Saturday, December 8, 2012
The Attack against Scripture
In case you have not noticed lately, one of the dumbest things a person could ever say in modern American culture is, “I believe it because the Bible says it.” That answer to any question is likely to evoke some of the most scornful responses you could ever imagine. The world has very little regard for the sacred text. In most instances, the world expresses absolute contempt for the contents of Scripture. Many people may be fine discussing the subject of God, or they may delight in a conversation about Jesus Christ. However, pull out the Bible, quote a verse, or even hint that your beliefs and positions or worse, your entire worldview is informed by the content of sacred Scripture and you are sure to see the eyes roll. This attack is nothing new. It has been around since almost the very beginning of time itself. What most Christians fail to recognize is the many forms of attack that exist, both within and without the Christian Church. This is the primary purpose of this blog post. I want to help you defend these attacks but at the same time, I want to provide some “pastoral” perspective (though I am not one) and help you recognize those times in your own thought process where you may be unwittingly attacking the Scripture yourself.
The Original Attack – Did God Speak?
Satan’s first recorded words to Eve are “hath God really said?” As Keil & Delitzsch points out, ‘ap̄ kî “is an interrogative expressing surprise (as in 1 Sam. 23:3, 2 Sam. 4:11). In other words, “is it really the case that God has prohibited you from eating the fruit of every tree in the garden?” Satan not only plants the seed for distrust with the content of his words, but he even uses some expressive creativity to play his destructive game of seduction and deception. The question of whether God has actually spoken is the inaugural attack against God speaking. The attack takes many forms, but this is the first one and perhaps the most common among fallen humans. One thing is certain: an incorrect response to the question of God speaking has devastating consequences.
A letter of Albert Einstein, dated to 1954 was auctioned off in 2008. In that letter, Mr. Einstein provides a glimpse into his views on the Bible. He says, "the word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish." In other words, God has not spoken and what some call God-speak is nothing more than a collection of primitive legends that are in fact, quite childish. These kinds of attacks against the idea of God speaking are direct frontal attacks. Man asserts, as did the serpent, that God did not speak.
The Second Attack – Did God Mean?
In his unsurpassed skills and ability to deceive, Satan moved immediately from his question regarding God’s prohibition to one of hermeneutics and exegesis. He begins with a direct contradiction of God’s word. God had said that violating His prohibition would bring certain death. Satan says, “not so,” and offers a new interpretation of what God meant. According to Satan, God is merely trying to prevent Adam and Eve from having their best life now.
In Matthew 4, we have the historical account of the temptation of Christ. This text more than any in Scripture, reveals a hermeneutical attack against God’s word. Satan is not going to bother with the idea that God spoke or even with what God said. His tactic and strategy has to be different in this case. He is dealing with the Son of God who knows full well that He has spoken, and what He has said. In hermeneutical attacks against Scripture, the attempt is still the same. Hermeneutical attacks against the word of God are designed to silence God on a specific subject by corrupting the meaning of God’s communication. What difference does it make if one person overtly denies the divine nature of all of Scripture that condemns homosexuality for instance while another person corrupts the specific text so as to present the view that God has not spoken against it? In the first case, man is the measure of all things. However, man is also the same measure of all things in the latter case. In both instances, the measure for God speaking is not God, but human rationality, that is, unaided human reason!
One of the most destructive philosophical approaches to hermeneutics comes in the form of what we call deconstructionism. Kevin Vanhoozer makes this observation: “Derrida, like Bacon, is an iconoclastic thinker, thought the idols that he seeks to overthrow concern meaning and interpretation. We might term these the idols of the sign: the idol of reliability (the sign corresponds to reality), the idol of determinacy (the sign has a single, fixed sense), and the idol of neutrality (the sign is a descriptive, not a prescriptive or political, instrument). Derrida is an unbeliever in the reliability, decidability, and neutrality of the sign. He seeks to “undo” their privileged place in Western culture through another reflection on signs that focuses on their instability, undecidability, and partiality.” [Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text? p. 39] Derrida takes Satan’s second approach to a whole new level. Satan attempts a different method of interpretation in order to tempt Christ. His method is devastating to biblical hermeneutics. Jacques Derrida takes the whole idea of hermeneutics to the world of complete subjectivism. In this world, all meaning must be deconstructed and reconstructed in the world of that individual. “Deconstruction is a painstaking taking-apart, a peeling away of the various layers – historical, rhetorical, ideological – of distinctions, concepts, texts, and whole philosophies, whose aim is to expose the arbitrary linguistic nature of their original construction. Deconstruction is an intense analytical method, occasionally perversely so, that results in the collapse from within of all that it touches.” [Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text? P. 52]
The metaphysics of meaning cease to exist in the philosophy of deconstruction. If signs do not correspond to reality, if they have no single, fixed meaning, if they are not intended to convey stable meaning, then communication is impossible. Hence, Derrida’s entire system collapses in on itself. All one needs to do is ask Derrida what he means when he says these things. As soon as he attempts to explain, he refutes himself. If he is consistent, he must be silent when the question of his own meaning is put to him. Either way, deconstruction, in attempting to deconstruct all meaning in the text has also deconstructed itself and is incapable of rebuilding any meaningful structure of interpretation, because all the tools necessary for reconstruction have been removed from the tool-box.
While all attacks against Scripture are not as laced with complex philosophies like this one, nevertheless, they share a common goal. Every attack against Scripture ab initio seeks to dispense with understanding the divine communication, either by eradicating the idea altogether or, by means of corrupting the message. What do we hear? We hear the Bible is not the word of God. The Bible is a book of fairly tells, myths and outrageous legends. The Bible is pro parte the word of God and pro parte the word of man. The Bible is nothing more than the projections of men writing within a specific culture and projecting their own ideas of God onto the pages of Scripture. We hear that certain parts of the Bible are good, such as thou shalt not murder, but other parts are oppressive to women and hateful toward homosexuals. We hear that God understands when we violate the sacred text, even when we do so in premeditated fashion because He knows we are weak humans and that He loves us nonetheless.
In our reading and especially in our instruction of the text, our motto should be primum non nocere, first, do no harm! Do no harm to what? Before all else, we must do no harm to the text itself. Pastors, teachers, and individuals treat Scripture with reckless casualty today. We approach the text without regard for the living word of the holy God that it is. What right do we have to form opinions and draw conclusions about what God is saying to us without expending the greatest degree of energy necessary to arrive at those conclusions? In some cases, we arrive at an understanding of a stated text because it is the least threatening to our lifestyle or previous theological commitments. In other cases we get there because we just don’t want to spend the time reading five or ten pages in Kittel, listening to BDAG and Louw-Nida, running references to understand how key words were used elsewhere, diagramming the pericope, parsing the words, looking at syntax, researching the historical setting, understanding the social aspects, etc. After all, this can turn into a very time-consuming and cost lots of energy. In our age of “I want it now,” this is just not realistic. However, when we fail to display the kind of respect and regard for Scripture that it demands by the very nature of what it is, we do the same to God.
Attacks against Scripture come in a variety of forms. The external attacks I deal with often. Most recently, I have been in dialogue with an atheist about the credibility of the NT documents. In these kinds of attacks, there are no shortcuts. I realize this can be difficult for some of us. Having studied textual criticism as well as the canons, I have answers to these objections. If you do not, I would encourage you to study something about the history of that book we call the Bible. You don’t have to take a graduate course in textual criticism. You don’t have to take one in the canon. However, you should have a book or two about it. The atheist I have been chatting with is a Harvard Grad with access to Bart Erhman’s materials. This means he knows a thing or two about the subject. Most people are not going to be so informed. My point is that if you believe the Bible is the word of God and you agree that it is going to continue to come under serious attack, then it follows that you should not only know what is in it, but you should know a little about its history so that you can answer those questions. I know, it comes down to time, right? No it does not come down to time. It comes down to priorities. It comes down to what you think is important and what is not. You spend your time doing the things that you think are most important. If you don’t spend time with Scripture, then you simply don’t think it is important enough to demand your time. Those other things that you spend time on are more important in your mind, than spending time on Scripture.
There is lot more I wanted to say about this subject, but I simply am out of space. Perhaps I will pick this subject up in my next post and continue to talk about the attacks against Scripture. As far as I am concerned, this is the area where apologetics and theology should focus. The Church must teach the members of its group, it community, that God has spoken so that we may live, and that we may live in a specific way. God instructs us to think, speak, and carry-on in this life according to His word.
Are you attacking Scripture in your thinking, in your conduct, in your teaching or in your preaching? When you are overly sympathetic toward wicked behavior in individuals, such as homosexuality, sexual impurity, divorce, or other godless vices, you are attacking Scripture. When you should confront sin in your life and even in the life of your brother or sister and you refuse, you are attacking Scripting and challenging God's authority. Your actions downgrade the place that Scripture should occupy in the minds of believers. When we justify our sin, our rebellion against God, we downgrade Scripture and in so doing, we attack God's word and challenge His authority over our lives. It is impossible to attack God's word without attacking God personally. We often think we can assail God's speech without assailing God. That thinking is foolish. God and His word are inseparable. Jesus said he that receives God receives God's word. Conversely, he that does not receive God's word does not receive God. There is no middle ground. There can be no compromise of God's word, only full acceptance or complete annihilation.