Thursday, April 16, 2009

After Easter

The Religious Education Committee asked me last night to talk with the teen group on a Sunday I'm not preaching. The teen group has been studying Jesus this year, and their curriculum goes up through crucifixion and resurrection, but their question is: how did we get here (modern Christianity) from there (Easter morning)?

It's an excellent question, and one that many people in our society have never bothered to consider. The (mis)understanding that, I think, many fundamentalist Christians hold is that the disciples immediately sat down and wrote out the story and bound it together. The words they wrote were either dictated by God or somehow inspired, endorsed, or edited by God. That Bible was handed down through the generations (with each translation being similarly divinely edited), and we have it in exactly that form today.

Nothing, of course, could be further from what those who study the historical Jesus believe to be the truth. Of course, there are different schools of thought as to what was exactly the case, but those who search for the historical truth rather than looking to bend history to match a preassumptions, come to some very different conclusions.

Here's what I've come to understand: The gospels were not written by the disciples of Jesus. The canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John) were only some gospels among many. They won out to be canonized (put in our Bible) because they were popular, and, particularly, favorites of those in power. Mark is the earliest gospel, and the others used Mark as a source, as well as a sayings gospel we call "Q" for "quelle" or "source." Mark was written around 70 CE (AD). The latest gospel of the four New Testament ones is John, which is not one of the synoptic gospels. John, therefore, I believe, is less reliable. The much of the material in John is not found elsewhere. John may be as late as 100 CE. The process of deciding which books went in the Bible was not divinely inspired. Rather, it was a political process. There's no reason to believe that these texts have particular divine inspiration or religious import more than any of the other early Christian writings.

All this leads me to believe that there is no reason, based on what we know of how the Bible was created and put together, to accept any sort of literal understanding of the Bible as the word of God and inerrant. Rather, they are particularly human writings which contain some spiritual insight, but which are also full of contradiction and error. However, unlike what some people I've encountered believe, I do believe that there is reasonable proof that Jesus lived and was crucified. There are a couple of texts which are not from the Bible which corroborate this.

So that's how I see it... at least in a very brief way. Now, all I have to do is figure out how to talk about all of this 2000 years of history to 6-12 graders in 45 minutes or less without being incredibly dull.

5 comments:

smijer said...

You have your work cut out for you! The issues you are discussing are ones that I've been studying for some time now... Very interesting to me. I think the thing to do is to stress how much is uncertain (did Mark rely on Peter for his account as per Papias? How much? Was John collated by a friend of the beloved disciple who included his words and thoughts? The questions go on and on) and let them know that there is room for a variety of views, including the more conservative ones - but that honesty and rigor are required as a basis for a responsible viewpoint.

smijer said...

By the way - the teen group was my RE group for a couple of years. That age group is the biggest delight for me!

Kari said...

Oh Rev. Cyn, blood, guts and politics? You're totally in! It'll be a hit!

Caroline said...

Good start, and good summary, Cyn! You'll need to explain "synoptic", maybe mention some of the other gospels, talk about the unitarian versus trinitarain decision, of course.

Bill Baar said...

Note this clause from the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy,

Since God has nowhere promised an inerrant transmission of Scripture, it is necessary to affirm that only the autographic text of the original documents was inspired and to maintain the need of textual criticism as a means of detecting any slips that may have crept into the text in the course of its transmission. The verdict of this science, however, is that the Hebrew and Greek text appears to be amazingly well preserved, so that we are amply justified in affirming, with the Westminster Confession, a singular providence of God in this matter and in declaring that the authority of Scripture is in no way jeopardized by the fact that the copies we possess are not entirely error-free.Similarly, no translation is or can be perfect, and all translations are an additional step away from the autographa. Yet the verdict of linguistic science is that English-speaking Christians, at least, are exceedingly well served in these days with a host of excellent translations and have no cause for hesitating to conclude that the true Word of God is within their reach. Indeed, in view of the frequent repetition in Scripture of the main matters with which it deals and also of the Holy Spirit's constant witness to and through the Word, no serious translation of Holy Scripture will so destroy its meaning as to render it unable to make its reader "wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 3:15).I think you may be claiming more for the inerrantists than they claim for I've yet to meet one not up for a good debate on just what it is we read/hear from what's been transmitted.

The word is infallible, but unless you claim the Church and tradition as companions in authority, the word transmitted is all a Christian left with save the wits to comprehend...