Quotes About the Bible and History

 

Arthur Wainwright

History or Literature or Scripture?

"One of the reasons for the widespread ignorance and neglect of the Bible is the failure to study it sufficiently from the viewpoint of faith. All too often it is assumed that a serious examination of the Scriptures can only treat them as historical documents. In a great deal of modern investigation the Bible is regarded as a collection of materials for research into ancient history and culture. Scholars claim to approach it without any presuppositions of faith. 

If they have any personal religious beliefs about it, they put them in cold storage whenever they indulge in scholarship. The books of the Old and New Testaments, they maintain, are to be treated in the same way as any other documents used for research into the history, religion and culture of the ancient world. Viewed in this light, Old Testament scholarship is part of the study of the ancient Near East, and New Testament scholarship is part of the study of Graeco-Roman civilization. 

Some modern critics put their emphasis on the Bible as literature. They vary in their interests in this field of investigation. Some of them concentrate on an inquiry into the authorship and sources of the biblical books, and the purposes and situations for which they were written. 

Others concentrate on an analysis of the form and structure of the books and the passages contained in them. Yet others combine both these aspects of literary criticism. But whichever kind of inquiry they undertake, they claim to be objective and to examine the Bible without any assumptions of religious belief. 

The study of the Bible as historical material and as literature is a worthy enterprise, not to be despised, but it is not purely historical and literary concerns which have led people to become students of the biblical writings. A large number, at any rate of those who undertake the study of their own free choice, are attracted to the Bible because they regard it as Scripture. 

They read it not because of a detached interest in Scripture as a particular kind of literature, but because they regard the Old and New Testaments as sacred writings which are vehicles of a unique divine revelation. Ironically, the concern which has led many people to become students of the Bible is not uppermost in the minds of some of its teachers. A large proportion of the students regard it primarily as Scripture. 

Many of the teachers treat it primarily as literature or historical source-material. It Is indeed legitimate for a teacher to point out that there are more dimensions to the study of a subject than the pupils imagine; but it is legitimate also to consider if the reasons for a student's interest in the subject are valid ones. 

Sometimes the impression is given that the study of the Bible in the light of faith is an inferior activity to academic research. When this impression is given, the kind of inquiry, which is needed for the Bible to be used as Scripture, is often stifled. 

It is as Scripture, however, that most people regard the Bible when they are attracted to the study of it. Many are the theories about its inspiration and authority, but whatever theory is adopted, the Bible is prominent in the Church because it is assumed to have a unique function in relation to the Christian faith. 

Within the Church it is the text for preaching and teaching, because it is believed to provide access to divine truth, and, above all, to Jesus Christ himself. It is a collection of documents of faith, and deserves to be read from the viewpoint of faith. 

It is not sufficient for it to be treated as a collection of historical source-material or an anthology of works of literature. It needs to be studied as Scripture. 

There have always been scholars, who have given recognition to this aspect of biblical study. The great commentators of the past had no hesitation in approaching the books of the Bible in this way, but in recent years, this approach has been often neglected. 

Fortunately, interest in it continues, and recognition is being given to the need to understand the Bible as Scripture. When the Bible is regarded in this light, attention begins to be paid to the interpretations given by writers in past generations. 

Instead of concentrating mainly on what modern scholars have said about it, the interpreter examines the impact which it has made on people, both Jewish and Christian, who have accepted it as their Scripture. 

Even this kind of investigation could become merely historical, and confine itself to an examination of other people's reaction to the books of the Bible. People who read the Bible from the viewpoint of faith are people who can say, 'This is my Scripture'. 

They do not sit on the fence theologically, holding themselves aloof from any commitment of faith. They are ready to descend into the arena, where men and women live by belief in the divine revelation to which the Bible bears witness. There is a time for sitting on the fence. 

There is also a time for coming down into the arena; a time for reading Scripture in the light of faith; a time for letting it function in daily life."

 
Arthur Wainwright, "Beyond Biblical Criticism" (Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press 1982) pp. 2-5

 


Bibliography on Ancient Customs

The Art of Ancient Egypt, Revised by Robins, 272 Pages, Pub. 2008
 

Return to Ancient Customs

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Biblical Archaeology

Bible History Online

 

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