What About The Bible… ? (Chapter 3)
How did the Bible get so filled with things that have nothing to do with the messages of Jesus? That is one of many questions I have pondered over the last decade. I want to study more about King Constantine and how the Bible was put together under his watchful eye. Here is the crux of what I know now.
Constantine was a king during the age where the Roman empire’s power was dwindling. He was losing his grip over his kingdom. Some say that is why he grabbed on to the idea of making Christianity a mandated state religion. I know he was not baptized until soon before his death so that puts his sincerity at question. Was he just covering his bases? There is very little historical text now available that pre-dates the first compiled Bible so we really can’t be sure just what is not in Constantine’s Bible or what was added. These types of questions need to be understood in order to put the Bible in its proper sphere of influence. Was it written by God or redacted to meet the needs of the most powerful world government of the time?
I personally take the Jeffersonian stand of Christianity to at least one degree or another. That is Thomas Jefferson’s belief that Paul took the simple message of Jesus and made it complicated. I’m sure he was well-meaning but given his background it was inevitable that he would add rule after rule on being a Christian. After all he was educated and trained by the Pharisees of his time and if nothing else they were absolutely about rules. Upon serious reading of Paul’s many letter it is surprising how little his teaching overlap with any of Jesus’ word or messages. In fact he seemed to know very little about Jesus other than his brief personal experience on the road to Damascus.
We know that the documents that eventually made up the first Bible were generally not written until at least forty years after the events took place. Before that all the biblical stories were likely passed down as was very typical of the time via an oral tradition. We also know that except for Paul, who was not one of those who sat at Jesus’ feet, most of the other leaders of the early church were very likely illiterate. This necessitated that someone else would take their stories and put them into literary form. For the most part we still don’t know who those scribes or the authors actually were. Under these types of conditions it is very likely that myths and fables were included in the written text. Thomas Jefferson believed that is how most of the miracles of Jesus were established. It was just overzealous people adding a little bit to enhance a point. Those who study other historical sources know this is a very common thing of human nature. George Washington was almost a god in early America and many myths were generated and recorded about him. The most similar is probably about chopping down a cherry tree.
In closing I am not saying that the Bible is without value simply because human foibles are contained in its text but it is important to understand that possibility when trying to put this document into the proper perspective in today’s church. The messages of Jesus that are contained within these various writings, even though they were very likely tarnished by human actions, are what is paramount to our following Jesus. The Bible itself is just a means to convey those inherent messages.
Today I will continue my discussions of a book by Tony Jones entitled The New Christians; Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier. I’m sure if there are any pastors or theologians who accidentally come across the blog post their first reaction is to adamantly disagree with the title that all theology is local. Here is what Tony Jones says about that:
theology is not universal, nor is it transcendent. The God about whom we theologize is transcendent, but our human musings about God are not. To think that our theology is not local and specific is a falsity that has been foisted on the church. Professional theologians, those men and women who sit on seminary faculties, are sometimes tempted to write and speak with the confidence that their theology is somehow clean or sterile or untainted-that they come to their task without any presuppositions, prejudices, or context. But of course, they’re just as local as the rest of us. They live in a certain place, speak a certain language, talk with certain people, read a certain newspaper, and are held accountable for what they write and say by other theologians in their guild. This localness of theology is a hallmark of emergent thinking and sensibility.
When we recognize that what we think about God is mostly a matter of our life’s circumstances then we understand how to approach the theology of the church both past , present and future. Theology is nothing more than how we humans perceive the nature of God. As mentioned further in the book when we understand that Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theology was shaped by Nazi Germany, that Augustine’s was formed by his neo-Platonic area of Northern Africa, and Martin Luther’s was fashioned by the Roman Catholic monastery we come to realize that all theology is local. That is not necessarily a bad thing but something we must realize in order to understand it.
Being a human endeavor theology is naturally local. It is shaped by our circumstances. God is indeed transcendent, but our human understanding of him is not. Christian theology has a two thousand-year record that contains some very inspiring writings that all Christians should study and learn from but we must always understand the circumstance around those writings in order to put them in the proper context.
Understanding that all theology is local helps to even explain some of the writing of Paul. We must understand that Paul had no personal exposure to Jesus other than that fateful afternoon on the road to Damascus. So, you could also call his writing theology. When we understand this then we understand why there is almost no cross reference between the teachings of Jesus and the words of Paul. When Paul told women to be quiet in church he was relating his local circumstances. When he said it was better to be a bachelor than to be married he was relaying his condition.
All theology is local and that includes theology throughout church history. When we study the words of the great theologians we must understand the conditions which surrounded the words. Many say the Bible is a very simple document to understand, all we have to do is to read it. Tony Jones says, and I believe, that it is really the opposite. It is a very complicated document and for that very reason it has remained pertinent throughout the ages.
Source: Paul as Usurper of Christianity? « Common Treasury.
I am aware that there has been much discussion in the past on the alleged contrasting visions of Jesus in the gospels (especially Matthew, Mark, and Luke-Acts) and the message in the Paul’s letters. There is something to the charge I think (not that I have studied this in great detail); I have on a couple of occasions tried to get into Ludemann’s examination of the issue in Paul: The Founder of Christianity but have never really got past the first chapter, perhaps I’ll try again in due course….
[W]e would be hard put to recreate anything of the gospels’ description of Jesus in the letters of Paul. Indeed, it is fascinating to ask whether any details of Jesus’ life and ministry, any of his words or deeds, play any role at all in Pauline letters or theology. Jesus’ life is for the most part irrelevant to Paul; his death functions as the means to his resurrection and the salvation of humankind.
The words above are from a fellow blogger who is likely much more versed in theology than I am. His are words that I have been thinking about but have not had the courage to vocalize. In studying the letters of Paul I have been constantly struck by the feeling that they have nothing to do with Jesus or his life’s lessons. Paul seems to simply use Jesus as a receptacle for his version of Christianity. This seems especially true for the Protestant brothers among us.
As I have mentioned before I spent the first twenty-five years of my life in one degree on another as a Catholic. I was an altar boy who responded in Latin to what the priest declared during the mass. As I remember, and I my memory may be incomplete, most of my lessons in Catholic grade school came from the Gospels and the Book of Acts. But in reality the Bible itself was seldom used as a source for my Christian upbringing. Instead it was literature and books published by Catholic publishing houses that referenced the Bible itself. We seldom picked up the actual Bible itself. Paul was not absent from my teachings but he was by no means the center of my Catholic instructions.
That changed dramatically when, after a fifteen year hiatus from everything religious, I approached a Lutheran version of faith. During those years I found Paul to be the primary emphasis of what it meant to be a Christian. It was strange to my Catholic upbringing that almost all of the so-called foundational issues with most Protestant denominations centers primarily on the letters of Paul. Almost all of their doctrine and dogma are from him.
The more deeply I entrenched myself in this new version of Christianity the more it was obvious to me that Paul knew very little if anything about Jesus other than he was raised from the dead. For the most part it seems that there are two completely different belief systems within the same context. Yes, to me it almost seems like Paul is indeed the usurper of Christianity. Me, I choose to follow Jesus. Paul not so much. Jesus gave us the reasons for his church; Paul gave us all the rules and beliefs that we are supposed to follow.
I am still working through these feelings. More on this in future posts….
This is a continuation of my review of the book Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus by Robin Meyers. Here are the quotes we will look at on this post:
Adoration of the post-Easter Christ so dominates the language and liturgy of the church that the wisdom of pre-Easter Jesus is all but lost.
We know that Saul of Tarsus, who never met Jesus, became the apostle Paul through a completely mystical experience and seemed to care nothing for the earthly teachings of Jesus, only his “adoption” as the Son of God through the resurrection. Not only did he alter the nature of the gospel from a story to an argument, but his letters and those written by others in his name are the earliest Christian documents we have, written long before the gospels.
These words above were an eye-opener for me. I had been studying the words of Jesus in a serious way for over three years before I encountered them. It had just not occurred to me that there is indeed a very different view of Jesus by many after his resurrection than before.
The post-Easter Jesus was radically different from the pre-Easter Jesus in the eyes of many. To some he suddenly turned from a teacher of great wisdom into a God to be prayed to instead of followed. I think Jesus wanted us to remember is words more than that he conquered death as he had predicted. We need to learn how to take the stained glass off the gospel text and put back the life messages Jesus gave us. That is what he intends.
As Mr. Meyers said Paul was one of the dominant figures in creating the post-Easter Jesus. Paul, in fact never mentions any of the actual messages of Jesus but since he never actually met him that is understandable. The gospels were years away from being written when Paul penned his letters to the various churches so he did not have them to use as a reference. Paul’s words, even though inspired by God, were mainly from his background and experiences as a jewish authority. When he was struck down on that road to Damascus he knew that Jesus was God. That, not the lessons Jesus taught, was the theme of most of his writings.
Coming from a Roman Catholic background to a Lutheran one I often found it interesting that the Protestant focus is primarily of Paul. The words of Jesus seem to take a background. Especially now that I have left the Lutheran fold I find it strange that they filter the words of Jesus through the words of Paul and not the other way around. Jesus spent three years with his disciples teaching them daily what it meant for the kingdom of God to come to earth. Since many of the words of Jesus were not recorded until years after his death I wonder how many of his precious messages from those thousand days that were lost due to incomplete human memories.
We must always remember to filter the words of Paul, and all the other words in the Bible, through the words of Jesus. To do it any other way is just “bass-ackwards” in my mind.
1 Timothy 2:11-12 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.
I have always been troubled by these verses from Paul. I just don’t believe that God intended, especially for all eternity, that women to be quiet and not have any authority over men. Why would he deprive us of so much that women have to offer in almost every area?? Yes, I have heard that the majority of today’s theologians don’t believe that these words actually came from Paul but instead were added by someone later trying to advance a particular agenda. Like all of these types of controversies it is impossible to discern the truth as the original documents to all of the Biblical text have long since disappeared.
I was certainly pleased to see a response to this verse below.
What’s with the women at Ephesus?
Just as I’ve never heard a sermon against Cretans, I’ve also never heard a sermon on 1 Timothy 2:8, in which Paul tells Timothy, “I want men everywhere to pray, lifting holy hands without anger or disputing” that included a universal dictum that all men everywhere must raise their hands whenever they pray. Nor have I heard a sermon on one of the most common instructions found in the epistles, to “greet one another with a holy kiss.” (1 Corinthians 16:20) Nor have I ever heard of a pastor being removed from the position in keeping with Titus 1:5-6 because one of his or her children had left the faith. (It’s an uncomfortable reality, but if complementarians were as consistent in their application of biblically-based pastoral qualifications as they claim to be, a few of their most prominent spokesmen would have had to resign from their pastoral positions when their children left the faith. They didn’t.)
I haven’t heard any sermons on all of those biblical instructions, but I’ve heard more than I can count on 1 Timothy 2:11, which says, “a woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.”
Rachel Held Evans | Blog.
As shown above this response came from Rachel Held Evans blog. This young lady is certainly one I don’t want to be quiet! She is now on my regular read list. Check out the full post by clicking on the label above. She has much more to say about this than is shown above.
I am fully aligned with her that we Christians, especially the fundamentalists among us, pick and choose which verses they decide to take literally. When we quit doing that and take the Bible as an inspired series of stories we just might quit continuously dividing ourselves. I think 39,000 different versions of Christ is enough …
Until the next time I bid you peace….
There are many places in the red letters where Jesus appears to conditionally forgive sins. If you break certain rules your sins are not forgiven. The most obvious of these are sins against the Holy Spirit. I must admit that I don’t really understand that condition as much as I would like. But that is not the only place where Jesus appears to withhold forgiveness. There are many others. Several of them have to do with corrupting children. He in no uncertain terms says that if you cause a child to sin, faith or no faith, you will not see the kingdom of God.
Withholding forgiveness is something that goes very contrary to many evangelical churches who latch totally onto Paul’s words in Ephesians to almost the exclusion of even the words of Jesus.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast.
Did Paul understand this differently than Jesus? If that is not the case then why did Jesus say your sins are not forgiven in certain circumstances therefore requiring works? If there is only faith required without any corresponding actions then not forgiving sin seems meaningless.
Maybe we need to consult a third voice in the matter and that is James, the brother of Jesus. James obviously was around Jesus most of his life and unlike Paul was there during Jesus’ entire three year ministry. In his Epistle James basically said the faith without works is a dead faith and therefore worthless. Enough said…. I am one to take Jesus at his word.
I have spent some time with my comparisons between Jesus’ words and Paul’s. I will be posting my first comparisons in the next week or so. But I wanted to talk a little about what I have found so far. As Sam, who commented on the last post, indicated I have found that a big part of the differences between Jesus and Paul lay around the way we look at Paul’s words. Do we take each and every word to be for all circumstances and for all eternity or was he just addressing a particular situation in one of the congregations that Paul had previously started?
If we follow the dominant Evangelical line we take every word to be for every instance. In other words, all of Paul’s words are doctrine for the church in general. This is where I believe the problems most frequently occur. When we do this we are indeed pitting Jesus words, which most believe are all pretty much doctrinal in nature, against sometimes very different words from Paul found in the correspondence he wrote to those churches. I am a person who puts Jesus Christ front and center in my faith and life so I tend to make Paul’s words secondary at best.
I have also been casually looking at some of the theologian’s words about this topic. They are all over the map when it comes to Paul. There are some theologian’s who believe that the true foundations of Christianity are Pauline and that Jesus’ words have little to do with today’s church. Then there are those who take the complete opposite stand. Thomas Jefferson, who I have read quite extensively was one who believed that Paul took the otherwise very simple message of Jesus and made it very complicated by all his rules and edicts. In fact Jefferson went to far as to put together his own version of the Bible. Of course none of the Pauline letters were included.
As usual there is generally not much agreement about Paul’s place in the church. But what else can we expect given all the divisions that have taken place in the church? I tend to keep in simple in this regard and say that anyone who takes Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior is a member of the one true church. All this other stuff, Paul included, is just small stuff.
Next time I will be bring some direct comparisons to Jesus’ words with Paul’s.