I received the nickname “little wanderer” right after high school on a rapelling trip in Wisconsin with some friends. I thought that was the end of my wandering till I validated it again when trying to lead a team around Tong Du Chon, South Korea. Thankfully, someone invented Google Maps and (most of) my wrong turns are over.
Obviously, we can make wrong turns in other areas of life beside driving. What are some mistakes we can make when approaching the study of sacred texts?
Wrong turn #1: I’m not religious, so I don’t have to worry about ‘sacred texts’
Don’t forget about worldview from our post several weeks ago. We all have a lens that we use to make sense of life whether we realize it or not. A big part of that lens is authorities that we place our trust in. Yours may not be a sacred text, but who do you trust about life issues? It could be…
- a professor
- a horroscope
- a talk show host
- what your close friends think
- when someone says “all scientists believe this”
- a book like Origin of Species or The Wealth of Nations
The next generation will look at some things we hold as self-evident and smile. Or do we think that we stand on the pinnacle of thought?
Some questions for the experts we trust about life after death, God, etc….
- “what type of ethical system comes out of it?”
- “is it consistent with itself?”
- “can it explain other aspects of the world?”
Wrong turn #2: “I can be totally objective in my examination of sacred texts… unaffected by my friends, emotions, or desires.”
Here is a scholarly Mormon article describing how the significant influence of social factors on their beliefs. In an interesting moment of vulnerability, it admits that most Mormons are Mormon not because of the evidence, but because of relationships. And if you’ve ever felt defensive when people talk about ethics or spirituality, it’s evidence of the role our emotions play in what we believe. Then our will and desires slide in there because we intuitively know that there are high stakes when we are talking about who is the authority in our lives.
Wrong turn #3: “I like to keep my options open, so I will just believe in them all.”
But we can’t always do that. Try it with a job, or a school, or a romantic relationship. Some parts of life require commitment. The authority we put our trust in is no different since many of them are mutually exclusive. for example, the Jewish scriptures and the Hindu vega
or the New Testament and the Koran. Although the Koran acknowledges the ‘Injil’ (New Testament)
We can’t avoid the ultimate questions forever and like the agnostic in the bus station… by choosing not to chose, we actually make a choice. Fail to chose a bus and we still make a choice and are left sitting at the station.
Remember from the post from last time that we can not expect absolute or scientific proof when approaching matters of history. But there are many things that make the Bible unique and worth considering…
- Unique in its continuity
- Unique in its circulation
- Unique in its translation
- Unique in its survival
- through time, persecution, criticism
- Unique in its teachings
- Unique in its prophecy, history, and character
- Unique in its influence on literature
- Unique in its influence on civilization
One of my favorites is its uniqueness in fulfilled prophecy. Consider Isaiah 53, which prophecies specific aspects of Christ’s death and resurrection several hundred years before it happened. The recent Dead Sea Scrolls discovery has provided us with a copy of that passage in Isaiah 2 centuries before Christ lived.
If you want to dig more into how the Bible is unique, borrow New Evidence that Demands a Verdict from us.
Book of Mormon. This article – written by a Mormon – is an example of some of the historical problems with the Book of Mormon.
Hindu Shruti. Professor M. Montier-Williams, former Boden professor of Sanskrit, studied the Shruti for 42 years. Here is his comparison of them with the Bible…
“Pile them, if you will, on the left side of your study table; but place your own holy Bible on the right side – all by itself, all alone – and with a wide gap between them. For … there is a gulf between it and the so-called sacred books of the East which severs the one from the other utterly, hopelessly, and forever … a veritable gulf which cannot be bridged over by any science of religious thought.” (see footnote 1)
Quran. Many of our Muslim friends assert that it is completely unchanged. However, it has a textual history. Consider the differences from today’s Koran in the findings of some of the most ancient Koranic manuscripts.
Whatever sacred text you are examining, why not apply the same 3 tests for historicity that we talked about the first week and see how they stand up?
How about you?
- What authority in your life has the place of most influence for you? Is it allowed to be critically examined?
- What is at stake for you as you chose what authority to listen to?
- What would those you care about think if you placed your confidence in the Bible?
Book of Mormon
for a friend who has questions about the Injeel (New Testament): Is the Injeel Corrupted?
Historicity of the Koran by Jay Smith
1. All about the Bible, pg. 314-315