ArticlePDF Available

Is the Bible a true narrative representation? Global Journal of Classical Theology, 2(2) I(3).

Authors:

Abstract

Moisés Silva urged evangelicals to Athink through [the] . . . fundamental question of the hermeneutics of historical narrative. He urged further that this thinking should be coherent and fearlessly comprehensive: "No more atomistic solutions." What is required, according to Silva, is an "evangelical theology that is not motivated by fear and suspicion" but by a "commitment to the integration of the whole theological agenda." We agree, and propose the framework of a consistent, comprehensive, and elegant semiotic theory, more specifically the theory of true narrative representations (TNR-theory), as one venue within which to pursue such an agenda. The Bible represents itself to be a true narrative representation from beginning to end. Its main protagonist from Genesis to Revelation is God. Because the events reported are supposed to unfold over time, from God=s creation of the universe, to his redemption of mankind, the whole scriptural message, as a predication or statement from God to man, is a narrative. Because the story claims to be true, it claims to be a true narrative. Moreover, the narrative in question is peculiar in view of the fact that it purports to be comprehensive. It claims to cover all time from the creation to the end of time itself. Throughout, the story is about the seed of the woman through whom God reveals his mercy, grace, and glory. The culmination is the "Revelation" of the Lamb of God, the Alpha and the Omega who was and is and is to come. In the entire narrative, relatively few attributes are given as definitive of the main character and the ultimate authority behind the story. The Bible reports that God is one Lord (Leviticus 6:4; Mark 12:29; Galatians 3:20; Ephesians 4:6), holy (Leviticus 19:2), true (John 3:33; 2 Corinthians 1:18), a Spirit (John 4:24), faithful (1 Corinthians 10:13), witness (1 Thessalonians 2:5); the Judge of all (Hebrews 12:23), a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29), light (1 John 1:5), love (1John 4:8), and omnipotent (Revelation 19:6). None of these attributes of God is consistent with the view that the Bible is merely a fictional allegory. Rather, the Old Testament is presented as history as are the gospels and narratives of the New Testament. The entire document, from Genesis to Revelation is presented as reliable truth, connected to specific authors, times, and places of history. Whenever the text looks forward to future events, they are foreseen and reported as if already past. The Bible presents itself as a story that is true, a true narrative representation (TNR).
http://www.trinitysem.edu/Student/Journal/collins_ollerpap.html
Global Journal of Classical Theology: An International Journal in the
Classic Reformation and Evangelical Tradition, Vol. 2, No. 2 (8/2000).
Is the Bible a True Narrative Representation?
Steven Collins
*
Trinity College and Seminary
and
John W. Oller, Jr.
University of Louisiana at Lafayette
Moisés Silva urged evangelicals to “think through [the] . . . fundamental question of the
hermeneutics of historical narrative”.
1
He urged further that this thinking should be coherent and
fearlessly comprehensive: “No more atomistic solutions.”
2
What is required, according to Silva,
is an “evangelical theology that is not motivated by fear and suspicion” but by a “commitment to
the integration of the whole theological agenda.”
3
We agree, and propose the framework of a
*
Steven Collins is professor of theology and anthropology and president of Trinity College
and Seminary, South West Campus, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87110. A shorter version of this
paper was presented at the Evangelical Theological Society Meeting in Santa Clara, California on
November 20, 1997. John Oller is professor and head of communicative disorders at the
University of Louisiana, Lafayette, Louisiana 70504-3170 (and professor emeritus of linguistics
at the University of New Mexico). The authors want to acknowledge partial support for the work
reported here in the form of a research and travel grant to the first author from the Non-Directed
Fund of the Korea Research Foundation for academic year 1996-1997. We are also grateful to Dr.
Kunok Kim and Dr. Yongjae Paul Choe who helped to obtain those funds. Our names are listed
in the original order of the paper presented at the ETS 49
th
meeting in Santa Clara, California.
Any errors, of course, are our own.
1
In his presidential address at the 49
th
annual meeting of the ETS on November 20, 1997.
Published under the title “‘Can Two Walk Together Except They Be Agreed?’ Evangelical
Theology and Biblical Scholarship,” JETS 41 (1998) 3-16. The quote remark appears on p. 13.
2
Ibid, p. 14.
3
Ibid, p. 16.
Is the Bible a True Narrative Representation? Page 2
consistent, comprehensive, and elegant semiotic theory, more specifically the theory of true
narrative representations (TNR-theory), as one venue within which to pursue such an agenda.
4
The Bible represents itself to be a true narrative representation from beginning to end. Its
main protagonist from Genesis to Revelation is God. Because the events reported are supposed to
unfold over time, from God’s creation of the universe, to his redemption of mankind, the whole
scriptural message, as a predication or statement from God to man, is a narrative. Because the
story claims to be true, it claims to be a true narrative. Moreover, the narrative in question is
peculiar in view of the fact that it purports to be comprehensive. It claims to cover all time from
the creation to the end of time itself. Throughout, the story is about the seed of the woman
through whom God reveals his mercy, grace, and glory. The culmination is the “Revelation” of
the Lamb of God, the Alpha and the Omega who was and is and is to come.
In the entire narrative, relatively few attributes are given as definitive of the main
character and the ultimate authority behind the story. The Bible reports that God is one Lord
(Leviticus 6:4; Mark 12:29; Galatians 3:20; Ephesians 4:6), holy (Leviticus 19:2), true (John
3:33; 2 Corinthians 1:18), a Spirit (John 4:24), faithful (1 Corinthians 10:13), witness (1
Thessalonians 2:5); the Judge of all (Hebrews 12:23), a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29), light (1
John 1:5), love (1 John 4:8), and omnipotent (Revelation 19:6). None of these attributes of God is
consistent with the view that the Bible is merely a fictional allegory. Rather, the Old Testament is
presented as history as are the gospels and narratives of the New Testament. The entire
document, from Genesis to Revelation is presented as reliable truth, connected to specific
authors, times, and places of history. Whenever the text looks forward to future events, they are
foreseen and reported as if already past. The Bible presents itself as a story that is true, a true
narrative representation (TNR).
I. Ground Work
The argument given here is a sequel to our earlier article and to various other publications
4
For an exposition of the theory relied upon here, see J. W. Oller, Jr. and Steven Collins,
“The Logic of True Narrative Representations,”; also Oller’s “How Grammatical Relations Are
Determined,” The 22nd Annual LACUS Forum, (ed. B. Hoffer; Chapel Hill, North Carolina:
University of North Carolina Press, 1996) 37-88; “Word and Icon: The Indispensable Connection
as Seen from a General Theory of Signs,” Word and Icon: Saying and Seeing (ed. Lewis Pyenson,
Lafayette, Louisiana: The Center for Louisiana Studies, University of Louisiana at Lafayette) 50-
62. The theory was first developed with language acquisition in mind in Oller’s “Reasons Why
Some Methods Work,” Methods That Work: Ideas for Literacy and Language Teachers (ed. J.
W. Oller, Jr.; Boston: Heinle and Heinle, 1993) 374-385. For wider empirical applications of the
theory in experimental contexts, see Oller’s “Adding Abstract to Content and Formal Schemata:
Results of Recent Work in Peircean Semiotics,” Applied Linguistics 19/3 (1995) 273-306; and for
applications extending to physics and metaphysics see, “Semiotic Theory Applied to Free Will,
Relativity, and Determinacy: Or Why the Unified Field Theory Sought by Einstein Could Not Be
Found,” Semiotica 108 3/4 (1996) 199-244; for theoretical and experimental work in mass media,
see Oller and J. Roland Giardetti, Images That Work: Creating Successful Messages in Marketing
and High Stakes Communications (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishers, 1999).
Is the Bible a True Narrative Representation? Page 3
that preceded that one.
5
It begins with definitions of crucial terms and builds on the foundation of
previously published logico-mathematical proofs as well as empirical tests of hypotheses derived
from those proofs.
The method of argumentation depends only on logical consistency (and nothing else). It
applies the theory of true narrative representations (TNR-theory) to Biblical history, and to
theories and methods of research purporting to explain the Bible as an historical, literary, or
propagandistic document. In particular it shows that hermeneutic theories grounded in studies of
fiction are fatally flawed. More specifically, if the Bible is as true as it represents itself to be,
historiographical approaches grounded in studies of fictional literature and propaganda must be
hopelessly inadequate. TNR-theory shows why methods of exegesis and criticism that are
grounded in theories of imaginations, fictions, propaganda, and deliberate deceptions must fail.
These results are strictly deduced from widely published logico-mathematical proofs that have so
far withstood the tests of all scrutiny applied to them. The crux of the matter is that only TNRs
have certain logical perfections and that these perfections absolutely cannot be discovered or
inferred from fictions, errors, lies, or even true general representations.
6
To discover the critical features of TNRs, it is necessary to examine their unique formal
perfections. Since those perfections are not found in any other Rs whatsoever (not in fictions,
errors, lies, or generals), it follows that to discover those logical perfections, it is necessary to
examine the formal structure of one or more TNRs. While all of the perfections of TNRs flow
from the fact that every TNR is determinately linked by one or more competent observers to
bodily objects interacting in space and time, it is not necessary to identify any particular TNR in
order to prove conclusively that no fiction, error, lie, or mere general has any of the logical
perfections that accrue to all TNRs. However, TNR-theory also shows that TNRs are as common
as raindrops. If we report that we had coffee with breakfast, supposing only that we did, our
statement qualifies as a TNR.
The general proofs of TNR-theory depend exclusively on the mathematical requirement of
consistency. The logical perfections of TNRs have been strictly proved in a series of perfectly
general logico-mathematical proofs following the method of “exact [i.e., mathematicized] logic”
laid out by C. S. Peirce.
7
The theory unfolds in such a way as to prove first that consistency is
necessary; next that representations (Rs) exist; that material objects exist in space and time; that
meaningful Rs are connected to material objects in space and time; and that TNRs exist. Next the
5
See the reference to Oller and Collins in footnote 4.
6
Oller and Collins, op cit. in footnote 4.
7
See Charles S. Peirce, “The Logic Notebook” Writings of Charles S. Peirce: A
Chronological Edition. Volume 1 (eds. M. Fisch, C. J. W. Kloesel, E. C. Moore, D. Roberts, L.
A. Ziegler, and N. P. Atkinson; Indianapolis, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1982) 337-350.In
fact, the whole series of volumes of the Chronological Edition is relevant as are the several
volumes of the Collected Writings of Charles Sanders Peirce (eds. Charles Hartshorne and Paul
Weiss, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1931-1935) but especially volumes
II-IV which are respectively titled by the editors Elements of Logic, Exact Logic, and The
Simplest Mathematics.
Is the Bible a True Narrative Representation? Page 4
formal structure of TNRs is examined and a limit is set to the entire universe of possible Rs.
Then, the formal structure of TNRs is compared against all other possible representational
structures within the universe of possible Rs.
Within such a rigorous framework it is proved that only TNRs possess certain logical
perfections. In particular, there are three pragmatic perfections (pertaining to the determinate
material content found in objects, events, and relations situated in space and time), three syntactic
perfections (pertaining to space-time relations obtaining between sign-forms, sign-users, and sign
content), and three semantic perfections (pertaining to generalized content of signs, common uses
of signs by communities of sign users, and conventional uses of conventional signs with
conventional meanings). TNR-theory shows conclusively that absolutely none of these
perfections is shared by any other Rs whatsoever.
Not even a true general, such as the true and perfectly general proposition that “it is
appointed unto men, once to die” (Hebrews 9:27) has any one of the logical perfections of TNRs.
Rather, all fictions, errors, lies, and all general s (including true ones!) without exception must
get every bit of any particular meaning they may have from one or more TNRs. Finally, the
logical perfections of TNRs have been shown to form a genuine trinity of trinities. A genuine
trinity is defined — after the Godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) — as the sort of tri-unity
where every part perfectly represents the remaining parts and the whole. Every single one of the
logical perfections has been shown to possess this extraordinary mathematical relation to all the
other parts and to the whole trinity of trinities.
8
Thus, each of the pragmatic perfections entails
the other two and all of the syntactic and semantic perfections. Similarly, every individual logical
perfection of TNRs entails all of the others.
It is important to note that while TNR-theory is compatible with conservative Biblical
theology,
9
its proofs do not depend in any way on the presumption of the truth of the Biblical
record. TNR-theory is as applicable to any representational system as it is to the Bible. In fact, the
entire theory is developed without necessary reference to any particular TNRs whatsoever. If
every example ever used to illustrate concepts of the theory should prove to be false, or merely
imaginary, the theory would nonetheless stand. The only use of particular TNRs in the theory is
to exemplify terms for the sake of comprehensibility. In no way does the theory depend on the
particular examples chosen. A demonstrable infinitude of other examples could have served
equally well. Nothing in any of the proofs depends on the presumption that any given R either is
or is not a TNR. Nor is it necessary to single out any particular fiction, error, lie, or general in
order to develop any proof in TNR-theory. The development of TNR-theory is indifferent to
whether or not any given R may turn out to be true, false, or indeterminate. With all of the
foregoing in mind, key terms may be defined as follows.
8
The relevant proofs concerning the trinitarian properties of TNRs have been published on
the Peirce-List and may be found in the archives at http://www.door.net/arisbe/menu/peirce-
l/archives.htm in sections 9710 (1/1) [3/8] and [8/8], and in 9711 (1/1) [4/7] and [5/7]; especially
see Installment 6 in the series on TNR-theory (in archive 9711 (1/1) [5/7]). To obtain these files
address the message “get peirce-l 9710” and “get peirce-l 9711” on separate lines to
listproc@ttacs6.ttu.edu.
9
As we showed in our earlier paper; see footnote 4 above.
Is the Bible a True Narrative Representation? Page 5
A narrative is the sort of R that pertains to a purported series of particular events
unfolding over time. The term “purported” is essential because the event sequence pointed to by a
narrative may be real or merely imagined. In the case of an actual sequence of events,
competently reported, the narrative ultimately involves one or more observers who have had
access to the event sequence whether that access was direct (by perception) or indirect (through
reliable reports of other witnesses). A narrative that happens to be true of its reported events,
where it claims nothing false of those events, and where they deliver all that the narrative claims
of them, is a TNR. In the case of a fiction, by contrast, some or all of the events in the sequence
are merely imagined by its author(s) and/or its consumer(s). Ultimately, any narrative implies
observation by someone competent to render a report. An error is merely a false fiction
innocently mistaken to be a TNR. A lie is a fiction known to be false and yet deliberately
represented to be a TNR. A general is any R that purports to be about all (or no) objects, events,
or relations of a given kind.
II. TNRs as Relatively Perfect
It can be proved that if any TNR is at least as true as it purports to be (as all of them must
be), it is as true as its purport can possibly enable it to be. That is, since a TNR cannot be about
whatever it does not purport to be about, any TNR that there may happen to be, must be as true as
it can possibly be. This follows from the fact that any purport of any TNR that is found in its
particular material facts must be true of those facts. But suppose there were some additional
purport in some TNR that was not itself contained in its material facts. Clearly that purport would
be untrue of those facts; and the R would not be a TNR. Therefore, a higher standard of truth
cannot reasonably be asked of any R than the standard logically met in any TNR. No R
whatsoever can be any truer than it purports to be. Therefore, any TNR that there may be, must be
as true as it can possibly be within the limits of its purport. Therefore, relative to the material
facts they purport to be about, TNRs are perfectly well-formed — i.e., they must be as consistent
with the particular facts they are about as they purport to be. To add more information would not
make any TNR any truer, though up to a limit of complete informativeness, it could make it more
informative.
Thus, to be true, it is essential that a TNR be determinately connected to particular facts
by a competent observer (or more than one) and that it not say anything false of the actual events
that it reports. A narrative need not, however, report every detail of the events that it is about in
order to be a TNR, but since events cannot contradict themselves, TNRs must be consistent
internally in all of their parts and cannot, in the final analysis, contradict each other. All of this is
strictly demonstrable insofar as the space-time continuum is incapable of contradicting itself.
That is, the matter/energy-space-time continuum cannot be other than it is. Nonetheless, there can
be as many TNRs as there are competent and faithful observers located at different vantage points
in space and time. Therefore, there is no end to the number of TNRs that can be constructed with
respect to any continuous series of events arranged over time. Nevertheless, it is strictly
demonstrable that all those TNRs that are possible must agree with the material events of space
and time, and to that extent cannot contradict each other.
10
10
Compare the conclusion of John’s gospel where he speaks of the books that would be
written if everything Jesus said and did should be written down. He supposes that the whole
Is the Bible a True Narrative Representation? Page 6
At the basis of the logical perfections of TNRs is the fact that only they are determinately
connected to particular material objects dynamically situated relative to particular observers in
space and time. The remaining logical perfections flow from this connectedness with a logico-
mathematical certainty that (as has been strictly proved)
11
provides the only basis for the meaning
of any Rs whatsoever. A few of the consequences of TNR-theory for Biblical scholarship were
explored in our previous paper. Here we continue by examining certain of those implications with
respect to selected narratives and theories of interpretation. We compare certain parts of the
Biblical narrative with other narratives, archaeological evidences, and historiographical theories.
III. The Bible as a TNR
As a matter of interest to conservative theologians, the Bible represents itself to be a TNR
from start to finish. Moreover, it represents the direction and leading of God to have the character
of a TNR. For instance, the first use of the word “truth” (“’emeth” úìëÆ àÆ ) in the scriptures appears
in Genesis 24:27 where Abraham’s servant, in search of a bride for Isaac, is led directly to the
household of Laban. He says, “Blessed be the Lord God of my master Abraham, who hath not left
destitute my master of his mercy and his truth; I being in the way, the Lord led me to the house of
my master’s brethren.” Similarly, in its last use, the concept of “truth” again appears in such a
way as to suggest a faithful reporting of events that have actually occurred; a TNR: “And he said
unto me, These sayings are faithful and true: and the Lord God of the holy prophets sent his angel
to shew unto his servants the things, which must shortly be done” (Revelation 22:6).
Owing to the strictly formal peculiarities of TNRs, it follows that the Bible, if it is a TNR,
must have all of the logical perfections that accrue to that kind of structure. In fact, the whole
series of proofs showing the logical perfections of TNRs must hold for the Bible, or else, the
Bible cannot be the sort of document that it purports to be. The Bible also has an additional
peculiarity relative to all other TNRs. If it is actually true, it really must cover the full scope of
time from creation until the end of time itself, because that is what it claims to do. If it failed in
its scope, it would also fail to be true. Therefore, if the Bible is a TNR, it follows that all other
TNRs must be consistent with it and it with them.
If the Bible were not true, it would be a colossal lie of the sort, as C. S. Lewis once
quipped, of a story invented either by “the devil of hell” or by a man who claims “he’s a poached
egg”.
12
Lewis advised accordingly that we should not come up with any “patronizing nonsense”
about Jesus being “a great moral teacher” because he has ruled out that alternative. Either he was
the Messiah of Israel, God in the flesh, the person to whom believers can refer as “the Lord Our
Righteousness” (Jeremiah 33:16), or he was a lunatic or a liar. A man who falsely made the
world would not contain the books that would be written. Yet is it clear that, supposing John’s
account to be a true report of a competent eye-witness that those other books would not
contradict the one John wrote.
11
See references to publications cited in footnote 4.
12
Clive Staples Lewis, Mere Christianity (revised and enlarged edition containing The
Case for Christianity, Christian Behavior, and Beyond Personality, New York: Macmillan,
1960), p. 56.
Is the Bible a True Narrative Representation? Page 7
claims that Jesus made, or who merely imagined himself to be God, could not be a “great moral
teacher” — he would be a fool or a demon. Similarly, if the God of the Old Testament were a
fictional creation of an overzealous priesthood, he could not have the attributes that he reportedly
claims.
Never in the history of mankind has there been another document so widely circulated,
frequently read, and thoroughly criticized as the Bible. Nor, as history attests, has there ever been
a document with such a profound and lasting impact on the lives, behaviors, and beliefs of human
beings. As argued by R. A. Torrey long ago, there are so many evidences of lasting positive
effects of the Bible that to take it to be a deliberate deception is, on its face, a remarkable
absurdity.
13
John Dryden summed up the problem in a few lines of verse:
Whence but from Heaven could men unskilled in arts,
In several ages born, in several parts,
Weave such agreeing truths? Or how or why
Would all conspire to cheat us with a lie?
Unasked their pains, ungrateful their advice,
Starving their gain and martyrdom their price.
14
As for the question who wrote the Bible, evangelicals have but one answer: Regardless
who held the pen at any given moment, God must have inspired and guided them in the original
writing, or else the consistency of the whole defies explanation. Obviously, just any old god
cannot inspire a comprehensive report of history from beginning to end, one that is accurate in its
reported details and consistent throughout, and one that in its essence can be explained
comprehensibly to a child of normal intelligence sometime between the ages of four and eight. In
fact, it was because of his failure to find convincing empirical evidence against the
trustworthiness of the scriptures that the archaeologist and historian Sir William M. Ramsay was
compelled to become a Christian.
15
He set out to show the book of Acts to be full of inaccuracies
and inconsistencies, but found it to be superior to all the other historical and scientific documents
he had studied.
Evangelicals have traditionally accepted the historical authenticity of the Bible. Many
13
R. A. Torrey, Late Nineteenth Century Revivalist Teachings on the Holy Spirit (New
York: Garland Publishing, 1986); also Ten Reasons Why I Believe the Bible is the Word of God
(Chicago: Moody Press, n. d.).
14
Religio Laici or a Layman’s Faith (1682), in The Poems of John Dryden (ed. James
Kinsley; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1958) 311-322. Quoted lines are 140-145 on p. 315.
15
Cf. William M. Ramsay, A Manual of Roman Antiquities (London: R. Griffin, 1855);
The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament (Grand Rapids,
Michigan: Baker Book House, reissued in 1953); St. Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen
(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, reissued in1962).
Is the Bible a True Narrative Representation? Page 8
hold this position dogmatically, on the basis of the doctrine of inspiration. For them, that may be
enough. But suppose they are correct in their belief? What of all those other persons who are
being duped into believing that the Bible is a fiction mingled with errors and deceptions? What of
those persons who are being fooled into thinking the Bible is a book of propaganda? And what of
those people who are recommending methods to improve upon the truth value of the scriptures by
separating out the “sayings of Jesus” as contrasted with the profane memories of not merely
fallible authors but deliberate propagandists?
IV. Postmodern Apologetics
In present-day archaeological and historical scholarship, serious challenges to the
historical credibility of the Bible are increasingly advocated by scholars of all stripes. In fact, the
assaults have grown so brazen that the long-standing “higher critical theories” and the
much-embattled “documentary hypothesis” seem tame by comparison. At least the old school
critics admitted the idea that historical memory must have played some role in the handing down
of the oral traditions which were supposedly later written, codified, and redacted into the form
that came to be canonized. Formerly, the same assumption of historical memory also prevailed in
literary theories concerned with the writings of the New Testament. Today, however, meaning
and truth are early casualties in the clamor against the veracity of Biblical narratives. This
position is also increasingly presented in the mass media.
16
What should be the evangelical response to the new assaults on Biblical authenticity? Can
such arguments be ignored in the hope that they will go away? Is it adequate to say, as many do,
that “we interpret the data differently”? Must we fall back on dogma and tradition? Is evangelical
theology just old-time religion destined eventually to be entirely replaced by the plethora of new
interpretations owed to the explosion of postmodern alternatives?
TNR-theory provides a logico-mathematical basis for reassessing the nature of meaning,
truth, and historicity in all forms of literature including scientific reports. Not only does TNR-
theory afford an independent way to examine Biblical narratives, but it can also be used to test
competing ideas and especially theories which deny the historicity of the Bible. Thus the
applications of TNR-theory are three-fold: hermeneutic, apologetic, and polemic.
V. General Theological Consequences of TNR-Theory Applied to the Bible
If the Bible is a TNR, God must be omnipotent in order to oversee its preparation,
canonization, and its preservation throughout history. If the Bible is true, God must also be
omniscient on account of the fact that the document purports to be about past and future events
(ranging from creation to the end of time) that no living human ever has had access to. Finally, if
the Bible is true, God must also be omnipresent, or else, how could he know the end from the
16
The cavalier dismissal of any validity of the scriptures is commonly seen in periodicals
such as Time and Newsweek. Popular authors commonly dismiss the historicity of the Bible and
similarly deny its scientific value. To the contrary see Russell Humphrey, Starlight and Time
(San Diego, California: Master Books, 1994) for applications of Biblical insights to Einstein’s
general theory of relativity as it pertains to astronomical physics. Humphrey’s shows consistent
solutions to the problems of distant starlight, red shift, and the micro-wave background noise that
appears to be constant in all directions from the earth.
Is the Bible a True Narrative Representation? Page 9
beginning?
No Biblical text can be found that is inconsistent with the view that God stands apart from
the limits of time and space and that limitations on human experience do not restrict God at all.
As conclusive evidence of this fact, one that has always been understood as such by competent
readers of the scriptures is the fact that the declaration of the plan of redemption preceded the
foundation of the cosmos. At least nine times in the New Testament reference is made to the idea
that the determination of Christ’s death was an accomplished fact before the foundation of the
world (cf. Matthew 13:35; Matthew 25:34; Luke 11:50; Ephesians 1:4; Hebrews 4:3; Hebrews
9:26; 1 Peter 1:20; Revelation 13:8; Revelation 17:8). In 1 Peter 1:19-20 reference is made to
“the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: who verily was
foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you.” In
Revelation 13:8 there is reference to “the dragon” where it is written that “all those that dwell
upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb
slain from the foundation of the world.”
It follows, therefore, that either Carl Sagan and his ilk were wrong in supposing that the
cosmos preceded the cross, or else the God of the Bible is a liar or seriously confused. Unless the
Bible should turn out to be true, at best God has selected a poor metaphor. But, if the Bible is
true, then surely it is correct in asserting that no critics will stand in God’s presence, but rather
that every one will bow the knee and proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord (Isaiah 45:23; Philippians
2:10-11).
If the Bible is true, only the Judeo-Christian God, the Creator of the entire cosmos, the
God of gods, could have inspired so many contributors to write a TNR on the proportions of the
Biblical text. Otherwise, if the text is true by mere accident, the consistency of the whole is a
vastly more remarkable miracle than that espoused by the evolutionists who claim that the
cosmos plopped itself into existence by pure chance.
17
The emergence of the Bible as an
accidental TNR is immeasurably less likely than that life should have accidentally appeared on
earth millions of years ago. It is less likely than the formation of distinct galaxies, the solar
system, and the biosphere. It is less likely than the formation by accident of the entire genetic
code, binocular vision, human intellect, and ultimately the language capacity which sets humans
apart from all other creatures.
18
In fact, if the Bible were an accidental TNR, its existence would
easily dwarf all of those other miracles on account of the fact that the Bible repeatedly and
throughout contradicts the view that any of the feats of creation were accidents in the first place.
Such an accident as the Bible being a TNR is a logical impossibility. It must either be the word of
God, or a colossal lie.
But suppose, just for the sake of argument, that the Bible were a TNR. Should it not be
considered the primary source document of all the events that it reports? Should it not take
precedence over all other documentary sources? Could it possibly be upstaged by a fictional
narrative or by one or a thousand theories grounded in fictional literature? Could the truth of the
17
Against which view, see the book edited by J. P. Moreland, The Creation Hypothesis:
Evidence of Intelligent Design (Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 1994).
18
See J.. W. Oller, Jr., and John L. Omdahl, “Origin of the Human Language Capacity” in
J. P. Moreland, op cit. footnote 17, 235-269.
Is the Bible a True Narrative Representation? Page 10
Bible, if it is true, be altered in the slightest degree by abstruse methods of hermeneutics or
arcane examinations of archaeology and its artefacts? Should the Bible not take precedence, if it
is indeed what it claims to be, over secular histories contrived not only by fallible human beings
but by persons deliberately exercising profane powers of imagination? Should the Bible not be
regarded as more authoritative with reference to the historical periods and contexts of which it
speaks than subjective interpretations of archaeological data and historiographical theories? In
fact, if the Bible is a TNR, is it not a better source of inspiration for theoretical understanding of
truth in all its manifestations, including those of mathematical and scientific reasoning, than any
less comprehensive representation?
VI. Consistency as the Ultimate Test of All Theories
The logical results of TNR-theory
19
for Biblical studies are relevant to the growing
plethora of speculations about the historical authenticity especially of certain testable narrative
portions of the Bible. Although TNR-theory is relevant to the whole scope of Biblical
apologetics, the focus here is upon writings in both the Old and New Testament that are
especially identified as narratives. There are many specific segments of text that might be singled
out for attention, but we look at just two particular Biblical narratives and two theories pertaining
respectively to the Old and New Testaments. Relevant results flowing from TNR- theory as
applied to Biblical narratives and especially to Biblical archaeology are these: (1) All TNRs must
be consistent with all other TNRs relative to the matter/energy-space-time continuum. (2) All
TNRs uniquely exhibit the logical perfections common to all TNRs. (3) Narratives that fail to
exhibit the perfections of TNRs cannot be true.
Interestingly, although there are three distinct critical properties that must logically be
found in an adequate R (or in any empirical theory) of any phenomenon or range of phenomena,
only one of them yields the sort of critical evidence that human beings can make use of to
differentiate better Rs (or theories) from worse ones. Above all, a theory must be consistent
within itself: this is the strict logico-mathematical requirement. Also, a theory must be
comprehensive: this is the empirical requirement that an adequate theory must not omit
consideration of relevant data or facts. Finally, it ought to be as simple as possible: it ought not to
include anything extraneous or unnecessary. This last criterion is the one commonly referred to as
Ockham’s razor owing to the fact that it was poplularized in the dictum of the Earl of Ockham
who wrote, entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem (entities not being multiplied
except as necessary).
20
TNR-theory shows conclusively that all of three of these requirements boil down to the
consistency requirement. Clearly, any theory that is not consistent with itself cannot be consistent
with relevant phenomena or empirical data. Likewise, any theory that is not comprehensive is not
consistent with all of the relevant data, and any theory that is inelegant in any respect (more
complex than necessary) is one where some of the entities of the theory fail to have any
corresponding entities in the relevant data, and thus the theory is not fully consistent with the
relevant data (i.e., the unnecessary elements of the theory have no corresponding data to be
19
See references in footnote 4.
20
As quoted by C. S. Peirce in Hartshorne and Weiss, volume IV, p. 4 (paragraph1).
Is the Bible a True Narrative Representation? Page 11
consistent with). Thus, the three criteria (consistency, comprehensiveness, and simplicity), boil
down to consistency alone in the end.
Also, only consistency can enable decisive comparisons between competing theories as
can be demonstrated: From an empirical point of view, we cannot directly apply the
comprehensiveness requirement because we cannot perceive or discriminate all possible bits of
data at any given time or in any given period of time. Nor can we know for all possible
applications of any entity in a theory whether or not it will eventually find some relevant datum
to embrace. Therefore, the comprehensiveness requirement and the simplicity requirement can
only be made use of in negative ways (as noted by people like Karl Popper).
21
But
inconsistencies, wherever they can be detected and demonstrated, are precisely the sort of data
that can be used to advance theoretical and empirical work in the sciences and in mathematics.
Because, as TNR-theory demonstrates conclusively, it is impossible that TNRs should be
inconsistent with each other, any unresolvable inconsistency between any pair of purported TNRs
shows one of them to be false. The essential objective then is to derive contrasting empirical
hypotheses from competing theories and rule out as many as possible on the basis of crucial
logical proofs and, where possible, experimental tests. Ultimately, however, the choice between
competing alternatives is always governed by the demand for consistency because
comprehensiveness and simplicity are, for reasons just given in the preceding paragraph,
undiscoverable apart from the consistency requirement. Therefore, it is only through
demonstrated inconsistencies that advances in the sciences and proofs in mathematics are
possible. In mathematical reasoning it is the derivation of necessary inconsistencies that enable
advances while in the empirical sciences it is through contingent (empirical) inconsistencies that
advances are made (per Popper’s Logic of Scientific Discovery).
It is important to re-emphasize that the logico-mathematical proofs from which the
foregoing results are deduced do not require the identification of a single particular TNR. This is
crucial because the potential for error can never be entirely ruled out when making judgments
about Rs that purport to be about particular facts. However, any such empirical error is virtually
eliminated in an absolute way in the proofs of TNR-theory which are perfectly general and
indifferent to whether any given exemplar of a purported TNR should turn out to be a true, false,
or of indeterminate truth value. When it comes to particular texts that purport to be TNRs, the
possibility of human errors of judgment can never be entirely ruled out. Indeed, this logical
conclusion can be strictly proved (deductively derived) within the framework of TNR-theory.
This result is also one of the critical tests showing that TNR-theory is consistent with
conservative Biblical theology and in particular with the Biblical teaching that God has ordained
“free will”. It is, moreover, not only consistent with the Biblical requirement of our power to
choose but also with the risk of choosing to our own harm. The latter possibility cannot arise if
error is not possible, nor can error, not to mention deliberate sin, arise without free will.
If the risk of error could be entirely removed from human experience, it has been strictly
proved within TNR-theory that not only would free will vanish from existence, but the
21
Cf. Karl Raimund Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (New York: Basic Books,
1959).
Is the Bible a True Narrative Representation? Page 12
requirement of faith would be unreasonable and nonsensical.
22
Yet, free will is genuine and the
requirement of faith cannot be dispensed with. With free will comes the potential for error. We
cannot believe in God, or reject belief in God, without taking the risk that is implicit in
committing ourselves relative to certain particular Rs, i.e., believing them to be true or false. For
instance, the gospel of Jesus Christ as presented in the Bible is such that it allows no neutrality in
the final analysis. We must either believe that it is true or believe that it is false. A decision not to
decide one way or the other, if prolonged, amounts to a negative decision.
With respect to any particular narrative, our interpretations are not only subject to the risk
of error, but that risk on this side of eternity remains ineradicable. Noise contamination, bias,
entropy, and ultimately death itself stands between us and the faith that we either choose or
choose not to place in the God of the Bible. Interestingly, as Jesus made perfectly clear, if what
he said is true, there can be no middle ground: Jesus said, “He that is not with me is against me”
(Matthew 12:30) and “He that is not against us is for us” (Luke 9:50). These two seemingly
opposite statements completely remove any neutral ground. If the Biblical accounts are true, the
only safe ground is to accept Jesus as the Messiah. For the unbeliever, Truth is absolutely
guaranteed to deal a crushing blow of utter destruction that grinds to powder (Matthew 21:44;
Luke 20: 18). A failure to believe the gospel is not different in the end from a deliberate decision
to reject it. Nonetheless, the element of risk and the requirement of faith remains until, as Paul
put it, until “This mortal shall have put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:54).
VII. A Surprising Test of TNR-Theory Against Biblical Doctrine
Oddly from the vantage point of unbelievers, faith in the truth is the only alternative that
involves absolute security and that reduces the believer’s risk in the final analysis to exactly zero.
The contrast between the position of the unbeliever at risk and the believer who is secure, is the
sort observed between the vicissitude of mere probability and well-determined absolute certainty.
The contrast is reminiscent of the debate between Einstein, who held out hope until the end for
the complete determinacy of physical law,
23
as contrasted with Heisenberg’s “uncertainty
principle” and Planck’s of quantum mechanics, where absolute certainty is unattainable. Trying
to predict how things will come out in a flawed and uncertain world capsulizes the faith problem
presented to every unredeemed person. By contrast, the certainty of the believer, grounded in the
certain foreknowledge of God, i.e., his knowing the end from the beginning (and every point
along the way)
24
, an aspect of God’s knowledge that Einstein mistakenly attributed to physical
law,
25
is analogous to the security guaranteed to believers who accept Jesus as “the Way, the
22
Oller and Collins, op cit., footnote 4.
23
See Ronald William Clark, Einstein: The Life and Times (New York: World Publishing
Company, 1971), p. 742.
24
As spelled out almost three centuries ago (circa 1701) by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz,
Discourse on Metaphysics, Correspondence with Arnauld, and Monadology (ed. G. R.
Montgomery; La Salle, Illinois: Open Court Publishing Company, 1953).
25
See the paper on free will by Oller cited in footnote 4.
Is the Bible a True Narrative Representation? Page 13
Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). The truth of the gospel, if it is really true, does not remove free
will but rather makes believers free indeed (John 8:32).
Einstein said that he could not believe that “God plays dice with the universe.”
26
He
supposed this, because it was obvious to him that God must know every detail of every event
before it occurs. Therefore, Einstein supposed that physical law had to entirely determine down
to the tiniest detail all the events of the matter/energy-space-time continuum. But God is no more
dependent on physics, logically speaking, than he is on sociology, psychology, anthropology,
archaeology, or any conceivable realm of human study and learning. Rather, all things, according
to the scriptures, including all human cognition and physics, depend on God’s representation of
things. According to the scriptures, all events are present, open and plainly visible, from God’s
point of view. In fact, the Bible attributes all being and the whole of that which is real to the
Word of God. God can know what will happen independently of physical laws and the
vicissitudes of probability. God, the scriptures show, is omniscient.
Besides, before Einstein stated his commitment to physical determinacy, Heisenberg,
Planck, and Einstein himself, through his celebrated photoelectric effect,
27
had already found that
subatomic events are not strictly determined by physical law. Therefore, Einstein’s hope for
physical determinacy ought to have been suspect. More recently, TNR-theory has shown
conclusively that Einstein looked in the wrong direction when he supposed that physical law
could provide absolute determinacy.
28
As Oller showed, Einstein’s expectation that all events can
be predicted on the basis of absolute physical law would have precluded free will and the
possibility of moral responsibility. For those reasons alone, Einstein’s expectation ought to have
been more closely examined, but evidently these consequences either did not occur to the great
physicist or were disregarded.
More to the point, TNR-theory shows that the only source of determinacy is in TNRs.
Unless material objects, events, and relations are represented in TNRs, in and of themselves
matter and energy have no particular determinacy. Interestingly, the result of TNR-theory in this
respect is consistent with the Bible. The determinacy of outcomes, according to the scriptures, is
something that belongs exclusively to God. He knows every word on our lips before it is spoken.
He knows “the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12) before the person who has those
thoughts ever comes into existence. In fact, the Bible asserts much more. Not only does God have
fore-knowledge of all events in the matter/energy-space-time continuum, but the Bible teaches
that God always and everywhere shapes events in time and space so as to ensure the best
outcomes possible for all believers all the time (per Romans 8:28).
29
From all the foregoing it follows that determinacy cannot belong to the thoughtless realm
26
Clark p. 265. Also mentioned in Lincoln Kinnear Barnett, The Universe and Dr.
Einstein (Revised and illustrated, New York: Bantam, 1950), p. 65.
27
In Clark, op cit., p. 265.
28
See “Semiotic Theory Applied to Free Will, Relativity, and Determinacy: Or Why the
Unified Field Theory Sought by Einstein Could Not Be Found,” as cited above in footnote 4.
29
See the theology of “pre-destination” on pp. 3-63 in Leibniz, op cit. footnote 17.
Is the Bible a True Narrative Representation? Page 14
of matter (to whatever “laws of physics” there may be), but to the Spirit of God. He told
Zerubbabel, that the outcomes of history with respect to his promises to Israel were “not by
might, nor by power, but by my spirit saith the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). Thus, neither the
forces of nature, nor even the will of man ultimately determines the outcomes of physical events,
but rather the Spirit of God. And, how we might ask does that happen? The Bible teaches that
determinacy in the material realm is dependent on unseen forces that are ultimately grounded in
the word of God. Independently, TNR-theory demonstrates in a rigorous series of logico-
mathematical proofs that the determinacy of any material events in space and time can only be
known through TNRs formed by competent witnesses. Now, we may ask: Is God a competent
witness (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:5)? Being the “witness” is one of God’s defining traits. He must be
witness to all the events of history, or the Bible must be false.
So, either Einstein must have been wrong in his expectation about the complete
determinacy of physical law or the Bible is wrong in its portrayal of free will. Yet, TNR-theory
annihilates the supposed paradox of determinacy and free will. It comes out that free will is not in
conflict with the foreknowledge of God nor with his guarantee that “all things work together for
good to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). There is no more
conflict between God’s foreknowledge (or even his benevolent interventions in the lives of
believers) and the exercise of man’s free will than there is between a person’s knowledge of the
outcome of a movie and the actions of the characters in the film. Moreover, if TNR-theory is
correct, the physics of Heisenberg, Planck, and others will not be overturned, or at least not in the
way that Einstein hoped in his attempt to build a “unified field theory”. Neither is God evil if he
permits evil persons and demon angels to choose alternatives that lead eventually to “everlasting
fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).
As a result, TNR-theory shows that Einstein’s hope of a “unified field theory” that would
predict all conceivable events in advance on the basis of purely physical forces requiring every
particle of matter and every wave of impulse to behave in strictly lawful ways was based on a
mistaken premise from the start. Physical events are not and cannot be determined entirely by
physical law. What is more, this fact is as easily demonstrated for stars and billiard balls as it is
for electrons and quarks. The demonstration that determinacy resides exclusively in TNRs does
not depend on the empirical demonstrations of Heisenberg, Planck, or Einstein, rather it predicts
the results they found on an entirely independent and purely logico-mathematical basis.
More importantly, TNR-theory produces results consistent with the Bible that are
unpredictable and surprising without reference to TNRs. Consider the astonishing Biblical
proclamation, commonly disputed by secularists ever since it was first pronounced, that “in the
beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God” ( John 1:1). The
Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky quoted Goethe’s character Faust
30
who disputed the Bible by
asserting that “in the beginning was the deed”.
31
Yet TNR-theory shows that all the secularists
who have made such pronouncements are wrong and the surprising claim of the Bible accords
30
Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, Faust: A Tragedy (Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton,
1912).
31
Cf. Lev Semenovich Vygotsky, Thought and Language (translated by Gertrude Vakar,
Cambridge, Massachusetts: M. I. T. Press, 1962), p. 153.
Is the Bible a True Narrative Representation? Page 15
with necessary deductions by irrefutable exact logic proofs. Determinacy does not reside in
physical matter but in TNRs. In fact, without a TNR nothing whatsoever can be determined. Not
even the slightest shred of meaning can be found out, much less can any particular event or
sequence of events be known or found out.
VIII. The Human Problem: How to Discern the Truth?
The fundamental predicament of all human beings, therefore, prior to faith in God, is as
genuine as it can be. How are we to tell the difference between Rs that are true and trustworthy as
contrasted with those that are either false or merely of indeterminate meaning? How can we tell
the difference between good news from God as contrasted with fictions, errors, and lies from any
other source? Evidently the problem is extreme or the cross would not have been the necessary
remedy for it. Why else would God himself have come down in human form to tread the
winepress alone (Isaiah 63:3)? Why would he have declared that judgment and vengeance fall to
him and him alone (Deuteronomy 32:35-36; Romans 12:19)? If the problem of discerning truth
and falsehood were not a genuine matter of life and death, then why the death of the cross? Why
was it necessary for God to take our punishment in his body on the cross?
When it comes to particular judgments about what to believe or not to believe by
individuals at risk in space and time, the element of faith and the potential for error cannot be
completely removed until time itself comes to an end. However, TNR-theory shows that the
virtual certainty of the truth of any given TNR asymptotically approaches a theoretical limit of
absolute (errorless) certainty as critical tests persist in yielding outcomes consistent with an ever
more comprehensive interpretation. As the context of experience widens over time and space, any
false R is more and more likely to turn out to be inconsistent with some part of the observed
continuum. In fact, as any given R is found consistent with a limited context and is tested
repeatedly in larger and larger contexts of experience, so long as it continues to yield results
consistent with the widening context, the interpretation more and more rapidly approaches a limit
of virtual certainty. Critical contextual tests may be applied in a great variety of ways, in almost
any order, and because of the formal characteristics of TNRs relative to the material space-time
continuum, interpretations that are consistent with an ever growing context of experience must
tend without fail toward the correct discovery of whatever TNRs there may be. All that can
mislead us in the determination of which Rs are TNRs and which ones are not, is a willingness to
embrace inconsistencies. TNR-theory shows why this result is necessary. It shows that only to the
extent that we are actually willing to regard fictions, errors, and lies as TNRs, can we be misled.
On the other hand, if we persist in the hopeful and faithful expectation that God is truth,
love, and light, we cannot ultimately go wrong. If God is God, we cannot fail to find him when
we seek him with our whole heart (Jeremiah 29:13). Or, working our way from the bottom up, so
to speak, if there are any TNRs at all, the expectation of consistency, diligently applied by
competent observers, is certain to turn them up. But consistency, if we really expect to be able to
find it and whenever we do find it in TNRs, points us to the perfect God in whom there is not the
slightest tendency toward inconsistency (Numbers 23:19; Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18). Our ability to
seek truth in TNRs, in fact, shows that we are created in the image of God. This result too is
consistent with Biblical teaching.
To see how the discovery of TNRs is assured in the long run, consider a simple example.
Perhaps the simplest TNR conceivable is the sort seen in the correct application of a proper name
to the individual whose name it is. For instance, if Plato should happen upon Socrates, how will
Is the Bible a True Narrative Representation? Page 16
he know that the person he encounters really is his friend Socrates? Perhaps it is merely someone
who resembles Socrates, or perhaps the person he identifies as Socrates is a figment, i.e., an
illusion, fantasy, or hallucination. Plato might be merely dreaming. TNR-theory shows that if any
of these alternatives should be true, the predicate “ Socrates” (as in “There is Socrates!”) cannot
be applied to the case at hand with same consistency that will be found in the case where Plato
actually meets up with Socrates in the flesh, i.e., where it would be fully appropriate for Plato to
say, “Ah! Socrates! There you are!” But suppose Plato speaks to the man he thinks is Socrates
and calls out to him, “Hey Socrates!” and the person spoken to responds in the expected way.
Socrates responds with something like, “Whoah! Plato. What’s up?” In all such cases, so long as
all reasonable expectations concerning a series of Rs are met, e.g., by Plato that “This person is
Socrates and is married to Xanthippe, etc.”, Plato is apt to continue to suppose (correctly) that he
is really speaking to his friend Socrates. If he were merely dreaming, Plato would, if he did not
die first, wake up sooner or later and would probably find that Socrates was not there. Similarly,
if he were hallucinating or experiencing a vivid illusion, some reality would eventually impinge
upon Plato’s awareness that would be inconsistent with one or another aspect of the illusion and
he would thus be disabused of his error by seeing it in the larger context of a valid TNR, i.e., that
he merely imagined seeing Socrates or mistook someone else for Socrates. But in the case of any
TNR inconsistencies cannot arise except some fiction, error, or lie, creep into the picture and the
R in question be degraded by it. TNRs cannot be inconsistent with each other or with material
facts of the space-time continuum. Thus, from TNR-theory it comes out that merely consistent
interpretations of Rs must tend toward the discovery of whatever TNRs there may be.
It also follows from TNR-theory by strict formal logic that fictions, errors and lies — are
singly, doubly, and trebly degenerate, respectively — and must ultimately be inconsistent with
the larger context which itself can only be consistently represented in TNRs. It is for this reason,
and this reason alone, that mathematical reasoning and science are possible. Also, it follows from
TNR-theory that if there are any TNRs in the experience of any person, all of them ultimately
point to God more certainly than that water seeks its own level.
IX. Fictions Contrasted with TNRs
And what of scholars who, by reason of their interpretations of archaeological data and/or
applications of literary hypotheses to the Bible, deny the historiographical value of Old and New
Testament narratives and attempt to create their own special scenarios for the
historical/archaeological periods in question? For example, can the emergence theory of the
origin of the Israelite nation as advocated by Finkelstein and Na’aman meet the requirements on
TNRs?
32
Or are the claims of the Jesus Seminar valid?
33
TNR-theory suggests many ways to
analyze narratives in general and to test the consistency of interpretations of them. Narratives can
be tested for internal consistency (within themselves) and for external consistency with other
32
Irving Finkelstein and Nadav Na’aman (eds.), From Nomadism to Monarchy:
Archaeological and Historical Aspects of Early Israel (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society,
1994).
33
Robert Walter Funk and R. Hoover (eds.), The Five Gospels (New York: Macmillan
Publishing Co., 1993).
Is the Bible a True Narrative Representation? Page 17
narratives and with relevant empirical evidences. Proposed scenarios which relegate any given
Biblical narrative to the realm of fiction, can also be examined from the vantage point of TNR-
theory. All tests of such theories, as demonstrated above, ultimately come down to the question
of consistency.
To illustrate more concretely the applicability of TNR-theory to narratives in general and
to Biblical studies in particular, consider four particular cases: (1) The conquest of Ai narrative
(Joshua 7:1-8:29); (2) the emergence of the Israelite nation scenario of Finkelstein and Na’aman;
(3) Jesus’s healing of the blind man at Bethsaida (Mark 8:22-26); and (4) the Jesus Seminar’s
portrait of Jesus as against the claim of the gospels that Jesus represented himself to be the
Messiah of Israel.
34
The point is not to explain any narrative in detail, but merely to show how
TNR-theory provides a basis for rendering a determinate judgment wherever a necessary
inconsistency can be shown between competing alternatives. If one of the alternatives is
consistent while the others are not, the consistent alternative is the only one that might possibly
be a TNR. That is because TNRs must be consistent within themselves and with relevant
empirical evidences. Therefore, the findings of TNR-theory will enable the ruling out of many
false theories.
1. The Conquest of Ai Narrative of Joshua 7:1-8:29.
No narrative passage from the Old Testament has been more criticized than the story of
Joshua’s conquest of Ai (Joshua 7:1- 8:29). For a great many writers (all of them relying on
archaeology to assess the Biblical account rather than the reverse), the conquest of Ai narrative is
an etiological legend, a fiction, formulated by Iron Age Israelite writers to account for the
massive Early Bronze Age ruins of Khirbet et-Tell near the modern village of Deir Dibwan, 20
km WNW of Jericho. Yet those ruins must have been laid down a full thousand years before the
time of Joshua.
35
Evangelical scholars, on the other hand, who suppose that Joshua fought the battle of Ai
at the site now known as Khirbet et-Tell, have paradoxically held on to the view that the narrative
is an accurate historical account of real events that took place during the time of Joshua, i.e., the
account is regarded by conservative readers as a TNR. But conservative scholars cannot accept
Khirbet et-Tell as the historical setting of the battle without running into serious inconsistencies.
In fact, the archaeological evidence from Khirbet et-Tell does not meet the requirements of the
Joshua narrative at all.
TNR-theory demands, on the contrary, that the material facts must conform to the TNR in
all of the respects that it points out (or else the material facts must have been subsequently
modified by geological upheavals or by massive human intervention or the like). Topography
34
The two Biblical passages involving Ai and Bethsaida have been chosen because of
Collins’s familiarity with ongoing excavations at both sites. He has spent several seasons at
Bethsaida and is now serving as field supervisor at the Khirbet el-Maqatir (Late Bronze Age----
Ai excavation). The other two cases are examined in order to show how TNR-theory
differentiates consistent representations from inconsistent ones.
35
See Finkelstein and Na’aman op cit. footnote 32; also Walter J. Harrelson, Interpreting
the Old Testament (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1964).
Is the Bible a True Narrative Representation? Page 18
normally changes very little over millenia. A millennium, it is true, may be a long period of time
from the vantage point of human beings but is a relatively brief moment to rocks, mountains, and
geological formations in a landscape. Therefore, topographical facts may sometimes be used to
refute conclusively certain false interpretations of ancient TNRs.
And what do we find when the Joshua account of the battle at Ai is compared to the
topography of Khirbet et-Tell? When the criterial geographical features required by Joshua’s
account of the battle at Ai are overlaid upon Khirbet et-Tell, the features of the landscape are
notably inconsistent with the description given by Joshua.
36
For instance, there is no ravine or
valley to the west of Khirbet et-Tell that is deep enough to hide 5,000 troops (per Joshua 8:3,
8:12). According to the Joshua narrative, that many troops were hidden to the west of Ai,
between there and the town of Bethel (Joshua 8:9). To the north of the city there was a valley
where Joshua, and the troops with him, were plainly visible from the city of Ai (Joshua 8:14).
However, when the king of Ai went out of the city to fight with Joshua, he was unable to detect
the 5,000 troops lying in ambush to the west and behind the city (Joshua 8:14). But Khirbet et-
Tell meets none of the topographical requirements. All that can be said in favor of Khirbet et-Tell
as the traditional site for the battle of Ai is that it is within a day’s march of Jericho. Beyond this
the site fails to meet any of the requirements of the described topography. If the Joshua account is
true, Khirbet et-Tell cannot be the site of Ai.
If Khirbet et-Tell, is the site referred to by Joshua, then, the conquest of Ai must be a
fiction, at best. If it was deliberately invented for the purposes advocated by those who support
the “etiological legend” theory, the Joshua narrative of that battle is a deliberate deception, in
short, a lie. These conclusions necessarily follow from TNR-theory by exact logic. The fit is not
improved by supposing as Finkelstein and Na’aman do that the story was specially written to
account for Israel’s presence in Palestine to subsequent generations. If the story were an
etiological legend to explain the ruins at Khirbet et-Tell, then why did the creators of the legend
(fiction) not incorporate the obvious topography of that site into their narrative? If the purpose of
the story was to attribute the imposing ruins to a conquest by the armies of Joshua, as Finkelstein
and Na’aman say the author(s) of the book intended to do,
37
why not see to it that the story at
least conformed to the topography in its obvious details? Either the writers were stupid as well
dishonest, or the proposed explanation of Finkelstein and Na’aman must be false. Interestingly, if
Joshua’s account is true, then, the “etiological legend” theory must be false.
As if matters could be worse for would-be conservatives who have tried to reconcile the
Biblical narrative to the Kirbet et-Tell site, there is not a single synchronism which can be drawn
as a result of a comparison between Joshua’s narrative and the archaeological stratigraphy of
Khirbet et-Tell. Although Khirbet et-Tell is one of the most thoroughly excavated sites in Israel,
stratigraphic studies reveal that the city there was destroyed toward the end of Early Bronze Age
III (about 2400 BC; a millennium prior to Joshua’s time) and was abandoned until a small
36
The result is a very poor fit. It shows multiple inconsistencies with details provided in
Joshua’s account. See Peter Briggs’s definition of the“criterial predicate screen” in “Testing the
Factuality of the Conquest of Ai Narrative in the Book of Joshua,” paper presented to the Near
East Archaeological Society Meeting in Santa Clara, California, November 20, 1997.
37
Finkelstein and Na’aman, op cit. footnote 23.
Is the Bible a True Narrative Representation? Page 19
unwalled settlement was built there during Iron Age I. Therefore, if the narrative of Joshua 7:1-
8:29 is true, there must be another location fitting its topographical requirements.
TNR-theory, thus, provides a way of empirically showing the theory of Finkelstein and
Na’aman to be false: what is required is to find a site that conforms in all its details to the
narrative of Joshua 1:1-8:29. What is sought is a small fortified Canaanite city which came to an
abrupt fiery demise at the end of Late Bronze Age I (1400 BC). Additionally, the archaeological
record of that site must not contradict any detail of the conquest of Ai narrative in Joshua. In the
light of TNR-theory, these facts would not prove the truth of Joshua 7:1-8:29, but would enable
archaeologists to rule out all the competing alternatives that fail one or more consistency tests.
As J. Vernon McGee often stressed on the “Thru the Bible Radio” if the Bible is true, it
can no more be tested against our experience (or against archaeology) than we can test the dictum
that “McGee was human and therefore destined to die” against McGee’s death. Nor could anyone
test the statement that he or she must die by up and dying. Rather, if the Biblical narrative is true,
archaeological claims must be tested against what it says. As McGee correctly noted on numerous
occasions, the Bible is the basis against which our experience (archaeology included) must be
tested. Only if the Bible is false can it reasonably be tested against experience.
Besides, a site for Joshua’s Ai, other than Khirbet et-Tell, has been discovered.
38
The site,
Khirbet el-Maqatir, located approximately one kilometer WSW of Khirbet et-Tell, meets every
detail of the topographical requirements in Joshua 7:1-8:29. The archaeological record of Khirbet
el-Maqatir has also revealed Early, Middle and Late Bronze occupations. The Late Bronze I
occupation was fortified with a massive wall and rampart system, with secondary revetment
support preserved in at least one location. Sling stones strewn throughout, and shown to be from
the Late Bronze locus, show a military engagement on the site at the time of Joshua’s invasion.
Furthermore, evidence points to the destruction of the fortified structure toward the end of Late
Bronze I (ca. 1400 BC). The excavation is on-going, but initial indications are compelling for the
identification of Khirbet el-Maqatir as the Ai destroyed by Joshua.
2. The Finkelstein/Na’aman Emergence Scenario in Light of TNR-theory
The emergence theory of the rise of the Israelite nation not only denies that the Old
Testament narrative is factual, but goes further than the higher criticism by denying that kernels
of historical memory play any role in the Exodus and conquest narratives. While the higher
criticism did not deny that a substantial layering of embellishment and mythologizing could have
occurred, it did not reach the extreme of the emergence theory:
It is . . . evident that the emergence of Israel was not a unique, metahistorical episode in
the history of a chosen people, but rather part of a much broader historical process that
took place in the Ancient Near East, a process that brought about the destruction of the
ancien régime and the rise of a new order, of national, territorial states. . . . Combination
of archaeological and historical research demonstrates that the Biblical account of the
conquest and occupation of Canaan is entirely divorced from historical reality [emphasis
38
Briggs, op cit. footnote 36; also B. Wood, “The Search for Joshua’s Ai: The New
Excavations at Khirbet el-Maqatir.” Paper presented to the Near East Archaeological Society,
1997.
Is the Bible a True Narrative Representation? Page 20
ours].
39
With such a statement, the entire book of Joshua (and much of the Biblical history of Israel) is
relegated to the realm of fictional propaganda. In general, emergence theory suggests that
virtually all pre-monarchic narratives in the Old Testament are invented fictions. According to
that scenario, there were no Genesis patriarchs. There was no Israelite sojourn in Egypt. There
was no Moses. There was no exodus. The Israelites never wandered in the wilderness. There was
no Joshua and no conquest of Canaan. Instead, emergence theory holds that national (or
territorial) Israel coalesced from the autocthonous Canaanite population as various tribal groups
banded together to wrest control of the central hill country of Palestine, a lengthy process which
began sometime after the beginning of the Iron Age (ca. 1200 BC). Having carved out a niche for
themselves in the highlands, the unified pre-Israelites tribes began to evolve into a nation-like
entity during the 11th through the 9th centuries BC. To chronicle this “emergence” after the fact,
the account of Joshua and other narratives were invented by an imaginative priesthood.
From Joshua forward, according to emergence theory, the Old Testament is on firmer
historical ground; however, the historicity of the narratives about Saul, David, and Solomon is
regarded as questionable. Sometime during what is traditionally known as the Divided Kingdom,
Israelite authors began to justify their presence in their acquired lands by manufacturing a
“history” for themselves. Thus, they wrote contrived fictional narratives identifying themselves as
YHWH’s chosen people, inhabiting the territories which he had delivered into their hands. In
essence, the whole work was propaganda. It was a work of fiction intended to mislead subsequent
generations into accepting it as true. In the end, if Finkelstein and Na’aman are correct (judged in
the light of TNR-theory), the whole Biblical narrative of the Old Testament devolves to a
deliberate deception — a lie.
What Finkelstein and Na’aman have done in denying the historical authenticity of huge
sections of Old Testament narrative is to create an imaginary “history” themselves about the rise
of the Israelite nation in antiquity, i.e., a story that includes and yet relegates Joshua’s account to
the level of a fiction. And on the basis of what evidence do they create their alternative “history”?
They say that they have arrived at their conclusions based on what “archaeological and historical
research demonstrates”.
40
Nonetheless, without any hope of consistency, grounding their views
on the irrelevant remains of Khirbet et-Tell, they assert that their imagined “history” is both
plausible and true. But could their story, conceivably be a TNR?
In order to be considered a TNR, the emergence theory must be consistent with all other
TNRs. It immediately becomes obvious that if any narrative portion of the Old Testament, such
as Joshua 7:1-8:29, can be reasonably demonstrated to be a TNR, then the emergence theory
cannot be a TNR. But what other TNRs exist to confirm any single aspect of the emergence
theory? What “historical research” are Finkelstein and Na’aman referring to? Historiographical
inquiry, by its very nature, requires the existence of historical documents, preferably eyewitness
accounts or at least firsthand interview accounts, which can be analyzed by the application of
internal and external texts for historical authenticity. It also requires that the writer(s) of a given
39
Finkelstein and Na’aman op cit., footnote 32, especially pp. 12-13.
40
Ibid, p. 13.
Is the Bible a True Narrative Representation? Page 21
document must intend to tell the truth rather than to create a persuasive fiction. Moreover, the
Old Testament’s objective treatment of its characters, including the nation of Israel itself, is well
documented and stands in stark contrast to the written materials from other peoples in the ancient
Near East. But what historical documents, particularly the narrative kind, are consulted to support
the emergence theory? In fact, none.
The emergence theory is not developed from the examination and assessment of ancient
texts (Canaanite or otherwise) derived directly or indirectly from eyewitnesses of the events they
describe. The emergence theory is based solely upon the subjective interpretation of the
archaeological record which, in Palestine as nearly everywhere else, is virtually mute. The only
way that an archaeological record can “speak for itself” (as TNR-theory clearly shows) is if it
happens to hold decipherable written records that meet at least some of the requirements on
TNRs. The emergence theory assumes that, if there had been some kind of Israelite conquest of
Canaan, it would have occurred at the beginning of the Iron Age (ca. 1200 BC). But most
archaeologists realize that stratigraphic evidence for a late 13th/early 12th century conquest is
absent from the archaeological record of the Levant. A more literal Biblical reckoning for the
dating of the conquest is the end of Late Bronze Age I (ca. 1400 BC), a time frame which is
amenable, archaeologically, to such a scenario. The archaeological claims of the emergence
theory amount to something like saying, We have concluded from our examination of World War
I strata, that the Revolutionary War did not occur as traditionally presented.
However, in the absence of ancient extra-Biblical narrative texts which might qualify as
TNRs, the emergence theory makes no real case against the Biblical narrative. While it begins by
denying the authenticity of the Biblical narrative, only speculations and imagined sequences of
possible events are offered to support this unfounded denial. TNR-theory demands that the
emergence theory, if it is correct, must show agreement with (a) the relevant material facts; (b) be
linked by actual observers to those facts; and (c) be consistent with both of the foregoing
elements (i.e., the facts and the links provided by one or more observers of those facts). However,
the emergence theory has no written R derived from the occurrence of the events it purports to
describe. It is merely an imagined inference from mute archaeological data, which are
demonstably indeterminate. TNR-theory shows conclusively that to make such facts determinate,
what would be required is precisely what Finkelstein, Na’aman, and company claim is missing
namely, one or more TNRs such as the Biblical narrative purports to be.
With respect to the people, places and events of the emergence theory, the factual element
is so degenerate as to enable authors of that story to invent whatever scenarios their imaginations
can muster. And, as demonstrated by TNR logic, this kind of degeneracy is the necessary special
imperfection of every fiction.
41
When such fictions come into necessary conflict with relevant
data, they devolve to errors. When known errors are represented to be true, the Rs devolve to the
level of lies. According to TNR-theory, the emergence theory of Finkelstein and Na’aman cannot
rise above the first-level degeneracy of a narrative fiction. Further, if they have misinterpreted the
archaeological data so that their emergence theory in reality does not accord with the material
facts to which they have chosen to call attention, then their story is doubly degenerate, i.e., an
error. To conclusively refute the theory advocated by Finkelstein and Na’aman, it is only
necessary to show that it is inconsistent with material facts that are well-determined by and
41
See Oller and Collins cited in footnote 4.
Is the Bible a True Narrative Representation? Page 22
entirely consistent with the Biblical narrative. Even if the Khirbet-el Maqatir site did not continue
to bear critical scrutiny, the emergence theory is still doomed for want of any factual evidence in
its favor. In the meantime, if Khirbet el-Maqatir is the site of Joshua’s battle at Ai the emergence
theory is empirically false. Besides, the emergence theory does not accord with its own preferred
site for Joshua’s battle at Khirbet et-Tell; therefore, the emergence theory is false (by its own
inconsistency) independently of the discovery of Khirbet el-Maqatir.
3. Mark 8:22-26 in Light of TNR-theory
That the Markan passage describing the healing of the blind man at Bethsaida is presented
as a TNR cannot very well be questioned. Whether it is in fact a TNR or not is another matter.
The story is short and simple. But is it a TNR?
To begin with, it is not in conflict with the historical facts reported by any other Biblical
claim given as a TNR from the same time frame. Furthermore, it satisfies the requirements of the
necessary perfections relative to the material facts and the linking of the written R to those facts
by a person who had every opportunity to witness the event or to interview those who
experienced it firsthand.
One particular fact reported in Mark’s account is the name of the village of Bethsaida.
And it is precisely at this point that the narrative reveals its authenticity. If one understands the
history of the site, then the importance of the name, Bethsaida, comes into focus.
42
The site had
accommodated a series of fortified towns and unwalled villages since the Early Bronze Age. It
was the seat of the Geshurite kingdom in the Iron Age. During the very early Roman Period it
was a successful fishing village. Then shortly before AD 29, Herod Philip took an interest in
Bethsaida. He had been a patron of the elevation of Livia, wife of Augustus, into the imperial cult
along with her husband. As a result, she was given the title Augusta/Sebaste in addition to the
name Julia, by adoption into the Julian clan. Philip was then instrumental in refurbishing
Bethsaida and renaming the town Julias, or Bethsaida/Julia, in honor of Livia Julia, in September,
AD 30. From that point forward it was known as Bethsaida/Julia or simply as Julias. But nowhere
in the Gospels, and not in Mark 8, is the town ever referred to as Julias. In the first volume
produced by the Bethsaida Excavation Project, Strickert seizes the point:
The Gospels record events ending with the crucifixion of Jesus on April 7, 30, CE. If the
name Julia had appeared appended to the name Bethsaida in the Gospels, readers would
have recognized it as anachronistic. . . . and . . . . Mark correctly refers to Bethsaida as a
village.
43
Strickert’s inference is that the author of the Gospel of Mark, presumably writing long
after the events described, carefully avoids reference to the town as Bethsaida/Julia, or Julias, in
order to avoid an anachronism. But, what if the text were a TNR? Reference to the place as
42
Cf. R. Arav, and R. Freund (eds.), Bethsaida: A City by the North Shore of the Sea of
Galilee, Volume One (Kirksville, Missouri: Thomas Jefferson University Press, Bethsaida
Excavations Project, 1995).
43
Ibid, p. 184.
Is the Bible a True Narrative Representation? Page 23
“Bethsaida” would then be expected since that was the name known to the disciples who were
born there, which included at least Peter, Andrew, and Philip. The people of the region in that
day, before AD 30, all their lives had known the town only as Bethsaida. An eyewitness of the
event in question (Mark 8:22-26) would not be susceptible to anachronistic error. Either way, the
name Bethsaida is required if the account is a genuine TNR. And Bethsaida is the name found in
the text. How could later writers have avoided the natural error of using the later name of the
town?
Interestingly, the members of the Jesus Seminar, save one, unanimously declared the
Mark 8:22-26 passage to be absolutely inauthentic (they gave it a “black rating”). Yet one
member of the Jesus Seminar, J. Rousseau, argues in favor of its authenticity. He concludes:
[The] story of the blind man cured at Bethsaida by Jesus meets all the criteria I have
selected in order to detect its possible authenticity. . . . Thus, we may reasonably conclude
that Jesus most probably healed a blind man at Bethsaida by using saliva and imposing
his hands.
44
At any rate, the archaeological evidence concerning the name change at a later time produces no
inconsistency whatsoever and cannot be construed as compelling evidence against the claim that
the story is a TNR. By contrast, the alternative claim that the account is a fiction, created a
generation or more after the fact, cannot account for the use of the name “Bethsaida”.
4. The Jesus Seminar’s Foggy Portrait of Jesus in Light of TNR-theory
For the members of the Jesus Seminar, the nonhistorical character of the New Testament
Gospels is a foregone conclusion. If not, it should be, on account of the fact that the methods
applied by that illustrious group is absolutely certain to produce corrupt and fictional
interpretations of any TNR to which it may be applied. This is a lead-pipe cinch on account of
nothing but the form of the Rs the Jesus Seminar comes to by its method of examining the
scriptures. A sampling of Seminar “axioms” reveals that corruptions of any TNRs to which they
may be applied are absolutely guaranteed. They begin with a plain rejection of any admission of
the historical authenticity of the Gospels. This immediately puts the Jesus Seminar scholars in the
embarrassing position of being forced from the outset into disagreeing with any TNRs
whatsoever that the Bible contains (if it contains any). Moreover, if it is a TNR in its totality, the
Jesus Seminar sets itself at the start in opposition to the righteous Judge of all the world:
The evidence provided by the gospels is hearsay evidence. . . . The evangelists are all
reporting stories and sayings related to them by intermediate parties; none of them was an
ear or eyewitness of the words and events he records.
45
Sayings and narratives that reflect knowledge of events that took place after Jesus’s death
44
Ibid, p. 265.
45
Cf. Funk and Hoover, op cit. footnote 33, especially, p. 16.
Is the Bible a True Narrative Representation? Page 24
are the creation of the evangelists or the oral tradition before them.
46
Jesus makes no claim to be the Anointed, the Messiah.
47
Given such an approach, it is no wonder that only a handful of the sayings of Jesus, and
practically none of the underlying gospel narratives, are considered to be authentic according to
the Jesus Seminar criteria. One of the remarkable proposals of the Seminar is to separate the
sayings of Jesus from their narrative contexts. According to the logical proofs of TNR-theory and
the logical perfections that TNRs show in their structures, such a separation is as ridiculous as
hoping to improve the faithfulness of a photograph to one of the elements it contains by cutting
away all of the surrounding elements. As this process is repeated, eventually the photograph will
be utterly destroyed and none of its elements will be recognizable. It is relatively easy to
demonstrate in accord with the exact logic requirements of TNR-theory that it is impossible that a
valid R might be improved by any method that systematically demolishes its context of
appearance. Therefore, if any saying of Jesus were correctly recorded in a TNR context, all that
the Jesus Seminar approach could accomplish is to sever it from that context and make it less
comprehensible. Further, to list such sayings as general dicta independent of contexts would be to
demote them to the level of true generals at best and of indeterminate fictions at worst. In
particular what such a procedure guarantees is the reduction of coherent narratives to
unintelligible lists of “possible” utterances that must eventually also become unintelligible as the
process is carried toward its logical limits. The ultimate result is to destroy any intended sense or
determinate meanings of any Rs to which such a procedure might be applied.
The underlying premise of the Jesus Seminar is that any authentic sayings of Jesus that
there may be, and other sayings which were falsely attributed to him or which were intentionally
fabricated, were written into fictional narrative contexts by later Christian writers who had no
direct personal knowledge of Jesus or anything he might have said or done. Of course, scholarly
challenges to such thinking already abound and, indeed, the weight of historical evidence for the
consistency of the gospel accounts both with each other and with contemporary history is
substantial.
48
However, TNR-theory shows why the recommended method of discriminating
authentic from inauthentic sayings of Jesus is preposterous.
How could, for instance, any authentic sayings of Jesus survive apart from their narrative
contexts? Memory simply does not work in that way and the logic of TNRs shows why it cannot.
All TNRs in discourse necessarily arise (originally) from eye-witness accounts of events in the
matter/energy-space-time continuum. As such TNRs are dependent on the episodic structure of
the event sequence underlying them. This has been shown to be the sole source for the material
46
Ibid, p. 25.
47
Ibid, p. 32.
48
See N. Geisler, The Battle for the Resurrection (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 1989);
R. France, The Evidence for Jesus (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1986); William Lane
Craig, The Historical Argument for the Resurrection of Jesus (New York: Mellen, 1985).
Is the Bible a True Narrative Representation? Page 25
content of any R whatever.
49
Therefore, if any saying of Jesus is authentically attributed to him,
this attribution must depend ultimately on a TNR, i.e., an act of Jesus correctly perceived and
reported by one or more competent observers at a given place and time. Only if the saying is part
of the original fabric of the historical continuum, can it be determined to be such as it is, and can
it be understood and recalled. Only to the extent that it is correctly linked by one or more
competent observers to its material facts can it be truly represented in the first place. This much is
proved in TNR-theory.
Of course, it is true that Rs can themselves be represented in Rs. If this were not so, no
valid interpretations of any Rs could be produced. But, the approach of the Jesus Seminar to
determining the “sayings of Jesus” apart from the narrative contexts in which those sayings were
issued (perhaps repeatedly) is simply unworkable. If any given narrative of the New Testament
gospels were true, the method of the Jesus Seminar is a sure fire way of first confusing and then
ultimately demolishing, on subsequent applications of the same procedure, all of the relevant
data. This follows as a strict consequence of the assumption that a part of a context (e.g., a single
sentence) can be more certain than the larger context in which it occurs. All experience and the
strict logic of TNR-theory shows this assumption to be incorrect. On the contrary, we are
ordinarily far more apt to forget the exact words spoken in a given context than the meaning of
those words relative to the context itself.
In fact, the preservation of the surface-forms of oral discourse is vastly less common than
the preservation of the larger structure of a narrative. This is true in general, without a single
known exception, of all ancient written sources of historiographical value. From Herodotus to
Josephus to Tacitus, the genre of ancient historical writing is dominated by descriptive and
assertive narrative with very little direct quotation of exact surface-forms of spoken utterances. If
anything, the tendency of most ancient narrative literature is to minimize oral discourse or to
stylize it in the form of rhyme or other devices to make it recallable. Narrative structure, however,
is more likely to be preserved, while sayings are routinely eliminated or forgotten. Thus, it ought
to be expected that the narrative framework of the gospels would be preserved with relatively few
direct quotations (“sayings”) intact. The fact that the gospels preserve so much of what Jesus said
within the context of the events of his life is consistent with the claims of the gospel writers that
they worked either as firsthand witnesses, or interviewers of those witnesses. The gospels present
their purpose always to preserve the significant import of what Jesus did and said. And this is
exactly what is required of a TNR. Oddly, the Jesus Seminar seeks to improve on firsthand
accounts and reliable reports by a kind of second-guessing that would make liars out of the
author/redactors of the entire record.
One might then ask this question: if, before the gospels were compiled, collections of the
sayings of Jesus were circulating about, detached from any narrative framework, why is
manuscript evidence for such collections entirely lacking? Amidst the wealth of extant
manuscripts of the canonical gospels, why is there not even one shred of documentary evidence
in support of one of the alleged “sayings collections”? The resultant conclusions of the Jesus
Seminar would predict that such evidence will surely be forthcoming. TNR-theory would predict
that the sayings of Jesus would not likely be preserved without their foundational narrative
contexts. Which view does the manuscript evidence support? The number of ancient manuscripts
49
Cf. references to TNR-theory cited in footnote 4.
Is the Bible a True Narrative Representation? Page 26
attesting to the gospels in their full-blown narrative format is huge. The number of ancient
manuscripts attesting to the existence of collections of narrativeless sayings is zero. The
empirical evidence fits the prediction of TNR-theory and is entirely inconsistent with that of the
Jesus Seminar.
Conclusion
Given the rigorous logical proofs of TNR-theory in predicting and describing the structure
of all TNRs, it must be applicable to all narrative Rs that claim to be true. With the historical
authenticity of the Bible being rejected categorically by growing numbers of secular scholars, and
being questioned increasingly even by conservatives who have tried to compromise with the
attackers, TNR-theory holds out the possibility of testing the authenticity of all Rs that purport to
be true. It is as applicable to extra-Biblical writings as to the Bible and to theories of
interpretation. The application of TNR-theory shows that the Biblical narratives examined fully
meet the demands of TNR-theory. However, the emergence theory that generally denies the
historical accuracy and authenticity of Biblical narratives, and the method of the Jesus Seminar
applied to determining the “sayings of Jesus” are both shown to be untenable on account of
inherent inconsistencies, failure to comprehend relevant data, and because they fail the test of
simplicity at every turn. The only theory that is consistent with all of the facts presented, and the
simpler theory by a far cry, is to suppose that the Bible should be regarded as a TNR.
Unsurprisingly, this alternative is the only one consistent with the Bible’s claims for its own
authenticity.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any references for this publication.