Historians and Theologians: One Method, Two Conclusionsby Rit Nosotro
Describe the different approaches in contextual criticism and interpretation that a secular historian and theologian use to understand religious documents such as the Torah or Acts of the Apostles.
Secular historians and theologians use various methods to test the veracity of a given historical document, such as the New Testament scriptures. Though the methods they use are basically the same, the conclusions aren't always identical. One reason for this is that these two groups of people start out with different fundamental assumptions. A theologian assumes that the Bible is the infallible Word of God; most historians do not. Also, most theologians believe that the earth is less than 10,000 years old 1, while those who believe in evolution are of the opinion that it is at least 4 billion years old 2. Although the theologian and the historian (herein "historian" referrences secular historians) come to different conclusions, they use basically the same method.
In order to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that a document is reliable, both historians and theologians use several tests, sometimes called truth tests. These include questions like the following:3 Is this document consistent within itself? Does it use the language/grammar/idiom of the time? Are the references to government officials accurate? Do other authors of the same or later eras mention this? Do copies agree with the original and when did the author write in relation to the events recorded? Was the author a reasonably reliable person? In the case of the New Testament, the answer to all these questions is yes. The New Testament is consistent with itself, uses the language of the first century A.D., and refers to government officials not referred to elsewhere, but who definitely occupied offices of the type referred to. One example of this is Pontius Pilate. Until 1961, no evidence of his existence, outside the Bible, had been found. However, in 1961, two archeologists dug up a placard with the inscription: "Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea, has presented the Tiberium to the Cesareans." 4 There are references to the authors of the New Testament by their contemporaries and others later in history. The New Testament was written within the first century A.D., probably between 40 A.D. and 100 A.D.. The authors were all eye-witnesses of the events they recorded. A copy of the whole New Testament, dated 125 A.D. is the earliest complete copy that has been found to this point. Thus, there was a maximum of about 85 years for the earliest books of the New Testament to be distorted and only 25 years for the later ones. 5While there may have some distortion during that time, it is unlikely that the actual text would have changed drastically. Finally, the various authors of the New Testament are apparently quite trustworthy (Luke 1:1-3).
The theologian, when seeking to prove the New Testament's authenticity, cannot simply say that it is the Word of God and is therefore the truth. If asked how he knew it was true, his only answer would be, "Because the New Testament says so and it is infallible." Such reasoning is illogical. This is why he uses the tests above. They are to convince others, not himself, of its reliability. Having used the various tests, it becomes obvious to those who believe that there is a God, that the New Testament was inspired by him.
The historian, using the same process, probably would not come to exactly the same conclusion as the theologian. Although the evidence would compel him to believe that the New Testament was authentic, he probably still wouldn't believe that it was inspired by the only true God and that the miracles recorded in it had actually happened. This is because, for the most part, historians make one assumption: there is no God. This is incorrect. There is evidence of God's precise engineering in everything from the way the universe works to the minuscule atoms which compose it and the infinitesimal protons, neutrons, and electrons of which the atoms are made. Despite this, however, most people stubbornly adhere to the idea that everything happened by chance. This hypothesis is called evolution.
Thus it is apparent that, although two people may start out with the same document, follow the same method, and use the same evidence, they can come to quite different conclusions. This is because of the initial assumptions they make. The one who presupposes that there is a God, comes to the conclusion that God inspired the Bible, and that the Bible is true. The other presupposing evolution, may conclude that, although much of the Bible is true, it is contains myth outside of scientific explanation and is not the word of God. Why are these groups predisposed to such bias? It is because, "the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. ...God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; ...that no flesh should glory in his presence" (1 Corinthians 1:18-29).1. Charles Kimball. A Biblical Interpretation of World History, Chapter 1. The Xenophile Historian. (Jan. 10, 2004)
2. Chris Stassen. The Age of the Earth. The Talk.Origins Archive. (Jan. 10, 2004) http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-age-of-earth.html
3. Jerry Stokes. Historicity. (Jan 9, 2004) http://churches.net/churches/utmiss/Hisword/Hisword7.html#THE%20BIBLE%20AND %20HISTORICITY
4. Archaeology and the Bible. Witness Box Ministries, Inc. (Jan. 9, 2004) http://220.127.116.11/rchristo/P304.html
5. Jerry Stokes. Historicity. (Jan 9, 2004) http://churches.net/churches/utmiss/Hisword/Hisword7.html#THE%20BIBLE%20AND %20HISTORICITY
These sites are also interesting:
Jimmy Williams. Are the Biblical Documents Reliable? Probe Ministries. (Jan. 9, 2004)
Pat Zukeran. Archaeology and the Old Testament. Probe Ministries. (Jan. 9, 2004)
Additional information about <http://hyperhistory.net/apwh/essays/comp/cw03biasinterpretation.htm>
The above essay was donated to hyperhistory.net.
of inaccuracies or plagiarism.
Post a link to this essay,
a great essay
on your blog or website :
|Comparative Essays||Biographies||Doc. Based Questions||Change Over Time|