I might like Pete Rollins on the Apocalypse

Pete Rollins is planning a talk in Belfast in September to explain that The Apocalypse isn’t coming – it’s already happened.

“Fundamentalist Christianity has long expressed a view of apocalypse as some future event that will consume the present world and replace it with a new one. Yet while this is a bloody and destructive vision, I will argue that it is inherently conservative in nature… For those who hold to such a vision are willing to imagine absolutely everything around them changing so that their present values and beliefs can remain utterly unchanged.  In contrast I will argue that a Christian apocalypse describes something much more radical, namely an event that fundamentally ruptures and re-configures our longings, hopes and desires…”

This resonates with me, although I’m waiting to see where Rollins will take it.  If he has not forgotten his Greek, he will oblige us I hope with a vision of a true ‘apocalypse’ – not earth-scorching destruction but paradigm-shattering revelation.

In January I articulated my own growing sense that the Apocalypse is already history when I called out the folly of Harold (“I did the math”) Camping’s predictions of a Day of Reckoning for May 21 of this year.

On religious afflictions of the eye and ear

“Hearing, they do not hear …”

The hearing impairment to which Jesus referred, quoting Isaiah, was the same one which the Hebrew prophet had diagnosed in his own time – and it is no less prevalent in our day.

Diagnosis implies gnosis.  Jesus, like Isaiah, had a new truth (or more truth) to reveal to his listeners, but the words he had available for the purpose failed to penetrate the framework of every mind.  His choicest words were rejected as strange or irreligious in the context of old ‘tried and true’ principles which were in possession of their understandings.

The malady in question is worse than a physical ailment – with which Jesus had some success.  Instead it affects the listener’s inner attitude, the will, taking away the freedom with which they might break down the old shell of religious meanings from within.

“… and seeing, they do not see.”

It is likewise with the vision problem – the afflicted person has full use of his eyes, but lacks the insight required to get past conventional associations of meaning.

In the minds of the people of Galilee and Judea who suffered from these two afflictions  the man Jesus of Nazareth, qua Messiah, could not help but simultaneously evoke, disappoint, and offend their racial and religious hopes as long as he lived and breathed.  His fellowship with sinners was counted as sin, his healing was called Satanism, his forgiveness blasphemy.  His meekness was counted as weakness and, in our present age, his morality has been called the morality of slaves.

This sight and hearing failure especially affected matters of everyday appearances and social antecedents – things which ‘scientific’ historians most crave to know.  His place of origin (Nazareth!), family background (common!), accent (provincial!), formal training (or lack thereof!), apparel (unpretentious)  – all of the ‘facts’ only created, for his accusers (and for some modern historians), another layer of the unacceptable.

Does it seem unfair to suggest that the principle of interpretation used by believers to gain access to the Jesus of ‘history’ – then as now – must be different from that hermeneutic of suspicion used by the elders and others who rejected him (and by the ‘scientific’ historians who counsel rejection of his eternal truth today)?  How does one access the insight required to become receptive to a previously undiscovered truth?  What is the rational ‘order of love’ in a fruitful hermeneutic of faith?

This post is part of the promised continuation of thoughts posted on this blog last May.

Adam and Zoey? – [Updated]

According to the first Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (produced about 200 years before Christ), the name given by Adam to “the woman” alleged to have caused all the trouble in the Garden of Eden was not Eve but Zoey.

The text is Gen 3:21 in my edition of the Septuagint (in some versions 3:20)

και εκαλεσεν αδαμ το ονομα της γυναικος αυτου ζωη οτι αυτη μητηρ παντων των ζωντων

“And Adam called the name of his wife ζωη because she was the mother of all των ζωντων”

What’s going on? My questions were answered in a comment made on the first edition of this post by a writer Solomon North:

Eve and Zoe are the same name. Eve (Chawah) is the Hebrew word for life, and Zoe is the Greek word for life. In her first appearance the translator uses translation to show the etymological significance behind her name, whereas in the subsequent passages he uses transliteration (“Eue”) because, as with Adam and Noah and so many subsequent persons, the name is known in the translator’s Greek-speaking Jewish community but not necessarily the etymological significance.

I have Mr. North to thank for curbing my excitement over the novelty of my discovery of ‘Adam and Zoey’, but I’m still wondering why ‘the woman’ in Genesis is not identified by any name whatsoever (neither in Greek nor Hebrew) until the end of Chapter 3.  The whole story of disobedience in the Garden is finished at Gen 3:8 without a single mention by name of either ‘Eve’ or ‘Zoey’ (not until Gen 3:21).

Has an ancient story about an original pair referred to only as “the man” and  “the woman” been combined with a later Adam and Eve story?  Take a look. When the story finally names Adam and Eve together, the narrative is much more concrete.  Rather than a tale of an original pair, by late Chap. 3 and into Chap. 4 the Garden is history, and the narrative frankly implies the existence of other humans all over the place.

I think it is not out of the question that Gen 4-5 might have had a ‘heart’ of its own before it got mixed into the creation stories of Gen 1 and Gen 2-3. Maybe this Adam was not a first man but a first revealer – a tradition-source leading to other teachers and men of God like Seth (Gen 4:25ff) and Enoch (Gen 5:22)

It’s anybody’s guess how the idea of a fall or of a link between Adam and Christ (taught by Paul) applies to a being who was a first truth-teacher. But we cannot deny that the world needs such beings – and something must have gone very wrong if Adam’s ‘teachings’ were lost and had to be re-started so many times – i.e. by Seth, by Enoch, by Abraham, Moses, Elijah, and finally Jesus.

Jesus was not illiterate, and he had reasons for not writing

[Revised 06 Mar 2011]

A year ago I mentioned that I thought arguments supporting the literacy of Jesus offered some surprising theological insights.  I touched on it again in May.  To me it is still a question with fascinating implications for the doctrines of faith, of spirit, of divine and secular history, and of the Word of God:

Granted a probability exists that Jesus was able to read and write – what might have been his reasons for deciding not to leave his own teachings, memoirs, etc., in written form?

My position has been that a literate Jesus could only have judged that the consequences of leaving such artifacts were potentially unfavorable for the spread of his Gospel.  That sounds paradoxical and counter-intuitive, but I think it is very interesting to ponder the negatives.

1.  Jesus was reluctant to quench the Spirit

What could possibly be wrong with sponsoring a permanently fossilized, absolute specimen of truth, to be revered by the surviving community even before his death (and resurrection)?  I hope you see my point.  I think Jesus is always looking ahead to the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost.  A permanent and authoritative text in his name would be the one immovable historical force most capable of frustrating the higher mission of the great truth-seeking Spirit which was to come.

Jesus might even have seen at first hand the power of supposedly inerrant ‘scriptures’ to frustrate new life – in the negative effects of prevailing Jewish attitudes toward their scriptures upon his own mission.

2. Jesus was unwilling to risk corruption of the text

We might also postulate self-censorship for Jesus on the grounds that he recognized that no writing of the period could actually be safe from corruption over time.  Here Jesus would be making a very canny move to frustrate any chance that a document carrying the absolute weight of his personal authority might nevertheless be edited, manipulated, or falsified by later copyists and well-meaning editors.

Conclusion

Two things may be inferred from this one very non-miraculous feature in the life of Christ – that he could read and write his native tongue.

(1) Jesus was depending on the Holy Spirit for a kind of assistance that would be compromised by perfect character portraits and a verbatim transmission of doctrine.

(2) Jesus took a negative view of the suitability of ‘historical’ records (even scripture) to be direct purveyors of his transcendent Truth.

NOTE:  I’m celebrating the blog’s 1-year anniversary by starting a policy of revisiting topics from year-ago posts.  I think attachment of a ‘second chapter’ to some of those topics will allow me to develop my thoughts in the light of a year’s growth.  It will also keep me honest in some of those cases where I promised a ‘continuation’ which never materialized.

How I accidentally saw the Torah through Wellhausen’s eyes

“In my early student days I was attracted by the stories of Saul and David, Ahab and Elijah; the discourses of Amos and Isaiah laid strong hold on me, and I read myself well into the prophetic and historical books of the Old Testament…  

“Finally I took courage and made my way through Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers … But it was in vain that I looked for the light which these books were to shed on the historical and prophetical books…  Even where there were points of contact between them, differences also made themselves felt, and I found it impossible to give a candid decision in favor of the greater antiquity of the books of Mosaic Law…”

(Julius Wellhausen, Prolegomena to the History of Israel, 2nd 1883, ET 1885, p. 3)

It so happened that only a month ago and by accident I set myself a roughly similar ‘reverse course’ of reading in the Bible as described above – histories and prophecies first and Pentateuch second.  When by chance last week I read the above observation by Wellhausen, I recognized a certain ‘feasibility’ in his conclusion.

My reading had started with a desire to examine the parallels and differences between Chronicles and Samuel/Kings (which in some cases are remarkable).  After getting through these books twice apiece, I read the non-narrative portion of Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, and Micah to see if their teachings could be found in the histories I had just completed (not much).  I turned to Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers to check their textual relations to Deuteronomy (interesting).  Before finishing I made a quick once-through of Joshua and Judges.

This unconscious preparation had me poised to see in the hint from Wellhausen the truth of this old critical hypothesis: that precious little of the specific practices and laws of Leviticus, Numbers, and Exodus, are present (or even alluded to) in the prophetic record or histories of the period between Joshua and Josiah.

It’s not patently obvious that any of the Kings of Israel or Judah or any of their priests and prophets knew of these alleged books of Mosaic law in the form in which they have come down to us.  What then?  Can the Torah be a work of post-exilic Judaism (5th-6th cent. BC) which only utilizes favorable bits of ancient Hebrew history (and constructs other favorable bits), to give a final, ‘received’ form that is no earlier than the Babylonian exile?

“In the course of a casual visit in Gottingen in the summer of 1867, I learned through Ritschl that Karl Heinrich Graf placed the books of the Mosaic Law later than the Prophets, and, almost without knowing his reasons for the hypothesis, I was prepared to accept it; I readily acknowledged to myself the possibility of understanding Hebrew antiquity without the book of the Torah.” (Ibid)

Note:  The idea is not that the Exodus, or Mt. Sinai or the wilderness never happened – only that our version of these events are those of a much later theological mind.

What do Christian theologies look like without an inerrant Bible?

Recent publication of a book by Thom Stark has got my attention because it looks like it treats of the issue of scripture inerrancy by a method that is much more constructive than the kind of anti-Christian rantings we expect from Bart Ehrman or Sam Harris, or John Loftus.

I’m not sure – but short reviews of The Human Faces of God and a revealing interview of Stark give me reason to hope.

It was a recent two-part review by Kevin at Diglotting which got my attention in the first place.  Meanwhile Steve at Undeception has been busy in the same vein, and both writers have me thinking a little more systematically about the question: ‘What would we expect to see in a good Christian theology that explicitly rejects the dogma of Bible inerrancy?’ 

It’s no secret that many theologies have been written without support of the dogma of Bible inerrancy.  And I think all of the good ones have argued for a concept of Bible authority in which scripture remains normative for theology in a foundational sense.  Martin Kahler, C.S. Lewis, Karl Barth, Dorothy Sayers, H.R. Neibuhr,  Paul Tillich, Dietrich Bonhoeffer – I believe all these thinkers and more have stressed the authority of the Bible without defending its inerrancy.  We see here a ‘Doctrine of Scripture’ or there a ‘Doctrine of Revelation’ or a ‘Doctrine of the Word of God’ which give greater breadth to a more mature and more promising theological approach to the Bible than the irrational restraints of inerrancy allow.

I notice that these kinds of theologies all tend to show greater development of the role of Christ himself  as Word of God – rather than alleging that the letter is identical with ‘the Word.’  And I think the question of the Holy Spirit’s testimony to Christ will see much-needed development any time the Bible is purged from the fetishism of inerrancy.  Because a theology’s rejection of the dogma of inerrancy should not change its need to treat constructively of inspiration.  The Spirit’s role in inspiring our fallible reading of the Bible becomes just as important and just as interesting as its role in inspiring the original (fallible) writer.

Evangelicals need quickly to see this as the new world of honest religion – it doesn’t signify the end of the world for faith.  Faith remains the key to our salvation by the grace of God.  The current drama – what looks to be the fast-approaching end of the dogma of Bible inerrancy – would not even be necessary if it hadn’t been for the proliferation of so much fundamentalism among Evangelicals in North America during the 19th and 20th centuries – while the issues of working with a fallible text were being treated by responsible thinkers in the religious mainstream.

History, inerrancy, and failed eschatology – III

The first and second parts of this series described the moral and intellectual dilemmas created by the inerrancy principle.  This third and final post describes a spiritual problem.

“All men know that ‘to err is human,’ and a mere man who received and gave forth an infallible word of the Lord must be, for the time, not himself, not at home in his own brain and senses – in other words, beside himself.  Human values could not be brought forward as tests of such revelation; and human reason could have no power to criticize it.”  (Lily Dougal, The Lord of Thought, 1922, p.19-20)

Neither Dougal nor I would discount the value of honest humility in the face of religious texts alleged to be revealed.  But uncritical belief in a massive plenary inspiration does not truly ‘humble’ the mind in any spiritual sense of the word.  What takes place instead is an unnecessary belittling of the mind’s reasoning powers – unnecessary because it requires a surrender of reason in scientific and moral realms where reason has legitimate powers and jurisdiction.  The premature surrender of reason only frees the mind to wickedly indulge its craving for certainty amid systems of authoritative ‘facts.’

“Contradiction between man’s highest ideal and what he conceived God to be, felt even when not admitted to open-eyed consciousness, produced necessarily a complex system of doctrine at variance with the plain man’s reason and values” (p.39)

Where historical contradictions and immoral assertions about God are not submitted to the process of doubt and discernment, an unreasonable theology is easily elevated to a position independent of both reason and living faith.  This kind of believing mind is worshipping its own convictions as if they were a type of certainty.

 “With such inconsistency in his God, if man is to be truly religious it must be by exercising his affections and imagination upon the only attributes of this complex and inconsistent God that do not contradict human values.” (pp.40)

This kind of guilty ‘cherry picking’ is the only spiritual outlet for the inerrancy principle.  But it tends to encourage an emotional approach to God which is completely distrustful of a reasonable criticism of scripture.

“That is precisely what the best of the Jews did, what the saints of every religion founded on an ancient and closed revelation must do, with the result that emotion is supposed to find God where reason can produce only skepticism.”

For the ‘seer’ unable to take the emotional high ground of the ‘saint,’ the mind has no ground for carrying out its duty to discern the difference between sacred and profane history.

“in a nation believing in such revelation, man’s values and reasons were held to be on a level inferior to his religious visions…”

Dougal argues that the result was a failure of religious visions – the embarrassment of Jewish eschatology.  The apocalyptic prophets lowered their views to match their canonical texts and missed the truth of God’s shalom in Christ for Israel and the world.

History, inerrancy, and failed eschatology – II

In this series I’m featuring an old argument by English theologian Lily Dougal that belief in the inerrancy of their canonical scriptures caused the Jewish apocalyptic schools from Daniel to John the Baptist to be dead wrong about the plan of God and his imminent action in Christ. (The Lord of Thought, 1922, p. 18ff).

Dougal sees the adverse influence of belief in inerrant scriptures to be threefold:  moral, intellectual, and spiritual.  My first post introduced the moral dilemma created by a principle which tends to equalize diverse texts of unequal moral value.  The apocalyptic writers beheld the God of blessings and woes who had been written into the scriptures by the Deuteronomist, and turned around and ‘predicted’ a very predictable day of blessings and woes for the whole world.  These would-be seers were unable to see the imminent revelation of a new truth – that God and the Christ of God were beings dominated by self-giving love for both saint and sinner.

The second part of Dougal’s argument moves from the moral to the intellectual realm and shows how the belief that the Jewish canonical scriptures were all-truth played its part in making a ruin of the efforts of these would-be prophets to correctly see and ‘call’ the Incarnation.

“The paradox created by contradictory statements, to all of which equal value must be assigned, creates mental confusion…  The sacred scripture taught God’s love, but its history of the past was self-contradictory; the laws laid down in it were not consistent with each other” (p.18,19)

The idea is that the principle of inerrancy does not enhance but disqualifies and disables a believer’s god-given power of discrimination between fact and fiction, truth and error, good and evil.  It disallows the right of faith to go out on a limb with a teaching that might change everything.  Instead it magnifies the need to pay lip service to infallibility with energetic rationalizations and harmonies of the discrepancies and contradictions which inevitably arise among texts originating at different times in the history of Israel.

The eschatological schools might have benefited from an insightful cherry-picking of superior texts but were prevented by that fatal corollary to inerrancy which disallows intelligent eclecticism.   And so they completely missed the singular truth that the coming kingdom was opposed to the majority viewpoint of the canon.

“Reason never quails before the realization that knowledge is inadequate, that there is more to know about the object of research than is, or apparently can be, known.  It is only before contradiction that reason quails, and thus has always quailed and been unable to accept the God of an ancient and final revelation.”  (p.39)

Great verb, ‘quail’ – perfect for depicting stunned inaction, human reason gone to hiding in the bush.  In my third post I will say more about the flight from reason which so often belittles the religious mind unnecessarily, putting it in thrall to its own idols of infallibility.

Fundamentalism and theological modernism – both wrong?

Jesus is recorded to have remarked that his theological opponents had struck an attitude toward himself and his teachings that was so utterly inadequate that he called it seeing without seeing and hearing without hearing.  It is not unusual that a religious teaching  which makes a life-changing truth available to one mind can appear to another, differently-oriented mind as paradoxical or self-contradictory or crazy or even heretical.  The opponents of Jesus were blind and deaf to teacher and message because they looked and listened not with a spiritual outlook but with an almost positivistic reference to the ‘facts’ they thought they saw in their sacred texts.  This essentially material outlook revealed to them not spiritual results but empirical findings – most importantly, that his unusual mission did not resemble the mission of the Messiah as represented in their inerrant scripture.

Does this same rationalized positivism of texts and times characterize the dominant evangelical hermeneutic of the past century or more?  Maybe that’s what I find so irritating about evangelical commentaries.  Oddly, I find the same sort of inappropriate positivism and rationalism in much of the hermeneutic of theological modernism, and it is equally irritating.

I was helped to a better view of this surprising commonality by an interesting paraphrase of Stanley Hauerwas I saw Thursday in a guest post over on Marc Cortez’ blog  where the discussion goes on into today.

“fundamentalism and theological modernism are simply different sides of the same radical modernist coin. Both embrace the paradigms of Enlightenment empiricism and rationalism too seriously (Hauerwas affirms this) – theological liberalism tries to keep the faith by cutting out all the things that don’t fit into the empirical and/or rational modes, whereas fundamentalism tries to defend them using the tools of empiricism and rationalism to the nth degree. Both end up embracing rationalism and empiricism as the first order basis or “metaphysic” as such, upon which to build a worldview. This is what led the fundamentalist strain in evangelicalism, according to Hauerwas, to make “Sola Scriptura” equal to “Sola Text.”

If Hauerwas has been accurately paraphrased, his opinion is that the inerrancy principle requires a special, guarded form of the so-called literal-grammatical-historical method which amounts to a positivistic empiricism of the text in conjunction with a fanciful rationalization of discrepancies and contradictions – all of which, in the spiritual inadequacy of its positivism, shares an enlightenment-age pedigree with the unbeliever’s hermeneutic of suspicion.

The rejection of Jesus by scribe and elder was accomplished in the very presence of his person and mission by a simultaneous resort to both a hermeneutic of inerrancy and a hermeneutic of suspicion – another indication that these two are sides of “the same coin.”

History and inerrancy – around the blogosphere

Casting about for the like-minded this afternoon, I was gratified to find a link to Pete Enns’ series on The Book of Chronicles and the problem with literalism at BioLogos.  Pete discusses the role of the Chronicler’s messianic history in ‘setting up’ Jesus to be misunderstood,

The postexilic Israelites were yearning for a king to rule and guide them as the people of God. …For the Chronicler, that means a king who will honor temple worship, follow the law, teach the people to do likewise, and be God’s instrument for reestablishing Israel’s national glory among the nations… This messianic expectation is the context of Jesus’ coming, and what does he do? Not what his followers expected.  Jesus …is not like the kings of Samuel/Kings. He is not even like the idealized king of Chronicles. He …did not fulfill the messianic expectation of Chronicles; he transformed it.

Pete’s series is a good one.  I owe the link to Daniel Kirk, doing his own excellent series on inerrancy and history over at  Storied Theology, where we read: 

“For me, the question of “inerrancy” versus not, or the question of how “historical” the Gospels are, or the question of whether or not we should harmonize different passages pushes in this direction: When we push for inerrancy, harmonizations, and historicity, we show that we have a fundamentally different desire for what these texts might give us than the biblical writers themselves had when they composed them.”

I note that comments at both sites have a fair share of that wonderful tendency of inerrancy buffs to offer fantastic harmonizations of discrepancies in the texts.

In my own previous post, I attempt to expose the principle of Bible inerrancy as anti-prophetic  with the help of Lily Dougal’s 1922 criticism of the Jewish eschatological schools.  I don’t deny that these pre-Christian seers seemed to grasp that something of cosmic significance was brewing in the not-distant future for the God of Israel.  But they all blundered into gross error with respect to the nature of God’s coming king and kingdom, and fell to depicting scenes of great cruelty and destructive disaster for the enemies of God and his people.  All were proved wrong by history.  The irony of Dougal’s hypothesis cannot be missed – the apocalyptic writers erred because they labored under mistaken notions of inerrancy.  They were betrayed by their belief in the infallible trustworthiness of the Jewish scriptures to which they turned for guidance.

Meanwhile, Steve over at Undeception has been reflecting on his own journey out of the inerrancy cults.

“certainty in either direction is simply not in the cards. The dichotomy is not between doubt and faith — doubt is the qualifier that distinguishes a reasonable faith from an altogether blind faith — but between acknowledged and unacknowledged uncertainty. Christians and avowed atheists alike are simply going about their delusions of certainty in a different way. Christians who refuse to peek under the cover are not exercising faith but fear: fear of having to deal with uncertainty.  When former believers who embrace a thorough atheism as though it were the only option other than fundamentalist/evangelical Christianity, they are not exercising healthy skepticism”

History, inerrancy, and failed eschatology – I

Not all learning disorders are inherited.  We commonly see persons with otherwise high-functioning minds and no adverse family history who are selectively disabled in music, art, mathematics, etc.  And we often find an acute narrowness of mind in selected areas of philosophy, politics and theology (including atheists with impossibly narrow views of theism).

Few would contend with the idea that some of these selective kinds of disabilities can be acquired in the course of the thinker’s learning experience.  Just as work-related disabilities are acquired as a result of bad work habits and unsafe conditions, we can easily imagine that adverse or unsound circumstances in the inner and outer learning environment of mind can contribute to temporary or permanent disabilities in mental work.

English theological writer Lily Dougal used a concept of acquired learning disability to answer the question, Why was the eschatology of post-exilic Judaism so wrong in its depiction of God’s coming kingdom?  Dougal argued that, for these apocalyptic writers, history and doctrine had combined to create an unhealthy environment for the kinds of mental work involved in truth-seeking.  Error overwhelmed truth in the minds of these Jews because their work was burdened by false principles of knowledge.  Above all, it was the dogma of scripture inerrancy  which most dominated and disabled (and ultimately embarrassed) the spirituality of the Jewish eschatological schools.

Dougal argued that the inerrancy principle ruined Judaism’s prophetic power because it tends to (1) demoralize, (2) confuse, and (3) belittle the human mind.

(1) Scripture inerrancy demoralizes the mind.  The principle of inerrancy is fatal to the morality of any religion – but especially those whose writings extend over a long history of spiritual development.

“The sacred scripture taught God’s love, but … within it there were the noblest visions of goodness and mercy, together with savage conceptions of deified cruelty… God in his relation to man was seen, not simply as the best and wisest being of whom man could conceive, but as a mixture of good and evil, and therefore hostile not merely to all those things to which man at his best was hostile, but also to much that was best in man.”  (Dougal & Emmet, The Lord of Thought, 1922, pp 18, 19, 39.)

The mind looking for inspiration from religious texts held to be inerrant is liable to apprehend all inspiration at a common par value.  This equalizing tendency contributes a source of drag on the highest teachings of any tradition.  It may compromise the balance of good in an individual’s moral compass.  It may even threaten the moral destiny of an entire religious body, rendering it unable to discern a turning point in history, when God offers the gift of a new light which transcends some point of earlier inspiration.

Next up (continuing with Dougal’s analysis): 

(2) The principle of scripture inerrancy confuses the mind by magnifying the importance of discrepancies and contradictions.

(3) The principle of scripture inerrancy belittles the mind by encouraging a fantastic view of inspiration and forcing the mind to create incredible rationalizations and harmonies to resolve its contradictions.

How faith in Jesus can trump faith in scripture

“Our aim in the present study is to show that Jesus did not expect a speedy and supernatural destruction of the world.” (Lily Dougal and Cyril Emmet, The Lord of Thought, from the Preface, dated Sept. 1922).

At the time of their writing, these two New Testament critics were very much alarmed at a growing bias in NT criticism.  “It is now widely held that the whole thought of Jesus was governed by the belief that the end of the world was very near, or, at least, that this belief was a confusing element in his outlook.”  Of course the authors were discussing a 15-year trend inaugurated by Albert Schweitzer’s 1906 book, Von Reimarus zu Wrede (The Quest of the Historical Jesus).

Schweitzer had claimed that the teaching of Jesus is inconsistent with itself except when everything is viewed from the perspective of a thorough-going eschatological frame of mind.  Except the problem with his view is that it makes Jesus inconsistent with reality – because some scripture texts make Jesus wrong about the proximity of the end, and his return in glory.

Dougal and Emmet agree with Schweitzer that the eschatological teachings attributed to Jesus are inconsistent with his higher teachings, but they reject Schweitzer’s means of achieving consistency for Jesus.  Schweitzer, they argue, has only created his own false pattern of consistency in Jesus teaching, “by forcing upon all his sayings and parables an interpretation in harmony with the more fanatical Judaism of his time.”  (p.2)

They offer a solution which can only alienate both fundamentalists and moderns:

“Considering the circumstances in which the Gospels were compiled, it is more becoming for us, in the first instance, to suspect the records of inaccuracy than to assume that the inconsistency lay with Jesus.” (p.9)

I’m fine with the authors’ rejection of plenary inspiration.  Trouble is, they imply a new principle which skeptical critics are sure to hate – the principle of an inerrant Jesus  But I like it! 

“In the history of any one of the canonized Christian saints, when sayings and acts are attributed to him or her which to us appear inconsistent and unworthy, our first proceeding is to suspect the accuracy of the narrator … on the hypothesis that the inspiration of the saint for goodness and wisdom was greater than the inspiration for accuracy enjoyed by the disciple.” (p.7-8)

Seriously, a hermeneutic principle like inerrant Jesus is unapologetically faithful – only it requires that our faith in the perfection of Jesus trumps our belief in the perfection of scripture.  There’s bound to be difficulty discriminating the inerrancy of Jesus from the inaccuracy of apostles and gospel writers.  But the result for eschatology is an important one – the axiomatic rejection of a merely human Jesus who is either self-contradictory or  a fanatic and delusional Jew yields refreshing fruit in a healthy critical skepticism regarding all assertions or allusions in scripture which suggest that a destructive end-of-the world scenario is a necessary adjunct to the true Gospel.

Time and eternity

“The human capacity to enter into the eternal, in a limited degree, is what characterizes our religious life and our participation in spiritual reality.  It is the sin qua non of theological insight and conceptualization. …However, the very necessity for interpenetration of divine and human minds places an unavoidable limitation upon revelation in the classical sense, precisely because of the limited capacity of the human mind to transcend its temporal conditions.”  – G. D. Yarnold, The Moving Image, 1966, pp. 201-2

Time and eternity have been my chief objects of philosophical concern recently, a spin-off from recent reading of Kant and Plato on the subjects.  On that same line of thinking I watched the Stephen Hawking documentary film “History of Time” last night

But does anybody else think it seemed a very arbitrary thing when Dr. Hawking rejected his early view that time must have a beginning?  Too easily, I think, he retreats from the necessity of postulating an origin of time in what is clearly an expanding universe.  What will a theoretical physicist not do to prevent the embarrassing impotency of mathematics at singularity?  Plato might have told him that mathematical truth is not nullified simply because it cannot generate a universe out of a theoretical singularity.  It is eternally true that 2+2=4, for example, even if the poor scientist can only use this truth to unpack motions prevailing after the beginning of time.  And there are still greater truths, which also show their independence of time.

“The prophetic figures of the OT provide the most notable instances of the human mind being drawn into an understanding of things divine. … What is vitally important from the point of view of revelation, however, is the bridging of the gap between the eternal and the temporal by the entering into history of One who, while being fully human, comes to the rescue of the limited human capacity for transcending temporality.”  – Yarnold, p.202-3

“At three crises of the national and religious life three voices came to guide it.  Before Samaria fell in 722BC, Hosea came to gather up the life of the past and preserve what was of eternal remembrance in the thought and deed of Israel.  Before the collapse of Judah in 586BC, Jeremiah handed on to a people now without a state the truths by which their souls might still live.  Finally, before the Temple disappeared in 70AD, a greater than both conserved for the world through his living church the enduring things which could not die.”  – Adam C. Welch, “Jeremiah,” The Abingdon Bible Commentary, 1928, p.677.

Nothing to recommend him – misinterpreting the divine

“We imagine that the man Christ Jesus would have been irresistible to us.  Alas! He has never for a moment been beyond misinterpretation.”   – George Steven, Free Church, Scotland, 1917

If we had been contemporaries of Jesus, if we had seen a living and breathing man walking our streets, healing our sick, forgiving our sins, who or what do we think we would have seen – or failed to see?

“… There is no expression, deed, or event that ever happens, which does not immediately take its place in the order of natural events, to be criticized and judged as such” (Steven, The Development of a Christian Soul, p. 67).

Judged, but also misjudged.  There’s no wonder that he who came into the natural order of events as the Son of Man simultaneously evoked and disappointed the racial hopes of his people as long as he lived and breathed.  His fellowship with sinners was counted as sin, his healing was called Satanism, his forgiveness blasphemy.  And more recently, “His meekness has been counted weakness, his gentle speech timidity, his burning words ill-temper, his morality the morality of slaves. …”  (Ibid.)

His love, his eternal truth, his good name (and that of his Father) were all freely offered to his times, an infinite sacrifice to the misinterpretation  and calumny – the disappointment – of the finite.  It was a tribunal to which he submitted in full, with no quarter asked and none given.  Even  in the  matter of everyday appearances – the kind historians crave to know about their subjects.  His place of origin (Nazareth?), family background (common), accent (provincial), apparel (unpretentious), formal training (or lack thereof).  All such knowledge only created, for his accusers, another layer of the unacceptable.

We who believe in Jesus – then as now – believe from a different hermeneutic principle than the one applied by the religious elders of his day (and by the religious historians of our own day).  This hermeneutic of faith allows us to ‘see’ a different Jesus than his critics apprehend – one who flies under (or over) the radar of ‘the historical.’   Even 2000 years of ‘history’ cannot separate the soul from this Jesus of faith.  (to be continued)

“And he began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders …” (Mk 8:31)