Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Biblical inspiration: in a postmodern world

In this essay, I discuss the contentious subject of the divine inspiration of the Bible. Can a postmodern generation still believe that God inspired the Biblical text? I engage on a serious level with the problems and shortcomings of some popular views. I also present my own view.

Our world has changed dramatically over the last few decades. A new postmodern era has dawned. The question is whether Christians can still defend the inspiration of Scripture in our day and age? Although the typical Christian would instinctively answer “yes”, there are may contemporary theologians who regard this concept with unease. Those from the Biblical Criticism school have for the most part rejected the inspiration of Scripture as an indefensible idea. But is it really true that there is no place for the inspiration of Scripture in a postmodern era? (the postmodern era should not be confused with postmodernism as a philosophical paradigm). I argue that we have – even in this era – all reason to believe in the inspiration of the Bible.

There are in general three ways to interpret Biblical inspiration. Within these three views, there are obviously many variations in thinking and some of these may even be considered as views in their own right. I call these 1) the traditional verbal inspiration view 2) the Biblical Criticism view 3) the integrity view. Each of these views has their own presuppositions, way in which they read and interpret the Biblical text as well as way in which they understand the concept of divine “inspiration”. In my discussion of these views I have to generalize but think that the views are nonetheless adequately presented. In my view, the integrity view makes the most sense in our day and age and is the most balanced manner to engage with the Biblical text.

The traditional verbal inspiration view

About all Christians are familiar with those Biblical passages where the inspiration of Scripture are mentioned. We read, for example, in 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” and 2 Peter 1:21: “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (see also 1 Pet. 1:10-12). The question is: How should we understand these passages?

Many Christians have an “existential” faith. In their view, all sorts of rational arguments and perspectives regarding the Bible are not really important. They merely believe the Biblical truths and try to live in accordance with that. Since these Christians do not really incorporate any scientific or philosophical approach in their understanding of the Bible, their view is actually quite simple. They accept that the whole Bible – down to every written word – was given by the Holy Spirit through the Biblical authors.

Among these Christians are those who do not suppose any distance between them and the Biblical authors – they think that they have access to the minds of those authors through the working of the Holy Spirit. They are not aware that they – as do all people who read the text – do in fact “interpret” the text [1]. Their view about the verbal inspiration of Scripture means in practice that the words of Scripture can only be understood in one manner – that is, in accordance with their interpretation which was delivered to them within the community of Christians to which they belong. As such they do not have an openness to really consider the Biblical text on its own terms when interpreting it – only their interpretation which was delivered within the given paradigm of their school of thinking is accepted.

In some sense, these Christians follow a pre-scientific approach to the Bible (i.e. which dates from the time before the development of modern science) when the Biblical text was often interpreted rather simplistically. Their current scientific understanding of the world, however, becomes clear when they assert that the Biblical wording is taken in a scientifically correct manner. In their view of the inspiration of Scripture, the Biblical wording should be understood in a scientific manner even though the Biblical authors obviously did not view the world through that lens. This cannot be correct since the Biblical authors did not make scientific pronouncements; their statements were based on observation, delivered tradition and faith experience which were always embedded in the ancient worldview.

There are many Christians in this school of thinking who approach the Biblical text in a more sophisticated manner. They incorporate the distance between them and the Biblical authors in various ways in their views. They take into account that the Biblical text reflects the personal and cultural context as well as the ancient worldview of the authors and that we should read the text with that in mind. They also accept that certain passages – for, example, St. Paul's reference to woman covering their heads (1 Cor. 11: 3-16) – are culture-based and not applicable for today (St. Paul even mentions that some of his prescriptions in this regard should not be regarded as the final word on things – 1 Cor. 7:6, 12). Even Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount that certain things that those “of old time” believed (Matt. 5:27 etc.) should be interpreted differently. These things imply that we should not have a simplistic understanding of the inspiration of Scripture.

The Christians who adhere to this view of the inspiration of Scripture believe that each word in the original Biblical text was inspired and is inerrant – even though they know that can never be proven. In general, they accept that some minor errors crept into the text in the process of it being handed down through the ages (in contrast with the original text), but they assert that this does not have any impact on the essence of our Christian faith. An example of this view can be found in the Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Christians. Orthodox Christians also adhere to this view.  

The view of these Christians is closely connected with their understanding of the Biblical canon, namely that the early authors wrote the texts included in the Bible in the form that we have it today (except for the minor errors mentioned above) and that it was always regarded as sacrosanct throughout the ages by those who transmitted it. They assume (although only implicitly) that their view of the canon was always prevalent – even though the Old Testament canon was probably only reckoned as such in the second century BC as is mentioned by Josephus in his Contra Apionem (1, 38-43).

The problem with this view is that the people of early Biblical times did not regard the text as such; they viewed it as part of a living tradition in which they partook. The Biblical text – especially those parts that are concerned with early events in Israel's history – was not written in one single effort and then kept untouched throughout the ages. There were those who wrote down certain information in the form of poems, genealogies and events, others brought it all together in a coherent text and still others worked as editors throughout the ages to keep the text readable and intelligible for the people of their times. Sometimes there were variations in the transmitted source material due to such editing which resulted in amalgamated and repetitive narratives as we sometimes find in the Bible.

Although this was an organic process through which the Biblical text was written and edited, it was not a process by which the authors and editors freely changed the texts as it suited them. There are good reasons to think that this was, in fact, a very carefully considered process. We find, for example, in the Chronicles of the kings of Israel and Judah that the author often mentions the sources that he used for the various parts of the text. This shows how the authors in old Israel went about in writing and editing their history – they took great care to give a correct account of their oracles and history. The process of handing down the text incorporated a continuous process of editing the texts in accordance with well-established oral traditions of interpreting and reading the texts. In this way, the text was made intelligible to the people of their own time. 

The editing of texts and differences in traditions of interpretation, however, also led to differences in the transmitted text. A good example of editing by a later author is the expression “Ur of the Chaldees” that appears in Genesis 11:31. Although one may accept that Moses reworked the material handed down by the fathers into one narrative as is accepted in traditional circles (I argue that the Mesopotamian material in the Book of Genesis could only have come from this source [2]), there cannot be any doubt that this expression dates from long after the time of Moses. The Chaldeans appeared sporadically since the tenth century BC in the area of Babylon and ruled the city in Neo-Babylonian times (626-539 BC). The most likely source for this change in the text would be someone like Ezra who lived in that period. The reason for incorporating the words “of the Chaldees” was to ensure that the readers would understand which Ur was spoken of (there was another Ur near Haran). Another change in the Book of Genesis would be the reference to the “kings” who ruled in later times over Israel (Gen. 36:31). Such changes obviously do not degrade the text in any way but they pose serious questions for those who believe that the text was considered to be canon at that early period.

This dynamical process resulted in certain variations in the transmitted text. In this regard one can think of the Vorlage-text which served since the early-third century BC as mother text for the translators of the Septuagint, the first Greek translation of the Old Testament. This Hebrew text shows some differences with the later Hebrew text that Jewish scholars accepted at Jamnia in the late-first to early-second century AD and which resulted in the well-known Masoretic text. Although many traditional Christians prefer the Masoretic text on various grounds above the Septuagint, the early church actually used the Septuagint for the most part as their Bible! The differences between these texts are manifest in those passages in our Bible that were left out by the Jewish editors at Jamnia (see Hebrews 1:6 and 10:5 which appear only in the Septuagint in Deut. 32:43 and Ps. 39:6). (For a more detailed discussion of the Septuagint, see [3]). These differences are not due to errors that crept into the Biblical text; we should rather consider the Vorlage text and Hebrew mother text of the Masoretic version as different texts in which the hand of various editors can be discerned (one can also in this regard think of the long and short versions of the Book of Jeremiah).

The changes that these editors made to the text have in effect established various families of texts and there is no way in which we can establish what the “original text” looked like. Since these variations go back to the period before the text was established as canon – and we do not have many texts from that early period – it is in effect impossible to try and establish which is “correct”. In some sense, both versions of a text may be regarded as divinely inspired (say the one before and after the incorporation of the words “of the Chaldees”). Although it sounds good in theory and has great emotional power to speak of an original inerrant inspired Biblical text, it does not help us in practice to confront the mentioned problematic aspects of the text.

The Biblical Criticism view

Already early in the modernist period – that is the period when science was used as the measure for all aspects of life – the scholars who established the Biblical Criticism tradition started to approach the Bible in an empirical-scientific manner. These scholars on purpose distinguished between the faith-based acceptance of the Biblical message and the Bible as a historical document that may be studied scientifically. We can remind ourselves in this regard of the well-known distinction between the “Jesus of faith” and the “historical Jesus”. The challenge for Christian theologians was (and is) to use the critical-scientific approach to the Bible in such a way that faith is not undermined.

In this approach it is accepted that the scientific study of the Biblical text is the best way to approach it. The Bible is now placed on the same level as all other historical texts. The supposed context in which these scholars think that the authors complied the text (which is a serious bone of contention) is of central importance in this approach. Theoretical models like the sources for the Pentateuch were used as the basis for understanding the text. This source theory has recently been comprehensively criticized as superficially cutting the text apart and undermining the unity thereof [4].

In this approach the trustworthiness of the text is directly connected with archaeological evidence (or the lack thereof) in spite of the fact that the archaeological record is typically an unrepresentative sample which cannot be used scientifically in such a positivist manner (that is, which focus exclusively on verification as the measure of truth; for the problems with this view of archeology, see [5]). Although scholars during the modernist-positivist period thought that things that cannot be proven empirically do not exist, this view has been comprehensively discredited. The hypercritical and “pedantic” approach by which scholars think that they are necessary in a better position than the authors of the ancient world to understand their positions, to which Martin Bernal [6] refers in his book Black Athena, is still present in a large segment of this group of thinkers.

In this regard, it is generally accepted in Biblical Criticism circles that the Bible should not be considered as a trustworthy source of history. It is often said that the “Bible is not a source book of history”, which it obviously is not. Often these scholars write as if they are somehow in a position to know how old Israel would have thought – which merely reflects their own preconceived ideas about Israel's history. Gerda De Villiers from the University of Pretoria wrote for example in the official bulletin of their theological faculty: “This text [about the flood] was never intended to be taken literally: not in the context of the theology of ancient Mesopotamia nor of old Israel” (TEO, 7 May 2012). From their paradigm, such pronouncements may seem sensible but from a hermeneutical perspective, it is astonishingly that any scholar could think that they are sure that they know how old Israel would have thought about such things! (for a detailed criticism of Biblical Criticism as a scholarly discipline, read [7]).

It is immediately clear that this view cannot, strictly speaking, accept any supernatural events described in the Bible seriously – this would not be “scientific”. Although the different genres in the Bible are accentuated, they do not accept the real possibility of a prophetic genre according to which God supernaturally revealed the future. Biblical books like Daniel and Revelation in which the authors assert that it was revealed through divine inspiration are instead sorted under apocalyptic literature – which is understood in such a way that such claims are excluded. Insofar as it can be shown that prophecies do in fact agree with historical events, they merely accept that these were written after those events since the prophet could (in their view) in no possible way know the future. In this regard there can also not be Old Testament prophecies about Jesus; in their view these were later interpretations which were read back into the text since the Biblical authors did not consciously refer to him. In this approach there can obviously not be any real acceptance of the divine inspiration of the Bible.

In an effort to secure the trustworthiness of the Bible – and more specifically, the New Testament – as the basis for their faith, some of these theologians try to draw the line with Jesus. In this case, they are prepared to make an exception for certain supernatural events – especially the resurrection of Jesus. Strictly speaking, such exceptions cannot be made without compromising the whole scientific approach to the Bible. There are therefore theologians – who call themselves “Biblical scientists” (Bybelwetenskaplikes) – who assert that this method should be applied consistently. They are committed to another “reformation” in this regard (this is, in the South African context).

There are also efforts to reconcile this modernist approach with postmodernism. Ben du Toit spells out such a view in his book God? Geloof in ’n postmoderne tyd (2012). His roots are in the reformed tradition in South Africa which has been deeply influenced by Biblical Criticism over the last few decades. As such his view is also not really “postmodern”, but rather “late-modern” as he himself concedes. He also subscribes to the scientific approach to the Bible – in his view the pre-scientific nature of the Bible forces us to engage with it in this way. He does not support any doctrine of Biblical inspiration.

According to Du Toit the most important reason why the Bible still has authority for Christians in the postmodern era, is that it is our primary source about Jesus' life, doctrine and deeds. In his view, we may believe the “Christian truths” but not necessarily the “Biblical truths”. For most Christians the authority that he ascribes to the Bible is not sufficient to establish faith in God and the resurrected Lord. If we cannot take the death of Jesus on the cross in the context of God's unfolding plan of salvation throughout the ages, then the question is whether it was not merely a loose-standing event which was blown out of proportion by later Christian tradition as some critics think.

The problem with the Biblical Criticism view is that it excludes all possibility of the supernatural from the start (this is the basic point of departure of the scientific method). It does not allow space for a divine dimension in the events mentioned in the text or regarding the text itself. As such it excludes the central assumption of the Christian faith, namely that God revealed Himself through the Biblical authors as well as through Jesus Christ. Although one might study the text from a scientific point of view, most Christians would always reject this as a reductive approach – which is also why some reformed (and other) theologians cannot reconcile themselves with it.

We can even bring in serious objections against the scientific study of the Bible. One can, for example, argue that Biblical Criticism is no more than an “ensemble of learned opinion”. This discipline cannot make any real knowledge-claims. Since the origins of the Biblical text are forever lost (and nothing in this regard can be proven) and archaeological data is non-representative and wide open to interpretation, the “scientific” study of the Bible is actually not scientific at all when measured against empirical standards. There is no possible way that their hypotheses can be tested in a controlled way as is done in the natural and social sciences. It is and will always be a mere hermeneutic (interpretive) discipline which can never give any final answers.

The integrity view of Biblical inspiration

We live in a postmodern era in which people think differently from both the pre-modernist (pre-scientific) and modernist eras and we can bring some of these insights to the study of the Biblical text. As such one may value the scientific study of the Bible, not as an empirical endeavour but in the sense of systematic study, while at the same time aspire to a more comprehensive supra-scientific understanding of the text. Although other views show some agreement with the one that I present here, my approach has a certain unique focus which can be further developed into a more comprehensive view. The purpose of this writing is merely to make some proposals in this regard.

In the postmodern era, there is a new openness in accepting our human limitations when it comes to the enormous complexity of our cosmos. Scholars accept that our empirical access to the world cannot give us complete access to reality as it really is [8]. This creates the space to accommodate God and his interaction with humans in our metaphysical understanding of the cosmos (i.e. not to believe anything but to present good reasons for belief). This means that we cannot from the start exclude the possibility of the supernatural from our inquiry and immediately negate the spiritual character of the Bible (as is done in the Biblical Criticism view).

The integrity view rejects all reductive approaches that think in simplistic terms and forces us to follow a more complex approach in the study of the Bible. As such Christians can accept that science can help us to understand the Bible better but they can also assert that there is a supernatural dimension to the Bible that cannot be accessed by science. In this regard, Christians may regard the Bible as a remarkable text which is different from other texts from the ancient world.

But how can we sensibly think about the Biblical text in this way? Although the rational thinking about God goes far back in church history – due to the Platonic influence on the early church fathers – this approach effectively displaced all other ways of thinking during the modernist epoch. The end result of the rational is science. The philosopher Immanuel Kant has, however, long ago shown that there are clear limits to our rational thinking (through reason alone) which can never fathom the sum total of all existence. He showed that we should complement reason with faith. We can mitigate the rational study of the Bible with faith in believing that God worked supernaturally in history as well as in inspiring the authors of the Biblical text. Faith enables us to appreciate the “wonder” of God's revelation in Scripture.

This approach to the Bible implies that we should not only consider the available data regarding the personal and cultural context and the ancient worldview of the authors as well as the complex way in which the Biblical text was formed in our study of the Biblical text. We must also seriously engage with the early traditions that are handed down in the Bible. These traditions were indeed grounded in the historical context from which the Bible originated.

Although the Bible originated in the pre-scientific age and those people had a different worldview, the Biblical authors still wrote down their experience, their (orally and written) transmitted traditions, their intuitive insights about the cosmos (like the existence of the spiritual realm) as well as their pronunciations about their faith with seriousness and integrity. This is probably the greatest claim throughout the Biblical text, namely that it was written down by people with integrity in character. Although modernist man fundamentally doubted those traditions and rejected its validity, we can today in this postmodern era engage in a much more sophisticated manner with those traditions and acknowledge them as valid.

We know today that scientific knowledge about the past is provisional and that the Biblical authors belonged to the very traditions about which they wrote. The texts show how those people understood their own texts and how it impacted on their faith – which provide our only access to the thinking of those people about ancient events. This shows not only that they themselves believed in the inspiration of the Biblical text but also how they interpreted the older texts, for example, those about their own history and prophecy as well as those about Jesus as the Messiah [9].

I would like to suggest that we learn from Martin Bernal's insights regarding ancient Greek tradition in our study of the Biblical text, especially insofar as the modernist tendency to regard old traditions as untrustworthy is fundamentally flawed. There is absolutely no way in which researchers in our day can show that they have a better knowledge of those times than the authors who lived much closer to the events themselves. Bernal pleads for a more balanced approach in which more weight is given to those early traditions in the scientific study of Greek history.

We can also in the systematic study of the Bible built upon the philosophers' Aristotle and Kant's “practical wisdom” (phroneses) and “practical reason”. Kant's “practical reason" is important because he also incorporates a “noumenal” aspect in the cosmos (which largely agrees with the Christian concept of a spiritual world). As such he presupposes that realty goes beyond the material world. He even incorporated this noumenal realm in his philosophy of science [10]. This creates the space in which Christians can accommodate a supernatural aspect within our scientific understanding of the world. In this way, the Biblical tradition, as well as early traditions about the text, can be integrated in a sensible manner with the scientific study of the Bible. As such Christians can believe in the supernatural workings of God in history as well as in the authorship of the Biblical text without reading the text in a simplistic manner.

We can also learn from the hermeneutics of the philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer. Gadamer strongly rejects the reading of texts from both a modernist and postmodernist framework in accordance with our own secular or even spiritual agendas. He accentuates that we must strive to really listen to both the voices of the author as well as the tradition from which they originate. We must not force our own view onto the text and in this way ignore the voices in the text. He writes: "I must allow tradition's claim to validity, not in the sense of simply acknowledging the past in its otherness, but in such a way that it has something to say to me" [11]. We must accept that those authors have a valid perspective. We should not merely discard their views as "primitive" and think that we are necessary in a better position to decide about the trustworthiness of their tradition.

Such an approach to the Bible can only be sensible if we accept that the Biblical texts were written with integrity in accordance with the fact that the Biblical authors often mention that they have gone to great lengths to present a reliable version of events (see 1 Ch. 29:29; 2 Ch. 9:29; 12:15 etc.; Luk. 1:1-2) – not in an absolute scientific sense but in the context of the author's perspective and worldview. Although this integrity view of inspiration does not accept that the original Biblical texts were written down as final products by its authors, it does nonetheless strive to establish the correct readings down to the particular words in the oldest texts available to us on the basis that these texts were written down with integrity [12]. As such it accepts that the Bible is a “faithful” witness who speaks with authority and integrity. Some of the Biblical authors also accentuate the trustworthiness of the Biblical account of events (1 Tim. 1: 15).

Although it would always be possible to construct a critical version about the Biblical text in which the supernatural aspect is doubted and its context is regarded as late and full of untrustworthy legends, in my view we can present an even better version which shows that the Biblical text corresponds well with extra-Biblical sources and archaeological data. I have written many essays in which I argue exactly for such a narrative [13]. In my view we have “good reasons” to take the Bible as a trustworthy text.

There is, however, another level on which Christians can accept the integrity of the Biblical text. We believe not merely that the text is trustworthy because people with integrity wrote it but also because God has inspired the Biblical authors through his Spirit. We cannot prove it – we believe it because we trust the pronouncements that are made in this regard in the Bible. We believe it because authors like St. Paul says explicitly that the texts are divinely inspired – which also refers prophetically to the eventual text of the Bible that would come into existence.

But what is meant by “inspiration”? I suggest that it means above all that God is the guarantor of the trustworthiness of the text as his Word, both in its historical (backwards-looking) and prophetic (forward-looking) aspects. This divine working in the compilation of the text was a supernatural influence that operated through the authors (although not such that their own will was controlled (see 1 Cor. 14:32) which excluded any conscious action from their side. In this way, the Old Testament prophets could write about Jesus without having him consciously in their minds.

Although there are not enough archaeological and literary evidence to prove the historicity of all Biblical events as well as the correct outcome of all Biblical prophecies (in many cases there are), we can nonetheless believe that the Bible gives a reliable account of such events (even though the earliest traditions are not in the post-Herodotus style of "history" writing) and that the prophecies have happened and will happen. Although we do not have access to all the particularities of those times and there will always be aspects of the text that we do not understand, we can still believe that it was written with integrity. We need not immediately come to the conclusion that the text is untrustworthy; we should rather strive to understand why they have written what they did. 

I can illustrate this approach with an example from my book Abraham en sy God (Griffel, 2012), namely from the discussion about the Biblical story of the "Tower of Babel". When we try to relate this story with events in ancient Mesopotamia, where the story supposedly originated, we come upon a clear contradiction: the city of Babylon did not exist in the early period in which the Bible place the story. Does this mean that the Bible is wrong and that the tradition about such a tower is an untrustworthy account based on stories that the Jews came across during the exile? 

The Biblical Criticism view holds that the story was indeed written late (often taken as written after the exile) and that we should not even think about looking for a historical base for it. The traditional verbal inspiration view merely asserts that the Bible is correct and that we should believe every word even though it is clearly in conflict with the archaeological data. Although this view acknowledges that some errors may have crept into the text, they assume that the reference to "Babel" is not such an error (they cannot prove that it is not an error; they merely believe it). They acknowledge that they do not know which words appeared in the "original" text, but in practice, they have to work as if each word in our available text is correct.

An alternative option would be to accept that the Biblical author told the story from his perspective with integrity as part of the tradition that was delivered to him by the fathers (see [2]). This implies that we should accept the tradition as valid (i.e. not immediately discard it) and try to place it in the context of the original Sumerian world from where Abraham originated. When we do this, an important possibility presents itself: we find a very similar tradition in ancient Sumer but the city involved is not Babylon but Eridu where the oldest sanctuary in that country was situated - which consisted of a large platform built in the relevant period. 

A little more digging reveals that the original name of Babylon (in cuneiform script) was Nun.ki, which is the exact same name given to Eridu! This strongly suggests that a later editor changed the Biblical name Nun.ki with good reason to Babel (which was written as Nun.ki). In line with this assumption, we find that the well-known extra-Biblical author Berossus who wrote the Babylonian History also reads the name Eridu as Babylon. Something similar happened when the translators of the Septuagint changed On to Heliopolis in Genesis 41:45. This was clearly a general post-exilic practice to edit the text to make it intelligible to contemporary readers. In this approach, the integrity of the text is not merely assumed, but also confirmed [14]. 

The divine inspiration of the text gives it a dynamic character which allows for viable and relevant interpretations which make sense for the people of our time. This implies that we should aspire to establish interpretations of the text that do not only ground the integrity of the text using good hermeneutical principles [4] but which also makes sense for scientifically-informed people. God's revelation in Scripture can obviously not be in conflict with that in nature, which is studied in science.


In this essay [15], I focus on the concept of Biblical inspiration in a postmodern era. I discuss three views about the inspiration of the Biblical text, namely the traditional verbal inspiration view, the Biblical Criticism view and the integrity view. I show that the first two views have certain difficulties. The verbal interpretation view does not take the scientific study of the Bible seriously enough whereas the Biblical Criticism view does not take the supernatural character of the Bible sufficiently into account. The first group provides interpretations of the Biblical text which do not make sense to the scientifically-informed people of our day. The second group in effect negates the divine inspiration of Scripture.

I suggest a supra-scientific understanding of Biblical interpretation. By this, I mean that Christians may assume a larger reality than that accessible to science (i.e. beyond science). This is in line with the new appreciation that the postmodern person has for the extreme complexity of the cosmos as well as the new openness towards spirituality. In my view, the scientific study of the Bible (as a systematic field of study) is important in providing valid insights but this should be complemented with the acceptance of the validity of the Biblical traditions. These traditions show how those people understood their own texts and how it impacted their faith. We must reject the hypercritical and “pedantic” arrogance which characterized the modernist approach to the Bible according to which views of the pre-scientific Biblical authors are regarded as primitive and invalid. 

In the final instance, we as Christians have "good reasons" to believe in the trustworthiness of the Biblical text. The text is not only trustworthy because people with integrity wrote it but also because the Holy Spirit moved them. This is where we encounter the divine inspiration - it is the divine seal of guaranty on the text. Although we cannot prove it, we may believe that it guarantees the trustworthiness of the text. This trustworthiness also implies that the text has a dynamic potential for interpretation which makes it relevant for each generation. This makes the Bible a book that stays relevant for every generation who study and believe it.

[1] Some Christians wrongly interpret 2 Peter 1:19-21 as meaning that we should not "interpret" Scripture but take it "as it is". This view probably originated with the King James version where we read: "no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation". The reference here is, however, not to our interpretation of Scripture (which we all do all the time!) but to that of the authors who did not interpret future events according to their own human insight but spoke through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. A more satisfactory translation of the text would be: "no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (New Living translation).

[6] Bernal, Martin. 1987. Black Athena. New Brunswick: Rutgers University.

[11] Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 1994. Truth and Method (translation revised by Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall, second, revised ed.). New York: Crossroad. 

[12] The view that there was always only one original Biblical text and that all variations are deviations from that text (i.e. various source texts are not acknowledged) may even undermine the integrity of the text. This is especially relevant insofar as the New Testament authors used the Septuagint in their arguments regarding Jesus as Messiah.

When scholars work with the assumption that the Masoretic text (i.e. the accepted Hebrew text) was the source text for the Septuagint, i.e. when they do not acknowledge different source text traditions (which was exactly the mistake made by the later church fathers; see [3]), then the differences with the Masoretic text are assumed to be changes made by the translators due to the particular way in which they interpreted the text. In this reading the Septuagint is regarded as deviant which has significant consequences for the integrity of the New Testament where some authors, like the one who wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews, used the Septuagint as basis for their arguments.

When the Masoretic text is regarded as the “correct” text, then this author's whole argument that Jesus was high priest according to the "order of Melchizedek" may not be that strong because one does not have to read the Masoretic text in this manner. Instead of the reading “You are a priest after the order [manner] of Melchizedek” one may prefer: “You are a priest forever, a rightful king by My decree” (Ps. 110:4). Why would one prefer the reading (which is also the Septuagint reading) that includes the name Melchizedek (except if you do this on theological grounds)? This preferred reading is closely connected with one's reading of Genesis 14:17-24 where Melchizedek is first mentioned.

The Masoretic text suggests that Melchizedek was NOT a priest of JHWH whereas the Septuagint suggests that he was indeed a priest of JHWH! This can be seen (among other things) from the fact that the God of Abraham is called “JHWH, God the Most High”, whereas the God of Melchizedek is merely called “God the Most High” (this expression was also used in the Roman empire outside a Jewish context). When we take the Masoretic text as the point of departure, then we must read Psalm 110:4 in accordance with Genesis 14:22 (in the Masoretic text), in which case the argument of the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews could collapse! This is the position of the Dutch scholar Pieter de Boer in his essay "Dienen Abram én Melchizedek JHWH?" published in Nieuwe en oude dingen (Vuurbaak, 2013).

The alternative is to view these two lines of thought as belonging to two different textual traditions that go back to the Vorlage text and the mother text used at Jamnia (which became the Masoretic text) respectively. In this case, we would regard the Septuagint reading as going back to a well-established Vorlage text which was preferred by the Hebrew scholars of the third and second century BC [3].

Why should we prefer the Septuagint reading? Although neither Genesis 14 nor Psalm 110 was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Septuagint confirms that this reading (without JHWH before “God the Most High” in Genesis 14:22) goes back to a Hebrew original in the early third century BC (which cannot be said of the Masoretic reading!). When we furthermore compare this reading with that of other early texts founds among the Dead Sea Scrolls which include this passage, namely the Genesis Apocryphon and the book of Jubilee, the Masoretic text stands out as deviant because the name JHWH does not appear in any of them in Gen. 14:22.

We have two ways to understand this: 1) the Masoretic text goes back to an early (unattested) mother text that was different from the Vorlage-text, 2) the scholars at Jamnia actually changed the text! In this case, the name JHWH was inserted to distinguish the God of Abraham from the god of Melchizedek, both of which are called “God the Most High”! One may suggest that such a change was a deliberate one which had the purpose to create some distance from the Christian interpretation!

The shared divine name, however, that appears in all versions (“God the Most High”) strongly suggests that the oldest text tradition (before JHWH was inserted into the Masoretic text) regarded them as serving the same God (as we find in the Septuagint). We, therefore, have good reasons to accept the arguments by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews.

[14] I plan to write a detailed essay about the tower of Babel in the series about the Book of Genesis.

[15] This essay originally appeared as an appendix to the book Abraham en sy God.

Author: Dr. Willie Mc Loud (Ref. wmcloud.blogspot.com)

The author is a scientist-philosopher (PhD in Physics, MA in Philosophy) and has written a book on the Sumerian roots of the Bible (Abraham en sy God (Griffel, 2012)). He writes on issues of religion, philosophy, science and eschatology. 



  1. Dankie vir deeglike en gebalanseerde nadenke oor 'n baie komplekse, maar beslis aktuele saak. Die eerlike Christen sukkel om die saak van inspirasie positief, volledig en finaal te formuleer (amper soos ons belydenis van die Drie-eenheid), maar ons glo dat die Bybel uniek en gesagvol is, want God praat met ons deur sy Woord wat radikaal anders is as maar net nog blote menslike opinies oor God! Dankie vir 'n goeie stuk werk!

    1. Dankie, Johannes. Ek het met tyd 'n groot waardering vir die Septuagint ontwikkel veral in die lig van die gebruik daarvan deur die vroeë kerk. Dit het my in direkte konflik met die tradisionele siening oor inspirasie gebring wat voortbou op die beginsel van net een oorspronklike teks nl die Masoretiese een. Hierdie skrywe is in effek my antwoord op die probleem oor hoe ons inspirasie moet verstaan id lig van twee tekstradisies nl die Vorlage en Masoretiese teks. Groete daar en seën met die bediening.

  2. Dankie Dr McLoud vir die insiggewende artikel. Ek het 'n vraag rondom u opmerking : "God's revelation in Scripture can obviously not be in conflict with that in nature, which is studied in science." Ongelukkig is die realiteit dat Christene uit verskeie oorde uiteenlopende sienings het oor hoe die wetenskappe en die Bybelverhaal geïnterpreteer behoort te word. Daar is bv die "Old-earth", "Young-earth" en "Theistic Evolution" weergawes van die skepping om maar net een voorbeeld te gee. Enige kommentaar oor hoe ons hierdie sake kan aanspreek gegewe die "Integrity View" soos u hier uiteensit?

    Groete, Johan.

    1. Johan, soos ek dit sien het God Homself in beide die wette van die natuur asook die Woord geopenbaar en dit kan nie in stryd wees nie. In soverre die wetenskap werk om die natuurwette te modelleer en na te vors ontsluit dit gewoon die geskiedenis (waaroor die Bybel ook handel) en die skepping. Dit is natuurlik so dat die wetenskap sekere beperkinge het en dat ideologie dit kan beïnvloed. Daarom kan ons ook nie als wat die wetenskap se onvoorwaardelik onderskryf nie; die wetenskap self pas aan en verander hul perspektiewe. Maar daar is tog 'n basiese sin waarin ons nie sieninge kan onderskryf wat dramaties teen alle wetenskaplike getuienis ingaan soos id geval vd jong aarde siening nie. Ek bespreek dit in 'n essay op hierdie blog. Kyk regs by die mees gelese essays is 'n een oor Adam en Eva - daardie essay oor die skepping word onderaan gelys. Groete.