January 18, 2012

Nicholas Perrin, on Biblical Chronology

Please enjoy this abridged excerpt from four wonderful pages I only wish I had written. May their tribe increase mightily.
In order for us to make sense of ourselves, we need to make some sense of history. And history, we find out soon enough, makes absolutely no sense apart from some awareness of chronology, sequence, and causality. Without the ability to place figures and events on a kind of a map, the study of history soon degenerates into an insipid exercise of rehearsing assorted and seemingly meaningless facts. 
But then why is it that when it comes to "sacred events" (call it the "history of Israel" or the "human history of the kingdom of God"), it is almost a mark of piety not to know about precise dates and times? Why is it considered in so many circles almost a matter of true spirituality not only not to know the historical facts but also not to care? 
It is an odd state of affairs but it is a dynamic which I think can hardly be denied in the contemporary church. It is a dynamic in which we tacitly agree on the necessity and value of pinning down "real history" with real dates, but somehow make a virtue of keeping biblical history vague, fuzzy and hopelessly muddled in our heads.
The problem is that even though we grow up intellectually in how we think about things like law and economics and human psychology, we somehow cordon off the Bible from rigorous intellectual handling so that it in fact never grows up along with us. It remains more the stuff of storybook than real history.
God made history and history matters. Apart from the conviction that our faith is a historical faith, we are left only to cast about. But, when we are fully persuaded that sacred history meshes with the history in which we live and move and have our being, that is when biblical faith becomes a real possibility.

You have just read a succinctly abridged version of Nicholas Perrin's amazing and wonderful Foreword to Andrew E. Steinmann's recent book, From Abraham to Paul: A Biblical Chronology. All 309 words, above, are taken directly from Perrin's amazing foreword. Nothing was rearranged. Excerpts were spliced. It's certainly a lot to quote, and I didn't ask permission, so you should all rush out and buy the book, right now!

Full disclosure: I have not yet read Steinmann's work other than his timeline, with which I will unsurprisingly take certain issues. So goes discourse in this discipline, generally for the worse and not better! However, when the subject matter has to be justified so vigorously, is it any wonder that a consensus body of work has yet to be properly developed?

My greatest hope is that, perhaps given a few more uplifting messages like this one from Nick Perrin, a small field of diligent scholars might start devoting serious time to Biblical Chronology (or at least New Testament Chronology for starters!) After some decades of work, then, a few standard chronologies should emerge, and continue to be examined. One of those standard works will be Heroman's Chronology, naturally!

But in all deepest sincerity, arguing over this stuff, with proper scholarly rigor, will be light years better than leaving it "fuzzy and vague". And we'll get there before long, I pray.

Thank you, Nick Perrin, for lighting a torch on the path.

Also, H/T to Ched, from last October.

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