I originally posted these comments together with other links in a round-up about blogging related to the recent tragedy. But they grew to the point where they seemed to require a post of their own.
Brian LePort joined the conversation between Tony Jones and myself about the story of the slaughter of the innocents in Matthew’s Gospel. Allan Bevere also did so. And now Tony Jones himself has responded, acknowledging that I am funnier than he is, but nevertheless insisting that I am wronger. (UPDATE: Fred Clark has also joined the conversation with a long thoughtful post on a variety of aspects of the subject. So too have Rob Davis and Kyle Roberts.)
Let me respond by saying that I think Tony is right that, since the infancy stories offer us little in the way of history, a narrative and theological approach to them is the most useful (here is a link to some earlier thoughts of mine on that topic in class notes I posted some years ago, as well one to a more recent video of a class I taught on the infancy narratives).
I remain relieved that I do not feel bound to adhere to Matthew’s theology any more than his history. It is precisely because of the seriousness with which I take the deaths of the innocent that I find myself unable to think of God in the anthropomorphic way that many Christians still do, as though God were organizing and planning every event that unfolds.
But I appreciate and agree with Tony’s point that we should not adopt a stance of smug chronological superiority, as though things that we write and say will not offend people thousands of years from now, if anyone actually reads them.
Whatever one thinks of Matthew’s story, whether as theology or as history, we don’t need it in order to reflect on the deaths of innocent children. We have plenty of modern examples that can serve just fine as a basis for reflection, unfortunately.
On a somewhat related note (about another issue in Matthew’s infancy story), there is a video with Francesca Stavrakopoulou talking about the virgin birth, suggesting that the idea arose from a mistranslation. Timothy Michael Law suggests that the LXX rendering of the verse in Isaiah is not a mistranslation, but rather the term parthenos underwent a linguistic shift after the time that translation was made. Mark Goodacre has now chimed in as well and provides the definitive treatment of the subject.
Last but not least, Frankie Schaeffer added some thoughts today on Evangelical responses to the Newtown shootings. He concludes with the following:
Who hates Jesus? It isn’t the so-called new atheists like Richard Dawkins. It’s the Christian leaders bent on taking Christianity down with them into their private hell of stupidity. With friends like these Jesus needs no enemies. The re-crucifixion of Jesus by his “followers” continues.