Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Jesus is a conservative
(Inspired by the long life of the infamous and controversial conversation starter, "Jesus is a liberal" post of Aug. 24.)
We prefer a blue-eye Jesus who wouldn't pussy-foot around with all the sinners we see today, if you know what I mean.
Frankly, the whole liberal/conservative thing upsets Jesus a lot. I talked to Him the other day ... and He wishes y'all stop doing that. Otherwise He's going to get Bibical on your asses and your other farm animals. :)
Yeah, I'm a cheap date. Don't take a lot to make me happy. Just a slap, a tickle and some caffeine and I'm set for the evening.
~Strangers in the night exchanging glances
Wond’ring in the night
What were the chances we’d be sharing love
Before the night was through.
Something in your eyes was so inviting,
Something in your smile was so exciting,
Something in my heart,
Told me I must have you.
Strangers in the night, two lonely people
We were strangers in the night
Up to the moment
When we said our first hello.
Little did we know
Love was just a glance away,
A warm embracing dance away and -
Ever since that night we’ve been together.
Lovers at first sight, in love forever.
It turned out so right,
For strangers in the night.~
I do a mean Frank Sinatra impression.
Jesus was neither conservatice nor liberal--he was a radical.
Tech, I've got some chocolate-covered potato chips. Want some?
Well, did you ever see that movie Alive? It's about some folks who crash in the mountains and are forced to eat their dead fellow travelers to survive. Without mustard. The horror of it overwhelms me. So I always travel with a packet of mustard.
My point is sometimes those horrible things happen. You're trapped in the wilderness or you're tired of pizza. Or maybe your neighbor just looks good enough to eat. It's important that you don't have a rule that you have to break.
when Sleepy rushes in and says, "Guess what guys, I've won a
trip to see the Pope!" Everyone gets all excited and chants,
"We finally get to ask him, we finally get to ask him."
The next day, they are standing in front of the Pope, Dopey
out in front of the other six. All the other six start pushing
Dopey and saying, "Go ahead, Dopey, ask him, ask him!"
The Pope looks at Dopey and asks, "Do you have a question to
ask me, young man?"
Dopey looks up shyly and says, "Well, yes."
The Pope tells him to go ahead and ask. Dopey asks, "Well,
do....do they have nuns in Alaska?"
The Pope replies, "Well, yes, I'm sure we have nuns in
The others all keep nudging Dopey and chanting, "Ask him
the rest, Dopey, ask him the rest!"
The Pope asks Dopey if there's more to his question, and
Dopey continues, "Well, uh, do they have, uh, black nuns
To which the Pope replies, "Well, my son, I think there
must be a few black nuns in Alaska, yes."
Still not satisfied, the others keep saying, "Ask him the
last part, Dopey, ask him the last part!"
The Pope asks Dopey, "Is there still more to your question?"
To which Dopey replies, "Well, uh, yeah.....are there, uh,
are there any midget black nuns in Alaska?"
The startled Pope replies, "Well, no, my son, I really don't
think there are any midget black nuns in Alaska."
At this, Dopey turns all kinds of colors, and the others
start laughing, and yelling, "Dopey screwed a penguin,
Dopey screwed a penguin!"
Just don't get in the habit!
Ar ar ar.
We should be careful or Goat will come in here and shame us for being bawdy!
That's what makes it so funny when rightward leaning Christians -- I am being KIND -- accuse liberal of doing that. They truly have it backward. Kiki has it right:
Jesus is King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Son of God, Son of Man and the Very Model for Antiestablishmentarianism!
Tech, thank you so much for making me laugh so hard! There will be a 2-liter Coke in your Christmas stocking from me! Oh, and someone gave me a huge gift certificate to use at a sushi restaurant. I've never had sushi. It came with a warning -- don't think the green stuff is guacamole. It's "wasabi" and the main ingredient is horseradish, apparently. YIKES!
THIS is why conservatives get so riled when somebody starts talking about modern political expressions of Jesus's words and examples! Because they ain't conservative.
Jesus resisted the temptation of the mean ol' devil, and trusted his Father, Art, in Heaven, insteaad. I reckon that could be considered conservative.
Matthew 25:14-30 (The parable of the talents)
In this parable, two servants are rewarded for taking some capital, investing it, and doubling their money. The one servant who chose not to invest had his money taken from him and given to the servant with the most money. This is the exact opposite of your redistribution of wealth fantasy.
Jesus worked on the Sabbath. Today, liberals and unions will say that a man shouldn't work more than 40 hours a week, and never on the weekend.
One of my favorites (advocating personal arms) - Luke 22:36 - Then he [Jesus] said unto them [the disciples], But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.
There are several admonitions against keeping little children from him. Hmmm, seems like schools are full of children. We might want to encourage them to seek God. I only see conservatives trying to put God back into school.
And you know what? I could go on. And you can counter with modern day liberal arguments, using the exact same Bible. But what is the point? Jesus is bigger than politics. We (you and me) interpret lots of stuff differently. I don't 'hijack' Jesus (as you put it) to feed any agenda. I think on the whole of it, Jesus is neither liberal nor conservative by today's standards. His teachings show both sides. Even as I type this, I wonder if I am helping his message or hindering it.
How about the Parable of the Fig Tree? The tree was unproductive - Jesus killed it. He didn't authorize any welfare checks for it, he didn't take fruit from a productive tree and give to it, he didn't start any new programs to help it out. Nope, he killed it. Pretty right wing, huh?
Now I'm not advocating killing the unproductive of society, but I am saying that they need to meet us half way if they want any help.
Some of those are good points.
I just want people to make their arguments, and not assume its all self-evident, because it's not -- to me.
And I'm really not trying to swat down any argument. I want them all to be given a fair hearing. This, like the "Jesus is a liberal" post, is meant mainly to instigate thought, although I admit I am inclined one way and you are inclined another.
The mystery of the Son of Man -- and yes, I usually emphasize "Son of Man" over "Son of God," mainly because everybody else seems to concentrate on the Superhero Jesus, not the man Jesus, but I do not ignore either -- the mystery of the Son of Man is that we all can see ourselves in Him.
You see yourself. I see an erudite redneck! :-)
One other point: I have never said that the government should take from you and give it to others, in Jesus name or any other.
I HAVE said that since the government DOES take from all of us and redistribute it -- it's a fact, jack -- then MY vote is going to people who are more likely than not to make sure funds and other breaks, tax and otherwise, go to the poor before the middle class, the middle class before the wealthy, the worker before business, labor before capital, small businesses before big businesses, Third World nation-building before First World market-building and, you get the idea.
TECH, are you coming down from that high yet? Don't crash too hard when you do
I confess I odn't know where I picked up the idea, but I pondered hard years ago about that very thing: The decision to respond to Jesus ("get saved," be "born again," what have you) as the latest example of natural selection.
And just the other day, I read something similar that coined a term for the "new man," in the Christian sense:
I think that is a very cool idea.
Now, I have been stoned before. It was in a village as I recall, and "witchcraft" and "consorting with the devil" were phrases being bandied about. A couple of people actually dared to toss a couple of pebbles in my direction, but after I turned them into toads and cooked them in a delicious wine broth and then ate them -- oh the sweet sound of their crunching bones -- everyone came around to my way of thinking. Funny how that worked out.
Oh, before I forget Dr. ER, have I mentioned that I've taken several massage classes? I'm quite good. I can supply references.
And I want some of whatever Tech is smoking.
And here's my thoughts on the Jesus is a conservative, which follows a previous Jesus is a liberal discussion some time back:
Now here is how to really hyjack a blog:
"There were three who always walked with the Lord; Mary, his mother, and his sister and Magdalene, the one who was his consort. His sister and his mother and his companion were each a Mary."
"And the companion of the Saviour is Mary Magdalene. But Christ loved her more than all the disciples and used to kiss her often on the mouth. The rest of the disciples were offended by it and expressed disapproval. They said to him Why do you love her more than all of us? The Saviour answered and said to them,Why do I not love you like her?.When a blind man and one who sees are together in the darkness, they are no different from one another. When the light comes, then he who sees will see the light, and he who is blind will remain in the darkness."
The Gospel of Phillip, outlawed by the Church in thr 3rd Century.
"Levi answered and said to Peter, "Peter, you are always irate. Now I see that you are contending against the woman like the adversaries. But if the Savior made her worthy, who are you to reject her? Surely the Savior knew her very well. For this reason he loved her more than us."
The Gospel of Mary, also banned, and rediscovered in the Egyptian desert.
Did Jesus have first hand knowledge of "family values'?
Mark 3:31-35 "And his mother and his brethren came; and standing without, sent unto him, calling him. And the multitude sat about him; and they said to him: Behold your mother and your brethren without looking for you. And answering them, he said: Who is my mother and my brethren? And looking round about on them who sat about him, he said: Behold my mother and my brethren. For whosoever shall do the will of God, he is my brother, and my sister, and mother."
The following is for TECH: I've been making this for weeks now, as I do every Christmas and it's BODACIOUS and wonderful and so easy...and it's how I keep the IT guys at work making sure I get help with my computer first:
Box of confectioner's sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
stick of butter
tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup milk
Mix sugar, salt and cocoa well in 2 qt microwavable bowl. Place the stick of butter in the center and add the milk and vanilla.
Microwave for 2 minutes on high == the butter might not all be melted, but will continue to melt as you mix the entire concoction until smooth.
Add half a cup of chopped nuts and blend in (I've used Walnuts, pecans and even almonds this week while at a friend's home).
Line a large loaf pan or an 8x8 pan with wax paper, dump in the fudge and spread evenly. Stick it in freezer for 45 minutes.
Peel the wax paper from it and cut into 1-inch squares. No refrigeration necessary.
Now THAT is hijacking the conversation. Go make some fudge!
Jesus Born in Poverty
Lk 2:4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
His Parents could not afford a Lamb for sacrifice
Lk 2:22When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. 23(as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24and to offer sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”
Jesus knew what hunger felt like for 4o days
Lk 4:1Jesus, full of the Hoy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.
Jesus announced his identify and ministry describing his mission to serve the poor and disadvantaged
Lk 4:18“The spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Jesus began his public ministry describing the works of God – feeding and healing
Lk 4:24“I tell you the truth,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three ad half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed – only Naaman the Syrian.”
Jesus heals people psychological problems
Lk 4:33In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an evil spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, 34“Ha! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!” 35 “Be quiet!” Jesus said sternly. “Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him.
Jesus heals heir physical illnesses
Lk 4:38Jesus left the synagogue and went to the home of Simon. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her. 39So he bent over and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She gout up at once and began to wait on them.
The morality of the Jesus of the Gospels, is the vague, ambiguous product of a dull, chauvinistic, defeated provincial culture: reactive, individual, solipsistic and uninteresting, and explicable only in terms of people who were always expecting - and hoping for - the dramatic end of the world. What's interesting is what happens when its refracted through the lenses of cultures determined to find their own morals in it, whether grand and traditional established churches or ecstatically deluded mystics have managed to do with it.
But in any resemblance on this topic he has the advantage on me, since he probably read Geneology of Morals in the original.
Saying Jesus is neither liberal or conservative, as we understand the words today, gets it exactly wrong, I think. In reality, he is both -- or, at least, the absolute best and purest of what both of those worldviews holds.
Those of you who have pointed out, particularly since Katrina, Jesus' care and concern for the poor are exactly right, of course. Not only did Jesus love the less fortunate, but he urged/urges His followers to do the same -- and you are also right to point out that no one who calls himself a follower of Christ should feel very good about the path he is following if he is not actively engaged, at least at the heart level, in caring for "the least of these."
Truth be told, that's one of the things I've been convicted about in my own spiritual walk as a result of renewing my old friendship with ER through frequent visits here -- and regular private e-mails between the two of us; not that I've ever been the conservative stereotype some advance of callously dismissing those in material need in an I-got-mine-screw-you sort of way, but rather that I've come to be reminded of just how much Jesus exhorts his Church to extend love and compassion to those who are hurting -- no matter what is at the root of that hurt. And my own passion for that work has most certainly not matched His as a matter of historical record.
I suppose a case can be made, as has been made here often, that the aspects of Jesus discussed above are "liberal" in nature -- I won't quibble with that. It is, I think, the best essence of what traditional liberalism has stood for. But I also think, as important as it is, it's not all Jesus stood for.
Consider his interaction with the woman caught in adultery (John 8: 1-11). The crowd wanted to stone her for her sin; Jesus challenged them to consider their own sin -- that was the way He handled the mob that thought what somebody else was guilty of was worse than what they themselves were guilty of -- there's no hierarchy to sin. But He didn't leave it there; in dealing with the woman individually, He refused to condemn her, yes, but also said this: "Go and sin no more."
That, to me, is a conservative way of dealing with the situation -- at least in terms of how the word is applied sociopolitically today.
Why do I say that? Because Jesus called her sexual immorality exactly what it was -- sin. He offered her grace in spite of it, yes, because He loved her. But grace is only one aspect of that love. The other aspect, the "tough" aspect, was in telling her the truth that her immorality wasn't just another "lifestyle choice," but was destructive behavior that separated her from God (that's the definition of sin, after all). As part of the grace "bargain," her role was to "go and sin no more."
That's the essence of salvation -- and it's not just conservatives who get part of the equation wrong. Many of you here have been correct in pointing out that conversatives need to better embody the "liberal" aspects of Jesus by extending grace and mercy to those who need it. I'd contend, though, that some of the same among you need to remember that repentance was also a central part of Jesus' earthly ministry -- He acknowledged there was sin in the world and required those who would follow Him to renounce and turn away from that sin.
There was no "whatever your own personal morality may be" in Jesus -- and there still isn't. He understood the devastation that sin wreaks in the lives of individuals and society at large -- that's why he took the weight of that sin, for all time, on Himself.
I would submit that, while not always executed in Christlike fashion, that's what politically active Christian conservatives see as their calling -- a sort of John the Baptist thing, calling the world to repentance because of the devastation that has come and will continue to come due to sin the government has sanctioned (abortion, same-sex marriage, embryonic stem-cell research, etc.)
My only quibble: No amount of telling peoople how sinful they are will convict them of their sin. That's entirely up to God.
Jesus was in the unique position, which we never are, of forgiving the sin, helping the woman and admonishing her to repent, all at once.
What WE can do is help people with material wealth when it's needed and help them spiritually by pointing them to the Gospel, which the Holy Spirit will use as a tool -- ONE tool -- of leading them to conviction. Or not.
("Convict," y'all, in this sense is the verbifying of the noun "conviction," and means, more of less, the followng [and I go to these pains because I know non-evangelicals often do not know this sense of the word]:
("The work of the Holy Spirit where a person is able to see himself as God sees him: guilty, defiled, and totally unable to save himself [John 16:8]. Conviction of the Holy Spirit of an unbeliever reveals sinfulness and guilt and brings fear. [often, not always -- ER] Conviction of the Holy Spirit of the believer brings an awareness of sin and results in confession and cleansing. This conviction is produced by the Holy Spirit [John 16:8[, the Gospel [Acts 2:37], the conscience [Rom. 2:15], and the Law [James 2:9].)
This is one way I've changed my tune, for example, on homosexuality.
They can read. They know where the Bibles are. You can't live in this society as a homosexual and not know that the vast majority of Christians believe it is a sin.
That's enough for me. They should be welcome in church, period. Their sin is no worse or less than mine. God convicts me of my sin in His time; He will, or will not, convict them of theirs, too, in His time, or not.
All of which is off topic. If Jesus were a conservative, He would discourage homosexuals from becoming active in church until they repent. As a liberal, I think Jesus says, come to church.
And in church, they will, or will not, come to repentence, like drunkards, idolators and other various and sundry sinners who sing, pray, teach Sunday school, preach, collect food and clothing for the hungry, and do all the other things that people do in churches all the time.
Now, in all seriousness, Liberal and Conservative are modern terms, with modern connotations (implied meanings, what we think of when we hear the word) but no true denotations (literal meanings).
To label Jesus one or the other is to pigeon-hole his teachings, which was supposed to appeal and be applicable to everybody.
Was Jesus liberal? Conservative?
Well, honestly, take away a hippie's drugs, sex, and rock and roll and you've got Jesus.
Best answer I can fathom.
One of the speakers at that Focus conference -- called Love Won Out, by the way -- actually tells the story of a gay couple who wanted to attend his church and said, "But we're gay. And we don't want to change. Will we be welcome?" And the guy said, "We have a spot for you right up front, next to the gossips and the idolaters."
Church is precisely where anybody steeped in or struggling with sin needs to be regardless of the sin -- because it's there that God can work on their hearts and bring them to the kind of conviction you referred to. Any church that forbids homosexuals to come hear the Word preached simply because they're gay -- well, I'd dispute calling that a "conservative" church as much as I'd dispute calling it a truly "Christian" one.
One last thing, re: your comment about conviction not coming from people being told of their sinfulness by other people. I agree -- sort of. Conviction can come, in part, from association with others when a relationship exists between people -- that's the whole idea of "iron sharpening iron" and has, in fact, played out in my life over the last several months as you and I have jousted over some of these issues. Carrying a sign at a gay pride parade that says "Turn or Burn" doesn't do a thing for a gay person's spiritual condition -- except make him or her even more (justifiably, in this case) convinced that Christians are intolerant legalists. But if you reach out in love, demonstrably and consistently, with no other agenda than to serve, and in that context relate your Biblical views on homosexuality or any other sin someone is willfully engaged in (even turning his or her back on the por), that's a situation the Lord can use to bring repentance and healing.
The problem is, many on the left hammer Christian conservatives for suggesting in any way that homosexuality is contrary to God's design -- no matter how lovingly the message is rendered. Consider all the heat Focus on the Family takes -- despite coming at the issue (in my opinion) exactly as Jesus would: loving those in sin demonstrably, but not shying away in the slightest from calling sin sin. God is a God of grace, yes; but we can never forget he is also a God of righteousness -- leaving either end out of that equation is to miss what Christianity is all about.
It stikes me that there's something terribly impious about the way you and people like you use Scripture. Take the case you cite, of the woman taken in adultery. There was NO bargain. While Jesus' rhetorical strategy with the crowd would be unlikely to be successful in the woman persists in her conduct, it does not change the basic message: that the community should NOT judge. It does not say "gosh, this was a first offense and she can reform and I'm going to tell her to do so, and she will, Me being the Son of God and all": - it was "you (meaning the community) do NOT have the standing to judge and condemn her." Even the second part: Jesus' own refusal to condemn her is separate and precedes his injunction to sin no more: and, just as important, there is no hint anywhere that she ultimately obeys this injuction. You're right, that He regards the sin as an absolute sin, not a matter of personal preference. But as everywhere else in His life as it is told to us, he does NOT invoke the power of the state or society or Sanhedrin religious authority to forbid it in any earthly sense. He doesn't even use His divine power to compel her obedience, and more than that happens to us. He states, she chooses, and the author of this Gospel doesn't even assure us that she chooses well in the future, becuase that would actually detract from this message. Jesus never treats the state as a moral actor, never urges his followers to take any action other than living their lives well and preaching to others to make the same choice.
The leap from that call to specific individual choice of an absolute right over an absolute wrong to "Christian conservatism" or even ER's brand of "Christian liberalism" with its compulsory state-enforced concern for the poor is immense. There is no indication anywhere that Jesus considered that the state or the collective had any moral role at all. Might be worthwhile for both sides to consider rereading The Grand Inquistor section of the Bros Karamazov. Not that it's going to change anyone's mind.
But "Same sex marriage" is a classic example. The state can't create a sacrament; there's nothing sacred about it. They can only recognize contractual obligations and assign privileges. In the sense that you mean, assuming you're right about what God likes (since as many people have pointed out that Jewish purity laws make a very spotty appearance among Christian fundicreeds). there is no such thing as same-sex marriage, becuase marriage is something derived from God, regardless of what secular society calls its contractual relationships.
You're correct in noting that the woman caught in adultery was forgiven before she was exhorted to sin no more. And you're right that we have no way of knowing whether she heeded the exhortation -- although something tells me, after meeting the Son of God in the flesh and being saved from certain death by Him in a way that affirmed her value as a person (something she was probably not accustomed to), it's a safe bet that she did repent.
Even if she didn't, though, the story doesn't really end there for her or any one of us. The bare truth of the matter is that unless each one of us renounces our sin and accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior, we are destined for hell. God, in His infinite mercy, chooses to let all of us make that determination for ourselves -- He doesn't force it on us. And grace and love the likes of which He showed the woman at the well is the chief way He chooses to lead us to that place. But make no mistake about it: In the end, it is a "bargain" of sorts -- although that's a rather crass word I should have avoided. We are forgiven our sins and have our names written in the Lamb's Book of Life if -- and only if -- we accept Him as Lord and Savior. It's a free gift, requiring only that we unwrap it. And, ultimately, we don't do anybody -- gay or straight -- any real service if we fail to point them to that Truth. It's in how we do it that we will either have credibility in their eyes or won't -- and, by extension, whether we will emulate Jesus or we won't in so doing.
My comment to you is thus (and I don't have the scripture reference handy): If a memeber of church is actively engaging in sin, we are to admonsih them. If they continue, we are to take two or three witnesses and admonish them again. If it still continues, we are to cut them off.
Likewise, Jesus makes the statement (again, I need my Bible to find the exact reference), "If thy hand offend thee, cut it off". If we are indeed all part of the body of Christ, we must cut off those body parts that are consciously and consistently "offensive".
A little off topic, but in line with the above - Back home, my home church was founded sometime in the early part of the nineteenth century. When we celebrated our 150th anniversary (I'm sure there's some two-dollar word for that), there was a pamphlet created that highlighted the highs and lows of the church's history. Sometime prior to WWII (or during it, I don't recall now), there are business meeting minutes that showed that a widow (and memeber of the church) was engaging in promiscuous behavior. The pastor went to talk to her. The next week, the minutes showed that three men were sent to see and admonish her. A record sometime past that showed that neither the woman nor any of the three men were seen in the church again. When this account was read from the pulpit, it brought the house down.
Back on topic - Nick, I think you're pretty well right on in your assessment. The single biggest struggle for me in my Christian walk is 'to love my neighbor as myself.' I guess it's a product of my raising, but I can't help but hold others responsible for the decisions they make. I'm a strong believer in having and maintaining a work ethic. Often this view, while not necassarily non-Biblical, conflicts with the VERY-Biblical message to 'feed my sheep' or to feed and clothe 'the least of these'.
As Nick says, I'm not so much of the opinion that says, "I've got mine and you didn't, so screw you". I'm more of the opinion that "I worked hard for what I have and I'm not opposed to helping you, but show me that you are willing to put forth some effort, too."
Anyway, I've rambled enough.
Y'all must be in the Christmas spirit or something. Whatever it is, keep it up.
"Was Jesus liberal? Conservative? Well, honestly, take away a hippie's drugs, sex, and rock and roll and you've got Jesus."
You don't have to take away the sex however. See my post above.
Jesus had a companion/consort which in the original Greek ment one with whom he had sex. The Church made Jesus sexless for its own purposes.(something about the sucessions of kings) So all those books that refered to it, simply were put away.
Nick, make that 80 percent. :-)
Based on: " ... at least at the heart level, in caring for 'the least of these.' "
At first, I thought that was OK, as a positive version of the revelation that to lust in one's heart is to commit adultery.
But there's a difference.
Committing adultery in one's heart damages oneself and one's relationship with God, and it colors one's relationship with other people.
Committing "helpfulness" in one's heart does nothing for oneself, and adds nothing to one's relationship with God, since that is based on grace (and, as part of the mystery our response to it), and, it does nothing for the one to whom the helpfulness is "felt," because he is still hungry, or naked or homeless -- or lost.
... holy crapmuffin! The drink verification thing wants me to tupe in "doomee." I'm scared.
Are you serious? You believe that? If so, then you invalidate the teachings of Paul and the law as recorded by Moses. I'm so blown away, that I don't know what else to add.
MBR, Tstock, thanks for contributing. And Rem, I LOVE that story. That IS the biblical way to deal with persistent sin by members of a local congregation.
I would agree with him, though, that one does not *have* to believe Jesus was sexless.
(That IS what the Lord di, ya know. When He saw the multitudes were an hungred? He whipped up a good ol' country catfish fry.)
You and the good Doc have a great Christmas -- I'm off to New Mexico to spend a few days with Mrs. Toper's family as soon as she gets back from teaching her spinning class at the gym.
While that sort of thing is mentioned in the Bible, and therefore "biblical" by definition, I'd say it's best to forget such details of polity and leave the judging and conviction to the Holy Spirit.
Keeping women "silent" in the churches is biblical, too. But Jesus had zilch to say about it -- and I simply do not give the same weight to Paul or Peter or James that I do to the words that the church, at least since around 300, has said Jesus said.
Plus, His example speaks as loud as His words, if not louder. He showed respect for women. To keep them "silent" is showing disrespect -- and will get yer ass kicked.
One can be sexual without actually having sex with another individual. Believe it or not.
Then the earliest writings are wrong, and they very well could be.
Somebody tell me why it is critical that Jesus be celibate. (Why could he not have had a wife?)
I'm asking why? The answer: "It's not in the Bible" is inadequate for purposes of this discussion." Because the various branches of Christianity do not agree on what "the Bible" includes and does not include.
Godiva sells Wasabi-flavored truffles, so why not chocolate-covered sushi?
A dragon roll covered in Godiva wasabi chocolate...
Much as I like Sushi, there's something to be said for country-fried catfish covered in hot sauce with a side of fries and hush puppies.
I grew up in North Carolina and had numerous Yankee influences. Forgive me.
Biblically, there is no marriage in heaven. I can't recall exactly, but I believe Jesus said this in response to the relentless questions he'd get from Sadducees and Pharisees and every tone of Biblical scholar trying to trip him up.
If Heaven is the highest reward, and you don't have sex there, then union with God must be the ultimate orgasm. Pardon my French.
Yet God created sexual union, as a way of celebrating Him (if he ordained the union, for example) and for human enjoyment. It is a mystical experience that involves two coming together in the name of the Father. (Of course, I get a big hint here from Mike Mason's book, and it may be exaggerated.)
Christ is the Son of Man, who died for ALL our sin. He is partly man, partly God and partly Holy Spirit. Christ IS the so-to-speak connection between man and God (the missing link reference above) -- and in some way, that might be the ultimate sexual reference right there.
If He died for ALL, how could he very well have been joined in holy matrimony -- see explanation of that union above -- with ONE woman? That would exclude everyone else for all time -- and, Biblically speaking -- that is not the case.
This makes perfect sense to me.
They're out there if anyone wants to read them, but they weren't made part of the canon for good reason. The way I understand it, the council that put together what we know today as the Bible was not so much tossing aside books they didn't like as affirming what was already being recognized -- or ignored -- by Christian congregations of that era.
If that is the case, these other books were already not being accepted -- even before their nonacceptance became official.
They also contain passages that don't sound like the Jesus we know, and historically, I believe evidence shows they were written further from the time of Jesus' life.
Granted, the Bible doesn't include every detail of his life, but I don't believe his closest followers would have omitted something that important.
There's plenty of evidence of women playing prominent roles in his ministry and life, a fact that was radical in its day and time, and that information WAS included in the canon.
Most recent anon, I'd say, though, that Jesus was wholly God and wholly man, however, and I'm not nitpicking. That is an important distinction from "partly," and is at the heart of the Mystery of Who He Is.
And, I agree with GP regarding how the noncanonical writings should be regarded, and I also like the way he described the purpose of the council.
I get too hung up on the worldly politics and power plays of the canonical period sometimes, and I forget that, as "worldly-ly political" as it seems from the vantage point of today, the early bishops and church pastors had no similar concept.
What seem like Machievellian power plays today were not (partly because the era predates Machiavelli!), but also partly because the concept of "church" and "state" as we know it today did not exist, ergo, the concept of "politics," as we know it today, did not exist.
Politics and power were involved in how the council dealt with texts and outliers, but they weren't the exact kind of politics and power we know today.
But no more from me. You have the last word.
The Mystery of Who He Is transcends human attempts to comprehend.
Merry Christmas to you, Anon and to all your Anonlets if there are any! :-)
Now, God, please, would somebody relieve me of this last word by shifting the discussion a little?
How else might Jesus's words or example be construed as "conservative"?
This discussion is verging on consensusm, praise God, from whom all blessings flow.
Jesus is both conservative and liberal!
In that case, Jesus was a Hippy.
Happy Holidays everybody!
Are you serious? You believe that? If so, then you invalidate the teachings of Paul and the law as recorded by Moses. I'm so blown away, that I don't know what else to add.
# posted by Rem870 : 10:24 AM
Yes it would invalidate the teachings of Paul in the current Bible but not all the teachings of Paul from the first century that were excluded. Even in the current 66 book bible Paul praises Meriam an Apostle who was doing great works. Meriam is another name for Mary Magdalene say some Biblical scholars. However Paul himself was a married man. He could not have belonged to the Jewish organizations that he did as Saul without being married.
As for the law of Moses? To what are you refering?
As to, do I believe it?
It is possible. In fact given the reaction of the Catholic Church every time it comes up, I'd say it might even be probable.
The funny thing is that it should make no difference. It wouldn't make him any less God would it? Or does having sex with a woman make you unclean? Would his having a wife change the conditions of Salvation?
Anyway get ready for another round of this in public conversation. The Movie is coming out.
I read The Book upon which The Movie is based in one sitting. Amazing tale!
The Coptics see the trinity as worshiping multiple seperate Gods and won't allow it as part of their Christian doctrine. In this they split from the Roman Church before there was a Roman Church.
Christianity is so much more convoluted than most people think.
I honestly do not understand. There is a lot unsaid in that, but I don't know what. Please to explain.
"Yes, it would change Salvation.
Unless you don't believe the story of The Fall."
That would depend on you interpretation of the story of the fall. How do you see it?
Cliff Notes version, that.
Ya'll are intuitive enough to fill in the blanks, if not read my mind.
It is instructive however, to see how the Church is reacting to even this left handed presentation of Jesus's having had a wife and child.
If you like a good tale, then see the movie.
The sin that caused the fall was Disobedience. Disobedience of God.
God said don't eat of the tree of knowledge, they did and disobeyed.
Were is the Sex?
Nakedness yes. Being ashamed of being naked yes. Sex, don't see it in the text.
As a pratical matter, sex does not depend on one being necked as they say.
I mean as far as this whole Fall-Sex-Shame-Jesus-Wife thing!!!
Once when I was 16, I got so totally lost driving in Dallas, I freaked out. Afterr a couple of hours of driving past convenience storews with bars on the windows, shady-looking characters lurking on street corners and other stuffr this country boy had never seen before, I happened upon a Baptist church.
I walked in and asked to see the pastor. I was really unsettled. As he came out, I said, "I'm lost!"
He said, in his best Texas Baptist way, "Well, brother, we can find ya!"
We laughed, and I told him I was NOT lost in the spiritual sense, I just didn't know my dang way around Dallas! :-)
If Jesus came to Earth from heaven to do the same, what was the point?
Oh, come on. If he'd had a wife and child, he'd have had to FOTF. Forget saving the world from itself."
For Jesus to FOTF = precludes dying to save mankind =
Jesus is a conservative->Super-Caffeinated Dude making passes at Dr. ER->Jesus is not a conservative->Chocolate-Covered Potato Chips->Jesus is both conservative and liberal->Jesus had a wife/had sex->No he didn't->Yes he did->Jesus is NEITHER conservative or liberal->Chocolate-covered sushi->The Da Vinci Code->I got lost somewhere along the way but this is the best guess I could make.
In the Jewish Culture he could have been Married at 16, in fact it would be a very rare thing for a man to be single in the Jewish culture of that day much beyond his teen years.
That is at least one historical argument for the possibility that Jesus had a wife. As for the child well that's less of a possibility.
Mary the M. even in the current canonical New Testiment was with Jesus all through his public ministry and was in fact the first person he appeared to after his resurection, so in that sense she was a part of all this.
The genealogy of this thread:
Jesus is a conservative->Super-Caffeinated Dude making passes at Dr. ER->Jesus...."
Christ was born to the Virgin Mary, and we celebrate it with the Christmas holiday. I'm not sure if God or Jesus was liberal or conservative, and I rightly do not care.
I know that with my girlfriend's family this weekend, I will celebrate the birth of Christ. To me, that's very important.
So to each of you, I hope you celebrate this weekend in the best way fitting for you and your family. May God bless you all.
"So you're assuming Mary the M. was the same as Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus.
Not proven. "
Nope, no such assumption.
I really like that idea.
Doubt the Gospel, the Good News, itself? In our darkest, darkest moments.
To be suspicious of it? Surely you mis-typed. :-)
GP said and ER concurred:
"The way I understand it, the council that put together what we know today as the Bible was not so much tossing aside books they didn't like as affirming what was already being recognized -- or ignored -- by Christian congregations of that era."
That is a reverse spin worthy of Bill O'Riley.
ER as a historian you should know that it is all about POWER, Control, Property, and Money ( there should be one word for all four of those together, Yes there is Mamon).
That is what the council was about. Of course they were true believers and sure of their own intentions, as is our very own commander in chief this very day. It is the result of their deeds that define what was happening, not their stated intentions. "By their works ye shall know them."
By the way the idea is also conveyed in an Urdu saying: ZAR, Zan, Zameen. Which translates, Gold, Land, and Women.
One last thought: If Jesus was a fully functioning biological male human being how many wet dreams would he have had before the age of 33?
Perhaps one day I will share your view. Not yet.
Actually, as a historian, I know it is not always about "POWER, Control, Property, and Money."
It's sometimes about dry dreams. Misplaced priorities, often misprayed prayers.
Sometimes it's about wholly misplaced thinking entirely -- such as those who pushed progress on the Indians, and harmed their heritage when they meant to help it; such as my philosophical-ancestral Southern forebears, not the Simon Ligrees, who were truly evil, but the common types who honestly thought they were preserving the souls of the less-than-men slaves by keeping them as children, which others saw as bondage.
Every age is entitled to be more fucked up than the one before -- and more enlightened, at the same time.
Anonymous 9:42 p.m.: Excellent, excellent retort.
Oh yes, thanks for this canvas upon which I can paint.
As for Anon 9:42 pm's retort, it reminds me of the concept of "Angel Lust".
Legitimate point. Put crudely.
But hey, I ain't no Sunday school teacher, either.
(As a young, young man, I actually got told to "tone down" the way I was teaching a bunch of R.A.'s once because I was too excited about the Godness of God!)
Carry on. :-)
(P.S. Stay away from my cat!)
The gospel, the plan of salvation, is open to everyone. And is out there for everyone to see.
No hidden agenda. All who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
And that ain’t no conspiracy.
And to all who made this thread interesting, thought-provoking -- and relatively free of rancor.
You are aware of course that the only reason you know anything about the Gnostic gospels is because we have the criticism of them from the "Church" fathers. Only recently have any of the actual text labled "Gnostic" actually been found.
It would be as though all the writtings about the Republican Party, that existed any where on earth for the next 1,700 years were documents and commentaries written by the Democratic Party Headquarters.
My son is working on his Phd. in Philosophy (condolances accepted) and he indicates to me that there were at least a few dozen "Gnostic" branches of Christianity and that their idealolgies varied in degree and content and that they never call themselves Gnostic, that name was applied much latter.
When I was much younger I drove and hiked and climb to the Monestary of Debra Damo in what is now Eritrea. It was Coptic Monestary that has been on the Amba top (read Mesa) for 1,800 years untouch by war or invasion of Islam or the Italians. They allowed me to look into their "library" from the doorway.
No picutes, no touching anything.
There were thousands of Scrolls and Large Books all around the room I was given about 90 seconds to take it all in and then was ushered out.
The point is that there are places on earth that harbor these books. They will not be Lost forever. Shall we ignore them as they appear? Shall we learn from them?
Shall we accept at face value the dogman of others as to their value? Shall we make our own individual explorations?
But that's another story.
Why the 'Lost Gospels' Lost Out
Recent gadfly theories about church council conspiracies that manipulated the New Testament into existence are bad—really bad–history.
by Ben Witherington III | posted 05/21/2004
In Dan Brown's best-selling novel The Da Vinci Code, villain Leigh Teabing explains to cryptologist Sophie Neveu that at the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325) "many aspects of Christianity were debated and voted upon," including the divinity of Jesus. "Until that moment," he says, "Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet. … a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless."
Neveu is shocked: "Not the Son of God?"
Teabing explains: "Jesus' establishment as 'the Son of God' was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicea."
"Hold on. You're saying that Jesus' divinity was the result of a vote?"
"A relatively close one at that," Teabing says.
A little later, Teabing adds this speech: "Because Constantine upgraded Jesus' status almost four centuries after Jesus' death, thousands of documents already existed chronicling His life as a mortal man. To rewrite the history books, Constantine knew he would need a bold stroke…Constantine commissioned and financed a new Bible, which omitted those gospels that spoke of Christ's human traits and embellished those gospels that made Him godlike. The earlier gospels were outlawed, gathered up, and burned."
Unfortunately, this passage of fiction has raised questions for many readers because it appears to be an accurate historical summary embedded in an otherwise fictitious account. It is anything but that.
The novel expresses in popular form what some scholars have been arguing or implying for years. Twenty years ago, Elaine Pagels wrote The Gnostic Gospels, a book that introduced the larger public to the other "Christian" writings that arose in the early centuries of the church. Regarding the books of the New Testament, Pagels asked, "Who made that selection, and for what reasons? Why were these other writings excluded and banned as 'heresy'?"
For Pagels this wasn't a rhetorical question, but one designed to get readers to question the very authority of the New Testament.
Other books—like The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle (2003) and The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament (1997)—have been similarly skeptical.
The issue of canon—what books constitute the final authority for Christians—is no small matter. If the critics are correct, then Christianity must indeed be radically reinterpreted, just as they suggest. If they are wrong, traditional Christians have their work cut out for them, because many seekers remain skeptical of claims to biblical authority.
Let us examine whether revisionist authors' claims stand up to the historical test.
'Heresy' In the Beginning
Pagels is a history of religions professor at Princeton University. Her book explores a number of ancient texts that teach Gnosticism—the collective name for many greatly varying sects that believed that matter is essentially evil and spirit good, and that God is infinitely divorced from the world.
Where Judaism and Christianity emphasize the role of faith and works in salvation, and salvation of both body and spirit, gnostics taught that the soul's salvation depended on the individual possessing quasi-intuitive knowledge (gnosis) of the mysteries of the universe and of magic formulas.
Pagels admits that the gnostic texts were rejected by the orthodox, but she claims that it wasn't until the period of great councils (325 and after) that "orthodoxy" was defined as opposed to "heresy." Thus fourth-century religious politics decided "orthodoxy." As one character in The Da Vinci Code puts it, "Anyone who chose the forbidden gospels over Constantine's version was deemed a heretic. The word heretic derives from that moment in history."
But was there really no such thing as "orthodoxy" before the fourth century? Is it really the case that Gnosticism was harshly suppressed without being given a fair trial?
First, there is no strong evidence to suggest that gnostic Christians vied with the orthodox from the beginning. Even what is probably the earliest gnostic document, the Gospel of Thomas, seems to have come from a period after the New Testament books were already recognized as authoritative and widely circulated.
The Gospel of Thomas, in fact, draws on most of these documents, adding some new ideas about Jesus and about the faith. All other major gnostic texts—like the Gospel of Truth, the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of the Hebrews, the Gospel of Mary, and so on—are clearly written in the second and third centuries.
Church Fathers Irenaeus and Tertullian addressed Gnosticism in the second century in works titled Against Heresies and The Prescription Against Heretics. And the Muratorian Canon (a list of New Testament writings from late second century) says this: "There is current also an epistle to the Laodiceans, and another to the Alexandrians, both forged in Paul's name to further the heresy of Marcion, and several others which cannot be received into the catholic Church. For it is not fitting that gall be mixed with honey." In other words, it is historically false to say that the councils of the fourth and fifth centuries invented or first defined "heresy."
Revisionist historians like Pagels also argue that there was no core belief system, later called "orthodoxy," in the first century. This is a strange claim, because anyone who has read the letters of John, for example, knows that discussions about orthodoxy and heresy were heating up in the New Testament period. Paul's letters, too, show distinctions being made between truth and error. By the time we get to the Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus), there is a strong sense of what is and is not sound doctrine, particularly in terms of salvation and the person of Jesus Christ.
Furthermore, the early church viewed the Old Testament as both authoritative and inspired, as 2 Timothy 3:16 shows. This is an important point in regard to Gnosticism. The earliest churches had already recognized the Hebrew Scriptures as canon, a set of authoritative and divinely inspired texts. Notice how much of the Old Testament is quoted in the New Testament books—all written to edify churches across the ancient world. Gnosticism fundamentally rejected Jewish theology about the goodness of creation, and especially the idea that all the nations could be blessed through Abraham and his faith. When the church accepted the Hebrew Scriptures, it implicitly rejected Gnosticism before it had a chance to get started. Thus we are already at a watershed moment in the development of early Christianity, one that could not allow Gnosticism to ever be regarded as a legitimate development of the Christian faith.
New Testament scholar Pheme Perkins points out how rarely the Gnostic literature refers to the Old Testament: "Gnostic exegetes were only interested in elaborating their mythic and theological speculations concerning the origins of the universe, not in appropriating a received canonical tradition. … [By contrast] the Christian Bible originates in a hermeneutical framing of Jewish scriptures, so that they retain their canonical authority and yet serve as witnesses to the Christ-centered experience of salvation."
She puts her finger on one of the main reasons gnostic texts could never have been included in the canon—they largely rejected the Scriptures the earliest Christians affirmed, the Hebrew Bible.
The formation of authoritative apostolic texts, moreover, was already occurring in the New Testament period. We see this in 2 Peter 3:16, which says of Paul: "He writes this same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures … " Even if this text was written in the earliest years of the second century (as some New Testament scholars think), it makes plain that there was already a collection of Paul's letters that were considered authoritative and on a par with "Scriptures."
In other words, by the New Testament period, there was already a core of documents and ideas by which Christians could evaluate other documents. The New Testament documents already manifest a concept of "orthodoxy," or at least criteria by which truth and error could be distinguished. Among the second-century lists of authoritative Scriptures, never are gnostic texts listed—not even by the unorthodox Marcion in about 140. There was never a time when a wide selection of books, including gnostic ones, were widely deemed acceptable.
A good example of this is Serapion of Antioch (a bishop from 190 to 211), who let some of his flock read the Gospel of Peter in church—until he read the book himself. He concluded that it had a heretical Christology, teachings about Jesus that did not conform to other ancient apostolic documents. Or compare the Apocalypse of Peter with the canonical gospel portraits of Jesus' Passion. The gnostic text depicts Jesus as glad and laughing on the cross, a radiant being of gnostic light (81:10-11).
Pagels's suggestions to the contrary, gnostic texts were never seriously entertained by many Christians as legitimate representations of the faith.
E Pluribus Unum
Another revisionist historian is Harvard professor Karen King, author of The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle (2003). In this book, she is right in affirming that the earliest Christians grappled with a number of issues. She denies, however, that there was a core set of beliefs shared by most followers of Jesus.
For example, listen to why she thinks the Nag Hammadi codices (third- to fifth- century gnostic manuscripts from Egypt) are so crucial to a revision of the history of early Christianity: "These writings are of inestimable importance in drawing aside the curtain of later perspectives behind which Christian beginnings lie, and exposing the vitality and diversity of early Christian life and reflection. They demonstrate that reading the story of Christian origins backwards through the lenses of canon and creed has given us an account of the formation of only one kind of Christianity, and even that only partially. The fuller picture lets us see more clearly how the later Christianity of the New Testament and the Nicene Creed arose out of many different possibilities through experimentation, compromise and very often, conflict."
The fourth- and fifth- century councils and creeds aside, the essential question is, What do the earliest documents about the rise of Christianity say?
As any good historian knows, the documents closest to the source of the rise of the movement are likely to reveal most about the origins of a religious group. Documents by eyewitnesses or those in contact with eyewitnesses are our primary sources. These documents happen to be the New Testament itself, plus a few other first century works like the Didache and 1 Clement.
King's argument—that the earliest churches held a wide spectrum of beliefs—is an argument entirely from silence. We have no evidence of Marcionites or gnostics running around in first-century churches. This is not surprising, since the Jewish presence in those churches was still considerable and the New Testament documents, with the possible exception of Luke-Acts, were written by Jews.
King urges us to "accept that the norm of early Christianity was theological diversity, not consensus." King also seems to completely ignore the existence of core beliefs about Jesus, his life and death, and his resurrection that united the earliest churches. What Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:1-3 has good claims to being true. This was the tradition that Paul and other apostles were passing down everywhere about Jesus and his death and resurrection.
She ignores masterful studies, like that of J.D.G. Dunn on The Unity and Diversity of the New Testament, which show that theological diversity was hardly the "norm" of the early church. To the contrary, the early church battle cry was akin to "E pluribus unum." Hear the way it is put in Ephesians—"There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all" (Eph. 4:4-6).
Note the Trinitarian flow and flavor of this text, speaking of our relationship with Spirit, Lord, and Father. It was not the later councils that imposed on the church the notion of the divinity of Christ or a Trinitarian way of thinking about God. The raw, initial articulation of this thinking had already emerged in the New Testament. Unity around this set of core beliefs made Christians stand out from other religious groups in the first century, in the eyes of both Jews and pagans.
But wait a minute, say the critics. We don't have the original New Testament documents. All we have are copies of copies. What if there were orthodox monks who deliberately changed the text while copying it, shaping it according to their own theology, so that our New Testament is a far cry from the originals?
The Non-Problem of Copies
Though we have close to 5,000 original-language manuscripts containing text from part or all of what we now call the New Testament, no two copies are exactly alike. The question for many, then, becomes whether there was some sort of conspiracy to change the originals to make them conform to the orthodoxy taught in the fourth- and fifth- century churches.
As noted earlier, this question has taken popular form in The Da Vinci Code, where "thousands of documents" supposedly chronicled Christ's life as "a mortal man." Constantine supposedly destroyed these gospels and "embellished" the four Gospels to make Christ appear more "godlike." Is there any truth to this?
Bart Ehrman is a specialist in New Testament text criticism—the study of partial and whole manuscripts to reconstruct original texts. In his Orthodox Corruption of Scripture (1997), Ehrman meticulously explores what he calls the orthodox corruptions of Scripture. This enables him to document how, in response to various heresies (including Gnosticism), some scribes added or subtracted from the text to highlight the true humanity or true divinity of Christ. I emphasize highlight, because Ehrman does not suggest, as The Da Vinci Code does, that new ideas were simply imported into the text. For example, sometimes the word Christ is added to the name Jesus to emphasize his exalted status even from birth. It is not as though a foreign idea is sneaking into the text. The vast majority of these enhancements are not to be found in our modern translations (niv, nrsv, the New Living) because text critics have demonstrated they were not part of the originals.
The most important observation to be made is that none of the "corruptions" or corrections was carried out in a systematic way. We have no evidence of a systematic conspiracy by the orthodox church to doctor the text of the New Testament, particularly the Gospels, in order to prop up a new Christology. Yes, certain overzealous individuals, Ehrman shows, were even prepared to create forgeries to support their own view of orthodoxy. But well before the canonization of the New Testament, many Christians had the established apostolic testimony to evaluate the authority—or not—of the various copies floating about.
In fact, on the whole, Christian scribes were notably conservative in how they handled their copies. Worried that a verse might be misunderstood, sometimes they would seek to clarify that which could be overlooked, distorted, or misconstrued. Sometimes they would find alternate readings in the margins of the manuscripts they were copying from, and they would include both readings lest they leave out the correct one. These scribes had a profound sense that they were copying the sacred Scriptures, and they did not want to leave anything out that the originally inspired author had included.
If Ehrman had left his discussion at that point, there might not be any objection to his argument. But he goes on to plow the same furrow as Pagels and King; he too writes revisionist history, arguing for a wide array of beliefs at the church's beginning. The struggle over an emerging orthodoxy, in his view, was not solidified until the fourth century.
How much more solid Ehrman's book would be if it had come to grips with works by Martin Hengel that deal with both early Judaism and early Christianity. There could hardly be a scholar better grounded in primary source texts, both orthodox and heterodox.
From the outset of his The Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ (2000), Hengel stresses that "primitive Christianity has no knowledge of the abrupt distinction between theology and history: The truth lies between a 'historicism' which is hostile to theology, and a 'dogmatism' which is hostile to history."
Hengel shows that the titles on the canonical Gospels—"according to Matthew," and so on—likely were already in place by at least 125. This would mean they circulated together, because the titles imply a distinction between, for example, Luke's rendering and Mark's. Indeed, the collection of four Gospels together may have been one of the first such collections to circulate in one codex or book.
Harry Gamble, in Books and Readers in the Early Church (Yale, 1995), shows at length that Christians in the second century quickly took to the codex (book form) rather than individual papyrus scrolls to more easily circulate multiple documents at once. He demonstrated that Paul's letters also circulated in a collected form early in the second century. This is not just because these documents were popular. It is also because they were seen as representative apostolic texts that faithfully presented the earliest and most authentic evidence and interpretation of Christianity and its founder.
It is no accident that, in about 180, Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, could already speak clearly and definitively about the fourfold Gospel, specifically citing those of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. He does so as he is opposing things he deems heretical. Thus, already in the second century, he has a strong sense of what amounts to orthodoxy when it comes to the story of Jesus.
Even before Irenaeus, from the middle of the second century, we have the witness of Justin Martyr, the great opponent of Marcion and his aberrations. In his Dialogue with Trypho (160), he calls the canonical Gospels "the reminiscences" of the apostles and says they were read and used in worship in his day. Nothing comparable is said about any other gospels, not even the Gospel of Thomas.
We can say without hesitation that various books that were to become part of the New Testament were already seen and used as authoritative and acceptable in the second century in various parts of the church, both Eastern and Western—and that their listing as authoritative in the early fourth century was without serious debate.
In the end, the gnostic gospels and other gnostic documents were never even considered for inclusion in the Christian canon. Other, non-gnostic books that did not make it into the canon were debated rather heavily—namely, the Shepherd of Hermas, 1 Clement, the letters of Ignatius, and, most surprisingly, the Wisdom of Solomon. It is noteworthy that not a single document written after about 120 was ever considered for inclusion in the canon, not least because such documents were not written by people in direct touch with the apostolic tradition, much less with the apostles themselves.
Hence, contrary to Pagels and others, the case was never that the gnostic documents were excluded or deleted. Rather, they were never serious contenders for inclusion in the canon, either in the Eastern or the Western church. As the canon list of Athanasius in 367 demonstrates, even in the home region of the Nag Hammadi texts none of those texts was ever included in a canon. None ever appeared in any authoritative list, and it is perhaps also suggestive that when the Nag Hammadi texts were found, they were found without one single canonical book included with them. This should tell us something about how they were separated from and viewed differently from canonical books.
The New Gnostic Faith
Some 20 years after she wrote The Gnostic Gospels, Elaine Pagels penned the beautifully written Beyond Belief. In a particularly candid and confessional part of the book, Pagels talks about how she had been alienated from Christian faith while in high school: She was part of an evangelical church when a Jewish friend died, and her fellow Christians told her that since the friend was not born again, she was going to hell.
Though this turned her off from the church, she maintained a lively interest in New Testament studies and the early church. While doing doctoral work at Harvard, she had an epiphany. She was reading the Gospel of Thomas when she came across this saying of Jesus: "If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you."
She comments: "The strength of this saying is that it does not tell us what to believe but challenges us to discover what lies hidden within ourselves; and with a shock of recognition, I realized that this perspective seemed to me self evidently true."
Her comparison of the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of John reveals how far down this road she has traveled. In John, there is an "I-and-Thou" relationship, a vine and branches relationship, that involves an integral connection between the divine and human without identification of the "I" with the "Thou." But in Thomas, it is a matter of "I am Thou." The self is deified and is seen as the finish line of faith.
Here we find the appeal to personal impressions or experience as the final authority. The believer is not asked to believe specific things that come from without (by revelation), nor to submit to any authority but the self. Instead, we are to be the measure of ourselves and to find our own truths within us.
In this book, we see Pagels's story of suffering and feeling betrayed, and her long spiritual journey to a reconfigured form of Christianity—reconfigured as self-actualization. And it is evident that the gnostic texts have helped lead her in that direction.
Pagels is not a disinterested scholar when she writes about Gnosticism. Her spiritual journey entices her to look at the gnostic texts in a particular way, and to postulate an early and widespread authority for them—and then to suggest that the process of New Testament canonization was arbitrary. Orthodox scholars are similarly tempted in their own direction. I know I am. So we are wise to recognize this potential bias in evaluating any argument. But in the end, we still have to make arguments based on history, not on silence.
I don't know the personal story of the other scholars who argue for a vital and early Gnosticism in the church. It really doesn't matter. They might want to argue that Gnosticism should have won the day, or that the church today should resurrect Gnosticism as a valid Christian expression. But their attempt to show that the process of forming the New Testament was somehow arbitrary and manipulative is a failure, and it seems to be driven by something other than historical scholarship.
Ben Witherington III is professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary and author of many books, most recently Paul's Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (with Darlene Hyatt: Eerdmans, 2004) and The Gospel Code: Novel Claims About Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Da Vinci (InterVarsity, 2004), from which this article is adapted.
Copyright © 2004 Christianity Today.
Thanks. Responses like that are what it is all about.
Reasonable magazine, and a Christian theologian you might think had a scholarly unbias approach to the subject, until you find out that he is selling his book about it.
Here it is:
The Gospel Code
Author: Ben Witherington III
Description: Dan Brown's international bestseller The Da Vinci Code has raised many questions in the minds of readers.
Was Jesus really married to Mary Magdalene?
Did he father a child with her?
Did Constantine suppress the earliest Gospels and invent the doctrine of Christ's divinity?
Do the Gnostic Gospels represent the true Christian faith which the early church sought to supplant?
The Da Vinci Code, in blurring the lines between fact and fiction, popularizes the speculations and contentions of numerous more serious books that are also attracting wide attention. How should we respond to claims that we now have documents that reveal secrets about Jesus, secrets long suppressed by the church and other religious institutions? Do these new documents successfully debunk traditional views about Jesus and early Christianity?
Ben Witherington III confronts these claims with the sure-footedness of a New Testament scholar, yet in the plain language that any interested reader can follow. He takes us back to the early centuries after Jesus' death and tells us what we can really know about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, the canonical Gospels and their Gnostic rivals.
It seems Ben is a stakeholder on the subject, very much as the early Church fathers and political leaders MAY have had.
The Gospel Code: Novel Claims About Jesus, Mary Magdalene and Da Vinci -- by Ben, III Witherington; Paperback
Buy new: $10.20
A working knowlege of all of this will make you the center of attention at all the parties you attend for the next year at least.
I just subscribed to the Christian Century magazine. Curious if anyone knows much about it. Look pretty liberal and scholarly to me.
In 1900, its editor proposed to rename it Christian Century in response to the great optimism of many Christians at the turn of the 20th century that "genuine Christian faith could live in mutual harmony with the modern developments in science, technology, immigration, communication and culture that were already under way."
It did not receive widespread support in its denomination and was sold in a mortgage foreclosure in 1908. It was purchased by Charles Clayton Morrison, who continued publication and became a highly influential spokesman for liberal Christianity. In 1916, he labeled the magazine undenominational.
Morrison advocated higher criticism of the Bible, and the Social Gospel, which included concerns about child labor, women's suffrage, racism, war and pacifism, alcoholism and prohibition, environmentalism and many other political and social issues.
The magazine was a common target for criticism by fundamentalists during the Fundamentalist - Modernist debate of the early 20th century.
In 1956 the magazine was challenged by the establishment of the evangelical Christianity Today by Carl F. H. Henry, which sought to present a theologically conservative Christian viewpoint, while restoring many social concerns abandoned by fundamentalists. Both magazines continue to flourish, with the Christian Century remaining the major independent publication within ecumenical, mainline Protestantism.
Today the magazine is published by the non-denominational Christian Century Foundation.
"It is no accident that, in about 180, Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, could already speak clearly and definitively about the fourfold Gospel, specifically citing those of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. He does so as he is opposing things he deems heretical. Thus, already in the second century, he has a strong sense of what amounts to orthodoxy when it comes to the story of Jesus."
I know that a post such as this is to late but you guys got me going back to original sources and I ran across this explaination as to why there can be only four Gospels of Christ.
Irenaeus writes in Adversus Haereses:
The Gospels could not possibly be either more or less in number than they are. Since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is spread over all the earth, and the pillar and foundation of the Church is the gospel, and the Spirit of life, it fittingly has four pillars, everywhere breathing out incorruption and revivifying men. From this it is clear that the Word, the artificer of all things, being manifested to men gave us the gospel, fourfold in form but held together by one Spirit. As David said, when asking for his coming, 'O sitter upon the cherubim, show yourself '. For the cherubim have four faces, and their faces are images of the activity of the Son of God. For the first living creature, it says, was like a lion, signifying his active and princely and royal character; the second was like an ox, showing his sacrificial and priestly order; the third had the face of a man, indicating very clearly his coming in human guise; and the fourth was like a flying eagle, making plain the giving of the Spirit who broods over the Church. Now the Gospels, in which Christ is enthroned, are like these. (3.11.8)
There are four Gospels according the Bishop Irenaeus in 180 AD because he practiced NUMEROLOGY.
Strange that the author of the Christianity Today article did not reveal that in his use of Irenaeus as a source of authority.
So this a throw-away posting
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