Posts Tagged 'Ron Miller'

Hearing the Voice of Jesus

Icon of Jesus Christ

Icon of Jesus Christ

Why is Hearing the Voice of Jesus a Problem in the First Place?

The most obvious reason we find hearing the voice of Jesus so challenging, is that in so far as we know, Jesus never wrote anything.

At the best of times, literacy rates in the ancient world were very low.  Literacy rates of peasants living in the backwoods of Galilee would have been vanishingly low.  It took a great deal of time and money to learn to read and write.  Dirt poor farmers, fishermen, and other peasants simply did not have the luxury of the time or money required to acquire this set of skills.

So speaking from a strictly historical perspective, it is very unlikely Jesus was able to read or write.  Some biblical scholars argue that Jesus was an exception to this rule, however, while one cannot categorically state Jesus was illiterate, we have no objective reason to think otherwise.

And we ought not cite the story of the woman accused of adultery as evidence to the contrary.  This story, which includes the observation that Jesus wrote something in the dirt, does not appear in any manuscripts until the late 4th century, well over 300-years after Jesus’ death.  This story now appears in the Gospel of John, chapter 8, but over the centuries is has appeared elsewhere, including in an entirely different gospel.  It is a lovely, instructive story, but it cannot be properly attributed to the historical Jesus.

In any event, no writings of Jesus survive.  So to discover the voice of Jesus we are unable to appeal to Jesus directly, as we may with Paul, for example.

20-Year Silence

If anything was written about Jesus during his lifetime, it no longer survives.  In fact, we know of no Christian writings during the 20-years following Jesus’ crucifixion.  There are indications of an oral tradition during this period, but it remained an oral tradition for two decades.

The earliest Jewish-Christian writings we have about Jesus come from the pen of Paul, who began writing in the early 50s.  And as surprising as it may seem to us today, Paul wrote very little about Jesus.  This is because Paul wrote what are called occasional letters, meaning he wrote in response to specific occasions, or problems.

Why is it Important that we Hear the Words of Jesus?

To many ears this may sound like a crazy question.  Some answer, who would *not* wish to hear the very words of God!  Others answer that the original words of Jesus are long lost to history, and can never be recovered, so only a fool would propose the question in the first place.

My answer is to be found somewhere between these stark responses.

I start with the recognition that recovering the original words of Jesus is challenging.  We certainly cannot simply read the Red Letter Edition of the Holy Bible and assume that Jesus really spoke all these words.

The evolution of the Christian New Testament ―which is an anthology of 27 books and letters, written in Greek― grew organically, over a period of decades.  These writings were then transmitted to us over the course of several centuries.  And it took nearly 300-years for these books and letters to coalesce into an agreed upon canon of scripture.

Scholarly historical and textual criticism is able to inform our understanding of this organic process.  Through this scholarship we are able to discern layers of redaction (editing) and interpretation laid over one another throughout the New Testament.  And this is equally true for the words put upon the lips of Jesus by the gospel authors.

But those who already “know” Jesus’ voice is forever lost to us, will never hear it;  just as those who already know every word attributed to Jesus “must be” authentic, will be unable to hear the other voices laid over his.  Both arguments have their strengths and weaknesses.  And one must carefully weigh their merits, one saying at a time, teasing apart the accrued layers, when present.

Yet, provided we listen carefully, I do believe we may hear the voice of Jesus through these accrued layers.  But I also acknowledge it takes most of us some time to acquire that ear.
So how might we begin to train our ear to hear Jesus’ voice?  

One approach is to contemplate the various characterizations of Jesus, as represented in the gospels.  If we read these accounts carefully, what might we discern of Jesus?  What might we discern of the author who wrote the text?  Or of the audience to whom it was directed?  What were the completing religious-political concerns of ancient Palestine?

Each of these are useful interrogations of the text.  But in this essay I wish to discuss Jesus.  Some observations about Jesus are almost obvious, while others are quite complex and variously debated even among professionals in the field of biblical and New Testament studies.  So if we become confused at times, at least we are in good company!

Jesus the Jewish Mystic

Jesus was clearly a Jewish mystic.  “Mystics are people who have vivid and typically frequent experiences of God. … As a Jewish mystic, Jesus lived a life radically centered in God; that was its foundation”  (Marcus Borg, “The Heart of Christianity” pgs. 89-90).

Jesus spent long hours in private prayer, which I suspect we would today understand as periods of deep contemplation and meditation.  We might even think of his 40-days in the wilderness as a kind of “vision quest.”  God was an experiential presence in Jesus’ life.  He spoke of God as his father, and even more affectionately as his Abba, which we may translate as Daddy or Poppa.

This speaks to a profound closeness Jesus felt with God.  For Jesus, God was not some distant sky god like Zeus or Jupiter, nor even a remote, abstract version of the Jewish God.  For Jesus, God was present in a deeply meaningful way;  God was experienced as present to Jesus, both in time and proximity.

Jesus the Jewish Prophet

Jesus was clearly a Jewish prophet.  Like other Jewish prophets before him, Jesus spoke of the God of Israel, the importance of centering one’s life in God, and specifically that a deep change was required of the people of Israel, because they and their nation had lost their way.

Prophets tell us we each face two paths:  we may estrange ourselves from God, and suffer as a result;  or we may return to the proper observance of what is important to God, and live with God’s blessing.

And as Marcus Borg observes, Jesus was specifically a social prophet, in the likeness of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and Micah, and “as such he was a radical critic of the domination system of his time” (Borg, “The Heart of Christianity” pg. 91).

Jesus the Teacher of Wisdom

Jesus was clearly a profound teacher.  He was a master of the aphorism (a short, memorable, insightful saying) and metaphor, often teaching in parables.  Jesus was a travelling teacher, so most likely he used his most memorable phrases and stories frequently, although finessing them to fit specific occasions, which is typical of oral traditions.

“At the heart of the alternative wisdom of Jesus was the path of death and resurrection understood as metaphor for an internal psychological-spiritual process.  It involved dying to an old identity and being born into a new identity, dying to an old way of being and being born into a new way of being” (Borg, “The Heart of Christianity” pg. 90).

Jesus Taught “The Way”

In the book of Acts we are told the earliest name for what evolved into Christianity was simply, the Way (Acts 9:2).  And choosing to participate in the Way does seem to me an accurate characterization of many of Jesus’ sayings.

We may further observe that many of Jesus’ stories and parables fit quite well into a well-established mode of teaching, common to many world religions, frequently called “Two Way” teachings.  As Marcus Borg states in “The Lost Gospel Q” (page 18):  “There is the wise way and the foolish way, the narrow way and the broad way.  One way leads to life, the other to death.”

Jesus the Healer

Jesus was clearly a extraordinary healer and exorcist.  We know of other noted healers and exorcists in the New Testament period, but “more healing stories are told about Jesus that about any other figure in the Jewish tradition” (Borg, “The Heart of Christianity” pg. 90).

Jesus the Apocalyptic Prophet

I believe this is one of the hardest choices one must ultimately make about Jesus.  Was he an apocalyptic prophet or not?  It seems pretty clear that John the Baptist was, and many scholars believe Jesus must have been a follower of John.  And the canonical gospels do present Jesus as speaking with an apocalyptic voice (as does Q);  Matthew chapter 24 is a good example;  verse 34 is of particular interest to me:

>  “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place”  (NRSV).

Which leads me to ask the obvious question of how long does a generation last?  2,000 years or longer?  The old work-around to this troubling question is that it is merely metaphoric language, and generation means humankind.  While I do consider the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament to be highly metaphorical ―in the richest meaning of that term― in this case I’ve never found that argument convincing.

A far better explanation to my mind, is this language is reflective of the apocalyptic voice in the 1st century, which was common roughly 100-years before and after the life of Jesus.  In the Jewish apocalyptic movement, there was widespread belief that God was going to overthrow Rome and put in its place a kingdom ruled by God, through his emissary, the Messiah (the Christ, as it comes to us from the Greek, Χριστός).

So the question we have to answer to our individual satisfaction, is to whom shall we attribute these sayings of Jesus?  Did the historical Jesus really make apocalyptic prophecy?  Or did a later author put these words upon the lips of Jesus when writing his gospel?

I will not presume to answer for you, but I will state that I do not believe one may simultaneously hold Jesus to be an apocalyptic prophet and a divine incarnation of God.  Incarnation, means in the flesh, so if one posits that Jesus became divine after his death, this dilemma may resolve itself.

The Kingdom of God

This is a phrase we hear throughout the canonical gospels with some frequency.  Do these words reach back to Jesus?  If so, what might Jesus have meant?

To my experience, main stream Christianity predominately teaches the kingdom of God is referring to a heavenly existence to be experienced after our physical death, or a future second coming of Jesus on earth.  I however, disagree with these views.

The kingdom to which the authentic Jesus spoke, I firmly believe is to be found right here on earth, within each of us, and is found in our loving interactions with others, expressed through such actions as shoeing children, helping to feed the hungry, and providing winter clothing to homeless persons.

This is what Dom Crossan and Marcus Borg sometimes call the participatory model of Christianity.  They use this phrase to mean that the kingdom of God is only going to come about through our personal investment and actions to bring it about, directly into the communities in which we live.

I find this to be both an interesting and practical perspective which holds a lot of merit.  It may be that God could “invade” earth and establish his kingdom forcefully;  but I also think that would defeat the entire point of doing so.  What good would it be to artificially force such a kingdom upon persons who were not sufficiently evolved spiritually to sustain it?

The point is this:  our very natures are changed if we invest ourselves in the process of bringing the kingdom of God upon earth during our lifetimes.  And it is that very process of spiritual transformation that I believe may very well be the critical point.

Which is to say, it really does not do us any good to be “given” the kingdom;  we really only undergo personal, internal spiritual transformation if we mature ―evolve― to the point that we *desire* to help bring that kingdom into existence.  And I believe *that* is the point to which Jesus was trying to open our hearts.

Luke 17:20-21  Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed;  nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among-within you” (NRSV).

The Jesus Movement

Jesus was a Jew from rural Galilee.  Jesus’ followers were primarily Jews, and Jesus primarily ministered to his fellow Jews.  This is the Jewish Jesus Movement which predates Christianity.  A few years after Jesus was crucified, Paul began to teach his understanding of Jesus’ ministry to the Greeks.  Used in this way, to be a “Greek” simply means one is a gentile ― a person who is not Jewish.

Thus, we may also speak of a Greek (or Gentile) Jesus Movement.  As greater numbers of gentiles entered the Jesus Movement, it evolved from a Jewish Jesus Movement, into a predominately Gentile Jesus Movement, and later into various forms of early Christianity.

Identifying the Authentic Voice of Jesus is Far from Obvious

I hope the above discussion allows you to see we may find a number of ways of understanding and characterizing Jesus.  And we may do so while remaining rooted within the canonical texts.  This is an important point.  One may arrive at a number of ways of seeing Jesus, while supporting one’s view entirely from a biblical point of view.  One need not introduce non-canonical texts, such as the Gospel of Thomas.

Now, I happen to like the Gospel of Thomas, and take the late Prof. Ron Miller’s lead, and that of The Jesus Seminar, and suspect that perhaps a third of it may reach back to the authentic voice of Jesus.  And for this reason, I do make use of the Gospel of Thomas;  but thoughtfully, and with deliberation.  After all, if we hold the position that about 1/3 of the Gospel of Thomas may be the echo of Jesus’ voice, we are also observing some 2/3 of it fails to capture the voice of Jesus.

The Jesus Seminar

The Jesus Seminar is a fellowship of a biblical scholars who have spent decades attempting to identify the authentic voice of Jesus in the ancient texts available to us.  They do include the Gospel of Thomas as viable source material.  Their work has determined that approximately 20% of the “red letter” words of Jesus may be properly attributed to Jesus.

Q Hypothesis

Q is a hypothetical early text of the sayings of Jesus.  No surviving Q manuscript is known to exist.  This is the weakest link in the Q Hypothesis argument.  Supporters will however, point to the recent (mid-1900’s) discovery of the Gospel of Thomas, which is an authentic sayings gospel.  Where one such gospel was written, so too a second may have been written.

But what is Q?

Q is short for Quelle, from the German, meaning “source.”  It is alternately known as the Q source, the Q document, the Q Gospel, and the Q Sayings Gospel.  But most frequently it is simply called Q.  It is primarily composed of the sayings attributed to Jesus which are found in both Matthew and Luke, but not Mark.

Scholars who find this hypothesis of value believe that the authors of Matthew and Luke wrote without knowledge of one another, so there must have been a source for the sayings which they share, which are not taken from Mark.  Since both are known to have drawn extensively from the earliest gospel, Mark, it is a natural deduction they may have similarly drawn from another, as yet undiscovered, source document (Q).

Incidentally, the Gospel of John does not enter into such debates because it is clearly, dramatically different than the other canonical gospels.  John was written in the 90’s, after the synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke) and is often referred to as the Fourth Gospel.  (And the Gospel of Thomas is sometimes referred to as the Fifth Gospel, even though it is non-canonical.)

Detractors of the Q Hypothesis often have great difficulty with the invention of an undiscovered document.  Supporters of Q point out there may have already been such discoveries, but we cannot identify them.  Does this sound like a strange claim?  Their point is that if we discover a small scrap of ancient manuscript that only contains a portion of a saying which is shared between Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark (a partial definition of a Q-saying) we cannot determine whether that scrap originated from Matthew, Luke, or the proposed Q.

Thus, the only way to provide evidence of Q is to find a much larger, much more rare, document fragment which contains at least large portions of two proposed Q-sayings.  Anything less, and detractors simply assume the small fragment originates in either Matthew or Luke.  This logic cannot prove Q ever existed, but it does demonstrate that proving Q will be very difficult.

How Might One Begin to Hear the Voice of Jesus?  

First and foremost, recognize that it is up to each of us to discern our own interpretation.  We may avail ourselves of a great deal of critical scholarship over the last 150-years which may greatly inform our investigation, but ultimately, we each have to come to terms with difficult and sometimes contradictory information.

>  Was Jesus an apocalyptic prophet?

>  Was the historical Jesus divine?  If so, when, and to what extent?

It is up to *us* to answers these and other difficult questions to our own satisfaction.  Through the process of resolving such questions, our apprehension of Jesus, and his role as the Christ, will progressively be revealed to us.

With the goal of informing our search for the voice of Jesus, I highly recommend studying each of the following books, which discuss Q, Jesus, and the Gospel of Thomas.  “The Lost Gospel Q” and “The Gospel of Jesus” may be read quite quickly ―over the course of a quiet afternoon or evening― because the actual text of the ancient documents in each case is quite short;  but do spend time reading their introductions and appendixes.  Ron Miller’s book on the Gospel of Thomas is somewhat longer, but I find it to be superlative (as are all his books and lectures).

>  “The Lost Gospel Q: The Original Sayings of Jesus” (Marcus Borg)

>  “The Gospel of Jesus: According to the Jesus Seminar” (Robert Funk & The Jesus Seminar)

>  “The Gospel of Thomas: A Guidebook for Spiritual Practice” (Ron Miller)

I always welcome opportunities to mention the talks the late Ron Miller gave to the Theosophical Society.  And since I suspect many readers will not have these three books immediately at hand, I would like to recommend Ron Miller’s talks, which you may immediately access on-line:

http://www.ronmillersworld.org/updates/eight-talks-from-the-theosophical-society/

In reference to this essay, I would begin with his discussion of the Gospel of Thomas:

http://www.ronmillersworld.org/watch/the-gospel-of-thomas/

For those who enjoy trying to discern the voice of Jesus, I would recommend another book published by The Jesus Seminar:

>  “The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say? The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus”

Guided by these books, authors such as bishop Spong and Marcus Borg, Ron Miller’s wise counsel, and time spent in quiet contemplation, I believe I have heard an echo of Jesus’ voice, reaching to me across 2,000 years.  My hope is that you too encounter the voice of Jesus.  And that through hearing, you are able to discern a variety of layers which have accrued upon Jesus’ words, as they have come to us in the Christian New Testament.

Upon attuning your hearing to Jesus’ voice, I suspect you may very well apprehend the Way of which Jesus spoke.  Once you do, you cannot help but to begin reading the New Testament with a heart born from above.

Erik+

Resources:

Marcus Borg

Book: “The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith”

Book: “The Lost Gospel Q: The Original Sayings of Jesus”

The Jesus Seminar

Book: “The Gospel of Jesus: According to the Jesus Seminar”

Book: “The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say? The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus”

Ron Miller

Book: “The Gospel of Thomas: A Guidebook for Spiritual Practice”

Video: http://www.ronmillersworld.org/updates/eight-talks-from-the-theosophical-society/

Video: http://www.ronmillersworld.org/watch/the-gospel-of-thomas/

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Transformational Christianity & Liturgical Address of Sept. 2014

Expansion by Paige Bradley (New York)

Expansion by Paige Bradley (New York)

What do I mean by Transformational Christianity?

I view Transformational Christianity as a deliberate, mindful, and active process of spiritual formation.  Spiritual formation itself presents a large stage, upon which there are many players, not all of whom are Christian.  All enduring religions speak to matters of spiritual formation, and in each case there are usually at least two key areas of work in which this formation takes place:

  1. Spiritual changes internal to oneself.
  2. Changes which take place within the community one lives.

One might note there are examples of persons retreating from society, seeking isolation, when undertaking deep spiritual formation.  In many cases, such individuals do later provide feedback to their society, or form communities in general isolation from the larger population.  The Desert Fathers and the formation of monasteries serve as Christian examples (there are parallels to be found in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism, among others).

In some cases, we might observe a third key designation, which applies to those living outside of one’s community.  When seen from within young spiritual paradigms those who live outside one’s own community are seen as “Other” and in cases of extreme spiritual immaturity, even as sub-human.  (The late Ron Miller identifies this as living in the basement of consciousness.)

In contrast, when seen from within spiritually mature paradigms, the category of *Other* dissolves, and all persons are understood to share their humanity with one another.  The most highly refined spiritual paradigms see that all life is an expression of the One ―however that may be understood― in which, and from which, we are all rooted.  (The late Ron Miller identifies this as living in the rooftop garden of consciousness;  same talk as linked to in the previous paragraph.)

Thus, Transformational Christianity is a subset of the larger category of spiritual formation.

Proponents of Transformational Christianity employ the lens of Christianity to inform their spiritual formation.  And Jesus is the primary example of how we may best live our lives, serving as guide to both our interactions with others, and as the model for how we are to conduct our internal spiritual life.

By using the word “transformation” we are identifying our spiritual formation as an active process through which we seek to transform, or change, from one state to another.  This implies the transformation (changing) of oneself from one state, to another state, which we identify as being more spiritually refined.

Proponents of Transformational Christianity also recognise the need to sponsor transformation within our community.  This process simultaneously takes place within oneself and within the community in which one lives.  To a degree this happens automatically, because we each produce an effect upon the environment and community in which we live.  As we change, we also affect others.

There is also a degree of positive feedback, through which we are affected by the environment and community in which we live.  By means of this mutual feedback, both the individual and the community are influenced, and influence one another.  Thus, Transformational Christianity forms a symbiotic relationship between the individual and the community in which they live.  To the degree we are mindful of this dual process, we may better direct these influences favourably.

Several key points follow from these observations:

  •      Transformational Christianity is a process-driven model of spirituality.  This means there is more to it than simply affirming one’s belief.  It requires action.  Some may read this as the dirty word “works” which they read in stark contrast to “believing” in Jesus.  In my view this stems from a mis-reading of what constitutes “faith.”  In its older meanings, faith is active, and it was assumed to convey action within its very nature.  This is why faith without works is dead (James 2:14ff).  I would suggest one consider “belief” and “faith” from this perspective.  One is what one does, not what one only believes.  (One may also wish to watch Ron Miller’s presentation on James, “A Very Different Christian Story.”)
  •      Transformational Christianity is a “team sport.”  It does require community.  In its ultimate expression, in fact, it requires that the entire world become one’s community.  This however, is overwhelming, so it is important to focus one’s attention and energies upon a community with which one can directly interact.  In my opinion, this transformational understanding of community is best affected in those persons in whose eyes you can look.
  •      Think Globally, Act Locally is how the once-popular bumper sticker phrased this concept.  It is important to guide our choices with a mind toward our global impact.  We are all one.  We certainly all live on a single planet, and it is about time we lived our lives with this in mind.  At the same time, our actions are similar to other forms of energy.  Like heat, light, or radio waves, our action’s energy dissipates with distance.  This is why our ability to affect those persons in whose eyes we can look is greater than those persons living on the other side of the planet.
  •      When feeling stymied, just do something!  By yourself you are not going to change the world overnight.  But you can immediately begin your own internal transformation of thought.  Changing one’s thoughts promotes changes in behaviour.  And once you start looking for the opportunity, you can very quickly find some meaningful way to help another person.  When we all pull together, helping others in our individually small ways, the overall results are quite large.  And perhaps more importantly, the individual you help will be positively affected.

 

Liturgical Addresses

In September 2014, I offered several short liturgical addresses.  I intended some of these remarks to direct one’s thoughts toward what I think of as Transformational Christianity, because I believe the process of spiritual formation is one of the practical goals of Christianity.  I also appreciate that Transformational Christianity plainly acknowledges the importance of personal spiritual transformation, in parallel with transformation of community.

The service took place at the Community Christian Church, which is a progressive non-denominational Protestant church located in Springfield, Missouri (http://www.spfccc.org/).  I have retained the original section titles used during the worship service.  I have however, expanded upon the liturgical addresses.  If all goes well, those remarks actually delivered during the service should display in bold letters.

 

Wisdom Reading

(The purpose of the Wisdom Reading is to introduce the subject of the main sermon.  Thus, if commentary is offered, it should foreshadow the subject matter of the sermon to follow.)  

Romans is a letter Paul wrote to the Christians living in Rome.  A few of the more salient points to keep in the back of one’s mind when reading Paul’s letter to the Romans are:

Paul did not establish this church.  In fact, Paul had never even been to Rome.
Therefore, Paul is writing his own letter of introduction.
Paul is attempting to defuse negative impressions of his ministry in the East.
Paul wishes to secure funds for future ministry missions as far West as Gaul (Spain).
While Paul can display a very sharp tongue, in this letter he intends his best behaviour.

An additional point that should be remarked upon is the claim that Paul’s letter to the Romans is his attempt to fully lay out his thoughts on God, Jesus, his understanding of Christ, and how these relate to the church (which is often an anachronistic reading).  Attempting to do this is called systematic theology.  But this is not what Paul attempts to do in his letter to Rome.  If Paul ever wrote such a document, it has not survived.

I personally consider Romans to be another “letter of occasion.”  This simply means Paul wrote all his letters in response to a specific occasion.  Topics which would not be pertinent to the topic (occasion) being addressed, ought not be expected to be addressed by Paul.  And we certainly have no reason to think he told us everything he considered important.

What is different about Paul’s letter to Rome, is that he did not establish this community.  In all the other authentic letters of Paul, he is writing to communities which he founded, and as such, he assumed the role of “father” to that community.  And in the ancient world, a degree of authority ―in some cases a great deal of authority― was granted to the “father” of a given community.  And there are letters in which Paul does play to this role of “father” to the community.  But this is not the case in Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome.

The overwhelming majority of biblical scholars believe there are several authors of Paul’s letters in the New Testament.  In addition to the authentic Paul, there is the author of the Pastoral Letters (1 & 2 Timothy & Titus), and possibly the author(s) of the the contested letters (Colossians, Ephesians, 2nd Thessalonians).  And no credible scholar any longer believes Paul write Hebrews.

The primary reason this is important to me, is that the hurtful things “Paul” is supposed to have said of women are forgeries!  If you are a woman, or there are women in your life you care deeply about, this is a very important discovery!

Once this barrier was out of the way, I was open to discovering Paul, the Jewish Mystic.  And that is the Paul I find so inspirational.  In the 14th chapter of Romans we catch only a glimpse of the mystical Paul.  In verses 7-9, Paul essentially reminds us that “as we are born from God, we also die into God.”

This, by the way, is the response I remember Marcus Borg offering during an interview, when asked how one might respond to someone on their death bed, should they ask of God and the afterlife.  To date, this remains the single best piece of advice I have yet heard on that question.  I find Borg’s observation beautifully eloquent.  It reminds us that we are born from a realm beyond this world, and assures us that into that realm or state of existence we shall return upon our death.  And it allows one to understand what this means in one’s own terms.  In the context of a hospital or hospice visitation, I find it to be a brilliant, caring, hopeful response.

The other person being interviewed ―a former hospital chaplain― held the opinion that the only proper response is to attempt to force a dying person to accept his (the chaplain’s) theology.  Namely, the person dying had to acknowledge belief in Jesus Christ, and a very literal interpretation of the resurrection account, or burn in hell.

The differences in these views, are similar to what I imagine may have been taking place in Rome, some 2,000 years ago.  One point of view is taking a very hard line on what is the proper and improper understanding of Christianity, and they are belittling or brow-beating those who do not agree with them.

We may ascertain that some Jewish-Christian members of the community were having difficulty in laying aside concerns over ritual purity;  I suspect the reference to meat carries a similar concern as addressed in the 8th chapter of 1 Corinthians;  we may further presume, that other Christians were demeaning these Jewish-Christians for their “weak faith” or “weak conviction” (in this passage the Greek word *pistei* may be translated as “faith” or “conviction;”  possible alternates would include “trust” or “confidence”).

I am given the impression some were mocking these Jewish-Christians, as being in some way lesser Christians for not being able to give up what Paul considered to be superstitions, or to transcend the cultural mythology in which they had been raised.  We find these same judgements being made today.

In the face of such abuse, Paul suggests that we must refrain from judging one another.  This is in fact, the main point of the first half the 14th chapter of Romans.  Learning to effectively, and meaningfully, relate to persons who occupy a stage of faith development which is much younger than our own presents a real challenge.  Yet, we must find a way to speak with persons occupying other stages of faith, without judging them.

Paul suggests that we sincerely follow our beliefs, and extend grace to those who are following their own sincere beliefs.  The small details of our behaviour ―do we eat meat?  which days are holy?― in the final analysis, these are really of very little importance.

What is of critical importance, however, is that we sincerely honour God, in whatever way we understand that observance.  And, that we allow others the same freedom!

Implicit to Paul’s argument is that we honour and respect others, even when their religious practice is not our own.  Paul, of course, meant this only in the context of the developing forms of early Christianity;  I would argue, this is better understood and practised as a general rule governing our behaviour and interactions with persons of all faiths.

     Today’s Wisdom Reading is from Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome.
 
     Paul has become one of my favourite authors.  Once, that is, I learned there are several Paul’s, and that the hurtful things said of women were forgeries.
 
     This opened me to Paul the Jewish Mystic, and Paul who so passionately speaks of putting on the mind of Christ, and of learning to live our lives in imitation of Christ.
 
     This is the Paul I find inspirational.
 
     There is a hint of this mystical Paul in today’s reading, when we are reminded in so many words…
 
               …as we are born from God, we also die into God.
 
     But Paul also has a very practical, down-to-earth side.  Throughout this passage, Paul speaks to the very practical matter of NOT judging one another.  Some Jewish-Christians were having difficulty in laying aside concerns over ritual purity.
 
     Other Christians were demeaning them for their “weak faith” or conviction…  as if they were somehow lesser Christians for not being able to give up superstitions, or to transcend the cultural mythology in which they had been raised.
 
     But Paul tells us NOT to judge others.
 
     We are to sincerely follow our beliefs, and we are to be gracious, to those who are following their own sincere beliefs.
 
     The small details of how we act out
     – whether we eat meat, or which days we consider holy –
     these are of little, real importance.
 
     What is of critical importance, is that we sincerely honour God,
     in whatever way we understand that observance,
     and allow others the same freedom.

 

Romans 14:1-10(a)

Do Not Judge Another

1 Welcome those who are weak in faith [or “conviction”], but not for the purpose of quarrelling over opinions.  2 Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables.  3 Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgement on those who eat; for God has welcomed them.  4 Who are you to pass judgement on servants of another?  It is before their own lord that they stand or fall.  And they will be upheld, for the Lord [other ancient authorities read “for God”] is able to make them stand.

5 Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike.  Let all be fully convinced in their own minds.  6 Those who observe the day, observe it in honour of the Lord.  Also those who eat, eat in honour of the Lord, since they give thanks to God;  while those who abstain, abstain in honour of the Lord and give thanks to God.

7 We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves.  8 If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord;  so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.  9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

10 Why do you pass judgement on your brother or sister?  Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister?

(This is the YouTube presentation of the main sermon, given by Rev. Dr. Roger Ray.)

 

 

Offertory Sentence

(The Offertory Sentence is a brief affirmative statement one makes with regard to one’s attraction to the church and/or faith community.)

This small church helps feed persons every week at a local food kitchen, bringing food for that meal and providing volunteers to serve those who are hungry.  Volunteers also perform a variety of chores at a local food warehouse which distributes food directly to needy families.  Helping one’s neighbour does not get much more basic than this!

Members also solicit, collect, and then send shoes to needy children in Nicaragua.  I had not been aware children needed shoes in Nicaragua, but if kids run around barefoot, they naturally cut their feet, and these cuts easily become infected in their jungle environment.  Given there is little access to basic health care, these cuts may become so badly infected that amputations are required to save the child’s life.

These are the primary ways this church seeks to serve needy persons in their local community, and in a specific community in another country.  And, I must say, I find these efforts quite heart-warming.

The point of departure I chose for my Offertory Sentence is once again based upon a remark I once heard Marcus Borg make.  He offered the opinion that Christianity is transformational, and that this effect may be further divided into two different areas of our lives:

Transformation of Self
Transformation of Community

I find there is a lot of value in this perspective.  Transformation of self and of community are certainly related, but they are also different in many ways.  Transformation of self, is primarily an inward-looking practice.  Transformation of community requires becoming involve with other persons, and can only be accomplished through interaction with others.

     For me, Christianity is about Transformation.
     Transformation of Self.
     Transformation of Community.
     I believe these to be symbiotic relationships.
     
     Transformation of Self can be very inward-looking.
     Introspective. Mysterious. Elusive.
     
     In a great many ways, I feel it is beyond words.
     So how do we talk about it?
     
     With awkward, stumbling attempts, I suspect.
     But talk about it we should.
     Regularly.
     
     But Transformation of Self, is also found in experiences.
     And Transformation of Community, must be a result of shared experiences.
     Transformation of Community, we “talk about” by doing.
     
     My attraction to this church, is your Commitment to Community.
     I see this in the sharing of food at Bill’s Place and at Crosslines.
     I see this in the collection of shoes for needy children.
     
     What has attracted me to this church?
     It’s the opportunity, to do something, for someone else.

 

 

Invitation to Communion

(Communion, is also known as Holy Communion, The Lord’s Supper, and the Eucharist.  The observance of Communion dates to the earliest churches of the 1st century.  This is the formal reception of bread and wine which symbolize the body and blood of Jesus.  While this is a central practice of many Christians, specifically how it is understood and enacted varies widely.)

     I think most of us stand at one margin of society or another.  
     I suspect most people here are “recovering Catholics” or “recovering Protestants.”  
     Or “recovering something-elses.”
     
     I suspect many of us are the “church people” no church wanted!  
     Trouble makers.  Broken toys, exiled to the “Island of Misfit Toys.”  
     Or maybe… just thrown away.  
     
     I suspect many of us, come here by way of pain, neglect, or abuse.
     But I hope we also come here to mend, and to heal.
     And I hope, we come here to offer mending and healing to others.  
     
     This Open Communion is symbolic of this desire for healing.
     In ourselves. In our loved ones. In strangers.
     In those who may become friends.
     
     This Communion is also an open invitation to share in our community.
     Even if this is your first visit.
     Even, if this is your only visit.
     
     And I hope, those we meet at Bill’s Place or Crosslines also feel part of this community.
     
     Sharing Communion always turns my thoughts toward Jesus.
     
     Jesus asked, that we love God with all that we are.
     Jesus asked, that we love others, as we wish to be loved.
     
     Jesus shows us, how to help those living at the margins of society.
     Shows us, that the Kingdom of God is at hand.
     Shows, in fact, that how we treat others, reveals the Kingdom within ourselves.
     
     This is what I hear in the Transformational words of Jesus…
     
     “Do this, in remembrance of me.”

 

May the Lord bless and keep you.
Erik+

 

References:

 

Marcus J. Borg

http://www.marcusjborg.com/

 

Community Christian Church

http://www.spfccc.org/

 

Community Christian Church YouTube Home Page

https://www.youtube.com/user/CCCSpringfield

 

Community Christian Church, Sermon for Sept. 14, 2014

http://youtu.be/0BF8YhqnHWA?list=UUeF1t9dro_UwXa5qO_FH7bg

 

Bill’s Place

http://www.thekitcheninc.org/bills_place.php

 

Crosslines Food Pantry

http://crosslines.org/

 

Overview of Holy Communion / Lord’s Supper / Eucharist

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eucharist

 

Putting on the Mind of Christ

http://thepracticingcatholic.com/2011/09/22/putting-on-the-mind-of-christ/

 

The Mind of Christ

http://www.raystedman.org/new-testament/1-corinthians/the-mind-of-christ

 

Ron Miller’s Presentations to the Theosophical Society

http://www.ronmillersworld.org/updates/eight-talks-from-the-theosophical-society/

 

Ron Miller on Pluralism:

http://www.ronmillersworld.org/watch/guess-whos-coming-to-dinner-the-new-pluralism/

 

Ron Miller on the Letter of James

http://www.ronmillersworld.org/watch/a-very-different-christian-story/

Did Paul Say Women are to be Subordinate to Men?

Did Paul Say Women are to be Subordinate to Men?  

Apostle Paul 19th Century Russian Orthodox Icon

Apostle Paul 19th Century Russian Orthodox Icon

In this essay we will explore this question by examining the passage which includes I Corinthians 14:34b-35, which reads,

  …women should be silent in the churches.  For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says.  If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home.  For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

Now, one response to this question is to simply say, of course Paul said women are to be subordinate to men;  it is obviously, clearly stated in the New Testament a number of times, including the above.  What more does one need to know?  As it turns out, one may wish to know quite a bit more!  While we will ask if these verses stand or fall on their own merit, I find a more thoughtful response begins by observing that we must first address an unstated question:

          Did Paul write all the letters attributed to Paul?  

Pauline Authorship

I addressed the question of Pauline authorship as part of my January 2014 essay (“Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle”).  In this essay I will simply say that for a variety of reasons, I am convinced there were at least four different categories of author writing in Paul’s name.  Most New Testament scholars identify these categories as:

Authentic Paul
Disputed Paul
Forgeries written in Paul’s name
Paul as described in the book of Acts

The authentic Paul was of course, only one human being.  But when we speak of the other categories of author writing in Paul’s name, we do not know for certain if these were individuals or groups of people representing a given school of thought.  I suspect reasonable cases made be made for both types of authorship.

I should note that some scholars who argue that Paul wrote all the letters attributed to him, qualify that assertion by stating the authentic Paul wrote by committee, and that accounts for the variation in vocabulary and grammar when comparing these categories of Pauline authorship.  But within the scope of this essay whether or not any of these letters was written by committee is not an important question.

For the sake of completeness, the following are the letters most commonly associated with each of the categories of author writing in Paul’s name:

Authentic Paul

1st Thessalonians
Philippians
Philemon
1st Corinthians
Galatians
2nd Corinthians
Romans

SIDEBAR:  The above letters are presented in chronological order.  It has been suggested that studying their content carefully allows one to track Paul’s developing theology over time.  One should bear in mind however, that if Paul ever wrote a systematic theology, it has not survived;  there are almost certainly beliefs he held for which we have no record.  With the exception of his letter to the Romans, his writings are occasional letters (meaning they were written to address specific problems/occasions;  typically addressing difficulties people were experiencing in churches Paul had previously established).  Romans is somewhat different in several ways.  Paul had never been to Rome, and this letter was written primarily as a letter of introduction, to dispel concerns over his teachings, and to raise funds for a new ministry reaching into the west (Gaul/Spain).

Disputed Paul

Colossians
2nd Thessalonians
Ephesians (a “circular” letter, either considered disputed or a forgery)

Forgeries in Paul’s name

1st Timothy
2nd Timothy
Titus
Ephesians (unless one considers it as disputed)

Acts is not included in the above list, because no thinks Paul wrote Acts.  The author of Acts is also the author of the Gospel of Luke, and these are part one and part two of a two-volume work, Luke/Acts.  Where Paul is described or made to speak in Acts, it is the author of Luke/Acts describing the action or speaking for Paul;  it is not Paul.  I have included Acts in this list, as the fourth category of authorship, because many people rely upon it for biographical information relating to Paul.  However, this must be done critically.  The author of Acts and Paul at numerous points disagree about Paul’s history and movements;  who are we to believe when the same story is told differently?

Was Paul a Misogynist?

One of the stronger arguments for a misogynistic Paul is found in 1st Corinthians, chapter 14.  Because 1st Corinthians numbers among the undisputedly authentic letters of Paul -therefore, the argument goes- if Paul therein states that women are to be subordinate to men, Paul is in fact a misogynist (one who hates or denigrates women).  On the surface, I would agree that assertion seems logical, however, as is often the case in biblical studies, many important variables are not that simple and clear cut.

In much the same way that Paul did not write all the letters to which his name is attributed, the authentic Paul did not write every sentence passed down to us through history, even in those letters which we otherwise consider to be undisputedly written by Paul.

     I disagree that Paul wrote the misogynistic passages attributed to him. 

     Even those found in the undisputedly authentic letters of Paul.  

This may be where some cry “Foul!”  Am I not saying that I simply refuse to allow Paul to have said things with which I personally disagree?  Is this not simply, and only, a matter of personal opinion?  These are valid questions and concerns.  I am going to try to illustrate there is more to this assertion than personal opinion.  There is logical reasoning behind such a claim, and in this case, we can each read the text and see it for ourselves.

Such a strong degree of “obviousness” is not always the case.  Sometimes the reasons scholars cite for their positions requires that one is able to read the text in the original language.  The passage we are looking at is not one of these more complex cases.

While I will introduce a view which is based upon translation issues, that is not the argument I personally find to be the most important, nor most convincing.  However, for a number of reasons, I think understanding the logic behind the construction of the translation argument may be instructive;  not only as it pertains to getting at the “real” Paul, but as a broader example of the process of applying critical biblical analysis.

The critical verses we are examining are found within the longer passage of 1 Corinthians 14:26-40…

1 Corinthians 14:26-40 (NRSV)

Orderly Worship

26 What should be done then, my friends?  When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation.  Let all things be done for building up.
27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn; and let one interpret.
28 But if there is no one to interpret, let them be silent in church and speak to themselves and to God.
29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.
30 If a revelation is made to someone else sitting nearby, let the first person be silent.
31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged.
32 And the spirits of prophets are subject to the prophets,
33 for God is a God not of disorder but of peace.

   (As in all the churches of the saints, 34 women should be silent in the churches.  For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says.
   35 If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home.  For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church [some ancient authorities put verses 34–35 after verse 40].
   36 Or did the word of God originate with you?  Or are you the only ones it has reached?)

37 Anyone who claims to be a prophet, or to have spiritual powers, must acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord.
38 Anyone who does not recognize this is not to be recognized.
39 So, my friends, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues;
40 but all things should be done decently and in order.

A Different Author Inserted the Text into Paul’s Original Material

This is a well known conjecture.  Some study bibles note there is scholarly debate as to whether or not verses 33b-36 were written by Paul, or were later additions created by a redactor (editor) of the text;  the Harper-Collins Study Bible is one such example.

The primary argument seems obvious to my eye.  Simply read the above passage, but skip verses 33b-36 which appear as a parenthetical statement.  Is it not abundantly clear the flow of the writing is better without including verses 33b-36?

We may also ask ourselves if the key ideas expressed in verses 33b-36 follow the logic of the rest of the passage.  Where else does Paul say that women are to remain silent in church, and are to be subordinate to men (or in some manuscripts to their husbands)?

The answer is, Paul does not say women are to remain silent in church, nor does Paul say women are to be subordinate to men (husbands or otherwise).  The ideas about women remaining silent and obedient are *only* found in the text which I am arguing has been inserted at a later date.

Remaining silent is mentioned in the original text, but it is not associated with women remaining silent.  There are two reasons given to remain silent, regardless of one’s gender:  (1) there is to be no speaking in tongues unless an interpreter is present;  and (2) in order to control the number or persons responding to revelations that have been given.  Both are efforts to reduce chaos in worship, which is the primary message Paul is trying to convey in this passage.

As to women being subordinate to men, this idea appears no where else in this passage.  It is just thrown in, completely out of the blue.  We may also observe, it bears no relation to the orderly conduct of the worship.

Participation of All is Welcomed  

Read this passage again, skipping verses 33b-36, and note how many times Paul speaks to participation in worship by everyone present.  Compare this with the number of times Paul says women are forbidden participation.  The count is overwhelming, because Paul never says that women are forbidden participation in worship, yet he exhorts participation, without regard to gender, numerous times.

The strongest argument against such inclusive language turns on the word translated as “friends.”  The Greek word used here is adelphos which can simply mean brothers or men;  but it can also mean persons of the same nationality, or a fellow believer in Christ, as we can infer from the definition given below:

G#0080 ἀδελφός adelphos {ad-el-fos’} (http://lexiconcordance.com/greek/0080.html)

1) a brother, whether born of the same two parents or only of the
same father or mother
2) having the same national ancestor, belonging to the same
people, or countryman
3) any fellow or man
4) a fellow believer, united to another by the bond of affection
5) an associate in employment or office
6) brethren in Christ
6a) his brothers by blood
6b) all men
6c) apostles
6d) Christians, as those who are exalted to the same heavenly place

In the translation I quote, adelphos is rendered as “friends.”  I think this is reasonable.  But is “brothers” more accurate, and if so, would that imply Paul is not addressing women?  I find this a very weak argument.  As a modern example, consider the phrase used by Thomas Jefferson in the U.S. Declaration of Independence:  “All men are created equal.”  Does this include women?  If you agree it does -as do I- then you cannot argue friends (adelphos) does not.  In both cases the language is being used inclusive of gender.

What If the Offensive Verses are Just Out of Order?  

Some ancient manuscripts place verses 33b-36 at the end of this passage, following verse 40.  The disruption of the train of thought is less obvious in such cases.  But their content still bears no relation to the topics being addressed in the rest of the passage.

Furthermore, when we find various manuscripts locating a set of verses in different locations within the text, that itself is often taken as evidence those verses may not be original to the text.  One of the reasons for this is because margin notes were sometimes added to manuscripts.  (This is another way the offensive verses 33b-36 may have found their way into I Corinthians chapter 14.)

Later scribes are then left to interpret why the margin note was made.  Is it a clarifying remark?  Is it the addition of a similar thought existing in the oral tradition at the time the note was made?  Is the scribe simply expressing an opinion?  Is the earlier scribe adding words that he thought the original author ought to have written, but did not?  Is it a correction to the text?  If it is an attempted correction to the text, is the correction itself correct, or does it introduce an error?  All of these reasons are possible, and all are known to have taken place in surviving manuscripts.

How Has Ancient Scripture Reached Us?  

To put it crassly, when Jesus floated up into the sky at his ascension, the completed King James Version of the Holy Bible did not fall out of his back pocket!  No, these texts were written over a period of many hundreds of years (perhaps a little over 100 years for the New Testament books) and were then copied, the copies copied, and recopied many times, over many generations.  And none of the original texts survive;  nor do any of the earliest copies survive.

Additionally, there are issues of translation to be considered.  The vast majority of the original Hebrew bible was written in Hebrew.  Some 200 years before the time of Jesus the Hebrew bible was translated into Greek.  All of the original New Testament was written in Greek.  Centuries later, both the Hebrew bible and the New Testament were translated into Latin.  Many centuries later it was translated into European languages, including the King James Version in 1611.

Today we have many modern translations available from which to choose.  Generally speaking, most translations of the last 50 to 100 years are going to be pretty good.  These typically reflect modern scholarship, in footnotes if not in the body of the text itself.  But the early hand-written manuscripts are rife with errors and omissions;  most are easily detected;  some are still debated.

One of the more important points to take from this, is there is no single irrefutable, inerrant source for either the Hebrew bible or New Testament.  All that we have inherited has been culled first from oral traditions, then written down, copied, edited, recopied, reedited, and translated, many times over, in its transmission to us today.

Modern scholars have done a good job of getting us close to what is thought to be the original text;  but they cannot do so perfectly, nor with complete certainty.  A degree of interpretation is always required.  And we too, must read the bible with a degree of interpretation.  If we are to best understand what may have been the original intention and meaning of those who wrote these texts, we have to approach the text openly, mindfully, and critically.

Ron Miller’s Interpretation

In his book, “The Sacred Writings of Paul” on page 128, Ron Miller offers the following annotation to I Corinthians 14:34-35…

   “Here we have yet another interpolation, a passage that clearly interrupts the flow of the text.  Paul was certainly no feminist by today’s standards, nor did he demonstrate much insight into the complementary role of the sexes in marriage.  But in the context of his time, he clearly supported an active role for women in his communities.  In this same letter (16:19), he wrote: ‘…Aquila and Prisca, together with the community that meets in their house, greet you warmly in the Lord.’
   “In Acts 18:2, we read about Paul meeting this couple, and in Romans 16:3, they are discussed in the most laudatory terms.  When the community met in their house, are we to imagine that, even though Paul called both his coworkers, only the husband Aquila spoke while Prisca was silent?  This contradicts all the evidence for the house churches Paul established, assemblies where Jewish and Gentile Christians, male and female Christians, slave and free Christians, were all called to share their gifts in a spirit of fellowship and peace.”  

Cultural Nuances

The world of the 1st century was very different from our world of the 21st century.  Scholars of the ancient Greek, Roman, and Jewish cultures help us better understand the context in which biblical authors were writing.  In the 1st century women were typically not educated and many were kept isolated within their homes.  So while Paul was telling his communities to no longer see social and cultural divisions between persons, many such divisions did in fact exist in his world.

Another point to understand about Paul, is that while he was accepting of persons across social barriers -women, slaves, etc.- he expressed little desire to change social roles.  Compare the following:

Galatians 3

27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female;  for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

I Corinthians 7

8 To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am.
9 But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry.  For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.

I Corinthians 7

21 Were you a slave when called?  Do not be concerned about it.  Even if you can gain your freedom, make use of your present condition now more than ever.

25 Now concerning virgins, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy.
26 I think that, in view of the impending crisis, it is well for you to remain as you are.
27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife.

What is going on?  Taken out of the context of Paul’s broader understanding and teaching these can be confusing passages.  Are we all the same in Christ, or not?  Should a slave remain a slave, or not?  Should we marry, or not?

   Apocalypticism (Merriam-Webster):
         a doctrine concerning an imminent end of the world and an ensuing general resurrection and final judgement

One key to properly interpreting these kinds of passages in Paul is to remember he was part of the Jewish apocalyptic tradition, and carried these eschatological (ending of the world) views into his interpretation of what it meant to be a follower of Jesus.

Paul experienced Jesus as having been raised after his crucifixion.  Thus, Jesus was for Paul the “first fruits” of the general resurrection, which was to take place at the end of the world.  Paul speaks of this throughout the 15th chapter of 1st Corinthians.  And it is critical to understand that since Jesus was seen by Paul as the first fruits of the general resurrection, therefore, the end of the world and the general resurrection, were to happen very soon.  And by “very soon” I mean that Paul fully expected both to occur while he was alive.  Note the use of “we”:

   I Cor. 15:51, “Listen, I will tell you a mystery!  We will not all die, but we will all be changed…”  

This is why Paul is not concerned with the long-term social status of people.  In Paul’s view, there simply was not going to be a long-term existence with which to be concerned!  If the end of the world is coming any day, it doesn’t really matter if you remain a slave, or whether you get married, or whether you have children.

In light of his expectation of the impending end of the world, I find it very interesting that Paul does expand the roles of women in his communities.  This would seem to indicate that even in the face of the immanent end of the temporal world, elevating women to equal status with men was important to Paul.

It may simply be that because many of Paul’s communities began as house churches, and some women did have some authority within their own home, that women were important to the founding of Paul’s communities.  I am not certain we are able to read into Paul’s writings clearly enough to discover why women were considered so important to Paul;  but we are able to see that women are important to Paul, and to his ministry.

Translation Difficulties

I wish to close this essay by taking a brief look at some difficulties and challenges that face us when dealing with translated texts.  Paul, I would hope it is obvious, did not write in English.  Paul wrote in Greek.  And Greek can be a very subtle language, offering many shades of meaning.

In some cases, Greek is much more subtle and nuanced than is English.  For example, there are at least eight different words for “love” in Greek:

mania:  lustful, obsessive love
eros:  sexual, emotional passion
ludus:  playful love, affection
philia:  deep friendship, kinship for fellow humans, brothers-in-arms (combat)
philautia:  love of the self (both healthy and unhealthy varieties)
storgy:  family, motherly love
pragma:  longstanding love, as between aged spouses
agape:  unconditional, universal love

In his book “What Paul Really Said About Women” John Temple Bristow states there are 30 Greek words which may be translated as “say,” “speak,” or “teach.”  He addresses some of these in his discussion surrounding 1st Corinthians 15:34-35, on pages 60-64.

In approaching this passage, Bristow asks that we consider the context.  Paul is speaking to concerns regarding public worship;  specifically, how to conduct orderly public worship.  At this point, Bristow begins to discuss the specific Greek words from which our translations derive.

I Cor. 14:33a, “…for God is a God not of disorder but of peace.”  (NRSV)  

Akatastasia is the Greek word translated above as “disorder,” and it is sometimes translated as “confusion” in this passage.  Elsewhere, when Paul is being confronted by angry mobs, enduring beatings, and other hardships, the same Greek word is translated as “tumult.”

Thus, should you be unfortunate enough to find yourself faced by an “unruly mob,” you may describe the chaos much as did Paul, who “described their noisy confusion and disorder as akatastasia” (Bristow, page 61).  And we can well imagine this is decidedly *not* what one would wish to be taking place during worship!  Yet, this is the impression Paul offers us of the chaos that had befallen the Corinthians.

And this is the context in which Paul offers advice as to how their worship services ought to be managed.  In I Corinthians, chapter 14, we find:

Verses 27-28:  No more than three persons are to speak in tongues;  and only then if interpreters are present.

Verses 29-32:  No more than three persons may prophecy;  they must take turns and consider the message of those who have spoken before them.

Verse 34:  Women are to remain silent during the service.

Verse 34 creates a difficulty.  In chapter 11, Paul states that women are permitted to pray and prophecy during worship.  Now the same Paul says women must remain silent?

Somehow, one must reconcile these apparently opposing statements.  I have already indicated, I find the best answer is that Paul never said that women should remain silent.  And I do not find Bristow’s argument changes my opinion.  But it is instructive to follow his argument for at least two reasons:

First, for those who cannot accept that some of Paul’s letters were forgeries, this offers a means of mitigating the foulness of Paul’s speech, while retaining Paul as the sole author of all the letters written in his name.  For some, retaining Paul as sole author is vital, and Bristow’s approach at least allows one to soften the mistreatment of women.

I wish to be perfectly clear:  the proper course, is to eliminate the misunderstanding.  It is far better to see that Paul never said this of women, and that women are to be treated as wholly equal human beings, than to begin treating women with a lesser degree of hostility.

Second, Bristow’s analysis allows us to peer into the subtle nature of the Greek language.  This offers us insights which we may apply to a great many difficult passages in the bible.  It is important for us to remember we are reading a translation.  And there are occasions when words and meanings do not translate exactly from one language to another.  And those making the translation must choose between offering a literal translation of the words, or the best translation of the meaning expressed in the original text.  The two are not always the same.

With these cautions, I’ll offer a sample of what Bristow has to say about I Cor. 14:34-35.

Silence in the Greek (Bristow, pg. 62-63)

Phimoo means “‘tie shut'” or to “‘muzzle.'”  This is the word that might best be translated from our English phrase “shut up.”  “Phimoo means forcing someone to be silent.”

Hesuchia is used to denote “quietness and stillness.”  Bristow observes that this is the Greek word used in 1st Timothy, but in that context it was not discussing worship, but while one is studying.  And one could make the argument that hesuchia (quietness and stillness) is a very practical attitude for all of us to adopt when studying.

Sigao is a voluntary silence.”  And this is the Greek word Paul used when he (or the person writing in his name) wrote, “‘Let the women in the churches be silent.'”  Furthermore, sigao can also be a request that one remain silent.  And, “[s]igao is the kind of silence asked for in the midst of disorder and clamor.  And Paul asked women of the Church to keep that kind of silence.”

This is a very different shade of meaning than telling someone to sit down and shut up!  We may now appreciate that the English translation misses a lot of the subtlety in the original Greek.  Where it is rude and offensive to demand that someone sit down and shut up, it is perfectly understandable that one may request that persons engaging in a worship service conduct themselves orderly, and without creating chaos.

Bristow makes another interesting point with regard to words which may be translated as “say,” “speak,” or “teach.”  In this case the Greek word chosen by Paul is laleo which of all the 30 options in Greek, is the only one which may simply mean to “‘talk'” or engage in frivolous conversation.

To illustrate the importance Bristow reads into this use of laleo in the Greek, he offers a story related by Kari Torjesen Malcolm, in her 1982 book “Women at the Crossroads”:

    “‘My mother used to compare the situation in Corinth to the one she and my father faced in northern China.  Back in the 1920s when they were first to bring God’s message to that forgotten area, they found women with bound feet who seldom left their homes and who, unlike the men, had never in their whole lives attended a public meeting or a class.  They had never been told as little girls, ‘Now you must sit still and listen to the teacher.’  Their only concept of an assembly was a family feast where everyone talked at once.
    ‘When these women came to my parents’ church and gathered on the women’s side of the sanctuary, they thought this was a chance to catch up on the news with their neighbors and to ask questions about the story of Jesus they were hearing.  Needless to say, along with babies crying and toddlers running about, the women’s section got rather noisy!  Add to that the temptation for the women to shout questions to their husbands across the aisle, and you can imagine the chaos.  As my mother patiently tried to tell the women that they should listen first and chitchat or ask questions later, she would mutter under her breath, ‘Just like Corinth;  it just couldn’t be more like Corinth.'”

Please note, this is not to imply the above is characteristic behavior of all women.  It really has nothing to do with women at all, other than it was women who were deliberately kept isolated and uneducated.  I submit that anyone who was treated as were these women, would behave in much the same manner.  By extension, we may imagine that similar behavior may have been engaged in by the women in Corinth, some 2,000 years ago, and perhaps for very similar reasons, given there may have been similar cultural influence;  both were situated in male dominated cultures.

Thus, Paul was not telling women to sit down and shut up, and he was not saying that women were prohibited from taking an active role in worship.  He was saying that the worship ought to be conducted in an orderly manner.  And that is all he was trying to convey in I Cor. 14:34-35.

I Find This is a Very Clear Passage to Interpret  

First, verses 34-35 read as if they have been inserted into the original text by a later editor.

Second, elsewhere in authentic Paul material, we read where Paul supports women taking leading roles in the communities Paul has founded.  (Romans 16:1, serves as one example:  “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon [or minister] of the church at Cenchreae.”)

Third, for those of us who read the Pauline letters as having multiple authors, it is easy to see that those writing after Paul’s death (circa 67 ce) modified some of his views:  forcing male dominance over women;  harsh curtailing of women’s roles (1 Timothy 2:11-15, serves as an example).

Peeling Back the Layers of Paul

I hope this essay offers several insights into how we might read Paul, and better understand some of his more difficult -offensive!- passages.  Paul is an important figure in the history of the Christian church;  he wrote one third of the New Testament, and he wrote first;  his writing must have influenced many of the remaining authors of the New Testament.

Paul was well educated and wrote well in Greek.  We may assume he chose the specific words he did, with reason.  While I do not agree with a number of Bristow’s presuppositions, I very much enjoy his treatment of the Greek language, and do recommend his short book, “What Paul Really Said About Women.”

Ron Miller not only annotated his book, “The Sacred Writings of Paul” he also translated Paul’s writings from the original Greek.  The phrasing he chose in his translation is at times very interesting.  His annotations offer great insight to Paul’s writings, showing that Paul was a complex and multi-layered person, caught in a changing world.  I highly recommend reading Miller’s book.  He brings a great depth of understanding to Paul, as he does any subject he addressed.

I hope this brief examination of just one short passage, sheds a little light on how we might go about organizing our thoughts when getting ready to interpret scripture, and when trying to separate one layer of the text from another;  often, within the very same passage.

Erik+

Resources:

Bristow, John Temple:  “What Paul Really Said About Women:  An Apostle’s Liberating Views on Equality in Marriage, Leadership, and Love.”

Greece Index:  http://www.greeceindex.com/various/greek_love_words.html

Harper-Collins Study Bible

Krznaric, Roman:  Yes Magazine, “The Ancient Greeks’ 6 words for Love” http://www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/the-ancient-greeks-6-words-for-love-and-why-knowing-them-can-change-your-life

Legg, Chris:  “5 Greek Words for Love” http://chrismlegg.com/2009/10/01/5-greek-words-for-love-agape/

Lexicon-Concordance:  http://lexiconcordance.com/greek/0080.html

Miller, Ron:  “The Sacred Writings of Paul:  Selections Annotated & Explained.”

Should Women be Permitted to Serve as Bishops?

 

Should women be permitted to serve as bishops?  

Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, first female Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church

Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, first female Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church

In July of 2014 the General Synod of the Church of England meets to discuss and vote upon whether women will be permitted to be consecrated as bishops of the Church of England.  A similar vote failed by six votes in 2013.  This issue is discussed in an article published by the Religious News Service.  When reading this article, it was the final statement that really caught my eye:

  •      “Passage of legislation allowing women bishops will end a 20-year dispute.  Women were first allowed to be ordained as priests in 1994.”

How is it possible, I asked myself, that women were allowed entry into the priesthood, yet denied offering service as bishops?  I guess I am naive (I do have this tendency).  I would have expected any arguments against accepting women as priests, would simultaneously serve as arguments against accepting women serving as bishops.  And logically, once one accepts the service of women as priests, one simultaneously accepts their service as bishops.

 

I see only two ways of arguing this question:  

The first argument reaches back to Paul.  We have extremely clear evidence that Paul understood women as being able to serve at all levels of the early church.  Paul periodically speaks of this in his letters.  The strongest case is found in Romans 16:7 where Paul speaks of Junia as a woman who served the same role as himself:  that of an apostle.

  •      Sidebar:  Junia is a female name.  In some manuscripts this has been changed to Junias, which is a male name.  This point is debated by some, but most scholars agree this was originally a woman’s name (including the late Ron Miller).  So if your New Testament reads Junias, be aware this is a later revision of the original Greek text, as most scholars understand it.

Now, when I speak of Paul, I am speaking only of the authentic Paul.  I am not speaking of those authors who later forged their letters in his name, such as the letters supposedly written to Timothy and Titus, which contain the most misogynistic views within the entire New Testament.  Most scholars (but not all) are convinced these letters reflect a much later view than when Paul was alive.

In Paul’s day, an apostle was one who assumed the duty of spreading the gospel (good news) about Jesus.  I think we get a better feel for what their mission meant to them, if we use the late Ron Miller’s translation of “ambassador” in place of apostle.  To be recognized as an ambassador (apostle) was to be given a very high status in the early Christian community;  it is clearly a position of authority within the community.  But for me this is not the strongest argument in favor of allowing women to serve as deacons, priests and bishops.

To examine the strongest argument in favor of women serving as bishops, we need only ask…

Are we God?

If we answer in the negative, then the obvious conclusion is that being human is of a different nature than that of being God.  That the nature of any truly transcendent Supreme Being -or Ground of Being- must be categorically different than that of being human seems obvious to me.  (One may argue no such category of the transcendent exists;  but if we posit such categories of existence, then we must also accept the radical differences between the human and transcendent.)

Equally obvious is the corollary that there is no difference between being male or female, in terms of how this relates to the nature of the Supreme Being/Ground of Being.  Which is to say, neither men nor women are more like God than the other.  One’s sex and gender has nothing to do with such a question.  This is a question of one’s spirit, not one’s body.

  •      As one of my bishops is fond of observing, God does not have X or Y chromosomes.

Thus, I feel the only defense one may adopt in the attempt to restrict women from being ordained, and later consecrated as a bishop, is to admit one is sexist.  This is to admit one wishes to denigrate another based merely upon the disposition of their chromosomes.

This is an extremely weak defense, and one I would hope would be seen for what it is:  bigotry.

I certainly do hope the Church of England votes to join the rest of us, here in the 21st century!  May the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and all other churches, soon join those of us who accept all humans as equals in our humanity!

End of rant.

Erik+

References:

http://www.religionnews.com/2014/07/10/church-england-set-vote-women-bishops/

Q&A: (1) Discerning True Scripture, and (2) Evolution

A reader of my blog recently sent me an email asking me the following questions:

  •   [Q1]  Are you certain that all other scriptures are wrong and bible is the only true scripture?
  •   [Q2]  Do you believe in evolution?

The first question I find puzzling, as I do not believe I have expressed the point of view assumed in the framing of the question.  The second question, that of evolution, I am not certain I have previously addressed.

The first question, regarding the discernment of “truth” in sacred scripture, is a compound question.  I will address each part separately.  These are also very loaded questions which appear to have some built-in assumptions.  I must begin by directing some discussion to these background considerations, which shall in turn allow me to more clearly present my opinion.

  [Q1-A]  Are you certain that all other scriptures [other than the bible] are wrong?  

I do not believe I have ever said this.  My personal belief is quite the opposite.  Sacred texts and scriptures from any number of cultures, religious and spiritual traditions, may offer a great deal of value.  But exactly as found in the bible, some of these texts are of poor quality, and some are even damaging, attempting to provoke readers to violence and hatred of those different than themselves.

There are a number of things we must bear in mind when we read a text, regardless of its authorship.  We must begin not by reading the text, but rather by evaluating the source of the text and several contexts from which we may gain insight to the providence of the text.

We must remember all sacred texts are written by human beings.  And all human beings have their positive and negative attributes;  all of us have skills in which we excel and skills in which we perform poorly.  This is as true of the authors of ancient sacred texts as it is of people today.

This is why it is important we make an effort to understand the context in which a given text was written.  What were the historical-cultural influences?  Who was writing the text?  To whom was it intended?  Toward what goal?  These are all important pieces of information which help inform our understanding of a text.  The better we understand these concerns and how they interact with one another, the better chance we have of understanding the text.  These concerns boil down to questions of context, context, context, and context.

When evaluating a text, I also attempt to estimate the “stage of faith” the author appears to be representing.  There are a variety of models which one may use in making such estimations (see my past blogs of March, June and July of 2013 for more information).

The late Prof. Ron Miller offers a four-floor model in which the lowest level is populated by those “living in the basement.”  Such persons represent tribal thinking.  Their common attributes include preferring to solve problems through violence, and in having a tribal god that hates everyone they hate;  since they are their god’s chosen people, by extension, everyone else is *not* god’s chosen people.  This makes killing other people much easier, because they are not seen as fully human.

On the other extreme of Ron Miller’s four-floors of consciousness, is the rooftop garden.  This represents Unity Consciousness, and one of the attributes of those living here is they have no enemies, because they see everyone as connected -One- at a very radical level of being.

Another point to remember is that a given document is just a collection of words, and as strange as it sounds the first time one hears it, words do *not* carry inherent meaning;  *meaning* is given to a text by the person reading it.  While it is true that a good author will attempt to clearly convey their meaning in their writing, once completed, the future interpretation of their book or letter is entirely in the eyes of the beholder.

  [Q1-B]  Are you certain that the bible is the only true scripture?

I will make a number of points in response to this question.  First, is the assumption is that we are referring to the Christian Holy Bible.  However, this presents an immediate difficulty, because this question is phrased so as to represent the “bible” as a single text.  This is clearly not an accurate representation, for a variety of reasons, including:

  •   The Christian Holy Bible is an anthology of ancient books and letters.  It is therefore a collection of books, and *not* a single monolithic document.
  •   This collection of books is derived from two separate primary cultural sources:  One is the Jewish bible, and the second is the Christian New Testament.  The Jewish bible reaches far back in time; in fact, some of it may reach all the way back into pre-literate history.  Much of the Jewish bible is far older than the Christian scriptures collected in the New Testament.  The scriptures which form the Christian canon generally date from the 50’s to perhaps as late as 120-130 ce.  (Jesus was crucified in approximately 30 ce, so the New Testament was written roughly between 20 and 100 years after the execution of Jesus.)
  •   It is important to understand that in many important ways, the Jewish bible and the Christian bible are quite different anthologies.  Their differences should be respected.
  •   In my opinion, many Christians seem to have very little respect for the Jewish bible.  This begins by the renaming the Hebrew scriptures the “Old” Testament.  This belittles the Jewish bible, and by default places it on a secondary status as compared to the Christian New Testament.  And to my experience, very few Christians attempt to understand the Jewish bible from a Jewish perspective, and instead assume they can read it from a Christian perspective, as if it were a collection of Christian scriptures.  I believe this is a mistake.
  •   Furthermore, the books and letters of the Hebrew bible were primarily written in Hebrew.  The books and letters of the New Testament were primarily written in Greek.  Anyone who does not read ancient Hebrew and ancient Greek, is *not* reading the original scriptures;  and even those few who do read these ancient languages, are still *not* reading the *original* texts;  the original texts have long ago turned to dust.  All we have to study are copies, of copies, of copies of the original texts;  and some copies are better than others.
  •   Another concern I have in representing the “bible” as a single monolithic text, is this question ignores there are a variety of translations available of the original languages, and these translations do very from one another.  Do we wish to have as literal a translation as possible, retaining somewhat awkward phrasing as needed to be as literal as possible;  or do we instead translate with a preference to conveying the most accurate meaning of the original text in our modern language?
  •   Consideration of these points may well lead us to ask of the nature of Infallibility and Inerrancy.  These are words which are typically thrown around carelessly, and in my opinion with a great deal of imprecision (this is a topic I addressed in my blog during October 2013).  If the reader currently believes that scripture is either of these, they may wish to read my blog “Infallibility & Inerrancy.”

Most of the above points are typically overlooked, but I think they are very important for us to consider if we are going to discuss the meaning of ancient scripture.  And it is imperative we consider them if we are going to dare to ask if the bible we are holding in our hands is “true” or not!

Let us now briefly turn to the question of Truth, and to what degree we may or may not be able to discern it.  Because if Truth does not exist as an objective standard, there is no point in asking if the bible -or any other scripture- is “true.”  In my opinion “Truth” is very tricky to nail down in any specific, unchanging way.  Consider the many ways of expressing Truth:  there is the Truth of metaphor and analogy;  there is the Truth of poetry.  And neither of these should be mistaken for the Truth expressed in an engineering manual, or a monograph evaluating the astronomy of stars.  It is a gross mistake to assume these are all the same “kinds” of Truth.

The late Prof. Ron Miller offered what I find to be one of the best, witty means of describing the Truth as contained in the bible (both Hebrew and Christian):

  •   Everything in the bible is true;  and some of it actually happened.  

Miller may have been quoting someone else, but if so, I have forgotten whom.  But in any event, the “truth” of this observation is apparent.

I hope it is now obvious that, no, I do *not* believe the bible is the only true scripture;  and why the question itself carries a host of difficulties in even being able to approach the question meaningfully.

On the other hand, I do not wish to be mistaken, as to be saying the bible is free of Truth.  I *do* believe the bible (both Hebrew and Christian) offers a great deal of Truth;  as do a great many other sacred scriptures from other religious and spiritual traditions.

I however, do tend to restrict my commentary and observations to the Jewish bible and Christian New Testament.  But it is *not* because I believe these are the only paths to Truth or offer the only paths to God and/or spiritual enlightenment.  I speak predominately of the Hebrew and Christian bibles because these are the sacred texts with which I am most familiar, and which form the foundation of my Christian tradition.

To say something is a better fit for me personally, is not to say that something else is therefore objectively deficient.  It is only to say that which forms a best fit to me, forms a best fit for me.

  [Q2]  Do you believe in evolution?

Honestly, I don’t think about the theory of evolution a great deal, as I don’t see how it directly pertains to my spiritual concerns.  But if I were to give a simple answer, I suppose I would come down on the side of evolution.  It makes the most sense given our understanding of science.  And it also fits in well with my apprehension of our spiritual evolution, which I most certainly do believe is taking place.

But I certainly do *not* believe the world was created 6,000 years ago, that cave men were running around with dinosaurs, or that the earth was created in 6 solar days.  Never mind that Genesis describes two different creation stories, or that the sun itself was not the first thing created, so how do we measure “days” anyway?

Such questions mistake the point of our creation stories;  they are not meant to be understood literally.  But I do see the effort of trying to force ancient sacred scripture to fit modern scientific discovery as a practical concern, because this poor practice gets in the way of learning how to read the Hebrew and Christian bibles.

Our ancient sacred scriptures were written by people with a very different understanding of the universe:  it was a three-tier universe, composed of heaven above, and Sheol below (not really “hell” but a only vaguely understood underworld), and between these, the earth on which we reside.  In the ancient world, there *was* no universe as we now understand it!  To pretend otherwise and to then try to shovel our modern precepts into our ancient sacred texts is an error of great magnitude.

So do I believe the theory of physical evolution of species over millennia on planet earth?  Sure.  Why not?  At least until a better theory comes along.  This is one of the strengths of the scientific method, you develop a theory, and run with it until something better comes along.  Over time, we finesse our knowledge and technical skills.

But these are questions of Fact, and not of Truth.

And these ought not be confused, one for the other.  Unfortunately, this is a topic I never address to my own satisfaction.  Fortunately, the late Prof. Ron Miller does so much better than I could ever hope to!  I believe Miller addresses these concerns in his talk entitled, “The New Atheists” which is one of the eight brilliant presentations he gave to the Theosophical Society:

But the long and short of it from a biblical apologetics point of view, is this:  Employ empiric, scientific methods as a means of answering one set of answers, to which a factual answer is meaningful;  Employ theological methods as a means of answering another set of answers, which pertain to metaphysical and spiritual concerns.  And, importantly, do not confuse one for the other.

I hope this answers your questions.  If not, just email me you follow up questions.

With blessings,

Erik+