Posts tagged ‘Bible’
The New Testament consists of 27 books written by an assortment of different authors. There’s a lot of argument and speculation about who wrote a great many of the books, with some scholars even insisting that some of the Pauline letters were not written by Paul. There isn’t even any agreement about when the books were written.
The gospels could have been written as early as the 50s C.E. or as late as the second century. The debate for when and who wrote many books of the New Testament is important because it establishes the authenticity of the books. If the gospels were written within the Apostolic Age, then there is a good chance that they were written by eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus.
If the date of authorship is later, then the gospels lose some of their clout as they are most certainly a written version of an earlier oral tradition. And we all know what happens when you play a game of Telephone.
The earliest church didn’t see a need for a New Testament. The Jewish scriptures were their scriptures. No need to reinvent the wheel. Also, early Christians were convinced that Jesus’ return was imminent. They wouldn’t have seen the importance of preserving church tradition or the stories of Jesus because they were convinced that Jesus was coming for them before they could have children to whom they might pass it on.
This might explain some of Paul’s views on celibacy and marriage, which would have been contrary to Jewish tradition. These views, in turn, undoubtedly influenced the monastic tradition.
Some extremely conservative evangelicals would argue that all four gospels were written by disciples or contemporaries of Jesus. But I would ask you to remember that these are the same people who like to say that Moses wrote the Torah, which requires him to have written of his own death. Seems unlikely to me. So, I think we have to at least be open to the possibility that the Gospels were written after the death of Jesus’ contemporaries.
Does this mean that we should automatically disregard the New Testament as nothing but propaganda for a fledgling religion, a sect of Jews who were concerned with communal living? Well, oral history isn’t such a bad thing when it comes to scripture. The myths that make up Greek and Roman mythology were originally transmitted this way. This is also probably true for much of the Old Testament as well.
One great argument for the accuracy of oral tradition is the commonality of the flood myth amongst various cultures. Given that it’s a story that circulated through numerous peoples in geographical areas that couldn’t have influenced one another, there seems to be at least one case for the relative accuracy of oral tradition.
I just finished reading a book called The Faith Club, a book which I fully intend to review on some future post. The book is a collaboration written by a Muslim woman, a Christian woman, and a Jewish woman who met together for years following the September 11th tragedy, for interfaith discussions. The great thing about the book is that it, along with some other things I’ve recently read, has helped me to piece together more of my personal theology.
The Bible says that the only unforgivable sin is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Just what blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is, is like so much of the Bible, up for debate. I believe that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is the denial of the authority of God, the failure to deny Him His rightful place in your life as your Lord. Many might say that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is the denial of God’s existence, and that would qualify as well. However, that’s a very limited definition, since even the devil worshippers believe in the existence of God, and yet I think that all believers can agree on the fact that Satanists will not qualify for acceptance into heaven.
Speaking of Satan, that brings us to the question of original sin. The story of the fall of Satan and the fall of man have in common one thing: the failure to relinquish control and authority to God, the pride that prevents both man and Satan from allowing the Lord to have dominion over our lives.
Let’s look at the story of Satan. Satan was the highest of all the angels in heaven. He wasn’t satisfied with this position and craved to be God himself, instead. Because of this sin of pride, God cast Satan and the angels who followed him out of heaven. The angels who followed him became demons.
Then God created man. And man lived naked and without shame in paradise until he ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Man’s sin was not only disobedience but pride. For before Eve ever takes a bite and then tempts her husband, she is tempted by the serpent with the promise that eating the fruit will make her like God, will give her the knowledge of God.
She tempts her husband Adam to eat also by repeating the serpent’s false promise. The fruit did indeed impart knowledge, but it did not impart the wisdom of God. No longer was man an innocent. He was now able to distinguish between light and dark; he was given a conscience, but he was not given the intellect of God. So, while people might now know the difference between good and bad, we do not have the knowledge to discern why the bad must happen.
The greatest hindrance to submission to God, beyond the pride that makes us want to control our own lives, is the question of why bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. It’s a subject of endless debate that harkens back to the time of the book of Job but has also been wrestled with by the likes of modern theologians like Rabbi Harold Kushner and Reverend Leslie Weatherhead, amongst others. And it’s a debate that often hinders human beings from belief in and submission to God, because they say that the ways of the world defy a belief in an ominiscient and omnipotent God who is also benevolent. And one can see their argument.
At the same time as I’ve been defining my concept of the one unforgivable sin, I’ve been thinking about just what that means for Christians and the Christian concept that belief in Jesus as the Son of God is required for admission into heaven. It’s a pretty big tenet of the faith for a lot of Christians, and Christians often justify this belief based on one Bible verse alone. That Bible verse is John 14:6, and it reads, “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”
Most Christians interpret this to mean that anyone who isn’t a Christian isn’t getting a ticket to Heaven. Not all Christians do, of course, anymore than all Catholics believe the official stance of the Roman Catholic Church that they are the one and only true church, and only members of the true church are going to Heaven. (To be fair, the Roman Catholics aren’t even close to being the only denomination that believes they are the only ones who are going to Heaven; they’re just the largest group of believers with that official theology.)
There is the Unitarian Universalist tradition of inclusiveness, but they always seemed so wishy washy to me, as if they didn’t really know exactly what they believed. From the outside, it seemed like they were all over the map. The Unitarians I knew seemed to apply just as much significance to New Age philosophy as to belief in Jesus. And yet, there is something appealing to me in the concept of the kind God that I know God to be, allowing admission to Heaven by people of different faiths.
It does seem cruel for a loving God to assign people to Hell for all eternity just because they’re not Christians. What about people who aren’t exposed to the Gospel? Evangelicals, of course, always point to The Great Commission [http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=matthew%2028:16-28:20&version=NIV] as proof of God’s benevolence. They say that all Christians are charged with the duty of making disciples for Christ because it is literally a matter of life and death.
Failure to proselytize and convert the masses means many untouched souls writhing in Hell for all eternity. They fervently believe this, and this explains the urgency of their attempts to witness to non-believers. As offensive, insulting and poorly rendered as their attempts to convert are, they are sincerely well intentioned. However, their arrogance achieves the opposite of their goals. The lack of respect that they show towards the recipients of their evangelism is evidence of a lack of love for their fellow man.
Of course, as I’ve previously mentioned, I faithfully read the blog of John Shore. One day I came across a great post about this very issue. You can read it here:
John overheard a conversation between an atheist and an evangelical Christian who was attempting to witness to the atheist. There was a subsequent blog post in which an atheist questioned the assertion that John 14:6 means that all non-Christians are destined to go to Hell. His interpretation of the scripture was that Jesus gets to decide who gets admission to Heaven. And I thought, well, why not? It doesn’t actually say that you have to be a Christian to get admission to Heaven. It just says that no one gets to go to Heaven who doesn’t go through Jesus.
Now don’t get me wrong; I still believe that Jesus is the Son of God. I believe that He died to save us from our sins. But I don’t believe that Christianity is the only path to God. I just can’t believe that God would condemn those who never heard the Gospel to an eternity in Hell. I can’t believe that God would condemn those of us who are too young or too mentally feeble to grasp the concept of salvation to an eternity in Hell. And let’s not forget that Jesus wasn’t a Christian himself; he was a Jew.
All human beings are created with a natural curiosity to explore our origins and our purpose in the universe, and this natural curiosity is our yearning to be in communion with God. I believe that there are many paths by which this communion might be accomplished. God wishes for us to acknowledge his authority and his presence in our lives. There are many paths through which that goal might be accomplished. The only judge who can ascertain whether or not a human being has the quality of relationship with God that is required is Jesus. I’m okay with that.
So, to summarize:
- I believe that there is only one unpardonable sin. That is the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.
- I believe that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is the failure to respond to the call of a loving God to be in relationship with us and to submit to his will for our lives. It is not just the denial of God but the active rejection of God.
- I believe that the Original Sin is pride. The pride that keeps atheists and agnostics from being open to God’s message is the very same pride that keeps some Christians believing that they have the only pipeline to God or that they can determine who will be saved on the day of judgement.
- I believe that Jesus is the only person qualified to judge who is being received into the kingdom of God. That is not for me to determine or decide.
- I believe that it is important for me to spread the message of the Gospel so that others might be saved, but I do not believe that their salvation is dependent upon me. The most effective witness that I can bear for Christ is to live The Great Commandment. [http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+22%3A36-40&version=NIV] That means showing respect for all human beings, even the ones whose beliefs conflict with mine. After all, we all have our own personal beliefs regarding God, but none of us knows with absolute intellectual certainty what will greet us at our death. To assert differently is akin to saying that we have the wisdom and knowlege of God Himself, which we most certainly do not.
- I believe that there are many paths to God, including some that aren’t organized and have no name. God sees into the human heart and desires to be in relationship with any human heart that is open to His call.
About a week and a half ago I went to a Cocaine Anonymous meeting at Club 101 with Lubbock’s lawyer friend Chris. The meeting was a Big Book Meeting, which means that some portion of the Big Book is read aloud, and then participants comment on it. The Monday night meeting at Club 101 is a big one, and they time participants to limit their comments to five minutes or less, and still someone was able to say something for me that was profound. Or, more probably, someone was finally able to get a message through my thick skull.
She said that the God that she had troubles with, and, boy, did she ever have troubles with him, that that God didn’t have to be her higher power and that she could make up her own God in which to place her faith. Well, I don’t know so much how I feel about making up your own God, ‘cause that sounds like idolatry, but what I did take from that comment is that she said that she made an inventory of the qualities of the God that she believes in. Her higher power has a definable character. I suppose some more orthodox folks would say that’s what the Bible is for, but I think this is great. Write down a definition and a description of the God that you believe in.
My God is neither male nor female; or maybe God is both, but God, though I may use the pronoun he, is not a man. God is God. He created men and women in His image.
My God is love. He is kind. He doesn’t approve of wars made in His name. He doesn’t punish pagan cultures by sending them hurricanes. He doesn’t send earthquakes because women expose cleavage. He doesn’t send newborn infants to hell because they haven’t yet been baptized.
My God doesn’t have a political party. He is neither Republican nor Democrat. He doesn’t belong anymore exclusively to Communists or Socialists or Libertarians than he does to members of the Tea Party. God has no political affiliation, even though Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin would like you to think otherwise.
My God is absolutely involved in the smallest details of my life, to the extent that I let him in. God loves and cares personally and equally for all of his creation. “From a Distance,” was a big hit for Bette Midler, but it doesn’t describe my God. My God loves us Up Close & Personal.
My God thinks sex is great. He approves of it. It was His idea in the first place. He gives sex a big thumbs up. The thing he doesn’t approve of is when it’s used improperly, but when it’s used to convey affection and to indulge in pleasant recreation with someone for whom we have affinity and treat with respect, God thinks that’s a beautiful thing. The ideal circumstance for that to occur in would be in a marriage, but God doesn’t condemn a single person having sex. He condemns adultery.
My God gave us the gift of an earthly body to take care of us and for us to care for until we can join God in the afterlife. He wants us to take the best care of it that we possibly can. Drugs, whether legal or illegal, are not inherently evil. Alcohol and tobacco are not the handiwork of the devil. Drugs, of all kinds, from aspirin to caffeine and food to methadone, are only evil when we abuse them to achieve a mind-altered state. If you can’t use a drug in some kind of moderate and sane way, then it is best to abstain from that drug altogether. Of course, you can’t do that with food, but you can decide to give up the Ding Dongs and the McDonald’s at least.
My God gave us dominion over the land and the animals of this earth. Dominion does not equal the indiscriminate exploitation of our natural resources. It implies good stewardship.
My God thinks that it is important that we be kind to one another. Act in love always, and you will be doing what Jesus would do.
My God inspired men to write a book that could serve as a guide to know Him better. The Bible is the inspired word of God. It is infallible, but not every word is meant to be taken literally. Whether or not there was an actual Adam and Eve or if there was a Tower of Babel or a Noah’s Ark, it doesn’t diminish the truth of the story for me in the least.
My God doesn’t cause bad things to happen to good people. People and circumstances and sometimes bad choices cause bad things to happen to good people. God is good and just. We have to trust in God’s plan and have the wisdom to understand that is beyond our comprehension.
My God knows that there is evil in this world. There is a devil in each one of us. Human beings are sinful. We are filled with the capacity for equal parts of light and dark. It is how we choose to live our lives that will ultimately determine the fruit we bear that will show proof of our love for God. My God thinks the excuse, “The devil made me do it,” is lame.
My God is infinitely forgiving of the sincerely contrite. He will forgive well beyond a human being’s tolerance for forgiveness. But my God can see into the hearts of men and knows when that man’s heart is truly sorry and when it is not. My God forgives those who are truly sorry.