This article is a chapter in a new book I hope to publish in a few short weeks. The working title is, “In Search of the Protestant Bible.” Feel free to comment on this as it is posted on my Facebook page (facebook/s douglas woodward) or by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. While this is a followup to my last book, Rebooting the Bible, it will take a different path in seeking to establish why the Protestant Bible must be understood in the context of other Bibles – The Hebrew Bible, the Greek Bible, and the Catholic Bible.
If you have not read Rebooting the Bible, you will be missing the background for much of what I have to say in this next book. Additionally, I am delaying work on Part 2 of Rebooting the Bible only for a few weeks as I prepare this next manuscript and having just finished my father’s book, Going to War, also published by Faith Happens Books, and presented to him on his 100th birthday, June 17, 2019. It was a fabulous time with recognition for him by the Governor of Oklahoma for his heroic military service among the ranks of officers in Patton’s Third Army. Anyway, a small section of In Search of the Protest Bible.
Blind Faith or Reasoned Faith?
This section is helped along by an article written by Catholic Christian, Gary DeLashmutt. [See Xenos.org, teaching number 857.] The topic is the interplay between the fact that the Bible does indeed stand up to historical scrutiny and offers proof helping us establish, at least in those with an open mind, that the Bible to be true. However, we could challenge this approach because it does not quite offer perfect certainty. Philosopher Søren Kierkegaard called this type of understanding, “approximation knowledge,” and disparaged it as falling short of true faith. (S.K. asserted “blind faith” is needed, i.e., the leap of faith. Approximation knowledge is akin to “Looking before your leap.”) In other words, following Kierkegaard’s instruction, if the Bible is self-attesting as the previous section discusses, wouldn’t it be unnecessaryfor the Bible to offer any objective proofs to verify it gives us irrefutable truth? However, although I like Kierkegaard, tor anyone who believes apologetics is valuable, as much if not more for the believer than the unbeliever, “many infallible proofs” (Acts 1:3) remain apropos.
Regarding the witness of history and archeology, it has been my experience that anytime supposed errors have been found within the biblical text, later it’s discovered that the Bible was correct all along – it was our misunderstanding of history that caused us to think it wrong. A good example is the matter of when King Herod the Great died. Unlike what most histories claim, Herod did not die in 4 B.C. (i.e., before Christ was born), but rather about 1 B.C. Therefore, he could have given the order to slay all children two years and younger in and around Bethlehem in an attempt to kill the child born to be “King of the Jews.”)  This event has been dubbed, “the slaughter of the innocents.” But King Herod died not long after giving this order. A more intensive investigation into history proves this so.
DeLashmutt (hereafter, abbreviated DeL), points out that the prevailing view in our culture is that the Bible contains many mistakes and its presumption that it is nothing but dogma, to believe without sufficient reason. College students (and even seminarians!) can emerge from their educational experiences with doubt firmly fixed in their minds – nigh taking a miracle to dislodge this doubt. Many authority figures attempt to resolve this problem by telling the newly converted doubters to “just accept the Bible as true because it is God’s Word!” And DeL point out, this is pure and simple “circular reasoning.
Throughout the twentieth century, Protestant theology has separated spiritual truth from historical and scientific truth. This approach, broadly speaking, is labeled Neo-Orthodoxy. Intellectual Francis Schaeffer exposed this fact to the Evangelical world, often with explanations that were too simplistic, to rally conservatives to stand up for what is known as the historical-grammatical method of interpretation. In general, this hermeneutic teaches that the Bible teaches true history and should be understood within the normal grammar of a language and the type of statement it is making. That is, if the Scripture is presenting itself in the form of poetry, then allusions, metaphors, and similes should be treated as poetic devices and not interpreted literally. But if the Scripture is making a statement the author clearly intended the reader to recognize as historical fact, Evangelical theology should uphold such a claim as indeed historic information.
Do We Really Take the Bible Literally?
There is a fuzzy area which is quite problematic for Evangelicals when we approach scriptural statements presenting a vision or dream.As the nature of dreams is symbolic, when recounting a dream, we should understand that the images recorded in the Bible are subject to interpretation. And the images are seldom to be understood “literally.” Most often, to understand the symbolic meaning of an image is repeated in another context (for example, images and symbols in the Book of Daniel are often repeated in the Book of Revelation with only slight variations). The Bible repeats itself in meaningful ways and we do well to understand how symbols (and numbers) within the Scripture are most often used to ascertain the meaning of a symbol in a given passage.
Nevertheless, interpreting prophetic dreams and visions as “literally true” which we hear too often from teachers exegeting Bible prophecy, we have to take a step back and ask how their explanation can be so. And more broadly speaking, to say one takes the Bible literally, is itself something of an oxymoron. It’s really just shorthand for asserting that Evangelicals believe what the Bible says. More colloquially expressed: The Bible says what it means and it means what it says.But due to the nature of such symbolic language in prophecy, to contend for a “literalist” interpretation opens the door to all kinds of criticism, but most importantly disclosing one’s ignorance of the Bible itself; for oftentimes a symbol is explained by Jesus, Paul, Peter, John or the writer of the Book of Hebrews in plain language. All sorts of examples could be adduced here. And while this would sidetrack us into an interesting rabbit hole, it would sidetrack us nonetheless. Suffice it to say, as Jesus related alongside explaining to the Apostles the parable of the sower. Understanding is a gift from God’s Holy Spirit that only those who have ears to hear will understand: “But for others I use stories, so they will look, but not see, and they will hear, but not understand. And he answered, ‘The knowledge of the secrets of the Kingdom of God has been given to you, but to the rest it comes by means of parables, so that they may look but not see, and listen but not understand.’” (Luke 8:10, cf. Isaiah 6:9, Ezekiel 12:2, Acts 28:26)
This reality, that hearing and understanding– and not just writing Scripture, is also an inspiration of the Spirit makes for another paradoxical aspect of knowing the Bible is true. We should not understand anything in the Bible that would lead us to do something wrong-headed, like “making ourselves a Eunuch for the Kingdom of God” by literally damaging our genitals. Jesus said, “For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.” (Matthew 19:12)
Conclusion: Irrational Truth and Personal Truth
Choosing to restrain oneself from sexual pleasure (or to exercise “the Pauline gift” and never marry), for some has resulted in a deeper knowledge of God and advancement of “Kingdom causes.” But for others who felt they could figuratively (not literally) make themselves Eunuchs, it has been disastrous. It appears to have created unspeakable sin among many Catholic clergy. So only those who can hear, should hear what our Lord is teaching in this passage. Knowing that the Bible is true also means knowing how it is true for you. This does not make scriptural truth irrational as S.K. professes – but it does make it very personal.
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