Alpha & Omega Ministries and Thinking Critically

I’m composing a post in response to a video that James White has posted on his Alpha and Omega Ministries blog and noticed another post on the A&O blog today that I thought I would quickly respond to. The post is entitled “Thinking Critically about Biblical Criticism,” and in it TurretinFan basically provides what he believes to be a handy critique of the critical methodologies employed by those whom he believes uncritically promulgate the notion of contradictions in the Bible. Here’s the meat of his post:

In the following series of posts I’ve identified four issues that, if presented in separate gospels, would likely lead to the charge of contradictions amongst the gospels. However, in each case, the text in question comes from the same book: 1 Samuel. In various ways, the seeming contradictions are resolved, either by showing that the different accounts simply bring out different aspects, or showing that the different accounts are actually of different events.

1. A King for Israel: Blessing or Judgment?

2. The Crowning of King Saul – Private or Public – Initiated by Samuel or the People?

3. How did “Is Saul Also Among the Prophets?” Become a Parable?

4. When and At Whom did Saul Hurl His Javelin?

The point of those posts is, I hope, to provide some examples that my fellow apologists can bring up to help to show people how easy it can be to allege contradiction simply based on differences in accounts.

The main issue I have, without going into the arguments he produces for each case, is that one must presuppose a single author for 1 Samuel in order for his premise to hold. As with the different gospels and numerous other books of the Bible, this is evidence not of acute variability within a univocal text, but of literary layers and multiple authorship. A couple quick examples within 1 Samuel support this. First, as Thom Stark points out in chapter 7 of The Human Faces of God, Saul is introduced to David in 1 Sam 16:21–22 (and loves him greatly, sending a letter to his father asking him by name to allow him to stay in his service), and then must be reintroduced to David in 1 Sam 17:55–58. He has to ask David to his face what his name is and who his father is (and this after Saul talked with David and even put his own armor upon him). In fact, even the reader has to be introduced all over again to David’s father. Another interesting problem is that of the word נחם, “to repent” in 1 Sam 15. In v. 29 the text says Yhwh “will not repent (לא ינחם), for he is not a man that needs to repent,” but then in v. 35 the text says “And Yhwh repented (ויהוה נחם).” Same verb, same niphal stem. Is the author just not paying attention and wrote down two contradictory statements, or do we have here two originally independent sections of text brought together in a single textual tradition? Either way, univocality is absolutely precluded. The notion that 1 Samuel is unified enough to assume single authorship in the four pericopes listed above is unfounded. It makes much more sense that we simply have separate literary layers.

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4 responses to “Alpha & Omega Ministries and Thinking Critically

  • Nick Norelli

    The post you linked to was actually written by TurretinFan and not James White.

  • Pat McCullough

    The main issue I have, without going into the arguments he produces for each case, is that one must presuppose a single author for 1 Samuel in order for his premise to hold.

    Exactly what I was thinking as I read your block quote of his post (assuming TurretinFan is a “he”?). He thinks he’s being clever, but is actually inviting a critical conversation about yet another portion of the Bible. In fact, he’s using a “trick” that a biblical scholar might use in the classroom: select a book that carries less theological baggage than the Gospels and apply the same critical standards on the interpretation of that text. If it works there, why not the Gospels? I daresay you’re on firmer exegetical ground than TurretinFan on this one.

  • Henri-Paul

    There are also grave text critical issues with the Book of Samuel. The DSS attest to extensive variants in the BoS.

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