Thursday, February 25, 2010

Is There Divine Revelation in Historical Events?

I'm reading through an unpublished document that makes intriguing arguments about divine revelation in biblical narratives and the historical events behind those narratives. Here's a very small portion of a much larger discussion:
As the trained historian studies past events, he or she is able to piece together a larger picture of the events recorded in Scripture. By discovering missing pieces that expand the biblical picture, historians are able to better understand the events depicted in the biblical narratives.
So what do you think? True or false? Do we better understand the meaning of the narratives in the biblical text if we find out more historical details of those narratives from extra-biblical sources?

And whether you agree or disagree, is this something that you observe with some regularity in contemporary preaching?

5 comments:

MDSF said...

By discovering missing pieces that expand the biblical picture, historians are able to better understand the events depicted in the biblical narratives.

Which narrative is subordinate to which? Is the biblical narrative subordinate to the historian's narrative? Or vice versa?

What do historians actually do? Do they attempt to discover facts about life in the past? Do they attempt to either fit new data into established theories? Do they attempt to overthrow those same established theories using their new data? Explanations of historical events go in and out of style among the community of working historians; for this reason they're only somewhat helpful for understanding Scripture.

is this something that you observe with some regularity in contemporary preaching?

It's something I've seen among some groups, significantly less so among others. Churches that take a fundamentalist or conservative evangelical approach and focus on digging meaning out of texts often uses historical research as secondary sources, explaining who particular people (the man with the jar who leads the disciples to the upper room) or groups (scribes, Pharisees) were, or attempting to correlate behavior in texts with contemporary behavior (e.g. Jesus's interaction with the Samaritan woman). I hear this less among mainline Protestant groups; they tend to be more focused on liturgy, creeds, and confessions as being foundational, and these aren't really subject to historical revision.

It's a mixed bag; if/when the prevailing historical community gets revised it can be good or bad for one's exegesis.

Jim Peet said...

I'll take stab at it:

Question: "Do we better understand the meaning of the narratives in the biblical text if we find out more historical details of those narratives from extra-biblical sources?"

Answer = Yes

Example: archaeological evidence for the destruction of Tyre with Ezekiel 26

Question: Is the archaeological evidence revelation?

Answer: No. The revelation is in Ezekiel

ben said...

Jim,

Your comment raises a point that I should clarify. When I ask about the meaning of the narratives, I'm not addressing evidence that the events actually happened. We can probably that there is apologetic value in verifying that the biblical narratives have a real, historical antecedent.

Rather, I'm asking whether details that we may discover from archeological examination of the ruins of Tyre may contribute something of theological significance to our understanding, particularly to our understanding of the biblical text. To put it another way, how, if at all would/should archeological data shape the way you preach or apply the text?

tenjuices said...

I swear I took a class on this with you. The dead horse just kicked Dr S. My answer is obviously that the meaning is in the text and its language not the historical background. Are we to seek to understand the events depicted in Scripture or to understand the text. Inspiration lies in the text while revelation is in history.

ben said...

like a moth to the flame . . .

;-)