At the 2021 Annual Council, during a presentation in which he decried several concepts he deemed contrary to Adventism, Edward Zinke stated, “Our job is to teach our students to think biblically, not critically.” As conversation bubbled online about the statement, there was a dispute about whether he was referencing critical thinking or the historical-critical method (HCM), a mode of biblical interpretation. Regardless of the answer to that question, the statement is indicative of a strain of thought in Christianity that is harmful to any community of faith.
Thinking of any type, other than what is supportive of statism of thought, seems to be on the current no-no list, not only in the church but is this country at large. I see the parallelism between conservative religious thought and conservative politics to be very interesting. Both are seeking to control what is learned, talked about or even understood.
Zinke really needs to clarify his statements so people are not left wondering what it was he meant.
Conservativism seems to be less about questions and the search for answers than it is about the preserving of an idealized level of understanding and state of piety that supposedly existed in the past.
This level of thinking is contrary to the very core of what Adventists pioneers were all about. They eschewed the status quo and challenged established and cherished beliefs. As a result a fuller and richer understanding of God was born.
There are some who will go so far as to say their is nothing left to learn and that only the Bible and Ellen White should be read and that no other sources of information are safe, useful or permissible. This contradicts the method of study and search for knowledge the very pioneers of the Advent movement used in the quest for Present Truth. Now it seems, for some anyway, that those who wish to improve their literacy and knowledge with other sources are an enemy to be feared and shunned.
We must, as the author describes, use various means available to better understand the context of and sensibilities of both the writers and the intended recipients. I hear many say I read the plain Word, what they don’t understand is that they lack an understanding of the people, place and time and often misinterpret the message. We, in this day and age of great knowledge, cannot claim we lacked sources or the ability to understand more clearly the voices of these ancient writers as recorded over the ages in the Bible. To do less is a failure of our high calling and makes less effect the message of the Gospel.
“If faith is really so devoid of evident rationality, then it is not even faith, for it possesses no intelligible content” (David Bentley Hart, THAT ALL SHALL BE SAVED, p. 81). Written in the context of the efforts to make an eternal hell mesh reasonably with an all-loving God.
First of all, I doubt that Zinke considers critical thinking as being anti-Adventist. As you said it yourself, there is a dispute about what he meant. So, let’s not go ahead of ourselves too much.
Now, let’s consider HCM which is also known as the higher criticism method. It is a method that has been criticized when used with the Bible because its proponents has the tendency to treat Scripture as any other texts, that is, just like a human product.
So, because of this, anything supernatural is generally treated as being a myth. And also, since biblical texts are compared with non biblical texts, if there are some similitudes there is a great temptation to consider the texts from the Bible not as being original but as being derived from these non biblical texts or from the cultures that produced them.
A classical example of this is with the Code of Hammurabi which was said to have influenced the Mosaic law.
Another example is the story of the Flood being compared to the story of Gilgamesh. Because of similitudes between the two stories, many believe that the account of the Flood is just one among several ones that we can find among other cultures and that there was no worldwide flood at all, just a local one.
This last example shows what the problem is with the use of higher criticism. Jesus made reference to the Flood and the apostles too, and it was presented as a real event. So, as Christians, we have to choose. Do we believe Jesus and the apostles or do we believe the speculations of human beings about the Word of God?
At the end, using the higher criticism method, we arrive to a place where we are in opposition to God or Jesus’s teachings.
Historical criticism , alsoknown as the historical-critical method or higher criticism , is a branch ofcriticism that investigates theorigins of ancient texts in order to understand “the world behind the text”.
The primary goal of historical criticism is to discover the text’s primitive or original meaning in its original historical context and its literal sense or sensus literalis historicus. The secondary goal seeks to establish a reconstruction of the historical situation of the author and recipients of the text.
Obviously your definition must be different. Seeking to understand what the original recipient understood should always be considered so that those thousands of years later could understand the original intent. Failure to do so can and does lead persons today to erroneous conclusions.
I also believe that the idea that God only spoke to certain segments of society or humans to be extremely erroneous. Each culture hears Gods voice through it own experience, who are we to deny that? The fact the different cultures had different ways of understanding events and explaining them does not mean they are any less accurate. Stories, oral history, preceded the written words we have today. 10 people see an event, yet they will not all agree because of their view point at the time.
Zinke is justified in wishing to alienate critical methodology from religious education; that is, if the purpose is to avoid subjecting beliefs to evidence and logic. Faith positions have much to fear from careful analysis.
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It (the historical critical method) can be used well, and it can be misused.
So, as you suggest, using the HCM properly is to use it to bolster one’s faith. To use it improperly is to allow the methodology to undermine one’s prior conclusions.
It seems to me that the proper use of analytical disciplines, evidence, and reason is to be open to the direction and probabilities which are indicated, no matter the prior positions held or biases present in the mind of the student.
Basically, this is summed up in the thesis of John Loftus, “The Outsider Test For Faith”, which encourages anyone of any religious belief system to approach their own beliefs as an outsider would and as they would approach competing religious beliefs; to apply the same critical standards they apply to others to their own biases and beliefs.
Zinke is right to be fearful of subjecting beliefs to critical methodology; it is fatal to them.
Geology, paleontology, and genetics destroy young earth creationism.
Archaeology paints a very different picture than does the Old Testament.
Comparative religious studies shows both the Hebrew religion and Christianity to be consistent with the wider cultures.
Source criticism indicates the borrowing and reworking of other literature and religious systems rather than originality.
I could go on, but the choice is clear; wearing blinders or confronting reality.
There is a balance that is needed (faith vs new Analysis of scripture) and although I don’t know exactly what he meant by his statement, I believe he meant that we can’t look at scripture as we would a regular history book. If we do, all miracles would likely be discounted. Would critically examining scripture lead us to believe a serpent spoke? Would it lead us to believe bread fell from heaven? Or that the earth stopped rotating for a battle? Would we still believe God could be born of a human?
So although we always have more to learn and we should keep studying scripture to see a light and a deeper understanding of God and yes, even analyze if our interpretations are correct. To look at the Bible purely critically would basically remove all its power and truth.
By faith we understand that the worlds were formed by the word of God. Heb 11:3. Try and prove that critically. The Bible is true because I’ve seen it be true in my life and therefore I believe by faith the portions I can’t prove.
This is one writing of Jason Hines that I do appreciate. Considering the topic of critical thinking is beneficial for all mankind to experience personal growth. In the realm of Christianity, critical thinking aids in an understanding of a relationship with our Creator, the purpose of life and our existence, and why we see the sinfulness in our world today. However, when a critical thinking leads one astray from biblical truths and instead begins to see relativism as more valuable, any absolution becomes minimized and leads to dissolving of a faith in God and more faith in humanism. That is my opinion.
I am a firm believer in teaching my students to think critically and also prefer to approach life with a open and thinking mind. After all, I am human, not an animal.
“Critical thinking is self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem-solving abilities, as well as a commitment to overcome our native ego-centrism and socio-centrism” Criticalthinking.org.
Critical thinking leads to understanding. Understanding leads to wisdom. Wisdom then leads to more critical thinking. If any of this discredits biblical truths and causes a Christian to turn his/her back on God, then the path of misunderstanding has led to humanistic and egocentric foolishness. A present example of this is the current educational foolishness of CRT which leads to racism rather than understanding. A Christian that thinks critically will not fall for such foolishness.
You eloquently illustrated the issue that faith positions have with critical thinking. I think that you and others intuitively recognize the danger of subjecting them to accepted norms of analysis.
To put a point on the issue, the problem many have with critical methodology is the consequence of doing so. While critical scholars would not take issue with someone finding meaning in the stories you listed, they recognize them to be myth, legend, and folklore cooked into theology, not history.
If you presuppose that the Bible should be treated differently than other ancient literature before subjecting it to the same standards of analysis to which they would and should be subjected, you will uncritically accept that which would be dismissed as fiction if presented from outside your own faith tradition. For instance, the Koran and the Hadith, Islam’s holy books, indicate that about 621 AD, Mohammad mounted a magic flying horse named Baraq in Arabia and flew to Jerusalem in an overnight flight, landing on the temple mount. He was then transported to heaven where God instructed him in the proper method of prayer. I’m sure you would have no difficulty subjecting this account to critical analysis and concluding that it is fiction rather than history. Muslims though, would defend the historicity of the account in the same way that you would defend the magical and equally improbable stories in the Bible. Consistency would require that all rational people apply the same standards of critical analysis to their own beliefs and holy books that they do to those of other religions. That is the golden rule of critical thinking. One’s biases and aversion to doubt must be put aside in order to arrive at real knowledge. The consequences of doing so and the fear thereof must not be an issue in that endeavor.
Every year vast numbers of Muslims travel to Mecca on the Haj to walk in circles around the black stone, Al-Ḥajar al-Aswad. Critical historical analysis would point out that the veneration of this stone is pre-Islamic, a prior pagan belief adapted into Islam. Even the Koran itself, when analyzed critically is of questionable origin. Mohammad was illiterate and couldn’t have written it. The first attestation for the Koran is from decades after Mohammad’s death, cobbled together from memoirs of those who claimed to have heard the accounts from Mohammad, but those suras are disjointed and full of contradictions. The same methodology of critical analysis shows that Genesis is a compilation of folklore and legends cobbled together by unknown actors for the purpose of presenting a founding myth for the Hebrews. No one knows who the authors of the stories are or who assembled them, but comparisons with the wider cultures and religions of the middle east offer some quite solid clues as to their origin, evolved though they may be. But historical? Not so much…
I understand your point and it is a fair one. However, there are critical analysis methods we can use to, for instance, look at the historical accuracy of Jesus. I don’t believe God asks us to presuppose the Bible is true and therefore expects us to believe the “unbelievable” aspects of its content with a blind faith.
I believe He provides proof of very relevant aspects:, it names historical figures for time reference. It predicts kingdoms (Babylon, Medea and Persia, Greece and rome) before they come into power in Daniel. It predicts aspects of Jesus’ life that would be impossible to do hundreds of years before He existed and that would be out of His control. Like making his grave with the rich, soldiers casting lots for His clothes, etc. it predicts the events (natural, political, economical) that will be present near the end of the world. Which we will soon see if they are true or not. So God gives evidence that is critically relevant and that provides the basis for viewing the “supernatural” aspects of scripture.
I mean if we go pure critical, God’s existence is not provable. God asks for faith, but not blind faith, not ignorant faith, not baseless faith. There is plenty of evidence in the Bible of its veracity that we can look at and then take the other content thru a evidence based faith.
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It predicts aspects of Jesus’ life that would be impossible to do hundreds of years before He existed and that would be out of His control. Like making his grave with the rich, soldiers casting lots for His clothes, etc.
Who was the first to tell a Jesus story? The author of Mark. Who was he? We don’t know. Where did he come from? A Greek speaking part of the world. Where did he get his information? He doesn’t say, but it is apparent when subjected to critical analysis.
You refer to Psalm 22:18 “They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.” This was in no way a Messianic prophecy. The entirety of the Psalm is a lament of the author about his own situation. I could add Psalm 22:1 which are used by “Mark” as the last words of Jesus, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Or I could add Psalm 69:21 " They gave me poison for food,
and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink," again ignoring part of the verse and picking up on the last phrase for the account of Jesus being offered a thirst quencher. Or I could add Psalm 22:16 " Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet." As usual “Mark” grabs something out of context, ignoring the first part of the verse and using the last phrase to develop the crucifixion account. The gospel writer was not reaching back to actual predictions; he was interpreting non-predictions as though they were predictions and then creating a narrative therefrom.
What am I suggesting? That “Mark” knew nothing about an actual historical narrative of Jesus. He created it, asking “What would the Messiah have done?” Then he went on a hunt through scriptures, lifting phrases out of context and cobbling together a narrative in the form of history. What do we call this? Historical fiction. That “Mark” used sources is beyond question. The form of his gospel is the popular genre of the time, the traveling epic, borrowed from the Odyssey. Odysseus becomes Jesus as “Mark” reworks the epic. The stupid companions of Odysseus become the disciples. The Aegean sea becomes the “Sea” of Galilee (rather than its actual name, Lake Genserreth). The great storm and the calming of the Aegean Sea by Athena becomes Jesus calming the tempest on the lake. He adapts the arrest and trial of Jesus from Josephus’ account of Jesus ben Ananus. Yes, “Mark” used multiple sources to create a Jesus story, but under source critical analysis, they fail as reliable history. No fulfillment of prophecy here; rather, we have “Mark” helping Jesus fulfill scriptures by writing apparent fulfillment events out of the misuse of those texts. In fact, critical scholarship despairs of finding ANY event in the Jesus narrative which is unequivocally historical rather than being an adaptation of an unrelated source. In the gospels, we are observing theology, not history.
The British Sociologi8st, Basil Bernstein (1924-2000) has proposed that people often communicate in two different ways. Bernstein identifies one group as communicating in what he called Restricted Code. He suggests that this group is typically a socially constrained close group of people. In this group, there is a goal of uniform consensus. Questioning is not encouraged. The roles that people have in society are basic and carefully defined. He also identified specific patterns of speech and choice of vocabulary. Authority was often expressed as the idea that something was correct simply because an authoritative figure has said it was so. He identified his second group as using what he called Elaborated Code. This manner of communication allowed for larger differences of opinion. The goal was to encourage thinking broadly, and questions were welcomed from people who lacked basic information. Speech is often complex, indefinite and abstract.
In my review of Annual Council, I was reminded of Bernstein’s thesis. It should be noted that I have focused on a part of his overall thesis and in some ways I have modified it. In addition, in my understanding of Bernstein, I am indebted to the work of Dr. John McWhorter of Columbia University.
This is precisely the point that God has been trying to make for thousands of years: that the other “faith traditions” are, indeed, fictions; that the other gods are fictions; that the idols are nothing, just wood or stone; that there is only one God.
Now, just because God wanted to transmit his laws and messages through generations via writings (which was the only way to preserve information) doesn’t mean that Scripture is just that, writings. That is the presupposition, and mistake, of many who use higher criticism.
There is nothing wrong with text analysis but how the researcher positions himself or herself is crucial. If the researcher places human “wisdom and science” first and uses these to decide what is true or not true, or what makes sense or doesn’t in Scripture, then sooner or later there will be a clash because the “foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor 1:25).
When studying a particular subject, researchers oftentimes use presuppositions and heuristics (Occam’s razor, for example). But these can be detrimental because they introduce biases and subjectivity. For example, Francis Crick wrote that “biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved”. So, even if elements showing that there is design are found in the biological world, scientists will have to adopt the presupposition that it is just an illusion.
In the case of ancient texts, the presupposition is that the Bible is just another one among many. And while it can be understood that this stance is used to try to avoid biases, it creates a problem: the content of Scripture is validated or invalidated by the activity of the human mind. The human mind which is finite, clouded, biased, marred by sin, and clueless of many things.
Like the Bible says, we are oftentimes unable to distinguish our right from our left. But we think that we can definitely judge upon the Word of God.
What you are suggesting is a perfect illustration of what I said above. Do you have any proof of what you said? None. But to arrive to your conclusion, you had to make some suppositions. You said that Mark created the story about Jesus asking “What would the Messiah have done?” How do you know that? Did Mark tell you? Did someone testify and said that it is how Mark did it? No! What you wrote is pure speculation based on presuppositions.
If you had chosen another presupposition, you would have arrived to a different conclusion.
Now, how to solve this issue of presuppositions?
I think that the answer is “relationship”.
Abraham believed in God and had a relationship with Him. And God spoke to him and Abraham obeyed and his story was recorded. God manifested Himself to the Israelites when they were in bondage in Egypt. They saw the mighty hand of God when they were delivered and entered in a covenant with God. This also was recorded. God spoke to Moses who wrote His words down.
Then Jesus came and He made reference to the earlier writings.
I believe in Jesus and trust Him. I also believe that He knew what was true or not. And I also believe that He knew what He was talking about.
These are my presuppositions. Based on my studies and my experience.
When I do that, the Bible makes sense and I don’t have to reject parts that even Jesus accepted, like some Christians do.
If “Mark” had had direct knowledge of his subject matter, it would have been unnecessary to rewrite stories from other literature or to use OT texts out of context. Source criticism isn’t proof; it is using probability. When patterns become apparent, it shows how a writer operates. When a potential source for “inspiration” shows too many parallels to be coincidental, it becomes more probable that the writer was using it for his own purposes. It is unquestionable that “Mark” reified carefully filtered texts or phrases from the Psalms and the prophets to tell his story. Naive readers then imagine that those texts were prophecies of what the Messiah would do when they obviously have no such meaning when read in context. Since “Mark” and other NT writers were using the Septuagint rather than the Hebrew text, we can easily see how they were building their literary edifice on that translation of the OT, often a mistranslation, which doesn’t work when going back to the Hebrew text. That “Mark” was using Homer’s epics for literary form and some content is pretty well established; the question is only to what degree it was used. Did the gospel writers use the arrest and trial of Jesus ben Ananus to create the account of the arrest and trial of Jesus of Nazareth? There are 19 parallels in the accounts, and in the same order. This is not casual supposition, and the parallels are too numerous to be coincidental. It indicates dependency. Virtually all events in “Mark” can be shown to be pesher interpretations of OT accounts. Pesher methodology was common in that period; it basically used the OT scriptures as a launching pad to find novel meanings without regard to the original context; this is quite apparent in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The NT writers were engaged in the same sort of Pesher interpretation.
I suspect that your reading has been too insular and that there is a lack of knowledge about the wider context of the surrounding cultures. Are you aware that the Canaanites had a pantheon of gods and that the most high god was El? The English translation you use translates the word “God” from the Hebrew EL, sometimes El Elyon (the most high god). In these instances, it can be shown that the Hebrews shared the god El with the Canaanites. Yahweh (translated “The Lord”) was the Hebrew tribal god, just as other city states had their own tribal gods. In later centuries, Jews conflated El and Yahweh to be the one god. Yet some of the writings show that they were Henotheists rather than monotheists. They accepted the existence of other gods, but considered their own to be superior. The commandment “You shall have no other gods before me” is a statement which doesn’t deny the existence of other gods; rather, it prohibits putting any of them ahead of Yahweh.
But on what basis have you concluded that one set of holy books is true? Without prior examination, it is likely that you have uncritically accepted them as such on the basis of upbringing and indoctrination within your own culture. Have you ever subjected them to the same analysis and skepticism that you impose on those other “false” beliefs? If they cannot withstand scrutiny, isn’t it better to be aware of it.
I have a personal question if you don’t mind: do you believe in God?
You made arguments in favor of a position that , although possible, cannot be proven. Someone could easily argue the opposite. How do you know they motive behind Mark’s writings? How do you know he went “looking” for a messiah?
Take the flood story for instance. Does the fact that there are many flood stories in ancient culture support the idea that the Bible “borrowed” the story for its audience or does it support the idea that so many cultures have a flood story because a world wide flood actually took place and therefore the story is found in various cultures?
A scientist can look at dna and say, science/nature is amazing! A Christian can look at dna and say, our Creator is amazing!
This ultimately is the point of the comment which was the subject of this article. If you want to look at the Bible critically, by all means it’s your right. But if you’re going to have a faith community, it doesn’t wrk. Pure critical analysis would ultimately eliminate God altogether. But Christianity is a faith, not a science. I know so much of the Bible is unprovable, yet I believe it anyway, thru faith. As Hebrews says, faith is the substance of what we hope for.
Hence my initial question to you on this response. Do you believe there is a God?
“God” is a noun, a title, not a name. Which one are you asking about? Jupiter, Zeus, Mars, Krishna, Shiva, El, Diana, Odin, Thor, Friga, Yahweh, Asheroth, Ba’al, Horus, Isis, Magna Mater, Molech, The Great Kahuna, etc? Each one has a personal identity with ties to particular cultures.
It is more likely that he was giving a biography to Paul’s cosmic Christ. As the earliest Christian writer, Paul has an amazing silence regarding any recently living preacher from Galilee who was crucified in Jerusalem. In fact his silence is deafening. He shows no awareness that his cosmic Christ had ever been on earth. His Christ has much more in common with the mystery religions which also had dying and rising savior god-men. Mark, writing sometime after the war of 70 AD, seems to be projecting Paul’s Christ back into a pre-war context as a stand-in for the Jewish nation and writing about him as an allegory. Proof in these discussions isn’t a useful term. We can only observe the writings which survived, examine the apparent methods employed in their production, and calculate the probabilities. It would certainly have been helpful if more writings had survived or not destroyed. We know that Paul wrote more letters than we have now. We also know that there were competing apostles with contradictory messages to that of Paul, but unfortunately, none of their writings survive, so we can only get a partial picture. Was Paul the outlier whose views became normative simply because the views of the others are lost? We cannot know. The epistles of John condemns those who denied an earthly Jesus, which indicates that there were those who did so (by definition, these were believers in Jesus as a cosmic being, not an earthly human). Were these the Pauline Christians who were opposed by the community of John’s epistles (whoever “John” was).
I agree with your viewpoint on faith, though I would rephrase it more precisely; faith is acceptance of concepts as factual in the absence of evidence or in spite of evidence to the contrary. Critical methodology is the discipline of examining evidence and creating probable paradigms therefrom.
This is why I said that “relationship” was key. How did God oftentimes present Himself in the Old Testament?: as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. That is, the God who had a relationship with the forefathers of the Israelites. In essence, He was saying to the children of Israel that their fathers trusted Him and that now He was asking them to trust Him also based on these previous relationships.
And Jesus is asking us to do the same thing today.
Without any relationship with Jesus (and without the Holy Spirit), how can we trust what is written? We are not direct witnesses of what happened.
But they were some witnesses who said that they spoke to God or that they were with Jesus and saw what He did.
So now, the choice is ours. We can decide to stay put and study and dissect the texts until we have “proven” by a scientific method, or any method, that the texts are correct and mean what they say (good luck!), or we can make one step forward and step into the water with faith and see what happens.
The compilers of the tales in Genesis, or the original authors of them wrote in the third person. They tell the stories of characters set in times many centuries prior. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (people whose existence is largely discounted by historians) wrote nothing. We simply have story tellers relating events for which they had no knowledge. They don’t tell us how they got their knowledge. Lest you invoke inspiration as a source, they made no such claim for themselves. They are anonymous writers or editors whose only claim to authority is that claimed for them by later unknown persons who gathered their writings along with others into the Tanach. Tradition. From the patriarchs to the Exodus, to the conquest of the land, and to the vast empire of Solomon, these are founding myths for the Hebrews, not history. The consensus of archaeologists today (including Israeli scholars who have a vested need to find Jewish antiquity there) is that these events didn’t occur. There is strong evidence showing a different history of the region and a lack of evidence that should be there if the Biblical stories were true.
Who were the witnesses you claim were with Jesus who saw what he did and wrote down the accounts? Can you name even one? The first gospel writer was the anonymous author of the gospel of Mark. He wrote sometime between the 70’s and the 130’s AD. He had never even visited the region of Galilee or Judea which is obvious from his poor understanding/mistakes regarding the geography. The other anonymously written gospels used “Mark” as their primary source, so their gospels cannot be considered to be independent accounts. They are derivative. They depended on “Mark’s” account and then “corrected” some of the material to match their own theologies which were contradictory to each other, and added legendary material such as genealogies, birth narratives, and resurrection stories which were absent in “Mark”, and again, contradict each other. These unknown writers post date “Mark” and are far removed from the early first century AD. I would point out that they also didn’t claim to have witnessed anything, nor did they claim to have received their information via revelation. Those claims were made on their behalf by later church councils (tradition). The Jesus story is essentially single sourced! Read that again. We don’t even know “Mark’s” purpose. Was he even attempting to write about historical events, or was he writing a story as an allegory? We don’t know, and he didn’t say. So once again, who were the witnesses you claim wrote down what they saw Jesus do?
It seems to me that you are willingly wearing blinders to avoid knowing lest you discover that the neat package you were handed is a lot messier than you thought. I recognize it since I was once in that mindset.