Culture & The Bible

01 Mar

I may not post tomorrow so I thought I would get an extra one in tonight. The following quotes are taken from the book, UGARIT AND THE OLD TESTAMENT
By PETER C. CRAIGIE. It is a small book and it is interesting but the author unknowingly touches on areas that the scholars mess up about the bible, its content and how to read it.

#1. THE Bible is not, in principle, a difficult document to read. Its message and substance are clear, and from the beginning it was written for the ordinary person. (pg. 3)

This part is correct. Contrary to Jim West’s view that the Bible was written only for scholars, the Bible was written for all people, no matter their educational or status level in life.

#2. But the modern reader faces a problem unknown to the original readers and hearers of the biblical message: the passage of time has imposed the gulf of centuries between the modern reader and the text. And that gulf in turn is wide, for the modern world has changed radically from that in which the biblical narrative is set. Hence, it is difficult for a citizen of the twentieth century simply to sit down and read all of the Bible with understanding. (pg.3)

This is one of the problems that scholars create when they read or talk about the Bible. They do not take into account that old phrase, ‘the more things change the more they stay the same.’ Technology may change, or construction habits may change but life and people do not change. Nor does sin or God’s rules. If you compare cultures, the OT world with the modern one, you will still see people lying, stealing, murdering, raping, abusing and so much more. The nature of people has not changed thus the bible is as relevant today as it was in OT times.

The last line is the most telling here. We may not be able to understand all of the cultural practices mentioned in the Bible but that is a moot point for we have different cultures today and what is done and written in those cultures the Western world would not understand today. The rules of different cultures do not negate the teachings of the Bible, if it did, God would have to write over 100 different Bibles per century putting his words in the correct cultural context.

God’s word is not interpreted by culture but it transcends it, telling the people how they are to act no matter what culture they are to live in. The setting doesn’t matter.

#3. For the majority of modern readers, the problem created by the passage of time is aggravated still further by other difficulties, specifically those of language and culture (pg. 3)

No the problem for most scholars is that they do not see the difference between cultural information and biblical teaching. They think the presence of the former writes the latter and that is just not so. Yes there are cultural practices mentioned in the Bible but that doe snot make them commands of God or instructions on how to live one’s life.

In other words, Abraham’s taking Hagar to father a child is not God’s instructions to believers to take another wife if your current one is childless. The Bible is documenting an ancient cultural practice adhered to by Abraham and his wife.  There is no biblical teaching to follow that example set by Abraham. Culture does not dictate the words of the Bible. This means that the argument ‘the culture of that time’ is wrong and misleading and that Paul was laying down god’s instructions for the church to follow not imposing his cultural rules upon the NT church.

#4. And our culture, though profoundly shaped and influenced by the biblical tradition, sets us still further apart from the culture of the biblical world. If, through some warp in time, the figures of the biblical world could enter temporarily into our modern world, they would be totally lost, and the reverse would be no less true; if we were present briefly in the biblical world, we would not be attuned to its norms and patterns of activity. (pg. 3)

We do not know the full extent of the spiritual influence people like Abraham and others had on ancient society. If it is anything like today, then we can see that they had little influence. The church today has little spiritual influence on modern government, education, justice and so on so in reality, we are not set that far apart from the OT world.

That author obviously has not heard of the act of ‘adapting’ to a new culture. If people were transposed to different times, then initially yes they would be lost but that does not mean they will not learn and adapt to the new circumstances.

#5. Thus every modern reader of the Bible, and especially of the Old Testament, faces a problem, that of bridging the gaps that separate the ancient world from the modern. If no attempt is made to bridge those gaps, then the lack of familiarity with biblical language and culture will contribute to a failure to understand the biblical message. For though the biblical message is eternal, its form and setting are historical and temporal. And though the biblical message is not complex, we are for the most part so profoundly unfamiliar with the form in which it is set, that we can easily miss its simplicity and power.(pg. 3-4)

Not really. The only gap we would have to bridge is understanding their thinking when it comes to cultural practices. The biblical teaching would be the same so would the meaning and application of biblical instruction. We do not need to be educated in the biblical languages to understand what God is teaching us. Nor do we need to be experts in OT culture to get the message. The message is still the same. God said in the OT, ‘Thou shalt not kill’ that command doe snot change because the cultures or languages change.

We only miss its power and simplicity when we make bible reading more difficult than it should be and add in factors that do not apply.

#6. It is as though our births in the twentieth century have been a disadvantage to us, and indeed as though those yet to be born will be still further disadvantaged, separated in time even more than the current generation from the period of the biblical world. (pg. 4)

What has been a disadvantage to 20th century people is that we have let unbelieving scholars and others influence how we view the Bible and its content. There is a simple passage of scripture which says, ‘God does not change’ which gives us a clue about how to look at the Bible, what God said 5,000 years ago, what he said 2,000 years ago, applies to today. Culture has nothing to do with it.

There is also no biblical teaching instructing us to use culture as our guide to God’s word.  The Bible tells us to follow the HS to the truth and last I looked unbelieving scholars and others are not the HS nor do we see them following the HS. We see them following ancient secular inscriptions and other remains instead (along with secular rules for study).

#7. It is true of reading in general that the capacity to understand is influenced enormously by what the reader already knows. Thus, if one were to visit a library and withdraw two very different books, both in the English language, the ability to read them with comprehension would be profoundly affected by background knowledge and general education. (pg.4)

Yes and no. if we are honest we can see where our knowledge might interfere with our reading of anything, we can also spot where our bias may color our views but if we are following the HS then we are open to learning what the truth is and changing our views. Another major problem with scholars is that they trumpet the idea of being objective when it comes to Bible reading even though they know that there is no such thing as objectivity.

Using objectivity is using a secular strategy form not following the biblical edict of following the HS. We do not read the Bible or any work using the secular methods. We ask the HS for guidance in all that we read so we can glean the truth and change with that.

#8. We are commonly deceived into thinking that the reading of the Old Testament is like reading modern fiction; in other words, we think that we already have in our heads the knowledge that would equip us to read with understanding, simply because the biblical language itself (in translation) has become so familiar to us in the Western world.(pg. 4)

A lot of people simply just consider the OT fiction because they do not want to believe it or cannot accept it as true history. Yet, the OT contains both true history, true cultural facts and practices as well as true godly instruction. We know the difference because we follow biblical instruction and the HS to the truth. For example if we read that Judas killed himself, we know that the Bible is not telling us that killing ourselves is okay because we read in other passages that it is wrong to kill.

Scholars approach the Bible in a very limited manner and ignore key instructions on how to read it and insert their own ideas which in turn lead them to the wrong conclusions about the Bible, the past and how to read both.Believers are not blind like scholars usually are, though too many believers rely upon their own understanding and ignore biblical teaching.

#9. The problem, in other words, does not lie primarily in the Old Testament but in ourselves, in the lack of general knowledge of the biblical world that would enable us to open its pages and read with understanding.(pg. 4)

No the problem lies with misunderstanding how to approach the Bible and what tools we are to really use when we do read it.

#10. But how is that to be done, for the Old Testament comes to us from a world long past and dead? (pg. 5)

This is another problem with scholars. They think their misconceptions about the Bible are the true facts about it. The quote is just untrue as the OT does not come from a long past and dead world. Its origination is found in a living and very present God who does not change. That is a big difference as Craigie’s idea makes the OT a human authored book with no divine inspiration while the truth tells us that the words come from the most holy God and they should not be taken lightly or dismissed.

#11. During the last two centuries, we have seen the birth of a new discipline, commonly called “biblical archaeology,” which may enable us to get back to the biblical world in a way scarcely possible in the preceding centuries.(pg. 5)

What Biblical Archaeology does is find remains from societies long past which in turn tell us that the ancients were not that much different from us today and that God’s word to them is God’s word to us.

#12. When we absorb the data provided by archaeological research, we are filling the gaps in our knowledge; we are equipping ourselves to read the ancient text with understanding by reducing the gap between our own century and the biblical centuries.(pg. 5)

We may fill in gaps about ancient culture but not biblical instruction. There are no gaps for that. The Bible is complete in what we know that God has told us to do. As i said earlier, the only difference between the ancient world and ours is technology but from what I have learned from my own studies is that even in that area the gap may not be that large.

#13. But Ugarit is more significant than that; its archives and ancient texts have added fundamentally to our knowledge of the Old Testament world, to an extent far greater than has been the case with other archaeological sites excavated in the world east of the Mediterranean. (pg.6)

The Ugarit texts do give us SOME information about the past but they are not that extensive nor have a wide variety of materials. From what I have been told, the majority of ancient texts we do find, even though large in number, deal with government business, laws and some business transactions. We have a few myths like the Gilgamesh Epic and other stories but not to the extent we have today housed in the Library of Congress in Washington DC.

In closing, scholars overstate what we know and they misapply a lot of that knowledge to the Bible ruining their chances of learning the truth about the Bible.


{P.S. If the page numbers after my quotes do not line up with your copy of the book it is because I am using the page number that came with the automatic reference information that appears every time you copy and paste a quote from the libronix system)

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Posted by on March 1, 2015 in academics, archaeology, Bible, faith, history, leadership, theology


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