Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Modern Biblical Scholarship, Philosophy of Religion and Traditional Christianity

by Professor Eleonore Stump
Stump is currently the Robert J. Henle, S.J. Professor of Philosophy at Saint Louis University. She obtained her bachelor’s degree from Grinnell College in 1969, her master’s degrees from Harvard University in 1971 and Cornell University in 1973, and her Ph.D. from Cornell University in 1975. She is the 2005–06 president and 2003–04 vice president of the Central Division of the American Philosophical Association, and past president of the Society of Christian Philosophers and the American Catholic Philosophical Association. Stump’s research interests include the philosophy of religion, metaphysics and medieval philosophy. She was also a recent Gifford Lecturer.
In recent decades biblical scholarship as practiced in secular universities has been dominated by a certain historical approach to biblical studies. I have in mind the sort of biblical studies represented by the work of F. M. Cross, O. Cullmann, E. Haenchen, E. Kasemann, and G. E. Wright, for example. Operating in conjunction with the related disciplines of archaeology, classical languages, and near-Eastern studies, this approach has made significant contributions to our understanding of the historical context in which the biblical texts were composed. But to many outsiders what has been at least equally noteworthy about this approach is the havoc it has wreaked on traditional Christian and Jewish beliefs. In their effort to discover and present what is historically authentic in the Bible, the practitioners of this approach have in effect rewritten the Bible. They have cut the Old and New Testaments into a variety of snippets; some they have discarded entirely as not historically authentic, and others they have reassembled in new ways to form what these scholars consider the truly original historical documents or traditions. They have denied the traditional authorship of certain books of the Bible-for example, they tend to hold that the pastoral apostles (the one to Titus and the two to Timothy) were not really written by Paul-and they have claimed to find the sources for other biblical texts in such clearly human products as Hittite suzerainty treaties and Hellenistic philosophy. The general result of such scholarship is, for example, that a text which a church father such as Augustine may have used to support a particular theological doctrine on the grounds that the text was composed by a disciple of Jesus who was an eye-witness to the events recorded may now be classified as a much later document fabricated by certain anonymous Christians for theological motives and derived by them from identifiable pagan sources. But if the biblical passages on which traditional doctrines are based are truly of such a character, they provide no credible support for the doctrines. And so the general effect of this approach to biblical studies has been a powerful undermining of classical Christian doctrines and a powerful impetus to religious skepticism....

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