Graham, I’m again intrigued with the amount of study you have done of biblical texts. I don’t agree with all of your exegesis (fancy theological term for interpreting texts), I’m not sure there is great value in arguing them point by point. As I indicated before, if one wants to go looking for inconsistencies and contradictions in the whole of the bible, they will find fruitful ground.
So my belief in the essential coherence of the biblical story is not tied to interpretations of specific texts. The in-depth analysis of specific words and quotes reminds me, uncomfortably, of the hyper-literalist interpretations that have caused endless disagreements among believers, far too often leading to unpleasantness of the most bloody kind.
In his book Reflections on the Psalms, C.S. Lewis made an important distinction about understanding the bible as the inspired Word of God. He said you can take a top down view of inspiration or a bottom up view. (Obviously, a different use of these terms than I use for my publication on science.)
The top down view is where God almost literally took the pen in the hands of the human writers and guided their every move. Or, in a mysterious way, told them what to write. This is how Muslims understand the Koran as I understand it. Of course, this happens to a great extent in many versions of Christianity today, particularly in the US.
The bottom up understanding is that humans were writing with various levels of insight and spiritual understanding, and certainly with limited information on physics and history. But God then used what they had written to convey his messages and his truth to those with ears to hear. With Lewis, there are hints of this kind of inspiration in non-biblical texts such as the quotation from Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound I used in a recent post. But, the bible, Lewis believed and I agree, is unique in its use by God for revealing himself and his story.
Personally, my own view of the Word of God is similar to Lewis’ idea with an emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart and mind of the reader or listener. Without that Spirit, these are mere words and words that have caused endless suffering.
It is in this view that I find the deep coherence in the biblical story. It is a story. A story of creation, of the desire of God for creatures to share his creation with and with whom he could have a deep union while allowing for their freedom to choose that union or not. It is a story of defiance and disobedience, of fall into evil, of suffering. It is a story of God operating in history attempting over and over to establish a rule of justice and peace and love and relationship with all people. But the attempts end in failure over and over because of that same defiance and rebellion. A story that in some sense ended over 2000 years ago in agony and death and rebirth, but is yet to be told in a final restoration of God’s full intention. He will rule and his people will have the union and communion they and God long for.
That’s the coherence to me in a nutshell. Does Jesus saying things written in biographies of him that haven’t proven to be true destroy this story? Perhaps to you. Not to me. Am I troubled by them? Not really. I am troubled that they serve as a stumbling block.
Once again, I’m very grateful for the opportunity to have a respectful conversation with you. It’s even more fun when we agree as we do on so many things. But it is also enjoyable and possibly more productive to engage where we don’t agree. Let’s go on.