Biblical context – toward a philosophy of Christian belief – Part 2

Biblical context – toward a philosophy of Christian belief – Part 2 October 3, 2022

Where did the Bible come from and is it credible?

The previous articles explained that God “breathes life” into what we view as scripture so that it is meaningful to us. God could do the same with a magazine article. The Hebrew Bible (Christian “Old Testament”) was written through the lens of many people: oral tradition stories of creation from that area, prophets, judges, kings, and others. Each expressed their point of view, not to direct our feet, but for our consideration.  Just as today many disagree with each other.

Image by Aksha Gupta on Pixahive
Image by Aksha Gupta on Pixahive

Bible disagrees with itself

The Bible doesn’t always agree with itself, having sources pulled from different traditions. This negates nothing – these stories circulated orally among many groups before being written down in around 1100 BCE, and then scrolls were pulled together into narratives at later dates such as ~700 BCE and ~565 BCE.

Just for laughs:

“… A generation goes and a generation comes, But the earth remains forever.” – Ecclesiastes 1:4 (NASB)

“… the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.” – 2Peter 3:10 (NASB)

“… “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.”” – Genesis 32:30 (NASB)

“No one has seen God at any time; ….” – John 1:18 (NASB)

Often when we see disagreements in the Bible we don’t understand the context. In very ancient times in both Canaanite and pre-Judaic religion it was thought that if you saw the face of God you would die. That was the myth.  I’m not going to test it.

The concept of an eye for eye as a punishment comes from Exodus 21:24. Did it literally mean that if someone pokes your eye out you can poke their eye out? Gandhi mused that if we did that soon everyone would be toothless and blind.

This stands in contrast to Jesus’ and the Apostles’ teachings that we not repay evil for evil.

In context this was not about personal revenge or retribution. This was about sentences that a court or judicial body could impose on an offender. Ideas about this type of justice were common in Hammurabi’s law code and in the region. Hammurabi was the King of the Old Babylonian Empire, preceding Biblical times by 600 years.

Later ideas about justice included ideas of mercy, and then later of victims being “made whole.” In Jesus’ day those who offended others were to go to the them and make it right.  This was the idea of making the victim whole. Forgiveness was in order.

 Differences speak to credibility

The Bible speaks of a God of forefathers which was different from other Gods and was important in creating a new nation. It gives a history of those people that is credible partly because of its variety. While interpreters can see some attempts to make the Bible consistent, there are other variations in evidence that indicate this was not systematic.

It talks about the creation of Israel and that it was created as an example to others. It brings into existence the Law (laws, covenant) of the Jews, referencing what was considered to be the Seven Laws of Noah (AKA natural laws) which are reflected in the Ten Commandments, and gives 613 laws.

“The Torah [first five books of the Bible] is considered by Jews to be the holiest part of the Tenakh and was given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai. The Hebrew word Torah is traditionally translated as ‘law’, which in this context means teaching, instruction or guidance.” –  The Torah and the Ten Commandments.  “Conservative Jews follow the old laws, but also see them as open to interpretation. Reform Jews view the traditional Jewish religious and moral laws as guides to life, but not binding in every detail.” – The Hebrews and the Foundation of Western Law.

Christians and Jewish Law

Christians are all over the place when it comes to the laws of the Jews. The 613 Laws found in the Torah are mostly ignored. Laws that Christians want to observe and insist on, depending on the denomination or pastor or worshiper, are placed in special categories.

The Apostles told their followers that the Law doesn’t apply to Christians, only to Jews, and for Christians to depend on the law to save them would end in their being judged by the law. Can anyone follow the law of love and yet break a relevant law, especially in the context of major statements in the Bible about what religion, what God requires, and love form as an imperative?
Christian views on the Old Covenant.

The eye of the one looking

The Bible talks to the Hebrews and Jews about “God is on our side,” in an era of endless warfare between peoples, similar to the Bhagavad Gita in ancient religion in India. In that era of give and take and constant invasions, people needed that.

Religion first became situated among priests and prophets. Religion later became situated in law in the era of judges. Then religion became situated among kings and priests that supported them as they did in other lands and religions. During this time ideas about mercy, forgiveness, and love were further developed among the prophets.

It chronicles the end of one phase of Israel in 565 BCE when they were conquered and leaders taken into exile in Babylon. It talks about different agreements that God had with the Hebrews or Jews over time. It talks about the continuation of the religion that had been established as an institution and the development of scribes (local writers and advisors of Jewish Law) and Pharisees (Bible legal interpreters and part of the judicial Sanhedrin), and the synagogues (kind of like churches), all without the kings and prophets, during Babylonian and then Hellenistic and then Roman occupation, covering 500 years until the time of Jesus and the Apostles work.

Jesus’ time

The Bible talks about the necessary transformation intended for Judaism during Jesus’ time. It talks about a new religion forming after Jesus’ death based on his teachings, but not based on Judaism, that is Christianity, often regarded by Apostles as an example to others just as Judaism was supposed to be. (Matthew 5:16, John 13:35, Luke 11 – light for all to see.)

From the Sermon On The Mount (Beatitudes): the Golden Rule, go the extra mile, Love your enemies,” “By their fruits ye shall know them.” – Matthew 5

Religion in Jesus’ time became personal, situated among the people and was spread by prophets and evangelists. Collectively individual Christians represent Christ as the body of Christ. Today the Christian religion is situated in institutions (Catholic and Orthodox) and among the people (Protestant).

What is religion about?

Lost in translation are the whys, wherefores, and implications of all of this. We can see that religion developed over time, and there were eras in which there were different agreements with God, and that religion was situated in different groups.

So in our being blind to a larger context, religion becomes “all about me.” It becomes an exclusive club for those who believe similarly. But it is anything but – it’s a constant struggle to avoid becoming an institution or “all about me.”

Christianity is about being an example of love to others, and of God’s forgiveness. It isn’t about telling people about sin – they know what it means to hurt others – that law is in their hearts, the hearts of all flesh. (See Jeremiah 31, Hebrews 8:8, Joel 2:28, 29, John 7:39, and Romans 2: 13 – 16.)

Some want desperately to believe that the law is only written in the hearts of Christians, not “all flesh,” but Paul explains that it’s not those who “hear” the law but those who do what it says who are justified before God. “… for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.” – Romans 2: 13 – 16 (NASB).

Takeaway

The above two articles are a philosophy of Christianity and religion. It’s what it’s all about.

Judges, Prophets, kings, priests, and individuals all had their lens through which they viewed faith and religion, and their slant on things is commonly seen in the Hebrew Bible. The places where the Bible disagrees with itself are at the same time testimony to it not having been methodically tampered with, and shows that it comes from different traditions which largely say similar things, united in theme.

There was a development phase of Judaism followed by an institutional phase. The institutional phase was strongly influenced by the exile and brought a very strict following of laws that to some extent lacked heart. Jesus objected to the leaders of Judaism as an institution and brought the religion home to the people so that they didn’t have inflexible laws and requirements and didn’t need the priests.

Both Judaism and Christianity were to be examples to others, first of devotion to God in Judaism and reflecting God, and then in Christianity of love of everyone that reflects God. One was based on law and the other on love fulfilled the law.

If we don’t keep our attention on context, religion in our time becomes about being an institution or about reflecting what we want as individuals.

Jesus was a Jew. He came to the Jews and spent his life ministering to them about Judaism and what God requires from them – everything he said was about Judaism to the Jews. After his death he sent some of his disciples to the Jews living outside of Israel and also to non-Jews. Non-Jews were neither asked to become Jews nor to follow the laws of Judaism. The laws non-Jews need to follow is written in their hearts.

The Apostles didn’t have the New Testament to refer to. They wrote it as they communicated with churches and Christians. God breathes life into it as we read.

________________________

The standard of belief and conduct for Christianity is love. Legal standard.

________________________

If you find these articles intriguing, please consider joining the mailing list.

If I’ve challenged your thinking, I’ve done my job.

___________________

Our answer is God. God’s answer is us. Together we make the world better.

– Dorian

About Dorian Scott Cole
Additional information about the author is on the About tab. You can read more about the author here.

Browse Our Archives

Close Ad