Thursday, April 16, 2009

Apologists & Bible Scholars

Yes, I think apologists and Bible scholars belong in separate categories. True, some apologists want people to think they're Bible scholars ("Look, here's my dissertation on how Wellhausen was wrong and the Pentateuch really could have been written in the Late Bronze Age"), and some Bible scholars engage in apologetics more than Bible scholarship, but it's still a useful distinction to make. Sometimes a faith-based approach to the Bible is too beholden to a theological system to objectively weigh the evidence.

I came across some apologetic "scholarship" today that claims to completely and utterly destroy the foundations of so-called higher criticism. Talk like that just really annoys me because it is immediately clear that they're engaged in battle with something they don't understand, yet they claim indisputable victory.

Job's humble confession of his ignorance comes to mind (Job 42:3) - though don't press the analogy that the results of biblical criticism are akin to the wisdom of God himself.
'Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?'
Therefore they have uttered what they did not understand,
things too wonderful for them, which they did not know.
For all their talk of defending the "truth," apologists seem primarily motivated by a desire to maintain the terms under which they've determined what "truth" is. Truth = reading the Bible literally, every time. But even they fudge it a little bit. You know this is true because they aren't all one-armed, one-eyed men (Matt 5:29-30). Would admitting even a little bit of uncertainty about how to understand the Bible really destroy their faith? They sure act like it would.

There is a certain ease with which they invoke logical fallacies like "special pleading" to apply to their opponents, but they see no problems with their own logic. I'm even more convinced than I was before that apologetics is more about maintaining belief in spite of the evidence than it is about honestly considering the evidence with an open mind. Ironically, one of the sources I stumbled across urged the audience to "consider evidence honestly" and "not have closed minds."

But what bothers me the most is the complete dismissal of biblical criticism as a society of skeptics dead set on their agenda to discredit the Scriptures, constantly subjecting the Pentateuch, Isaiah, and Daniel to concerted attacks and "unremitting assaults." As I've said before, they've marshaled their forces to defend against an attack that's more perceived than real. Few of us set out to discredit the Bible, and I don't think accepting the tenets of biblical criticism amounts to a denial of the truth-value of the Scriptures.

Apologists, is it the Bible critic's fault that your faith is so small that you need to prove your Bible is "utterly inerrant" in order for it to be divinely inspired so that you can believe it's true?

[N.B. I intentionally did not link to the self-published apologetic sources from which the above snippet quotes were taken. This was mainly because a) I don't want to draw attention to stuff that's not worth anyone's time and b) I don't like arguing with apologists because they don't listen to reason. Linking and mentioning names could draw their attention. Suffice it to say that one man has successfully demolished the Documentary Hypothesis, demonstrated the single authorship of Isaiah, and proved the genuine inspiration of the New Testament. Here I thought inspiration was more something that needed to be believed than proved.]


  1. When you can anticipate the argument without having to read it.... That's somewhere near the line between scholarship and apologetics.

  2. Thanks for your post. On the subject of biblical studies and apologetics, I find myself going back these days to Kugel’s essay on what he calls “biblical criticism lite.” I don’t read Kugel as being opposed to the reader’s (churchly) contextualization of biblical texts, but rather as critiquing scholarship that rushes too quickly to such contextualization or that appears to skip quickly through exegesis to get to an context-approriate hermeneutic.

    (Hat tip to Charles Halton for drawing my attention to it, and see good critical comments there by him and John Hobbins: ).

    What interests me is that Kugel is not distinguishing between two groups, but arguing that biblical studies is more apologist in its habits than it sometimes thinks it is.

  3. Personally, I can't imagine that religionists can maintain enough independence in their critical thinking to qualify as "scholars'. So apologists do not qualify. My prejudice, to be sure.