Welcome to the Crawl

Before you start, make sure someone gives The Spiel to your group.  Also, remember these conversation tips: 1) Be polite, and don’t take offense, 2) Say something if you don’t understand, 3) Ask “why” and speak up if you disagree (It’s not rude, it’s just a good conversation). Now, order a drink and start unpacking the deep mysteries of the universe!


The Main Questions

  • Discuss as a group how the Bible came into existence. Try to answer the following questions: How/when was it written down? Who wrote it down? Was it edited? Refer to the first bullet point in “Ideas and Definitions” as an aid.
  • Read the definition of the “Historical-Critical Method.” What do you think of this method for approaching the Biblical text? What are its advantages? What are its disadvantages? What theological problems could it cause?
  • Is the “original meaning” of the text actually important for doing Christian theology? If yes, what counts as the original text of the Bible when much of what we have is an edited version of earlier texts? If no, on what basis are you doing Christian theology?”
  • Read the four source hypothesis bullet point in the “Ideas and Definitions” section. Does it bother you that the historical records of Jesus are compiled from different sources and sometimes disagree? If yes, what is particularly troubling to you? If no, how do you deal with theological ideas which depend on their being historical realities (e.g. the resurrection)? 
  • While the Bible is often a valuable historical tool, there are many instances where the archaeological record does not match the Biblical narrative (e.g. the conquest of Israel as described in Joshua is not identifiable in any Israeli dig sites). How would you deal with situations like this on a theological level? Does the historical-critical method help or hinder in dealing with situations like this?
  • The Bible is also a “living document” within the life of the Church. It was first compiled by the early Church and has been continually read and interpreted as a source for communal life. Can/should the Bible’s ecclesial origins be separated from its historical origins?

Key Definitions

  • The Bible is ..
    • Made up of 66 separate books
    • Written by at least 40 separate authors
    • Written over the course of 1,600 years
    • Written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek
  • Historical-critical Method // 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. // Good ol’ Wikipedia
  • Form criticism // Form criticism breaks the Bible down into sections (pericopes, stories), which are analyzed and categorized by genres (prose or verse, letters, laws, court archives, war hymns, poems of lament etc.). The form critic then theorizes on the pericope’s Sitz im Leben (“setting in life”), the setting in which it was composed and, especially, used. // Good ol’ Wikipedia
  • Source criticism // Source criticism is the search for the original sources which lie behind a given biblical text. // Good ol’ Wikipedia
  • Redaction Criticism // Redaction criticism studies “the collection, arrangement, editing and modification of sources” and is frequently used to reconstruct the community and purposes of the authors of the text. // Good ol’ Wikipedia
  • Four Source Hypothesis // The three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) are unique in what they share and how they differ. Some passages appear in all three, some two, and some are unique to each Gospel. The four source hypothesis argues Mark was written first and that Matthew and Luke were written using the following sources: Mark, their own unique materials (L & M), and an undiscovered compilation of the sayings of Jesus (Q).

Important Scripture

  • For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. // Matthew 5:18
  • God said to Moses: “Now write down these words, for by these words I’ve made a covenant with you and Israel.” // Exodus 34:27
  • Then the LORD replied: “Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. // Habakkuk 2:2
  • You are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And My servant whom I have chosen, So that you may know and believe Me And understand that I am He Before Me there was no God formed, And there will be none after Me. // Isaiah 43:10
  • As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. // Isaiah 55:10-11

Thoughts from Others

  • The church has traditionally not located the site of inspiration to be in the mind of the human author but in the text of Scripture itself. The shift to concentrating on the intentions of the human author is something that only happened in the modern era, with the rise of historical criticism. // Dale B. Martin, Sex and the Single Savior
  • The application of the historical method to the Bible as a historical text was a path that had to be taken. If we believe that Christ is real history, and not myth, then the testimony concerning him has to be historically accessible as well. In this sense, the historical method has also given us many gifts. It has brought us back closer to the text and its originality, it has shown us more precisely how it grew, and much more besides. The historical-critical method will always remain one dimension of interpretation. // Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)
  • The historical-critical method is “a truly dictatorial regime in theology.” It is “an uncritical and unjustified denigration of the Biblical text” and a “godless technique that eroded the Word of God itself.” // G. Maier
  • We really just want to make two basic points:
    • We want to show that not all historical-critical view-points lead to heresy (there is no satanic druid cabal slaughtering goats behind closed doors at the Society of Biblical Literature meetings!); you can be orthodox and a historical critic.
    • Since some historical critical perspectives do damage the way Christians historically have understood their faith, evangelicals should be at the forefront of the discussion, helping shape good critical scholarship rather than ceding the field to people who don’t have the same theological concerns. // Christopher M. Hays