Biblical "Scholarship"

An Associated Press article appeared in the Dallas Morning News on August 2 regarding a current controversy over the curriculum selected for an elective course in Bible at many public schools throughout the country. (Read the full article here)

The Texas Freedom Network hired a professor from Southern Methodist University, Mark A. Chancey to review the curriculum produced by the National Council for Bible Curriculum. He was not impressed with the curriculum, primarily for 5 reasons:
  1. It characterizes the Bible as inspired by God.
  2. Discussions of science are based on the claims of biblical creationists
  3. Jesus is referred to as fulfilling Old Testament prophecy
  4. Archaeological findings are erroneously used to support claims of the Bible's historical accuracy.
  5. The course suggests that the Bible, instead of the Constitution, be considered the nation's founding document.

Chancey suggests that the Bible should be taught with a "scholarly" approach "without presenting a personal belief."

"I do it all the time," he said.

How can Southern Methodist University, or Dr. Chancey himself take his title as "biblical scholar" seriously? Regardless of Dr. Chancey's personal feelings concerning the Bible, one wonders how a serious Bible curriculum could teach anything other than the 5 things Dr. Chancey outlines above.

The Bible is stuffed full of claims that it is inspired by God. (Deuteronomy 1:3, 2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:20-21 come immediately to mind). To teach the Bible without addressing the Bible's claims about itself would be irresponsible, if not flat out dishonest.

Chancey gripes that this Bible curriculum bases its discussion of science on claims of biblical creationists. Frankly, what did he expect it would base its discussions on? The claims of unbiblical creationists? The Bible itself begins with the fundamental idea that God created the earth, and therefore exists above and separate from His creation. That fact forms the basis for the rest of Scripture. If a Bible curriculum doesn't understand even the most foundational of the Bible's claims, how can it be accepted as a reliable teaching tool?

The four books of the Bible dedicated to telling the story of Jesus' life and ministry are jam packed with Old Testament quotations. Most of these quotations contain prophesies from the Old Testament which Jesus fulfilled. In fact, most Old Testament scholars count more than 300 prophesies from the Old Testament that were fulfilled by Jesus Christ. Even Jesus Himself claimed to fulfill prophesy in Luke 4:21, when He told the religious leaders he was fulfilling Isaiah 61:1-2 before their very eyes.

Chancey might have a legitimate gripe with his fourth item, if archaeology was the only source biblical historians looked to for their verification of the historical accuracy of the Bible. However, when that external archaeology is combined with the historical testimony of other non- Jewish/Christian writings of the time, and with the internal track record of accuracy the Bible has had over the past thousands of years, claims against the historical accuracy of the Bible are the ones that begin to look erroneous.

Although Chancey's last complaint doesn't chap me on biblical grounds, it's still unfair. I'm no political scientist, but I know the Declaration of Independence came before the Constitution, and began the process of establishing an identity for a nation which would soon draft their constitution. And the Declaration of Independence begins with the foundation that each individual is "created equal," and is "endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights..." That's right, the first official document of the United States of America based the rights and priveleges of America's citizens on those "endowed by a Creator." Those rights, which would be codified in the Constitution, are irrevocable because they lie in the hands of a Creator God. Without a reasonable doubt, the God these authors intended was the God of the Bible.

Scholarly integrity demands that our teachers teach the material they are expected to teach in an honest, forthright way. To teach the Bible in a scholarly manner, but avoid its claims as Dr. Chancey recommends is a ridiculous impossibility, and a request that has at its root an evil desire to exchange the truth of God for a lie.