Friday, January 26, 2007

Dangerous Devotions: Reflections on the Bifurcation of Faith and History - Part 5


Just by employing such a subtitle, I run the risk of losing protestant readers, many whom have been brainwashed to think that such deutero-canonical books are tainted by with catholic residue. Yet, for those who continue reading, let me suggest that such a mindset is evidence of yet another underlying conservative bifurcation between faith and history. Of course the academicians realize this, even most of the conservative ones; yet somehow these documents have been alienated from the laity and many pastors. I remember back in Bible College hearing various dorm room discussions about the best study Bible out there: MacArthur, The Reformed Study Bible, Zhodiates Greek Study Bible, and yes, even an occasional champion for good ole Ryrie. You want to get a good study Bible that will help make you a better interpreter of Scripture? Buy an NRSV (with apocrypha) or RSV if your conscience hasn’t been educated in favor of dynamic equivalence. Reading historical documents like Maccabees or Wisdom literature like the Psalms of Solomon will do more to help you become a good interpreter than cheating from someone else’s study notes. It will give you a better understanding, first hand of the cultural, social, historical milieu of the day and help you to come to grips with the fact that the genre’s used in the Bible are largely not sui generes. God did not drop the Bible out of the sky in finished form; He gave it to us employing literary and historical forms of the day. If you’re looking for helpful notes, you owe it to yourself to consult a good commentary anyway, rather than just reading a blurb or two in a footnote.

Just an example or two of ideas I’ve picked up from 1 Maccabees. First, when we read the name Judas in the Gospels we automatically think – the bad guy. This is with good reason…while Peter, Paul and John (you were expecting Mary?) have been names frequently employed through the centuries, you don’t hear about too many newborn bundles of joy being named Judas. Not so in the First Century. Why? Because Judas “The Hammer” Maccabeus was considered a heroic Jewish warrior of great valor and almost messianic significance. Any First Century Jewish reader of the Gospels not aware of the life and death of Jesus (which may or may not have been likely) would not have had the same premonitions about Judas that we would. A name like that would have had the impact on a First Century Jewish boy as that of say, Jason Bourne (I wanted to say George Washington or Douglas MacArthur, but my confidence in the literary/historical consciousness of today’s young people is less than optimistic). We’ve already “read the end of the story” so to speak, when we begin the opening verses.

Second, why did the First Century Jewish-Christians (or perhaps Judaizers) get so hot under the color when Paul minimized the need for circumcision? After all, it’s not the greatest way to woo converts…but maybe that was just it…maybe Paul was into easy believeism….sort of a proto-Ryrie. Well, while many seem to think Paul was a dispensationalist, he’s certainly no proto-Ryrie. However, I would suggest a few lines from 1 Maccabees might help the reader get a better grasp for why it was such a big deal. When Antiochus Epiphanes came to town, those who wanted to remain faithful to Torah by maintaining the sign of the covenant came under heavy fire:

1 Maccabees 1:11-15 In those days certain renegades came out from Israel and misled many, saying, "Let us go and make a covenant with the Gentiles around us, for since we separated from them many disasters have come upon us." 12 This proposal pleased them, 13 and some of the people eagerly went to the king, who authorized them to observe the ordinances of the Gentiles. 14 So they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem, according to Gentile custom, 15 and removed the marks of circumcision, and abandoned the holy covenant. They joined with the Gentiles and sold themselves to do evil.

They were encouraged to abandon their own customs for the sake of unity (1:41-49) particularly leaving their sons uncircumcised. For those who disobeyed:

1 Maccabees 1:60-61 According to the decree, they put to death the women who had their children circumcised, 61 and their families and those who circumcised them; and they hung the infants from their mothers' necks.

So when Paul came on the scene removing the need for circumcision, one can imagine the faithful Jews saying something to the effect of: Not this again. Not on my watch. We remember what happened last time; let’s squelch this apostate before things go any further. No wonder his teachings were considered subversive and received with hostility. No wonder the issue came to a head in the early church (Acts 15). Reading up on the intertestamental history (1 Maccabees) helps to heighten our understanding of why such issues were so crucial.

ALRIGHT; I’m done beating the proverbial dead horse. None of this was intended to be exhaustive, but rather representative of some trends I’ve observed. What I found most disturbing as I began to read on liberal scholarship were the subtle parallels that can occur at the other extreme end of the spectrum (namely, fundamentalism/conservative evangelicalism). I would suggest that a similar divide between faith and history has occurred in the church and the academy. And as Wright has observed, it’s time for the Prodigal to return home.



Tim Barker said...

Some good insights. I've read all of the posts I think in the series. I think this is the "feel good post of the year." I love proto-Ryrie and Jason Bourne connections. Additionally, you have highly motivated me to pull the Apocrypha off the self (I'm shamed as I had to pull it off the shelf to spell it correctly).

Nate Mihelis said...

Bear in mind, even if you had mispelled it, Logan's got your back :-)

joyfully2b4u said...

wow! thanks for the connections between history and the canonical books. Guess the Apocrypha has value to us after all =) ~Joy Camburn