Biblical Quizzes for Really Smart People
Quiz III--Movies II
Quiz VII--X rated
Quiz VIII--X rated
Quiz X- The Numbers
Quiz XXIX (Messiah)
Quiz XXX (Messiah II)
Quiz XXXI (Mess. III)
Quiz XXXII (Mess. IV)
Quiz XL--vivid images
Quiz LIX--weird doct.
Quiz LXV--doctrine II
Bible Quizzes for Smart People LXV
Bill Long 3/1/07
Exploring More "Weird" Doctrines/Readings
1. "The rock was Christ..."
This, certainly, is a rock you want to have a piece of. But the passage where these words appear is an example of among the most imaginative readings of Scripture I have ever encountered. Let me explain. By the way, this is not the text arising from the conversation of Peter and Jesus regarding rocks. Indeed, in that conversation it is Peter that is the "rock" on which Jesus will build the church. So, this passage tells us that Jesus was the rock. Well, Jesus is regaled in the history of Christian hymnody as a sort of rock, but this passage wants to argue something else. The author is talking about Israel's experience in the wilderness. He appeals to Israel's experience because he wants to make a point about today (i.e., his time). The congregation to which he is writing is in danger, he feels, of becoming like the Israelites of old. They are possibly going to yield to certain sins and temptations that will lead God to clobber them. So, he wants them not to yield to these temptations. So, what does this have to do with Christ being the rock? Well, in telling the story of the Israelities in the wilderness, this author says that they were followed by a rock from which they derived spiritual (physical also?) nurture. The rock that followed them was Christ. This is a fantastic reading of the OT both because there is no indication that any rock followed the people in the wilderness--sort of like a rock with legs?-- nor is there any indication of why he would call such a rock Christ. Well, there is a rabbinic tradition that talked about a moving well in the wilderness, to supply the people with water, but this is as close as I can get to a spiritual rock that followed the people. So, I get kind of hung up on interpretations like this, especially since they are made by someone who has cast an inordinately huge shadow on the history of Christianity. Where is this passage, by the way?
2. I give an extended quotation here, because you need to have the full text to see the problem with this passage. "For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and the other by a free woman. One, the child of the slave, was born according to the flesh; the other, the child of the free woman, was born through the promise. Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One woman, in fact, is Hagar, from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the other woman corresponds to the Jerusalem above; she is free, and she is our mother."
Here we have the same author at work as in quotation 1, but he is even weirder here. Oh, to rush to his defense for a moment. It was a common practice in antiquity, and in the interpretation of the Hebrew Bible to be more precise, for one to read it "allegorically." Philo of Alexandria, a contemporary of Paul, read the entire Pentateuch as an allegory of the ways of the divine Logos (Wisdom) in dealing with the soul. And, in the history of Christian exegesis, scholars developed at least three or four ways of reading the Scripture. One could read it literally, or ethically or allegorically/typologically (though technically these are different from one another) or anagogocally. Nope, that isn't a misprint. An anagogic reading is a "heavenly" one, one that talks about what you might call the "kingdom" meaning of the text. Well, here we have an allegorical reading. An allegory seeks to identify every character in a story with some virtue or vice or lesson for life. Things "stand for" things in an allegory. Sometimes a book is written as an allegory, such as John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, but that is rare. What is striking about this passage is that the author reads an OT passage as an allegory, though there is no indication in the OT text itself than it is meant in any other way than as a straightforward narrative. Does this author's ability to read an OT passage allegorically give us "license" to do the same? Does an allegorical reading mean that the "historicity" of a passage is in question? I think this allegorical reading of the two children of Abraham has to cause fundamentalists and other religious conservatives headaches, if they ever stop long enough to realize that their heads are aching. Why? Because the conservatives claim to take texts seriously. So, that means that they have to accept the allegorical reading of the the OT story as a "true" reading. But they also have to be committed to the historical reading of the text, that the text tells the "true" story. Well, they might argue that both are true; that the text tells about something that happened and that it interprets it "legitimately." But then we can begin to spin allegories of anything we want, can't we? Well, there is nothing wrong with this from my perspective, but it does tend to run counter to a view of the Scripture that sees only "one" interpretation of the passage. The horse is well dead now. Where do you find this verse?
3. "As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says."
It is hard for someone like Krister Stendahl (see here) to reconcile this verse with another Pauline verse that he loves (about there being no male or female in Christ). These verses cause a problem for those who want to maintain that Paul was a proto-liberal on gender relations in the church. Elaborate efforts have been devoted to explaining why this passage is a "non-Pauline interpolation" into the text of Paul, possibly added by a zealous "second generation" Christian who felt that things were getting out of control in the churches by having women participate fully. I think some good lexicographic arguments can be made to explain this as an "insertion." My approach, however, is not to be too worried about it. Just as it is best to understand Paul not by "believing" everything he says but by trying to understand the forces, internal and external, that shaped him, so it is best to live today without feeling unnecessarily straitjacketed by words 2000 years ago. That is, I don't lose much sleep over this passage, though many have and do. Where do you find it?
4. "Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother..."
Well, since we are making this an "all Paul" day, today, we might as well finish with this little jewel from him. Did Paul oppose slavery? That was a burning question for many in past days; I suppose people still want to ask it. The "great principle" of Gal. 3:28 may be read both ways on the question; the Haustafeln, as the German scholars called the advice on household relationships in the Pastoral Epistles, assumed the continued existence of slavery (though some might argue that Paul opposed it and the second generation "clamped down" when they realized that things might get out of hand). So, does this passage help us along in the debate at all? It might be most helpful, at first, just to try to discover where the verse appears.
Well, I am just about getting to the end of this "book" of quizzes. Normally I do 66 essays, but I am feeling like giving you a "bonus" because you have been such good readers. Thus, I think I will do two more essays before interring this.