The Inerrancy of Ecclesiastes 9:2-6

I found myself wondering yet again today what those who speak of the Bible as “inerrant” do with Ecclesiastes 9:2-6. I quote them here from the NIV:

All share a common destiny—the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not.

As it is with the good man,
so with the sinner;
as it is with those who take oaths,
so with those who are afraid to take them.

This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all. The hearts of men, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead. Anyone who is among the living has hope —even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!

For the living know that they will die,
but the dead know nothing;
they have no further reward,
and even the memory of them is forgotten.

Their love, their hate
and their jealousy have long since vanished;
never again will they have a part
in anything that happens under the sun.

One irony, of course, is that this passage, which is so clearly at odds with later Christian doctrines about the afterlife, could probably be accepted as “inerrant” by many people today – but not by most Christians!

But I am genuinely curious what those who speak of “Biblical inerrancy” do with a passage like this, and hope that perhaps some readers who think of the Bible in those terms may share their views on this!

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05472129663402843316 Brian LePort

    While I am not the foremost apologist for inerrancy it is something to which I confessionally adhere. As I read that passage I didn't have any problems with it at all. I don't see the biblical text as being written by one author with no diversity or tensions. In the mood of this book and with the genre in mind even someone such as myself can appreciate the value of the rhetoric which does contribute something very true to our understanding of our existence–namely, there is no apparent fairness in this life. We all die. If one ignores the mood and purpose of Ecclesiastes and sees the Bible as one big book of propositions proposed the same form and voice this may be a problem. But the biblical text is no such thing.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    From J. Stafford Wright's Expositor's commentary on Ecclesiastes (vol. 5):The contrast between the dead lion and the living dog supplies the meaning for v.5. The Teacher believes in a future judgment (12:14); so here he cannot be teaching the nonexistence of the departed. The context concerns the ability to plan and work. The living at least know that death must come, but from man's perspective the dead have not had it revealed to them what future there may be for them. The Teacher is not teaching soul-sleep here, that the dead have no consciousness. Rather his emphasis is on the contrast between the carnal knowledge of the living and the dead. To fully understand this passage, it is important to realize that our knowledge of the hereafter depends on how much God reveals to us. Attempts to discover the state of the departed through mediums is forbidden in Scripture (e.g., Isa 8:19-20). The OT speaks of the patriarchs being "gathered to [their] people" (Gen 25:8; 49:33). The significance of this expression is shown in Christ's answer to the Sadducees concerning God as the continuing God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: "He is not the God of the dead but of the living" (Matt 22:32). The spirits in Sheol can be roused to address the king of Babylon when he dies and joins them (Isa 14:9). Yet they clearly have not the capacities that they once had on earth. There is nothing corresponding to the temple worship in which they can join in singing the praises of God (Ps 115:17). Occasionally God speaks of a future resurrection, but this is linked to the coming of the Messiah (e.g., Ps 16:9-11; cf. Isa 25:7-8; 26:19; Dan 12:2-3; Acts 2:24-35). So the dead at that time did not know what future they could expect. They had to wait for this till after the resurrection of Jesus Christ. They are soon forgotten on earth, and memorial inscriptions are obliterated with time (v.5b). "For them love, hate, ambition, all are now over" (NEB), and they cannot return to this life to do or undo (v.6).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    Brian,The text says, "never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun." It also says, "the dead . . . have no further reward." It goes on to call life utterly meaningless, precisely because everybody meets that same end: death, without hope of reward or any sort of future. It seems to me the text is saying more than that "we all die," and that life is unfair. It is saying that life is unfair because death is the end of the matter: there is no coming back from death. That is what the writer is saying. The only way to avoid what the writer is saying is to do like J. Stafford Wright does and say a bunch of irrelevant stuff, make it sound like it's relevant to the text, and then hope no one notices.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Brian, I agree with you that the Bible is not simply a big book of propositions. But I think this passage includes some propositions, and I think most Christians would find them "doctrinally unsound" with respect to their view of the afterlife. I'm still not clear what it means to treat the propositions in this passage as "inerrant" – or, if these aren't propositions, then in what sense are non-propositional statements appropriately categorized as either "errant" or "inerrant"? Or in your view, does "Biblical inerrancy" mean "the inerrancy of the propositions in the Bible"?I'm genuinely interested, and look forward to hearing back from you if you have time and interest in sharing more about your perspective on this.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05472129663402843316 Brian LePort

    @Thom,I am not avoiding what it says. I am comfortable with what it says. It is the form of Ecclesiastes to prevent truth from a pessimistic, poetic perspective. The author is basically a nihilist before his time.In addition, there seems to be an aspect of Ecclesiastes that is the sayings of the Preacher and another that is the "commentator" on the Preacher. For instance, the author/editor ends Ecclesiastes in 12.10-14 by saying that the Preacher was wise and said words of truth but then goes on to tell a "son" that "The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil". If we ignore the possibility that the Preacher says "truth" that is contextualized by a redactor/editor/commentator then yes, no doubt, in Ecclesiastes itself we find contradictions. In part, as one who holds to inerrancy, I see two voices in Ecclesiastes. Nevertheless, I confess my ignorance of this text since it has been a few years since I gave it much attention. Maybe someone else can fill in the outline I have drawn here.

  • http://diglot.wordpress.com diglot

    While I am not an inerrantist (is that a word?), I would like to add my 2 cents.Wouldn't one need to take the whole book of Ecclesiastes into account when discussing that certain passage? And then wouldn't the final couple verses show that the Preacher did believe in an afterlife?"The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil." (Ecc 12:13-14)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09826280552590911315 Alethinon61

    Hi James,This may reveal that I'm a bit of a fundamentalist at heart, but I don't think this account is out of harmony with the rest of the Bible. As you've noted, it appears to be out of harmony with the post-biblical doctrines of eternal torment and the immortality of the soul, but I would suggest that it is these doctrines that are in error, not Solomon. You are probably already aware of this, but the view known as "conditional immortality" is growing in popularity, and for good reason. If you haven't already done so, I would suggest that you spend some time perusing the following:(i) The Case for Conditional Immortality, by John W. Wenham, found in Universalism and the Doctrine of Hell: Papers Presented at the Fourth Edinburgh Conference on Christian Dogmatics, 1991, edited by Nigel M. de S. Cameron. Comment: This is a brief study (it's comprised of a single chapter) but it's probably the best brief discussion of this subject to date.(ii) Life and Immortality, by Basil F.C. Atkinson, M.A., PhD.Comment: This book of a mere 112 pages is as high in quality as Wenham's study, but it's a bit more detailed.(iii) Two Views of Hell: A Biblical & Theological Dialogue, by Edward William Fudge & Robert A. Peterson.Comment: This book is useful because in it we find proponents of each view in dialogue and so the strengths and weaknesses of each position can be seen.(iv) The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of Final Punishment, by Edward William Fudge.Comment: This is a high-quality, 500 page book that addresses the subject broadly and argues for conditional immortality. (v) 'Hell': A Hard Look at a Hard Question: The Fate of the Unrighteous in New Testament Though, by David Powys.Comment: What Fudge does in a broad way Powys does in relation to the New Testament. The author concludes:"The tentative finding of this study is that the unrighteous will have no life after death, save possibly to be raised temporarily to be condemned. The unrighteous, whoever they prove to be, will find that God respects them in death as in life – true to their own choice they will have no part in the restored Kingdom of God, indeed, severed from the source of life, they will be no more." (ibid, p. 416).~Kaz

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I suppose we could try to "tame" the passage I quoted, but it would involve ignoring their plain meaning and essentially saying "this passage can't mean what it seems to, because a later redactor added a postscript." But even if we strive for harmony in the book, it seems to be more easily achieved by reading the ending in light of what went before. It would be easier to understand the reference to all things being judged in terms of God ultimately allowing the righteous to be remembered well and the wicked to be remembered with dishonor, or in some other fashion in keeping with the lack of afterlife in most of the Jewish Scriptures/Old Testament, than to reconcile rewards in an afterlife with the seemingly clear statement that the dead "have no further reward."

  • http://undeception.com Steve

    I was always taught that at this point in the book, the speaker is in a "bad patch", much as was Lewis for much of "A Grief Observed." A literary device conveying what the disillusioned character in Ecclesiastes would think about life more than a statement of truth for us to believe; to the extent that the speaker's thoughts ring true, they say, it is only because of the simple fact that, as Jesus echoes later, God causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.Not sure any of that stands up to serious inquiry, but that's what is taught in my (Baptist) tradition.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05472129663402843316 Brian LePort

    @James,In part I have answered some of your question in my response to Thom. In Ecclesiastes itself there appears to be at least two voices: (1) that of the Preacher and (2) that of the commentator. If we read Ecclesiastes as one document with no internal diversity we are likely going to have to abandon much hope for preserving inerrancy in Ecclesiastes alone, let alone canonically!It appears the editor/commentator of Ecclesiastes acknowledges that value of the words of the Preacher at the end, but also reminds his "son" that there is more to reality than what the Preacher said. In 12.12 he warns his son that much inquiry can lead to the pessimism of the Preacher. Nevertheless, one should focus on the purpose of humans which is to fear God and keep God's commands. The reason given is because there will be a judgment. While this here may not be as fully developed as NT concepts on the matter, it does directly challenge the world-view of the Preacher himself.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05472129663402843316 Brian LePort

    @diglot seems to be hinting at what I am trying to say.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    Well, the redactor accomplished his objective then.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    Kaz,It doesn't just undermine immortality of the soul. It undermines conditional immortality too. It says there is no immortality: period.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09826280552590911315 Alethinon61

    Hi Thom,I would suggest that Solomon is there speaking of the present age, not the age to come. Many times in life I have found myself suffering from depression of one degree or another, and, while I have a firm conviction in the resurrection hope and eternal life for Christians, I have nevertheless made similar expressions, albeit silently.~Kaz

  • Mike B.

    The Expositor's commentary is probably reading the idea of a judgment of the resurrection dead when it simply isn't there in the text. He should be reading 12:14 in light of 9:2-6 rather than the other way around. The passage states that God will judge sins, not that he will raise the dead to do so.I haven't studied Ecclesiastes much, and I think that there is a resistance among many to doing so because its theology is so problematic to – well – just about everyone.There is some controversy recorded in the Talmud over whether Ecclesiastes should even be considered scripture since it appears to contradict itself. In other words, it just barely made it into the canon. Something tells me that it would not have met the "doctrinal correctness" of the Church councils had it not already been part of the Hebrew canon. So the answer to how innerantists deal with this is primarily that they do not. I loved reading Ecclesiastes when I was in high school because I was just that kind of a melancholy kid. But in spite of reading it often and with great introspection, I think that when it came to passages such as the one you have excerpted, I just shelved it as something that didn't make sense, but probably had a perfectly good explanation. Having said that, I know that there have probably been a number of conservative commentaries on the Old Testament that are forced to comment on the book, and I too would be interested to see their take on it. One line of thought that I believe I did at one time pursue (again, as a teenager) is that the passage is not talking about the afterlife (or absence thereof) at all, but is, in fact suggesting the idea of "soul sleep," that when the body dies, the soul becomes insensible and slumbers until the resurrection. This is an idea suggested often enough in the New Testament (though not unambiguously) that I think this was enough to uphold my sense of intercanonical consistency. I think that this particular passage may actually be more problematic for one's ideas of canonicity than it is for inerrancy. Let's face it, for all the different views on the afterlife found in the Bible, Ecclesiastes is most certainly in the minority view. Innerantists could get rid of the problem very easily by excising it from the canon (as most of them already do in practice), but of course, I dare you to find anyone who would be willing to do so.Just some thoughts…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05472129663402843316 Brian LePort

    @Alethino61 seems to be presenting another approach to Ecclesiastes that would maintain inerrancy. Like some of the Psalms the wording (e.g. smash their children's heads against the rocks) would directly contradict the rest of the OT and NT's ethical statements. Nevertheless, the "feeling" of the Preacher is true and shared by us all. If we read the Preacher in this light we can affirm the truthfulness of his words knowing that, like the Psalms, it is "true" in its real basis in the human psyche, though not as a proposition.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05472129663402843316 Brian LePort

    @MikeB,I affirm inerrancy and I feel like I've provided a few valid interpretations of the text. I am not sure if by saying we do not "deal" with it you mean we don't reach your conclusions, but we do deal with it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    Kaz,I'd say you're reading the text anachronistically.Brian, You said, "It is the form of Ecclesiastes to prevent truth from a pessimistic, poetic perspective. The author is basically a nihilist before his time."You go on to say, "It appears the editor/commentator of Ecclesiastes acknowledges that value of the words of the Preacher at the end, but also reminds his 'son' that there is more to reality than what the Preacher said. In 12.12 he warns his son that much inquiry can lead to the pessimism of the Preacher."Um, absolutely not. This is not the case. He does not remind his son "that there is more to reality than what the Preacher has said." In fact, he explicitly says the opposite: "The sayings of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings that are given by one shepherd. Of anything beyond these, my child, beware." (12:11-12)The redactor says that the Preacher's words are utterly true and that words beyond his are dangerous. He says that the Preacher "wrote words of truth plainly" (12:10), and that the Preacher's sayings are "like nails firmly fixed" (12:11). I find little room for your reading of the redactor. Far from framing the Preacher's words as "pessimism" that need to be checked with something in addition, the redactor frames the Preacher's words as utter truth that are fixed in place, and warns against adding anything to them.So I am not persuaded by your reading.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    Brian,Your idea of "true" to the human psyche, "true" to our feeling, is completely absent from the text itself. Now you're just making it say what you need it to say in order to preserve inerrancy.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09826280552590911315 Alethinon61

    Thom,I'd say that I'm reading it biblically. ~Kaz

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05472129663402843316 Brian LePort

    @Thom,Actually, I'm not making anything up. If you read the text as a dead piece of literature with no poetic elements to it or "inerrancy" as meaning there can never be tensions or even direct contradictions, depending on the format of the literature, than sure you may have a point (but you don't). Likewise, if you noticed the solution I put forth has to do with two voices. All I am saying is that Hebrew poetic literature can retain truthfulness while saying some things that are not "true" (again, e.g., a lot bunch of Psalms).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05472129663402843316 Brian LePort

    Or I should say either "a lot of Psalms" or "a bunch" but not "a lot bunch". :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    Kaz,"Biblically" is an anachronistic construct.Brian,You're arguing against me from two different directions. (1) Are you accuse me of reading the text woodenly? On what grounds? I know how to read genre as genre. It's just that you're yet to convince me that the genre of Ecclesiastes should mean that he is speaking a "psychological" truth, rather than an ontological one. (2) In tension with your other approach, you're also insisting that the Preacher and Redactor are contradicting each other. You claimed they were, by misquoting the redactor. I showed the redactor was saying the opposite of what you were claiming he was saying, and you offered no response. I have a feeling that this will go on as long as you're awake. I think at the end of the day: you're going to be an inerrantist, and I'm not. But you are able to remain an inerrantist by importing a foreign category onto the text: "psychological truth." The only reason you do this is because your commitment to inerrancy requires it. You apply it to Psalm 137, but you forget that dashing babies against rocks is something that Yahweh commanded his people to do on a number of occasions IRL. So your face-saving distinction doesn't wash with me, and is unfaithful to the text.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09826280552590911315 Alethinon61

    Thom,So is excising a single sentence from the thought-world expressed in numerous ancient texts and attributing to that sentence a meaning that would more likely occur to an Alan Dershowitz than an anxiety stricken poet.~Kaz

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    Kaz, "numerous ancient texts" agree with the "single sentence" I've "excised" from Eccl 9, in that there is no afterlife. The idea of resurrection from the grave was a development of apocalyptic Judaism, after the composition of Ecclesiastes.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05472129663402843316 Brian LePort

    @Thom,Sorry, I missed that response. I don't see the commentator speaking positively of the truthfulness of the words of the Preacher as discounting his own qualification at the end. I am not saying he totally discounts the Preacher (otherwise the whole document doesn't make much sense). Rather, I see him saying "Yes…but".

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    Yes, but . . . he doesn't say "Yes, but . . ."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05472129663402843316 Brian LePort

    @Thom,I think you are a bit extreme to equate an appeal to the poetics of the psalms as being "unfaithful" to the text. While you may not be reading the text woodenly you do disallow much flexibility. You say it is grounded in my overcommitment to inerrancy. Does this imply you don't have a commitment? Are you objective while I am merely being dogmatic? I doubt that to be true. So what if I am coming from an angle. So are you. We all do.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05472129663402843316 Brian LePort

    @Thom,There are a lot of things not "said" directly. Since when do we not have the right to notice something implied. If he is not making this implication he is still directly contradicting the Preacher at the end so he disagrees with the Preacher to some extent. No?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    Here we go.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    No, as McGrath pointed out.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05472129663402843316 Brian LePort

    @Thom,I am not sure what is so bothersome about coming from a perspective. For instance, James D.G. Dunn had to do a little more work than E.P. Sanders to make sense of Paul because he was convinced that Paul was logical while Sanders thought he was riddled with contradiction. Dunn didn't get everything right, but I would say, as regards Pauline theology, he did a lot more with Paul than Sanders did because Sanders was willing to settle with the theory that Paul simply messed up at points. Dunn was not.Likewise, you may be right about your reading of Ecclesiastes and I may be wrong, but I am committed to the logical coherence (i.e. canonicity) of the Scriptures. By default I work for the assumption that it makes sense and works together rather than against itself. If you are not willing to make that commitment, fine, but I am suggesting that I shouldn't be dismissed because I admit to expecting coherence.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    I am dismissing you because your arguments for coherence are incoherent. Biases can help and get in the way. In this case, yours is getting in the way, I have argued. If the data showed that Eccl could be reconciled with belief in resurrection, I would not be threatened by the data. Just as I am not threatened by the data when it indicates the opposite, whereas, you are.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    Plus, your analogy is flawed. There's a difference between expecting Paul not to contradict himself and expecting two writers separated by hundreds of years not to do so. It's reasonable to give Paul the benefit of the doubt. A matter of dogma to give "Scripture" the benefit of the doubt.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09826280552590911315 Alethinon61

    Thom,I'm not going to get into a debate with you because I don't have a dog in this race, but I think that Solomon's father believed in an afterlife, and I'm confident that he would have passed that view on to his son.Can you identify the date that the ancient Jews got the idea that there would be life after death? I suspect not, but we'll see.~Kaz

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05541372724883172727 Jeremy Wales

    Longman is an Evangelical who interprets (in his NICOT volume) the book of Ecclesiastes as an orthodox presentation of the condemnably heterodox "wisdom" of Qohelet. In his opinion most of the book is presented as overt heresy in the same way most of the speeches in Job are. We finally hear the opinion of "the frame narrator" in opposition to all that has come before in 12:9-14.I don't agree with his interpretation, agreeing rather with Clemens that Qohelet gives an orthodox meditation on Genesis 1-3, but when an Evangelical author like Longman goes to those lengths it does show there are the makings of a problem here :-)Personally I understand Ecc 9:2-6 and much else in the OT in terms of progressive revelation. What Qohelet said was true at the time of writing. But, as Paul argues in 1 Cor 15, the resurrection of Jesus changed everything.This is a fairly standard phenomenon in the bible. Genesis says you better be circumcised; Galatians says since Jesus has come you better not. Leviticus says there are various sacrifices for accidental sins and no sacrifice for deliberate sins (ie "with a high hand"); the NT says Jesus is the one sacrifice for all sins. The common pattern is that Jesus made a huge a difference.These conflicting statements would pose a problem for the inerrantist only if they were made in the same contexts… or if said inerrantist expected the books of the bible to be able to be interpreted without regard to their respective contexts. I don't know any inerrantists who argue the latter though.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05472129663402843316 Brian LePort

    Most analogies break down at some point but I think you missed the heart of it. The difference is not between the author of Ecclesiastes and another author. It is the concept of canonization. The same people over time that decided not to reject the voice of Ecclesiastes understood it to function just fine with the rest of the OT. We must ask what their reason for canonization was more than the author's purpose if we are going to discuss its contrast with the rest of the canon and issues of inerrancy.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05472129663402843316 Brian LePort

    @Thom,I am not threatened by the idea that Ecclesiastes contradicts the idea of resurrection. In fact, I am willingly accepting this to be so. Nevertheless, I think there is a point to the message of the Preacher that is framed by the a commentator. You may disagree with my assessment but to dismiss on grounds other than disagreeing with my interpretation seems a bit quick.Even if Ecclesiastes did contradict the rest of the canon's view on life after death it seems that the point of the canonization of Ecclesiastes is to present a common human mood/perspective rather than to affirm some of its conclusions.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05472129663402843316 Brian LePort

    @Jeremy,This is another perspective that I would seriously consider. The author of Ecclesiastes is absolutely correct that there is no resurrection because at the point of writing Jesus had not yet become the "first-born from the dead". Jesus' resurrection would change everything and those biblical writers who affirmed the concept of the resurrection did so with (unknowing?) foresight.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    malWow, late to the party. My goodness, James! I think you enjoy framing these arguments like so many traps in which to snare the untutored.I know you are not an Anglican (nor am I), so the articles, written by Thomas Cranmner (who of course was an inerrantist as were all the Reformers) are not a privileged resource for you, but still, this is I think a typical constructive guideline for interpretation of the Bible by the church:XX. The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: And yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ, as it ought not to decree any thing against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of Salvation.When Christians – not just evangelicals, but Roman Catholics and the Orthodox subscribe to inerrancy in matters of faith and practice – affirm that scripture does not err bur rather, leads into all truth, that is to be understood in the context of a canonical hermeneutic which allows self-emendation, the relativization of one passage by another, allowance for trajectories of various kinds within the corpus, and so on.That's because scripture is understood as both a constitution and a collection of classic cases, exempli gratia, ideally suited for its task because of its unity and diversity in what it teaches.But you know all of this, right? That's how you would handle the difference between Qohelet and say, the gospel of John, in Sunday School, I assume. But maybe not. Perhaps you *are* saying that Qohelet gets things right here, and the NT doesn't. Perhaps you are saying that the NT is utterly misleading when it comes to what to expect at death.I would appreciate it if you would clear that one up for me. As you know perfectly well, for Jews in Greco-Roman antiquity (and they, too, believed in the inerrancy of scripture), quite apart from Christians, Daniel came to trump Qohelet on these questions, though Qohelet was also treasured.Harmonistic exegesis was often used to solve the problem. In place of A (expressed in one text) and B (expressed in another), they offered C, often by harmonizing A and B according to a principle derived from still another source.Beyond that, faith-based exegesis, Jewish and Christian, is typically canonical in scope and conformed to a metanarrative that connects the ancient texts with current faith and practice which of course continues to evolve in various ways. The exegesis is often very sophisticated with different schools of interpretation more or less of the same kind found among constitutional lawyers of the US or any other state constitution. A number of commentators – perhaps you too – make an enormous category mistake if they cry foul over traditional approaches to the biblical texts because they treat it as a constitution.As as a scholar I may well choose to interpret the text from a strictly historical point of view. I so choose, but not to the exclusion of the canonical method at two or three removes.It's a dance. It's a lot of fun. I feel sorry for those who cannot even do a hermeneutical two-step, much less a jig.

  • Mike B.

    Just a quick comment. I didn't mean to say that no inerrantists deal with Ecclesiastes. I just meant to say that in general, most tend to avoid it. Completely anecdotal assertion.

  • http://oliverstegen.net Oliver

    Wow, James, indeed! I hope you soon pick up the Rabbinical gauntlet so aptly thrown by John H. – this is as much fun as reading whodunnits or sci-fi short stories. Can't wait for the next episode in these comments!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00565212411446092552 smijer

    I wanted to read the whole comment thread, but that would run me late to church… If I am repeating a formula someone else has already suggested, I apologize. The way I was taught it – or at least how I understood it – from those who hold to inerrancy was this: The person you are calling the editor/commentator is the *author* of this book, and he is quoting faithfully the words of the preacher. So, there is no error in saying "the preacher says…". The "author's" own views, while not going so far as to give testimony of the afterlife, are consistent with the notion of the afterlife. The "author's" goal is to contextualize, to partly endorse, and to correct the "preacher's" message.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05472129663402843316 Brian LePort

    @smijer,Yes, that is basically the approach I am taking to Ecclesiastes, though, like I said, it has been a few years since I gave any attention to the book so my presentation is obviously a bit rusty!@John Hobbins,Great thoughts on the matter, much appreciated.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    I'll take Alethinon61/Kaz's side on this one……though not from an "inerrant" perspective.Ecclesiastes is compatible with the concept of conditional immortality….which is generally a position that I support and think can be supported by Scripture in both the New and Old Testaments.However, while this view can be accepted in an "inerrant" sense….believing that the texts, in and of themselves, are fully empowered by God to reveal truths about mortality/immortality….they are also fully acceptable in "non-inerrant" views.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Well, I certainly seem to have managed to generate some discussion! I am grateful to everyone who has chimed in so far!I am a bit perplexed by the notion that one can have inerrancy be the accurate depiction (sorry, depiction without error) of the views of others, even if the final redactor doesn't agree with them. The final redactor of Ecclesiastes doesn't seem to contradict the Preacher's statements about there not being life after death, and far from this being a minority viewpoint, it is the standard viewpoint throughout the Jewish Scriptures, with Daniel and a couple of other texts being the fringe counterexamples. But what was a late, fringe development in the Jewish Bible became the norm in the Christian Testament. Job wishes he could be hidden in sheol until God's anger had passed, and then brought back, but doesn't seem to think it is a genuine possibility. Amos pronounces judgment on the unjust, and the Deuteronomistic History on those who do not worship Yahweh alone, yet never is punishment viewed as taking place in the afterlife. So Ecclesiastes is simply saying explicitly what most authors in the Hebrew Bible assumed.I also wonder what happens to the Bible in practice if one is willing to assume that the final editor may not have agreed with the views of his source. If a final editor added John 21, if we found something we could not or did not want to regard as inerrant in the rest of the Gospel, could we not assume that the final editor included it from his source but probably disagreed with it?But what I wonder most is whether this approach would be called "inerrancy" if that term were not a sibboleth (sorry, I have trouble pronouncing that word) in certain circles. Is there any sense in which this view has any continuity whatsoever with other views that have used the terminology of "inerrancy"?I hope the conversation will continue, and thank you all once again for being part of it!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    People keep saying (with Kaz) that the Preacher's view is compatible with conditional immortality. It is not. If it were, how could the preacher go on to declare that everything that anybody does in life is meaningless (whether good or bad)? If the Preacher believes in the immortality of the righteous, then this life is emphatically not meaningless: this life would be testing ground for the righteous to attain immortality, and therefore have a meaning. Death would not be the end. But the Preacher views death as the end, full stop, which is why he is able to declare all things meaningless. And the commentator, contrary to Brian et al., states that everything the Preacher has said is "plain truth" and is "fixed like a nail."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09826280552590911315 Alethinon61

    Hi James,Interesting perspective on Job, and I have no doubt that many would agree with your assessment. I can't read Job, though, and not apprehend that he did believe that he would live again. The idea of a "tree of life" was part of biblical thought from the very beginning (Gen 3:22). But God hadn't revealed his plan yet, and so such notions were indistinct or shadowy. Because of this, perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised that almost nothing was written on the subject early in Israel's history. We write about what we think about, and this notion was too amorphous contemplate. It was a hope more felt than fathomed, which may be why it surfaced in pain and in song (Job 14:13-15; Ps. 16:9-11).~Kaz

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    "Everything in life in meaningless" is a direct rejection of the idea that reward and punishment in the here and now were directly tied to one's spiritual status….that God smiled on the righteous and frowned upon the wicked…in this lifetime and in tangible material ways.So if good things happen to you…"you must be livin' right".I don't think Ecclesiastes is making any statement about the after-life and is not really concerned with theorizing about it.The point is that we are powerless to affect what happens to us and powerless to prevent death and misfortune. It's coming for us either way, so learn to be content with your life and spend it doing something both enjoyable and worthwhile.Most of the Old Testament says just as little about an after-life…and doesn't really ponder what, if anything, is coming "after". Yet….no one book is meant to catalogue and definitively prove or disprove conditional immortality…or any other view of the after-life.Which is why we have a collection of books…a Holy "library"…..instead of one holy "book"I'm not defending an "inerrant" view of Ecclesiastes….merely saying that it can be worked into both and inerrant and non-inerrant approach. I don't think it's the perfect text for disputing inerrancy so much as it is a great text for making people rethink their assumptions about what the term "after-life" means in relation to Scripture.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    "But the dead know nothing; they have no further reward . . . never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun."Forgive me, Terri, if I disagree with you.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    Disagreeing with me is hardly something that requires my forgiveness of you! 😉

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    You have to say the actual words.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05472129663402843316 Brian LePort

    The more I have pondered this question the more I have thought about two things: (1) the context of Ecclesiastes as 'under the sun' which excludes, intentionally, an eschatological perspective on the matter and (2) the "commentators" comments likely being 12.13-14 being that it is these sentences that seem to clarify the words of the Preacher.So @Thom may be absolutely right that the Preacher's views on death are incompatible with later views on life after death, but we cannot ignore the 'under the sun' element that qualifies the whole book.I also have looked at Augustine's thoughts on the matter (accidentally) and have posted some thoughts here since it would be much too long for a comment: http://nearemmaus.wordpress.com/2010/03/21/augustine-on-the-destiny-of-the-good-and-the-evil-in-ecclesiastes/

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    "Under the sun" is irrelevant, I think, because later Jewish belief in the resurrection still qualified as "under the sun." It wasn't an incorporeal afterlife in an ethereal world, but bodily existence "under the sun."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    I read your blog post, Brian. The fact that it "lacks the eschatological perspective" is precisely the point. But it doesn't just lack it: it explicitly denies it. There is no hope for the dead, according to the Preacher. It doesn't fit into the "progressive revelation" scheme. It doesn't just leave some bits out that would be revealed later: it denies the possibility of those bits.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    And regarding your earlier remarks about Psalm 137, "poetry" isn't the issue. The issue isn't whether the genre of a Psalm gives you the excuse to characterize the dashing of babies' heads against rocks a "psychological truth." The issue is, God had issued orders to do precisely that on numerous occasions, not just in the conquest of Canaan, but even later. For instance, God commanded Saul to slaughter all the Amalekites, including their babies and pregnant women. Why? Because of something their ancestors did over 200 years ago (over 400 years ago, actually, according to the text). What did the ancestors of the Amalekites do? They opposed Moses' Israel. So what was "God's" response: kill them all, including the babies. When? Over 400 years later. Then God ordered Saul to carry it out, and Saul did, sparing only the king. To say that Psalm 137 is expressing a "psychological truth" is just completely disingenuous. The standard biblical ideology is that Israel's enemies should be repaid by utter annihilation, including the slaughter of their enemies' children. God killed babies in Egypt. God ordered the slaughter of Canaanite and Midianite babies. God ordered the slaughter of Amalekite babies. But, according to you, when it comes to the Babylonian babies, no way. Killing Babylonian babies would be wrong! Psalm 137 is just expressing the true emotions of the one lamenting. Pahlease.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05472129663402843316 Brian LePort

    @Thom,"Under the sun" is not irrelevant. It is a description of life from this side of the grave. Jewish ideas of resurrection unfolded over time to the point that the Apocalypse has the light of God replacing the sun. I don't think other views on this matter should make the short-sightedness of Ecclesiastes irrelevant at all.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05472129663402843316 Brian LePort

    "Pahlease". I am beginning to think you'd be somewhat annoying to talk to in person. :)I am well-aware of the world-view of the Psalmist, but I am trying to make a point that he does not necessarily represent the ideal ethic and that his emotion, though grounded on expectations from God's actions in the past, may not be the ideal. Nevertheless, we can relate to those prayers understanding this. I think you've been distracted by a point I was not making.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    You've got to be kidding me. Now you're appealing to apocalyptic metaphor of God's light in a literalistic fashion to justify your metaphorical reading of an ontological claim. My head is spinning.Stalemate mis nalgas. You can't move your king out of a checkmate and call it a stalemate.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    For those of you who do not believe that all scripture, so long as it interpreted "constitutionally," is profitable for teaching on questions of life and practice, how do you make use of the Bible as a resource for community life, if that is what you do? On what basis do you pick and choose?If the inerrancy position is fraught with danger and can easily become ludicrous in practice, is not the errancy hermeneutic just if not more fraught with danger and ludicrous in practice? As in the Jesus Seminar, not to mention Thomas Jefferson, who consider the apocalyptic dimension of Jesus' teaching repugnant to their sensibilities. Therefore they dump that dimension into the garbage can, in the case of the Jesus seminar, inventing bogus historical justifications for doing so.It is telling, I think, that the errantists on these threads refuse the invitation to defend their own hermeneutic. Perhaps it is not defensible. I'm not referring to someone who read the biblical text, not a resource for a life of community, but as some God-aweful text from the Dark Ages. That's a whole 'nother can of worms.Thom,Terri (also on these threads) and I recently hashed out the issues you raise with respect to war and genocide quite a bit on my blog. I'm not going to repeat the discussion we had here, but I invite you to walk on over and contribute to the debate there if the subject matter interests you.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    Brian,You're annoying to talk to online.John,I've dealt with genocide and inerrancy on my own blog.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    "It is telling, I think, that the errantists on these threads refuse the invitation to defend their own hermeneutic. Perhaps it is not defensible."What on earth are you talking about?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05472129663402843316 Brian LePort

    @Thom,If you have friends they are very patient people. I am not "appealing" to the Apocalypse. I am saying that "later Jewish beliefs" on the resurrection don't apply to the authorial intent of Ecclesiastes. You have chastised me for reading Ecclesiastes through outside lens (even my proposed internal commentator), but then you appeal to later Jewish understanding of resurrection to read Ecclesiastes. I am saying "later" doesn't matter because the continual unfolding of postmortem existence doesn't apply to the view of the author of Ecclesiastes. For all your talk about being anachronistic you are doing this very thing. At the time of the writing of Ecclesiastes he obviously understands reality to end at death. Once dead always dead. It seems that this contradicts resurrection, but resurrection is not coming back into the former life nor the current age. It is new life in the age to come. I did not say resurrection was not material. What I have been saying is for the Preacher we do not live this life twice. Once dead, dead. You don't get a shot at it again. This does not contradict resurrection since resurrection is not living this life twice, it is being brought back to life in a renewed existence.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    Thom,It's not clear to me what kind of resource the Bible is for you, if at all. Does it inform your faith and practice? If so, how?These are the kind of questions I would like to see you respond to. It helps in a dialogue situation. If you have no cultural loyalties to speak of, except for anti-fundamentalism, that's your prerogative. But I will suggest that if that is the case, you will inevitably misunderstand the Bible through that very distortive prism.Sooner or later, if you want to do comparative religion, you have to try to understand texts on their own terms, not just spaz out as you read them because their points of departure are different from yours.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    John,My personal convictions are none of your business, and your remarks are ridiculous. "If you have no cultural loyalties to speak of, except for anti-fundamentalism, that's your prerogative. But I will suggest that if that is the case, you will inevitably misunderstand the Bible through that very distortive prism."Suggest it all you like. That doesn't make the characterization true or the "inevitable" result realistic. What you're doing is making this about me rather than my arguments, based in the text. Your earlier straw man about making a "category mistake" by not understanding "constitutional hermeneutics" is equally inane. We understand what "constitutional hermeneutics" are full well. We know how they work. We know why they work the way they do. We know their ins and outs. We know how they function in faith communities. We know why they are sustained. And we have made no comments about their appropriateness or inappropriateness for faith communities. We have reserved judgment. This is a discussion about what Qohelet believed versus what Jesus believed. Not a discussion about what "the Bible" says. "Sooner or later, if you want to do comparative religion, you have to try to understand texts on their own terms, not just spaz out as you read them because their points of departure are different from yours."This is another straw man from you. Stop making false accusations based on spurious assumptions.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    "If you have friends they are very patient people."Brian, you called me annoying. As it happens, I don't have friends. I've driven everyone away because I say "pahlease" incessantly. Give me a break. Now, the rest of your comment is ridiculous. You make a spurious distinction between "under the sun" and "eschatology" and expect it to be persuasive. It isn't. The Preacher isn't denying the possibility of returning to this life but leaving open the possibility of entering another one. That's some pretty creative exegesis there, sport. That's what they call "mental gymnastics." As I said yesterday, the fact that you are willing to utilize ridiculous arguments to fit the text to your pre-conceived biblical construct, ad nauseum, just means that we'll be here forever. It's not a stalemate. It's denial. But at the end of the day: you're still going to be an inerrantist, and I'm not.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05472129663402843316 Brian LePort

    @Thom,You are correct. You won't change your view and I won't change mine. It seems that you are the only one who knows how to read Ecclesiastes in a sense that it avoids any "exegetical gymnastics", or at least that is your starting point for discussion. Nevertheless, I appreciate your help as regards helping me filter out arguments I dislike or that distracted from my primary points. I has helped me format my own thinking on the matter which hasn't changed in essence but is a bit more cohesive now. I appreciate the dialog.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    "It seems that you are the only one who knows how to read Ecclesiastes in a sense that it avoids any 'exegetical gymnastics,' or at least that is your starting point for discussion."Um… no. I'm not the only one. McGrath concurs with my reading, as does the scholarly consensus. So, if by "only one" you mean "majority of biblical scholars," then yes, I am the only one.I'm glad you've found the dialogue helpful. I noticed the evolution in your argument too. Too bad it stopped evolving where it did. Peace.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    John, my hermeneutic is to accept that there are different voices in Scripture rather than seek to force them to speak in unison when they seem to me to clearly resist doing so. I then try to join in the conversation, remembering that if they are fallible, so am I.Brian, I think it could be interesting to explore whether the elimination of the sun in Revelation's apocalyptic future was precisely to avoid contradiction with Ecclesiastes. But strictly speaking it sounds like the sun is abolished after the resurrection, which leaves the contradiction rather than resolving it.Thom, you have been making some really good points, but I suspect that if you make them even slightly more graciously, treating your dialogue partners as you would yourself want to be treated, you will have a far greater chance of their being receptive to considering the points you make seriously and thoughtfully.Thank you all for continuing this conversation!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    James,I hear what you're saying, but I haven't treated anyone here in a way I wouldn't wish to be treated myself. I don't mince words, and I don't mind when others don't either. The one thing I've objected to here on principle is John's straw-men.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    Thom,I have no option but to guess at where you are coming from if you won't say.I have to make assumptions based on limited evidence so long as you remain in the "I will neither confirm nor deny" mode. You seem to be blissfully unaware that interpretation is a circle in which we are fully engaged as human beings, or not. If you knew this to be the case, you would be willing and eager to discuss how your cultural loyalties impact your approach to the texts being discussed and to other interpreters of the texts. Within the circle, these loyalties are a feature, not a bug, but if they are covert as in your case, they become a bug. Your faux objectivity is easy to see through. Not only that, but your commitment to understanding individual biblical texts, not to mention the Bible (a textual corpus which as such seems to incense you), on their own terms, and on its terms (in the sense of the historical reasons why a canon was developed in the first place), is far from clear. Your unwillingness to discuss your cultural loyalties is tantatamount to saying that your interpretive standpoint is literally beyond question. This is the opposite of true scholarship and the opposite of a friendly discussion. I am forced to conclude that you are not interested in the texts per se, but rather, they are an excuse for you to get back at a particular class of interpreters of the text. Call me inane all you want. It's a sophomorish approach to discussion.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    John,You said: "I have no option but to guess at where you are coming from if you won't say."But earlier, I said: "I've dealt with genocide and inerrancy on my own blog."To quote something else you said: "I'm not going to repeat the discussion we had here, but I invite you to walk on over and contribute to the debate there if the subject matter interests you."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    You said: "Your unwillingness to discuss your cultural loyalties is tantatamount to saying that your interpretive standpoint is literally beyond question. This is the opposite of true scholarship and the opposite of a friendly discussion. I am forced to conclude that you are not interested in the texts per se, but rather, they are an excuse for you to get back at a particular class of interpreters of the text."All of this is nonsense. I have refused nothing. I have referred you to my discussions of these things. You are mounting false accusation upon false accusation, and it's getting you nowhere. "This is the opposite of true scholarship and the opposite of a friendly discussion."Stop falsely accusing me.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    John,You said: "Call me inane all you want. It's a sophomorish approach to discussion."I didn't call you inane. I called your staw-man inane. It was an inane attempt to discredit me based on spurious grounds. It was inane because it was spurious—not based in reality. Nobody "refused" any invitation from you. You didn't offer any invitation. You only ever made accusations about what "must be the case" about me (and other "errantists"). That is sophomoric. Straw-men are sophomoric. Calling straw-men inane is not sophomoric. It's just accurate.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    John, you said: "You seem to be blissfully unaware that interpretation is a circle in which we are fully engaged as human beings, or not. . . . Your faux objectivity is easy to see through."If you repeat a lie often enough, people start to see it as the truth. You are putting words on my lips. You are essentially lying. Stop it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05472129663402843316 Brian LePort

    @James,I have never considered the removal of the sun in Revelation as being a response to Ecclesiastes, but it is an interesting idea. Have you ever seen anyone make this reference in any books or articles?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    I would think that if anything it has something to do with the defeat of the Roman empire.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    James,Thank you for hosting the conversation.I'm going to invite you to explain yourself a little bit more if that's all right. I can't quite tell yet but perhaps you are arguing for a non-foundationalist approach to scripture; for a take on scripture such that it no longer has a constitutional function within communities of faith, or at least not in your community of faith. Here are some questions that come to my mind, based on your brief description of your position.(1) If your approach to scripture is determined by the statement that the authors of scripture don't agree on much of anything, that in any case you needn't agree with them in any strong sense, and that we and they are fallible in our judgments, what is it that keeps you in a community of faith that self-evidently privileges the texts of the Bible over all others? You have destroyed the basis on which that privilege is accorded. (I seem to remember that you do not identify as a theological liberal, but what I see you doing here would seem to fit into that pattern.)(2) Let's say I am an interpreter of the Constitution and other elements of what many scholars call American scripture. In theory, I might make statements of the kind you do: the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the Gettysburg Address and so on are revealed ti be on close examination fraught with internal tension, diversity of points of view only partly reconciled, etc. The authors of the texts are as fallible as you and I are. But there is something odd about this. Interpreters of the American scripture, the ones we look up to and accord professional dignity, do not go about interpreting said texts as an incoherent mass of opinions (even if, at some level, that is what they are), but as a vehicle suited to shaping and determining the self-understanding of a polity of reference to which we all (that is, US citizens) feel more or less undivided loyalty. That loyalty then transfers to the texts themselves. Hence you can read article after article in peer-reviewed articles by lawyers, not to mention SCOTUS decisions, and the underlying principle is always the same: the constitution (and other elements of American Scripture) is deemed to be a text which one never contradicts, notwithstanding all of the caveats previously mentioned. It is my conviction that the Bible has and continues to function in an analogous way for Jews and Christians, and that this is a very good thing. Debates about particular shibboleths almost act as a smokescreen such that these more basic realities are overlooked. What do you think?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    Thom,I invite you once more to be up front about your own convictions. So long as you repeat that they are none of our business, I am left to remake you over and over again into a straw man, because you present yourself as a straw man. If you remain at a loss at what I a driving at, let me know. Sorry if I won't stop. You have a rhetorical strategy that to my mind requires fisking.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    John,You said: "Thom,I invite you once more to be up front about your own convictions. So long as you repeat that they are none of our business, I am left to remake you over and over again into a straw man, because you present yourself as a straw man. If you remain at a loss at what I a driving at, let me know. Sorry if I won't stop. You have a rhetorical strategy that to my mind requires fisking."Nonsense. First, I have not refused to answer your question. I have redirected you to a place where I have. Continue to ignore that fact as it suits you. Second, my "silence" is not license to begin straw-manning. You never asked a question. You made an accusation; I ignored it because it was silly. Then you accused me of "refusing an invitation." Go read my blog series on inerrancy. Do your homework. Then make your accusations.OR, conversely, you can ignore me, which would be more to my liking.

  • Mike B.

    In regard to "minority viewpoint" comment, I want to clarify my statement.The idea of bodily resurrection is most certainly a late development, but not necessarily the idea of an afterlife or underworld of some sort.This is one of those ideas that is barely given attention in the Hebrew Bible probably for the same reason that the whole subject of demonology is largely ignored or possibly even deliberately suppressed. The theology of the Hebrew Bible, especially of the Torah is particularly interested in emphasizing YHWH's hegemony over the cosmos, and as a result, pushes forces such as demons, magic and other gods to the periphery to such an extent that they are barely mentioned.Witchcraft and mediumship are expressly forbidden, but their existence and potential efficacy and never actually denied. Of course the famous example is Saul's consultation with a medium in 1 Sam 28, in which the spirit of Samuel does indeed come up from the earth, greatly vexed for being disturbed. What Samuel's conscious state is supposed to be is not known, but his spirit has certainly not been annihilated.How much diversity there is in the Hebrew Bible on this idea is hard to know. For example, when patriarchs are gathered to their people, are their bones simply gathered with the bones of their ancestors, or are they supposed to be enjoying their company in the afterlife? It is not clear.But as I read the HB, my impression is that spirits were largely supposed to live on in the underworld, but that those responsible particularly for the Torah did not want people to be preoccupied with the dead and so be seduced into practicing magic and necromancy. Though certain of the Psalms do seem to have a fairly pessimistic outlook on death, it is rare to find an outright rejection of this view, which is what makes it peculiar in my opinion.Again, there isn't a lot of evidence to go on, so this is open to debate, but a complete rejection of the persistence of the spirit after death is just so uncommon to the cultures which surrounded the Israeites, that I would be very surprised if did turn out to be the dominant view of the HB.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    "Life" in the underworld was the lot of all people (good and bad) and was a very shadowy existence, almost like the dreams of the dead. There was no idea of coming back from that, and the idea of calling a spirit out of the underworld through a medium was like disturbing the spirit from its rightful place of shadowy rest.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    I don't think Ecclesiastes denies the underworld. But I think it is clear that "life" in the underworld is not in any way comparable to life, as Brian put it, "under the sun." It is a shadowy existence, and the lot of everyone is the same. The Odyssey for example shows how this "life" was conceived. It was almost as if the spirits were trapped between existence and non-existence. They were more like echoes of lives than lives themselves.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    Kind of like the Avatars in Caprica, except not as conscious. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    Look, John.I have no problem with what you're essentially saying. I understand what canonical hermeneutics is. I understand how it works. (I've said this.) I have never claimed to be "objective." That's you putting words in my mouth. I have never claimed to read the text "from nowhere." I have never refused any invitation, primarily because no invitation was ever offered. I have pointed you to my blog where I answer the question you're asking me (on someone else's blog) here. The issue is not canonical hermeneutics, not for me. I am not judging or condemning canonical hermeneutics. My position is simply that if Ecclesiastes weren't in the canon, then its meaning would be fairly clear to most everybody, and there would be no need to reconcile what it says with what other canonical books say about the afterlife. I have no problem with people who are committed to canonical exegesis exercising canonical exegesis. My problem is when they blur the lines between canonical exegesis and historical exegesis, as some have been wont to do in this thread. Got it?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    JohnIf your approach to scripture is determined by the statement that the authors of scripture don't agree on much of anything, that in any case you needn't agree with them in any strong sense, and that we and they are fallible in our judgments, what is it that keeps you in a community of faith that self-evidently privileges the texts of the Bible over all others?You hit on something here in your question to James that I have been thinking about for a very long time. Because I feel myself strongly leaning towards the questioning of continued authority of these texts.I recently finished (just this afternoon) the book "Why the Jews Rejected Jesus"…which has some great parts and some not so great parts…..but one of the most interesting things about it was the numerous references to various rabbis throughout the ages and their handling of the Jewish -Christian tensions that started in the first century and continued on up until the present time.Something I hadn't really been aware of was the belief that there was a written Torah, considered purposely cryptic and symbolic, and an oral Torah, never written down, but supposedly given to Moses by God as a "key" to unlock the written text.So…when Jesus rejected the "oral" Torah as being "traditions of men"…it was tantamount to rejecting the written Torah.This is obviously explained from a "faith" point of view on the part of the author…because I don't think most scholars believe that Moses personally wrote the entire Torah…..Short story long…..this idea of "oral Torah" as a key to unlock a text further underlined to me the reality that the meaning of texts are at times inflexible, and at other times extremely fluid.So….the question becomes….If we are a part of the continuation of Judaism/Christianity, how much loyalty are we obligated to pay to the texts, and how much freedom do we have to continue contributing to the way these texts are interpreted and used?I don't think it's impossible to find a way forward.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    Thom,It was you who said that "My personal convictions are none of your business." This is the point I have chosen to engage you on. Your evasion of it is telling.If instead your personal convictions are a matter of public record, if your online presence is more than straw-mannish, well then, why not provide a brief summary? If you don't, one can only assume that you have something to hide.And no, I will not ignore you, though that is now your stated desire. Easy to see why. I will not ignore you, because you call into question things I care about deeply. On the other hand, I suppose I can't expect you to come clean in the sense I was hoping. Your rhetorical strategy, so far as I can see, depends on you not ocming clean.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    JOHN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!I have pointed you to my blog where I answer you damn question. Go there and read it and stop accusing me of refusing to answer your damn question!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    Thom,per your last post to John:I don't think separating canonical exegesis and historical exegesis is as simple as that. Ecclesiastes was included in the canon because it obviously had value in the eyes of its readers, which happened to be Jewish and later Christian. The very fact that it gets grouped in with other books could be seen as evidence that it wasn't considered so completely different in its scope as to be incompatible.It's one side of a conversation.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    John said: "If you don't [provide a brief summary of your position], one can only assume that you have something to hide."You are incredible!How about the assumption that I don't want to have to repeat myself, or the assumption that McGrath's blog is not the place to rehash my view which I spent hundreds of pages detailing on my own blog, or the assumption that I don't think you deserve for me to briefly summarize it because you've done nothing but straw-man me and hurl false accusations against me. How about those possibilities?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    ah…I meant the last post before this last one 😉

  • Anonymous

    Why is John Hobbins refusing to debate the passage? His repeated ad hominems and generalities about biblical interpretation while refusing to discuss the actual subject matter of this thread is very revealing indeed. But not in the way he intends.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    Thom,You say:"My problem is when they blur the lines between canonical exegesis and historical exegesis, as some have been wont to do in this thread."I agree, though let's not be surprised that the relationship between historical and canonical exegesis continues to be hotly debated. If Supreme Court judges continue to hotly debate with respect to their canon, why should it be any different among those for whom the Bible is a canon? And if the Bible is not a canon for you (and I would appreciate if you said if it was or not; I don't see why that is so much to ask), then fine, absolutely fine, God bless you, and I will evaluate your historical exegesis on its merits, in the hopes that you will do the same with mine. On that point, I would say that there are no grounds for thinking that the frame-narrator of Qohelet or the quoted Qohelet thought of the afterlife in the terms we are familiar with from the Dan 12, the Maccabean literature, DSS literature, and the NT.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    Terri,All sorts of contradictions made it into the canon. That says nothing about the historical meaning of the contradictory texts. It says something about the Rabbis ability to employ canonical hermeneutics.

  • Anonymous

    Hmmm… Hobbins hasn't "revealed" to us his "personal convictions" about… errr… the sun thing that has been discussed. He therefore MUST have "something to hide"!!!!!!!!!!!!What a dingbat.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    John,Read my blog.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    Amen, Anonymous.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    Thom Agreed to an extent.Though I would say that the reason those contradictions made it into Scripture wasn't by mistake, but an attempt to preserve what were considered ideas and texts relevant to the overall ethos of Judaism…and later Christianity.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    No argument there.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    John said: "On that point, I would say that there are no grounds for thinking that the frame-narrator of Qohelet or the quoted Qohelet thought of the afterlife in the terms we are familiar with from the Dan 12, the Maccabean literature, DSS literature, and the NT."So, after all this, John reveals that he agrees with my position. That means, John must not understand canonical hermeneutics! I feel sorry for John who cannot even do a hermeneutical two-step, much less a jig.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    Anonymous, I thought the discussion about approaches to Scripture to be the topic of greatest interest on this thread. But if you want to know my thoughts about the Qohelet's specific take on death and a presumed afterlife, I am happy to oblige.I was Michael Fox's research assistant when he wrote his commentary on Qohelet now published by Eerdmans. I don't always agree with my teacher on things, but I do on the question at hand. Qohelet's epistemology is of a sort that he would never take texts like those in 1 Enoch (which predate him) and Dan 12 (which postdates him, according to the hypothesis I follow) as demonstrative of anything. He trusts only what his experience confirms for him. It follows automatically that for him what happens after death is unknowable (3:20). In 3:21 he counters the view (already current in Judaism of the time, though not necessarily the consensus view) that the soul ascends to life with God after death. He has to counter that, because if he didn't, it would no longer be the case that everything is absurd, his great existential insight. I could go in this vein if you wish. It's a very interesting topic.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    John: "He has to counter that, because if he didn't, it would no longer be the case that everything is absurd, his great existential insight."Thom: "How could the preacher go on to declare that everything that anybody does in life is meaningless (whether good or bad)? If the Preacher believes in the immortality of the righteous, then this life is emphatically not meaningless: this life would be testing ground for the righteous to attain immortality, and therefore have a meaning. Death would not be the end. But the Preacher views death as the end, full stop, which is why he is able to declare all things meaningless." I see why John has been at my teeth.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    Anonymous, You might want to read over my comments with more care. I imply very frequently that I am a classical sort of Christian who is comfortable with the language of inerrancy and the long-standing place of privilege synagogue and church have given to Scripture.How about you? What is your position? So far, you have been long on insulting remarks but have otherwise offered nothing of your own. Do you something besides criticism of others to add to the conversation.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    John,Anonymous was criticizing you precisely for criticizing others (falsely) without providing anything substantive to the conversation. You have the gall to point the finger at him?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    Sorry: or her.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    Thom,I don't remember suggesting that we disagreed on the historical exegetical question. I've been suggesting that we are far apart on how we understand and practice canonical hermeneutics. You still haven't given a straightforward answer as to whether you yourself practice a canonical hermeneutic. If you answer this question on your blog, please provide a specific link. I will be happy to read it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    Also, John, you might want to read over Anonymous' comment with more care. S/He didn't accuse you of not revealing your position on inerrancy. S/He accused you of not revealing your position on the Sun in Revelation. In other words, Anonymous was being funny.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    John,"I've been suggesting that we are far apart on how we understand and practice canonical hermeneutics."No, you'be been "suggesting" that I DON'T understand canonical hermeneutics at all, which is a false accusation. Get it right. "You still haven't given a straightforward answer as to whether you yourself practice a canonical hermeneutic." For a guy who accuses people of using self-serving rhetoric, you sure do use a lot of polemical rhetoric yourself. I haven't given a "straight-forward" answer? Give me a break. I'll give it again: read my blog. As for providing a link, when you invited me to your blog, you didn't offer a link, so I figured if you expected me to find your post without a link, I could expect the same from you.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    Oh good grief: http://thomstark.net/?p=529There. Now you've officially got me soliciting my blog on somebody else's blog. Sorry, Doc.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    Terri,Both Judaism and Christianity continue to privilege the texts of scripture in a thousand and one ways. Think about what is the basis of exposition in worship. Think about what texts are otherwise repeated, both in public and private devotion. Think about how arguments about matters of faith and practice are constructed. Think about the sources and background of hymns and piyyut. Even when the background is more extensive than scripture, scripture remains the one fixed element. It is unusual, except in very liberal settings, for Scripture to be outright contradicted in a community of faith. Recontextualized and re-appropriated in changed circumstances, of course. Not all of these reappropriations are equally advisable either. So there is and has to be an ongoing discussion.A couple of other points. Jesus did not overthrow the authority of oral interpretation of the law. But he noted his profound disagreements with *other* oral interpreters of the law of his day. See Matthew 23. One way of approaching the question is whether you wish to position yourself in the slipstream of theological liberalism or not. Judaism for Christians is an interesting test case. It used to be, and still is in some Jewish circles, that a sharp distinction was made between praxis (halakha, torah observance) and belief (orthodoxy). But this sharp distinction is not so popular anymore. An anything goes approach to belief naturally correlates with an anything goes approach to practice. Within liberalism, both in its Jewish and Christian variants, a neo-orthodox reaction sets in as predictably as the clock strike 12 twice a day. It's something that liberals do well to come to grips with. Even if you don't agree with this analysis, I'm interested to know what your own response is to the questions I directed to James.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    LOL, Thom. James is on record as encouraging "self-solicitation," so long as it to the point. Thank you. I'll be back with some comments soon.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    I think you'll find what you're looking for in both the Conclusion and the Appendix to my series.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    @John,These days I'm happy to wear the label "liberal" even though I'm perhaps more "Bultmannian" than "Liberal" while in others "Romantic" might be even better still. I'm not sure whether that will change anything in our conversation, but I thought you should know, since you asked!@Brian,I've never read an article on the subject, to my recollection. It is just something that came to mind as you were discussing the idea that Ecclesiastes' statements are limited to life "under the sun."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    Thom,Now I understand where you are coming from. You say you are a Christian, and refer to yourself at times as a liberal Christian. But you regard the Bible as a text to condemn in the strongest possible terms. Your focus is on condemning Scripture. You say you like Jesus, but not I take it, the Jesus of the gospels. The Jesus of the gospels and, many scholars agree, the pre-Easter Jesus that historians try to reconstruct, talked a lot about hell, more than anyone else in the Bible, and combined that with an apocalyptic take on history. Here I could be wrong, but it seems to me that the Jesus you like is a figment of your imagination.People like Albert Schweitzer, whom I regard as a fine example of a theologian who did his very best to take both the Jesus of history and the Jesus of faith with great seriousness and intellectual freedom, speak about scripture and God and so on in an utterly different spirit than yours. Now, if Schweitzer is to be classed as a theological liberal, I would simply note that the distance that separates your position from his is far greater than the distance that separates my position from his.Unlike liberal Christians, you are mostly interested in debunking Christianity. So I think you are wrong to consider yourself a liberal Christian. On the details of your historical exegesis of the Bible, I second the critical observations of Michael Westmoreland-White on your blog. This is not the place to offer a thorough critique, nor is there much point, since your views are novel in many cases and need to go through the refining fire of a peer-review process. Since you seem to have a academic career path in mind, you will understand what I am getting at. Back to canonical hermeneutics. As I thought, you reject it out of hand. You are not interested in it in any shape or form. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that is the plain sense of your proposals. Which is absolutely fine, but of course you cannot expect any church, even a very pluralistic church, to have you in one of its pulpits or teaching Sunday School.I'm not saying that you have an expectation of that sort. You call yourself a Christian, but that refers to your cultural birthright, not a set of beliefs that might be called Christian in content in any straightforward sense. I appreciate your honesty. You are a Christian in the same sense as someone born in the USA is an American even though he believes that the Constitution is a flawed and damnable document that should be replaced by who knows what. Someone who would not be an American at all if she was born elsewhere and sought citizenship. It couldn't happen except by lying of the most blatant sort, since you cannot become a citizen without declaring loyalty (which is not the same thing as being an uncritical person) to the Constitution and to its role as Constitution. You are careful to note that you cultivate no loyalties to the Bible whatsoever. Indeed, you are against the whole idea of a Bible. Have you found a place of Christian worship where you feel at all comfortable with the setup? Somehow I doubt it. It is often the case that people who have a bone to pick with inerrancy really have a bone to pick with Christianity as a more-or-less fix set of beliefs and practices. As far as I can see, this is clearly your case.Once again, I appreciate your honesty. But notice that we can agree on some matters of strictly historical exegesis, not of the Bible, which you throw out as a unit of hermeneutical interest, but at least of some of its component parts.That's something, a small piece of common ground.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    "Now I understand where you are coming from. You say you are a Christian, and refer to yourself at times as a liberal Christian. But you regard the Bible as a text to condemn in the strongest possible terms. Your focus is on condemning Scripture."Now you don't understand where I'm coming from. Astounding. If what you took away from that was that I "condemn Scripture," you obviously aren't a very good reader.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    "You say you like Jesus, but not I take it, the Jesus of the gospels. The Jesus of the gospels and, many scholars agree, the pre-Easter Jesus that historians try to reconstruct, talked a lot about hell, more than anyone else in the Bible, and combined that with an apocalyptic take on history. Here I could be wrong, but it seems to me that the Jesus you like is a figment of your imagination."Yes, you are wrong. You obviously haven't read my posts, "Jesus Was Wrong," in two parts. You also obviously haven't read my post on millenarianism, or my lectures on apocalypticsm. I am fully aware that Jesus talked about hell a lot. That's not what I like about him.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    "Unlike liberal Christians, you are mostly interested in debunking Christianity. So I think you are wrong to consider yourself a liberal Christian." Um… ridiculous.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    "On the details of your historical exegesis of the Bible, I second the critical observations of Michael Westmoreland-White on your blog. This is not the place to offer a thorough critique, nor is there much point, since your views are novel in many cases and need to go through the refining fire of a peer-review process. Since you seem to have a academic career path in mind, you will understand what I am getting at."Michael Westmoreland-White is not an historian. And my views are not novel. Everything I've argued throughout this series is either consensus or strongly represented by serious scholars. You haven't read my series. You read the conclusion–which details what I do with the consensus.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    "Back to canonical hermeneutics. As I thought, you reject it out of hand. You are not interested in it in any shape or form. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that is the plain sense of your proposals."You are wrong. I do not reject it out of hand. Not one thing I've said indicates that. I reject canonical exegesis that rejects hitorical-criticism. I argue that the two should be held together, but that historical-criticism should inform canonical exegesis.Again, you're not a very careful reader.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    "You call yourself a Christian, but that refers to your cultural birthright, not a set of beliefs that might be called Christian in content in any straightforward sense."Notice how you ignore all the other reasons I consider myself a Christian and just cite the cultural birthright.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    "You are careful to note that you cultivate no loyalties to the Bible whatsoever. Indeed, you are against the whole idea of a Bible."You don't know how strong I'm resisting the urge to say "bulls**t" in response. You are an utterly dreadful reader. I am not against the idea of a Bible. How you could glean that from a post in which I argue for the preservation of the canon is beyond me. You continue to falsely accuse me. This is why I was not eager to answer your question: anything I say is going to be twisted by you so that I fit your preconceptions about what I must represent.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    "Have you found a place of Christian worship where you feel at all comfortable with the setup? Somehow I doubt it."Yes, several.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    "It is often the case that people who have a bone to pick with inerrancy really have a bone to pick with Christianity as a more-or-less fix set of beliefs and practices. As far as I can see, this is clearly your case."You can't see very far.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    As for your comments on Schweitzer, he and I like Jesus for the same reasons, and disagree with Jesus for the same reasons. So you're kidding yourself there as well.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    James,That you are a Romantic I always knew. It is one of the reasons we will always get along, even if we have sharp disagreements. I assume you are saying that you are a Bultmannian in terms of his demythologization project, a project he understood to be necessary from a completely loyal and pastoral point of view as a Lutheran. I do think that the combination of theological liberalism and Bultmann's project makes for an insipid brew. Bultmann himself was saved from that to a large extent because he was in other respects *neo-orthodox.* So a number of his published sermons could be preached anywhere today in evangelical churches, but would sound very strange in "social justice" churches or the like.An interesting paradox.It would be interesting to dig up some of Bultmann's sermons on passages from the OT. I seem to remember reading an Advent sermon or two by him. I smiled and smiled because, as I remember, there are just some things that he doesn't want to demythologize. This is, in my view, the saving grace of most demythologizers. They are very inconsistent in the application of their project. Thank heaven, if perchance the mythological reference is not too unbecoming.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    Thom,Let readers judge for themselves about what your focus is. You take a series of texts from scripture and say the following about them: [T]hey must be retained as scripture, precisely as condemned texts. Their status as condemned is exactly their scriptural value. . . . . [W]e, sometimes with guidance from other scriptures, sometimes without, must condemn them in our engagement with them. That they stand as condemned is what they mean for us as scripture."Your wording makes it clear that you reject canonical hermeneutics, because set up a "canon of the canon" (content to be decided by you) by which to condemn parts of it. If instead, you had taken the "canon within the canon" approach, you would be on somewhat less shaky ground. In that case, it would be important to establish criteria such that things like Marcionitism are disallowed. So that's a question: how would you critique a position like Marcion's? On what grounds would you declare it in or out, if the question interests you.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13633407562888054314 Ted

    I'm not sure that calling Christianity to be intellectually honest about its source material is the same thing as debunking.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13633407562888054314 Ted

    And dang if I didn't forget to click for the email updates.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    John,Maybe if you'd quote me in my entirety and without the convenient ellipses your case wouldn't be as strong. If people want to "let my words speak for themselves," they should read my post in its entirety, as well as the followup interview, and not just John Hobbins's convenient prooftexting: http://thomstark.net/?p=537http://thomstark.net/?p=548

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    John,For a man with such glowing credentials, you are one of the most polemical and dishonest "dialogue partners" I've ever encountered, and that's saying a lot, because I normally deal with fundies.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    Here are some quotes from my blog that John (tellingly!!!) failed to acknowledge: When I talk about “condemning” a text, I’m not talking about cutting it out of our canon. I’m saying that it needs to be read just as regularly, precisely because it shows us who we can be (the bad).. . . And as for being “selective” with our texts, we all do that anyway. We all emphasize certain scriptural perspectives to the de-emphasis of others. I’m suggesting that being conscious about that fact will actually help to prevent us from being selective arbitrarily and will force us to struggle to find good reasons why we’re making the choices we’re making. Everybody makes the choices. If they don’t realize they’re making the choices, then they are more susceptible to having made those choices arbitrarily, which is a bad thing.. . . The basic point is, the Christian Scriptures are our basic grammar. They are “authoritative from the ground up” as my friend Alex Giltner likes to say. That means, they provide a basic framework for seeing the world, and basic metaphors and claims that direct us and help us to make sense of our experiences. As our grammar from the ground up, however, our Scriptures are subject to criticism or challenge from an infinite number of other voices. We need to be able to hear those voices not as threats to us, but as challenges and potential “words from the Lord,” even if they are spoken to us in a threatening manner. And we need to have a faith that’s mature enough to be able to discern God’s voice, in the tension between this Scripture here, that Scripture there, this atheist, that Muslim, and this impoverished community. God is not confined to the pages of a book. God has the power to speak to us, and always chooses to speak to us, only to the extent that we are really willing to listen. Listening to God means being willing to listen to the wholly Other—to the alien, to the stranger, to the enemy, to the heretic, to the fundamentalist, etc.—————-Of course, those are just snippets. Anyone interested would do well to read the whole posts to get the full sense of what I'm saying. Of course, I don't expect most people (other than false accusers like John) to be interested in what I have to say.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    Thom,I am fine with a lot of individual things you say. But I find many other things you say to be quite indefensible. That doesn't make me a false accuser. It does mean I disagree with you strongly on a number of issues. To begin with, I would be a whole lot happier if you took Michael Westmoreland-White's criticisms to heart. That would mean softening the rough edges of your polemics. I wish you wouldn't take it so personally. If you come to SBL-Atlanta, I promise to buy you a beer.If you are not a Bultmannian like the one whose guest we are on these threads, but aligned with Schweitzer, who did not cotton to demythologization, so much the better. Remember that for Schweitzer, it was not a question of "separating the transitory from the permanent elements" in Jesus' world-view, but of translating the essence of the entire kitten-kaboodle into "our own terms."If you are going to be a Schweitzerian, and the church could use more of them, then you need to find a way to avoid saying that "I don't like the fact that Jesus threatened people with hell" or something to that effect. You need to say, "in our terms, this is how we need to say what Jesus did" in that respect. And take responsibility for doing so of course (I don't mean this as a criticism: on the contrary.) Otherwise, I submit, you really do end up liking a Jesus of your own imagination.Look, I know by now that you react very strongly to the kind of substantial criticism I offer. I am trying to knock you off your pedestal a bit. I mean well by it. I really do. I do see you as a sort of iconoclastic St. Simeon the Stylite.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    Dammit, John."I am fine with a lot of individual things you say. But I find many other things you say to be quite indefensible. That doesn't make me a false accuser." No, what makes you a false accuser is that you accuse me of saying things that I do not say. "To begin with, I would be a whole lot happier if you took Michael Westmoreland-White's criticisms to heart. That would mean softening the rough edges of your polemics." Michael Westmoreland-White's criticisms have nothing to do with any "rough edges of my polemics" and they are underinformed. I have known him for years. He wrote one of my recommendations for my grad school applications. I take everything he says to heart. But is criticisms aren't substantive. "I wish you wouldn't take it so personally. If you come to SBL-Atlanta, I promise to buy you a beer."I'm not taking anything "personally." I'm calling you on the carpet for making false accusations. You're wasting everyone's time. "If you are going to be a Schweitzerian, and the church could use more of them, then you need to find a way to avoid saying that 'I don't like the fact that Jesus threatened people with hell' or something to that effect. You need to say, 'in our terms, this is how we need to say what Jesus did' in that respect. And take responsibility for doing so of course (I don't mean this as a criticism: on the contrary.)"Well, if you read me, that's precisely what I do. So again, your accusation falls flat. Here's an example: "The realization that Jesus was wrong about the imminent end of the existing world order has opened us up to freely analyze the sociological factors that contributed to the worldview to which Jesus subscribed, and really for the first time to see its significance. Its significance is that it is a complex, beautiful and incisively accurate expression of outrage at the existing world order, and a clarion call for fidelity to a new social system based upon justice rather than violence. The belief that the existing system is so corrupt that it is presently in the very throws of death, and the belief that the new system is so ripe that the world is already in labor with it (Rom 8:22), this is the cry of the revolutionary spirit. The development of the belief in the resurrection of the body, and the eschatological resurrection of the faithful—this should be understood as part of that expression of the revolutionary spirit. This is not the voice of despair at the world, but the voice of hope, and this, I submit, is the voice of God speaking to us through our scriptures."So, once again, your criticisms fail to hit their mark. You go on to say, "Otherwise, I submit, you really do end up liking a Jesus of your own imagination."No, I do not. "Look, I know by now that you react very strongly to the kind of substantial criticism I offer."I react strongly to your insubstantial criticism. You haven't once criticized me for something I actually believe. "I am trying to knock you off your pedestal a bit. I mean well by it."If I were on a pedestal, that would be fine. But the only pedestal I'm on is the one you've put me on with your false accusations and straw-men. If you want to engage me, then engage what I actually say and believe. If you want to engage this other person, come up with a name for him. Call him "Dwayne," or something. "Dwayne believes we should condemn the Bible and creates Jesus in his own image." That will be fine. I will critique Dwayne right along with you.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    Notice, readers, onslaught after onslaught by John of false accusations. Then notice that when I expose them as false accusations, John never acknowledges he was wrong, but instead, accuses me of "taking things personally."You can keep your beer, John. You need it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    Another point about Schweitzer, and Bultmann, too, for that matter.They believed in the Christ of faith. The difference, I think, is that for Schweitzer, he encountered the risen Christ in the preaching of the Word, and he believed that Christ to signify a reality that transcends our existences and time and space, though he insisted that it was a mystery that such was the case. Whereas Bultmann was not satisfied with the mystery. He baldly claimed (at times at least, I doubt he did so consistently) that the risen Christ has no existence apart from the preached kerygma.Furthermore, for Schweitzer the Jesus of history had a positive valence it simply does not have for Bultmann, who thought of the Jesus of history, as "according to the flesh" kata sarkon, in explicitly Pauline terms. That was a very disappointing aspect of Bultmann's thought. No wonder his best students like Kaesemann chose a different path. In fact, Kaesemann was able to put tremendous bite into his exegesis because he also dared question some of the fundamental presuppositions of the Enlightenment. That is something that is above liberals' paygrade as it were. I'm thinking that James McGrath might be closer to the positions of Schweitzer as opposed to Bultmann than he realizes. But I'm not sure that either James or Thom are familiar with Kaesemann's theological program, which connects with that of Schweitzer but differs from that of Bultmann in very interesting ways.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    John, your description of Schweitzer's view sounds just like my understanding of Bultmann. His main point was that it is impossible to separate a "mythological" shell from a timeless kernel. The whole Christian message is couched in a pre-scientific worldview (his definition of "mythology") and the whole thing needed to be reinterpreted for our time if it were to be possible to be Christian at all, since no act of the will can transform a modern person into a pre-modern one.I often disagree with Bultmann's specific answers on various issues and questions. But his identification of the key issue, and his view of how to look for an answer, seem to me to be spot on.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    John, it seems we were writing at the same time. Closer to Schweitzer? You may be right in your overall estimation, and it is certainly true about at least some points!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09826280552590911315 Alethinon61

    @Thom"People keep saying (with Kaz) that the Preacher's view is compatible with conditional immortality. It is not. If it were, how could the preacher go on to declare that everything that anybody does in life is meaningless (whether good or bad)?"Because it is not the preacher's belief in or knowledge of conditional immortality that supports this view. It is his accurate statement that "the dead know nothing", which is true in the present age, i.e. the age to which his words apply. "If the Preacher believes in the immortality of the righteous, then this life is emphatically not meaningless…"The preacher doesn't have to believe in the immortality of the righteous in order to offer insight into the state of the dead, and it is his insight into the state of the dead that those who believe in conditional immortality refer to in making their case.~Kaz

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    Kaz,He's not "offering insight into the state of the dead." The whole point of his discussion of the dead is to offer insight into the state of the living. If you've missed that, then you've missed everything.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09826280552590911315 Alethinon61

    @Thom,You are mistaken. The preacher doesn't have to be *focusing* on the state of the dead to offer insights into the state of the dead. If you've missed that then you've missed everything that pertains to my focus in this thread. As I told you before, I don't have a dog in your fight.I would suggest that you do some reading from the conditionalist's perspective as this might help you avoid arguing with straw-men.~Kaz

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    Kaz,I have read numerous books and essays on conditional immortality. I am quite familiar with it. You'll have to be more precise about what straw men I'm attacking, because I don't follow. As pertains to what you said: "The preacher doesn't have to be *focusing* on the state of the dead to offer insights into the state of the dead."My point was that his insight is about the significance of life under the sun. That is the purpose of his remarks about the dead.You said, "Because it is not the preacher's belief in or knowledge of conditional immortality that supports this view. It is his accurate statement that 'the dead know nothing,' which is true in the present age, i.e. the age to which his words apply."But the Preacher says: "Never again will they have any share in all that happens under the sun."This rules out the possibility of conditional immortality in the mind of the Preacher. Then you said, "The preacher doesn't have to believe in the immortality of the righteous in order to offer insight into the state of the dead, and it is his insight into the state of the dead that those who believe in conditional immortality refer to in making their case."What insight into the state of the dead do they refer to? That the dead "know nothing"? If they refer to that, then they must come up with some way of explaining the fact that the Preacher goes on to deny the possibility of a return from the realm of the dead. "If you've missed that then you've missed everything that pertains to my focus in this thread."I'm not sure what it is I'm missing."I would suggest that you do some reading from the conditionalist's perspective as this might help you avoid arguing with straw-men."To reiterate: please identify the straw-man I'm arguing with.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    Thanks, Thom, for helping us understand how you translate Jesus into your terms: he is a man full of outrage, opposed to violence, a revolutionary. You understand Paul in Romans 8 in the same terms.We are very very far from Schweitzer at this point. Surely you will admit that.Surely Schweitzer was right that Jesus was an anti-revolutionary.But perhaps you do not disagree with Schweitzer in this sense so much as use "revolutionary spirit" as a handy metaphor for what you think is necessary in our day. The risk you run is the same one revolutionaries typically face: you know what you are against the status quo, but it's not clear that you have a viable alternative to offer. It's not that hard to describe the historical Jesus. (1) He was an itinerant missionary who saw himself as one called on to seek and save the lost of Israel. To his own surprise he ends up becoming a means of salvation for a few Gentiles as well. (2) He was a public preacher and moralist, an innovative interpreter of the Torah, one whose first-hand knowledge and loyalty of the scriptures of his people are everywhere evident. He does not imagine God to be non-violent, though he counsels non-resistance to the violence of the Roman occupiers. He expected his own followers to someday judge the twelve tribes of Israel. (3) He was controversialist who took on the Pharisees even if he did not question their essential role (see Matthew 23). He is close to that movement in a number of ways, that stream of Judaism which, besides the movement he gave rise to, had within itself the strength to survive the destruction of the Temple. This is not coincidental but speaks to fundamental commonalities over against over streams of Judaism of that period. (4) He was an enormously gifted composer of parables, a healer, and an exorcist. If the parables of the sower and the like which Mark suggests are programmatic to Jesus' message were indeed that, a reasonable hypothesis, then Jesus was not fundamentally about outrage. He believed on God's own wondrous power. He believed in defeating sin, sickness, and the devil through faith, prayer, and fasting. He expected God to overthrow the system as it were, in terms of a restored Israel according to the promises of God, but when that didn't happen, his followers understand him – now risen – as presiding over a massive detour (see texts like Romans 9-11). The detour was *not* revolutionary in nature except in the sense that yes, the ecclesiai then and now are revolutionary in some sense. (5) He saw himself as an eschatological prophet and in some sense as the Son of Man of the book of Daniel, though it is difficult to pin down the details (see the balanced presentation by Michael Bird in his recent volume). (6) He seems to have understood his imminent death and suffering in light of Scripture which speaks of vicarious suffering. But it's hard to know for sure because this understanding of his death became so important for early Christians that it's hard to figure out what part of the gospel sayings of this kind goes back to Jesus. (7) Given that his disciples see him as if (I speak as an historian must) God had raised him from the dead, everything Jesus said and did and in particular, his death on a cross, is re-interpreted in light of the resurrection and the continued felt presence of the risen Christ in worship.From there the movement's understanding of the risen Jesus widens out on the basis of what they see the Holy Spirit (as they take it) doing among the Gentiles. This causes further retrospective interpretation of the historical Jesus, but along somewhat varying lines in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, not to mention other components of the NT.Your Jesus is too uni-dimensional. Your revolutionary Jesus is far less likely to correspond to who he was than what we find in the gospels.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    OMG, John!Get a grip on yourself. I quoted you one paragraph and you assume that's my whole picture of Jesus. I was dealing with one issue. Thanks for the lecture on the historical Jesus, by the way. Very helpful since I've never read a single book on the subject. Jesus and Paul both believed God was about to break in, judge the nations, and establish his kingdom in real time. Jesus and Paul both counseled pragmatic nonviolence in the meantime. I don't think God is going to break in at any moment, overthrow the reigning empires, and establish justice–rewarding the faithful with the wealth of the earth. Jesus and Paul did. But what I do distill from them is that spirit that condemns the existing structures of injustice, the vision of the just society, and the willingness to put yourself on the line working toward it. Look, stop assuming you know what I think based on the little you've read. How much Schweitzer and Bultmann have you read? A lot, I take it. So you can speak somewhat authoritatively about what they thought. How much Thom Stark have you read? A couple of pages. Just cut out the adversarial tone and you'll realize that we agree on a lot more than you think. Frankly, I'm getting fed up with your crap. You're losing your "dialogue partner."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    James,Bultmann really is a great read and I believe he felt misunderstood by Barth and just about everyone else when they critiqued him for demythologizing according to the obviously weak kernel-husk model. But sometimes critics get a scholar no matter how much she or he would wish otherwise. If you reject the kernel-husk model that makes you closer to Barth of all people (horror of horrors for an NT scholar; sorry to have dared mention the name), but also, and more to the point, Schweitzer. But read Bultmann's sermons and see how his demythologizing works out in practice. I would not hesitate to claim that the average evangelical prosperity gospel preacher "demythologizes" Jesus far more than Bultmann did in his sermons. The "demythologization" project as Butlmann applied it for example in his Gifford lectures suffers most of all I think because of a sort of scientism that pervades it. Many scientists pointed this out at the time. Those criticisms were not answered by Bultmann and they are, I believe, unanswerable.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    And Schweitzer's anti-revolutionary Jesus isn't exactly accurate either. Granted, Jesus wasn't trying to overthrow Rome just then. But he expected it to happen soon. I combine Schweitzer/Allison with the Horsley school, in light of James C. Scott's work.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    Just to reiterate, my point in quoting myself on the revolutionary significance of Jesus' apocalypticism was not to paint the full picture, but to counter your false allegation that I outright reject Jesus' views rather than re-appropriate them for our own context. Then, once I successfully counter your false allegation, you read it as though I were writing a dissertation on the historical Jesus. I'd rather bang my head against a brick wall than "dialogue" with you. But there aren't any brick walls around, and I can't afford to patch up the ones I have.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09826280552590911315 Alethinon61

    @ThomYou said:“I have read numerous books and essays on conditional immortality. I am quite familiar with it. You'll have to be more precise about what straw men I'm attacking, because I don't follow.”The straw-man consists of your attempt to refute the notion that the preacher's discussion can be shown to support conditional immortality by addressing things that have nothing to do with the basis upon which I conclude that he it can.I had said:"The preacher doesn't have to be *focusing* on the state of the dead to offer insights into the state of the dead."You replied:“My point was that his insight is about the significance of life under the sun. That is the purpose of his remarks about the dead.”Right, I got that, but that doesn't change the fact that he said “the dead know nothing” (i.e. they are not conscious). The unconscious state of the dead is part of what he's using to emphasize the futility of life. Not only will the world ultimately forget about you, but you won't even be able to contemplate the joys of the life you had.I had said:“Because it is not the preacher's belief in or knowledge of conditional immortality that supports this view. It is his accurate statement that 'the dead know nothing,' which is true in the present age, i.e. the age to which his words apply.”You replied:“But the Preacher says: 'Never again will they have any share in all that happens under the sun.'…This rules out the possibility of conditional immortality in the mind of the Preacher.”My argument doesn't depend on whether the preacher felt that conditional immortality was possible, it depends on his understanding of the state of the dead. I said:"The preacher doesn't have to believe in the immortality of the righteous in order to offer insight into the state of the dead, and it is his insight into the state of the dead that those who believe in conditional immortality refer to in making their case."You replied:“What insight into the state of the dead do they refer to? That the dead 'know nothing'? If they refer to that, then they must come up with some way of explaining the fact that the Preacher goes on to deny the possibility of a return from the realm of the dead.”The condition of the dead and one's ability to leave that condition are separate issues. Besides, haven't you been arguing that the preacher had no knowledge of the hope for a resurrection? If you're right then you've provided the means of explaining why the preacher denies the possibility of a return from the dead: He wasn't aware of such a possibility. I said:"If you've missed that then you've missed everything that pertains to my focus in this thread."You replied:“I'm not sure what it is I'm missing.”Is it clear now?~Kaz

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    "The straw-man consists of your attempt to refute the notion that the preacher's discussion can be shown to support conditional immortality by addressing things that have nothing to do with the basis upon which I conclude that he it can."This is probably one of the more convoluted and unclear sentences I've ever read.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    "Right, I got that, but that doesn't change the fact that he said 'the dead know nothing' (i.e. they are not conscious). The unconscious state of the dead is part of what he's using to emphasize the futility of life. Not only will the world ultimately forget about you, but you won't even be able to contemplate the joys of the life you had."Happy to concur with you there.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    In sum, no, I can't see what my straw man was. That didn't clear it up for me. But besides that, it's difficult now for me to see what we're disagreeing about.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    Thom,It's up to you I think in as brief a span as possible to present a balanced summary of your views. I developed my thoughts on the basis of what you yourself provided on the thread because that is standard operating procedure in a dialogue of this kind.I'm trying to help you get better at defense. You are so used to playing offense against those you suppose to be fundies that you need some work on defense. I'm good exercise for you. I'm sorry if you are not used to such sharp questioning. I was trained in New Testament in Italy and Italian Protestants go for blood all the time in discussions of this kind. So I am used to this, even if you are not. And if you haven't read much yet on the history of the historical Jesus debate, and state of the question today, that's fine. But you will find it very interesting some day and I think it will, unsurprisingly, cause you to refocus a bit. It's not really a crazy prediction I'm making.Michael Westmoreland-White was right to recommend you to grad school if you ask me.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    John,(1) I appreciate your help.(2) I didn't ask for it. (3) You are an incredibly condescending person.(4) I was being sarcastic when I said I hadn't read any historical Jesus scholarship. That's my bread and butter, actually. (5) You are not asking me sharp questions. You are misreading me over and over again. (6) When I quoted myself on the revolutionary gist of Jesus' apocalypticism, all I was doing was showing you that I know how to go about trying to re-appropriate stuff I ultimately reject so that it becomes useful for us. You did not ask me to summarize my views of the historical Jesus; therefore, that's not what I was doing. (7) I don't need or want your help on "defense." You need help on reading skills, from my vantage point. That's the issue here. I've had plenty of practice at defense. (8) Thanks for your compliments.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    Thom,With Horsley, huh? Well, that I'm afraid explains a lot. There we differ profoundly. However interesting a read he is, he fantasticates rather often. Just my opinion. But Dale Allison is a nice choice, particularly his latest syntheses. But note that he nothing of significance from Horsley into his synthesis. I'm not familiar with James C. Scott's work. Sorry, this is my specialization, just a hobby going back to my teenage years. Beyond that, if you want engage evangelicals like myself, you will need to read a bit outside of your comfort zone and study up on people like Michael Bird, Scot McKnight, C. A. Evans, Brant Pitre, Ben Witherington, and N. T. Wright. Each has insights to bring to the table.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09826280552590911315 Alethinon61

    @ThomI said:"The straw-man consists of your attempt to refute the notion that the preacher's discussion can be shown to support conditional immortality by addressing things that have nothing to do with the basis upon which I conclude that […] it can."You replied:“This is probably one of the more convoluted and unclear sentences I've ever read.”Did I mention that I'm part German? 😉 You said:“In sum, no, I can't see what my straw man was. That didn't clear it up for me….But besides that, it's difficult now for me to see what we're disagreeing about.”As for the straw-man, I don't know what else to say. As for the rest, well, then stop arguing with me! ~Kaz

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    Hey, Condescending John,You said, "Beyond that, if you want engage evangelicals like myself, you will need to read a bit outside of your comfort zone and study up on people like Michael Bird, Scot McKnight, C. A. Evans, Brant Pitre, Ben Witherington, and N. T. Wright. Each has insights to bring to the table."I say: I have. All of them. Extensively. Why do you assume I haven't? I don't know, but it's essentially the same thing you've been doing this whole conversation. Cut it out. It's sophomoric. You should read James C. Scott. I've read Schweitzer, Bultmann, Kasemann, the Evangelicals, Evans, Wright, Witherington, McKnight, Bird, Pitre, I've read Meier, Sanders, Brown, Vermes, Jeremias. I've read the Jesus Seminarians, Crossan, Borg, Funk, Mack, the Horsley school, Horsley, Herzog, Myers, Elliot, I've read Allison, Ehrman. I've read Malina, Hengel, Bauckham. I've read John and Adela Collins. I've read more. I've read at least the seminal texts by each of these figures. And I've read everything by several of them, including a few of your Evangelicals. But you should read James Scott. He'll help you out. As for your disagreement with Horsley, I feel bad for you. Not much I can do about that, and that's officially far afield from the discussion here. In fact, I think the discussion between you and me has pretty much run its course. Thanks for all your help.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    Kaz,Ditto!I'm happy to stop arguing with you. I was just responding to your remarks to me, of course. :) But you're good in my book. Of course, no one will publish my book, so take that for what it's worth.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09826280552590911315 Alethinon61

    @ThomYou're alright in my book, too. I agree with much of what you say on your blog vis a vis Christology. I may end up in agreement with you about pacifism, but I haven't finished your paper yet so I can't say for sure. At this point I don't agree with the idea of biblical errancy, though my own view of inerrancy probably isn't precisely what you find in the formal statements affirming this view. My problem with a hermeneutic that allows wide-ranging biblical error is that it would seem to be a recipe for enhanced disunity in the body of Christ. I already have to struggle with the knowledge that the Bible may be the most divisive book in human history, and that seems to be quite enough! Even among proponents of inerrancy biblical scholarship already appears to be an argument without end.~Kaz

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    Anything of mine you're reading on pacifism is going to be a little dated. My personal views have developed since I began to see Jesus as an apocalypticist. We can have a PM discussion about that if you like. PM me and tell me what essay you're reading.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    Also, Kaz, I actually think that Christians would get along *better* if they *gave up on* inerrancy, but most won't give up on it so it's a pipedream.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    161 comments. wow.Of course half of them are one person making multiple comments, so I'm not sure if it counts! :-)I love watching an irresistible force meeting an immovable object!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    Thom,Glad to be of help. Anytime. It's good to know that you are a genuine "Jesus of history" freak. It wasn't the original topic of this thread, but it was fun to see how easily you get bent out of shape when someone takes you on.Time will tell whether my condescension as you call it will come back to haunt you should your tremendous cockiness compromise your academic future. Time will also tell whether, 10 years from now, you will still be speaking in such a loud raucous voice and carrying such a little stick in your polemics with more traditional Christians.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13633407562888054314 Ted

    You guys just want to drop your pants and get this over with?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    LOL, Ira. Do you feel ignored? No one responded to your comment. So here goes: one man's honesty is another man's debunking. Conversely, one woman's junk is another woman's treasure.Related to the topic at hand, as a happy-go-lucky inerrantist, I consider the entire Bible to be treasure in earthen vessels. Qohelet for sure. He's a cranky old coot who has every reason to give up on believing in a God of justice but never does. I can't imagine the canon without Qohelet.I can't imagine the canon without texts like Psalm 137. If the Bible left out the human cry for vengeance, if God was not a God of vengeance, but the passive and impassive God of Aristotle, I could not possibly believe in him. If God is actually the God of the philosophers rather than the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, then it is not the case that God made us in his image, and the entire conceptual framework of the Judaism and Christianity falls to the ground.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13633407562888054314 Ted

    I don't feel left out, and I wasn't really expecting a response to my comment. But there's a lot of posturing going on here.To your credit, your first comment, at least, addressed the original question: what do inerrantists do with something like Ecc. 9:2-6? And your answer is honest: they dance.But let me suggest that the reason for the dance — be it a two-step, jig, gavotte, or what have you — has a lot to do with the historical issues raised by people like James and Thom.I find Thom's argument that Ecclesiastes does not evince a robust afterlife view persuasive. That's the way it has long read to me, and I haven't seen a convincing argument from anyone here that the text itself suggests otherwise, even considering its redactions. This, if I might be bold enough to attempt a translation, seems to be Thom's beef: that you, in particular, are giving him grief without making an argument against that reading. You seem to be suggesting that he can't be right because he disagrees with canonical method, but that's not the same thing as demonstrating that his historical reading of the text is wrong. It strikes me as special pleading.You've suggest that Thom is not a Christian, or that he's not a liberal, or that he's not a Schweitzerian, or that he's young and mean and silly. You've expressed your distaste for Horsely and lamented that no one really understands Kaesemann. You've offered a reading of Thom's work that boasts a level of fidelity rivaling that of Simon Birch to A Prayer for Owen Meany. You've offered reasons why canonical theologians might want to put on their b-b-b-boogie shoes.But I'm missing the kind of cogent argument that might give some teeth to your claim of having put sharp questions to your sparring partner.

  • Anonymous

    Clearly, the author of Ecclesiastes had one view of the death, one that was common at the time. Common beliefs changed over time, so that by the time the NT was written, the books reflect belief in some sort of resurrection of the dead.It wasn't until much later that the immortality of the soul became a common belief. So that belief — via a "hermaneutic" — then had to be retroactively planted into books that held no such view.To top things off, then some other "hermaeutics" (or a fancy word for creative lying) had to be invented. Not only change the meanings of books, but to get books that held entirely different views altogether to somehow agree with each other.And there is an Orwellian industry to somehow patch all those things together, exemplified by John Hobbins, who is the perfect example of the result of evangelical bible education. JOhn, you can drop names and quote all sorts of big words that you clearly throw around to make you feel like an adult, but you make no damned sense.And then you played the "liberal" card. "Now I understand where you are coming from. You say you are a Christian, and refer to yourself at times as a liberal Christian. But you regard the Bible as a text to condemn in the strongest possible terms. Your focus is on condemning Scripture."Anyone who says something that idiotic deserves to get his ass handed to him. I wasn't here yesterday, but good job Thom.pf

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    Ira,As I've said more than once, my disagreement with Thom (and James, if I'm not mistaken) lies first of all in the realm of canonical hermeneutics. I enjoyed finding out more about the form of his commitment to Christianity, his views about the historical Jesus, and so on. It took forever to get him to back off from his first answer – "it's none of your business" – but it was worth it.What do you do with a book like the Bible which is multi-vocal, parts of which address disparate historical circumstances, parts of which respond to and seek to counteract or contextualize other parts and so on, all of which is nonetheless deemed by the polities who have been called into existence by the text as inspired and suitable for teaching and preaching? Thom's solution is to identify a series of texts that spaz him out according to his lights and suggest that they are scripture for us precisely as "condemned texts." I have pointed out that that amounts to erecting a canon of the canon, an arbitrary operation. Thom, still on his pedestal, did not deign to respond. Thoms' response to questions of this kind is to skirt them. It is not even clear that Thom is willing to recognize the dangers involved in having a canon within a canon, much less a canon of the canon. But such questions are addressed in any serious debate about canon. Leaving them to one side amounts to burying one's head in the sand. That's the main point of my diatribe. Again, I enjoyed drawing him out a bit, even if it was like pulling teeth. Anonymous,You might at least learn how to spell Hermeneutics before you call it creative lying. Then you might want to investigate what people like Gadamer, Ricoeur, and Foucault have to say about it. It's a great topic. The only people who define hermeneutics as creative lying are unschooled fundamentalists and anti-fundamentalists. Perhaps you fall into the latter category.You also need to get some basic facts right. Thom self-identifies as a "liberal Christian." This is a card he plays, not me. He identifies a series of texts in Scripture he wants to condemn, not me. Check out Thom's own writings, and see for yourself.

  • Anonymous

    John, you really are hilarious. You respond to mockery by doubling down. Well, if only I read all the high-falutin' scholars that you have, then 'fer sure I'd repent of my unsufisticated beliefs. Snort. Spit.Guessing my spot on some manufactured ideological spectrum is not an argument. Did the author of Ecclesiastes did not believe in life after death? I think clearly not. But the answer has nothing to do with whether I'm a liberal, a conservative, a Scientologist, a Mormon, a Moonie or a member of Heaven's Gate. You think smart is to take something simple and try to make it complicated. The truth is the other way around. When you grow up, if you do, then you will understand.And I did read Thom's site and found it to be a delight. Because he uses logic and facts and comes to reasonable conclusions.pf

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    LOL, Anon. You say:"Did the author of Ecclesiastes did not believe in life after death? I think clearly not."Well, at least you got that right, though your grammar needs some work. More precisely, Qohelet regards what will happen after death to be unknowable from his chosen epistemological point of view. He is certainly right about that. See Qoh 3:21-22.Explain now why as a traditional Christian I should be bothered by this. Logic, facts, and a reasonable conclusion. Let's hear it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    Would that I were among the dead so that I would have no knowledge of sophists and liars like John Hobbins.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    "Thom, still on his pedestal, did not deign to respond."If by failing to respond you mean my responding and your ignoring my response, then yes, I did not deign to respond.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Thom, once again, your rhetoric seems to be getting carried away. It may be that you were simply trying to offer a humorous, sarcastic echo of Ecclesiastes. But saying you'd rather be dead than talk to someone seems surprising. I disagree with John about many things, but precisely for that reason, I benefit immensely from interacting with him. John, I think that Bultmann can be fairly criticized for his statements about what "modern man cannot believe." But those of us who have benefitted from reason's critical gaze might well wish to adopt the value judgment that modern people (of both genders) ought to rethink their views on a number of topics – but that takes us well beyond Bultmann's assumptions and outlook. But even if it is entirely possible (contra Bultmann) to use the "wireless" and even the iPod and yet believe in an unseen world of demons and spirits, it is at least true that science has changed the way people think even if they continue to believe in such entities.But to return to the original topic, I am still somewhat puzzled as to what "inerrancy" means when it is said about a collection of writings in which there are not merely different voices, but expressions of conflicting viewpoints at least on some occasions.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    "I have pointed out that that amounts to erecting a canon of the canon, an arbitrary operation. Thom, still on his pedestal, did not deign to respond. "Thoms' response to questions of this kind is to skirt them. It is not even clear that Thom is willing to recognize the dangers involved in having a canon within a canon, much less a canon of the canon. "But such questions are addressed in any serious debate about canon. Leaving them to one side amounts to burying one's head in the sand."Once again, I directly address the problem, and give several reasons why inerrancy itself is a problem, not just historically, but morally, and theologically. You then ignore my response and say that I skirt the issue and bury my head in the sand. You're an idiot. If this the sort of "academics" that my "cockiness" is at odds with, then I'm truly blessed. Dr. McGrath,I'm afraid I have to call your criticisms one-sided. I'm getting carried away?John has done nothing but lie about me and twist my words from the get go. When I defend myself he taunts and mocks and uses my defensiveness as evidence against me. This is the worst sort of thuggery. I didn't say I'd rather be dead than talk to him. I said that if I were dead I would be at peace because I wouldn't be aware of such thuggery.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Thom, once again, your rhetoric seems to be getting carried away, in my opinion. It may be that you were simply trying to offer a humorous, sarcastic echo of Ecclesiastes. But saying you'd rather be dead than talk to someone like John seems surprising. There are some commenters (not on this post) who are genuinely obnoxious and frequently incomprehensible, and I think your ire would best be directed at them, if anywhere. I disagree with John about many things, but precisely for that reason, I benefit immensely from interacting with him. John, I think that Bultmann can be fairly criticized for his statements about what "modern man cannot believe." But those of us who have benefitted from reason's critical gaze might well wish to adopt the value judgment that modern people (of both genders) ought to rethink their views on a number of topics – but that takes us well beyond Bultmann's assumptions and outlook. But even if it is entirely possible (contra Bultmann) to use the "wireless" and even the iPod and yet believe in an unseen world of demons and spirits, it is at least true that science has changed the way people think even if they continue to believe in such entities.But to return to the original topic, I am still somewhat puzzled as to what "inerrancy" means when it is said about a collection of writings in which there are not merely different voices, but expressions of conflicting viewpoints at least on some occasions. What makes this seem like a useful term?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Thom, Maybe it is because I think you and I agree on some key points that I am trying to curtail your rhetoric more than John's, since it is as though we are "making common cause." If I've been unfair as a result, I apologize – but I hope you'll treat it as the compliment it sort of was! :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    Fair enough, Doc. Fair enough.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    And yes, it was intended to be a humorous, sarcastic echo of Ecclesiastes.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    John said: "It wasn't the original topic of this thread, but it was fun to see how easily you get bent out of shape when someone takes you on."But, John, you never took me on. You only ever took Dwayne on. But you kept calling Dwayne by my name, and that's the only reason I was bent out of shape. I didn't want people to confuse Dwayne and me.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    "I can't imagine the canon without texts like Psalm 137. If the Bible left out the human cry for vengeance, if God was not a God of vengeance, but the passive and impassive God of Aristotle, I could not possibly believe in him." First of all, no one here is advocating taking Psalm 137 out of the canon. Secondly, killing the babies of one's enemies is hardly vengeance. It's murder. We're all for everyone getting their just deserts. That's not the same thing as killing innocent babies for the sins of their parents. And as I've pointed out, it's not that it's just the "human cry" for vengeance. Yahweh himself frequently commands such baby-killing in the Bible. So stop skirting the issue and burying your head in the sand, John.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    The online know sarcasm, but the offline know nothing. Never again will they have part in the abuse available in the blogosphere… :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    Brill!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    Thom,Still no response from you re: canonical hermeneutics, how that relates to having to having a canon of the canon, a canon within the canon, and so on.I'm trying to draw you out on questions that shouldn't be stumpers for you – if they are, I give up – but you pout yourself out of the discussion. In place of argument, you simply rev up your rhetorical engines. I'm convinced you are capable of better. Your so-called responses are not responses. In a genuine discussion, if someone points out problems in your position, you don't answer by pointing to problems in someone else's. You address the perceived issues with your own position.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    James,I was about to agree with Thom that you were being one-sided to criticize him but not me for our rhetorical strategies. I was doing my best to keep up with his antics according to a method of debate referred to in Italian as "rispondendo per le rime." That is, responding with rhyming rhetorical tropes. But I see now that you are right. I can't keep up with his pouting and name-calling.When Thom is on one of his tears, that fine song begins to play in the background, "Take me Higher, higher, baby Can you feel it??"

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    John,You are a liar, and anyone who has read the blog posts linked to knows that. I deal with canon within a canon on my blog posts. You are the one who has failed to respond to me.As for name calling, I'm just taking my cues from you. I am done with this "conversation." Your deceptive and manipulative rhetoric is plain. If this is what you call "academia" or "Christian" discourse, so much the worse for academia and Christianity.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    James,Bultmann posed genuine questions and framed them in very interesting ways. Anyone who is trained in the New Testament or in theology will benefit from having to come to grips with those questions and the answers Bultmann himself suggested. Once upon a time, Jim West wrote one of his Bultmann = God posts and Michael Bird took the time to summarize in ten points the ways in which New Testament scholarship has left Bultmann behind definitively. It was a brilliant summary but of course, West deleted his old blog so no one is able to read the comment threads on them. I have a hard time excusing West for that. It's the opposite of what open access is all about. In any case, a NT scholar versed in the history of her own discipline will have no trouble doing what Bird did, with reference first of all to Bultmann's own students such as Kaesemann and Stuhlmacher. In theology, few pay much attention to Bultmann anymore. For very good reasons, I think, Barth and Bonhoeffer remain the exempli gratia of that epoch of German theology, not Bultmann, Brunner, Gogarten, or Tillich. Here is the question you asked me to address further:"I am still somewhat puzzled as to what 'inerrancy' means when it is said about a collection of writings in which there are not merely different voices, but expressions of conflicting viewpoints at least on some occasions. What makes this seem like a useful term?"First of all, what do I mean by inerrancy? I'm taking it in the classical sense, formulated for example by the Reformer of Zurich, for whom Scripture is:"certain, it cannot err, it is clear, it does not let us go errant in the darkness, it is its own interpreter and enlightens the human soul with all salvation and all grace, makes it confident in God, humbles it, so that it abandons and throws away its pretensions, and places itself in God's hands.”How, then, is it the case that a collection of texts that contains conflicting viewpoints on many issues be said to be inerrant in the above sense?What is required is a sufficiently multidimensional model of truth. As a point of departure only, I will lean on Hegel's trichotomy (without thereby concurring with his application of it to specific philosophical questions). For example, with respect to law, Michael Fishbane, Bernard Levinson, and many others have noted example upon example of legal revision and innovation traceable in the biblical corpus. You may have a first formulation in the Covenant Code (a thesis), a very different formulation in Deuteronomy (an antithesis), and still another in the Holiness Code (a synthesis). Yet the canon preserves them all and interpreters thereafter are expected to engage in ethical construction in their day in reference to all three formulations with a final result that is not equal to any one of them. So Hegel's trichotomy reveals itself to be inadequate, even if it was a useful point of departure. This is a feature of the canon, not a bug. That is the case so long as truth is understood not as a series of 0 1's, but as more complex interaction of contingent partial "takes" none of which is all-encompassing. Sometimes the takes can be lined up in a progression; more often they are as inassimilable to one another as two human beings are, but neither is to be suppressed for that reason.Your field is NT so you will be familiar with Jimmy Dunn's defense of the Unity and Diversity of the New Testament. Surely the same applies to the Bible as a whole. Everything that Zwingli said about Scripture is true in a stronger sense than would be the case if the NT did not contain, not just Matthew, but also Mark; not just Paul, but also James, not just Luke-Acts, but also, Revelation.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    Thom,Excuse my intolerable patience, but it is not enough for you to make a generic reference to your blog in a discussion of this kind. That is the opposite of courtesy. In a conversation like this one, it is to be expected that each partner in the conversation will summarize their position in a few words as best they can, with those summaries serving as a basis of discussion. When I thought you were giving an executive summary of your view of historical Jesus, and I pointed out its one-sidedness, you critiqued me for relying on your own summary. The better approach is to provide multi-sided summaries from the get-go. At least rope-a-dope a bit. You are always trying to throw a knockout punch. The perspiration is showing.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    John,"Excuse my intolerable patience"With whom, Dwayne? "But it is not enough for you to make a generic reference to your blog in a discussion of this kind."The discussion is about Ecclesiastes. YOU asked me about my view of Scripture and I pointed you to my blog posts, which you supposedly read, and then flagrantly mischaracterized. According to you, you have already ready my summary of my position, yet you ignore the parts of my statement that explain precisely what you say I am refusing to discuss. "That is the opposite of courtesy."Three fingers back at yourself. "In a conversation like this one, it is to be expected that each partner in the conversation will summarize their position in a few words as best they can, with those summaries serving as a basis of discussion."You are taking the conversation far afield. So I referred you to my blog where I had precisely the discussion you wanted to have, just as you referred me to your blog for your genocide post (to which you still haven't linked). I think the discussion you are trying to have with me is not the point of this thread. I referred you to my blog (which you say you've read). If you want to have this discussion, and actually address what you claim to have read, then have it on my blog. "When I thought you were giving an executive summary of your view of historical Jesus, and I pointed out its one-sidedness, you critiqued me for relying on your own summary."Note your language: "your own summary." It was not a summary, John. It was an example. So thank you once again for providing an example of your manipulative and deceptive rhetoric. "The better approach is to provide multi-sided summaries from the get-go."If I was setting out to summarize myself, then that's what I'd do. But if that's not my purpose, then I'm not going to do that. I cannot bring myself to believe that you are this dense. That's why I've persisted so long with you: I keep expecting you to snap out of it and say something like, "I was just kidding. I know. I know. We're really on the same page." But you don't. You persist with these thick-headed distortions. "You are always trying to throw a knockout punch. The perspiration is showing."This is more of your empty and manipulative rhetoric. I'm not even in the ring with you. You're in the ring with Dwayne. I'm outside the ring trying to get your attention to let you know that Dwayne is a figment of your imagination and you're not really fighting anybody.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    Thom,You might notice that James thinks that the question about canon is perfectly germane to this thread.Really, that's how the thread began, with what it means to say that the Bible leads into all truth (a stronger claim than inerrancy, BTW, but one Jews and Christians traditionally make) and, at the same time, contains conflicting viewpoints on some matters. I have been arguing that conflict of this kind, within the limits it takes within the pages of the Bible, is a means to the end of leading into all truth.This puts me at odds with your approach, in which you diss a selection of texts which by your own admission you have come up with on the basis of a criterion external to the canon itself.I'm still hoping you will get down to brass tacks. I'm sorry to hear that you want to continue to keep clear of the ring by avoiding the problems your own take on Scripture comport. You continue to send Dwayne out to fight in your place. Man up and stand up for your own convictions, rather than limiting yourself to attacking the convictions of others.

  • Anonymous

    The Bible teaches, according to John Hobbins, a "sufficiently multidimensional model of truth." Put another way, "truth is understood not as a series of 0 1's, but as more complex interaction of contingent partial "takes" none of which is all-encompassing."In other words, you can create agreement among the Biblical books if you design enough convoluted theories to harmonize the inconsistencies. And then another layer of theories to harmonize the harmonizations, which of course requires many degrees that enables one to bandy phrases such as "exempli gratia of that epoch of German theology, not Bultmann, Brunner, Gogarten, or Tillich." Oh my.Or you can just admit the simple truth: The books reflect the opinions of the authors/editors and the time and place they were written. Nothing more or less. They were written by pre-scientific people with mostly illiterate audiences who were not so nuanced as to get the herm..eh, oh forget it.pf

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    Do you think people can't see behind your smoke screen, John?If you want to engage me, as I've said, do so on my blog, where you can't rely on the hope that people won't have read me, thus realizing that you aren't engaging what I actually say and are ignoring everything I do say that undermines your characterization of my position. Don't tell me to "man up." That macho crap won't work on me. I have already addressed your questions. I have told you where to find what I've said. Either you can read me as carefully as you'd read Barth, or you can carry on acting out like this. I hope you take the academic approach. I owe you nothing. You've given me no reason to do you the courtesy of repeating myself. All you've done is paint me as irresponsible, uneducated, cowardly, unmanly, hyper-rationalist, pouty, and secretive.I called you an idiot, once, because you refuse to acknowledge that's what you've been doing the whole time.Stop pretending like I haven't answered your questions. I have. And supposedly you've read the answers. Deal with my answers, on my blog. Anything else tells us more about you than it does about me.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    PF,Well done.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    LOL, Anon.Not only do you have a simplistic notion of truth, but you are proud of it.Perhaps you are not interested in the actual subject matter, but on the assumption that you are, here is an example of why a multidimensional concept of truth is necessary in real life.Ethical discourse speaks of truths as self-evident even if they are not. We say, for example, that we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In point of fact, people are created in unequal circumstances. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, furthermore, are alienable rights. A person’s rights can be taken away, and often are. But they shouldn’t be.Truth greater than fact is inscribed in ethical discourse. Its register only makes sense in the heat of conflict. They are fighting words.It is necessary to deal with the fact that ethical discourse is prescriptive rather than descriptive. To do that responsibly, without undercutting the point of ethical discourse, is not an easy task. But it is this task, taken as a whole, that a canon like the biblical one seeks to accomplish.Thus, on the one hand, you have Psalm 1 that declares, "The LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish."On the other, you have the book of Job, which gives a concrete example of the opposite happening. Psalm 1 and the book of Job have conflicting viewpoints. But both viewpoints make a contribution to the exposition of the truth. Let me know if that helps you to understand what I'm getting at.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    Thom,What you are saying is that you treat this thread as a convenient venue in which to critique others, but when you someone critiques you, that's no fair unless it is done on your blog. Give us a break. Try to summarize your thoughts on this thread. It will require you to be more vulnerable than you wish to, but no more vulnerable than we are who take the time *on this thread* to critique your positions.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18436448315505182664 Thom Stark

    Dr. McGrath,Based on my previous engagements on your blog, would you say that John's analysis of me is accurate, namely, that I am afraid to make myself vulnerable to critique unless I have the home court advantage?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09826280552590911315 Alethinon61

    @ThomI don't know how to send a PM on this blog, so I'll just say that I agree with Yoder's interpretation of Romans 13, and I am in general agreement with Gregory Boyd's view, as developed in "The Myth of a Christian Nation". James, I apologize for the off-subject post.~Kaz

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Thom, no, that isn't my impression of you. John, here's my perception of your stance – please do let me know where if anywhere I've got it wrong, although in some cases I may be seeing things from my perspective that you may have missed from yours. Here it goes: In your view, Scripture is inerrant, and it inerrantly has different voices, and so its function is not to communicate the view of one of these authors or the other, but to (presumably inerrantly) illustrate to us that it is out of this conversation that truth emerges. This frees you to accept all that liberal and mainstream scholarship has to offer, including its recognition of a diversity of voices (and even invoke Hegel), and yet from that plurality to choose to draw as many conservative conclusions as possible, at least enough to justify continuing to think of yourself in those terms and bear that label.Now, there's nothing wrong with that, but it might be fairer if you were to acknowledge that you are thoroughly liberal in your view of Scripture, and only conservative in (some of) what you choose to build upon it. I may be wrong, John, but I suspect I read your blog more frequently that you read Thom's (and I may be wrong about that, too) and so this is not a perception based on this one exchange. And so if you think I've misperceived your approach, I'd welcome clarification!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    James,Thank you for continuing the conversation. Since you self-identify as a "liberal," and on a fairly regular basis you like to offer friendly but firm critiques of the positions of those who are to your "right" or "left," I'm blushing now since you put me in your camp.You want me in your camp, and I'm honored. I would be delighted if you were in my camp. But I am of the opinion that we are in different camps, though I'm happy to identify as much common ground as possible. So let's identify common ground first of all. We might do well to carry out this discussion in a more visible manner. Perhaps I'll post this on my blog, and then post your response, should you desire. Since you characterize my "view of Scripture" as "thoroughly liberal," it would seem that you concur with the method of reading scripture I have illustrated on this thread.But if that is the case, then I assume you must think that a whole host of scholars who are card-carrying inerrantists are also "thoroughly liberal" in their view of Scripture. ETS members like Michael Bird, Michael Heiser, Peter Enns, Kent Sparks, Gary Knoppers, Clint Arnold, and Craig Blomberg.In what sense do you see my view of Scripture as paradigmatically different from theirs? Or different from that of Francis Beckwith, who returned to the mother Church, but not over inerrancy. There are plenty of Catholic scholars who hold to a view of inerrancy very much like my own. Not to mention many of the people N. T. Wrong liked to classify as “conservative” or “very conservative”: I was either one or the other in his book, depending on the day. But now I have a “thoroughly liberal” view of Scripture in your view. Well fine, if you want to see things that way. Maybe the only problem you have with people like Michael Bird, Brant Pitre, or yours truly is that we, unlike you, do not see "red" when we hear the word "inerrancy." We are convinced of the crucial positive function the teaching of inerrancy has had within the Catholic and Protestant families of the church. We do our best to qualify the teaching in a responsible manner, but we define “responsible” not only in terms of the data in hand, but also, in terms of a theological stance that is self-consciously classical and anti-liberal. We see “red” when, on the basis of a criterion of preference external to the canon, or a slapdash use of a canon within the canon (it would take some to deal with this topic adequately), people – I won’t mention any names – classify the texts into good ones and bad ones. TO BE CONTINUED.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    These are examples of salient differences between liberal and conservative biblical scholars. But we do not necessarily differ over the recognition of a diversity of voices in scripture, or over the need, from a confessional point of view of interpreting individual passages in light of all others (a long-standing principle of the Reformed tradition, one reason it tends to be theocentric rather than merely Christocentric). We also do not differ over the importance of identifying correctly the literary genres in which texts are written. Furthermore, to take a specific topic discussed a bit on this thread, we do not necessarily differ that much on the historical Jesus either. Take a look at Michael Bird’s recent volume if you don’t believe me. Sure, if I’m reading the gospel of Luke, since I am conservative, chances are, I am going to draw the line between content to associate with the historical Jesus and content to associate with the early church along the lines of an I. Howard Marshall or Richard Bauckham rather than a Jesus Seminar type. I’m not so sure that is of earth-shaking importance, except in the sense that it saves/dooms us to think of the historical Jesus of someone like Crossan or Horsley – not to mention Bultmann – as unacceptably truncated. The salient difference has more to do with different approaches to the risen Jesus and to the resurrection. We believe in the reality of the risen Jesus, whom we encounter in worship to this day, just as much as we believe in the reality of the historical Jesus. One and the same person: which gives us a nice set of problems to stew over. But we are all grown up now. We can deal with it. We believe that faith healing that Jesus practiced was genuine, though of course we can’t prove it. We think of nature miracles and the virgin birth as perfectly conceivable, and choose to believe they happened, though of course whether they did or not is not subject to historical investigation. I could go on like this, but I think I’ve made my point. Perhaps you’ve heard the old SBL story, from the days of the great Samuel Sandmel, the first Jew to serve as its president. After listening to a long discussion among liberal Protestants who were postulating meanings of the resurrection that do not depend on the resurrection ever having actually happened, Sandmel got up and asked to speak. “I think,” he said, “that when the early Christians said that God raised Jesus from the dead, they said that because they thought that’s exactly what happened.” Stunned silence. But of course Sandmel was right. Conservative Christians today, though of course we want to be as intellectually responsible as possible in how we affirm it, stand with the early Christians. Liberal Christians (but not the neo-orthodox in the mold of Karl Barth; I’m not sure about Schweitzer; a lot of paleo-liberals were orthodox in a number of ways) do not.Now, if you tell me that you stand with the early Christians on that one, James, then you already have one foot in my camp. In that case, you would fit right in at IBR, if not necessarily (yet) ETS.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    First, let me congratulate you John on being the 200th commenter on this post. There's no prize that I'm aware of, except for the delight I feel when it seems that something I've posted has generated interesting discussion.Second, I am glad you hinted that you accept the inerrancy of not only the Bible but also NT Wrong's categorizations of biblioblogs. In one sense, that is neither here nor there, since I don't accept Wrongian authorship of Ecclesiastes. But I don't think that in any way affects my point, since what I said was that you seem to have a liberal view of Scripture but draw conservative conclusions from it. John A. T. Robinson drew conservative conclusions about the Bible in many respects, but was theologically liberal, and James Crossley is an atheist who has concluded that Mark was written earlier than most conservatives think. And so presumably they could be "conservative" and "ultra-conservative" or "ultra-liberal" and "not even on the charts" depending on whether one is discussing their views on the dating of New Testament texts, or their theology. And my point (which led to your entertaining dance, which I'd love to see again) is that you seem to share a liberal view of Scripture as far as its diversity of voices is concerned, and accept the same tools of historical study (at least in theory) to answer historical questions. You just draw conservative conclusions. But it isn't clear to me much of the time why you draw them.I appreciated your altar call to believe in a physical resurrection of Jesus, but to be honest, membership in IBR or ETS doesn't have the appeal to me it once had. And so I'd be much more interested to know how, if at all, you think it is possible to get from historical study to such a conclusion about Jesus' resurrection. There's a gulf between what the evidence and the method can demonstrate, on the one hand, and what you are saying on the other, and I'd love to know where you found a bridge.But that brings us back to a more fundamental question, more directly related to the discussion thus far. The only reason I can see for calling your view of Scripture "inerrancy" is that, even though it doesn't resemble what other people using that term mean by inerrancy, you draw the same historical and theological conclusions as most "inerrantists" even though you are getting there by a different route. But inerrancy is a view of the Bible, not simply drawing certain theological conclusions – indeed, I think Kaz might be happy to be referred to as someone who has a comparably high view of Scripture, but draws different theological conclusions than you would.But I may be trying too hard to make logical sense of your stance. Based on the previous comments, another possible conclusion might be this: what you mean by "the inerrancy of the Bible" is slide, slide, twirl, pas de bourree, step and jazz hands. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    "How do you solve a problem like John Hobbins?…How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?"*Here's where I launch into completely unfounded, psychological speculation that I learned on teh internets*:John is an enigma. I have yet to figure out if that is purposeful, or simply the way his personality expresses itself….whether it is a conscious attempt, or a simple result of having several irons in the fire at the same time and trying to manage them all equally.When he uses the term "inerrant" he doesn't mean what most people who use that term mean. He is aware of this and could avoid a lot of confusion if he would simply give up the term…..but for whatever reason, he doesn't want to and prefers to try and rehabilitate the term to what he sees as its original sense. I think that's a doomed enterprise because the term has already been overtaken to such an extent that it will be impossible to rescue it from its most commonly accepted understanding.Words change. Terms change. How a population understands a certain word or term changes. While one can certainly discover what the original meanings of certain terms once meant, one cannot make people use a term in its old sense once it has already obtained a new sense. As we can see from this thread…John Hobbins doesn't give up on a fight easily. I am sure he will continue tilting his sword at windmills in this particular area. John can correct me if I am misinterpreting him, but I think he is a little bit more of a mystic than his wordy paragraphs belie.He believes that God has done and currently does do things through the proscribed religions of Judaism and Christianity as it has played out ,and continues to play out, in history. He also believes that this particular strain of religion/religious thought is superior to other religions in many ways.I think the bridge between his historical studies/liberal mind and his conservative/inerrancy mind is simply his belief that there is something which brings life and meaning from this collection of books that have been bundled together…and that something is the divine thread and spirit which cannot risk being cut by people who dislike the way it runs through the fabric of Jewish/Christian belief.Of course I might be totally wrong….in which case…*shuffle, shuffle, moonwalk, spin and walk off stage*

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04148676728860411325 Don

    "The books reflect the opinions of the authors/editors and the time and place they were written. Nothing more or less. They were written by pre-scientific people with mostly illiterate audiences who were not so nuanced as to get the herm…" This is the most cogent expression so far on this thread

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    James,Thanks for all the fun.Skip to my Lou, my darlin'.Fly's in the buttermilk,Shoo, fly, shoo.Would you care to elaborate on why you say that I understand inerrancy in a way that is at odds with plenty of members of ETS and IBR? (I gave you a sample list to work with.)Would you care to point out in what sense conservative scholars like the ones I mention do not accept the tools and methods of study of the discipline as a whole?If necessary, I can give you links to discussions online on the question of inerrancy in which I interact with other self-identifying inerrantists, some of them past or present officers of ETS, in which they do anything but suggest that my view of Scripture "inerrancy" does not resemble theirs. That being the case, you might have to accept the fact that there are plenty of scholars out there who understand themselves as being (1) part of the classical tradition of Christianity in terms of a high and decidedly non-liberal view of Scripture and (2) are comfortable with the language of inerrancy, as found in the Lausanne Covenant, the Catholic magisterium, ETS guidelines (I'm on record as being able to sign, though I don't particularly like various features), etc. There are plenty of scholars out there who are (1) not liberal, (2) not fundamentalist, (3) at ease with the church's traditional claims that Scripture is not only without error in all that it affirms, but leads into all truth, and does not fail in accomplishing the purposes God has for it, and who are, at the same time (4) believing critics, to use a phrase coined by I'm not sure who.It's a fine crew of people. And yes, we love to dance. In fact, we enjoy dancing with the stars. Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin, to name a few. This makes us "demonologists" in the language of some. I think you are of a rather different opinion. But if I'm wrong about that, here's your chance to correct me. You ask if I think historical reconstruction leads to a statement of faith in the resurrection of Christ. Not in my experience. Maybe in someone else's experience. I do not have a fundamentalist position here, but a classical one which, when combined and integrated with interaction with ongoing discussions in the field of NT studies, falls within the range of positions represented by people like Richard Longenecker (one of my teachers while I was in Toronto), Stanley Porter, and N. T. Wright. That is, I regard the evidence in hand to be compatible with belief in the resurrection of Christ, not as leading to it or requiring it. Belief in the resurrection of Christ is given in the encounter with the risen Christ. William Willimon, who is a pretty classical Christian though not as classical or conservative as I am, puts it this way (I would be more daring than he is, but I concur with everything he says):"The dry reconstruction of historians will not get us to resurrection. Easter begins in the recognition that our faith is not futile, in our present experience of the Risen Christ roaming among us. It is the testimony, not just of preachers like me, but of countless believers like you, that is the evidence. When bread and wine touch your lips and you see, feel the real presence. When you thought your heart would break in disappointment and pain, but it didn't because He was standing beside you in the dark. When you didn't know what to say and there were just the right words, words not of your own devising, being spoken by you. When you dragged into the church, cold at heart, skeptical, and distant, yet at the hymns, your spirit rose to greet His, your faith is not in vain."Perhaps in a romantic moment, you might be able to affirm that. If you do, James, you too will be dancing with the stars.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    Terri,So I have become a "cloud," a "problem," and now an enigma. Very cool. Who do you say that I am?It looks like you, unlike James, who thinks he's got me pinned down – somehow like John A. T. Robinson, which is pretty odd, since I don't have much in common with Robinson, except of course a commitment to honesty (I certainly don't buy his early dating of so much of the NT) – think that I am sui generis in my view of Scripture. Well, I've got news for you. There are plenty of people who are at ease in historical studies, and combine that with a non-liberal take on the Bible, the foundational teachings of Christianity, and so on. With respect to the New Testament, you might want to check out Michael Bird or Michael Pahl, both of whom are published, both of whom have defended an intelligent version of the doctrine of inerrancy online, and both of whom think historically with the best of them. With respect to OT, try Michael Heiser. Just examples. Tips of the iceberg. Since there is no paradigmatic difference, think about all the people who think (myself included) that we can affirm God as creator and the texts of Genesis in terms of their truth claims, and treat the theory of evolution as the best working hypothesis on offer in the field of biology. Is that an enigma for you as well?Already people like Origen, Augustine, and Aquinas found ways to affirm the truth-claims Genesis 1-3 make even though they simultaneously adhered to cosmologies (since discredited) taken over from the ambient culture. Those of us who are not either/or on creation vs. evolution are willing to take the same risk as the above named doctors of the Church. And there are plenty of really smart people who do the same thing vis-a-vis historical studies, history of religions, sociology, anthropology, political theory, and so on. It's a wonderful world. We dance to our heart's content. You are invited, of course, to join in.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Wow, I've never seen Blogger create a link to more commments before, but apparently that's what happens when you get over the 200 mark!John, I was suggesting that you are a sort of mirror image of John A. T. Robinson – liberal on dating and methods and Scripture's diversity, conservative in your theology and view of gender roles and the like. When you say that the Bible never fails to accomplish God's purposes, that sounds like something that might better be described as "infallibility." The terminology of "inerrancy" you are free to use, but as defined by the Chicago Declaration, it is at best meaningless, at worst arbitrary, and certainly dies the death of a thousand qualifications.We do seem to agree that "The dry reconstruction of historians will not get us to resurrection." What we may perhaps disagree about, and certainly could benefit from talking about further, is whether religious experience can get you to a historical bodily resurrection.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    John,Come now…my "unfounded psychological speculation" wasn't an aspersion.It's only a way of saying that you are sometimes hard to peg down….which is not a bad thing and part of what makes you interesting. I don't think you're "sui generis"/unique in the world…but you have an interesting combination of ideas.I don't think I have said anything that you, yourself, haven't already said about your relation to the term "inerrancy".But what does it matter what I think, anyway? I find many enigmas in those around me, myself included.And the song quote was from The Sound of Music, because what is the point of dancing if there isn't any music on in the background?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I thought there might also be an allusion to the smoke monster on LOST… :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    James,I accept your characterization of me as a mirror image of Robinson – but don't tell James Crossley. I count him as a friend, and I don't want to get on his bad side. I think it's cool to date Mark as early as he does. I so want to be hip as J.C., but I can't get there for a variety of arcane reasons of the kind historians do their best to pay attention to.On my own blog (and I'm going to copy over the relevant part of this thread for the benefit of my habitual readers), a commenter remarked, "labels are odious." They are in so many ways, but they serve political purposes. Sometimes you are forced to wear a label, or avoid wearing one at all. I don't have these political valences in mind. It's not your case or mine. We both have tenure in our respective professional niches. You can call yourself a liberal all you want, and I can call myself a conservative, an evangelical, etc. all I want. Besides being labels you and I feel comfortable with, "liberal" / "conservative" become a means of networking with like-minded people though we both know full well that as a scholar and a human being, we may end up learning and depending, in scholarship and friendship, on those who belong to another "vast political conspiracy." And so what? Life is grand. There are stars worth dancing with on all sides.I would suggest inerrantists, theological conservatives, evangelicals, traditional Catholics, etc., can be divided into two Weberian ideal-types. Those who are ridiculously confident of the ability of classical truth-claims to come out refined and better for the wear through the acids of modernity, and those who are afraid to death of those acids. You know which ideal type I am drawn to.I was going to divide liberals into two Weberian ideal types, but really, that is a heuristic exercise more fitting for you to carry out. So yes, it's true. Literally and metaphorically, there are lot of conservatives who have given up the no-dancing, no drinking rule. Just happened literally, if I'm not mistaken, at Asbury College and Seminary. Or we never had such rules to begin with: my case, since I grew up liberal and defected to the dark side. How did Virginia Woolf put it, when her cousin T. S. Eliot became a believer? "He's dead to us now." I get that once in a while. But I have tenure! So I let it roll off my back like water.I'll think a little bit more about the resurrection – history business, and get back to you.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    Terri,You are a great online friend, and I'm sorry if I came across as offended by what you said. I get a little touchy sometimes in the same way that one of my colleagues, a United Methodist pastor with a Ph.D. from U of Chicago, gets touchy if someone tells her she isn't a feminist because she's pro-life.One difference I may have with you is that I'm used to deploying a whole set of words in teaching and preaching – not just the words "inerrancy" or the stronger term "infallibility" (stronger because who cares if a text does not err in its truth claims if it doesn't succeed in communicating those truth-claims), which are IMHO habitually abused. But that doesn't stop me from using them. I'm not going to let people take perfectly good and helpful concepts away from me, concepts like original sin, vicarious suffering, being born again, atonement, the millennium, heaven, hell, the power of the keys, palingenesis, forensic justification – my goodness, the list is very long – just because all kinds of subsidiary notions I find weird have been and still are attached to them by many. I need all of the above words – and many more. They serve to signify important truths to which scripture, tradition, and experience in some sense attest, truths that reason, in a servant mode, is able to coordinate and systematize at least to a limited degree.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    It was the dancing that threw me off! :)

  • Anonymous

    Don:Why thank you. And it took only one short paragraph. I'd like to keep up in the discussion, but I have no patience to read drivel like:"I was going to divide liberals into two Weberian ideal types, but really, that is a heuristic exercise more fitting for you to carry out."What's really ironic is that the person who wrote that sentence told another guy to "man up." pf

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    Pf,Yes, I'm sure liberalism is some sort of rock that is too hard to be broken up and analyzed. Give us a break.Are you another of that hapless category which delights in peering into the dark night of the soul of others, but knows not the dark night of the soul himself?Such cheery lack of self-awareness was given a devastating critique by William James long ago. For an update, see Charles Taylor, Varieties of Religion Today. William James Revisited.Not many people can get through James without being challenged to the core, regardless of point of departure. But maybe you could, though in that case it would be a strike against you.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07033350578895908993 Suzanne McCarthy

    I get a little touchy sometimes in the same way that one of my colleagues, a United Methodist pastor with a Ph.D. from U of Chicago, gets touchy if someone tells her she isn't a feminist because she's pro-life.Astounding, John!!You are the one who accused me of being a pro-abortion feminist when I blogged about the differential in female to male abortions in Asia. I notice that you then conveniently forgot that I had brought this issue up on your blog, when you stated recently that you were not aware of any other biblioblogger who had touched on this topic. You assumed from my mention of those statistics in Asia, which you so passionately blogged about, that I was pro-abortion, and then you labeled me a feminist, which was a term I had not even used at that time. You then told me that if I accepted the label of feminist – that is someone who wants equality for women – that I was obliged to accept the label of being pro-abortion. But now you flaunt your touchiness when someone else is treated that way. It is rather galling also to find that you recommend patriarchy as a valid choice, and this belief of yours is in no way dictated to you by the scripture. You have no difficulty with women being denied basic human rights, and living without an understanding of mutual consent. (although I am well aware that you deny this. You cannot seem to understand that being ruled by the male, means that the male is not required to obtain consent.) Some people might wonder where many of the female bloggers are. Here is a familiar story and the blogroll contains many more. Perhaps there are a few women who have been reared in complete equality, who express a little yearning for some feature of patriarchy. But they need to be stripped of the principle of consent. They need to sit and watch, as their house and home, children and belongings, and their own body, are disposed of without their consent – and then they can pontificate on the blessings of patriarchy.

  • Anonymous

    John:You said: "Yes, I'm sure liberalism is some sort of rock that is too hard to be broken up and analyzed … Are you another of that hapless category which delights in peering into the dark night of the soul of others, but knows not the dark night of the soul himself?"In all sincerity, what the hell are you talking about?Yours truly,pf(p.s. I beg you, please don't answer.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17011346264727684917 John Hobbins

    LOL, anonymous. I won't then. You have a great day.