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Archive for the ‘gospels’ Category

Koipaint1 (2)

Being Koi, Oil on canvas. Christopher MacDonald.

As the class winds down it seems I am getting to learn, or at least hone some skills in my Gospels class. 

Our professor had prepared a long document outlining the differences in content between the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark an Luke) and John’s Gospel. It was a pretty good general list, and probably the thing I took issue with was just a part of some list he inherited (let’s give him the benefit of the doubt). 

My purpose in repeating my reply is simply to educate you about so-called “double stories” in the Gospels and the sort of (in my view) less than sensical assumptions some “scholars” can make which defy common sense, the texts and clear reason.  

In this case it has to do with the two miraculous “fish stories” of Luke 5 and John 21 where nets are cast over the side of the boat and a huge haul of fish is drawn in. Luke’s account takes place at Gennesaret on the first day that James, John and Peter become disciples, the nets tear and it is after Jesus does some teaching from the boat. Only Peter is in the boat with Peter – who essentially freaks out.  In John’s acount, it is after the resurrection when the boys have become men and been with Jesus for years. These men (seven of them) have been out all night fishing on the Sea of Tiberias (Galilee), when they obey a stranger (they do not know it is Jesus) the nets fill but do not rip. Peter has the presence of mind to throw on his outer garment before throwing himself into the sea, but the others (including James and John) come along with the fish and they then have the world’s quietest big fishing haul breakfast. 

Now some scholars would have you believe that these two stories are the same event.

It gets worse – they have tenure.

So I am “calling them out.”

Having spent a great deal of time in John 21 for my final assignment I am very familiar with the story of the miraculous catch of fish both from that chapter and from Luke 5 (4-11).

and keep insisting, contrary to the real possibility over a few years time – that Jesus may have given a hundred such sermons (heck, there may have been a “sermon in the ravine” Think of the acoustics!

I appreciate the hard work our teacher put in preparing this list of distinctions between the Synoptics and John’s Gospel. I want to add before I comment on the two miracle fish stories that:

  1. I have never felt any need or desire to reconcile or harmonize Gospel accounts or “smooth off the edges” of supposed contradictions one way or the other. I simply don’t care. There is never any real fallout of any real import and the long debates about inerrancy/infallibility etc..have always seemed to me a great away to avoid either real work in the texts, or actual service in the field. What a waste of time. It bored me at 19; it super bores me at 59. (And for those who feel like “well there is a contradiction so I don’t have to believe the Bible. Good. Don’t. Now, moving on…”
  2. Just because two things are vaguely similar on the surface does not mean they are the same event.

On point two this is especially pertinent when it comes to men and women with no imagination at all, for they cannot imagine that Jesus, for example, having given a sermon on the “mount,” might also give a very similar one on a “plain.” Now you would think they might have a clue as some of the content is different as well as some of the demeanor. But no, they do not make this possible connection at all – at least not many of them – and keep insisting, contrary to the real possibility over a few years time – that Jesus may have given a hundred such sermons (heck, there may have been a “sermon in the ravine” Think of the acoustics!)

And so we come to our fish story, where the fishermen, after a night of getting “skunked” simply obey the stranger on the beach (that is odd) and don’t get upset when he asks about their fishing in a less than diplomatic way (“Caught any fish boys?” is one possible translation) but they just do it. And then when the fish swell the net John is the first to realize – then Peter.

Is it possible that it is because it has happened before — say the first day they became disciples— these two?

The differences in the story are not just when they occur. Naw…It is ALL different…contexts, nets ripping, not ripping (and that being called into attention), two different responses by Peter…one with others…the other with Peter alone…two different locales. I mean, seriously, other than fish and nets what is the same?

So I would be happy to sign off on an obvious “same” story just slotted in a different place if there was evidence and a good reason to suppose that was so. But to do it here is to take away from the meaning and depth of both stories and minimize them both.

map_002It’s poor attention to detail and basically – sooner or later – insists that you subsume one story into the other. Why? Is there any good reason for this?

I’ll buy into each Gospel writer picking and choosing what they want for their own theological ends – quite comfy with that. But that is not the same as grabbing a story and re-engineering it. And that is always the underlying aspertion. No one actually comes out and SAYS this – but it is there.

Well I am calling that stuff out.

If anything it seems evident that every embarrassing detail has been left in, as well as no few incidental ones which seemingly have no purpose at all.

This just adds to my laundry list of why modern scholarship is out of touch in many regards: no imagination or common sense.


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CB022240When I wrote the previous article on reading and studying the Bible as “Splashing or Scuba” I left off at an intermediary state: “skin-diving”. From there came the nationwide news story of “Conservapedia.com” and their attempt to rewrite the Bible thousands of years later from a biased point of view and from the 1611 KJV.

That was an example of attempting to scuba-dive with no tank, regulator, BCD, octopus, and certainly no depth computer.

So, in fact, we were able to see, in the previous article how not to do it, and in the meantime some of the serious work that needs to be done if you want to go deeper in scripture.

I did a commentary on Paul’s letter to the Colossians which I am preparing for free download here at The Grand Book. It is incomplete (it ends at 4:6, but attempts to hit the meatier parts of this profound Christocentric letter).

It took me at least 6 months to write it, mostly because I had to do all of the work myself, which could be tedious. But  hey, try reading seven commentaries on one book (in detail), then doing the additional Greek word study when necessary. Then you have to type it all up (this included my creating my own Greek character font for my Mac…and NO, the “symbol” font will not work).

BCDI’ll stop whining. Point is, you at your church or small group have a tremendous opportunity.

Without trying to be critical, have you often found small groups to deal in a general, even cursory way with passages in question?

I have been to many small groups, and the idea is necessary because churches need “Church beyond Church”. So we have small group Bible studies, but are we really studying? Are we really exploring the texts of God’s Word, or are we answering pre-canned questions looking for the “right” answer, or afraid of speaking the wrong one?

Admittedly, I am not the norm. I was built to both teach and to go deep. This is not required of everyone by ANY stretch of the imagination. But wouldn’t you like to have other biblical images and passages that you understood come to mind as your preacher or pastor delivered their message on Sunday mornings or at a weekly study?

Let me use a silly example. I bought an old Volkswagen bug. It’s a 1969 classic and beat up in some ways. The windshield wipers don’t work (which is lots of fun this time of year!) the sunroof leaks water (talk about full immersion…this is not sprinkling after a good Arkansas rain), and up until recently the hood and right front fender looked like that part of the ship in Aliens that is all corroded and looks half eaten. The carburetor in back sometimes spurts/leak gas. I keep a fire extinguisher in the passenger side of the car.

Now where would I be without a toolkit, or just standard American sockets instead of metrics?

But what if two friends from the local “Bug Club” come over with their ramps, their tool boxes, a fresh look and some experience? We can talk about the best way to really handle the “issues” at hand and think and work things through. It is also a lot more fun!

So my suggestion, along those same lines, is not that you have a master teacher (unless your pastor or biblical education teacher) but rather a facilitator who feels so led and who knows how to keep things moving and let everyone speak and be heard.  Then comes a simple, yet radical idea.

Scuba-Diving-Courses What about assigning a commentary each to people in your small group. For those more academically inclined it could be an English translation of a Greek commentary for the passage in question.

This is not as hard as it sounds. A Young Life leader taught me (a high school C- student) how to do this at age 19. So, let’s say one member shells out $25 for the complete four volume hardbound set of Vincent’s commentaries. That’s a start.

The group decides to study, say Colossians.  It is small, and written to mostly uneducated Gentiles living in what is now Turkey (Asia Minor). It shouldn’t be too hard. Next you ask your pastor or a good teacher what good commentaries are available on Colossians?

ten_plagues_puppetsSadly, these books will NOT be available at your local Christian bookstore, or very rarely. Instead, however you mtestamintsay yet be able to get either these “testamints”  ; or the Ten Plague finger puppets. Hours of fun, but they will not help you make friends or help your kids (or adults) understand the Bible (but you will have the fresh scent of mint on your breath).

So you will have to go to Amazon or CBD.com. Even at CBD you may find it hard to actually find the commentaries (it was not always so). But they are there. For individual commentaries I suggest Amazon. They may be able to get you a very affordable used copy of an important one.

Let’s say there are ten people in your small group, which means 7-8 show up (this is very good) weekly. They are more apt to show up and simply DVR or TIVO House, or Lost, or CSI whatever if they actually have something ahead of time to share. (Note: I am not being cynical. I would show up to, but would DVR  some of those programs, especially Fringe or Fast Forward) . They may also invite friends, as a small group with coffee and snacks is a lot less intimidating than church may sometimes be at first.

N.T. Wright on Colossians and Philemon

N.T. Wright on Colossians and Philemon

Divide them up as you wish, or trade off every once and awhile since you are studying the same passage together ahead of time before you meet.

For Colossians, I would get a number of commentaries: N.T. Wright’s book ($12), and F.F. Bruce’s commentary (pricey at $30 but anything by Bruce is nearly priceless). The Bruce book will be the most detailed, but still accessible (give it to a nerd like myself).

If all this seems a bit over-intellectual (I could barely write an English sentence at 19), then also add these: Max Lucado’s commentary, or  J.B. Lightfoot’s commentary updated by J.I. Packer (this may be a bit heady too, but if you can figure out Facebook apps, you can get this).

I would steer you away from good books by good men like Bill Hybels and John MacArthur because they are both somewhat “pre-processed” and that misses the whole point. Who wants to see snapshots of someone else’s scuba dive when they can dive in themselves?

No, you want to study personally, then come together to discuss what you have learned, what questions you have , and share personal reflections that relate.

51nCQ9Q9guL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_But also, a good devotional book like Sam Storms Hope of Glory, may really add a whole new devotional angle on Colossians. You may find (if someone plays music) that one or two of these reflections  take the study and frame them more personally, naturally leading to worship. Or, perhaps someone, has been assigned to find a song to play from a  CD that covers some of the issues of the passage.  Be open to letting people’s natural and spiritual giftedness come out in this!

C.S. Lewis one commented that every good piece of theology should also lead into worship.

batfish-and-scuba-divers-1Other suggestions. Create a Facebook fan page where each of you can blog in relevant passages from what you are reading ahead of time. The  key to this is to explore the depths of God’s Word together and enjoy that exploration together.  Add what you like. Journal individually, or not.

If you hit a problem or an argument breaks out about a passage talk with your pastor (though those who scuba together are taught over and over to protect and look after each other!). You can even write the author (in the age of email this is not always impossible).

Of course you can write me as well. But I prefer you first do it in your small group under your pastor’s care and encouragement. I can guarantee, that as long as you keep a humble and teachable attitude, your pastor and others will be delights, no…inspired by your studies as a group.

You will experience real connection with what you are studying and will find you are thinking about it throughout the week. I believe this is part of God’s intention in protecting and providing the Word to you and I.

As always, please leave comments and questions. If you feel you want to do this and want further advice you, or your pastor can email me and thereby get my phone number.

I am in the Greater Little Rock area to assist. Why? It’s what I do.

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