Since the Protestant Reformation liberated the Bible for the common man’s reading, scholarship of variegated quality has developed to consider the content of the Bible. And that presented numerous techniques. Often the evolution of Biblical critical analysis has been presented in a linear historical fashion with several parallel threads of inquiry and methodology. The philosophical progress developing insight into the nature of language and logic has made retro-causality of the methods of Biblical criticism apropos however when revision of historical methods is required because of newer insight. Biblical criticism does not therefore simply build up as an evolution to higher and more sophisticated levels of understanding of the gospel books and epistles, it also may neutralize elements of method and schools of interpretation of the Bible from any preceding era to revise or restore them.
The philosopher W.V.O. Quine, P.F. Strawson and additional analytic philosophers developed understanding of the nature of language as a tool of communication. Literary criticism and the trend toward subjective interpretation of language accelerated by Dewey added unto an existential paradigm taken out of its historical context of rationalism was applied to Biblical criticism. There were several schools of thought about what method was right for interpreting the Bible and the person of Jesus Christ as an historical figure or as a divine being. Analyzing the Bible as history was a field for-itself. The Bible it ought to be recollected is language and language is communication. The authors of the Bible intended to communicate to others. Therefore some clarification about modern theories of communication from a philosophical point of view.
Analytic philosophy developed early in the 20th century and continued to the third millennium. W.V.O. Quine eventually published ‘The Two Dogmas of Empiricism’ and overturned the analytic-synthetic distinction between intentional and extensional concepts. To make a long story short Quine demonstrated that language is wholistic and a phenomenon of communication. It isn’t –possible to draw a sharp line between words that refer to material objects as scientists might prefer and subjective psychological concepts.
Language exists of course as sounds and symbols that represent objects experienced fundamentally. Communication is a shared cultural phenomenon. Words and lexicons compile in ontologies of meaning understood generally by the users within a given language Universe-ontology. The Bible is a compilation of communication that a reader may interpret for-himself extracting whatever message he does from it. That message is not entirely subjective though since language is never entirely subjective or everyone would have a language of their own comprehensible only for-themselves. There is persistence of memory within language enabling individuals to understand what select words, sometimes even the preponderance of words mean in texts thousands of years old.
Language is inexact and flexible to a certain extent in order to accommodate numerous meanings. It is the build-up or construction of more complex structures that brings more specific meaning to communications though particular words can be in-themselves acute. A red apple presents a crisp image for instance, while an ark requires more elaboration of size. Noah’s ark brought Noah, his family and the fauna of Mesopotamia through a great flood evidently (according to the interpretation of the meaning of the literal terms) while the Ark of the Covenant brought Moses and the Jewish community fleeing from Pharaoh and the warriors of that evil empire through thee desert to the Promised Land. An ark’s exact appearance is not quite as plain an image to form in the mind of the readers in either case as that of a red apple.
There are numerous ways to interpret the communication that is the Bible and there is objective content in it in accord with the nature of linguistic ontology of shared understanding. Kripke in ‘Naming and Necessity’ offered the opinion that words have a neo-Platonic character with meanings that persist for-themselves while others held language to the nominal and representational with no realm-of-forms style Platonic element whatsoever. Cultural continuity of communication does create the appearance of a functional neo-Platonic realism for words. Articles such as the Great Vowel Shift in the development of the English language and the evolution of language-for instance the appearance of the word ‘church’ from circe in the migration from Germany to England offer evidence of the flexibility and adaptability of language to meaning and understanding of communication. Biblical criticism running on toward the posture of excessive critical analysis sometimes may lose sight of the practical communication meaning of the Gospel and the epistles with overly-erudite analysis.
The assembly of historical New Testament of the Bible and its order of appearance and construction is known well enough to recognize it as largely complete by the end of the first century. Several fields of scholarship have arisen to interpret theologically the new testament as history and in other ways with various presumptions about what it is and how it occurs.
Hegelianism and the evolution of a world-Spirit through history is a way of putting the Bible into a context of causal explanation. For those just learning something about the history of theology I should mention that there are differences between Bible based theology, systematic and scholastic theology (such as Thomas Aquinas practiced) and dogmatic theology as perhaps Barth and Tillich put to paper. Theology that is not proximally arising from the Bible itself is not Biblical theology. St. Anselm’s ontological argument is greatly entertaining yet it isn’t Bible theology. What then is an example of Bible theology?
The doctrine of the Trinity is an example of Bible theology. One can find statements of support for various positions on the question if God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are one person with three roles or three persons with one substance or in sundry configurations sufficient to invent monophysitism and other possible heretical doctrines.
One obviously needs to accept that the communication of the Bible is represented more or less accurately for one’s own interpretation before advancing into those difficult theological sailing waters with shoals that leave one suddenly ashore here and there. The writers of the books of the Bible had different skills and knowledge of writing communications. Obviously the advantage of providing four gospel accounts with different techniques for composition allows a parallax device for learning more about the writers themselves and what they intended to communicate. The words of the Lord and Christological inferences given in the gospels have different meaning too according to the reader’s belief criteria and interpretive assumptions.
I ought to mention that like the question of the nature of past, present and future (are they one time or three different times) the answer is perhaps a problem of the criterion wherein the question is posed. God probably has the correct particular communication form expressing the matters of fact in either case.