Pete Rollins on Biblical Criticism and the Religious Register

In my review of Bart Ehrman’s newest book Jesus, Interrupted, I wrote, “The Bible does not need to be inerrant or infallible in order for it to be the inspired Word of God.” As I read that back I realize that I sort of said that and left it there without going in depth as to what that means or looks like. I’ve been thinking about how I could articulate how one could wrestle with that tension and was meaning to write a clarifying post……and then I read this from Pete Rollins’ Fidelity of Betrayal:

“While I’m an advocate of biblical criticism, I wish to argue that a truly religious reading of the text involves bracketing out these questions and engaging with the text as it is received, without justifications or explanations. This does not meant that we have to place our critical faculties to one side when reading the Bible, somehow ignoring the various antagonisms at work there. It simply means that when engaging with it in a religious register, we bracket out such questions in order to perceive a spectral presence that lies beneath the various antagonisms that mark the text.

In this way one can say that an academic reading and a religious reading of the Bible do no clash in any way, for they operate in different, incommensurable registers and approach different dimensions of the text. For instance, when reading in Revelation about the 1,500 square mile New Jerusalem descending from heaven, with walls of jasper and streets constructed from pure gold, the religious reader does not ask whether or not something like this is possible but rather allows the image to burn itself into the imagination. The religious reader endeavors to approach the impenetrable source that gave birth to this wondrous image while simultaneously allowing the vision of an aweinspiring city with gates that never shut, bathed in eternal light, overflowing with mercy and full of people from all nations to impact the way that we live today.”

Not surprisingly in the slightest, Rollins put into words this idea much more effectively and eloquently than I ever could have. I echo his sentiment and I hope it more clearly reveals where I’m coming from. Ehrman is fighting fundamentalist fires with his own fundamentalism and in many ways it’s very important work, but my hope is that we can include and then transcend that conversation for an entirely new one.

Check out Rollins’ blog for some more great reading.

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One thought on “Pete Rollins on Biblical Criticism and the Religious Register

  1. this is soooooo important to talk about. Some people grow up and discover these textual variants and it so rocks there understanding of inherency that they either have to stubbornly refuse to admit the reality of these variants… or they just throw out the Bible altogether.

    I have a feeling that if the church would talk more openly about this, we could develop a greater appreciation for what God has given us. I know that the tiny amount of textual criticism that i’ve been able to do has been a great experience. At first it was troubling, but after that initial blow it became comforting to know that God would inspire real life flesh and blood to write from out of their circumstances on His behalf… not only that, but he would then entrust those words to be passed down through the generations by the hands of mortal men. To me that’s encouraging…

    Someone once challenged me with this thought: Christ did not come glimmering with the full glory of God, but he humbled himself and took on a human body with all of it’s weaknesses. Just as Christ was fully God, and fully man; the Bible as we have it today inescapably bears the marks of both the human and the divine.

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