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Entries in Biblical Interpretation (2)


Supernatural pre-suppositions

My seminary class is a survey of the entire bible. Part of the content is examining presence of contradictory views on Scripture. Competing views exist, and it is the prof's responsibility to discuss them with us. One of the matters we discussed as we studied the Pentateuch was the numbers in Numbers, specifically, the census numbers.

There is an objection raised from some areas that if we take the census numbers literally, the number of people is much too large for the ancient world. One critique pointed out that if we took the numbers literally, the population then was bigger than the Gaza Strip today. There were also objections regarding the logistical matters of moving such a large group of people, and matters such as sanitation and livestock. Some critics of a literal reading of the numbers believe that the numbers are an example of hypberbole.

One could spend a lot of time wrangling through such arguments. My prof's motive for discussing them is not to question the integrity of God's word, but to ask us to think about why we believe what we believe. As I thought about these issues, my reaction was, "God is God. Of course he could manage such things."

Our pre-suppositions are important. Do I believe that God is a God of the miraculous? Of the supernatural? The same word that discusses these numbers in Numbers is the same word that a few books earlier said that God created the world, that God opened the way for the Israelites to pass through the Red Sea, that Noah was preserved in the flood. These things are supernatural. If God can open up the Red Sea, he can deal with large numbers in the desert. If God can raise Christ from the dead, he can take care of livestock and waste matters. If we cannot accept a supernatural God, then yes, we will struggle with biblical matters.

A few years ago, I had a young person ask me for a book about the bible that was written from a completely objective viewpoint. I told this young person that I did not believe for one minute that there was such a thing. Everyone comes to the Bible with pre-suppositions. When I read the Bible, I read it with the pre-supposition that it is not just a handful of paper, leather, and ink. It's an inspired word; it is a revelatory word. It is God's word. Belief in that alone demands a belief in the supernatural.

If we want to persuade someone that the bible is God's word and we try to persuade them using the bible itself, we will be in for a struggle. There must come a moment of faith when we approach the bible for what it is. And God must give us that faith. As for our witness to others, all we can do is continue to live according to its truth, to continue to believe. No, we do not suspend our intellect, but neither do we exalt it above God. 

I have to read the entire bible by December 5. I am almost finished the Old Testament. In reading it in such large chunks, and at such a pace, I have seen the miracle that is the bible. It really is far too amazing for someone to have thought up on his own.


Book thoughts - Invitation to Biblical Interpretation

Andreas Köstenberger and Richard Patterson's book Invitation to Biblical Interpretation  presents biblical interpreation using a "hermeneutical triad," of history, literature, and theology.  This means that we read the bible as a book written in history and whose events were a part of redemptive history. Of course, history is important.  In an age in love with novel and the new, sometimes we forget the importance of history.

Chapter 2 of this book spends a lot of time putting the biblical account within its historical context, identifying various time periods that are significant.  For example, the period of the divided monarchy encompasses the time period from the death of Solomon until the collapse of the northern and southern kingdoms.  These dates can be very useful as we look around and see what was going on elsewhere in the world.  Those events are part of the historical-cultural context of when the events in Scripture happened.

The authors provide a really great chart in this chapter, providing the names of key figures and events in the Second Temple Period (that time between the rebuilding of the temple in 516 BC and the destruction by the Romans in 70 AD).  In addition to identifying the individuals and events, such as Alexander the Great and Antiochus Ephiphanes, the significance of these things is provided as well.

I really like this kind of thing.  It brings me back to the days when I first had any interest in history of any kind.  My wonderful history teacher, Mr. O'Hearn, forced us to look at historical events for their lasting significance rather than just regurgitating facts.  I remember well my final exam in my last year of high school. There were 100 historical events and names to identify as well as their historical significance.  We had ninety minutes to finish the exam.  It was demanding and difficult, but it was the best class I ever had in high school, and it made the transition to university level historical studies much easier.

We cannot get away from the reality that the Word of God is an account which is historical.  These things we read of really happened, and had a context in which they happened.  Furthermore, these events were written after they occurred. God had to sovereignly inspire the writers to include that which He wanted included in the Scriptures.  It's really quite amazing when we think about it. I don't understand how anyone who does not believe these events to have really happened to regard this as a Word from God.  But then, there are those who don't, and look upon the Bible as nothing but a collection of metaphors.  To really benefit from this word, one must presuppose that it is the Word of God and that it really happened.