Can the Bible be Read both Critically and Religiously: A Protestant Perspective

Last night (October 25, 2010), I participated in a panel discussion at the University of Pennsylvania on the challenge of reading the bible critically and religiously from the point of view of three faith traditions: Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Protestant.

Marc Brettler of Brandies University gave a Jewish perspective, Dan Harrington of Boston College gave the Roman Catholic perspective, and I was given the impossible task of giving the Protestant perspective.

The 3 papers (each 20 minutes long) were very well received and generated a lot of discussion afterwards. It is my understanding that the entire evening was recorded and will be (is?) available as a podcast.  A text of my own comments can be downloaded here. (Forgive the oral feel of the paper, incomplete sentences, etc.)

My comments were aimed at diagnosing why some Protestants have such an easy relationship with modern biblical scholarship, and I suggested three reasons: the Protestant notion of sola Scriptura, the Protestant identity forged in the 19th century, and the very nature of the Christian Bible. I concluded with some very brief thoughts about moving forward.

I would like to thank Beth Wenger, Director the Jewish Studies Program at Penn, for arranging the evening and doing such a great job, Jeff Tigay, Ellis Professor of Hebrew and Semitic Languages and Literatures, for extending the invitation, and Marc Brettler and Dan Harrington, for their deep thoughts on these matters and great dinner conversation afterwards.


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  • Jay

    Thanks for making your comments available. I would definitely be interested in listening to the recording if available.

    why some Protestants have such an easy relationship
    Should be changed to “uneasy relationship” I think?

  • Paul D.

    Terrific paper, Pete. I’ve actually saved it to show other people.

  • Jason Knott

    I was gonna ask the same question as Jay, re: easy vs. uneasy.

    Seems to me the question needs to be: Can you read the Bible theologically if you don’t read it critically?

    • Pete

      Good catch, guys on the typo. If I had an endowment I would hire a FT proofreader. Believe me, I need one. And I like the way you phrase the question, Jason.

  • Jeff

    Dr. Enns,

    I really like the article. Though a lot of work still needs to be done even when we interpret the Bible with Christ as the focal point. Could you expand on the difference between, using an example, of interpreting Christo-telically and Christocentrically?

  • Carlos Bovell

    “Needing to get the Bible right, and fretting over whether one is getting it right, and what God thinks of us should we get it wrong, stem from spiritual and emotional dysfunction, not health;
    from a false and wounded self, not mature piety. Spiritual masters, not only of Christianity but of other faiths, are quick to remind us that living in your head and controlling others and God through a text hinder communion with God and spiritual growth. It is a great Protestant irony that one’s devotion to scripture can wind up being a spiritual barrier.”

    This is a remarkably well said, Pete.

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