Friday, February 23, 2007

The Bible as a United Whole

What is the most important part of the bible to you as a Christian? It's an important question if you think about since it puts your focus on the faith in some paradigm (develops your belief set). Is it the OT? Is it the gospels? Is it the letters of Paul? Is it the letters of Peter, James, or John? Is it the letter of Revelations? What is of most importance to developing your belief system?

Now I know that these are all merely words in books or letters - stories in some regards - and require actual living to make some sense out of them (since they are also framed as teachings). What from our personal environment are we bringing into the texts as we frame these teachings in our life? No person is an island - we have experiences and ideas that shape these teachings to fit us in some regards. And it is hard to let go of what we think is there and what we are reading into the texts - since it shakes us to the core to think - 'we might be wrong' on what we have always thought.

For me the importance of the whole bible lies within the gospels - to me it is of utter importance since the disciples say 'this is Jesus' teachings and words'. The faith is all about Jesus so it makes logical sense to take these teachings as the highest importance. The letters for me are likely second since they expand on those ideas of the disciples and how they look in communities (whether Gentile or Jewish). Paul, James, John, and Peter all write letters and they are directed at communities of peoples (most of the time) - and they lay down some direction for the communities that might not have had a single thing as way of 'the gospels or the OT'. It's these two things I put the majority of my attention into - and I have some sound reasoning.

In the early days the bible (as we have it - 66 books) did not exist as a united whole entity - rather it was found in bits and pieces in certain places. If I wanted to know about the OT then I had to go to the synagogue to 'hear it' read aloud and discussed. No ordinary person had access to the whole OT as a single book they could read at home and then break down into doctrine. You actually see the disciples still going to the synagogue after Jesus had left - to still hear the words and discuss them (like this was the norm).

The gospels and letters were single written pieces of literature that were sent to single regions. They would be copied but not put together as a united whole book for quite some time - and no one had all 39 books and letters we have now. People actually read a single letter or gospel and built belief systems off of that. There were what we could consider 'pastors or rabbi's' as overseers of the communities who were at the same whim of the disciples instruction - or another letter would help them out to build a bigger belief set. It's no wonder that Paul records mass amount of confusion (as does each letter written) amongst the church folk and certain dissenisons and weird beliefs that crept in. Each letter (even Revelation) records problems occuring in the church and what is to be taught as part of the faith. But they started as single units sometimes with single pieces of literature.

But we have the whole book now and we don't have to attend a single service of any sort to read it all - we just need to buy the book or call up Gideons and we have 66 books/letters nicely fitted together. Thanks printing press. However, it also gives us a greater look at the early Christian communities and some context. What if all you had was the book of Matthew or the letter to the Ephesians - could you follow Jesus fully? It's just a question but it puts you back in the early community and makes you focus on the importance of these books. Each is a seperate witness in some way - written to some community. So which book/letter is your focus?

I like Matthew personally. If all I had was Matthew I would be more than satisifed with what I am told about Jesus and the disciples. My paradigm comes from that book. I read the rest of them also but Matthew speaks to me - those teachings as a united whole book make sense to me. It's then I read the letters in light of this look at Jesus - and I read them in context also - as letters to communities breaking down what we need to know about our faith in God. I almost read none of the OT and revelations - although they both offer us something - I just don't put my focus there.

Fact is, as a united whole - these 66 books being combined and taught to be absolutely cohesive is quite irresponsible or takes context out of the picture. If I teach from Matthew then I will use Matthew a whole resource - why does a letter from Paul have to line-up (I mean it usually does but to take scripture here and scripture there might not be the best way to develop doctrine). What do you think? Do we have 66 books that absolutely line-up? How do you read the bible - what book/letter mean more to you?

26 comments:

Andre & Mary-Anne said...

Hi ... some very important questions. Relationship with Father has challenged and dramatically changed my attitude to scriptures.
I believe that God's plan has always been to express His thoughts in flesh - the word became flesh. His thoughts was never meant to be limited to a book... or many books.
Instead of trying to repeat myself, here is a reference to a blog where I expressed my thoughts about it.

http://hearhim.net/wordpress/2006/05/21/the-scriptures-in-perspective/

Andre

My Garden said...

What was Jesus answer to this type of question?...I remember what Jesus said was the most important first...that is what came to mind when I saw this post...

karen said...

most important to me....the "red words"....Jesus' words.

Anonymous said...

Hi Society,

I hear lots of people say that we have to be careful to teach the whole counsel of God and that sounds good but...I don't think any of us are able to know the whole counsel of God. Even if we have all 66 books, none of us are able to comprehend it as a whole. If we could, we still would not apprehend the whole mind of God. I also, as a believer, am probably guilty of reading the books I really like much more often than looking into the ones that don't appeal to me as much. I love the gospels for without them obviously, the Bible would not mean much to me as a Christian. I tend to measure what I read in the rest of the Bible by the words of Jesus. I love Hebrews as Paul's stream of consciousness in that book appeals to my own thought process and I also feel that many of the concepts expressed throughout the Bible that may appear disjointed are joined in the book of Hebrews. The faith chapter is one I read over and over and am encouraged by. I also love Isaiah as in it God's plan for all humanity is expressed and in its pages, I find hope for my fellow man. Also, without knowing what is written in the OT Prophets, I would have no clue as to the ideas expressed in Revelations. I also adore the book of Romans for in it is expressed the purpose of our salvation within the broader scope of the plan of God. I didn't mean to go on so...I love the Bible. I really can't express all that it has meant to me over the last 31+ years of my life in Christ.

Just as the Bible being printed and put into the hands of the common believer changed the world, so too do I see such an occurance with the internet in which every believer also has the oportunity to preach. As much as reading the Bible changed my life so has the expression of my faith in writing that is commented upon also completely changed me and caused me to grow in a way that would not be possible in the smaller Christian context of my community church. People online probably have a deeper understanding of my personal beliefs than folks I've attended church with for over twenty years. Sunday school does not plumb the depths of one another's hearts the way we of the online church do everyday of the week. I am also changed by all of the different expressions of Jesus and awed by them. We differ so greatly but we all find unity in Him and that is truly wonderful.

Pam

Jim Jordan said...

Looks like you've already got some good input. My two cents:
Understanding the Bible as one coherent work means you must read it coherently. The more I study it, the more it comes together, the more I understand what is meant to be figurative and what is meant to be literal and what has multiple layers of meaning.

The importance of the Bible is in its meaning, and at that meaning's core is John 3:16. Another important verse is Genesis 15:6, when Abraham believed God's promise of a son, and God credited it to Him as righteousness. The promise of Christ is the ultimate revelation of God's promise to all humanity. Believe Him, and be saved, that is the theme from Genesis to Revelation.

Clearly when Paul talked of the "gospel", he wasn't referring to just the words and actions recorded of the incarnate Christ but the whole story from the beginning (Bible = the story of Jesus Christ).

Reading only the red letters is a mistake. If Jesus came to fulfill the Old Testament, then how can Bob Edgar, pres. of National Council of Churches state that Jesus "didn't say one thing about abortion or same-sex marriage"? The answer; he's terribly wrong. The reason these 66 books were chosen is that they all are inspired by God, and none can be ignored.

Last, Jesus is a living Lord and therefore works in all things, not just in the Bible. This does not mean however that He can be conveniently recast in some other image (that would make the recast Jesus an idol). The Bible is our written reference and the Holy Spirit is our counselor and they always agree. If we sometimes don't agree with these two, that's our problem.

Blessings,
Jim

hineini said...

My two cents is that if all you had was the Gospel of Matthew and not Paul, chances are you'd be Jewish.

Trailady said...

Good post. I enjoy the New Testament moreso than the old. There are many things that are hard for me to understand in the Old Testament, but I feel it is just as valid and the New. I enjoy the Psalms- can relate to the passionate ups & downs of David.

Jim Jordan said...

Hineini, you mean the Bible is a unified hole? Matthew makes no sense w/o the rest of the Bible and Paul's letters are merely summations of the Bible, looking at the OT and the life, death, and resurrection of Christ as a unified whole, which it is. Paul is an easy target, but all he did was summarize. If you think differently, show me why you disagree. Aren't you shooting the messenger?

BTW, we are all Jews who believe God's promise. Take care.

hineini said...

I was working on the assumption that societyvs was speaking of the NT there, the texts unique to Christianity, there fore taking the existence of the Hebrew Bible as a given.

Paul's efforts are to differentiate Christianity from Judaism, institutionalizing systems of belief in opposition to those in the religious environment that surrounds him. Paul is an easy target because of the departure his texts take from the texts that come before him. I think there are some helpful things in Paul but all this talk of cohesive and unified texts ignores the contingent and arbitrary creation of these texts and does more harm than good.

Jim Jordan said...

Hi hineini
I understand where you're coming from. But I'd have to challenge you to be more specific on exactly where Paul deviated from the Hebrew Scriptures. Israel was told over and over again in prophecy to expect a Messiah, a suffering servant, who would take away the penalty for our transgressions. Those prohesies begin at Gen. 3:15 - a male descendant of Eve would "crush the head of the serpent" but not after the serpent "strikes his heel". I believe Jewish scholars have more of a problem than Paul has. Here are some questions for them.

#1 - Where is their Messiah then? Maybe he's hanging out with that other elusive guy, the one who O.J. Simpson says really killed his wife.
#2 - Being a Jew was not just a natural blessing but a supernatural one (Isaac being the first Jewish descendant and being born supernaturally, Jacob being chosen over Esau to inherit the promise, etc.). Where did the supernatural aspect of being a Jew go?
#3 - Where are the stars in the sky? Remember, Abraham was supposed to have as many descendants as there is sand on the seashore. 15 million Jews in the world does not constitute much of a beach. But if you take that to mean the two billion Christians in the world, it's hard to deny, isn't it?

#4, and last, Paul's divergence from the Hebrew Scriptures was the ackowledgement of a man, Jesus, who lived after the time that the Hebrew Scriptures were written. This is an inevitable divergence, and one that was predicted rather precisely in the Hebrew Scriptures.

If Jesus is who He says He is, and He does fulfill the Hebrew Scriptures, then where is the offending divergence?

SocietyVs said...

"I think there are some helpful things in Paul but all this talk of cohesive and unified texts ignores the contingent and arbitrary creation of these texts and does more harm than good." (Heinini)

I agree with you on this point. If one studies the literature quite closely and the historical times of the books - one will find these were all written for certain communities and for singular communities at a time. Even the Hebrew bible that we have now was mainly found in the synagogue - not in people's homes (so very few people had a copy of that book even). All the gospels and letters are from a variety of communities - and each stood alone at some point - being not many copies of it. Some communities after a while started to become collectors of the manuscripts - but originally they were never a bunch of books like we have now.

Jim Jordan said...

society & hineini
It seems you are stating an opinion. Where are the facts?

Both the Jews and the early Christians (first, all Jews (33-ca. 47 AD), then growing amongst the Gentiles) were tenaciously absorbed with the Scriptures. The letters also had the effect of guiding the early church on tough issues. They were read over and over. Still I don't see how that would have any bearing on whether Paul diverged from the Scriptures.

When you write something, do you intend it for only one audience, and not mean it the same way for other audiences? I suspect you might have someone in mind you want to encourage or provoke, but does that change the meaning in any way? I don't think so.

Again, I'm waiting to hear where Paul diverged from the Scriptures up to that point.
Take care.

SocietyVs said...

"Matthew makes no sense w/o the rest of the Bible" (Jim)

The book of Acts itself might contradict your idea - Paul and Peter seem to think it is alright for Gentiles to not know the Jewish culture (including the synagogue), and they give them 3 things to do (mostly no idols and don't drink blood). What makes me think a Gentile would hear the torah read in a synangogue? Matthew can make sense on it's own - but I get your OT point (sheds more background on the situation).

"Both the Jews and the early Christians (first, all Jews (33-ca. 47 AD), then growing amongst the Gentiles) were tenaciously absorbed with the Scriptures" (Jim)

I agree 100% but the OT was heard in the synagogue and that was where it was 'at'. So even if they were 'gung-ho' for the scriptures - they had to attend the Jewish synagogue to hear it - which makes a lot of sense when you see how they paraphrase when they write about it - it's like they don't have a copy in front of them.

Paul was trying to seperate the two and almost any letter of his points to this fact - he mentions 'their gospel' and 'his gospel' - seemingly pointing at the Jewish lawful parts of 'their gospel' as wrong. I have been studying Paul quite carefully for a few months - this distinction between 'gospels' always reflects the teachings of the law to Gentiles (as seen in Acts - which he opposed Peter/James/John on). Paul is distinct about this in a lot of his letters.

Also why do we take everything that is in those letters as 'word of God'? They are letters after all and they don't assume to be the 'words of Jesus'. They are written to communities with problems and they are addressed in those letters - some of those problems don't exist anymore in certain regions of the world (ex: eating food sacrificed to idols or worshipping Paul, Peter, or Apollos). Unless we count making their words the words of God - I have to wonder what Paul would say to this?

Whereas the gospels are clear attempts to verify the words of Jesus as the messiah/christ - a recollection - of someone they considered to be the Christ (of extreme importance). I see the gospels as the words of Jesus (God) (and the OT to Jews) - but the letters don't have this claim about them - although they are good for teaching - they never claim to be more than Paul's, Peter's, and John's words (and even revelation is covered in - what did you call it - metaphors and figurative language). Why would I put anything else even close to the gospel's (since they claim to be Jesus' words of a new messiah from God)?

Anonymous said...

Hi Society,

The Law is spiritual and until Jesus there was no man spiritual and made able to fulfill the Law. All that is written in the NT is afrimation of that fact and also affirmation of the new birth, that which makes carnal people spiritual and by becoming spiritual the Law becomes natural to them. The Apostles were given a special office and as some of the first to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit, the words they wrote to the church were also of the Holy Spirit. This is evident in the fact that they don't disparage the Law or the OT prophecies but rather point to their spiritual fulfillment in Christ.

I guess I'm a little confused as to why you want to dice them up. All that is required to be a Christian is faith in Jesus Christ but a better understanding of scripture will come from exploring its Hebrew roots rather than church traditions which over time have abosorbe a lot of paganism and pragmatism and are far from the truth presented in scripture. I most heartily believe that the Bible is a whole and not for private interpretation but instead, scripture interprets scripture. Line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little until an overview of the scriptures in built into our minds and hearts. This takes us from the popular world view to a Biblical worldview that gives us somewhat (as much as the human brain is able to hold) of God's perspective on things and His is the optimum vantage point. However, Jesus does not live in the Bible. He is at the right hand of the Father in Heaven and also very much alive in the hearts of believers. If the scriptures were to vanish, God would still find a way to reach His people. In years to come, the Christian religion may prove to be destructible but the faith that is in Jesus, the world will never do away with; not even with DNA and dusty old bones.

Pam

Jim Jordan said...

eating food sacrificed to idols
This was a form of idolatry and idolatry is still very much with us. Look at the paganistic rituals of the Catholic church that are still with us.

or worshipping Paul, Peter, or Apollos
I drove down a street in a rural toen in central Florida this wekend. First Baptist, First Methodist and First Episcopal were side by side by side. Is that not "I am with Paul, or Peter, or Apollos"?

We should all keep in mind 2 Tim 3:16-17; All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Jim Jordan said...

Hi Pam
I just saw your post. I must commend you for hitting the nail on the head.
Well done.

society,
I went to see Pastor Bill Wilson of New York's Metro Ministries (http://metroministries.org/) speak in Lakeland, Florida. His Sunday School project (20,000 kids, mostly children of crack addicts) has had enormous success in ending the cycle of poverty and abuse. He has lots of resources on how to deal with what you are trying to do in Regina (I walked out with a copy of everything...).
Check out his website. You might already know of him. Take care.

SocietyVs said...

"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."

The fact this is attributed to Paul does mean he wasn't talking about this exact letter (or it would read 'all my letters are...'). Fact might be told that the scripture being mentioned is likely the OT (which again was found being read in the synagogue).

However Pam, I agree with scripture and lot of what it says. My blog merely raised the historical obvious question - all these letters and gospels were seperate in the early days of the church - they weren't in a neatly concise bible of 66 books (more like a letter here and gospel there and the OT is found in the synagogue). None of these things were being carried by any of the writers as pocketbooks (not the OT or the whole NT). These are historical accuracies and even the letters of Paul would attest to this (and Luke's Acts) - if I read them as they are written.

Paul was the only one cycling his letters amongst a few churches - and to be honest the letters are the only ones found to be doing this in the very early church. The gospels do not make a single quote in Paul's letters - why? I think the gospels existed in some form but they were not being circulated outside their communes. Eventually, after the disciples died - this became more important to circulate.

It's just questions - if one book or letter was good enough for a few Gentile communes (which we are) then I find nothing wrong with saying we should not make doctrines from scripture here and scripture there - as if they all might line up without fault (fact is I can find many a doctrine made this way that makes no sense - not reflecting context). Which to me seems a little dishonest - when really quoting a scripture from a single book and lining that up with the rest of that book makes more sense (ex: a whole gospel). But again, this is a very wide open one for me.

SocietyVs said...

Thanks Jim, I know of Bill Wilson and have for quite a few years - but I will check out the link again since I admire his heart.

Anonymous said...

Society,

I guess I just view it as God expressing Himself through many writers and our not being able to comprehend the whole mind of God. There are many things in scripture that contradict in the human mind and most tend to pick the verses that support their preferred stance and ignore the others. I think every denomination has their 100 stand by verses that are preached over and over again to the exclusion of all others. I have found though that if I don't fight at forcing things to fit and and allow the seemingly opposing views lie within my thinking, that eventually the do fit into a whole that is much broader in scope than I would have ever come to in my own contemplations. It seems that it is conflict that produces the greatest spiritual growth in me, thought it isn't always pleasant.:0) As far as doctrine goes, if we teach the very words of the Bible, I think God takes care of the rest.

Pam

hineini said...

"It seems you are stating an opinion. Where are the facts?" (jim jordan)


Thats the thing, when we are speaking of the formation of sacred texts about the best we can do is opinion, facts are in short supply. Maybe thats why we call those communities who follow these texts "faith communities" and not scientists (not that science has the corner on "fact" either but I think this is the meaning you are giving the term.)

Your four questions are interesting but they carry a lot of presuppositions and a heavy bias towards a certain interpretation of the text. Some simple answers to some of your other questions though are possible. Paul's divergence can be seen simply in his choice of genre. Some similarities exist in the Hebrew Bible but his personal correspondence is different in that respect.


"If Jesus is who He says He is, and He does fulfill the Hebrew Scriptures, then where is the offending divergence?" (jim jordan)

Well, isn't this the very thing we're discussing? So, failing to accept your first two assumptions it seems, as I mentioned before, Paul's writtings are once again seen as going in a very new and alien direction than the rest of the Hebrew Bible. But like you said, this is simply my opinion, and not being a biblical scholar, please take it with a very large grain of salt.

Anonymous said...

hineini,

Given Paul's background, I think he is probably the greastest example of the scriptures being a whole. Paul knew the scriptures so well that I am sure he had the same kind of overview of them as someone obtains after years of deep study. I think his writings reflect this and that it is amplified even further by the added dimension the OT's fulfillment in Christ Jesus. I don't find that Paul diverged at all but instead, wrote of the OT's culmination. That truly is the NT in a nutshell, the fulfillment and culmination of all that was written in the OT.

Pam

Jim Jordan said...

Hi Hineini
I'd like to clarify something. You say that Jesus being the promised Messiah is "the very thing we're discussing". Isn't your problem with Jesus and not Paul? If one accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior, Paul's writings are not controversial in the least. THAT IS WHY I said Paul is an easy target. He's just a Schmo like you and me. He's no Jesus.

SocietyVs said...

I must say - all in all - that was some great discussing everyone - and you know what - I am still learning something new everyday - thanks.

hineini said...

"Isn't your problem with Jesus and not Paul?" (jim jordan)

Jesus didn't have writings of his cannonized nor did he seek to have his reading of the texts that preceeded him (the Hebrew Bible) insitutionalised. We often think that Jesus' words and attitudes were a radical departure but he was very much following Rabbinic precedent when he taught. I don't think I'm going out on a limb to say that Christianity wouldn't exist without Paul.

Jim Jordan said...

Christianity wouldn't exist without Paul.
If that is true, then Christ isn't who He said He was. As a believer, I'm not going to bet on that limb holding my weight. Good luck.

hineini said...

I'm not talking about Jesus. I'm just saying that Paul offers a radically new reading of the Hebrew Bible using his experience on the road to Coppernium as his hermenuetic key. My original post was trying to say that if all there was was the Hebrew Bible and Matthew then chances are there wouldn't be Christians; Jesus would have been just one of the many historical messiahs or rabbis of renoun in Jewish history. I read Paul as employing new reading methods and employing new (Greek) philosophical tools in trying to rethink the tradition. Is this a bit clearer?