Collier on authority and inspiration

“ . . . The more I understand the nature of the texts in front of us, the better informed can be my view of scriptural authority.  I will be less likely to overstatGDCe it, and less likely to understate it.  E.g., on the one hand, I won’t make claims about so-called “perfect” original autographs, when that is nothing but speculation growing out of dogmatic theory.  On the other hand, I won’t deny God working in real people to carry out his will (i.e. real and flawed authors).

So then, if find out that Paul incorrectly reports a number in 1Cor 10:8, or if I come to realize that the Gospels don’t actually agree in all details and cannot be flawlessly combined into one account, I won’t make the ridiculous statement “If there is even one little mistake in the Bible, then I can’t trust any of it.”  . . .

If we need to “trump up” our statements of biblical authority, it implies a weak position.  The best statement of biblical authority is one that fits the evidence we have of the actual texts.

 – Gary Collier, CoffeeWithPaul.com (scroll down about a screen’s worth)

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Inspiration is God at work in ancient text to touch and move the lives of people. It does not need to be more complicated than that.

– Gary Collier, Lesson 22 of “40 Things Everybody Should Know about the Bible.”

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Altitude

In the fall of 2007, having recently moved back east from Colorado, Karly and I were driving south on Rt. 219 into Pennsylvania. Excited by a sign for “Boot Jack Summit,” we began craning our necks to this side and that, looking for the mountain. Dejected, we soon realized we were already on the mountain, and the summit was disappointingly low, relatively speaking.

Perception of altitude is relative to the baseline. In other words, if you’re standing at 50 feet in Delaware, a hill of 200 feet looks pretty high. If you’re at the bottom of the Virginia Appalachians near Skyline Drive, a 2,500-foot mountain is really impressive, because you’re looking up from 500 feet. In Glacier National Park, driving at 6,000 feet gives wonderful views of 9,000- and 10,000-foot peaks; but in the Colorado Rockies, driving at 8,000 feet has one looking up at 12,000- to 14,000-foot summits.

Where you are makes a difference in what you’re seeing above you.

I wonder sometimes about “high views” of scripture. They may not always be that high. Seems to me that a truly high view of scripture takes into account the literary and historical contexts in which the documents were penned by the inspired men of God.

Reverence in the assembly

The song “The Lord Is In His Holy Temple” was sung relatively often in my early years. Although leaders in my congregation were relatively thoughtful in the use of this song, it was mocked in other circles–as though its only purpose were to guilt people into being quiet.

What of quietude in church assemblies? It’s really not such a bad thing, despite the contemporary emphasis on so-called (noisy) “fellowship.”

It seems common to feel that it’s untoward or perhaps irreverent to enter a room where a prayer is being offered to God. Just yesterday, this idea was floated in my hearing–“What’s the problem? We could go in, couldn’t we? I mean, it’s not like he’s praying or anything.”

I’d like to suggest, as was once suggested to me by an elder sister in Delaware, that it may be even more significant that we treat the reading of scripture with such reverence. After all, prayer is our voice, but scripture is, in one very real sense, the voice of God.

The word of us

I’m going to go out on a limb here. (I think they’re building me a condo there, and with good reason, given all the time I spend there.)

If we select a short Bible passage and use it out of context, to support our points or programs, chances are it’s “the word of us” as much as it’s “the Word of the Lord” that the people hear.

Thanks be to the people who put together the nice program, but perhaps it’s not as in order to respond with a perfunctory “Thanks be to God” as we’d like to think.

As my dear friend Greg Fay has said:

The treatment for our [handling-of-scripture malady] is to quit turning verses into “inkblots” and to learn to read them in their book-level contexts. The treatment is to quit using the Bible as if it were a pile of disconnected sayings or aphorisms or proverbs or prophecies or analogies or … spiritual fortune cookies … but to sit down with God and listen as He spoke with and to us … to stop interrupting Him when He speaks.  (Dr. Gregory L. Fay, 2009, manuscript in progress)

So be it.

Early

It’s early in the life of our new group study of Mark’s gospel, but we’re enthused. It’s also early in the morning as I write this, by some accounts, and I’m hearing the hymn “Early, My God, Without Delay” as sung by the Harding College (now Harding University) A Cappella Chorus. This reminds me of a paraphrase I wrote years ago. Most will likely be unacquainted with this Isaac Watts hymn, so I’ll include the original text here:

Early, my God, without delay,
I haste to seek Thy face;
My thirsty spirit faints away
Without Thy cheering grace.

So pilgrims on the scorching sand,
Beneath a burning sky,
Long for a cooling stream at hand,
And they must drink or die.

I’ve seen Thy glory and Thy power
Through all Thy temple shine;
My God, repeat that heav’nly hour,
That vision so divine.

Not all the blessings of a feast
Can please my soul so well,
As when Thy richer grace I taste,
And in Thy presence dwell.

Not life itself, with all her joys,
Can my best passions move,
Or raise so high my cheerful voice,
As Thy forgiving love.

Thus till my last expiring day
I’ll bless my God and King;
Thus will I lift my hands to pray,
And tune my lips to sing.

I wasn’t acquainted with the third and fourth stanzas shown above, since the hymnal I used in early years made a habit of not including more than 4 stanzas, or 5 at the most, regardless of the length of the original. Now, here’s my loose paraphrase:

First thing in the morning, my God, I will not delay; I rush to seek Your face.
Here I am in the midst of worship; my eyes are open wide.
Here I am in the midst of worshipping You; I thirst inside!
Seeing You and drinking of You are the most excellent things in my life.
You are My God–Jehovah Provider–quenching me when life is dry.
Father, I hunger; I can’t get enough of You; You’re the only One who satisfies.
After the thunder, oh, drench me in Your Spirit’s rain, or I will be like one who dies.
[stanzas 3, 4 not rendered]
The best things in life can’t even come close to stirring my soul. (O my soul, bless the Lord!)
The best things in life can’t even get a song running through my mind.
So as long as I live, I will live to make You happy.
And my worship I will give, knowing Your protection and love.
I will worship You with all of my being, lifting my hands, all of me freeing.
I will worship You, Lord, truly with my ev’rything.
Wanting to meet You in spirit, to honor my King.
First thing in the morning, my God. . . .
(c) 1994-1996 Encounter Music

As with many of my writings–whether prosaic or musical–so much of the value is personal. I would not presume even to translate Isaac Watts’s poetry flawlessly or faithfully, much less the words of God-breathed scripture. But I think I did reasonably, for my purposes at the time, with rendering the dynamic sense and general import of some of those hymn lines. It’s a paraphrase–a dynamic quasi-equivalent, with morphed idioms–not a word-for-word translation.

Paraphrases of scripture get a bad rap with some committed Christians today. On one hand, if we’re serious about God and the Bible, obviously we will want the best, most literal translation possible. Finely tuned scholarly sensibilities also sometimes collide with apparently “loose” notions of translation. Yet on the other hand, it appears wise, and spiritually well conceived, to attempt to discern the original, idiomatic intent of an expression, a sentence, a paragraph … and then to attempt to usher that intent into modern language’s terminology and syntax.

Despite the biases of certain translations, and the silly transliterations of the King James (e.g., the word “baptize”–conveniently created in order to avoid rendering “baptizo” as “immerse,” risking offense of the religious establishment), I’ve not yet seen a translation that sets out with wholesale intent to malign divine will. Have you?

Last night, our study group read Mark’s gospel. The entire gospel. For me, it was a profitable, inspiring experience. The book-level contextual clues fairly jump out, and I’m eager for deeper study. While others read from the NIV and the CEV and the ESV, I read from the New Jerusalem Bible and the one-man translation of some guy named Williams. Neither did violence to the original, but the wordings weren’t always familiar. And I’m not sure I care a whole lot. Spontaneously, I did change “burst into tears” to “wept,” but other than that, I was comfortable with the loud-and-clear intent of both these versions.

It’s early yet, but as we proceed with our Mark study, I don’t think I’ll be using a paraphrase to dig in to structural and linguistic details. Overall, though, paraphrases can be quite useful for getting the big picture.

First thing in the morning, God, I rush to consider You. . . .

Understanding authors

If I want to understand Mark Twain’s socio-political scruples as implied in The Prince and the Pauper, I probably won’t get much from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

I’ve admired several of Frederick Buechner’s writings. If I want to dig into his life, I won’t get insight into the impact of his father’s suicide, which is detailed autobiographically in The Sacred Journey, by reading his fictional interpolation of Abraham and Isaac (Son of Laughter).

If I want to know who Horton is and why he hears a Who, I probably won’t find much help in the legend of the green eggs and ham. Sure, I get a little surface insight by reading another Geisel/Seuss work–something is clear about the author and his overall bent–but not much more than that.

Just wondering why we Christians are typically so careless with this type of thing. . . .

I mean, yeah, Paul wrote Galatians and 1 Timothy and was somehow divinely inspired to do so, but they’re different letters, written at different times, to different people, for different purposes.  Paul wrote them both, so, as with Seuss, we can get a general idea of his M.O. by reading two distinct letters, but one doesn’t help all that much to interpret the other.

This didn’t start out to be a plug, but I feel called to plug now. Two men whose spirits and intellects I respect greatly are working toward related Bible-reading goals. Gary Collier (http://www.CoffeeWithPaul.com and http://www.CoffeeWithPaul.com/aroma/index.html has embarked on a voyage of significant “instructive devotion” as he teaches how to read New Covenant scripture with careful attention to literary context (yes, with some Greek). Gary’s learning and gift with words, together with his insight into relationship, uniquely qualify him for this pastoral task.

Greg Fay is simultaneously writing a magnum companion-volume set on how to read the Bible. Yes, this type of thing has been done before, or so it would seem if you just look at the title. But I submit to you that if these books are published, the modern Christian world (and more) will have its best-ever methodologies for how to read scripture. I’ve been privileged to read the chapters as he writes them; I know both the wealth of content and the well-supported logic in the writing. Greg’s diagnosis is, essentially, that we read scripture verses sort of like “ink-blots,” isolating them from all context and imbuing them with meanings that sound good in Christianese but that are causing us to miss God’s original intent. The therapy for this malady is also prescribed by Dr. Greg.

If both Gary’s and Greg’s works are disseminated and utilized by as many people as they should touch, we could see a mass biblical intelligence boost that changes the face of Christendom. Wishful thinking, yes. But perhaps you would ask God to accomplish His purposes through these works, elevating the labors of these men’s minds and hands as they attempt to bolster God’s Kingdom?

To the sisters who sought recently to explain Romans 5 by appealing to 1 Corinthians 13 (or, further afield, to James or 2 Peter!): you are victims of a decades-old problem with the hermeneutical control tower that directs our scripture-reading flights. It’s not all your fault.