A Possible Gospel And New Testament

More Fun Than Fundamentalism.

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Sunday, April 30, 2006

Gospel Preface 3: Inspiration and Scripture

Blog-Back to Benjamin, 5/1/06 addendum below

Consider the following New Testament quotations:

Jesus speaking: “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17:21

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?

Blog-Back: God-Nominees

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.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Gospel Preface 2: The Last Word?

“Blog-Back” addendum 4/30/06 below.

A Closed Book?

Scripture. The word of God. The age of divinely inspired writing. Last post, we noted that the idea of writing a gospel or testament today raises many questions. Here’s another: Is God’s word a closed book that ended 2000 years ago - or perhaps1500 years ago? For Muslims believe that Mohammed was the Seal of the Prophets. While they honor the Old Testament prophets and regard Jesus as a prophet, they believe that the Koran was divinely dictated to Mohammed by an angel some 500 years after Jesus’ death. For Muslims, Mohammed is the culmination of prophesy, and the Koran represents God’s last best word to humankind.

In religious matters, it seems that everyone has wanted to have the last word. I wonder if this is really such a religious tendency; or might it be a human kind of thing.

In reality, will any of us have the last word? Can we expect that two or four thousand years from now religion will look just like it does today? Is it true that from now until the end of time we should expect that God will never again speak to anyone directly?

The End of an Era? (Using Whose Calendar?)

Did prophesy really come to a sudden end some 1500 years ago, 2000 years ago, or earlier, according to whether you’re Muslim, Christian, or Jewish; or did cultural changes take place over the intervening millennia in how we view one another such that perceiving a person as a prophet is no longer possible? Is it possible that in our time we have not perceived great leaders like Martin Luther King and Gandhi as prophets because we have known too much about their lives to tell believable stories to each other that involve them with angels, resurrections, and voices from the sky?

Has God changed or have we changed? Remember that the West’s most important takers of divine dictation, prophets, and even that person whom Christians decided was God himself, were ordinary people of their day. Did God, 1500 years ago or earlier, abruptly decide to stop speaking to carpenter’s sons, shepherds and caravan attendants (Mohammed), and folks like those anonymous early Christian church members who wrote to tell others of the good news which they had come to believe had been revealed by God to fishermen? Did God decide a couple millennia ago that he would transmit all further major communications bureaucratically through church councils and official pronouncements by men who would rise in the ranks to occupy high positions in church hierarchies? Is this really how God behaves in the world; or is this really how people behave once they have power?

What is “God?” What is the nature of true spirit? How do we discern it? And what of the whole world of non-western religious traditions?

Blog-Back: Global Cooling of the Divine Ethersphere?

In the comments section, Kevin posits that there was indeed a kind of Age of Prophesy (my phrase) ending 1500 or so years ago (with Mohammed) in which God communicated to us more directly and powerfully than He/She has done ever since; providing us with what Kevin calls some “basic instructions” in the form of scripture. Such a view, it seems to me, is implicit to any scripture-based belief system. It appears that God addressed humankind much more directly way back when.

My position is that we live beneath the same broad light of day that existed 2000 years ago, and that the reason we no longer perceive gods, goddesses, or prophets walking the earth and taking divine dictation is because changes in society and world-view in the intervening millennia have made it impossible for most of us to view other persons in such terms. I'm not aware of any evidence for a global cooling of the divine ethersphere that could account for God failing to continue making fiery, unexpected appearances in small towns and cities of the Mideast every now and then. But there’s plenty of evidence that our world-view today differs from that of the Mideast a couple thousand years ago.

So I don’t think that God really started relating to us differently once Jesus and Mohammed had completed their work, bringing some sort of "Age of Revelation, Prophesy, and God-Come-To-Earth in Much More Concrete Terms than Just the Holy Spirit" to an end. I think we just lost the capacity to view other persons as prophets or as God him/herself – or, conversely, gained the perception that other people always turn out to be other people.

If I’m right about this, then nothing that a person could say or do today could convince us that he or she was God, or a prophet in some kind of special and direct communication with God. (Unless maybe we were members of a cult, which most of society would see as – well, a cult, with all the implications of that concept for being misled.)

If I’m wrong about this, then someone should be able to tell us how we’d be able to recognize a genuine prophet. This could be an important skill. In terms of Major Western Revelations on a history of religions time-scale, it really hasn’t been all that long since the last one. Maybe we’re about due.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Gospel Preface 1: The Gospel Truth

Thumbnail Sketch

Jesus was crucified and was buried. From here the essential facts are as follows:

Several decades passed. During this time, oral traditions about Jesus’ life and ministry were told and retold, and Christianity emerged as a small Jewish sect believing that Jesus had been resurrected and was the “Christ” or Savior. Over the second half of the first century, anonymous members of this earliest form of Christianity - men who had never met Jesus in the flesh and face to face – began to set these oral traditions down in writing. Some wrote gospels under the names of particular disciples because they regarded themselves as students and followers of these individuals – a common practice of the times.

It is inferred from the similarities among Mark, Matthew, and Luke, that among these early Christian writings was an additional piece, now lost to history, which the authors of these three gospels utilized. Their similarities have led scholars to refer to them as the “synoptic” gospels, meaning written from similar points of view. They are contrasted with John, the last gospel to have been written, and thought to have been composed late in the first century.

No – Really…

If you have doubts about this thumbnail sketch of the essential generalities concerning the composition of the New Testament, consult a religious scholar at any leading divinity school; for example, Harvard, Yale, or the University of Chicago. These are the findings of the best that religious scholarship has to offer and not a “secular” or “anti-Christian” point of view, as some Christians may wish to categorize it. In fact those who conduct scholarly research in this area are usually Christian ministers who have dedicated their lives to scholarship as well as ministry, and who personally believe in Jesus as the Christ.

The Spirit Moves Over the Hierarchies

To continue: The unknown authors of the gospels declared their words inspired by God. And as the tiny Jewish sect differentiated into a distinct church and grew in power and organization over the coming centuries, it would select and officially certify these and certain other early church writings, and not others, as being of divine origin, putting them together in one anthology which we know as The New Testament.

Over subsequent church history, the church, and eventually the churches, have each declared their understandings and interpretations of these selected writings to be themselves inspired by divine authority, establishing competing hierarchies of bureaucratic inspiration.

What is inspiration and how do we know it? Is it still possible to write a gospel? Should it be? How can we know what is or isn’t possible?

“With God, all things are possible.” Mark 4:27

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

About “A Possible Gospel”

IN BRIEF: (Details are in the first several posts following this one.)

1. Concept: A) This site is definitely not marked “For Christians Only.” B) Applying terms like “gospel” and “testament” to something written today raises questions for anyone, such as:

Q: Do you have a Messiah complex?
A: No – you’ll notice nobody’s writing a gospel about me.

Q: Do you have a prophet complex?
A: I can’t predict the future. But I’m pretty sure the earth is getting warmer.

Q: Do you think your writing is inspired?
A/Qs: What do you mean by “inspired?” Do you mean the way that scripture is inspired?

2. Content: Things we’ll take a look at include:

1. What do we mean by “God?” Whether or not you believe in God, what is it that people are trying to talk about with that word?

2. What is love?

3. What is faith?

4. What is scripture?

5. Are the Gospels and The New Testament uniformly inspired, or are some parts a lot better than others?

6. What is a “loaded question?”

Since #5 was a loaded question, yes, I’ll be trying to sort the wheat from the chaff. Some of you will want to lend a hand. Others will go, “Hey! Hey! It’s all wheat!”

Basically, the Possible Gospel half of this blog is like reading the gospels (along with the letters of Saint Paul) through the prism of my glasses. The truth may set us free, but it’s imprismed by all of us. The half titled, “A New Testament” is the text of an original book manuscript reduced to a series of blog posts.

Whatever your point of view on religious and spiritual matters happens to be, it’s welcome here. I do ask that people express themselves in words that are respectful of others’ outlooks and feelings.