Were Adam and Eve Vegetarians?

Did God forbid Adam and Eve to include hamburger in their diet?

Many vegetarians and vegans would agree with that. But an even broader group of Christians today believe that Adam and Eve’s restricted diet demonstrates that there was no animal death before Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden. Young Earth Creationists, whether they be vegetarians themselves or not, claim that in God’s good Creation there would be no animal suffering or death. This all changed once Adam and Eve fell from God’s grace. It was not until the time of Noah and the Great Flood that humans were finally allowed to expand their diet to include the eating of meat.

But Adam and Eve were not the only ones required to have such a restricted diet. Visitors at the Creation Museum in Kentucky have at times taken a photo of a sign that asks, “What did dinosaurs eat?” Unlike what you see in all of those Jurassic Park movies, T-Rex would not have been a carnivorous, meat-eater. Instead, he would have feasted primarily on perhaps flowering plants.

 

No Animal Death and Suffering Before the Fall: Rationale for Adam and Eve’s Vegetarianism?

There are many arguments advanced by Young Earth Creationism, but this argument about “no animal death before the Fall,” which leads to the corollary belief that Adam and Eve were vegetarians, is probably the strongest argument in favor of a Young Earth Creationist interpretation of the Bible.

After all, it really is hard for many to imagine how God could create the animal world, and then allow for animal death and suffering to exist, and still call such a creation “good.” It is reasonable to conclude that God’s good plan for the redemption of humanity would also include a solution for the suffering experienced in the created world of the animals.  As the Apostle Paul tells us:

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now (Romans 8:19-22 ESV).

The argument is summarized by Ken Ham, the President of Answers in Genesis, on a rainy Kentucky day by a graveyard:

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A Complementarian Vision? : Kevin DeYoung on Men and Women in the Church

How are men and women to relate to one another, in the church and in the family?

When we read the Bible, we find various statements about men and women that seem to be at odds with one another. Galatians 3:28 sees no distinction between male and female, whereas 1 Timothy 2:12 seems to place a restriction on women that men do not have, when serving in the church. 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 has Paul saying that husbands and wife share mutual rights with one another, whereas Ephesians 5:22-33 suggests some type of priority husbands have in relation to their wives, in terms of who submits to whom.

What is a biblically faithful Christian to do with this?  Select a certain group of texts has having priority over others, thus having a “canon within the canon” approach to Scripture, …. or find a way of integrating the whole of the Scriptural material?

A debate rages among evangelical Christians as to how to resolve the tensions that various Scriptural passages like these present to us. On the one side are the egalitarians, who sense a profound embarrassment over anything in the Bible that appears to be misogynistic, and thus emphasize the equality between men and women. For egalitarians, the liberating message of Jesus for women takes center stage. On the other side are the complementarians, who recognize gender equality, but who refuse to shy away from those passages that might suggest otherwise. Complementarians instead see such difficult passages as offering clues into the complementary relationship between male and female. Instead of embarrassment, complementarians see a beauty being expressed in the gender complementarity of the Bible.

It is important to say at the outset that Christians of good faith, can and indeed do disagree on these matters. Nevertheless, the positions we do take on how male and female relate to one another do have an impact on both marriages and the structure of a local church, and in how we think about gender more generally.

 

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Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women: Lucy Peppiatt on Men, Women…and Family?

For the vast majority of secular-minded people in the West today, any traditional Christian perspective on women is considered strange or weird, at best, or misogynistic or inherently oppressive, at its worst.

In many respects, church history does not have the most stellar record when it comes to dealing with the abuse and degradation of women. Far too often, women have been treated as second-class citizens in the Christian movement. On the other hand, it also could be argued that the Christian faith has been the primary catalyst affirming the value and contributions of women, a reality that most sophisticated Westerners today simply take for granted. Christianity has led to the most vital protections for women, and the most uplifting force supporting women, more than any other movement in world history. While this issue has an impact on how Christian churches and marriages function, it also has an impact on Christian apologetics, and how nonbelievers hear the Gospel message. So, the question stands: Which narrative best represents the message of the Bible for women? One of abuse and degradation, or one of affirmation and honor?

Despite recent advances for women, a most pressing concern in our postmodern world is the decline of the traditional family. The joy of having a mother and a father, who stay together until the death of one of them, is a vanishing characteristic throughout much of Western culture. Living in blended families has become more of the norm, rather than the exception. The definition of marriage keeps changing. The number of Americans who live alone keeps rising every year.  Yet in the words of Dallas Theological Seminary’s Sandra Glahn, for men and women, “we need one another.”  A rediscovery of Scripture’s vision for women, and how they relate to men, and vice-versa, must also address a theology of the family, which is in considerable crisis today in the West.

Christians today are divided over understanding what the Bible teaches regarding how men and women are to relate with one another in the church and the home. We need to have better good faith conversations among professing believers, as to how best work through what we find in God’s Word, and act in obedience accordingly. Scripture teaches that men and women are both created equally in the image of God, and yet are distinct from one another. Nevertheless, egalitarian Christians emphasize the former, and complementarian Christians emphasize the latter. For readers unfamiliar with this topic, I would suggest starting your journey into this topic with this introductory Veracity blog post, linked here, from 2019.

 

Two Books in the Complementarian/Egalitarian Conversation

This year, I endeavored to read two books in this conversation, one by a complementarian, Kevin DeYoung, Men and Women in the Church. The other book, the focus of this review, was authored by Lucy Peppiatt, a theologian and Principal at the Westminister Theological Center, in the U.K. She has written an insightful set of expositions of Scripture, along the lines of an egalitarian theological framework, in her Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women: Fresh Perspectives on Disputed Texts. A charismatic evangelical, Lucy Peppiatt lectures in systematic theology, and serves as a lay minister in the Church of England. Many readers sympathetic to an egalitarian point of view have recommended Lucy Peppiatt to me, as representing perhaps the most mature, balanced argument defending this perspective currently in print.1

The intended audience for Peppiatt’s work is targeted towards those thoughtful Christians who hold to a traditional, complementarian view, what she calls a “heirarchialist” view, who are willing to consider a change in perspective regarding the teaching of Scripture. However, the book is also for egalitarians nervous as to whether or not the Bible actually teaches egalitarianism. For several disputed passages, the issue comes down to whether a distinctive teaching is prescriptive for all times and all places, versus being descriptive,  possessing a set of instructions for a particular first century, cultural setting. Unfortunately, a more sacramentalist approach, which looks for concrete ways for regarding men and women as fully equal within the sight of God, and yet relating to one another in the church and in the family in non-interchangeable ways, is not sufficiently interacted with in Peppiatt’s work. To put it briefly, Lucy Peppiatt succeeds in admirable ways to make her case for what she calls a “mutualistic” view of relations between men and women, while still coming up short in certain specific and crucial areas.
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Rock and Sand: An Eastern Orthodox Appraisal of the Protestant Reformation

Most evangelical Protestants, particularly in the United States, know very little about the Eastern Orthodox faith. What they do know is often jumbled together with their understanding of Roman Catholicism. Likewise, many Eastern Orthodox remain unfamiliar with Protestant beliefs.

A lot of that is changing as Eastern Orthodoxy grows in America, with high profile conversions from evangelical Protestantism to Orthodoxy, ranging from apologist Hank Hanegraaff to Christian author Frederica Mathewes-Green. Other well known Eastern Orthodox Christians (or those with appreciative Eastern Orthodox backgrounds) include columnist Rod Dreher and the controversial radio personality Eric Metaxas.

Unlike the Christian West, where Protestantism split from the Roman Catholic Church, about 500 years ago, Eastern Orthodoxy has no exact equivalence of a Protestant Reformation in its history. Essentially, Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy constituted one unified church for basically a thousand years, until these movements both split from one another officially in 1054 C.E. But, what exactly makes Eastern Orthodoxy different from evangelical Protestantism?

Father Josiah Trenham shows how Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestant evangelicalism differ from one another, offering a look at what Protestants can learn from Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

A Church Built on Rock… or Sand?

Father Josiah Trenham, an Antiochian Eastern Orthodox priest in California, has written a book, Rock and Sand: An Orthodox Appraisal of the Protestant Reformers and Their Teachings, that helps readers answer this very question. Trenham was raised in a conservative Presbyterian church, eventually following the teachings of Ligonier Ministries founder, R.C. Sproul. But partway through his seminary training, Trenham came to see what he saw were weaknesses in the evangelical Protestant tradition, and he was received into the Antiochian Eastern Orthodox church and eventually became a priest there in 1993. Today, he runs a popular YouTube channel, Patristic Nectar.

Rock and Sand: An Orthodox Appraisal of the Protestant Reformers and Their Teachings was written primarily to help Eastern Orthodox believers understand the roots of Protestantism, but I found it a helpful guide, as an evangelical Protestant myself, to understand the differences between the two traditions. As indicated by the title, the aim of Rock and Sand is to show that Eastern Orthodoxy is built on rock whereas Protestantism is built on sand. It is worth exploring how Father Trenham makes the case for Eastern Orthodoxy.

Father Trenham does a commendable job describing the distinctive teachings of the early Reformers, ranging from Martin Luther, to Ulrich Zwingli, to John Calvin. Trenham appreciates those reforms that sought to correct imbalances in the medieval Roman Catholic church, such as rejecting the doctrine of purgatory, indulgences, and papal primacy. He personally values his own experience within Protestant churches, particularly the evangelical Protestant zeal for the Bible and for missionary evangelism.

Trenham recalls a quote made by Martin Luther, when he was first publicly challenged by the papal legate Cardinal Cajetan in 1519, “The truth lies with the Greeks,” meaning the Eastern Orthodox. Trenham acknowledges that Luther had the most Eastern Orthodox-ish view of sanctification among the early Reformers, grounding the Christian life in our union with Christ, thus aligning towards the Eastern Orthodox understanding of theosis. Trenham warmly accepts Calvin’s measured view of the End Times, that avoids endless speculation derived from the Book of Revelation, and judges that Calvin “maintained a brilliant Christocentric hermeneutic” of Scripture. Very few Protestants today even know that Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin positively affirmed the perpetual virginity of Mary, which agrees with Eastern Orthodox teachings.

Yet in other ways, Father Trenham does not shy away from showing where the Protestant Reformers fell short in comparison to the Eastern Orthodox. At various points, he focuses on certain details that expose the more odd and embarrassing side of the Reformers. Little did I know that Martin Luther argued against certain traditional views of incest, by allowing for Christians to marry their first cousins. Trenham uses Luther’s, Melancthon’s and Martin Bucer’s awkward approval of Philip of Hesse’s bigamy as an unflattering illustration of the Protestant Reformers willingness to compromise with the political powers of the day, in order to gain the favor of the state.

Father Trenham also zeroes in on some of the more idiosyncratic views of certain Reformers, to illustrate the failure of sola scriptura as a coherent doctrine, from his perspective. He blasts the Reformers, like Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli, for their failure to agree upon the nature of the Lord’s Supper, the central act of worship throughout the entire history of the Christian church. Both Luther and Zwingli believed that the “plain reading of the text” clearly taught their respective views, despite the fact that they contradicted one another. This argument supports Trenham’s contention that only a church guided by the light of tradition, upheld by a college of bishops, apostolic succession, and ecumenical councils can prevent a Christian community from falling prey to idiosyncratic interpretations of the Bible, that will inevitably cause church splits, an endemic feature of nearly all Protestant churches.

Father Trenham illustrates that the evangelical Protestant prejudice against church tradition is even reflected in some popular Bible translations. For example, the Greek word paradosis is used in the Bible regarding “tradition” in two senses. In the negative sense, “tradition” refers to the man-made traditions of the Pharisees, which Jesus exposed as hypocrisy, as in Matthew 15:3. But it also has the positive sense of “tradition” in other contexts, where “tradition” is in reference to what Christians are to pass down from one generation to the next generation, as in 2 Thessalonians 2:15. Unfortunately, the popular NIV translation for years has translated this positive sense of paradosis very differently as “teachings,” instead of “traditions.” Thankfully, more recent translations, such as the ESV and the CSB, correctly translate this as “traditions”: “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.” At least the NIV does mention “traditions” as a possible translation, in a footnote, for those who bother to notice. Nevertheless, among many Protestant evangelicals, some reading habits are hard to break.

An Eastern Orthodox Appreciation for Infant Baptism

In his argument against the Anabaptists, Father Trenham gives a very coherent defense of infant baptism, against all forms of “credobaptism”; otherwise known as “Believer’s Baptism.” He demonstrates that the practice of baptizing infants is in continuity with the Old Testament practice of male infant circumcision. However, whereas circumcision was the primary marker for membership in the Old Covenant of the Jews, it has now been replaced by the practice of baptism in the New Covenant. In other words, baptism carries forward the original Old Testament concept of covenant membership to include Jew and Gentile, male and female, and slave and free, as grounded in the New Testament (Galatians 3:25-28).

Interestingly, Father Trenham argues against the Protestant insistence that salvation is primarily an individual act, and his case for infant baptism is used to buttress his more communal understanding of salvation. The repeated experience that entire households were baptized in the New Testament, even though only one member of the household professed faith initially, calls into question the claim that “Believer’s Baptism” is the clear teaching of Scripture. In the case of the conversion of Lydia (Acts 16:11-15), the passage tells only of Lydia’s conversion and no one else in her household. Nevertheless, everyone in Lydia’s household was baptized. In the case of the conversion of the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:25-34), the passage tells only of the jailer’s conversion and no one else in his household. Nevertheless, everyone in the Philippian jailer’s household was baptized.

Is it possible that the other members of Lydia’s household had become believers at that time, and the text never tells us? Yes, but it is also possible that there were infants in Lydia’s household, who were baptized. Is it possible that the rejoicing of the Philippian household in the jailor’s conversion signaled their own faith in Christ? Yes, but it is also just as likely, if not more so, that they all became believers after their baptism, and not before. The Bible’s silence on this issue, in these two cases, is profound. The argument presented by Father Trenham is something that most Protestant proponents of “Believer’s Baptism” rarely address.

On occasion, Father Trenham makes some rather suspect claims about the Protestant Reformers, but these are very rare. He states that John Calvin taught a very clear doctrine of double predestination, but that some of his closest followers after him did not, such as Theodore Beza. This is highly problematic as many Protestant students of Calvin suggest that Theodore Beza developed Calvin’s doctrine of predestination in greater detail and force than did Calvin himself, who relegated the doctrine of predestination to a lesser position in his Institutes of the Christian Religion.

One of the more interesting features of Father Trenham’s book is a summary retelling of the history of dialogue between the Protestant Reformers and the Eastern Orthodox, a topic often completely ignored among historians of the Reformation. Lines of communication between the early Lutherans and the Eastern Orthodox led to a fruitful dialogue between both sides, despite their ultimate disagreements. Cyril Lucaris, an Eastern Orthodox patriarch and theologian in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, urged other Eastern Orthodox theologians to study in Western Europe at Protestant universities, in hopes of stimulating a reunion of the churches. Lucaris was even rumored to have written a confession of faith along Calvinist lines, yet Father Trenham vigorously denies that Lucaris was the real author of such work.

The Achilles Heel of the Protestant Evangelical Movement

The most stinging critique of Protestantism comes in Father Trenham’s chapter on “Evangelicalism”:

Many modern Protestants do not even recognize themselves as the heirs of the Protestant Reformation. The most vibrant and demographically explosive forms of Protestantism are so ahistorical, so radically detached from the historic Christian ethos that an organic association even with their own Protestant lineage is too much of a chronological and dogmatic commitment. For many of these Protestant Christians the only relevant history of Christianity began with the history of their own particular congregation or even the history of their particular preacher and no tangible connection to the Christian past is considered essential. What matters to them is that their spiritual experience is real, not that their spiritual experience is in harmony with that of their forebears

Ouch. That really hurt. That paragraph alone was the most griping of Rock and Sand.

It pretty much explains my own encounter with evangelicalism, particularly that of the megachurch variety. The relatively ahistorical character of evangelicalism is responsible for the absurd notion that those who wish to defend any 2,000 year old teaching of the church bears the burden of proof for its defense, as though a Bible believer today can simply read something in the Scriptures and declare such tradition to be false, with very little evidence to show for it. This is nothing more than Protestant hubris that devalues the importance of church history.

Evangelicalism brings in the numbers, and reaches a lot of people for Jesus, something that I celebrate (as does Father Trenham), but it does so at the cost of producing a relatively shallow form of faith, that does not always weather well when the storms of doubt trouble the soul. The contemporary “ExEvangelical” deconstruction trend in some circles serves as evidence for that deficiency within Protestant evangelical subculture. Eastern Orthodoxy has its own skeletons in the closet, but that paragraph above from Father Trenham about my own tradition hit me like a two-by-four across the skull.

Alas, Some Hesitations Regarding Eastern Orthodoxy

Rock and Sand does not address this, but it would have been helpful to touch on some of the problems internal to Eastern Orthodoxy, as a means of self-critique. Ongoing disputes concerning the Protestant doctrines of sola scripture, sola fide, and sola gratia, not withstanding, there are other reasons why many Protestants still wrestle the Eastern Orthodox tradition. Despite the enumerated strengths of the book, and Protestants wrestling with the implications of sola scriptura, the Eastern Orthodox have their own struggles with schism, mostly along ethnic, even nationalistic lines.

A case in point dominates the 2022 news cycle: The 2018 quarrel between the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople (Istanbul) and the Russian patriarch, over the jurisdiction of orthodoxy in Ukraine, has served as an unfortunate backdrop, contributing to the tense political situation that precipitated the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. While Father Trenham rightly questioned the ties that 16th century Reformation leaders had with the European political authorities of that day, it is fair to say that certain strands in Eastern Orthodoxy have become enmeshed in an unhealthy way with certain political powers as well, throughout its history. Many Eastern Orthodox Christians have condemned Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, but not all have done so. In the past, I have held out hope that reconciliation among the churches was within grasp, but recent events have rocked that hope for me. The 2022 crisis in the Ukraine and Vladimir Putin’s role in Eastern Orthodoxy threatens to raise even more skepticism among non-Eastern Orthodox Westerners about the supposed purity of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Perhaps the primary deficiency of Rock and Sand is the underlying polemical nature of the book, casting serious doubt on the possibility of the reunification of the East and the West. An appendix in the book includes the records of several attempts towards Eastern Orthodox and Protestant reconciliation, including the 1672 Confession of Patriarch Dositheos, at the Synod of Jerusalem, and the more recent 1912 effort by American Episcopalians and Saint Raphael of Brooklyn, the first Eastern Orthodox bishop to be consecrated on American soil. to dialogue with one another. Sadly, none of these efforts have born lasting fruit in favor of ecumenism.

The tone of Father Trenham may come across as negative at times to some readers. The idea of being called a “heterodox believer” is not always very comforting. Father Trenham notes a distinction between “heresy” and “schism,” the latter being less serious, but does at times unflinchingly place Protestantism in the category of “heresy.” A number of Father Trenham’s fellow Eastern Orthodox readers concur that the tone of Rock and Sand comes across as somewhat mixed in this regard.

Rock and Sand: An Excellent Resource for Understanding the Differences Between Protestantism and Easter Orthodoxy

However, in his defense, Father Trenham does seek to be charitable, broadly throughout the book, and frankly his critique of Protestantism is not that far off the mark. In an age where evangelical Protestants have the unceasing propensity towards the division of churches, while simultaneously making awkward pleas for “unity,” it is quite understandable why Eastern Orthodoxy offers a refreshing appeal towards disaffected Protestants who desire to take the best of their Protestant evangelical background and make the move towards of Eastern Orthodoxy, with its extraordinary reverence, and holistic integration of worship and theology, which is so often absent in many Protestant circles today.

My own interest in Eastern Orthodoxy comes from a growing sense that the “agree to disagree” posture of popular evangelicalism, that dominates the greatest segment of megachurch American Protestant Christianity, is extremely difficult to sustain over the long term. Many evangelical churches adopt a very broad concept of handling “disputable matters” in the church, but there is not always a very cohesive understanding as to what the New Testament’s teaching on “disputable matters” even means. Many evangelical churches are extremely weak in catechizing (or teaching) their members about the basics of the faith. Then, when certain persons growing up in evangelical churches later fall away from their faith upbringing, those who remain lament the fact, but they often do not know what to do about it, because they lack the historical perspective offered by older traditions like Eastern Orthodoxy, or even Roman Catholicism.

Eastern Orthodoxy, on the other hand, finds no attraction to this kind of evangelical populism, that ignores the lessons of church history, particularly of the early church. A worship experience in an Eastern Orthodox church is wonderfully awe-inspiring, rich in symbolism and mystery, rooted in centuries of tradition, whereas the typical evangelical megachurch formula of singing a bunch of songs, followed by a TED-talk-style sermon, often lacks depth. Eastern Orthodoxy is not perfect, and some Eastern Orthodox doctrines and practices may have a quirky feel to them, but Protestant evangelicals have a lot to learn from our Christian friends in the East. Protestant evangelicals would do well to read Rock and Sand, even if they are not completely won over by all of Father Trenham’s arguments.

The Bosphorus is the body of water that divides Europe from Asia in modern day Turkey, near Istanbul. But for centuries Istanbul was known as the central home for Eastern Orthodoxy. The slogan of “crossing the Bosphorus” is today commonly used as a metaphor to describe one’s conversion from Protestant or Roman Catholic brands of Western Christianity to embrace Eastern Orthodoxy. A read through Father Josiah Trenham’s Rock and Sand will help Protestants like myself to rethink their own faith experience, and it even might provide the impetus for some to make that journey to “cross the Bosphorus.”

 

In the following video segment on Gospel Simplicity’s YouTube channel, Father Josiah Trenham offers his reasoning as to why the Protestant doctrine of “sola scripture” begets all of the other “heresies” associated with Protestant faith.  View the whole video interview here. Or you can follow the link to Father Trenham’s own YouTube channel.


Is “Historical Criticism” of the Bible a Good Thing, … or a Bad Thing?

In this series of blog posts, we have examined the “historical criticism” of the Bible. At this point, it might be worth offering a brief summary of where we are at.

Historical criticism of the Bible: Friend or foe?

First, we considered the question as to what “historical criticism” of the Bible is. Briefly put, historical criticism seeks to understand the origins of ancient texts in order to better get at the world “behind the text.” With respect to the Bible, this means trying to place our understanding of the Bible within the historical context of the ancient world of Israel, and first-century Palestine and the Greco-Roman world, where both the Old and New Testaments, respectively, were written.

Secondly, we looked how historical criticism developed over time. The standard story is that “historical criticism” of the Bible arose during the period of the Enlightenment, following the Protestant Reformation. But if we place the rise of historical criticism itself within its own historical context, we see that multiple stories emerge. For historically-orthodox minded Christians, historical criticism is a continuation of an attempt to better understand the Bible as the very Word of God, something that thoughtful believers have been trying to do since the reception of the canon of Scripture. However, for others, historical criticism has been an attempt to take the task of Biblical interpretation out of the hands of spiritual leaders in the churches, and place it in the hands of a different authority, whether that authority be the academic university or even the state. During the Enlightenment the idea was to appeal to the principles of science to resolve Bible interpretation issues, instead of relying on conflicting dogmatic traditions of various church bodies.

Thirdly, we have looked at how the practice of historical criticism in our churches has led to a split, dividing historically-orthodox believers from progressive Christians. On the one hand, the rejection of what is perceived to be “historical criticism,” found in various forms of “fundamentalism,” has led to a concern of an anti-intellectual spirit that marginalizes historical Christianity. On the other hand, the enthusiastic embrace of historical criticism in “progressive Christianity” circles has threatened to empty Christian teaching of any real content, that would distinguish the church from the secularization of the culture growing around the church. In other words, while “progressive Christianity” seeks to rescue Christianity from rigid dogmatism, it often ends up looking no different from the agnostic/atheist assumptions of the secular world.

Fourthly, we have examined a shift over the previous century with respect to the concerns brought to bear on the text of Scripture by historical criticism. Way back in the 19th and 20th centuries, advocates of historical criticism were primarily concerned with superstitious assumptions about the world made by more traditional forms of Christianity. Such superstitions tended to elevate the supernatural over and against the natural, thus sidelining the advance of science in the modern world. Now, in the 21st century, those concerns have dramatically shifted towards more social justice oriented questions, ranging from racism, to the treatment of women, and most recently, to various LGBTQ concerns. While people still wonder about truth claim of a Bodily Resurrection of Jesus, and its miraculous character, Western culture has become more focused on how the Bible is sometimes used as a weapon to hurt people. In other words, when it comes to reading and interpreting the Bible, in the 21st century, social justice concerns have superseded concerns about science, which were more of the primary concerns of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Along the way in this series, we have examined a few case studies that illustrate the themes described above. An historically-orthodox believer who values the benefit of historical criticism will find a harmony within the text where certain tensions exist. However, if an advocate for historical criticism seeks to set aside the divine inspiration in their analysis of the Bible, those same tensions will appear to them as contradictions. For example, if we see the Bible as a cohesive whole, as inspired by God, we can see how God seeks to honor the beauty of the relationship between male and female, whereas a more skeptical critic will see tensions as contradictions, where such teachings can be easily misused to denigrate and oppress women.

We also considered the question of when we should look to harmonize various discrepancies that we find in the Bible, versus looking for more creative ways of thinking, in order to help resolve those tensions we find within Scripture. We then looked at some principles for considering the evidence for a traditional way of reading a passage of the Bible, versus potentially embracing a different interpretation of that passage, that makes better sense of the text overall.

Leading up prior to this blog post, we examined a very helpful scholarly attempt to provide some authoritative answers for believers, when their friends, neighbors, and relatives ask questions about some of the insights gained from the historical criticism of the Bible.

So, back to the question in the title of this blog post: Is “Historical Criticism” of the Bible a good thing?

A reasonable answer is this: YES, it is a good thing for the most part, but it really depends on the assumptions and attitudes one has when doing “historical criticism” of the Bible. For if we come to the text of Scripture in an attempt to knock down its authority, or otherwise distort its message, then it can indeed be a bad thing. On the other hand, coming to the Bible, with a spirit of openness to the Holy Spirit, and a sense of humility, can be a very, very good thing. In some cases, our traditional ways of thinking about the message of Bible will be challenged and transformed, while in other ways, the traditional teachings that have been handed down throughout the ages, will be reaffirmed and treasured more deeply.

This blog post pretty much closes out this series on “historical criticism” for now, though from time to time I will add more articles, indexed from the introductory post in this series.


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