October 21, 2020

Mondays with Michael Spencer: June 20, 2016

Anafi, Photo by Yiannis Chatzitheodorou

Anafi, Photo by Yiannis Chatzitheodorou

Mondays with Michael Spencer: June 20, 2016

Today we continue a series of Monday posts with excerpts of Michael Spencer’s thoughts about the Bible and what it does and does not promise to do for us.

• • •

If you are not used to reading the current non-Christian approach to Paul, I’m here to tell you that what many have to say about the apostle would likely raise your blood pressure. But that raises a question:

Do we idealize Paul to the point that we are blind to his faults, and also blind and justifying to those flaws in ourselves that are similar to his?

Defending Paul is a natural response for Bible believing evangelicals because they believe he is the author of holy and authoritative scripture. (Inerrant scripture for many evangelicals.) What he says — about anything — is the Word of God. How he says it is the Word of God. The complex of personality factors that frame a thought or a feeling before it is written in an epistle are the prelude to the written word of God.

For New Testament believers, therefore, defending Paul’s quirks, flaws, shortcomings and possible inconsistencies and errors is serious business.

Can you name a statement of Paul, which if made in your own ministry or church would be inappropriate, rude or outrageous, that isn’t defended by evangelical preachers and theologians as acceptable?

Would you tell your congregation to follow you as an example? Would you tell the women of the church to be silent and ask their husbands at home? Would you call your critics names and invite them to emasculate themselves? Would you preach entire sermons defending your ordination? Would you focus on your critics to the extent Paul does?

Would you allow a church planter sponsored by your church to be as divisive as Paul? Would you allow him/her to change target groups in frustration? Would you accept his “parting of the ways” with his/her partner in ministry (Barnabas)? Would you be comfortable with the constant appeal to personal experience? With the inability to bring new congregations to the point of having solid and dependable leadership?

Of course, many of you reading the preceding paragraphs already have a response to each one of these questions, and that is well and good. I probably agree with much of what you would say. The larger question is, however, if we justify all of what appears to be Paul’s flaws and issues as a fallen, imperfect man, then how do we treat our own?

What happens to our rudeness, insecurity, self-justification and inconsistency if we excuse it completely in Paul? If we have to have a “perfect Paul” to have a “perfect revelation,” do we then whitewash and baptize sins in ourselves that should be admitted and repented of? Have we made abrasiveness, divisiveness and contention into virtues because we see Paul doing the same things in the cause of Christ? Have we decided that a lack of insight into our own meanness/motives/actions, and stubborn loyalties to our own conclusions is just another name for being a “serious” Christian?

Frankly, I’m tired of meeting and experiencing people who are simple immature, rude, mean jerks, and having to listen to what great Christians they are. Paul may have confronted Peter, but did anyone ever need to confront Paul? Or had he run them all off?

Paul wasn’t perfect. Far from it. It may take non-Christians writing about Paul to make the necessary points, and to remind us that we can’t excuse ourselves from the example of Jesus by citing the example of Paul.

• • •

Photo on Flickr by Yiannis Chatzitheodorou. Creative Commons License


  1. senecagriggs yahoo says

    Paul’s writings; all “spirit breathed.”

    • Robert F says

      1) When the “spirit breathed” text you refer to was written, the New Testament canon, and many of its texts, did not yet exist; the text refers to the Old Testament, in which neither Paul, nor any of the other New Testament writers or their writings, nor Jesus, is mentioned.

      2) Human beings are “spirit breathed” too (see Genesis, beginning chapters); that doesn’t mean we’re infallible or inerrant or morally perfect.

    • But what that means is the heart of the question. Does it mean Paul is infallible – everything he wrote is divinely-inspired truth? Since he says to ‘imitate me’ (apparently writing with apostolic authority), does that mean we should emulate his sarcasm (which I personally like), his rudeness, or accept as eternally binding those things that are clearly shaped by his cultural context (such as women having their heads covered)?

      Also, what was considered ‘scripture’ in that day differs from what most consider ‘scripture’ today. For example, James 4:5 quotes a ‘scripture’ that apparently no longer exists (at least not in our Bibles or any extant documents from the time) and the writer of Jude treats 1 Enoch as though it is scripture as well (Jude 14).

      As Robert notes, at the time Paul wrote 2 Tim 3:16 (if he did), the ‘scriptures’ were the Old Testament, and apparently for some Jews, books like 1 Enoch, and the lost book containing the passage quoted by James. The issue of ‘OT’ canonization was not finally settled, much less what would constitute the new. (It appears Jews in the first century had as many a four ‘canons’.) ‘Scriptural authority’, and ideas like ‘inspiration’ and, of course ‘inerrancy’, are complicated things that are too often oversimplified by pulpit-pounding preachers.

    • Alternatively, Paul could just have written that to justify himself. Was reading reviews of a book last night that argued that quite well…

    • SottoVoce says

      Except for that one time where he explicitly says that he, and not God, is making a pronouncement. Yeah, it’s in there. Look it up.

      • The one time he says that. Who’s to say there’s not many more times he didn’t say it explicitly.

  2. Paul didn’t write the Pastorals.

    • Excellent point. Poor Paul, saddled for two millennia with ideas that would have horrified him as much as they do many of us now. But the damage is done. What percentage of sermons on a weekly basis in all the churches come from 1 & 2 Timothy? And in the public mind, if they don’t know anything else abut Paul, he is indelibly branded with the image of misogynist, when his real views, admirably expressed in Galatians, are obscured.

      It seems to me our choice is whether to keep rationalizing the increasingly unacceptable, or to use our scholarship to revisit our concept of “scripture”. Is it cynical to simply assume the churches will continue to do the former rather than the latter?

      • –> “Poor Paul, saddled for two millennia with ideas that would have horrified him as much as they do many of us now.”

        Yep, another good point. I’m pretty sure mankind, for whatever motive and via weak interpretation, has twisted Paul’s writings in a way that God hadn’t intended.

        But then you have the “Bible above all else” people who will claim heresy for us saying this…

    • senecagriggs says

      Really – dryly

    • Dana Ames says

      I think it would be more accurate to say, “Scholars are not in agreement about whether Paul wrote the Pastorals.” It is not only biblical inerrantists who advocate Paul’s authorship. Personally, I accept that Paul could have been the author, but if not, there is certainly Pauline influence; and non-Pauline authorship doesn’t take away from the overall message of the books, and the meaning of Christ and the Church that they highlight.

      The problem is the elevation of any other part of scripture over the Gospels. All scripture is God-breathed – but some parts are more important than others. And it is the Gospel book that rests on the altar in an Orthodox Church, not the whole bible.


      • Sorry Dana but your formulation, “Scholars are not in agreement about whether Paul wrote the Pastorals” makes the issue seem much more controversial than it actually is. Paul’s authorship of the Pastorals has been questioned by scholars ever since it was possible to do so without negative repercussions (imprisonment or worse). Right now you would be hard pressed to find a competent non-fundamentalist critical New Testament scholar who would defend Pauline authorship. The writing style, the theology, the situation the writer is addressing in the church; all these indicate a later, different hand. The question we need to ask ourselves is why this kind of issue never seems to be addressed from the pulpit?

        • Luke Timothy Johnson, a highly-respected Roman Catholic scholar who teaches at Emory (see his Anchor Bible commentary). However, I do agree that the style, theology, and situation looks pretty far removed from Romans or even Ephesians (and the authorship of that is questioned as well). It’s amazing how much liturgical language is in the pastorals (e.g. ‘this is a faithful saying’).

        • Robert F says

          Dana, The NT, from beginning to end, is interpretation, in the Gospels no less than in Paul. Other than Church tradition, do you have a reason for privileging the witness of the Gospels, which were written and shaped decades later, above the witness of Paul, which as far as we know is composed of the earliest completed documents in the New Testament?

          • Dana Ames says

            Of course the NT is interpretation; I have said so here many times. Even though Paul is the first written witness, the witness of the oral tradition of the Gospels is extremely likely to be earlier. N.T. Wright sets this out quite clearly in “The Resurrection of the Son of God”. Interestingly, one of his arguments for the reality of the Resurrection highlights the difference in how women are represented in the resurrection narratives in the Gospels and in Paul.

            “But there the women are. {in all 4 canonical Gospels} Granted the very early tradition of 1 Corinthians 15, where did they come from? It is, frankly, impossible to imagine that they were inserted into the tradition after Paul’s day. This is not because of a supposed shift during the first generation from an early period in which women were accepted as full members to a later period when male dominance reasserted itself. We have no evidence to help us plot such a graph. Rather, the tradition which Paul is quoting, precisely for evangelistic and apologetic use, has carefully taken the women out of it so that it can serve that purpose within a suspicious and mocking world. But this only goes around the edge of the issue. The underlying point is more ruthlessly historical.

            “Even if we suppose that Mark made up most of his material, and did so some time in the late 60s at the earliest,it will not do to have him, or anyone else at that stage, making up a would-be apologetic legend about an empty tomb ***and having women be the ones who find it.*** (author’s emphasis) The point has been repeated over and over in scholarship, but its full impact has not always been felt: women were simply not acceptable as legal witnesses. We may regret it, but this is how the Jewish world (and most others) worked. The debate between Origen and Celsus shows that critics of Christianity could seize on the story of the women in order to scoff at the whole tale; were the legend-writers really so ignorant of the likely reaction? If they could have invented stories of fine, upstanding, reliable male witnesses being first at the tomb, they would have done it. That they did not tells us either that everyone in the early church knew that the women, led by Mary Magdalene, were in fact the first on the scene, or that the early church was not so inventive as critics have routinely imagined, or both. Would the other evangelists have been so slavishly foolish as to copy the story unless they were convinced that, despite being an apologetic liability, it was historically trustworthy?

            “The argument thus works in the same way as our previous ones. It is easy to imagine that, when a tradition was established for use in preaching to outsiders, stories of women running to the tomb in the half-light would quietly be dropped, and a list produced of solid witnesses who could be called upon to vouch for what they had seen…. The stories may all have been written down late in the first century. We do not know (despite repeated scholarly assertions) exactly when the evangelists first put pen to paper. But we must affirm that the story they tell is one which goes back behind Paul, back to the very early period, before anyone had time to think, ‘It would be good to tell stories about Jesus rising from the dead; what will best serve our apologetic needs?’ It is far, far easier to assume that the women were there at the beginning, just as, three days earlier, they had been there at the end.” (RSG, 607-608)


          • Robert F says

            I don’t disagree with much of what Wright says here, but it requires a lot of guesswork; educated and intelligent and masterful guesswork, yes, but guesswork nevertheless. He may be quite wrong in his intelligent assumptions, and that wrongness could be rooted in the vast differences between the way a first century Palestinian would think, and the way an educated 20th-21st century Englishman does.

        • Dana Ames says

          From “Paul for Everyone: The Pastoral Letters” by N.T. Wright, pp 4-5:

          “Before we go any further, though, are we really sure these letters were written by Paul himself? Everybody in the early church seems to have taken it for granted that they were. But in the last two hundred years many writers have pointed out several ways in which the letters sound and feel significantly different to the main letters (Romans, Galatians and so on) which we know to have come from Paul himself. Some now regard the question as settled: Paul, they say, couldn’t possibly have written them. Others see it as still open. Some still insist that they must have been written by Paul. There are, after all, some very personal details which it would be strange for anyone else to have made up.

          “It’s a complicated matter, and this kind of book isn’t the place to go into it in any detail. But we do need to remind ourselves that when these letters were written – that is, some time between about 50 and 100 AD – it was quite common for someone to write in someone else’s name. This didn’t necessarily mean that they were (as we would say now) committing forgery. They might be genuinely following through the thought of the person whose name they were using, and applying it to a new situation. I don’t think this is a full explanation of the facts in this case, but it’s worth bearing in mind.

          “Equally, we should remember that Paul himself is an example, even in the letters everybody agrees really do come from him, of how the same person can write in very different styles from one situation to another. A good example is his two letters to Corinth. They are so different in style and tone that if they were the only pieces of his work we possessed we might well imagine that he could only have written one of them, and that someone else must have written the other. But it’s certain that he wrote both. The difference between the Paul of Romans and the Paul of the Pastorals is not much greater than the difference between the Paul of 1 Corinthians and the Paul of 2 Corinthians. For the purposes of this book I’m going to leave the question open, but will continue referring to the author as “Paul” for the sake of ease.”

          That’s all I’m saying.


      • Dana, standing with you as we are summarily dismissed along with Professor Johnson for holding to the possibility, and in my view likelihood, of Paul being behind the Pastorals, as well as the high place of the Gospels in relation to the rest. Cover your ears to prevent damage to your hearing from the cacophony of “Where’s your proof?” Never been a fan of inerrant scholarly consensus. Sometimes they make sense, sometimes I find them out to lunch. Your opinion matters a lot to me.

  3. It’s ok. I’ve never quite been a Paul fan – misogynist, narcissistic, arrogant, in-your-face, opinionated….and more. But That doesn’t mean G-d couldn’t and didn’t use Paul’s non-stop mouth sometimes to get the Word out. Like they say in program, “take what you need and leave the rest” and let G-d inspire in those words of Paul’s that are meant to do so.

  4. I like Paul a lot better these days than formerly. As I see it these problems have to be taken into account:

    1) Paul had a horrendous assignment to complete. The load of stress would have finished me in a year and he endured for perhaps thirty. Each church had its own difficulties, its own setting, and its own set of idiots, excuse me, humans. Paul was doing things that had never been done before and going against all that he had been brought up in and that still surrounded him. He learned by doing and, like me, he wasn’t perfect. He didn’t get paid for this and supported himself with manual labor. He worked for Jesus. It was astounding that he persevered.

    2) As with all the rest of Scripture, these were different times with different cultures and different mindsets. People as a whole had not grown spiritually anywhere near what we are reaching for today. You deal with people where they are at. All of Roman society operated on a system of rhetoric that prepared people to think in terms of winning in an adversarial setting using every skill and device available, much like our legal and political system today, not to forget Evangelicalism, but more widespread and intense. Paul was highly educated in this system.

    3} The church came to raise Paul’s writings above the Gospels especially in the past 500 years, and I will lay this one at Luther’s feet along with other things. In the minds of many, particularly in the Protestant wing, the authority given to Paul eclipsed that given to Jesus. What Would Paul Do? Or rather, What Does Paul Say? This is changing, thank God, but it has involved attacks on Paul from both inside and outside the church. Don’t let the pendulum hit you.

    Aside from the issues Michael raises, I find that for the first time in two thousand years today Paul is being slowly recognized as the mystic and proponent of Unity with God thru Jesus he actually was. This message got buried under all the stupid dog tricks people replaced it with. It was a tough sell back then and its a tough sell today. I see progress and I have great hope. Go Paul! Go Jesus!

    • –> “The church came to raise Paul’s writings above the Gospels especially in the past 500 years…”

      My thoughts exactly. I’m still trying to understand the purpose of Paul’s epistles. To me, Paul – inspired by God – wrote his letters to illuminate and clarify the Good News of the Gospel, aka Jesus and His purpose. Unfortunately, his letters are now used as if Paul was Jesus Himself, as if PAUL was the Good News. Somewhere along the line, because of human interpretation and motive, their intent went a little askew.

      This leaves me reading them as “God’s lesser Word,” if that makes sense. God’s Word, yes, but maybe a notch below the Gospels in importance. In other words, I try to put them in their proper place, or try to make sure I remember that it’s all about JESUS and the Good News, not Paul.

      • Yes, Paul is there to clarify Jesus, and what his life and sacrifice accomplished. I think God wisely uses firebrands to do His will, as he uses all of us four His own purposes. Who of us can say that we don’t have the same amount of flaws?

        • Christiane says

          St. Paul was a power-house fire brand, a tremendous force in the new Church. But I think he would have been horrified to see how some have said that his writings are ‘equal’ in authority with the words of Christ as they are recorded in the Holy Gospels. St. Paul knew from the moment of his shocking experience getting knocked down and losing his vision, that Our Lord spoke and acted in the very Person of God. Paul was creature, Christ was Paul’s Creator . . .

          Here’s a wonderful video about St. Paul that helped me to visualize some of his work in the early Church:

      • I credit Paul with bringing the church out from the thumb of the Jewish original church just as I credit Luther with bringing us out from under the heavy thumb of the Roman church. If the church picked up a lot of baggage in the process of both, I consider it worth it. Tyranny is tyranny. You can always set baggage down and move on.

        • Huh? The “thumb of the Jewish original church”. You mean the folks who knew Jesus best and sat at his feet longest and heard his teaching from his own lips? Just trying to clarify who we’re referring to here.

          • Talking about the folks who came down from Jerusalem to insist that the Greeks, along with you and me, be circumcised and keep kosher and sabbath. Thank you very much, no thanks, but suit yourself. Fortunately James didn’t agree, but I’m sure the sentiment persisted until Jerusalem was razed.

        • Robert F says

          But Charles, Paul is extremely pro-Jewish. It’s the Gospels that take jabs at the Jewish people, and it’s anti-Jewish Gospel texts that historic Christian antisemitism has most frequently fed itself on.

          • Robert, you know as well as I that Paul had to make a special trip to Jerusalem to get the Jewish fundamentalists off his back. That doesn’t mean Paul was anti-Jewish any more than Jesus was anti-Jewish for combatting his own Jewish fundamentalists. If not for Paul we’d all be wearing funny hats.

          • Robert F says

            True. I don’t believe either Jesus or Paul were anti-Jewish; but I think there were a couple of factions in the primitive Church that were, and some of them had a hand in writing and shaping the Gospels. It was their animus against the Jewish people that put prophecies of God’s judgment against Jerusalem, written after that destruction had already occurred, in Jesus’ mouth in the Gospels; it was the subsequent Christian inheritors of this anti-Jewish tradition inside and outside the Scriptures who went on to interpret this destruction as a judgment not just against the Jewish fundamentalists, but the whole Jewish people. After that, is it any wonder that Christians drew a very unwholesome lesson: “If God has abandoned them and judged them in this way, we can do no less. Hunt them down, expel them: Their presence among us is a lightening rod for the same judgment to fall on us, unless we chastise them even as our God has!”? The rest, as they say, is history.

  5. Paul was a great man, but not all great men are always good men. I think he himself would agree with that. For all of what can be perceived as abrasiveness or a judgmental nature, we find just as much humility, commitment, and grateful acknowledgement for what God had done for him.

    We have to consider the works of Paul in context, as we do with all scripture…these were the formative days of the Church, and some of his writings were intended for specific recipients…which doesn’t mean that they aren’t beneficial to us today, in different times, locales, and contexts. We read a lot about what’s beneficial and what isn’t in scripture, what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s applicable and what’s not, what’s relevant and what isn’t, what’s literal and what’s not…without considering that every piece, every individual book, every line, is a broad narrative that points us to Christ. Paul’s writings didn’t precede Christ, but that doesn’t mean they don’t point to Him.

    I trust the imperfect people who were a part of ecumenical councils that worked under the influence of the Holy Spirit to comprise our canon, trust being an non-negotiable attribute of faith.

    • Let me re-phrase…trust is a central attribute of faith. I don’t want to offend anyone by saying something is no-negotiable…:o)

  6. Stephen S. Mack says

    Thank you, Michael Spencer.

    With best regards.


  7. Robert F says

    I find myself disagreeing as much with those who want to elevate the Gospels as witnesses to Jesus Christ above Paul’s Epistles as I do with those who place too much emphasis on Paul. As finished compositions, Paul’s genuine Epistles are by decades the oldest documents in the NT. That doesn’t mean that there are no Jesus traditions captured by the Gospels that are older than Paul’s; there may well be, and probably are. But those traditions are interpreted by the Gospel narratives, just as much as Paul interprets the traditions handed down to him in his Epistles, and it’s as impossible to disentangle interpretation from factual reporting in the Gospels as it is to distinguish what is solely handed down and what is added on in Paul or the rest of the Epistles (one should remember that Acts is actually Part II of the Gospel according to Luke, and has exactly the same pedigree as that Gospel).

    As to the issue of Paul’s moral and character defects showing through in some of his Epistles, there are also moral and character defects in the narratives of the Gospels. A glaring example is the antisemitism/anti-Jewish tone that was the result of the hand that Gentile Christian writers and redactors had in composing and shaping the Gospel narratives. Paul, by contrast, lacks this antisemitism, developing his theology along lines that exhibit inclusion of the Jews as a people, and insisting that they are still God’s chosen people, having a place in the will of God prior to and even perhaps greater than the Church’s. For Paul, the existence of the Church depends on the continued existence of Israel, and of God’s promises to Israel. The Church is grafted into Israel, not vice versa, and the Church never replaces Israel in God’s will and or love. Historic Christian antisemitism down through the ages has found its justification in texts in the Gospels, not in Paul; this is as assuredly a moral and character defect in the Gospels as Paul’s peevishness and arrogance is in the his Epistles, and perhaps with more deleterious historic results.

    • Robert F says

      To be clear: Paul’s views on the Jewish are complex and nuanced, and not always complimentary. But it’s from the Gospels that Christians learned to accuse the Jewish people of deicide, to think of Israel as a withered fig tree, to refer to the whole of the Jewish people contemptuously as “the Jews”; and it’s in the Gospels and Acts that a number of the Roman occupiers are depicted as more faithful to God than Israel, and as protectors of the Church from rabidly anti-Church Jewish persecutors.

    • Rick Ro. says

      –> “A glaring example is the antisemitism/anti-Jewish tone that was the result of the hand that Gentile Christian writers and redactors had in composing and shaping the Gospel narratives.”

      I disagree with that. People might *interpret* the Gospel narratives as antisemitic/anti-Jewish because that happened to be the predominate religion/culture Jesus stepped into during his time here, but that’s hogwash. They were anti-Pharasitical and anti-religiosity by necessity, but they’re not antisemitic or anti-Jewish. To me, if I want to know who Jesus was and is, I turn to the Gospels, not Paul’s epistles.

      • Robert F says

        Then you are not turning to the earliest sources. And I disagree with you about the nascent Christians antisemitism in the Gospels. There’s no plausible way to interpret “Let his blood be upon us and our children” than as the Church writing off the ultimate responsibility of the Romans for the execution of Jesus, and placing in squarely on the Jewish nation. Then they were free, from the other side of the event, to depict the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE as God’s judgment of, not just the Pharisees, but the whole Jewish people

        • Heather Angus says

          Are the earliest sources necessarily the best ones? By “best” I would mean “most historically accurate” and, in the case of Christianity, “most clearly portraying Jesus’ life, teaching, and significance,”

          Certainly, as you say, Robert, there is evidence of anti-Semitism in the Gospels. But it doesn’t seem to come from Jesus — rather, the Church at some point, no telling when, decided to blame the Jews for Jesus’ death. And that gross distortion had horrible consequences down through the ages. But I don’t recall anti-Semitic sayings attributed to Jesus in the Gospels, unless you count His expressions of exasperation with some of His followers: “Oh faithless and perverse generation, how long am I to bear with you?” etc.

          In the Gospels we have at least *some* of the sayings of Jesus preserved. We have the heart and the feel of His ministry in sections such as the Sermon on the Mount. We can see how He conducts relationships — with His followers, with children, with women, with Gentiles and with Jews. All this gives us a way to order our own lives and to take inspiration from His example. If He is God, or the Son of God, than how he acts and what He says is the most important thing for us to pay attention to.

          Paul, on the other hand, is a very, sometimes depressingly, human human being. Except in his grand mystical passages, such as the essay on Love as “the greatest of these,” Paul is concerned with organizing the Church. It was a huge task,, and made more difficult by the fact that the Jewish leaders at the time viewed him as a very suspicious character and opposed his crazy talk of a crucified Messiah. Paul pays little attention to Jesus’ teachings or relationships, but focuses instead on His sacrifice and resurrection and His imminent return.

          For Paul and the early churches he helped organize, the Messiah’s coming in glory was expected within their lifetimes — thus Paul’s advice not to change your status (such as slave) or your relationships (such as married or single). I suspect many of Paul’s admonitions which seem odd to us now were written in the context of that hope and expectation. And that expectation was not fulfilled.

          Don’t get me wrong; Paul was a great man, and his writings are the earliest we have about Jesus. But if the NT we have were missing the Gospels, I really don’t think Christianity would have hung on much beyond the first generation.

          • Robert F says

            I don’t disagree with most of what you say, Heather; I’m inclined to agree with it, in fact. But I do wonder how the Gospels can be more historically accurate, and truer to the life, teaching and significance of Jesus, if they are not historically grounded. And I do believe that the prophecies against Jerusalem put in the mouth of Jesus in the Gospels were placed there by the Church after the destruction of the Jerusalem in 70 CE. I don’t believe these are the words of Jesus, but the words of anti-Jewish writers/redactors using Jesus as a mouthpiece for their antipathy toward the Jewish people.

          • Dana Ames says


            What exactly do you mean by “historically grounded?” Believe me, I get your desire to go back to the earliest records; that’s what drew me to N.T. Wright’s work in the first place, and also to reading the Apostolic Fathers.

            We don’t have a movie of the Lord’s life and ministry, of his Crucifixion, Resurrection or Ascension. All we have is interpretive testimony, which one either trusts or does not trust. I happen to trust the interpretive testimony of the ones who wrote those original documents, whatever their names were, who are reported to be eyewitnesses of the events. I also trust the interpretation of my faith community, which I find to be essentially the same as that recorded in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, the “next generation” of Christians, and seems to me a very natural and logical outgrowth of what Wright presents as the mindset of some of the Jews of the first century which was a subset of the general Jewish worldview of the day.

            Even the people of the first century did not have Certainty as we desire and demand it today. But they did have something that caused them to live differently, and some of them to die for what they held to be Reality.


  8. Brown promontory,
    azure sea, sunlit white church —