Class Warfare Blog

June 22, 2020

Understanding Christian Thinking

Filed under: History,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:57 pm
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I am reading a book, The Use and Abuse of the Bible, a Brief History of Biblical Interpretation. Two of the first great Christian thinkers addressed in this book are Irenaeus (c. 130 – c. 202 CE) and Origen (c. 185–c. 253). Both of these gentlemen were praised for coming up with whole new modes of Christian thought, which should have been seen as a warning sign.

A Reasoned Approach to Understanding Christian Thinking
Thinking back to the second and third centuries CE, what kind of economic activity was available to intellectuals? I define an intellectual is someone who makes his/her way through life using his/her mind alone, whereas non-intellectuals use both their minds and bodies in various ratios. Of all of the occupations available at that time, in that place about the only place for intellectuals was as scribes. (They might also have become a physician but only the wealthy could afford the schooling.) Many people think of scribes as being stenographers for the illiterate (I did, too), but while that task might be something a scribe did (taking dictation), there was much, much more to do. Scribes might be employed by the wealthy to keep records and produce written correspondence, but the primary employer of scribes were the various temples.

My point is that intellectuals would be attracted mightily to being a religious scribe as being one of the few forms of occupation in which they got to work as they wished.

So, when scribes were presented with questions about unclear passages of scripture or flat out nonsense in scripture, they being the brilliant intellectual creatives they were, made up stuff. Irenaeus claimed that there should only be four canonical gospels (of the many more in existence) because there were four animals supporting God’s throne in Ezekiel 1. I guess the fact that most chairs had four legs wasn’t enough of a justification for God’s throne. And making a connection between the number of any part of God’s throne and the number of gospels to include in the canon seems not to be present. No surprise there.

So, question after question arises and soon they find the answers harder and harder to come up with. Origen commented on Genesis 18 where “Abraham stood by them under a tree . . .” during a divine visit to Abraham. Origen comments “What does it help me who have come to hear what the Holy Spirit teaches the human race if I hear that Abraham was standing under a tree? Let us rather see what this tree is, under which Abraham stood.” If Freud were alive I suspect he might say “Sometimes a tree is just a tree.”

Origen is probably the major source of the idea of there being “secret” knowledge that has to be winkled out through exegesis. The Jews had already succumbed to this position and Origen was leading Christians into the same position. But, I think the intellectual powers of these people, which allow them to “spin” any nonsense into sense, betrays them wholly at the end.

These worthies both insisted that the scriptures were divinely inspired and without error. So, if there is an error, it must be due to a misunderstanding on our part. Since the words must be right, our interpretation must be wrong, so what is needed is a new interpretation and what do creative intellectuals do? They create.

But by claiming that it is our flawed human understanding which is at fault, they are playing Russian Roulette with the lives of ordinary people. Ordinary people have crops and flocks to attend, business to do, families to provide for, any myriad other mundane tasks. They do not have the energy to study and learn to interpret scripture in their nonexistent spare time. So, failing to hear from a gifted intellectual who knows what scripture actually means, they mis-learn it and end up in Hell.

What the claim of “hidden knowledge” in scripture implies is that the inspired writers who composed scriptures are inadequate to their task. Should not the scriptures be easy to read and easy to understand by one and all? Shouldn’t they be clear and precise? Shouldn’t they all make sense, now and forever? Shouldn’t a lack of sense be evidence that a particular scripture was not divinely inspired?

That there is “hidden knowledge” being taught or is somehow embedded in scripture is a sop to the interpreters of meaning. Their arrogance is Trumpian “Only I can solve this problem! You see sometimes a tree is not just a tree.” (Origen felt that the tree was “insight” symbolically.) Symbolic writing is not accessible to one and all and should never appear in scripture. Every time in the NT you see a reference to the disciples not understanding what is right in front of their faces, an appeal to the concept of hidden wisdom or hidden knowledge is being made. If this knowledge were the difference between Heaven and Hell, why would any sane scripture-sponsoring entity hide that knowledge?

“He (Jesus) told them, ‘The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’” Mark 4:11-12

What kind of great teacher deliberately obfuscates what is to be learned? Wouldn’t God Incarnate be able to speak so clearly as to create understanding and belief? And why would such a god allow prideful intellectuals to spin those scriptures into things they are not? (Note They are still doing it. Look up William Lane Craig and Lee Strobel, as examples.)

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