Truth and History

The question of history and/versus truth will remain a perennial topic of discussion among people of faith as long as scientism and historicism cast their ideological shadows over our discourse about truth and method. Raymond C. Van Leeuwen writes perceptively on the subject in his recent Journal of Theological Interpretation article entitled “The Quest for the Historical Leviathan: Truth and Method in Biblical Studies” 5.2 (2011) 145-58.  Here are a few gems from the article:

In spite of our discipline’s overwhelming quest for history behind the text, and in spite of the enormous contributions of historical study especially to our understanding of the language and culture of the bible, it seems to me that the basic purposes and functions of biblical literature are not reducible to history, though obviously they themselves possess a historical dimension. By the formulation, I mean to recognize both the necessity of historical inquiry in biblical studies but also its limits. Reality, including the Bible, is not reducible to its historical aspect, and historiography is not by itself competent to answer literary, theological, and ideological questions, no more than it can answer questions of legal validity and interpretation. (150)

It ought not to surprise us that historical investigation, literary and cultural studies, and archaeology lead us to the conclusion that various biblical narratives are not “factual” in a strict referential sense. . . . Concerns over such things, I think, are red herrings that divert the Jewish or Christian believer, scholar, or theologian—who read Scripture as somehow divine discourse in human words addressed to God’s people through generations of history—from what seems to me to be the real problem. It is this: when a historical critic claims to have reconstructed, interpreted, and written “what really [objectively] happened behind the text,” and then presents that as a narrative “truer” than the profound biblical narratives about reality, then readers have been given stones for bread. (154-55)

Ironically, our modern scientific and historical questions as well as our presuppositions often sidetrack us from discovering the significant issues and questions that exercise the ancient texts themselves. Thus, enlightened scientists and historians may fail to free themselves from their own modernity, actually to enter the world represented in the text. (155)

The revelatory truth of Scripture concerning reality resides not in the events, characters, or creatures “behind” the narrative but in the artistic narrative itself. Scripture’s truth is a matter, then, not of source but of divine discourse. (157)


5 thoughts on “Truth and History

  1. I don’t think that scripture leaves the option he is suggesting, do you?:

    Joh 3:12 If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?

    1. I don’t think his suggestion is optional, at least not for those who do peer behind the curtain of the text. Read his whole article before you jump to conclusions, as I have only posted salient points and omitted the bulk of his argument.

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