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Theology and History


In many of the discussions and interactions we have with contemporary Christians I am always struck by one particular fact.  Many Christians have their faith in a historical vacuum.  Their ideas and beliefs about the Sriptures more closely fit philosophy than historical Biblical studies.  And this comes up very often, as we have seen with the Trinitarian arguments.

At the moment I’m reading two books that are cementing these ideas so much more for me: Galilee by Horsely, and The Sceptre and the Star by Collins.  The former is all about the historical reconstruction of Galilee before, during, and after the time of Jesus.  The latter is about the idea of Messiah in apocryphal literature and the Dead Sea Scrolls.  It is amazing to be reading these two at the same time, and being able to compare the major differences from the north in Galilee, to the south by the Dead Sea/Jerusalem area.

Christianity in general needs to consider a more historical/reconstructionist position.  We cannot cling to medieval ideas that create more problems than they solve.  We’re going to have enough problems understanding the Scriptures in their own historical context.  We can’t do that when we’re juggling medieval and greek concepts as well.  Our problems are not the same today as they’ve been over the centuries.  And we should seek to answer our problems.  But we must first know and understand the problems and issues in the Biblical period as understood in their own context.  Knowing who the Pharisees were, and what they were doing.  Why the common people stood against the Saducee aristocracy.  How to understand the Qumran people’s activities as a political statement.  And when we know their positions, then we can look at Jesus’ actions.  For example, his answer to whether or not he would pay the Temple tax.  That alone is an amazingly simple, and amazingly complex situation and Jesus’ answer is so very nuanced and would speak to each of these groups of people.  His message was always applicable to everyone in that very situation.  You might agree with him – but something in his response will still make you think and consider, perhaps even upset you.
I’m confident that this is the only way to properly understand the Scriptures deeply.  Devotional understanding is fantastic and necessary for our own development, but that isn’t understanding the Biblical narrative according to the author that wrote it down.  Only with historical answers to their own major questions about living as a Christian in the world, can we as a whole Church find the answers to our questions about living today as Christians together.  This would certainly preclude the dominant Christian worldview about using God’s trinitarian nature to understand ourselves and the world.  We need to back up first.

2 Responses to “Theology and History”

  1. on 04 Jul 2008 at 1:22 pmTim

    Do these ideas translate to the following: that we should apply the truths spoken of in the Bible to our own personal times and circumstances; that we should make them “our own”? Stated another way, should I seek to make the Bible “my own” by finding meaning and interpretation in my own experiences? I am sounding like a post-modernist, so let me give two examples.

    First, Psalm 23 is one of the great chapters in the Bible. However, not many Christians live a shepherd’s lifestyle, so we fool ourselves if we say that we can relate to it on a personal level (we can relate to it as an expression of worship and adoration of another person). We do ourselves and the lost a disservice by telling them to read Psalms 23 when they need comfort in their lives; they are likely not going to “get it” unless we explain it to them. Would it not be better to create our own Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shop foreman, he makes sure I can provide for my family …”

    Second, while in graduate school, I studied in the artificial intelligence lab at my college. As I was designing and implementing “AI programs”, I thought to myself, “Hey, this is kind of like John 1:1-. I have a plan to make an intelligent machine and when I hit the ‘run’ command, this plan becomes real.” If I were to explain to my colleagues the meaning of John 1:1-, this is the approach I would take, “It’s kind of like when you design a computer program … ”

    It seems to me that if the Bible is to be read in a historical context, that our job is to translate Biblical truths to our own lives. This is, after all, what any good storytelling preacher will do.

  2. on 08 Jul 2008 at 11:04 amRon S.


    You are right on the money with: “Their ideas and beliefs about the Sriptures more closely fit philosophy than historical Biblical studies.” and “Christianity in general needs to consider a more historical/reconstructionist position.“. I totally agree.

    Unbeknownst to most, mainstream Christianity today is truly a hybrid synthesis of Greek philosophy and Hebrew concepts and customs. And since the two are usually diametrically opposed to one another, errors were guarranteed to occur. The two largest of course being the Greek conception of the logos as a secondary divine entity (vs. the Hebrew conception of an idea or plan) and that of the soul being intrinsically immortal (vs. being subject to death as a part of total human existence).

    I am constantly amazed by the general apathy of most church-going Christians at being truly interested in the detailed history of their faith. There is almost no desire to investigate where their beliefs came from and how they match up to the Biblical record. Most seem content to passively accept their traditions and what their pastors and church leadership dictate. Bruce Barham (who runs http://www.torahofmessiah.com) expresses this same concerned viewpoint with the following:

    “If one studies or interprets the Bible outside the context of Hebraic truths one will never arrive at a proper understanding of Scripture. NEVER! Very few Christians realize the immense importance of approaching Scripture from the proper HEBRAIC perspective. They assume just because their particular flavor of church has historically taught something that it must be correct. It takes very little time and effort to discover this is not the case, and it is easily proven to those that are sincere and unbiased in their desire to draw near to God and His truths. Unfortunately, as mentioned previously very few Christians are actually seeking truth. Most are simply zealous for whatever traditions they prefer or grew up with and have never looked into the history or basic foundational worldview behind the beliefs they now hold. They seem to think what they now believe is what was believed in the first century. …. Very few Christians ever invest any time studying the history of their faith, or if they do they generally only study the standard party-line version that often goes no further back than the 4th century. …. Christians mistakenly assume they are practicing the faith just as Shaul (Paul), Kefa (Peter), Ya’akov (James), and others. Nothing could be further from the truth. Unfortunately, because of an almost universal ignorance of the true beliefs and practices of the first century most Christians are tragically cruising along in error. Without an understanding of the Hebraic/Judaic foundations of the original faith Christians are guaranteed error. Far more troubling is the fact that most Christians don’t care! They are happy with their traditions and are unmotivated to verify if they truly adhere to the eternal Truths of the Eternal God as taught, understood, and written of by the HEBRAIC authors of Scripture.”

    Having the proper HEBRAIC, cultural worldview is absolutely crucial to being able to correctly understand the Biblical records. And this is because EVERY SINGLE AUTHOR of Scripture had a Hebrew ethnic heritage and worldview. To see visually what I mean, just look at this list of the Bible’s authors and their fully Hebraic heritage – http://www.torahofmessiah.com/hebraiclst.html

    So yes, until one steps ouf of that “historical vacuum”, takes off their Greek philsophy tinted “glasses”, and opens their mind to the Hebrew culture and thought world of the 1st century and back, they will never grasp the actual truth of the Scriptures.

    BTW John as a sidenote, maybe you could post an article in the future with your thoughts on those two books your reading. I’d love to hear more about your take on those “major differences from the north in Galilee, to the south by the Dead Sea/Jerusalem area“.


    Ron S.


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