Core myth of the Bible is deliverance

by
26 August 2016

Anthony Phillips on an important analysis of the truth of Bible facts and narratives

 

The Garden of Gethsemane: this is one of the many illustrations in the whopping (2358-page) NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible: Bringing to life the ancient world of scripture, edited by John H. Walton and Craig S. Keener (Zondervan, £31.99 (£28.79); 978-0-310-43158-9). The first hearers of what became the scriptures would have been familiar with the cultural nuances, current customs, and references to contemporary events, the publishers say. This reference book, with its maps and charts, aims to provide a window on to that world

The Garden of Gethsemane: this is one of the many illustrations in the whopping (2358-page) NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible: Bringing to life the ancient world of scripture, edited by John H. Walton and Craig S. Keener (Zondervan, £31.99 (£28.79); 978-0-310-43158-9). The first hearers of what became the scriptures would have been familiar with the cultural nuances, current customs, and references to contemporary events, the publishers say. This reference book, with its maps and charts, aims to provide a window on to that world

The Bible for Grown-Ups: A new look at the Good Book
Simon Loveday
Icon Books £12.99
(978-1-78578-131-5)
Church Times Bookshop £11.70

 

 

SIMON LOVEDAY’S analysis of the biblical material will infuriate the “Bible says” brigade, which makes it all the more welcome — even if some of his self-confident assertions will inevitably be challenged by Bible scholars.

The author begins by examining the Old Testament, although he, in fact, concentrates on an explana­tion of how the Pentateuch reached its present form. Here he asserts that we know more about the authors of the various strata than we do about the writers of the four Gospels.

In common with many modern scholars, Loveday dismisses the historicity of both the exodus and conquest narratives, as well as the accounts of the reigns of David and Solomon. He concludes that it is meaningless to speak of a single message or single morality in the “instruction manual” of the Old Testament. If you look hard enough, you will find justification for any viewpoint or action.

There then follows a much more thorough discussion of the New Testament, in which Loveday asks whether Paul invented Christianity, and concludes that the theology that underpins all subsequent Chris­tianity is primarily the creation of a man who had never known Jesus.

For Loveday, no Gospel was written before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. The key issues for the Gospels’ authors were the failure of the mission to the Jews, the increasing popularity of Chris­tianity among the Gentiles, and the delay in the Second Coming.

All four Gospels are examined, and the existence of Q is accepted. Rightly, Loveday emphasises that the history of Jesus needs sifting from the Christ of faith. The Gospels are concerned not with historical truth, but with revealing truth. Briefly, the author notes that the New Testament had been put together by 367, and he asks who Jesus’s hearers thought he was; who Jesus thought he was; and why Jesus was crucified, but not his followers. Much emphasis is laid on the Messianic secret: that Jesus hid the truth of his identity to protect the disciples.

As with the Old Testament, Loveday points out that we have to decide which facts and teachings in the New Testament we should accept. But two things stand out: the Jewishness of Christianity, and the huge distance that lies between the first disciples and the established Church today.

Finally, he looks at the Bible as a whole from a critical literary standpoint, illustrating the power of its writing by citing the stories of David and Bathsheba, Luke’s nativity narrative, and Mark’s account of Peter’s denial.

Loveday argues that his book neither requires belief nor precludes it: it is about the Bible, not faith. Its core “myth” is deliverance. With Milton, he concludes that the Bible is “a metaphor for human freedom”. Unhappily for Loveday, and as I know from my own ministry, for others, too, it has been made into “an instrument of divine tyranny”.

The importance of the issues raised by Loveday’s analysis of the scriptures cannot be over-emphasised. For far too long these have been ignored, or papered over, by the Church. But more is needed than this forensic examination of the Bible. Why, after decades of Christianity, should this document of title remain central to Christian belief and practice? For that, a second volume is required — a Theology of the Bible for Grown-Ups.

 

Canon Anthony Phillips is a former headmaster of The King’s School, Canterbury

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