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The Canon Within The Canon


BillM
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In light of our recent conversation on recommending a Bible for children, I thought I would share this little tidbit for reflection and/or conversation. It is an amalgamation of my thoughts with some material pulled from the book "Common Sense Christianity" by C. Randolph Ross:

 

Is all of the Bible applicable to us today? Some Christians say yes. They insist that because the entire Bible is the Word of God, all of it is binding on us today. Is this true, theologically or practically?

The Church has indeed historically recognized all of the Bible as sacred and authoritative, not to be added to or subtracted from or tinkered with. And many people have had this recognition of the Bible's sacred authority confirmed when their faith was confirmed in their lives.

 

But the truth of the matter is that even many of those within the faith no longer recognize the whole Bible as authoritative (and even those inerrantists who claim to do this do not do it in fact). For instance, most Christians do not find the 613 Old Testament laws to be authoritative for them. They recognize the difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant and have decided, even if done unconciously, that the New Covenant is more authoritative for them. So it is no longer sufficient to say that because the Church of eighteen or nineteen centuries ago decided that these writings are canon, therefore they are authoritative for us today. We are much more aware of the differences among the Gospels, of the influence of editors and the early Church, of the various traditions and literary relationships. So it seems all the more difficult to accept the Bible as authoritative just because somebody - tradition or the early Church - says so, when in fact these somebodies did not know as much about the Bible's history and background and diverse elements as we do today.

 

The difficult problem here is in the relationship between choosing Jesus as our focus and recognizing the authority of the Bible. Many people do not even recognize this as a problem: surely if we grant the sacred authority of meaning-giver to Jesus then we must also recognize the authority of the book which tells his story! But the message of Jesus does not agree with all the parts of the Bible, particularly with some of the harsh understandings of God expressed in the Old Testament and implicit in some of its laws. Even in the New tstament there are sayings attributed to Jesus which very probably do not originate with him and there are interpretations of him which are not consistent with what he taught. We have to choose : is our primary authority the Bible ? Or is it Jesus of Nazareth?

So the choice is either to recognize the Bible as primary authority (which most conservative, fundamentalist Christians claim to do), and Jesus of Nazareth as just one aspect of it along with Moses and the prophets and the many Old Testament laws not specifically superceded in the New, or to recognize Jesus of Nazareth as primary authority.

 

It stands to reason that to be Christian means to choose Jesus of Nazareth as our compass, our focus. His life and message must be our primary sacred authority. And if Jesus of Nazareth is the primary authority, the epitome of the sacred for us, then the sacredness of the Bible is derivative from the sacredness of Jesus in his role as the Christ. The fact that the Bible's sacredness is derivative constitures no argument against the Scripture as canon. The Gospels were recognized as canonical in the first place because they witnessed to something else: to Jesus the Christ. So the Scriptures have a recognized sacred authority, a canonicity, based on their close association with the sacredness of the Christ. So when we acknowledge that as Christians we recognize primary authority in the Christ, this implies a derivative sacredness in the Bible that makes it our most sacred literature, and thus our canon.

 

But at the same time this recognition of Jesus the Christ as our primary authority sets a limit to the authority of Scripture that raises questions about canonicity. Since it is the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth that are our compass, that by their presence in the Gospels and their relationship to the rest of Scripture give sacredness and canonicity to the Bible for us, we can and must use the Christ as our principle of canonicity. We don't try to make everything agree with his message, but to rule as authoritative (canonical) those portions which agree and to rule as unauthoritative (noncanonical) those portions which are inconsistent with his teachings. We do not interpret the ten plagues in a way that enables them to fit with a loving God; instead we say that our belief in a loving God as understood through Jesus the Christ renders the ten plagues without authority for us.

 

If the canonicity of the Scriptures depends on Jesus' role as compass for us, on the fact that they contain the writings which gave us this compass, then it would follow that only those portions of the Bible that contain, support, cohere to or elaborate on this compass can in fact be granted the authoritative status of canon. Canonicity depends on a positive relationship to the Christ. Therefore those portions of Scripture which are not so related cannot be recognized as canonical. The Bible is not a monolith (presenting only one viewpoint), and recognizing canonicity in one part does not automatically imbue the rest of it with this status.

 

We could then say that those parts of the Old Testament which show a primitive misunderstanding of God are just that: primitive misunderstandings that do not have canonical authority for us. But we also might find much of the Old Testament included as canonical. After all, it was the Scripture for Jesus; he grew out of this tradition and saw himself in continuity with the law and the prophets. There is much in these books that constitutes the foundation on which he built: the story of this people's search for understanding of God and the notable calls for justice and righteousness. Other parts of the Old Testament need to be retained as historical and literary background - but this needn't make them canonical for us.

 

Of course, the New Testament is not exempt from this same kind of examination. It is doubtful that all the theologizing in Hebrews, the remarks by Paul about women and slaves, or the apocalyptic horrors of Revelation will be found to be consistent with Jesus' message.

 

There is an alternative to this which both recognizes Jesus of Nazareth as our canonical principle and yet also preserves the canon intact. This is to recognize the Bible as it stands, Old and New Testaments, as our canon, but to recognize that only portions of it are in fact canonical. What does this mean? How can the whole be "canon" but only parts be "canonical"?

 

The whole of the Bible is "canon" in the traditional sense that it constitutes our sacred Scriptures. It cannot be added to or subtracted from. It is that body of writings which contains the message of Jesus of Nazareth, who fills for us the sacred role of the Christ. But not all of these Scriptures are "canonical" in the sense of being authoritative for us. The canon carries within it the principle that makes it sacred for us - the meaning-giving testimony of Jesus, which we as Christians recognize as primary authority. Therefore, to be true to this principle within the canon, we must consider as non-canonical (i.e. non-authoritative) those portions of the canon which are not in keeping with it.

 

In fact we find that this is what we do. Once we have grasped Jesus' message of God's love, those Biblical passages about divine plagues or holy war or retribution or sexist customs lose their authority for us. They do not cohere. They do not fit with our compass. They don't line up with the life and teachings of Jesus, which are the most sacred things we know.

 

Of course there are many people who take the approach that the whole Bible is literally true, making it impossible to give priority to any portion of it. The point can be made that to the extent these people do in fact treat the whole Bible as equally sacred, they are using the whole of Scripture as their compass instead of Jesus of Nazareth. And if they also claim priority for him, which many do, they then create an interesting problem of interpretation which it is fascinating (when it is not painful) to watch them try to deal with. For instance, they have to try to reconcile the Old Testament notion that God's people should kill their enemies with the teachings of Jesus that God's people should love and do good to their enemies. Such reconciliation, in my opinion, is not possible.

 

Do we then have a canon within the canon? Of course we do. Everybody does, though not everybody admits it. We cannot make sense of the Bible without a principle of interpretation, without a decision about hierarchy or priority within the Scriptures. For us, as Christians, Christ - his life, his teachings - are our canon within the canon. As Christians, we find that his life and teachings have the highest authority for our lives. This is, according to the scriptures themselves, what Jesus claimed in Matthew 28:18:

 

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me."

 

And where do we find his authority? Matthew 28:20:

 

"...and teaching them (future disciples) to obey everything that I have commanded you."

 

Jesus himself, in this passage, says his teachings (commands) take precedence - over the rest of the Bible, over the teachings of the Church, over the teachings of Christianity - if any of these others conflict with what he taught. Will we listen to him?

Edited by Wayseeker
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We have to choose : is our primary authority the Bible ? Or is it Jesus of Nazareth?

I think this is a false choice. The Canonicity of the Hebrew Bible never depended on Jesus and I don't think was ever in conflict with Jesus. Certainly I believe that a passage should be interpreted in light of the whole of Scriptures, that any passage should be interpreted in light of the message of love, that any passage will be interpreted in the light of the Church's teaching and tradition. But these readings and interpretations are not truth claims. They are part of a conversation.

 

To me, an authentic reading of the Bible does not seek authority but seeks engagement. Someone said that the Bible does not have the answers but it shows us the questions. Even liberals like myself get too caught up in the literalness of a passage we want to reject and forget that it is story. Today I think the best way to understand the Ten Commandments is not as legal dictates which need to be appealed to the court of reason but as an invitation to a conversation about killing, stealing, and relationships with the Divine and others. Stories hold many and various 'truths' revealed only in authentic readings.

 

Take Care

 

Dutch

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I agree with you, Dutch, that the canonicity of the Hebrew Bible (OT) never depended on Jesus.

 

For myself, I can't interpret some of the OT passages in the light of any message of universal love. For instance, God's supposed command for the Israelites to kill her surrounding neighbors and nations. For me, I just can't find a way to interpret that as a loving commandment. Nor God's supposed destruction of the world in the Noahic flood account. Nor that the punishment for breaking any of the Mosaic laws was death by stoning. I find no way to extract a message of love from these things. But that is me. I agree with Ross' thesis that trying to interpret some of these more harsh passages in the OT (as well as in the NT) is actually not being honest to what their original intent and meaning was.

 

The two approaches to interpretation could be said to be thus: if we consider God's command to kill the nations around her, some might say, "God did in fact command this. So because we believe that God is love, we need to find a way to interpret this command so that it comes out as a loving one." Ross' point might be "The Israelites certainly believed that God commanded her to kill the nations around her and they did so. But they were under an understanding of God that was in process, that was primitive, where God was a tribal war deity. Jesus showed us that this is not the right way to conceive of God." The first approach says that the Bible doesn't mean what it says. The second approach says that the Bible does mean what it says, but that not everything the Bible says is reflective of the truth that Jesus taught us.

 

Another point that Ross makes that I find helpful, especially in consideration of what you said, Dutch, is that we are not to reject and/or forget stories in the Bible that don't line up with what Jesus taught us about God being love. He asserts that we leave them in there to, in fact, demonstrate how our concepts of God have changed over time. But we wouldn't find the command to kill our neighbors to be authoritative today i.e. it's not a Bible teaching we would follow.

 

On the other hand, I do realize that many progressive and liberal Christians don't find the Bible or even the teachings of Jesus to be authoritative for them. Now, the logical part of me, considering Point 1 of PC ("By calling ourselves progressive, we mean that we are Christians who have found an approach to God through the life and teachings of Jesus."), doesn't understand how anyone could find an approach to God through the life and teachings of Jesus WITHOUT considering Jesus' teachings to be authoritative (to see them as applicable to us and to call for a response in attitude or action). So while I personally fail to see the logic of such a claim, I certainly don't walk in any one else's shoes to know exactly how *they* are interpreting and applying Point 1. But I doubt that any of us go through life without giving something or someone authority, even if that authority rest within us in our own experiences and logic.

 

But, then, Ross' book was really written to progressive Christians. It was written to those who feel that Christianity as it currently exists doesn't make much sense. So this summary on the canon wasn't really designed for those who are already "at peace" with the scriptures, but for those who still struggle with the question of what place do we give the scriptures in our lives and why. Probably for mainline Christians (Ross is UMC), this chapter could be helpful. But for others who don't consider the Bible to be sacred or authoritative, Ross' advice could seem, well, legalistic.

 

Though Ross asserts that Jesus' life and teachings are to be the compass of those who choose to follow him, I didn't even crack open the question of "Which teachings?" or how we can know which ones go back to Jesus rather than to the Church, correcting scribes, etc. That could be a discussion all on it's own. But I do find the general consensus of most conservative and mainline Christians to be that ALL of the Bible is authoritative for us, and I think Ross offers some solid arguments why this isn't necessarily so.

Edited by Wayseeker
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You make me angry sometimes, Bill. You are logical and crisp. Sometimes I don't feel like being that way. It is good to be reminded of Ross's audience. I do object - and I don't have an answer - to the many times we on this board refer to them - "most conservative and mainline Christians" and speak for them. Maybe some day they could speak for themselves.

 

It is good to be reminded that Ross teaches something like the following, which is sufficient for the task at hand.

He asserts that we leave them in there to, in fact, demonstrate how our concepts of God have changed over time. But we wouldn't find the command to kill our neighbors to be authoritative today i.e. it's not a Bible teaching we would follow.

I think the connection is deeper. I don't think you can't get to Jesus without going through the stories of the Flood or Joshua of the Deuteronomist historians who wanted to create 'Big History' for the Israelites. I don't think the people of the day could even have recognized Jesus without those stories so yes I stand up and object without thinking clearly when there is an attempt to wall them off.

 

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me."

I wonder who put these words in Jesus's mouth? Matthew? Literally?

 

Dutch

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Randolph Ross’ book is still there-- sometimes religiononline.org goes off for maintenance or whatever.

 

My understanding as a PC is that the bible’s authority was never literal in the sense of endorsing everything that it records as moral behavior. The old testament is meant to be viewed as spiritual history, the ancient Hebrew community’s evolving perceptions of God’s character and will. The collected stories preserved many negative examples of what to avoid, as well as the positive values. To me, the OT narratives are just as applicable as Jesus’ teachings and are an essential background for interpreting his words. Maybe I’m missing the point or the real issue here - ?

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Dutch,

 

You make me angry sometimes, Bill. You are logical and crisp. Sometimes I don't feel like being that way.

 

I'm sorry, Dutch, my intent was not to make you angry, just to offer clarification. I sometimes get angry at myself because I seem to have this filter, when I read or hear something, that says, "Does this make sense?" as if *I* would always recognize sensibility when I saw it. :)

 

On the other hand, in the way of brief testimony which, I know, reflects only *my* journey, I have sat under teaching and preaching for so long in my life that said that I was not suppose to question, where logic and thinking played no role, that I was only suppose to believe, that I guess I tend to over-analyze things. And I don't know if or when that filter will stop. Again, I sit in a church almost every Sunday where it is crammed down my throat that the whole Bible is "the Word of God for the people of God" or where I am directly told that everything in that book, because it comes from God, is God's will for my life and I am supposed to follow it.

 

For example, I hear from the pulpit over and over and over again how homosexuality is an abomination to God (Lev.18:22) and how homosexuals, according to "God's Word" are to be killed (Lev. 20:13). Then the pastor or the Sunday School teacher ingeniously blends these verses from the Old Testment with some from the New Testament and, wah-lah, even killing homosexuals is too good for them, they are to be burned in hell forevermore. And I ask myself, because Jesus is still sacred to me, where does he teach this? Where does Jesus uphold Lev. 18:22 and Lev. 20:13? Where does Jesus condemn all the things that the Church and Christianity condemns? And I want to run out of that church screaming and never return because if putting the Bible together in this way is what it means to be a Christian, I want nothing more to do with it.

 

I wonder who put these words in Jesus's mouth? Matthew? Literally?

 

*sigh* No, I know better. The gospels themselves have no author's names attributed to them, are certainly not eye-witness accounts, and Jesus, to the best of our knowledge, didn't write anything. So I get your point, Dutch, that we don't know what Jesus *really* taught and did. Or, as the Jesus Seminar insists, only about 3% of the sayings of Jesus probably go back to Jesus.

 

Therefore, I'll shut up about anything Jesus alledgedly said or did, as we don't really know, do we?

Edited by Wayseeker
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Randolph Ross’ book is still there-- sometimes religiononline.org goes off for maintenance or whatever.

 

I think Dutch was referring, not to the book online, but to a discussion we had on the book here on the forum a while back.

 

To me, the OT narratives are just as applicable as Jesus’ teachings and are an essential background for interpreting his words. Maybe I’m missing the point or the real issue here - ?

 

I regret editting/posting the article. It took valuable time out of my schedule that I could have been using to look for an animal to sacrifice or hunting down homosexuals to kill according to the Word of God. :D

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...or earplugs, perhaps? :-)

 

Maybe this is why God invented iPods, huh? :)

 

I'm torn, Karen. My 15-year-old daughter insists on going to this Baptist church or she won't go at all. My wife, though being raised Baptist, is often open to other ways of being Christian, but still thinks my daughter needs the same grounding in the faith that she had. So I'm between a rock and a hard place. I could quit going, but that seems so anti-family.

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I understand where you are coming from, Bill. Fortunately I do not attend a church on the far end of the spectrum as you do. Although people like that were in control of the choir and any music in the worship at a church I attended for a long time. Now I attend a church that doesn't pay much attention to what is sung or said in the litanies but is liberal in their mission statements. I used to attend worship with the expectancy that the Spirit would ambush me at some moment in the service. Several years ago, when my life was at it's most turbulent, I starting looking for what might offend me. As in, "Isn't this awful? In the third verse is language about the blood of the lamb and Satan." Today I don't know if the song choices are changing or if I am. I feel sure that a change is not going to happen where you attend worship.

 

I do know that you are intentionally and gently providing an alternative view for your family and that you have considered other possibilities such as alternating where you attend worship so perhaps an iPod is the answer. I knew a conservative "pillar of the church" who was often seen in worship with an earbud in one ear. He was listening to a Denver Bronco football game!

 

Take Care

 

Dutch

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Wayseeker observed:

On the other hand, I do realize that many progressive and liberal Christians don't find the Bible or even the teachings of Jesus to be authoritative for them. Now, the logical part of me, considering Point 1 of PC ("By calling ourselves progressive, we mean that we are Christians who have found an approach to God through the life and teachings of Jesus."), doesn't understand how anyone could find an approach to God through the life and teachings of Jesus WITHOUT considering Jesus' teachings to be authoritative (to see them as applicable to us and to call for a response in attitude or action). So while I personally fail to see the logic of such a claim, I certainly don't walk in any one else's shoes to know exactly how *they* are interpreting and applying Point 1. But I doubt that any of us go through life without giving something or someone authority, even if that authority rest within us in our own experiences and logic.

 

 

I suspect the problem here arises out of the tendency to (often false) dichotomous thinking, that in turn arises out of the literal inerrancy position. From that, it is easy to move into a black-white, all-or nothing mindset. Either the bible (and often other sources) must be 100% correct, accurate, inerrant, or none of it is reliable. That kind of thinking unfortunately pervades quite a bit of Christian tradition, not only in biblical issues, but often as a mindset toward pretty much anything, other people, other resources, even as prevalent right now evaluation of politicans....find ONE thing 'wrong', and the WHOLE must be discarded. Find ONE error in the speech or essay of another, and ALL credibility and value must be thrown out. Find ONE thing about a person that can be identified as "a sin", a fault or flaw, and for it the WHOLE person must be condemned. Find failure in ONE thing anyone has done, and NOTHING about that person can be respected.

 

I think this tendency to false dichotomy, black-white, all or nothing thinking is the main reason many cannot allow themselves to consciously recognize inconsistencies, incongruencies, and downright inaccuracies within the bible. I have had this thrown at me quite often by those of 'tradtional' christian thinking....that if I don't accept ALL, 100%, of what they believe to be true about Jesus, their accepted 'salvation plan', etc, then i simply CANNOT be a Christian. Ironically, at the same time, i am often prone to thinking the same about them.... :rolleyes:

 

Jenell

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Wayseeker,

 

Are you familiar with Marcionism? I only know about it loosely but it would seem that much of what you discuss sounds very familiar to the issues that a bloke named Marcion had around 140CE? Marcion, who was perhaps an early Christian Bishop, got into some hot water with the establishment for positing that Jesus' teachings were incompatible with the God of the OT. In fact, I think he went so far as to say that Jesus was the son of the 'real' God and not the son of the 'lesser' God of the OT, being YHVH. Marcion apparently regarded the 'creator' God as a lesser deity. Wikopedia says about Marcion:

 

"According to Marcion, the god of the Old Testament, whom he called the Demiurge, the creator of the material universe, is a jealous tribal deity of the Jews, whose law represents legalistic reciprocal justice and who punishes mankind for its sins through suffering and death. Contrastingly, the god that Jesus professed is an altogether different being, a universal god of compassion and love who looks upon humanity with benevolence and mercy.

Marcion held Jesus to be the son of the Heavenly Father but understood the incarnation in a docetic manner, i.e. that Jesus' body was only an imitation of a material body. Marcion held that Jesus paid the debt of sin that humanity owed via his crucifixion, thus absolving humanity and allowing it to inherit eternal life.[8]

Marcion was the first to propose a New Testament canon. His canon consisted of only eleven books grouped into two sections: the Evangelikon, being a version of the Gospel of Luke,[9] and the Apostolikon, a selection of ten letters of Paul the Apostle (whom Marcion considered the correct interpreter and transmitter of Jesus' teachings). Both sections were purged of elements relating to Jesus' childhood, Judaism, and material challenging Marcion's dualism. Marcion also produced his Antitheses contrasting the Demiurge of the Old Testament with the Heavenly Father of the New Testament."

 

Not that I agree with what he did or didn't believe, but it seems thoughts like yours have been around since at least about 140 CE.

 

Cheers

Paul

Edited by Paul Smedley
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Are you familiar with Marcionism?

 

Somewhat, Paul. But, imo, there are a lot of differences between what I think and what Marcion did. See below.

 

Marcion, who was perhaps an early Christian Bishop, got into some hot water with the establishment for positing that Jesus' teachings were incompatible with the God of the OT.

 

I would put it that many of Jesus' teachings were incompatible with the teachings found in the earliest parts of the OT.

 

In fact, I think he went so far as to say that Jesus was the son of the 'real' God and not the son of the 'lesser' God of the OT, being YHVH. Marcion apparently regarded the 'creator' God as a lesser deity.

 

As I believe in only one God, I don't think it is a matter of different gods found in the two testaments, but different understandings of the one God found in the two testaments, with Jesus' understanding being closer to the way that God really is i.e. Jesus shows us the character of God.

 

Marcion held Jesus to be the son of the Heavenly Father but understood the incarnation in a docetic manner, i.e. that Jesus' body was only an imitation of a material body.

 

I believe Jesus was fully human, not "God dressed up in a man suit."

 

Marcion held that Jesus paid the debt of sin that humanity owed via his crucifixion, thus absolving humanity and allowing it to inherit eternal life.

 

I don't hold to substitutionary atonement whatsoever. Imo, Jesus called each of us to carry our own cross. And I believe that all the is required for us to experience forgiveness from God is asking him to do so, not offering him a bloody sacrifice.

 

Apostolikon, a selection of ten letters of Paul the Apostle (whom Marcion considered the correct interpreter and transmitter of Jesus' teachings).

 

I wouldn't hold to this, either, as hardly anything of Jesus' teachings are in Paul's letters. Jesus' gospel, imo, is about the kingdom of God, not about himself. Paul's gospel is about Jesus death and resurrection, and Paul condemns anyone who holds to a different view than his own.

 

Not that I agree with what he did or didn't believe, but it seems thoughts like yours have been around since at least about 140 CE.

 

From my point of view, I don't really see that much similarity in theology except that I think Jesus' teachings are the best guide for Christians. My point, as I've stated, was not to throw any of the Bible out, but to realize that, yes, Jesus did challenge some teachings of the OT and, imo, sought to revise Judaism. If Christians today are not keeping the 10 commandments, following the OT sacrificial system, and keeping the other 613 levitical laws, then they *already* have a canon within the canon. They *already* hold certain biblical teachings to be more, or less, applicable to themselves.

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...Both sections were purged of elements relating to Jesus' childhood, Judaism, and material challenging Marcion's dualism.

 

Here is another area, Paul, where I would disagree with Marcion. I think Jesus is best understood within his first century Jewish context. Imo, Jesus saw himself as part of a long line of prophets that were 1) calling the nation of Israel back to God so that 2) Israel would be a blessing to the world as God’s covenant with Abraham called her to be.

 

To me, Matthew, Mark, and Luke tend to focus on Jesus as God’s prophet, the new Moses, Elijah, etc. who was sent from God to restore Israel as the means of redeeming (blessing) the world. So I don’t see Jesus, at least in these gospels, as radically undermining Judaism, though I think he wanted to reform some important things within it.

 

On the other hand, the apostle Paul and his follower, the author of John, do, imo, cast Jesus as either God (docetism) or as maybe a lesser deity subjected to the Father. Paul was, imo, heavily influenced by Greek thought and as soon as Jesus was deified, it was natural to ignore or throw away his Jewishness. After all, God is not a Jew.

 

Recent historical Jesus studies have tried to recapture the Jewishness of Jesus and have tried to get back to what his original message and meaning was. Whether or not this search has been successful probably depends on who you talk to.

 

Finally, because I see Jesus in this way, I wouldn’t be for throwing out the Old Testament or even the letters of Paul. Though I often speak and write of the newness of things that we find in Jesus, I see Jesus as a reformer of his day, not as the founder of a new religion. The new religion, imo, came from the apostle Paul and his followers that removed Jesus from his Jewish background and cast him as God. This is why, in popular Christianity, if someone wants to know what it means to be a Christian, one turns to the letters of Paul (the Roman Road) or his epistles. Within this paradigm, the teachings of Jesus are, imo, useful only insomuch as they compliment or clarify Paul’s theology of the Logos (of God or a lesser heavenly but divine Being) taking on human flesh, but not really being one of us.

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Wayseeker,

 

Certainly there are many differences between your's and Marcion's thoughts, and in hindsight I see I posted too hurredly without due care. I hope you didn't/don't take any offence. I was certainly too blase in saying that much of what you discuss sounds very familiar to the issues of Marcion. I really should have been more specific and made the point that 'some' of what you were saying (as I think you were saying anyway) has been on other's minds, such as Marcion, as early as 140CE. My apologies.

 

What I read in your post (or should I say read into your post?) is the conundrum I imagine Marcion having of trying to put the God of Jesus and the God of the OT together. Whereas you see it (and I hope I get this right) as some of the harsher OT passages as being primitive misunderstandings of God, Marcion might have also questioned the harshness although he seems to have seen it as actually having nothing to do with God (the God of Jesus that is).

 

So where you say that "the message of Jesus does not agree with all the parts of the Bible, particularly with some of the harsh understandings of God expressed in the Old Testament", I imagine Marcion answering "that's because they're talking about a different God and not the God of Jesus". I merely meant to put out there that Marcion also seems to have questioned the understanding of the rougher stuff of the OT that seems out of kilter with Jesus.

 

I understand that Marcion's two different Gods doesn't align with your view for there being only one God, but what I meant by saying that was that Marcion also looked at the inconsistency between his understanding of Jesus and those primitive misunderstandings of God found in the OT. I probably should have gone further to propose that that is where the similarity ended between you and he.

 

I didn't mean to suggest you were neccesarily in agreeance with all those other points of Marcion's theology. But I appreciate the opportunity to practice my forum etiquette skills!

 

Cheers

Paul

Edited by Paul Smedley
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I have to agree with WS pretty much all the way down the line in this one...I think any aparant or suspected similarities to Marcion arise from simply that people then, as now, and all in between, were struggling with many of the same questions and issues that arise naturally out what is in the bible and Christian perspective.

 

A major weakness as I see it within Christian traditions is the feailure to consider just how really complex the cultural mix and influences were in the NT era, and ever since. I've observed among evangelicals, at least, a strong, and to my thought, irrational determination to try to interpret everything in the NT and about Jesus and other early Christians as in a context of ancient Hebrew, OT Israelite culture, religion, social structure, and perspective. There seems either ignorance or blind disregard for the reality that the events of the NT, the time of Jesus' life and the early christian religion did not arise out of such a 'traditional OT Jewish culture, but a very Helenized Greek culture. Even most Jews read and studied the Jewish bible from the septuagent, the popular Greek translation. Hebrew was not the standard language of NT era Jews, whether written or spoken. How much further removed from even that, early Christian thought was is evidenced in how quickly scriptures of the Hebrew codice had to be translated into Latin, for that even Greek language and traditions had been largely superceeded by Roman culture and thought.

 

Judism and Jewish culture and society had itself already been heavily influenced, transformed, changed, from contact with many other cultures and religious traditions, by the time the events narrated in the NT took place. Judism and Jewish culture had already absorbed and assimilated many "non-Hebrew/non/Israelite" customs, traditions, ideas, practices, and beliefs. Even such "pillars" of Jewish thought of the day that were to become integrated into the emerging Christianity, such as an afterlife of a durable soul, Hell, and a literal physical ressurrection of the carnal body are all of "pagan," not ancient Hebrew/Israelite/early Jewish orgin. The very idea of our soul "going to either heaven or Hell when we die" is not biblical (if we are still alive and aware as a soul immediately after death, what's the point of 'awakening to rise in the last day in the ressurection?) , and in conflct with the NT idea of salvation being to "inherit eternal life" (if there is no 'eternal life' before salvation, how do we go spend eternity in hell?) The concept of "Satan" as the cosmic arch-enemy of God and mankind had more likely arisen out of Babylonian and other surrrounding pagan reiigious tradtions, that out of Hebrew/Israelite ones. The very concept of that duality, God/Satan, as dualing enemies fightng it out for our souls, is entirely inconsistent with "one all powerful God and no other."

 

So whether Marcion, or any other individual or group of thinkers at the time, struggled to make sense out of the events of the NT, Jesus, or any other NT theme, there were a lot of diverse, conflicting and competing ideas in the process.

 

Jenell

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Paul, I didn't take any offence at all - no worries, mate! I hope my reply didn't come across as adversarial, I was just trying to offer a very brief overview of where Marcion and I would differ.

 

I think Marcion faced some of same biblical inconsistencies that I've had to deal with. But, imo, he came to a different conclusion as to why there are these inconsistencies than what I (and others) have and I think you've summed up my conclusions pretty well.

 

To me, the Bible is a collection of stories about the progressive understanding of God from, primarily, the Jewish perspective. Please note that I didn't say "progressive revelation" because that would imply that God was personally withholding information and, imo, God wouldn't play favorites that way. But I see the Bible as the Jewish nation wondering, "What is God like and how does that affect how we live?" And I suspect many people today have much the same question.

 

Imo, the Bible offers us, not a single monolithic view of God, but quite a number of views of God.The same can be said of Jesus. So God is pictured as king, warrior, shepherd, savior, judge, protector, testor, shelter, father, creator, love, etc. Some would say that to be faithful to the scriptures, we have to embrace all of these views of God as valid. And I don't doubt that some somehow do it. But I tend to think that the Bible reflects a progressive (but not linear) understanding of God that seems to culminate with Jesus. Metaphorically, the early church claimed that if people wanted to know what God was like, they could see God in the life and teachings and sacrifice of Jesus. Even the apostle Paul says that Jesus was the image of God. I don't think Paul meant that God, therefore, had a beard and brown eyes, but that God's character could be experienced by knowing Jesus. But, and this is just my opinion, where Paul took a detour was in worshipping the image instead of the Reality that the image pointed to.

 

So it's my belief that the answer to the Jewish question of "What is God like and how does that affect how we live?", for the early church, was, "Look at the person of Jesus. He shows us what God is like and how we should live." IF (big IF) this is true (my hypothesis), then other answers in the Bible to the question need to be compared to the answer we find in Jesus. Yes, some views of God in the Bible are, to me, repugnant and even immoral. I find them unhelpful, even damaging. And, per what I said in the OP, I won't be teaching these views of God to my children...for now.

 

So all I'm saying is that if my kids ask me (and they do), "What is God like and how does that affect how we live?", I won't turn to Moses, or to Joshua, or to the book of Revelation. I will turn to the synoptic gospels and say, "Well, this is how Jesus described God and how we should treat one another, and most Christians think he gave us a pretty accurate picture." We won't end there, but, to me, that is a good place to start.

Edited by Wayseeker
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Jenell,

 

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. Although the OP had a lot of theological language in it, I shared it because, to me, theology infiltrates and shapes our lives in very personal ways. It is one thing to hold to a theological viewpoint. It is quite another to see how that comes into play in everyday life.

 

About 15 years ago, my grandfather, whom I dearly loved, was on his death-bed, dying from pneumonia. Being the oldest son of his only son, I either held a special place in his heart or he made me feel that way. But he and I had never talked about anything religious. So, loving him as I did, and knowing his time was short, I told him that God loved him. I tried to get him to accept Jesus as his Savior. He wasn’t much interested. He said that while he believed in God, he wasn’t a religious man. Though it was part of my theology at the time, I couldn’t bring myself to tell Grampa that God would burn him in hell if he didn’t say the right prayer or the right words. And though I believed God really did love my Grampa, even more than I did, I just couldn’t see how God would burn him in hell. This was a good and loving man. He wasn’t perfect, he was human. But I had learned so much about good character from him, whether in conversation or by example. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that God loved him out of one side of my mouth and then that God would torture him in hell forevermore out of the other side of my mouth. I knew it didn’t make sense. But as an evangelical Christian, I knew that I had to hold to both theologies to be true.

 

Grampa never accepted Jesus that I know of. Most Christians will probably tell me that he is burning in hell today. But I don’t believe it. My heart won’t let me believe it. Yet the teaching that God is love is in the Bible. And the teaching that the wicked unbelieving go to hell is in the Bible.

 

And now my Dad is dying. He, like my grandfather, says that he believes in God but that he is not religious. And, being the heretic that I am, I haven’t even tried to get my Dad to say the “Sinner’s Prayer” or to travel the “Roman Road.” I simply entrust my father to the God that I believe is love. But doing so means that I reject the authority of other scriptures that warn of God’s wrath, doesn’t it? In the OT, God often destroys sinners. In the NT, Jesus ate with them, accepted them, and called them friends. I'm hoping that Jesus was right.

 

It’s not that I believe that “everyone goes to heaven.” I’m not sure about that, for, as you’ve said, Jenell, that seems to be a Gnostic Christian idea, not a biblical one. But I do believe that God’s love for us is bigger than our understanding and experience of him. And though I could be wrong, I think that is what Jesus tried to tell us and show us. As I think the Bible shows us and as my life demonstrates, theology changes. But I’d like to think and trust that God’s love does indeed endure forever.

Edited by Wayseeker
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Paul, I didn't take any offence at all - no worries, mate! I hope my reply didn't come across as adversarial, I was just trying to offer a very brief overview of where Marcion and I would differ. Thanks WS. You didn't come across as adversarial but I did realise my error in posting a bit too quick without enough depth.

 

I think Marcion faced some of same biblical inconsistencies that I've had to deal with. But, imo, he came to a different conclusion as to why there are these inconsistencies than what I (and others) have (yes, agreed) and I think you've summed up my conclusions pretty well. Thanks.

 

To me, the Bible is a collection of stories about the progressive understanding of God from, primarily, the Jewish perspective. Please note that I didn't say "progressive revelation" because that would imply that God was personally withholding information and, imo, God wouldn't play favorites that way. But I see the Bible as the Jewish nation wondering, "What is God like and how does that affect how we live?" And I suspect many people today have much the same question. I like how you put 'progressive understanding' as opposed to 'progressive revelation'. I concur.

 

Imo, the Bible offers us, not a single monolithic view of God, but quite a number of views of God.The same can be said of Jesus. So God is pictured as king, warrior, shepherd, savior, judge, protector, testor, shelter, father, creator, love, etc. Some would say that to be faithful to the scriptures, we have to embrace all of these views of God as valid. And I don't doubt that some somehow do it. But I tend to think that the Bible reflects a progressive (but not linear) understanding of God that seems to culminate with Jesus. Metaphorically, the early church claimed that if people wanted to know what God was like, they could see God in the life and teachings and sacrifice of Jesus. Even the apostle Paul says that Jesus was the image of God. I don't think Paul meant that God, therefore, had a beard and brown eyes, but that God's character could be experienced by knowing Jesus. But, and this is just my opinion, where Paul took a detour was in worshipping the image instead of the Reality that the image pointed to. In my limited understanding of Paul, I would also agree.

 

So it's my belief that the answer to the Jewish question of "What is God like and how does that affect how we live?", for the early church, was, "Look at the person of Jesus. He shows us what God is like and how we should live." IF (big IF) this is true (my hypothesis), then other answers in the Bible to the question need to be compared to the answer we find in Jesus. Yes, some views of God in the Bible are, to me, repugnant and even immoral. I find them unhelpful, even damaging. And, per what I said in the OP, I won't be teaching these views of God to my children...for now. Good idea, in my book.

 

So all I'm saying is that if my kids ask me (and they do), "What is God like and how does that affect how we live?", I won't turn to Moses, or to Joshua, or to the book of Revelation. I will turn to the synoptic gospels and say, "Well, this is how Jesus described God and how we should treat one another, and most Christians think he gave us a pretty accurate picture." We won't end there, but, to me, that is a good place to start. Thankyou, and for me, this is good food for thought. I have two sons (7 & 5) and I struggle with saying anything to them about God - 1) because I have no firm convictions myself, but also 2) because any mention of God and Jesus make me fearful that my children might adopt the harmful fundy views that I grew up with. I know that probably sounds silly, but that feeling is still there for me. I am coming to a different understanding of Jesus, perhaps one where even if he didn't physically exist, the messages attributed to him (with some editing!) are still good ones for a happy & fulfilled life (perhaps), and that might be enough.

 

Cheers

Paul :)

Edited by Paul Smedley
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My 15-year-old daughter insists on going to this Baptist church or she won't go at all. My wife, though being raised Baptist, is often open to other ways of being Christian, but still thinks my daughter needs the same grounding in the faith that she had. So I'm between a rock and a hard place. I could quit going, but that seems so anti-family.

 

Many years ago, my wife and I made the same decision - to encourage the indoctrination of our children into the Christian faith. I'm not so sure that this was a wise thing to do, should our desired outcome be to foster a "grounding" in the faith.

 

Quite the contrary; they all witnessed some pretty awful stuff masquerading as "the love of Christ." The church experience soured my children if not toward Christianity in general, at least toward organized religion specifically. About the only good that I can honestly same came of it was an appreciation of classical music and a fondness for history (we attended church in a building constructed before the turn of the 20th century).

 

They were horrified by the racist, homophobic and sexist tendencies that still pervade in nearly every Christian community we've attended on any regular basis. The more progressive churches worked a bit harder at concealing it, but it is profoundly difficult to immerse oneself in any of the patriarchal religions without the stink of white (and in some cases; non-white), male supremacy rubbing off. At times, I feel as though it is imbedded in the Gospel DNA.

 

So, Wayseeker, I know of what you speak.

 

My advice: Continue to attend your church, but allow your ACTIONS to speak your own gospel. Judging by your posts in this forum, I'd say your children have a most excellent role model that has the added benefit of tucking them in at night.

 

NORM

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