Thursday, July 31, 2008

Canonization? Divine Inspiration?

I was wondering about the legitimacy of the Bible as a whole unit. What does "God-breathed" or "divine inspiration" really mean? What constitutes the criteria for being in the Bible, and how is it that a council had the authority to choose it? Is it really relevant to insist on the truth of every aspect of the entire Bible (e.g. does whether Paul actually wrote all those letters have any impact on our faith)? A friend of mine came up with a fairly interesting analogy: how is the collections of the Bible different from a council of scholars coming up with a British literature anthology? Sure, you can pick out key relevant works, but how can you reduce all of Brit lit into just those few works? And what would it take for the resulting anthology to be considered the definitive tome of Brit lit?

7 comments:

Sue said...

I don't know everything about this topic, but as far as compiling the New Testament goes, the nature was significantly different from creating an anthology of literature. In the area of literature each work would be equally qualified in the sense that they're each equally British and equally literary. The rest of the judgment would be pretty subjective. But when picking out books for the New Testament, not all books are equal; there are some pretty objective standards.

The books that were considered canon were those which were historically reliable-- they could be dated to very soon after the events they describe, such that contemporaries could contest the accuracy of their accounts, whereas other books were dated to have been written over 100 years after Jesus' life. Furthermore the content of the canonized books was already widely accepted and practiced from the very beginnings of the church. In effect, those books were selected by the council not because they supported some agenda by the council, but because the council was going along with what the churches already considered as standard. So it was not as if the canonization process was just "pick and choose the books you like," so much as it was "which books do we already know to be reliable?"

I dunno much about the topic of divine inspiration, though.

Daniel Kim said...

I think Sue put it nicely - a huge part of the canonization process is determining the historical accuracy of the books, which really doesn't come into play when choosing for a British lit anthology. So I don't think the analogy with the anthology really works. Perhaps a better analogy would be if people were trying to put together an authoritative account of the life/work of Martin Luther King Jr. At that point, you see how we would apply a whole different criteria, and the choice is a lot more clear.. These days, though, even history is viewed as sort of arbitrary writings, so I'm not sure how this might fly with a die-hard postmodernist. They might say that even for the life of MLK Jr, who knows what the truth is? I think that's pretty silly, though.

Regarding divine inspiration, do others have thoughts?

Stephanie said...

But I think the follow-up question is...ARE all the books in the Bible equal? There's been debates about how some books might not have actually been written by Paul. If that were true, or if they aren't all equal, what are the implications of that for Christians? How are we to rightly view/relate to the Bible?

Daniel Kim said...

It's true that some books' authorship is in question. And for some books (like Hebrews), it's pretty clear that it is NOT Paul (it never claims itself to be), and in fact, we don't even know who the author is - although some people guess that it might be Apollos or Barnabas.

How are we to treat these books? Or how about obvious editorial comments made in the Bible? (like the section in Exodus where it talks about Moses' death as a parenthetical statement - surely, that can't be written by Moses himself!) Or how about 1 Cor 7:12, where Paul talks about his personal preference that is not a command from God?

More interestingly, what if we found some more books that Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church? (it is thought that 2 of the 4 letters written to the Corinthians are missing). If we found them now, would we open up the canon again and introduce these 2 new books into the Bible?

These are some issues that can facilitate thinking through this. I am in no position to say with any authority, but I would say that even if people found the lost letters of Paul, we would not open up the canon again. Sure, we'll treat those letters with the greatest interest, but I don't think Christians would re-open up the canon, because authority of the particular books of the Bible has to do with much more than just authorship.

To let you know, even the editorial additions are considered to be a part of Scripture by the Christian mainstream. That doesn't mean, though, that people treat the editorial additions to be on the same level of significance as all other parts of Scripture.

I don't have too much time to discuss these issues at length, but hopefully the above issues can help us think through what canonization means in a non-simplistic way. I think canonization and theological understanding of divine inspiration might be more robust than what most people imagine them to be. Will continue at a later time, but if you have any followup questions, please post.

Wynn said...

On issues regarding the Pauline letters, how can we claim that some possible pseudoepigraphas are reliable sources to include in the Holy Scriptures? It seems weird to take forgeries as sources for the Bible. So for these letters to be reliable, mustn't they be authentic? But scholars and historians say some of the most integral and beloved passages, including Colossians, Ephesians, 1&2 Timothy, for example, could not have been by Paul. I've heard the argument that Paul was writing to different audiences and at different times, thus the differences in literary style. But I have to say, I find it hard to believe that they would be so naive to not take this into account - especially since historians always emphasize context, context, context. What can we say on this issue?

Daniel Kim said...

The authorship issues is a huge apologetics issue that gets talked about all the time, so I think it would be beyond me to go through all the arguments here. But suffice it to say that when the liberal biblical scholars claim that they know that they are not written by a particular author, you should take that with a huge grain of salt.

One of the things that we have to realize in order to get our minds around liberal biblical scholarship is this: No one gives out a Ph.D. for repeating the same idea.

In other words, Ph.D.'s are handed out to someone who comes up with a new idea or perspective. Given that fact, you can almost immediately guess that such a reward structure would engender liberal scholarship, because you get a Ph.D. if you come up with a new theory about the Bible. Not only that, the media pays attention to the new theories and controversies. They are not going to write about how so-and-so biblical scholars showed that Ephesians was indeed written by Paul. They will naturally be attracted to the controversial. So I think our understanding of the prevalence of the authorship controversy might be a bit skewed.

Daniel Kim said...

Well, that's the background. Now for some apologetics.. Regarding audience and context... I would say that whole effort of looking for stylistic differences to know who wrote what is a difficult science, especially when it comes to biblical authorship. The problem is that many of these liberal scholars treat the Bible writers as some kind of novel writers, in which case the language and vocabulary are quite similar, even across decades. But when it comes to people involved in ministry, I can tell you that even in rather stable circumstances as where I find myself now, my writing and vocabulary have changed quite a lot within just 10 years. A few months ago, I had a chance to re-read some of my reflections a decade ago, and I hardly recognized it as my own writing. I used transitions and conjunctions that I don't ever use any more, and I use vocabulary that I don't use any more. The reason, I guess, would be that I learned and experienced so much. And boy, when compared to Paul.. Paul and the biblical writers experienced infinitely more than I did.

Well, those are just anectotal evidence.. but there is one famous anecdote that demonstrates powerfully the fact that liberal literary scholarship is not to be trusted all that much. The thing with liberal literary analysis is that they always get done against dead authors. So there is really no way to checking for veracity. However, there was one time in which they did it against someone who was alive, which was C.S. Lewis. Some critics decided to figure out the genesis of Lewis' work, and when they did, Lewis said that their analysis "often sound - if you didn't know the truth - extremely convincing." But he goes on to say, "not one of these guesses has on any one point been right; the method shows a record of 100 per cent failure. You would expect that by mere chance they would hit as often as they miss. But it is my impression that they do no such thing. I can't remember a single hit." In response to the possible objection that Lewis is unfairly comparing biblical scholars to book critics, Lewis states: "Consider with what overwhelming advantages the mere reviewers start. They reconstruct the history of a book written by someone whose mother-toungue is the same as theirs; a contemporary, educated like themselves [...] They have everything to help them. The superiority of judgment and diligence which you are going to attribute to the biblical critics will have to be almost superhuman if it is to offset the fact that they are everywhere faced with customs, language, race-characteristics, a religious background, habits of composition, and basic assumption, which no scholarship will ever enable any man now alive to know as surely and intimately and instictively as the reviewer can know mine."

For a full read of this essay by C.S. Lewis, take a look at the article Modern Theology and Biblical Cricitism, which quotes Lewis in its entirety.

So basically, as hard as it is to believe that liberal theologians / scholars would be that blatantly biased, the more you study, the more I trust that you would realize that many of them are. For example, many liberal literary scholars date certain sections of the O.T. at a much later date. Their reason? Because they contain accurate predictions, and prophecies and predictions are impossible. So they say, "well, Isaiah 53 was obviously written into the OT by the early Christian church..." until, of course, we found the Dead Sea Scrolls. I think Lewis' full article expresses this sentiment far better than I ever can, so I want to refer you to that.