Some of what I believe today – Biblical interpretation

Those who’ve read my blog for any length of time know that I dispute the usual Evangelical/Fundamentalist doctrines of Biblical inspiration.  What may have not been so clear, except by extrapolation, is what I do (and do not) propose this means when it comes to the authority-basis for Christian belief and practice.

I begin with the premise (unprovable—that’s why it’s a premise—but I believe it’s defensible) that the texts we commonly refer to as the Bible; that is, the 66-text collection accepted by both Catholic and Protestant Christians, is authoritative for the understanding of God’s intent and humanity’s role in creation and redemption.  Though recorded by human beings with all their foibles, biases, and limitations, the Biblical texts are a faithful account of the things godly human beings have seen, heard, experienced, and done as they have interacted with their creator over a rather large span of history.  Whatever other traditions humans may have passed down—and there are many—the ancient texts of the Biblical documents are older (and therefore closer to the primary sources), more complete, and more faithfully preserved than many, if not most, other historical documents.  They deserve to be heard.

Nevertheless, if the Bible is authoritative about anything at all, we must consider its texts authoritative to the extent they do or do not self-identify.  Here is where I part company with the vast majority of the Evangelical church:  nowhere in the entire text of the Old and New Testaments, do we find a defensible basis for the claim that the Bible is the Word of God, or that it is infallible (as an aside, it’s actually a little silly to talk about a text being infallible at all…the only thing that can fail–or not–are those who attempt to interpret it).  I have written on this subject before and will not repeat the entire discussion here; nevertheless I cannot let this claim stand without referring to 2 Tim. 3:14-17 (my inclusion of all four verses, not merely v. 16 is deliberate).  In brief:

  • The term our Bibles translate as “scripture” is “gramata,” a form of the word graphe which refers to any writing, not only sacred scriptures (“scripture,” for that matter, is just the Latin word for “writing”).  In Paul’s day (if less so than in ours) there was plenty of writing that was clearly not divinely inspired…the lesbian poetry of Sappho or the racy plays of Sophocles for a couple examples.  The only reasonable interpretation of Paul’s use of “all scripture” in v. 16, I believe, is to refer to the context he set up in v. 14-15, in which he refers to those writings Timothy learned from his youth, which are “able to make you wise unto salvation.”  There is no basis but presupposition, to suggest that Paul was referring to the compendium of a canon that would not be agreed for another three hundred years.
  • Next we turn to the word which is usually translated as “inspired” or “God-breathed” in the passage.  Paul did us the inconvenience of coining a word theopneustos (the Liddel-Scott lexicon shows no prior usage) without giving us a definition of what he meant.  The word is obviously a compound of the word Theos, which can mean any god but in the New Testament is nearly always in reference to the one God of Abraham and Father of Jesus, and pneuma, one of two more or less synonymous words (the other is pnoe) that are variously translated in the Bible as “spirit,” “breath,” or “wind.”  A tradition has built up in the church that theopneustos refers to the process by which God influenced the writers of our scriptural texts, though Christians differ wildly about whether that influence was more in the form of a gentle nudge in the right direction or a direct control of the words and phrases used.  However, if we are candid (and here, few are), we must acknowledge that this tradition is conjecture at best; certainly not enough upon which to hang a dogma.  It’s equally possible that theopneustos refers, not to the source-mechanism of scripture, but rather to the operation of God’s spirit in the reader(s) as he/she/they/we seek God in the texts.  Whatever it means, there is absolutely no basis to use theopneustos as a synonym for “God’s Word,” a phrase which carries very specific meanings in the Biblical texts.
  • The interpretation of 2 Tim. 3:16 is further complicated by the fact that the sentence contains no verb in Greek.  While it is perfectly true that a translator must insert a verb (the “is”) into the English statement to make a coherent sentence (at least, if we presume that v. 16-17, not v. 14-17, are a single sentence), there is nothing in the text to guide the translator as to whether the “is” belongs before or after whatever word is used to render theopneustos.  In other words, while most translations read declaratively “All scripture is inspired…,” it is equally-valid to render it as the 1901 American Standard Version does:  “All scripture inspired of God is profitable…” which is a decidedly different claim.

    Therefore, I hold that the 2 Tim. passage, whatever its meaning(s), cannot validly be used as the basis for a claim of divine infallibility for the Biblical canon.  Other prooftexts used by the verbal-inspiration crowd fare no better when properly examined.  The Bible does not call itself God’s word–therefore, neither should we.

    This does not mean we have no record of God speaking.  Specific places–particularly the prophets with their “Thus saith the LORD” declarations, highlight that at the particular point thereby designated, they are repeating God’s word.  If we believe anything at all about Jesus’ divinity (a topic for another time), then Jesus’ own words certainly rise to the level of God’s words…and of course Jesus himself is described as the Word of God become flesh.  If, as I have claimed above, it is in error to view the entire Biblical text as the Word of God, and yet the texts in many places contain words from God, then it becomes incumbent upon us to discern which is which.  I have misappropriated another Pauline phrase and labeled this discernment process “Rightly Dividing the Word,” from which I get the R in my ROCK summary.

    As a rule of thumb, I hold to a hierarchy of authority among the texts, where the words of Jesus as reported in the Gospels take supremacy, and shortly behind them, the words of the prophets where they explicitly highlight their message as the “Word of the LORD.”  Explicative works like the epistles follow behind these, and historical reporting still further behind, with wisdom and poetry such as Proverbs and Psalms bringing up the utmost rear (well, along with apocalyptic literature which frankly, nobody really understands any more despite their enthusiastic claims to the contrary).

    There is much more that can be said about the process of Biblical interpretation.  As is (I hope) evidenced in my writing, I hold that legitimate interpretation of the Bible begins with assessing the source of the particular message, examining both the historical and textual context surrounding it (the only valid use for a “prooftext” is to refute somebody else’s invalid prooftext…responsible Biblical interpretation can never hang a dogma on a single phrase).

    It is also valid to consider what other faithful believers have gleaned from a text.  But please note I said “consider,” not “accept.”  While I just got done stating that infallibility claims for the Bible are in error, it remains that nothing else rises even to the level of the Bible’s authority.  The claims of apostolic authority made by various church magisteria, episcopates, etc., are circularly established…that is, the authority by which they make their claim is the very claim itself.  No one—not the ancient church fathers, not the ecumenical councils of the fourth and fifth centuries, not Augustine or Aquinas or Calvin or Luther, and most certainly no one of the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries (including the elders or pastors or bishops of your own church fellowship)—has the right or authority to make any statement that is not subject to the accountability question “what is your scriptural basis for that claim?”  And even if they answer that question, the validity of their hermaneutic is still subject to challenge, re-examination, and even correction.  The fathers, the great theologians, and the faithful “lay” people (and even, I would submit, the “heretics”) of all these ages still deserve to be re-heard through the lens of the Body of Christ searching the scriptures, yet again today, to see whether the things they say are so.

    And this brings me to my final point on Biblical interpretation:  it’s not a spectator sport.  If we believe anything about the work of the Holy Spirit, and if we accept the Biblical accounts as valid at all, then God’s modus operandi tends toward reserving his most important messages to be delivered by the “unimportant” among us (from a foreign whore to a talking donkey to a 12-year-old kid to a guy hiding out on the threshing floor to a young girl accused of breaking her betrothal vow to a swaggering, cussing fisherman…the people God uses tend not to be those we might have chosen).  Michael Jordan may be (or may become) a follower of Jesus, but in faith, there are no Michael Jordans.  I am grateful for the insight careful researchers such as Tom Wright have brought to the table, as I am for the insights in other centuries of many faithful men and not enough women who have also sought to understand God and his ways, and share their understanding with the rest of us.  But the real work of following Jesus—including rightly dividing his word—occurs not in the halls of academia and the magisterium, but around the tables (including the virtual tables of the net) where we break bread and open the texts in fellowship with one another.

    You, my sister, and you, my brother, may have as much to share with me about the things of Christ, as Calvin or Luther or Aquinas or Augustine ever did—perhaps even more than they.  We’ll still need to search the scriptures together to see if you’re getting it right (I need you to do the same with my thoughts), but don’t ever let the “authorities” tell you you’re wrong to speak or to question just because they say so, or because God gave them authority over you.  Jesus—and the real apostles, the ones in the first century—say otherwise.

    26 thoughts on “Some of what I believe today – Biblical interpretation”

    1. Ruth Martin

      Excellent,Dan. You might also note that the NT itself (notably Paul, in several epistles) specifically SAYS “I have no word from the Lord on this, but this is my opinion.”
      Too bad more of those who claim to represent him are not that honest.
      Even in the OT, it is wise to check the difference between “The Lord says ….” and “So-and-so SAID, ‘the Lord says”…”
      The claim of “dictation” is ridiculous. Being, as you know, a “language junkie”, though, I do still think there was definite guidance in vocabulary, the understanding of which is crucial to understanding the message. Grammar, too.

    2. Paul Scivier

      How refreshing to read Dan Martins views on biblical interpretation.Its interesting to note that if the bible was an infallible document(in the way Islam describes the Quaran), then how come we have so many different translations. I believe the NT documents were originally written in the language Jesus spoke; Aramaic, so i guess any translation should be sourced from there> In church often people use the phrase Lets read “from the Word of God” referring to the Bible, when in fact in the bible we read that Jesus is the Word of God – Logos ( Johns gospel_ ” in the beginning was the Word etc.)
      It does appear that having made us in His image we have made God conform to ours. Lets all keep searching for Eashoa Meshhekha/Allaha. Bless you all.

    3. Paul Pavao

      I now have read two articles. I’m a traditionalist, as long as I have some confidence a tradition comes from the apostles, so this post makes me a little uncomfortable.

      The part about not equating the term “Word of God” with the Bible is clear to me, and I teach that everywhere, too.

      I want to object to the idea that the compendium of the canon wasn’t decided for 300 years. If you emphasize “the compendium” there and say that our specific 27 books weren’t fully decided on for 300 years, I’d have to concede that. In fact, I’d say there are a couple books that weren’t fully “in” until Jerome finished the Vulgate in the 5th century.

      I’d like to suggest, though, that in one sense the “NT” canon was decided even when Paul was writing the Corinthian and Thessolanian letters. The church, from the beginning, was following the apostles, the ones Jesus sent, just like the Father had sent him. Thus, anything an apostle wrote is part of Scripture.

      That would explain Peter’s reference to Paul’s letters as Scriptures (assuming Peter wrote 2 Peter). Paul clearly was not afraid not only to call his message the Word of God in Thessalonians, but to claim that what he wrote to the Corinthians were the commands of Christ, the King.

      So while specific books may have been argued about, the NT canon was established from apostolic times. If an apostle wrote it, the church kept it and treasured it as Scripture.

      Yes, there were disagreements about “the compendium of the canon,” but the qualification to be in the canon was not disagreed upon.

      1. Dan Martin Post Author

        Perhaps I can clarify, Paul. For the “all scripture” of Paul or the “scriptures” of Peter to apply somehow to our current canon (and nothing else), that canon would have to have been settled, which it wasn’t. Not only what was included, but what was excluded, remained somewhat fluid for around three centuries.

        And I would caution that your statement “anything an apostle wrote is part of Scripture” presupposes two things not in the Biblical text…first, the definition of an apostle as primarily an authority figure rather than “one who is sent” (the literal meaning of the word, applied to far more than 13 men); and second, that graphe/gramata, the NT words usually translated “Scripture” in English, meant the inspired, authoritative text we now take the words to mean.

        Hence the more nuanced “rightly dividing” hermaneutic I have proposed.

        1. Paul

          The problem here is that I’m giving you the definition given by those who actually collected what we call the canon and also wrestled over the authority of a few. They are the ones deciding who was an apostle and who wasn’t.

          By the last half of the second century, there were very few books being discussed as to their authority as Scripture. Second Peter, 2 & 3 John, Jude, Revelation, and even Hebrews were not universally accepted among those that “made the cut.” The Letter to Barnabas, Clement’s letter to the Corinthians, and the Shepherd of Hermas were regarded as Scripture by some churches.

          The rest of the books that we see in Catholic and Protestant Bibles were unconstested even in the last half of the second century.

          On what basis do I say these things? I have a quote page of quotes I personally found as I read through the early writings of the church. It’s at http://www.christian-history.org/scripture-quotes.html. Those are not quotes from Scripture, but about Scripture. There’s a lot, and there are at least 5 lists of canonical books, beginning with the Muratorian Fragment from about AD 170.

          1. Dan Martin Post Author

            What you’re saying, Paul, I think supports my point rather than refuting it. You’ll recall in my response to you that I pointed out that the canon, whatever it is now and whenever it was decided, was not complete at the time Paul wrote his letter to Timothy in which the “all scripture” prooftext is found. Therefore I stand by my statement that he cannot be referring to “all” we have today when it didn’t “all” exist yet. This is only disputable if one prejudices one’s argument on the presumption that Paul was describing all that would one day be “Scripture.” If one does that then one is no longer arguing from evidence, but rather from dogma.

            You may note that I usually write the term “scripture” in lower-case, but I capitalized it above. This is a (perhaps weak) attempt at my other point, which is that we must be careful not to conflate “that which the apostles wrote” which is certainly small-s scripture (remember, that’s just Latin for “graphe” which is any written word), with capital-S “Scripture” as in “holy writ,” or even worse “the Word of God.” We have, in modern usage, adapted what was originally a very-pedestrian word to mean only religious writings, and in a bad case of eisegesis, then back-imposed that modern definition onto the first-century texts. The result appears to support a level of authority for the texts that they themselves do not claim.

            Note that I have not denied the authority of the apostolic texts in the Bible, if by “authority” one may mean “reliable testimony as to their experience of Jesus and their description of early church thought.” I have simply refused to ascribe to them an even-higher authority than that–one which they never claimed for themselves–that every word they wrote was divinely inspired.

            1. Paul

              I have to suppose we’re seriously miscommunicating. I agree that 2 Tim. 3:16 does not refer to NT Scripture. I’m not sure what I said to make you think I disagreed, but whatever it was, I retract it. I am not saying that. Here is what I am saying:

              The qualification for what the churches considered Scripture was whether the churches believed an apostle wrote it. Irenaeus, perhaps the most famous bishop of the 2nd century, wrote:

              “We have learned from no one else the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they proclaimed at one time in public, then, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith. For it is unlawful to assert that they preached before they had perfect knowledge, as some do even venture to say, considering themselves as improvers of the apostles. For after our Lord rose from the dead, they were invested with power from on high when the Holy Spirit came upon them, were filled with all his gifts, and had perfect knowledge.” (Against Heresies, III:1:1)

              Tertullian of Carthage, about twenty years later, wrote:

              “Since the Lord Jesus Christ sent the apostles to preach, [our rule is] that no others ought to be received as preachers than those whom Christ appointed; for ‘no one knows the Father except the Son, and him to whom the Son wishes to reveal him’ [Matt. 11:27]. Nor does the Son seem to have revealed Him to any other than the apostles, whom he sent forth to preach.” (Prescription Against Heretics 21)

              I quote those to show you that the second-century churches, the ones who were putting together the Scriptures, considered the apostles authoritative enough that anything they wrote was Scripture. Even Mark’s and Luke’s Gospels are said by those Christians to have been accepted because Mark wrote what Peter told him and Paul was the companion of Luke.

              So the reason the Gospel of Thomas never made it is that not enough churches thought Thomas wrote it. Clement of Alexandria quoted the Gospel of Thomas, but he attributes the quote to a “Gospel of the Egyptians” (Miscellanies. Bk. III. 15). So the real problem the Gospel of Thomas had was that the churches thought someone other than Thomas wrote it. (Which is almost certain, since there is a strong tradition that Thomas went to India. Why would a Gospel found in Egypt and written in the Coptic language be from Thomas?)

              Anyway, my point is to defend my assertion that the New Testament Scriptures are simply the writings of the apostles, who were considered the only authorities by the early churches, and who were considered to be inspired by the Holy Spirit with perfect knowledge because of Jn. 16:13. Thus, anything they wrote was Scripture.

              It took a long time for the churches to come to final agreement. In AD 412, Augustine wrote:

              “Now, in regard to the canonical Scriptures, [the skillful interpreter] must follow the judgment of the greater number of catholic churches. Among these, of course, a high place must be given to such as have been thought worthy to be the seat of an apostle and to receive epistles.
              Accordingly, among the canonical Scriptures he will judge according to the following standard: to prefer those that are received by all the catholic churches to those which some do not receive. Among those which are not received by all, he will prefer such as have the sanction of the greater number and those of greater authority to such as are held by the smaller number and those of less authority.
              If, however, he shall find that some books are held by the greater number of churches, and others by the churches of greater authority (though this is not a very likely thing to happen), I think that in such a case the authority on the two sides is to be looked upon as equal.” (On Christian Doctrine II:8:12).

              Sorry for such a long comment, but even if you don’t agree, I thought the quotes would be of interest to you, and especially the long one from Augustine.

            2. Dan Martin Post Author

              This is quite helpful, Paul. Please don’t apologize for the length; you may have noticed I write longer articles on this blog. In fact I consistently choose WordPress themes that allow for a certain width in the text column to avoid making long posts completely unreadable or intimidating. This is because I think that in topics such as these, one should be as complete as necessary to make one’s point. So rather than accept your apology, I thank you.

              That the apostolic sourcing was a key in considering canonical writings does not surprise me. I am particularly intrigued by the Iranaeus quote with which you began. Personally, I don’t buy the “perfect knowledge” part of what he said, but as I said in the original post on this thread:

              Though recorded by human beings with all their foibles, biases, and limitations, the Biblical texts are a faithful account of the things godly human beings have seen, heard, experienced, and done as they have interacted with their creator over a rather large span of history. Whatever other traditions humans may have passed down—and there are many—the ancient texts of the Biblical documents are older (and therefore closer to the primary sources), more complete, and more faithfully preserved than many, if not most, other historical documents. They deserve to be heard.

              So the apostles, as eyewitnesses, are clearly to be recognized as the best authorities on what Jesus actually did and taught, which is why I consider the apostolic gospels to be authoritative.

              As to how the fathers assessed these things, I find a couple bits of what you quoted to be intriguing. First, I see both from Iranaeus’ “unlawful” statement and Tertullian’s “no others ought to be received,” that streak of authoritarianism that is, in my view, one of the earliest errors in the catholic church–an error very much perpetuated in the big-C Catholic church, the Eastern church, and nearly all Protestants as well. It seems to me that Jesus spent a good deal of his ministry shutting down the apostles’ inclinations toward authoritarianism (cf. Mark 10:35-45, Luke 22:24-27, Matt 23:8-12). It appears even in early patristic writings (I’m thinking Hippolytus as well as those you’ve listed) that the church leadership had become quite top-down even by the second century, and given the record of Jesus’ teachings I’m wondering if even the first-generation apostles didn’t totally get it even though they faithfully transmitted Jesus’ teaching on the topic. My best evidence to the contrary is the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15; note particularly Acts 15:22, which tells us the decision in question was taken by the apostles and elders together with “the whole church,” which is not at all the top-down, apostolic authority modus operandi in evidence by the second century.

              But now I’ve jumped from the authority of scripture to ecclesiology … not that they are disconnected, in fact they’re very tightly intertwined. Appreciate the discussion … keep it coming!

    4. Paul Pavao

      Let me add that I suspect (and hope) that if we got together, we would talk far into the night. Maybe I’ll regret saying that as I read more, but so far … it’s amazing to find you!

            1. Paul

              Yes. Not often, but I used to get down there every few months when I was playing chess tournaments. I’ve visited a couple Christian groups down there as well.

    5. Steve Kline

      So, why aren’t the books of Thomas and Mary, and the apocrypha, as well as the Knostic verses considered part of God’s word. As I understand it, there were these and other writings being used in early churches.

      1. Dan Martin Post Author

        A couple points, Steve. First, as I explain in the third paragraph of the article above, I don’t think it’s appropriate, or even Biblical, to consider even our current 66-book canon (that stuff we call “The Bible”) to all be “God’s Word.

        That said, though there were other writings considered authoritative by the early church, at least by the middle of the second century there are several lists that include most of the stuff we have in our current New Testament (though I understand there was some argument about Revelation … a reasonable thing to argue IMHO). To the best of my knowledge none of those lists include the Gnostic works, which BTW tend to be 100-300 years younger according to most things I’ve read.

        But to take Thomas in particular, which I’ve read several times, the character of that work is so wildly different in the way it presents Jesus, that it’s no particular surprise to me that it wasn’t included in the canon…but that’s merely my own opinion. More generally, though, the Gnostic philosophy was known well before the time of Christ, and although some people tried to Christianize it, or to Gnosticize Christianity, all the stuff in our current Bible about Jesus coming “in the flesh” was a very deliberate effort to counter Gnostic ideas of the Spirit-good, material-bad sort.

        1. Steve Kline

          Thanks, Dan. That does clear up a lot of it, but I still wonder if the book of Mary was excluded because of the sex of the author. Mary Magdalene was, as I have heard, a zealous Christian leader in her time, but I think the early Catholic church tried to portray her as a whore as a ploy to sway believers away from women as leaders.

          1. Dan Martin Post Author

            If that alone were the case, Steve, I think that Thomas might have been approved and Mary rejected. They are of a very similar tone in my own reading, both strongly Gnostic, and nothing at all like the rather believably-human character of Jesus we see in the the four canonical gospels. The fact that both were rejected suggests to me that it is the Gnosticism of their content, not the gender or identity of their authors, that was the criterion.

            1. Dan Martin Post Author

              I would take this a step further though and say “so what?” What is it about the gospels of Mary and Thomas that you find compelling, that makes you want to see them included?

              I ask because, as I have repeatedly said in other places on this blog, I really care more–and I think Jesus did too–in how we live, than in whether we think the right things. What about the Gnostic gospels as you see them, would change your life, and how?

            2. Steve Kline

              Good point, Dan. I guess I wasn’t really getting to my point, which is this: If there was any sort of corruption or bias in the canonization, why should we buy any of it. Why not just throw out anything by Paul, because I think his stuff sounds a little different than Matthew. Hell, why even bother with any of it? Let me ask you this, “were there words supposedly spoke by Christ in the book of Thomas or Mary? My point is, if they are so wildly different, why not throw out the whole new testement, as it is wildly different than the old? No, I have no desire to see the books of Mary or Thomas, or the Gnostics in the Bible, I guess my entire point is that we don’t have a logical foot to stand on in deciding what literature is best to guide our life by, so why should we choose these ancient texts, seemingly at random, when our modern world has self-help books and pop. Psychology galore to help us on our way? In a nutshell, what makes these books of the Bible insightful enough that I should spend my time on them? Sorry I’ve had such a hard time finding my point in all this, and I sincerely hope I haven’t offended anyone.

            3. Dan Martin Post Author

              Let’s take a look at your opening statement, Steve. Your premise is the possibility of “any sort of corruption or bias in the canonization.” I haven’t granted that point, and neither has Paul (the one on this thread, not the apostle). In fact the only people I know of who make that claim are either arguing for atheism or Gnosticism. So even though I do not accept the doctrine that the whole Bible is God’s word (which is what this post is originally about), I very much do accept that the original canon is legitimate.

              And no, we don’t “have a logical foot to stand on” as you suggested. Logic isn’t the point here. As I said in one of my private emails to you, belief in God is not the result of our accepting the Bible; rather, looking to the Bible for guidance is the result of our first accepting the truth of God in Jesus Christ. Getting to that truth is a different path.

            4. Steve Kline

              OK, here’s the thing, Dan: Let’s say those books were rejected because they are so different than the four Gospels…what about that would be different than rejecting the four Gospels because they are wildly different than Mary and Thomas? In other words, couldn’t it be that the apostles were all putting a bias on what they saw, just as Mary and Thomas did? Therefore, couldn’t the four Gospels be wildly different than the truth? Just asking….I’m seriously confused. Help me here, ’cause I need a logical reason to believe in the Gospels. I don’t want a postulate.

            5. Dan Martin Post Author

              Your question here has been better answered by Paul than anything I can add, Steve. Those who analyzed the texts in the second century, based on all they had learned from the apostles (or their first-generation followers), had a sense of which documents were legitimately written by the apostles and which made that claim but came from other sources. Some of the evidence they worked on, has since been lost. I trust it because the outcome seems coherent to me … internally coherent, and also coherent to what I have otherwise come to in faith.

              But like I said, I think you’re getting the cart before the horse. I don’t think you CAN have “a logical reason to believe in the Gospels. Logic simply doesn’t possess that power. The Gospels are only believable once you have come to the conclusion that Jesus offers something worthwhile as we find him in those Gospels. Start by reading them as just stories … I really don’t mind, and neither (I think) does he. Take a look at what he actually teaches us to do and be, not just what other people say we should think. Forget all about salvation and sin and hell and all the rest of it, and just look for the character of Jesus as he comes through in those stories. I think that the person who emerges is worth serious consideration.

              But the only postulates I’d ask you to consider as you do so are these:

              1) The church–all of it, from Catholic to fundamentalist Protestant–has said a lot of things about Jesus that Jesus never said, and about the Bible that the Bible never said.

              2) How we choose to live–our behavior which is visible and our character which may not always be–is a whole lot more important than thinking right thoughts. This remains true when we look at the Bible, years of hellfire sermons notwithstanding.

              3) This stuff is not nearly as complicated as we have made it.

              I think that approaching the Gospels with these three postulates (if they really qualify as postulates) might change the picture somewhat.

      2. Paul

        See my long note above. They were not considered part of God’s Word because they weren’t believed to have been written by apostles. Even if Mary Magdalene’s Gospel was regarded as written by Mary, it could not have been Scripture both because she was not an apostle and because she was a woman. The Gospel of Thomas is quoted a couple times (2 Clement and Clement of Alexandria’s Miscellanies), but neither of the two quotes are attributed to Thomas. Clement of Alexandria attributes the quote to a “Gospel of the Egyptians.” It was not believed to have been written by Thomas, so it could not be counted as Scripture/the Word of God.

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