Monday, March 20, 2006

Scripture and Errors

Reflecting this morning on the experience of the studying deeply the four gospels over the past several weeks in New Testament class. Thinking about how each gospel tells the unique story of a community’s struggle to come to terms the challenges facing them in the lived context of their lives, struggling to come to terms with the presence of the Risen Christ in their midst, ever elusive, enigmatic, yet ever in your face, now we glimpse him, now we don’t.

Mark’s gospel – a call to return to God’s covenant, to care for one another as God care for us – a call to throw off Roman oppression by trust in God, opting out of the oppressive economic and political system of the Roman’s and the Temple – a plea to not seek a military solution, to seek a military Son of David to save them – a plea that went unheeded and Jerusalem was destroyed.

Matthew’s gospel – Reclaim your Jewish Roots! Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets. Build a fence around Torah by loving more than the Torah requires.

Luke’s Gospel – inclusive table fellowship – extend the banquet of God, the feast of God to all people. Exclude no one.

John’s Gospel – Ah, here is a struggle! John’s community, their experience of Jesus as Bread of Life, the Light of the World, the Logos, that very high Christology, well, it’s not been so well received by some of their Jewish brethren. They aren’t listening to us, this community cries. They don’t believe the signs Jesus himself show us and them. We need to separate ourselves, set ourselves apart until they come to their senses.

Each Gospel has a unique story to tell, lesson to learn and live. Some of those lessons are about how the community got it wrong. God in Her wisdom does not dictate the truth to us. She wants us to develop our minds, hearts and spirits – to think – to love God with our whole minds, to learn to discern what is life giving from that which brings death. So God, in Her wisdom has allowed Scripture to come to us imperfect, with errors, so that we may not worship the words of the text, but listen to the Living Word speaking through the text. “See, my child, John didn’t quite get it right here, but here, yes, he got it right. Now let me take you deeper into the meaning of these words.”

Now in New Testament we will get into the mind of Paul. I look forward to learning more about Paul and his struggles. Paul is another person who got some things very right – 1 Corinthians 13 and some things quite wrong – 1 Corinthians 14:34, for example.

I truly believe that “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” 2 Timothy 3:16, but not in the way many Christians think. I’m not saying the God inspired errors in Scripture. When God inspired humans to write Scripture, God is did not violate our free will, our humanness, our finite knowledge of God. So we fallible humans misunderstand what God was trying to say at times. And that’s OK because the Spirit is ever with us to guide us, if we slow down, be still and admit we don’t comprehend God perfectly, if we are humble and admit we do make mistakes, correct them and move on in the joy and love of God.


Veronica Daley Zaleha said...

Dear Debbie,
As I work my way, slowly, through The Five Gospels version of the New Testament (translated/interpreted by the Jesus Seminarians with extensive annotations) I see each of the Christian community's efforts to record the stories of Jesus from their own, human perspective. It sustains me on my Christian path to realize how the stories were used to suit the community's interest at the time. To be able to separate the "timely truths from the timeless truths," provides a way to critically read the gospels. I find I must humble myself in order to hear the voice of God through any of it at times. Today's blog post supports me in that effort. Thank you for that. God bless you. I continue prayers for your health and healing. Love to you and Teresa, Veronica

Anonymous said...

Well, Sis,

This is my third attempt to post my comment to this particular posting of yours. Hope it works this time. At least I copied my second attempt, so I can copy what I had before.

Even before I began my studies at Brite, I was already aware of how dach of the four Gospels presents a slightly different portrait of Jesus, depending upon the evangelist's personality and upon what community formed his audience (his immediate or first readers). What you share here in this regard is simply a fresh way of expressing those differences. But I must say that your description of Mark makes it seem as if he were weiting to Jewish Christians and probably those in or near Palestine. What I had been taught was that Mark was writing to Roman Christians (probably mostly Gentiles), and hence he presented Jesus as the strong Son of God; he uses "euthus" (greek for "at once" or "immediately") numerous times in the first two chapters and occasionally later.

As to inspiration, here is what I believe, after many years of study, and of seeking guidance by the Holy Spirit. As Paul writes in II Timothy (and I DO accept that the Apostle wrote the PAstorals; I did research on the "Pastoral Question" for a class at Brite and concluded that arguments against Pauline authorship were too theoretical in some cases and in other cases contradicted linguistic evidence as applied to any ancient document) all Scripture (his Scripture being what we now call the Old Testament, but it is acceptable to extend the term to include our New Testament) is "God-breathed" or "inspired". God, who IS Truth (as well as Love, Holiness, etc.), cannot lie, and therefore what He breathed His truth into must be truthful.

Such is not to ignore the plain fact that I've known from my years of study of various languages, mostly Spanish but also Portuguese, NT Greek and a bit of Hebrew and of Aramaic: ALL human languages have limitations, original authors can fail to communicate exactly what the desired to communicate, and things get lost in translation. God is perfect; we humans are not. So how does one resolve this dilemman in a way that continues to affirm that the Bible is true?

Wll, I affirm that the Holy Spirit guided each Scripture writer, including the four evangelists, in his/her thinking while he'she was writing. But the Breath (= Spirit, both in Hebrew and in Greek) did NOT dictate each word to the writer, let alone grab the writing hand and make it write each word exactly! No, the personality of each writer, along with his (her) cultural and linguistic background, was permitted reflection in the inspired writings. OR to cut to the chase, I believe that Scriptures are true in their spirit (in the message or concept that was being communicated), but not necessarily word for word.

How does that grab you?

Now, focusing in on the work of the "Jesus Seminar" folks, here is where I disagree with them. First, they come from the Northeastern ultra-liberal and unbelieving professorial school of tho't. Which means that their "findings" are as suspect of slant (bias) as are those of fundamentalists who try to support the idea that the 1611 KJV is the ONLY acceptable (English-language) Bible. And so, when these JS folk go into the gospels and start separating the reported words of the Nazarene into various categories such as "Jesus definitely said it" and "Jesus may have said it" and so on to "Jesus definitely did NOT say it; the evangelist put the words in His mouth/the community in its wishful thinking attributed the words to Jesus" a red flag goes up "euthus" (immediately). If someone is going to go down such a road, then ANYONE can go down it and present their research "findings" that may not agree at all with the JS crowd!

In the Book of Judges two or more times the writer comments that in those days "there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes." To apply the same here, the logical result of such "research findings" as those of the JS crowd is "there was no solid, universally-accepted authority; every "scholar" chose whichever words appealed to him and those were right (i.e., the words of Jesus) in HIS eyes!"

Also, as I believe I've mentioned [reviously, I'm VERY suspicious of their easy acceptance of any Gnostic "gospel" as being on par with the four canonicals. As I said, I've read the "Gospel of Thomas" and found it very wanting in those passages that were not verbatim parallels of the four canonicals. (Those passages present a Jesus greatly different from the Jesus of the canonicals!) In the JS tomes expounding on the meaning of these Gnostic "gospels" it's clear that the authors have an agenda and are attempting to support the agenda with the Gnostics (since that agenda cannot be well-supported with the canonicals).

Perhaps later in another comment I shall go into how I believe that the process of selecting the NT Canon was "God-breathed" in similar fashion to the writings themselves. My reading of all of the "Gospel of Thomas" and portions of other Gnostic writings has only clarified for me how such an inspiration in canonization could be.

Well, I've waxed really long with this. Hope it gives at least a few tidbits for your thinking & reflection.

Your brother in San Antonio