The Bible is not History-without-Theology, and the Bible is not Theology-without-History
Posted by NT Wrong on July 31, 2008
The knowledge gained about the Old Testament and its ancient world(s) over the last two centuries, or so, is sometimes apologetically dealt with either by:
- 1) reducing it all to literal ‘history’, or
2) reducing it all to ‘theology’.
Both attempts misrepresent the content of the Old Testament. Sure, the Old Testament contains a lot of historical falsities. But this fact does not justify treating the Old Testament merely as theology — attempting to get around this problem by ignoring the historical claims that are interwoven with, ground, explain, and are integral to that theology. Conversely, the Old Testament contains a lot of abhorrent, evil theology. But it is impossible to read the Old Testament as something that is merely historical, in the past, without at the same time addressing the theologies or ideologies which provide the lens for its historiographies or presentations of history. This is so, even though these biblical theologies often differ greatly from or even contradict modern Jewish and Christian theologies. Biblical history and theology stand or fall together.
But Augustine said it first. Augustine comments on how we should interpret the story of Noah’s flood:
Non tamen quisquam putare debet aut frustra haec esse conscripta, aut tantummodo rerum gestarum ueritatem sine ullis allegoricis significationibus his esse quaerendam, aut e contrario haec omnino gesta non esse, sed salas esse uerborum figuras, aut quidquid illud est nequaquam ad prophetiam ecclesiae pertinere …
… sed magis credendum est et sapienter esse memoriae litteris mandata, et gesta esse, et significare aliquid, et ipsum aliquid ad praefigurandam ecclesiam pertinere.
Yet no one ought to suppose either that these things were written for no purpose, or that we should study only the historical truth, apart from any allegorical meanings; or, on the contrary, that they are only allegories, and that there were no such facts at all, or that, whether it be so or no, there is here no prophecy of the church …
… we must rather believe that there was a wise purpose in their being committed to memory and to writing, and that they did happen, and have a significance, and that this significance has a prophetic reference to the church.
– City of God 15.27 [2.495; 497]
The modernist separation of history from theology imposes foreign categories on the biblical text.
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