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Bible Study From A Secular Perspective

R. S. Martin



Recently, there have been a few requests on exC regarding Bible study. I posted two major posts and will copy them here for future reference so I don't have to think so hard every time a question arises.





what books can I read (besides the actual Bible) that will help me understand Christianity's influence on Western culture, and it's main ideas and recurring themes, from a secular point of view?


Old Testament


Who Wrote the Bible, by Richard Elliott Friedman


Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction, by Lawrence Boadt


New Testament

*Gospel Parallels: A Comparison of the Synoptic Gospels, by Burton H. Throckmorton, Jr.


Reading the Synoptic Gospels: Basic Methods for Interpreting Matthew, Mark, and Luke, by O. Wesley Allen, Jr.


Jesus as a Figure in History, How Modern Historians view the Man from Galilee, by Mark Allan Powell


Befriending the Beloved Disciple: A Jewish Reading of the Gospel of John, by Adele Reinhartz.


An Introduction to the Study of Paul, by David G. Horrell


*After the New Testament: A Reader in Early Christianity, edited by Bart D. Ehrman


History of Christianity


*The Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity, by John McManners


The Story of Christianity: A Celebration of 2000 Years of Faith, by Michael Collins and Matthew A. Price.


General Religious Studies


The Meaning and End of Religion, by Wilfred Cantwell Smith


Religious Worlds: Comparative Study of Religion, by William E. Paden.


World Religions (2 volumes; subtitle of one is Eastern Traditions, and the subtitle of the other is Western Traditions), compiled and edited by Willard G. Oxtoby


Whose Religion is Christianity, by Lamin Sanneh.


Ten Commandments



Re question on the Ten Commandments, I go by Lawrence Boadt's Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction, Paulist Press, 1984. I use this book because it was the course text when I took the Old Testament courses a few years ago. I trust the biblical scholars at this institution because they use the same scientific method for reading the Bible that is also used for reading other ancient texts, such as Homer. (There will of necessity be minor differences because the texts are different.)


I will copy a bit from page 181 in Boadt:


Exodus 19-24 and 32-34: The Giving of the Covenant


In the present narration, Exodus 19-24 describes a first presentation of the convenant, and Exodus 31-34 tells how it was given again after Moeses broke the original tablets in anger at the people's apostasy with the golden calf. But behind this arrangement, there were originally two separate accounts of the same Sinai event, one from the E source (now in chapters 20-24) and one from the J source (now in chapters 33-34). To fit both accounts in, the editors have made two stages of one act. Chapter 19 combines the introductions to both versions. We can divide the two accounts to show the differences in outlook between the J and E sources:


Chapters 19, 33-34, "J"


24:1-2, 9-11 Moses joined by elders--all eat a sacrificial meal

34:10-26 God gives the covenant laws, many of them rituals

34:27-28 God gives the ten commandments (again)


Chapters 19, 20-24, "E"


29:21-23 Moses alone without the priests is to go to the mountain

20:1-17 God gives the ten commandments

20:18-23:33The covenant law code sums up the major demands of justice

24:3-8 People all accept Moses' law and are anointed by blood



That's all I'm quoting for now.


A simple introduction re "E" source and "J" source. I don't remember all the details, but what I do remember is that they believe there are four main sources from which the Old Testament was taken. Two of them are E and J. In Who Wrote the Bible, Richard Elliott Friedman explains about these sources, why it is believed that the OT was written by a variety of sources, what they think these sources are, and why. They give a letter to each source, too. This is traditional biblical scholars' method for studing the OT.


The fundamentalists rejected this theory back when it was introduced in the United States in the 1800s. This, and Darwinism, are the two main reasons over which the conservative and liberal Christians split between 1870 and 1925. I would not trust any scholar from places like Dallas Theological Seminary or Bob Jones University to accept this theory. I don't think the Westminster or Heidlburg confessions of faith accept it, either, though I have not checked them out specifically on this topic.


To the best of my knowledge, the scholars who accept this theory do not make claims about the Bible being infallible and inerrant, or being dictated word for word by God. Based on what I have read on the topic so far, it seems the infallible inerrant belief hardened into doctrine in response to this new theory coming out. In other words, Christians asssumed the Bible was infallible and that it was correct, but it was not a test of faith like it seems to be in some fundy churches these days. I get the impression that this only hardened into doctrine when it was challenged by critical biblical scholarship, as shown above.



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