In my last post, I introduced the subject of seeing history through biblical eyes, and gave three explanations of what this means. In today’s post, I will continue (and finish) with points four through seven of what it means to have a biblical view of history.
Point #4: History is the record of reality. It encompasses past, present, and future, and both that which is known empirically and that which is known by revelation. Limiting history to the past alone is insufficient, for what happened in the past created a series of outcomes that resulted in what now is, and again in what will be. The full significance of past events can only be known by showing their relation to the present and the future. Further, this is not just a historian’s subjective interpretation of what happened, but is something that is contained within the events themselves, as it were. It is insufficient to study the present without showing how it is a development from the past, or the (prophetic/predicted) future without showing its development from the present and the past.
Limiting history to that which is known empirically alone is also insufficient, for observations in the visible, physical realm point to the activities of beings in the unseen supernatural realm. The attempt to explain human history in terms of natural cause and effect alone always gives a very implausible and incomplete account of events. To fail to see the activity of God and Satan in the world is to fail to understand history.
The Bible presents the metanarrative of history. There are some who argue that the Bible is more a book of theology than a book of history. If the secular definition of the discipline of history is accepted, this is certainly true. However, if the Bible is allowed to challenge the very possibility of a history that is created on the basis of methodological naturalism, then the secular concept of history falls apart. In addition, this is only a modern definition of history; Christian historians before the twentieth century, and especially before the Enlightenment, did not see any place whatever for a history divorced from theology. And secular history does have theology running through it just the same: the attempt to explain all things without God is a theological endeavor, and incorporates the theological assumptions inherent in a secular worldview.
On the secular worldview, all that can ever be known about history is the available evidence, and thus it may be tempting to define history subjectively as the surviving evidence known to, and interpreted by, the historian. However, on the biblical worldview, all of reality is known by God and there is a full record of all that has happened in books in heaven. Thus, the things that are now hidden will be revealed in a future day (Eccl 12:14; Matt 10:26; Mark 4:22; Luke 8:17; 12:2-3; Rom 2:16; 1 Cor 4:5; 2 Cor 5:10; Rev 20:12).
Point #5: The epistemic basis of history is faith in biblical revelation, not empiricism or rationalism. Secular scholarship begins with the presupposition that the Bible cannot be trusted, but scholarly study of extrabiblical archeological data, inscriptions, and literature can be trusted. Thus, critical scholars start with extrabiblical material, interpret it “on its own terms,” and then interpret the Bible in light of it. However, the claim that extrabiblical data can be interpreted on its own, apart from the Bible and theological presuppositions, is false. If the Bible is taken away, it must be replaced with a different presuppositional framework. Almost invariably, this framework is atheism or deism, the view that God does not intervene in the world. This presupposition then determines the conclusion of the research, for all other possibilities are ruled out from the start. The Bible will be viewed as a human product that is largely inaccurate due to its claims of divine activity in the world. But this approach begs numerous questions: how can presupposing the Bible’s untrustworthiness be justified? Why should extrabiblical material be presupposed to be more reliable than the Bible? And why should secular presuppositions be accepted? Christian scholars, especially, ought to have faith that the Bible is the Word of God, and therefore ought to begin their historical analysis with the Bible and interpret the extrabiblical data in light of the Bible.
The Bible does not need to be verified by archeological or astronomical evidence. We know that the Bible is true because it is the Word of God, and as such is self-authenticating. The Bible does not become any more certain when archeological evidence is discovered that fits with what the Bible says.
Point #6: The Bible presents an anthrocentric view of history. According to the Bible, man was created at roughly the same time as the earth and the universe (cf. Mark 13:19), and thus is not possible to speak of a history of the earth or a history of the universe apart from the history of man. Man was created last in the creation week, since everything else in the universe was created for man—the earth, the sun, the moon, the stars, the animals, the plants, the seas, the dry land, and even the angels (cf. Heb 1:14). Man is both the pinnacle and the focus of creation. Man, in turn, was created for his Creator. The history of the universe is geocentric, and not just geocentric, but anthrocentric–and, in the ultimate sense, theocentric.
Point #7: The Bible elevates the history of Israel and of the Jewish people to a far higher plane of importance than that of any other people or nation in the history of the world. Many political and social events that might seem very significant in some ways, as well as the whole history of many civilizations that did not have direct contact with Israel, are considered relatively insignificant insofar as the overall plan and progress of history is concerned. The history of the Jewish people is the key to the history of the world, at least since the time of Abraham, because God is unfolding His plan of redemption through His covenants with Israel. The various stages through which the history of the Jews has passed are coterminous with the central events in the development of God’s plan of redemption, which are the events of real significance in the history of the entire human race. Redemptive history is the true history of the world, the true framework for understanding world events and the direction of world history. Almost immediately after man was created, he fell into sin; the rest of the Bible tells how and why God is going to come to the rescue of the human race, so that all of history prior to the Incarnation was “the preparation of the world for that great mystery, and all subsequent history the gradual appropriation of its results” (Brooke Foss Westcott, An Introduction to the Study of the Gospels [London: MacMillan, 1888], 47.). It is not true that the histories of all peoples, civilizations, and religions are equally important and ought to be given equal time. The history of God’s people (Israel, and in a different sense all believers) is what is really important for the overall course of world history.