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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Jesus's Parables: Historically Accurate?!?!

There were two men who lived in the same city. One was a kind man, well liked by those who knew him. The other was a known criminal. Though they had never met and were not closely related, they did have the same name and the same surname. Books are likened unto this, as you should not presume upon one by its name.

Jesus spoke a lot in relation to what is recorded in the Gospels; (thankfully, for) everything He spoke was good. After a recent discussion with a friend, I have come to question: are the parables that Jesus spoke historically accurate? This may seem an unusual question for I have never heard anyone question their historical accuracy, for even among Biblical Creationists who view the Bible as accurate to a straight-forward reading (which insists that Jesus in fact did actually speak the words indicated) the stories Jesus spoke were possibly, though indeterminately, entirely fiction.

However, I maintain that there are parables that Jesus spoke are demonstratively historically accurate (presuming the Bible's accuracy itself). Now, I've gone through all the items listed here and have come up with three categories that describe the parables.

Firstly, situational directions which are in the format, "if you are in this situation, do this", e.g. The Guests (and it may be likened to the kingdom of Heaven, as well as useful in other Earthly situations).

Secondly, there are hypothetical situations, in the format of "if you are in this situation, wouldn't you do this?", e.g. Friend at Night (which also may be likened to the kingdom of Heaven, etc.).

And thirdly, full Earthly stories that with a spiritual meaning, in the format "there was a certain so and so who did such and such" or "the something is like a such and such that did something or the other", e.g. The Two Debtors, The Parable of The Ten Virgins. (This is the primary meaning of the word parable.)

Demonstratively accurate are the last of the examples, most easily: If the scriptures are accurate and Jesus is God, who is always truthful, then his statement that there was a certain person, must indicate that there truly was an actual historical person.

But, to cover all the examples, my primary thought is this: If Jesus is God and God is all knowing, why would he need to make up fictitious stories to prove His point? The world currently has billions of people, God can see and has seen all of these since the beginning of the world. More than likely is that these stories have occurred fully by their descriptions many many times. But frankly, Jesus could very well have seen each of these stories with His own Earthly eyes during His time here on earth in the 30 or so years before His ministry.

50 comments:

Mike L. said...

"This may seem an unusual question for I have never heard anyone question their historical accuracy"That is because, as far as I know, nobody prior to this post had ever tried to claim they are historical events. I think you may be the first. I have no idea why you are trying to make this move or what you'd hope to accomplish by suggesting it.

Wes Widner said...

"If Jesus is God and God is all knowing, why would he need to make up fictitious stories to prove His point?"

I would agree with Mike L., to answer your question above, however. It's the same principal speakers use today which is not to let your illustration overpower the point you are trying to drive home.

For a look at how God, through his prophets, used illustrations take a look at Jeremiah. Using your argument above you could ask "Why would an all powerful, holy, and all benevolent God require a man to put himself through this for this long?"

Ultimately the answer to both questions is, "Because He's God and he wanted to."

It may sound trite, but the emphasis is on what these stories teach, mean, or symbolize. In short, the story itself doesn't matter. The content does.

flobi said...

"Because He's God and he wanted to." is not a valid answer to "why would He need to..." What I'm saying is that there's no reason by the text to attribute a fictitious nature to them. But, your response does state a wonderful truth, God is all powerful and all He needs for anything to occur at all is that He will it. Every day I try to pray for His will do be done.

If Jesus said, "There was a certain man," He could be construed as a liar by some if there was not, in fact, such a certain man. So at minimum, at least for those, He did need to have a real account which He was referrencing. Being the God of infinite wisdom and truth, He would not have opened Himself to fall prey as such an easy target nor would he have chosen His words so carelessly. If God said, "There was a certain man," there certainly was that certain man and that man certainly did what God has said.

Truely, the emphesis is on the meaning. But that does not detract from the accuracy of my statements. The only thing I hope to accomplish by suggesting this is that glory be given to God as He is infinitely truthful and wise.

Wes Widner said...

For what it's worth, it is generally taken to be a literal account if there are names and specifics mentioned in the parables and merely an illustrative tale if it only contains generalities or "there was a man".

Whether there really was a man or not is still immaterial because the point of Scripture is to tell us about God (theology, specific revelation) so that whether Jesus drew upon a real event or not, the focus should be placed on what the parable illustrates.

BTW: Are there any specific parables you're wondering about or were you just thinking about them in general?

Mike L. said...

Wes,

I agree with your statement:

"It may sound trite, but the emphasis is on what these stories teach, mean, or symbolize."Josh,

For a parable, the point is always something beyond (behind, beneath, etc) the story, right?

This applies not only to the parables Jesus told, but also the parables his followers told about him after his death. For example, was Jesus "literally" a lamb? Did he literally have wool or was that a symbolic term used by the author to point the reader to a deeper meaning?

peace all

flobi said...

You guys perhaps misinterpret me. I do not think that the importance of the stories themselves lies in their historical accuracy. I am simply saying, that from what the Bible says of Jesus elsewhere, it is determinable that the stories were historically accurate.

Wes, I only examined the ones in the link at the top of the post.

Mike your example of Jesus being a Lamb is a metaphor, not a parable.

Mike L. said...

Yes, Josh, metaphor, alliteration, allegory, anthropomorphism are all literary devices found in the bible. This is clear evidence that the genre of these texts is not "historical". Readers in ancient times would have been just as capable as understanding these devices and making reasonable interpretations.

When you read Proverbs and find that wisdom is referenced in anthropomorphic language (the female persona sofia) do you assume that wisdom is literally a living breathing woman?

I don't agree with Wes' criteria that implies if a historical person of place is mentioned that the entire story therefore entirely historical (did you mean to imply that Wes?). This idea will not hold up if we look at a wide variety of literature through the ages. What we often find is something called "parabolic narrative".

Purely historical documents would not have robust character development, scene setup, dialog, allusions to other stories, foreshadowing, etc. All of these are literary signs that what we are reading is not purely historical, even if the story is based on historical people, places, and events.

It is unfortunate that you've chosen a strict "either/or" approach to this. By doing that, you've left out the "both/and" option. The bible is filled with symbolic language that does at times reference historical people and places.

Wes Widner said...

I wholly agree Mike, genre is wholly important when studying any text to get at it's authorial intent (assuming we don't subscribe to Derrida's deconstructionism) and the Bible is no different.

To assuage your fears Mike, I only mentioned the common rule of thumb when it comes to individual parable, not the entire work.

After all, a single work can switch genres as the speaker wishes, can't it? ;-)

flobi said...

"This is clear evidence that the genre of these texts is not 'historical'." Luke's gospel (heavily laden with Jesus's parables) clearly indicates that it is highly intended to be as historically accurate as possible (Luke 1:1-4). None of the rest give any indication to the contrary.

"Purely historical documents would not have robust character development, scene setup, dialog, allusions to other stories, foreshadowing, etc." This is simply false. Many don't, maybe most don't, but having them is not indicative of being not historical. Besides, the Bible is not a "purely" historical document. It quite vividly and clearly markedly has sections of poetry, prophesy and teachings. It is blindness that you inflict by insisting fiction on those that are properly history.

You come into my giving of glory to God and bring confusion by speaking half-truths, inserting non-Biblically based ideas and shifting the focus to irrelevant areas. Begone, Satan, and leave this man alone! Glory belongs to God. All glory is His and none is yours!

Wes Widner said...

Luke was being historically accurate when he reported what Jesus said.

However I don't think you have a strong case for any of the parables you cited being primarily historical as opposed to metaphorical.

BTW: For reference, here's a big list of parables, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_New_Testament_stories#Parables_told_by_Jesus

Mike L. said...

Wes,

Well, if a single work switched genres it would have serious problems. Don't you think? It wouldn't speak well of the author's communication skills. Maybe I don't understand what you are saying. Can you give me an example? What "single work" did you have in mind?

I'm also not sure what you meant about Derrida. I've enjoyed his work. Are you a fan also?

Josh,

I completely agree with this...

"the Bible is not a "purely" historical document. It quite vividly and clearly markedly has sections of poetry, prophesy and teachings"

That is all I've suggested. Does this mean we can agree that the bible contains non-historical elements, but we seem to disagree about which elements are which? Is that a safe assumption? Is that a fair foundation for us to build dialog on?

Did you really just do that? Really? Were you joking or did you just imply that I (and maybe Wes?) is......SATAN? Is that you or were just referencing the Church Lady?

I wonder if possibly you think that when I say the bible contains "non-historical" elements, you may somehow think I'm degrading it or speaking badly of it? I hope not, because that is not at ALL what I mean. The bible dominates my life. I'm consumed by the study of it. Remember, it is a library of texts in different genres and written by many different authors. Do you value history more than art? facts more than beauty? data more that songs? Are you trying to suggest that calling a story a poem or parable is a derogatory remark?

Each of the Gospels do so much more than simply "report history". They are highly symbolic narratives making very profound metaphorical statements (some more than others).

flobi said...

I have no case against someone who wants to believe the contrary. My entire argument is based on the character of Jesus. It wasn't even a case, per say, but a realization about which I was excited.

And something can be a metaphoric representation of something else without also existing in it's actual state.

flobi said...

Actually, Mike, I wasn't talking to you. I don't know if you're aware of Satan's existence, I hope he hasn't blinded you of it, but I fear that he has.

You focus so much on the symbolic, underlying and contrived meaning of the scriptures that their plain meaning evades you or you ignore it, and it is for all usefulness impossible to converse with you about it.

Mike L. said...

Josh,

Can you phrase that last comment again? Maybe I'm just dense or not as gifted with language as you are, but you completely lost me.

flobi said...

I fear that you don't realize that Satan exists; he often convinces people of that. It is he who I was talking in the comment addressed to him.

You have a problem in that you cannot understand the plain meaning of scriptures or won't acknowledge it possibly because of a search for hidden meanings. It makes it impossible to discuss the plain meaning of scripture with you.

Mike L. said...

I'm interested why you associate a symbolic meaning with the term "contrived meaning". That could be revealing and could show why we are having problems communicating.

I've asked this before, but do you somehow think that by saying certain things are symbolic, that I mean to suggest they are contrived, in error, or in any way less valuable?

My guess is that you do (tell me if I'm wrong). That may be why you react as you have. It would help us converse in the future if we could discuss that point.

By using that "mini-exorcism" type of prayer/comment, do you mean a kind of back handed insult about me as if I'm possessed or channeling a ghost?

Wes Widner said...

The intent of the gospel writers (as attested to by themselves as well as the early church fathers) was to record the historical events (including sayings and actions) of Jesus whom they claimed was the promised Messiah who was prophesied in the OT.

In that respect the Gospels, along with the epistles following, are all intended to record historical events which happen to contain material from a number of genres (including symbolic, have you read the Penatuch?)

Mike, a good example of a literary work that switches genres is Homer's Illiad and Oddesy. It's the closest text we have to the Bible (which says a lot about the diligence given to copying the Scriptures) and it switches between mythical, historical, and allegorical genres throughout.

No, I don't like or agree with Derrida's deconstructionism. You don't either because you obviously intent for your text to convey meaning and you expect to find objective meaning in texts written by others. Your being upset at Josh is evident of the fact that you don't read your own meaning into his texts and feel satisfied with your interpretation or hermeneutical endeavors.

The Bible isn't any different when it comes to our understanding the meaning of the texts it contains.

BTW: Josh, while Satan and demons are a spiritual reality, bringing them up in a discussion on authorial intent isn't helpful and will only serve to distract us.

Mike L. said...

Wes,

I'm not sure how you could say the Iliad and the Odyssey changes genre. They do reference literal geographical places occasionally but so does Star Trek (I just saw the new movie). It clearly references the planet earth and references real historic dates. It even had a scene with the golden gate bridge in San Francisco. That doesn't mean it switched to being a historical document, then switched back to sci-fi. So it doesn't switch. However it does tell history through the method of myth. It's legendary history.

What we have in biblical texts (like the gospels), seem to be parabolic narratives that reference history, but are not meaning to be reporting history in the same way that a modern history book would. They are not a dry list of facts, dates, and events. Instead, they are parabolic narratives that point to deeper meanings while drawing from historical people and places. That does NOT make these books a lie or a contrived story. I think that Josh assumes this would mean they are "less valuable". I don't. I think it makes them more than factual. For me, a myth is a BIGGER more valuable story. History is true once, but myth is true over and over and over. The bible is a living document with stories that continue to speak truth every day.

You mentioned the epistles, which are yet again, another genre and need another context (for another conversation?).

Wes, what have you read from Derrida? What you wrote would seem to be a misrepresentation of his intention. Maybe we can get together and talk about that in person sometime?

flobi said...

Wes, I apologize if I confused you; I was following example and directions. I appreciate your clarity.

Mike, I mean contrived, "obviously planned or forced; artificial; strained." I am in favor of symbolic meanings, but ignoring the plain meaning (which is very powerful) in the search for it is destructive.

I apologize for confusing you by speaking directly to Satan. But you're obviously ensnared. You can't even say what you mean. "The Bible is fiction." Maybe historical fiction. "More than factual." "Parabolic narrative." You group things when it suits your statements, picking on the poetry when historical accuracy is questioned. You have your point and you're willing to destroy any faith that disagrees.

Are you willing to be responsible for sending me back to the hell hole of not knowing God by convincing me that the Bible is not true to a straight-forward reading? How many people would you steal from God?

Your focus on the contrived symbolism is so deep that it obscures the plain message, that Jesus Christ was God, He died, was buried and raised from the dead to save us from being physically dead because physical deadness is the consequence of our sin and He is the only sacrifice that could cleanse us satisfactorily to an infinitely good God.

Wes Widner said...

Mike, I think this will help explain our conundrum when it comes to texts and their meaning.

Myth is not more powerful than historical fact for, if Jesus did not die and physically rise from the grave then, as Paul so eloquently puts it in 1 Cor 15 (one of the earliest Church creeds) we are the most to be pitied since our faith is of no avail.

I'm not sure what the difference between switching between genres and containing multiple genres is, and I don't think we have a good reason to think that an author (especially one who is recording the historical sayings) can switch between them in the course of one text designed to give us an accurate portrayal (in part) of historical events.

Josh, I'm not sure what you mean in your last post. Are you saying that I'm blinded?

Wes Widner said...

Just to clarify(if I can):

I'm not arguing that the entire Bible is allegorical, or non-historical. I would absolutely advocate the in errancy and historicity of the Bible along with other wonderful stalwarts of the faith like Gresham J. Machen and B. B. Warfield.

That Jesus spoke the parables attributed to him in the gospels is a matter of historical fact. What is not, however, or moreover what we have not conclusively shown is how the parables he spoke are or are not based on historical events.

If this conjecture is enough to shipwreck your faith then I'm afraid you've misplaced your faith and are displaying the same misguided zeal apart from knowledge that the Jews were in Romans 10.

Methinks this thread has boiled over and is past (or at the very least dangerously close to) the point of being profitable to anyone so on that note I'll take my leave.

Good night gentlemen.

Mike L. said...

Josh,

I tend to agree with Wes on the nature of this thread.

If you want me to continue in dialog, please do me a favor. Pick one of those parables and give me the "plain meaning".

I think everyone would agree the "plain meaning" of a parable is actually the symbolic (contrived? to repeat your word) meaning, and finding that meaning means undertaking a bit of exegesis to properly set the parable in context.

Wes,

I think that link you added is a bit of an over simplification of deconstruction. I have a rule of thumb about understanding people. Don't ask an outsider or opponent to define a person or a concept. They usually get it wrong. For example, if you ask a Hindu to explain Christianity, do you think they will even get the definition right? Of course not! If you want to critique Derrida, then read Derrida (or at least someone who appreciates him). You don't have to agree (I don't always like him), but I think I owe every person the right to present their own opinion. I want to be sure that if I disagree, I'm actually disagreeing with the right thing. I don't think that what you suggested is exactly what Derrida intends. Keep in mind that Derrida and the deconstruction movement has been known for deconstructing modern secularism's claim to certainty and has provided a path back into Christianity for a large number of people. Of course, I could be wrong. That's why I keep asking questions and talking to a wide range of people.

peace

flobi said...

Wes, "Josh, I'm not sure what you mean in your last post. Are you saying that I'm blinded?" I think you missed the word "Mike" at the beginning of the second paragraph. From there on was not to you.

Mike, you want the straight-forward meaning of a scripture (I tried to do that with a scripture, but it ended up practically copying/pasting it), try imagining I wrote it. Imagine it was written to be understood by people without exegesis or years and years of study and learning. Imagine that it was written to be understood by people of all languages and cultures with only itself (in an honest translation) as reference. Perhaps imagine yourself as a hillbilly redneck who can barely read and spent most of his life fishing.

Wes Widner said...

"Imagine it was written to be understood by people without exegesis or years and years of study and learning."

I'll agree with the notion of "plain text meaning" but I will also caution you that the proper way to get to the meaning of any text is to pay attention to the context (including time in history, audience, author, culture, etc.) surrounding it.

We cannot pretend to come to the text without any prior knowledge or history of traditional exegesis (i.e. how those before us have historically understood these texts) for if we do, we are merely practicing chronological snobbery.

The meaning of the Bible is often plain even to us in the 21st century. But we must never forget that the authors and culture the Bible was written in and to is predominantly Jewish and since the NT quotes the OT extensively, we should prefer to read the Bible as a Jew as opposed to a "hillbilly redneck who can barely read".

Mike L. said...

Josh,

"Imagine it was written to be understood by people without exegesis or years and years of study and learning"How would I know what a Samaritan is? Wouldn't I miss the intended political meanings about the relationships between Judea and Samaria? What's chaff and why is it separated from the wheat? Don't I need to know these contextual items before the parable makes sense?

Here's the problem with your method. When we skip the important step of placing stories in context of time, place, political climate, and if we misunderstand the genre of texts, we likely miss the meaning intended by the authors. What we'd end up with is our own meaning. Is that what you want, our own meaning instead of the author's?

Wes Widner said...

Yes, then we would be like Derrida who wrote:

Writing thus enlarged and radicalized, no longer issues from a logos. Further, it inaugurates the destruction, not the demolition but the de-sedimentation, the de-construction, of all the significations that have their source in that of the logos.I don't think Derrida is using logos here the same way that John does in John 1:1.

Derrida here, as well as elsewhere in his writings on deconstructionism argues for a literary theory that is wholly opposed to what Josh and I are talking about when it comes to understanding Scripture (or any other text for that matter).

Far from "freeing" the text, or "provided a path back into Christianity for a large number of people", Derrida's literary theory merely gives aid to a liberal view of scripture which allows us to pick and choose parts we like while reinterpreting other parts to posses a meaning more desirable to us which is foreign to any historical understanding of Scripture except for the heretical Gnostics and their kin.

Texts have meaning, that meaning (singular and objective) is attainable, even if it does require years of study and discipline.

flobi said...

Certainly, these things should not be ignored. However, reading the Bible as the Jewish traditions teach clearly ignores the New Testament where it is told that God has abandoned the Jewish people as His chosen people because they have abandoned Him; even the Pharisees understood that parable (and wanted to arrest Him for it). As such, their interpretation of His Word is little if any more valuable than any other interpretation, especially as it has been marred by 2 millennia of the teachings and traditions of the Pharisees, who are outright condemned by Jesus for their teachings and traditions and rightly called a brood of Vipers by the John the Baptist.

Ignoring the fact that Jesus Himself condemned these self same teachings and traditions would be detrimental to understanding His Word. He has said, "I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." Where does one gain knowledge of the kingdom of God? Primarily, it should be God's Word. Which is why I say, read the Bible as a little child. When a child reads, they do not dig incessantly for symbolism, but do understand clear metaphors, similes and figurative speech. Do not let the words of the Jewish teachers and traditions corrupt your mind.

Do the people at the treasury study forgeries when learning what real money is? No. They study what is real so that when they see what is false, they will easily recognize it. Basing an understanding of the Bible on the teachings and traditions of the Jewish people today would be like studying forgeries to find out what real money is.

Wes Widner said...

Receiving Jesus as a little child does not necessitate that we think as little children (1 Corinthians 13:11) and forgo begin as wise as serpents (Mat 10:16). Rather, it is a call to accept what we've been shown plainly and completely, allowing it to permeate our lives.

Are you seriously argueing that God has abandoned those to whom he made a covenant with in the OT? If so, how much hope does that provide we who are just as rebellious and disobedient as they? What would it say of a God who changes his mind (and laws, and covenants) in Jesus?

This is a dangerous path my friend, and I would caution you not to throw out the baby with the bath water here when it comes to tradition and history.

No, they don't trump the text, and Jesus called them on their misapplication and misinterpertation (because they wanted to justify their actions no less), but he never said their teachers were to be disregarded altogether. In fact he said in Mat 23:1-3 to obey their teachings before he goes on to condemn them for usurping and perverting their office of "sitting in the seat of Moses" which is a reference to their ability and duty to teach the Law.

flobi said...

"For Jews do not associate with Samaritans." "You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews." I think the Bible gives enough info about the Samaritans to understand the meanings when they are referenced.

As far as not knowing what a word means, like chaff or winnowing, ignorance of the meaning of a word is no excuse for even a child can say, "What does this word mean?" A dictionary is a wonderful tool which can answer these questions without generally placing too much bias.

flobi said...

Actually, it does not say to obey their teachings, it says to obey them. "If so, how much hope does that provide we who are just as rebellious and disobedient as they?" "For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven." Though you are right, God has not abandoned them, it is they that have abandoned Him. Every mention of the teachings and traditions of the teachers of the law, the Pharisees (as a group) and the Sadducees in the New Testament views them negatively. Even when Paul states that he is a Pharisee, son of a Pharisee, he does it because he knew it would cause a disturbance.

Mike L. said...

Wes,

"Derrida's literary theory merely gives aid to a liberal view of scripture which allows us to pick and choose parts we like while reinterpreting other parts to posses a meaning more desirable to us..."I think you may be combining several different terms into one generic term, "liberal view". The historical critical (often called "liberal") view of modern scholarship never seeks to "pick and choose" based on finding some more "desirable" interpretation. Sometimes when people say "liberal view of scripture", they mean a type of "anything goes" or haphazard treatment. If that is what you mean, then count me out of it. I'll join in you standing against that crap. However, if you mean the modern literary techniques taught in seminaries for the last couple of centuries, then count me in. That is what I mean when I say "liberal". It is a high regard for learning and a use of historical and critical study.

The goal of modern historical critical scholarship (modern liberalism if you prefer) is to avoid the very thing of which you are accusing it. The goal has been to exegete the original meaning of the original authors. That is something you and I both seem to agree is important.

Josh seems to be presenting a view that circumvents any attempts to understand the author's intentions and, instead, implies a modern day imposed meaning (to borrow his crud example - the meaning a hillbilly might impose on the text without understanding the historical geopolitical context). "Liberal" scholarship is precisely aimed at avoiding these "imposed" meanings and going at the original meanings.

Derrida (who is NOT a modern liberal scholar) is talking in much more abstract terms about the nature of human language. Derrida tends to deconstruct "liberal" scholarship as much as conservative scholarship by suggesting the historical critical (liberal) methods used since the enlightenment are inevitably doomed to the pitfalls of modernity, just as much as modern fundamentalism.

For many of those reasons, postmodern discussions have been appealing to those seeking to move past the tiresome modern battles between liberals and conservatives, Catholics and protestants, and many denominational infighting. Derrida's rather abstract work on language has helped many to see the futility of these fights that often end in war and oppression rather than unity in the body of Christ. His work has certainly been a path back to the historic faith of Christianity for many people.

The Derrida references are pretty far off the thread topic. I'd hate for us to commander Josh's blog for a side discussion. Maybe we could have that conversation elsewhere?

Josh, I'd still love to hear a specific "plain meaning" of a parable.

I'm not sure I can follow you down the path that sounds on the surface like anti-semitic rhetoric. If I didn't know you personally, I might fear that's where you were heading. That line of logic has been used by some very dangerous people in the past. I know that can't be a representation of your true heart, so just be aware of how that might sound to someone who doesn't know you.

Peace to you both and thanks for the conversation.

Wes Widner said...

The close alliance with post modernism and it's view of truth is the reason deconstructionalism is an inappropriate method to use when trying to ascertain the meaning of a text (any, including the Bible) since it presupposes an absence of (or at least an inability to understand) an objective truth that transcends time, space, and persons.

True, these methods may quell dissensions, but not because they solve anything. Rather, they simply muddy the waters until no fruitful discussion is possible which is probably a major source of frustration for our friend Josh since, as a Christian, we hold to a fundamentally different (and opposing) epistemology than you (if you are an adherent of post modernity).

The reason Derrida ends up critiquing everything (curiously except his own writings) is that such a radical expression of doubt or criticism is untenable and ends up defeating itself when put into practice.

Mike L. said...

Wes,

I agree with a great deal of what your saying. I'm not suggesting that I have an alliance with Derrida. Bringing Derrida into this discussion certainly muddies the water. I think it takes us off track. I have not heard anyone here reference a "postmodern" view of truth or use Derrida or deconstruction as an answer for interpreting parables. I'm not really sure why you even brought that up. If Derrida meant what you suggested, then I'd disagree. We can agree on that! However, I don't think you've represented his work well.

My only concern in your last comment is that I'd like to clear up when you said:

"Rather, they simply muddy the waters until no fruitful discussion is possible which is probably a major source of frustration for our friend Josh since, as a Christian, we hold to a fundamentally different (and opposing) epistemology than you (if you are an adherent of post modernity)."Have you been under the assumption all along that I'm not a Christian? I might be reading that incorrectly but it sounds like it. I hope you know that I am, in fact, a dedicated follower of Jesus. Do you really see me as "opposition"?

Wes Widner said...

My apologies if I've formed an incorrect assumption of your position but from reading your comments here as well as your blog make me wonder how you can claim to be a Christian (follower of God's Messiah or Christos as the title is known in Greek who the Bible asserts to be Jesus) and yet not believe or hold to the OT prophecies or paradigms such as the animals sacrificed in atonement for sins.

How can you follow the same Jesus Paul describes in arguably the earliest Christian creed found in 1 Cor 15 when you don't agree with the historical and Biblical faith which rests wholly upon these principles you seem to reject.

What use is your belief if it is in an object of your own creation rather than the historical Jesus?

The reason I brought Derrida into this conversation is to point out the corrosive and muddying aspects a post modern epistemology has, especially when one party holds to an objective truth and one apparently does not.

No one has referenced post modernity per se in this thread, but the ideas you've expressed certainly smack of them. But that should be no surprise, considering the sources you seem to cite and stand in favor of (specifically I'm thinking of Bart Ehrman here whose literary critique you seem to follow).

So no, I don't think you are a Christian and the onus would fall in your court to demonstrate how your beliefs align with the Bible and the beliefs of early Christians on to today.

flobi said...

I am not discriminate against or hostile to Jews. In fact, one of my good friends is Jewish (though Messianic Jewish). I discriminate against the Jewish teachings and traditions especially those which are based on the old Pharisee ones (like Midrash), because Jesus did and said to do so. For the people themselves, God loves all people and I am called to do the same.

"...to demonstrate how your beliefs align with the Bible and the beliefs of early Christians on to today" Oh, I'd like to see how that one turns out.

flobi said...

Perhaps I should have said instead of "especially those which are based on the old Pharisee ones", "specifically those which are based on the old Pharisee ones." Anyways.

Because of your persistence, Mike, I will try to convey to you what occured in Luke 14:7-15 (The Guests as listed on the parable list in the article). This is the information I gleam from a straight-forward reading of the text:

(This occured while Jesus was attending a Sabbath feast at the house of a prominent Pharisee, Luke 14:1.) When Jesus noticed guests picking the best seats in the house, he instructed them in their behavior. He told them not to pick the best seats when they were invited to a feast, because they would be humiliated if they were asked to move and then they would have to take the least honorable position at the table. But if they pick a seat that is not in a honored location, they may be honored by the host by being moved up to an honored location. Then, he explained that this principle is applicable generally in any method of self exaltation, thus that anyone who tries to promote, honor or otherwise raise his own status will have it instead lowered, but someone who voluntarily takes a lower status will have his status increased.

Then, Jesus told the host that when he has a feast, he should not invite his friends, nor his relatives, nor the wealthy because they may invite him to their feast and he would be repaid for his generousity. Instead, the man should invite people who can not repay him, like poor, crippled, lame and blind people, and he will be blessed and then repaid when all the righteous people who have died are raised from the dead (an event talked about more in Revelations).

Mike L. said...

Josh,

Do you see any difference in the literary technique used in Luke 14:7-14 as compared to the next verses, Luke 14:15-24?

It would seem to me that the author gives us both a symbolic parable (the later) and a literal interpretation (the former), both offered by the same narrator, Jesus.

The text goes on to provide more parables and even includes a text that I'm sure you probably agree could use some context to understand it...

26"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. 27And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. What would that mean if we read that literally, without context?

It appears that the author of Luke is so concerned with making sure the reader understands the "more than literal meaning", that he includes not merely one, but a variety of literary techniques to convey the meaning. There are several examples, parables, and even direct instructions. Each with similar connected meanings. The point is not the exact literal examples, the point is the underlying truth that those examples point toward.

Your example of using a dictionary or a child asking "what does this word mean" is a great example of the basis for exegesis. Exegesis is simply asking what do these words mean, and more importantly, what did they mean to the person who wrote them. That's all I've ever suggested here. I hear you saying that the author's meaning is irrelevant and that we should apply our own reading. I'm not keen on that.

Wes,

What I glean from Derrida is a wake up call for modern people (both liberals and conservatives). To me, he suggests that just because one person (even a scholar) says, "this is what this text means to me", we should not be so arrogant or naive as to insist it is THE meaning. I may not agree with Derrida too much, but it's a valuable warning. Irenaeus, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and every other historical theologian would agree with that, don't you think?

Can you further explain why you said:

"What use is your belief if it is in an object of your own creation rather than the historical Jesus?I agree. Have you read something by me that suggests I hold some belief that is an "object of [my] own creation"? I've never suggested that.

I'll comment on the "prove you're a Christian" challenge when I get home tonight or get another break.

Wes Widner said...

"Irenaeus, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and every other historical theologian would agree with that, don't you think?"

No, I don't think. I've been reading them recently and especially Irenaeus, Ignatious, Polycarp, etc. who were persecuted (many martyred) for their strict interpertation of the Scriptures. They were open to instruction but they weren't open to any old interpertation that floated along.

Luther (right or wrong), in particular, was dogmatic in his interpretation(or have you not read his exchanges with Erasmus?).

No, early Church fathers died for much more than an interpretation that made them feel all warm and fuzzy inside. They code to die for what they knew to be objectively true and not open to interpretation outside of a very narrow window laid down in Scripture and handed down through the ages.

The reason I say you follow a God of your own making is because in rejecting the objective and historical views and traditional (by which I mean early Christians onward) beliefs in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah (which includes all that the OT speaks of) you leave yourself with nothing to support your claims or beliefs outside of you which would, in turn, mean your beliefs rest upon yourself and your interpretations rather than the historical events regarding historical people (namely Jesus) in historical places.

You have to believe history to be objective before you can believe historical evidence pointing to a historical event. Otherwise your claim to believe in anything historical is spurious at best.

Mike L. said...

Wes,

Can you read my last comment again and be careful to address what I actually said? I agree with your analysis, but it was not an analysis of my comment. I think you mistake me for some kind of moral relativist (which doesn't actually exist as far as I've seen). Again, you dress up straw men and knock them down well. I'll gladly stand with you in knocking them down, but I'm not sure what it accomplishes.

When have I ever suggested being "open to any old interpretation that floated along"?????

That is precisely why I've questioned Josh's discount of locating context. We should NOT be open to any interpretation. We should take care to place the text in context and locate the author's meaning. I've been very consistent in this, so I'm not sure why you twist that around.

When did I suggest the church fathers were not advocates of "strict interpretation of the Scriptures"?

flobi said...

Mike, Luke 14:7-14 and Luke 14:15-24: Both are written in historical narrative, e.g. He did this; He said this; etc. I will not argue for the content of Jesus's words always being easy to interpret, after all, many times He was intentionally hiding the truth from the evil people around Him (very often the Pharisees), in a way that those who love Him would understand.

By definition, "critical explanation or interpretation of a text", the defining difference between exegesis and explanation or interpretation is the word critical. I feel that you, too often, apply the "inclined to find fault or to judge with severity, often too readily" definition of critical in the execution of exegesis. (Def's courtesy dictionary.com)

My example of a child asking that was NOT an example of exegesis because it did not employ anything "critical," except perhaps, "crucial." Even that is a stretch. I can gather from the Bible itself that chaff is some kind of waste (fact is, I don't know what chaff is beyond this conversation), probably nearly as light as leaves or sand. From http://www.biblegateway.com/keyword/?search=chaff&version1=31&searchtype=all&limit=none&wholewordsonly=no I'm getting the impression that it's similar in some way to sawdust. Unless you're going to stretch your meaning of exegesis to fit any reading of any text, it is not. It is no different than when I read an article on Wikipedia, except I already know it's true because I know the One who is the Author.

"Luke is so concerned with making sure the reader understands the 'more than literal meaning'"... Luke is trying to be as straight-forward and easy to understand as he possibly can so that the "most excellent Theophilus...may know the certainty of the things [he has] been taught." That's what the first few verses of the book state. Why would he have said that if it were not his intentions? Luke includes Jesus's parables and words because he believed them to be an accurate representation of the true and factual history that really occurred.

Just out of curiosity would you say was the meaning of this text with your advanced exegesis? The LORD said to Moses, "...If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads."

(Sorry for the delete and repost, but I noticed a number of misspellings.)

Mike L. said...

I think we may have found what caused one of our problems. The word criticism is not used here to mean criticize. This is why context matters (Even in our 21st century discussions).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Literary_criticism

Literary criticism is a term that in no way means to "put down". It is a methodology designed to be non-biased and let the text speak for itself rather than imposing an external modern day meaning onto the text. If you ask your local priest about it, he'll explain this along with the term exegesis. I encourage you to ask him about it. He will have studied it at one point. It is not some kind of "advanced" or foreign concept. It is standard fair in biblical scholarship.

If you assumed my intentions were to be negative or find faults with the bible, then please note that is NOT my intention. To do so would be like conducting a science experiment with a thumb on the scale.

Wes Widner said...

What you are describing Mike is not merely to ascertain the meaning of a text, but a particular system known as "higher textual criticism" which originated in liberal German theology among those who want to "modernize" the text. It is not biased by any stretch of the imagination and a great example of this is seen in The Jesus Seminar which, in it's "unbiasedness" tries to reinvent Jesus completely.

As much as you would like to claim to the contrary, I am not merely setting up straw men to knock down. I think you've just realized the straw houses you've built for yourself epistemically and instead of defending them, you run from house to house to house in search of anything that is 1.) NOT the historical Jesus depicted and believed in the early Christians and 2.) gets rid of the parts of Scripture you object to like substitutionary atonement.

The bottom line is that you and I don't get to decide what Scripture teaches and we don't get to claim we are Christians while holding to beliefs and ideas that run contrary to what Christians have believed since Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the faithful.

flobi said...

Mike,
Notwithstanding my own ignorance about what exegesis REALLY is (and how applying it, if that is what you have, in fact, done has removed the plain meaning of the scriptures from you), me reading the Bible without any advanced literary critique leads me to believe that none is necessary besides the effort to honestly translate it into my own language (thankfully, that part has already been done for me). Passages like "...by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing." "since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them." "Although I am less than the least of all God's people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things." "At that time Jesus said, 'I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.'"

Will I understand better by knowing the full use and definition of a yoke? Probably. I would understand even more on references to this if I had a literal one and used it on a regular basis. But this type of explanation and definition are not what you are offering.

Fact is, I don't really know what entire method you use to preform your exegesis (though I'm pretty sure you don't keep a yoke around the office), but you spread things that do not conform with the words that are present in the Bible itself and that directly leads me to believe that whatever method you use to study the Bible is destroying it for you. In fact, except criticism, disagreement, confusion and the idea that there's something beyond what's in the text (though on what it is, you seem to have little to offer), there's little you generally add to the comments on my blog. Additionally, I agree with Wes's last post wholeheartedly.

I don't say these things because I am angry or frustrated. I am saying these because I care for you and they are accurate and if you can see them, you may be able to use this information to better yourself. My support group leader always asks me how my daily prayer time is going when he sees me veer away from God's Word. How is your daily prayer time? Anything I can do to help, I'm willing. I already pray for you, but if you ever want me to pray with you, I will be ecstatic to do so.

But actually, this wasn't supposed to be a debate at all, and I tremendously dislike that it has become such. My article was intended as praise to Jesus. And now, it's just an argument. But Jesus is God. He is Lord of all. Everyone on the side of truth listens to Him. He came to testify the truth. He is the Truth. Let every man in the world be a liar, but God is true. (And He came to Earth to suffer and die and rise again from the dead to save us from being literally, physically dead (and spiritually dead). WOW, HE'S GOOD!)

Mike L. said...

When you approach a conversation as if the person is an "adversary" (per your original post), that underlying narrative effects the the tone of the whole conversation.

Josh, you've approached me as if I'm an opponent of faith. You've even implied demonic influence. You making implications. Words do have underlying meanings and this thread has been a clear example. By making those implications, you set the conversation up to move from informative dialog, to debate, to personal assault. Let me be the first to say that I make the mistake of falling right into that trap also. It's hard to avoid.

I feel like our conversations go sideways, because I think you may have started with the notion that I'm evil. However, you don't even listen to my professions of faith and devotion to Jesus. That isn't a good foundation for dialog, is it?

Wes Widner said...

Mike,

Your professions of Jesus are only valid if the Jesus you describe is the same one the Gospels describe and since you don't we obviously view you as not shearing the same faith we do. Since you insist that the two are the same, yes, we also tend to view you as subversive, whether that is your express intention or not.

Believe it or not I don't see you as evil, though, but merely blinded by the powers and principalities of this age, specifically Satan (per 2 Corinthians 4:4 and Ephesians 2:2). You may not like this and think that it is somehow unloving, but I would merely point to Jesus's calling the Pharisees "sons of Satan" (John 8:44) in an attempt to wake them up to the spiritual reality they had apparently become blinded to.

The fact is that you cannot define Jesus any way you want, or claim the name of Christ while holding to heretical beliefs and still be a Christian any more than I can spit on the name of Mohammad (which I do frequently) and still claim to be a Muslim.

flobi said...

Mike, perhaps adversary has too many negative connotations, and as such, I apologize for my use of it (I shouldn't have), however, it is true that you do stand in an opposing position (which was my intention to convey in using it and I used it light-heartedly), though two can be friends while in opposition, even in the civil war, there were friends who fought friends. Maybe you are not opposing faith (though your implementation, as per our previous discussions of it, omits some of what I feel are key aspects) per say, but definitely in opposition of the clear message of the Bible.

None of this makes our statements any less true. Because you say that you are a Christian, I should be able to assume that you desire to worship Jesus as God and pray to Him and strive to act as Jesus and the Apostles direct. As you seem to not be producing the fruits of the spirit, yet still claim to be Christian, it is a responsibility God has given for us to call you on it.

I would mention that I don't think I've implied demonic influence. Satan is trying to control this conversation. Yes, I believe I've been fairly straight forward that there is demonic influence. I am still praying about all this.

flobi said...

Further clarification was requested privately but I thought if (in the unlikely event) someone is reading this besides Wes, Mike and I, the fruits of the spirit are listed here: Galatians 5:22-23. And it is the duty of other Christians to remind me when I am not producing the fruits of the spirit as well so that I can repent and change my ways.

Wes Widner said...

Josh, how long have you been a Christian?

I ask because your last comment frankly impresses me (not that that means much in itself). I've seen men (Christian men even) live entire lives without grasping the simple lesson you mention above.

flobi said...

I was a Christian until I was about 19. Then, I became a Christian again at 29. In the mean time, I basically interpreted the Bible any way I wanted that conformed with what I desired at the moment. I called myself a Christian, but I wasn't really because I did not even try to do what Jesus wanted me to do and I had little to no desire to. I even prayed...but the prayers were always, "Give me, give me," like a spoiled child asking for more toys.

flobi said...

Thank the Lord for his forgiveness!