Can We Trust a Historically False Document To Be Theologically Accurate? 

In his book, The Bible Among the Myths, John N. Oswalt states, “If the historical basis on which the supposed revelation [the Bible] rested was false, then why should we give any special credence to the ideas resting on that basis” (p. 31).

His response following the question may be helpful to many of us. He writes, “Can we still believe in the God of Scripture if the medium through which he is presented to us is demonstrably false?  I think not, because the theology of the Bible is presented as though it is an extrapolation from the experience of Israel and the church. The doctrine of election is a result of the historical fact of the Exodus, not the reverse.”

To answer whether or not I could trust a historically false document to be theologically accurate, I must point out the following:

  1. That one cannot trust the theological accuracy of a document when the historical basis on which the supposed revelation rested is false. It is logically unacceptable to consider facts that are based upon false evidence. If the historical aspect of the document is false, then what restricts a person from forging the whole document? 
  2. I believe fundamentally, that the issue at hand is neither the theological accuracy nor the historical accuracy that turns me off, but it is the issue of trust. Even false theology based on accurate history can be trusted and is trusted in many circles of Christian denominations, simply because that is historically accurate. This does not mean that I trust false theology.
  3. That the best way to achieve an accurate theological understanding is by studying the revelation of the Bible exegetically. Paul Enns advises in The Moody Handbook of Theology that exegetical studies of the Bible “calls for an analysis of the biblical text according to the literal-grammatical-historical methodology.” 
  4. Therefore, the passage should be studied according to the rules of grammar: the nouns, verbs, prepositions, etc., however it is crucial to begin the theological study by studying the historical context of the scriptures. 
  5. I believe in biblical theology because “Biblical theology does not end with exegesis, but it must begin there.” One should look for the political, social, and particularly the cultural circumstances that surround it. Paul Enns states, biblical theology is “exegetical in nature, drawing its material from the Bible as opposed to a philosophical understanding of theology.”

Therefore, without historical accuracy I would not be able to study the passage of the scriptures that is presented to me with theological accuracy. My theological understanding begins by examining a portion of the scriptures in its historical context.

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