Periodical Reviews -- By: Anonymous
BSac 153:610 (Apr 96) p. 227
“Is the Bible True?” William C. Placher, Christian Century, October 11, 1995, 924–28.
In this thoughtful essay Placher argues for a model of biblical authority which is richer than that found in either what he calls “biblical literalism” or liberalism. He maintains that the message of the Scriptures is trustworthy when rightly understood (acknowledging differences in genre, social setting, and perception of history), and he encourages readers to become familiar enough with the text to understand it correctly.
For those who have long argued for a “literal” hermeneutic, Placher’s essay reveals one of the dangers of the term. By answering it with a lengthy explanation of literary genre and emphasizing the social setting of the biblical text, Placher demonstrates that he perceives “literalists” to be ignoring such vital hermeneutical principles. Those who have championed a literal reading of the text would almost certainly agree with Placher in principle (passages should be understood in light of their literary genre and social setting), but most would question the application of that principle in some of his examples.
He describes the early chapters of Genesis as “saga,” arguing that its poetic expression should not be taken literally. Qualifications of genre may certainly come into play in understanding Genesis, especially its first two chapters, but such qualifications should be validated more carefully than in Placher’s observation that “events get described which no human being could have witnessed. Animals talk. People live for centuries. We’re in a different genre here from that represented by, say, the Gospel narratives of Jesus’ last days or the stories of King David in 2 Samuel, which read much more like eyewitness history” (p. 925). Is it appropriate to regard as “saga” any passage of Scripture that would seem to contradict a modern world view? Even if it is a discernible genre, how are its specific statements to be understood? Is Placher correct in asserting that biblical apocalyptic literature does not include literal predictions about the future? Placher does not offer any help with such questions, and it may be unfair to ask him to answer them in such a short article, but even a short comment would have been better than nothing. In the same way, Placher’s suggestion that biblical prohibitions of homosexuality may be unrelated to
BSac 153:610 (Apr 96) p. 228
current practices encourages the reader to investigate the issue, but it may not have been the most responsible example he could have chosen, especially since he claims ignorance as to how the investigation would turn out.
Placher contends that Scripture is trus...
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