to move and have a chair named in my honor , the Lazy Boy Recliner but I am going to get Polinghorne book for Valentines Day as my wife wants me to wait so she can get me something I want. She treats me like a 12 year old but that is good last year it was like a 10 year old. I am maturing she says.
    Your articles always generate good, varied comments and some I even understand. I do think that if I had been allowed to take 3 years of High School Business Math I could relate to Pokeinghorne better but I was of course socially promoted, hurting my academic pursuits. ZI was common and rotten to the core before it was an issue.
    So another big thank you for sharing this. I know it is tough as geologist have such a rocky road to travel but they do not mine it seems.