A quote to consider

I didn’t want to call this “quote of the day” lest someone think that if they come back tomorrow and the next day there will be two others, but it is certainly the quote that sprang out at me from today’s reading.

The modern reader, critic, and yes, even the person of faith, must remember that the authors of the four canonical Gospels never asked us to read them, to treasure them, or to treat them as scripture (Patterson, Stephen. “Can You Trust a Gospel? A Review of Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 6, no. 2 (2008): 194-210.)

Not, of course, an original thought. In fact, Andrew Lloyd Webber came at the idea from a different angle when he wrote in the lyrics of “The Last Supper” from Jesus Christ Superstar:

Always hoped that I’d be an apostle.
Knew that I would make it if I tried.
Then when we retire, we can write the Gospels,
So they’ll still talk about us when we’ve died.

I wonder, sometimes, at what some of we Christians do with the Biblical texts and the burdens we place on them that their authors never envisaged them having to carry. If had they known that over the ensuing centuries scholars would argue over minute sections of their writings and about the significance of articles and prepositions, I wonder if they would have had the courage to put anything in writing in the first place! Even if God was inspiring them.

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12 thoughts on “A quote to consider

  1. They didn’t appear to believe that the world would still exist as it does 2000 years later. I think they wrote for their contemporary audience. That’s a good quote from JCS though. It’s a bit Monty Pythonish. 🙂

  2. But I think that Mark in particular believed what Jesus believed – that judgement would come in his lifetime, not actually Jesus coming again.

  3. Yes, you’re probably right. Even so, the people who wrote these texts didn’t write them to be analysed word by word by anyone. They were written to be read out loud and listened to as a whole.

  4. Judy,
    I love JCSuperstar (it is Bultmann set to music – listen to “Too Much Heaven on Their Minds” on You Tube, the 2000 version!). I think Patterson caricatures this point. True, I don’t think the Evangelists saw themselves as writing canonically inspired and infallible writings for the orthodox church. Yet, I think they were aware of writing “sacred writings” which could potentially become “scripture” for a faith community. We have to differentiate between sacred writings, scripture, and canon before talking about what the Evangelists intended to write and what effect it achieved. I think D. Moody Smith is basically right in his excellent JBL article: Did the Evangelists Intend to Write Scripture? I think he is correct that the author(s) of John certainly did!

  5. Mike, I’m not familiar with the Smith article – I must find it. I agree that the Evangelists saw themselves as writing “sacred writings” in that they were writing about their encounters with the Divine for the benefit of other believers. What the authors of the epistles and the Hebrew Scriptures thought they were doing is another story, I suspect. I don’t, however, think God stood at their shoulders and dictated every word, so I have difficulty with those preachers I’ve heard who make a big deal out of one word in a particular text, especially when it’s one word in their pet English translation and they have no idea about the Greek or Hebrew behind it or why different versions translate it differently.

    I have no problem with scholars trying to decide whether the MSS that have “but” or the MSS that have “and” are the more authentic witness, based on a set of consistent criteria. I am not keen on preachers trying to decide between “but” and “and” based on criteria like “everyone knows that X is the best translation” or “this fits my church’s doctrine”.

    And while we’re talking about parodies, I’m reminded of the “Beyond the Fringe” sermon based (very loosely) on the text “But my brother Esau is an hairy man and I am a smooth man.” This parodies just about every untenable preaching technique known to humankind and should be read with a very upper-class British voice. 🙂

  6. Now I don’t agree with you Judy. I have no evidence that they believed their writings were “sacred” (let alone anticipated them becoming scripture). Neither were they writing about their encounters with the Divine. They wrote about Jesus’ relationship with God and Jesus’ mission to the people bringing them back to God, for the benefit of their faith community. I think the evidence that they believed they wrote “sacred writings” is your faith.

  7. Steph, it was late, I was tired. I’m not at my best when I try to analyse my thoughts and language late at night:-) It’s late again and I’m tired again, so I am conscious that this needs nuancing, but am not up to it. I think your comment about encounter the Divine is fair enough. I suspect, though, that by the time the gospels were written down, their authors were at least conscious that they were writing about the sacred and were quite possibly doing so at the request of their communities, so perhaps with a sense that their stories would in some way held to be sacred by those communities. I’d like to read the Moody Smith article that Mike quotes, but am not sure that I have time between now and Christmas.

  8. The lyricist for Jesus Christ SuperStar was Tim Rice.
    His love of anachronism was also apparent in another team-up with Lloyd Webber, Joseph and his Technicolor Dream Coat (remember the Elvis-style Pharaoh?. Lovely stuff.

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