Q&A: Reading Scripture on its Own Terms

Reading Scripture on its Own Terms

Why do so many people believe there are contradictory theological viewpoints in the Pentateuch?

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Answer

There's sometimes a popular belief that there are contradictory theological viewpoints within the Pentateuch, and the reasons for that are kind of interesting. Probably the biggest reason that there is that popular perception is that modern expectations are used in reading the text. So, we bring expectations of precision perhaps that Old Testament writers weren't meeting and, frankly, modern historians don't meet as well. It's a theological history, it's not a scientific history, although, where it does speak of history, it's important that we accept its basic truthfulness. But when we impose our modern kind of scientific mindset, rationalist mindset, on any piece of literature, we're going to perceive contradictions. So, we need to read the literature on its own terms, and those perceived contradictions often fall away very quickly, especially if we read is sympathetically rather than with the hubris of modern people. Another reason people might perceive there are theological contradictions is it's an inherently complex matter; the subject matter is God. God is not a simple, single-cell organism. Because God is inherently complex, we would expect the Bible to reflect an inherent complexity about God. And so, there is a unity of the message just as God is one, but there's also a variety within the message because God is the one and the many, he's the three in one. And the Bible, as a reflection of who he is, also reflects those things.

Answer by Rev. Michael J. Glodo

Rev. Michael J. Glodo is Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL.