Biblical Views: The Value of Methodological Doubt

Ron Hendel Defends Critical Biblical Scholarship

Ron Hendel, the Norma and Sam Dabby Professor of Hebrew Bible and Jewish Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, comes to the defense of critical Biblical scholarship in response to those who disparage it in favor of belief in the inerrancy of scripture, such as evangelical Calvinist philosopher Alvin Plantinga. In critical scholarship, Ron Hendel says, “only a position that survives the scrutiny of methodological doubt can be regarded as reliable.”

What’s the use of critical Biblical scholarship? If you asked evangelical Calvinist philosopher Alvin Plantinga, he’d probably say “not much.” He compares the endeavor to mowing the lawn with nail clippers. Instead he believes only in the inerrancy of scripture, trusting that the Holy Spirit will reveal everything one needs to understand the Bible. Ron Hendel, on the other hand, the Norma and Sam Dabby Professor of Hebrew Bible and Jewish Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, believes that critical Biblical scholarship and the methodological doubt that accompanies it are valuable tools for understanding and appreciating the Biblical text. Unlike the certainty that accompanies Plantinga’s belief in the inerrancy of scripture, the questioning of authority and tradition that comprises methodological doubt can ultimately lead to greater clarity and more solid faith, Hendel says. “Only a position that survives the scrutiny of methodological doubt can be regarded as reliable, and even then it is subject to future testing.”

Ron Hendel adds that the belief in the inerrancy of scripture is a fairly recent development of contemporary evangelical theology. Even in the 16th century John Calvin noted “erroneous views ‘of the humble and unlearned’” in certain Biblical passages, as did Martin Luther and other Reformers. For them the divine inspiration of scripture did not equate to an inerrancy of scripture.

Read more from Ron Hendel’s Biblical Views column as he explains the value of methodological doubt in relation to Biblical studies in “Critical Biblical Scholarship—What’s the Use?” in the July/August 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
 




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  1. Doug says

    Assuming that both the Inerrancy position and the Critical Biblical Scholarship positions affirm that the Bible being investigated asserts that we are all sinners in need of God’s love and redemption, can we trust either the Inerrancy position or the Critical Biblical Scholarship position? Can sinners really present and understand the Bible so well as to hold rigidly to either position? I personally have no investment in the Bible being inerrant. That I consider as not being inerrant adds integrity to the Bible. I am convinced that its writers did the best they could to describe God at work in the world and in their lives. If they made mistakes, people make mistakes writing about Mozarth or any other person. However, I haven’t found the Critical Biblical Scholarship materials very much more than intellectual subjective interpretations that are laced with presuppositions that have little support other than agreement at times from other scholars. Even here there is such grave disagreement in interpretation that if being accurate is the standard, then Critical Biblical Scholarship has major major major problems. Reading Maurice Goguel recently I scratched my head so often trying to figure out how he could say what he said, I have a growing bald spot on the back of my head.

    Has Ron Hendel done anything more than demonstrate defensiveness still exists in both the Inerrancy camp and the Critical Biblical Scholarship camp?

  2. Kavanna says

    There’s something to keep in mind from another Calvinist thinker, Milton, who said he couldn’t praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue that did not sally forth to meet its adversary, and that we are a jumble of pure and impure — purification is by trial, and trial is by what is contrary. We have to consider whether what we think we know is false, before we can be sure it’s true. Otherwise, we have no idea if we’re just spewing.

  3. James says

    It concerns me that the author equates Calvin’s statement about “erroneous views ‘of the humble and unlearned’” with an attack on inerrancy. Bad interpretations and false teachings about scripture have always been commonplace, as much among the so-called ‘learned’ as anyone else. The words of scripture claim more than 3,800 times to be direct revelations of the trascendant and perfect Creator of all created things. You either believe it or you don’t – either way it is by faith!

    So-called ‘biblical criticism’ starts with relativistic metaphysical presuppositions treated as absolutes, but it is simply passing off biased human opinions as.rational thought. The most perfect logical construct built on false assumptions in worthless.

    Disbelief pretending to be scholarship is common in academia, but tends to be blatantly self-serving and hypocritical. As a fraud investigator I have little faith in human opinions, so I challenge just about everything, starting with my own assumptions. The claim that human opinions are higher authority than the revelations of God presupposes that the Bible is false in its claims without any sound substantiation,

    It is your prerogative to disbelieve regardless of evidence, and it is your right to courteously state your views in appropriate venues, but it is sheer religious hypocrisy to misrepresent the people with whom you disagree, and to assume that your opinions are of higher authority than God’s. “You shall not surely die” is still a lie connected to the creation of man-centered religion..

  4. Tony says

    Hendel must be one of the most insecure men I have ever read. He is so fearful that his field of study is going to receive little to no respect. So how does he go about it? He whines and attacks the character and positions of others instead of offering reasonable evidence that would make one want to accept his position. If his polemic on Higher Criticism is the best that they have to offer it is no wonder that so few embrace their views. I have yet to understand why BAR publishes him.


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