I know I said I’d only write once a week, but I’ve had a backlog of thoughts and concepts I’ve been working through. This one has been coming at me from many sources and different classes, so here it goes:
Does it matter if the events recorded in the Bible actually happened, or is the message the only important part?
Throughout the history of theology, opinions on this matter have varied. There are some who have always claimed, and still do, that all of the events recorded in the Bible are fully true, and that all of its impact depends on the reality of the record. There are others, on the other hand, who don’t believe Jesus even existed, but maintain that theology itself is still valid. As with most things, I’m caught in the middle.
For example, we’re currently discussing the nature of ancient histories in my Old Testament Theology class. The ancients didn’t care about the exact order of things, and they had no concept of an “objective account”: to the ancients, history was “a people writing a narrative account of their history for their benefit.” Ancient Greek historians would blatantly make stuff up when they ran out of source material, filling in the holes of their narrative. Ancient editors would rework the same story in very different ways, with each version speaking specifically to a different audience. A prime example of this is the story of the Flood.
Noah’s story isn’t the only version of the Flood. I remember a time when this revelation shook my faith from its very foundations; if there’s more than one flood story, does that mean it isn’t true? If it isn’t true, does that mean that the whole Bible is untrustworthy? These questions were tough. Now, the Epic of Gilgamesh doesn’t bother me in the slightest, but I’m learning that there were flood stories in just about every culture in the region; each account features the specific gods of a specific people within their own cultural context. The interesting thing is, at the end of one flood account, the narrative refers to another people’s god: the editor had forgotten to change the name of the god in the last reference, and since writing was literally “written in stone” in those days, he couldn’t fix his mistake. Every one of the flood accounts has similar themes or details for a reason: it’s the same story, re-hashed for different audiences. Doubtless, many of the people in the original audience knew this – but that’s not the point. It didn’t matter to them if someone had completely re-written the historical account: the significance of the story was what mattered to them.
What about for us? Does the story still carry significance for us if it’s a clever fiction? Discuss, keeping in mind that there’s no such thing as an “objective” history; it’s the significance we give to real events (or find in them) that makes them noteworthy.