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Tuesday, August 07, 2007
Tuesday Book Club - Misquoting Jesus Part 1
In the introduction to Misquoting Jesus, Bart Ehrman discusses his journey through various Christian traditions and approaches to the interpretation of scripture. From nominal mainline, to born-again fundamentalist, to evangelical, and back to mainline, Ehrman experienced some of the most prominent expressions of Christianity in America. As is typical in those traditions, Ehrman viewed those outside his current placement with derision. Those who were from other traditions or who interpreted scripture differently were often not even seen as real Christians. In fact in his fundamentalist days it was unheard of to even admit that biblical interpretation takes place since everything was supposedly inerrant and literal. But as he studied ancient languages and history and went further in his Biblical studies, Ehrman realized that there was much more involved with the Bible than his simple conceptions had led him to believe.

Over the course of this month, we will explore some of the theories and interpretations Ehrman presents, but this week it might be good to explore our backgrounds.
  • What traditions have we come from and how did those traditions approach the Bible?
  • Were you taught that the Bible was the inerrant word of God? And what exactly did that mean?
  • Did your tradition interpret the Bible literally, metaphorically, or dynamically?
  • Did your tradition even admit that the Bible is interpreted at all?
  • Did you ever encounter the historical and cultural setting of the Bible or did that matter?
  • Was the Bible presented as the Word of God or the writings of men, and what did that mean for how it was read?
  • Have you ever even heard of textual criticism, original documents, or translation issues?
  • Was the Bible the fourth member of the Trinity and the first point on your church's statement of faith or was it a coffee table decoration?
  • And were those to saw the Bible differently that the tradition you were a part of looked upon with scorn and derision or not even considered real Christians?

This whole issue is a very emotionally charged issue for many. I remember when I first encountered (at Wheaton like Ehrman) the idea that there are other valid ways of interpreting scripture and being a Christian than that with which I had grown up. I was fascinated by that and sought to explore and learn more. Others I knew denied the idea and shut down any conversation on that topic. I still get nasty comments and emails from fundamentalists when I bring up the mere concept of Biblical interpretation on my blog. So I want to start this month's discussion with a time to share our stories. To let each other know our journeys and our struggles. I ask for truthfulness and respect and hope that we can better understand what this issue looks like from a wide variety of perspectives.

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  • At 8/07/2007 02:05:00 PM, Anonymous Karen

    I am glad to see this book discussion here. I think biblical interpretation and criticism is such an important issue to contemplate.

    As for me, I was raised in fundamentalism (Baptist tradition). Inerrancy of the Bible was a given, though I don't recall anyone preaching on textual criticism or such. It was the Bible--God's Word--and God's Word cannot possibly have errors because God does not commit errors. Therefore, it is inerrant. No one really questioned it. For that matter no one really defined it either. Like a lot of Christian concepts, things are not always explained--its just assumed that one knows what "righteousness" or "salvation" means.

    The Bible was certainly not viewed as a 4th member of the trinity in my circles. Many fundamentalists would find that to be Bible worship and therefore idolatrous.

    As for where I am now after growing up in fundamentalism, going to a small Baptist Bible college, and also seminary, I have different views on the Bible now than I did growing up. At least more formulated thoughts. I tend to lean toward an Augustinian view of conceptual inspiration, rather than verbal inspiration and so do not run into the same problems regarding inerrancy. I hold to the infallibility of Scripture, rather than the fundamentalist definition of inerrancy.

    Bart is interesting to read because I can where he is coming from having lived in the culture of fundamentalism, but I ultimately didn't swing so far on the pendelum as he did.

  • At 8/07/2007 05:58:00 PM, Blogger Lydia

    As I've mentioned on here before, I was a preacher's kid. Most of the churches my parents pastored were Charismatic/Pentecostal, Independent (Generic Protestant, if such a thing exists), or loosely associated with the Vineyard movement of 90's.

    Yes, I was taught that the Bible was inerrant, that it was the literal word of God that had been written down by men and could be applied equally to every time and place. We were taught that certain verses were meant to apply only to the hebrews, while other verses were universal.

    Other than dividing them according the "New Covenant/Old Covenant," I do not remember much attention being paid to which verses were thought to apply to modern life and why. We weren't really encouraged to question this.

    Those who saw it differently were not thought of well. I do remember hearing snide remarks as a kid about people who were universalists or who didn't take the "right" sections of the bible literally.

    Yes, in many ways the bible was the fourth member of the trinity in (some of) the churches I attended. I was never comfortable with this, however. Especially when it came to the Bible pledges some ministers did in church. (That is, they'd have everyone hold up their bibles and repeat a pledge about "standing on God's word," etc.)

    I didn't hear of textual criticism, etc until I was in my teens and began exploring things on my own.

  • At 8/08/2007 09:10:00 AM, Blogger Julie

    I have often found that the inerrant label is the central aspect of many people's doctrine, but that when pushed they really can't explain what it means.

    I remember in my pseudo-fundamentalist days going to apologetics classes and being taught that there have never been any mistakes in any copies or translations of the Bible ever. This apparently was a miracle that proved God exists and that the Bible is true. But it doesn't take much actual study to see what a lie that was. I then moved into the evangelical world where it is claimed that the bible is without error in the original writings and that God guides and blesses all copies and translations. (but that there really still aren't any errors, just ignorance about scripture).

  • At 8/08/2007 12:37:00 PM, Blogger Michele L

    I was raised in a very conservative, fundamentalist Baptist background. However, most of my family would say that is not true (they do not see themselves that way).

    I was taught "inspired" meant God's word...as if he wrote every letter to the T. I noticed that most of the people I encountered all had the same defenses...and I still hear many of the same comments now. For instance "If I look at it any other way, I would have to throw out the Whole Bible".

    I struggled with many concepts because I had been taught this was "God's word", and I had many questions without good answers. Many times I was given typical "pat" answers, and we all just regurgitated what we were taught.

    The Bible was not "officially" part of the Trinity, but should have been thought of that way. The Bible is defended with fury and more than anything else.

    Other "Christian" groups with different interpretations were either "wrong, liberal, misinterpreting, etc." If someone looked at something a different way they were tagged and shut down. What I heard the most was "they are Twisting scripture to fit what they want it to" (aren't we all...)?

    I really liked this book, it sent me on a path I had not looked into. I read this book a while ago, and have since watched lectures given by Bart Erhman and read other "biblical Scholarship" books. My thoughts have changed dramatically. I have been so interested in hearing the different thoughts and opinions in the academic circles.

    If anything, I have decided that Biblical Scholarship is very involved. Most of us do not have the education or the tools to study the Bible on our own with a complete understanding(as many groups assert). Understanding context, science, the ancient languages etc. is complex. We all choose who we want to agree with, we take opinions and agree or not. I don't think it is black and white. That is why there are so many differing opinions.

    As I have learned more, I have been shut out by my more traditional family and friends. Many of them are not interested in hearing what I have read or learned. Most have said "I don't care what you have learned, JUST read your BIBLE". It is really a losing battle, and one I have decided to not fight anymore. I realize the rejection is due to fear. We were taught that if you look at it any other way, you are wrong, Satan is deceiving you, and you are venturing down a scary path.

    Obviously, I have a much different perception of that path, but I can't force anyone to think like me. I am just grateful for more "education" and the ability to be more open to the different ideas.

  • At 8/08/2007 01:59:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

    I've only ever once heard someone explicitly say that they believe in "God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Scriptures". However, I've very often observed this as an implicit attitude in the way that people used and talked about the Bible. It was obvious that for them their faith was based first and foremost on their belief in the scientific/historical inerrancy of that particular book, and only secondarily on the person of Jesus or the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. If you'd ask them they certainly wouldn't say that they included the Bible as part of the Trinity - but they would say that they believe in Jesus because their Bible tells them about him (and they believe in the Bible because Josh McDowell or Lee Strobel "proved" to them that it was historically accurate - though they might not explicitly say that either).

    In my mind, basing your faith in Jesus on your faith in the Bible kind of gets the cart before the horse. I value the Bible because it tells me about the Jesus whose presence and power has already been a reality in my life - not vice versa.

  • At 8/08/2007 05:07:00 PM, Blogger Amy

    I also grew up pretty conservative. Biblical inerrancy wasn't something I heard discussed, but the tone of that discussion tended to be rampant within the churches we attended. There was significant suspicion towards other denominations, even within evangelicalism. The Bible was definitely taken as literal. The point of view that you can pick it up today and have it speak directly to your life without understanding the style, the context, etc. was very much a part of the culture. The preferred translation was the KJV.

    I went to a Christian liberal arts college in the Midwest, which is where I first learned of the various forms of biblical criticism. I began understanding the effect of these forms of criticism on how I viewed inspiration during that time. It wasn't until about two years ago that I realized what a fundamental change occurs when the Bible is understood within the context of authorial intent, historical context, literary form and other applicable interpretive methods.

    I still have a lot of questions. My denomination holds to verbal plenary inspiration. This avoids a dictation theory, but definitely does not lean towards conceptual inspiration. I'm not so concerned with how it is labeled as I am the the way in which meaning is determined. A friend asked me lately, "Don't you think the Bible is clear; that if you pick it up you can have a clear meaning for today?" I don't think that. In some spots, certainly. In others, we can go way off base if we rely on a "clear" meaning. And then, the original language and understanding its nuances provides incredible insight into meaning that is not at all clear when read in our English translations.

    At this point, I still very much view the Bible as inspired. I am much more open to the amazing depth of meaning available in the text and to how others approach this text than I was even a few years ago. I love these conversations!

  • At 8/08/2007 05:40:00 PM, Blogger Lydia

    JUST read your BIBLE

    It's probably a good thing that I no longer attend church meetings...I could make a lot of mischief with this by quoting some of the, er, more colorful sections of scripture.


  • At 8/08/2007 09:24:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    Lydia, you make you laugh :) I still go to church and I constantly cause mischief, although I am trying to be selective about my mischeif :)

    My view on scripture is the same as my view on prayer, healing and pretty much everything spiritual: I don't know how it works, it doesn't seem to work all the time, but there is something too it, and sometimes it does work. I think there is a middle ground between the bible being exclusively inspired by God and merely the words and ideas of men (with some behind the scenes input from women perhaps?)

    I like in 2 Cor when Paul refers to the Christians as living letters of Christ. Well clearly people are far from perfect, but we are living letters of Christ. So why can't the bible be imperfect and still be a dynamic written word of Christ?

  • At 8/09/2007 09:14:00 AM, Blogger Julie

    Jemila - I'm with you here - . So why can't the bible be imperfect and still be a dynamic written word of Christ?

    I think I encountered the history of textual criticism at the same time I was moving away from foundationalism. If my faith was based on the bible being something it never was (inerrant, literal,...) of course my faith would collapse if such an understanding was questioned. That's why I know so many people who refuse to even talk about textual criticism and ignore centuries of history. But if my faith is not in the bible but in Jesus - the bible then becomes what it actually says about itself "you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." useful and helpful, not the center of one's faith.

  • At 8/09/2007 11:25:00 PM, Blogger Michele L

    Mike I agree...very implicit.

    Lydia, I think if we all attended one church they would burn us at the stake! LOL

    I am looking forward to more of this discussion. I am watching a series of lectures this week by Bart Erhman...all about the New Testament, history, context, etc. They are very interesting! I guess I will consider it free learning. I borrowed the DVD set from the library...to purchase the set from the college is around $75!

  • At 8/10/2007 09:18:00 AM, Blogger Julie

    You know when this book was first suggested, I was a bit wary. All I knew about it was that even most emergents I knew found it too far out there and controversial. I saw Ehrman on the daily show and thought he was a bit of a jerk, so I never got around to reading it while it was popular. So I started reading it expecting to seriously disagree with it, it didn't take too long to realize that this was just basic Bible 101 and a historical overview. This books is about the stuff that every christian should know if they want to be intellectually honest.

  • At 8/10/2007 09:58:00 AM, Blogger Sara

    This is on my "Books To Buy" list. Biblical interpretation is a favorite of mine. Like many, I grew up with the inerrant, fundamentalist "G-d breathed" -- meaning "dictated" and unquestionable I'mrightandyou'rewrong -- doctrine. And how do we know this? Because the Bible tells me so. Circular reasoning.

    Now, the more I studied, the more I found that this branch of xtianity was closer to fundamentalist Islam who also believed that Allah dictated the Koran the same way, and therefore a strict interpretation was needed. Even translation would be problematic because you are messing with the holy words! (Think about the troubles the early church went through with the printing press, when Mass suddenly was going to be held in a common language...)

    No new insights or changes can come, no new revelations or cultural adjustments. G-d is supposedly "the same," in our finite minds, for ever and ever. Therefore, the Word of G-d, which I've only technically seen used of Christ and not the Bible... but I drift... so this dusty book we live by is static.

    No wonder we are a dying breed as we cling so tightly to our boxed gods and canned, condensed religions that have been spoon-fed to us in our youth. Comfort foods. And we retreat back to our ivory towers and ghettos if someone dares challenge us, licking our wounds, instead of remembering that not everyone will agree with us, even other xtians, that unity is not conformity.

    Biblical inerrancy is worth the discussion and isn't something start fistfights over. I hope some of the fundies will remember that. It's really a small piece of the pie in a larger pot.

  • At 8/10/2007 04:18:00 PM, Anonymous eileen

    Hi all - i've been lurking around for awhile, and I've actually purchased a number of the book club books, but this is the first one I was able to actually get read in time to join in the discussion.

    I was raised Roman Catholic, I'm now Episcopalian, of a progressive bent.

    I was always taught that God was infalliable, and that the bible contained God's truth - but it was a mixed bag on whether or not the bible could contain errors, with it mostly being that it could contain errors. RCs are not big on "worrying" much over the bible, as some other denominations are.

    * Did your tradition interpret the Bible literally, metaphorically, or dynamically? The answer to this is, it depends. Depends on the doctrine or dogma being visited up, and whether or not the support for said doctrine/dogma was literal, metaphorical or dynamic.

    * Did your tradition even admit that the Bible is interpreted at all? Yes.
    * Did you ever encounter the historical and cultural setting of the Bible or did that matter?
    As a child, I really didn't. In high school and college I was more exposed to this idea, and I did attend a Roman Catholic Women's college.

    * Was the Bible presented as the Word of God or the writings of men, and what did that mean for how it was read? It was God's word delivered through man. It meant that God delivered the truth, but man, being falliable, could have messed it up.

    * Have you ever even heard of textual criticism, original documents, or translation issues?
    Yes, but not to the extent that Ehrman brings to light.

    * Was the Bible the fourth member of the Trinity and the first point on your church's statement of faith or was it a coffee table decoration?
    No. RCs had Trinity. And Mary - whom I also love, although, she isn't part of the Godhead.

    * And were those to saw the Bible differently that the tradition you were a part of looked upon with scorn and derision or not even considered real Christians?
    Yes - if you disagreed with dogma or doctrine as delivered or questioned it's accuracy, your faith was challenged, and your theological ignorance was brought up to you.

  • At 8/16/2007 05:04:00 PM, Blogger quirkers

    I am only half way through this book and am finding it quite an uncomfortable read.
    My family were rooted in Scots Presbyterianism and I came to faith at a very young age. My spiritual journey has seen me worshiping at various times in charismatic as well as contemplative contexts, as God continued to surprise me in so many different ways. However, in my late 50s, increasingly I find myself one of those 'disenfranchised' Christians who no longer feel at home in the contemporary church set-up - a very unsettling place to be for a Christian who still believes we are called to be in some sort of community.
    This book, whilst making a lot of sense to me, is shaking me up further. It is a long time since I read the bible in a literal way, but it has remained a firm foundation on which to live my life. If its reliability is now called into question in my head, what am I left with?


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