Monday, October 3, 2016

A Wedge Issue. . .

One of the most common pursuits of modern Bible scholars is to pit one author against another -- as if the Scriptures were a patchwork quilt of different authors with different messages and with different estimations of God.  So we are often told that Paul does not sound much like Jesus but James does sound more like Jesus.  In particular, the Pauline descriptions of justification are seen as purely a Pauline perspective.  On another forum one such "scholar" said: "justification" is a concept that comes from Paul much more than from Jesus.

Intrinsic to this point of view is the judgment that Scripture does not have one message but many and the many different points of view represent best guesses from which the scholar can learn bits and pieces but nothing even approaching one message from the two Testaments.  According to these scholars, the Scriptures are a deep, dark book that us only the barest glimpse of God and a book so hard to understand that only the scholar and correctly discern its content.

The primary difference on Scripture between conservatives and liberals lies precisely on this issue.  Conservatives believe the Scriptures are clear and the message plain -- Jesus Christ.  As I often tell my new members' classes, the Bible has one message -- Jesus Christ -- and there is a unity between Old and New Testament and among the various authors.  On that same forum, another contributed put it this way:  since it comes from Paul, it comes from Jesus. While this seems to be simplistic and naive, it is just the opposite.  It is the deep and profound perspective of faith and the consistent understanding of the faithful over the ages.

According to the scholars trying to make Matthew say the same thing as Paul or John is doing a disservice to the Scriptures and to each author's own perspective on things.  I would disput this and insist that the opposite is the case.  Trying to pit Jesus against Paul and Matthew against John and so on does a grave disservice to the Scriptures and to Christ who is the key to those Scriptures.  While every conservative commentator worth his salt pays attention to the distinctives we see in the various individual authors, no one worthy his salt attempts to divide the Scriptures or turn the various authors into enemies competing with each other over their own perspective of who God is and what He has done.  In fact, this perspective leads to the inescapable conclusion that God cannot really be known at all and that the only authentic approach to God or to His Word is that of many blind men trying to discern who the elephant is and what he is like from their own little viewpoint.  The end result of this is that there is no doctrine or truth that trumps any other and every viewpoint and individual judgement is equally defective (except, of course, those of the scholars who alone are able to transcend their limitations).


John Joseph Flanagan said...

I think it is not just modern Bible scholars, but many theologians and scholars of the past have added a twist or two, tweaked into scripture their own interpretations as well. Sometimes Paul, James, Peter do seem to approach the word of God from slightly different perspectives, yet as a whole..the fundamentals are present. But indeed...we have all these different denominations with doctrinal distinctives....don't we? I suppose all we can do....those of us who are not Bible read the word trusting that the Holy Spirit will guide us to the truths we need to understand as Christians. Let the experts argue, while we just find peace of mind and comfort in being among the ordinary masses of Jesus' followers.

Anonymous said...

It seems like the pastors who have just retired spent most of their sermon time preaching on Paul's epistles.

The current crop of pastors seem to preach on the Gospels.

Is that the same thing?