Class, Week 3: The Head and the Heart

You know you’re in grad school when you start using words you’ve known for less than 24 hours in everyday conversation.

Which is probably why, during a Thursday night worship service, I was mulling the synchronic attributes of God and how that affects our diachronic lives.

During class yesterday, we discussed the Pentateuch and its likely multiple authorship. Scholars break into two camps – those who read the Bible’s first five books synchronically, that is, as having one unified message from beginning to end, no matter the number of authors involved. And there are others, like my professor, who read it diachronically, which means they see read it in the context of multiple authorship at different times with messages tailored to fit those specific times and authors.

I favor a diachronic approach. I don’t think you can divorce the context and authorship of a piece from its message and purpose. One student in our class essentially asked, “What does it matter” if the Pentateuch was written by several authors over a long period of time or by Moses in the desert with an enormous scroll and writing skills it’s not clear he could have possessed? The message is the same either way. I disagree because, at least to me, it’s clear that while perhaps there are overall universal truths to be gleaned from the books as a whole, the messages of the individual stories and books contradict, or to use a nicer term: have diversity, or “tensions.”

This doesn’t bother me as much as I would have thought it might. As our professor said: Churches are messy. Christians are messy. Life is messy. Why do we expect the Bible to be perfect? Is it because it’s a haven from the otherwise-messy world? But there’s no evidence God works that way; he has never done anything but meet people where they are and used them to (imperfectly) carry out his plans.

Thankfully, God himself is perfect, and he is bigger than our messes. As I drove to church last night, my iPhone playlist – set to “’80s faves” because, let’s face it, the 1980s pretty much are perfect – came up with one of my favorite praise songs, “Adonai” by Petra from their 1984 classic, Beat the System.

This thirsting within my soul
Won’t cease ’til I’ve been made whole –
To know You, to walk with You,
To please You in all I do.
You uphold the righteous, and Your faithfulness shall endure!

Adonai, master of the earth and sky,
You alone are worthy, Adonai.
Adonai, let creation testify.
Let Your majesty be magnified in me.
Adonai, you are an endless mystery!

Unchanging, consuming fire,
Lift me up from mud and mire.
Set my feet on Your rock, let me dwell in Your righteousness.

When the storms surround me, speak the word, and they will be still,
And this thirst and hunger is a longing only You can fill.

Cue awesome guitar solo.

Anyway, there is a sense in which my classmate was right. How many authors the Pentateuch has, whether it presents a scientifically accurate cosmological viewpoint, and whether the three codes of law it contains could have been faithfully applied at any one time – all of this doesn’t really matter. What matters is that God is God, and that he loves us and created us to be complete only in him.

The Bible can get messy, just like this life can. But Adonai is bigger than that.

I am thankful that I am in a place where I can be fed in both ways – intellectually and emotionally – and that they work together to provide deep spiritual renewal. Despite this diachronic life, our synchronic God loves, restores, satisfies, renews.

Amen.

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2 comments on “Class, Week 3: The Head and the Heart

  1. Great thoughts here. PS – I would previously have guessed that what you know you are when you use words you’ve known for less than 24 hours in casual conversation is a show-off. But then, I’m not a grad student.

  2. Adam Powell says:

    To be honest I’ve never really bothered to consider the validity of the one or many author debate. Upon reflection I’d have to say that to me it really doesn’t matter much. However I am curious about something and was wondering if perhaps you could give me your take and/or see what your professor thinks?

    Is it possible that the stories all originated from Moses and were passed down through the ages, as stories often were back then, by word of mouth. Then when we, historically speaking, decided to gather the stories together in one volume each of the stories had taken on a meaning and life of their own as they were related from one generation to another in different parts of the world. In a sense could the individuals who put the Bible together have attributed the stories to Moses because that’s the person from which they believed the stories originated even though he probably never put pen to paper so to speak?

    Either way it’s probably not going to change my view of the Bible but I am intrigued by the debate from a scholarly level.

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