Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Offensive εὐαγγέλιον

Interesting times on the Textkit forum! It all started a few months ago when I engaged a bright young man in a discussion about the integrity of the New Testament writers, which he maintained were “pseudonymous.” It was the first time I had ever witnessed a discussion nearly get heated on that website devoted to the study of classical Greek and Latin. Our message exchanges ended when I refused to budge from assuming the veracity of the Bible as a divine source of authority. His approach was to assume the exact opposite, and so he withdrew his initial challenge to debate the orthodox position. The other participants in the forum noted this gentleman’s demeanor which quickly degenerated into a condescending smirk that I would actually believe the Bible was true.

More recently on Textkit an entire thread which had run for three years was shut down by the moderator. This one focused on John 1:1c: καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος. As you can imagine, all the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Trinitarians were “duking it out” over the precise meaning of that clause. I also joined the discussion by observing how the New World Translation of John 1:1 affirms polytheism by having two different gods; in essence it gives biblical support in favor of paganism.

Why is it whenever philology spills over into the realm of theology tensions get heated? All the other discussions on Textkit are polite and friendly, but not so when issues of the Bible rise to the surface. Ideally theology should flow out of philology. Although philology is an ambiguous word by nature, what I mean by “philology” in this sense is that theology should flow from the exegesis of biblical texts in the original languages.

The only answer I can think of to the question above is that the gospel is offensive. An accurate presentation of the gospel necessiates discussion of sin, and sin reminds people of hell. The good news is that Jesus is God's remedy for the consequences of sin. Ironic that “good news” would offend people, but it is so. My former pastor from El Paso used to say with a neat chiasm: “The Bible comforts those who are afflicted, and it afflicts those who are comforted.” In a like manner, Jesus explained it this way:

“For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's enemies will be the members of his household” (Mt 10:35-36).

6 comments:

Amy said...

Hi Keith,

Well, once again, I'm impressed with your intelligence and knowledge of this subject which I'll grant I'm no equal to. I find this topic intriguing and I must say you do it justice, in my humble opinion!

For the sake of friendly debate, however, I'm going to challenge your following statement:

"...what I mean by “philology” in this sense is that theology should flow from the exegesis of biblical texts in the original languages."

Should theology include the exegesis of biblical texts in the original languages? Absolutely, I should think. But do you mean to say that it can ONLY be derived from this type of exegesis? If so, this is where my opinion would differ.

It seems to me that theology, or the "study of God and his relation to the world" (as per my Webster's Collegiate Dictionary) could flow from other sources as well. A study of natural law comes immediately to mind (and St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologicae, accordingly.) Or, if we accept that certain theologies are non-Christian, then biblical exegesis would not be a part of those discussions.

But I assume you infer Christian theology when you write simply "theology", so I'll return to the first idea that our understanding of God can flow from multiple sources. Which isn't to say that they are all equal in importance or in how much they reveal to us certain truths about God. In that sense, Scripture probably has no equal. But I find it hard to accept that the truth about an eternal, ultimately unfathomable GOD can be plumbed only through the exegesis of ancient texts when it seems to me that even a blade of grass contains something of His wonder for us mere mortals to perceive.

Amy said...

P.S. I love the comment from your El Paso pastor:

“The Bible comforts those who are afflicted, and it afflicts those who are comforted.”

True words, indeed!

Keith said...

Hey sista! Thanks for participating yet again, as very few often do. Either I’m not good at spreading the word of this blog, or my subject matter is boring to most, hence the few remarks thus far. Lol!

You’ve touched on a hot topic between Protestant and Catholic distinctions, and yes, when I say theology should flow from the exegesis of biblical texts, I do mean it should flow only from biblical texts. Naturally as a Protestant I’m implying sola Scriptura with no need for mention. Justification for this narrow approach to theology derives from the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture per 2 Timothy 3:16-17. I’m sure when we get further into writing our book together, we’ll be visiting this issue again.

As far as the study of natural law and the works of St. Aquinas, I must admit I feel a bit reluctant to jump into a subject matter I know so little about. The claim is often made “All truth is God’s truth,” in which people find freedom to learn about God through the study of natural sciences, psychology, philosophy, music, literature, etc. I abstain from this approach because of biblical evidences. First, creation was cursed by sin and no longer exists in a state of perfection as when it was declared to be “very good” by God (cf. Gen 1:31; Rom 8:19-22). Any attempt to understand God by studying a cursed and marred creation is apt for wrong conclusions of a perfect God if taken beyond the limitations of general revelation. Secondly, the illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit from 1 Corinthians 2 is not promised for studying natural law or general revelation; it applies to special revelation.

That said, thank you for offering a viewpoint to add to this discussion.

Wm said...

I think this is overworked:

The only answer I can think of to the question above is that the gospel is offensive. An accurate presentation of the gospel necessiates discussion of sin, and sin reminds people of hell.

Things that matter a lot to people get them agitated. Wait till you see what happens on the Open Board when we fully enter the presidential election season in the US. Theology isn't the only topic to bring out less elevated discourse. :)

pj11 said...

Keith:

Why would an exegetical discussion of John 1:1 create tension? lol! Anytime you debate the nature of Christ, you're going to inflame some folks ... just ask Arius and Athanasius! Mankind hasn't changed much since Nicea and the discussion will continue until the day Christ returns to settle the issue once and for all!

Keep up the good work, brother ... see ya in church!

Peace,
Jeff

Name: Just call me "A" said...

Honey - Can you believe I knew what your title meant before reading your post?? I guess those Greek classes a few years back really did pay off. I thought I had forgotten most of it!