One of the primary fruits of the Enlightenment is the belief that we can put our complete faith in the results of science. If scientific testing shows something, then we can believe it is true without a shadow of a doubt. And many times this is true. There is no reason to doubt the law of gravity nor that the earth revolves around the sun nor countless other findings of science.
However, in the 19th century this assuredness transferred to the realm of Biblical studies. For over a millennium the Church was seen as the final authority on how to interpret Scripture. After the Protestant Reformation, the individual was seen as that authority. With the rise of biblical criticism, the scholar became the final authority in all matters biblical. In the world of biblical scholarship, certain theories are sacred cows that cannot be challenged, because the “assured results of scholarship” have magisterially declared that they must be true (the two-source hypothesis comes to mind). Yet the more you study such theories, the more you realize that many of them are built on questionable presuppositions and weak scholarship. Most of the “assured results” are anything but. I thought of this when I read this article about a fascinating discovery:
Scientists have discovered the earliest known Hebrew writing — an inscription dating from the 10th century B.C., during the period of King David’s reign.
The breakthrough could mean that portions of the Bible were written centuries earlier than previously thought. (The Bible’s Old Testament is thought to have been first written down in an ancient form of Hebrew.)
Until now, many scholars have held that the Hebrew Bible originated in the 6th century B.C., because Hebrew writing was thought to stretch back no further. But the newly deciphered Hebrew text is about four centuries older, scientists announced this month.
“It indicates that the Kingdom of Israel already existed in the 10th century BCE and that at least some of the biblical texts were written hundreds of years before the dates presented in current research,” said Gershon Galil, a professor of Biblical Studies at the University of Haifa in Israel, who deciphered the ancient text.
This is very typical; for a long time some scholars questioned if King David really existed, because there was no proof of him anywhere but in the Bible. Then an inscription was found outside of Israel which mentioned King David, and that theory was quickly discarded.
My point is not to say that biblical scholarship is worthless. Far from it: we have learned many invaluable things about Biblical times over the past two centuries. However, problems arise when the results of scholarship are elevated to magisterial status. The Holy Spirit has guaranteed to protect the Church, not PhD’s, from error, so we should be careful where we place our faith.