A Possible Gospel And New Testament

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Sunday, May 07, 2006

Gospel, Premise 2: The Necessity of Discernment

Jesus said: “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:5-8

Jesus, speaking to the Pharisees who quote scriptural laws against working on the Sabbath: “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?” Luke 6:9.

Jesus himself does not seem to have perceived the Bible as a legal document, but a text to be read discerningly.

Jesus, teaching in the temple: “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” John 7:24

Similarly: “Pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away.” Luke 8:18

Not all Bible verses are equally inspired. Those of us from scripture-based traditions cannot avoid the responsibility of bringing discernment to God’s Word as we encounter it both inside and outside the scriptural texts. Jesus asks us to bring our own hearts, minds, and experiences of life to the table in order to hear the Word rightly.

Before we think of judging the perspectives of others, we who come from scripture-based traditions might first want to reflect on how we pick our verses: what we emphasize, and what we decide to minimize or overlook.

43 Comments:

At 8:03 PM, Blogger kevin said...

"reflect on how we pick our verses: what we emphasize, and what we decide to minimize or overlook."

excellant. I think those who oppose specific faiths should also ask themselves these same questions. The irreligious all to easily search out the contenious to proove points against religion... and vice a versa...

I think this aspect of intenionally or perhaps unconsciously "mis"-emphasizing certain verses points to a formal problem of literalism.

For example, it is easy to pull the verse from the Quran on the punishment of cutting a thief's hand as proof for Islam's "cultural backwardness"

The problem is when a fixation like this occurs a door closes to a greater understanding - it posits an assumption that there is only one way of knowing God's revelations. God is infinite, yes we will say with lip service - but we fail to see how this effects our perceptions. When Jesus, G-d, Allah, or by whatever Name we call Him, "He" asks us to consider Mercy - How often do we really do that?“Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”

That said, I am not sure I fully agree with this:"Not all Bible verses are equally inspired" But, nor am I sure if agreement matters here, necessarily...

 
At 9:59 PM, Blogger Keshi said...

judging someone is a human nature...but yeah religion helps to descipline that...but we cant get rid of the habit altogether.

Keshi.

 
At 1:34 AM, Blogger crystal said...

Ignatius of Loyola has an interesting method of discernment (of the spirits). The guy who was once my spiritual directors said that scripturial passages should be compared to one's religious experience, and that if there's an inconsistancy, the experience should prevail.

 
At 6:07 AM, Blogger Preachrboy said...

Crystal,

Then why bother reading the scriptures at all?

Darius,

"Not all Bible verses are equally inspired". You simply make this pronouncement. On what basis? You must know this is not what Scripture says about itself....

 
At 7:01 AM, Blogger Darius said...

KEVIN: And I'd just add that nobody really does take scripture literally. As Preachrboy pointed out in a comment to another post, Jesus often spoke in exaggerated terms or hyperbole to make a point. So, for example, Christians hardly ever pluck out their eyes when they look at something they shouldn't (or when their eyes "offend" them.)

KEVIN and PREACHRBOY: Re. the idea that all verses aren't equally inspired, you could see May 3 and April 30 posts, including my responses to Preachrboy's two April 30 commments. In later posts I'll give additional support for this idea. I read the Quran a long time ago, and never did read the whole of the Old Testament, but I bet equivalents of the sort of less-than-inspired New Testament verses that I have and will be pointing to could be found.

KESHI: For me the key is to distinguish between judging persons - don't feel like I have enough insight into the depths of anyone else's nature and how it was formed to do so - and judging actions. Even then, like you say, to be honest, I do sometimes judge others and then have to give myself a dope-slap not to, but still feel kind of judgmental sometimes...

CRYSTAL: To me, that's what it is to "have ears to hear." Sometimes the passage resonates with experience if we alter our perspective on it - for example, the parables can be understood in different ways. Once in a while, a passage just doesn't resonate or strike us as inspired at all - at least that's how it is for me.

(Preachrboy, can't answer for Crystal, but I'd say people read scripture as a source of inspiration - in many lives, including mine, a major one. Don't think it's necessary to presume that every single sentence and passage is on-target in order to recognize that scripture is a major source of inspiration.)

 
At 7:26 AM, Blogger rhein said...

the power of word.

 
At 8:18 AM, Blogger Homo Escapeons said...

Spend an hour or two at Raving Atheist (if you care to argue in latin) about picking verses that suit your needs. Yikes!
As a theistic agnostic I humbly fumble about on the ledge of the leaning tower of cyber-Babble(Babel). That suits me just fine, even though my fingertips are starting to turn white.
I appreciate your sincerity and the honesty of this untraditional christianity angle. It is a wonderful respite from the no holds barred fray that is happening elsewhere in cyberville.
Thanks for the words of encouragement and the calm, cool and collected efforts.
I'm listening and enjoying your journey....but I honestly don't expect a final verdict before I exit stage left....

 
At 10:33 AM, Blogger crystal said...

Peachboy -

you asked why read scripture at all, given what I wrote.

That's a good question. And I don't have a good answer, because I'm confused about it myself. It seems like there are at least a couple of ways to know Jesus/God ... reading the scriptures is one way, but it can't be the only way. It would be like trying to have a relationship with someone through reading a book about them. ... I think religious experience is another way to get to know God.

Maybe the two things work together - religious experience helps you tell which passages seem to give the correct info about God, and scripture helps you know when your experience is trustworthy?

 
At 10:56 AM, Blogger Yves said...

Excellent discussion. I followed a guru in the seventies and after. A popular text we used to quote was from St Matthews Gospel: "By their fruits ye shall know them." It took years of my life to determine that the fruits of this guru were vapid and rotten. I realised that people do not read scriptural texts with critical attention to see whether good advice is given. When I re-read St Matthew these days I see some really terrible advice being given.

 
At 11:52 AM, Anonymous Rachel said...

Not all Bible verses are equally inspired

If all Bible verses are equally inspired, then the question one might ask is: Were all those who wrote down the verses, transcribed, translated and edited them equally inspired? I think the answer would have to be "no" since some verses contradict each other.

I have been reading Bart Erhman's chapter 'Christianity Turned on Its Head' in "The Gospel of Judas." He points out various discrepancies in the depiction of Judas. For example, according to Matthew 27:5, Judas "went away and hanged himself" after he betrayed Jesus. But according to Acts 1:18, Judas bought a field "and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out."

In both cases Judas ends up dead, so most would say how he died isn't that important. Ehrman points out, however:

There were lots of gospels. . . . All of these gospels (and epistles, apocalypses, etc.) were connected with apostles, they all claimed to represent the true teachings of Jesus, and they all were revered--by one Christian group or another--as sacred scripture. Given the enormous debates that were being waged over the proper interpretation of the religion, how were people to know which books to accept?" (116-17)

The people who made that decision were not the original writers of those texts. They, like us, were readers of what the authors thought of as inspired scripture. In other words, the Bible as we know it was given form by subsequent "discerning" readers along the way.

If discernment was used in editing and translating the Bible, shouldn't we also use discernment when reading it now? I think so, but that's just me.

 
At 12:04 PM, Anonymous Rachel said...

Before we think of judging the perspectives of others, we who come from scripture-based traditions might first want to reflect on how we pick our verses: what we emphasize, and what we decide to minimize or overlook.

Evangelical minister Jim Wallis, author of "God's Politics," has some interesting things to say about this. He is very concerned about poverty and making the budget a moral issue. In an interview he said:

"Jesus didn’t speak at all about homosexuality. There are about 12 verses in the Bible that touch on that question. Most of them are very contextual. There are thousands of verses on poverty. I don’t hear a lot of that conversation."

http://www.motherjones.com/news/qa/2005/03/gods_politics_jim_wallis.html

 
At 12:08 PM, Anonymous Rachel said...

I'm having trouble getting links to print out. Any advice on how to do it correctly?

 
At 12:59 PM, Blogger Andy said...

Amen. The Bible is irreconcilably contradictory in myriad places; anyone who claims they believe in the literal, inerrant "Word of God" either really hasn't bothered to read it or objectively consider what they've read, or they're just plain disingenuous. Any serious Bible-based discussion must include acknowledgment that all positions are selectively emphatic. That's not a bad thing -- really great arguments can be made for one position or another. The only indefensible stance is a belief in the "literal" Bible.

 
At 1:00 PM, Blogger Darius said...

HOMOESCAPEONS: Very glad you're willing to take part, and please don't exit prematurely - if there is a "final verdict," you won't be hearing it from me. It's a process.

Yeah, I've visited Raving Atheist - good blog. I think though, that atheists and theist alike are at their best when they don't rave. (Not that they always or even usually rant and rave at RA, but sometimes.) And that there's notning to be afraid of re. talking to people with other perspectives - once in a while, something to be gained.

HEY... PREACHRBOY... Crystal didn't mean to call you "Peachboy," at least I don't think so, so please go ahead and read the rest of her comment. Geesh, Crystal...

YVES, thanks for stopping by. Critical attention, critical thought - critical heart and soul... I think that's what holds potential to retain the Word - to conserve it - over the long run.

It isn't supposed to be a dead language. To me, a tradition is neither something that is changed lightly; nor something that is immutable. An immutable tradition ends up dead. The gods and goddesses of ancient Greek and Rome had great buildings, and priests and priestesses associated with them, but these are not the things that keep a tradition alive.

RACHEL, your first comment: Very discerning...

Your second: Amen

Your third: Do you mean you can't click onto the links from this comments page? Same here, don't know why - don't know much about technology, for that matter.

If you copy and paste the link into the address bar, that should work. Or onto a Word doc and click on from there...

 
At 1:02 PM, Blogger Darius said...

HI ANDY, guess you posted as I was typing my comment and we said "amen" at the same time.

"Selectively emphatic" - nice, succinct way to put that...

 
At 3:11 PM, Blogger Rob said...

Personally, and perhaps I am wrong, I try not to take scriptures too literally....for me they are just a rough guide.
I find it best to follow my inner voice.

 
At 7:22 PM, Blogger Preachrboy said...

The Bible does not contain "myriad contradictions". If something doesn't seem right, then the problem is with our understanding, not the text.

This is what I keep saying, Darius, about judging the text rather than being judged by it.

A Lutheran Law/Gospel understanding of the scriptures also resolves many apparent contradictions - as the Bible speaks in both these voices, which must always be held in tension.

As to inspiration, I think we are working with some different definitions of the term. I like the phrases "God-breathed", or "Spirit given".

The words belong to the one who gives them, and who does not lie or err. Sometimes he speaks literally, sometimes figuratively, sometimes poetically. Understanding the genre is important.

 
At 7:25 PM, Blogger crystal said...

EEK! I'm sorry :-). Didn't mean to mess up your name, Preacherboy. This is probably where I should meantion that I'm visually impaired and have a hard time reading print, even though I enlarge it on the computer. Please forgive.

 
At 7:26 PM, Blogger Preachrboy said...

No offense taken, Crystal. I've been called much worse.

 
At 8:48 PM, Blogger kathy said...

I'm with rob on this too. Again i find myself with nothing to add here...except for a cute quote i found.

"It is said that from Mount Sinai God gave, amid thunderings and lightnings, ten commandments for the guidance of mankind; and yet among them is not found Thou shalt believe The Bible."
-Robert Green Ingersoll

 
At 9:01 PM, Blogger Keshi said...

:)

Keshi.

 
At 9:30 AM, Blogger Darius said...

CRYSTAL: But that was sort of fun though, at least for me, as “moderator…”

ROB, KATHY, and also KESHI (if I may infer from your smiley face) have one point of view on how to understand the Bible.

PREACHRBOY has a different understanding. I’ll try to summarize here under the heading,

Can Opener Directions vs. the Bible

First, Preachrboy, thanks for a good concise rendering of your point of view, especially on a blog where you’re outnumbered. I do post comments to other conservative blogs as well, but most don't comment back to my blog or quit after one or two responses.

Preachrboy states his premise in this sentence: “If something doesn’t seem right {with the Bible}, then the problem is with our understanding, not the text.” In a word, I think PB is stating his belief that the Bible is inerrant, any and all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding.

If I understand correctly, the reason the Bible is inerrant, from PB’s perspective, is that he believes it is composed of God’s words – the actual language not of human beings, but a perfect and all-knowing Deity. God said it, so it can’t be wrong. (Anybody please explain this better if I didn’t do a good job. The idea of inerrancy seems erroneous to me, so I may be a poor explicator.)

That would mean that our job, in reading the text, is to explain - someone with a different view might say, “explain away” - the inaccuracies which we presume are only apparent and not real.

PB states: “This is what I keep saying, Darius, about {how I think that you are} judging the text rather than being judged by it.”

I think that no one here is judging the text, except in positive terms. However, we have different ideas of how the Bible is to interpreted. I’m certain that even within, say, a Bible study group where everyone is of the same denomination and shares the same basic understanding of the Bible’s nature, different interpretations would sometimes arise over how particular passages were to be understood.

Texts don’t judge our interpretations of them. Other people sometimes do. But I’d say that critiquing one another’s interpretations is more constructive than judging them.

Preachrboy also suggests that we are working with different ideas of what inspiration is. I agree, and have given some thoughts on what inspiration is and isn’t, mainly in the May 3 post.

In pointing to the fact that the Bible contains different kinds of writings – literal, figurative, poetic, to which I’d add theological – I believe PB is indicating that although he believes the Bible is inerrant he is not a fundamentalist in the sense of taking every word literally.

To me there is nevertheless something rather literal-minded in understanding the text of the Bible to consist of the actual language of God – words that God actually and literally chose and articulated. God spoke Aramaic?

Since I agree with PB that the Bible is a particularly complex text, composed of different genres, my own view is that how I understand the Bible is how I understand the Bible: it’s my interpretation. And I believe that how someone else understands it, including the understanding of anyone who thinks the Bible is inerrant, is likewise their interpretation.

The Bible isn’t much like the directions on my new can opener, which is a simple text, and truly judges each of us as much as any text can: place the wrong interpretation on my can opener directions, and you're not getting string beans for supper.

Finally, I’d point out that understanding the Bible as inerrant is itself an interpretation - or, if that word’s not quite right, a point of view - on the nature of the text. Clearly it is not a necessary one since there is by no means universal agreement about the Bible’s inerrancy among persons of intelligence and good will, including among people who understand themselves as Christians.

 
At 1:03 PM, Blogger Dale said...

I just want to say that I'm impressed by Preachrboy's courage and temper. It's not easy to speak up in a group of people to espouse a point of view you know they disagree with, and it's even harder to do it without losing your temper, when it's something you think is desperately important.

And I'm impressed by your welcome and serious answer, Darius. You guys need to watch out; this is the sort of thing that could give Christians a good name :-)

 
At 2:37 PM, Blogger Preachrboy said...

Yes,

It does feel a little like stepping into a Lion's den. I can understand why you don't get many traditional Christians to respond to this kind of discussion. For one, it tends to be fruitless (in terms of changing minds), for two, it can be very time-consuming, and for three (therefore) it can be very frustrating.

Our basic assumptions are so at odds that it makes meaningful exchanges difficult. I just hope I can present a case that not everyone who considers the Bible to be the Word of God is a "bible-thumping whackjob" or some kind of close-minded fundamentalist bumpkin.

 
At 3:53 PM, Blogger Darius said...

DALE and PREACHRBOY:

I agree with everything both of you say.

Dale, to me also, there's something encouraging per se about getting people with very different points of view to speak with mutual respect. Conversely, there's something disturbing to me about religion being a force for division in the world in terms of adding to ill-will.

Preachrboy makes a good point though, that for people who have their minds pretty well made up on the essentials of their outlook, the conversations can be extended and fruitless in other respects (although I wonder if they might not give food for thought to people who haven't quite made up their minds).

Preacherboy: As far as I'm concerned, even without tapping into each other's blogs regularly, I'd like for us to each feel free to touch bases for commentary regarding any particular issue or question that may come up when we want to see what the "other side's" take on it might be...

 
At 6:35 PM, Anonymous Marissa said...

Though I don't have much to comment on regarding the present topic, I really have enjoyed reading the back and forth going on in the comments here. I find it very interesting to know how people of different perspectives/beliefs/opinions came to those different conclusions. :)

 
At 1:37 AM, Blogger crystal said...

In speaking of what scriptural passages are most authentic, it's interesting to see what the Jesus seminar guys have had to say about that with their color coded version of the gospels.

 
At 8:53 AM, Blogger Preachrboy said...

If by interesting, you mean "interesting how wrong an approach to the text can be", then yes, I would agree.

Darius,

I don't know how long our discussion is going to go before running out of steam, but you are surely welcome to touch base with me whenever. I have appreciated our discussion, even it it hasn't changed anyone's mind. Another benefit of this sort of exchange is that it sharpens one's own sword.

I had a similar exchange with a hardened atheist several years ago, in which we finally reached an impasse. However, I found I clarified my own position by having to set it out for him. What's interesting is that much of what you and I disagree about seems to be rehashing the same differences I had with him.

 
At 10:16 AM, Blogger Darius said...

MARISSA: Thanks for reading.

CRYSTAL: Hadn't heard of this, but to me it highlights how everyone uses a gospel that’s at least figuratively color-coded. As Andy's comment puts it, we're all "selectively emphatic." We give emphasis to those aspects of the text that ring most true to us.

PREACHRBOY: That’s true – another effect of communication among persons of different viewpoints can be a better understanding of our own positions.

To me the “hardening” of your atheist is unfortunate – I assume you mean that he lacked any real interest in trying to put himself in your place to hear and understand your point of view as you see it. If both parties feel that way, then indeed, “sharpening your sword” may be the only possible benefit.

Given my own interest in understanding your position, the great conviction you express in your opening sentence, apparently addressed to Marissa, interests me very much. It expresses immense assurance on your part about your approach to the Bible.

In a prior comment you explained that you don’t interpret the Bible literally, pointing out that it clearly uses language in a number of different ways – for example, hyperbolically and metaphorically – to which I agreed, and added, “theologically.”

Still, I then said, and will here repeat, that I think there is nevertheless something literal in the view, if this is indeed your view, that the Bible consists of words actually selected and articulated by an apparently Aramaic-speaking God.

If this is your view, I’d like to understand the source of your confidence. If you consider yourself to know that you are correct, then how do you know? If you strongly believe that you are correct, what is the basis for this strong belief?

 
At 11:22 AM, Anonymous Rachel said...

I have appreciated our discussion, even it it hasn't changed anyone's mind. Another benefit of this sort of exchange is that it sharpens one's own sword.

If one's purpose in engaging in a dialogue like this is to change another person's mind, then I can see how the conversation might feel like an exercise in futility. For me the purpose is to discover what others believe, to clarify my own beliefs for myself through the act of writing and hoepfully to learn something new along the way.

Words are like seeds. Who knows what will grow from them someday when conditions are right? It may feel as if our words are falling on deaf ears--or fallow fields, to extend the metaphor--but, in truth, we don't know what
the weather will be in some else's heart. Nor do we know what crop will spring up from a single mustard seed.

I've been thinking about some of the apparent contradictions in the Bible and wonder if they might be attributed to the needs of the specific audiences being addressed? In other spiritual traditions, it's pretty common for teachers to give different students different, often seemingly contradictory, advice. It's not that the teachings are random or changing, but that the students have varying understanding and tendencies. Jack Kornfield describes one of his teachers as seeing his main task as keeping his students on "the path." One he might tell to lean to the left, another to the right, and a third to stay steady.

I can imagine a certain type of person (one who is conservatively-minded and highly respectful of traditional authority figures) that Jesus might tell, hyperbolically: hate your parents. When missionaries went into Africa, e.g, to teach the Bible, they were asking people there to make a radical departure from their culture and tradition and covert to Christianity. Such a departure could be seen as "hating" your parents.

 
At 11:41 AM, Anonymous Rachel said...

If some verses in the Bible were meant for certain people and not for others (or for some people at certain times in their lives), then it would be easier to understand why the Gospel of Thomas, let's say, was found to be noncanonical. It contains contradictions, both within itself and with other scripture, which would be hard to understand/accept if the messages contained in the text weren't meant for you, or if the clergy edtiting the New Testament assumed the message of the Gospels should be more consistent than not.

 
At 2:11 PM, Blogger Preachrboy said...

"Still, I then said, and will here repeat, that I think there is nevertheless something literal in the view, if this is indeed your view, that the Bible consists of words actually selected and articulated by an apparently Aramaic-speaking God."

No, but that is what some Jews believe about the Tanak, that God speaks Hebrew. Likewise, the Koran, which sees Arabic as THE language of Allah.

The traditional, historic, understanding of inspiration understands that God, by his Spirit, gave his Word through different men, in different times, with different levels of education, and different styles (and in Hebrew AND Aramaic AND Greek), and using different literary forms - and that in the sum of this divine revelation we have God's Word to us, his people.

Most of us who respect the text as God's Word do not subscribe to the "dictation theory" you described above.

What do you mean, "theologically"? Can you give an example?

Rachel,

I think you are not far off on a possible resolution to certain apparent contradictions being that different passages were meant for different audiences. This is why contextualization is important.

And as a matter of textual criticism (which I do espouse), one key principle is, "the more difficult reading is to be preferred". So, if the ancient witnesses differ, we find it more likely that a later editor would try to smooth out the discrepancy than create it.

But this is textual criticism, which seeks to answer what the original text said. That text which was inspired by God. It is evident that copying errors and such have crept into the text we have now, but a great irony of history is that the farther away from the original writing we are getting, the more manuscripts come to light, and the closer textual criticism can get us to the autograph.

Having said all that, there are no major difficulties in textual criticism which rise to the level of throwing doctrines into question. It's not like one ancient witness says, "He is Risen" and another says, "No he's not". Rather, it's usually the difference between, "Jesus went up to Jerusalem" and "Jesus went down to Jerusalem". Word order. A turn of phrase. Things like this.

Even the "long ending of Mark", on which I once wrote a report for some class, doesn't present any major difficulties for doctrine because its material is redundant to other teachings in the Gospels. The more difficult (what I call "cliff-hanger") ending to Mark is to be preferred - "they said nothing to anyone because they were afraid".

BTW: The Gospels of Thomas, Judas, et al, are from a differnt tradition - the non-Christian religion of Gnosticism. They were written much later than the Christian Gospels, and are really quite different animals.

 
At 3:23 PM, Blogger Darius said...

RACHEL AND PREACHRBOY:

Rachel, good points – sometimes the timing of what you say in a conversation can end up making it significant, and different approaches to greater understanding are needed for different people - and at different times of our lives. At least in my experience.

Preacherboy, I understand the more nuanced approach to Bible you’re describing, and like your summary – “{God}, by his Spirit, gave his Word through different men, in different times, with different levels of education, and different styles (and in Hebrew AND Aramaic AND Greek), and using different literary forms.” I think that point of view is true to what we know of the history of the Bible with respect to the fact that it is essentially what today we would call a multi-authored “anthology” written over a long stretch of time. I also think that the more historical information we can get, the better. If the information looks solid, I don’t see how it can hurt if we’re seriously interested in scripture’s message. I also completely agree with the importance of trying to understand what the text itself says as accurately as possible.

Never studied the gospels of Thomas and Judas; have read parts of the former. But I do seem to recall what you point out: that they were written later than the canonical gospels. Not a lot later though. John was the last gospel to be written, late in the first century; and I believe that concerning Thomas and Judas, one or the other if not both were written sometime in the second century.

From what I read of Thomas, describing it as “non-Christian” doesn’t sound quite right to me – although of course it is indeed non-Christian by the standards of a time later than that in which it was written in the sense that it would be rejected by later church councils that decided which books would be included/excluded in The New Testament. But Thomas certainly centers on the figure of Christ. Furthermore, many of the sayings sound like different versions of material found in the canonical gospels.

Three questions:

1. Given the complexity of the text, how can we have any view of it that it not interpretive? You feel that no major difficulties arise when we understand what the original text said. Here’s one that doesn’t seem minor to me:

In the gospels, Jesus repeatedly and clearly states that the end-time will occur within the lifetimes of people in his own generation.

2. Given your statement that you believe that God spoke to people in different times and places in different languages: Do you include Muslims? They see their relation to what we call the Bible from much the same perspective as Christians view the Old Testament. Muslims view Jesus as a major prophet and see the Bible as God’s word, but believe that the Mohammed and the Koran represent the culmination of prophesy.

3. You see God as having spoken to humankind in different languages. When speaking these different languages, do you believe that God actually selected the words and phrasings of the text? If so, how do you distinguish this from a multilingual version of divine dictation?

When I mentioned the “theological” aspect of New Testament language, I refered to the fact that the authors provided the basics of Christian theology right in the text – Jesus as God and Savior – and even went a good way toward elaborating it further. For example, the Holy Trinity doctrine is spelled out quite clearly in John.

 
At 10:40 PM, Blogger Preachrboy said...

I had a longer response that didn't seem to publish. But to answer briefly:

1. In Matthew, Jesus inter-weaves eschatalogy with prediction of the 70 AD destruction of Jerusalem. It's not an easy passage, but it's not one we dismiss.

2. No. The Koran is not the word of God. The Muslim teaching is that the Christian Bible is corrupted, despite oodles of evidence to the contrary - much of it pre-dating Islam itself.

3. God never explains the inner workings of inspiration. The Bible uses different formulations to indicate it comes from Him, though. "An Oracle of Yahweh" in the OT, e.g., or Paul speaking about what he "received from Christ" by revelation. Visions, dreams, dictation, who knows... maybe just by enlightenment of the writers. The process doesn't concern us as much as the product.

When you say, "theological", do you mean, "propositional"? I'm cool with that.

 
At 10:42 PM, Blogger Preachrboy said...

Oh, and you really should read the gospels of Thomas and Judas. Judas is available on the National Geographic website.

It's weird, and very clearly not Christian in a Trinitarian sense. Read about the "realm of Barbarello" and such nonsense. Clearly a gnostic document.

 
At 7:28 AM, Anonymous Rachel said...

bThe Gospels of Thomas, Judas, et al, are from a different tradition - the non-Christian religion of Gnosticism. They were written much later than the Christian Gospels, and are really quite different animals.

According to Bart Ehrman, many of the "other" gospels, including Thomas, Philip and Mary were, in fact, "written soon after these four [Matthew, Mark, Luke and John]." (The Gospel of Judas, p. 81) Irenaeus writes about the heretical nature of the Gospel of Judas in 180 AD, so it had to have been written some time before that and to have been in circulation enough to have been considered a threat.

Also, according to Ehrman, there were many different kinds of Gnostics, and some of them considered themselves to be Christians. (84) (I realize these folks would not be considered Christian by today's standards.) The Gospel of Judas is definitely strange to our sensibilities, especially because we are unfamiliar with the accompanying mythology which terms like Barbelo describe.

 
At 11:34 AM, Blogger Darius said...

PREACHRBOY: I hate it when that happens. You spend ten or fifteen minutes on a good comment, then GONE. I react the same way - the rewrite is concise!

Re. #1, I was referring to the many passages throughout the gospels where Jesus is portrayed as predicting the end of the world within his own generation.

On #2: I don't know enough about Islam to be able to comment on your view that it sees the New Testament as "corrupted." I do wonder if you might not be overstating the point, since I'm aware that the phrase "people of the book" is applied in Islam to Jews and Christians. My impression is that while Christians often regard Islam as a completely unrelated religion, Muslims usually acknowledge the spiritual (and in fact, historical) connections between these three major Western faiths.

If you view Islam as completely repudiating Christianity, I see why you might say: No, Islam can't be the Word of God. But I don't think it does that.

(Huston Smith has a book that summarizes the major featurs of the major world religions.)

In #3, what I'm trying to get at is this:

A)I understand and share your appreciation of the text as composed of language used in a variety of ways, so that trying to place a literal interpretation on everything in the Bible just doesn't make sense.

B) What I'm wondering is whether you nevertheless consider God to have literally chosen the words, the language, in the Bible. Or, if the word literal is too - literal - do you think the words are the actual words of God in some way that no other words on earth are the words of God?

If so, I'm wondering if this might not be central to the differences that exist between "conservative" and "progressive" (I'm not big on labels, gotta call it something) perspectives on faith and scripture.

Yes, "propositional" I think equates well with what I'm calling "theological" - in this case, propositions concerning God's being and nature.

RACHEL and PREACHERBOY: Thanks for all that good information on Thomas and Judas. I would like to get time to read those for myself, but probably not in the near future...

 
At 4:26 AM, Blogger Preachrboy said...

"B) What I'm wondering is whether you nevertheless consider God to have literally chosen the words, the language, in the Bible. Or, if the word literal is too - literal - do you think the words are the actual words of God in some way that no other words on earth are the words of God?"

Not necessarily, and Yes, respectively.

And Islam's view of the Christian scriptures is that it is even MORE hopelessly corrupt than you seem to be thinking. While it's interesting that the Koran mentions Jesus even more than Mohammed (from what I have read), and does preserve certain aspects of his story, like his virgin birth (something it ascribes to no one else).

However, Islam is so far removed from key Christian ideas like "grace" and "forgiveness" and even the substitutionary atonement of Christ that it really can't even nearly be classified as anything like the same religion.

You are right, though, that they do allow for some leniency toward Jews and Christians as "People of the Book", but it's really more like "People of a corrupted book". Even this allowance seems to vary within Islam, however.

 
At 7:47 AM, Blogger Darius said...

PREACHRBOY:

I said, "What I'm wondering is whether you consider God to have literally chosen the words, the language, in the Bible. Or, if the word literal is too - literal - do you think the words are the actual words of God in some way that no other words on earth are the words of God?"

You reply: "Not necessarily, and Yes, respectively," which invites a lot of questions unless you elaborate:

So God may or may not have picked the actual language in the Bible... Any tendency, then, to think one way more than the other? If God did not literally choose the words, then you would still maintain that they are somehow the actual words of God in a unique way that's found in no other language. On what basis?

{Re. Islam: Clearly neither of us is an Islamic scholar. I can only say that years ago I read the Koran in full, and my impression was: this sure is a lot like Christianity in terms of values and morals. I really don't happen to recall any words about Christianity as "corrupt." It's hard to imagine that Islam honors Christians as people of the {insert, "corrupted"} book. It wouldn't be much of an honor.

A more likely interpretation of any "corrupted" remark is that Islam regards Christianity as centered on an authentic prophet, but views it as having missed the coming of Mohammed as the fulfillment of prophesy. This would be rather like the manner in which Christians traditionally view Judaism.

This is much different than supposing that Islam views Christianity as rotten-to-the-core corrupted.

In contrast, I've never read anything about Christianity honoring Islam or recognizing Mohammed - hopefully I'm wrong.

Yes - no doubt, however, that there's as much variance within Islam as Christianity. Certainly throughout history this includes Jews, Christians, and Muslims who've hated each other's religions.

You say Islam doesn't include the concepts of grace, forgiveness, and atonement. Certainly not atonement; I'd be less confident that it in no way addresses grace and forgiveness, even if it has a different vocabulary for doing so. You may be right, I just don't know.

In any case, we'd have to expect Islam not to include Christian theological concepts - clearly the atonement is Christian theology. Islam views Jesus as a prophet, not God.}

 
At 2:16 PM, Blogger Preachrboy said...

The teachings of Islam are not limited to the Koran.

"In contrast, I've never read anything about Christianity honoring Islam or recognizing Mohammed - hopefully I'm wrong."

Hopefully you are right. Mohammed was a false prophet, a polygamist, and a violent conqueror who taught his followers to do the same.

"So God may or may not have picked the actual language in the Bible... Any tendency, then, to think one way more than the other? If God did not literally choose the words, then you would still maintain that they are somehow the actual words of God in a unique way that's found in no other language. On what basis?"

We certainly don't limit the word of God to the language (tongue) it is written in, else (like Islam) we would eschew translation.

The Bible is the Word of God by inspiration, properly understood as a "God-breathed" message. I don't pretend to understand the mechanism for this, I only take the text at its own word concerning itself.

 
At 3:23 PM, Blogger Darius said...

MUSLIM READERS: Please let me know if any of you want Preachrboy's last comment deleted. I'm inclined not to, thinking words can be left to speak for themselves and readers can see them for what they are. But this is your call, not mine.

PREACHRBOY: I understand that we all use translations.

Thanks for addressing my main question regarding giving us some insight into your belief, and that of many others, that the words in the Bible are the actual words of God in some sense that no other language on earth is.

Your answer, "I only take the text at its own word concerning itself," is what I was guessing, and yet I never really had an opportunity to ask that question of a conservative Christian and have it directly answered.

I admire your honesty about that, and thank you.

 
At 10:55 PM, Blogger Chris said...

Jesus did not believe in the scriptures as law...um I don't think so. How about Matthew 5:17-19

"Don't assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For I assure you: Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all things are accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of these commandments and teaches people to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven."

You cannot make assumptions about who, or what Jesus is, or thought He was without the whole. Hitler could have taken one verse out of the bible to completely justify his actions, but it does not make it true. The bible fits together like a puzzle; take apiece out and it is incomplete. With enough pieces you may figure out the picture. Too few and you are left wondering and guessing. But with all the pieces you get beauty.

 
At 12:34 PM, Blogger Darius said...

CHRIS: What I said is that Jesus himself doesn't appear to have taken a legalistic approach to scripture. That's my best guess based on my preferred passages, which I could cite to contradict your favorite passages.

But that would be using the text in a legalistic manner.

The reason it's possible to take a legalistic approach is that the Bible in point of fact, as a literary text, simply isn't the perfect whole we might sometimes wish it were. I don't think either of us want to play the game where I point out contradictory passages and you explain away the contradictions.

Other people have already written about this extensively and in detail. James Barr's "The Scope and Authority of the Bible" is concise but good on this subject.

Instead I'll just point out the fact that the Bible is a multiauthored anthology. You might expect an anthology written by many people over thousands of years to be less than a perfect whole - much less so, than, say, your average book written by a single author.

The reason you want to believe it's a perfect whole is because you believe that the Bible isn't just inspired - I think so too - but inspired in the sense of somehow consisting of God's own actual language in a way that no other human language is.

So the reasoning is essntially as follows:

God said it.

God is very smart - in fact He knows everthing.

Therefore this book can't possibly contain any material that's inaccurate in any way.

 

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