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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on April 10, 2012
There are a lot of books that seek to expose problems in the Bible and many others that seek to defend its truthfulness. My shelves are full of books that address issues related to the historicity and truthfulness of the Bible. But there area lot of people, especially in today's postmodern culture, who tend to take a rather apathetic approach to these issues. In fact, on more than one occasion I have had friends state that it doesn't matter much whether or not the events recorded in Scripture actually happened... we just need to take the moral teachings of Jesus and the Bible and see them for what they are.

The natural question, then, is simple: does the history that is presented in the Bible actually matter to the Christian faith? What are we to make of all the current skeptics of the Bible and the advocates for its distrust?

A recent work has taken on this very issue, Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?, edited by James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary. Over twenty scholars contribute well-researched essays that cover a variety of topics, including issues related to Biblical, Systematic, & Historical Theology, the Old & New Testaments, and Biblical Archaeology.

There's a lot covered here, so where do we begin? Since this is a blog review and not an academic journal, I'll keep try and cover the essential details that some of my readers will be interested in.

First, I believe the book accomplishes it's purpose. John D. Woodbridge writes in the foreword that he hopes that "this volume will strengthen the convictions of evangelical Christians who believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God (including its historical narratives), but also that it will serve as an attractive invitation to those readers who have dismissed this stance to reconsider their commitment to biblical errancy" (p. 18). As one who holds to "reasonable inerrancy," I found the essays strengthen my convictions. And as one who interacts with and has friends who would not hold to classic inerrancy, I believe this work is fairly irenic and the invitation to engage exists. Of course, time will tell if those who deny inerrancy will interact with Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?, but the invitation stands nonetheless.

Second, one of the reasons why this book accomplishes its purpose is because it's fairly wide in scope. For those familiar with the issue of the historicity of Scripture, the Old Testament presents some significant "problems" that must be carefully researched and interacted with. I found "Part 2: The Old Testament and Issues of History, Authenticity, and Authority" as well as "Part 4: The Old Testament and Archaeology" to both be excellent places to begin when engaging modern (and post-modern) critical scholarship. The sections on the various theological disciplines (biblical, systematic, & historical) as well as the section covering the New Testament were equally good, though I have found that the OT tends to receive a great deal of attention from those who take issue with any sense of "inerrancy." At least that has been my experience when interacting with people over the years. Questions regarding the truthfulness of what is found in the OT are the most common. Did Exodus really happen? Did the exodus really bring the Hebrews to cross the Red Sea (reed sea??), as the water was divided? Can we really trust the narratives found in Genesis? Over and over again, questions are raised.

Third, the scholars that contribute to Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? are well selected. Those who write on the theological issues are well suited (e.g., McCall, Cole, Thompson), as well as those in the OT sections (e.g., Averbeck, Bergen, Monson), and the NT (e.g., Yarbrough, Blomberg, Bock, Schnabel, Davis). I was more familiar with the NT authors, as each of them is well known in the NT world, but found each essay representative of the best that evangelicalism has to offer.

Fourth, and this is really connected to the quality of the contributors, the essays are very well researched. It's safe to say that readers will walk away with a long list of "further reading" sources. Plus, the fact that this book uses footnotes (instead of the hell-inspired end-notes) makes for simpler scholarly reading. The sources and extra information is right there at the bottom.

For me, stand out essays in each section were as follows:

Part 1: Biblical, Systematic, and Historical Theology
Graham A. Cole's "The Peril of a "Historyless" Systematic Theology." Every systematician should be required to read this essay. Exegetes who are frustrated with lazy proof-texting will be encouraged to read a theologian emphasizing the importance of taking history seriously. He writes that "this gospel (news) is an interpretation of history. At its core is an interpreted event: Christ died (event) for our sins (interpretation). Systematic Theology done without sufficient sensitivity to this news is full of peril" (p. 68). Excellent.

Part 2: The Old Testament and issues of History, Authenticity, and Authority
For me, a tie exists between Robert B. Chrisholm Jr.'s "Old Testament Source Criticism: Some Methodological Miscues" and Richard L. Schultz's "Isaiah, Isaiahs, and Current Scholarship."

Chrisholm effectively counters the various theories related to the Documentary Hypothesis as it's step-children views as he points out the problematic methods that many source critics follow. According to Chrisholm, where you begin greatly affects (determines?) where you will end up. This is to say that critics who approach Scripture with a strong biases regarding the "source" can easily end up manipulating the text (and its meaning).

Schultz's essay on the debate regarding the authorship of Isaiah was very informative and helped strengthen my resolve to stand upon a single author perspective. The assumption of so many OT scholars regarding the multiple authors of one of the most quoted OT books in the NT needs to be challenged, and this essay does a great job of doing it. He largely interacts with two scholars, John Halsey Wood and Kenton Sparks, and point by point responds to their criticisms of holding to Isaiah being written by a single author. These two essays will prove to be invaluable resources in the future to come.

Part 3: The New Testament and Issues of History, Authenticity, and Authority
There's another tie in this section, only this time it's between three essays. Craig L. Blomberg's "A Constructive Traditional Response to New Testament Criticism," Darrell L. Bock's "Precision and Accuracy: Making Distinctions in the Cultural Context That Give Us Pause in Pitting the Gospels against Each Other," and Eckhard J. Schnabel's "Paul, Timothy, and Titus: The Assumption of a Pseudonymous Author and of Pseudonymous Recipients in Light of Literary, Theological, and Historical Evidence" are all first-rate essays that address extremely important issues when it comes to NT studies.

Blomberg's essay on how to respond to issues related to New Testament criticism is extremely balanced. He concludes by suggesting that those who are on what I'd call the "left side" of the theological spectrum (theological liberals) need not adopt "radical approaches" regarding the New Testament and that those on the "far right" (theological fundamentalists) need not "anathematize" scholars who suggest and explore different options as proposed solutions to NT "problems." These are good suggestions. One need not jump to "liberal" presuppositions in the quest of understanding some of the issues related to the NT's history and authenticity. There are a lot of solutions to many of the alleged discrepancies. And yet just because someone suggests something that is a bit "unorthodox" (new!) does not mean we should ostracize that scholar and remove him/her from every evangelical organization he/she is a part of . As Blomberg writes, "If new proposals (or at least proposals that are new for otherwise evangelical scholars) cannot withstand scholarly rigor, then let their refutations proceed at that level, with convincing scholarship, rather than with the kind of censorship that makes one wonder whether those who object have no persuasive reply and so have to resort simply to demonizing and/or silencing voices with which they disagree" (pp. 364-5). Amen!

Bock's essay on the Gospels is fairly introductory, but should be ready by anyone who is involved in attempting to harmonize the Synoptics or John or for those attempting to better understand the issues related to how they either fit together, compliment each other, or contradict each other. His essay is a good introduction to understanding how the Gospels relate to each other. Beginning with explaining the basic difference between reporting the "voice of Jesus" (ipsissima vox) in contrast to the exact words of Jesus (ipsissima verba), Bock briefly addresses a number of concerns related to the "consistency" between the four Gospels. It's a good introduction for those with basic questions.

Schnabel takes Pauline pseudonymy up in his essay. A great deal of NT scholars do not believe that the apostle Paul wrote the "Pastoral" epistles (Timothy and Titus). Exposing the assumption that "majority" equates to correctness, Schnabel closes his essay by writing that "as the evidence that has been surveyed demonstrates, there are good reasons to accept the Pauline authorship of these three letters." Space limitation prevents me from detailing his detailed reasoning, but I assure you that this essay is critical, scholarly, and detailed. It may be one of the best short (21 pages) essays on the subject.

Part 4: The Old Testament and Archaeology
The last section of Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? is admittedly an area I am least familiar with. I have some books on biblical archaeology, but it's most certainly my weakest area of knowledge. Maps make me dizzy and excavations sound boring unless mummies are involved and they are starring Brendan Fraser. Yet while I'll quickly acknowledge this is not my area of expertise, I understand that it is huge for biblical studies... HUGE! There have been some extremely important archaeological finds that have substantially given support to the historicity of the Bible. This is often tied up with apologetics (the defense of the faith), but also impacts our understanding of Scripture too.

That being said, each of the four essays from this section were interesting, informative, and well written. I found John M. Monson's "Enter Joshua: The "Mother of Current Debate" in Biblical Archaeology" quite fascinating to read because I simply was unaware of how controversial Joshua was. Monson's essay does a great job of discussing the importance of understanding the genre and how that needs to be carefully understood in how we interact with the material and both internal and external evidence. The Joshua is an "Ancient Near Eastern Text" that must be understood in light of its literary contributions according to the ancient world's "rules," not our own.

Over all, Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? provides top notch essays from well respected scholars that provide an excellent example of evangelical scholarship interact with critical issues related to the Bible. Do historical matters matter? Yes. Yes they do. And since they matter, this is a great book to utilize in the search for truth. Apologetic, irenic, comprehensive, and inviting... Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? will get you started in your quest for a better understanding of why we can trust Scripture and why it is not unreasonable to remain "evangelical."

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 19, 2012
When I received this book in the mail from Crossway Publishers I was immediately overwhelmed by the sheer size of the book. Before I even opened the book I knew this would be a difficult read, one that I would have to chew on for a while. When I opened up to the table of contents and read chapter titles such as: Religious Epistemology, Theological Interpretation of Scripture, and Critical Biblical Scholarship: A Theologians Reflections by Thomas H. McCall, literally took my breath away. However, when I began to read and dig into the pages of this book I found it to be most helpful in discovering the Bible as a truly historical document in light of recent arguments made against, not only the historicity of this Bible, but also it's inerrancy. The book starts out with a clear-cut statement on the writing of these essays and articles, which only made me want to dive into the book with more zeal.

"We offer this book to help address some of the questions raised about the historicity, accuracy, and inerrancy of the Bible by colleagues within our faith community, as well as those outside it. There will be a special emphasis placed on matters of history and the historicity of biblical narratives, both Old and New Testaments, as this seems presently to be a burning issue for theology and faith Hence, we begin with a group of essays that deal with theological matters before moving on to topics in the Old Testament, the New Testament, and archaeology."

If you are a Bible geek like I am, then you see why I took the time to open the pages and dig into the wonderful realm of Biblical history and theology. This book lays out some very convincing arguments in light of the recent rise of biblical criticism. There were several passages that were particularly convincing for me, in my own walk with Christ, and my building of a theological, historical, and accurate worldview.

"Historical study of the Bible also reminds us that the narrative of the Bible refers to realities outside the text. The central narratives not to be construed as a mere construct of the imagination of the community of faith. If the Gospels refer to the living God acting and suffering in Christ for our salvation, if the story they tell is not simply pious fiction, then historical study can never be irrelevant for Christian faith."

This book offers some serious study for the student who wants to have a solid background of arguments made for and against the Bible. The essays are gathered from a top-notch list of scholars who seek to put God in his rightful place, alone on the throne. This is not a text that needs to be read from cover to cover, however it does help to start at the beginning, to understand the purpose of the book and the opening arguments which shine light to the remaining chapters. I would recommend this book for someone who has a background of education in theology such as pastors or lay-persons within the church. It is at some points hard to read and difficult to understand but if you are willing to apply yourself to the arguments, they may be easier to comprehend in time. This is a book I plan to keep close at hand for future reference. The quote above and the chapter which handled Paul's radical transformation were perhaps the most helpful for me. I encourage those in the church to put this book into the hands of their pastors and ministers of the gospel. May it change others as it has done with me. Out of five stars I would certainly give this one five.

I received this book for free from Crossway in return for writing a review of it. I was not directed to give a positive review, only an honest one. Crossway has an excellent selection books. Please visit them at [...]
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 27, 2012
Hoffmeier, James K. and Dennis R. Magary, Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 542 pages.*

Every generation sees the rise of fresh (or recycled) criticism against the authority and inerrancy of the Scriptures. In our generation, such books by Peter Inns (Inspiration and Incarnation) and Kenton Sparks (God's Word in Human Words) are some of the recent publications criticizing and in some cases attacking the "evangelical" high view of Scripture.

In response to such books as these, James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary, both professors at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, have assembled an impressive, international team of scholars to respond to modern and postmodern criticism of the Scriptures in a massive collection of over twenty essays spanning 500+ pages.

The book is divided into four main sections:

Biblical, Systematic, and Historical Theology
The Old Testament and Issues of History, Authenticity, and Authority
The New Testament and Issues of History, Authenticity, and Authority
The Old Testament and Archeology
Instead of summarizing each chapter, I will highlight some of the noteworthy chapters in this book and I will conclude with a few overall comments of commendation and criticism.

In the first section, a noteworthy chapter is Hoffmeier's on why the historical Exodus is essential for theology. In this chapter, Hoffmeier demonstrates how the historical Exodus has its fingerprint all throughout the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) and the New Testament. This historical event is the theological definition and center point for the people of Israel and the coming of Christ, and to deny the history of the Exodus is to destroy the foundation of Israel's story, calling, purpose, and the richness of the New Testament story.

In the second section, two noteworthy chapters are Chisolm's chapter on methodological miscues of source criticism, giving a detailed analysis of the Flood story (considered the best example among critical scholars of J and E sources being spliced together to form a quasi-coherent narrative) and VanGemeren/Stanghelle's chapter on the authority and inspiration of the titles found at beginning of some of the Psalms in the Psalter.

In the third section, readers will be drawn to Blomberg's chapter on responding to New Testament criticism and "problems," such as reconciling the different Passover accounts among the Gospels, along with Schnabel's chapter on pseudonymity in the Pastoral Epistles of Paul.

In the fourth and final section, the chapter on the conquests in the book of Joshua and archaeology was balanced and helpful, especially as it is one of the most contentious debates among scholars today.

Overall, I found the book to be helpful and fairly good throughout. Readers will undoubtedly be drawn to some chapters more than others based on their interests, but there is enough here to satisfy any reader wanting to read good contributions from conservative, Biblical scholars offering counter-critiques and responses to higher biblical criticism.

One point of critique: when compiling a one-volume book such as this, there seems to be two options: aim for depth or breadth. You cannot have both in a one-volume book without the book becoming unmanageable in size. With the book containing over twenty chapters spanning around 500 pages, I found that space constraints often limited many of the chapters as far as depth and detailed analysis (most chapters were around 20 pages, some less and some more). It seemed that an oft-repeated refrain throughout many of the chapters mentioned the limitations of the article's scope and depth due to page constraints. A few chapters were so short that I wondered whether they should have been included in the first place. The benefit of the "breadth" approach is that so many topics are covered within the four sections, appealing to the various interests of the reader, but this "breath" at times comes at the cost of sacrificing "depth" which hurts the strength of the book.

But overall, this is a fine book that most will find helpful and informative.

*A review copy graciously provided by Crossway.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on March 18, 2012
Many advances have been made in the last few decades by critical scholars of the Bible, especially in the area of the Old Testament. With the rise of postmodernism and the slow move away from modernism, we live in an age when even the critical scholars themselves are split between following the traditional critical methods of modernism, or the more literary analysis of postmodernism. Either way, these two critical school of thought have slowly crept their way into the Evangelical world, to the extent that some are even considered to be "critically Evangelical."

In response to this growing criticism creeping into Evangelicalism, and specifically in response to two recent books - Peter Enns', Inspiration and Incarnation and Kenton Spark's, God's Word in Human Words - the Department of Old Testament and Semitic Languages at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School held a panel discussion among its faculty members in February 2009 to address these issues. At the request by many for these talks to be produced in published form, James Hoffmeier and Dennis Magary have compiled those talks, along with articles requested by some of the leading scholars in the Evangelical field, into this present book. In the preface of the book, the purpose of this work is summarized well:

"We offer this book to help address some of the questions raised about the historicity, accuracy, and inerrancy of the Bible by colleagues within our faith community, as well as those outside it" (23).

This book is an invaluable resource for anyone entering into or currently in biblical studies, especially with the age of criticism that we find ourselves in today. I am very thankful for Crossway in publishing this book, as well as the numerous scholars who contributed both their time and their wisdom to helping those of us who will encounter this type of criticism to be able to give an adequate, intelligent response for the positions we hold. In particular, I was very impressed with Richard Schultz's article on the issues of Isaianic authorship. I hope to post a review of that specific chapter in the days to come. I am certain this will be a resource I will return to over and over again throughout the rest of my seminary career.

I would like to thank Crossway for giving me a review copy in exchange for a fair and honest review
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Do historical matters matter to faith? This is an intriguing question. Though the answer may seem obvious to many it is not so to others. To many evangelical Christians, Scripture, among many things, is an historical book that gives us a window into a time gone by in world history. There are events, places and people it gives an account of that only it gives us an account of. To those would answer no to the beginning question these historical discrepancies leave them questioning the historical accuracy of the text and sometimes abandoning it all together. To those who would answer yes, they either have to say Scripture is plain wrong or, as a historically reliable witness to these things, it is the only record we have of them and can be trusted as much as any other historical text as a single witness to the past. What are Bible believing Christians to make of this?

For decades, this discussion has been raging but it seems to have picked up more steam more recently with the work, among others, of Kenton Sparks and his book God's Word in Human Words. In short, Sparks calls into question the inerrancy of Scripture in regards to its historical reliability. To Sparks, Scripture is no less authoritative in its theological assertions and worldview even if the historical references it makes are tied to those theological assertions. To many evangelical Christians who hold to the traditional understanding of Scriptures authority and inerrancy this is problematic.

In an effort to respond to Sparks work, and that of others, James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary have edited a new book titled Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?: A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture. This is an academic work that addresses the issues the authors see in the works of Kenton Sparks, Peter Enns, Donald McKim and others in regards to their view of inerrancy and subsequently their interwoven view of the historicity of Scripture.

To the contributors of this book their basic assessment is this:

"Spark's proposal and similar proposals have been frequently weighed and found wanting in the history of the Christian churches. Not only does his viewpoint depart from a traditional Christian understanding of Scripture's truthfulness, but it likewise does not accord with Scripture's self-attestation about its truthfulness or trustworthiness." (p. 17)

This is no small accusation but their desire to respond to and interact with Sparks and others shows the seriousness of the issue at hand when questioning the Bible's accuracy when it comes to historical matters.

The book is broken into four major sections: Part One deals with biblical, systematic and historical considerations, Part Two deals with the Old Testament and historicity, Part Three deals with the New Testament and historicity and Part Four deals with the Old Testament and archeology.

Part One lays the foundation for ones understanding of the relationship between history and Scriptures account of it within the narrative. In the first chapter Thomas Mccall deals with the issue of knowledge as it relates to history. How can we know what happened in the past, how sure can we be that we are right in our knowledge of it and how does this effect or reliance of Scriptures attestation of the past? To be sure, these are important questions. Also related to the discussion is the place of critical biblical scholarship (CBS). CBS has traditionally seen itself and its method as authoritative and binding on all historians and historiography. Following C. Stephen Evans, McCall essentially concludes that while CBS provides some helpful guidelines for accurate historical method, they are just that - helpful guidelines that are not authoritatively binding on the method (p. 45-46).

In the second chapter Graham Cole addresses the issue we are faced if we have a "historyless systematic theology." "Sensitivity to the historical dimension of Scripture is not an option. It is inescapable if justice is to be done to the Bible's own content" (p. 57). If Christians are to rightly regard Scripture as an interpretation of history than surely, its accuracy on historical events matters to faith and its subsequent theology. Cole later argues that the actual happenings of history matter for systematic theology for three reasons: it is of valuable source for ancient cultural expressions such as weights and measurements, it is of value as a witness to God's deeds in the past such as the Exodus and it is of greatest value is God's breathed out Word as stated in 2 Tim. 3:14-17 (p. 66).

Perhaps the most accessible and helpful chapters in the Part One, and the book, are Mark Thompson's chapter on the theological account of biblical inerrancy and James Hoffmeier's chapter on the historicity of the Exodus as essential for theology. These two chapters alone are worth the book. Thompson gives five theological pillars of the doctrine of inerrancy which I have spelled out in an earlier post. As I have also discussed more fully in an earlier post, Hoffmeier uses the Exodus as a test case to show why it is necessary for theology and Christianity that the historical events recorded in Scripture actually took place.

Parts two and three address a number of historical accounts in Scripture in both testaments in order to show both why their historicity is a necessary part of the theological foundation for the text and that in fact the events, people and places recorded in the text can be assuredly trusted to have actually existed in the past. Many of these chapters take up the issues presented in various forms of critical reflections of the Biblical text such as form and literary criticism.

Part four deals with archeology and the Old Testament. The authors here show the relationship with and the role that archeology has in supporting the historicity of the Bible. John Monson's chapter on the conquest of Canaan is a breath of fresh air as he removes the dirt and fog that CBS has tried to put on our Biblical reading glasses. Monson rightly contends, as do a number of the other contributors, that it is wrong to conclude that the absence of archeological evidence is evidence against something. There is more to providing reliable support for an event than archeological evidence. "Cumulative evidence that yields strong possibilities in favor of the biblical text is far more convincing than nonevidence (p. 456).

Do Historical Matter Matter to Faith? is evidence that the traditional view of the authority, reliability and inerrancy of Scripture is not without merit, evidence or a strong scholarly case. This is a scholarly and academic work that proves its case well. I recommend this book to every biblical student, pastor and teacher. The only drawback to the book is its lack of accessibility to the lay audience. Chapters like eight which deals with Word Distribution as an Indicator of Authorial Intention: A Study of Genesis 1:1-2:3 will be lost by even many Bible students and pastors unless they have a very good grasp of Hebrew and textual analysis.

Do historical matters matter to faith? The answer to this question is a water shed issue with very divergent conclusions. The contributors of the book believe they do for a number of reasons not the least of which is the trustworthiness of Scripture and God Himself who has spoken through it to us. The character of God, our relationship to Him and our theology depend, in part, on the historical accuracy and reliability of Scripture.

NOTE: I received this book for free from Crossway and was under no obligation to provide a favorable review. The words and opinions expressed in this review are my own.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on April 6, 2012
Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? Offers the reader, as stated in the introduction, a challenge and an invitation to consider that the Bible is a historical narrative, the account of real actions that happened in real places in real times. The book covers a very wide range of topics relating to this thesis:
Biblical, Systematic, and Historical Theology
The Old Testament and Issues of History, Authenticity, and Authority
The New Testament and Issues of History, Authenticity, and Authority
The Old Testament and Archeology

Since the topics cover a very wide area, it is not always possible to give an in-depth treatment to any one topic. However, I didn't find this to be a problem. There are numerous references and if one topic is of many interest it can be followed up in other sources. I liked the fact that I could sample all the areas and then go in-depth on those the interested me.

My particular favorites were the chapters on Isaiah and Daniel. I found the chapter on Daniel particularly fascinating. Little is known about the history of Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar, beyond that found in the Bible chapter. However, the more we learn, the more the chapter appears to report on real events.

My favorite section was the fourth section on archeology, particularly the chapter on excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa. The descriptions of the site were very well done and reinforced for me the idea that not all ancient sites have been well explored and the more we learn about them, the more they support a historical model. Personally, I believe that the Bible is a historical record. I was delighted to find so many excellent chapters in support of that proposition. Even if that isn't you belief, the book is well worth reading. It will make you think and may change your mind.

I reviewed this book for Crossway.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 24, 2012
Despite the somewhat funny title, Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith (henceforth DHMMF) is no joke! It is a behemoth of a book that is as academic in orientation as it is broad in the number of topics addressed. Spanning a wide variety of theological and historical issues, DHMMF is as much a treatment of biblical criticism as anything else.

The variety of topics addressed are too numerous to recount here, so allow me to point out a few of my favorites. I thoroughly enjoyed and benefitted from Alan Millard's "Daniel in Babylon" essay. It seemed that Millard was willing to take on outlandish critical theories regarding the book of Daniel without overstating the evidence for the traditional view of Daniel. Further, Darrell Bock's entry on "Precision and Accuracy" is a must read for any student of the Scriptures. Moreover, he provides a level of ancient cultural understanding and theological nuancing that is often overlooked in evangelical circles.

Three other essays are worth mentioning. First, Mark Thompson's handling of issues relating to inerrancy is well worth your time. Nothing groundbreaking is discussed here but he aids the reader in developing a strong framework with which to understand inerrancy concepts. Second, Eckhard Schnabel does a find job in assessing the critical approaches to the authorship of I Timothy and Titus. Third, Richard Hess dives head first into the current debate on Yahwist cultism in pre-Judiasm, Israelite religion. Specifically, he makes a dedicated effort to tackle the notion of Yahweh having a consort. So, if you are interested in evolutionary religion discussions, the work of Hess will be quite valuable to you.

Overall, I highly recommend DHMMF. There were a few essays I read and then wondered why they were included in this book. However, the sheer breadth of topics addressed tends to provide occasion for there to be some entries that seem out of place. Still, DHMMF is an academic achievement that should be widely read!
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on April 27, 2012
Just a little over 4 years ago, Kenton Sparks wrote a book called God's Words in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship. The book weighs in at over 400 pages and is not for the faint of heart. It is similar in purpose to Peter Enns' Inspiration and Incarnation in that it is posing problems for biblical inerrancy by showing specific instances in the Old Testament (and the New's use of the Old) that appear to undermine the concept (or even possibility) of inerrancy. While God's Words in Human Words was primarily an academic book written to teachers and church leaders, a more popular form of the book Sacred Word, Broken Word: Biblical Authority and The Dark Side of Scripture is set to be published here in a few weeks.

In the midst of all of this, a group of scholars, primarily from the Department of Old Testament and Semitic Languages at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, grew concerned about the content and purpose of Sparks initial book. What started as a colloquium at TEDS grew into the collection of essays now published as Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? The purpose, as the editors explain is "to offer thoughtful, substantive responses to questions raised by critical scholars, regardless of their theological orientation, rather than ad hominem retorts" (21). From what I've gathered in reading through the book, I would say they've succeeded rather well in their aims.

Before getting to that though, a little more stage setting is in order.

The Issue at Hand

I haven't read Sparks book myself, however, it had been published prior to my fourth semester Hebrew class. I navigated the issues he brings up, but only dealt with his presentation of them indirectly. I am familiar with his general modus operandi (which is similar though not identical to Enns, who I have read) and even apart from reading Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? I do not find it persuasive as an approach to biblical interpretation. This is mainly because I do not see his hypothesis as the best way to account for all the available data, but also I see it methodologically problematic if you're committed to Christian orthodoxy.

My general impression is that both Sparks and Enns mean well, but they appear to me to be both epistemologically misguided and theologically off-track. Had I been less trained philosophically and not well-studied in ancient Near East backgrounds and literature, I might have found them both to be more appealing. But as it is, I think both Sparks and Enns are selling the birthright of a sound approach to biblical interpretation for the stew of a higher critical approach that is at odds with traditionally Christian ways of reading Scripture.

That being said, this isn't necessarily an issue that I think is an open and shut case. Inerrancy is a sticky issue, and may not be the best word for the concept people are invoking when they use it. Also, it is a word that gets thrown around a lot, and also gets used to abuse people from time to time (e.g. Mike Licona). In short, inerrancy can certainly be misused, but I'm not so sure its out-lived its usefulness. Without digging too far into that on-going discussion, I think inerrancy is a theologically sound concept, but I think it is one that needs to be well nuanced to account for the data. I also do not think that it is a concept that is disproved simply by what appears to be a relevant counter-example in the biblical text (which coincidentally is also true of scientific theories).

Paradigms in Conflict

In my mind, the best way to conceptualize the issue is one of paradigms. In the same way that science is paradigm driven, biblical studies is too. A reigning paradigm in a field of study is not disproved or rendered in adequate because counter examples exist, but rather the tension is allowed to remain while issues are worked out. Both Sparks and Enns are writing as scholars who changed their predominant paradigm and are offering an apologetic to those still on the side they left. To them, the counter examples had the cumulative effect of destroying the paradigm. This led to Sparks and Enns adopting the higher critical paradigm, but retaining their theological convictions. The result is a kind of awkward middle ground where evangelical scholars find their paradigm inadequate, and liberal scholars find their theology unpalatable.


This is an issue I don't want to explore too far here, but just want to use the issue of paradigms to point out who Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? is really for. If someone has effectively switched paradigms to the higher critical paradigm, the evidence presented in this book will probably not convince them to switch back. It is however evidence that needs to be assimilated in some way. So, if you find yourself in agreement with the proposal and paradigm of authors like Sparks and Enns, you need read this book and make sure you're accounting for the data these scholars bring to the table.

If on other hand, you do not think Sparks and Enns are generally persuasive, and find yourself concerned that people seem to be jumping the shark on traditional Christian paradigms for reading and interpreting Scripture, you'll find this book helpful. Speaking as someone who has taken classes that covered most of the material in this book, if you haven't been to seminary recently, and don't plan on going anytime soon, this is quite the resource to have in your library in place of that educational experience. Granted, a 500+ page book won't make up for not having taken several semesters worth of classes on the same topics, this is about as good as it gets when it comes to summarizing a defense for the traditional paradigm.

The essays are broken into four categories, and we can look briefly at each in turn. While I could probably spend a good couple hundred words on each essay, I'm just going to give a quick overview from here on out. While the bulk of this review could have been focused on the "what" each essay covers, I've decided instead it was more important to dig into the "why" that comes with this book.

Biblical, Systematic, and Historical Theology

In the first section of the book, we've got 5 essays laying out the paradigmatic issues that need to be addressed before looking at the biblical evidence. The first chapter presents Thomas McCall's discussion of the nature of knowledge and how it relates to interpreting Scripture in general before relating his findings to the nature of critical biblical scholarship. It functions as a kind of opening manifesto for rest of the book, and is followed by Graham Cole's essay on the importance of a historically grounded systematic theology. The third chapter is Mark Thompson's defense of the concept of inerrancy, which he grounds in the doctrine of God. He addresses the difficulties with the concept, but points out what I noted above, difficulties themselves do not destroy the position but call for humility in dealing with them. One such difficulty, the historicity of the exodus, is dealt with in the following chapter by James Hoffmeier. Another difficulty, the supposed lack of historical precedent for the concept of inerrancy is dealt with in the final chapter in this section by Michael Haykin who shows what Irenaeus had to say on the issue.

The Old Testament and Issues of History, Authenticity, and Authority

The second section, as well as the third move to deal with specific issues related to interpreting the Old and New Testaments respectively. If one is familiar with the notorious areas of discussion higher critical biblical studies, you'll see all the usual suspects for discussion here in this section. There are essays on source criticism in general, particular applications to the Pentateuch, Psalms, Isaiah and prophecy in general. There are also essays on the historicity of Daniel in Babylon and the difference between cultural memory and actual past as it relates to the Old Testament. In all, you've got all the right discussions taking place in this section and the chapters engage the issues well.

The New Testament and Issues of History, Authenticity, and Authority

When it comes to the New Testament section, you have a similar grasp of the important issues and essays to cover those topics. Two of the essays are more general in nature. First is Robert Yarbrough's reflections on how God's Words in Human Words is a kind of "shift story." He then shows how Sparks' "conversion" isn't really a new story, and there are also examples of scholars telling a "shift story" in the opposite direction (higher critical to evangelical). The following essay is Craig Blomberg's response to some higher critical charges in New Testament studies, some of which are directed at him personally. We then have Darrell Bock using case studies in the Gospels to demonstrate the distinction between precision and accuracy. The next essay covers the issue of pseudonimity as it relates to the authorship of the Pastoral Epistles, and the final essay digs into the archaeological evidence for Paul's presence at the island of Cyprus.

The Old Testament and Archaeology

In the final section, we dig even further into archaeological evidence, but this time at it relates specifically to the historicity of the Old Testament narratives. Here again, the major issues are brought to the table. First, we have the Joshua conquest narratives, followed by issues surrounding early Jewish monotheism. The final two essays relate to the nation of Judah's actual existence, first in general, and second as it relates to the united monarchy period. And with that the book comes to a close.


While the book is formulated in response to Sparks' book, he is never vilified, and from what I can see, Sparks is the one who is generally guilty of disparaging rhetoric in this particular discussion. As Craig Blomberg's notes in his essay, "he uses impassioned language, especially related to authors' motives, that goes well beyond what any historian can ever know and that shows that he is particularly exercised on this topic" (346). In distinction, none of the authors in this particular book exhibit excessive zeal to beat down the opposing position. The scholars responding in this book are gracious with their words and do not spend extensive space in their essays attacking Sparks' person or ideas. Rather, they simply point out places where his book misses the mark, either by overlooking important counter-evidence, or force fitting evidence to fit the higher critical paradigm he has decided to use. In general though, the essays do not have the feel of being formulated specifically in response to Sparks. Rather, without have read or even heard of Sparks, most readers will benefit from these essays. Sparks is generally brought in tangentially, and the essays read like scholars talking about their particular expertise on a given topic and only bringing in Sparks' work where necessary.

Like I said above, I think this is a great resource. I'm not particularly optimistic about it convincing people to change paradigms from a higher critical approach, but do feel that it covers the issues well enough to allay concern on the part of people who have heard of Sparks or Enns work and wonder if they might be on to something in their approach to Scripture. The downside to this book may that it is not really written for a popular level audience like Sparks' upcoming book is, but taken as a resource for teachers and church leaders on this topic, I don't think this book can be beat.
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on December 12, 2013
At a time when a high view of Scripture is under attack, even from within evangelicalism, a better response is needed.
This book provides a balanced perspective that acknowledges the problems and gives credible answers that deal with the issues. It goes beyond the stock response of "That's just anti-supernatural bias" by taking into account historical setting and literary genre

Paul Ernst
author, You Bet Your Life
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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on July 9, 2013
Helpful in understanding the hermeneutics of some writers.
Not always true to God's Word. But helpful in discerning where some are coming from.
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