By Fadi Abu-Deeb
Considering the fact that our understanding of a text can always be developed according to our increased understanding of historical, cultural and philosophical context, so an important question arises: How should we approach toward the Bible?
If we were to be faithful and honest toward the biblical text as real humble scholars or researchers, we must lay aside most of our presuppositions and dogmas to begin with, if not all of them (This depends on our definition of what is a dogma), and then study the text with the help of many factors including language, history, plain reason, philosophical ideas that formed the content of the historical background of a studied text, conscience, the common wisdom and spirituality in the time of the text and the observation of movement of history and natural world. Excluding the philosophy, reason and nature from this procedure is very dangerous, because that would isolate the text from the environment that produced it and give the wrong idea as if the text is unique spiritually and intellectually and out of time and place.
The Bible presents many examples of using a combination of plain reason and intuition to recognize a reality. In John 3 Nicodemus declared that Jesus had come from God according to an observation of his deeds. The Samaritan woman in John 4 is another example of using plain reason and intuition to know The Messiah without depending on a detailed study of the Messianic prophecies. In the same way we can look into the Bible and be sure of its divine origin by studying the teleological nature toward God. Bible doesn’t declare modern biblical issues like “Verbal Inspiration”, but it clearly manifests its divine nature, because by using plain reason we can say that non-divine can’t witness for the divine, and it’s clear that the Bible presents a very beautiful transfiguration of the divine attributes so that we can be sure of its divine origin, but in the same time that doesn’t guarantee a unified understanding of all the details by the writers, because The Holy Spirit worked through the personalities of the writers, which could mean that He worked through their limits of understanding of the theological and ontological truths. Hence, there’s no problem if James was less interested in affirming the salvation by faith alone and stayed believing in some kind of work-based salvation according to the grace of God that paved the road between God and humanity as a collective entity. In the end, both Paul and James focused on the primary role of God in achieving salvation and that believers should cling to Him totally.
I’m aware of the possibility of the reconciliation of Paul in Romans and James, but what I mean that even if a scholar couldn’t reconcile them (like Martin Luther) there’s still no problem of contradiction, because it’s just a difference in understanding and concentration, and in the end God is the Savior of the humble (Look at the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18). In the same time, perhaps we must consider the factual reality that people in old times might have had a different measure of contradiction and right and wrong, which means that we ought to be careful in judging their ways of writing.
Ignoring the historical critical approach to the Bible gives no benefit to the Bible and Faith, for this will be just avoidance a kind of deep searching, and an indirect confession that the Bible is valid only in some ways of study and reading. But If the Bible was the true breathes of God (2 Tim 3: 16), then no kind of studies could hide its glory and truth, because the Word of God is “quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”(Hebrews 4: 12)
I believe that without considering this almost-unbiased approach, we will still find the answers that we want or expect somehow, and no new discoveries or visions about God, human, natural law and their interrelations with each other can be figured out. Our controlling presuppositions and prejudices might sometimes prevent us from understanding the message of God correctly. One may think that we can’t get rid of these presuppositions and prejudices totally (and that’s true because many of them are rooted in us deeply and unconsciously), but at least we can lay aside our dogmas, statements of faith and confessions for a period of time. Anyway, this approach is not originally an invention of High Criticism School. Anselm of Canterbury, for instance, tried to prove the necessity of incarnation of God using logical arguments and trying to follow a “remoto Christo” way of thinking.
Starting a biblical study with supposing the verbal inspiration of Bible and the full harmony amongst the books of the Bible could be unsuitable for an objective or almost-objective study. It could be good for a church class, but it’s not a scientific way. On the other hand, assuming the contradictory nature of the Bible and denying the miracles and the supernatural components from the very beginning is also unfaithful and unscientific approach, because it presupposes the existence of a lie or a conspiracy in the Bible, and also limits the whole human and natural existence by a very narrow empirical materialistic view (Which contradicts the whole history of thought that should be recognized and respected). In brief, one must respect the text he reads or study as, at least, an expression of someone’s genuine thought and belief.
As for a researcher or scholar, divine verbal inspiration ought to be examined, and when I say “examined” that means neither belief nor denial. It means putting this issue aside while studying. Hence, a probability of the existence of contrasts amongst the writers and the books of the Bible ought to be considered, affirming in the same time that it doesn’t refute the holiness and integrity of God. We mustn’t impose our ways, idioms and measures of integrity on God, for the ultimate goal of God is to save people and gives them enlightenment and knowledge of the Life- the real eternal Life (John 3: 17 and other places), and not giving them beautiful and perfect doctrinal and denominational systems.
Anyway, salvation depends on the person’s will of dependence on the God the infinite. The real sin is to ignore God, to deny who He is and who I am, to switch the positions between me and Him so I waste the factual view of the ontological Reality. Salvation is an exodus from the self toward The Creator. It’s a restoration of the first letter of real undistorted knowledge of God and self. And whatever the Apostles preached or wrote, they did it to serve well this ultimate goal.
Paul said the all of the Book is breathes of God. This could mean that the spirit of the Ultimate and The Infinite is present everywhere in the Bible, even in the weakest stories or in the limited understanding and imagination. All of them direct the reader to the glory of the Infinite and remove the centralization from the one’s self, i.e, every story in the Bible (literal or as a legend as some people want to believe) is revealing and fighting the sin of switching positions between God and Man (the actual sin of Eden). The truth doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re going to have a perfect systematic theology.