Modern Battles Over the Bible

Starting this afternoon, I will be teaching a 9-week course titled "Modern Battles Over the Bible" for OLLI @ Furman, our Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. I taught a course last fall that was very fun, and I am excited about this one as well.

I have taught a version of this course during the May term twice, and it relates to my ongoing research about the theological roots and implications of biblical translation controversies.

Here is the syllabus, just in case anyone would like to see what we are doing. If you're in Greenville on Thursdays at 1:30, feel free to join us.

Modern Battles Over the Bible

OLLI Fall 2013

Dr. Bryan Bibb,
Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible
Furman University Dept. of Religion

Course description

This course will examine the current controversies that pit critical biblical scholarship against fundamentalist and evangelical theology. The purpose is to understand why people disagree about the interpretation of key biblical passages related to Creation, Gender, Sexuality, Jesus, and the End-times. Our focus will be on the hermeneutical, philosophical, and theological differences that lead to such varied interpretations of the Bible.


For each week, suggested biblical passages are listed. These are among the texts that will be discussed that week, and if you have a chance to read them beforehand, you may be able to follow the discussion better. In addition, I recommend the book Taking the Bible Seriously: Honest Differences About Biblical Interpretation, by J. Benton White (Westminster/John Knox, 1993) although it is not required, and I will not presume that anyone has read it.

I also recommend that participants search the internet for relevant articles, news items, and blog posts each week. I will usually start class by highlighting interesting or provocative online content related to that day's topic. These debates are live and ongoing, even though they have been raging for well over a century.

Week 1: Reading the Bible in the 21st Century

  • How did modern biblical scholarship develop, and what are its methods and goals?
  • What are the most important differences between those who became known as "fundamentalists" and "modernists?"
  • What are the continuing effects of that division in American Christianity?
  • What issues divide academic and religious or devotional reading of the Bible?

Week 2: Biblical Translation and Interpretation

Recommended: White, chapters 1-4

  • Why are there so many contemporary English versions of the Bible, and how are they different?
  • What are the different translation theories, and what is their theological significance?
  • What biblical passages are the most controversial, and why?
  • Why is this an important issue today?

Week 3: Creationism and Evolution

Reading: Genesis 1-11, Psalm 74, 104
Recommended: White, chapter 5-6

  • What are various options for interpreting Genesis 1-11 and other creation texts in the Bible?
  • What are the arguments for "old earth" and "young earth" creationism, and how are they different from scientific models of the universe?
  • Why is this an important issue today?

Week 4: Gender Issues

Reading: Genesis 3, 34, 38; Judges 19; Ezekiel 23; Proverbs 8; Romans 16; 1 Timothy 2

  • What are the patriarchal roots of the biblical perspective on women?
  • What are the differences between "egalitarian" and "complementarian" arguments about the relationship between men and women?
  • What are the arguments for and against women in church leadership?
  • Why is this an important issue today?

Week 5: Sexuality

Reading: Genesis 19; Leviticus 18, 20; Romans 1; 1 Corinthians 6

  • What are the historical issues related to the debate over homosexuality?
  • What are the arguments for and against same-sex relationships in the Bible?
  • What are the larger issues with regard to healthy and unhealthy sexuality in the Bible?
  • Why is this an important issue today?

Week 6: Jesus of Nazareth

Reading: The Gospel of Mark
Recommended: White, chapter 10-11

  • What are the current debates about the "historical Jesus?"
  • What evidence is there that Jesus even existed? That he was the Messiah? That he was crucified and resurrected?
  • What are the historical, literary, and theological relationships among the 4 gospels? How do people address apparent inconsistencies or contradictions in the gospel accounts?
  • What kind of social, political, and religious figure was Jesus of Nazareth?
  • Why is this an important issue today?

Week 7: Christ and Christology

Reading: The Gospel of John

  • When did Jesus come to be seen as "fully God, fully man?"
  • What are the historical roots for different models of justification through Christ?
  • What is the relative importance of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection to Christian theology?
  • Why is this an important issue today?

Week 8: Apocalypticism and the End-times

Reading: Daniel 7-12; Revelation (skim)
Recommended: White, chapters 7-8

  • What are the historical roots of biblical prophetic and apocalyptic traditions?
  • What are different contemporary approaches to books like Daniel and Revelation?
  • What are the theological implications for different Christian understandings of the world's future and destiny?
  • Why is this an important issue today?

Week 9: Conclusions

Recommended: White, chapters 9, 12

  • Will the divisions among fundamentalist, conservative, evangelical, moderate, mainline, progressive, and liberal Christians intensify in the future?
  • How can biblical literacy and careful biblical interpretation be promoted in the church and in society?
  • What questions do you have?