Yesterday I attempted to revisit Tertullian’s remark, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?’ with bible study for reference. Perhaps a vertical approach in bible study would tempt one to declare, “there is no connection” while a horizontal or historical/critical approach might suggest plenty of connection. Nevertheless, deep consideration of both approaches lead to the conclusion that a vertical perspective in bible study is superficial and misleading and even deficient.
The Jesus birth narratives I mentioned in the last blog are perhaps one of the simplest illustrations of what may not be obvious in a vertical approach in bible study. There are similar examples in the resurrection accounts and indeed, throughout the entire bible. Try reading horizontally, for example, the Old Testament books of Kings and Chronicles. You will discover, not only differences with regard to similar accounts, but outright contradictions.
So what happens when for example, Jesus’ birth narratives in Matthew and Luke don’t agree? In a vertical approach, typically we edit or write our own account to combine both accounts into one. But then, is that what Matthew or Luke wanted to say? Perhaps not. In a horizontal approach we seek to understand what Matthew is saying and what Luke is saying, and the two may not be saying the same thing.
Aha! Somebody will tell you, you are not bible-based. If that is your approach, you are not bible-based. I’d say, on the contrary! Understanding the individual writers of the bible is truly bible-based rather than rewriting the bible attempting to synchronize all the writers’ messages in order to arrive at a common understanding.
An invitation at the end of a sermon that invites you to look for a bible-based church essentially is urging you to look for a church that follows the vertical approach in studying the bible. It also appeals to a view of the bible as inerrant.
Let us talk about that next.