I am very disappointed that you recently changed the cover title from Bible Review to its initials, BR. I do not display it on my coffee table, as everyone asks me, what on earth is that magazine. I was proud to show it before.
Popular in Prison
Keep the beautiful and intelligent articles coming. We the prisoners like them so much that we discuss them in Bible study each time we meet.
Rt. 4, Box 1100 #513435
He’s Not Laughing
I, like a previous reader (Mark Fosberg, Readers Reply, BR 09:02), am “convinced that your main purpose is to discredit and belittle the Christian faith,” for a different reason, however, than that usually expressed by your Christian readers. It is obvious that you think it is cute to print letters written by fanatical Christians who bring extreme charges against your writers (“Lies of the Devil,” “Borg’s Father Is the Devil,” “Cross Is Demon Possessed,” etc.). These letters are full of anger and hatred. If your only purpose is to give your readers a few good laughs, then you can call your magazine a success, but I don’t think that by printing so many of these letters, you are doing much to promote Jewish-Christian understanding in this age of dialogue.
Annenberg Research Institute
Jesus Didn’t Speak English
It is always a matter of astonishment to me when one of your contributors writes an article containing opinions and the next issue of the magazine carries letters referring to hell as the writer’s ultimate destination and to Satan as the source of the opinions expressed. Any opinion that differs from their own on a religious topic must seem life-threatening to them to produce responses of such virulence when compared with the views that triggered the explosion.
Surely some of the complainants must know that early Christianity didn’t even have “The Word,” whose authority is so often used as source material when abusing your contributors. Possibly they think that Jesus spoke in English to the multitudes. Maybe it is a mystery to them that you waste space in every issue on foreign languages such as Hebrew and Greek. It is difficult to do anything but stand in awe of such invincible ignorance and compassionless intolerance. Couldn’t you please refrain from devoting so many column inches to these people voicing their ignorance?
Park Forest, Illinois
Faith in a Book Versus Faith in God
I am a new subscriber and I read Readers Reply faithfully. It is sad how many people need the Bible to be true in every way ill order for their faith to be true.
We Christians in the year 50 didn’t have Bibles in our homes. We Christians for hundreds of years didn’t even agree on what the Bible should consist of (as Roy Hoover rightly points out in his April 1993 article, “How the Books of the New Testament Were Chosen,” BR 09:02). Nevertheless, the faith remained alive and well.
It seems to me that too many people put their faith in a book instead of the One the book is about. And I can’t believe that so many people who have a regard for the Bible in the first place could resort to the name-calling I’ve read. Is that what the Bible has done for them?
One last thought and I’ll get off my soapbox. Christians seem to have no trouble accepting the fact that Jesus “made up” a bunch of stories (parables) to teach about the kingdom of God and how we should treat one another. Why can’t we likewise accept that the whole Bible is a bunch of stories intended to teach about God and how we should live?
Mount Sinai, New York
The Importance of a Comma
Helmut Koester’s reply (Readers Reply, BR 09:03) to Charles Robbins that Paul’s anti-Judaic charge in 1 Thessalonians 2:14–15 “is most likely a later interpolation” does rescue Paul, and early Christianity, from a politically incorrect position. But the drastic theory of interpolation, although it has been learnedly argued in the scholarly journals, is unnecessary. As I have recently contended (New Testament Studies 35 , pp. 481–502), the comma that separates “the Jews” from “who killed the Lord Jesus” and thereby makes the clause nonrestrictive is a comma that cannot be Justified from Paul’s original Greek (which, incidentally, used a participial phrase, not a relative clause). The correct translation should omit the comma and read: “the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus.” Paul was inveighing against a limited number of Jews, probably the accusers in the trial before Pilate. With the comma removed, Paul’s statement here is not at variance with his statements elsewhere about the Jews. To continue to assert that this passage is interpolated requires one either to explain why my argument is incorrect or to explain what an anti-Judaist would have gained by interpolating such a restricted term.
Dept. of History
California State University, Hayward
Helmut Koester replies:
It seems unlikely to me that the removal of the comma after “the Jews” in 1 Thessalonians 2:14–15 can solve the problem of this passage. Dr. Gilliard states that “Paul was inveighing against a limited number of Jews, probably those who had been involved as accusers in the trial before Pilate.” However the text of 1 Thessalonians 2:15 says explicitly that these same Jews had also “killed the prophets.” What follows in verse 16(“they displease God and oppose all humanity”) makes clear that these verses belong to the standard anti-Judaic polemic of antiquity for which no parallel exists anywhere in the genuine Pauline letters.
Whether or not 1 Thessalonians 2:13–16 (not just verses 14–15) is an interpolation is a problem that cannot be solved solely on the question of the use of the term “Jews” in these verses. Much more significant are the following observations: (1) Verses 13–16 interrupt the context verses 11–12 had talked about the way in which Paul cared for the Thessalonians “like a father for his children,” and in verse 17 Paul speaks about his present situation as “having become an orphan,” being separated from them; originally, verse 17 must have followed directly upon verse 12. (2) The repetition of the thanksgiving formula Of 1 Thessalonians 1:2 in 2:13 is clumsy and artificial. (3) The term, “word of Hearing” (
Picks Up the Gauntlet
In Readers Reply, BR 09:01, Jane Schaberg (“How Mary Magdalene Became a Whore,” BR 08:05) challenges me to present another explanation “for the Magdalene’s transformation into a whore.” I hereby accept the challenge.
The Bible is replete with stories showing that even God’s chosen ones have feet of clay and need God’s mercy. Adam and Eve are the paradigm. Other conspicuous Old Testament examples are Moses, who does not enter the Promised Land; David, the murderer and adulterer; and Aaron and Solomon, the idolaters. In the New Testament we find Peter, who denies Jesus three times, who is rebuked as a “satan” and who had introduced himself to Jesus as “a sinful man.” Paul points to his background as a persecutor of Christians. All of the Twelve except John abandon Jesus at his arrest. It seems to me that the Bible goes out of its way to show the weaknesses of community leaders; this approach emphasizes that salvation comes from the Lord even as it gives encouragement to the “little people” in the community. This approach works at the pastoral level even today!
In the New Testament era, there were several sinful male leaders with whom sinful male Christian converts could identify. I do not find a comparable female exemplar apart from Mary Magdalene. Thus, the motivation for the process of conflating the story of Luke’s “sinful woman” with Mary Magdalene may have been the pastoral desire to generate for women converts an example of a great sinner turned great saint through commitment to Jesus. Providing such an example would, perhaps, be the more necessary as Mary, the mother of Jesus, became more and more exalted. What sinful female convert could ever hope to equal her?
Sacred Heart Church
Jane Schaberg replies:
Rev. Kesterson is missing my point. The Bible does indeed mirror human weaknesses and does indeed emphasize forgiveness. All can be forgiven—but not all can lead. Why not? The following quotation from Elizabeth A. Johnson’s book, She Who Is (Crossroad, 1992), shows the thinking that underlies this ancient and modern dictum: “The patriarchal symbol of the divine sculpts men into the role of God, fully in ‘his’ image and capable of representing ‘him,’ while women, thought to be only deficiently in the image of God and ultimately a symbol of evil, play the role of dependent and sinful humanity, who when forgiven may then be [only] recipients of grace and spiritual helpers.” The Magdalene legend is a primary illustration of this twisted perspective (see 1 Timothy 2:11–15).
The Historical Jesus
The Difference Between Faith and History
It is clear from John P. Meier’s article (“Why Search for the Historical Jesus?” BR 09:03) that his “rethinking” of the historical Jesus question has born fruit. This is especially so in regard to his distinction between the “historical” Jesus and the “risen” Jesus, the “object of Christian faith.”
Although fundamentalists are theoretically open to the quest for the historical Jesus, they consider it a waste of time because the matter has already been decided. In other words, they beg the question. This is what happens when, one confuses the two categories of faith and history. Here is an example from my own experience.
Some years ago I became a regular member of a Christian discussion group. Most of those in attendance were too well educated to believe that the Bible could be taken completely literally. But one tenet that the group maintained was that Jesus’ resurrection was a material, historical event and that it could be proved the same way as any other historical event. I, being more liberally inclined, resisted such a position. The discussion group took my contrary view as a challenge, and they took it as their mission to try to prove a historical resurrection.
The group eventually failed in their “quest.” One of the reasons was that the discussion could not move beyond a point of methodology. The group became divided into two camps. Camp 1, the majority of the members, took the position that all claims must be supported by an equal quantity and quality of evidence. Camp 2, the minority, took the position that there is a hierarchy of claims and that a more extraordinary claim requires more and better evidence. So, for example, if we are told that a man has given birth to a baby, Camp 1 would treat this claim as any other, while Camp 2 would want to look into the matter more thoroughly.
Now the problems with both views are evident. Camp 1 seems to defy common sense and experience. We know from our experience that such a distinction between the “everyday” and the “extraordinary” is an appropriate one and that evidence supporting claims must be matched to the type of claim that is being made. But Camp 1 might accuse Camp 2 of making Judgments about a claim before any investigation has begun and of giving itself the option of saying, no matter how much or what kind of evidence is offered, that the evidence is not enough.
This is a complex question for the philosophy of science, especially when we add such things as miracles or resurrections to the question. I believe this argues all the more for Meier’s distinction between faith and history. Although I include myself in Camp 2, I must agree with the challenges that Camp 1 poses. Therefore, regarding what it would take to prove a resurrection, I would answer that it is probably true that there is not enough evidence in the world to prove a resurrection, because it is beyond proof. What tool of medical technology could tell us that someone has been resurrected?
Faith Without History Is a Frame Without a Picture
John P. Meier’s “Why Search for the Historical Jesus?” BR 09:03, distinguishes between the direct object of Christian faith and faith as it seeks understanding. For him, the Jesus of history is not, and cannot be, the object of faith, which is, instead, “Jesus Christ, crucified, risen and presently reigning.” In addition and more remarkably for him the historical quest for Jesus has no usefulness as regards faith’s object, but only for the contemporaneous search for understanding.
This is too drastic a separation. Christians have always wanted to know the earthly (historical) reality of Jesus Christ: what he did, what he taught, how he came to die and so on. And they have always been confident that, thanks to the Gospels, they had access to this 007knowledge. What is new since the development of historical methods is the realization not that they were wrong in this confidence, but that their knowledge was much less complete and considerably less accurate than they thought. The modern quest is the continuation by better means of something preachers and people—though perhaps not professional theologians—have been doing from the beginning.
Knowledge of Jesus Christ in his earthly reality back in first-century Galilee and Jerusalem is not simply a useful addition to the object of faith. It is an essential part of this object. Without it, the object of faith would be something like a glorious picture frame containing an empty canvas, onto which anyone would be free to project any image they wanted.
Never Met an Objective Historian
To my surprise, I read that John P. Meier was writing a book about the historical Jesus that “would satisfy an objective historian” (“Why Search for the Historical Jesus?” BR 09:03). Does he really think there exists somewhere an objective historian? As a historian myself, I have never encountered one. The so-called objective historian is a figment of 19th-century historicists’ imagination. Like his 19th-century predecessors, Meier seems to think that the scientific method is objective, or at least not infused with matters of belief. Thus he separates the “purely empirical” from “faith,” not realizing that such an artificial separation is dualistic if not reductionistic (see also his comments about the risen Jesus). If the article reflects his book then the book will have numerous questionable conclusions.
More on Borg
I don’t think I overstate the matter by saying that Paul W. Harris (Readers Reply, BR 09:03) touches on the major crisis of belief among late 20th-century Christians. The process begins with the denial of miraculous events relating to the person of Jesus on the grounds of what Harris aptly calls “negative historical probabilities.” The next step in the process retains the nominal term Christian on grounds that, devoid of miraculous events, the tradition itself still carries “universal human truths.” Quite simply put, this process is the mythologizing of Christianity.
As a believing Christian, I’d like to submit a better method of responding to this crisis. The body of evidence contained in the historical research on Jesus does not disprove the miraculous events relating to the historical person Jesus. Very few historical scholars would deny that, of all the written material, it is the four Gospels taken together that make up the most important source of information on Jesus. I propose that we Christians feel free to examine the body of evidence that surrounds the historical Jesus. But to be led to and fro by the divergent, highly speculative conclusions of scholars is not appropriate, given that body of evidence. After having read some of the extra-canonical literature and secular scholarship on Jesus, I believe that the message contained in the fourfold Gospel is on remarkably— and yes, miraculously—solid historical grounds.
I’d also like to comment on Marcus J. Borg’s definition, in his reply to Mr. Harris, of what is “Christian.” Let me start with the sentence in which he says, “In short, I don’t think that being a Christian has very much to do with believing….” Stop right there, please, and check the scriptures: “This, is the work of God, that ye believe in him whom he hath sent” (John 6:29). “Be not afraid, only believe (Mark 5:36); “For what saith the scripture? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness’ ” (Romans 4:3); “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26).
There is such a weight of scriptural evidence that clearly states the importance of believing in Christ Jesus that I can only conclude Borg’s lines were written hurriedly or perhaps carelessly.
Another part of Borg’s definition of Christian—“I understand the tradition…as a mediator of the sacred” —also requires response. In a definition of what is Christian, I would like to see, rather than the tradition, the person of Jesus Christ; is the mediator of the sacred, as when Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:5, “For there is one God, one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.”
The last part of Borg’s statement says that, “being a Christian…has to do with being in relationship to that to which the Christian tradition points.” To what does the Christian tradition point, Mr. Borg, but to Christ Jesus, the son of God?
Marcus Borg replies:
Mr. Buller’s comments hinge in part on the object of belief and on the meaning of the word “believe.” First, in the sentence prior to the one Buller quotes, I wrote, “I do not see the tradition as something to be believed in.” That sentence specifies what mean by the sentence he quotes. Namely, being a Christian is not about believing in the tradition, including Scripture (its historical accuracy, infallibility or whatever). Second, Buller’s list of several passages from the New Testament about the importance of believing is beside the point. They do not speak about believing the tradition, but about believing in Jesus or God. Moreover, the words “believe” and “faith” in these quotes are used in their original, premodern sense. They do not refer to “believing certain propositions to be true,” but mean “to give one’s heart to.” Understood in this sense, I agree with what Buller implies with his closing question: Being a Christian means to be in a relationship with God as disclosed in Jesus Christ.
Pushing the Right Buttons
I always look forward to Readers Reply. It is easier to understand the problems of the world when we see the anger and narrow-mindedness expressed in this column regarding other people’s spiritual insights.
I especially enjoyed Marcus Borg’s “The First Christmas,” BR 08:06. I shared it with my congregation the Sunday before Christmas because I felt, that it captured the true essence of Christmas.
Keep up the good work and keep pushing our buttons. Just maybe we will see the light rather than our own ignorance.
Windward Unity Church
Disputes Anderson’s Claim
Bernhard Anderson (“The Biblical Circle of Homosexual Prohibition,” BR 09:03) says there is “no explicit Prohibition against homosexual relations between women.” The exchange of “natural relations for unnatural ones” is specifically mentioned in Romans 1:26 as a feature of women and men who “exchanged the truth of God for a lie” (Romans 1:25).
Dickinson, North Dakota
Professor Anderson was speaking specifically of Leviticus and the Old Testament, not of the New Testament.—Ed.
You Can Love Sheep, But Not Potatoes
While interesting, Joseph P. Klein’s “How Job Fulfills God’s Word to Cain,” BR 09:03, missed some points.
I grew up on a farm and like gardening, so I know something of “the sweat of thy face” effort that it takes to grow anything in the cursed ground (Genesis 3:17).
My mother, too, thought that it was “unfair” of God not to accept Cain’s offering of the fruit of the ground.
Every spring, after some nagging, Dad would take his team of horse and plow her big garden to make it ready for planting of sweet corn and such before he went to plow his fields.
It was largely by the sweat of her brow that our family enjoyed corn on the cob, green beans and other good things for the rest of the year. She also canned and dried her produce to last through the winter. Her efforts were certainly pleasing to us, and I’m sure Cain’s family enjoyed his good works. But that isn’t the point.
I remember the only lamb we had on our dairy farm. He was not a stupid sheep but a character who enjoyed playing pranks, and seemed to have a smile on his face most of the time. He would stand on his hind legs and reach up his nose for a kiss, and he came when called. He would peek around a corner, then run with springing steps to playfully butt our legs. Of course, as he grew larger, he could knock us down and he thought that was great fun! I loved that lamb!
Remembering our beloved lamb and the genuine affection we had for him, and the sorrow we all felt when he had to go to slaughter (he knocked down Grandma, and she didn’t think it was funny at all!), I could appreciate Abel’s better offering.
All of our dairy cows were named, and each had a distinct Personality, as have sheep when one gets to know them. I’m sure Abel knew each of his sheep, and when he brought the finest one, it was a sacrifice of love. One does not love potatoes or carrots. Cain took pride in his own works, rather than in serving God.
Secondly, Call did know what death was. After sin came into the garden because his parents preferred to believe Satan’s lies rather than God’s spoken words, God shed the blood of animals to obtain skins to cover their nakedness. Surely, Cain and Abel, too, had 060participated in the killing of animals for meat to eat and clothes to wear.
Thirdly, Klein emphasized the “randomness” and the “naturalness” of events on earth, leaving out that Satan is still in the world doing his worst.
I am fortunate to have known many “Jobs,” some of them in my family, who have weathered serious setbacks and retained their “integrity” or faith in God. My father was sent out to run a farm alone when he was only 15 years old; he endured the Depression and being hailed out, rained out and frozen out, but continued to farm until the age of 78. He loved the land, and he still loved God, even though he was blind the last three years of his life.
Our son and his wife lost their first child on Christmas Eve, yet they are deeply religious, and they continue to trust God.
Perhaps misfortunes are random, but God can take what Satan intends for evil and turn it into a victory! That is God’s grace, and that is the point. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God — not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9).
The so-called scholars whose enlightened drivel appears in BR have succumbed to a fundamental error. To ascribe the Bible to men — to suggest that mere man has, by virtue of his own intelligence, edited, written or conspired with other men for the writing or rewriting of any part of the Bible — reduces the God of the Bible to the same level as any idol made by the hands and imagination of man. If, as these, highly degreed scholars assume, man is the author of the Bible, then one can only surmise that man created God. This is an opinion I cannot endorse.
I say to those purveyors of scholarly gruel, those humanistic diviners of knowledge who peddle their worthless tripe in BR: When you discover the author, the everlasting God of Glory, then, under His tutelage, you may come to understand something of His word. Till then, take your humanistic scholarship, style comparisons and other misreasonings and apply them to a more deserving work of human literature (i.e., the collective works of William Shakespeare).