I recently read Eung Chung Park’s Either Gentile or Jew: Paul’s Unfolding Theology of Inclusivity, a somewhat dry book which contains some interesting observations about some of Paul’s letters and the rabbinic writings about Gentile converts into Judaism, but which is hampered by two major problems: 1) The whole book is the lead-in to a punchline that the Church needs to “re-examine” issues of gender and sexuality, and 2) it really doesn’t take the Scriptures seriously.
It’s the latter problem that I really want to get into in the next series of posts. Park is clearly from the liberal school of Biblical scholarship, which should have been destroyed over a century ago by the work of Sir William Ramsay. That is to say, Park accepts uncritically the belief that the books of Acts and Luke (and, one assumes, the other Gospel accounts, though they don’t enter prominently into this book) were written sometime in the Second Century CE, and that they are rife with inaccuracies. Sir Ramsay came from a similar school of thought, and spent two years in Anatolia trying to disprove Luke’s account. He could not. In fact, he found so many confirmations of Luke’s fine details that he became a Christian and wrote numerous books in defense of the faith, including Pictures of the Apostolic Church: Studies in the Book of Acts.
Why do liberal schools of Biblical criticism keep flailing around the coffin a century after the good knight put a stake through their heart? While the unwillingness to accept the traditional Biblical narrative does, perhaps, lead to digging deeper into the Greek than many who are convinced of Biblical inerrancy might, Park’s work is so full of caveats, ifs, ands, and buts that I developed a severe strain of the superior rectus from rolling my eyes so much. It is obvious that Park doesn’t believe in the inspiration of Scripture, but rather treats Scripture as the words of men about God rather than the Word of God, and therefore subject to being rewritten or ignored at will by the “prophets” of the ivory tower.
I’ve had a couple of students fall into this trap. It is, after all, easier to be politically correct if one can ignore the words of Scripture.
This isn’t just a Christian phenomenon, either. I recently read The New Rabbi by Stephen Fried. It’s primarily an account of how one of the largest synagogues in North America, Har Zion, went about seeking a replacement for retiring rabbi Gerald Wolpe, one which reveals the mistakes made and how they were overcome. In the process, it grants the reader a marvelous glimpse into not only synagogue politics (which really aren’t much different from church politics), but also synagogue life. In one aside, the author mentions how Rabbi Wolpe’s son gave a sermon in the wake of an archaeological expedition that had failed to find evidence of the Exodus. Rather than addressing the fact that they were looking in the wrong spot (Mt. Sinai is not in the Sinai Penninsula), the younger Rabbi Wolpe gave a sermon about re-evaluating the Jewish faith in light of the lack of evidence that Fried simply discusses for the controversy it caused.
For my part, I am more than happy to stand on the fact that the entire Bible, as it was originally delivered in its original languages, is the Inspired Word of God. Why? Simply put, because prophecy is my passion, and men talking about their ideas about God cannot prophesy.
But what do we really mean when we say that “all Scripture is God-breathed”? Does this mean that every single word was directly dictated by the Holy One to His prophets, who took the function of copyists? Or does it mean, as the Chaos and Old Night blog affirms, that only the general, overall message is inspired, but that the authors might have gotten some small, incidental details wrong? Is all Scripture inspired in the same way, or are there different levels of interpretation?
And once we have understood the manner of Scriptural inspiration, how do we interpret this Inspired Text? Literally or allegorically? Do later books override earlier books, or do we seek to reconcile the whole? How much do we factor in the Jewish predilection for hyperbole when interpreting prophecies of God’s judgment? Is there only one true way to interpret Scripture, or are there many ways?
And once we have interpreted the Scriptures, how do we internalize it to our lives? How do we apply it? When we, as Messianics, claim that the Torah is still God’s rule for our lives, do we really mean that we are supposed to keep all 613 commandments? How do we apply passages and commandments about Temple worship to our lives?
This series on the Three “I”s is intended to be pretty open ended and may go back and forth among the “I”s depending on how the Spirit leads. Hopefully it will help to explain to some of my Sunday brethren where we as Messianics come from in regards to our theology.
To Part 2