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Thursday, January 31, 2013

If God Wrote the Bible...

One issue I wrestle with constantly is the meaning of the expression divine inspiration. I have no problem believing it and no problem professing it. However, I do have a heck of a time conceiving it. And I am very aware of the need to make it wear flesh and blood because it is not an idea, it is real.

Last night we were doing our Bible study and we came across "the call of the disciples." Mark 1:16-20 is succint and to the point. There are two parallel stories. Jesus passes by Andrew and Simon. Calls them. They immediately respond and follow Him. Jesus passes James and John. Calls them. They follow. The majority of my folks said that they had always been taught that the immediate response was a miracle. Men who had never seen or heard Jesus encountered Him and were overwhelmed by the power of God in their hearts and responded. The radical nature of such an act (and almost reckless) made it all the more appealing to our hagiography. We know Jesus is God because one word from Him and the guys just immediately responded. How else to explain it?

Well, maybe reading the Bible will help to explain it. The word immediately translates two Greek words used by Mark. The adjective form occurs 3x in chapter 1. The adverb form is used 9x. That is a total of 12x that the word immediately appears. Mark continues to use the adverb (in the next five chapters a total of 20x). There is good reason to think that Mark is using the term, not for theologicall driven reasons, but because he just plain uses the word immediately very frequently. And to top it off, when James and John respond, he does not say immediately (only the call is immediate). Mark is not implying a miracle at all. That is good news to those of us who are also called but do not experience the call as a miracle (at least in the sense the word frequently connotes). People who are waiting for an overwhelming power to sweep them away can stop waiting. It doesn't happen that way (99.9%).

Lest this seem to disrespect the Word of God, it is also helpful to know that in John 1:35-42 John the Baptist identifies Jesus as "the Lamb of God" to two of his own disciples. Hearing this, the two follow Jesus who asks "what do you seek?" The men stay the day with Jesus and then one of them, Andrew, goes off first thing to tell his brother Simon. Not quite the time line in Matthew-Mark. Andrew and Simon did respond to the call of Jesus, but the Gospel accounts tell the story differently (on a literal face value). To complicate it even more, Luke 5:1-11 tells a story of Jesus using an idle fishing boat to preach. He needed some space from the crowd. The same four characters (from Mt and Mk) appear together, this time as business partners. Once He is finished preaching, Jesus tells them to launch off to fish again. Peter says we worked all night for nothing, but we will obey. Next thing, the nets are full of fish and the invitation to "catch men" as Jesus' disciples. Once more, common features but also significant differences.

Mark is not describing the event of a call, he is declaring it took place. Luke has another version (which seems to have some interplay with a resurrection account (in John) with a similar large haul of fish). Whatever the exact historical details were, each writer, inspired by the Holy Spirit (word of God) has given us a version for our edification. While the basic agreement is a reason to trust, there are significant differences in the three stories. All might be actual historical events, but all three are not how the original call came about.

So, IF God wrote the Bible, why is there not agreement?

In the book, "Please Understand Me II" David Keirsey provides helpful categories for understanding the four basic types (and sixteen total subtypes) of people. Many of us have taken the test. [Extravert-Introvert, Sensing-Intuition, Thinking-Feeling, Judging-Perceiving. Google Personality Junkie for an online approach to this.] Keirsey identifies two approaches to tools (anything we use) as cooperative and utilitarian. He then identifies two approaches to using words: abstract and concrete. The Four Basic Personality types are a unique combination of the two pairs. Humans are divided into four basic groups and this leads to all manner of conflicts because we do not approach things the same way.

If we approach the Scripture from a point of view that the Bible has utility and the word use is concrete, we probably see the Sacred Scripture as a practical guide book and interpet it literally.
However, others see words more abstractly. Words like fiction, theoretical, general, inner, symbolic, figurative, and mythical have negative connotation to the first group (who equate this with untrue) which is more empirical, specific, literal, factual and detailed. This challenge extends throughout church history to the earliest centers of teaching. Alexandria was the home of the spiritual reading and Antioch the place where literalists abounded. [Keep in mind each group was able to understand and do the other, but each tended toward the opposite.] In as much as the two approaches to language and the two approaches to "tools" are preferences of personalities, the question is "which is right?" and the answer is "it depends on the situation."

What is God? Is God an abstract or concrete-utilitarian? An abstract or concrete-cooperative? The assumption we make goes a long way to determining how we approach anything (including reading the Bible) and how we read anything (including the Bible). Based on our brief look at the call of the apostles, it seems that a multi-layered approach is best. We need to know our tendencies. We need to assume God is not a carbon copy of 'us.' We need to be slow to make claims about divine authorship.

If God wrote the Bible then it may be literal (objective) or spiritual (subjective). It may be intended for utility (history, ethics) or community (mysticism). Whatever it is, it is not  helpful to blindly let our personalities dictate our way is the way, nor is it likely that we cannot learn from other approaches. IF God created the world, He seems to have been comfortable making sixteen basic types and all, to greater or lesser degree, are different! As such, it is not unthinkable that our approach to Scripture needs to balance the four basic approaches the sixteen types of people exhibit.

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