A university religions professor chides my quoting the Gospels with an assumption that they correctly record what Jesus actually said. “If you exclude the Bible from historical-critical scrutiny,” he warns, “you will remain impervious to any historical argument and a discussion is indeed useless.”
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I certainly believe that Scripture will stand up to historical and scientific investigation, but I am not convinced that the various “criticisms” which attempt to go behind the text themselves meet the canons of rigorous science. That is particularly true when those who originally create these critical methods do not do so as committed members of the faith community involved, and sometimes are actually hostile to faith. Too often such “tools” have proved to be passing fads, or to be exposed as ends within themselves, or as means for advancing other agendas. The so-called “Jesus Seminar” is a prime example.
That does not mean I deny the usefulness of scholarly tools. I appreciate the various distinctives of the individual Gospels. I often comment, in teaching the Gospels, that a text might reflect the early church’s use of a deed or saying of Jesus. But I have a working presumption that the documents as we have them are reliable in fact, and I am consequently predisposed to reject out of hand any suggestion to the contrary.
In short, I am willing to use any criticism or method to help me understand the meaning of the text. I am willing to accept sound conclusions of textual critics to determine the scope of my “canon.” However, I reject the right of any criticism or method to call into question the veracity or facticity of anything the canonical text asserts or alleges.
I admit my presuppositions. I respect those who sincerely differ. I know that a personal relationship with God may be had by persons who disagree with what I have said above. I am sure that you would agree with me that we all must guard against unholy motives which stand poised to detract us from proper creaturely humility and ultimate dependence on the One who made us, and with whose word we are dealing.