I wrote this as a response to a posting on Calvin-In-Common on a reported conclusion of Marcus Borg that the Bible is a human product, not a divine one.
Human product or a divine one?
I couldn’t let that assertion slip through without a pause and some thought.
How would a divine product look?
What would be the effect of such a product?
There are offerings “more divine” according to assumed standards, the Koran and the book of Mormon.
In James KA Smith’s critique of Peter Enns’ book on “The Evolution of Adam” he complains about the persistent approach from the bottom. Enns comes by this approach honestly, sharing the professional credentials, which are partly enculturated expectations for the sake of professional dialogue, with Marcus Borg and pretty much anyone else trained for professional Biblical studies, including some of us on this list.
The question of a divine product, and how we might identify such a thing, how we might regard it, whether we could understand it, etc. is no small question, it is in some ways THE question answered most specifically by Christianity. Every other major religion to one degree glides over the question by reliance upon prophets, gurus or buddhas, Christianity asserts the language (and more) gap is bridged by the flesh of a young Jewish man. It’s amazing anyone believes this at all.
The Two Sides of Jefferson’s Bible
Two weeks ago I posted a thing on the CRC network that didn’t make either end of the Women in office fight in the CRC happy. Today I got a comment from a conservative asking whether I thought complementarianism is cultural. Both Jefferson and many evangelical conservatives approach the Bible in the same way, cut it up. Jefferson wanted to exorcise the “supernatural” stuff and leave the moral (I assume women’s behavior and same sex behavior would literally make the cut for Jefferson, but the slavery stuff, well…). Others want to say “well this was cultural and this was somehow divine…” How might we arrive at that conclusion? It’s ALL cultural. It’s ALL human.
Peter Enns argues in an “Inspiration and Incarnation” (I think he lost his job at Westminster for this book) that you face in the Bible the same dilemma you face in Jesus. According to Nicea, fully human and divine. Over the centuries different groups have had difficulty believing one side of the equation more than the other. We’re no different.
Expectations of Divine Speech
I think it’s profitable examining our expectations with regard to divine product or divine speech.
At Sinai direct revelation wasn’t a big hit. “Stop talking to us! We’ll send Moses up. Talk to him. We’ll do what he says, we promise…” Yeah right. Golden calf anyone?
The rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus back to warn his brothers about his discomfort in Hades. Abraham’s assertion that even if someone rises from the dead they won’t believe. They’re easily ignoring the law and the prophets, resurrection won’t do the trick. The post resurrection appearance of Jesus at the end of Matthew validates that claim. They worshipped him, but some doubted.
So what’s behind our desire to shut up the silly literalists and exorcise biblicistic notions from the church and society? (If you want to read a truly scorching screed against evangelical literalistic biblicism read the first half of Christian Smith’s “The Bible Made Impossible“) If somehow all of these people who have adopted positions that we find offensive could only be shown that God doesn’t tell them to believe these stupid things, THEN they will agree with us, and the world will be better, and our vision of goodness will prevail and so on and so on.
It is simply the reverse fantasy of our adversaries, and every other group in the world.
I live in a place where lots of people, either by bringing their religion from Asia or grabbing the Americanized varieties go around saying that everything is divine. That doesn’t seem to help. Sometimes they play nice (as do the nice folks from West Michigan) but if you get down to it you find all the same garden variety issues you’ll find in fundamentalists and atheists alike.
I ask “what was it again you were hoping to win in this war over the Bible (from either side)?”
By general revelation ramping up your claims about your holy book doesn’t necessarily impress (Koran, book of Mormon). Ramping up your claims about the divinity of not only humanity but also my neighbors cat doesn’t seem to help. Using “God says” doesn’t seem that reliable a motivational stick to ensure human compliance. The snake in the garden opted for “Did God really say?” and that seemed to get results.
What Should We Really Be Paying Attention To
What this tells me is that we are natural born rebels with a natural inclination to hate our neighbor and any God who makes the marketing misstep of disagreeing with us or a value we cherish.
If you really push examine the expectation behind what we imagine would be a “divine product” I can’t imagine it would look any different from judgment day.
One of the most startling theophanies in the Bible is in the Writings with God finally honoring Job’s request to show up and address Job’s denunciation of God’s administration of the universe. Job puts his hand over his mouth. This to me seems gentle.
To me, one of the most reasonable assertions of the Old Testament is one of the most offensive. The idea that when Yhwh breaks out there is mass slaughter. Why? When I begin to imagine a being showing up that would have the attributes of a creator of his universe, all that power, majesty, knowledge, beauty, purity, (the Bible calls it holiness), I imagine I would be crushed.
Why would this crush me? Because I discover in myself a fragile little self that is angry at drivers who cut me off, furious about people who vote for the wrong bills or politicians, self conscious about people’s opinions of my work performance or my moral character. I am one who at any sign of offense or assault not only against my person but even against ancillary ideas and notions that I have somehow attached to my self-hood will respond, attack, or condemn. If I were to face a being such as (if there is one) must be at the center of the universe, then I like some poor soul in the book of Revelation (6:15-17)would cry out for the mountains to crush me just to hide me from that face. If I’m going to meet this God face to face I’m going to need something or someone dramatic to stand behind.
Any candidate for divine inspiration would logically have more than a little amount of offense in it to my delicate ego.
So is the Bible a product of people? Absolutely. That’s not the part that concerns me. pvk