N.T.WRONG

Official Blog of the Bishop of Durham

When Bible Study and Bible Belief are Confused

Posted by NT Wrong on May 13, 2008

Jim West opined provocatively:

Since Ehrman doesn’t take the bible very seriously (how could he, he doesn’t think there’s a god, which makes the bible nothing more than interesting albeit ancient and arcane silly literature), he can’t possibly be fair in his representation of what it says. Ergo, his interpretation of such an intriguing theological question will be pointless. One can’t speak theologically if one doesn’t think there’s a theos.

Hmmmmm … there’s a number of obvious problems with this. Are you pulling our legs, Jim? Are you winding us up, eh?

1. “Since Ehrman doesn’t take the bible very seriously … “. What does this mean? Whatever our conclusions are about his findings, Ehrman is surely serious about studying the Bible, or else he wouldn’t be a professor. In light of Jim’s later apodosis (“… he can’t possibly be fair in his representation of what it says”), it seems there is a deliberate equivocation here. The protasis (“Since Ehrman doesn’t take the bible very seriously … “) only makes sense if Ehrman doesn’t seriously believe the Bible. The apodosis only makes sense as a conclusion if Ehrman doesn’t seriously study the Bible. The resulting mix is either confusion, empty rhetoric, or the like.

2. It’s thinly disguised ad hominem, too. That’s naughty.

3. “he doesn’t think there’s a god, which makes the bible nothing more than interesting albeit ancient and arcane silly literature”. A false dichotomy. The non-existence of Zeus does not turn the Iliad into “silly literature”. The non-existence of Yahweh does not turn the Bible into “silly literature”, either.

4. “he can’t possibly be fair in his representation of what it says”. Ehrman’s lack of belief in the Bible does not necessitate his scholarship being “unfair representation” any more than Margalit Finkelberg’s lack of belief in the Iliad necessitates that her scholarship is “unfair representation”.

5. “Ergo, his interpretation of such an intriguing theological question will be pointless. One can’t speak theologically if one doesn’t think there’s a theos.” This is just incorrect. The study of theological beliefs is able to be carried out by anybody, irrespective of their personal beliefs. Paul Veyne studied the beliefs of the Greeks, without believing the Greek myths. In fact, given the propensity of some biblical scholars to confuse their own theology with the theology of the text, the lack of belief may be an advantage.

Jim couldn’t be more wrong.

3 Responses to “When Bible Study and Bible Belief are Confused”

  1. Jim said

    You know it’s going to be a bad day when you make the Bishop mad…

  2. ntwrong said

    We’re such naughty rapscallions!

  3. Antonio Jerez said

    Well, the blessed bishop certainly gave Jim a welldeserved beating. It´s a bit tiresome to hear Jim´s litania that the only ones who can understand the Bible are those who have their theological glasses on.

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