Saturday, 2 April 2011

Stone the crows!

I haven't read Forged yet, but I am reading Richard Pervo's The Making of Paul.

Unlike the Ehrman book, this one is intended for a more academic audience. I've been a bit of a fan since reading Rethinking the Unity of Luke and Acts (co-authored with Mikeal Parsons) and, more recently, The Mystery of Acts. Pervo strikes me as an honest scholar who follows the evidence where it leads (rather than shepherding the evidence toward a predetermined destination.)

Anyway, here am I now, scratching my head and wondering if there is anything in the New Testament that we can take at face value. Yes, some will wonder why it's taken me this long to ask that question, but then I'm no scholar, just an ex-fundamentalist bloke from a working class background who has obviously been reading far too much for his own good.

Even then, chipping away at a degree in theology over recent years and, believe it or not, majoring in biblical studies, I still hadn't asked quite that question. Not that directly. Okay, Revelation is clearly dangerous as well as bogus. And the duplicitous Pastorals have to go. We'll have to add the Deutero-Pauline stuff and Hebrews. Turf in the pseudonomous letters of John, James and Peter and Jude for good measure.

What to do? Can we perform a Luther and consign these 'epistles of straw' to a kind of 'apocryphal' status while we keep the genuine material? Or should we go the other way and add in the Gospel of Thomas and a few other ancient documents to be consistent and thereby bulk it up?

I've been an admirer of Luther's strategy for a long time, and thought it regrettable that his inheritors subsequently lost their nerve. But even so there would be complications. How genuine is genuine? What about the rest of the New Testament?

Do we keep all the Gospels in the front of the book? Or maybe just Mark?
Acts? Sorry, that's a definite fail. Even E. M. Blaiklock couldn't rescue that one. And whither Acts goes, there goeth Luke.
The undisputed letters of Paul? They may be undisputed in authorship, but as Pervo points out, "Paul has supplied exegetes with almost two millennia of employment," so irresolvable internal disputes there are aplenty with no end in sight.

Have I forgotten anything?

I love the scriptures. They're endlessly fascinating, and an indispensable part of our heritage. Even Revelation! But they're abused - mutilated before our eyes - by thoughtless assumptions and mindless use (which is 94.3% of what's on offer.) The Reformation put the Bible into the hands of the people, but a little knowledge is clearly a dangerous thing. Five hundred years later we have televangelists, dispensationalists, apologists, creationists, and the Moody Bible Institute; in short every foul and unclean bird nests in its branches.

Does anyone seriously believe that seminaries and (most) university theology departments are busily throwing open the windows to let the clean air blow through and dispel the musty, flatulent odours? Too hard! They usually just spray air freshener to mask the pong.

Houston, we have a problem.


  1. "Yes, some will wonder why it's taken me this long to ask that question,..."


  2. "They usually just spray air freshener to mask the pong."

    Ha! So true.