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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Stages of Faith

Dr. McGrath has posted some thoughts on today's Sunday school class, as well as some links with further information about James Fowler's idea of "stages of faith", over at Exploring Our Matrix.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter Sunday School

Yesterday's sermon focused on the ending (or lack thereof) of Mark's Gospel. The pastor compared Mark to a "choose your own adventure" story, particularly when it comes to the ending.

In Dr. McGrath's Sunday school class, we discussed this as well as another possibility, namely that the original ending of Mark's Gospel could have been lost. Papyrus manuscripts are easily damaged, and most of our ancient manuscripts from this period are significantly damaged. Although we have a great many relatively early manuscripts of the New Testament writings, including some on more durable types of "paper", it is not impossible that the earliest Gospel could have been damaged in some way.

The likelihood that the original ending was lost is increased when we consider that two different scribal traditions, as well as Matthew and Luke who used Mark as a source, felt it necessary to "improve" Mark's ending.

If one considers the different geographical locations for the resurrection appearance stories in Matthew and Luke, it seems impossible to argue for "inerrancy" in any meaningful sense of the term. But if one is asking not about inerrancy but about historicity, then a historian's approach can help us make sense of why Matthew and Luke diverge, with one having the disciples told to go to Galilee while the other has them told to remain in Jerusalem.

In 1 Corinthians 15 we find an example of the sort of tradition about resurrection appearances circulating a decade or more before the Gospel of Mark is thought to have been written. Dr. McGrath pointed out that no geographical setting is provided. And thus a plausible explanation for the divergence between Matthew and Luke is that neither had information on the setting of such appearances, and each independently turned the tradition into a narrative, locating it where it seemed to fit, with the resulting tensions when one has copies of both these Gospels.

Towards the end of the class, the Rev. Bartley brought up the question of whether a rationalistic, post-Enlightenment reading of the text is not alien to the worldview in which these writings were penned. Dr. McGrath replied that, on the one hand, he appreciates what reason and science have given to us. On the other hand, the attempt to require the text to provide certainty, or reject it if it fails to do so, is indeed at odds with these stories. Matthew's Gospel has the apostles doubting even after their "encounter" with Jesus. And so the desire for certainty is the desire for something that even the earliest Christians may not have had.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Palm Sunday Q&A

Today's installment of Dr. McGrath's Sunday school class took the format of an informal conversation/Q&A on matters related to the passion week. Some of the subjects touched on include:

  • The nature of historical study of the Bible and the burial of Jesus (including why I wrote my book on the subject, the Talpiot tomb, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher).
  • What the historical context (and precedent) might have been for the "triumphal entry" into Jerusalem. Among other things, the size of the temple and the resulting "Where's Waldo?" effect, and the lack of immediate Roman intervention, both seem to suggest that Jesus' actions around this time were symbolic and relatively small.
  • The story of Jesus sending disciples to take someone else's donkey.

Next week we'll continue the conversation!