Friday, July 25, 2008

"We Christians Aint Like the Muslims"

I was listening to the radio yesterday, and some guy called in with this gem: "We Christians aint like the Muslims. They believe that the Koran can change. Christians don't do that. Jesus said, 'If anyone adds or takes away from the book,' they'll be punished! Now some people think that the snake didn't really talk. That's takin away from the book, and God will punish them cause they aint real Christians!"

Okay, let's go:

1. "Muslims" are divided into 2 hostile sects: Sunnis and Shi'ites. The Sunnis believe that God's revelation in the Koran was fixed at the time of Mohammed's death. Shi'ites believe that subsequent prophets received equally as authoritative revelation.

2. "Christians don't do that." HELLO?? The NEW TESTAMENT claims to be a subsequent and more authoritative revelation than the OLD TESTAMENT. The early Jewish Christians were the Shi'ites of first century Judaism!!

3. The warning in Revelation 22:18-19 about "adding" or "taking way" from "this book" applies ONLY to the book of Revelation.

4. Christians have a number of different INTERPRETATIONS about scripture. One interpretation is not more right because it's more literal, and being literal DOES NOT equal more respectful. As far as I know it's only fundamentalist, conservative, evangelicals who take all of the Old Testament literally. Many Christians and virtually all Jews understand much of the OT (the 6 days of creation, Adam and Eve, the flood, Jonah, etc) to be myth - a parable to make a point.

Fellow Christians, please THINK before calling in to national radio shows!


Kerrie said...

I obviously have no formal teaching in Bible so please excuse me ahead of time for anything that you scholars might deem elementary. It’s interesting though and I have some questions.

Regarding point number 4, how do you determine what is myth and what is literal?

If most Jews don't take it literally then at what point did Christians start interpreting it as literal?

The Jews also didn’t believe that Jesus was the Christ so I’m not sure I want to totally trust their judgment in regards to the OT.

How does this apply to what we teach our children? Do we need to re-think what we are teaching at home/church or continue to teach the stories as fact and focus on the principles that can be learned from them?

These thoughts may be widely accepted and understood by theology students but I don’t believe the average Christian like me was brought up with this. Maybe I’m ignorant and have missed out on some significant teaching somewhere though.

casey said...

when jesus was asked what is the greatest command he replied love God love each other. the rest, i believe, is subject to ones interpretation.

David said...

This is a very interesting post and near to my heart since I am as Charles likes to call me "an OT scholar." I do think Charles makes a good point about Christians making Christianity look bad, especially on radio and T.V. programs. I tell my congregation all the time to never watch History channel or ABC specials on the Bible. They always get the worst representations of Christian faith on there. I do think that you are right that Christians who say that those of us who do not believe in literal six days aren't Christians are crossing the line.

Also, in regard to Islam, aren't there more sects then the two you mentioned. What about Sufisim and Ahmadiyya? Furthermore, at least in regard to the Koran, most Muslims believe that it is more static then Christian do Scripture. Most Christians recognize what is called "textual criticism," i.e., different manuscripts with slightly different wordings (e.g. "ending of Mark; John 8"). Even though this phenomenon is present in Islam as well, the German-Islamic scholar who wrote about it had to do so with a pseudonym because Islams believe that every word of the Koran was dictated "word by word" to Muhammad by Allah.

Finally, Kerrie, your fear is one that I still wrestle with to this day. Charles is right that most Jews now regard the OT as myth (unless they're orthodox) but in the time of Christ or at least in early rabbinic Judaism, they took many of these stories much more literally. Being someone who looks to rabbinic interpretation, I think that we can learn a great deal from the Jews. They are excellent readers of even the smallest details of texts. Yet your apprehension is correct. Christians must not give up their distinctive Christological readings of OT passages. Remember that in NT times, the only place they could preach Christ from was the OT. Nevertheless, we also must realize that many of these passages (Isaiah 7 is a perfect example) had a direct meaning for its context. Isaiah was not preaching Jesus. He was preaching relief for Ahaz. It was Christians, in light of the resurrection of Jesus, who when rereading their Bibles could not help but see him everywhere. Finally, Kerrie, to you what do we take literal and what do we not question, I must confess even us "OT scholars" struggles with this one. Almost everyone agrees from the archaeological evidence that David and Solomon existed "though with much smaller kingdom" and all the subsequent kings of Israel. Yet before this, not much is available. The earliest reference to Israel is actually the Merneptah stele (Ramses son) who says who completely destroyed them in Canaan. Also, most evidence suggest that the Israelites were native to Canaan and that there was not a mass migration. This along with mythological literature from Ugarit and Babylon and Assyria (e.g. "Gilgamesh") has forced most "OT scholars" to change how the read and understand the literature of the OT rather than reject it altogether. The similarity of much of this literature, especially to Genesis 1-11, has forced most of us to see it as myth, "a story of origins with theological truths" rather than as literal history (though there is some evidence for a smaller, local flood in that area.) It is a hard question to answer and too complicated for me to go into here. I still don't know what I am going to teach my children and preaching at a small 20 member congregation, I tend to avoid it if I can.

Sorry everyone for the long post


Kerrie said...

Thank you David for taking time with these questions. I've re read what you wrote several times and now have many more thoughts. I also feel some fear or insecurity.

I suppose that if some of the OT scripture is not literal that does not mean that the scriptures are not from God and not being usable to us today. Charles had a whole series on the 10 Words, or commandments, which were given prior to the Israelites being in Cannan. Taking away the literal meaning DOES NOT equate to taking away respect/need does it?

I also think the implications of these thoughts in relation to faith might cause some problems. There are those that in a sense "worship" the Bible and hold their accepted interpretation up of it, as of extreme importance to their salvation. If you adjust the view of the scriptures that has been traditionally held (the literal interpretation as one example) then you are in a sense questioning a major part of their faith.

So that reminds me that our faith is first in Christ and God and ALL of our hope does not rest in the written Bible. We are all not going to ever see it the same way or agree. If our "faith" has to be proved out of scripture text or whether stories from the OT are literal or myth, then it might not be faith in God but more faith in what we think.

Charles North said...

Casey - that's great!

David - I agree with everything you said. Thanks for explaining what I meant to say when I was ranting and raving!

Kerrie - I like it when you ask more probing questions. I also wrestle with how this stuff affects "normal" Christians (David and I are not "normal").

My only point was that one's interpretation of a text, especially an OT text, is NOT a litmus test of "authentic Christianity." Like Jesus' parables, I believe the stories of the OT are "true" and must be taught, whether they are literal history or not. That question should not affect the life of the church or its faith development.

casey said...

i don't consider myself an expert in anything especially child raising. having said that i think you should teach your children what you believe, whatever that may be. but also allow them to question things along the way. because one day they will have to find the truth for themselves, just like we did. and if one day those beliefs don't match yours exactly it's ok it doesn't make them wrong. just as we are not wrong for not believing just as our parents do.

David said...

Charles--thanks for calling me WIERD! j/k I know I am

Casey-thanks for making me be more courageous, especially with my children

Kerrie--thank you for you great insight, questions, etc. You are right that adjusting one's view on Scripture can destroy one's faith, even make them antagonistic against it (Bart Ehrman is a good example of this.) Yet, I do think that the church viewing Scripture as weapon and litmus test has also caused a lot of hurt and division and that it is better to view it as a means of salvation, to help us encounter the triune God rather, which is how the early Christians viewed it anyways (many of them also treated the OT not as literal but allegorical).

What you said, though, is exactly right and great insight. I believe it deserves to be repeated so I am reposting it.

"So that reminds me that our faith is first in Christ and God and ALL of our hope does not rest in the written Bible. We are all not going to ever see it the same way or agree. If our "faith" has to be proved out of scripture text or whether stories from the OT are literal or myth, then it might not be faith in God but more faith in what we think."