Gospel Preface 3: Inspiration and Scripture
Blog-Back to Benjamin, 5/1/06 addendum below
Consider the following New Testament quotations:
Jesus speaking: “The
Jesus speaking: “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.” Luke 21:25-27
“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women, knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are slaves or free.” Eph 6:5-8
“For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions. (Italics mine.)” Luke 16: 28-33
The first pair of quotations is contradictory. The second indicates an aspect of culture in Jesus’ time and place that almost anyone living today would emphatically reject. The term, “non-sequitur” (or, “Huh – How’s that again??”) applies to the third.
Are all writings which the church has declared to be scripture equally inspired? In what sense are they inspired? Do any verses lack inspiration?
Benjamin comments: “Its funny - to believe in God in terms of the way the writers of the Gospel believed in God would be regarded as mad nowadays; as schizophrenia.”
But Benjamin’s comment isn’t mad. Consider:
Even at a time and place where supernatural phenomena were given broader and readier credence than they are today, someone claiming identity with God in a special and unique way – “I am literally God, in person, in my own flesh and blood”– would have gone well beyond the supernatural norms of the day.
Jesus was obviously an impressive person. Whatever we may or may not believe about him, we know that after he died a bunch of people decided he was God, and set this belief down in writing several decades later. This doesn’t happen to many of us.
But it did happen to the Buddha. Or almost. (I always forget his real name. Buddha, like Christ is a title, but it means “the awakened one.”) Unlike Jesus, the Buddha lived into old age, and he expressly rejected a movement among some of his followers to divinize him.
During the Middle Ages, we have the phenomenon of Christian mystics who were burned alive and/or under threat of this for speaking in terms that suggested they’d experienced unity with God. In retrospect, it’s pretty obvious that they were speaking from out of their experiences of contemplative prayer (the same process, leading to the same sort of wordless experience, as in Buddhist meditation and the contemplative traditions of other world religions - except Buddhists don’t use the words God or Christ to talk about it afterward).
Assuming Jesus was a deeply sane person, I think this is a fair question: Did Jesus himself believe that he was one with God not in the sense that other deeply sane persons have experienced a profound state of unity with the more-than-self-alone, but in a some special way in which God was totally involved in his body, blood, and personality?
Or is it more likely that followers with no first-hand spiritual experiences themselves of the kind that the great Christian mystics and that the Buddha described, and which he encouraged others to seek, didn’t have ears to hear what Jesus was really saying in terms of becoming one with the Father and losing our lives to find them?
Entirely speculative to think so; but so is practically anything regarding the historical Jesus as distinct from how he was interpreted by the only people who wrote about him.