What’s Trump?

If you play cards, you are probably familiar with the concept of “trump.” It is a certain suit or color that has more power than the others. Even if another color is higher in number, if a “trump” is played, it will beat it. Obviously, before playing a round, a key question is: What is Trump? It controls the outcome of each hand, and defines the strategy of the game.

In discussing the Bible, and certain passages, occasionally the phrase, “you must interpret Scripture with Scripture” is brought out. Typically when the claim is made that a skeptic is not reading a verse correctly, or that the verse means something entirely different than what it appears to say on its face.

When the phrase appears, the question that crosses my mind: “Which verse is controlling? What method do we put in place to determine which passage must bend to the other in our interpretation?”

In other words, which verse is Trump?

In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul gives some very explicit direction regarding divorce. He emphasizes that it is not from him, but directly from God Himself. The direction? Don’t.

A wife is not to leave her husband. The husband is not to divorce his wife. If the wife leaves, she cannot re-marry. (1 Cor. 7:10-11) Paul goes on to emphasize that even if the spouse is not a believer, divorce is not an option. (vs. 12-14) However, Paul does give an exception to the rule of never re-marrying. If the unbelieving spouse leaves, then the believer is no longer bound. They can re-marry. (vs. 15)

A straightforward position. Never initiate a divorce. If you are divorced, you cannot re-marry, unless your ex-spouse was an unbeliever. Paul stays consistent with this position in Romans 7:2-3 where he uses marriage as an example, and notes that a person is bound to their spouse for as long as the spouse is alive.

Now let’s see what Jesus says about divorce. Mark 10: 2-11. In the typical polemic format, the Pharisees challenge Jesus with the question of whether it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife. Jesus concedes that under Mosaic Law, it was allowed, because of the hardness of their hearts. However, Jesus then goes on to say that the more ancient law, the law of the Garden of Eden, was the intent that there would be no divorce.

Sadly, he leaves it a bit gray as to whether Mosaic Law would remain in effect, or whether he was supplanting Mosaic Law with a new law of no divorce. (Jesus would be eventually overturning the food laws.) In my opinion, the latter is the better reading, and I will utilize it to stay as consistent as we can under “scripture interprets scripture.”

The disciples question Jesus further, and Jesus indicated that whoever divorces their spouse and marries another, they have committed adultery. Curiously, according to Mark, Jesus talked about a woman divorcing her husband. Something that not technically allowed under Mosaic Law in the First Century Palestine. It is possible, although rare, that a woman could convince her husband to write out a writ of divorce, but it would not be the same as a woman divorcing her husband. Something allowed under Roman Law. Luke, recognizing the faux pas of Mark’s unfamiliarity with Jewish custom removes it. Matthew does as well. How is it that the first author of the Gospels did not know that a woman could not directly obtain a divorce?

Progressing forward on our current quest, however, Mark’s Jesus has a straightforward position. Never initiate divorce. If you do, you can never remarry. In line with what Paul has said.

(An astute reader may notice that nothing has been stated as to what happens if your spouse divorces you. That question has not been answered, as of yet.)

Luke records Jesus’ statement in a somewhat curious manner. Immediately before the story of the rich man and Lazarus, Luke records a two clause statement of Jesus. (Luke 16:18) First, he follows Mark in stating that whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery. Fine so far. (We could quibble about whether it is the remarriage that is the problem, and why it is limited to the male only, but giving the benefit of the doubt, we can still align these passages.) Secondly, he adds a new sentiment that whoever marries the woman so divorced ALSO commits adultery.

The answer as to what happens to the person who does not initiate the divorce begins to come into focus. While it is not exactly explicit as to whether she commits adultery, it certainly is clear that the second husband does! It is still a marriage that results in sin.

According to Luke, a man divorces his wife. If he remarries, adultery happens. If she remarries, adultery happens. It would seem that remarriage is barred, regardless of who instigates the divorce.

We begin to wonder what method to use to have scripture interpret scripture. What is trump? Using the situation presented in Luke, assume an unbeliever divorces his believing wife. Sure, if he remarries, he is committing adultery, but he is an unbeliever. We expect unbelievers to sin. He is damned for much more than one more sin on top of many others.

But what about the believing wife? Can she remarry? According to Luke, her remarrying would cause another (the new husband) to sin. This would qualify as making a person stumble. (Rom 14:21) A sin for both. According to Paul, the unbelieving wife is not bound, she is free to re-marry.

Does Paul “trump” Luke, or does Luke “trump” Paul? Which one do we use as the measuring rod to claim the other must fall in line?

It won’t get better…

Next we look at Matthew. (Anyone who has ever researched divorce in the Bible is saying, “About time!”) Matthew discusses Jesus position on divorce in two spots; I will look at the longer portion first—Matthew 19.

Matthew follows Mark in presenting the story of the Pharisees approaching Jesus and questioning him about divorce. And, in following Mark, Matthew records Jesus as indicating God did not intend divorce from the time of the Garden of Eden, but allowed it under Mosaic Law because of the hardness of their hearts. (Matt. 19:3-8)

And at this point Matthew’s Jesus is prepared to give His discourse regarding divorce. First he copies Mark, “Whoever divorces his wife…and marries another commits adultery.” He ends with the same additional command as Luke records, “whoever marries the divorced wife commits adultery.”

But Matthew adds an additional clause, not found in Mark or Luke or 1 Corinthians. Matthew indicates Jesus said, “Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality and marries another commits adultery.”

The term “sexual immorality” is vague. We know it is not the same as adultery, because the word for adultery is not used here, but is in the next clause. The author obviously knew the word for adultery, but choose to not use it. Unfortunately, this leaves it up to very broad interpretation.

Certainly it would include adultery. But what about masturbation? Viewing pornography? Looking too long at a gorgeous hunk, or bikini-clad babe on the beach? At what level could a person proclaim, “THAT is sexual immorality, and therefore grounds for divorce”? Does any lusting qualify? Matt. 5:27-30.

Whatever it is, Matthew introduces an “out” clause. Now, there may be some argument as to whether this “out” clause is applicable for divorce OR whether divorce is still prohibited, but remarriage is now an option. (That’s the fun of the opaque nature of these verses. They can be read a multitude of ways.)

Was Matthew saying Divorce was allowed for sexual immorality, or was Matthew saying Divorce is never allowed, but in the event it unhappily occurs, the person is barred from re-marrying unless there was sexual immorality.

A wife divorcing her husband. Sin. Because he beat her. Remarriage is sin.
A wife divorcing her husband. Sin. Because he beat off. Remarriage is O.K.

And, does the “out” clause apply to both, or just the innocent party? If the husband cheats on his wife, while that was a sin, is he free to divorce her and it would not be? Hmmm…divorce equals one sin…a wild affair and then divorce equals one sin…what to do?

Matt 5:32 makes this even more confusing. Take the first part, “Whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality—“ Stop! Most people would think that the divorce is caused by the wife’s sexually immorality at this point. But it continues”—causes her to commit adultery—“ Huh? If my wife has an affair, I can divorce her because of sexual immorality. How did I “cause” her to commit adultery by divorcing her? She already did!

The verse continues, “—and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.” Is that an innocent woman? Or a woman who was sexually immoral, which allowed the man to divorce? But his divorcing causes her to commit adultery.

If divorce causes someone to sin, i.e. causes the woman to commit adultery, it is the same stumbling problem as before. Therefore the man cannot divorce. Meaning the rest of the verse is superfluous.

At this point we have Paul who says you can never divorce. And never remarry. The sole exception on the remarriage part is if an unbeliever divorces a believer. Sexual immorality (unusually) is not mentioned as any part of the equation.

Mark and Luke say you can never divorce. And never remarry. There is no exception. Not unbelievers; not sexual deviants.

Matthew says either 1) you can divorce for sexual immorality and remarry or 2) you can never divorce and never remarry, the sole exception on the remarriage part is if there was sexual immorality.

Most people’s initial reaction is to declare divorce and remarriage as generally prohibited, but in applying “scripture interprets scripture” state that a few exceptions are carved out by Jesus and Paul to this general rule.

Wait a minute. Why do the exceptions “trump” the rule? What prevents the rule from “trumping” the exceptions?

For example, we could state that at the time of Paul’s writing 1 Corinthians, was a unique period in history, in which people were already alive prior to the opportunity of becoming believers. After Pentecost, every person was born, and from the instant of their birth had such a chance.

Because of the state of flux, this was the one time in which a person could become a believer, when their spouse never had an opportunity to become such prior to the marriage. Therefore during this time, and during this limited time only, a person was not bound if the unbeliever left. But from then on, Mark and Luke “trump” Paul.

See the difference, if we say Mark is trump, and not 1 Corinthians? Or we could say that Matthew only applied for the time of Mosaic law, and once Mosaic law was repealed (whenever that was) we revert back to Mark and Luke—no divorce; no remarriage.

It depends on which scripture must bend it its interruption to other scripture.

Further, by simply applying the exceptions of Paul and Matthew to the stated rule in Mark and Luke, we do a disservice to Mark and Luke. Are there other instances in which a flat rule is recorded, but “exceptions” exist that the authors didn’t bother to record? And we don’t know?

What other exceptions exist that Mark and Luke knew of, yet failed to mention? This would seem to introduce a dangerous methodology indeed, OR reduce some of the credibility of Mark and Luke.

And how does Paul not know of Jesus’ sexual immorality exception, and Jesus not know of Paul’s unbeliever exception? Again, if they knew and deliberately failed to chronicle it, this would indicate an intention to modify a stated rule. If they didn’t know—how much does that support the claim of a cohesive, inspired Scripture?

The author of Ephesians throws another wrench into the mix. S/he states that wives must submit to their husbands in the same way that the church submits to God. (Eph. 5:22-24.) And husbands must love their wives in the same way that Christ loved the church. (Eph. 5:25). Can a husband divorce his wife, even for sexual immorality, and still claim he loves her in the same way the Christ loved the church? If Christ could stop loving the church for something as broad as sexual immorality, He would have stopped loving it long, long ago!

If we are going to interpret scripture with scripture, how can a husband or wife be following the precepts of Eph. 5 and EVER divorce? Even if the other party commits adultery? OR, does Matthew 5 and 19 trump Eph. 5?

‘Course, Matthew 5 and 19 would also have to trump Colossians 3:18-19 and 1 Peter 3:1-7.

At some point, in the marriage/divorce discussion, a person will make the pragmatic choice (even unconsciously) to trump one part of scripture over the other. And what do we see? Most times they use the scripture that they desire for their situation to “trump” the one they do not.

Sell all you have for the poor and not worry about where your necessities of life will come from? (Matt. 19:21 & 6:25-34, Mark 12:42-43) Or do we start to hear tales of how we must interpret scripture with scripture, and one should be a good “steward.” (1 Cor. 4:2, 1 Pet. 4:10) Not surprisingly, it is the one with the SUV, and stock portfolio that finds “stewardship” trumps giving all one has to the poor.

Do you love your enemies (Matt. 5:43-48 ; Luke 6:27-36) or do you justify deceiving them and calling them names because they are apostates? (2 Cor. 11:13, 2 Peter 2:1) Again, not surprisingly, those that desire to call names and use deceit justify it with scripture interpreting scripture.

To me, the most plausible answer is that these were various books, written by various authors, with various positions on various topics. And, just like we see in the million or so blogs in internetsphere, they come up with different and contradictory doctrine. To attempt to align them with scripture interprets scripture, is like trying to align 10 different blogs written by 10 different people. We expect contradiction in that endeavor, and the Bible is no different.

So… the next time someone says they are using “scripture interprets scripture” to justify ignoring certain verses that seem to preclude what they want to do, my question is this—What method are you using to determine which verses are trump?


SocietyVs said...

"We expect contradiction in that endeavor, and the Bible is no different"

I agree totally on this final take on the whole issue - several authors with several ideas about the issue - each one adding in/or taking away in the teaching (ex: divorce). I agree the bible authors have various stands on various issues - but if there is a trump (as far as what's more important) - I would take the gospels first (as they claim to have the words of Jesus), the letters second (which are written to various communities), and then the OT (being not Jewish and not fully understanding their religion). But I also understand that each book stands on it's own - which is likely how they were written - for individual communiites. So someone could only have the book of Matthew and have their faith complete (1 of 39 gospels/letters from NT) - since the teachings mean less then the actions (there just books).

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

One fact is ignored or not known in this whole discussion. The existence of polygamy -- specifically polygyny, both in Judaism and in early Christianity, casts a different light on the question of divorce.

But were these groups polygynous. Certainly early Judaism was. Leviticus 18, the whole list of rules on sexual immorality shows it. (Compare v. 7 'do not have relations with your mother' with v. 8 'do not have sexual relations with your father's wife'; and v. 9 'do not have relaions with your sister, whether she is your father's daughter or your mother's daughter' with v. 11 'do not have relations with the daughter of your father's wife, she is your sister.' This sort of distinction ONLY makes sense in a polygynous society. (And unlike the claim that this was a 'special exemption for the patriarchs,' these laws are addressed to the society as a whole.)

But what about first century Judaism? We have the testimony of Josephus' autobiography. In the second paragraph we read
"I was myself brought up with my brother, whose name was Matthias, for he was my own brother, by both father and mother." The distinction again would be unnecessary except in a polygynous (or otherwise polygamous) society. (Courtesy of the wonderful Internet Sacred Text Archive, in this case http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/josephus/autobiog.htm)

Okay, so -- at least in the upper class Judaism that Josephus boasts of this is true. But Christianity?

We have the evidence of both Titus and 1 Timothy (both considered substantially later than Paul and probably dating from the Second Century).

[Note that different translations use the word 'bishop,' 'deacon' 'overseer' or 'elder' for the specific office mentioned. I will use 'overseer' and 'elder' following the NIV -- which I have handy]

1 Tim 3:2 "Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, self-controlled ..."

Titus 1:8
"An elder must be blameless, the husband of one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient."

In context, these are special requirements for the holders of these office, perhaps, almost certainly considered desireable for Christians as a whole, but not required of them. Thus, is there any way of reading this -- assuming the translations are right and most of them agree -- but that polygyny was allowed to the early Church?

Jeff Lord said...

I thought you did a very good job at showing the real practical difficulty that is present when one is committed to an inerrant text that MUST all fit together. It simply does not all fit together and as you stated, when you start to "harmonize" the "difficult" passages with the more "clear" ones you undermine the whole grammatical, historical hermeneutic that most Christians hold so dear. This is a fatal blow in my opinion as you cannot have it both ways. You cannot be committed to the "normal, grammatical" approach to interpreting the Bible except when it does not fit in your theological system and then you smuggle in some other passage that you are more comfortable with to get you out of an obvious problem in the text.

HeIsSailing said...

Prup, interesting discussion.
I agree with polygamy being implied in Lev 18. Also intersting to note is that extracting a sexual ethic out of the Old Testament seems to reveal that there really is none. Most of the laws regard sexually defiling virgins. It seems to be merely a property issue, where a 'used' woman is seen as damaged goods.
I am not so sure polygamy is implied in the New Testament. 1 Tim 3:2 makes demands of elders that are pretty consistant with demands made of the laity, just maybe held to a higher standared. 'The husband of one wife' may also mean 'not single'. That contradicts certain passages in 1 Cor, but that is not the first contradiction we have seen in the Bible, is it? Prup, you may be correct, I am just proposing alternatives.
What translation are you using for your Titus 1:8? I can find nothing about being the husband of one wife in either my KJV or NIV.

PS, I commented on this earlier, but it did not appear to go through - forgive me if I am repeating myself.

HeIsSailing said...

Jeff, you phrase my thoughts exactly. A classic case is that of the Biblical contradictions (or paradox, depending on your viewpoint) of predestination vs freewill. The Bible can be used to support either depending on which verses you decide will trump, or which problem verses you will harmonize with the ones you agree with. I heard a message last week where the Biblical apologist countered a difficult passage in Romans with an obscure reference made in 1 Samuel..!! With strategies like that, all contradictions can be creatively harmonized away

Lynda said...

I like the trump analogy, but playing cards is frowned upon by many fundamentalist religions so the concept may not be helpful in explaining the authority of Biblical verse dilemma.

Besides this, it doesn't matter what they do they are guilty of sin anyway. In the end they rely completely on Jesus for righteousness. I believe it was Martin Luther who said, "Sin bravely." Trump is beaten by the wild card which for Christians is salvation through Jesus.

I wouldn't spend too much time trying to understand the rules of this crazy game. It's a bit like the games four-year-olds play where rules are constantly changing so they always come out as the winner.

DagoodS said...


Thank you for providing a methodology. Of course, we then need to review how to consistently apply this system, and whether it there is a better method available.

A question that came to mind; how do we know that the Gospels accurately report what Jesus said? You seem to hold them in higher regard, since they “claim to have the words of Jesus” but many documents make such a claim. The Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Judas come to mind. Do you consider them more accurate than the Epistles?

Or is there more? Further, Luke and Matthew copied from Mark. Numerous times they modified Mark’s Gospel. Which is the more accurate—Mark or Matthew or Luke? This issue is demonstrative of the problem. Mark indicates Jesus says one thing about divorce; Luke and Matthew modify it to a degree. Are they indicating that Mark was not recording Jesus’ words correctly?

And if we are holding the claimed words of Jesus in higher regard, this happens to be an instance in which Paul differentiates between his own opinion and a command from the Lord. Why shouldn’t this be held of the same value as a Gospel?

Further, I am uncertain as to why the Tanakh gets relegated to the third position. It, too, records statements from God. If you hold to a Trinitarian view of Jesus, these statements are ALSO claims of words of Jesus. Why shouldn’t they be in the same position as the Gospel?

My concern with this methodology is that we are left with Gospels that disagree with each other as to the accuracy of what Jesus said, AND I am unclear as to why Epistles and the Hebrew Bible are reduced to the second and third position, when they make equal claims as to statements from Jesus.

DagoodS said...

(Prup) aka Jim Benton,

I am not convinced of polygamy was practiced in first century Palestine. (I am not convinced it wasn’t, either.) While Josephus uses that curious phrasing, are you aware of him listing any Jewish marriage of more than one wife within this time frame? I am not. If it was prevalent, I would have thought at least one personage would have two (2) or more wives, and Josephus would have mentioned it, or some event would have occurred in which it was significant.

Further, the examples and persons listed in the New Testament do not have any polygamous marriages. (Although I have heard the argument that Matt 25:1-13 was a polygamous marriage.)

On the other hand, as you point out, “husband of one wife” is a curious phrase which makes sense in a polygamous society, and is unclear otherwise. Is it a non-divorcee? Non-single? Would a widower be barred?

Do you have any other info regarding polygamy in First Century Palestine? Thanks.

DagoodS said...


I am old enough to remember when playing cards were considered “of the devil” within my fundamentalist circle. We were moving in 1981, and the movers asked my mother if it was O.K. for them to play cards during a break.

She always said, “See? Even THEY know playing cards is wrong, or they wouldn’t have asked.”

Our alternative was Rook(c). We played hours and hours of that game, which was acceptable since it was numbers and colors. No evil hearts or spades. And it had trump.

Since then, playing cards became acceptable within our circle. (Movie-going was also strictly forbidden. Then came the VCR. That prohibition, too, disappeared. And they say we have relative morals!) Are there still fundamentalists that still forbid card-playing?

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

The only evidence I have is the comment from Josephus. I know of no other contemporary writings except the Bible. Is there any other extant material? I could, I suppose, plow through the writings of the 'Church Fathers' but that is a *ahem* formidable task. (I am also hindered by being incurably monolingual.) And the question of copyist editing would be another problem.
But the biblical phrase is even more puzzling, if you think about it. I have seen it rendered as 'faithful to his wife in some readings, but the majority of translations -- check Bible Gateway for this http://www.biblegateway.com/
--have it as I gave it.
If the concept was not a factor, then the writer wouldn't have used the phrase. For a silly but illustrative example, could you imagine him writing "and must be less than eight foot tall"? No, because EVERYBODY was.

I would like a better source, if anyone has one. (I'd also like a newer translation of Josephus. He's a very interesting wtriter, if you take the time to break his sentences into manageable bits.)

Rich said...

"In other words, which verse is Trump?"

That's real easy to answer, which ever one best supports my worldview:)

Now on the serious note, that's a real good question. I think if we had some other set of accepted writtings that came from God that would help clear up which scripture to use as trump.

MiSaNtHrOpE said...

Now this is a relevant topic, onr that hasnt been gone over a million times.

My High School Anthropology professor called this "Bible Tag," when two or more [Christians] argue over which contradictory point is correct: For instance, last year TIME Magazine had an article called "Does God Want You to be Rich?" and both Joel Osteen (pro-divine wealth) and Rick Warren (anti-divine wealth) were featured, and both had verses from various books supporting their claims. It is an excellent question "Which is Trump?".

I will say that these blatant schizophrenic sheep (Falwell called his followers a "flock" and I deconstructed the term on my blog, check it out) are doing the best they can.

adam s said...

I hate Donald Trump.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Adam S: I bow to your comment, but then I'm a natural bower anyway (GERMAN card players will get the pun, Jack).

Rich: (I suppose, referring to Misanthrope's comment, that God at least wants YOU to be Rich -- and no, I don't know what got into me tonight, but I AM working on an article on Sin and PUNishment)
You say that "I think if we had some other set of accepted writtings that came from God..." (My emphasis)
But we do -- and I am being serious now.

The Qur'an is accepted -- by a billion people -- as having come from God. Nine million Mormons would tell you that The Book of Mormon came from God. Over a hundred thousand would tell you that the Avesta came from God.

And their claims are much more precise than the Christian claim that God 'merely' inspired Paul, the other Epistle Writers, the Evangelists, the Prophets, and the others. (For the most part only the Torah contains reports of direct words of God -- and Orthodox Jews seem to accept this more than Christians do.) It remains a human document.
But the Qur'an was dictated to Mohammed from a copy that exists -- some Muslims would claim -- on a table in Paradise. God sent an angel to Joseph Smith, showing him where to find the brass plates, and giving him the tools to translate it. And God (Ahura Mazda) hand-delivered the Avesta to Zarathustra (Zoroaster) when they met on a mountainside.

So we have quite a few writings that are accepted as the Words of God -- and if you throw out the Avesta, remember the credit the Bible gives to the Magi, the priests of that religion.

King Aardvark said...

"Can a husband divorce his wife, even for sexual immorality, and still claim he loves her in the same way the Christ loved the church?"

Well, if Christ is supposed to be the same as God, God already smote Sodom and Gomorrah for sexual immorality and wiped out almost everybody on earth on another occasion. So Christ isn't in favour of divorce; he'd prefer you kill your pervert wife and start over again.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

King A:
"Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don't do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof."
These are the words of Lot, (Genesis 19:8, NIV.)
or, in the KJV,
"Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof."
(And there is a parallel story in Judges 19
"While they were enjoying themselves, some of the wicked men of the city surrounded the house. Pounding on the door, they shouted to the old man who owned the house, "Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him."

23 The owner of the house went outside and said to them, "No, my friends, don't be so vile. Since this man is my guest, don't do this disgraceful thing. 24 Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his concubine. I will bring them out to you now, and you can use them and do to them whatever you wish. But to this man, don't do such a disgraceful thing."

25 But the men would not listen to him. So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go." (She dies soon after.)

In BOTH cases, the 'sin' denounced was not homosexuality, or even gang-rape, but the attack on someone who had been offered hospitality -- and in both cases preceding verses show this being done, with the visitor(s) saying he'd sleep in the town square and the host insisting he come home with him. (The responsibility towards guests and strangers was and is very strong in the sort of desert/tribal community that was being described, and the words of the host makes this plain.)
In neither case -- in what may be to me the most immoral passages in the Bible -- is the host condemned for offering virgin daughters in the place of the guest(s). Lot is described as a 'just' man despite this.

(As for Sodom, in your own reading of the Bible, you'll see that the city had been involved in earlier wars as well. See Genesis 14, right before the story of Melchizedek, where Abram sides himself with the King of Sodom to rescue Lot, but refuses any reward for doing so.)

I will leave the 'kill his wife and start over' for others to defend.

SocietyVs said...

Dagoods, here is my pitiful response - but a response nonetheless.

"Of course, we then need to review how to consistently apply this system, and whether it there is a better method available." (Dagoods)

There is probably better methods but this is my approach thus far. I find each book/letter stands on it's own.

"how do we know that the Gospels accurately report what Jesus said?" (Dagoods)

Well, we can't but I accept some early faith writers persepctive on that event as being accurate. What more of a basis can I have then that? Evenn history gives me little to go on - or external sources from that time.

"The Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Judas come to mind. Do you consider them more accurate than the Epistles?" (Dagoods)

I personally don't accept those books at this moment in time nor have I read them. I have read the epistles however so at this point the epistles take a higher place than the non-accepted gospels (from certain councils).

"This issue is demonstrative of the problem. Mark indicates Jesus says one thing about divorce; Luke and Matthew modify it to a degree. Are they indicating that Mark was not recording Jesus’ words correctly?" (Dagoods)

Maybe they are trying to determine what was actually said or trying to expand on it or someone added in something. The question is also determining on the basis of the 'Q' theory - a Q book they have never uncovered (so some of this is pure supposition). How do we not know there were a few different written versions of that scripture and teaching on divorce - either way the passages don't diverge too greatly on the divorce issue.

"Why shouldn’t this be held of the same value as a Gospel?" (Dagoods)

Why would I hold Paul's letters equal with what the disciples claim to be the 'words of Jesus'? Paul follows Jesus not the other way around. So in this sense, Jesus' words have to be held higher (by simple logic).

"Why shouldn’t they be in the same position as the Gospel?" (Dagoods)

The problem for me with the OT is Paul (and other disciples) didn't seem to require Gentile cultures to know these teachings (being not Jewish), according to their writings - and this makes sense to me. I relegate it to a 3rd category - if I want to learn about this Jewish history I can but if not - what difference is that to me?

"My concern with this methodology is that we are left with Gospels that disagree with each other as to the accuracy of what Jesus said, AND I am unclear as to why Epistles and the Hebrew Bible are reduced to the second and third position, when they make equal claims as to statements from Jesus." (Dagoods)

I'd rather this than shuffling through a variety if books that weren't a collected whole in early Christian communities and try to develop a cohesive belief set - which seems to throw context to the wind. The fact they all have some inconsistency with one another may be proof enough they were written in individual communities - and if they didn't need the 66 books all in one place for their faith - I see nothing wrong with this. I's be more than happy with a single book (ex: Matthew) than all 39 and building a weird mess of theology. Even if they are inconsistent with one another - they actually only vary in small regards in various communities. I am alright with that - no one in those letters or books says they have to all line up.

But I am not saying I have the answer to methodology - but I realize that no methodoolgy is going to work anyways - since context of the writers and historical fact of single unit letters and books is not considered in current Christian context - being they have a single 66 unit 'cook book'.

If they wanna think this all adds up to a perfect united book - they are not considering the historical facts. These letters and books in the NT were written as single units not available in all communities back when they were first written - they stood alone in some senses and spoke to certain communities and were written that way. Do I really need the gospel of John to verify the gospel of Matthew in order for my faith to be realistic? I don't think so - I think John and Matthew existed in different communities and were not orignally the same piece of literature. Did all of Paul's communities have copies of the OT while they studied his letters? No way. Even the Torah was not a codified whole book found in each person's home as we have now. Fact is, all these books were single units and the Torah was found in the synagogue. It wasn't until councils were held they started putting it all together - and not even until the printing press was this fully available to more people and in their homes as a unified whole (some had copies of it but on a mass scale like today - no way).

No methodolgy will work. A better methodology is using single books as they were written - as a single unit to be used as a stand alone book. To me beyond that is just asking for trouble. And there are variations on teachings but I didn't get into my faith to make sure all the books were not inconsistent - it would be intellectually dishonest to do so. But I get where you are going with this and I can't say we (as Christians) have the answers to it all - in some senses - and you are going to hate this - we have to go by faith (take people at their words). Doesn't mean they didn't make mistakes - they are human.

Heather said...

**I personally don't accept those books at this moment in time nor have I read them.** The Gospel of Thomas is actually quite interesting. In a lot of ways, it's similar the Synoptic Gospels. It's an interesting read.

**The problem for me with the OT is Paul (and other disciples) didn't seem to require Gentile cultures to know these teachings (being not Jewish), ** I would find that interesting, considering how much material he pulls from the Old Testament. That, and his whole argument for Jesus is the disobedience of Adam -- however, that's a small part of the Old Testament. I have a Bible that's for the 'Jews for Jesus' and they've marked every single part of the New Testament that comes from the old. It's fascinating to reference it, as it gives a new perspective on what Paul was arguing.

DagoodS said...


I have no idea why you would say your response was “pitiful.” It seemed to be the method most commonly used by Christians. I would point out some things for your consideration, though…

I disagree that the books “stand on their own.” There is interplay within them that we can recognize, as well as study. 2 Tim. 3:16 refers to “all scriptures.” If it stands on its own, what are the “scriptures” to which it refers?

We see 2 Peter is copying Jude, and the author is aware of Paul’s writings. As pointed out, Matthew and Luke are clearly aware of Mark, and utilize it in their writing. Mark uses Midrash of the Tanakh to tell the story of Jesus (whether it is a complete fiction, or merely a matter of style would be a discussion for another time.)

Further, as you point out, there are “non-accepted Gospels) (i.e. not in the Canon) which means the books we see in the Bible on the shelves of Book stores did not stand on their own, but rather were deliberately chosen over the course of time. The method by which they were chosen comes into play.

We see Paul’s doctrinal stance change over his earlier works (1 Thess.) to his later works (Romans) by virtue of the comparison which is a valuable study in itself.

We see the Johannine community in the three epistles of John, as well as the Gospel, taken together.

Basically, what I am saying is that the comparison of the various books, gives us a broad, rich history. We do not need to retreat to their standing on their own; we can discover so much more by working with their interaction.

SocietyVs: Why would I hold Paul's letters equal with what the disciples claim to be the 'words of Jesus'? Paul follows Jesus not the other way around. So in this sense, Jesus' words have to be held higher (by simple logic).

First of all, even by traditional Christian claims, neither Mark nor Luke were disciples of Jesus. Raising the interesting question as to why a claimed disciple, Matthew, would rely upon a non-disciple as to the telling of Jesus’ story.

John’s words of Jesus show a much higher Christology, and are remarkable in light of the Synoptic Gospels. I.e., the Messianic Secret theme of Mark is blown to kingdom come with the “I Am” statements of John. John, (and I have written on this before) who concentrates on “commandments of God” and “love” fails to be aware of the Greatest commandment, nor “Love your neighbor.” John does not know the Sermon on the Mount (Plain.)

Further, the Gospel of John has gone through modifications, and most likely more than one author, which we can see by studying the book.

You are correct that Paul was a follower of Jesus. Hence the reason he highlights the difference between his own opinions and that of “the Lord.” What makes it so interesting is the fact that Paul is a devoted follower of Jesus, yet is completely unaware of the commandments Jesus gave, the sermons given, the miracle performed of the parables told throughout Jesus’ entire earthly ministry. The only time Paul refers to anything Jesus said, it was said directly to Paul through visions.

Was the author of Mark a Follower of Jesus? That would be a key question, since the authors of Matthew and Luke use his tale as the basis of their own.

Who is more reliable? A follower of Jesus (Paul) or a Greek fiction writer? (Mark) Without knowing who the author of Mark is, nor his sources, at best all we have are “claimed” words of Jesus.

You are right that the commands on divorce do not diverge “much.” But should they diverge at all? If two humans record a speech, and give different versions, we are not surprised if they vary. It is the nature of humanity. To argue that the Bible does so is an argument that it is of human origin. Exactly my position.

In other words, if this is what we expect humans to do, and we argue it is what humans do, and we use a methodology of this is what humans do—why should I consider the Bible to be anything other than human?

SocietyVs: No methodology will work.

He He He. Actually the methodology that these are merely human writings, myths and legends with no divine inspiration or involvement whatsoever works quite well as a methodology. But you may not agree with that. (*grin*)

I would not be so quick to throw up my hands. Scholars and investigation and study can show us some things of interest. Like the Synoptic Problem, what books were authored by Paul and what were not, the focus of Hebrews—that sort of thing.

I don’t hate the term “go by faith.” Not at all! But faith becomes unpersuasive when it makes a presentation contrary to the evidence.

Imagine I told you that I believed there was no Holocaust. That UFO’s took millions of people from Europe, and Germany was covering it, in an attempt to steal the aliens’ technology. I would think (I would hope) that you would point out all of the evidence of the Holocaust, as well as all of the complete lack of evidence of Alien invasion.

After all that, if I said, “Well, I just have faith in UFO’s”—are you persuaded by my belief? Most likely not. What I see, SocietyVs, is a great deal of evidence and scholarship in a certain direction, and the only thing in response by the vast majority of Christians is “I have faith.”

It is one thing, and I appreciate, if someone gives the arguments for and against why Peter could/could not have written 2 Peter, but still decides to fall on the “Peter” side. It is much different, when a person says, “well, I have faith that Peter wrote it” simply because every Bible they have ever opened up has “An epistle of Peter” in italics under “II Peter.” No study. No investigation. Just “faith.”

That type of belief is not very compelling to me. Nor is it compelling to most. If it was Holocaust vs. UFO’s it would not be compelling to Christians, either.

Finally, in my simple example, how aware the authors were of each other’s books makes us question whether they were recording Jesus’ words accurately, or where providing doctrine to their community, and giving it a “Jesus Said” housekeeping seal of approval. Matthew had a written copy of Mark before him. He changed what Jesus said about divorce/re-marriage.

Why? Did Mark have it wrong? Did Mark have it right, but Matthew needed an “out” clause because of his community? Did neither Mark nor Matthew know, and they were writing what they thought Jesus would have said? (That one is my opinion, by the way, although each author was writing for different reasons.)

If Luke had Matthew in front of him, as well as Mark, why did he change back to the more simple Markan statement? If Luke did NOT have Matthew, we have two witnesses against the one as to what Jesus said.

I appreciate, SocietyVs, that you look at it as a matter of faith. My problem is that the evidence compels me to look at it differently.

Anonymous said...

Hey bunky, debunk this... the first and second laws of thermodynamics