Thursday, January 23, 2014

Shepherd v. Enns

Some additional comments which Jerry Shepherd made in response to Enns and his defenders:

Carlos, thanks for your taxonomy on a number of points on whether one qualifies as a Marcionite or not. Some of your points are valid, some are irrelevant, and some are just way overdrawn. For example, your second point needs a whole lot more nuancing. For one thing, it's quite anachronistic. Purposeful reflection on the practice of allegorical interpretation doesn't really take place till after Marcion has passed off the scene. For another, It just isn't true that, "Here, he came into major conflict with nearly every proto-orthodox writer. Allegorical/typological readings were the only way to maintain that Jesus was Messiah, they argued." This just isn't the case. Many of the allegorists also practiced very literal, historical interpretation. They believed that the recorded events happened, AND, that they could be interpreted allegorically. To be sure, allegorical interpretations of the ancient church fathers could be quite fanciful, but by no means did they regard these as the only way to maintain that Jesus was the Messiah. I'm willing to be corrected on this if you can demonstrate otherwise.
But, the point that you say is the "only" point on which the Marcionite label might stick is, in fact, the important point. Marcion jettisoned the OT because he could not reconcile its description of God with the person of Jesus. He refused to believe that the violent deity depicted in the OT was the Father of Jesus. So the question to ask is whether an approach to the same problem today that relegates significant portions of the Old Testament to "human projections onto God," or "wrong perceptions of the character of God," does not do the same thing as Marcion does. Again, to use, the example of Joshua 6, aside from any question as to whether or not the account is historical, the question is, is the character of God as portrayed in this account consonant with the God whom Jesus called his Father. Did Jesus worship, praise, and pray to, that God. If the answer is "no," then without formally doing so, the approach has effectively decanonized the account, as well as large swaths of the rest of the Hebrew Bible. Ironically, It also ends up distorting our picture of who Jesus is.
Recognition of the discontinuities is not the issue. Methodology in dealing with them is.

Sorry, Andrew. I have to disagree with you quite strongly on this one. Jesus did not contradict anything in the OT. He did give new directives for the new people of God in a different age. He did condemn un-nuanced uses of OT laws and/or practices. He did bring certain OT practices to a conclusion. But he never passed judgment on those practises and he never contradicted them. And you're going to be very hard pressed to show how other OT authors disagreed with the author of Joshua.

As you said, one specific example is the dietary laws. Jesus has ended them. But that does not at the same time mean that they were not the will of God for the OT Israelites. Something can be changed, amended, nullified, etc., for any number of reasons, without at the same time passing judgment on it.
Another example would be the marriage and divorce legislation. Jesus declares that these laws were neither ideal nor in accord with God's original intention. But that does not mean that Jesus condemns the giving of those laws. Goldingay: "Legislation by its very nature is a compromise between what may be ethically desirable and what is actually feasible given the relativities of social and political life."
Violence? I find it very difficult to find a critique of what God commanded in the OT in the passages you cited. Christ gives his people a "new directive" with regard to how they are to relate to their enemies, and one which is in accord with the very different context of the NT people of God as a wandering, pilgrim, oppressed people of God, rather than a settling or settled political entity. But this by no means says that what the OT understands to be the command of God for his ancient people was wrong. Longman: "To say that the New Testament critiques this picture of God in the Old Testament is in effect to say that the Old Testament is not Scripture."
Regarding the NT "mixed bag," this metaphor hardly does justice to the issue. As Karen pointed out, if anything the violence is more horrific in the NT than in the OT, both in the recorded words of Jesus, and throughout the rest of the NT. I see no evidence of Jesus and the NT writers "grappling" with this issue. Instead, they rather strongly and plainly proclaimed it. The evidence of this latter understanding is substantial.
To say that God's law has no expiration date sounds clever, but needs more nuancing and makes for a very flat reading of the OT. Within the Torah itself, there is the recognition that the law was amendable and adaptable. The law is changed in Numbers 9 to allow people who had become ritually unclean to still participate in the Passover, though a month later. The law is changed in Numbers 27 to allow daughters to inherit property. The same law is further amended in Numbers 36 to allow make sure that the property inherited by the daughters remains within the clan. These passages serve as precedents for the Law's adaptability.
Christ comes as the authoritative Son of God, with full prerogative to change the law as he sees fit. It was his law to begin with.
I never alluded to any historical difficulties. I only made a hypothetical concession and said that if one discounted the historicality of the conquest narratives or other narratives in which God is depicted in violent terms, then one is still left with an inspired portrayal of God--a God-authorized portrayal with which he is comfortable for his people to use in their understanding of who he is and what he is like.

Pete, the tectonic shifts are indeed tectonic. And they are all in keeping with what I've been saying all along. Christ's changes the law in accord with a radically new constitutive make-up of the people of God. Notice how all the things you put in parentheses (land, purity, Gentiles, circumcision, treatment of outsiders) reflect the fact that the new people of God are not going to be ethnically, or nationally, or geographically constituted.
Jesus does not "subvert" the purity laws. He brings them to an end. And it is a non sequitur to argue that because he brings them to an end, that he is questioning the giving of those laws in the first place. When Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that a day is coming when neither Mt. Gerizim nor Mt. Zion will be the authorized place to worship God--while in the very same breath acknowledging that the Jews had the location correct--is he calling into question the tabernacle and temple plans and their erection in the first place? Of course not. This is a major tectonic shift; but it is not by any means saying that the OT provisions for tabernacle and temple should never have been made in the first place. The same is true of the purity laws. They are coming to an end. But they had a God-authorized purpose in the OT.
Actually, you wouldn't know where I'm coming from any more than you do now, if I "came clean" about my views of the historicity of the conquest narrative. After all, I think you and I are basically agreed regarding the historicity of the creation narratives. And yet, we draw theological conclusions about the character of God from the "portrayal" of God in those narratives. I believe God reveals himself through all kinds of genres. So, I'll make a deal with you. I'm pretty sure you don't believe in the historicity of the conquest narratives. So, you tell me if you think the portrayal of God in the conquest narrative is an inspired portrayal, an authorized window into the character of God, and then I'll tell if you I think the accounts are historical. :)

No comments:

Post a Comment