The Fear of Truth

In a couple of weeks, I’ll begin Advanced Introduction to the New Testament, a fitting followup to my first class. As a history and theology “major” (that’s sooo undergrad), I’m very interested in the historicity of scripture – what actually happened and to what extent. In the Old Testament, much of that is unanswerable.

As I understand it, the concept of history came into its own by the time of Christ, and I’ve assumed these several months that the New Testament is more historically accurate than the Old, but I don’t really know that, and it’s a little scary to think of what other assumptions I have about the lives of Christ and his followers that aren’t correct.

For example, John Shelby Spong, a former Episcopal bishop, in this column seems to take aim at the historicity of some of what we might consider the crucial elements of Jesus’ life on earth:

Jesus of Nazareth, according to our best research, lived between the years 4 B.C. and A.D. 30. Yet all of the gospels were written between the years 70 to 100 A.D., or 40 to 70 years after his crucifixion, and they were written in Greek, a language that neither Jesus nor any of his disciples spoke or were able to write.

Are the gospels then capable of being effective guides to history? If we line up the gospels in the time sequence in which they were written – that is, with Mark first, followed by Matthew, then by Luke and ending with John – we can see exactly how the story expanded between the years 70 and 100.

For example, miracles do not get attached to the memory of Jesus story until the eighth decade. The miraculous birth of Jesus is a ninth-decade addition; the story of Jesus ascending into heaven is a 10th-decade narrative.

In the first gospel, Mark, the risen Christ appears physically to no one, but by the time we come to the last gospel, John, Thomas is invited to feel the nail prints in Christ’s hands and feet and the spear wound in his side.

Perhaps the most telling witness against the claim of accurate history for the Bible comes when we read the earliest narrative of the crucifixion found in Mark’s gospel and discover that it is not based on eyewitness testimony at all.

Instead, it’s an interpretive account designed to conform the story of Jesus’ death to the messianic yearnings of the Hebrew Scriptures, including Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53.

How much of Jesus’ story are we willing to reject historically and still be able to maintain the Christian faith?

Continue reading The Fear of Truth


What the Bible Gets Wrong … About God? Part 4

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

There’s a belief among conservative Christians that accepting the tenets of scientific study, especially concerning the origins of the world, is tantamount to rejecting the authority of scripture and, indeed, the resurrection of Christ itself. Obviously, I disagree. We’ve already discussed here the idea that an ancient, pre-scientific religious text is simply not trying to answer scientific questions about the origins of life, but rather the theological questions about how we got here. God created us in his image. That’s all the Bible is really trying to say. The exact how and when, that’s not really important to scripture’s message.

Meanwhile, there’s a tendency among theistic evolutionists to say something similar in the opposite direction, that science doesn’t have anything to say about matters of faith. That these worlds are “nonoverlapping magisteria” to use a fairly popular phrase (hey, I’d heard of it before!). I don’t think this is quite right either. It’s true that science itself does not make theological or moral conclusions, but we’d be remiss as Christians if we did not view our theology in light of what we discovered about the world God chose to create.

As RJS, summarizing John Polkinghorne, says at Jesus Creed:

Science is not the religion of the 21st century – but a theology that ignores, or even worse denies, the revelations of modern science will fall short in its attempt to understand and explore the nature of God.

I’d go further and say the revelations of modern science, thus informing our view of God’s nature, must therefore influence our view of God’s word – not just in areas where the text “contradicts” the scientific evidence but in its entirety.

I’m speaking specifically of how we view the God who would decide to create a species in which he would place his image and then uses the incredibly slow process of evolution to do it.

Continue reading What the Bible Gets Wrong … About God? Part 4

Happy Samhain!

Is there any holiday more fraught with danger for the Christian than Halloween?

It’s the devil’s holiday, right? If you’re like me, you grew up seldom if ever trick-or-treating but spending plenty of Halloween nights in church, enjoying “fall festival” – or whatever euphemism was in vogue at the time. There were certainly no Halloween decorations or other such festive holiday garb. We carved a pumpkin once or twice, which only tells me my parents just weren’t hard-core enough in their Halloween opposition.

And, sure, there’s a point to which Halloween has been used to glorify the darker side of human nature – horror-movie marathons, witches, black cats, an overall embrace of the macabre – and I can see why that would turn off a lot of Christians. But it’s worth pointing out that any holiday is only as evil as you make it out to be. Is watching horror movies Halloween night worse than spending hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on trinkets and in obeisance to to the commercialism of Christmas? Maybe. But I’d have to think about it.

Continue reading Happy Samhain!