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Welcome to our inner sanctum ( Information intermediation) where your studies are served up each day
Note: All Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and Coptic translations are my own unless noted otherwise.
To our new readers:
In order to appreciate the ongoing studies you need to know how to follow my wee writings. Since some of these tend to be bookish in length at times and if I put them in book form to sell on Amazon or Barns & Noble it would cost you which is not my purpose for sharing these studies. I’d much rather you read them for free and save your money for that once in a lifetime trip to Ireland. But I digress. Since we have currently more than 1,500 articles you may need directions (or as we like to say bread crumbs to follow the study). You will find on the left side of your computer screen a list of subjects, under the title Archive you can click on this and it will take you to the articles listed by date from the current post written and going backwards. Also if you note I do most of the time list the posts as Part 1, 2, etc. so it becomes easier to go back at the beginning to follow my train of thought. I also allow one to follow at their own pace, and will explain terms or concepts if I feel that they are not commonly understood. For the more casual reader you will find between the "serious" stuff Irish humor or observations about life, politics, and or Irish perspective as an Expat ( from Ireland). So enjoy.
Part 22 The Wandering Paul
Part 21 A Thirst for the Irrational
Part 20 How we came to religion
Part 19 the Son and the Saviour
Part 18 "Christianity"
Part 17 Class is in session (Part One)
Part 16 Was Christ real?
Part 15 Could have Jesus been divine?
Part 14 Some recent thoughts to consider
Part 13 What you thought you knew because someone else said so!
Excursus-"Grandmother read to me"
Part 12 "but wait there are two sides to a pancake"
Part 11 Did Jesus claim to be God?
Part 10 "Who was Jesus ?"
Part 9 Caesar's Messiah
Part 8 Jesus of Nazareth
Part 7 Jesus God or merely man (part 1)
Men and Gods (Part 6) Myths or mysticism?
Finding your story How Myths begin (Part 5)
Anyone lose a continent? (Part 4)
Part 3 The Irish Island that wasn't there (or was it?)
Part 2 Mysticism a part of the fabric of Myth
Part 1 the search begins mythology fact or fiction?
The Mythological Matrix Paradigm
Part 5 The Divine Feminine
Part 4 the Divine Feminine
Part 3 The Divine Feminine
Part 2 continued the Divine feminine
(Part 2) a new look at ( The Divine in feminne terms)
Our One story "As above so below"
Recent Blogs (in case you missed something)
See the Archives...
The Blood Sport we call in America, Politics (Parts 1-10)
The Tomorrow people parts 1-9
The Apocalypse (The First Gospel) 40 part series [ Nov 2012-Sept 2013]
There are 20 less angels on earth tonight The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight. They're our students and our teachers and our parents and our friends. The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels, but every time we think we have measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and we're reminded that that capacity may well be limitless We add our prayers to all of yours for the 20 angels we lost ... Three Years past and no help in sight!
Christianity and other Jewish apocalyptic sects, more mainstream Jewish proselytizing activities, various pagan salvation cults, all had their apostles tramping the byways of the empire, offering brands of redemption and future exaltation for the individual believer. By the middle decades of the 1st century, the Hellenistic world, in the phrase of John Dillon (op.cit., p.396), was "a seething mass of sects and salvation cults," operating amid a broader milieu of ethical and philosophical schools only a little less emotionally conducted.
Stepping onto that stage is the first witness to the Christian movement, one who left us with the earliest surviving record of belief in a new Savior and system of salvation: the wandering apostle Paul.
When Paul steps onto that stage, where is he coming from? Has he been
inspired by the career of the man he supposedly preaches? Does he see himself as carrying on Jesus' work? Is he part of a movement which traces its doctrines and authority back to the Son of God on earth?
There is no sign of such a thing, in Paul or any other epistle writer. Instead, Paul is driven by inspiration, and that inspiration comes through the Spirit of God. He tells us this over and over.
It is all God's doing. God has set his seal on us by sending the Spirit. [2
Corinthians 1:22, NEB]
To be continued ...
A Thirst for the Irrational
beings possessed a portion of the higher reality in that part of themselves called the "soul." It had existed before birth and been a part of the spiritual world. Now it was trapped in bodies of matter, but ultimately it would achieve release and reunite with the divine. The soul was immortal. Through the soul, the human being was destined to merge into some larger life.
Thus Christian ideas could show a respectable lineage for their division
between the soul and the body, between the lower world and the higher, between this world and the future one—none of which was based on any observable evidence. By the time We get to Paul, Greek rationalism as embodied most fully in the Stoics is being openly maligned. It is "the wisdom of the world" which God has revealed (through apostles like Paul) to be foolishness. Nor was human reason any longer the way to achieve the new wisdom. This too was a folly and even amenable to evil influence. The need for salvation could not be based on something as mundane as the power of the human mind to reason. In a sense, people looked for salvation from the limitations and weaknesses of being human, of living in an all-too-human world. The means to
that salvation must therefore lie outside themselves, it had to be part of the thing being aimed at. Knowledge of salvation and the ways to achieve it could only come from God, through faith that he was providing these things. People became convinced that they were receiving direct revelation from the Deity, through visions and ascents to heaven in dreams, through inspired understanding of sacred writings, through personal calls to preach. God was working in the world, and one need only attune oneself to him. The certainly that could not come from human reason came instead through faith.'
To be continued....
Formerly, religion had been tied to the state, an expression of the state's interests. People took part in it as members of a larger whole. But in the Hellenistic age, the focus of religion changed to one of personal concerns. With the world around them unsettled and fragmented, people felt a greater thirst for understanding that world and how to cope with it. But even more so, how to transcend it.
Instead of the pursuit of philosophy for the sake of pure truth and to further the health of the state, as Plato and Aristotle had largely indulged in it, philosophical movements were now designed to help individuals find a place in a troubled world and give them peace of mind. The most important were the Stoics, Epicureans and Platonists. These and other systems had as a central concern the nature of Deity and how one should relate to it (or ignore it), together with the question of proper and beneficial behavior. Only in Stoicism
Part One: Preaching a Divine Son was there any significant focus on taking an active part in public life; otherwise, the principal goal was to achieve freedom and self-sufficiency from the world. Such doctrines were preached by wandering philosophers. They were a kind
of "popular clergy," offering spiritual comfort—though usually demanding a fee.Some had immense influence on a wide audience, such as the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, who taught that the universe is governed by a benevolent and wise Providence, and that all men are brothers (in the sexist language of the time).
But philosophical advice was not the only thing people had recourse to.
Healing gods, astrologers, magicians with their potions and spells, helped cope with evil forces in the world, and not only human ones. The conviction that unseen spirits and forces of fate were also working against them added to people's distress. Demons were regarded as filling the very atmosphere of the earth and were thought to cause most misfortunes, from personal accidents and sickness to natural disasters. They even tempted the believer away from his faith.
Like the savior gods of the mystery cults, Christ Jesus offered deliverance from these evil forces, for the sacrificed god of the Christians was said to have placed all the supernatural powers of the universe under his subjection.
Some of the new Greek philosophical systems would have nothing to do with such superstitions. Stoicism and Epicureanism began as essentially rationalist philosophies. They aimed at living life according to Nature or to some rational principle by which the observable world could be understood or at least coped the. Views of Deity were fitted into this "natural" outlook. But during the 1st century BCE a fundamental shift developed, and it coincided with the revival of Platonism which had lain, to a certain extent, in eclipse for a couple of centuries.
In this new outlook, says John Dillon (The Middle Platonists, p. 192), "the supreme object of human life is Likeness to God, not Conformity with Nature." Middle Platonism, which soon came to dominate philosophical thinking in the era of early Christianity, was fundamentally religious and even mystical. A. J. Festugiere (Personal Religion Among the Greeks, p.51) describes it as embodying a desire to escape: "Ah! To leave this earth, to fly to heaven, to be like unto the Gods and partake of their bliss."
This was the great religious yearning of the age: to undergo transformation, to transport oneself into a new world, an immortal life, union with the divine in a metamorphosed universe. The new buzzword was "salvation." The ways to achieve it became the central concern of a proliferation of schools and cults, both Hellenistic and Jewish.
Higher and Lower Worlds It is largely to Plato (who absorbed earlier ideas from the mystery religion known as Orphism) and to the stream of later "Platonic" thinking which he set in motion, that we owe this sense of alienation from the world and the urge to move
beyond it. In Platonism, there was a clear separation between the higher world (above the earth) of spiritual ultimate realities, where things were perfect and unchanging, and the earthly world of matter and the senses of which humans were a part. As an imperfect reflection of the upper one, comprised of things that were changing and perishable, this lower world was decidedly inferior. Human
To be continued. . .
This Son and Savior was not identified with a recent human man or placed in an earthly setting, much less given a ministry of teaching and miracle-working in Galilee. Instead, he was a heavenly deity who had done his redeeming work in the supernatural dimension, in the spiritual levels of the universe above the earth.
He bore strong resemblance to two important expressions of the time. One was a philosophical idea we may call "the intermediary Son," a spiritual emanation of God and a spirit channel between him and humanity; this was the dominant philosophical-religious concept of the Hellenistic age.
The second resemblance was to a wide range of pagan savior gods found in the "mysteries," the dominant form of popular religion in this period, going back to ancient roots. Like Paul's Christ, these savior gods were thought of as having performed acts in a mythical world, acts which brought sanctity and salvation to their believers. These cults had myths and rituals very much like those of the Christian movement.
Like the people who preached the kingdom of God in Galilee, the apostles who spread their faith in a redeeming Son of God, and the communities across the empire which formed in response to them, envisioned an imminent end or transformation of the world. It would come with the arrival of the Son from heaven. Such groups were thus sectarian in nature, and they too aroused hostility on the part of society around them. Even more so than the Galilean movement, and partly because it was so widely diffused, the Son of God faith was uncoordinated, with no central governing authority or set of doctrines.
In 334 BCE, when Alexander the Great led his army of Macedonians out of Greece and into Asia, he faced the ancient empire of the Persians and an even more ancient Oriental world with deep social and religious roots. Ten years later, when he reached Babylon after a path of conquest which swung as far east as India, the Persian empire lay in ruins and that ancient world was already being inundated by Greeks: Greek colonies, Greek ideas, Greek culture. The new ruling class formed a veneer which never fully integrated with the native populations, but the mix inevitably produced a new culture. Predominantly Greek, infused with the old still-vital bloods, the eastern Mediterranean world embarked on the Hellenistic age. Its spirit lasted even into the era of imperial Rome, whose own culture continued to borrow heavily from the Greek east.
Alexander's grand vision of a unified world of East and West was stillborn, for at the age of 33 in 323, weakened by wounds and exhaustion, he died of fever in Babylon after a drinking party. His generals fought for the spoils and the sprawling, short-lived empire broke up. The more easterly regions were almost immediately lost, but the rest solidified into three and eventually four kingdoms.
War between them was prevalent; areas frequently changed hands between one kingdom and another. Old social cohesions crumbled in the new unstable political situation. The Oriental temple-state form of nationalism gave way to one modeled on the Greek city-state, but without its former universal (male) democracy. Vast numbers of people felt lost and disenfranchised. Many had been displaced, and there was nothing familiar to return to. That ancient world was now bewilderingly multi-cultural. The individual was on his or her own.
To be continued ...
In reality, "Christianity" in its beginnings was much more diffuse. It was made up of several unrelated strands of activity within the religious philosophy and culture of the time, strands which lacked any common point or figure of origin. Only through a unique set of circumstances did all of those strands come together to produce the picture of Christian origins which the world has envisioned for so long.
The focal point of that coming together was the first Gospel, the Gospel of (as many believe -see my study on Revelation for an alternative view point ) Mark, which created the figure of Jesus of Nazareth and made him the personification of all the preceding strands. Once that turn in the road was taken (a good estimation is that it took place some time around the year 90 which is the common late date understanding. I hold any early dating of around 47—for which evidence will be provided), the picture thus created gradually impacted on the different expressions of the broader movement until eventually all those who styled themselves believers in the "Christ" thought that their faith had begun with an actual man who had lived at a recent time in history and had given rise to all the varied beliefs and practices they shared.
This study will continue to use the words "Christian" and "Christianity," but in that initial period before the Gospels bestowed a new meaning on them, such terms will refer to the wide variety of groups, a mix of Jew and gentile, that believed in a Christ or Son of God who was a divine Savior, but who was not yet regarded as having been on earth.
With this overview in mind, the basic pieces of the Jesus Puzzle can be laid out. The Gospel story is an amalgamation of two principal and separate elements—the wedding, if you like, of two different parents. This was a 'couple' who had never directly associated, who may not even have been aware of each other's existence until those unique circumstances arose which led "Mark" to bring them together in his Gospel.
The first parent was a Jewish preaching movement centered in Galilee, although it seems to have extended beyond that region. The itinerant prophets of this new 'counter-culture' expression announced the coming of the kingdom of God and anticipated the arrival of a heavenly figure called the Son of Man who would judge the world. They urged repentance, taught a new ethic and advocated a new society; they claimed the performance of miracles, and they aroused the
hostility of the religious establishment.
Some of this movement's traditions came from different sources, so that it comprised multiple strands of its own. No Jesus, divine or human, was originally present on the scene, although later in its evolution a certain segment of this kingdom sect (which also developed the Q document) envisioned for itself a founder figure who fed into the creation of the Gospel Jesus. Before his entry into the Gospel of Mark, however, this invented founder was linked to no death and resurrection, no events in Jerusalem. To apply a concept used in some modern scholarship, this side of the puzzle, this half of the composite picture of eventual Christianity, will be called the "Galilean Tradition."
The second parent was not so localized. Even though this side of the puzzle will be referred to by another concept in some scholarly usage, the "Jerusalem Tradition," and even though Jerusalem was an important center for this half of the Christian picture, in reality it too was comprised of many strands. It came to life in numerous places across the eastern half of the Roman empire, expressing a great variety of ideas. It too was a preaching movement, built on a Jewish base
but combining Jewish and pagan traditions and religious concepts. It was conducted by apostles who might roam far afield to deliver their message of salvation and establish congregations of believers.
That message was about a heavenly Son and emanation of God who was both an intermediary between God and the world, and a Savior figure. To some extent he was inspired by the traditional expectation of a Messiah; he was a new 'take' on that concept. He was variously called Jesus, or Yeshua (meaning "Yahweh Saves" in Hebrew), the Christ (Greek for the Hebrew "Mashiach," or Messiah, meaning "Anointed One"), and the Son. Some looked upon this new Son of God
as a Revealer who bestowed saving knowledge of God, others as one who had undergone a sacrificial death and a resurrection. All manner of apostles like Paul were going about preaching this divine being and often not agreeing among themselves about him; indeed, they could be at each others' throats, as passages in Paul's letters reveal.
To be Continued . . .
Could this be because they are not in fact speaking of any such figure? Could it be that if we remove those Gospel-colored glasses when reading the early Christian writers, we would find that all of them, Paul especially, have been telling us in plain and unmistakable terms exactly what the earliest Christians did believe in, and what the Christ they all worshiped really was?
Gaining an understandable picture of the early Christian movement, to which Paul's writings are the most important surviving witness, requires that one delve into the thinking of the age among both Jews and gentiles: the philosophy, views of the universe and kinds of myths those people believed in. Christianity, like all other human expression, was a product of its time and did not arise in isolation from the thought world around it. Christianity was also by nature a sect, in that it adopted and advocated new ideas which brought it into conflict with the milieu it grew out of. Thus its development must be understood in the context of how sects behave and interact with the world around them.
As part of this picture of the times, one needs to be aware of the crossover influences which took place between Judaism and the Greco-Roman society it lived within. Even as it struggled to stave off integration, Jewish culture, more diverse than it eventually became under the rabbis, absorbed a great deal from its wider environment, especially in the Diaspora, those Jewish enclaves distributed
throughout the Roman empire and further east. Nor was the process a one-way street. Jewish monotheism and ethics were embraced by great numbers of gentiles who joined Jewish synagogues and sectarian groups in varying degrees of conversion. One of the features of early Christianity was the attraction of gentile believers who adopted Jewish ideas and practices, eventually considering themselves the new inheritors of the Jewish God's promise.
These mutual crossover influences gave rise to a new faith which was a hybrid of both cultures, and a product which would shape the future of the Western world.
Yet to use the term "Christianity" or a phrase like "the Christian movement" is fundamentally misleading. It implies that the phenomenon being studied was a single entity, something unified, that it began in a particular location out of an identifiable set of circumstances and events. It also implies—so Christian tradition has it—that it was all set in motion by a specific historical figure, Jesus the Christ, and by the actions of those who responded to him. But such a picture evolved only later.
Once upon a time, someone wrote a story about a man who was God.
We do not know who that someone was, or where he wrote his story. We are not even sure when he wrote it, but we do know that several decades had passed since the supposed events he told of. Later generations gave this storyteller the name of "Mark," but if that was his real name, it was only by coincidence. Other writers followed after, and they enlarged on the first one's tale. They borrowed much of what he had written, reworked it in their own particular ways and put in some additional material. By the time another half century had passed,
almost everyone who followed the religion of these storytellers accepted their work as an account of actual historical events and a real historical man. And so did the people who came afterwards, for close to two thousand years. About two centuries ago, these "Gospels" began to be subjected to some searching examination. Not only were they found to contradict one another on important matters, it was eventually realized that they had been conceived and put together in ways, and with motivations, which suggested that they were not reliable historical accounts.
Their fantastic and uncritical dimensions, such as the miracles and the involvement of God and the supernatural, placed them outside
the genre of history writing as we know it. That process of scholarly examination has continued to this day, with results that have undermined the very foundations of the Christian faith.
Recently, a scholar began his book about the Jesus of history, the actual man and his career that were supposed to lie behind those non-historical accounts, with this sentence:
On a spring morning in about the year 30 CE, three men were executed by the Roman authorities in Judea.... [E. P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus, p. 1 ]
But is even this statement to be questioned? Is even this piece of "irreducible data" a part of the tale written by the storyteller who penned the first Gospel?
Did that third man crucified by the Romans on a hill in Judea, beside the two highway brigands, have any historical existence at all?
The story told in the Gospel of Mark first begins to surface around the end of the 1st century CE. Yet the curious fact is that when we search for that story in all the non-Gospel Christian documents written before that time, it is nowhere to be found. It is missing even from many documents produced after that period, some extending into the latter half of the 2nd century.
If we had to rely on the letters of the earliest Christians, such as Paul and those who wrote most of the other New Testament epistles, we would be hard pressed to find anything resembling the details of the Gospel story. If we did not read Gospel associations into what Paul and the others say about Christ Jesus, we could not even tell that this figure, the object of their worship, was a man who had recently lived in Palestine and had been executed by the Roman authorities with the help of a hostile Jewish establishment.
To be continued....
The theory that no historical Jesus ever lived was still generally regarded as a fringe idea. Although a small minority of scholars had championed such a conclusion for almost two centuries, it had achieved little traction among the public or in New Testament scholarship.
Now a decade later, the idea is beginning to poke a tentative head out of parts of the mainstream scholarly landscape. Yet this has already been overtaken by a growing segment of the general public, especially among those plugged into the Internet, where presentation and debate on websites and discussion boards has increasingly intrigued and even won over many to the idea.
The advent of the Internet has introduced an unprecedented "lay" element of scholarship to the field. The vastly accelerated dissemination and exchange of ideas, the easy availability of ancient texts and works of modern scholarship only a click away, the absence of peer pressure and constraints of academic tenure, has meant that the study of Christian origins is undergoing a quantum leap in the
hands of a much wider constituency than traditional academia. While the latter has always been centered in university Religion departments, the field is now open to dedicated 'amateurs,' the latter being a technical term for those who undertake private study outside an official educational setting
Mainstream critical scholarship's ongoing quest for "the historical Jesus" is yet to arrive at any secure or consensus result. Agreement on what Jesus said and rid, on whether he was a Jewish wisdom teacher, an apocalyptic prophet, a revolutionary, a Cynic-style sage, or any of a number of other characterizations, is as far from being achieved as at any previous stage of the perennial attempt to separate the glorified Jesus of faith from the elusive Jesus of history. It remains to be seen how soon traditional academia will overcome its reluctance to take the
plunge into the New Testament's final, uncharted territory. It has become known on the Internet as "Jesus mysticism"—the theory that no historical Jesus worthy of the name existed, that Christianity began with a belief in a spiritual, mythical identifiable person lay at the root of the Galilean preaching tradition.
There is one rebuke regularly leveled at the proponents of Jesus mysticism. This is the claim—a myth in itself—that mainstream scholarship (both the New Testament exegete and the general historian) has long since discredited the theory that Jesus never existed, and continues to do so. It is not more widely
supported, they maintain, because the evidence to the contrary is overwhelming, and this evidence has been presented time and time again. It is surprising how much currency this fantasy enjoys, considering that there is so little basis for it
In the early 20lh century there were a number of efforts to counter the strong current of Jesus mysticism at that time, but the works on both sides of that debate are long outdated. There has been in recent times no major published work from mainstream scholarship dedicated to disproving the mythical Jesus theory. This alone is critical, since significant advances have been made in New Testament research over the last quarter century, such as the new perception of the high midrash content of the Gospels, advances in Gnostic studies based on
the Nag Hammadi documents, new insights into the Q document's layering and evolution, and so on. The case for Jesus mythicism has kept pace with these developments and has strengthened itself accordingly, yet virtually none of this has been answered by today's historical Jesus defenders. When modern scholars have commented on Jesus mythicism (as a part of books or articles devoted to other aspects of New Testament study), it has generally been a superficial affair,
repeating old objections that have long been dealt with by mythicism's advocates and betraying an inadequate understanding of the depth and character of their case. It has been amateur Internet apologists, usually faith-driven, who have stepped into this vacuum and offered web-based articles attempting to refute the mythical Jesus position. These have attracted rebuttals by mythicists, including several by myself. The question remains to which I devote myself. Not that Jesus was an historical figure but can we prove beyond a reasonable doubt Did Jesus claim to be God. Or perhaps his followers did that for him. ...We shall see.
In the early 20lh century there were a number of efforts to counter the strong current of Jesus mythicism at that time, but the works on both sides of that debate are long outdated. There has been in recent times no major published work from mainstream scholarship dedicated to disproving the mythical Jesus theory. This alone is critical, since significant advances have been made in New Testament research over the last quarter century, such as the new perception of the high midrash content of the Gospels, advances in Gnostic studies based on the Nag Hammadi documents, new insights into the Q document's layering and evolution, and so on. The case for Jesus mythicism has kept pace with these developments and has strengthened itself accordingly, yet virtually none of this has been answered by today's historical Jesus defenders. When modern scholars
have commented on Jesus mythicism (as a part of books or articles devoted to other aspects of New Testament study), it has generally been a superficial affair, repeating old objections that have long been dealt with by mythicism's advocates
and betraying an inadequate understanding of the depth and character of their case. It has been amateur Internet apologists, usually faith-driven, who have stepped into this vacuum and offered web-based articles attempting to refute the mythical Jesus position.
Eric Hoffer noted: "It is startling to realize how much unbelief is necessary to make belief possible."
There is an episode of Star Trek Voyager called Distant Origin where this topic is explored. A scientist of a race in the Delta Quadrant believes that genetic evidence indicated that their race originated on Earth. His thesis is challenged the doctrine of his species and he was accused of "heresy against Doctrine" for positing something different than his people believed. He ends up being persecuted and punished for his beliefs.
Now I want to be diplomatic about this. I am not someone who simply is contrary to established doctrines, be they theological, scientific or even military theories. That being said I think it is only right to question our presuppositions, as Anselm of Canterbury did through faith seeking understanding.
That understanding as a Christian is based on the totality of the message of the Christian faith. Hans Kung said it well:
"Christians are confident that there is a living God and that in the future of this God will also maintain their believing community in life and in truth. Their confidence is based on the promise given with Jesus of Nazareth: he himself is the promise in which God’s fidelity to his people can be read."
What we have to admit is that our belief is rooted in our faith, faith which is given to us through the witness of very imperfect people influenced by their own culture, history and traditions. Even scripture does not make the claim to be inerrant, and the Bible cannot be understood like the Koran or other texts which make the claim to be the infallible compendium of faith delivered by an angel or dictated by God himself. It is a Divine-human collaboration so symbolic of the relationship that God has with his people, often confusing and contradictory yet inspiring.
There is a certain sense of relationship between God and humanity within scripture and that relationship creates certain tensions between God and those people. The interesting thing is that Scripture is a collection of texts which record often in terrible honesty the lack of perfection of both the writers and their subjects. They likewise record the sometimes unpredictable and seemingly contradictory behavior of God toward humanity in the Old Testament. They bear witness to the weaknesses, limitations and lack of understanding of the people of God of the message of God but even in that those limitations and weaknesses that God is still faithful to humanity in the life death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
The real fact of the matter is that fixed doctrines are much more comfortable than difficult questions than honestly examining the contradictions that exist within Scripture, history and tradition. The fact is this makes many people uncomfortable and thus the retreat into the fortress of fixed and immutable doctrine found in the various incarnations of Fundamentalism.
The fact is the world is not a safe place, and our best knowledge is always being challenged by new discoveries many of which make people nervous and uncomfortable, especially people who need the safety of certitude. So in reaction the true believers become even more strident and sometimes, in the case of some forms of Islam and Hinduism violent.
Christianity cannot get away unscathed by such criticism. At various points in our history we have had individuals, churches and Church controlled governments persecute and kill those that have challenged their particular orthodoxy. Since Christian fundamentalists are human they like others have the capacity for violence if they feel threatened, or the cause is "holy" enough. Our history is full of sordid tales of the ignorance of some Christians masquerading as absolute truth and crushing any opposition. It is as Eric Hoffer wrote:
"A doctrine insulates the devout not only against the realities around them but also against their own selves. The fanatical believer is not conscious of his envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. There is a wall of words between his consciousness and his real self."
This is the magnetic attraction of fundamentalism in all of its forms, not just Christian fundamentalism. Yet for me there is a comfort in knowing that no matter how hard and fast we want to be certain of our doctrines, that God has the last say in the matter in the beginning and the end. We live in the uncomfortable middle but I have hope in the faith that God was in the beginning. Besides as Bonhoeffer well noted "A God who let us prove his existence would be an idol"
But there some Christians who now faced with the eloquence of men like Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye who make legitimate challenges respond in the most uncouth and ignorant manners. The sad thing is that their response reveals more about them and their uncertainty than it does the faith that they boldly proclaim. As Hoffer wrote: "We can be absolutely certain only about things we do not understand."
Our doctrines, the way we interpret Scripture and the way we understand God are limited by our humanity and the fact that no matter how clever we think we are that our doctrines are expressions of faith. This is because we were not in the beginning as was God and we will not be at the end, at least in this state. We live in the uncomfortable middle, faith is not science, nor is it proof, that is why it is called faith, even in our scriptures.
We are to always seek clarity and understanding but know that it is possible that such understanding and the seeking of truth, be it spiritual, historical, scientific or ethical could well upset our doctrines, but not God himself. As Henri Nouwen wrote: "Theological formation is the gradual and often painful discovery of God’s incomprehensibility. You can be competent in many things, but you cannot be competent in God." Is that not the point of the various interactions of Jesus with the religious leaders of his day? Men who knew that they knew the truth and even punished people who had been healed by Jesus such as the man born blind in the 9th Chapter of John’s Gospel.
"You are that man’s disciple; we are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but we do not know where this one is from." The man answered and said to them, "This is what is so amazing, that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if one is devout and does his will, he listens to him. It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything." They answered and said to him, "You were born totally in sin, and are you trying to teach us?" Then they threw him out."
The interchange between the religious leaders and the man is not an indictment on Judaism, but rather on religious certitude in any time or place. The fact is that the Pharisees are no different than those who ran the Inquisition, or those who conducted Witch Trials or those who attempt to crush anyone who questions their immutable doctrine no matter what their religion. They were and are true believers.
In the episode of Star Trek the Next Generation called The Drumhead Captain Picard counsels Lieutenant Worf after their encounter with a special investigator who turned an investigation into a witch hunt on the Enterprise. Picard told Worf, who had initially been taken in by the investigator:
"But she, or someone like her, will always be with us, waiting for the right climate in which to flourish, spreading fear in the name of righteousness. Vigilance, Mister Worf – that is the price we have to continually pay."
When Did Jesus Become the Son of God, the Lord,
and the Messiah?
The missionary speeches of Acts deal not only with issues of salvation; they also make bold statements about Christ and how God exalted him after his death. In Paul’s speech to potential converts in Antioch of Pisidia, he speaks of God’s raising of Jesus in fulfillment of Scripture:
What God promised to our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus; as also it is written in the second psalm,
‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’ (Acts 13:32–33)
In this text the "day" Jesus became begotten as God’s son was the day of the resurrection. But how does that square with what Luke says elsewhere? In Luke’s Gospel, the voice utters the same words, "You are my Son, today I have begotten you" (Luke 3:22), when Jesus is baptized.
But even earlier, the angel Gabriel announced to Mary prior toJesus’ conception and birth that "the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:35). In this instance it appears that Jesus is the Son of God because of
the virginal conception: he is physically God’s son. How can Luke say all three things? I’m not sure it’s possible to reconcile these accounts; it may be that Luke got these different traditions from different sources that disagreed with one another on the issue.
The same type of problem occurs with some of the other things Luke says about Jesus. For example, in Peter’s speech on the day of Pentecost, he speaks of the death of Jesus and affirms that God raised him up and exalted him to heaven: "Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucifi ed" (Acts 2:36). Here, again, it
appears that Jesus receives this exalted status at the resurrection—that is when God "made him" Lord and Messiah. But what then is one to think of the birth narrative in Luke, where the angel informs the shepherds who are "watching over their flock by night" that "to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah,
the Lord" (2:11). In this instance, Jesus is Messiah and Lord already at his birth. How did Jesus become both Messiah and Lord at both points in time? Here again there appears to be an internal discrepancy within Luke’s own writings, possibly because different sources were used to create his accounts.
To be continued...