Thursday, January 13, 2005

"Is Biblical Criticism Necessary?", part 1

I'm a professor of biblical studies. Interpreting the Bible in academic and church settings is my calling and vocation. I admit at the outset that I have a vested interest in the necessity of biblical criticism and interpretation.

The best term for what I do is "biblical criticism." Let me unpack that term.

In The American Heritage Dictionary, one of the definitions of criticism is "the analyzing, interpreting, or evaluating" of any literary work. That's the meaning of the word criticism when I talk/write about biblical criticism.

A short definition of biblical criticism: biblical criticism is the scientific and historical study of the Bible.

An expanded definition might read:
  • Biblical criticism is the study of the Bible and the world around and behind its texts.
  • The goal of biblical criticism is the best possible understanding of what the Holy Spirit was communicating through the biblical writers to their day and time.
  • Based on this goal is a second goal: only by understanding what the text meant can we actually understand what the text should mean for us today.

Is biblical criticism necessary? Consider these quotes from two papers I have received from students over the past few years.

"The Holy Spirit wrote the Word and we believers in Christ also have the Holy Spirit in us. Therefore we do not need anyone or anything to interpret or explain what is really being said in Scripture."

"We make understanding the Bible too complicated. We should just read the Bible and do what it says, and not worry about all that other stuff."

What do you think of these statements? In part two, I describe MY response to them.


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