Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Book Write-Up: From God to Us

Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix.  From God to Us: How We Got Our Bible.  Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2012.  See here for Moody’s page about this book.

In From God to Us, Norman Geisler and William Nix talk about the inspiration, canonization, transmission, and translation of the Bible.

On the Bible’s inspiration, Geisler and Nix reject the idea that God mechanically dictated the words of the Bible to human beings, for that model of inspiration is inconsistent with the different writing styles within the Bible; they still hold that the Bible contains the words that God wanted it to have, however, and they seem to believe that God arranged this by forming the personalities of the human authors.  Moreover, while Geisler and Nix acknowledge that the Bible uses figures of speech that were not always intended to be taken literally, they believe that the Bible is historically and scientifically accurate.

On canonization, Geisler and Nix defend the Protestant canon, which excludes the Deuterocanonical writings from the Hebrew Bible.  Regarding the Bible’s transmission, they maintain that many of the manuscripts and versions of the Bible are similar, and that accurate readings (in terms of closeness to the original texts) can be discerned through methods of text criticism.  On translation, they do not privilege the King James Version, for they argue that the Byzantine tradition on which the KJV is based is not the best, for there are earlier textual traditions.

Overall, From God to Us is an encyclopedia of theology, history, manuscripts, versions, and translations.  One will not find a whole lot about modern biblical scholarship in it, for modern biblical scholarship often rejects traditional ideas of biblical authorship and emphasizes redaction, whereas Geisler and Nix go in the opposite direction.  Still, From God to Us is useful and informative in other areas.

I cannot say that I agreed with Geisler and Nix on everything.  For one, while they reject a mechanical method of God dictating words to human authors and them writing those words down, the Bible often seems to present such a model.  Granted, the model has problems—-different writing styles within the Bible, and, I would argue (though Geisler and Nix might not), diverse ideologies.  Geisler and Nix could have done a better job in explaining how God’s words got from God to us, and how that is consistent with the Bible’s presentation of the way that it happened.  Second, while Geisler and Nix are correct to highlight that the biblical writings have a high view of inspiration—-sometimes holding that the very words of a biblical writing are inspired—-they should have explained why biblical writers felt free to quote from different versions of the Bible (i.e., the LXX, the MT), some of them contradictory with each other.  Third, Geisler and Nix dismissed New Testament allusions to or quotations of religious books that they do not consider canonical, such as the Deuterocanonical writings or I Enoch.  They said that this was like Paul quoting the pagan poets on Mars Hill: that Paul was quoting them but did not regard them as Scriptural.  I did not find that argument particularly convincing, however, especially since Jude seems to treat I Enoch as an authoritative prophetic voice about the Lord’s coming.

In addition, in their discussion of the external criteria of text criticism on pages 248-249, I wish that Geisler and Nix explained why those criteria are valid, rather than just telling us what the criteria are.

If I have a favorite part of the book, it is something that Geisler and Nix say on pages 83-84.  After discussing possible evidences of the Bible’s inspiration and honestly admitting (to my surprise) that these evidences are not conclusive, they say: “Do these arguments prove that the Bible is inspired?  No, these are not proofs with rationally inescapable conclusions.  Even an amateur philosopher can devise ways to avoid the logic of the arguments…Rather, they are evidences, testimonies, or witnesses.  As witnesses, they must be cross-examined and evaluated as a whole.  Then, in the jury room of one’s own soul a decision must be made—-a decision that is not based on rationally inescapable proofs but on evidence that is ‘beyond reasonable doubt.'”  I had to appreciate the display of humility in that passage.

I would like to thank Moody Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book.

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