A Second Post in the “aha” Response Series (Skinner)

If you haven’t noticed, there is now a second post in the new response series being put on over at Michael Kruger’s blog (see the first one here).  Today’s post was written by Dr. Craig Blomberg of Denver Seminary. The post is a response to John Byron’s “aha moment” about Mark 2:26. For the purposes of full disclosure, I have learned a lot from Blomberg’s writings over the years and still think his short commentary on Matthew and his book on the parables are must-have volumes. I won’t provide a full-scale exegesis of Blomberg’s post here. I’m sure readers of the post will generate their own unique exegetical insights. However, I wanted to make two points.

First, Blomberg’s solution to the problem, which argues against the grain of most Markan scholarship on this question, makes a great deal (and I think too much) out of the preposition “epi” (on, upon). Anyone who does any work with the Gospel of Mark knows how clumsy his grammar can be. The gospel is filled with phrases that betray consistent Semitic interference in Mark’s modes of expression; very often you will reach texts where Matthew and Luke have such problems with Mark’s awkward grammar that they will either correct his grammar or omit a phrase entirely (as they BOTH do with the phrase in question here). This is to say nothing of the textual witnesses that either omit “epi” or insert “tou” before the word “high priest” in order to offer a slight change of meaning. Remember, the earliest commentary on a given text is often found in the manuscript tradition. Some of the earliest copyists (including Matthew and Luke) apparently had serious issues with Mark’s wording in 2:26.

Second, I wanted to make mention of Blomberg’s treatment of Bart Ehrman, who is not even the subject of this post. I think it is quite problematic how Blomberg unfairly takes aim at Ehrman, his personal history, and his internal motivations. Blomberg writes:

In a recent post on his blog, Old Testament scholar Peter Enns invited New Testament scholar John Byron, professor at Ashland Theological Seminary, to write about an “aha moment” that changed his understanding of the Bible.  Byron chose the same passage that Bart Ehrman described in the introduction to his Misquoting Jesus, which led to his reneging on his Christian commitment altogether in favor of agnosticism:  Mark 2:26.

Now clearly Byron and Ehrman are a far cry from each other theologically.  Ehrman teaches at a state university (the University of North Carolina) and tells classes regularly he wants to disabuse them of any form of Christian faith.  Byron teaches at a theologically centrist United Methodist Seminary, helping to train people for professional ministry, and still considers himself a devout Christian.  But both appeal to this same passage as one reason they reject the inerrancy of the Scriptures.

First, is it really accurate (or kind) to describe Ehrman as “reneging on his Christian commitment”? It’s not as though he woke up one day and just decided to forsake Christianity. If you read Ehrman or listen to him tell his story, it sounds as though he–like many thoughtful, reflective Christians–had a long, difficult, and protracted struggle with these issues. Though I identify myself as a Christian, I can appreciate Bart’s struggle. I have gone through my own intellectual struggles and doubts and see no need to be so dismissive of Ehrman’s story, regardless of his ultimate conclusions. Second, if you read or listen to Ehrman, you’ll know that his approach to the textual tradition didn’t lead him to agnosticism. This led him to, in his words, become a “very liberal Christian.” It was his struggle with the problem of evil that ultimately led him to become agnostic. Third, I know quite a few people at UNC and several people who know Ehrman well, and none of them describe him–in class or in person–as the type of person who wants to disabuse Christians of their faith. Maybe someone should remind the Ehrman-bashers that “man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).

Does it really have to be so difficult for us to disagree charitably about these issues?

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Jesus in Contemporary Culture: Part Two; Or: What Else Do You Expect From Those College Religion Professors? (Skinner)

College ReligionIn a previous post I mentioned that I am currently team-teaching a class called, “Jesus in Contemporary Culture” to a group largely composed of freshmen, most of whom are not intending to be religion majors. Last week we looked at various presentations of Jesus in the first four centuries of Christianity, which inevitably led us to the four gospels. We spent almost an entire session looking at some of the major differences in the canonical presentations of Jesus, and ended by considering the notoriously difficult problem of the competing genealogies in Matthew and Luke. (I have recently written about my own experience with this issue.)

After two class sessions on this topic, we opened the floor for discussion. Thus far our students seem interested and engaged, and numerous students have expressed their prior ignorance about some of the issues we’ve been raising. During our conversation last Friday, two students commented (independently of one another) about how this material had made them think, and how each had taken these conversations back to someone s/he regarded as a spiritual mentor. In each case, the student’s trusted adviser made a comment that was something to the effect of “Well, that’s what you get from college religion courses.” The implication appears to be that studying religion in a formal academic setting is somehow dangerous to one’s faith, and also that this is an obvious reality that people without such training are aware of (i.e., “Everyone knows that you can’t trust what college religion professors tell you!”). I wonder if professors in other disciplines get this same treatment? It’s hard for me to imagine my colleagues in history, psychology, or biology getting the same response….

There is no doubt that studying religion will wreak havoc on one’s received (and therefore, unquestioned) religious biases. Overlooked evidence has a way of waking people up to realities they have yet to encounter. But, neither my colleague nor I have the goal of “ruining” or “destroying” anyone’s faith. We are simply trying to promote critical thought and intellectual engagement with the material. Isn’t it funny how often these two things appear threatening to one’s faith? Last week I came across an article entitled, “10 Things Every College Student Needs to Know About Religion,” and I asked my students to read it just to round out their perspectives. My favorite line from the article reads:

Just like it’s uncomfortable to confront the fact that slaves built the U.S. Capitol Building or that American settlers committed genocide against the Native People, the history of any religion forces us to grapple with the ugly realities of ourselves. This isn’t your professor being anti-Christian or anti-Buddhist — it’s just historical information. What you do with that information, however, matters. History doesn’t ask you to throw away a faith or dismiss religion altogether. Nor should it make you distrust academia for disseminating some nefarious agenda. Instead, at its best, history can help us ask how we make the future better.

I guess by now this response should not surprise me, but I continue to be amazed at how much suspicion is directed at formal learning from people of faith. I can only hope that our efforts this semester will prove to our students (at least) that our goal is much nobler than shipwrecking their personal religious beliefs.