The Bible: A Way of Thinking

“The Bible, like the philosophy of Aristotle, for example, contains more than a sum of doctrines; it represents *a way of thinking*, a specific context in which general concepts possess a particular significance, a standard of evaluation, a form of orientation; not only a mental fabric but also a certain disposition or manner of interweaving and interrelating intuitions and perceptions, a unique loom of thoughts.”

“There is, for example, a basic difference and meaning, intention and theme between a scientific theory of the origin of the universe and what the first chapters of the Book of Genesis are trying to convey. The Book of Genesis does not intend to explain anything; the mystery of the world’s coming into being is in no way made more intelligible by a statement such as At the beginning God created heaven and earth. The Bible and science do not deal with the same problem. Scientific theory inquires: What is the cause of the universe? It thinks in the category of causality, and causality conceives of the relationship between a cause and an effect as parts of a continuous process. as changing parts of an unchanging whole. The Bible, on the other hand, conceives of the relationship of the Creator and the universe as a relationship between two essentially different and incomparable entities, and regards creation itself as an event rather than a process. Creation, then, is an idea that transcends causality; it tells us how it comes that there is causality at all. Rather than explaining the world in categories borrowed from nature, it alludes to what made nature possible, namely, an act of the freedom of God.

The Bible points to a way of understanding the world from the point of view of God. It does not deal with being as being but with being as creation. Its concern is not with ontology or metaphysics but with history and meta-history; its concern is with time rather than with space.

Science proceeds by way of equations; the Bible refers to the unique and unprecedented. The end of science is to explore the facts and processes of nature; the end of religion is to understand nature in relation to the will of God. The intention of scientific thinking is to answer man’s questions and to satisfy his need for knowledge. The ultimate intention in religious thinking is to answer a question which is not man’s, and to satisfy God’s need for man.

Philosophy is an attempt to find out the essences of things, the principles of being; Biblical religion is an attempt to teach about the Creator of all things and the knowledge of His will. The Bible does not intend to teach us principles of creation or redemption. It came to teach us that God is alive, the He is the Creator and Redeemer, Teacher and Lawgiver. The concern of philosophy is to analyze or to explain, the concern of religion is to purify and to sanctify. Religion is rooted in a particular tradition or a personal insight; classical philosophy claims to have its roots in universal premises.

Speculation starts with concepts, Biblical religion starts with events. The life of religion is given not in the mental preservation of ideas but in events and insights, in something that can happen in time.”

–Abraham Joshua Heschel from God in Search of Man: a Philosophy of Judaism.

Heschel states here something that isn’t exactly new to me, the distinction between scientific or philosophic ways of thinking and a Biblical way of thinking; but he states it with a clarity and precision that illuminates and expands on what I already knew.

It’s very interesting reading about a philosophy of religion from a Jewish perspective. It is both intimately familiar, being rooted in a Biblical worldview, and yet sometimes a little strange. It intersects with my Catholic studies of philosophy and theology and yet starts and ends at a slightly different place and covers somewhat different ground.

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