Some time ago I wrote a post that dealt with the epistemological issues of scripture that came about when a sermon speaker explicitly mentioned the subject of epistemology in his message . Yesterday, though, at services, the two messages both dealt implicitly with the subject of epistemology as it relates to the Bible, specifically looking at the credibility of the biblical account as it relates to the subjects of history and prophecy. I found it interesting that the messages would deal with this subject, and after summarizing how each of the messages dealt with the subject of epistemology and why it matters, I thought it would be worthwhile to explore some of the more obvious ways that epistemology interacts with our view of scripture and how it matters when we read books or listen to messages, both of which are activities that I (and presumably you as well, dear reader) are involved in frequently. Even if the terms of philosophy are often difficult to know, it is worthwhile to examine the ways in which we are involved in such matters even without formal knowledge of them. We are often far more philosophical than we understand ourselves to be, and recognizing this helps us to be less contemptuous of philosophy when we realize that we too are philosophers.
The first message, from one of our deacons, discussed the accounts of Paul’s conversions and noted how the different accounts provided complementary rather than contradictory details demonstrating a larger point as to what it is that was seen by whom and why. While Paul was blinded by a vision of the resurrected Jesus Christ in His glory, his companions saw a light, thus being witnesses to Paul having seen something but not seeing the fullness of it. Likewise, Paul had an intimate conversation with Christ, but his companions heard an indistinct voice that they could not recognize but which let them know that something was going on, even if they did not fully understand it. This deals with epistemology in at least a couple of ways. First, the Biblical account is seen as being reasonable in that different accounts told at a different time give a more complete picture by emphasizing certain aspects to certain audiences but giving a more complete picture when seen together. Rather than being contradictory, as some would assume, such matters increase the credibility of the Bible.
The second message had distinct interests in epistemology, but was deeply concerned with the subject, specifically the relationship between prophecy and history, and the role that fulfilled prophecy serves as a means of increasing the credibility of prophecies that have yet to be fulfilled by means of the reliability criterion (that is, that which has been demonstrated to have been reliable in the past is therefore viewed as more reliable in the present in the future). The sermon dealt with the complicated dealings with the throne of David after the death of Josiah. This matter involves all kinds of questions about biblical history, including the birth order of Josiah’s sons, the fate of the mysterious Jonadab, who is the only one of Josiah’s sons who never sat in the Judean throne during its last days, the inheritance of daughters, the question of what happened to Zedekiah’s daughters after the fall of Judah and their exile in Egypt, and the like. The speaker was, moreover, quite explicit about how important such matters were, because they dealt with the credibility of an “everlasting throne” for David even in the face of the fall of the Judean kingdom as well as the existence of a throne of Israel for Jesus Christ to reign over upon His return.
There are a great many writers who fail to achieve insight in their chosen works because they fail to give proper respect to the epistemological value of the Bible. Not sharing a belief in the Bible or a desire to practice what it commands need not hinder one from respecting the seriousness of the Bible as a credible source, especially when it comes to ancient history, but those who want to make it easier for themselves to reject God’s ways will simultaneously also seek to reject the fact value of the Bible as part of an overall strategy. It is the Bible’s claims to present truth in multiple areas that make it particularly difficult to handle for those who reject it, and also allow us to recognize the bad logic and poor thinking that is frequently used by people who seek to downgrade the Bible as a historical source while praising openly and admittedly biased and supernaturally-influenced heathen ancient histories but failing to give the Bible the same benefit of the doubt when accounting for its historical value. The fact that the Bible makes present claims on behavior rather than having supernatural claims that are as easy to reject (and therefore are able to treat with indulgence) like those of extinct ancient heathen faiths makes it harder for people to concede the truth value of the Bible while also pushing away its moral demands. Ultimately, it is the desire of people to be their own sources of authority rather than to respect the authority of the Bible that leads them to reject the authority of the Bible even as a source of insight about history, for to concede the Bible’s authority in any area is seen as being a way in for the rest of the Bible’s less welcome claims for authority. And if that is not an epistemological issue of the highest order, it is hard to see what is.