Going back almost 30 years to seminary, I recall one of the major topics of discussion in our New Testament classes was the issue of the nature of objectivity in interpretation and the truth of the Bible. The idea of truth as this fixed thing never made sense to me. It didn't because it presumes that I or anyone has the capacity to stand outside of truth and objectively make the judgment of what is true and what isn't. It always struck me that this definition of truth was an alternative faith object. Instead of faith being in Christ, based on the witness of Scripture, my faith was to be dependent upon the Bible being true. My trust was suppose to be in the Bible first because that is where we discover Christ
All this came back to me as I read Virginia Postrel's posting on the new book, Objectivity, by Loraine Daston and Peter Galison. Virginia provides two long quotes from the book that are worth considering.
Our classroom seminary discussions often focused on the subjectivity that we each brought to the task of biblical interpretation. Even the Gospel writers were subjective interpreters of the life and ministry of Jesus and the early church. While this may seem to be a logical, rational perspective to have, it was not the only one. Objectivity or biblical truth was sacrosanct; a reality apart from human interference.
From my little corner of the church, what I have seen is a Bible that lost its character as an inspired text in a historical context, and became an encyclopedia of proof texts. This latter form which became so popular in evangelical circles as inductive bible study became the standard means of interpretation. It lost its historical character and therefore its rootedness in the time of its origin. This notion of objective truth came to mean a single truth that was available to all who followed the appropriate methodology. As a result, we became less a biblical church and more a church of epigrams, pithy sayings that inspire warm thoughts yet lack reality.
It is odd therefore, that the branch of Christendom that most hailed a high view of Scripture lost its grip on the Bible as it came to us. Is it the word of God? Yes. Is it a document of objective truth as 19th century science understood it? I don't think so. Daston and Galison describe a type of objectivity that I suspect actually only exists in the abstract. And the Bible is far from being simply an abstract repository of objective truth.
Truth lives in the person of Jesus Christ, who lives by his Spirit in the individual and collective lives of believers throughout the world. Truth is not the idea of God's love, but the actual love of God for sinners. As long as truth remains abstract and objective, it remains in the control of we human beings. Even as it does, it remains truth as I see it and determine it to be so. It is defined, contained and without amendment. It is my possession and the possession of my church. The intellectual history of science of the past 2500 years should tell us that our human perception is never whole nor complete. Therefore, whatever it is that I think to be the whole truth and nothing but the truth is still partial and subjective.