Many discussions around the Bible founder on the shoals of factual accuracy. The “facts of the matter”, and claims that they are either accurately or inaccurately reported, generate much heat (and for those who like good knock down arguments)1 delight. This should not surprise us, for since the Enlightenment, we have worshiped “facts”.
Indeed respect for the facts has served us well. Truth is found when the facts are reported and marshaled into arguments accurately.
Yet, always, but especially in matters of relationship, there is another sort of truth. Faithfulness too can be truth. Characters in fiction can act in ways which ring true to their nature. (We have discovered that nature elsewhere in the story or the corpus.) They must also be true to the relevant aspects of the world as we know it. (Though, willing suspension of disbelief plays a role in all poetics.) We say the story is “true” when characters are true and the relationship to the real our world is true. Likewise all good fictions communicate other things. When the attitudes and elements of worldview “fit” with (i.e. are faithful to) what we believe, we say the story is true. Similarly, in the ancient world,2 when an ambassador spoke a message that represented faithfully what his lord would have intended, his words were true. This would have been so even if the message was in fact contradicted by a written communication that spoke differently – if the lord would indeed have spoken differently in the changed circumstances.
To expect the Bible to conform to the first sort of truth, in a world which lived by the second, is mere fundamentalism (a thoroughly modern system).
Of course, to interpret a text which seeks to be faithful requires more skill and judgement than to interpret one which aims at the facts. And isn’t it interesting how often “the facts” serve to support and sustain the status quo?3
Amanda at Cheese-Wearing Theology has posted this month’s Biblical Studies Carnival, in what ways is the “world” (of bibliobloggery) it presents true?