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Pete Enns & The Bible for Normal People

Episode 169: Pete & Jared – “The Bible & the “Problem of History”

What do you do when you notice something in the Bible that doesn’t pass the muster of historical research? In this episode of The Bible for Normal People Podcast,  Pete and Jared discuss the problem of history in the Bible as they explore the following questions: 

  • Why is the problem of history in the Bible a uniquely modern problem? 
  • When did the consciousness of history begin to impact matters of Christian life and faith?
  • What is historical consciousness?
  • How did archeology and science drive the rise of critical biblical scholarship?
  • Why can’t we go to the Bible to solve the historical problem?
  • How did modern consciousness place a wedge between history and theology?
  • Why do modern scholars examine the relationship between text and event? 
  • Why is Pete putting chicks in the oven?
  • How do we determine what it means to be a Christian in relationship to history?
  • Does the problem of history have to be solved in order to be a Christian?
  • How does the problem of history present an opportunity to question core assumptions of faith?
  • But seriously, why is Pete putting chicks in the oven? 

Tweetables

Pithy, shareable, less-than-280-character statements from Pete & Jared you can share. 

  • “Critical, I mean, that [word] gets a bad rap, but really, all critical means is digging into the past to the original context rather than assuming that your own context is normative.” @peteenns
  • “It’s important for us as modern people to parse out the difference between history and theology, between past and present. Both of those distinctions were not important distinctions to make in the ancient world. Those were just not even categories to think about.” @jbyas
  • “The Bible has its own problems just reading it on a surface level, but now when people start digging literally and figuratively into the past, it raises more questions than it answers.” @peteenns
  • “To have integrity with scholarship, you don’t get to pretend that we haven’t made all these advancements that do problematize the Bible, ignore all that, and then still make credible claims about history and the Bible.” @jybas
  • “You can’t sidestep historical questions in either testament, nor can you steer clear of it affecting fundamental things about our understanding of the nature of Christian faith or the Bible. It’s not going anywhere, and we don’t have to solve it in order to be Christian.” @peteenns
  • “I like the literary [and theological] value of the Bible and I struggle with the history of it. If you felt that, you are well within a long tradition of Christians who have wrestled with it and Christianity didn’t just go away because we couldn’t solve the problem.”  @jbyas

Mentioned in This Episode

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Read the transcript

0:00

Pete: You’re listening to The Bible for Normal People, the only God-ordained podcast on the internet. I’m Pete Enns.

Jared: And I’m Jared Byas.

[Jaunty intro music]

Pete: Well, welcome everyone to this episode and our topic for today is the Bible and the “Problem of History.”

Jared: Yeah.

Pete: That’s our topic man, and it’s a pretty cool topic.

Jared: I think so. It is a bit of a heavy topic. There’s a lot of concepts that might be new for people and just a reminder if you’re looking for some people to interact with about this, ask questions, have more conversation, we have this Slack group. So, you can go to https://www.patreon.com/thebiblefornormalpeople and learn more about it, but it can be helpful not to have to look over your shoulder at the coffee shop and see if you’re gonna be accused of being a heretic for having these conversations.

Pete: [Laughter]

Yeah.

Jared: It’s a group of people who are already asking these questions.

Pete: Supportive, you know? And Jared and I, we had experiences in seminary, where after class you can go out and hang out with people, maybe go to a pub or something and talk about this stuff. That’s, sometimes you have topics where you just need to go back and forth a little bit. And I think this is one of them because this really hits at the heart of what causes a little bit of distress sometimes for people or just like I don’t really know what to do with this anymore. And that is the “problem of history”. So…

Jared: Yeah. Well, let’s start with what do we mean by the problem of history? Why is this a problem?

Pete: What do we mean by that, Jared?

[Laughs at himself]

Jared: Well, it’s recognizing in our Bible, which I think a lot of listeners, it’s why they listen. It’s why we go through these faith shifts is we start to notice things in our Bible that aren’t passing the muster of historical research. Like, what the historians say about events that happened aren’t lining up with our Bible.

Pete: Right. And sometimes just, it’s even simpler than that. It’s just paying attention and seeing how, you know, again, we always talk about this, there are four Gospels. They tell the story of Jesus differently. You don’t have to be a scholar to see that. You just read it and say –

Jared: That’s right.

Pete: “How come it says this in Matthew and this in Luke and John doesn’t even care?” You know, so, why does that happen? Even just on the level of reading the Bible like a normal person, you’re going to be confronted with the problem of history in the Bible. And the Old Testament version of that, of course, is the two histories of Israel. The first one is basically in the books of Samuel and Kings and the other one is in the books of First and Second Chronicles.

Jared: And if you get, if you’re just a little bit closer of a reader, we get it from the very beginning with the two creation accounts in –

Pete: Yeah!

Jared: Genesis 1-2 and then 2-3. We have these, if we’re paying attention, we can see these.

Pete: Right. And you see the two stories of creation and, you know, assuming that those are even historical, then you have that problem, like, well how did that happen? But there you even have the added problem, you know, that people in our time are probably a little more conscious of than maybe from centuries past, but you know, is this really six days? Or a garden with two magic trees in the middle and then a snake that talks? So, what do we do with history? It raises the issues of things like myth, which we may or may not get into today.

Jared: So, the historical problem is our Bible bumps up against a few things is what I’m hearing you say. It bumps up against our close reading, meaning our own logic says if Luke has Jesus giving this same sermon on a plain and Matthew has it on a mount, well, they couldn’t have both been true. So, we were bumping up against our own logic. We’re also bumping up against science and we’re bumping up against archaeology…

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: …and that’s what we’re talking about.

Pete: But even if you know, Luke and Matthew’s sermons of Jesus, even if they could be both historically true, it’s the very fact that we’re asking the question, right? It’s our sensibilities make us ask those kinds of questions. So, another way of putting it is that the Bible doesn’t make it easy for us when it comes to, “oh, this is history.” Or what is history? It asks a lot of us and for some people this isn’t a problem, but for many others, it’s like, it makes you stop in your tracks – things like miracles. Not to say that miracles can’t happen, but we ask the question. We talk about it. People rise from the dead; this is not a common experience that we have. So, on different levels, Jared, there is a problem of history just from reading the Bible sort of on our own without any supervision. It just sort of happens.

Jared: Right. Right. Well, let’s talk about why this is a problem because you were hinting at it there for a minute about the, well, what I want to use is historical consciousness.

Pete: Go ahead then.

4:49

Jared: It’s understanding there was a world 600-700 years ago and before and then there’s a world 600-700 years ago and after. And there’s this really significant dividing point that scholars and theologians talk about in the modern period that makes this more of a problem. If you would have asked a medieval monk how they handled the historical problem of the Bible, they would likely have no idea what you’re talking about. So, what is it that led it to being a problem in the first place? Because it is a problem for us –

Pete: Right.

Jared: In a way that it was not a problem for the ancients.

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: They just didn’t think about it. We don’t see in our Bible people wrestling with the historical problem. We don’t see theologians for hundreds of years, or anyone really, for hundreds of years wrestling with this, “well wait a minute, the text says this, what do we do with the historical account? Is this historically accurate? And why does that matter?”

Pete: Mm hmm.

Jared: These are very modern questions.

Pete: Right. Right. And, you know, I think the last thing we want to do is present a simplistic picture even if we want to present a simple picture, not simplistic. So, even that question, Jared, like where is that dividing line? When did things sort of begin and get rolling? That’s not an easy question to answer in and of itself, but we do have something that people have heard of which is the Renaissance and this movement of back to the sources. In other words, don’t just rely on the way things are, go back and dig into the past to really find out where things begin and therefore what things mean.

Jared: Right. Well, and all studies during, before the Renaissance, we have maybe, again we don’t want to be simplistic, but we call it the medieval period, and during that time all the authority for what’s true is really an ecclesial, it’s a church authority. The Pope is really determining what’s true and that comes through received tradition. Everything is received tradition. So, that’s why, I just say that because we might think, well, of course you go back to the sources. But we have several hundred years before the Renaissance where people aren’t going back to the sources. They’re saying, “No, no, no, we don’t need to go back to the sources. Why would you go back to the sources when we’ve built on the sources in this authoritative way, and that’s called tradition –

Pete: Right. Right.

Jared: And tradition is the truth.”

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: It’s only when people started questioning those traditions and said “wait a minute…”

You know, I think of Erasmus, who tried to be a good Catholic, it’s kind of like Martin Luther. They tried to be good Catholics and it doesn’t always turn out well for them. But, he says, like, “Wait a minute. What if the tradition got it wrong?”

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: “I’d like to…”

Pete: About the Bible itself.

Jared: Right. Well, and also during this time period we can’t separate that from the fact that we were just now finding the original sources.

Pete: Um hmm.

Jared: So, people were finding ancient Greek manuscripts and they were saying, “oh, yeah!” There’s sort of like lightbulbs going off. “Oh, I guess there were sources behind all this tradition.”

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: What do they actually say?

Pete: And how far back do they go? And what’s the original in questions like that?

Jared: Right.

Pete: So, that’s not a question that would’ve bothered someone in the 7th century.

Jared: Right.

Pete: But these are things that just happened. Why did they happen? Great question. People write a lot of books about that, but we can’t answer that. All we know is that it did, right? And this desire to, even simple things, again simple from maybe our point of view, but like, you really ought to learn Greek and Hebrew, right? That wasn’t invented during the Renaissance period, but it sort of got some legs there but it lasted and kept going. And that’s very much a part of our consciousness now when you go to seminary and you’re usually expected to pick up some Greek and Hebrew because it’s important to understand “originals,” even though that’s a complicated thing. What are originals? But leaving that to the side for a second you know, you have that consciousness of history that is beginning to invade, is that the right word Jared? Invade matters of Christian life and faith.

Jared: Right.

Pete: You know, invading is a negative way of putting it. It’s not a bad thing, but it just happened.

Jared: At first, maybe it wasn’t invasive until the implications started to come out.

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: Then it felt like an invasion.

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: But I just wanted to back up because the word historical consciousness can be very abstract, so again, not to be, this probably is simplistic, but people started around, we’re talking about the 1500s.

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: The 1600’s, the 1700’s, people started asking the question, “well, what really happened?”

Pete: Mm hmm.

Jared: And when someone said, “Well, why would you want to know that?” They said, “just because.”

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: Because we want to know what really happened. That’s historical consciousness and that wasn’t, those weren’t sustained questions before that.

Pete: Yeah, that question has its own value.

Jared: Yeah, in and of itself.

Pete: In and of itself. Like, I think of myself. I have historical curiosity. Like, why do you study this stuff and dig into it? I just, I’m interested. I just want to know what happened. You know?

Jared: Um hmm.

9:59

Pete: And again, that’s a question that is fueled not by the medieval period, not by the biblical period, it’s fueled by events and movements and philosophies of the past few hundred years. And living in the modern world, it’s very, very hard to escape that. I mean, just to jump ahead a little bit, even if you’re really conservative and you think everything in the Bible happens exactly the way it says it happened, you’re still historically conscious because you’re talking about it.

Jared: Right.

Pete: Right? You’re defending it and you have arguments for it. This is not like a liberal/conservative kind of thing. It’s just everyone has this historical consciousness and the Bible itself raises certain questions that if you have a historical consciousness the way we do, we’re going to say, “Wait a minute! There are four Gospels that don’t agree.”

Jared: Right. And there are conservative ways of handling that.

Pete: Right.

Jared: But noticing it is a uniquely modern thing to do.

Pete: And feeling the need to handle it.

Jared: Right.

Pete: Right? I mean, so, there’s not really a good guy/bad guy here.

Jared: Right. Right.

Pete: That’s not the point of this. The point of this is just that there is a historical problem for us as readers with respect to the Bible that has biblical roots, in a sense, but the matters have gotten a lot more complicated and a lot more, just baked into the whole idea of Bible, the historical consciousness. And that really, you know, Jared, that blossomed then, you know, the Reformation was, it didn’t help, right?

Jared: [Light laughter]

Pete: The Reformation didn’t help because when you have, again, not to be, I keep saying this but we’re really conscious of not being simplistic, but with the Reformation, the Bible was elevated to a particular kind of authority that many people think wasn’t really at work before the time of people like Martin Luther and some precursors and then John Calvin, those are the two big names. So, there was a shift, so to speak, in what you expect from the Bible. If the authority by which you live your life is no longer, let’s say the Church authority of the Roman Catholic Church, but it’s the Bible alone, well, you need really clear information from the Bible and you can’t have it messing around with history. You need to able to find a way to reconcile Gospels or reconcile the histories of Israel in the Old Testament. Not that they were like modern people, necessarily, this was like a bridge, almost, from medieval to modern, the influence of the Reformation.

Jared: Right.

Pete: It elevates the Bible to a status that eventually, again, this is a connection people make and it’s really important, but there are a lot of nuances we’re not getting into, but the connection between, you know, the Renaissance and then the Reformation Period and then what eventually happens in Europe where the Bible becomes an object of historical study. When in the Reformation, when you have people like Martin Luther saying, “Hey Catholic Church, you can’t tell me what to do. I don’t recognize your spiritual authority. I’m just going to read the Bible and get my authority from that,” that sounds great. The next step is well, we don’t recognize the spiritual authority of the Bible either, because have you read it? Look at all the stuff that happens. You know? It’s a weird book. It’s contradictory. Historically, it makes no sense, this and the other thing. And that gave rise to the study of the Bible in modern universities all around this notion of a historical consciousness. You know the criticisms about the Bible were like, this couldn’t have happened, for whatever reason, they’re just saying x, y, and z could not have happened. It makes no sense. That rises from a historical consciousness.

Jared: Well, and the way I would say it, maybe, is during this Reformation time where we’re starting to ask questions of history on its own terms, I feel like there was an assumed authority within the Bible for that. There was an assumption that once we started asking these questions, the Bible fit squarely with what we would say is history. What the Bible says happened is what happened. Then we started doing things like science. And so, we started creating these processes whereby we can say, well, “when we filter this through these sets of questions and create hypotheses and all that, we’re coming out with some conclusions that actually aren’t lining up with the Bible.” Yikes.

14:48

And then we had this split between people who, this is where we start to think of, well, are we going to follow the scientific process or are we going to continue to assume that the Bible just is historically accurate and everything else has to flow from that. And that’s when we get, you know, what you’re talking about I would call, people call a critical study of the Bible.

Pete: Right.

Jared: We’re taking these critical tools that we’re learning from historians and scientists and now we’re starting to apply them to the Bible.

Pete: And critical, I mean that gets a bad rap, but really, all critical means is digging into the past to the original context rather than assuming that your own context is normative. So, trying to dig into the past and that’s exactly what biblical scholars did. And it was aided by things like, well for example, just a bunch of Germans sitting around with nothing better to do just really noticing things. I mean, legitimately noticing that there are anachronisms in the Bible, there are things that must have come from a later point in time. They could not have been written, like, by a Moses for example. Moses probably didn’t write about his own death. That’s an anachronism. Somebody else had to have done that. There are lists of these sorts of things. But that’s paying attention to the historical quality and raising to a certain level of prominence some of these historical problems. But maybe even more so is the study of archaeology, it really began in the 19th century, that’s when the “science” of biblical archaeology, doing it systematically, not just raiding tombs but actually mapping out what you’re digging and where you’re digging and what you’re finding and where deep down you’re finding it so you can date things. It’s all very interesting and fascinating, but it’s archaeology that unearthed things like creation stories from the ancient Assyrians or Babylonians or a bunch of other people, Egyptians, that look an awful lot like the biblical creation stories. They’re not the same, but man oh man, they’re breathing the same air. And that raises questions, it has raised questions about well, we don’t think these other things are historical. On what basis do we think now the Bible is historical since they share certain kinds of world views. And that’s not a small thing. And throw it, Jared you mentioned science, but it’s the rising of geology in the 18th century that led people to say, you know, the earth is not a few thousand years old, and theories began and they have different opinions and now we’re what, up to 4.5 billion or something like that? Whatever. But it’s very, very old. And in fact, you really can’t defend a global flood geologically. I know there are some who think they can, but no geologist I think that works outside of a very conservative Christian mindset would ever conclude you have a global flood and geological evidence for it. So, but the point is that people are debating it, right? Because there’s a science of geology that raises the question and the very presence of a debate makes the point we’re trying to make – there’s a historical consciousness. And then Darwin shows up in the 19th century and working off of what other people had already started and he’s got this theory of common descent and biological evolution and there you have it. So, all those things sort of come together. The science angle and the archeological angle, they all come together to raise to yet another level of almost urgency for people. I wouldn’t say almost, it was urgency for many people, the problem of history. Like, to what extent is the Bible historical? How do we know? What does it matter? The Bible has its own problems just reading it on a surface level, but now when people start digging literally and also figuratively into the past, it raises more questions than it answers.

Jared: I just want to make it clear that one of the reasons this is so difficult is because this isn’t a problem inherent in the Bible.

Pete: Right.

Jared: So, we started by saying, well, if we read the Bible closely, but what we have to make sure we mention is when we say that we’re saying we –

Pete: We.

Jared: In the last three hundred years.

Pete: With a historical consciousness.

Jared: When we read the Bible that’s a problem.

Pete: Right.

Jared: For the original readers of the Bible that we’re talking about, this wasn’t a problem.

Pete: Um hmm.

Jared: And I think that’s really important to recognize because –

Pete: They weren’t dumb.

Jared: Yeah. Right.

Pete: It’s just, I mean we would be no different, Jared and I, if we were living in this, we’d probably be killed or something for heresy.

Jared: [Laughter]

It’s true.

19:55

Pete: But anyway, you know the thing is, it’s not a matter of smart or dumb, it’s a matter of just, the historical context of the reader, right?

Jared: Mm hmm.

Pete: That’s just, we’re just saying this is the reality that we deal with, and this is why people talk about it.

Jared: I think it also limits though what we can expect from our Bible, which I think is really important. It highlights what we talk about on a Sunday morning anytime when the pastor says, “what do we do with social media today and how much we should be on our phones,” and we go back to the Bible as though the Bible is going to tell us that. This is like a grander version of that. Where it’s, we can’t go to the Bible to solve the historical problem because it wasn’t a problem for the people who wrote the Bible.

Pete: Right. What makes it extra tricky is that along with that the Bible does have a historical impulse.

Jared: Right.

Pete: It is telling a historical narrative.

Jared: Yes.

Pete: And I don’t deny, no one can really deny that. You’ve got a story of Israel that has movement and direction over time and the same thing with the rise of the church in the New Testament. That’s what makes it so difficult. There is a historical impulse, but not written by people with a historical consciousness that we have today. That’s, if the Bible said, “okay this isn’t history go read it and have fun,” we wouldn’t be talking about this.

Jared: Right.

Pete: But there is this historical assumption. Even though you have contradictory historical stories, that doesn’t matter. You can interpret history differently. Different people can interpret that history differently, but the very, again, you have these historical moments, not even moments. You have the structure of the Bible is so historical you can’t escape that, but the philosophy behind it, if that’s the right word, Jared, is different today than it was back then.

Jared: Well, I’m going try to, I’ll say it this way, you can tell me if I’m completely off because I’m processing out loud here. But I think the difference is it’s important for us as modern people to parse out the difference between history and theology between past and present. Both of those distinctions were not important distinctions to make in the ancient world.

Pete: Um hmm.

Jared: That wasn’t, so we’re weaving, we’re not just weaving, those were just not even categories to think about.

Pete: Right.

Jared: So, they’re doing history and, if you said “Is this historical or is this theological?” They would say, “Yes.”

Pete: Right.

Jared: “What do you, is this about the past or the present?”

“Yes.”

Pete: Yes.

Jared: These are all the same things.

Pete: Right.

Jared: So, that’s how I’m thinking. The modern consciousness put a wedge for us between history and theology. It put a wedge between past and present.

Pete: Um hmm.

Jared: In a way that wasn’t wedged before that.

Pete: Right. For any of us who’ve ever asked in reading the Bible, “yeah, but what actually happened,” or “did this actually happen,” that’s in a nutshell the historical consciousness.

Jared: That’s the fishbowl we swim in and can’t get out of.

Pete: Right. And we are in it, and we can’t get out of it. So, you have, for example, we just mentioned the Old Testament and what happened in the rise of critical biblical scholarship, what really drove it is things like archaeology and science and the New Testament as well. You know, the New Testament does not escape this. The more we’ve come to know, especially since the Dead Sea Scrolls, not to get into that topic and we won’t, but we’ve learned a lot about Judaism during the time of Jesus and Paul and before their time and how reading the biblical stories in light of that Jewish context actually affects, it actually leads us to ask questions of “Did this happen the way the Bible says it?” And then on top of that the Greco-Roman context as well that also raises kinds of questions for us.

Can I, one quick example, you know, there is a Roman inscription that was dated to, I don’t know, I think around the year 6 or 7 and the name of it doesn’t matter, but, and it talks about the birth of Caesar Augustus and about how his birth is of divine origin and he is the one who has come to save his people and he’s called the savior and his birth is to be celebrated for that reason and he, and what he brings is good news for all the people. And all you need to do is sort of compare this to Luke’s birth narrative and there are similarities between that.

24:57

Before that inscription is found and read, you’d never think to sort of ask, at least not in the same way you wouldn’t ask, “Well, what is it about the biblical birth story that’s historical if it seems to be so close to the story of Cesar’s birth?”

Or, you know, Moses escaping the threat of death and being put into a basket to float down a river until he’s picked up by someone else. You know, we know the story of Sargon who lived before the year 2000 and there’s a story very similar to that in the story of Sargon’s birth. We would not have even thought to ask the question, “It looks like the birth story of Moses, boy this looks a lot like that.” Right? So, it’s discovering those things, it’s archaeology, really, that has unearthed these stories and it forces us with the historical consciousness that we already have, it forces us to sort of ask the question – what is historical? How much of it is historical? And it’s just so hard to, Jared, to avoid those questions. You almost have to turn off a part of your brain to say, “I don’t care.” And actually, that’s fine. I shouldn’t have put it that way. I think some people just aren’t interested in that.

Jared: Right.

Pete: And that’s fine. Honestly, you don’t have to, we’re not trying to make our problem your problem.

Jared: Right, we’re not trying to create problems for people.

Pete: We’re just trying to lay out what the problem actually is. We do have a problem of history when reading the Bible and some people are just not interested in it and they don’t have to be.

Jared: Right.

Pete: That’s not what this is about.

Jared: But to have, maybe I’ll put it this strongly, to have integrity with scholarship, you don’t get to say I’m not interested about all that and then speak into history.

Pete: Right. And then make claims that the Bible is historically accurate here.

Jared: Make claims and conclusions. Right. You can’t ignore the scholarship and pretend that we haven’t made all these advancements that does problematize the Bible, ignore all that, and then still make credible claims about history and the Bible.

Pete: Right. I mean things like, “I don’t care about all that; all I know is what the Bible says.” Right? That’s not really a caricature, right? I mean, this is a very common way of saying it. That simply bypasses the reality of the historical problem that other people really find inescapable and the more one becomes attuned to that historical problem, the more you realize how that kind of a claim – it simply won’t support very much for very long.

Jared: It won’t be compelling.

Pete: It won’t be compelling. To others and maybe not even to yourself after a while.

Jared: [Laughter]

Right.

Pete: No, seriously.

Jared: Right.

Pete: I mean, you watch a special on cable tv or something about the Bible it’s like, oh my goodness gracious. I never knew any of this stuff.

Jared: Yeah. Well, let’s talk, let’s shift gears a little bit because there is, again, in scholarship with the rise of all this and this split between theology and history, and what do we do, there’s another problem that comes up and it’s the problem between the text and the event.

Pete: Right.

Jared: Because if we’re saying, “Okay, maybe the Bible as it portrays an event isn’t actually what happened,” now you have scholars who say, “Well, what I’m really interested in is what really happened.” So, now the Bible is maybe one piece of evidence, but it has to be placed alongside all this other evidence and I’m not privileging the Bible. If it comes out that this is what actually happened and the Bible got it wrong, so be it. I’m interested in historical study.

Pete: There are other standards by which the Bible should be judged and that’s the “historical standard.”

Jared: Right. So, we have those scholars who are more interested in that question. That’s the way they’re going to go. And then there are scholars who say, “Well, yeah, but for the last two thousand years our theology, our belief systems, our tradition isn’t based on what actually happened, it’s based on the text.”

Pete: Right.

Jared: And that is what needs to be normative for us is the text itself. So, we want to dig into the literary aspects, maybe, or the theological aspects of the text. And so there becomes this, would you, I don’t know, rift may be too strong of a word –

Pete: Well, debate. That’s for sure.

Jared: Yeah. Between text and event and which one is primary and what are we basing our belief system on? Is it the event? Are we going the historical route? Or is it the text? Are we going this theological route?

Pete: Well, I mean the, what we’re talking about is the relationship between text and event. And that is really another way of stating what we’re talking about when we say the problem of history when it comes to the Bible is what’s the relationship between what the text says and what actually happened. And, basically, modern scholars very much just work with the idea that they’re not the same thing, but what’s the relationship between them.

29:54

And some, you know this is, people really try to work this stuff out in the 20th century, sort of the middle of the 20th century, the biblical theology movement is what it was called, but there was a little bit of a debate there between, well, what’s normative, what really matters is what God did – the acts of God. And there’s a Harvard scholar, G. Ernest Wright, who wrote a book the The God Who Acts and this is sort of like a go-to kind of book to sort of see what this view was, but the Old Testament, what it does, the Old Testament is interpreting God’s acts but really the heart of it is what God did. It’s on the level of event. Well, how do you know what happened? Archaeology, right? That’s what comes in to sort of prove or disprove whatever happened.

Jared: It becomes your methodology.

Pete: It becomes your methodology, becomes your standard. And I love archaeology; I don’t know if it can do all of that for us, but that’s the idea. But then there were others, another German theologian, there won’t be a test on this, don’t worry, Gerhard von Rad who said, “Yeah, I get that, but you know what? The Old Testament is really the only significant axis we have to these events.” Right? So, what actually happened? Well, we really just have the Old Testament. So, it’s really on the level of the text that we sort of put all our cards, you know, put  our chicks in the oven, whatever the expression is-

Jared: [In a tone that betrays his bewilderment]

Chicks in the oven?

Pete: I know. That was a deranged Freudian thing.

Jared: Man, you just got dark!

[Laughter from both]

Pete: What am I trying to say?

Jared: You got eggs in a basket!

Pete: Eggs in a basket!

Jared: And you got chicks in an oven.

[Laughter]

Pete: I knew it was related to chickens somehow!

Jared: [Continued laughter]

Pete: Anyway. I don’t know if we’ll cut that out, but I hope not because –

Jared: No, we got to keep that in.

Pete: We got to keep it in.

Jared: We got to keep it real here.

Pete: Because I’m an idiot, so yeah.

Jared: Because you like to put live baby chicks in ovens apparently.

[Laughter]

Pete: I know. Apparently. That happened. That did get dark real quick.

Jared: Of course, this is why we’re talking – so I, yeah –

Pete: You know what made me think of that? Probably because I stepped on ants the other day on purpose and I don’t like doing that.

Jared: Oooh.

Pete: Like little, tiny ants that were in my house, and I just got sick of them, and I just stepped on them and as soon as I did that I said, “that was just so bad.” And I mean that. I actually don’t like killing animals. Anyway, can we get back to the topic here?

Jared: Yeah.

Pete: Where were we? Oh yeah, text and event?

Jared: Yes, text and event.

Pete: And von Rad, the German and –

Jared: Well, this is a good point, because I want to stop you for a second –

Pete: Okay.

Jared: Because you said the question is the relationship between text and event, but then you said something like normative. And I don’t think it’s the relationship between the text and the event, because that’s a very abstract scholarly endeavor.

Pete: Okay…

Jared: The relationship between text and event. The question is those who want to still be Christian, where do we put our emphasis?

Pete: Mm hmm.

Jared: Where is the value? And that’s a different question than hey, are we trying to – what’s the relationship between text and event? It’s an abstract question. I think it gets weight, so as a researcher as a scientist, that’s a question that I’m interested in and I could spend a whole career learning about and stuff, but it doesn’t really matter to me.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Jared: But as a Christian, it does matter.

Pete: Right.

Jared: And so, I just want to put a little more emphasis on it.

Pete: Right. So, let me put it this way. Okay, umm, as a Christian, it’s the text of the Bible that is the thing that it’s not trying to figure out what happened. It’s the text of the Bible. I actually support that. I think that’s not a, by any means, a ridiculous or naïve notion. Provided that you also realize there is a historical problem, right?

Jared: Right.

Pete: And you’re willing to look at that squarely and face it and say, you know, what happened on Mount Sinai or what happened in Egypt in the Book of Exodus, there are historical problems with the way the Bible puts it, but for me, it’s the text, it’s the story, it’s the theology of the biblical writer that is really important for me. Let’s say it’s normative for me. It’s what drives me. But then you can’t say, “and then I simply believe this is what happened.”

Jared: Right.

Pete: Right?

Jared: Yes.

Pete: Without acknowledging the fact that there is a historical problem here, right?

Jared: Right.

Pete: Now, others say again, “well, I guess the text is okay, but I really just want to know what God did,” right? And they might say, “well listen, I need to go there.” The thing is that, I mean, I may be wrong on this, but my sense is that emphasizing the event let’s say over the text is probably not nearly as popular as the text over the event. Right?

34:44

Jared: Yes, yeah. Well, because to emphasize the event over the text means you’re conversant with things like archaeology and it’s not as easily accessible to talk about events once you separate the biblical account of that from these other studies and research methods.

Pete: Right. The Bible, in other words, the text of the Bible doesn’t simply give us events.

Jared: Right.

Pete: There’s a, I don’t want to use the word gap or ditch, that’s really not a constructive way of talking about it, but there is some distance –

Jared: An interpretive layer. There’s a layer, maybe, maybe a layer is a word-

Pete: I don’t know. Layer, to me, is too nice.

Jared: [Laughter]

Pete: I would say there is an interpretive distance between event and the way people talk, as there is any time, right? I mean all human beings have the same problem here. This is why the problem of history is much broader than the Bible, right?

Jared: Right.

Pete: Like how you recount past events is part of how we interpret the past too. So, in the Bible we have the interpretation of events and on one level, we may not be able to get much past that. Or maybe, maybe we can, I don’t know. But it seems like you have to hold those things together. So now text is very important, but text doesn’t give us event. But the event is not really accessible fully at all and the main axis we have to it is through the text, which is interpreting the event, and then there’s other stuff we know from science and archaeology that throws a wrench into all this stuff because it really cast into some doubt whether some things happened at all, right?

Jared: Um hmm.

Pete: That’s the historical consciousness conversation that we have in one level or not when we scratch our head at places in the Bible saying this just doesn’t seem like it’s something that actually happened, right?

Jared: Right.

Pete: And it’s hard to avoid that.

Jared: And as Christians, I can just say for me personally, I’ve definitely been divided on this. I’ve wrestled with these things. Because on the one hand, it’s very easy for me to say something like, we’ll take Jonah for example because that’s something that always comes to mind for me. It’s very easy for me to say the Bible is extremely important and matters a lot to me in the book of Jonah because it speaks to me as a story. There are some theological truths that I take from it. There are some moral truths that I take from it. These are very important things for me and I can kind of say that. And then someone will say, “Yeah, but does it matter if Jesus was raised from the dead? Does it matter if there really was an Exodus? What does that matter?” And then things start getting really murky for me.

Pete: Um hmm.

Jared: Because of this problem, the historical problem. And I just think we’re in a moment where I think a lot of Christians are trying to wrestle with what does it mean to be Christian and answering that question in relationship to history.

Pete: Um hmm. Right.

Jared: I think that’s a difficult question to answer that a lot of people are wrestling with.

Pete: That’s the big picture way of putting it. Right. I mean with Jonah, if, the historical problem is less of a problem if we have come to the conclusion, well, it seems to be a story. Right?

Jared: Right.

Pete: But the other parts of the Bible that don’t seem to be presented as a story or parable, they seem to be talking about kings-

Jared: Like Samuel, Kings, and yeah.

Pete: Exactly. Or, you know, the Exodus story with all the historical problems with it, it’s still presented as some event that was foundational to Israel’s existence, you know? And the New Testament too. Jesus’s birth and what he did and what he said, and you know resurrection, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, all those things. Those are historical kinds of things.

Jared: Right.

Pete: That’s how the New Testament writers talk about those things, as historical events. Um, you know, so you can’t escape, you can’t really sidestep this question in either testament, nor can you steer clear of it affecting even fundamental things about just our understanding of the nature of the Christian faith or the nature of the Bible. And I guess that’s sort of a concluding point we could come to, Jared, that um, this problem is not invented by The Bible for Normal People. We don’t sit around saying – “How can we screw people up real fast?” We’re more trying to articulate something that is there that I’m sure many, if not most, of our listeners have experienced on some level.

Jared: Yeah.

Pete: And it’s not going anywhere, and we don’t have to solve it in order to be Christian. That’s to me the big point and you can’t solve it. You can live with the tension. It’s part of, as a matter of fact, just channeling something Tripp Fuller said in a previous episode, dealing with the historical problem is part of doing theology.

39:56

Jared: It reminds me of the problem of evil.

Pete: It does? Explain please.

[Light laughter]

Jared: Yeah, sorry. My synapsis always making weird connections.

Pete: Like chicks in an oven?

[Laughter]

Jared: Exactly. That is the problem with evil. Pete, you are the problem of evil.

Pete: I’ve heard that before.

Jared: No, it’s a problem that we can’t solve. Why do good things happen to bad people and why do bad things happen to good people? If you had to solve that problem before you could be a Christian-

Pete: Right. Or believe in God or something, right.

Jared: Or believe in God, that would be a challenge. But the problem is still there, there’s still not a great answer to that question.

Pete: Right.

Jared: This is the same thing. I think we, again, because I grew up in a fundamentalist tradition that basically said to be a Christian is to not have doubt and not have tension and not have question. I grew up in a system that taught me anything that was ambiguous or hard to understand or a tension or anything had to be resolved if you’re really going to be a Christian. And so, then they, and of course, they would also have the answer. There were simplistic answers that you just sort of took at whole value and I think that’s a really, really important place to end on for us and it’s why I brought up the idea that, for me, I’ve wrestled with, well, I like the literary value of the Bible and it has a lot of theological import and I struggle with the history of it. If you felt that, you are well within a long tradition of several hundred years for the last five hundred years of Christians who have wrestled with it and Christianity didn’t just go away because we couldn’t solve the problem. I just think, I agree, I think it’s a really important point to make.

Pete: Yeah, and to think that the problem of history has to be solved so you can get on with the matter of faith is a highly, it’s an intellectualized version of Christianity, which is always, trust me, it’s always going to get you to some sort of deep water. So, if we remember, again something we’ve heard on this podcast before and I’m going back to things Richard Rohr said a couple of times that he’s been on, how our experience is really something that we need to value as being very authentic connection with God. If that is what drives us rather than clearing up all these deep intellectual issues which people, serious people, ponder for their whole lives, if solving those things is not the foundation of faith, but if our experience, our existential experience, with the Spirit of God is, then you can say, “yeah, thinking about history is part of what I do as a person of faith, it’s not the thing I have to solve in order to have faith.”

Jared: Well, it’s thinking of faith as a process and a series of conversations and debates and tensions and struggles and triumphs and, you know, sometimes we win those and sometimes we don’t and that’s part of the process of faith, rather than I said a prayer once and now the way to keep that locked away is to not have questions and every time I have a question that’s called into question, my faith is. My salvation is. Whatever you want to say. So, I think it’s this reevaluating how we even think of faith.

Pete: Right.

Jared: And so, thinking about the problem of history as an opportunity to maybe question some of these core assumptions about what faith is and how we do it might be a good next step for us.

Pete: Right.

Jared: So, it can be a teacher.

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: It can be a teacher in our faith journey.

Pete: The historical problem can be not just a problem.

Jared: Right. Good. Well, the last thing I want to say is maybe it’s worthwhile, Pete, for us to do –

Pete: Are we, are you going to give an altar call?

Jared: Yes. With every head bowed and every eye closed…

Pete: Do you renounce the tyranny of historicity?

Jared: [Laughter]

No, I think, we said many times throughout this episode, we said we didn’t want to be simplistic, but we did want to simplify it. And really, what that meant for me was a shortcut way of saying we don’t want to namedrop this three-hundred year history of things. So, I think maybe we might want to put an afterword up on Patreon for this episode. We only usually do that with guests, but I think it might be worthwhile to do another seven to ten minutes where we can just talk openly –

Pete: Okay.

Jared: Name drop, do what we’re going to do –

Pete: Okay.

Jared: Just dive in a little bit. So, if you’re interested in that, just go to https://www.patreon.com/thebiblefornormalpeople, you can check it out a little more because it can be a little nuanced and it can be complicated.

Pete: Right.

Jared: Alright. Well, thanks everyone. We hope this was a helpful episode and we hope you continue on the journey of faith even when you bump into these problems and challenges, it’s all part of the process.

Pete: See you folks.

[Music begins]

Megan: Alright everyone, that’s it for this episode. Thank you so much for listening and supporting our show, we hope you enjoyed this episode. A big shout out to our Producer’s Group who support us over on Patreon. They’re the reason we’re able to keep bringing podcasts and other content to you. If you would like to help support the podcast, head over to patreon.com/thebiblefornormalpeople, where for as little as $3 a month you can receive bonus material, be a part of an online community, get course discounts, and much more. We couldn’t do what we do without your support.

45:10

Dave: Thanks as always to our team: Producer, Stephanie Speight; Audio Engineer, Dave Gerhart; Creative Director, Tessa Stultz; Community Champion, Ashley Ward; and Web Developer, Nick Striegel. For Pete, Jared, and the entire Bible for Normal People Team, thanks for listening.

[Beep]

Pete: I’m trying to, channeling language here from Tripp Fuller, who we had on a while back. Uh, actually, let me pause here David. Is this coming after?

Jared: Yes.

Pete: Okay. Okay, weave this together somehow, will you, David?

Jared: Just start the whole Tripp section over.

Pete: Yeah.

[Beep]

Jared: So, if you’re interested in that, just go to thebiblefornormalpeople.com, fr-, sorry David, don’t say that. So, if you’re interested in that, just go to patreon.com…

[Beep]

Pete: What actually happened? Well, we really just have the Old Testament. So, it’s really on the level of the text that we sort of put all our cards, you know, put our chicks in the oven, whatever the expression is.

Jared: [In a tone that betrays his bewilderment]

Chicks in the oven?

Pete: I know. That was a deranged Freudian thing.

Jared: Man, you just got dark!

[Laughter from both]

Pete: What am I trying to say?

Jared: You got eggs in a basket!

Pete: Eggs in a basket!

Jared: And you got chicks in an oven.

[Laughter]

Pete: I knew it was related to chickens somehow!

Jared: [Continued laughter]

Pete: Anyway. I don’t know if we’ll cut that out, but I hope not because –

Jared: No, we got to keep that in.

Pete: We got to keep it in.

Jared: We got to keep it real here.

Pete: Because I’m an idiot, so yeah.

Jared: Because you like to put live baby chicks in ovens apparently.

[Laughter]

Pete: I know. Apparently. That happened. That did get dark real quick.

Jared: Of course, this is why we’re talking – so I, yeah –

Pete: You know what made me think of that? Probably because I stepped on ants the other day on purpose and I don’t like doing that.

Jared: Oooh.

Pete: Like little, tiny ants that were in my house, and I just got sick of them, and I just stepped on them and as soon as I did that I said, “that was just so bad.” And I mean that. I actually don’t like killing animals. Anyway, can we get back to the topic here?

Jared: Yeah.

Pete: Where were we?

[End of recorded material]

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Preaching the Bible in the black church with Austin Channing Brown

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