Author Topic: Avoid Congenial Bible Interpretation?  (Read 1340 times)

Brian Stoffregen

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Avoid Congenial Bible Interpretation?
« on: October 02, 2020, 01:46:21 PM »
This subject comes from a statement in the Preface of the Jesus Seminar's The Five Gospels. After listing their "Seven Pillars of Scholarly Wisdom," they conclude with:


In addition, the final test is to ask whether the Jesus we have found is the Jesus we wanted to find. The last temptation is to create Jesus in our own image, to marshal the facts to support preconceived convictions. This fatal pitfall has prompted the Jesus Seminar to adopt as its final general rule of evidence: Beware of finding a Jesus entirely congenial to you. (p. 5, emphasis in original)


I would broaden the advice and also suggest: Beware of finding a theology entirely congenial to you. If we find every biblical passage to be Lutheran (or Pauline) in its theology, I suspect that we have found what we wanted to find. We created the interpretation in our own image; our own preconceived convictions.


For example, I don't think that Matthew has the same theology as Paul. Not once does Matthew talk about grace. Very seldom does he talk about "justification" - and he doesn't use the word in the same sense as Paul.


To state this premise in another way, we should expect God to surprise us or challenge us with something new in a good Bible study rather than just affirm what we already believe?
"The church had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]

Steven W Bohler

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Re: Avoid Congenial Bible Interpretation?
« Reply #1 on: October 02, 2020, 01:51:25 PM »
This subject comes from a statement in the Preface of the Jesus Seminar's The Five Gospels. After listing their "Seven Pillars of Scholarly Wisdom," they conclude with:


In addition, the final test is to ask whether the Jesus we have found is the Jesus we wanted to find. The last temptation is to create Jesus in our own image, to marshal the facts to support preconceived convictions. This fatal pitfall has prompted the Jesus Seminar to adopt as its final general rule of evidence: Beware of finding a Jesus entirely congenial to you. (p. 5, emphasis in original)


I would broaden the advice and also suggest: Beware of finding a theology entirely congenial to you. If we find every biblical passage to be Lutheran (or Pauline) in its theology, I suspect that we have found what we wanted to find. We created the interpretation in our own image; our own preconceived convictions.


For example, I don't think that Matthew has the same theology as Paul. Not once does Matthew talk about grace. Very seldom does he talk about "justification" - and he doesn't use the word in the same sense as Paul.


To state this premise in another way, we should expect God to surprise us or challenge us with something new in a good Bible study rather than just affirm what we already believe?

The Jesus Seminar?  The folks who voted on what THEY thought Jesus really said?  They are telling us to beware of making a Jesus of our own imagining?  Do you even get the humor in that, Rev. Stoffregen?

Weedon

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Re: Avoid Congenial Bible Interpretation?
« Reply #2 on: October 02, 2020, 01:52:35 PM »
Steve,

I sure did! :)
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Rev. Edward Engelbrecht

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Re: Avoid Congenial Bible Interpretation?
« Reply #3 on: October 02, 2020, 03:11:22 PM »
Perhaps a C. S. Lewis quote would help:

"Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion."
"Ooh" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion"...
"Safe?" said Mr Beaver ..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."

C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Chronicles of Narnia)

The King of kings can't be domesticated. His teachings defy systematics. A good example is the Sermon on the Mount, which frequently roars at consciences. Perhaps that is what the Jesus Seminar people had in mind.

Or, perhaps not.
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Dave Likeness

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Re: Avoid Congenial Bible Interpretation?
« Reply #4 on: October 02, 2020, 03:20:20 PM »
In 1993, the Jesus Seminar published the book "The Five Gospels"
They had voted on each verse in the 4 gospels of Matthew, Mark
Luke, and John and concluded that only 18% of the verses ascribed
to Jesus were actually spoken by Him.

These 75 liberal scholars made a mockery out of God's Word & were
contemptuous of the Christian faith.  Their academic charade has
been debunked as unrepresentative of New Testament scholarship
today.  Christians  believe that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth
and the Life and that His Word is trustworthy.

Dave Likeness

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Re: Avoid Congenial Bible Interpretation?
« Reply #5 on: October 02, 2020, 03:44:08 PM »
Here is the shocking conclusion of the Jesus Seminar:

The resurrection of Jesus Christ was not essential to
the Christian faith.  In fact, the Resurrection may not
have occurred at all.

This is the type of false teaching promoted by the
Jesus Seminar.  Do we really need their advice on
how to interpret Holy Scripture?

jebutler

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Re: Avoid Congenial Bible Interpretation?
« Reply #6 on: October 02, 2020, 03:47:56 PM »
This subject comes from a statement in the Preface of the Jesus Seminar's The Five Gospels. After listing their "Seven Pillars of Scholarly Wisdom," they conclude with:


In addition, the final test is to ask whether the Jesus we have found is the Jesus we wanted to find. The last temptation is to create Jesus in our own image, to marshal the facts to support preconceived convictions. This fatal pitfall has prompted the Jesus Seminar to adopt as its final general rule of evidence: Beware of finding a Jesus entirely congenial to you. (p. 5, emphasis in original)

I'm assuming the irony of that statement was lost on the people who wrote it.


For example, I don't think that Matthew has the same theology as Paul. Not once does Matthew talk about grace. Very seldom does he talk about "justification" - and he doesn't use the word in the same sense as Paul.

Matthew's Gospel may have a different emphasis, but it is not a different Gospel from Paul's. They preached the same Christ, they preached the same Gospel, but in different ways. Part of that may be the different audiences.

To state this premise in another way, we should expect God to surprise us or challenge us with something new in a good Bible study rather than just affirm what we already believe?

Of course. But I don't think you mean that statement the same way I would.
These are things that we can discuss among learned and reasonable people, or even among ourselves. (Luther, SA III, paraphrased).

Dan Fienen

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Re: Avoid Congenial Bible Interpretation?
« Reply #7 on: October 02, 2020, 03:50:25 PM »
Brian brings up a good point. People tend to find what they look for what they already expect and are less likely to find what they do not expect. This applies not only to theology and religion but to all areas of life. Right now it is especially obvious in politics. When we look at the candidates and the political parties, we are likely to find, and interpret what we find as supporting, things that support what we already think and believe. This is the basis for the much ballyhooed "Trump Derangement Syndrome" both in that those disposed to despise Trump will see anything in the news about Trump or what he does and says as evidence to support their anti Trump position, but also in those who generally support Trump diagnosing TDS in anyone who points out anything negative about Trump as being the result of TDS.


This is a good cautionary point to be aware of and careful about. But as an evaluative tool for judging interpretations it is far less useful. For those who are dismissive of traditional interpretations and orthodoxy it is a handy hammer to smash the interpretations of tradition and orthodoxy as simply finding what is comfortable and expected. But the very same thing can be said concerning the interpretations of those who are iconoclastic and avant-garde Groups like the Jesus Seminar are looking for interpretations that will contradict and dismiss the traditional and orthodox, and will portray Jesus as the kind of person that they think He must have been. So their conclusion end up being as expected of them as traditional portrayals of Jesus are expected by traditionalists.


So, as warning not to get too comfortable with our understandings of the Bible or Jesus, or politicians, this is good to keep in mind as we do theology. But as an argument that tradition or orthodoxy is always suspect and discounted, the same can be said for any intellectual pursuit where people hold and investigate ideas from any side of any fence.
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Dan Fienen

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Re: Avoid Congenial Bible Interpretation?
« Reply #8 on: October 02, 2020, 03:58:15 PM »
If we take the title of this thread at face value, does that mean that members of the Jesus Seminar should avoid those Bible interpretations that are congenial to them, like dismissing much of what is reported in the Gospels as coming from Jesus, or dismissing reports of Jesus' resurrection as fake news?
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readselerttoo

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Re: Avoid Congenial Bible Interpretation?
« Reply #9 on: October 02, 2020, 04:08:33 PM »
This subject comes from a statement in the Preface of the Jesus Seminar's The Five Gospels. After listing their "Seven Pillars of Scholarly Wisdom," they conclude with:


In addition, the final test is to ask whether the Jesus we have found is the Jesus we wanted to find. The last temptation is to create Jesus in our own image, to marshal the facts to support preconceived convictions. This fatal pitfall has prompted the Jesus Seminar to adopt as its final general rule of evidence: Beware of finding a Jesus entirely congenial to you. (p. 5, emphasis in original)


I would broaden the advice and also suggest: Beware of finding a theology entirely congenial to you. If we find every biblical passage to be Lutheran (or Pauline) in its theology, I suspect that we have found what we wanted to find. We created the interpretation in our own image; our own preconceived convictions.


For example, I don't think that Matthew has the same theology as Paul. Not once does Matthew talk about grace. Very seldom does he talk about "justification" - and he doesn't use the word in the same sense as Paul.


To state this premise in another way, we should expect God to surprise us or challenge us with something new in a good Bible study rather than just affirm what we already believe?

The Jesus Seminar?  The folks who voted on what THEY thought Jesus really said?  They are telling us to beware of making a Jesus of our own imagining?  Do you even get the humor in that, Rev. Stoffregen?

Yes. Truly ironic and laughable.  The Jesus Seminar bases its reason for being on a dead Christ confined to the past by which we try to discover like any archeologist would.  "...if only in this life we have hoped in Christ we are truly to be pitied.  But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead..."  This would indicate that Christ is not stuck in the historical past but is now present and accounted for by his own unique word of promise.  It is funny that the Jesus Seminar presupposes conditions which agree with Enlightenment ideas and disregard the New Testament testimony which has been around since apostolic days.

readselerttoo

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Re: Avoid Congenial Bible Interpretation?
« Reply #10 on: October 02, 2020, 04:17:18 PM »
What is just as laughable but also sad is that to accept presuppositions based on alien-to-scripture categories of method the Jesus Seminar chooses to use that as its third party lens rather than using the lens of scripture itself.  Scripture is just as much historical testimony as is the likes of archeological evidence.  It also presupposes that those who participate on the Jesus Seminar do not believe in trusting the historical data of eyewitness testimony in the New Testament.  Nor do these participants truly believe that Christ has been raised from the dead as witnessed in 1 Corinthians 15.
« Last Edit: October 02, 2020, 04:19:04 PM by readselerttoo »

Brian Stoffregen

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Re: Avoid Congenial Bible Interpretation?
« Reply #11 on: October 02, 2020, 04:37:33 PM »
In 1993, the Jesus Seminar published the book "The Five Gospels"
They had voted on each verse in the 4 gospels of Matthew, Mark
Luke, and John and concluded that only 18% of the verses ascribed
to Jesus were actually spoken by Him.

These 75 liberal scholars made a mockery out of God's Word & were
contemptuous of the Christian faith.  Their academic charade has
been debunked as unrepresentative of New Testament scholarship
today.  Christians  believe that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth
and the Life and that His Word is trustworthy.


You're not quite right. First of all, they did not vote on each verse of the Gospels. They voted on the sayings of Jesus. None of the narrative verses were voted on.


Secondly, they voted on what they believed was original from Jesus. For example, when Jesus quoted Old Testament materials; they would not have been considered an original saying from Jesus. For instance, we know that the great commandment did not originate from Jesus. Did Jesus say it? Maybe. We have have a record of Hillel giving a very similar answer to the same question.


Thirdly, the votes were not binary: not: Yes, Jesus said it or No, Jesus didn't say it. There were four possible votes. One member of the seminar described the four colors in this unofficial way:
red: That's Jesus!
pink: Sure sounds like Jesus.
gray: Well, maybe.
black: There's been some mistake.


Three of the four colors indicate that Jesus may have said the sayings.


To look at one example: The Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. They assume that Luke's shorter version is more original than Matthew's. A basic approach with variant readings is to consider a shorter reading more original than a longer reading. It's more likely that a copyist would add material than omit something. For instance, "in the heavens" is in Matthew, but not Luke. It is black. They decided that it was added to Jesus' words. The same is true for "enact your will on earth as you have in heaven" and "but rescue us from the evil one," since neither of these petitions are in Luke. The rest of the petitions were likely said by Jesus.


An assumption they make is that Jesus taught this prayer once to the disciples and it went through changes as it was passed on and then finally written down. Thus, they seek to discover which words are likely the original ones.


Another assumption is that Jesus taught the prayer more than once, in different settings, with the different language that we have in the two accounts. Thus, the differences are worth much study time.


I've noted elsewhere that "trespasses" is not a word that occurs in either biblical version of the Lord's Prayer (nor the version in the Didache). That is often a "surprise" when people study this in scriptures. It's something new and unexpected.
"The church had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]

Brian Stoffregen

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Re: Avoid Congenial Bible Interpretation?
« Reply #12 on: October 02, 2020, 04:46:54 PM »
Here is the shocking conclusion of the Jesus Seminar:

The resurrection of Jesus Christ was not essential to
the Christian faith.  In fact, the Resurrection may not
have occurred at all.

This is the type of false teaching promoted by the
Jesus Seminar.  Do we really need their advice on
how to interpret Holy Scripture?


I disagree with many of their conclusions I disagree with their conclusion about the resurrection of Jesus. This doesn't mean that everything they suggest is wrong.


To use another saying: "Don't confuse me with the Bible, my faith is made up." With an attitude like that, it's not likely that God could speak to that person through the words of Scriptures. "Hard hearts" was a criticism leveled against some in Scriptures. It is an unwillingness or inability to be changed; or even an unwillingness to listen and consider a different point of view.


(And, yes, members of the Jesus Seminar are likely to have "hard hearts," too.)
"The church had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]

Pr. Terry Culler

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Re: Avoid Congenial Bible Interpretation?
« Reply #13 on: October 02, 2020, 05:03:44 PM »
The good thing about the Jesus Seminar is that nobody but pagans actually thought it was anything but a farce.  I could pull any ten people out of my adult Bible class who have a better understanding of Jesus than these heretics do.  All heresies begin with truth and turn it into something it is not.  Why in the world are we even talking about these people?
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Dan Fienen

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Re: Avoid Congenial Bible Interpretation?
« Reply #14 on: October 02, 2020, 05:44:10 PM »
While I reject the vast majority of the conclusions reached by the Jesus' Seminar, this cautionary note is of value. Ironically it is a cautionary note that I greatly suspect that they have ignored concerning their own congenial Bible interpretations. Whatever they may have intended when making this cautionary point, it is true that people typically fall into the habit of taking texts and finding in them what fits whatever they already think.


In a Bible class, one of my members asserted concerning some passage, I forget now what we were studying, that God does not forgive murderers. That had always seemed obvious to him and had never interpreted any Bible passage he encountered as contradicting that maxim. He was quite shocked when I disabused him of that notion. Now he was willing to accept my authority as his pastor to correct his error. But that illustrates how we can allow tradition or customary ways of thinking to blind us to other interpretations or implications from the text.


This is also illustrated by the experience of Martin Luther who upon deeper examinations of the Biblical texts discovered that the theological systems of thought in which he had been raised had actually deviated from what the texts actually said, and what the older understandings of the texts had been.


Good for us to keep in mind, but should not be used as a blanket reason to distrust traditional interpretations.
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