Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Bible Is Not History

The Bible is theology. That does not mean that it is not firmly rooted in history. It is. The Old Testament Survey class recently read the story of the tower of Babel in Genesis 11. As we observed carefully the details of the tower's construction and the culture of the people who built it and compared those to the technology and social milieu of the early Sumerian civilization we noticed wonderful correlation - the proliferation of religions, powerful kings, fired bricks and tar for mortar, all that is there. This event is firmly anchored in real history. But it is not history. It is theology.

The point of the story (that is the theological lesson to be learned) is that God is preventing man from doing all that they might plan. God is holding back the evil that is in man's heart until God's time for removing constraint. In particular, God is maintaining control so that in the fullness of time when he would send his Son into the world, the world would be ready.

But how often when that story is told do we hear the real point of the story?

The same is true of the creation narrative in Genesis 1 and 2. In recent years most Christians have read that story as history, and we've gotten hung up on the details and how they do or do not correlate with the science and history we read in text books and popular news media. We have allowed the critics and skeptics to control the discussion. That is our fault. The Creation narrative is not history or science; it is theology.

If that means anything, it means the story has a point, and the point is not hard to discover. It is that God did it. He created everything. And when it comes to the creation of man, it is that man is special, unique, capable of communion with God as no other earthly creature, capable of ruling over the creation as God's vice-regent (or destroying it), and that he is a moral being having the freedom to make moral choices and the understanding of what is right and wrong.

Compare that to what we know about man today and it is right on. The Bible speaks the truth about us, a truth that we need to pay attention to, especially when it comes to the third chapter and the fall of man into sin. And it speaks the truth about God. But we get hung up on questions like when did God create, where was the Garden of Eden, and did snakes have legs.

The same is true of the New Testament. It is not history. It is theology. Now without question it is rooted in history. There are few documents from the past as specific and detailed and accurate as the New Testament, so much so that we can be as sure historically that Jesus lived, died on a cross, and rose from the dead as we can of any other event - even more so. But again, if we allow the media to set the agenda we will end up defending the historicity of the accounts rather than declaring the gospel. And there is no saving power in that.

I am convinced after years now of engaging skeptics and critics of the Bible and watching as others have that we have failed in large part because we've not declared the gospel - the theology - of the Bible. That is changing, thank the Lord. But it is worth remembering still that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, not reason and argument about less significant things.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If you really believe this -- why do you insist that God commanded the Caananite genocides? Because your position has changed in the past three years?