Monday, December 20, 2010

World Christians

D.A. Carson, in his book The Cross and Christian Ministry, in commenting on 1 Cor. 9:19-27, concerning many Christians, states:  
      Instead of feeling that their most important citizenship is in heaven, and that they are just passing through down here on their way “home” to the heavenly Jerusalem (Heb. 12:22-23, they become embroiled with petty priorities that constitute an implicit denial of the lordship of Christ.
      What we need, then, are world Christians—not simply American Christians or British Christians or Kenyan Christians, but world Christians. By “world Christians,” I am referring to Christians … of whom the following things are true:

      Their allegiance to Jesus Christ and his kingdom is self-consciously set above all national, cultural, linguistic, and racial allegiances.
      Their commitment to the church, Jesus’ messianic community, is to the church everywhere, wherever the church is truly manifest, and not only to its manifestation on home turf.
      The see themselves first and foremost as citizens of the heavenly kingdom and therefore consider all other citizenship a secondary matter.
      As a result, they are single-minded and sacrificial when it comes to the paramount mandate to evangelize and make disciples.

I don’t know much about Christians in the UK or Kenya, but a great many Christians here in the States, many political activists notwithstanding, would do well to consider these words.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Little Christmas Perspective

Rachel Evans has an interesting post on her blog with some insightful thoughts on the misdirected fervor of many Christians this time of year.  Some of the points may be a little overstated, but I think they're worth some reflection.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Climate Change Fiasco

Over at Helm’s Deep, Paul Helm has a post containing a letter from a David Henderson to the Daily Telegraph on the Climate Change Fiasco, elsewhere called ClimateGate, that occurred last November (2009), in which emails from the Climate Research Unit were “released”, revealing an unusual glimpse into the politics of science.  They reveal, to quote the letter, “unprofessional conduct within the process.”  This conduct includes:

Over-reliance on in-group peer review procedures which do not serve as a guarantee of quality and do not ensure due disclosure.

Serious and continuing failures of disclosure and archiving in relation to peer-reviewed studies which the [International Panel on Climate Change] and member governments have drawn on.

Continuing resistance to disclosure of basic information which reputable journals in other subject areas insist on as a precondition for acceptance.

Basic errors in the handling of data, through failure to consult or involve trained statisticians.
Failure to take due account of relevant published work which documented the above lapses, while disregarding IPCC criteria for inclusion in the review process.

Failure to take due note of comments from dissenting critics who took part in the preparation of AR4.

Resisting the disclosure of professional exchanges within the AR4 drafting process, despite the formal instruction of governments that the IPCC’s proceedings should be ‘open and transparent’.

And last but far from least

Failure on the part of the IPCC and its directing circle to acknowledge and remedy the above deficiencies, a failure which results from chronic and pervasive bias.

Shortly after ClimateGate was an interview with Dr. Phil Jones, director of Climate Research Unit, by BBC News (also referenced here and here) in which he admits that the “two previous periods of global warming, 1860-80 and 1910-1940, were similar to the period 1975-1998,” making the most recent data statistically insignificant, Jones insists that global warming is caused by human activities (Anthropogenic Global Warming).

Along separate but similar lines,
ClimateGate was followed a couple months later by the abrupt resignation of a Henk Tennekes, Director of Research Emeritus at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute.  His letter of resignation can be found here in which he criticizes the structure of “Hermetic Jargon” that has been built in the scientific community to safeguard against multi-disciplinary criticism and to buttress self-made claims to esoteric knowledge:

The net effect of hermetic jargon is that outsiders cannot argue with the high priests who wield the words. They can only accept the occult writings in awe….The claims of the mainstream physics community worldwide, for example, are outrageous. All science is Physics, period, is what these priests claim. All other disciplines, including chemistry, biology, engineering and the earth sciences, are mere derivatives. Physicists glorify their Nobel prizes without ever contemplating whether the Nobel prize system might be based on a nineteenth-century assessment of the world of science.


Science has grown to have enormous clout and privilege in America and in the West in general.  A defining mark of the post-industrial revolution is the widespread presupposition that science’s self-claim that it stands objective and beyond criticism with regard to it’s own presuppositions and methodologies is true and without question.  Too many more incidences like ClimateGate and the curtain may be dropped.  And to some degree it seems that it already is losing some ground as next generations are becoming more and more skeptical (over-skeptical) of any claims to knowing.  But this doesn’t mean that there is no validity to scientific method, just that today’s primary manifestation of it is another tragic instance of man’s self-pride and thirst for power.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

"All Israel" and Paul's Mission

I recently got the brand new commentary on 1 Corinthians by Roy Ciampa and Brian Rosner.  It is an excellent commentary for both layperson and scholar alike and I have found every page refreshing and enjoyable thus far.  Almost (but not quite) worth the price of the book is the excellent section in the introduction that sketches Paul’s socio-cultural and theological framework.  In it the authors note the ubiquitous OT theme of God’s glory and worship: “To glorify someone is to recognize their intrinsic worth and beauty, and to speak of that feature in a public way. To glorify God is to praise or to speak of Him openly and truthfully.” Parallel to this is the theme of the Gentiles turning from idolatry and drawn to come alongside Israel and worship God.  This reaches clearest expression in Isaiah and strikingly so at the end of the book, 66:18-24:

      18 “And I, because of what they have planned and done, am about to come and gather the people of all nations and languages, and they will come and see my glory.  19 I will set a sign among them, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations – to Tarshish, to the Libyans and Lydians (famous as archers), to Tubal and Greece, and to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory among the nations. 20 And they will bring all your people, from all the nations, to my holy mountain in Jerusalem as an offering to the LORD – on horses, in chariots and wagons, and on mules and camels,” says the LORD. “They will bring them, as the Israelites bring their grain offerings, to the temples of the LORD in ceremonially clean vessels. 21 And I will select some of them also to be priests and Levites,” says the LORD.
      22 “As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the LORD, “so will your name and descendants endure.  23 From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all people will come and bow down before me,” says the LORD.
      24 “And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to the whole human race.”

Verses 18-21 in particular stand behind Romans 15:16-24 (especially v. 16) where we glean particular insight into the aims of Paul’s missionary activities, making these verses of particular importance to Paul.  I was amazed by some exegetically important features of this passage.

Vs. 18 – God declares that he himself will gather the multitudes of the nations to come a see his glory.
Vs. 19 – “them” and “those who survive” of the first and second clause respectively are formally ambiguous.  While the antecedent of “them” would naturally be the nations, “those who survive” makes no sense speaking of the nations but rather, in context of the book refers to the Jews.  So, God will send out some of the Jews who survive to the nations; even to “distant islands”.
Vv. 20, 21 – Now the next pronoun you’d think also refers to the Jews.  But it most certainly refers to Gentiles because 1) that “they will bring all your people (Heb. brothers)” when it is God speaking to the Jews suggests otherwise. If “they” are Jews, then we have “some of those who survive” who are sent by God to the nations and yet end up bringing fellow Israelites back as if that’s the focus and weight of the text. 2) V. 21 has God then choosing “some of them” to be “priests and Levites”.  If “them” at begin of v. 20 are Jews then likewise at v. 21 making v. 21 trite and of little significance or sense.  Priests and Levites were of an established lineage and would hardly require God’s choosing.

Rather, it seems best that the ingathering of the nations brings with them the “remaining” of the exiles of Israel who have been scattered to the nations by God’s judgment and these Gentiles will offer the returned exiles of Israel to God.  The offering of God’s exiled people to God by the Gentiles is likened to offering grain offerings, the fruit of labor, in ceremonially clean vessels – shocking category for Gentiles!  These Jews-returned-from-exile-by-Gentiles are a pleasing offering to God precisely by “ceremonially clean” Gentiles.

Vv. 22-24 – Moreover, God promises that the enduring of the “name and descendants” of Israel will be as that of the new creation itself; and no less this than that the endurance of their “name and descendants” is realized in all people worshipping the God of Israel.  The book ends (v. 24) on a note of perpetual judgment on those who rebel – who, elsewhere, did not listen to his word.  To affirm promise of enduring life of those who worship entails affirming enduring death for those who don’t.  Thank goodness for God’s active grace (v. 18).


After all this, I was struck by how much sense Romans 11 makes after reading this text, purported by Ciampa and Rosner as a central text for Paul, and the idea of “all Israel” being saved through the “fullness of the Gentiles”.  This wasn’t some special vision of the end times given to Paul.  Paul just read his bible and understood this oracle given more than 700 years prior; and he sees himself as one of “those who survive” (Isa. 66.19) sent out by God to the nations, saving Gentiles in order to save his fellow Jews.

Along other lines, the importance of this theme makes Romans chps 1, 11, and 15 have much more of a central place in the letter than traditionally understood.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Thiselton on Human Spirit

The other day I was reading in Thiselton’s magisterial commentary his thoughts on 1 Corinthians 2:11 which reads:

For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts  of God except the Spirit of God. (ESV)

Before addressing what the verse does say, Thiselton cautions against what it does not say by distancing Paul from a dichotomous view of man (sum parts of man = body + soul (= spirit)) and a trichotomous view of man (sum parts of man = body + soul + spirit (soul does not equal spirit)).  He comments:

A superficial reading out of context would suggest that Paul adopts two uncharacteristic standpoints: (i) that he accepts a dualist-Platonic view of human nature as spirit within a human body … and (ii) that he argues on the basis of a natural correspondence between human spirit/human person, and divine Spirit/God, as if spirit, pneuma, embodied a natural continuity between the two instantiations of the terms….

But Paul uses spatial language of the human person to indicate modes or aspects of being.  The spirit is within not in the sense of location, but in the sense of partly hidden stances  of which an outsider or another human person may be unaware unless the person concerned chooses to reveal them by word, gesture, or action.  The point of analogy does  not turn on human spirit within/divine spirit within, but on the possession of an exclusive initiative to reveal one’s thoughts, counsels, stance, attitudes, intentions, or whatever else is “within” in the sense of hidden from the public domain, not in the sense of location.

To insist upon this, as indeed we do, is not to impose modern psychology onto Paul.  Indeed, it is the very reverse.  It rescues our understanding of Paul from an uncritical embeddedness in a Graeco-Roman tradition which was alien to Paul’s OT roots and worldview … The human spirit is not a “God-related principle of self-consciousness within man which could be directed by the divine spirit to moral activity in opposition to the flesh” (Jewett, Paul’s Anthropological Terms, 167). Jewett comments: “This conception so dominated exegesis in the latter part of the last century that even scholars who stood in opposition to the liberal theology accepted it…. ‘Spirit’ was not a philosophic category providing continuity between God and man.”

This has obvious implications for reading Genesis 1:27 and being made Imago Dei, Romans 7, Hebrews 4:12,  and resurrection theology texts like Philippians 1:23.  Paul will get into this again in 1 Corinthians 15:35-49 and 2 Corinthians 5:1-9.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Bock on the Jesus Seminar

Recently I found a very helpful excursus by Darrell Bock on the Jesus Seminar in his commentary on Luke.  He gives a little background, their basic position, and their stated presuppositions of their approach to the gospels, and offers some criticisms of their presuppositions.

The Jesus Seminar was formed in 1985 under the sponsorship of the Westar Institute.  The goal of the Seminar “was to determine precisely what teaching in the Gospels actually went back to Jesus.”  They voted according to the following code:

Red      Jesus undoubtedly said this or something very like it
Pink     Jesus probably said something like this
Gray     Jesus did not say this, but the ideas contained in it are close to his own
Black   Jesus did not say this; it represents the perspective or content of a later of different         tradition

The results were published after much labor in The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus (Funk and Hoover 1993).  Of the 555 verses in Luke’s Gospel that are saying material, the seminar printed 4% in red, 23% in pink, 22% in gray, and 51% in black.  The results are based on seven fundamental premises – “pillars” – stated in the introduction:
1. The distinction should be drawn between the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith.
2. The Synoptic Gospels are much closer to the historical Jesus than is John’s gospel.
3. The Gospel of Mark is prior to Matthew and Luke.
4. The hypothetical source Q represents the teaching tradition shared between Luke and Matthew.
5. The noneschatological Jesus of aphorisms and parables should be separated for the eschatological Jesus.
6. The oral culture of the Gospels does not work in the same manner and our modern print culture.
7. The burden of proof in Jesus studies lies with those who hold to historicity.

Bock then gives a number of solid , in my opinion, criticisms of these “pillars”.  First, Bock asks,

What does it mean to say the Synoptics are closer to the historical Jesus than is John?  History is not a static entity in which something is immediately obvious upon its being said or done.  Sometimes it takes later events to clarify earlier events and utterances.  A Gospel like John’s thus represents a reflective portrait of Jesus (see John , ) …. History is inevitably interpretive, so reflective understanding of a person and his saying may shed real light on that person.  All of this is obscured in pillar 2…

Pillar 1 is intended to upholds seeing over half of the teaching tradition of the Gospels as “Christ-of-faith” embellishments that have no roots in the teaching of Jesus.  But, Bock asserts, this “is hard to sustain historically in terms of explaining the tradition as we have it.”

Pillar 5 is a detailed application of Pillar 1, which rejects any of his teaching “about judgment, any sense of Jesus as returning, and many elements of Jesus’ teaching that parallel the OT prophets’ call to accountability before God.  “With one affirmation large strands of Jesus’ teaching become excluded almost by definition.”

Bock points out with regard to Pillars 3 and 4 “that oral tradition (or variant written traditions) may stand behind what is normally represented by Q.  Variation may reflect the presence of multiple expressions of the itinerant Jesus, making it more difficult to conclude, based on variation, that the evangelist(s) altered the tradition.”

Further on, Bock says of Pillar 7:

To add a burden of proof that says in effect “guilty until proven innocent” so that single testimony does not count at all in favor of a saying, produces a method that will not allow any Gospel writer to complement the portrait of Jesus with fresh detail he may be aware of­­—even from oral sources … One addendum to this test makes matters more difficult: if someone else could say it, then Jesus did not.  This test of dissimilarity says that something is authentic if it is unlike Judaism or early church teaching; when it is applied negatively, then only the Jesus that is unlike his cultural background is treated as authentic.  Such a Jesus would have been so eccentric that it is unlikely that he would have been taken seriously.

Bock summarizes:

The pillars function like a tightly knit strainer that allows little to get through the process of assessment.  If we treated other ancient works with similar standards, there would be little that we could say about ancient history.

What kind of Jesus emerges for the Jesus Seminar?  He is a Jesus who had no mission, whose miraculous activity needs some other explanation, who did not judge or make messianic claims.  In fact, he rarely discussed himself or his mission, since the “I” sayings are later creations.  There is no prediction of suffering, no major apocalyptic concern, and no concern about heavenly rewards in the future.  The Jesus of the seminar was interested in the poor and other social concerns and in creating in humanity a devotion to God and a concern for others.  On these points he created social offense, but he was not particularly offensive in his religious teaching.  For a figure that multiple traditions attest was publicly perceived as a prophet, is this kind of distinction historically credible? … that portrait of him does not have enough historical credibility to explain how he ended up crucified for claiming to be Israel’s Promised One … The Jesus that surfaces  … is not well enough historically constructed to explain what happened to him and what caused him to be sent to the cross.

In contrast,

Luke [and the other gospels] has much more to offer us about the historical Jesus that the Jesus Seminar does … Luke wrote his Gospel in order to reassure disciples.  He sought to make clear the reasons to trust in the Jesus who came and is coming again.  Luke builds such reassurance on the pillar of a historically grounded portrait of Jesus … Harvey describes his historical inquiry about Jesus this way:

But it is an enquiry for which, I believe, the materials are now available, and which will enable us to understand better what it might mean to claim that “God was with” a person of history in such a unique and decisive way that he could be regard as an actual agent of the divine, and become thereby an object, not only of our endless and fascinated study, but of our love and worship.

To put it another way: In the beginning there was Jesus, and without him there would be no Gospel, no explanation for the existence of the church, and no need for commentary.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


This is the tenth (and final) post of a series on Reading the Bible for the First Time, by Marcus Borg.  The other posts can be found here:

In this last post I will deal with a number of specifics that Borg posits in Chapter 8, concerned with how to read the gospels.  Quite naturally, given Borg’s views concerning the sole human origins of the bible, the deep metaphorical levels of the bible, and his a priori rejection of “things that have never happened”, he sees the gospels as “a product of a developing tradition and contain different layers of earlier and later material.”  This way of seeing the gospels is nothing new, being about 100 years old, and holds sway among a large group of biblical scholars.  However, within the last few decades, a lot of work has been done questioning its presuppositions and constructing a more reasonable approach to seeing the gospels.

One issue that ties in with this is presuppositions about dating.  According to Borg, and many others, the beginnings of Mark as a literary work cannot be much before AD 70 so that Mark 13 can be written after the destruction of the temple.  After all, the early community of Mark through the metaphorically constructed Jesus could not have possibly foreseen the destruction of the temple.  Once that date is set,  we need to allow enough time for the Markan tradition to reach other communities like those of Matthew’s and Luke’s.  So those gospels are dated a couple decades later.  Moreover, with Matthew, as Borg writes, we have to allow enough time for there to be significant factions to develop between early Jews who did and didn’t follow Jesus. (Contrast to evangelical scholarship, which dates Mark to early – mid 60’s and Matthew/Luke to mid-late 60’s)

But there are a few problems with this construction:
1) The dating of Mark 13 involves anti-supernatural presuppositions concerning predicting the fall of the temple, which are hard to maintain, as developed in earlier posts.

2) Another false presupposition is that the early church consisted of hermetically sealed communities, who developed their traditions and doctrines apart from much knowledge or interest of other communities.  In reality, as was typical in the Roman Empire, there was significant travel and interaction among numerous churches in any given locale.  As the church grew, it showed a capacity to maintain communication.

3) The issues of Matthew are clearly tied to Borg’s statement that by 100 CE there were only about 7500 Christians.  This of course blatantly disregards Acts as a valid historical resource.  Note Acts 2:41, “3000 added”; 2:47, “added to their number day by day”; 5:14, “more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women”; 6:7, “the number of disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem”; 9:31; 13:48-49; 16:5; 17:11-12.  To take Acts seriously would mean that there were 7500 Christians within a year or two of the church’s inception at the latest. 

4) All of these points are ultimately dependent on the reader/author morality as explained in earlier posts.

Closely linked to these issues are those of form criticism, that is, of viewing the gospels simply as a product of various layers of (oral) tradition developed out of different metaphors arising from personal experiences.  While that may be sufficient for analyzing the development and production of many cultural works, the gospels don’t fit this mold for a few reasons.

1) As mentioned in an earlier post, the gospels make eyewitness claims as in John , and Luke 1:1-4.  The Luke passage is especially important so I’ll give it here:
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who were from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.
The parts I stressed should speak for themselves.  Moreover, as Borg notes, Luke uses material from Mark and Matthew uses material from Mark; it’s therefore reasonable to extrapolate to a significant degree the Luke passage above to the two other Synoptics even though they don’t make the same claims explicitly.

2) It should also be noted that, even on Borg’s dating, there is not much time for tradition development as form criticism assumes.  The sort of development that happens over the course of a few hundred years can’t be assumed to happen within 30 to 50 years, especially given the lifespan of the eyewitnesses and the travel possibilities between communities across the Roman Empire.

3) Lastly, as N.T. Wright makes reference to an important study by Kenneth Bailey in Jesus and the Victory of God (pg 134), reconstructions of the gospel traditions must account for an important sociological factor.  The world of the early ‘Jesus community’ was one of “informal but controlled oral tradition”.  In explanation, Wright notes that
They are informal in that they have no set teacher and students.  Anyone can join in – provided they have been part of the community for long enough to qualify.  They are controlled in that the whole community knows the traditions well enough to check whether serious innovation is being smuggled in, and to object if it is.
Wright quotes Bailey:
The assumption that the early Christians were not interested in history becomes untenable.  To remember the words and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth was to affirm their own unique identity.  The stories had to be told and controlled or everything that made them who they were was lost. (Italics original)
Thus Borg’s rigid separation between the canonical and historical readings of the gospels cannot be maintained.  This also means that Borg’s assertion that seeing the gospel as historical reporting makes Jesus an “unreal human being” cannot be maintained either.

I’d note in passing a couple of things about this assertion.  First, there were certainly categories for divine-humans in legends that people believed to be true so perhaps the gospel portrayal of Jesus would not seem quite as unreal as Borg thinks.  Second, what if the nativity story as portrayed in Matthew 1 and 2 and Luke 2 was true?  What if a virgin did conceive by the Holy Spirit and give birth to a boy who, despite being human, was so of sharing with God’s nature and being that he could be called “God with Us”?  Perhaps he wasn’t meant to be portrayed as simply human to begin with.  If so, then whether or not he’s an unreal human being doesn’t really matter because in him God is with us.

Moving on, Borg does make a very important point.  The gospels are thematic constructions.  They are not just simply a historical reporting of the life and times of Jesus, but are constructed in such a way as to develop thematically various truths about who God is, who Jesus is, he established kingdom, etc.  This is seen at a basic level in the fact that the chronology of events changes between gospels (most likely, Luke is (closer to?) the actual chronology).  Rather, events are ordered thematically.  Of course, this doesn’t mean there’s no chronology.  At least in Matthew and John, there are textual markers to indicate chronology between events.

Borg, however, overemphasizes considerably the thematic differences between the gospels.  It is certainly not the case that there is only one dominant theme in each of the gospels.  Matthew certainly has as much to say as Mark about the nearness of the kingdom (Matt. Ch. 3, Ch. 4, 10:7, and esp. ), apocalyptic eschatology (Matt. , -28, Ch. 24, 26:64, and technically Ch 13), and the path of following Jesus (Matt. -39, -30, -50, -25).  Neither are these themes absent in Luke-Acts or in John.  The symbolism of John (which can be overdone) is not entirely absent in the Synoptics.  Nor do their thematic constructions negate the historicity of the events.  It’s possible that the various truths pointed to through the different themes faithfully capture the truths revealed in the historical acts themselves.  God has spoken truly through Jesus incarnate, and to this the gospels bear witness.

The rest of the chapter is spent analyzing a few passages along the metaphorical lines that Borg proposes.  While he does bring out some valuable points, it appears on my reading that they are valuable precisely because they bring out the author’s intent and/or have some degree of cultural-historical accuracy, making a “metaphorical reading” superfluous at best.


That’s a wrap for my critique of Borg and this particular book of his.  Though I think there is some merit in his approach to the bible, I think that it obscures more than illumines the text.  And while we must not suppose absolute objectivity on our understanding of Scripture, Borg’s portrayal of what’s practically an exclusively subjective understanding is unwarranted.  In the end, if one supposes the God of Scripture, then one’s understanding must depend first on God.  We know him because he first knows us.  To claim our own standards/basis for understanding essentially de-gods God and thus what we come to understand is a de-godded God and not God of himself.  Let us choose instead to submit to the one who says:

Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.  By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.” Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me, are righteousness and strength; to him shall come and be ashamed all who were incensed against him.  (Isa. 45:22-24; cf. Phil. 2:6-11)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

BORG: Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, Response, Part 4

This is the ninth post of a series on Reading the Bible for the First Time, by Marcus Borg.  The other posts can be found here:

In Chapter 3, Borg posits that a plurality of meaning exists for any given biblical text given its metaphorical nature.  Here I will explore why I disagree with his approach.  The reasons for multiplicity of meaning seem to be entirely founded on what associations a text brings forth for any given reader.  Borg acknowledges to some degree the historical context for meaning, which implicitly acknowledges the author, but there is very little emphasis on this. 

I think the starting point for thinking through this issue is that the author’s intention in some sense determines the meaning of a text (very few would disagree with this first point).  Thus, in writing what he did, the author intended something by it.  The reader, however, is a bystander to this intention to some degree or another, that is, he takes no creative role in the text in question.  If that’s true, then there must be at least some distinction made between meaning as based on the author and meaning as based on the reader.  It’s worth noting here that the word “meaning” has considerable semantic range.  The author’s “meaning” has a will or intent behind it in creating the text – we talk about what the author meant, whereas the reader’s “meaning” comes from the text entering his world or horizon and his realm of experience interacts with the text, thus creating significance for the reader.  The reader’s meaning can be similar to what one’s first car can mean, or a painting, or rainbows, or art deco.  This links to some significant experience or reference point on some level for the reader.  Of course, formally the text has significance for the author just that it’s restricted by the will or intent of the author at the time of creating it, and so it is significant in a different sense. 

The reader, however, does not have that inherent restriction since he’s not the creator but the receiver of what’s been created.  The text naturally “invokes” any number of significances to the reader based on the range of overlap between the text and its context and the experience or understanding of the reader.  The reader has to will to control these invoked significances (associations) if he cares to understand the intent of the author in the text.  The responsibility of the reader then is to restrict and/or bend the associations that are invoked within his whole experiential range to line up with the sector of the author’s world which informed his intent in the text.  In short, the reader aligns his own understanding as best as he can with the context of the text.

What happens frequently, however, is that the reader has any number of blinders on.  These can be natural ones like differences in the historical and cultural worlds of the reader and author.  But oftentimes, especially with “sacred” texts – texts of significant import in our lives, the reader has an agenda.  The reader can establish an important (to him/herself) connection/association between the text and experience/understanding apart from anything the author intended when there is no concern, will, or desire to keep the agenda in check.

Where we end up is the morality issue, stated in the last post, of whether or not the reader is concerned with what the author/creator of the text intended.  (That, in turn, leads to requiring faith/trust in the God who ultimately created his Word when it comes to understanding his word.)  Thus a moral hermeneutic is required to transcend part of the wall to understanding an author’s intent.

So, while it is true, as Borg states, that various parts of the bible have been read by Christians numerous ways at numerous times, the combination of historical cultural distance and lack of concern for the author’s intent is sufficient to explain the reason why.  The intent of the author still stands whether we choose to ignore it or not.  By not ignoring it, we can strive to merge our horizon of understanding with that of the author’s, and at least begin to understand and begin to understand sufficiently. 

This does not mean there is no need to find what the text means for us since we understand that the bible is no less from God than man.  But there is no reason to rely, as Borg does, on the reader to find the fullness of meaning in the bible.  Is there then, a plurality of meaning to be found in any given passage?  Only if intended by the author, whether God or man.
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