September 15, 2011

Matthew's Minor Mystery

Brian LePort drew my attention to "the Licona Controversy", which is nice I guess, because I can't keep as close tabs these days as I'd like to be keeping.  But my first comment has to be - poor Mike Licona, having his new surname become "Controversy".  Dang, dude.  Rub some salt in that wound and then wrap it down with duct tape.  At any rate, Mike Bird has also commented today, after which point I had two things worth posting.  So that means I'll take this brief moment to do so.

First, Yes, Mohler and Geisler are bullies.  Duh.  As it happens, that's an occasional part of their official job description.  Seriously, it is.  (Sigh.)  Someday, semi-independent evangelical protestants are going to wake up and realize that you can't ask leaders to be kinder, gentler dictators.  Although I do personally and wholeheartedly believe in the concept of benevolent dictatorship, it works best in places like Kindergarten, or small task force missions, and maybe also - someday, somehow - in the great hereafter.  However, once you get up past a dozen or two thousand people (or somewhere in between, all depending) the "benevolent" dictator must inevitably run up against someone who isn't towing the line, AND who's also rocking the boat.  There is NO way for the dictator to simultaneously hold down his/her job description while ALSO avoiding bullying tactics.  None.  It doesn't happen, Brian.  You either give up power and control, giving in or creating a compromise with the radicals, or else you hold the line you've decided must be held, and in the process you become something you swore not to become.  There is never a third option.  Oh, with a lot of boat rockers there are polite, subtle, friendly ways to maintain control without your "bullying" being so obvious.  But it's still coercion.  In the family of God.  And we baptize it every day.  Every Sunday, at least.

To quote an old friend:  "These things ought not to be."

Second, Mike Bird and Brian agree with Licona and several others that the first Gospel's author didn't really intend for his readers to take 27:52 literally.  He didn't?  Well, I don't see how the heck not.  I mean, don't get me wrong!  The sentence may or may not be intelligible, and the fact claims as they appear may or may not have happened quite in that way, but that isn't really my point at the moment.  My issue at present is merely the passage itself:  v.54 tells us that the earthquate in v.51 actually happened and was witnessed to by the centurion; v.50 is obviously a fact claim, because Jesus died; the torn veil in v.51 has always been hard to believe but it seems plain enough... until v.54 says the centurion and his cohort also witnessed this veil tearing... which they couldn't have viewed at the moment from Calvary... but that would then merely and logically imply that the centurion was called in to investigate, presumably after some Temple authorities made noise about it, or someone tried to blame Jesus' followers.  Again, all this as the text reads is clear enough.  It may or may not have happened quite as we think we understand what Matthew's telling us.  (For instance, who are the "saints" at this point?  How far back in Israel's history does one have to go to find "many Jewish holy men" (Bird's interpretation)?  But they'd certainly be decomposed.  It's a very odd problem.)  I don't know what to make of this passage.  A straightforward interpretation certainly poses some problems, but what Bird and LePort are proposing seems to me like a much bigger problem, grammatically.  If the risen dead weren't an actual happening, then what about the earthquake and veil tearing?  What about v.54 which says the soldiers at Cavalry observed both Jesus' death and these other things?  Mike, Mike & Brian, if you find ways to conveniently jettison the risen saints into "allegory-land", then why not the earthquake?  And how, in any event, does v.54 make any sense at all, if the centurion didn't really see what it says he did?  I don't know what solves the conundrum, but the allegory "defense" seems like nonsense to me.

What else can I say?

In the text being fought over this month, we have major problems and ultimately little to go on.  But to go back to my first point, we might shed some grace on the second.  If evangelical christendom hadn't already built itself on the foundation of "inerrancy", we might not be striving so hard to attack one another or defend poor old Matthew.  But "inerrancy" itself is a convoluted facade.  The doctrine purportedly works to assure us that Scripture itself is a sure foundation, but Scripture-as-a-foundation was the Reformers' (de-facto) hat trick for blessing themselves with the political authority they needed to keep mass Christian Chaos from breaking out all at once.  Thus, "inerrancy" today is just a circularly self-justifying game.  Why believe it?  Because they say that we must.  Why such a must?  Because if they're wrong then we don't have to listen to them anymore.

Authoritarian dogma is one Medieval holdover I really hope the post-evangelical movement makes some progress against.  Embracing Mystery, however, is a different Medieval tradition.  That one, I'd like to see Fervent Bible Affirmers attempt to enjoy more.  Perhaps.


Matthew Crowe said...

I wonder what it says about inerrancy that the Apocrypha was in the Jewish Scriptures? Hmm...

Brian LePort said...

Bill: I want to clarify that I don't affirm Licona's interpretation, per se. I think it is a legitimate reading within the confines of the confession of inerrancy, but I don't know that I'd read it as he does.

Now I prefer the word "infallible" over inerrancy anyways, so maybe I'm not the best person to determine whether or not Licona's interpretation fits, but those who do affirm inerrancy that I've spoken to feel that while they may not agree with the interpretation his explanation would allow for him to continue affirming inerrancy.

Bill Heroman said...

Brian, thanks for clarifying re your own vs ML's particular view(s).

To me, "i" and "i" both seem like artificial labels to justify artificial concerns. Why can't we just say, simply: "I'm willing to trust it all, for as far as I understand what I think it means, which isn't always that far."?

If there's a serious answer to that question I just asked, please feel free to enlighten me.

Thanks for the feedback so far.

Josh L said...

Good point on the innerancy thing, Bill. The sooner we can get beyond that old Protestant evangelical notion the better.

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