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Sem Turtle: Long Questions on the Bible and History

April 8, 2013

For our Old Testament class this week we have been reading out of The Art of Biblical History by V. Philips Long, who explores the issues of genre and narrative within the Old Testament while also reflecting on the issue as to whether these Scriptures should be considered history. Below are my responses to this week’s questions.

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Question 1: What follows is the Bethel Seminary affirmation of faith about the Bible:
“The Word of God. We believe that the Bible is the Word of God, fully inspired and without error in the original manuscripts, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and that it has supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct.”

Find and read your own tradition’s (or church’s) formulation of its doctrine of Scripture and consider the main concepts in it.

How has reading/studying the Old Testament challenged your view(s) of Scripture? What sorts of problems/issues does it raise (if not for you, for the people you are/will be ministering to)? Discuss how Long’s approach to the Bible (e.g., genres, truth claims and truth value, history as representational) addresses or clarifies pertinent issues. If there are ways that you find his approach inadequate, explain.

Our traditions place a strong emphasis on the authority, truthfulness, and inerrancy of scripture, but we do not always understand or agree upon the meaning of these terms. Here are some summary statements of three traditions on the purpose and import of Holy Scripture:

According to the Bethel Seminary Affirmation of Faith about Scripture, the Bible is (i) the Word of God, (ii) is fully inspired, (iii) is without error, and (iv) is the supreme authority for believers.

According to the Westminster Confession: (i) God has revealed Himself, (ii) this revelation is committed to writing in Holy Scripture, (iii) God is the true author of Scripture, and (iv) the illumination of the Holy Spirit is necessary for a full understanding of the salvific message of Scripture.

And according to my personal tradition, from the Catholic Catechism: (i) all Scripture speaks of and is fulfilled in Christ, (ii) the Scripture is inspired by God and is the true Word of God, (iii) God inspired human authors and created Scripture through human means, and (iv) interpretation of the inspired Scripture must be attentive above all to what God wants to reveal through the sacred authors for our salvation.

At the center of each of these statements of Scripture are three key affirmations: (i) Scripture is inspired, (ii) it is God’s revelation, and (iii) it is for the purpose of our salvation.
Reading the Old Testament at Bethel, along with the perspectives offered by both Alter and Long, has helped me to gain a new appreciation for the historiography represented by the Hebrew text. My past studies of scripture were rooted in the historical-critical tradition where smaller texts and poetic texts were seen as the more authentic texts, closer to the original events, and the best resources for discovering the events behind the texts. But Alter and Long have helped me to appreciate the method and artistry of the text as a whole. If the Bible is God’s revelation, then it comes in the form of the whole text and the whole text serves to bring us closer to the true events. The OT writers were not unskilled historians, they were master communicators of the true Word of God!

2) Reflect on the importance of history for Christian faith (Long, chapter 3). Do you expect this perspective to be shared by those whom you currently minister to or those whom you anticipate ministering to in the future? (If you don’t know, perhaps attempt some conversations about history and faith this week.) How might you communicate the importance of history to Biblical faith in your current or future teaching/ministry?

Long has really put his finger on an incredibly important issue for our faith – does the Bible represent history and does it matter? While in the past there may have been too strong a tendency to claim that every account within the biblical narrative was the literal truth, today there is a much too string tendency to dismiss the historical claims of the Bible. If we agree that the Bible is the Word of God and that it represents a core component of His revelation, then we must take seriously the claims made by the biblical texts. And everywhere you look within the Bible, the revelation of God goes beyond the teachings of wisdom, law, and ethics. Rather the central revelation of Scripture comes through the historical events it describes. In the Old Testament, the central revelation is that God has delivered His people through the events of the Exodus. And in the New Testament Jesus is revealed not simply as a great teacher, but as the historical agent who has redeemed us by who He is and by what He has done. In short, without belief in the core history revealed in the Bible, there is nothing unique about Christianity.

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