Good Faith Questioning Is Not the Enemy

In my first essay on the General Conference Biblical Research Institute’s (BRI) Biblical Hermeneutics: An Adventist Approach, I discussed Kwabena Donkor’s leading paper, which deals with subtle presuppositions that influence how we interpret the Bible. I suggested then that perhaps we could use its insight as a linchpin to a less constrained interpretive stance on our hermeneutics journey. In this second look, I take up Frank Hasel’s article, “Elements of Biblical Hermeneutics in Harmony with Scripture’s Self-Claims.” Hasel outlines general principles intended to nudge the church towards a “safe” encounter with the Bible. Following Donkor’s lead, I want to focus on one overarching presupposition that Hasel seems to enjoin the church to adopt: that it is dangerous to encounter the Bible with a skeptical mind.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/11649
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In my own experience, most people who argue against intellectual skepticism are using some form of an argument from consequences fallacy. In other words, I think that many people fear that the Bible or SDA views of it will NOT be able to withstand careful skeptical scrutiny. They must, or they wouldn’t use emotional language and frightening consequences to make their cases, as SDA thinkers from Hasel to Goldstein regularly do. There is a gargantuan irony here for the church that boldly claims to have “truth.” Anyone who uses arguments from consequences must not care about the truth of a belief more than they fear the consequences. That, I think is a simple truism. And we can all see how the SDA church behaves here…

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What Hasel’s aim ignores is that the bible is a dangerous book…or collection of writings. It is not totally safe and predictable. Neither is the God whom it portrays. This is the way of a crucified messiah, who confounded the religious establishment of his day with offense, and the powers that be with foolishness.

Hasel and most of us want God and the bible to be tamed. That’s a faulty expectation from the jump.

Frank

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Well said. Any God worth worshipping should be beyond human control. My own experience with the SDA Church is not unlike Dorothy’s in the Wizard of Oz. When I finally looked behind the curtain, all I could find were the levers and switches of human control, often being manipulated by people apparently motivated by ego and fear. Once you see the levers of control they are impossible to un-see. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a real “Wizard of Oz” out there somewhere, but I can say with confidence that he is not behind this particular curtain…

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Seems like this topic is coming up over and over again. But what I can’t figure out…because I didn’t see it stated explicitly (unless I missed it) is if the author is stating that parts of scripture are not inspired. That in fact parts of scripture are actually contrary to God’s will. There are other explanations to the verses cited that don’t involve them being made up by the authors.

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I was asked by Adventist Today to write a book review for the 25th anniversary of Thompson’s book Inspiration. I pleaded no expertise at all on the subject. They asked anyway. In delving into the subject, I realized for the first time that the Bible has a very slim definition of inspiration. Most of what is said by the experts is, um, in my opinion, made up! Take the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, for example. It is seven pages of bold assertions about the nature of inspiration, statements that are beyond extrapolations; they are leaps! They go far beyond what the Bible itself says on the subject. Quartey has posed examples of the problems that arise if you don’t use some judgment about scripture. In this, he touches on the fear aspect of our culture.

Hasel’s assertions feel like they tilt toward the Chicago Statement and its “verbally…God-given” view. The problem for me is that the longer I think about it, the more I believe most doctrine/belief is someone’s interpretation. Ergo, seemingly countless denominations. Who gets to decide on the right interpretation among all of them? Clearly Hasel, and our church bureaucracy, want us to think this church has the right interpretation, and we shouldn’t question it. I’m not willing to go there. We are not infallible.

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I’ll take a chance at risking God’s ire, Hasel’s, and possibly yours, @PapaAfful, by asking you two (2) questions:

Imagine this: You’re an indentured servant to a well-to-do master, 30 centuries ago. You’re without property, or any means, except what you can move, carry, or clean with your hands.

You’re crossing an enormous, hot desert, bordered by a region of heathen, warlike clans, and you’re headed directly toward them.

You decide, for some reason, you want to strike out on your own; that, in the midst of this caravan, this million-man march of ex-slaves and animals, you can, somehow, do better for yourself.

Also, you want your wife and children to go with you.

Now, here are my two (2) questions:

1) Given the objectives of God — for the worshipful acknowledgment of Him, for order, for life to be preserved, and for Canaan to be settled by people who will advance the preceding objectives, etc. — how should Exodus 21:4-6 read? What should it say?

2) Have you ever seen Harrison Ford’s 1986 film, The Mosquito Coast?

HA

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Consider this…this whole scenario places your protagonist in the midst of the exodus trek. This does not take into account two other possibilities:

  1. Slavery was practiced within the land of Israel long after then. What the prospective economic outlook of said slave gaining freedom was may have been vastly different from the scenario you paint. Additionally, this is assuming Mosaic authorship in the desert. Many see later redaction or origin of portions of the Torah than an exodus dating of it. It may well have been commentary on practice within the land, not on the way to it.

  2. Speaking of the exodus…there is zero archeological evidence of a forty year, two million person journey across the desert from Egypt to Israel. Nothing has been found. No evidence of human remains, of encampment…nada. One would think that something would have been discovered by now of such a massive migration of human beings, and yet, nothing has.

If there was a flight from Egypt, it may have been a much smaller event. Israel’s deep history may be a more complicated affair. It lays open the idea that the ancient biblical writers dealt in mythic history to describe Israel’s origins. This was common in ancient cultures. The exodus, as a literal, historical account, is the way we would report it today. It would be far easier for us to deal with if this were to be the case from back then, but it doesn’t seem that this is how the ancient Hebrews did history. It also is a fact that there is no attestation of it from archeology, though I’m not familiar with other ancient, external sources.

If this is accurate, it admittedly complicates our picture of the Bible, what inspiration is, and how it functions. This is the danger that people like Hasel and Ted Wilson want to avoid. But, that is ostrich like behavior…not helpful in dealing with the issues forthrightly.

Frank

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Thanks, @frank_merendino.

I appreciate these thoughts.

I can respond to what you’ve written. It would not be difficult to do so.

However, what are your answers to my two (2) questions?

HA

That was my response, Harry. There is real challenge to the actual plausibility of the scenario you have set up.

Frank

Excellent article as usual Matthew, but can I pose questions here for further discussion?

  1. Can I truly practise a faith which I cannot question?

  2. Is the questioning of my faith motivated because:
    a. I believe I will find evidence that may not support my established views on particular topics.?
    b.It is fashionable to do this?
    c. I am determined to arrive at truth and be satisfied in my own mind on reaching that point.

3.If I cannot question my own faith, am I being true to myself, true to others, or true to what is accepted as truth?

One thing is clear, whether I choose to question my faith or no, truth never changes. It is not dependent on my questioning or refusal to do so. Truth remains as truth and is not altered in any way, when subjected to the most intense questioning.
Simply put, if I cannot question my faith, perhaps something is very wrong with me!

Thanks

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Thanks, @frank_merendino.

Respectfully, I didn’t ask for a response. I asked for an answer; two (2), in fact.

I know an answer when I see an answer. :slightly_smiling_face: I don’t consider your post an answer.

Why? Because it’s not an answer.

What’s the answer?

HA

Harry,

I can’t answer a question that I believe arises from an inaccurate, faulty scenario, or at best questionable premise. That’s my take on question one.

Number two…I didn’t see the film.

Frank

Thanks, @frank_merendino.

Respectfully, since he apparently believes the texts to be describing real events, @papaafful should be able to answer both questions.

Again, my thanks.

HA

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Please correct me, I’m guessing your referencing “the author” in your comment is addressed to @PapaAfful
Wouldn’t it be nice if the contributors to the hermeneutics book under discussion, could join this conversation?

I confess to having read only what’s available online, such as the entire Donkor piece and only a portion of Frank Hasel’s. That said, for fairness sake, please share with me why anyone posting here should agree or disagree with the following comments by Dr Hasel. I circled the statements, including one in his footnote, that I feel deserve our honest and respectful appraisal.

I’m not sure that what Hasel is quoting from John’s gospel proves his point. Jesus was speaking to people who already were well versed in and reverenced the scriptures. They already knew Torah backwards and forwards. His point was that they misread it.

This is one of the arguments of the fourth gospel. It is highlighting the contrast between pharisaic Judaism and the early Christian movement. They were the two movements to survive the destruction of the temple. Which one has the correct interpretation of the scriptures was the controversy. Was it the Pharisees and their rabbis who centered the religious life on the Torah and the observance of it as the ultimate expression of God and God’s will, or was it the Christians who were saying that Torah was pointing as a witness to Jesus the messiah and faith in and allegiance to him as the ultimate revelation of God?

This was not about proving systematic doctrinal edifices that became the occupation of later Christianity, and now Adventism, through using the Bible as the authority to do such. According to Jesus in the fourth gospel, the scriptures became something that witnessed to something else beyond itself. Greater than itself. Thus, the scriptures are not the center… Jesus is. And, Jesus was the lens through which the early Christians read the scriptures. Jesus wasn’t intellectually deduced from the scriptures, the scriptures became transformed through experiencing him and the power of the spirit. This is just what Paul says in 2 Cor. 3, “ The Lord is the spirit…and when one turns to the lord, the veil (over their eyes and the scriptures) is taken away.”

Hasel’s jumping to Matthew 5 about not a jot or tittle passing from the law until all is fulfilled is also problematic in this discussion. It’s again pulling out of context to make his own point. I’m not sure that’s the point Jesus or Matthew were making. Jesus spends the major portion of the sermon on the mount saying, “You have heard it said, but I say to you…” He is contrasting what Moses/Torah says with his own teaching. His own teaching assumes ultimate authority, at times amplifying Torah, at times overturning it. Jesus’s initial statement of not a stroke of the pen passing from the Torah needs to be read in light of this. Jesus and his teaching is the ultimate authority, not what Torah says. It is the ultimate fulfillment, interpretation, and application of Torah.

Again, Matthew is showing that Torah and scriptures were not the center of faith, Jesus was…and still is.

Frank

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I’m with you. I see more clearly, I hope from your comment, how we might differ with Dr Hasel. It’s not something like look at Jesus and back to the scriptures (i.e.Torah)! Thank you so much!

There’s one statement by Dr Hasel that I wish other posters would also respond to, whether or not they agree and let us know why or why not?

Jesus gave Scripture a very exalted position and clearly affirmed its divine origin and enduring theological authority.

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I would agree that the Scriptures were important for Jesus: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” as he quoted scripture to the devil.

With that said, Jesus, and the NT writers, also held his teaching and his person up as more central than their scriptures. In their eyes, they were what the Torah and the prophets were continually pointing to. The ultimate fulfillment of their scriptures, and the ultimate revelation of God to humans.

John 1, Hebrews 1:1-3, and much of Romans and Galatians sets forth this idea. God’s living address to us, while rooted in the story of Israel and in her scriptures, is now through the gospel of king Jesus and the power of his Spirit. The scriptures functioned as a witness to what was now central, God revealing himself through his son, the living Torah, the living word.

The enduring central authority of God is in Jesus himself, the one appointed Lord through his resurrection from the dead, and who said, “All authority is given to me, in heaven and on earth…” While we see this through the written statement of Matthew in the NT, it’s telling us that the scriptures point to Jesus’s authority, not to their own. Scriptural authority was and is thus secondary as it directs all to Jesus.

Frank

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Is that exactly right? (“Home” singular?) How about, “A home of one of the decalogues (plural).”
(Ex 20 prohibits GRAVEN likenesses of God, but the Decalogue that Moses wrote on the tablets that ended up in the Ark of the Covenant prohibited MOLTEN likenesses."

17 Thou shalt make thee no molten gods. Ex 34:17

Strange story: (1) The people asked Aaron to make a molten god.
(2) Aaron acceded and mad a golden calf deliberately.
(3) Moses asked Aaron were the golden came from.(4) Aaron lying through his teeth, said the people asked him to throw the lump of gold into the fire. To Aarons surprise [lie, lie, lie], out came a godly god.
(5) Moses innocently passed Aaron’s the lie to God.
(6) God fell for it, rewarded Aaron with the highest priesthood, and told him to go kill for God [The most absurd part of the whole story.]

Both Jews and Christians have been struggling with the inconsistencies that Ex 34 leaves with us:

And the Lord said unto Moses, Write thou [Moses] these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee [Moses] and with Israel.
And he [Moses] was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he [Moses] did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he [Moses, not God] wrote upon the tables [that EGW said went to heaven] the words of the covenant, the ten commandments. (Ex 34:27,28)

Our church–especially EGW–never mentions that the only place in Exodus where we find a collection of commands specifically called “the ten commandments” is Exodus 34, not Exodus 20.

Thanks, @Harry_Elliott.

However, the line you quoted,

was written by @PapaAfful, not I.

It was part of my reply because I was responding to it.

HA