Thursday, January 31, 2013

The State of Pentateuchal Criticism Isn't a Mess?

I was shocked to read a certain former professor of mine argue against the idea that the state of pentateuchal criticism is not a mess. I simply could not believe my eyes when I saw this statement. Now, to be fair, I think he may have been saying that scholars were not leaning toward a unified Pentateuch written by Moses.

Well, if that is the case, then, No, scholars aren't moving in that direction. One can only read the Feistschrift article in the Menahem Haran volume written by Friedman to know that most scholars are not friendly to suggestions of single authorship (One might ask whether this is truly due to the lack of credibility of some of these theories or just a prejudice against them that has been fostered within the academic community--a prejudice that sees any suggestion of unity as uncritical and apologetic). But the way that my former professor said it seemed to imply that critical scholars using Source Criticism were all certain and comfortable with the theory. Of course, there is nothing further from the truth. The old theory is slowly falling apart.

Now, I still believe sources are used for the Pentateuch. I tend to believe that the Pentateuch is primarily priestly, and by that I mean that much of the narrative is from one priestly group, and that its final composition and compilation is primarily from a single author.

However, the idea that the state of Pentateuchal criticism is secure and certain is odd, since more and more scholars are beginning to challenge the model. In fact, even from the time of Wellhausen, his analysis of the data was so inefficient to actually deal with the variations that various scholars have had to posit even more sources to account for them.

J was broken up into J1, J2, J3. E was broken up much the same. P was broken up between P and Pg by some. Others posited a P1 and P2. Then you've got to account for the meshing of the material, so there is R (the redactor), but it seems that R is different than R2. Eissfeldt argued for L (a lay source). Noth argued for G, the Grundlage, to explain the similarities between E and J. Morgenstern argued for a K source. Pfeiffer argued for an S source. In short, the idea that the field of Pentateuchal criticism is a settled field is ludicrous, and most scholars who actually work in the field take note of this fact (see, e.g., Guillaume 2009, who in his foreward calls the Graf-Wellhausen theory "a debacle").

This is not even to mention the continual reassessment of dating the sources from the earliest times of David and Solomon in the tenth century to just before the sources cannot be dated any later in the third century. J is placed all over the map. P is post-exilic to some scholars, exilic to others, and pre-exilic yet to others (I personally am interested in the arguments made by Milgrom, King, and Knohl in recent years, but nothing is certain here). The identification of the correct time period in which the sources are written is crucial in order to understand the background and interpret the source, yet there seems to be little agreement in a field that is increasingly asking more challenging questions on what were thought once to be certain answers.

Today, you have objections that the theory explains the data very well at all. Campbell and O'Brien, two major critical scholars who have worked in the field for some time, have recently argued that there is no such thing as a continuous P source. Instead, there is but a multiplicity of sources that cannot be attributed to any one author or group. They believe that there are priestly writers of the Pentateuch, but no such animal as P. Their theory of development via accretion is close to Sandmel's haggadic theory (1961: 105-22).

As such, they see no reason to believe that J, which is often identified in contrast to P, is a true continuous source either. Scholarship has most often only seen J as a compiler of older sources, largely because so many things within what is considered J don't fit the criteria for direct authorship.

Their conclusion?

Along with these considerations, the fragmentation involved in providing continuous sources in biblical text renders the process of source analysis increasingly dubious" (Campbell and O'Brien 2005: 20).

Guillaume writes his volume to try and save what he can of what he acknowledges many scholars now consider to be a "broken" system (2009: 1). Scholars, such as Levenson (1987: 19-59) and Nicholson (1998) have observed the same.

Many European scholars wonder if J really exists as a source (Dozeman and Schmid 2006).

Such chaos motivated Whybray to argue against the hypothesis by asking a series of questions of the theory:

a. Are its presuppositions reasonable?
b. Are its methods sound?
c. Are those methods applied logically?
d. Does it account for the data more adequately than any alternative hypothesis? (1987: 35)

Whybray answers in the negative for each of these questions. He posits that a single author wrote the work in the sixth century using unknown and unverifiable sources to complete his work. He is not merely a compiler/redactor, but an author (Ibid., 221-42).

And although Friedman attempts to put Kikawada and Quinn (1989) in the same category as less sophisticated attempts to undermine the Documentary Hypothesis (Friedman 1996: 90-93), and I would agree with some of his criticisms of the work, it is clear that he does not understand their argument. Of course, their theory, that Genesis is written by a single author in polemic against Babylonian overpopulation propaganda (which I absolutely believe is beyond question--even though scholars may want to question it anyway), does not dismiss the idea of sources, but rather would argue more against the idea that Genesis is made up of contradictory texts that cannot be unified, and then one might argue from there against the very reason for dividing them in the first place.

The fact of the matter is that the state of Pentateuchal Criticism is a mess, even if you have dogmatists like Friedman, who are quickly looking like the old close-minded traditionalists against whom the then innovative theory once argued, protesting all the way.

In any case, what sources were used in the construction of the Bible aren't really a concern to evangelical scholars who can divorce the data from Wellhausen's liberal apologetic. So I'm fine with it either way. But to somehow argue that everything is right as rain in the field is just plain astonishing.

Does Immorality Lead to Unbelief?

I've often thought about this. After looking at the life of numerous atheists, and having friends and acquaintances turn to atheism, the common factor seems to be some sort of ongoing sin in their lives. Of course, if it is true that the presence of such sin creates cognitive dissonance, or that the person merely wishes to escape from guilt, we might ask this question of not only atheists but also any who want to lessen the holiness and wrath of God toward sin (i.e., many liberals). I have often wondered if moves from a more conservative stance to a more liberal one (whether partial unbelief as in liberal Christianity or total unbelief as in agnosticism or atheism) is primarily an attempt to make our rebellion more acceptable and palatable to ourselves and others. We all, conservatives, liberals, atheists, etc. have sin in our lives that we must address. 

Conservatives believe that God is holy and angry with sin, and hence, will judge it. Christ died precisely because God's just anger toward evil had to be appeased. Hence, we must confess our sins before God and be cleansed by the blood of Christ, having no righteousness of our own (hence, the biblical understanding of God and sin is preserved). Liberals believe that sins are not ideal, but God just wants us to do well, and His grace accounts for what is not ideal. He's not out there to judge us or punish us for it (hence, the God of the Bible is undermined in order to deal with sin). Atheists believe there is no God, and hence, there is no sin (getting rid of God altogether so that there is no one to whom we are accountable, and sin is merely other people seeking your conformity to their views). 

In any case, here is a book about this very subject concerning atheism. As I said above, I might clarify this to be the case for apostasy toward more liberal stances rather than identify every case of atheism or religious liberalism as a case of lessening the guilt for ongoing sin.

Gatekeepers and Pilgrims?

I am so sick of this "gatekeeper" closed minded terminology versus "pilgrim" on a journey and open-minded rhetoric.

Let's actually ask a few questions to see what Christianity is both biblically and historically.

Can the prophets of the Hebrew Bible be described as gatekeepers because they condemn the wayward theology and practices of those claiming to be of God by telling those who practice such that they are not really the people of God and that God has rejected them?

Can Jesus be considered a gatekeeper? Isn't He the ultimate Gatekeeper? No one can be saved if he does not adhere to what Jesus says and commands. Everyone else is not a believer according to Jesus.

Can the apostles be considered gatekeepers? They deny that anyone who practices things that run contrary to what the Bible teaches are not going to enter the kingdom of God, that anyone preaching a variation of the gospel, another Jesus, or another God are not of the Spirit of God and are damned. They also tell us that we should fight in the war of ideas, pulling all ideas under their teaching that exalts Christ and contend earnestly to preserve the faith from alternate versions of it.

Can the Church Fathers be considered gatekeepers? They, in like manner, deny anyone is a Christian who teaches an alternate gospel, view of Jesus, God, man, etc. They kick out tons of people they label as heretics who do not hold to a specific creed.

Can the Reformers be considered gatekeepers? Did they not fight against anything as non-Christian and antichrist that did not accord with what they considered sound doctrine?

Can the Puritans be considered gatekeepers? Do I really need to even answer this one?

In short, "gatekeeping," the idea that Christian teachers are charged with the task of distinguishing between the spirits of Christ and antichrist, rebuking, correcting, exhorting Christians in the truth that exalts Christ, and rejecting anyone who advocates a different God, Jesus, gospel, etc. as anathema sounds like something every responsible teacher should be doing.

Does that mean that the gatekeepers aren't pilgrims too? That depends upon what you mean by that. The way it is used today, they aren't. They have achieved a sufficient understanding of certain doctrines surrounding the identity of God, Christ and the gospel, as well as to understand what is good and evil, in order to stand at the gate and guard the sheep.

But what most mean today by the term "pilgrim" is one who has not come to any firm enough conclusions, or does not take those conclusions seriously enough, to exclude others from the group. The pilgrim is always learning and so can never be right enough to put his foot down when one contradicts a truth. In this way, "pilgrim" means much more than "teachable." Instead, it really means "permissive" and "flexible" in terms of what he allows within the group.

Of course, no one is a pilgrim when it comes to race issues. No one is a pilgrim when it comes to pedophilia. No one is a pilgrim when it comes to the idea that the God isn't like the Hindu god Kali. They're a bunch of gatekeepers when it comes to that. In fact, I'd argue that they're a bunch of gatekeepers when it comes to their alternate interpretations and ideological emphases.

If one wants to be like those condemned in Timothy as "those who are always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth," that's his business. But making a false dichotomy between gatekeepers and pilgrims is nonsense. Everyone fulfills both of these roles. It just depends on what gates are being tended and what roads are being traveled.

And Yet Again, Presuppositions . . .

I commented a few posts back on Dr. Enns' comments concerning presuppositions. I wanted to post his new post concerning them in order to demonstrate that my original post was, indeed, correct.

You can find his appeal to Silva here:

I can understand the level of misunderstanding that is built upon a long Enlightenment-oriented tradition in the belief of objectivity. Hence, one feels he can divorce presuppositions in terms of ultimate beliefs from his conclusions. Of course, if one has the same ultimate beliefs, or if his ultimate beliefs are not in conflict with those whose methodology of inquiry is governed by alternate ultimate beliefs, then there can be some agreement on these issues.

It's where they conflict where Silva et al. are deficient in their understanding. The idea that one can "approach objectivity" either by himself or via a larger community is absurd. Let me explain it this way. If all of one's view of reality is governed by his observation and all interpretation of his observation is governed by his ultimate beliefs, then everything he "knows" to be true is simply an interpretation of his ultimate beliefs, nothing more. 

Man does not know the world directly as God does. He interprets it through his beliefs concerning reality. Hence, it does not matter if you have one man or a thousand men interpreting reality. There is no such thing as approaching objectivity. 

As I said, we can agree on all sorts of things where our ultimate beliefs allow us to do so, and everyone's conclusions can be evaluated for how they are consistent or inconsistent with his own ultimate beliefs and sources of authority; but the idea that one can determine a "good" or "bad" presupposition by the evidence is nonsense (and I say that for both sides--good and bad are value judgments being made by one's ultimate beliefs, not something that can be proven). 

So merely appealing to teachers who also got it wrong is not going to help in this situation. In my opinion, Dr. Enns should drop this line of argumentation. It only displays that he has taken upon the attitude of many within the academy, both conservative and liberal, who also have gotten it wrong.

The issue of inerrancy or errancy is ultimately one of ultimate beliefs. Conservatives aren't going to prove it to the true and liberals aren't going to prove it to be false, unless you can prove inconsistency with one's ultimate beliefs. Maybe that argument can be made, but I have yet to hear anyone attempt to do so.

A Question for Chameleon Christianity

Some argue that Christians need to accept certain beliefs and practices (like evolution and homosexuality) as true and legitimate in order to minister to our culture. "Christians are giving a black eye to the gospel," so they say.

Here's my question though. If ministering to a people means you adopt what they believe to be true and morally acceptable, then does this crew advocate that one must adopt creationism and an anti-homosexuality stance when ministering to conservative evangelicals? How about when ministering to Muslims who make up a larger portion of the world than atheists?

I don't ever hear them say this about these other cultures, and so I have to wonder if such reasoning is not only ethnocentric, but self exalting in that it takes what the person arguing for this believes and makes it absolute for everyone, regardless of the target group's beliefs might be.

In other words, this is just a way to say that what I believe is true, everyone should accept it, and I'm not really concerned about ministering to people as much as being vindicated in my personal beliefs concerning reality.

Of course, this reasoning is not only a shield for self exaltation, it isn't even biblical. The person, I imagine, is arguing from the backdrop of Paul's statement concerning his cultural adaptation. But Paul is saying that he observes the cultural aspects of the Law and Judaism, not that he acts like he believes that the Law can now save people and that Judaism is true apart from Christ. In other words, he's not contextualizing the gospel by changing what he believes or says is true, but by observing cultural norms in order to gain an opportunity to speak the gospel. He's far from telling the Greeks that their sexual practices are perfectly acceptable to God, that their concept of polytheism is true, etc.

There is no compromise in the message or even what we think beyond the message. There is a submission of our cultural norms to the cultural norms of others that we might serve them through the gospel. That's biblical contextualization. The other is just Chameleon Christianity that wants to be vindicated and acceptable to others. Ironically, that is a quest to use others to vindicate ourselves, not a service and sacrifice or ourselves given to them.

Those who make this argument, then, are not serving others, but themselves. If they really wanted to serve everyone, they would make the same argument for non-Western-liberals. They don't, because it's not about serving others. It's about getting their ideas on top. Supposedly, that's the exact opposite of ministry to them, but in the end, they are doing the very thing they shake their heads at evangelicals for doing (i.e., attempting to minister in their beliefs without compromising with the beliefs of someone else). Ironic, isn't it?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Maybe the Reformers Got It Right After All

Does Errantism Demand Inclusivism?

I could be wrong, but I'm just going to throw this out there. If the Bible is right on some things about God, man, sin, heaven and hell, etc., but wrong on other things, then isn't every religious book like the Bible? In fact, isn't everything like the Bible?

Let me demonstrate by listing off various books that make statements about God, man, sin, etc. that are sometimes true and sometimes false.

The Book of Mormon
The Quran
The Bhagavad Gita
Science and Health with a Key to the Scriptures
A Course in Miracles
The Satanic Bible

But here are a few more books of that nature:

Moby Dick
The works of Shakespeare
The Shack
The Left Behind Series

Songs are capable of speaking about God in both erroneous and true ways.

Speeches do it. Screeches do it. And even fuzzy leeches do it (had to get my "Seuss" on there ;-))

In fact, all of my works can be said to accomplish this. All of your writings can be the same. In short, if the Bible is just a book made up of truth and error, then isn't that what every book is? Isn't that what our own thinking is? How is the Bible better than any other book then? How is the Bible better than our own thinking? Doesn't that make the authority of the Bible the same as any other book? Doesn't that make the authority of the Bible the same as the authority of our own opinions?

If not, why not? Is it the ratio of error to truth in the Bible? How does one go about figuring that out?

And if the Bible is the same as all of these other books in that regard, doesn't this view of the Bible really mean that biblical religion is just as prone to be true or false as any other religion? As our own religion if we should choose to make one up?

Doesn't errancy then essentially logically lead into inclusivism? What's wrong with Hinduism or Islam if they have both truth and error in them? They both incorporate a Jesus in their religions, not the biblical Jesus, but the Bible is wrong on Jesus sometimes anyway, right?

Maybe I'm missing something, but maybe errantists are truly liberals, despite the protest of people like Bovell who want to create the idea that there is a middle ground. Perhaps errantism is liberalism because it can't be anything else if taken to its logical conclusions. But if that's the case, I'm not sure why the Bible is anything more than a man's particular flavor of the month. The Book of Mormon would do just as well, or better yet, just listen to some music, secular or religious, as it's all bound to get around to some truth at some point.

If theological and ethical errancy does, in fact, logically necessitate inclusivism, then the Bible or the Bible's religion is no more necessary to believe than any other man's book and religion, or any other man's ideas for that matter.

In short, it would seem that theological and ethical errancy is nothing short of  apostasy and unbelief. It is a denial of the faith of the Bible, not just a different version of the same faith. This would mean that we are not brothers with errantists, but mortal enemies.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Rational versus Irrational People

Rational - A person who makes arguments.

Irrational - A person who just argues.

Most people would rather argue than make an argument because posturing oneself to where others believe your position is legitimate is easier than making a sound case for why it is, in fact, valid.

Ehrman's Errors

The Poor Fuzzy Bunnies Don't Know How Deficient They Really Are

James McGrath recently posted this comic to supposedly argue against conservatives declaring what the Bible is in terms of its inerrancy and inspiration before they put the pieces of the Bible together to see what it actually is and how it functions. This was specifically in regard to the creation issue, but implied by, perhaps, others that it was a good example of the inerrancy issue as well.


I have two problems with this "argument."

The first is that it assumes an Enlightenment positivism in man's knowledge, as though we can actually reconstruct things like history and origins clearly enough to determine if the Bible contradicts itself, contradicts science, contradicts history, etc.

Of course, I can affirm that it does all of those in terms of its human assumptions and language, but there is a mistake being made here nonetheless. When you learn so much information and have been corrected so many times by new information and new ways in seeing the information, this usually makes you humble by causing you to realize that you probably don't know as much as you think you do. In fact, I've often argued that genuine knowledge of the world, apart from revelatory knowledge, is an impossibility.  But this is especially true of metaphysical and historical questions.
But unfortunately, with some people, when they are finally given that PhD by the Wizard they suddenly think they're studies are capable of producing omniscience. Of course, everyone realizes this is bogus, even those who do it, but their rather double-minded in that respect.

Second to this, however, the analogy is false, precisely because the question cannot be determined based upon the interpretations of the data through naturalistic presuppositions without begging the question. Instead, because the issue of origins, or inspiration and inerrancy, is ultimately a faith question, we should have two bunnies looking at a painting by an author and interpreting it as a sort of Rorschach experiment.
The analogy given by McGrath assumes an objective view of the evidence and a sufficient amount of knowledge/data in order to objectively piece that data together.

Instead, this sort of mockery of one's opponents in an attempt to show how stubborn and dumb they are is just partisan politics. I could have easily set the same scenario up where, even though the picture was matching up really well, the errantist would continually find contradiction and try to fit the pieces in the wrong places so that it looked nothing like the picture on the box--thus fulfilling his own preconceived idea of the text. But these adolescent games are unhelpful and ultimately convincing (and funny) only to the bitter apostates who want to demean their critics.