Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Spiritual Hiccups - Holy Conversations, continued

Today's readings from Matthew and Acts give me another jumping off point for talking about Scripture as conversation.  As Acts (written by the same person who pens Luke) opens, the disciples meet Jesus a number times over the 40 day period following Easter.  This all happens in Jerusalem, where the disciples have been since Jesus' arrest and where Jesus orders them to stay until the receive the Holy Spirit.  Today's Matthew reading tells of Jesus' death on the cross.  In Matthew, this will be the last time any of the 12 disciples will see Jesus in Jerusalem.  After his resurrection, Jesus appears to the women and has them direct the disciples to a mountain in Galilee where he appears to them.

There is simply no reconciling these different accounts if we are going to read the Bible as a history book.  (Matthew and Acts also offer wildly different accounts of Judas' death.  In Matthew a repentant Judas tries to return his betrayal payment and then hangs himself.  In Acts the wicked Judas buys property with his ill-gotten gain and promptly "burst open in the middle and his bowels gushed out.)  But if the Bible is not primarily a history book, what are we to do with it?

There are a number of options.  Some people look at the obvious historical contradictions and conclude that the Bible is simply unreliable.  And here is where literalists' insistence on the historical and scientific accuracy of Bible often undercuts sharing the faith.  Insisting that two radically different versions of an event are both historically true makes the faith unintelligible to many people.  And the mental calisthenics sometimes used to explain away historical contradictions only make the problem worse.

A far better option, to my mind, is to admit that the Bible is neither a history nor a science text.  Today's accounts in Matthew and Acts are rooted in historical events well known to the first readers of both.  The authors are not trying to tell those First Century readers what happened.  Rather they are trying to explain the significance of Jesus' resurrection.  Acts is tracing how the resurrection has launched a missionary movement centered in Jerusalem and spreading out to all the known world.  Matthew has a more Jewish perspective, and he launches this movement from a mountain in Galilee, mirroring how Israel is constituted at another mountain in the Sinai wilderness.  Both accounts offered rich possibilities for the first Christians to contemplate and understand what was taking place as a result of Jesus' resurrection.  And they still offer fertile opportunities for Christians to enter into conversation around what it means for Jesus to be the new Law-giver on the mountain, and for the Church to be a mission oriented body empowered and pushed ever outward by the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps that's enough for one day, but I think I'll continue this thread tomorrow.

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  1. Yes, please continue this. I've always been troubled by this kind of inconsistency. I'm looking forward to your next post!

  2. I really enjoyed reading the posts on your blog. I would like to invite you to come on over to my blog and check it out. God's blessings too you. Lloyd

  3. Thanks for the comments. And I think I will work with this one for a while yet.