But Jesus never said that

But Jesus never said that. 

In my last post on Jürgen Moltmann, I pointed out that the passage he relies on so heavily, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani) appears in only two of the four gospels.  In Luke, Jesus seems calm and in control of his own death.  The same applies in John, where Jesus says that the power to crucify him comes from God, not man (19:11).  The conclusion I draw is that one cannot rest an entire argument on a single verse from the Bible, especially if (as in this case) different gospels quote Jesus quite differently.

The problem arises because the gospels were written forty to sixty years after Christ’s death.  They rely primarily on second generation oral tradition, a source called Q   and Mark.  The first to write about Jesus was Paul, who wrote the letter to the Corinthians about    53-54 CE, a little over twenty years after Christ’s death.  But Paul, who was concerned with missionary matters, never wrote about Christ’s crucifixion.

The problem runs deeper than this.  It’s not just a question of which gospel, but which of the hundreds of copies of the book in question are we going to rely on, each a little different, and sometimes a lot, from the other.  We possess no autograph copies, as originals are called.  We possess only copies of copies of copies of copies.  The first copies of Mark (the first gospel) that we possess are fragmentary, and were written around 200 CE.  Others come later.

How many differences?

In the early eighteenth-century, the theologian John Mill published a version of the New Testament with notes indicating about 30,000 variations in about 100 different manuscript copies he had drawn upon.   Recently, Bart Ehrman, in Misquoting Jesus, estimates there are between 200,000 to 400,000 variants, based on 5,700 Greek manuscripts, and 10,000 Latin manuscripts, and other ancient translations (pp 87-89).  Other estimates run higher, though it’s important to note that most of the variations are minor, and do not change the meaning of the text.  But some do.

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C. S Lewis, A Grief Observed and my grief

C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed and my grief.

This is my second post on C. S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed, the story of his loss of his beloved wife, Joy.  Their relationship is portrayed in the movie, Shadowlands.

In my first post, I compared Lewis’ loss with the accounts of a pair of literary writers, Joyce Carol Oates and Joan Didion.  In this post I compare Lewis’ loss with my own recent loss of my wife of forty years, E.  This post feels different; my loss is still so raw.

Lewis lost his faith—for a little while.  I have less faith to lose.

Actually, it’s not quite true to say Lewis lost his faith in God.  He lost his faith in a benevolent God, imaging that God inflicts pain because he can.

Someone said, I believe, ‘God always geometrizes.’  Supposing the truth were ‘God always vivisects’? (p 41)

What reason, he asks, can we have, except our own desperate wishes, to believe that God is good?  Doesn’t all the evidence suggest the opposite?  What have we to set against it? We set Christ against it. But what if Christ were mistaken? “Almost His last words may have a perfectly clear meaning.” (p 42)

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Karl Barth: Did his adultery affect his theology?

Karl Barth: Did his adultery affect his theology?

Karl Barth is an interesting creature (a favorite term of his).  He led the German church’s resistance to the Nazi takeover of the Protestant church.  He was removed from his teaching position, and deported from Germany when he refused to sign the loyalty oath to Hitler.  After the war he returned to Germany, where he helped restore the church.  He was the most influential theologian of the twentieth century (though I think I’ve said this about a couple of other theologians).  Barth was on the cover of Time magazine on April 20, 1962.

God as the opposite of man

Barth is best known among theologians for his book on Paul’s Letter to the Romans, and Church Dogmatics.  The latter is over six million words long, in five volumes.  It was incomplete at the time of his death.

Barth was a great critic of liberal theology, the reigning theology of the day.  Liberal theology said that the claims of Christianity must stand in continuity with the highest moral ideals of a culture.  If no continuity exists, the gospel will be morally unintelligible.  Basing Christianity solely on revelation, said Adolf von Harnack, erases the history of Israel and the church (Reader, p 56).

Barth’s opposition to liberal theology is influenced by his own historical experience.  If theology is not rooted in scripture alone, then it’s too easy to move from judging scripture by creaturely needs, as he puts it, to judging scripture by the needs  of the Führer.  It is not difficult to read the history of the German church this way, which ended up accepting a bishop approved by Hitler, and a ban on converted Jews.

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Moltmann’s Crucified God in light of the recent death of my wife

Jürgen Moltmann, a German theologian about whom I’ve written a couple of posts looks at God not from on high, but from the perspective of a God broken on the cross.  God is a God who suffers for us and with us. 

I think this is the best way to think about God, but I’m not sure how much comfort it provides.  I write this post within several weeks of the death of my wife after a long and painful illness.  I’m sure it makes a difference in my attitude toward Moltmann.

The Crucified God, the work Moltmann claimed as his favorite, wrestles with Christ’s cry of abandonment, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani).  It is with these words, and the image of a dying Christ on the cross, with which all serious thought about God must begin.

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