I’ve been reading The First Paul by Borg and Crossan, not because I’m fond of Borg and Crossan, but because a friend studying for ordination to the deaconate has it for a text, and I’m reading with her. It’s an easy read, in many ways quite well written, but I dislike its lack of footnotes and bibliography and its sweeping generalizations about historical details and their meanings. What amuses me is their tight focus on the discrepancies and conflicts between Luke and Paul, within the letters of Paul, and between authentic Paul and Pauline letters. That they are there is obvious, but how significant are they?
It seems a reasonable question when I reflect on the stories my wife and I tell about events in our lives. A disinterested observer might wonder if we experienced the same events. Our versions differ on when, where, among who and what – although the main thrust or themes are pretty much the same. The same is true for the events and their meanings that I write or talk about on my own. I tend to adjust them to fit the purpose of their telling and the audience to whom they are told. For that matter, I’m not altogether certain about the details of important events that happened years ago. On the other hand, we have a daughter who precisely remembers almost everything in her life from the age of two on (she’s 45 now) whether they happened or not.
That’s the way we humans recollect. If God did indeed inspire the words of Luke, Paul and Paul’s successors, either in their writing or in the survival and transmission of them, and I believe God did, it is not for the purpose of demonstrating literal inerrancy. It is for the purpose of revealing truth, both Godly and human, within and through what is recollected. I suppose there is some merit to Borg and Crossan’s close examination of discrepancies and conflicts as an academic exercise, or as a thrust and parry in their duel with literalists. It does help explain the difficulties of incorporating gentile converts into this new religion and how the nascent church began to come to terms with Greco-Roman culture. But I also think you can make too much of it, and they do.