Defense, Criticism & Interpretation
- Historicity (7) : Evidence and Criticism
John Brown on Biblical Ethics said...
"Discourse X: The Nature and Design of Civil Government and the Christian's Duty in Reference to It" in Expository Discourses on the First Epistle of the Apostle Peter (R. Carter & Brothers: 1851), p. 242.
It has been remarked, that the moral precepts of Christianity are highly valuable, not only when viewed in reference to their primary and direct object, the direction and guidance of the movements of the inner and outer man, the regulation of the temper and conduct, the dispositions and actions, but also when considered in their subsidiary and indirect references, particularly in their bearing on the evidence of the Divine origin of that system of revelation of which they form so important a part. That bearing is manifold. Let us look at it in its various phases. Were a book, consisting partly of doctrinal statements and partly of moral precepts, claiming a Divine origin, put into our hands; and were we to find on perusal the moral part of it fantastic and trifling, inconsistent with the principles of man's constitution, unsuitable to the circumstances in which he is placed, and incompatible with the great laws of justice and benevolence, we should enter on the examination of the evidence appealed to, in support of its high pretensions, under the influence of a strong and justifiable suspicion. ...
Reason, Faith, and Revolution (Yale University Press: 2009), pp. xi-xii.
Religion has wrought untold misery in human affairs. For the most part, it has been a squalid tale of bigotry, superstition, wishful thinking, and oppressive ideology. I therefore have a good deal of sympathy with its rationalist and humanist critics. But it is also the case, as this book argues, that most such critics buy their rejection of religion on the cheap. When it comes to the New Testament, at least, what they usually write off is a worthless caricature of the real thing, rooted in a degree of ignorance and prejudice to match religion's own... If the agnostic left cannot afford such intellectual indolence when it comes to the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, it is not only because it belongs to justice and honesty to confront your opponent at his or her most convincing. It is also that radicals might discover there some valuable insights into human emancipation, in an era where the political left stand in dire need of good ideas. I do not invite such readers to believe in these ideas, any more than I myself believe in the archangel Gabriel, the infallibility of the pope, the idea that Jesus walked on water, or the claim that he rose up into heaven before the eyes of his disciples. If I try in this book to "ventriloquize" what I take to be a version of the Christian gospel relevant to radicals and humanists, I do not wish to be mistaken for a dummy. But the Jewish and Christian scriptures have much to say about some vital questions — death, suffering, love, self-dispossession, and the like — on which the left has for the most part maintained an embarrassed silence. It is time for this politically crippling shyness to come to an end.
Is God a Delusion? A Reply to Religion's Cultured Despisers (Wiley-Blackwell: Dec. 3, 2008), p. 63.
I happen to think we can discover in the Bible a God worthy of worship — the God of radically universal love attested to by Martin Luther King, Jr. But we can't discover this God if we think of the Bible as a monolithic treatise written by God himself. When the Bible is read in that way, we don't derive a picture of a God worthy of unfettered devotion. What we get is a picture of a capricious deity, sometimes merciful and loving, at other times jealous and tyrannical. If this way of reading the Bible is the only legitimate one, then the proper conclusion to draw — given God's essential goodness — is that the biblical god is not God. ¶ But there are other ways to read the Bible. We can read it as a human testament to the encounter with God, one that evolves as human misconceptions crash up against a divine reality that transcends our understanding. In short, we can treat it as a rich historical archive unified by a common struggle: the struggle of flawed human beings to understand and respond to the divine, and to live as the people of God. We can see this struggle as ongoing, and the voices recorded in the Bible as participants in an enduring conversation that we ourselves have every right to participate in — rather than as a blunt authority intended to silence conversation.
Dallas Willard on the Bible said...
The Divine Conspiracy (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1998), p. xvi.
On the human side, I assume that [the Bible] was produced and preserved by competent human beings who were at least as intelligent and devout as we are today. I assume that they were quite capable of accurately interpreting their own experience and of objectively presenting what they heard and experienced in the language of their historical community, which we today can understand with due diligence. ¶ On the divine side, I assume that God has been willing and competent to arrange for the Bible, including its record of Jesus, to emerge and be preserved in ways that will secure his purposes for it among human beings worldwide. Those who actually believe in God will be untroubled by this. I assume that he did not and would not leave his message to humankind in a form that can only be understood by a handful of late-twentieth-century professional scholars, who cannot even agree among themselves on the theories that they assume to determine what the message is. ¶ The Bible is, after all, God's gift to the world through the Church, not to the scholars. It comes through the life of his people and nourishes that life. Its purpose is practical, not academic. An intelligent, careful, intensive but straightforward reading — that is, one not governed by obscure and faddish theories or by a mindless orthodoxy — is what it requires to direct us into life in God's kingdom. any other approach is to the Bible, I believe, conflicts with the picture of the God that, all agree, emerges from Jesus and his tradition. To what extent this belief of mine is or is not harmfully circular, I leave the philosophically minded reader to ponder.
David James Duncan on the Bible said...
The Brothers K (Bantam Books: July 1996), p. 33.
Everett told Peter it'd be a snowy day in hell before the Christians wrote themselves a new Bible. Too many bugs in the plan, he said. In the first place, who do you ask to do the writing? An Adventist? A Catholic? A Baptist? If you picked just one, he said, the others would kill you. And if you picked one of each they'd kill each other. In the second place, he said, most Christians would refuse to rewrite the Bible anyway, because they'd want God to do it for them, because most of them think it was God who sat down and wrote the one they've got.
The Brothers K (Bantam Books: July 1996), p. 33.
Much as she dislikes baseball, Grandawma likes the Bible even less. This is because her hero, Charles Darwin, discovered evolution before God even mentioned it, proved scientifically that men are just apes at heart, and got the Christians all worked up because none of this was in the Bible. That's what Everett and Peter say anyway. Late one night when we were sitting around yapping, Peter said to Everett that if the Christian had any horse sense they'd just sit down and write themselves a new Bible, sticking some evolution in there this time. He said the biblical creation story was a dud anyhow, especially if you were a girl, since God made everything in the Universe, claimed He saw it was good, and then when the First Lady went out naked for a walk to enjoy all this so-called goodness, a completely evil Devil in snake's clothing came down out of a tree, lied his head off to her, got her thrown out of Paradise and cursed into having it hurt like hell to have babies, and she was still such a nice person that she didn't go back with a stick and kill that damned snake. Whose fault was all this? Peter wanted to know. Who claimed it was "good" in spite of the snake, then tried to cover Their tracks with a lot of cockamamie hoodoo about Forbidden Fruit and Trees of Knowledge and Eve's wicked curiosity? And what harm could a little Darwinian evolution possibly do to a mess of a story like that?
Remarks on "The Age of Reason" (S. King: 1831), pp. 74-5.
The Bible, like many of the works of nature, appears to the greatest disadvantage to the most superficial beholder. But, when we exclude such secular principles as are apt to bewilder and deceive; when we examine its essential doctrines; the proportion of all its parts; the pleasing harmony arising from the whole; and the general benefit resulting therefrom; there is such a coincidence with human reason, abstracted from all its grossness, that nothing can justify even you, from withholding your admiration and assent, but your ignorance of those doctrines, which are, at present, the objects of your contempt and scorn. So benign are its precepts, so disinterested its offers, and so extensive its benefits, that, even in the arcana of Deism, there is not a virtue or moral duty, which Christianity does not recommend and enforce. Instead of discarding reason, as you insinuate, it encourages its operations; and it appeals to reason, as the arbiter of its fate. It is by reason that we discover, where reason is incompetent to the task assigned; and it is by reason that we understand, when it must be suspended, and when called into action.
Remarks on "The Age of Reason" (S. King: 1831), pp. 66-68.
In the same page you say, "Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent, that we called it the word of a dæmon, than the word of God: it is a history of wickedness, that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and, for my part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest every thing that is cruel." As you give no example, of the above description, I may justly doubt the truth of your allegation; however, I will venture to assert, that every story of obscenity and wickedness, recorded in the Bible, is exhibited there, not to induce imitation, but abhorrence. ¶ I believe, the maddest enthusiast that ever lived, never thought of calling every word in the Bible, the word of God. Many parts of the sacred writings record the speeches and actions of wicked men and dæmons; and they are handed down to us, to excite our disapprobation, and to instruct us to take warning by the awful examples they present. Acts of debauchery and obscenity are objects of Bible detestation, as well as yours; and what you call "torturous executions" are frequently inflicted, as punishments for those deeds of criminality, with which you most unjustly reproach the Bible.
Thomas Paine on the Bible said...
The Writings of Thomas Paine (G.P. Putnam: 1896), p. 323.
It is to be hoped some humane person will, on account of our people on the frontiers, as well as of the Indians, undeceive them with respect to the present the Missionaries have made them, and which they call a good book, containing, they say, the will and laws of the GREAT SPIRIT. Can those Missionaries suppose that the assassination of men, women, and children, and sucking infants, related in the books ascribed to Moses, Joshua, etc., and blasphemously said to be done by the command of the Lord, the Great Spirit, can be edifying to our Indian neighbours, or advantageous to us? Is not the Bible warfare the same kind of warfare as the Indians themselves carry on, that of indiscriminate destruction, and against which humanity shudders? Can the horrid examples and vulgar obscenity with which the Bible abounds improve the morals or civilize the manners of the Indians? Will they learn sobriety and decency from drunken Noah and beastly Lot ; or will their daughters be edified by the example of Lot's daughters? Will the prisoners they take in war be treated the better by their knowing the horrid story of Samuel's hewing Agag in pieces like a block of wood, or David's putting them under harrows of iron? Will not the shocking accounts of the destruction of the Canaanites, when the Israelites invaded their country, suggest the idea that we may serve them in the same manner, or the accounts stir them up to do the like to our people on the frontiers, and then justify the assassination by the Bible the Missionaries have given them? Will those Missionary Societies never leave off doing mischief?
C.S. Lewis on Myth Become Fact said...
Surprised by Joy (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: 1955), 236.
I was by now too experienced in literary criticism to regard the Gospels as myths. They had not the mythical taste. And yet the very matter which they set down in their artless, historical fashion — those narrow, unattractive jews, too blind to the mystical wealth of the Pagan world around them — was precisely the matter of great myths. If ever a myth had become a fact, had been incarnated, it would be just like this. And nothing else in all literature was just like this. Myths were like it in one way. Histories were like it in another, but nothing was simply alike. And no person was like the Person it depicted; as real, as recognizable, through all that depth of time... yet also so luminous, lit by a light from beyond the world, a god. But if a god — we are no longer polytheists — then not a god, but God. Here and here only in all time the myth must have become fact; the Word, flesh; God, Man. This is not "a religion," nor "a philosophy." It is the summing up and actuality of them all.