Responses to the First Challenge

So far there have been six responses to the  First Challenge, to which I have added a few of my own comments.

I’d like to ask a personal question now, to those who have already responded or those who are still thinking about the questions.

How did you react emotionally to the two simple questions?  Did the questions about the authors and editions of the book of Jeremiah make you feel defensive?

I am asking the question because I can remember how I first felt when I was confronted with similar questions.  They are questions about the human side of the Bible, or about how the divine author interacts with the human authors, or about how the human authors responded to the word of God.

Because we have all been brought up (I am assuming) to have a high regard for the Bible as the word of God, we tend to get suspicious of questions about the human side of the Bible.

I would also like you think about this: why are those questions important?  Why does it matter who held the pen, and how the books came to have the form they now have, and how the Bible came down to us?

These are questions about history.  Why is history important in the study of the Bible?

Bill mentioned the passionate personality of Jeremiah.  Why is that important?  Isn’t the role of the prophet to be an impersonal messenger?

By the way–I know in writing it is hard to judge someone’s “tone of voice.”  I’m trying to nudge you into thinking, but I’m not trying to belittle or attack anyone.

I would also recommend, if you haven’t yet read “Welcome to Graduate School” below, do that and think about how it relates to the questions in this post.

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10 Responses

  1. Dr. Alterman,

    You asked about how I reacted emotionally to the two questions you asked in Challenge One. I have to admit that my first thought was how to define what “written” means. If I have a secretary dictate a letter to be sent to a business associate, the secretary would not sign the letter as being from herself. I would know–she would know–and the recipient would know the reason behind the letter and the sentiment contained in the letter, was from Randy.

    I guess I’m reminded of nested parentheses… We are receiving the writings of (editors…((received from the hand of Baruch…(((dictated by Jeremiah…(inspired by God)))). Is there anything that can’t say God is capable of inspiring writers (conduits) on multiple levels?

    I didn’t feel threatened or unstable in my relationship with the Lord or anything like that. I believe that God has words by which to live my life and in this particular case, Jeremiah followed God’s direct command. He didn’t use a black roller ball, a fountain pen, (if anyone remembers fountain pens:)) or a number 2 pencil! Jeremiah used a scribe who also believed–Baruch, et al!

    Randy

  2. Thanks Randy. Good answers.

    By the way, where are you on the original Q about how many authors/editions.

    If we read in the middle of the book, a narrative in the 3rd person, about the first two editions, involving God/Jeremiah/Baruch–how many editions and author/editors are involved now?

    • “As far as the number of editions, scripture talks about Baruch writing two scrolls and I share Brian’s interest in the last phrase of Jeremiah 36:32 about the “similar words”. But if the book of Jeremiah has had many editors over the years, can we really be sure of the number of editions?” (from first response-RW)

      God/Jeremiah/Baruch X 2, following the two commands by God equals six. Do we know how many editors/authors particpated over the years? Doubtful, as I am sure that the editions were not precisely documented as to when and by whom (at least from what I have read).

      Even if we knew by whom and how many were written, do we know if anything had been deleted? Maybe an edited version was considered and removed at sometime in the past… Is there anyway to tell for sure?

      “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart; lean not on your own understanding!” I’m sure I heard that somewhere… 🙂 (Proverbs 3:5)

  3. As our Old Testament Intro (Mango) text describes, many view the historical-critical method (HCM) as theologically dangerous (p.103). I remember having concerns with this when I first came across notions of HCM methods used with the synoptic Gospels and the Pauline epistles. The original “Sunday school rigidity” that I initially responded with has been tempered and I have learned to not put God in a box so to speak.

    The same God that spoke into existence all that we know of and the same God that fully comprehends the Trinity that we are incapable of is the same God that can communicate revelation to His people in the way that He chooses. One could argue that the metaphysical / supernatural aspect of revelation is outside of reach of any paradigm that we may try to fit it into. We may find ourselves in a dilemma when we attempt to fit it into a neat little historical box, but I do believe that the historical aspects can be affirming, even if they are not what you think they should be. In my personal experiences of faith, I have found growth and not disappointment when I encounter the “surprises” of God under the once “un turned over” rock. These encounters of encouragement have allowed me to become less defensive over time.

    • I totally understand that history and culture and all that entails influenced styles of writing and what was important at the time. What bothers me about the historical critical method is the absence of faith in the equation. Scriptures say we walk by faith and not by sight and it seems like the historical critical method wants to eliminate faith and isn’t faith the foolishness that Paul talks about as opposed to the wisdom of this world? It seems a lot like what the serpent told Adam and Eve in the Garden. He appealed to their sense of history and asked them to look back when God told them that and think if he really meant it. It seems as if that is what mankind has done ever since then is look back at what God said and wonder if he really said it and meant it. Just a thought.

  4. I have to admit, when I was an undergraduate student questions about the authors and editions of any book of the Bible led me to be extremely defensive. Such questions made me feel like a person was questioning the integrity and authenticity of God’s Word. I felt that the Bible needed to be immediately defended because questioning its authenticity was the same as questioning the Christian religion. Though I still feel that God’s Word needs to be defended against its attackers, in recent years I have a different reason for doing so. Instead of “getting upset” at those who raise questions about God’s Word, I try to understand where they are coming from and find answers for their questions. If we truly believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, then we should also believe that it can stand up against the attacks of men. We should not blindly defend God’s Word but be prepared to scholarly defend it with research and study. As the apostle Peter writes: “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).

    If I was given the first challenge several years ago, I would have simply answered that Jeremiah was the author of the book that bears his name and I would have left no room for argument. But at that point in my life, I had not thoroughly studied the background or content of the book. By simply studying internal evidence we see that Jeremiah used Baruch as an amanuensis. We also see that the book went through several different editions. These two facts do not question the inspiration of the book or its authenticity, but it does help us understand the origin and background. Knowing this information helps the student of God’s Word be prepared to face the arguments of Biblical critics. Plus, knowing the background and historical context of a book of the Bible helps us understand the content of that book. Thus I believe the Bible needs to be defended, but not with blind ignorance.

  5. I have to admit, when I was an undergraduate student questions about the authors and editions of any book of the Bible led me to be extremely defensive. Such questions made me feel like a person was questioning the integrity and authenticity of God’s Word. I felt that the Bible needed to be immediately defended because questioning its authenticity was the same as questioning the Christian religion. Though I still feel that God’s Word needs to be defended against its attackers, in recent years I have a different reason for doing so. Instead of “getting upset” at those who raise questions about God’s Word, I try to understand where they are coming from and find answers for their questions. If we truly believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, then we should also believe that it can stand up against the attacks of men. We should not blindly defend God’s Word but be prepared to scholarly defend it with research and study. As the apostle Peter writes: “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).

    If I was given the first challenge several years ago, I would have simply answered that Jeremiah was the author of the book that bears his name and I would have left no room for argument. But at that point in my life, I had not thoroughly studied the background or content of the book. By simply studying internal evidence we see that Jeremiah used Baruch as an amanuensis. We also see that the book went through several different editions. These two facts do not question the inspiration of the book or its authenticity, but it does help us understand the origin and background. Knowing this information helps the student of God’s Word be prepared to face the arguments of Biblical critics. Plus, knowing the background and historical context of a book of the Bible helps us understand the content of that book. Thus I believe the Bible needs to be defended, but not with blind ignorance.

  6. I’m simply suspicious of teachers. Any good teacher knows how to gauge if someone is actually thinking or not. Questions that seem obvious (especially when asked in an environment where those asked should be beyond that) always make me wary. Now, though I had read Jeremiah at least three times to date and therefore knew about Baruch and the re-writing of the scroll, I thought it wise to research anyways. Why? Because in these situations before, when I went “Aha! I know the answer!” I ended up falling into another trap.

    As to why the history of the text should be studied, it’s simply because people will try to use any proof possible to disregard the Bible so they can be “god” of their own life. Apologetically, we should know how to refute these arguments wisely to bring glory to God. If someone really wants to be their own god, they will do so anyways, but anyone who is really seeking truth will find it much easier if the pits and snares between them and the Bible are removed.

    As to Jeremiah’s passion… Who ever heard of an impartial messenger? That idea would have been completely foreign to anyone of Jeremiah’s day. If you don’t buy in to what you’re reporting, why would I send you to report it? Plus, Jeremiah’s purpose was not simply to repeat God’s words to others, but to compel them to change in light of those words. There can be no persuasion without passion.

  7. Being completely honest and upfront, I did not have an emotional reaction to those first two questions, because even though I had not read Jeremiah in a while I was still very much familiar with chapter 36 and its implications. Furthermore, I am very familiar with Paul and his use of a scribe to write down his letters, and personally there is no difference in my mind between what Paul did and what Jeremiah did. Now Paul might have had an additional reason for using a scribe (poor eyesight, inability to write clearly, etc. and one could keep on throwing ideas out there) but I think the basic concept of what they were writing down having significant, eternal importance is the main reason.

    The questions about authorship and editions really didn’t make me defensive so much as intrigued at the idea that this would cause people to question their faith. I mean I know that this happens, and that people think this proves the Bible is unreliable, but I do not. Rather, I think that this proves that the men and women God spoke through and inspired, recognized the importance of their work and that in some cases, like with Jeremiah and Paul, that an outside source like a scribe writing down the words of God was necessary to ensure that it was clearly communicated to the audience.

    I would also say that, if people leave no room for anyone other than God and who he directly speaks with to write anything, than much of the Bible might not exist as we know it today. Also, in my opinion, those people are limiting the scope of God and his ability to inspire the authors. Who is to say that God not only inspired Jeremiah (which we know for sure) but at the same time inspired Baruch as Jeremiah was dictating the words of God to him? I would say that it is a very likely occurrence, because ultimately if Baruch had at any point added or taken anything a way, God would have done something to correct it. However, nothing is said that would make it seem like that occurred, but rather Jeremiah talked and Baruch wrote it down is pretty simply mentioned.

  8. In addition to all of that (seems I forgot to answer a couple of things) I think that the study of history and especially the history of the Bible because everything we are reading from the Bible is history. It is important to know who wrote the different books of the Bible, when, where, and how it came to be as it is now because all of that can have an impact on how we read it an apply it to our lives today. Again, just because Baruch wrote it does not mean that it is less important, less powerful, or less impactful than if Jeremiah would have sat down and wrote it himself. At the helm was God, and it is his word and what he wanted written down for the people then and what he wanted written down for his people now.

    Also, an impersonal messenger? Hahaha…that is funny. I cannot picture Jeremiah being an impersonal messenger…in fact I cannot imagine any of the authors of any of the books of the Bible being impersonal and impartial about what they were writing and speaking about. They had passion about it alright, in fact Jeremiah is often referred to was the weeping prophet. That does not sound like an impersonal messenger to me. Jeremiah cared for the people he was prophesying to and wanted desperately for them to turn from their wicked ways, however in spite of that they continued on in their old ways. In the end Jeremiah had the passion to persuade the people, but the people did not have the ears of God to hear and change.

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