Through the last three centuries, negative critics have rejected what the Bible says. They reconstruct its story from clues found in its pages and believe they have shattered the core of traditional Judaism and Christianity.
These scholars think of themselves as literary detectives, who sort through written evidence to build a case for religious skepticism. They don’t claim they can read between the lines of the Bible. They don’t have to. Instead, they say the lines themselves (the content of the Bible’s sentences) reveal the holy book was constructed from pre-existing, often conflicting materials. Words like “edited” “redacted” “legend” and “myth” are used to explain how the Bible came to exist and what educated minds should believe about it.
Those of us who question these methods are portrayed as “out of touch”. But people with either a little or a lot of education can find good reasons for rejecting what negative critics say.
We’ll take our time, in the next few weeks, to build a case for the truth of what Jews and Christians have believed about the Old Testament-and what Christians have believed about the New.
Our reasoning will begin with a broad stroke. Then we’ll move to specifics.
So first, broadly speaking, we’re asked to believe that, through a thousand years of Israel’s history, editors and redactors pieced together and altered the books of the Bible, operating behind the scenes. Then, in the first fifty years of the church’s existence, a set of Christian editors and redactors did the same thing with the gospels and other parts of the New Testament.
Over this expanse of time, all was hush-hush. What the books of the Bible appeared to be in public (“Redact” means to prepare for publication.) was not what those who put the books together knew they were.
Moses didn’t really write Genesis, we’re told; Isaiah didn’t write Isaiah; and Matthew didn’t write Matthew. There really wasn’t any Exodus from Egypt or conquest of Canaan, and Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. All was edited and redacted. Legend and myth were freely created, or liberally added, for either affect or deeper meaning.
People thought they knew who the authors of the Bible were and what really happened, but a few on the inside knew better.
So should we believe that a secret society was doing a perpetual, centuries-long rewrite of what Israel and the church accepted as historically-based Scripture? Should we believe the Bible’s narratives, poems, proverbs, and prophecies-all kinds of biblical literature-were produced in this way in section after section of the books?
The short, simple and reasonable answer is “No”. It doesn’t make sense to think any kind of book was put together like that. That’s not the way people write books. But even if it had been done in one part of Israel’s history, with one class of literature, it’s hard to imagine the process being passed along to succeeding generations of scribes who conscientiously continued the masquerade with all kinds of biblical material.
So when you say to those who buy into negative biblical criticism, “I don’t believe it”, you’re not out of touch. You’re making perfect sense.
Speaking broadly then, there are good and compelling reasons for taking the reliability of the Bible seriously. The same is true when we speak specifically, as we’ll do next time.
By BOB GARRINGER