Contributions to FaithSpace: Texts

Material below is a collection, not often in date order, of my contributions to Faithspace. Each text may begin some way in to the contribution, but then gaps are signified by three dots. The contributions here extract from the conversational style into something more neutral. They do not include contributions from other people unless absolutely necessary and then they are unnamed. Punctuation is altered for clarification. Extra text is in square brackets which sometimes involves a little removal of text in favour of the given alternative.

July 16 2006, 3:17 pm

When you see how it was constructed, chosen, placed together, and, more to the point, how its reading is determined by current cultural assumptions, you realise just how human in construction it is. These scriptures (or texts that get put together and called scripture) are set in history, which is the first place they should be analysed and understood.

What is in scripture and its context? It is Jesus as part of the Hebrew Bible understanding of Heaven as a place for humankind like Elijah and apocalyptic thoughts about him, or Enoch. The abode of the dead was Sheol, like a vast cavern under the earth, which under later ideas had become subdivided into one place for the righteous and one for the wicked, and on the latter called Gehenna, this was based on a rubbish dump that was once a nastier side of Pagan worship and now where refuse fires burnt all the time. Of this Gehenna Jesus preached quite seriously. Then Jesus preached about resurrection, a later idea too held by pharisees and combined with the Day of the Lord at the end - judgment on those wicked and vindication of those righteous. Jesus wanted people to be righteous, and told them they were healed (so to remove wickedness) and sin no more.

Now we as a common culture do not share these beliefs, that ill health is due to sinning, and death too, or that there is a hell below us and a heaven waiting for the resurrection on the last day when God's rule is made manifest. We believe that people get ill because they are infected, that they die because they are overwhelmed with a condition or the cells are inadequately replaced when they wear out, that the earth will last until the sun consumes it, that the universe will go on until it is too far apart to sustain itself, and so on. The explanations are not in terms of last days and God making his rule manifest and a whole host of other mythological goings on, but in terms of a natural unfolding of transient events. The shock of Gehenna is no shock to us, it is meaningless.

So it is not all just in scripture, but it has to be seen as a narrative in a historical place and time, with its own understanding. What then applies to us depends on the reader and listener. When Paul says there is no forgivenness without shedding blood, this is clearly codswallop, but it worked then as a means of making a theology about Jesus. But it does not hold up today as a mechanism. In fact all the emchanisms by which this theology made sense have gone, except amongst sectarians.

So it won't do, making this what seems to me fantasy appeal to scripture, and it does not wash.

One of the interesting things about fundamentalism or emotionalism around the Bible is how little impact it now has. At one time church people could make meaningful threats about hell and damnation, what God would do with you, in a reworking of resurrection into an instant passage to heaven or hell (itself a revised idea). And it could work as a threat to get a reward of holiness and salvation. Now it is ineffective, unless of course a person can be recruited into a society where this meaningworld is supported and reinforced, and acts as a mental trap. But in general if womeone says this now, it is laughed off. It has no place in common understanding. Because it has no argument, the fundamentalist side of this turns instead to rules. If you want to be a Christian, it means this, this and this, and if you don't follow these rules, you are not one. It is just the end of the argument, it is exposed in this way as dead and lost. I simply say to these rules, no sorry, won't comply, just as I say to the fantastical emotionalist, no this is unrooted and out of historical context. It has lost its impact - fine for you, if so disposed, but it lacks communication.
August 7 2006, 1:38 am

It is a mistake to think that there is any privileged scientific information in scripture, of any kind. It is not its function or method. It is worse still as a method to say, ah we don't know about that so let's see what scripture says. Scripture says nothing.
September 16 2006, 9:06 pm

These writings have a time and a place, and that makes the Book of Revelation similar to the gospels. It is consistent too, as [Tony Robinson] says, with Jesus the apocalyptic preacher. But the point he has made is also the case, that if powerful people think they can bring [the apocalypse] about, that is I'd say if the lunatics are running the asylum, then we'd better duck.
September 16 2006, 9:24 pm

The shock horror [television] programmes of debunking type theology that we used to get ten years ago are now being replaced by a more detailed and measured set of programmes [about] historical setting. There is, at last, some theology being discussed... These [biblical] texts are relative to their times and then perform a reflective function, but not one that can be predictive. People assume that prophets predict - but instead they take the present situation and make a future context of it.

I watched Star Trek this afternoon, some of it. I now know that in the future space ships that can defeat the limitation of travelling at the speed of light will have clunky knobs and switches, and women will be soft focus temptresses to people in authority. Oh and "logic" will be superior. If Star Trek is in any sense prophetic, it comes from its time. Including that one with articifical intellegence.
September 14 2006, 10:03 pm

There is some assumption that because Jesus equals the Holy Ghost and because the Holy Ghost guides the words and therefore they are true, that the whole Bible (as selected by these folks) is therefore approved by Jesus. But it is by transference; it is not therefore about the historical Jesus but about words in a book given a literalist status by a convoluted argument.

The bible is not a magic book, or a book of supernatural instructions, it is a book outlining shifts in faith in communities in particular times and places struggling with questions. There was a kind of ongoing dialogue because not all the answers were readily available, and nor are they now. People have to think and consider general principles, and can consult the Christian traditions (including those of the earliest Christians in an open charismatic phase) for those principles.

Paul's shadow is so great and dominant, that the whole New Testament has to be approached critically. We have to ask what lies behind this person and his lack of interest in the historical Jesus, and work out what the various characters were doing and trying to direct. A straight reading will not do this.
August 22 2006, 5:14 pm

Jesus was obviously particular to the Jewish people and story. The transformation was for them. Jesus may have made exceptions in response to faith, certainly the gospels cannot avoid his Jewishness nor the Jews first view of the rapidly coming Kingdom, for Gentiles only to be invited in later, but the Gospels expand who is "in" and also need to stress that the Gentiles of faith are already included. It shows Jesus being impressed with Gentile faith, from someone who answers back.
August 22 2006, 7:27 pm

What's this faith she was supposed to show [a Greek, a Syrophoenician woman, in Mark 7]? In the story it's like, "Hey, come on, even the dogs get some crumbs." That's answering back, more in the manner of rabbi to rabbi - if we are dogs, we are still hanging around your feet for the bits left over.
August 23 2006, 1:54 am

But Christ's response was to treat her answering back, logical style, as [an example of] good faith (which in Judaism it is). Yes she may have heard a healer is in town, he dismisses her, she says well come on even dogs get crumbs under the table, and he says OK go away done.

The story conveys that Jesus' healing exists in the context of his greater mission to the Jews, and secondly that healing takes place along with faith. Her reply indicates an acceptance of the greater mission - the children (of Israel) must be first, but yes the dogs (Gentiles) under the children (of Israel) will get the crumbs, so to speak.

The question whether this took place is not particulary relevant: what is relevant is that Jews and Gentiles are in the new Christian community and this passage serves as an answer to their puzzle of the time that whilst the scheme is pretty much continuous, the debate is on about food regulations and Gentiles' relationship with those, and the child does get healed and therefore is included and the Gentile faith is good.
August 24 2006, 10:21 pm

The Kingdom of God and the end time, the change to it, was a development in Judaism. Preachers and figures like Jesus grew up within that Inter-Testament Judaism where it made sense according to the beliefs of the time. What happened with Christianity was the flip-over to include non-Jews, thanks to Paul, mainly, and in its transference a lot of anti-semitic propaganda of which this "rejection" message [by "the Jews"] is part.
August 26 2006, 12:39 am

Whereas many of us point out the theological spin that is indeed in the New Testament, Mark 7 is an example of the limits of that view. The passage is embarassing, in that a Gentile is likened to a dog, and yet in its embarassment it also carries authenticity and that gives the passage a certain strength that a Gentile was included, if reluctantly at that point, into the overall scheme. The inclusivity of Jesus is still within a narrow context, his ethical reversals are also narrowly set. For example, his reversals do not extend to having Jews and Gentiles on an equal footing, not at all. It is important to realise that Jesus is not a Christian!
August 27 2006, 4:04 pm

Though there is usually no means of knowing ultimately [its history], there are techniques for probabilities whether something reflects what the early Church wanted in there, created, rewrote, positioned and the chances that statements reflect what Jesus stated. I have given reasons for possible authenticity of the text [Mark 7] as from Jesus, and why it is a text the early Church (for whom it was written) found useful.
August 28 2006, 4:24 am

As for the relationship between Mark 7 and Acts 2, they can be read separately, but I put Acts 2 within the overall intention of the New Testament, and Mark 7 fits within that general intention but can stand in its own right in terms of discussing its authenticity.

Luke is keen to show a shift of authority to the apostles, and this is what Pentecost is about. It shows that they are legitimate leaders of the expansion of this fulfilled Judaism into the Gentile world. In other words, it involves a revision. Mark 7 does not involve a revision, it is just useful to include. Luke projects backwards to Pentecost, and writes about it to add to resurrection (which, on the face of it should be enough, but it is not - the expansion and the revision does not follow on from that, and Luke does it by describing the ascension as somewhat separate from resurrection compared with others - that is therefore important for authority to go to the leaders and be clearly a visit of the Holy Spirit directly).

I do not think myself that Pentecost is historical, as in a sudden event, but is a reference to first fruits and harvest time as using the Jewish calendar. It is also the new Law, in a new fashion. This is why. In the use of tongues, Paul says an interpreter is necessary and Luke clearly does not, and so these contradict. But there is more to this that follows on. Historically the crowd would have understood Greek or Aramaic, and the need for tongues to be heard (directly) as different languages is not there. So there is a serious problem with a central part of the account of Luke if it is historical. Luke wants to make reference to certain languages not because this happened, but because theologically he is using the Jewish tradition of the angels proclaiming the Law to all the nations from Sinai, and this is so similar, legitimate, and applied to the world. This is Luke using that understanding via mention of languages, and heralding the start of this to the world. But as the languages issue was already cosmopolitan, it does not have historical authenticity. Therefore Luke is projecting backwards to a beginning.

Therefore Mark 7 and Acts 2 are related only very indirectly. Mark 7 carries authenticity; Pentecost is more a projection.
August 28 2006, 8:43 pm

The assumption that you can apparently "believe" in the Bible and the Holy Spirit etc. and that this takes away need for the kind of analysis that I have offered is a nonsense. How much you believe does not take away the clear contradiction between Paul and Luke, that the Jews hearing apostles would not have come with many languages but would have sufficed with Aramaic and Greek, and that therefore it is right to see the story as about Sinai and giving the news to all the nations and a theology of beginnings. These points can be challenged, the historicity of Pentecost can be asserted by a debate, but it cannot be asserted by just saying "I believe and you don't" and that's the end of it. It is not the end of it.

I do not believe in a literal ascension (where to?) but do see it as a buffer zone, a clear end to "the resurrection" and oddly that the resurrection was not enough in itself to set the apostles to work. Luke wants a big bang beginning to the Christian Church, a year zero of its own, something beyond simply a declaration of a messiah having come. I bet the history is more gradual, faltering, debated, and that the charismatic period of growth allowed a projection back. But, as with all of this, we cannot know for sure. Just saying "I believe" and then history rewrites itself is just daft. What we can comment on for sure is the theology, and this is the transference taking place from a parochial Jewish Kingdom of God coming message to something more universal and with more legs.
August 30 2006, 7:42 pm

The reason that groups, like the Jesus Seminar (whether one agrees with its method or outcome or not), spend so much time and effort trying to eek out what may be historical from these documents is because they do not qualify as historical documents on their own.
September 1 2006, 3:13 am

The argument against [literalism] is the contradictory material, the irreconcilable material, the different forms of story, the primacy of faith or theology, the smoothing away of any eye witness type statements into the polished narrative, the huge stress on the Easter story over the teachings, the suggestion (in John) that the ministry is three years long whereas it was likely much shorter, the wrong reason for holding a trial, the appearance of Christian language too early for use in the biographical material. Plus need for groups, like the Jesus Seminar, to spend so much time and effort trying to eek out what may be historical from these documents. Oh I'd already stated that reasoning.

The point made about tongues. Well music speaks to people, and has a broad interpretation, and it might be said creation is speaking through that. But Pentecost is specific, that tongues were spoken as a miracle where the people of many different languages heard the message. Other than that being incredible on its own terms, the point is that the Jews hearing a message had already had the cosmopolitan matter dealt with through the medium of Greek. The point of Pentecost is not what took place, but that it is as the angels addressing the nations as of Sinai - it is a theological point. In other words it is a legitimising text for the start of the Church, and set up by previous "events" such as resurrection and ascension. I also consider the core point (for me) that it addresses the absence of an apparently resurrected Christ, and thus after ascension into absence the coming of the Holy Spirit (who was supposed to be around anyway!) in order for there to be guidance.
September 1 2006, 7:15 pm

Believing something is the case or not the case has no bearing on whether it is history or not. The issues are still there and cannot be so smoothed over for an intended outcome. The issues are still there, and have received much attention.
September 2 2006, 2:23 am

Put simply, I think this "God chose Israel" business to be a myth - a human myth. It is a form of special pleading, even if understood as a form of special responsibility by these people, including Jesus himself. I regard the Bible as a series of statements about religious culture, under which these people operated, and I operate under mine. The consistency I look for is here and now.
September 3 2006, 3:58 pm

Independent evidence for: the last supper and its event, the resurrection, the ascension, Pentecost, which are Jesus' sayings and which are not/ added/ altered, the wedding, or the birth in Bethlehem, the escape to Egypt, birth by virginity, in the line of David, and so on... Never mind the faith based claims such as Son of Man, Messiah and so on.

I am saying that what is written as if biography, as if history, is in fact faith and theology based from the early Churches out of which difficult work has to be done to establish anything that might be historical. It is not that nothing is historical, but that we do not know well the fragments that are, because we do not have documents of the time. Where are they?
July 11 2006, 12:46 am

Matthew 5 says that until the Kingdom of God comes the Law and the prophets continue, and that righteousness is so demanding it exceeds that of the scribes and pharisees.

Matthew 6 is about seeking the Father's righteousness which is to be done in oneself genuinely and not just in public appearance.

Matthew 21 has it that those who say it that they will not but in fact do: they enter the kingdom; they are opposed to those who say they will but do not do it. So those who change their mind are the righteous. What was it, then, that John the Baptist asked people to do to enter the approaching Kingdom? To repent of sins.

So in Matthew's theology, using these readings, the Law and prophets remain, but the Kingdom of God is demanding about genuinely repenting and not just for public show, whatever may have been first appearances.

Then we are offered John's theology, which is different in that Matthew's is the most pro-Jewish and John's is the least. So what does John want:

>it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgement, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.<

This is the justification for Jesus no longer being present, which was a question on the lips of Christian communities: why did the resurrection appearences end? So he says if he does not go, the advocate will not come, but if he goes, the advocate is sent who will give the proof. The world is condemned, and it is to be proved (thus a journey towards Gnosticism is contained in this theology, but not quite in this theology). So there is a transfer here, Jesus himself who John gives the quality of divinity is going into the purest sinless spiritual realm fully because people do not believe in him: an act of righteousness going to the Father. So this really does have large hints of the Gnostic. The advocate, as such, will be in this condemned world, Christ will shown pure, the Christ from the beginning.

Then we have some of Paul's theology about righteousness:

This time it is by resurrection Christ is declared Son of God (an earlier view than John's eternal Son) with grace and apostleship to Gentiles. People who are righteous, he says, live by faith.

Romans 3 is his curious theology that living under the Law is an inadequate container of sin, it demonstrates sin. No one can be righteous under the Law. The Jews who obeyed the Law did not succeed, so everyone is in the same place, and everyone has Christ Jesus in order to be righteousness. He says this to put Jews and Gentiles into the same place.

However, this is in contradiction with Matthew, who states that the Law is fulfilled, and that to get into the Kingdom the demand is very high with the Law, that it has to be genuine, and includes those who change their mind. It is also an early version of John (or, properly, John has developed from Paul) in that here the condemnation exists but is centred around the function of the Law rather than a condemnation of the world. Paul has the Law of Faith, whereas in a sense John has moved this on to a Law of Person, far more person-centred and being based than Paul's justifications.

So what does this prove? It depends what is more compelling - the more developed or the more primitive. Personally I prefer the demand of using what is available, such as where they had the Law, and to do it genuinely. It is a very high demand. I am less interested in John's departure into some sort of spiritual realm, which has its origins in, but is not the same as, Paul. The Jewish core of this in the Law and taken to its fulfilment is the ethical demand, what all faithful Jews (and indeed they were faithful) attempted to achieve, the very high demand and very difficult of John the Baptist and Jesus to sin no more.
July 14 2006, 1:49 am

Paul's theology might be earlier than Matthew, maybe Ebionites, but it is not more primitive. By primitive I mean closer to the original teachings of the earliest Christianity, and that means the gap before Paul. And in that gap is the Jewish messianic beliefs of the disciples after Jesus' death, and the move to a Jewish understanding of Messiah. The Ebionites carry a non-sacrifical view of the eucharist, and I would suggest that a sacrificial view of it is added. Also, all the gospels are infected (if the right word) by Paul, including even Matthew, via Mark, but Matthew's constituency was not the same as addressed by Paul and Matthew is dealing still with the matter of fulfilment rather than a freer constrast that can be more critical of Law. In this sense Matthew is dealing with the one of the first discussions about Law and Messiah, but it moved on from that once Matthew is on to it.
July 17 2006, 3:15 pm

[Paul] was not dealing with "the proud Jews" but a situation where some early Christians were puzzled about the place of Law when there were Gentiles being included who did not follow the Law. So, and unlike other disciples, Paul had to come up with a creative way of understanding the Law. It was as a container of sin, even a demonstrator of sin. By denying its ultimate role, as practiced, he created space for his salvation theology around Christ. It is not about proud anybody, but how to make the change from one eschatological understanding to another.
July 18 2006, 4:48 am

Paul has the biography of what some sociologists call a stranger, an in between person, the type that can move between cultures and never quite fit in one or the other. He's a Galilean, who went to Tarsus as a child, a Greek city state and crossroads of Gentile and Jewish culture. Out of slavery, he was a Roman citizen. He knows the Greek translation of Hebrew scriptures. He has a high and mighty leisured view of manual labour, and probably hardly needed to work and an excellent education suggests wealth. So he wants somethng to do, and some purpose. He is rhetorical, philosophical and clever with concepts. He became a pharisee rather late and as a diaspora Jew (where there weren't pharisees) in Jerusalem under the Pharisee leader Gamaliel I, known for his tolerance. ...Jesus was crucified and Paul paid would have no attention to this.

Did he persecute Christians? It is thought he oversells his past in this. Gamamiel was quite tolerant of the new Christians. Paul had contact with the Christians, ordinary Jews for whom Jesus was the Jewish messiah. He could see sloppy thinking about their beliefs, and saw a mission in making clarity. This is what Paul did, he systematised Jewish thinking and extended the appeal of the Messiah on to his other cultural and intellectual background.
July 18 2006, 2:45 pm

Source is somewhat from Jerome Murphy-O'Connor (2004), Paul, His Story, Oxford: Oxford University Press, plus my own knowledge of the sociology of autobiography. He is a Dominican priest and Professor of New Testament at Ecole Biblique et Archeologique Francaise, Jerusalem.

Paul and indeed the New Testament is polemical, and tells the story well. I wrote here that Gamaliel was tolerant of other Jews, not Gentiles, though he may have been tolerant of both. At the time Paul encountered Christians, they were Jews who still followed the Law in every way except they declared a messiah. The New Testament makes things more black and white than they were. Suppression of other Jews, because they declared a messiah, is not going to be nasty. Paul may well have been very argumentative with them, and very abrasive (the word used by Jerome Murphy-O'Conner) but that's like having a good argument between two rabbis. Jesus was equally argumentative with his rabbinical colleagues.

Paul could say to them, the Jews who proclaimed the messiah, recite some traditional prayers. These prayers implied there was no messiah. If they recited it, he said they contradicted themselves. If they didn't recite it, he said they were not Jews in the faith. It was facing this, once he had switched sides, that meant he had to do a lot of thinking.

In a violent culture and one of oppression, Saul (as he was) was hardly oppressing these Jews. He was arguing with them, pointing out the contradictions in what they were saying and doing. He was pointing this out, asking whether they were Jews in the synagogue or not. He also believed, it is assumed, that God would never raise anyone above the Law - a point where Paul would have his conversion and change.

Now, Paul believed in the last days, and the last days implied a coming messiah. So here he was, mixing with those who said there is a messiah. Once he was on their side, so to speak, he started thinking, and in doing so was able to relate to the different origins and cultures of his own self and extend this sorted out thinking far and wide (though his thinking happened in process, he did not "work it out" and then proclaim, but proclaimed and worked it out at the same time).
July 18 2006, 6:46 pm

We do not know what Jesus claimed, and there are good grounds that he did not think he was messiah, or that if he did it was very late in his ministry. Claiming to be the messiah was no a blasphemy anyway, even if he did. This is why the gospel accounts of the Sanhedrin and Pilate do not make sense. Once again, the discrepancy is because these documents are decades later recording a post-resurrection belief done in the manner of a biography. They are primary documents of the theology of the early church. And, back to Paul - he had no interest in the historical Jesus but in a man who was killed who he believed was God's sole worker, the appointed one, after his death. For Paul, resurrection was a proof (unlike the theology of John much later) and death was necessary. This is rather different from Jesus.
July 29 2006, 3:07 pm

The biographical elements are subordinate and subservient to the theological.

The theological styles and beliefs vary but they are of communities already in action, communities who understand that a resurrection happened and authority derives from it (who saw Jesus, in what order etc.) and that there is explanation needed for why, in the messianic expectation and waiting time for the fulfilment, the resurrection appearances stopped.

There is every reason to read from the texts that Jesus believed a messiah would come, sent by God, and that his role was that he was acting for this to be brought about. He may have increasingly fused this belief in a coming messiah with his own actions, especially as he raised his game in Jerusalem. Though not directly evidence in this case, comparative studies who how religious fervour does tend to "up the stakes" in a messianic setting of excitement, worry and expectation.

The crucial difference is the fact that he died, and then he had to be messiah or nothing, rather as the claim was made that he had to be resurrected or nothing. After this the second difference is the theology of Paul, which raised Jesus' status several philosophical notches beyond the Jewish Christians, and set in train an escalator of revisions towards what eventually would be seen as going too far, that is the docetic and the gnostic.

Moderns and postmoderns cannot simply read these developments as a given. Whilst they are historical, they lack the mechanism now to be simply faith - there is another cultural shift. So even if the New Testament is understood in this developmental way, there has to be further interpretation. ...nevertheless is how some Christians participate in the tradition as of now (with variations).
July 30 2006, 12:33 am

There may be a few more on our side of the line than they or we think. The pressure is to be orthodox, but if that pressure was to burst (say via realignments) then many would take the less pressured option, and might become interested in a few exploratory ideas.
July 30 2006, 12:37 am

Though [we] are constantly told of the three years, it does not read like it and three does seem very long winded. The Jesus movement does seem to be a rapid one of starting, attracting and raising the stakes and quite rapidly. John's theology seems to me to be one to stabilise and eternalise, instead of there being a chap in a hurry. He would be in a hurry if the kingdom was expected very soon.
July 29 2006, 2:47 pm

There is no mechanism that makes any sense by which sacrificing in a bloody way upon a cross has some impact transmitted to anyone else. In fact I don't regard the theology of sacrifice as having any historical basis; the man was killed because there were Roman authorities who killed willy nilly the disturbers of the peace. The theology relies on the brutality of the Roman rule in that far outpost of empire, not on anything Jesus had done. As many a fundy might ask, "What would Jesus do today?" can be reversed around to "What would the authorities do today to such a religious disturber?" and the answer would be very little.

Nevertheless the theology does derive from a practice of animal sacrifices applied to the 'Lamb of God' as would be when people did believe in supernatural mechanisms as normal.

Nowadays an appeal would be made to the religious imagination and ethical behaviour. It has been said that people practice atonement in their lives: people give up something themselves in order that someone or something else benefits, an the world improves. So atonement is a model, not a mechanism.

I retain the view that the eucharist was not instituted at the Last Supper. Nevertheless, again via backward reading, the eucharistic practice with all its overtones of sacrifice have been read back into that supper. It became the joining up between the post resurrection community and the leader with his disciples.

The model (again) for the eucharist is giving something up of yourself, and coming away with spiritual refreshment an renewed sense of purpose. Of course no sacrifice takes place, it is purely a symbolic act that unifies a community around sharing (why I prefer one cup to many glasses) and relates the people to the religious tradition.
June 19 2006, 1:46 am

The Gnostics picked up on one aspect or trend of Christian ideas. The issue (for me) is not what is real but where tendencies develop. What outcome is there if spirit is stressed over body, if good is stressed over good and bad? Well Gnosticism is one result, feeding and adapting some running ideas, as they all did.
June 21 2006, 1:52 am

Marcion may well have been different, but there are spiritualising tendencies that resurface in Christianity.

...the New Testament quotes and draws on the Hebrew Bible for its legitimacy, authority and continuity. But in making a change, it is going to create tensions with what went before. There have to be breaks as well as continuities.

Clearly if you do have a highly realist view of God and the content of God, then these discontinuities matter. However, it is based on a distorted view of ethical Judaism, and one should be wary of the anti-semitism in the New Testament, and also the rubbishing of rabbis which to this day gives rise to legalistic views of the rabbis.

The difference may be in the tribal necessities of the God of the Hebrew Bible as well as the ethical struggles there; whereas in moving out, in universalising, the New Testament, without the range of the Hebrew scriptures, is not going to seem so tribal. Much of the Jewish War of 70 CE was influential... had the New Testament not been trying to be Gentile and pro-Roman (in this aspect) it might have been just as tribal and the like as it would have had a victim mentality - and this [aspect]  of Jewish Christianity has been lost. However, the Book of Revelation, which is anti-Roman, suggests some pretty horrid possibilities of last days as it metaphors Roman power into an evil to be overthrown by the divine.

Without a strong realist view of God, then this is the changing winds of religious perception, and one [Hebrew] God is not replaced by another [NT]. It is just some of the tensions in the understanding that come from the changing consituency and development of sacred ideas.
July 6 2006, 5:16 pm

Bart Ehrman is not a peddlar of conspiracy theories - quite the opposite. He writes against them, and does so in his book on the Da Vinci Code. Although I have called him a theologian, which he is, he is principally a historian and one who applies himself to the documents. This is what empirical method historians do: they cannot go back in time, see it as it was, or imagine they do; they can only go by the documents and hopefully primary sources.

What the documents show is that Christianity was diverse, and they show strategies for reducing that diversity based on legitimising key ideas against other ideas. Orthodoxy is a later strategy, and is not something that started at the beginning or near to the beginning. From one section are the synoptic gospels, which are primary sources of the early church and, after the genuine Paul letters, among the closest that can be got to the historical Jesus, from which there is still some variation. John's gospel shows considerable ideological departure, which can be seen as on the road to Gnosticism if only so far. There was a considerable movement to express the spiritual, of which John is a part. But Christianity became diverse due to Paul himself, and the bias towards his view, and his of the others, and the bias towards the Gentiles, and its diversity grew in that direction.
July 7 2006, 3:41 pm

[There is] the incomplete diversity within the New Testament itself, with different titles, names and understandings of Jesus, tendencies towards the Jewish, the Hellenistic and hints of the Gnostic, never arriving at the doctrine of the Trinity, and giving the potential for all kinds of expressions of Christianity, despite its bias by selection. It is only later doctrinal Councils that define Christianity, and later actions that also limited the New Testament (but could never do so thoroughly). Therefore Christians have the right to see how this process worked, and to include as Christian the full range of expressions that the Churches that resulted from the stream produced by the mission of Jesus and the interpretations by his immediate followers. We might prefer traditions that are more equalitarian and democratic than elitist, or that emphasise the material as well as the spiritual, and so relate to the central tradition more, but there have always been elitist and spiritual tendencies in Christianity, just as there have been radically equal and humanistic tendencies, but to deny that either of these is Christian and reflective of its founders is to ignore history and development.
July 3 2006, 10:57 pm

Well I've taken the view that the real Paul is probably the equalitarian one. He reminds me of a revolutionary for whom everything is up for grabs and can be made new, in the face of the coming End. So Titus and Timothy and bits that emphasise silence and non-leadershiip come from others writing in his name. This is hardly revolutionary biblical criticism, nor original, but it is not heard enough. A social order was being reinstalled, and this later became the Hellenistic stream, the one that became Catholic.
July 4 2006, 7:11 pm

I suppose [the KJV']s main contribution to English is its economy of words, compared with the expansion of words by Shakespeare.

Of course there are some people who swear by the KJV, and nothing else almost to the point of it being like the Qur'an. There is one such on a text writer email group I read.
June 19 2006, 1:46 am

[The] Gnostics picked up on one aspect or trend of Christian ideas. The issue (for me) is not what is real but where tendencies develop. What outcome is there if spirit is stressed over body, if good is stressed over good and bad? Well Gnosticism is one result, feeding and adapting some running ideas, as they all did.
July 11 2006, 6:39 pm

I take little from Luther. He was a notorious anti-semite and was especially anti anything Jewish.

Let's expand the discussion a little. Hebrews has a key piece of New Testament theology in it at 9:22:

>without the shedding of blood there is no forgivenness<

Now this statement makes sense in a violent society, one of oppressive rule and one that is abitrary - hardly of civil law. What Paul does is elevate this given sense of undeerstanding to a theological point that makes up the whole construction of his theology. But let's look at the statement neat: does any of us believe that we need to shed blood in order to forgive? No. We can forgive without shedding of blood.

This is an example of a statement that is not revelation but an opinion based on a common understanding of how things are, then raised to a theology. So do we have to take what Paul says about death, forgivenness, resurrection, justification and righteousness. No. It is a construction based on addressing a wider constituency.

So much Christianity is Pauline, but it is just a case for seeing it for what it is. The ethical demand was already present within a full appreciation of the Law, and that can be transferred to non-Jews without having to build up a peculiar theology to do it.
July 12 2006, 1:51 am

Who knows what the counterfactual result of no Paul conversion would have been? Assuming Jewish Christianity existed in a few uncrushed synagogues, it might have had a marginal existence for some time. It might have crossed over to a different population as well, rather as Kabbalah is doing in a few circles. Here is a Jewish thought pattern, developed in the Middle Ages, with a Pagan development (Qabalah) and has a cultic celebrity based following and is now appearing in many books. So it is not impossible for faiths to jump into a new constituency. Of course, had it missed the Roman Empire bus, then it would have been a small part of Judaism, and quite possibly faded.

Perhaps Zoroastrianism would have been the larger faith, and become a faith about good and evil (Ahura Mazda being the God) spreading to a broader population, and then, we would have discussed ideas that crossed between it and Judaism (such as resurrection, and a pure end of history) without any sense that one faith was superior to the other, and with a sense that a number of perhaps insignificant and transient Jewish ideas (Messianism went into decline after the Jewish War) had origins in the Zoroastrian faith instead of thinking that some Christian ideas had origins in Judaism.
July 12 2006, 4:32 pm

The epistles were not written for everyone at all time, as in, "Luke, go and fax this to everyone, be a love," but it is because they are documents and because they contain a powerful theology - that reconciles death and achieved messiahship that, furthermore, extends beyond the Jewish believers (as Messiahship actually would) - then the specific directed document assumes a universal purpose. The gospels also were not written for all people and for all time, but for specific communities, and yet assume the importance of 'the document'.

As for Descartes, etc., well there is the argument that when people say something they not only describe a reality but do produce it - [in that] because we perceive through language it is language that frames experience. So in a sense Decartes produces reality, and so with the epistles and gospels. All the time our language is like a library catalogue or book index telling us where the boundaries are between what is and what is not, and when someone draws up a new boundary a piece of incoherence that has emerged becomes coherent.

This is the basis, by the way, of non-realism: it is not that something is unreal, but that something is categorised and made through the act of describing. It is why a non-realist should not be confused with an atheist.
July 12 2006, 5:39 pm

I'm not arguing for complete innovation and individualism there, but rather the importance of the document. Paul did innovate in one sense, but using the language of the time. The proof of that is in the "spiritual body", which is his problem with using body language as expected in resurrection when, instead, he is describing something more like a spiritual visitation. So he said spiritual body, a bit like me saying square circle.

It does not bother me that collective language gives rise to social construction (I've turned this around), and that the social construction that results gives rise to adjustments in language. The faith is social, collective, moving on by adjustments and occasional paradigm shifts.

For something to be non-realist does not mean you have to agree with the term - it is simply analysis. Just provide an alternative analysis. Non-realism is the removal of the dualism of real and unreal, simply because of the power of cataloguing, describing, framing, arranging, that makes something to handle. This is different from structuralism that says because there are binary opposites we can make something real (because it is what it is not, and therefore must be what it isn't). Non-realism breaks that illusion. It also breaks the rush to revelation, another way of trying to secure truth. Revelation is inevitably invisible and cannot be located, and it undermines itself.

After the [church] service this morning I sat in a corner and read more of the oldie Truth is Two Eyed, and a terrible review of it in the David Edwards I've just rediscovered. What Truth is Two Eyed points to, really, is holding together contrasting, but not absolutely contrasting, traditions against each other to understand each better, and also to see the two eyedness in each. Hinduism (also Buddhism) and Christianity (also other near Eastern faiths) are these huge constructions built around different emphases on time and what can be called the divine, and holding them up uncombined, seeing one with the other and back again, gives insights into what each of them are getting at, and allows for further argument about what is in one's own construction and its insights. John Robinson was a realist, but he was going somewhere else with this quite impressive book, and this is what I mean by non-realism.
July 12 2006, 5:46 pm

Charismatic bursts lead on to tradition, lead on to bureaucracy says the sociologist. There are points of innovation out of something before and on to something else, like a paradigm shift, and this is the charismatic time. The New Testament is largely about the authority of charisma, numerous shifts using the past. Then comes tradition, of the sacred hallowed document to be pondered over and ever repeated. But documents wear out, and in bureaucracy the document is an official record as items are fixed for the records but just as likely filed away as a new decision is taken and a new document made on more rational grounds.

(This can be extended)
July 12 2006, 10:34 pm

It was still conceptual, this love, it was mediated through certain understandings that Jesus held. Righteousness and justification are difficult terms, but by faith (alone?) is a little easier to understand in contrast to Law and wisdom.
July 4 2006, 7:27 pm

So we have selected extracts of John's later theology to determine what is a Christian, and nothing else[?] Regarding the first, do you know what John means by "born again" (not the same I suggest as a modern charismatic/ evangelical); there is this reference to Son of God which is not the same as God the Son; and then you have the limited view of Father, Son and Holy Spirit as a baptismal formula (not the doctrine of the Trinity). Interesting views then of the early Church...
June 10 2006, 8:07 pm

There used to be terms higher criticism and lower criticism, but I suppose there are suggestions of elitism (higher was the refined quest for original meanings and intentions beyond that of dogma, lower meant the teachings in the text and common use). A parallel would be great and little traditions of religion - great being refined, cosmopolitan, academic, rationalised, whereas little religion was the religious beliefs as understood by ordinary folk one removed from magic (magic being supernatural beliefs unconnected with a specific broad religion). There is some use in the distinction, if you think of village Hinduism and Brahmin Hinduism, or Buddhism amongst some villagers and in the temples, or literalist Christianity in many churches and academic approaches, but it tends to ignore the dynamic of cause and effect, and different attitudes to spiritual hierarchy.
June 1 2006, 4:18 pm

People, when they hear the word Christian, expect you to believe in all sorts of things before breakfast, whereas for me they are matters of enquiry and therefore conversation. For example, in such a conversation, I'll make a distinction between history and theology, and what each mean, and doing that in itself is being theologically literate. People who end up teaching or facilitating have a responsibility to learn.
May 23 2006, 3:25 am

The Sermon on the Mount, a collection of Jesus' rabbinical sayings, has its ethics paralleled in the Talmud. The Lord's Prayer is intelligible to Jews. This includes an ethical position regarding the outsider, flexibility regarding cleansiness, giving to God in secret (where the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing, but God does).

Here are Christian myths about Judaism, all of which are miselading:

  • Jewish Law demands observance, whereas Jesus innovates and Christianity requires inner faith and purity
  • The Jewish God is jealous, remote and forbidding, whereas the God of Jesus is close and loving
  • Jewish faith is salvation by works, whereas the Christian receives salvation by faith
  • Jewish faith is ritualistic whereas Christian faith should be free

These are false opposites, as any inquiry into Jewish ethics and faith will show, and any enquiry into the historical Jesus will show. Jesus was purely a Jew, an eschatological Jew, for whom - like all of eschatological mind - God is close and spilling over. Jesus was end time in mentality for whom faith and works was important and immediate.

Furthermore, for Christianity to form, and Jesus did not intend any new religion, there has to be a level of observance, a complex God and theological development, a combination of works and faith and some ritual. Judaism is a particularly ethical faith, a developing faith and mature, and was at that time. After all, Jesus was a member of the very religion.
May 23 2006, 3:30 am

>eye for eye, tooth for tooth<

This is not a principle of revenge, but a principle of limitation. In justice, the punishment should only match the crime. This is another common created opposite and misunderstanding. Centuries later English society would hang people for stealing bread. The ethics of that part of the Hebrew Bible has already stated that this was wrong. British justice today now operates on the principle of minimum effective punishment.
May 25 2006, 8:44 pm

Unfortunately, [Paul's] is not a simple testimony. It is full of cultural assumptions and alterations, from which much discerning can be done. Those who advise a simple faith rarely offer one, and it is arguably not available. It usually makes a number of substantive claims that are open to enquiry.
May 26 2006, 3:22 am

[# has said that] Kanai are Jews who at the time and since accepted Jshua - Jesus - as the Messiah, and these are not to be confused with contemporary Jews for Jesus, who are an evangelical Christian creation. This is a small group and, for people like me, most interesting, because they also are of a different route from the Pauline innovations and Hellenism, involving the pathway to the Nicene Creed. [#], I believe, regards Jesus as part of the Qumran tradition, and therefore (again correct me if wrong) he could be the Teacher of Righteousness - or would that be someone else? I do not think there is sufficient evidence that Jesus is of Qumran and an Essence. John the Baptist might be. [#] has said before Jesus' individuality standing out from the Essenes is an Essene trait. Interesting, but I'm not convinced. However, I think he was fully a Jew of his time, and a last days and messianic one.

The Jewish Church is really lost in the gospels. We just do not know about Peter's Church or a proper account of early Christianity, except through the Pauline stamp that puts itself on the gospels too. You can get through to historical fragments and other views, but with difficulty from all the ideological baggage Paul introduced. At the same time, there is reference back in these texts to the Hebrew scriptures for authenticity and legitimacy, and a sense of continuity amongst groups both Jewish and Gentile. There is a detectable resistance to Gnostic tendencies too, even in the docetic drift noticable in John's gospel.

The issue of [theological and belief] innovation is raised again - ...two proposals. One is that of progressive revelation, which creates God as the giver of new spiritual advancement to the population through a prophet and a community. This is a classical Unitarian view and also a Bahai view. The other is a cultural shift, a postmodern view of people writing in a new way responding to a new situation. I take the second view.

My view of God is postmodern, that is to say it is we who communicate the meaning of God through our speech, writings, artwork and other symbolism. These changes are, to use a word used before here, often paradigmatic. Such a shift happens at key cultural points. It happened in the intensity of the Intertestament period - in fact, I'd argue, several times in quick succession, some in parallel, as would be expected in a charismatic fluid situation. It happened with Jesus, the Jewish Christians, Paul, the Gnostics, various groups (such as Ebionites, who or similar went on to influence Muhammad) and the development towards the pre-Trinity Apostles Creed and the trinitarian Nicene Creed, it happened in various Churches and offshoots such as Arian, Monophysite, Nestorian. It happened with Orthodoxy. It happened also later in the Reformation following the Renaissance, and it happened with Modernism and now High or Postmodernism (the perspective I am using).
May 31 2006, 12:38 am

As I wrote somewhere around here, I prefer to use "Hebrew Bible" rather than "Old Testament". It has to be treated, each and every part, in its own right and not as some sort of Act 1 before Act 2 the conclusion. The Scriptures of Jesus and his followers were those of the Hebrew Bible, and they and the groups close to them had their spin on selected parts and from them some innovation.

In the pub tonight my two long standing non-religious friends and a moderate Methodist woman mentioned the Da Vinci Code. She's read it and really enjoyed it, and says once you say it's nonsense it is a good read. I said I've no objection to it, but don't want to read it, but I do read theology that relates to it, and said that the Mary Magdalene bit and marriage is a reference to the idea that Jesus as a rabbi would not have been unmarried. But that idea was not so and only later, but he was a last days rabbi anyway. Of course it is probability as nothing can be said for definite, or close. There is also good probability that he was influenced by the Essenes, but there are distancing aspects too.
September 18 2006, 8:16 pm

As only reminded from the pulpit this Sunday, words had an added power among ancient peoples in a way we barely appreciate today. We do well to read as much into these texts as we can, because we can be sure that these theological writers left no stones unturned when it came to conveying meaning, meanings with power.
August 22 2006, 4:47 pm

Many of these Greek concepts are neither here nor there today, and just form background of a better understanding (I'd say) of text. Text exists in a relationship between writer and reader. Biblical text presents a particular problem because it is so culturally different from us and basic assumptions have been lost or made sectarian. We are forced to make far reaching translations in terms of applicable meaning.

A text is delivered whole and we have to ask what it is. It only comes alive as such when it is read and when it moves. This, in a religious sense, is where "Holy Spirit" may have relevance.

All documents are primary sources of something, if not what they describe, and this is the case with the New Testament (except for some of the letters of Paul if unadulterated). Partly the necessity is to find out how documents came about (from whom, why they were written as they were, are there power relationships, what is the ideological intention) but then also, even without such information, how well can and do they convey what they do. We may not know how well, because the past may be inaccessible, and I find this is the case with much in the biblical text. Constantly we make reasoned assumptions about what we think are the assumptions and the direction the text intends, but in the end we just have to run with it in our own ways.

We are back to constructions again. I do it: making constructions. I do it when saying Jesus is a local, Jewish, particular, end of time fulfilment preacher, teacher and healer, and that his particularity has been edited into something other by the writing processes of the gospels, Paul (before them) and the whole direction of the New Testament. So Christ does end up being a concept, and more and more I vacate its meaning. It is a faith concept which, in the end, is rather like a mirror of own intentions and corrections. And the Holy Spirit part is its transference to a kind of dynamic of action, just as it refers to the dynamic of reading at first.

I suppose the argument whether it is dictated by God, inspired, motivated and the rest are arguments that leave me alone, because all texts come from people in cultures. I've written elsewhere that if there is something called revelation, then it is in the encounter that comes through the dynamic of the text in play. There are, I'd suggest, many Jesuses in these texts, the historical figure being a bit of a package deal himself but rather lost through the fog of how the New Testament was written, the doctrinal baggage that colours how people read it, and the very particular Jewishness that is a central construction I run with.
August 7 2006, 1:46 am

I thought the programme [by Rageh Omaar: The Miracles of Jesus] was dreadful. The interview in the Radio Times gave it away, where he says one minute "Yes definitely" and then no we can't be sure (or similar).

His treatment of the miracle of water into wine was almost daft. There was no understanding of the difference between history and theology, of event and writing, and did not see that the miracle is a link between the kingdom of God (the plenty - he got that at least - and the best left until last, which is a reversal reference) and the eucharist which the early Christians would have been practising and understood as a cusp between themselves and the kingdom, though becoming spiritualised at that time.

So sweeping statements are made, and graphics are used, and I just thought if I can see the problem with this journalism when I know something about it, what about when I am fed journalism about something I don't know.

His position as a Muslim is interesting. But I can see he is going to mess up categories of claiming divinity and claiming messiahship. The latter is debatable but has no impact on claiming divinity. He inferred a claim of divinity made by Jesus which at best is a category error.
August 8 2006, 12:58 am

Isn't this business of the Sea of Reeds just an attempt to explain a miracle (a small side issue I know)? Oh he didn't cross the Red Sea because he couldn't partition it, but the Sea oF Reeds can be crossed and here's a map... Er yes, and so can anyone chasing...

Well we shall see. I doubt that we shall see a Muslim view, which would be interesting. I thnk we are going to get something that is neither one thing nor the other, and pretty horrid.

If there was a Muslim view that took on something like the Ebionite Christian views that Muhammad may have learned (qualifying this, but it does add up that he heard Ebionite views, and these are the more primitive early and Jewish-like Christian views in that area) then this would be interesting. I think it will be a hideous amalgam instead. But we shall see.
August 9 2006, 12:12 am

Just as a side point, the high and dry God that became a feature of "secular city" theology was also the God of people getting on with their work and doing mundane things. However, today, the academic is a non-sectarian driver of understanding God: what is true is that early Christianity, in its varieties, was a faith driven by common people in every day situations. The difficulty today is that this driver is now increasingly divorced from culture, and in that academics make cultural adjustments the question has to be who for and to what end.

That is a side point; the main point is that obviously the Kanai should be included in influences on Muhammad. He was also influenced by local Jews: the story of Abraham at the Kaaba is apparently local Jews in origin rather than say Muhammad making it up himself to gain a faith the equal of Judaism and Christianity. It looks like his visions that generated what later became the Quran had local stories to feed them, and these included both local and highly monotheistic versions of Judaism and Christianity. Whilst Muhammad fell out with Jews later on, this should not be confused with today's antisemitism in the Islamic world which is contemporary in source.

...People forget just how important Zoroastrianism was to the development of Judaism at a time that it would impact on Christianity - no Zoroastrianism, no resurrection.
August 14 2006, 12:31 am

Again, I was disappointed by the programme [The Miracles of Jesus].

Omaar is treating miracles in the round as historical. Now no doubt Jesus was a healer and attracted many, but Rageh Omaar said that the extra statement made the difference, saying that "Your sins are forgiven" was blasphemous.

The question is, what did these healers think they were doing when they healed? In the world view of the time, sin was indeed real and had existence. If you were unhealthy you were sinful because you had the demons in you. This was the reason for illness and indeed for death. To be healed was to have the demons and the sin removed. Unless they were to come straight back, you had to be forgiven.

Now the second objection of this programme was the fundamental error that thinking you are the messiah means you are God. This is not the case. Even Paul, who raised Jesus beyond Messiah to Christ, did not regard him as God, and this was getting closer. A messiah is God's special worker, doing God's job. And it is still unclear whether Jesus thought he was even messiah.

The problem is in the gospels being written by the early Church, by believers putting the theological spin on to the fragments of events buried within the theology. So, taking the miracle where the demons go into the pigs and they run off and drown themselves - Omaar is right to point out that the pigs going into the water is because of the view that demons come out of the water and were going back to where they came, but the miracle story here sounds like embellishment to make precisely that point.

There is a similar difficulty when Jesus heals the non-Jewish [a Greek, a Syrophoenician] woman's child from afar, after equating her (and by extension her children) with a dog, according to Omaar. Well there are numerous points where the gospels include activities with and comments from non-Jews, and these are important given the Gentile audience of these gospes dealing with a Jewish prophet dealing with the coming of a Jewish Kingdom of God. Jesus may well have been reluctantly inclusive outside the centre of action (the important point about him was his inclusivity within his ethnic group focus), but the point is again when tand for whom he documents that produce this point were constructed.

So again Omaar is, in my view, making some basic errors of sins and forgivenness, Messiah=God, and confusing history and theology in the writing process decades later.
August 21 2006, 3:10 am

I have to say I disliked his third episode [The Miracles of Jesus] on the resurrection greatly. There were moments of interest, but it was almost crude in approach.

One part showed it up. He said Paul realising that the last day was an eternity away saw Jesus' resurrection as a short cut. This is nonsense. Paul believed that they were in the last days, and that Jesus was the start of this for sure - people asking Paul why are others still dying when the new situation has begun. Omaar pushed this "son of God" label too with inadequate explanation of meaning, with no reference to how the titles and status of Jesus changed after death. His interpretation of resurrection leading to no action, and his crude historicism about Pentecost one day that then did, struck me as at least very clumsy, though partly it raised a question about resurrection belief and response to it alone. I don't buy it though: resurrection belief was modified certainly but it was still part of a whole fulfilment. In the end it was Rageh Omaar saying this, that and the other, and it was not being checked against commentators and theologians at least in the programme. ...Robert Beckford ...would have made points and carried out interviews, and left things open rather than have these dubious reconstructions. Oh he [Omaar] was weak about Peter, a hidden Peter, and James too.

I'm not convinced either about his view against a common pit for the crucified. He seemed to say that on the one hand Pilate and the rest would have allowed Jewish burials to take place to keep the peace, whereas on the other hand the Romans killed thousands rapidly through crucifixion, taking back the nails each time. It is a conjecture that does not work. Rather, even if burial was allowed, the thousands suggest a need for rapid disposal too chucking the bodies away while retrieving the nails - mass executions - and this agony does not equate with toleration for burials and creating martyrs at burial sites. No mention of the empty tomb being a later piece of writing - no mention of the writing process at all.

Also I did not see anything that would connect with a more Jewish view of Jesus this time, and Kanai like references. It struck me as odd that Omaar, indeed as a Muslim, gave a view that was not [out of] keeping with modernist evangelical Christianity.
September 1 2006, 7:36 pm

It depends what you are looking for as support or context. There is the often mentioned Q source, which has never been found, that relates to Matthew and Luke shared material. Mark is its own source, and others followed it and built upon it for additional points. Before all this there is the Qumran material that sets much of the New Testament in some context, but the New Testament has already shifted down a Hellenistic road. Then there are other documents, like the Didache and, by memory, Gospel of Phillip (?) that have every basis for being biblical. There is authentic sayings material in the Gospel of Thomas which as a whole has gone further than John in its recontexting Christianity in the later on direction (though it rigidly sticks to sayings). And there are other Nag Hammadi found gospels too.

Q onwards are all primary documents of Early Churches development, and Qumran gives plenty of Jewish background to the beliefs in transition at the time. What they all show are changes in emphasis and changes in theology. Primitive material is the earliest to reflect back on Jesus of Nazareth himself, but it is all so fast changing that the question of where to locate the revelation core is rather a problem, and what so many say is necessary belief is rather later on than the most primitive. For example, the Didache is very non-sacrificial whilst eucharistic, and it was only later that a theology of the cross was to develop. So it all changes.
September 2 2006, 2:38 am

The books that are in the canon keep a connection with the (redeemed) body and do not go into the realm of the pure Spirit. The question is why. And the answer may be because it was one side of the argument that had the most material and pyramidal authority structure.

If you have a Church of the Spirit, then the material Church is itself mucky, and to be treated as a kind of (necessary) evil. The gospel of John was debated whether it should be in or not, but it was kept because whilst it was becoming spiritual it kept the body and its importance. It also gave much in its philosophical logic - logic allows for organisation of ideology and power. When the material is regarded as good, and you keep the body, then the Church can be a body too, and good, and be intimately connected with the Body of Christ. The bishops, the people in authority, are then themselves holy, by ordination: they are legitimate and have power. That power is then going to be most logically like a pyramid. If the Church was representing a spiritual good and material bad, on a purity-pollution binary difference, the authority patterns cannot be strong. They might think they have the right views, but they can only be transient material leaders hoping to release, at some future point, their pure spirit in another realm.

That is why, I suggest, the body argument was crucial, taken from Judaism and resurrection belief, and philosophised, and made logical, with a pattern of bishops in a Body of Christ Church. The movement to the Spirit, then, had to be outlawed, and so the spiritual people hid their gospels away from the destroyers of their September 3 2006, 2:50 am

To quite some extent I don't think the Bible tells us enough about Jesus - it tells us plenty about early Christians, and Paul. Jesus is shoehorned into a particular series of views from later on. ...I'd say we are trapped in a series of fictions about Jesus, even within and beyond the canon, all of which (like fictions) give an angle on him. The pure Jesus as a peculiar and particular end time preacher, teacher, healer - even this has to be packaged - is rather difficult to translate into the now. I'd go further too, because the "real" Jesus if ever found is also a kind of a fiction too, based on those inter-Testament beliefs that they had at that time.
September 3 2006, 4:23 pm

The crucial difference about Qumran is that it is not soiled by Rome and the Greek. It gives a purer, primitive picture of the beliefs of the eschatological Jews such as John the Baptist, Jesus and James the brother of Jesus as leader of the Jesus movement after Jesus' death. The gospels are, in effect, corrupted, or more neutrally, altered by Rome and the Greek, and have begun a different pathway ahead, framing the early Christian communities. Josephus was so corrupted in ideology too, it can be said. Rome was a very inclusive as well as cruel power, and documents that survived and even prospered went through its influence one way or another - whereas the Dead Sea Scrolls were put out of the way. Nag Hammadi material was influenced by the Christian movement and showed later development, but fell out of favour for other ideological reasons, and so they were hidden away. But Qumran shows much of what the eschatological Jews were thinking, even if we allow Jesus a little more breadth and being out in the community doing his last days stuff with them.
September 6 2006, 1:36 am

1 Peter has two parts to it that question its historicity. The first part reflects a more settled period about conduct, the second is a later period of persecution and having resilience. So it looks like part is written later on. 2 Peter then has much difference from 1 Peter that make it from a different person/ people in terms of vocabulary and style - elaborate and very Hellenistic.

In a discussion I had, the ordained chap said to me Peter's Church just is invisible - and as I take it Peter is possibly different people. The other lost character into a fog is James (brother of Jesus).

(Incidentally, this relates to the other thread about this discussion/ debate colouring, that when there is an area of disagreement that cannot be avoided then nor can the light blue basis be sustained.)
September 6 2006, 2:59 am

Link worth reading:

I hesitate to include Wikipedia, but it is worth a scan through for introduction:
September 6 2006, 2:56 pm

Seeing as I can draw evidence and argument of the influence of Hellenism on such as 2 Peter, what is Apollos' argument and evidence regarding his flat statement that it is not there?

The Bible shows different phases of development, which is only to be expected as its content addresses its audiences at different times and in different places.
2 October 2006, 3:54 pm

There is no material of any use about Paul trying to oust Roman rule. Paul can be seen as a bridgehead figure, compromising with Roman rule. There is material to say that he was no persecutor of Christians, but rather engaged them in good argument as a rabbinical figure might. What he did was change his mind from Law to salvation by God's sole worker - but coming on board involved a price of seeing the Law not as a means of salvation but as a way of containing sin. The key to it may be that Paul believes in the last days, and that in his encounter with Christians he saw this as a last days cult with which he could not only agree but transform into his wider world, via this huge alteration. He will have encountered these Jewish Christian believers in the synagogues and about, for whom Jesus was a particular Jewish messiah figure, and in a sense he subverted that and made it into something more, and with some success. But in doing this he encountered much opposition, and he kept having to justify himself. He belittles other apostles and promotes himself. He universalises what was a paticular Jewish movement, and the gospels follow on from this with not a little anti-semitism in continuing movement from the original. Paul must be decisive because there was Greek influence in the later Hebrew Bible, and indeed the Greek writing of it, but Christianity acquires a much different character, a universalised end time movement based around the man he never knew but figure of crucifixion and resurrection that could survive the fact that it was not an end time.


Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful