Book Review: Whose Bible Is It?

Whose Bible Is It?:  A History Of The Scriptures Through The Ages, by Jaroslav Pelikan

There is an obvious answer to the question proposed by the title of this book.  Whose Bible is it?  God’s Bible.  Fortunately, this is the answer that the book comes to, although it only comes in the afterword, and those readers who are not patient enough to read through 200 pages or so of seeming praise to higher criticism [1] are likely to read enough to get the author’s belated answer to the question he poses.  Even after reading the answer, there are likely to be more than a few readers who will not view this work charitably on account of their suspicions of the author’s lack of faith in the inerrancy of scripture, or for his occasional comments about Isaiah writing only the first 39 chapters of the book under his name.  Indeed, this book is a prime example of a work in which one’s opinion depends on one’s willingness to give the author the benefit of the doubt.  Giving a fair amount of benefit of the doubt, this book ends up coming up on the positive end, but with a different amount of generosity of spirit, the decision could easily go the other way, and a reader of this book needs to be aware of that fact before deciding to tackle its contents.

This book begins in a way that will likely alienate some readers and amuse others, by pointing out that the distinction between the books included in the Hebrew scriptures and Roman Catholic and Protestant bibles is likely to be obvious based on a fairly casual look at the table of contents and is far from a matter of arcane interest only to biblical scholars.  The book then winds its way through eleven more chapters dealing with ideas about the orality of scripture, the distinction between the way the Bible reads in Hebrew as opposed to Greek, the continuing revelation of the Hebrew Scriptures in both the Talmud as well the New Testament and the fulfillment of prophecies in Jesus Christ, a discussion of the relationship of Islam to the other religions of “the book,” which avoids a discussion of the hadiths [2], and then winds its way through the pushing of biblical scholarship back to the sources, the rise of solo scriptura among Protestants, the troubles between faith and reason in the Enlightenment and the problems of higher criticism, and then the book ends on a solid note with a discussion of the way the Bible serves as a message for the whole human race, forcing us to examine our own presuppositions in what the Bible means that come from our cultural background and heritage, and the way that the strangeness of the Bible forces us to come to terms with what it is that God actually wants from us in terms of belief and practice.

There will likely be few people who agree with everything in this book.  For one, the author disregards the evidence for the early reduction of the biblical account into writing even in the pre-Mosaic period [3] and tends to have too high an opinion of the desirability of flattering the egos of ungodly and uninspired biblical critics, both past and present.  Even so, it is clear that this author is taking the Bible seriously, and coming at it from the perspective of someone who is aware of the various faith traditions in how they deal with scripture, in matters of textual understanding and the interpretation of hints and implications and foreshadowing, this book is a worthwhile one for those scholars who are willing to overlook the flaws of the book and to look at the Bible with fresh eyes, from the point of view of different perspectives at the same time.  And that is a worthwhile accomplishment, in encouraging readers to take others’ viewpoints better.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

[3] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Book Reviews, Christianity, History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Book Review: Whose Bible Is It?

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Daniel In The Critic’s Den | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: From The Cross To The Church | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Book Review: The Bible In A Disenchanted Age | Edge Induced Cohesion

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