Does academic study of the Bible undermine its value or diminish the religious messages it contains? In 2012, three scholars—a Jew, a Protestant, and a Catholic—came together at the intersection of their academic work on the Bible and their religious faith to discuss that very question. Their outstanding book The Bible and the Believer seeks to demonstrate that religious interpretations of the Bible need not be threatened by Biblical criticism.
Representing a Jewish perspective in the book is Marc Zvi Brettler of Brandeis University. In this MIPodcast episode, Dr. Brettler discusses how his religious faith intersects with his scholarly study of the Bible. He also gives a great primer on what constitutes biblical criticism. As Elder John A. Widtsoe once explained, Latter-day Saints have much to learn from modern methods of studying the Bible:
“In the field of modern thought the so-called higher criticism of the Bible has played an important part. The careful examination of the Bible in the light of our best knowledge of history, languages and literary form, has brought to light many facts not sensed by the ordinary reader of the Scriptures. Based upon the facts thus gathered, scholars have in the usual manner of science proceeded to make inferences, some of considerable, others of low probability of truth…To Latter-day Saints there can be no objection to the careful and critical study of the scriptures, ancient or modern, provided only that it be an honest study—a search for truth…Whether under a special call of God, or impelled by personal desire, there can be no objection to the critical study of the Bible.”1
In a subsequent episode of the MIPodcast, Dr. Peter Enns will join me to give a Protestant’s perspective on reading the Bible critically and religiously.
Sadly, Dr. Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., who represented the Catholic perspective, passed away earlier this year. We dedicate these two episodes to him and to his work in biblical scholarship.
About Marc Zvi Brettler
Marc Brettler is the Dora Golding Professor of Biblical Studies at Brandeis University. He is author of How to Read the Jewish Bible and co-editor of The Jewish Annotated New Testament. For more of his work, check out thetorah.com.
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Quoted in David Bokovoy, Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis – Deuteronomy (Draper, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2014), 123. ↩