Author Topic: The Gospels -- Jesus Remembered  (Read 25496 times)

Brian Stoffregen

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The Gospels -- Jesus Remembered
« on: July 23, 2007, 07:27:56 PM »
I've just finished reading Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary, by Marcus Borg. I want to present what he says about the emerging paradigm concerning the writing of the gospels. Quotes and pages numbers come from his book.

"The foundation is a way of seeing the gospels that has emerged since the Enlightenment. In a sentence, the gospels are products of early Christian communities in the last third of the first century. This short sentence carries a freight of meaning.

"First, it has a negative corollary: the gospels are not a direct divine product, as notions of biblical inerrancy suppose. Rather, as documents written within early Christian communities, they are human products. They tell us how our spiritual ancestors in these communities saw Jesus and his significance.

"Second, as documents written in the last third of the first century, they are the result of a developing tradition. During the decades between Jesus's historical life and the writing of the gospels, the traditions about Jesus developed. This is not a supposition, but demonstrated from the gospels themselves, as I soon illustrate. Thus the gospels are not simply historical accounts of Jesus's life. Rather, they tell us how Jesus's followers told and proclaimed his story several decades after his death.

"Third, calling them community products means that the gospels were written from within and for early Christian communities. Of course, they were written by individuals, but these individuals were not 'authors' in the modern sense of the term. Modern authors most commonly write for people they don't know, and they seek to be original and creative. But the individuals who wrote the gospels were crystallizing into writing their community's traditions about Jesus as they had developed in the decades since his death. They proclaimed the significance Jesus had come to have in these communities as the first century wound to its end." (pp. 28-29, italics in original)

To phrase these in different ways, as he does later in his book, although these words are mine.

(1a) The gospels are stories of Jesus remembered. They are not eye-witness accounts. No one had a notebook and wrote down what Jesus said and did as he spoke and acted. We do not have verbatims.  In fact, for the most part, we have Greek translations of Jesus' Aramaic words. Rather, for about 20 years, disciples remembered and told what Jesus said and did. It is possible that around 50 AD some of these rembrances about Jesus were written down in documents that became sources for the canonical gospels. It was another 15-20 years (some 35-40 years after Jesus' death and resurrection) that the remembrances of Jesus' words and actions became the first canonical gospel, known as Mark. Another 15-30 years passed before the remembrances were written as Luke, Matthew, and John.

(1b) The gospels are stories of Jesus remembered after Easter. When the believers remembered what Jesus had said and did, they were looking back through the lenses of his death and resurrection. (I'm not sure that I would make this as significant as Borg does, but I agree with him that it is significant.) The lenses of the death and resurrection colors the way the people remembered the pre-Easter Jesus.

2. What they remembered, told, and eventually wrote down was meant to be understood as more than just historical, literal, or factual. In a sense, all the words and events in the gospels need to be understood as "parables". Their importance is in their meaning(s), not whether or not the event actually happened. Going a step further, seeking to prove the historical facts of a story, may hinder the discovery of the "more-than-literal" and "more-than-factual" meaning that is intended by the rembrances. For example, if a guide points out the exact spot on the Jerusalem to Jericho road where the man was robbed, beat up and left for dead, where a Samaritan eventually attended to his needs, does that help us understand the meaning of the parable? Is such a historical detail even relevant to understanding the meaning of the story? I think not.

When Mark tells us the story of Jesus healing a blind man in Bethsaida (8:22-26) -- the only healing of Jesus that required two touches -- the meaning of that story for Mark, especially within the broader context of 8:22-10:52, which ends with Jesus healing another man of blindness -- is about the struggle all disciples have of seeing (and following) the way of Jesus. Peter struggled with it in this section. He, saw the way only partially. He confessed Jesus as the Messiah, yet rebuked him when he said his way would take him to death. It's in this section that the demon-possessed boy's father confesses, "I believe. Help my unbelief." He believes and he doesn't believe, just like that first blind man could see and yet couldn't see. I know that it is a parable of my life of faith. I have been touched by Jesus. I see and understand the way of Jesus; and yet, it is often unclear, fuzzy, so I continue to need subsequent touches by Jesus to be able to see more clearly so as to follow Jesus on the way to the cross.

Did Jesus heal blind people? Most probably. Does Mark remember these stories decades after they happened just to tell us that Jesus could heal a blind person? I think, as Borg does, that Mark intends meanings that go beyond the historical and literal events. As such, they are like parables. (Borg uses the term "metaphor" for understanding the stories as more-than-historical and more-than-literal.)
« Last Edit: July 23, 2007, 07:29:27 PM by Brian Stoffregen »
"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]

Gladfelteri

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Re: The Gospels -- Jesus Remembered
« Reply #1 on: July 23, 2007, 07:41:26 PM »
I've just finished reading Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary, by Marcus Borg. I want to present what he says about the emerging paradigm concerning the writing of the gospels. Quotes and pages numbers come from his book.

"The foundation is a way of seeing the gospels that has emerged since the Enlightenment. In a sentence, the gospels are products of early Christian communities in the last third of the first century. This short sentence carries a freight of meaning. . .
Marcus Borg is a member of the Jesus Seminar.  His analysis is what one would expect from that group.  Now, for the opposing side, check out the following recent book:  Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, by Dr. Richard Bauckham, published by Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI,  2006. 

Dr, Bauckman is  a Professor of New Testament studies and Bishop Wardlaw Professor at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, and a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.  In this book, Bauckham relies on internal literary evidence and recent developments in the understanding of oral traditions, the contemporary study of memory and cognitive psychology.  This book challenges its readers to end the classical division between "the historical Jesus" amd "the Christ of faith" and suggests they be replaced by "the Jesus of Testimony" as presented by the Gospels.  In this, his conclusions are similar to those of Pope Benedict XVI.

Brian Stoffregen

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Re: The Gospels -- Jesus Remembered
« Reply #2 on: July 23, 2007, 08:08:28 PM »
Dr, Bauckman is  a Professor of New Testament studies and Bishop Wardlaw Professor at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, and a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.  In this book, Bauckham relies on internal literary evidence and recent developments in the understanding of oral traditions, the contemporary study of memory and cognitive psychology.  This book challenges its readers to end the classical division between "the historical Jesus" amd "the Christ of faith" and suggests they be replaced by "the Jesus of Testimony" as presented by the Gospels.  In this, his conclusions are similar to those of Pope Benedict XVI.
From your short description, it isn't necessarily in conflict with Borg. They seem to support the idea that the gospels are "Jesus remembered" and that, as I've read from others, in oral cultures, they were able to remember more accurately than we do.

Borg, at least in the book I read, makes a different division: His is between the pre-Easter Jesus and the post-Easter Jesus. (Both could be seen as the historical Jesus.) He argues that the resurrection of Jesus resulted in beliefs about Jesus that weren't present prior to the resurrection. We do know from the Gospels and Acts, the Resurrection of Jesus caused a change in the behavior of the disciples. From cowards who ran away when he was arrested and hid behind locked doors, they became a force willing to face death to continue proclaiming Jesus to the world no matter what.

However, Borg starts his section on the post-Easter Jesus with the early hymn Paul quotes in Philippians 2:5-11, He argues from that statement that the confession "Jesus Christ is Lord" became a belief after the resurrection, and more than just being a statement about Jesus, it was also an anti-imperial statement. If Jesus is Lord, then Caesar is not, even though the Roman coins said that Caesar was God and Lord. Even though the Romans had the power to put Jesus to death, Jesus was vidicated by God through the resurrection. Did the disciples believe God was more powerful than the Roman emperors and government before the resurrection? The reports of the actions in the Garden of Gethsemane would suggest that they didn't believe that God was more powerful. How difficult and important was it for them to keep this belief throughout the Roman-Jewish wars, when the Jews lost; or during times of the persecution of Christians especially under Nero? I don't think that the pre-Easter Jesus had instilled that great of faith and commitment in his followers. There was something about the resurrection that made a difference in the disciples. They saw and believed in Jesus in a new way.
"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]

Gladfelteri

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Re: The Gospels -- Jesus Remembered
« Reply #3 on: July 23, 2007, 08:16:40 PM »
From your short description, it isn't necessarily in conflict with Borg. They seem to support the idea that the gospels are "Jesus remembered" and that, as I've read from others, in oral cultures, they were able to remember more accurately than we do.

Borg, at least in the book I read, makes a different division: His is between the pre-Easter Jesus and the post-Easter Jesus. (Both could be seen as the historical Jesus.) He argues that the resurrection of Jesus resulted in beliefs about Jesus that weren't present prior to the resurrection. We do know from the Gospels and Acts, the Resurrection of Jesus caused a change in the behavior of the disciples. From cowards who ran away when he was arrested and hid behind locked doors, they became a force willing to face death to continue proclaiming Jesus to the world no matter what.

However, Borg starts his section on the post-Easter Jesus with the early hymn Paul quotes in Philippians 2:5-11, He argues from that statement that the confession "Jesus Christ is Lord" became a belief after the resurrection, and more than just being a statement about Jesus, it was also an anti-imperial statement. If Jesus is Lord, then Caesar is not, even though the Roman coins said that Caesar was God and Lord. Even though the Romans had the power to put Jesus to death, Jesus was vidicated by God through the resurrection. Did the disciples believe God was more powerful than the Roman emperors and government before the resurrection? The reports of the actions in the Garden of Gethsemane would suggest that they didn't believe that God was more powerful. How difficult and important was it for them to keep this belief throughout the Roman-Jewish wars, when the Jews lost; or during times of the persecution of Christians especially under Nero? I don't think that the pre-Easter Jesus had instilled that great of faith and commitment in his followers. There was something about the resurrection that made a difference in the disciples. They saw and believed in Jesus in a new way.
Interesting.  But Bauckman disagrees with the difference between the eyewitness accounts of the pre and post-Easter Jesus.  He holds that the eyewitnesses reported what they saw rather than distant memories or memories interpreted.  He holds that the Jesus presented in the NT is true as reported because they are eyewitness reports of historical events (including the supernatural ones.)  You will need to read the book. 

Forensically - in court, dealing with eyewitnesss accounts is a matter of the jury weighing the credibility of the eyewitnesses and their accounts.  The Prosecutor (typically it is the Prosecutor) will be trying to get the eyewitness' accounts accepted; the Defense will be trying to impeach (discredit) the eyewitnesses.  That is where Dr. Bauckman leaves us with "the Jesus of the eyewitnesses."  We (the Jury) have to decide just how reliable the eyewitmesses are.
« Last Edit: July 24, 2007, 01:21:05 PM by Irl Gladfelter »

Brian Stoffregen

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Re: The Gospels -- Jesus Remembered
« Reply #4 on: July 23, 2007, 08:42:41 PM »
Interesting.  But Bauckman disagrees with the difference between the eyewitness accounts of the pre and post-Easter Jesus.  He holds that the eyewitnesses reported what they saw rather than distant memories or memories interpreted.  He holds that the Jesus presented in the NT is true as reported because they are eyewitness reports of historical events (including the supernatural ones.)  You will need to read the book. 
I plan to get the book. However, there are reports of events, like in Pilate's quarters, where there were no believers. Unless one of the guards wee converted, it's hard to know how the reports of those private events became public.

From Borg's position, and I would agree, he would state and he does in the book, "believe whatever you want about whether the story happened this way -- now let's talk about what the story means" (p. 280). If someone believes that we have a eyewitness account of Jesus and Peter walking on the water, fine. What does the story mean? Why did the eyewitnesses remember and retell this story? Why does Matthew include it in his story of Jesus? (Why is Peter's walking lacking in the other gospels?)

I chose this supernatural event because Borg uses it (Matthew 14:28-31) to contrast the two different approaches.

It is again illuminating to contrast a literal-factual reading with a metaphorical reading. The first emphasizes that this really happened. Jesus really walked on the sea, and so did Peter, until he became afraid, and then he sank. Read literally, what does this mean? Is it simply a report of a remarkable and unrepeatable incident? Or does it also mean that we can literally walk on water if only we're not afraid and have enough faith in Jesus? Is this the point of the story? That we can walk on water?

Reading it as a metaphorical narrative yields a different emphasis. It is a story about fear and faith. When Peter became afraid, he sank, and his fear is named as "little faith." So it is. With little faith, we sink. But with faith, we stay afloat even in the midst of darkness, storm, and peril. As the nineteenth-century Danish theologian and philosopher S¢ren Kierkegaard defined faith, faith is like floating in seventy thousand fathoms of water. If we are afraid and struggle, we become exhausted and drown. But faith gives us buoyancy....

Hearing the metaphorical meaning of these stories does not require that one deny their factuality. if somebody chooses to believe that Jesus really did change water into wine at Cana, that he really walked on the water, and that Peter also did, it is still important to ask, "What is their more-than-literal meaning?" For these stories were told for their more-than-literal meaning. And so I sometimes say, "Believe whatever you want about whether these stories happened this way -- now let's talk about what they mean." Their truth as metaphorical narratives does not depend on their factuality. That is not their purpose.


Long before I read this book, I had used the same approach with a woman who asked me about Jonah and the whale. I said. "The big fish occurs in only three verses of the four chapters. Can you tell me what the rest of the book is about?" She couldn't. She thought maybe she should read the whole book. I agreed. Then, I said, we can talk about the meaning of the whole story and how the account of the big fish fits that meaning. (She never got back to me about Jonah.)

I don't see how Borg's approach undermines a belief in eye-witness accounts, unless believing that they are eye-witness accounts is considered necessary to be Christian. Borg disagrees with requiring such a belief.
"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]

Dave_Poedel

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Re: The Gospels -- Jesus Remembered
« Reply #5 on: July 23, 2007, 08:55:05 PM »
Brian:

And the point of presenting a review of a revisionist author to a forum of mostly evangelical catholics is what?

BeornBjornson

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Re: The Gospels -- Jesus Remembered
« Reply #6 on: July 23, 2007, 09:01:08 PM »
Apparently we need revision.   :P
Ken Kimball

Gladfelteri

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Re: The Gospels -- Jesus Remembered
« Reply #7 on: July 23, 2007, 09:13:50 PM »
Its just good business to know what the competition is up to.  (I do plan on reading the Borg book.)
« Last Edit: July 24, 2007, 08:46:14 AM by Irl Gladfelter »

Dave_Poedel

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Re: The Gospels -- Jesus Remembered
« Reply #8 on: July 23, 2007, 09:25:25 PM »
(I do plan on reading the Borg book.)

I'll pass and work on a sermon... and read a good book that makes my proclamation more effective.

Brian Stoffregen

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Re: The Gospels -- Jesus Remembered
« Reply #9 on: July 23, 2007, 09:26:02 PM »
And the point of presenting a review of a revisionist author to a forum of mostly evangelical catholics is what?
To give you an opportunity to argue with it; or, you might find yourself agreeing with him -- or at least, agreeing with him more than you thought you would. That was my reaction to reading the book. I found myself agreeing with most (but not all) that he wrote. I found him presenting ways of understanding some biblical texts that were eye-opening. I can't recall that I had read anything from Borg before. I have read Crossan and found myself disagreeing with him much more than with Borg.

As an Episcopalian, I think Borg would consider himself pretty catholic, 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]

Brian Stoffregen

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Re: The Gospels -- Jesus Remembered
« Reply #10 on: July 23, 2007, 10:39:31 PM »
I'll pass and work on a sermon... and read a good book that makes my proclamation more effective.
Borg's book would do that. For one, he notes a distinction between believing in Jesus, that is, trusting him vs. believing that Jesus did certain things. It's one thing to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead. It's another to trust God to raise me from the dead and give me eternal life. I've read a book by a scholar who believes that Jesus was raised from the dead. He does not believe that the resurrection makes Jesus the Messiah. He is not a Christian. He does not trust Jesus for salvation.

Preaching Jesus is to be transformational, not a history lesson.
"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]

Gladfelteri

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Re: The Gospels -- Jesus Remembered
« Reply #11 on: July 24, 2007, 08:38:25 AM »
I'll pass and work on a sermon... and read a good book that makes my proclamation more effective.
Sometimes it is necessary to preach against  a theological movement or trend.  Its kinda hard to do that effectively relying on second hand material.  Better maybe to read the material first, then read evaluations pro and con. Then read books and journal articles that take opposing opinions (in this case Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.) And yes, even a conservative can learn something from Borg and Crossan every now and then.
« Last Edit: July 24, 2007, 01:19:54 PM by Irl Gladfelter »

Gladfelteri

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Re: The Gospels -- Jesus Remembered
« Reply #12 on: July 24, 2007, 08:51:57 AM »
Preaching Jesus is to be transformational, not a history lesson. 
  Of course.  But if we are talking about the events in the Gospels as actual historical events, reported first-hand by eyewitnesses - then preaching Jesus is both.

dfrazer

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Re: The Gospels -- Jesus Remembered
« Reply #13 on: July 24, 2007, 10:21:28 AM »
Brian:

And the point of presenting a review of a revisionist author to a forum of mostly evangelical catholics is what?

I am a layman. I read a variety of authors, but I have stopped reading Borg. He does not believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus (Crosson and Borg talk of some spiritual resurrection), and I think he disbelieves all other miracles, including the incarnation. So, I conclude that he is not worthy of the time it would take to read it, and he definitely is not worthy of the money that I would be transferring to his pocket by reading his book.

I will not take the time to defend my characterizations above. I would like the revisionists to find places where Borg and Crosson contradict what I have said. So, that is enough time spent on Borg, I return to lurking.


ptmccain

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Re: The Gospels -- Jesus Remembered
« Reply #14 on: July 24, 2007, 12:06:07 PM »
Preaching Jesus is to be transformational, not a history lesson.

There is nothing "transformational" about a Jesus who did not, bodily, truly and actually rise from the grave and whose death was not the death of the second person of the Most Holy Trinity.

Anyone who preaches and proclaims any other Jesus than this does not belong in any pulpit, at any time, in any place, for any reason, but deserves only the Apostolic anathema of Gal. 1:8.

And I rather doubt we should spend much time with a book by a man who denies the realities of the Christian faith like Borg does. One doesn't have to read these books to be aware of their general content. Book reviews and book notices will do.
« Last Edit: July 24, 2007, 12:10:50 PM by ptmccain »