More bad religion reporting

An article in the Associated Press reports that a software developer in Israel has created software that can discern with precision the voices of the different authors who wrote the Torah. Bible scholars have believed for some time that different authors are responsible for writing different parts of these books, and an editor later compiled them into their final form. This is an area of scholarship known as “source criticism.” This explains, for example, why there are two Creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2, and why they differ in tone, tenor, and emphasis.

Since the intent of these stories is not to offer a scientific or historical account of Creation—the fields of science and history as we know them today didn’t exist—both Creation stories communicate deep truths about God, humanity, and our relationship with God.

I’ve never been troubled by the likelihood that the Torah was written by different writers and later edited together. There’s nothing at stake for me, theologically, in the question. It doesn’t call into question its inspiration. The Holy Spirit was at work throughout the writing and editing process, and, since the Bible was written in an oral rather than a literary culture, the origins of the stories themselves long predate their being written down.

With that in mind, get a load of this paragraph:

For millions of Jews and Christians, it’s a tenet of their faith that God is the author of the core text of the Hebrew Bible – the Torah, also known as the Pentateuch or the Five Books of Moses. But since the advent of modern biblical scholarship, academic researchers have believed the text was written by a number of different authors whose work could be identified by seemingly different ideological agendas and linguistic styles and the different names they used for God.

What on earth does this first sentence even mean? It’s a “tenant of [our] faith that God is the author of the core text of the Hebrew Bible”? Even before modern Bible scholarship of the past 200 years or so, Jews and Christians didn’t believe that God was the author of scripture in the sense that these books fell out of heaven like Joseph Smith’s golden plates, nor did they believe that its human authors took dictation from God.

God’s “authorship” (if you even want to use that term—I wouldn’t) is far more indirect. Christians talk about scripture being “inspired” by God, not “authored” by God. There’s a difference.

Notice the troubling beginning of that second sentence: “But since…” The writer wrongly implies that this aspect of modern scholarship has called into question God’s “authorship.” I guess if one believes that scripture did fall out of the sky, then this would call that into question. But we Christians have never believed that, so what does it matter? Besides, many of those same “academic researchers” who accept the multiple-source theory are themselves also believers. That certainly describes all the the Old Testament faculty at the seminary I went to.

This is an example of a news story purporting to say that modern science is undermining religious faith. It’s setting the two in conflict where no conflict exists. If you watch for this mistake, you’ll start seeing it everywhere.

4 thoughts on “More bad religion reporting”

  1. Brent, I think the “secular media” (not intending to be all-inclusive) seems to have a bias against biblical inspiration, probably because they don’t want to accept scripture’s ethical demands and the Lordship of Christ (to whom every knee should bow; and, someday, when eternity arrives, WILL). Personally, I believe in the Mosaic authorship, although I certainly agree that I don’t believe in any “dictation” method of inspiration. I think God used the characteristics, knowledge, and styles of those he “inspired” to get us what he wants us to have. I also agree with Paul to the effect (KJV) that “All scripture is inspired by God, and is profitable for DOCTRINE, for CORRECTION, for REPROOF, for INSTRUCTION IN RIGHTEOUSNESS.”

    That having been said, I also believe that scripture holds together better, and is more consistent with the use of O.T. scriptures in the N.T., to see the O.T. passages which would otherwise seem to be basically “literal” on their face (were it not for the “miraculous” aspects of what is recounted) as actually being so. Correct me if I am wrong, but I can’t think of a single N.T. (and particularly Jesus’) reference to an O.T. passage which treats the O.T. passage as being “allegorical only” and the like. Luke even traces Jesus’ ancestry all the way back to Adam. Paul certainly seems to be taking Adam as the “first” man in a way that is comparative to Christ as the “new” man (or some similar terminology).

    Recognizing the objection that this view is not “scientific,” I believe, first, that, as the KJV also says, much of the “science” which is raised in opposition is “falsely so called.” Even more to the point, however, the primary thrust of secular evolutionary claims is that everything occurred “normally” from some purely “physical” point of origin without any supernatural “interventions.” Once belief in a supernatural God who is quite capable of “intervening” actions in the nature he created is granted, there is little reason to oppose the exact types of “intervention” that scripture claims God engaged in. I of course don’t want to or have the time to get into a “passage by passage” and “event by event” analysis of that proposition, but most notably if God DID create by “intervention,” there is no reason why he did not create the universe “full grown,” as it were, to support the “full grown” Adam that God says he started with. Surely we cannot charge God with lying or “tricking” if a tree God created was chopped down for firewood by Adam had the number of rings in it that a tree of that size would otherwise contain had it developed from a sapling, as opposed to “in process.” Especially if that is how God SAID he did it (created “full grown”–let there be stars, and there were). In my estimation, the farther away we move from such “literal-ness,” the weaker our claim for “inspiration” becomes, as a result of which the “authority” we claim for passages that we simply cannot cede ground on is harder to maintain. If we can’t stand firm on the one point, on what basis can we ask them to listen to our claim on another based on “inspiration by God.”

    1. I’m sure much of the media are biased—and mostly ignorant—about core teachings of the Christian faith. It’s not the journalist’s job to agree or disagree with the church; it’s his job to accurately report what the church believes when that belief is relevant. This reporter failed miserably to represent the church’s understanding of biblical inspiration and the authority of scripture. Even if you accept Mosaic authorship, you reject the article’s claim that God “authored” scripture in any sort of direct way—which this multiple-source theory somehow contradicts and science is beating religion once again! Ridiculous! And this sort of thing happens all the time. It has the effect of saying, “One day, science will prove that religion is all bunk.”

      We’ve already discussed this on Paul’s blog, I’m sure, but I don’t agree with your point about allegory. I keep an open mind about the historicity of miracles in the O.T., but I don’t think there’s as much at stake in them as you do. In other words, Jonah doesn’t need to have been in the belly of a fish for three days—historically, literally—for Jesus’ point about his resurrection to be true. Jesus’ resurrection doesn’t hinge on whether Jonah was an historical person and things transpired just this way. Jesus made his point using the story of Jonah. In the world of that story, Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days, and Jesus’ listeners would have gotten the point (or, likely, they didn’t get it, but that was their problem).

      Also, remember in one of Paul’s letters where he refers to Moses getting water from the rock, and he says that “the rock was Jesus Christ”? Paul is being completely allegorical there, since—if it did happen as reported, and I have no reason to doubt it—I’m sure that Moses didn’t literally poke Jesus with a staff! I’m also more comfortable than you interpreting Paul’s words about Adam figuratively—Adam as an allegory of fallen humanity in general. Where I don’t think anything important is at stake in the question, theologically, I tend to concede the point to my “opponents.” Maybe that’s a bad strategy, but in our late modern context, I’d rather stake my faith on things like the resurrection of Jesus, which I can and do passionately defend.

      If I can’t make a strong case for the historicity of something in the Bible, and there isn’t anything at stake in the question, I just don’t get worked up about it—which isn’t necessarily the same as saying that I don’t personally believe it. You know? I don’t read any part of scripture and think to myself, “That didn’t really happen!” I can take it on faith; take it at face value. The question of what God is communicating to me through that scripture is more important than whether it happened just this way.

      But I actually do strongly agree with you that if you believe that God created the world in the first place, and God raised Jesus from the dead, how much harder is it to believe in the other miracles of scripture? I made that point in a sermon last Advent regarding the virgin birth. I’ve also said that about angels and demons, too: If we believe that God created the world and human beings, how much more difficult is it to believe that God also created these invisible, spiritual creatures, some of whom, like human beings, disobeyed God and experienced a Fall?

      It’s mostly difficult because of our modern bias. We may tell ourselves, “It’s very hard to believe in things that I can’t see—or at least that a scientist can’t see in a microscope, telescope, or supercollider, or infer from theories and equations. If I want to be a Christian, however, I have to believe in at least one ‘thing’ that I can’t see—God. And in that regard, Christianity is a bit tougher than the other Abrahamic faiths because God is also Trinity! And I have to believe in one hard-to-believe event—the resurrection. Or maybe I don’t… Maybe I can interpret it in a strictly spiritual way—the apostles just had an inward spiritual experience. Because lots of people have those, and those aren’t nearly so hard to believe.”

      Regardless, in a well-inentioned effort to make our faith more palatable to a modern sensibility, we try to minimize the number of hard-to-believe things that we Christians have to believe in. This was exactly the impulse behind the birth of liberal Christianity in the 19th century—to make Christianity respectable in the eyes of modern people. It was a well-intentioned but terribly misguided effort to accommodate modernity.

      The conservative side of the spectrum made an equal and opposite mistake in regards to inerrancy. Inerrancy was a well-intentioned effort to defend Christianity against modernist assaults on the authority of scripture. It did so, however, by accepting the premises of modernity: that if every jot and tittle doesn’t make sense from a strictly modern historical and scientific point of view, then we can throw the whole thing out.

      Inerrancy accommodates modernity by asking us to subject the authority of scripture to a modern playbook: in order for the Bible to be true as we understand truth today, it must conform to these standards of modern scientific and historical methodology. I reject that. An “error” as we define it today wasn’t necessarily an error when the Bible was written. These categories of thought didn’t necessarily exist back then. So inerrancy is hopelessly beholden to modernity—and modernity has mostly been a sum-negative for humanity.

      Even current debates about Genesis, evolution, and Creation accept the premises of modernity: If science can explain something, then there’s no need for God. It’s either/or. It’s either evolution or God, but not both. I reject that kind of binary thinking. First, because it limits God’s role in the universe mostly to a one-time intervention at the beginning. It’s a Deistic god who winds it up (or doesn’t) and sets it in motion. Once it’s in motion, the universe is on its own. Maybe there are occasional, miraculous interventions here and there, but mostly God is absent.

      The Christian understanding of Creation, by contrast, is that God is currently, at this moment, actively sustaining it into existence. We wouldn’t be here now if God’s Spirit weren’t enabling us to be so. Therefore every moment of life is an ongoing gift.

      I’ll get off my soapbox now. 😉

      1. Brent, thanks for your response. Let me say that I at least believe it is not necessary for someone to believe in “literal inerrancy” to be a Christian, or even a good and devout Christian. Indeed, for a considerable time in my earlier Christian walk, I believed there could be what I refer to as “minor errors,” such as any reporter of an actual event might make no matter how carefully he researched the subject of his article (i.e., see the “differences” in the gospel accounts–perhaps the reason God inspired FOUR of them to be written)–and from time to time I am still “nervous” on that issue. I also would agree that arguments for “inerrancy” must come substantially “down the road” from presenting what is truly “necessary” to accomplish salvation. However, I also agree that it is nonetheless “necessary” to believe in SOME “big-time” miracles–incarnation and resurrection–so, what is the problem as to believing the others? Thus, I think I may agree with 80% or more of your position, and can “respectfully” disagree with the other–which as you mention we have discussed on Paul’s blog. Thanks again for taking the effort and time to dialogue with me on this issue at such length. Tom

  2. Don’t mention it. It helps to organize my thoughts on the subject in writing. I might pull out a part of my reply to you in a separate post tomorrow (because I’m always looking for cheap ways to get new blog posts). 😉

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