A new hypothesis on the cultural and moral degradation of the Scriptures

If our objection to the divine origin of Scripture is to call it a book of crude bronze-age genocidal goat herding patriarchal peasants, then do we expect something with a truly a divine origin be the finest fruit of a perfectly enlightened age, composed by leisured aristocrats, and reflecting the noblest, purest moral ideals and actions? Even if all these traits were compatible (non-patriarchal aristocracy?) an honest look at history tells us that such age would be marred by its love of its own atrocious actions and beliefs.  Our rhetorical jabs would just shift from whatever monstrous moral practices happen at the hands of goat-herders to the the ones that happen at the hands of enlightened, leisured aristocrats and college professors.

Is this missing the point, though? Sure, maybe out mocking of goat-herders is a little xenophobic and elitist, and maybe any culture God chose to reveal himself though would have its own vices and faults. But isn’t the heart of the objection that since God is “morally perfect” his revelation should be morally perfect? Isn’t this practically a tautology?

Not necessarily. Instead of trying to justify the apparent moral degradation of Scripture we might investigate the hypothesis that some moral degradation is integral to its own account of revelation. Since it is complete in Christ, revelation is not just God’s speaking to human beings but speaking with a human voice. Given that God wanted to save human beings, and not just start again after the fall with a non-fallen creation (which would make both salvation and revelation unnecessary) he was committed to speaking with a fallen voice until such time when he would speak though his new creation in Christ. Demanding moral perfection of the revelation before this new creation would destroy the way in which Christ fulfills the Scripture as not just a revelation to humanity but through humanity.

5 Comments

  1. October 10, 2015 at 12:19 pm

    Are you assuming that the New Testament (as a set of books) is morally perfect in a way that the Old Testament is not? If they are both morally imperfect, this is surely because of the human beings that wrote them, and it is not clear from your account why Christ should not have written a morally perfect New Testament.

  2. GeoffSmith said,

    October 10, 2015 at 12:34 pm

    Good post. The New Testament itself says that the Old Testament is incomplete, especially Hebrews 1:1-4.

    I think that there is a case to be made that the New Testament teaches (especially Romans 9-11) that part of the purpose of the OT was to actually move history to a place wherein the crucifixion and resurrection could be intelligible as a redemptive act. They had a functional-revelatory purpose for being the myth of a people spoken through those people (a speech-act). Not merely a philosophical-revelatory purpose of people a super exact collection of propositions with their proper relations.

  3. October 10, 2015 at 12:35 pm

    To the first question, yes, I take it as a reasonable assumption that divorce, genocide, and smashing the skulls of small children on rocks are all morally wrong. Christ himself seems to agree to this since he says that some of the old law was given because of human fallenness “because of the hardness of your hearts”.

    That said, I don’t think any of the things I mentioned are “less God’s word” than anything else in Scripture, or that they are less inspired moments when only man speaks and not God. Scripture is not primarily a book of moral instruction but a way to learn God’s own language, and this can be accomplished in ways that are not morally ideal. Just as a sentence might be bad morals but good grammar, so too a passage in the OT might be bad morals but good Trinitarian grammar.

    • GeoffSmith said,

      October 10, 2015 at 1:23 pm

      A helpful analogy might be something like telling a child, “Don’t touch the socket, don’t go near the socket, don’t even think about the socket.” Then two years later, “I need you to unplug something from the socket.”

      The Old Testament includes commands that are less than ideal because the situation demanded a step in the right direction or, if we follow Kierkegaard, there was a suspension of the ethical.

  4. dpmonahan said,

    October 10, 2015 at 2:49 pm

    Your hypothesis is reasonable, but I would add the fact that the OT was not written and complied by naive goat herders, but by priests and scribes – what we would call professional theologians. Same could be said for the NT.


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