Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Critical Biblical Study as Prophetic

In the judgment of most scholars biblical criticism is a correct (but not all-sufficient) approach  to the Bible; and so, unless religious people and communities want a complete break with scholarship, they have little choice about working with the meaning of Scripture derived through this method. But the use of the critical method should be more than an unpleasant necessity; for when responsibly presented, the meaning derived thereby is not destructive.  Rather it can be enormously helpful in challenging Christians and the Church(es),  much as the prophets challenged Israel, and Jesus chal­lenged the people of his time.  A non-critical biblicism often tends to confirm the Church(es) and Christians in their status quo because the Bible so read yields what they have always thought it meant. Espe­cially with regard to the NT, Bible-based Churches tend to use literalism to prove that they conform to the biblical directives for what the Church should be. Yet even an elementary study of history sug­gests that one should start with the opposite assumption, namely, that no twentieth-century Church is the same as the Church or Churches of NT times, and that inevitably twentieth-century Chris­tians have a worldview different from that of first-century Christians. A critical study of the NT can point out unexpected differences, thus reminding us how much things have changed and what has been lost (or gained). True, one must avoid a naive romanticism that such a study will enable Christians to restore perfectly what once was. Nev­ertheless, Churches and Christians, confronted by a critical picture of NT times, can be led to needed reform, either by chopping away distracting accretions or by compensating for deficiencies.

I have found Brown's two volume work on the Gospel of John, which is published among the Anchor Bible Commentaries, enormously helpful in our Sunday School class these last many weeks.  His studies and approach have profoundly affected my own approach to the Scriptures.

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