Frank, I went through fundamentalist school of theology in both high school and college, and I understand multiple Jewish takes on this through my heritage from both liberal and orthodox POV. All of these views are very familiar, and the fact that so many exist isn’t an accident, because each culture will inevitably inject and interpret these narratives through the lens of cultural and contextual norms that these find necessary.
If these would be written today, we wouldn’t be describing these the same. The pitfalls of fundamentalism is precisely in locking the future of religion to cultural developments of archaic world.
It’s not only the royal language, but the entire conceptualization of the Second Coming that falls in line with archaic cosmology. Any culture will inevitably inject “what Jews misunderstood about Jesus and nature of God’s kingdom” as it relates to their perspective and cultural concepts.
The way all of us inevitably are left with approaching Jesus… is a personification that embodies ideals in a narrative. You may imagine it to be reality beyond that, but such reality may not be the case. I hope you include that as both plausible and possible.
I had no idea that you consider the religious stories of the world to be historically plausible and on the same level as history we derive through specific methodology that’s very careful about bias. That’s wonderful, Frank
Of course I realize that ancients did not do history as we do. The gospels are not historical documents in the way we compile such. However, history today is still told from a point of view, with historians selecting and editing to give meaning to events and trends, not just an omniscient and coldly objective cataloging of facts and events. Historians tell stories. With that said, the gospels are a theologized history, told with a purpose and aim, an agenda to establish that Jesus was the promised messiah, bringing God’s restorative rule to earth. They were certainly faith documents.
That doesn’t mean they were mythology, as if they had no basis in history. That includes not only that Jesus of Nazareth existed, but that he was crucified and risen from the dead. Paul wrote that the risen Christ appeared to 500, the apostles, and to him. Was that a real happening in history, or a myth with no basis in reality, some archaic religious wishful imagining? If the latter, then why would many of them give up their lives for no earthly gain, and certainly not through violently trying to convert the world through jihad and its promised post mortem rewards?
As Paul said, If Jesus isn’t risen, our faith is futile. If Jesus is really risen from the dead, it has huge implications for all of human history. But, if this is a fabrication not based in any historical happening, then chuck the whole thing. There is no basis for Christian faith as viable.
Live just by a collective sense of ethics… but don’t call it Christianity.
Yes… and the kingdom of God as Jesus described it wasn’t about escaping to heaven after death. It was about the kingdom being here in your midst… through the type of love, healing, and justice that he brought and that his followers are called to bring here and now. And, it wasn’t about dietary restrictions and all kinds of picayune nonsense. It was about doing to others as you would want them to do to you, because this is being truly human. Somehow I think that Jesus already articulated all that this songsmith did, far less elegantly… lol! The wheel was already invented.
To everyone, I enjoy reading your comments, it is food for thought.
Frank, I wondered if you had read “In granite or ingrained?: what the Old and New Covenants reveal about the Gospel, the Law, and the Sabbath” by Skip MacCarty. And if so, what were your thoughts about it?
If not, here is his premise:
The term “old covenant” is used in Scripture to refer to a historical period, or a salvation by works experience. The historical period is confined to the years between Sinai and crucifixion, whereas a salvation by works experience is present throughout the history of the everlasting covenant. Likewise the term “new covenant” is used in Scripture as a historical period, or as a salvation in Christ experience. The new covenant historical period is confined to the years between Calvary and Christ’s return, whereas the salvation through Christ experience is present throughout the history of the everlasting covenant. It is important to allow the context to reveal whether the author refers to a historical period or to a specific experience, found either in the old- or the new-covenant historical periods.
I have the book and have read portions of it. I must say that I felt there was a problem out of the gate with it. The author wrote this as an apologetic with the outcome already predetermined, that the sabbath is eternally binding on all Christians, and as a refutation of Ratzlaff’s new covenant theology. Under those conditions, one is not going to be doing scholarship by following the evidence where it leads them, but by making the evidence fit their a priori assumptions.
One instance is his handling of Colossians 2:16-17. He states that the sabbaths in the passage are only “ceremonial sabbaths” and not the weekly. He, like every Adventist evangelist I’ve ever heard, is simply flat out wrong. Festivals, new moons, and sabbaths, are simply a way of saying yearly, monthly, and weekly celebrations. This is a formula used seven times in the OT, backwards and forwards, to indicate all holy time observance in the Torah. It includes the weekly sabbath. Even Bacchiocchi, who was the foremost sabbath apologist in the denomination, admitted this.
Paul was saying that all of them, including the weekly sabbath, were a shadow of things to come, but the reality is Christ. Bacchiocchi tried to say that the shadows were superstitious observances that the Colossians had adopted, and not the days themselves. This painted him into the corner of saying that Paul had taught his converts to keep all the Jewish festivals, not just the weekly sabbath, something Bacchiocchi was championing towards the end of his life. A mess.
Both he and MacCarty didn’t deal with the idea that Paul was calling all these holy times, including the sabbath, shadows pointing to the messiah. Many rabbis also taught that the weekly sabbath rest was a shadow of the rest of the messianic age. He was saying to the Colossians that matters of eating and drinking, worship of angels, ascetic practices, and the observance of Jewish holy times, including the sabbath, were matters that were not central to Christian identity and practice, and in the case of angel worship, even against it. Let no one pressure you over these ancillary matters, the central issue was holding fast to the head, the reality and center of Christian faith, Christ himself.
Adventism, in its own way, tries to mix the shadows with the reality. It points people back to issues of holy time observance and food laws as necessary to belong to the family of God, and in reality emphasizes shadowy observances rather than the centrality of allegiance to and faith in Christ, and what constitutes that. It actually creates a judgmental and divisive element within the wider Christian church over matters that are not central to faith and practice… at least as I understand and apply what Paul was saying here and in other letters.
Colossians, in its own way, was keeping with the ideas that Paul presented concerning belonging and covenant identity, and Torah observance in Galatians, Romans, and elsewhere. The issue was not a covenant of works vs. one of grace. It was about the equal inclusion of Gentiles as Gentiles into the family of God, apart from circumcision and Torah observance. The issues are too long to get into here, but needless to say, I don’t think MacCarty has it right, at least from what I’ve read myself, and from what your summation of what he says about the covenants, especially from the Pauline letters.
I used to believe as he does. I’ve changed my mind.
Sure, that’s why historians who read these writings some centuries later rely on multiple sources and coherentist approach in which they attempt to structure an overarching model of events, and how any-given historical account coheres with that model.
It’s a very complex enterprise that religion tends to ignore, since there’s a traditional lineage of inbred trust in any-given narrative that’s sanctioned as orthodox.
Whatever you mean by “theologized history” can be rather vague as to what the actual events were, and how different these were from the written accounts.
For example, there’s a portion of accounts in which no eyewitness is possible. Take the woman at the well narrative. I doubt Jesus would be retelling his disciples what happened at that well. The only viable way this account wasn’t fictional would be woman running to town and retelling that story multiple times to the point it becoming a local folklore and circulating to gospel writers somehow. But, there’s no guarantee that this story went unaltered in this case. As such it’s not clear that it’s history. It’s not clear that it even happened. And even if it happened, it’s not clear that it was Jesus, and not some other wise Rabbi she has met, and that’s story was recast into Jesus with some alterations because it sounds like someone like Jesus.
And to the writer it makes no real difference, because it’s a vehicle that carries certain premise and ties together a broader narrative. So, no, these are not historic in a way that we tend to strictly relate to factual history, but it doesn’t really matter if these were not IMO.
Well, yes… in a sense that all of the mythology has basis in history from a POV of some consolidation of narratives and ideals that are eventually personified in folklore. All of these stories carry some legendary characteristics.
Consider a more recent story, like Michael Jordan’s Bulls road to their first championship. It’s a lot more tedious and mundane if you were a player on a team, rather than you being someone who puts together a narrative that makes all of these events into a legendary achievement by legendary figures.
I left Ukraine to play basketball in the US, and when I came back later to speak to my former teammates, everyone wanted to know whether it was true or not if I left my shoes to some kid that became a local star. I haven’t. He made the story up. It doesn’t make this story less real for him and everyone who believed it
Given Paul’s past, it’s not always clear to me that we are not dealing with emotionally compromised person who was killing and hurting people, and who is driven to the brink of insanity by guilt of doing so, and his attempts to undo what he has done. Or we are dealing with reality of events in which there’s a continuum of disembodied encounter with Christ that sets Paul on a path to joining the church.
So, there isn’t a simple way in which we must take all of these narratives in which we must believe that all of these happened as these are written. Just because someone writes that there were 500 witnesses, it doesn’t mean there were 500. Likewise, the 500 is a clean number, that’s rather strange and made up… likely a linguistic ploy that means “a boatload of people”. We have no idea who these people were. They certainly have not left historical traces of corroborating evidence.
For the same reason any cult members follow their believes to their deaths. In Japan people sliced their guts following certain code of ethics, in US people drank cool aid thinking they will end up in a spaceship that takes them to a different place.
Simply because someone suffers and dies for a belief, doesn’t make that belief to be true. It never ceases to amaze me as to how many time people will repeat this question … even after one points out that early Christians are not unique in their following and defending their beliefs to their death.
Well, Paul was wrong.
It’s like saying that if Tooth fairy isn’t real, then it has great implication for biological process of children losing their first set of teeth. Tooth fairy is a layer on top of that process, and not something that can exist without it.
Christian theology is a narrative that’s layered on top of our biology, and which constrains and alleviates certain impulses and fears. Whether it’s real or not doesn’t take away from what it’s actually does for us as such narrative of personified ideals. That’s why it still exists in our high-tech era in which we progressively understand the certain literal aspects of ancient mythology to be demonstrably incorrect.
We have narratives that will help us and guide us through the childhood via compound allegories that we couldn’t understand any other way. Once we grow up and understand the reality behind these allegories, we don’t need these allegories to guide us. We can choose to make the new stories for the next generation of children that will take understanding of reality further.
In such, I don’t think Christianity was ever meant to be a static narrative. Jesus is still alive, but fundamentalist Christians constrain him to the cross as they perpetually sacrifice him for their sins.
Christianity arguably IS a contemporary collection of “sense of ethics”. Your ethics is actually greater than what Jesus set up in the past. We do plenty of things to care for each other that Jesus simply wouldn’t do for the people as a whole.
Of course, you could point to the fact that Christianity is more about Heaven than it is about Earth, and it’s more about life after death than it is about now… and that’s where I would strongly disagree.
And perhaps that’s why Christianity has outgrown the church a while ago, where people practice Christianity, and where younger generations leave because they find more Jesus in contemporary culture than that in fundamentalist past of their parents.
I realize that there is a gulf between us in the way we see these issues. You seem to see religion as myth, including the Christian story. It seems that you see it as a way of seeing the world and our place in it as something rooted in an ancient and archaic mindset, that cannot be translated into the modern world other than through what we ourselves read into the Christ event, and the ethical imperatives of it that humans have adapted over time. I hope that is an accurate assessment. I can’t say that I see no merit in your views.
However, I, and many others, see the Christ story and the gospel of the kingdom of God as something more than a Jeffersonian approach to the NT. The ethics of the kingdom cannot be separated from the messiah himself, and his continued presence through his Spirit. It is something that is experienced. It is something that changes and transforms lives and even communities.
Nor is it about dying and going to heaven, a strawman you seemingly keep attributing to me and to the NT. It is about the here and now, as Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is in your midst.” Iow, Jesus followers are called to live the ethics of his rule, the restorative love, justice, and giving, that he did. That is bringing the rule of God into the present. It also anticipates what is to come… not dying and exiting creation, but a restored and renewed creation. That is why if Jesus is risen, it has implications for all of human history. It means that God has intervened in human history through suffering, service, even submitting to a shameful death to do so, and not by power, might, or force. It means that his ethic of loving even ones enemies has been validated as the eternal face of God, and what it means to be truly human, bearing his image. This is the reality and rule of God brought to bear within his creation. I don’t see any ethical framework that exceeds that today, as you seem to suggest.
It also means that history is headed towards a goal. Jesus’s resurrection is the signpost that the consummation of what Jesus inaugurated, and that his Spirit continues to move human beings to live out, is still to come. It points to a renewed creation, whose foundation is the rule of self giving love that Jesus displayed through his life and death, and was validated by his rising from the dead.
And yes, people have given their lives for this, not because they drank the poison of Jonestown, not because they looked to violently establish the rule of their god over others, but because the vision that Jesus laid out and demonstrated was one that broke down the barriers of blood, tribe, and soil. The vision of a world where those factors no longer determine who belongs and who doesn’t, who is on top and who is on bottom. A world where the greater among you shall be your servant. Where human flourishing and mutual care and love for one another are the highest values. A world whose organization and fabric is totally at odds with the way human beings have organized and divided the world throughout history, and still do today.
The failure of organized Christianity/Christendom through the ages, and even today, to by and large live this out, doesn’t negate the story itself and the vision it casts for all creation. It still stands, and is there to be read, lived, and experienced.
Perhaps let’s approach this how I approached this wen discussing with theologians in some formal setting.
How do you think Spirit works, and what do you think it is? Do you believe in substance dualism in a sense that there is a Spirit and then there’s “matter” of which we are made of, and these are two distinct and separate “things”? What is Spirit in relation to matter? What is the difference between our state without Christ Spirit, and our state with Crist Spirit as it relates to our brain function and matter that structures it?
Many of us grew up with this picture of the judgement scene; me standing in the dock, God behind the judge’s desk, Jesus at a side podium, begging. Or worse, me standing in the dock, alone and without a mediator, dependent on my own (finally achieved?) perfection. Now, I see myself arm in arm with Jesus being introduced to the Father : “See? Here’s Carolyn finally here with us. Yay!”