Saturday, July 26, 2008

Get Over It and Deal With It

A commentator on another site suggested that we did not have to take seriously Jesus’ statement that he is they way, truth and life (John 14.6) because Jesus may not have actually said it.  It was most likely, he said, a gloss added by a later redactor.  My response was that we have to deal with the text as it is and not try to dodge around it by treating it as it might have been or we wish it were.  That seemed to upset somebody writing as “anonymous” who immediately assumed that to deal with the text as it is means to fall into the literalist camp of the inerrancy crowd. 

That kind of knee jerk reaction gets us nowhere. 

As pastors and teachers we must address the text as it is presented to the people in the pews as well as those who have no exposure at all to Christianity or the bible.  One of the things I like about being Anglican is our preference for wallowing around in the text, subjecting it to close examination, questioning not just each other but God as well about its meaning.  In the end it is the text that we have that bears the illumination of God’s truth and provides the tools for receiving revelations yet to come.  That is why we are willing to call it holy and name it the Word of God.

Dealing with the text as we have it forces us to deal with uncomfortable questions, and not just about the red herring of homosexuality, but of the ongoing questions of good and evil, theodicy, the nature of the human condition and the meaning of salvation.  Dealing with the text as we have it forces us to address its relationship to non-canonical books.  Dealing with the text as we have it forces us to address its relationship to the oldest known texts in Greek or Hebrew – neither of which I am competent to do.  But most of all, dealing with the text as we have it forces us to address the same questions and concerns that are present in the minds and hearts of those in our care.

So don’t just blow off John 14.6, or any other passage, because it’s difficult.  Deal with it.

3 comments:

BillyD said...

I'm sure that Biblical source criticism has its uses in scholarly settings, or in-depth Bible study. In my experience, though, it's commonly used to "defuse" the hard parts of scripture. I've found it used both in Jewish and Christian settings, and while it sometimes makes for interesting side-trips it almost never helps me relate to the story that Scripture tells.

deus-vobiscum said...

In writing my thesis last semester, one theologian advocated throwing Colossians out of the canon itself. He argued not only the content but the historical criticism marks it as not authentically Pauline.

There are lots of beautiful things about Colossians. The Christ hymn there is profound, and I wouldn't want to get rid of it. The canon is closed, both to admit books and to discard them, so we should get along reading, marking and inwardly digesting the Scriptures.

In the same way, historical criticism helps us to understand what was meant when the text was written, but it does not determine the canonical status or authority of any text. Knowing that John didn't write either the Gospel or the Epistles attributed to him does not diminish the authority of those texts or make me doubt their place in canon. They are still Johannine works.

If I recall correctly, the Jesus Seminar at many points was absolutely conflicted about passages; people either voted "absolutely authentic" or "absolutely not" regarding certain passages. In the pursuit of historical "truth" these scholars have forgotten both spiritual truth and humility which would encourage them to acknowledge the great limitations on their knowledge and their conception of knowledge itself.

The Bible is too powerful, beautiful and, yes, holy to be disregarded or dissected and left in pieces.

Country Parson (Steven Woolley) said...

Thanks billyd and deus.
CP