Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Brinsmead on Biblical Scholarship

Excerpted from Robert D. Brinsmead. "Living by the Bible." The Christian Verdict, essay 23 (1985)

Many earnest Christians today are uneasy about the findings of modern scholarship. But biblical scholarship, particularly since World War II, has made amazing progress in the study of the Bible. Advances in biblical understanding in the last fifty years exceed all advances made in the previous nearly two thousand years of Christian history. 
Four contributions of biblical scholarship should be emphasized: 
1. Biblical scholarship has made it abundantly clear that the Bible is not inerrant. It contains numerous mundane mistakes and inconsistencies... perhaps the mistakes are a protection against bibliolatry, a defense against a religion of the letter. 
2. Biblical scholarship has also made it abundantly clear that we have no accurate, direct access to the historical Jesus. Even that history is seen through a glass darkly. There are historical discrepancies in the four Gospels. They do not constitute a biography. The records that we have of the life of Christ are from second and third generation witnesses. We are cut off from direct historical access. 
3. There is no homogeneous body of teaching in Scripture. Rather, there is diversity. There are tensions. There are different points of view. 
4. Scholarship has clearly demonstrated that despite all the professions of living a life controlled by the Bible, no one does it anyway.

Comment: cleaning out the garage can be fraught with unexpected consequences. Like discovering a pile of ancient publications you'd half forgotten. Bob Brinsmead was one of the main influences on my thinking back in the eighties, providing the intellectual grunt to put fundamentalism far behind me. There were other good reasons, of course, to leave an arrogant, hierarchic sect; but without Verdict (in its various incarnations) I'd probably just have settled down in another related group - hopefully one that was less abusive, hypocritical and manipulative.

How does Bob hold up after all these years? Well, life is growth, and most of us have (hopefully!) had a few new thoughts - and I'm pretty sure Bob himself has moved on in new directions. Nonetheless I'm intrigued to find that there's a lot that I can still utter a heartfelt 'amen' to. As I work my way through the pile I'll post an occasional item.

For a sample of the Brinsmead style here's a 34 minute YouTube time trip back to 1985.


  1. "There are historical discrepancies in the four Gospels." Sez who? I got a Harmony of the Gospels by Fred Coulter, and I'll put that up against some pointy-headed Ph.D. any day of the week --- but especially on the seventh day.

    1. For those with open eyes and no preconceived conclusion, the historical discrepancies - and the internal inconsistencies - are obvious and widespread. If you're interested (and I realize you're not) I suggest consulting the Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy by Dennis McKinsey.

      Just for starters, a few basic inconsistencies: (1) two different sets of ancestors leading up to Joseph, for the purpose of demonstrating that Jesus is descended from David. But, what's the point? It says elsewhere that Joseph was not the father! (2) two different ways Judas died. I know, the apologists have explanations for both of these - which stretch logic to the breaking point, but hey, any explanation is good enough for a true believer.

      For a taste of historical discrepancies: (1) There was no "killing of the innocents". (2) There never was a census where every man had to go back to his ancestral town - the Romans never had such a practice and how could it ever work in real life anyway? (3) There were no inns in Judah (4) Neither Romans nor Jews crucified thieves so clearly that one was "made up" by someone who did not understand the culture, (4) similarly for many details of the alleged trial of Jesus. Ah, let's just stop there, the list goes on and on. Research further if you wish.

  2. Trying to make sense of the Bible will drive you insane: Ask Isaac Newton, Samuel Clemens, Robert Brinsmead, Karl Barth.
    Brinsmead is the 20th century Joshua, leading us out of the fundamentalist wilderness.