As you begin to learn about different theories and approaches to the Bible, and the different people who formulated them, you are bound to wonder, “Why do so many people come up with such varying ways of looking at the Bible?” To answer this question, we need to understand the biblical scholars themselves.
It may be a Mad, Mad world, but to understand the work of a biblical scholar, we need to understand the scholar’s owns Milieu, Agenda, and Data.
Milieu is another word for context, or working environment. It includes the following:
*Intellectual Context or Climate
Mindset and Worldview
The agenda is the goal the person hopes to accomplish through his or her work. Sometimes the goal is obvious and clearly stated. Other times it may be in the background–but it is there. Everybody does what they do for a reason; they want to accomplish something. Even if the goal is “to interpret the Bible objectively and scientifically,” there must be a reason the person thinks that is important.
Data is the the raw material. For the study of the Old Testament the basic data is the Hebrew Bible. It might seem that has not changed much in 2000 years; and there is a lot of truth to that. Of course the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 did introduce a wealth of new data for the study of the Hebrew Bible.
Other data used for the study of the OT includes material from archaeology. Archeology produces objects and texts. (Of course the texts are objects themselves, but the distinction between written and non-written sources is important.) In the past 150 years or so a whole library of ancient literary and nonliterary texts has been discovered. It is important to remember that the artifacts or material remains discovered through archaeology also have to be interpreted–and the milieu and agenda of the archaeologist will influence the interpretation.
The study of Ancient Near Eastern Literature (from the world around the Bible has contributed a wealth of material for understanding the context of the Old Testament.
The data available has changed a lot in the last hundred years. Now, of course, everyone is still working with pretty much the same data. But differing milieus and differing agendas lead to differing methodologies and therefore differing conclusions.
All of this is another way of saying,
As you read what various people are saying about the Bible, think about where they are coming from.