Saturday, October 14, 2006

Metaphoric Gospel

From the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 8:

23 And when Jesus got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24A gale arose on the lake, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25And they went and woke him up, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We are perishing!’ 26And he said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, you of little faith?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. 27They were amazed, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?’

If we aren't to take the Bible literally, how then is the Bible still relevant to our lives?

An answer, from modern scholarship.

The early Church represented itself as an Ark [the photo above has some anti-Protestant elements which I'm not endorsing, just one I found]. The early Church, like Noah, is the boat that mystically carries us from the death of flooding to the new life of creation (baptismal imagery).

So in Matthew's Gospel, Jesus is alseep in the boat because the story is referencing the life of the Christian community after his death. The stormy gales are the persecutions of this community. Matthew's community was composed of a group of what we would know call Christians who were deeply inmeshed in Jewish contexts. These Jewish groups were not accepting Jesus as the Messiah. In certain circumstances, the debate was so fierce, violence seemed to have ensued.

When the apostles in the story yell to Christ, "Save us, we are perishing." Whatever may or may not have been the original saying/story which may or may not go back to some "historical" fact, "Matthew" has placed this cry on the lips of the apostles in the context of their own days (80-90 CE) pain.

The Christ who rebukes the winds is the post-Easter Christ. He is the Christ that Matthew's community experienced in prayer, in worship. This Christ is written back into the storyline of the earthly Jesus. Later readers, who miss the allusion, have useless arguments about whether Jesus could actually or not control winds.

Jesus words are the words to that community: Why are you afraid, you of little faith?" These words speak to followers of today, to all those under persecution, suffering of any kind. The teaching, the Good News is that suffering is not the final answer.

Scholarship can bring us back to what, as best as we can reconstruct, what these words meant/intended in their final form original context. Whether these faith statements are "true", whether they still apply to today, scholarship can not answer that.

That requires prayer and spiritual searching.


At 6:00 PM, Blogger Joe Perez said...

Just to be clear, and please forgive the Integral speak, you're saying that orange scholarship can analyze amber texts and thereby deliver the "final form of their original context," but CANNOT specify whether such forms are "true" or if should they be used today. Is that right? Just conclusions themselves, tentative as they are, beg at least a few more words on your own particular location in all this, for otherwise it sounds like you've adopted the mask of impartial observer (something I know not to be true because of other blogging you do).



At 9:01 AM, Blogger CJ Smith said...

Thanks for the query.

I was thinking of something like Bultmann and de-mythologization. Tillich said it should have been called "de-literalization."

These orange methods can reconstruct--as best as is possible--I think, some of the original contexts, original meanings/intentions and so forth.

Now of course those "original" meanings only arise in orange. Because they have been de-mythologized. And those methods, like the Historical Jesus Searches or Form Criticism, assumed they were getting back either to the earliest source/actual Jesus or earliest meaning/actual communiyt-church.

Which we know is absolutist. As if their interpretations didn't alter, mold, and shape the original meanings.

And yet on the other hand, we don't want to go overboard and say they are just reading into the texts whatever they want either.

But if you get to a reading that says something like: Matthew portrayed Jesus as the New Moses, the fulfillment of the law. That explains why Matthew's genealogy has Jesus going back to Abraham--whereas Luke's written for Gentiles has Jesus' lineage traced to Adam.

But that method can't tell you whether Jesus was "The New Moses", The Second Adam, the Messiah, whatever all those things could mean.

What I meant was that orange Biblical methods can not prove/disprove the faith. They can't prove/disprove that the early Christian community's belief in the Resurrection was "true" in some religious sense. It can certainly verify that they did believe in such an event. It can try to piece together what the community meant by the Event, but it can't define whether or not there was a Resurrection.

There are still "metaphysics" in a post-metaphysical construct, as Ken says. Revelation, faith, elements we simply can't account for and have to believe in. We want to keep them as few as possible and be as honest about the history behind them all and their ability to change meaning, but some part of this is always going to be Mystery.

I just think whatever we learn from orange studies, we have to find our own understandings of what that might mean in our lives. To me that means worship, prayer, reflection, and reading the Gospels with sympathy: reading them as if they were true and finding out for oneself.

But to me still there are different versions of truth here. People who find the text inspired, Jesus a holy man/prophet, but not become Christians.

When I'm referring to true in this context I mean something more like becoming an identified Christian who believes in the Resurrection faith. That historical-critical methods alone can not answer.

Would a person die for the form critical method? They might die for the meaning/truth revealed through form criticism of the NT, but it would seem to me they would already have some deep core belief that this method has deepened even further, awakened in them.


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