Are Outside Sources Allowed?

Do we approach the text with just the text? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I was in a debate today that got to the point that my viewpoint can only be held by someone who is familiar with Jewish culture. The Bible is written so that the common man can understand it. There are a number of problems with this. First off, who is this common man? For those in America, I believe this is part of our Americentrism where we think that our culture is the epitome of civilization and that all of it revolves around us.

Now, it could be that as far as history goes, our civilization is the greatest so far, and that’s a debatable point, but that does not mean that we are the focal point. If so, several other cultures of the past would have said the exact same thing. Ancient Greece would have seen itself in such a way. So would Rome.

Yet why should it be that the way an average American views the text would be the way the text was meant to be viewed? Why not a 14th century Japanese person? Why not an 11th century German? Why not a 5th century Chinese? Maybe we should also look to the future and consider that maybe a 24th century Frenchman will be who really brings out the text. Maybe some other nation we don’t know of is who should be considered the common man.

Yet somehow, in our arrogance, we’re convinced that we are the ones!

Now the next point to make is to say that we don’t need to study the culture. If we have the Holy Spirit, we have all we need to understand the Bible.

Let’s take someone who has never read Greek for an example and let’s give them a copy of John in Greek. I understand John is pretty simple Greek. If this person has the Holy Spirit, then they should be able to see the text and study the text and know what it says. Right?

Wrong. In fact, the only reason you have the text of the Bible in English today is because men actually studied the language of the Bible and translated it and it was not the Holy Spirit who did the translating. Now you can say these men were guided by the Holy Spirit, although you could get in the dangerous spot of saying one tradition is infallible, but you would still be realizing that they used other tools to bring about the text.

Keep in mind as well that this text was written in a society that was largely illiterate. These people heard the words of the Bible rather than read them. They did not have the tools we have. If you want to know where a word occurs in a text, today, you can go to a web site and look up Strong’s and find it from there. You could not do that in those days. You would have to search the available texts you had then and see where you could find the word.

Okay. So what about outside sources?

The reality is, everyone brings in outside sources. If you have any biblical commentaries, then you have used an outside source. If you take notes during your pastor’s sermon, you have an outside source. If you are part of a small group or internet discussion board where you discuss the Bible, you are using an outside source. If you are reading this blog, quite often you are using an outside source.

In fact, a number of people who decry outside sources still use them. For instance, many people today believe the Earth is old and what is often brought in is that we have scientific data. This is data that a Jewish person at the time would not have, and yet it is used to make a statement about the text. I have no problem with this really as if something is scientifically true, it will not contradict Scripture. If someone thinks the science is wrong, they need to show it is scientifically.

But don’t groups like the Watchtower and the Mormon church use extra sources?

Yeah. They also believe Jesus is the Messiah, try to live holy lives, etc.

The problem is not the outside sources but the nature of those outside sources.

For the Mormons, you cannot get the full gospel without the extra revelation of Joseph Smith. For the Watchtower, you cannot understand the Bible unless you have the Watchtower. Now for someone like myself, I would say that to an extent, you most certainly can understand the Bible. There are many things that you will not be able to understand however.

Now when I speak of a source, I am speaking of the Jewish culture that the people lived in. This is not anything that is foreign to the text. This is the very culture the text was written in and anyone in the culture would have understood that. The Bible is what is called a high-context document. It is written in one where the background information is assumed to be understood.

Thus, to have a more informed view of the text, you need to have an understanding of the Jewish world and once you understand it, you can greatly have your view of the Bible enhanced. Our understanding of the Bible has been greatly helped by Second Temple Judaism and by understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls. When we look at the usage of words in documents outside of the Bible that are found in the Bible, our understanding is greatly enhanced.

The problem again with so much of our refusal is in fact a modern-day hubris that we have. If we are the focal civilization, then we don’t need to study. God gave us the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit should not be an excuse for sloth. If we want to know what the text says, we will need to study the culture that it came from. We would do this from any other work in the ancient world but somehow when we get to the Bible, we change the rules and say all you need is the Holy Spirit at that point.

The reality is students to understand the Bible need to be students of language, culture, society, etc. This will require work, something the Christian church needs to get used to.

In Christ,
Nick Peters


2 Responses to “Are Outside Sources Allowed?”

  1. infowarrior1 Says:

    People have the mistaken assumption that the holy spirit will magically translate and otherwise obscure text to that of intelligible as well as provide the context to boot. The following verse are used in support of this:

    John 16:13
    When He the spirit of truth comes He will guide you into all truth.

  2. apologianick Says:

    Consistently, that would apply only to the apostles and second, it would mean they and their children don’t even have to study for school. I wonder how that would work when the child comes home. “Hi Mom. Big test tomorrow. Gonna play video games all day. No need to study. The Holy Spirit will guide me into all truth and I lack no faith in that.”

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