The Myth of Inerrancy: An Ad Hoc Response to the Book

The Bible is viewed by most believers to be the Word of God. In fact, many people will nonchalantly say that—whether they have an idea of what that means or not. Set within this view is another perspective that dogmatically asserts the view that the Bible is actually the inerrant Word of God. Those who hold such a view, believe that the Bible is, as it appears today, a book with no contradictions and no mistakes; it is a book that contains absolute higher truth and nothing but higher truth. Most scholarly inerrantists, who actually have the slightest idea of the state our biblical texts are in, will usually clarify the statement by adding “in the original manuscripts.” What they mean is that the Bible is inspired and inerrant, but only in the original manuscripts. It does not take long before an honest seeker asks where those “original manuscripts” are. With good faith, and with a breath of fresh faith, the scholarly inerrantist would reply that they (i.e., “original manuscripts”) do not exist. They have all long perished. And the conversation would seize. For a long minute. A very long minute.

If it has not yet occurred to you that such thinking is ludicrous, then you must seize reading this and go engage in other matters. The problem with such thinking is rather self-evident: how can you believe in an inerrant text—that is now corrupted, but must have been originally inerrant—that no longer exists? How could you even claim that it existed if the evidence[1] suggests otherwise? What would it take for me to convince you that the authors of the Bible were men who were writing history, as honestly and as godly as possible, yet who were also capable of making regular human errors? The answer: a contradiction or obvious mistake. But since contradiction is almost always labeled “alleged,” how could you test this idea? Answer: you cannot. (It is all circular reasoning. And, of course, not falsifiable.)

For example, if I wanted to know the truthfulness of something, I would naturally compare sources. If Mark, the earliest gospel, told me that Jesus could not perform miracles in His hometown, Nazareth (6:5), and Matthew said that He would not (13:58), is there not a difference? When there are stark differences, such as in 1 Sam. 24:9 and 1 Chronicles 21:5, we strive to understand what is happening. In 1 Sam. 24:9, the census that David takes of Israel records 800,000 valiant men; the author of Chronicles records 1,100,100. The author of Chronicles was writing after the publication of the books of Kings and Samuel. He consistently edited out things and made past kings, like David, look bigger and better. He is obviously exaggerating the numbers of Israeli forces here. He completely eliminates the account of David’s affair with Bathsheba, found in 2 Samuel 11, and has Satan guide David’s census (1 Chronicles 21:1) rather than God, as in the earlier source of 2 Samuel 24:1. Later, God holds this as a sin against David—counting his troops was considered shameful and arrogant to God, for the power of the army was in the Lord, not in human strength. The Chronicler obviously tries to make David look better. So he says that it was Satan who really moved David. (God could not be possibly working against this holy saint of God!)

We must simply ask: which account is more reliable? Is Mark, the earlier gospel, more reliable? Are the books of Samuel and Kings more reliable than Chronicles? (And they are obviously earlier.) It is not my goal to destroy faith at all here; I am simply wondering what the truth of the matter is, so to speak. I would like to honestly know when someone is exaggerating a bit (and I do not find that offensive at all) or when someone is editing the story a bit to draw a brighter picture (in Chronicles, David no longer gets a bad image). I am simply a seeker of what really happened.

Now, back to the original question: how can we prove that the Bible is errant? If someone presented a hypothesis, say, that the earth was flat, wouldn’t we want to know what evidence it would take to prove the hypothesis wrong? We would say that if we were to see the earth as a globe, we would label the hypothesis as incorrect. Now, suppose I shot you up into space and you witnessed the globular earth, what would you do? I think that you would state that the “Flat Earth Theory” is incorrect. On what grounds? On the grounds that your eyes have seen a circular globe as our planet. Let us apply this same scenario to the Bible. If you were to test the truthfulness of the Bible, you would have to apply some sort of criterion for discovering that truth. You would say that the Bible is inerrant unless otherwise proven. But what would “prove” inerrancy, I ask? Well, obviously, a contradiction! But I have shown you contradictions, have I not?

The problem with inerrantists is that they fail to bring their logic to fruition. If obvious contradiction is not enough to prove errancy, then I do not know what is. If I present a contradiction, as I did with 1 Sam. 24:9 and 1 Chronicles 21:5, the inerrantist quickly point out that the text must have suffered at the hands of the scribes. They point out that the numbers affect nothing and that they are unimportant. I suppose that they are sincerely right. But that does not answer the question. If contradictions prove that the Bible is errant, why do we have to keep arguing that the contradiction is actually a corruption of an inerrant text, when it is, to our very eyes, errant?! I conclude that this is all extremely circular reasoning. I have just proven that nothing can prove errancy. Because nothing can prove errancy, the whole system crashes. It ceases to be relevant and meaningful. If I cannot prove that the earth is flat, by any means whatsoever, why am I even engaging in debate? What is the entire purpose of defending a view that cannot be defended (for it cannot be destroyed, thus it needs no defending)? In fact, it appears that the entire purpose of the debate, from the inerrantists’ perspective, is to argue. Nothing more. For, if I have shown that no arguing is necessary (since inerrancy will remain for the inerrantist, no matter what), they are solely arguing for the sake of making argument. And that is not a very Christian thing to do.

As the arguments now stand, given by the inerrantist, there appears to be no reason for them. What further needs to be done is for us to take a closer look at inerrancy—a three-page paper could never do justice to the ensuing arguments—therefore, it would be proper for us to take a more thorough look. To be more precise, this will be a short critique of the book Inerrancy,[2] which was written by fourteen evangelical scholars, in defense of the theory of inerrancy. I will be “attacking” it here.

The Beginning of Scripture

Since the earliest times, people everywhere have regarded something as given to them by God—the Greeks thought that the gods gave them living prophecies, the Jews thought that God gave them written prophecy—everyone thought that God, or gods, gave them something. Judaism, for the most part, taught that the singular God, YHWH, gave them the Law. It was revered and holy. Most people, back then, as now, were born into a world that said that God—or some group of gods—gave us, mere humans, something; be it a book, a living oracle, or the entire planet. We were all born thinking that God gave us something. Christianity teaches us that God gave us His Son and that God gave us the Holy Scriptures. Though the Christians cannot agree on which canon of Scripture came from God, all believe that God gave them. Some read Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) as Scripture, others read Tobit; some like the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, others prefer to read 1 Enoch (the apostle Jude, the brother of Jesus, for example). One way or another, God gave us something.

When Daniel was writing his book, or whoever it was, he was reading the book of Jeremiah as Scripture; that is, a message given by God. Daniel 9:2-3 tells us Daniel’s view of Jeremiah, it was Scripture to him. But Daniel wanted an interpretation of Jeremiah’s seventy year captivity prophecy—so he was inquiring God about the proper “interpretation” of the prophecy found in Jeremiah 25:11-12. The angel of God reinterpreted the prophecy for Daniel and turned the seventy years into seventy weeks of years—forever changing the original intent of Jeremiah’s; in fact, the angel basically destroyed Jeremiah’s point and totally nullified it (for a new generation)…

A few hundred years later, Jesus the Messiah also shared a relatively exalted view of Scripture (though He never defines His own canon of Scripture). He quoted some of the books as authoritative and breathed Scripture. Jesus once gave a sermon in the synagogue at Nazareth and said, after quoting some form of Isaiah 61:1-2, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21 ESV). To the “Jews” of the Johannine literature, Jesus said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life…” (John 5:39 ESV). Even in His Temptation, Jesus quotes the Scriptures to the Devil (Matt. 4:4; Luke 4:4). Jesus, like Paul (Gal. 3:16), believes that, at the very least, some passages of Scripture have been preserved faithfully and were inerrant—about this there is no doubt (Mark 2:25, 12:10; Matt. 19:4, 12:3, 21:16, 22:31; Luke 6:3, etc.).[3]

One of Jesus’ most poignant, and widely (mis)quoted, statements is Matthew 5:17-20:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven…”[4]

According to Matthew’s version of Jesus—this saying of Jesus is only found in Matthew’s gospel—Jesus clearly believed even in some form of verbal inspiration (i.e., every word of the Law and the Prophets is of God).[5]

Years later, when the Bible came to be viewed with suspicion by critical (German) scholars, this view of the Scriptures was turned to absolute mush. The negative critics would have no piece of this pie; for them, the Scriptures were mostly, if not thoroughly, human— products of the human mind. The Scriptures were full of contradictions, inconsistencies, and human blunders. Ever since the Renaissance and the days of the so-called Enlightenment, biblical scholars were doubting, here and there, some parts of the Scriptures. With theories such as Wellhausen’s circling around, some Reformed scholars decided to respond to the onslaught by the same extreme—where the critical scholars were applying extreme, harsh, unrealistic methods to the Bible, the “conservative” scholars responded with the same zeal and attributed every syllable to God Himself. One school of thought set out to destroy the Bible, while another school devoted itself entirely to saving the Bible. In the nineteenth century, B. B. Warfield, from the so-called Old Princeton school, sharpened his knives and began attacking the critics of the Scriptures. His views were articulated in this extremely turbulent time. He came out of the cage fight with the following statement:

“The church, then, has held from the beginning that the Bible is the Word of God in such a sense that its words, though written by men and bearing indelibly impressed upon them the marks of their human origin, were written, nevertheless, under such an influence of the Holy Ghost as to be also the words of God, the adequate expression of His mind and will. It has always been recognized that this concept of co-authorship implies that the Spirit’s superintendence extends to the choice of the words by the human authors (verbal inspiration), and preserves its product from everything inconsistent with a divine authorship—thus securing, among other things, that entire truthfulness which is everywhere presupposed in and asserted for Scripture by the Biblical writers (inerrancy).”[6]

Warfield was adamant: Scripture was given by God, every word the author wrote was chosen by God. To argue his case, Warfield, along with every other inerrantist out there, used three primary verses for his thesis: 2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:19-21 and 3:15-16.

The author of 2 Timothy—virtually all scholars unanimously deny Pauline authorship of this epistle—tells us that “all writings are God-breathed” (πασα γραφη θεοπνευστος ). By “all writings” the author is referring to the Scriptures—by saying that they are “theopneustos,” the author means something along the lines of “inspired” or “God-given.”

In “Peter’s” second epistle—this epistle is the most problematic epistle in all of Christian history, being rejected[7] by virtually all scholars, of all times, as pseudonymous (that is, forged in Peter’s name)—Peter tells us that no prophecy was ever given by man, rather, he says, it was given by God:

“And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”[8]

Elsewhere, Peter tells us that the Scriptures are being misunderstood and even misused. He says:

“And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.”[9]

The inerrantists say that Peter is here equating Paul’s writings with Scripture. For them, this passage puts Paul’s writings (whatever writings the author has in mind is highly speculative)[10] on par with the “other Scriptures.”

From such passages, among others, Warfield obtained his theology. Ever since, modern inerrantists have joined his train of thought and hooted for his bandwagon. Unfortunately, Warfield was wrong: he couldn’t even convince his followers, like G. C. Berkouwer.

Berkouwer, at first, accepted Warfield’s theory tooth and nail but later he chose to reject it: it was flawed. Berkouwer maintained that the Scriptures were God-given but they, nevertheless, contained normal human errors and blunders, like every other piece of (human) ancient literature. He maintained that the “theopneustos” of 2 Timothy actually referred to God’s breathing in His Spirit into us via the Scriptures. The Scriptures themselves were totally human products—God just chose to work through them. It’s almost as if they were an instrument; an instrument He uses to get His Spirit to us.[11] His ideas are not without grounds; for example, in 1 Corinthians 2, Paul makes the case that wisdom and knowledge are nothing, only God’s power really changes lives. Therefore, the Scriptures, for Paul, serve a secondary purpose. In fact, if you have the Spirit, you could, theoretically, abandon the Scriptures (for that is the end—the Scriptures are just a means to that end [i.e., the acceptance of the Spirit]). Classical texts such as 1 John 1:10, Colossians 2:2, 1 Thessalonians 1:5, and Romans 8:15-16 are readily available. Passages such as these make the “internal testimony of the Holy Spirit” the real matter at hand.

Karl Barth took a similar approach towards Scripture as Berkouwer: he opposed inerrancy. For him, the Scriptures were to be read as human books that served as testimonies to God. They were inspired but errant. Harry Boer succinctly put it: “I wish now to emphasize that the books of the Bible as a collection of religious writings are as human as Pilgrim’s Progress, Paradise Lost, or Spurgeon’s Sermons.”[12] In other words, we don’t treat John Bunyan’s works as Scripture, even though we know or think that they are inspired, right? The logic is impeccable. If we can read “inspired” books without making them Scripture, why should the Bible be viewed any different? Namely, if the Spirit works through Bunyan’s books, what is remarkably different about the Bible? The Spirit is working through both titles. Through Pilgrim’s Progress and through the collection of writings that we call the Bible.

In response to what conservative evangelicals have termed “neo-orthodoxy,” the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy was made. The enemies were those termed neo-orthodox, and the opposing party was made up of fundamentalist inerrantists. In October of 1978, three hundred pastors, scholars, and laymen gathered to formulate the Statement and endorse it. What they wrote was allegedly that which was “from the beginning” (though that is definitely a matter of great dispute). The rather short document basically stated the inerrantists position: the Bible (the 66-book Protestant canon) was inspired verbally and was inerrant. In nineteen articles, the committee proclaimed the message. The Scriptures were “God-given,” “without error or fault,” “inspired,” and “superintended by His Spirit.”Article III denied that the Bible was a revelation that merely led to—or pointed to—God; Article IV stated that human language was sufficient; Article V, the dispensational article, denied that any normative revelation may be given by God after the closure of the New Testament canon; Article X attributed absolute infallibility “only to the autographic text of the Scripture[s].”[13] Amongst other things, the entire Statement was fairly biased; namely, it was of Reformed and dispensational tradition—the Statement made other Christian traditions, like classical Pentecostalism, appear totally invalid.

Fabricating Inerrancy: The Process of Ignorance

Inerrantists have frequently given Martin Luther “inerrantist” status—they claim that he was thoroughly orthodox and that his methods of exegesis were correct. One such inerrantist, Robert D. Preus, after spending pages upon pages quoting “orthodox” passages selectively out of Luther’s writings, makes only passing mention of Luther’s absolute rejection of the Epistle of James. In fact, in his footnotes, he virtually denies any unorthodox moves made by Luther; he sugarcoats Luther up and down with extra-thick and creamy coating, calling Luther’s rejection of James as resting on “fallacious”[14] grounds. If a book failed to preach Christ and justification by faith alone, Luther regarded it, at the very least, inferior to the other books in the canon. Despite Luther’s dislike for the books of Esther and Revelations, Preus cunningly says, “Luther affirmed the absolute infallibility and truthfulness of Scripture. For Luther, as for those who went before him, this meant that Scripture (1) does not err to deceive in any way and (2) does not contradict itself.”[15] Then Preus goes on to contradict himself by stating, regarding Luther’s obsession with Christ and justification by faith, “It was just his failure to find Christ and justification by faith in certain books of the Old and New Testaments (all antilegomena) that prompted Luther to depreciate the value of these books and question their canonicity.”[16]

The contradiction and problem should be obvious: Luther believes in infallibility while throwing books out of the Bible? Are you crazy! Can you redefine infallibility for me, Preus? It appears that the inerrantists will crawl to Moscow and back in order to salvage their “heretical” ancestors. Luther does not, as Preus deceitfully says, believe in “infallibility.” Had he believed in the infallibility of the Scriptures, he would not have gone around throwing books out that did not suit his presumptions. If Luther believed, as Preus says, that the Bible contained no contradictions, he would not have had problems with James. James, as we all know, clearly presents a rather different view of justification: faith without works is dead (2:17). Paul, in Romans 3-4 and Galatians 3, too, makes statements on justification, but his views are somewhat different: faith, apart from works, justifies. Had Luther not seen the contradiction, he would have kept James on par with Paul’s writings. But he had seen the problem. And Preus tries to hide that fact. Luther believed that the Scriptures, that he originally received, were full of contradictions. Therefore, he was out having a field day trying to “clean” them up a bit. Because, like Marcion, he applied razor to the text, Luther, by his works (not by his faith or statements) revealed his true colors and thought: the Bible, as it had come down to him, was corrupted and needed to be freed from the antilegomena (books whose authority was doubted in the early church—this included, James, 2 and 3 John, Jude, Hebrews, and Revelations).[17] Luther did what scholars have been doing for centuries: eliminating textual corruptions (one must first admit the errancy of the manuscripts in order to practice the science of textual criticism!), deciding what should and should not be included (via our God-given reason), and thoroughly doubting what he was reading (one has to doubt James before tossing the epistle). It appears that Preus, along with some other inerrantists, represents the cause’s Mission Statement well: distort the truth, sugarcoat the “heretic,” and press tradition forward.

The Pillars of Conjectural Inerrancy

One of the main Pillars of inerrancy has already been attacked by me earlier (I snuck the attack in without your noticing): inerrancy is not falsifiable. No person can falsify inerrancy or destroy it. Why? One of the Grand Pillars of inerrancy is made of invisible stone. No physical human hands can destroy it. It is untouchable. Inerrancy rests well; it cannot be tested nor proved. However, some scholars maintain that it is a defendable theory—but how, since it is not falsifiable, remains shrouded in mystery as the Invisible Pillar itself. Gordon R. Lewis summarizes my point well (from an inerrantist’s perspective, of course):

“That interpretation is true which, without self-contradiction, fits all the relevant lines of data from the grammar, context, purpose, historical and cultural settings, and the rest of the Bible’s teaching on that subject. On some difficult passages we may not be able to come to a satisfactory resolution, but the interpreter committed to inerrancy need not ask whether in fact he is handling the word of truth. His only question is whether he is interpreting the word of truth in a worthy manner (2 Tim. 2:15).”[18]

Lewis is doing the unthinkable right before our eyes. First, he, from the bat, tells us that inerrancy must be presupposed. Second, he says that the interpretation must follow the “rest of the Bible.” Question: which Bible are you talking about? Is it the Catholic canon or the Protestant one? Are we talking about the famous 108-book Ethiopian canon or…? Also, aren’t you working with other presuppositions; namely, the preconceived notion that your canon is of God and that the text selected was of God, too? Third, Lewis tells us that the interpreter must be “committed to inerrancy.” This is the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Inerrancy is thoroughly presupposed here. That is a matter of fact now, not merely my opinion of the inerrantists’ position. The second mistake is Lewis’ failure to recognize other canons as authoritative. Before aligning a text with “the rest of the Bible,” one must first state what the “rest of the Bible” really is. For example, if Tobit is to be included in the sacred canon of God’s Word, one must always presuppose the idea of predestination—as far as having our very wives predestined for us (Tobit 7). The third great mistake is the stress on “commitment.” Or, if one was to accept 2 Maccabees as authoritative, one would naturally pray for the dead. To further sharpen the argument, Lewis must then determine what specific text to accept as authoritative. Should one read the Greek Septuagint Daniel or the Hebrew Masoretic? Should one read the Alpha Text of Esther, Greek, or Hebrew? What about the shorter, and different, Jeremiah of the Septuagint? What Lewis is telling us is this: You will find problems in the Bible, but you must avoid them and ignore them and remain committed to your traditional, inherited presuppositions. A philosopher would be vomiting by now from such logic, but I must hold my tongue and continue.

Another inerrantist stated similar things as Lewis, except he was thoroughly honest and biased. Paul D. Feinberg writes, along similar lines of thought: “[W]e cannot preclude in advance the possibility that some of the historically or descriptively authoritative material may contain errors.”[19] Here, we are told, that it is impossible to even think that errors are possible. “A key principle in the application of hermeneutics is the analogy of faith as taught by the Reformers. This principle merely says that we should attempt harmonize apparently contradictory statements in the Bible.” Once a passage smells of contradiction, one must resort to reconciliation. If two conclusions are reached, the first conclusion establishing a unity and the second pointing to contradiction, the “former is the correct interpretation.”[20]

It should be obvious by now, that no errantist is lying when he states that the inerrantists’ position is full of holes and presuppositions.

The Problem of the Autographs: Inerrancy’s Brilliant Escape Clause

Suppose for a minute that two scientists, Jack and Bill, are doing some scientific research for NASA. On one beautiful summer evening, Jack pulls out a telescope and takes a peek at the sky. He points his telescope towards the moon and shouts to Bill, “Bill, take a look! I see a green man eating toast on the moon!” Bill, being rather surprised, and a very mature and serious scientist, takes the telescope and peeks at the moon. He says, “Jack, I see nothing! Nothing. What little green man are you talking about? I see no man and no toast!” Jack takes the telescope away and takes another peek. And behold, there is the little green man eating toast on the moon! Jack responds, “Bill, I see the man. He’s right there, eating toast.” And once again Bill takes the scope and sees nothing. By this time, Bill is irritated and tells Jack to prove it. Jack, on the other hand, is irritated that Bill does not believe him. What are they both to do? Well, being scientists, they resort to being inductive. But they cannot. You see, Jack sees the little green man, while Bill does not. Bill cannot prove nor disprove Jack’s sightings. They are to be accepted by faith. Bill must assume that (1) Jack is lying, (2) Jack is hallucinating, or (3) Jack’s little green man hides every time Bill takes a look. Inerrancy is the same. It cannot be proved nor disproved. Because it cannot be proved nor disproved, many scholars simply must resort to faith in the theory or simply resort to ignoring the theory (and theory it is). Feinberg admits the problem succinctly, “It might be objected that such a doctrine is unfalsifiable and therefore, if one were to use old positivist jargon, meaningless.”[21] Inerrancy is, as has been often repeated, meaningless at the core. Nevertheless, I intend to offer the rebuttal that inerrantists make to this so-called “positivist jargon.”

Inerrantists, with a fair amount of good reason, rebut the argument of the “little green man on the moon eating toast,” by stating that it is, in theory, absolutely possible that when Bill looks, the little green man hides. In theory, that is totally possible. More to the point, if Moses seen God on Mount Sinai, it does not mean that if I ascended the mountain that I would see God. Maybe God is, hypothetically speaking, “hiding” every single time I climbed the mountain. Though such an argument is not without warrant, it is, nevertheless, not to be used in science. We cannot assume such ridiculous arguments in our day-to-day lives. Imagine what the world would look like if such logic, as championed by the inerrantists, existed! You would be walking down the street and a person would begin talking to his “mom.” She, of course, would not be there. But who knows? Maybe you just do not see her! (She disappears every single time you look!) It would be, if properly done in accordance with inerrantist logic, a world of lunatics! If such a world would not be termed crazy, then I do not know what world would qualify to be called “insane.”

Being sincerely honest, and having written one of the best chapters in Inerrancy (most were horribly dry and boring), Feinberg finally goes on to point out one of the flaws of his own theory: the fact that inerrancy is not falsifiable. He relays what opponents of inerrancy usually bring up, “Any time there is a difficulty, one can assign the problem to the copy, claiming it does not exist in the original.”[22] Feinberg is right: if a problem is found in our current manuscripts, the “problem” can be “bypassed” by stating the following, “Well, our current manuscript contains this error but the original, I am sure, did not.” How can you falsify such an insane, ludicrous, lunatic—yet beautiful—statement? You cannot. You simply must turn to faith and assume that the original manuscript—the one that was breathed out (or into) by God—did not contain the obvious error.

For example, when Luke was copying Mark, he made an obvious mistake in Luke 9:28. Mark tells us that after Jesus had told the disciples that some of them would not taste death before they saw the kingdom of God come with power, that six days later Jesus transfigured (with power and glory) before Peter, James, and John (9:1-3). Luke, on the other hand, says that it was “about eight days later” (9:28). To establish the fact that this is an obvious human error, one needs to realize that Mark, just about always, uses the Greek word “euthus” (ευθυς) which means “immediately.” He uses this transition between paragraphs all the time—almost as if that is the only Greek word he knows. But when Mark writes the Transfiguration account, he does the unthinkable: he uses a different transition. This time he is not generalizing; he is being precise. He writes “six days later.” We must all be on the alert as to what Mark is doing here. He is telling us that Jesus is about to fulfill His own prophecy. And in Mark 9:2-3 He does. Here are the parallel accounts (italics are mine):

And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. (Mark 9:1-2 NIV).

“Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.” About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. (Luke 9:27-29 NIV).

Luke is already giving us a heads up—He tells us that it was “about” eight days later. Mark, on the other hand, has no “about”; he desires to be accurate. In fact, had he not wanted to be accurate, he would have used the Greek word “euthus.” Now, it is curious why Mark does not use this word. He is, in fact, trying to flash neon lights—he is being specific because he wants you to see that Jesus fulfilled this prophecy—in six days! Some atheists use this text to “prove” that Jesus Christ was wrong: He did not return before the death of His followers. The problem is that the interpreters may all be wrong. In Mark 9:1-3 and Luke 9:27-29, Jesus is speaking about His transfiguration, not His second coming. It is interesting to note that Matthew faithfully transcribes Mark’s account—he tells us that “six days later” (17:1) Jesus was transfigured before three of His disciples.

But what of inerrancy? What do we do? The solution, according to their presumptions, is reconciliation: Jesus must have been transfigured twice! Once after six days, and once after eight. (Not.) The inerrantists know that such a claim would even make old Grandma Jane laugh on Sunday morning. Therefore, they say that Luke must be counting Jesus’ speeches as occurring for roughly two days and then, at the end of his speech, Jesus issued the statement that some would not taste death before seeing the kingdom of God come with power. Basically, Jesus spoke for two days, issued the statement at the end of day two, and then six days later was transfigured. If you are good at math, then you know that six plus two equals eight. So, theoretically speaking, Luke was right and so were Mark and Matthew. Therefore, there is no contradiction. But who said it was? It is not a “contradiction,” just a regular human error of inexactness. Besides, six is a holy number in the Bible but eight…what ever happened in eight days?[23]

And if things get really hard, one can always pull out the Ace in the card game: the argument from the autographs. All the inerrantist needs to do now is terminate the argument. And terminate it does! Who could argue against an invisible, never-before-seen, imaginary “original manuscript” (autograph) that is free from error? In fact, all an inerrantist has to do is say that the original Greek text of Luke read “six days later.” Problem solved. (Not really.)

To resort to the inspired, inerrant, “original manuscripts” is merely “weasel wording.”[24] Most intelligent humans can easily see through this smoke screen. And the problem with the autograph(s) is not just that it does not exist—be it the singular, complete manuscript or the plural scattered collection of manuscripts—but that such a document is relatively meaningless for us today. Even if the autographs did exist, what purpose would they serve us if they had long ago turned to dust? As other scholars before me have said, the non-existence of the autograph and its total disappearance only—and very frighteningly—reassures us that God cares not about His Word, to the extent that the inerrantists say that He cares about it; or else He would have preserved some manuscript or group of manuscripts to this day that would have been recognized by most or some as authoritative. Had God bothered to totally and verbally inspire—or “spire,” as Warfield would have it—the original manuscripts, He would have went through all of the pains to maintain them verbally pure throughout the ages.

Inerrancy and Contradictions

We should predict the way that inerrantists handle contradictions by now. They resort to circular reasoning and insane “little-green-man-on-the-moon”-like arguments. They, too, have a hidden agenda and obvious presuppositions: inerrancy. For example, when dealing with the idea of error and contradiction, Warfield says it well: “[N]ot a single case of error can be proved [in the Bible]…”[25] He was referring to historical, doctrinal, and scientific errors. Not one could be proved. And how right he was! Of course, with a theory that cannot be tested, cannot be disproved, cannot be proved, how could one go about “proving” anything? A closer, in-the-know look at the inerrantist methods will reveal my point clearly.

John W. Gerstner writes that when the Bible contradicts itself, one must figure out—in some instances—if one text is speaking phenomenologically (God only appears to be doing something but He’s really not doing it) or whether it is actually referring to an actual deed/action of God; an action that is not poetical or metaphorical. Sometimes, as all Bible readers know, God is said to be a “consuming fire” (Deut. 4:24). We all know that God may, or may not, be a consuming fire. He might just appear that way to us, or He really may be a fire. God is portrayed as “repenting” not a few times in Scripture (Genesis 6:6; Deut. 32:36; Jer. 18:10, etc.). However, in other places, God is portrayed as a God who does not repent (Num. 23:19; 1 Sam. 15:29). What do we do with these rather weird and obvious contradictions? The inerrantists offer their best by saying, “Those passages of Scripture in which God is said to repent, are to be interpreted on the same principle as those in which He is said to ride on the wings of the wind, or walk through the earth.”[26] Notice that this is mere speculation and hypothesizing—do the inerrantists really know that God does not “walk through the Earth”? Moreover, who said that He cannot? A mere human inerrantist? This is all presupposition. The inerrantist is coming to the text (eisegesis) with a bucket full of presuppositions and he thinks that everyone else must do the same. His presupposition is obvious: wherever he says the text is being phenomenological, it is phenomenological—wherever he says the text is speaking realistically and literally, it must be in accordance with his preconceived notions. It is all about him. Not about the Bible. His opinions and his ideas. It is about time the inerrantists woke up and realized their problems. It is not that the errantists are without problems, it is the fact that the inerrantists have many more.

The greatest thing to fall back on when debating, for the inerrantist, is to the alleged claim that Judaism believed in an error-free collection of Scriptures. Many inerrantists point out that Second Temple Judaism held on to an inerrant text. To be sure, such a view is held by both Flavius Josephus and Philo of Alexandria, but that was not the only view. Since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, our knowledge of ancient Judaism has literally exploded beyond recognition. We now know that the Essenes, the alleged authors and owners of the Scrolls, believed in contradictions. We know this simply from the fact that ancient genealogical tables, those found in the Torah, all have their numbers changed. Why? Because the ancients’ texts numbers, when added up, did not make any sense. So an Essene, or a Jewish scribe before him, would have altered the numbers to make them fit the picture because they were contradictory and did not make sense! Michael O. Wise, a renowned Dead Sea Scroll scholar, describes this “chronology problem” perfectly, I will quote him at length:

“Early in the transmission process of the biblical books, anonymous scribal copyists began to calculate the chronology of various events about which the Bible gives numerical information. For example, these scholars began to add up the numbers given in Genesis. They soon realized that, as presented in texts that had come down to them, these numbers imply that some of Noah’s ancestors lived through the Flood. Yet Genesis explicitly says the opposite: none survived other than those on the ark. The scholars solved the problem straightforwardly and efficiently. They simply changed the numbers. The unchanged version of the numbers survives in the text of the Greek version of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint (Gen. 5). For the most part our modern Bibles translate the traditional text and therefore present the changed numbers.”[27]

The Greek Septuagint presents us with these ancient “pure and unchanged” numbers. But since most scholars prefer the Hebrew Masoretic text (sometimes called the “traditional text”) of the Hebrew Bible, Christians have not been seeing and reading these “contradictions”—it seems that the inerrantists have finally, in some way, won.

The Essenes also had many different versions of the same book. Some manuscript fragments agree with the shorter Septuagint Jeremiah, while other fragments agree with the Hebrew Masoretic text. The Essenes accepted both (different) versions as Scripture. This proves that Scripture, for this large Jewish sect, was rather fluid and not necessarily “static”; a prophet could go in and change the text (under the influence of the Holy Spirit, of course). A prophet could even write a text—which they did. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that many texts purportedly written by Moses himself are found amongst the Dead Sea Scrolls. Never-before-seen—and some “old”—Psalms of David have surfaced, too. Psalm 154, for hundreds of years preserved primarily by the Syrian church, was also found amongst the Scrolls, preserved in ancient Hebrew, almost perfectly intact. Though our Psalter has only 150 psalms, the community at Qumran preserved more ancient additional psalms. These so-called apocryphal texts are sometimes quoted in the Essene literature as Scripture. For example, Jubilees, an ancient Jewish text purportedly given to Moses on Mt. Sinai, was, for many years, considered Scripture by the Ethiopian church. It existed, before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, only in Greek, Syriac, Latin, and Ethiopic translations. A large number of manuscripts of the book were found at Qumran. What is interesting is this: contrary to popular opinion, ancient Judaism had no set canon of Scripture and used other texts as Scripture. The Essenes quoted Jubilees as Scripture throughout their writings.[28] Because of the evidence, it is simply wrong to say that the ancient Jews all believed in inerrancy, and, therefore, we should believe it. Alternatively, we must recognize that Scripture was treated as holy, yes, but not unalterable. Of course, it was mainly altered because of the presupposition that, as always, human scribes made mistakes. One way or another, inerrancy is impossible.

The Essenes accepted different versions of the same book as Scripture. This also proves, somewhat, that inerrancy—verbal inerrancy—is absolutely ruled out as a theological option for the Qumranites. If verbal inerrancy were an option, the Essenes would have selected one single version of a given text and would have only quoted that sole text as authoritative. However, because words did not really matter, they allowed paraphrase. Every single word was not important. That is where the Essenes—ancient Judaism, I dare say, too—do not agree with the inerrantists. The inerrantists meaninglessly claim that inerrancy is ancient, and, therefore, authoritative. (As if everything ancient is trustworthy.) But, as I have briefly shown, that is simply not true. What was accepted as Scripture by the Essenes was the text as a homogenous whole. It may be safe to say that they believed in the inerrancy of the holistic message.

What must be set in opposition to this view held by the Essenes and early Judaism is the view espoused by the inerrantists. (We have already seen how early Judaism did not universally accept verbal inspiration.) Robert D. Preus summarizes the inerrantists’ position well:

“It is significant that the church and the synagogue in the postapostolic age held an essentially identical view of Scripture [that is, an “inerrantist view”]. Normative Tannaite Judaism professed to teach nothing but what was taught explicitly or implicitly in the Old Testament Scriptures. Although their hermeneutical principles and interpretation were different from that of the New Testament writers and the early church fathers, their understanding of the nature of biblical authority seems to have been the same. Both groups believed that the contents of the Scriptures were consistent and homogenous and the there were no contradictions in Scripture. Scripture was considered to be the Word of God in the sense of representing verbal, cognitive revelation. The idea of progressive revelation was impossible, if such a notion meant that a complete and saving revelation was not given to Moses.”[29]

There are a few things that are not exactly correct about this statement. First of all, early Judaism did not believe in a “complete and saving” revelation given to Moses. Had that been true, the Essenes would not have been writing additional material coming from the lips of Moses. It is true that Moses was prophet par excellence but that did not mean that everything he said was written—oral tradition was just as valid. Therefore, written Scripture was not necessarily more reputable than centuries old oral tradition. And such oral tradition was probably being written down by the Essenes and was being treated as Scripture. Secondly, it is simply not true that early Judaism believed in verbal revelation. Yes, later Rabbinic Judaism did—consummating in the Masoretic scribes of Tiberias—but that is reading later Rabbinic and Talmudic Judaism into the first-century.

Another rather narrow-minded view taught by the inerrantists is the belief that the Bible teaches inerrancy. They are correct that some of the Bible does teach some form (yet to be identified) of inerrancy, but other Scripture passages clearly suggest the complete opposite. Norman L. Geisler, one of the leading inerrantists in America, says, “The doctrine of inerrancy is the only valid conclusion from two clearly taught truths of Scripture: (1) the Bible is the very utterance of God; (2) whatever God affirms is completely true and without error.”[30] There are so many things wrong with this statement that I will now treat it at some length here.

The doctrine of inerrancy is not the only “valid conclusion.” (In fact, who determines what is valid and what is not, Geisler?) Plenty of Scriptural passages highlight the fact that mankind has corrupted God’s written and oral Word. The prophet Jeremiah, who was active during the Babylonian Captivity, clearly reiterates my precise point: “How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us’? But behold, the lying pen of the scribes has made it into a lie” (Jer. 8:8 ESV). There is no doubt here that Jeremiah is attacking the scribes at Jerusalem. He is attacking the Law head-on. This point is further sharpened in his attack of the sacrificial system—which he says never came from God but was totally fabricated by men (Jer. 7:22). It will simply do us justice to remember that Jesus himself annulled some laws and commands given by Moses to the people of Israel (Mark 10:1-12; Matt. 19:8).

As can be seen, Geisler is cherry-picking the text even though holding on to a view that suggests that the entire Bible is authoritative. His greatest mistake is his stating that “the Bible” is the “very utterance of God.” Again, which Bible? The Catholic canon or the Protestant? His list of presuppositions is never-ending. He completely ignores canon and reads a set canon into the first century. And that, again, is simply not true. Had that been true, there would not have been a need for the Council of Jamnia in 90 A.D. Long after the days of Jesus, the canon was still open and books were tossed between the borders of canonical and non-canonical.

The inerrantists are wrong in supposing that there is some imaginary “original” text to fall back on. Sure, for some books of the Bible, there very well may be. But for others—Judges, Daniel, Esther, etc.—that is simply not true. The Essenes have taught us that, and they have taught us well. Inerrancy cannot claim an “original” text when there appears to be no “original” text. What we can claim is this: we have a mass multitude of sometimes diverse and conflicting texts. Now, we can try to figure out what is most likely original—be it original to the author or to a group[31] of authors—but we simply cannot believe in a bizarre original text that we will, most likely, never truly restore. (And if someone did restore it, who would accept it as authoritative?) Therefore, I conclude that the autograph card pulled by many inerrantists is simply an escape clause that has a multitude of issues and should be, at the very least, viewed with utter suspicion. Caution by both parties must be wisely exercised. Those who laugh at the autograph card must recognize that it could, in theory, exist, at least for some books of the Bible; those who accept the theory wholesale must admit that it is highly unlikely that we will ever restore the text.

Conclusion

What are we to do with a body of literature deemed Scripture but that is obviously somewhat corrupted? Do we simply proclaim the entire body of sacred literature as false and useless? Do we reject some parts and accept others? Do we become Marcions and bring razor to the text? Or do we simply accept the truth—the fact that inerrancy, from the very beginning, was a horrible idea? I don’t have many answers to offer. There are two extreme responses here. Paul D. Feinberg writes: “The Bible is a complete revelation of all that man needs for faith and practice.”[32] In total opposition to this statement is Søren Kierkegaard’s: “In the main, a reformation which sets the Bible aside would have as much validity now as Luther’s breaking with the pope,” and so, “the Bible societies have done irreparable damage. Christianity has long needed a religious hero who in fear and trembling had the courage to forbid people to read the Bible.”[33] Though Kierkegaard is obviously overstating his case—taking things to an extreme, using Jesus-like hyperbole—he is quite right. We need to take the Bible from the people because some of us (most?) do not understand much of it and use it in a way that defeats its own purpose. I shall conclude with a funny statistic: More than fifty percent of the people who believe that the Bible is inerrant cannot name the four Gospels![34] It is time for us to believe and read an errant text. The question should not be who believes in the inerrant Word of God, but who reads the errant Word. And that says enough.

Written by: Moses Y. Mikheyev

FOOTNOTES:

[1] For “evidence” one may include the inconsistencies between Jesus’ life ministry in the Gospel parallels: did He go to Cana shortly after His baptism (Jn 2) or did He go to the mountains to be tempted for forty days (Mk 9-13; Mt 3:16-17 and 4:1-3; Lk 3:21-22 and 4:1-2); did He cleanse the Temple in the beginning of His ministry (Jn 2:13-25) or at the end (Mk 11:15-19; Mt 21:12-17; Lk 19:45-48, 20:1-8)? Was He involved in a Samaritan mission (Jn 4; Lk 10:30-37) or was He not (Mt 10:5-6, 15:24)? The Sermon on the Mount happened on a mountain (Mt 6:9) or on a plain (Lk 6:17). A downright mistake is whether Judas bought the field (Acts 1:16-19) or whether it were the Pharisees (Mt 27:6-7).

[2] Inerrancy, ed. Norman L. Geisler (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1980).

[3] Christ’s sometimes exalted view of Scripture, when it suited His purposes, is beautifully displayed by John W. Wenham, “Christ’s View of Scripture,” in Inerrancy, ed. Norman L. Geisler, pp. 3-36.

[4] ESV.

[5] It is always wise not to be anachronistic: do not look into your own 21st century Bible and define Jesus’ words—for we do not know what “prophets” He was talking about. He could have included Enoch as a prophet (1 Enoch) or He could have excluded some prophet or prophets. We must not read anything into this statement.

[6] Quoted by Henry Krabbendam, “B.B. Warfield vs. G.C. Berkouwer on Scripture,” in Inerrancy, ed. Norman L. Geisler, 428.

[7] Even the conservative Bruce M. Metzger of Princeton Theological Seminary rejected Petrine authorship for this epistle. This is no place to list the problems but something may be said: (1) this epistle is first quoted in the late second century; (2) the authority of this epistle is doubted by many early Christians; and (3) this epistle is incorporating much of Jude and talks about the apostles as if they were something of the past.

[8] 2 Peter 1:19-21 ESV.

[9] 2 Peter 3:15-16 ESV.

[10] In scholarly circles, there is a debate over whether there were seven of Paul’s letters first circulating or ten. One way or another, 2 Peter does not include the Pastoral Epistles and probably Hebrews. In fact, he could be speaking about only a handful of letters, say, 1 Corinthians, Galatians and 1 Thessalonians—therefore, that would exclude many writings now found in our Western New Testament canon.

[11] G.C. Berkouwer, Holy Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), 140.

[12] Quoted by Gordon R. Lewis, “The Human Authorship of Inspired Scripture,” in Inerrancy, ed. Norman L. Geisler, 231. Italics in the original.

[13] The entire Statement can be found in the Appendix of Inerrancy, ed. Norman L. Geisler, 493-502.

[14] Footnote number 102 in Inerrancy, ed. Norman L. Geisler, 481.

[15] Robert D. Preus, “The Early Church Through Luther,” in Inerrancy, ed. Norman L. Geisler, 379.

[16] Ibid., 375. Italics in the original.

[17] Amongst the antilegomena one can include, along with the ancients: The Acts of Paul, the Gospel according to the Hebrews, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Apocalypse of Peter, and the Epistle of Barnabas.

[18] “The Human Authorship of Inspired Scripture,” in Inerrancy, ed. Norman L. Geisler, 262-263. Italics mine.

[19] Paul D. Feinberg, “The Meaning of Inerrancy,” in Inerrancy, ed. Norman Geisler, 298.

[20] Ibid., 297.

[21] Ibid., 295.

[22] Ibid., 296.

[23] Circumcision occurred on the eighth day (Gen. 17:12), the tabernacle had eight frames (Ex. 26:25), Israel served Cushan-rishathaim for eight years (Judges 3:8), Ezekiel’s Temple had eight steps (Ezekiel 40:34), etc. I guess eight is both a holy and unholy number!

[24] One opponent of errancy calls the entire argument from the autograph “weasel words.” See the chapter by John H. Gerstner, “The View of the Bible Held by the Church: Calvin and the Westminster Divines,” in Inerrancy, ed. Norman L. Geisler, 408.

[25]Quoted by Henry Krabbendam, “B.B. Warfield vs. G.C. Berkouwer on Scripture,” in Inerrancy, ed. Norman L. Geisler, 430.

[26] John H. Gerstner, “The View of the Bible Held by the Church: Calvin and the Westminster Divines,” in Inerrancy, ed. Norman L. Geisler, 408.

[27] See the introduction to manuscript 4Q559 (termed “A Biblical Chronology”) in the excellent book that offers both translation and commentary by Michael Wise, Martin Abegg Jr., and Edward Cook, The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation (New York: HarperCollins, 2005), 565.

[28] Ibid., 316-317.

[29] “The Early Church Through Luther,” in Inerrancy, ed. Norman L. Geisler, 358.

[30] “Philosophical Presuppositions of Biblical Errancy,” in Inerrancy, ed. Norman L. Geisler, 310.

[31] It is obvious that some books went through multiple editions. The book of Acts of Codex Alexandrinus is thought to be a different version of Acts offered by Luke or someone else. The twenty-first chapter of the Gospel of John, too, is a later addition—this shows that texts went through multiple editions. Which one was, or is, “original”? The “original” gospel of John without the twenty-first chapter or the second edition gospel of John with it?

[32] “The Meaning of Inerrancy,” in Inerrancy, ed. Norman L. Geisler, 301.

[33] Quoted by Norman L. Geisler, “Philosophical Presuppositions of Biblical Errancy,” in Inerrancy, ed. Norman L. Geisler, 331.

[34] For this odd statistic, see Robert W. Funk’s essay, “The Once and Future New Testament,” in The Canon Debate (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2008), 548.

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A Policy Recommendation for The United Methodist Church: Standardized and Mandatory Pre-Marital Counseling Sessions for All Couples

Divorce in the church is happening at an alarming rate, causing empirically documented, fatally devastating harm to both the couple and, most importantly, their children. In several studies done throughout the 1980s, the rate of divorce was anywhere from 50%-67% in the United States.[1] Recent studies done in the 2000s all confirm that divorce had stayed the same: roughly half of all marriages will end in divorce.[2] The rates of divorce are high, but the problems which divorce causes are notoriously higher. One of the world’s most renowned marital researchers, John Gottman, writes, “Separation and divorce have strong negative consequences for the mental and physical health of spouses.”[3] In fact, the best predictor for dying or staying alive, all other factors controlled, is the stability of marriage![4] Divorce compromises immune functioning—making humans more susceptible to diseases and cancer;[5] it also effects deleteriously children, causing them to have depression, withdrawal, poor social competence, health problems, poor academic performance, amongst other issues.[6] Judith Wallerstein, a family researcher and founder of the Judith Wallerstein Center for the Family in Transition, has conducted research on more than six thousand children of divorce, summarizes the effects of divorce on children poignantly:

“We saw children who were very frightened. There were sleep disturbances. Children who had never been particularly aggressive in elementary school and in preschool were hitting other children. The nursery school teachers and the elementary school teachers are saying these kids are out of control, and the only change that occurred in their lives had been the divorce of their parents.”[7]

Wallerstein further notes how “children rarely vote for divorce.”[8] Why would they? The average amount of years it takes for the child to “get over” divorce is “about three and a half or four years.”[9] And yet: “[T]he major impact of divorce on the child is in adulthood, when the man-woman relationship moves center stage.”[10] And, finally, for the final ultimatum: for roughly 70%[11] of those couples who do get divorced, their kids are going to be the sad “Gottman statistics” cited above—they’ll be the poor performance college students, the ones having trouble in human relationships, etc. The problem with divorce should be obvious by now: it is not a clear-cut, black-and-white so-called “solution” to a long-standing “problem” (i.e., marriage). Divorce is, most of the time, not much of a solution at all. Recent studies suggest that roughly 50% of all divorces “occur in families that can be categorized as low-conflict.”[12] That is, many of these negative effects of divorce could have been avoided. If divorce is as bad as the empirical evidence suggests, how is the Methodist Church to go about reducing the incidence of divorce?

Currently, The Book of Discipline [2012] has this to say about marriage:

“To perform the marriage ceremony after due counsel with the parties involved and in accordance with the laws of the state and the rules of The United Methodist Church. The decision to perform the ceremony shall be the right and responsibility of the pastor.”[13]

These are all very vague guidelines.

Ethics and Worldviews: Onto a Tentative Solution

I propose that we implement a policy which is grounded in several presuppositions. First of all, I believe that Kantian ethics should be our “default” setting when it comes to day-to-day ethics. That is, I believe that most of our ethical decisions should be grounded in Kant’s categorical imperative.[14]

Second, I presuppose the existence of such categorical imperatives which are grounded in human reason and, possibly, God. However, I do not see God as a necessary axiom for the existence of a universal categorical imperative; it is possible to argue for universals apart from God (see Kant’s On a Supposed Right to Lie). Since the Christian Church at large has accepted (and continues to accept) the view that God had verbally[15] commanded humans to follow certain imperatives, it follows suit that my own policy would make use of Divine Command Theory ethics. In Malachi 2:16, for example, God states: “I hate divorce!”[16]

Third, given the fact that I favor deontological (Kantian) ethics, being one who sees duty as a compelling part of any ethical system, I believe that human beings, being inherently prone to committing both boring sins and atrocious crimes, must have relatively constructive and guiding laws by which we live by; laws which constrain and bind us; laws which punish us when we fail to fulfill our end of the bargain (e.g., punishment for failing to provide financial support for children bred). In sum, my view of human nature is, in some ways, constrained.

Fourth, and finally, I paradoxically embrace a modified utilitarian approach which coexists with Kantian ethics; that is, I see Kantian ethics as a default position which functions at large for the individual, whereas utilitarian ethics are taken up by society to implement laws and regulations which benefit the majority (a majority comprised of Kantian individuals). To put it bluntly, utilitarianism—being nothing but a reflection of a given culture wearing philosophical garb[17]—is to be grounded in and built upon a democratic society of individuals who live according to Kantian ethics. I am concerned about what benefits the majority if, and only if, the majority’s decisions have been made while grounded in a deontological approach. For example, a husband may be “forced” to stay in a low-conflict marriage from a deontological perspective (i.e., he is fulfilling a duty, a categorical imperative, a divine command, etc.) because empirical evidence suggests that, communally speaking, the children are affected by the individual’s actions. Hence a “modified utilitarian” approach.

Given the above presuppositions, several objections could be made to my approach. First, a strict consequentialist (Utilitarian) may ground his or her subjective (and relative[18]) “happiness” in, well, nothing other than “happiness” itself (in this case “happiness” being nothing empirically verifiable, being simply a subjective state). A wife could subjectively divorce her husband if he does not make her feel happy. If the action (in the realm of the ethical) leads to more or increased forms of happiness for either the wife (or even both) then divorce is commendable—if not necessary! Why be stuck in a dead-end marriage which, consequentially speaking, results in lower rates of happiness for the woman, man, or couple? Divorce is the answer. (Provided that such a divorce results in increased happiness for the couple.)

Second, an existentialist who is of a Nietzschean bent may very well object to the implementation of a policy that incorporates premarital counseling sessions for the sake of divorce prevention. “Why not divorce?” he or she may ask. In fact, “Why believe in some God or universal law regarding this at all?” Why can’t I just do as I please?!

            And, finally, a researcher may very well ask: “What if the wife is stuck in an abusive relationship with a man who abuses both her and her children?” Such questions are certainly worth their salt. If divorce is at an all-time high, if divorce is as horrible as the studies suggest (both for the couple and the children), if there may be evidence that suggests that premarital counseling helps prevent divorce, what are possible responses to this concrete issue?

Solutions, Research, and Critiques

The first possible solution is simply do nothing. In this scenario, we maintain our status quo and believe in its superiority and validity; that is, divorce is not really a problem to be solved—it is a reality to merely be experienced on your personal journey to success and happiness. We allow both the state and the Methodist Church to continue serving us vague and directionless guidelines for marrying couples. The obvious problem with this approach is that it does not change the statistics nor the research: we have a divorce problem in this nation that needs to be quelled. In fact, I am not alone in seeing this as a problem: “90% of young Americans believe the divorce rate is too high and should be lowered [2001].”[19] If there is anything positive about this particular approach (i.e., maintaining the status quo) it is this: it allows room for less government and church intervention, while allowing much room for individual autonomy. In this case, the individual human being is seen not necessarily as being in relation to other human beings but in isolation to them; the individual wife’s happiness and sense of direction is grounded in nothing but self—“I can divorce this man because he is not satisfying me in bed as much as my boss.” The children, the husband, the family, the society—all of that—is left on the sidelines at the expense of what is now commonly called (in other countries) “Western individualism.” The underlying presupposition of individualism is that the individual in isolation to society is seen as a better arbiter of truth than the community; the individual knows best. This presupposes a humanistic “unconstrained” view of human nature; that is, the human individual has the capacity to reason, and to reason well indeed! I simply beg to differ.[20] The problem with individualism[21] and such unconstrained thinking is that it neglects the communal aspects of marriage. Marriage is more than love of self and love towards self: it is about the Other (i.e., the spouse) and the family, too. “Although some starry-eyed young adults may believe they are marrying only their spouse, they usually marry into an entire family with attendant interactions, relationships, and responsibilities that extend far beyond the spouse.”[22] While Kantian ethics accepts human reason as the chief arbiter of truth, DCT balances this out with its imperatives—such imperatives which may fall outside the realm of human reason. While you may think that divorce is good—maybe God is right: it’s not as good or as green on that other side.

The second possible solution is to continue the trend of cohabitation and see where it leads. Popular opinion has it that cohabitation allows couples to find out if they “fit” (sexually and psychologically) for each other. This is commonsensical: if we like living with each other, we’ll get married! In fact, three-fifths of all unmarried Americans believe that “living together prior to marriage will facilitate marital stability [2001].”[23] Where the tongue is, there the actions lie also. So we now have half of all Americans cohabiting before marriage.[24] The problem? This reasoning doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Across the board—whether you are looking at research done in Sweden, Canada, or the United States—those who cohabit before marriage are less likely to stay married.[25] Moreover, cohabitation leads to “fairly high levels of depression.”[26] According to Pepper Schwartz, cohabitation is not a good idea for a number of reasons: (a) it is “less equitable and egalitarian than marriage”;[27] and (b) cohabitation does change the way a couple engages with one another, and those changes “don’t bode well for marriage.”[28] In other words, if you want to get married—and stay married—do not cohabit. Not only that, but cohabiters also experience more “domestic violence” than their married counterparts.[29] Finally, the research indicates that “the best predictor of nonmonagamy after marriage is how much premarital sex there has been before it.”[30] Which makes perfect sense, given the fact that the number of sexual partners is directly and proportionally “associated with an increase in the cohabitation rate…”[31] The more one cohabits, the more sexual partners one has. Jonathan Burnside conclusively notes that “the benefits of marriage, as opposed to cohabitation and lone parenting, are well-documented across a wide range of indices, including benefits to children and building social capital.”[32] The one positive thing about cohabitation which I have found? Well, those who cohabit have sex sooner than those who get married, probably.

The third possible option which I will consider here is an implementation of a policy which mandates the use of PREP for all couples seeking to be married within The United Methodist Church. The pastor would perform the wedding ceremony if, and only if, the requirements of the premarital sessions had been met. Moreover, the pastor, at the end of these sessions, would then be allowed to exercise his or her own best judgment to perform the ceremony or not.

The benefits of PREP have been well-documented. In general, premarital counseling decreases the likelihood of divorce. For example, research done on PREP shows that after counseling, Follow-up 1 revealed that 0% of the intervention group (i.e., the group that participated in PREP) dissolved their relationships, whereas 19% of the control group dissolved their relationships. A little later, at Follow-up 2, 5% of the intervention group dissolved their relationships, whereas 24% of the control group dissolved theirs.[33] Obviously, premarital is not some magical wand that one waves to annihilate or make extinct divorce; it does decrease the likelihood of it. In another study, one done in 1993, couples who participated in premarital counseling sessions were roughly 50% less likely to divorce than the control group![34] To date, there are no known negative effects of premarital counseling sessions. This is, in simple language, a win-win situation for all.

Several problems with my policy may exist, if approached from another perspective. First, what if the husband is abusive? Judith Wallerstein, despite documenting the evils of divorce, does not believe that taking away no-fault divorce or making divorce harder to obtain would change the game for the better. “Trapping people in bad marriages or making the exit very narrow, I think, is very foolish…”[35] In the end, even Wallerstein is uncertain about what, ultimately, we are to do—to divorce or not to divorce, is the question. On the flip side, Judge Helen E. Brown points out that “50 percent of the people don’t need to get divorced if they learn how to resolve conflict and communicate better. If they make a commitment and stick with it, it’s going to be better for them and better for their children.”[36] Underlying her statement is this notion of duty-based (deontological/Kantian) ethics: one must weather the storm—for there is hope on the other side.

Implementation of Policy

I recommend that we begin by presenting the latest research and statistics to the members of the Methodist Church. After these presentations, which would seek to educate as many church members as possible, I recommend we have church pastors and selected representatives vote for the implementation of mandatory premarital counseling (with my personal recommendation of PREP). This democratic vote would try to represent faithfully the will of the majority while recognizing the value of Kantian ethics and the seriousness of God’s commands to humanity.[37] The governor of Oklahoma, Frank Keating, said it best: “Since you marry 75 percent of the people in your churches or synagogues or mosques, require a premarital course which includes counseling, dispute resolution, arguing fairly, and other issues that are most important in marriage breakup.”[38] In fact, covenant marriages (a new form of marriage which requires premarital counseling and difficult divorce) is available in at least three states with “a large fraction of Americans wanting to make it more widely available [2002].”[39] I suggest that I—and now we—are not alone: there is solid evidence supporting the goodness of a two-parent home, the damage divorce causes, the value of premarital counseling, and the fact that a rising proportion of us want good marriages and counseling. The evidence is in. What will you do?

Written by: Moses Y. Mikheyev

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Anderson, Katherine, Don Browning, and Brian Boyer. Marriage—Just a Piece of Paper? Religion, Marriage, and Family Series. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002.

Burnside, Jonathan. God, Justice and Society. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Gottman, John Mordecai. What Predicts Divorce?: The Relationship Between Marital Processes and Marital Outcomes. Hillsdale: Laurence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., Publishers, 1994.

Thornton, Arland, William G. Axinn, and Yu Xie. Marriage and Cohabitation.

Edited by R. A. Easterlin. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007.

Schwartz, Pepper. Everything You Know About Love and Sex is Wrong. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2000.

The United Methodist Church. “The Book of Discipline—¶ 340a. Responsibilities and Duties of Elders and Licensed Pastors.” The United Methodist Church, 2012. Accessed November 7, 2014. http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/para-340-responsibilities-and-duties-of-elders-and-licensed-pastors.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] John Mordecai Gottman, What Predicts Divorce?: The Relationship Between Marital Processes and Marital Outcomes (Hillsdale: Laurence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., Publishers, 1994), 2.

[2] Arland Thornton, William G. Axinn, and Yu Xie, Marriage and Cohabitation, Population and Development, series ed., Richard A. Easterlin (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 57. While this statistic suggests that the divorce rate had stayed the same, in fact, this is merely an illusion. Less people are marrying, more and more are cohabiting. Those cohabitations which result in break-up (in marriage we would call this “divorce”) do not register and are not a part of the “divorce statistics.” This artificially creates, in turn, a divorce rate that appears to have stayed the same—which, in reality, has actually continued to rise…

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 3.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 4.

[7] Judith Wallerstein, “What About the Children?” in MarriageJust a Piece of Paper?, eds. Katherine Anderson, Don Browning, and Brian Boyer, Religion, Marriage, and Family, series eds., Don S. Browning and John Wall (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), 93.

[8] Ibid., 95.

[9] Ibid., 100.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Linda Waite, “Looking for Love,” in MarriageJust a Piece of Paper?, 168.

[12] William Galston, “Where Are We Going?” in MarriageJust a Piece of Paper?, 327.

[13] “The Book of Discipline—¶ 340a: Responsibilities and Duties of Elders and Licensed Pastors,” The United Methodist Church, accessed November 7, 2014, http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/para-340-responsibilities-and-duties-of-elders-and-licensed-pastors.

[14] “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.” Moreover, human beings should live according to the Kingdom of Ends.

[15] By “verbally” I mean that God had given us commands via a medium different than DNA or RNA. God gave us commands to follow which were passed on orally, in written form, or via (alleged) “divine revelation.” In this sense, God, by necessity, is handcuffed to a text (or some such medium of communication).

[16] There are numerous problems with the Hebrew Masoretic text—whether it is God who hates divorce or a man divorcing his wife in hate, divorce is not seen as something commendable. Moreover, the Bible has more to say on this subject (cf. Matt. 19:6; Mk 10:2-12; Lk 16:18; Rom 7:2-3, etc.).

[17] Utilitarianism has several problems with it. First, utilitarian ethics cannot really explain change. If a society in the 1800s banned divorce, a utilitarian ethicist would argue that divorce is “evil” (according to the society). However, the same society, two-hundred years later could allow and embrace divorce; they could use utilitarian ethics to argue for the implementation of no-fault divorce. That is, the majority first chose and banned divorce; then the same majority embraced and allowed divorce. In this case, “the majority” being most happy. How does a utilitarian ethicist explain such changes? If utilitarian ethical approaches “banned” divorce in a given culture and, later, they “embraced” divorce, is not “utilitarianism” really a meaningless term? A term that merely explains what makes subjective people “happy” at a given moment in society’s history (a society which is prone to fluidity and change—being, as I hold, influenced by other factors [such as Kantian ethics, DCT, the Bible, etc.]). But in this example, utilitarianism is really nothing but a mere reflection of the culture. Hence my accusation that it is “culture in philosophical garb.” The culture banned divorce; the culture embraced divorce. But what underlies the culture’s decisions? That’s where I say that Kantian ethics is to guide culture and society at an individual level. A philosopher that may help clarify this issue is Soren Kierkegaard. He, too, I would argue, would support such an idea. His own approach is deontological—but then he has this idea of the “teleological suspension of the ethical.” In my own modified utilitarian approach (for society at large—not necessarily concerned here with the individual), the Kantian individuals which comprise society—would be “suspended” for the utilitarian, overall good of society at large. My position is more nuanced than both Kantian ethics and Utilitarianism…

[18] Not everything that is “subjective” is “relative.” A human being such as myself may exist in reality objectively, but I am constantly experienced and encountered by other human beings subjectively; that is, I am an objective object (an absolute) but I am not ever “absolutely” known by the Other.

[19] William G. Axinn et al., Marriage and Cohabitation, 58.

[20] Those who have chosen their marriage partners in accordance with their own reason are also the ones divorcing them in accordance with their “divine” reason!

[21] Larry Bumpass, “Where Are We and How Did We Get Here?” in MarriageJust a Piece of Paper?, 74.

[22] William G. Axinn et al., Marriage and Cohabitation, 8.

[23] William G. Axinn et al., Marriage and Cohabitation, 57.

[24] Ibid., 5.

[25] Ibid., 57-8. “[P]eople who lived together before they get married are significantly more likely to divorce later. It’s true in Canada. It’s true in Sweden. It’s true in the U.S. It’s true wherever we’ve looked” (Linda Waite, “Looking for Love,” in MarriageJust a Piece of Paper?, 165).

[26] Ibid., 164.

[27] Pepper Schwartz, Everything You Know About Love and Sex is Wrong (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2000), 213. Italics original.

[28] Ibid., 210.

[29] Linda Waite, “Looking For Love,” in MarriageJust a Piece of Paper?, 165.

[30] Schwartz, Everything You Know About Love and Sex is Wrong, 74.

[31] William G. Axinn et al., Marriage and Cohabitation, 197.

[32] Jonathan Burnside, God, Justice and Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 341.

[33] Gottman, What Predicts Divorce?, 428.

[34] Ibid., 430.

[35] Judith Wallerstein, “What About the Children?” in MarriageJust a Piece of Paper?, 104.

[36] Judge Helen E. Brown, “What About the Children?” in MarriageJust a Piece of Paper?, 108.

[37] Moreover, my modified utilitarian approach would allow for a temporary teleological suspension of Kantian ethics (i.e., divorce would be permissible if certain criteria are met, such as abuse, abandonment of family, habitual adultery, etc.) in favor of this consequentialist (utilitarian) approach, which teleologically seeks to bring benefit to the majority (be it wife, husband, and/or children).

[38] Frank Keating, “Where Are We Going?” in MarriageJust a Piece of Paper?, 338.

[39] William G. Axinn et al., Marriage and Cohabitation, 58.

Words and Souls

…So tender, so smooth
Words are filling the grooves
Of your soul
You already know
That I care
Will always be there
…But stars disappear

Your heart is a mountain of love
Not giving me up
Wrapped up so tight
Got you by my side
No reason to hide
Anymore

Softly I break
Honey for pain
Your grace like a chain
Gentle to me
So nice and so kind
Words giving life
Truly you are what you say
Who’s got all of this?
Nothing deserved
…But I’m drowning in it
Soaked through a bit
Tongue in my cheek
Giving it back
So you can keep it for me

Your grasp like a fog
Or maybe you’re god?
Oh, I almost forgot…
…You’re so good with your lips
Can we stay here a bit?
Rest here and sit!
Love’s never too quick…

To pass us by

If I give you time
Say what you will
Tell me you’ll stay
Oh, words are like souls
Forever they glow
Fires drench ice
They simply ignite
Ah, but your eyes
Caressing the tides
Waters of my heart
Still churning inside
Your words are like souls
Blessing my heart
Was broken apart
I’m trading my parts for a whole
Together we’ll grow
Through the changes
The world won’t erase this
I’m still aching for places
For times well-spent
Over crooked and bent
That’s not all of it
I’m still hopeful for us
In your words I can trust
Live loving or bust
Written by: Moses Y. Mikheyev

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Unfinished Abstract Thoughts on Love for Disorganized Times: Towards a Definition of Love

EXISTENTIAL THEORY

For some strange reason, in times such as these—where I feel perpetually bored to paralysis—I find my disorganized thoughts percolating between the fine borders of love and hate. I think myself into thinking that ambiguous ambivalence is, perhaps, the only road worth taking. I claim to know nothing at all—so I write about love. In a time such as this—where my mind is freely floating, carelessly caressing the oft-cited phrases of lover’s past—I awake to discover disentangled thoughts in disorganized times. In other words, I weasel-word my way into everything and anything—that being love.

I guess love needs no introduction, but I would like to pontificate, as always. In fact, pontificating on the subject seems to be the only thing I am currently capable of doing. I am, as a human being—by all means—incapable of loving. Which is why I find love such a bothersome and curious thing.

By…

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The Bible as Bad Porn: When God Traded in His Day Job in order to be a Porn Star

Modern religious approaches towards the Bible remind me of a bad porno. Not only do such religious approaches remind me of bad pornos, they also remind me of bad acting, bad communication, bad theology, bad everything. The way I see it: the Bible is being used as bad porn. Here are my reasons for such an audacious claim.

When a modern Christian—let us suppose such modern Christians are stereotypical Christians filling the pews on any given Sunday in post-modern America—reads the Bible, he or she is engaging in what I call monologue. The modern religious people say things to God, ask God questions, worship God, read His words, meditate on His icons, etc., etc.

But God never talks back.

At least God doesn’t for the most part. (Every once in a while you hear of claims of some kind of “miraculous” divine intervention, prophecy, vision, mystical experience, etc. Such people are thoroughly excused from my critique. They are not engaging God in a monologue. Apparently, God is listening to them.)

God never breaks into the present moment.

In modern America, God has become a bad porn star. Imagine that. He appears there on the pixelated screen, naked as hell, ready to be consumed by ever-needy eyes. The pastors struggle to hustle this image to the public—they, too, want mass consumption (for it stimulates increase in prophet—err, profit). God is frozen in time, pixelized for the sake of man’s glory. And the modern religious folk gaze in awe. Like teenagers watching porn for the first time, the stereotypical Sunday-school trained religious people masturbate to a dead icon. Excuse me, the Dead Icon.

But the speakers were silent—just like God’s replies.

Maybe the speakers were off or maybe the sound was muted. Who knows? God wasn’t dead—God was deaf. Err there too: God was mute. Or, to use a more archaic term, God was dumb.

Every Sunday the modern religious folk, the simpletons, gather to watch a performance made by God the Porn Star. The pimp-pastor turns the lights down low. He wants the vibe to be there. It needs to tantalize all the addicts into life. Once that’s done, the people hear their pimp tell them about this God, this porn star. They talk. They sing. They make noise. Lots of noise.

And God never shows up.

Imagine that.

Let’s return to our first-time porn-watching teenagers. A first-timer watching porn may think the porn star (actress, prostitute, whatever) is passible. The porn star is somehow influenced by our wishes, desires, requests, and prayers. The teenager prays that the porn star pause. Right there. Just. For. A. Second. While. I…

But the porn star never even bats an eye. She continues doing what she was doing. The teenager becomes upset. “But I thought that the porn star cared about me?” Well, the porn star never has. She’s just doing her job. The job description never said: maintain dialogue with potential buyers of our porn products. Dialogue never occurs in porn. The viewer is merely a non-existent entity. The porn star is unaware of your existence. And I doubt she even cares. (Oh, she’ll milk your bank account dry just like your pimp Joel Osteen.)

The Bible has become our bad porn. There is no communication going on. There is only monologue. The monologue of the teenager watching porn and asking for more. But the porn star never responds—err, God never responds.

There is a lot of bad theology out there, too. We have our fair share of closet atheists who play the role of pimp-pastor. Pimping God does not involve the need for STD screening, health insurance, and other overhead costs. God comes risk-free. Pimp until you can’t pimp no more—and then pimp God some more.

We would die to have a dialogue with God. We would die to have good communication. But all we have is bad communication. Like bad porn, bad communication is utterly useless and ubiquitous.

All you get is…silence.

In this silence, I have come to recognize the problem with the philosophy of religion: most of us are watching a bad porno. We have rationalized our addicting habits (hence, my reference to philosophy of religion). We now need all kinds of massive, pedantic literature in order to explain away our need for the Bible as bad porn. Look at it this way. We read the Bible hoping to hear back from God. We presuppose that God is listening. We presuppose that God is passible. God actually cares about what we have to say; God may—just maybe—change His mind about some particular issue. And so we pray. We talk. We ask. We coax God.

And God never shows up. He remains a mute icon hanging on our Catholic Church walls. If God had a hearing problem, we’d even recommend a good set of hearing aids. But maybe His batteries are dead. If so, I suggest we climb the ladder to heaven in order to replace the batteries.

But then again, we’d be forcing our way into this one-way relationship. It’d be like forcing God to listen to what we have to say. We’d be forcing God to enjoy the very porn we enjoy. Maybe God doesn’t like our bad pornos.

Why all this talk about “bad porn”?

Bad porn is what we have made the Bible. It is the hermeneutical lens by which we read and interpret the vast literature. Just as in a bad porno all you get are sights and sounds, so in modern Christian religious experience all you get are sights and sounds. You have your icons hanging. You have a mute text before you. You do all the talking. You manipulate all of the pieces. In fact, had I been a Martian visitor, I would have thought you were God. I mean, the voice that vocalizes the Bible comes from none other than you. The so-called “miracles” are nothing but natural events that would have inevitably happened anyways (“I had a headache and since you’ve prayed for me, it’s all gone. Hallelujah!” Or maybe you could have taken a Tylenol. As if headaches don’t ever go away…). The obsession with prophecy in Pentecostal circles has lead to the vast proliferation of self-fulfilling prophecies. “Thus saith the Lord, your heart has worries. I will comfort you.” Okay. I’m pretty sure there’s not a single person in this world at the moment who, upon deeper reflection, has an absolutely worry-free life. Everybody has a hole in his or her heart. Everybody has a worry. And yes, most of our worries go away anyhow. As James A. Garfield once remarked: “I remember the old man who said he had had a great many troubles in his life, but the worst of them never happened.” You see, he too had worries.

In Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, Ivan tells Alyosha about a girl whose parents abused her.

“This poor child of five was subjected to every possible torture by those cultivated parents. They beat her, thrashed her, kicked her for no reason till her body was one bruise. Then, they went to greater refinements of cruelty—shut her up all night in the cold and frost in a privy, and because she didn’t ask to be taken up at night (as though a child of five sleeping its angelic, sound sleep could be trained to wake and ask), they smeared her face and filled her mouth with excrement, and it was her mother, her mother did this. And that mother could sleep, hearing the poor child’s groans! Can you understand why a little creature, who can’t even understand what’s done to her, should beat her little aching heart with her tiny fist in the dark and the cold, and weep her meek unresentful tears to dear, kind God to protect her?”[1]

Like that little girl of five, so many modern religious folk call out to a God who is unquestionably deaf. There’s hardly any use to debating about His existence or non-existence; if He is deaf, well, He is practically dead.

But we don’t even need to resort to Dostoevsky—I’m sure some theological mandate of fundamentalist Christianity does not allow use of Dostoevsky in “doctrinal matters”—we have our own authority: Jesus Christ.

After what appears to be Jesus’ failed apocalyptic ministry,[2] Jesus cried out what most of us feel on a day-to-day basis: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Here was the God-man telling us, telling you, what we have felt—not known, but felt—all along: God has abandoned us.

The atheists are right: if God does not talk back, maybe God does not exist. Or maybe other approaches need to replace our pornographic theology. Maybe the ancient sages were right: “You shall not make for yourself an idol” (Ex. 20:4 NRSV). Maybe our version of God as Porn Star—and the Bible as bad porn—is not what we should be perpetrating as so-called “gospel truth.” Maybe Ivan is right after all: God does not hear our prayers if he cannot help a five-year-old girl being harassed and tortured by her cruel parents.

Next time you pray for divine help to pay your monthly car payment for the Lexus you own, remember the five-year-old girl who prayed to be rescued from her parents. Remember those who have prayed, who have asked that God for help. Remember that atheist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre allegedly also prayed as a young boy—and never heard back from God. The point is this: not all people are satisfied by God the Porn Star; not all of us are happy to worship a god that is helpless in light of little kids suffering.

Very few skeptics and atheists are justified in their critiques of religion. But we cannot simply dismiss this mental scarring that I have just articulated. We cannot merely dismiss this vivid image of God as a mute, dead, porn star.

It is possible that some of us believe in God—or a god—by virtue of brute faith. In spite of all the evil, all the silence, we sit back and stare into that unknown abyss of black holes, milky ways, and wave-functions collapsing beneath the weight of the infinite glory of God.

Written by: Moses Y. Mikheyev

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov: A Novel in Four Parts and an Epilogue, trans. Constance Garnett (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1922), 254.

[2] I am referring to Albert Schweitzer’s thesis that Jesus was a failed apocalyptic prophet (The Quest of the Historical Jesus, trans. John Bowden [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001]). For a modern continuation of this thesis, see Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).

Old-Testament-New-Testament

Marcion and Tertullian: A Tale of a god Who Wouldn’t Be

In the middle of the second-century there developed within Christianity a rival movement that would consume virtually the whole of nascent Christendom. Christianity would employ some of its greatest intellectuals in order to defend itself against this enormous and all-consuming heresy. Irenaeus would write scathing critiques of it. Justin Martyr would mock it. However, the death blow to this movement would come from the pen of Tertullian of Carthage. He would write lengthy volumes covering virtually every aspect of Christian existence—whether it would be issues concerning baptism or the veiling of virgins. Of all the lengthy works that he had written, the longest one of all—which consumed his energies for a number of years—was Adversus Marcionem. It was his five-volume work that would take Marcion of Sinope to task, forever carving notches on Tertullian’s theological pistol. This work, almost single-handedly, responded to Marcion’s theology and killed it; it was thorough, fought Marcionism on its own terms, and engaged in dialogue with various Marcionite responses to orthodox Christianity’s critiques. Tertullian had the advantage of watching Marcionism flourish for over half a century—he was a giant standing on the shoulders of giants who, too, had written critiques of Marcionism.

Marcion of Sinope originated from a region situated on the south shores of the Black Sea called Pontus. He was born around the year 85 C.E.[1] and would later bring his version of the gospel to Rome around the years 140-150. He may have come from a Jewish background, as the city that he came from was also home to Aquila, the great Jewish biblical translator. According to Adolf von Harnack, Marcion was familiar with Jewish interpretations of the Old Testament (OT) and was rooted in a very literal approach—which is not to be surprising since Aquila also translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek very literally, following a word-for-word approach. [2] Christians were apparently in Pontus since the beginnings of Christian evangelization. The First Epistle of Peter presupposes Christians in Pontus, as do the famous letters written between Pliny the Younger and the emperor Trajan around the year 111. Not only was Marcion familiar with Judaism, he appears to have been brought up a Christian from his earliest years. His father, according to Hippolytus, was the bishop of Sinope.[3] His father would later excommunicate Marcion from his own home; thus forcing Marcion to flee to Rome. When Marcion came to Rome, he did not come as a poor outcast; he came loaded with money, donating 200,000 Roman sesterces to the Roman church. He was a shipbuilder and probably sailed into Rome on his own ship. Before coming to Rome, he experienced a number of unsuccessful attempts to preach his version of the gospel message to Christians located in Asia Minor. It may have been at Ephesus that Marcion encountered Polycarp, as reported to us by Irenaeus, and was rejected by him as the “first-born of Satan.”[4] Within a period of time, Marcion probably began to infiltrate the Christians at Rome with his teachings. It appears that he took a modest approach at first, giving people the necessary time to digest his teachings. We have reason to believe that the Roman church probably was initially sympathetic towards him, as he donated a large sum of money, came with letters of recommendation from his brother, and was the son of a Christian bishop. Notwithstanding all of the above, once Marcion had summoned key leaders of the Roman church and presented his version of the gospel, he was immediately excommunicated and his money was returned. The Christians of Rome wanted to have nothing to do with the likes of his teachings. The break with the church most likely happened around the year 144.[5] Apparently, Marcion had presented to the leaders of the Roman church a version of the gospel that sounded a little bit too Gnostic and dualistic.

Marcion took as his point of departure Luke 6:43. He believed that, if Jesus is to be taken seriously, the “good tree” produced good fruit and the “bad tree” produced bad fruit. Since the Creator God created human flesh, which is obviously evil (with all of its sinful inclinations), Marcion believed that Jesus’ saying implied that the Creator God created bad fruit (i.e., human flesh). Since the fruit was bad, the Creator, too, was bad. This implied a whole lot theologically. If Marcion was to be taken seriously by the Roman church, the Christians of Rome would have had to eliminate the OT as sacred Scripture and would have had to do away with references to the Creator God in the New Testament (NT). The presbyters that were gathered on that fateful day decided that Marcion was wrong.

Marcion took his money and began his own Christian world mission. His was the first massive, world-scale religious proselytizing mission rivaling the work of the Apostles. Within merely five years of his break with the Roman church, Justin Martyr was able to say that Marcion’s gospel had flooded the entire human race.[6] Fifty years or so later, Tertullian would likewise remark, “Marcion’s heretical teaching has filled the whole world” (Adv. Marc. V. 19).[7] Despite what anyone thinks about Marcion’s theological credentials, he was a man who was energetic, productive, extremely smart, and an able leader. The church that he would produce (called the Marcionite church) would inundate virtually the entire known-world and would have a united theology and united front. Whereas the early Christians of the time were too busy bickering amongst one another about peripheral matters like veiling and whether or not one should add vanilla flavoring to the Eucharist wafer,[8] Marcion was out conquering the world in an Alexander-the-Great manner. What made Marcion’s church so great? How did Marcion set about preaching his gospel and what were the contents of what he preached? To this I now turn my attention.

Marcion appears to have recognized the existence of at least two gods: the righteous/bad Creator God and the loving/good father god of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was the Son of God in the Marcionite sense that He came from a father who was not of this world: Jesus’ father was not the Creator God but an alien god. This alien god was completely unknown and would always remain unknown. The only thing people could know about this god had been revealed to us in Jesus of Nazareth. Marcion believed that the OT contained the actions and story of the bad Creator God, while the NT contained the actions of an alien god. Because of this strong and mutually-exclusive dichotomy which Marcion had set up, the OT and the NT had virtually nothing to do with each other. They should not both be read at one and the same time as sacred literature. Marcion, inevitably, removed the OT from his canon; in the process, he was the first known Christian to have had created a definite canon of Scripture. Moreover, if the Creator God gave the Jews a canon of Scripture, why weren’t the Christians in possession of one? “[F]or a littera scriptura must be available, and if the creator of the world had provided such, then the alien God must all the more do so.”[9] His canon of Scripture was authoritative, set-in-stone, impenetrable, and theologically “all-consuming” in the Hegelian sense—for his canon was “truth” that would “swallow” everything else up. His canon would filter all Scripture through its own highly-idiosyncratic microscope. Marcion comes across as an all-or-nothing type of man: either you accept his canon as truth or you go to hell! Theologically speaking, the lines that he drew between “Law” and “Gospel” were permanent, bold, and huge. Where did Marcion get this idea of breaking with the OT? Apparently, according to Marcion, from Jesus Himself.

Marcion believed that Jesus broke the law again and again in His lifetime. In the words of Harnack, “Did he [Jesus] not declare war against the teachers of the law? Did he not call the sinners, while those teachers desired only righteous men as their pupils?”[10] Jesus was starkly set against the OT from the beginning. Moreover, did not Jesus Himself preach that you could not patch up old wineskins with new? (In Marcion’s mind, this was Jesus declaring that His teaching not be mixed and “patched” onto the OT.) “[F]or [Marcion] the God of the Jews, together with all his book, the Old Testament, had to become the actual enemy.”[11]

Marcon’s hero also happened to be Paul the Apostle. Reading his Epistle to the Galatians, Marcion was able to discover that Paul battled Judaizing apostles. Who were these Judaizing apostles? Marcion believed that they were, most likely, Jesus’ original disciples themselves. Doesn’t the Gospel of Mark in particular portray the Apostles as a bunch of ignorant hillbillies who misunderstood Jesus all the time? Marcion connected the dots and formed the “original idea” that only Paul truly understood Jesus because Jesus had to commission him after His Resurrection (Adv. Marc. IV. 21, 22). To Marcion’s mind, it seemed somewhat ridiculous that Jesus would need to bring in another apostle into the fold had the original disciples been doing their job. So why did Jesus call Paul? “Aha!” Marcion probably thought, “Jesus called Paul because the original disciples had misunderstood Jesus and had not taken His words seriously about the bad Creator God.” Marcion believed that only Paul could be trusted out of all of the disciples, as he alone claims that his gospel came not from man but from Jesus Himself (Gal. 1:12). But Marcion faced an enormous textual problem that would consume the rest of his miserable existence: Paul’s very own letters.

Paul had written some 10 letters which Marcion appeared to be aware of (excluding the Pastoral Epistles). In those letters, any reader finds Paul citing OT texts left and right. He sees Jesus Christ fulfilling the OT. Marcion was dumbfounded. How did this all happen? Why would Paul do away with the OT, as Jesus had secretly commanded, and yet cite the OT? Marcion searched his brains for an answer—and found one.[12] He believed that the letters of Paul were corrupted by Judaizers. In his opinion, these Jewish opponents of Paul were so good and so thorough, they even edited the letters of Paul and made them look as if Paul were Jewish. Not only that, Marcion believed that “the entire apostolic age had been moved exclusively by one major topic, that of the struggle of the Judaistic Christians against the true (i.e., Pauline) gospel.”[13] Marcion also saw that the Christians read roughly four gospels. He looked at them and found none of them appealing. He decided that, since Luke was Paul’s companion, Luke’s Gospel must have been more original to the authentic gospel message. But even Luke’s version of things has way too much Jewish material in it. Marcion was not moved by this: the Jews got to it before he did! He believed that the Gospel of Luke must have been corrupted by these same Judaizing false apostles. But Marcion was not as arrogant and autocratic as he initially seems to be; you see, he was actually somewhat of a modest man. Marcion wanted to have an authentic gospel and suffered the “temptation to write such a gospel himself”[14] and yet it is “[h]ere in particular there is shown with special clarity and remarkable interweaving of criticism and fidelity to history.”[15] Marcion did not write a gospel on his own authority, though he certainly could have, but worked tirelessly to “restore” the texts he had before him. Marcionites were, as Origen would later put it, “slaves to pure history” (Comm. XV.3 in Matt., T. III).[16] He worked hard to restore the biblical texts he set out to restore—he would later leave the task of “restoring” to his devoted followers. The texts he had chosen to include in his canon were eleven in number: ten of Paul’s epistles and the Gospel of Luke (all of which were combed for “corruption”; thus being, to our mind, “highly-edited”).

Marcion saw himself as a restorer of the text and felt that this was his special calling in life—he truly was a man that “thought with his blood.” He was, arguably, the first protestant reformer in Christian church history; albeit, a heretical one at that! Being a self-proclaimed textual critic, he set about editing the texts before him in a thorough-going manner. References to Peter and Paul in Galatians 1:18-24 were excised wholesale; Peter could not be seen as in agreement with Paul.[17] The text about Abraham and all that “Old Testament gibberish” was removed from Galatians 3:15-25. The reference to the “seed of Abraham” in verse 29 was also deleted. Since the alien god of Jesus Christ was non-judgmental, loving and good, he would not— as in the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:17— “destroy” any man. Where the text read “God will destroy him” Marcion felt obligated to convert this phrase into “he will be destroyed.” There simply was no room in Marcion’s theology for a “destroying” God who was tied to Jesus.[18] In 2 Corinthians 7:1 Paul writes “let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit.”[19] Marcion would have nothing to do with this—he changed “spirit” into “blood.”[20] References to the OT like phrases such as “as it is written” in places like Romans 1:17 were deleted; how could Paul, who knew that the OT was from the bad god, cite the bad god’s text?[21] Marcion believed that Jesus was not born of Mary since He could not participate in the Creator God’s matter. So in Luke 8:19 the reference to Jesus’ mother and brothers was deleted.[22] Many such emendations were made to the Marcionite Canon.

But why did Marcion refuse to believe that Jesus took on a human physical body? The reason was simple: Jesus had come from an alien god and He was not about to put on any bad “fruit” created by the bad Creator God. Marcionite ethics were as radical as Marcionite “textual criticism.” Marcion’s theology had huge implications for human daily activity. For example, if a couple were interested in getting married, Marcion would object and tell the couple to refrain from the evil inclinations of the flesh. In fact, to participate in communion, Marcionite Christians had to either be widowed, eunuchs, or single virgins; one could not be married.[23] To participate in sexual union was to obey the commands of the bad Creator God who had said, “Be fruitful and multiply.” Moreover, to reproduce would be to produce more human beings that would be trapped in this evil world and evil body. One could not satisfy the flesh in eating habits also. For Marcion, even enjoying created food was sinful; how could a true Marcionite Christian enjoy the “bad fruit” of the Creator God? Impossible! This meant that Marcionite Christians would, essentially, be extremely ascetic. They rejected wealth, marriage, family, sex, enjoyment, bodily pleasures, etc. After learning about such ascetic manners, modern western-raised Christians may find such asceticism and hate for human life repulsive. One is pressed to ask the question: Why was Marcionism so attractive to the second and third-century mind? It is to this question that I now turn.

During the first-century, there arose a movement within Christianity that would later become known under the umbrella term Gnosticism.[24] (Though “full-blown” Gnosticism is recognized—by predominantly American scholars—as coming on the scene in the second-century.) It was a dualistic religion that emphasized the dichotomy and separation between good and evil. The world was ultimately evil and the spirit was ultimately good. The Gnostics were preoccupied with the problem of evil and pushed it “upstairs”; they believed that evil originated with the evil Creator God. Moreover, the Gnostics lived in the problem and paradox of human existence; they saw themselves as exiles in an unknown and foreign land. This was not home. The spirit was good and it was trapped in our created body. And not only that, there could simply be no resurrection of the human body: the good god would not suffer to raise the flesh—that would be unnecessary. From an ethical perspective, the Gnostics generally fell into two groups: libertines and ascetics. Both groups had the same premises but vastly different conclusions. Both believed that everything in the world was created by a bad (lesser) god; however, the ascetics argued that a true Gnostic Christian must abstain from the evil pleasures of this world, while the libertines argued that since the good god did not create the flesh and that only the spirit mattered, one could do anything while being in the flesh. Already in the NT we find Paul battling Gnostic thinking in his epistles. Whether it be the question of food or resurrection, the Gnostics were a thorn in Paul’s side.[25] In 1 Timothy 6:20, Gnosticism is out-rightly named and attacked mockingly as “gnosis so-called.” The Epistle of 1 John is adamant about attacking a movement within the congregation that claims that Christ did not come in the flesh (cf. 4:2). Because Gnosticism was already either a nascent faith in the first-century or somewhat more fully developed, it was most probably the launching pad for Marcion’s thinking. Tertullian relates that Marcion was taught by a certain Cerdo. Taken at face value, this indicates that Marcion’s ideas were not second-century at all and neither were they innovative and “new” in their entirety. Marcionism came into a world that was already very familiar with the problem of evil, fleshly inclination, dissatisfaction with human life, and the problem of marriage. Women were often times left to the wills and whims of their husbands—seeing themselves as restrained, they joined the Gnostic movement and bought into it hook, line and sinker. Why? Because Gnosticism was very women-friendly. The author of the Acts of Paul and Thecla, undoubtedly a Gnostic (contra Tertullian), reveals to us just how “liberating” Gnosticism was. Marriage is seen as a barrier to progress in an individual woman’s life, so Thecla is told by “Paul” not to marry her fiancé—she is rather to escape with Paul and preach the gospel. It is against such Gnosticism that the author of 1 Timothy writes the following words: “She [i.e., woman] will be saved through childbearing (2:15). The author here was combating a form of Gnosticism that forbade marriage (which is why the author reminds woman that childbearing is both good and actually salvific!). All of these things would eventually come into play when Marcion came around. He was not exactly the “new kid on the block”; he came pulling baggage from the first-century. So what made Marcionism so attractive? Its familiarity. Marcionism was a variant form of Gnosticism. Whereas the Gnostics retained the OT and reread it in light of the coming savior Jesus Christ, Marcion did away with all of the so-called “Jewish myths.” In other words, Marcion was bolder than his Gnostic contemporaries and predecessors; he alone was willing to single-handedly remove the OT from the canon of accepted Christian Scripture—and he almost succeeded. But in removing the OT, he did not reject its contents entirely; no, he believed that his followers should continue reading it in order to know what the bad Creator God was up to.

Seen in its entirety, being set within its own historical context, Marcionism is a religious philosophy and way of life that helped explain away some of man’s greatest fears. In the second-century, children were being left “exposed” on a Roman hillside. Mothers would die in labor. Marriage was seen, at least for woman, as a threat to existential freedom. In such an environment, Marcionism seemed like a very enticing option. It reduced all of the world’s problems to a series of pithy categorical imperatives: do not get married, do not have sex, do not have children, do not enjoy pleasures, do not worry about this world, do not be concerned about wealth, etc., etc. All the things people had trouble obtaining (health, children, food, etc.) were rejected as unnecessary. All of man’s hopes and dreams for a better life were rendered useless. Marcionism offered an explanation for this world’s evil. It preoccupied itself with the problem of evil because the world was seen at that time as being predominantly evil. Gnostics roamed the streets the world over. And along came Marcion. He was not an outcast in any usual sense of the word; he was an ordinary individual who thought mostly like half of the other population populating earth in the second-century. Because evil appears to have been on everybody’s mind, Marcionism was welcomed in. As a bonus, it did away with the issue of race, class and sex. If the Creator God was wrong in creating us, He too was wrong in making us black, white, male, or female. Marcionism was able to provide people with a sense of complete unity and identity. There was no longer an us-against-them mentality—anybody and everybody could and should be welcomed in. It did not matter whether you were a Jew or a pagan: Jesus came to save us from this world. (Of course, many people chose to ignore this message, but they were merely “deceived.”) If ever a problem was presented to a Marcionite Christian, one could simply resort to excision: excise the verse (or problem or whatever) out! All this goes to show that Marcionism was very much at home with a large portion of the second-century population. However, despite its attractiveness, an equally large amount of people found problems with Marcion’s thinking. It is now that I turn my attention to Marcion’s greatest critic: Tertullian of Carthage.

Tertullian was a fiery second and third-century writer who composed his five-volume work against Marcion around the first few years of the third century. He was allegedly a lawyer, well-trained in philosophy and rhetoric. He may have begun his first edition around 198 C.E. but would not have completed the entire work—entering its third edition—until April 207 or 208.[26] His work drew upon his predecessors Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and maybe Theophilus of Antioch. Tertullian’s originality is brilliantly distilled in the fourth and fifth volumes of the work, where Tertullian goes practically verse-by-verse through Marcion’s Antitheses and biblical canon (with all of its deletions and corruptions). Tertullian summarizes what his thesis is in book in the following words: “I have set before you Jesus as the Christ of the prophets in his doctrines, his judgments, his affections, his feelings, his miracles, his sufferings, as also in his resurrection, none other than the Christ of the Creator” (Adv. Marc. IV. 43). Tertullian sets out to argue a number of things concerning Marcion’s theology: (1) Jesus of Nazareth was prophesied in the OT; (2) Jesus of Nazareth is the Creator’s Messiah; (3) The Creator is good; (4) Jesus is judgmental too; and (5) Jesus may, at times, appear more harsh than the Creator and His prophets. All of this goes to show that Tertullian is willing to accept Marcion’s theology on its own terms and then he finds multitudes of problems with it. In the five-volume work, simply known as Adversus Marcionem (“Against Marcion”) and being written in Latin, Tertullian attacks Marcion’s theology and ethical system in the first three books. In the fourth volume, he writes an anti-Marcionite commentary on Marcion’s version of Luke’s gospel, and in the fifth volume he does the same with Marcion’s ten edited Pauline letters. With that being said, I would like to examine the contents of the five-volume work and summarize its basic arguments. (As a note of caution I would like to add that my presentation of Marcion will, inevitably, follow Tertullian’s representation of him. For example, if Tertullian’s version of Marcion contradicts Harnack’s, then you must use scholarly judgment to ascertain who is in the right, be it Harnack or Tertullian.)

In the first volume, Tertullian begins by poking fun at Marcion’s birthplace and heritage. Using his usual wit, he situates Marcion amongst the cold, winter peaks of Pontus. He introduces Marcion to us with the following description: “Marcion was…more unsettled than a wagon dweller…darker than fog, colder than winter, more brittle than ice…” (Adv. Marc. I. 1). He relates to us that “Marcion had an unhealthy interest in the problem of evil—the origin of it—and his perceptions were numbed by the very excess of his curiosity” (I. 2). Marcion, according to Tertullian, argued that God creates evil. Citing Isaiah 45:7 as his proof text, he demonstrates that the Creator God, therefore, must be evil. Tertullian will argue that “evil” here should be taken to mean punishment for sin. There are “two sorts of evils” for “not only sins but also punishments are described as evil”; that is, Christians “take note of the difference between evils of sin and evils of punishment…” (II. 14). Moving on past this argument, Tertullian develops his idea of the oneness of God. He argues that “God is an entity supremely great” and that “Christian verity has decisively asserted that if God is not one only, he does not exist” (I. 3). Tertullian believes that if the definition of “God” is “supreme being,” then there cannot be two “supreme beings”—either one is supreme or none are supreme. If one is supreme (as is the Christian God), then He is one and He is alone in His supremacy. Moreover, “[t]he reasoning which could admit two could admit also a great many: for after two comes a multitude, once unity had been exceeded.” (I. 5). Thus, for Tertullian, the supremacy and unity of God must be maintained in opposition to pantheism. He does not believe that other gods exist beside the Creator God within the Trinity. Tertullian points out that if the OT speaks of other so-called “gods” it is merely mocking so-called gods. “[T]here are large numbers of worthless slaves who bring discredit on the names of kings, being called Alexander or Darius or Holophernes: yet this will not degrade the kings from being what they are. Also the idols of the heathen are gods to the vulgar, yet none of them is a god simply by having the name of ‘god’” (I. 7). Tertullian then goes on to argue that “All new gods are false gods” (I. 9). Because Marcion’s alien god appeared so late in salvation history, he must, admittedly, be false. Tertullian sees God—the true God—as always being present in the minds of men; the knowledge of Him being innate. “The knowledge inherent in the soul since the beginning is God’s endowment, the same and no other whether in Egyptians or Syrians or men of Pontus. It is the God of the Jews whom men’s soul’s call God” (I. 11). He argues that the alien god could not be God since our knowledge of God had existed prior to his so-called revelatory work in the person of Jesus; no, Tertullian believes that Jesus preached the same God that we innately worshipped since the beginning of time. Marcion’s alien god is not God. “God can never keep himself hidden, can never be unattainable: he must at all times be understood, be heard, even be seen, in such manner as he will. God has his evidences, all this that we are, and in which we are. Such is the proof that he is God, is the one God, this fact that he is not unknown, while that other one is even yet struggling after recognition” (I. 11). Not only is God known, but he is known through nature (i.e., natural theology). As for Marcion’s god, “[o]ne solitary little chick-pea of his own ought Marcion’s god to have brought to light, and he might then have been proclaimed a sort of new Triptolemus”[27] (I. 11). This then brings us full-circle: “And so it follows that just as no one doubts that the Creator is God—for he has created all this—so no one has the right to believe the godhead of that other, who has created nothing…” (I. 11).

After demonstrating that God is one and that He was known before Jesus’ coming, Tertullian sets out to demonstrate the Creator’s goodness. He exclaims, “[L]ook at man, within and without[,] at least this work of our God will obtain your approval, a work upon which your lord, your superior god, has set his affection…” (I. 14). Not only that, Marcion’s alien Jesus has “not even yet rejected the Creator’s water.” Moreover, even in his rites and ceremonies, the alien Jesus “cannot do without things begged and borrowed from the Creator” (I. 14). All of this goes to show how dependent Marcion’s alien Jesus—sent from an alien god—was upon the Creator’s products. The Marcionites were not only interested in the Creator’s material things, they also, apparently, guided their lives according to the Creator’s stars—being amateur astrologers (I. 18).

Tertullian goes on to show that even where the Gospel (NT) appears to contradict the Law (OT), the Creator God Himself had already foretold such changes. The Creator had issues with sacrifices and Sabbaths already in the OT (cf. Jer. 7:22, Ezk. 20:25-26, Isa. 1:14, etc.), therefore, the fact that the Gospel stands in stark contrast to the Law was already prophesied and instituted—not by some alien god—but by the Creator Himself! Paul the Apostle was not preaching a different God either. “[The] Creator had long ago rejected all these [i.e., sacrifices and Sabbaths], and the apostle’s pronouncement was that they must now be rejected, evidently the fact that the apostle’s judgment is in agreement with the Creator’s decrees, proves that no other god was the subject of the apostle’s preaching…” (I. 21). Not to mention the fact—but Tertullian does!—that Marcionite Christianity appeared late on the scene and was not apostolic in origin. “[Y]ou will find no church of apostolic origin whose Christianity repudiates the Creator” (I. 21).

Tertullian also finds problems with Marcion’s claim that this alien god—the alleged “father” of Jesus—is any better than the Creator God. If the alien god was really “good” in any meaningful sense of that word he would have come and saved the whole of humanity. Why does he only save a few, Tertullian asks? Moreover, why is this alien god only doing his salvific work now? Why didn’t he come earlier—let us say, at creation? Either he was powerless to overcome the creator (which would make him a lesser god) or he was evil and wanted to see humanity suffer under the alleged “cruelties” of the Creator God (I. 22, 24). Tertullian puts it succinctly: “What would your opinion be of a physician who by delaying treatment should strengthen the disease, and by deferring remedy should prolong the danger, so that his services might command a larger fee and enhance his own repute?” (I. 23). Moreover, once this idiotic construct “Jesus” of Marcion’s—coming from a stupid alien god—breaks into the Creator’s world to save human life, what does he really save Marcionites from exactly? “[T]he Marcionite still gets malaria, and the aches and pains of his flesh still bring forth for him those other thorns and briers: he is exposed not only to the Creator’s lightening, with his wars and pestilences and other chastisements, but even to his scorpions. In what respect do you suppose yourself set free from his kingdom, when his flies still tread upon you?” (I. 25).

Tertullian saves his best critique for last before ending his first volume: if this alien god is good and non-judgmental, “[w]hy does he forbid the commission of an act he does not penalize when committed?” (I. 26). For example, if I was to join the Marcionite church, learn about this non-judging, all-loving, heavenly Santa Claus—and I was, at the same time, to get married and have sex—what would this non-judging god do? Punish me? Since Marcion’s god forbids marriage, sex, riches, reproduction, etc., this means that he, too, is a judge (just like the Creator God). “For by not wishing it he forbade it. And has he not also become a judge, by wishing it not to be, and therefore forbidding it? For that it must not be done was a judgment, and that it must be forbidden was a sentence. So then he too is now a judge” (I. 27). In other words, “he forbids you to sin—but only in writing” (I. 27).

Not only is this alien god a judge, it appears that Marcionites fear him too. “Why also during persecution do you not at once offer your incense, and so gain your life by denial? On no, you answer, far from it. In that case you are already in fear—of doing wrong: and by your fear you have admitted your fear of him who forbids the wrong” (I. 27). But even in his judgments, this alien god is idiotic—for “he washes a man never to his mind defiled [in the waters of baptism]” (I. 28). “Not even a rustic will go and water land which is to return no fruit—unless he is as stupid as Marcion’s god” (I. 28). And, last but not least, even Marcion—that alien god’s favorite human being—was born of marital intercourse. “How can he show affection to one of whose origin he does not approve?” (I. 29). This “god” of Marcion’s has as many paradoxes and contradictions as Marcion’s version of the Creator God. In fact, one could say that this alien god is stupid and more so bewildering in his actions!

In the second volume, Tertullian further develops the idea that God the Creator was good (II. 4) and that evil is to be found in human freewill (II. 6). “[O]nce God had granted the man freedom he must withdraw from his own freedom, restraining within himself that foreknowledge and superior power by which he might have been able to intervene to prevent the man from presuming to use his freedom badly, and so falling into peril. For if he had intervened he would have cancelled that freedom of choice which in reason and goodness he had granted.” Then Tertullian continues, “[S]uppose him to have intervened, suppose him to have cancelled that freedom of choice, by calling the man away from the tree…” (II. 7). Tertullian wants Marcion to say “Yes!”— for he knows that the moment the Creator cancels out freewill is the moment that Marcion would exclaim “Look! A god full of contradictions! He gives freewill only to take it back again!” This Tertullian does to show that God could not be blamed for the evils of mankind. Even in breathing into us, when God gave us His Spirit, this did not make us insusceptible to evil. “You yourself do not by blowing into a flute make the flute into a man” (II. 9). Just because God, a sinless being, breathes into a man and gives him life does not mean that the man would be sinless too—all because of freewill. God has the right to judge sin because He has given man the ability to fulfill His commands. When man sins, God can function as the judge; He is a just God. Criticizing God for judging people is stupid. “Justice is an evil thing only if injustice is a good one” (II. 12).

After making such arguments, Tertullian tries to synthesize a theology of the OT. “One should rather see there that careful interest by which, when the people were prone to idolatry and transgression, God was content to attach them to his own religion by the same sort of observances in which this world’s superstition was engaged, hoping to detach them from this by commanding them to do these things for him, as though he were in need of them, and so keep that people from the sin of making images” (II. 18). Tertullian, in a way, agrees with Marcion that the laws and commands of the OT are not what God desires; however, he believes that God commanded these things out of genuine concern and love for His people. When Marcion attacks the OT God as being evil for commanding the theft of Egyptian gold, Tertullian wittingly responds that—since God is just, and since the Egyptians had not paid the Jews for four hundred years of labor—God was simply commanding the Hebrews to take their wages (II. 21)! Remember: the laborer is worthy of his wages (Luke 10:7). And not only that, but even where God commands the Hebrews to “work” on the Sabbath (as on the day when they marched around Jericho), Tertullian differentiates between doing “man’s work” and “divine work” (II. 22).

After answering these Marcionite critiques of the OT, Tertullian looks at God “repenting” in the OT. Tertullian believes that God doesn’t “repent” in the sense of committing a sin and then trying to change sinful behavior; that is, God doesn’t change His mind because He “sinned.” Rather, Tertullian suggests that “[i]t is to be understood as neither more nor less than a simple reversal of a previous decision” (II. 24). In fact, if Marcion is blaming the OT God for repentance—when He acts in a certain way and then changes His behavior—Marcion is actually condemning his own alien god. For this alien god at first did not care for mankind for thousands of years; he came only in the 15th year of the emperor Tiberius. This means that he, too, “repented” and changed his previous decision not to save mankind from the bad Creator God. “For the fact that he did at length have respect for man’s salvation was an act of repentance for his initial disregard—such repentance as is owed to an evil deed” (II. 28).

In the third volume, Tertullian turns his attention to the fact that Marcion’s alien god came so unexpectedly. He argues that God should come announced and expected (III. 3). Not only that, Tertullian believes that a son of god should come after a father god. In Marcion’s theology, you have a son figure coming before a father figure (who remains unknown and unannounced throughout). Tertullian then looks at Marcion’s hate for allegorical readings of the OT. He points out that even Paul, Marcion’s favorite apostle, used allegory in his own epistles (III. 6). Tertullian calls Marcionitic theology “antichrist” because it denied the fleshly reality of Jesus’ body. “[L]et him [i.e., Marcion] from now on belch forth the slime of his own particular devices, as he maintains that Christ was a phantasm: except that this opinion too will have had other inventors, those so to speak premature and abortive Marcionites whom the apostle John pronounced antichrists, who denied that Christ came in the flesh…” (III. 8). Marcion, according to Tertullian’s report, denied the fleshly body of Jesus Christ. He chides Marcion for preaching a Christ who “being flesh and not flesh, man and not man, and in consequence a Christ [who was] god and not god” (III. 8). Tertullian then argues that such a phantom Christ could not have actually bore our sins and suffered. “[T]he sufferings of Marcion’s Christ will fail to find credence: one who has not truly suffered, has not suffered at all, and a phantasm cannot have suffered at all (III. 8). Throughout his entire discussion, Tertullian cites generously from the OT texts. He wants to ground the Creator’s Christ in the OT. For example, at one point in his argument he writes, citing Psalm 96:10, “The Lord hath reigned from a tree,[28] I wonder what you understand by it…why should not Christ be said to have reigned from the tree?” (III. 19). He argues that Jesus of Nazareth was the OT Christ prophesied by the Creator God. Marcion, on the other hand, believes that the OT Messiah is yet to come. According to him, he will be a Jewish Messiah who will merely save the Jewish race and not be concerned with the whole of humanity (III. 21). After debunking Marcion’s “two Christ theory” and his idea of a docetic Christ, Tertullian concludes his third book by saying, “As things are, you are giving invitations to dinner, but not showing at which house: you are telling of a kingdom, but not pointing out the palace. Is this because your Christ promises a heavenly kingdom when he has no heaven, in the same way as he made profession of humanity without having a body? What a phantasm it all is!” (III. 24).

The fourth volume is essentially commentary on Marcion’s version of the Gospel of Luke. Tertullian points out textual emendations that Marcion made and objects to Marcionite interpretations of the Gospel. Tertullian points out that, despite what Marcion thinks of the so-called “Judaizing corruptions” of both the Gospel of Luke and the Pauline letters, Paul himself is guilty of “Judaizing.” For example, “Paul himself made himself all things to all men so that he might gain them all” (IV. 3). For Tertullian, then, if Paul sounds Jewish it is because he himself assimilated for the Jews! This implies that nobody corrupted his epistles! Making his way to the Lukan text, Tertullian reminds Marcionites that “it was only when Marcion laid his hands upon [the Gospel of Luke], that it became different from the apostolic gospels, and in opposition to them” (IV. 5). It was not “corrupted” and emended by Judaizing Christians; rather, it had been Jewish all along. Tertullian points out that if the alien god of Jesus was adamant about destroying the Jewish Creator, why, then, did he send Jesus to the Jews first? Isn’t it idiotic to believe that Jesus was not a Jew when He was a Jew (IV. 7)?

Surveying the gospel text, Tertullian looks at how Jesus cast out demons. He examines Luke 4:16-43 and points out that even in the Marcionite version the demons still flee in fear and trembling. But doesn’t this make Jesus a God to be feared? “Yet how did he expect them to come out—a thing they would not have done except from fear?” (IV. 8). Tertullian points out that even in Marcion’s gospel, Jesus still remains silent when people He heals go and fulfill the OT law by offering gifts in the Temple (IV. 9). Moreover, the Jewishness of Jesus does not stop there: He also calls Himself by that Jewish epithet “son of man.” Why would an alien Jesus—who came to destroy the OT law—take up an OT name? Tertullian is baffled by this (IV. 10). To top it all off, this Jesus of Marcion’s does not look any different for Tertullian than the Creator God: He forgives sin as well. Tertullian reasons, if Jesus forgives sin, has He not also “judged” something to be a sin in order to call it sin? Marcion also liked to play the “Jesus-broke-the-Sabbath” card: he would point out how Jesus healed on the Sabbath. Tertullian’s response is that “the work of healing or of rescue is not properly man’s work but God’s” (IV. 12). Therefore, Jesus did not do any of His own (human) work on the Sabbath, but God’s work.

Coming to Luke 8:16, Tertullian cites Jesus saying about the hiding of a lamp in a jar. How could Jesus have said that? “I wonder how one can talk about a lamp never being hidden, who through all those long ages had hidden himself, a greater and more essential light: and how can he promise that all things secret shall be made manifest, when he is all the while keeping his god in darkness, waiting I suppose for Marcion to be born” (IV. 19). Recalling that Marcion blamed the OT God for being “ignorant” in the Garden of Eden, when He asked Adam “Where art thou?” (Gen. 3:9), Tertullian responds by pointing out that in Marcion’s gospel, Jesus too asked the woman who was hemorrhaging, “Who touched me?” (IV. 20). Using such an approach, Tertullian is able to apply Marcion’s own logic to Marcion’s very own scriptural canon and destroy it. He grounds Jesus in the OT and reminds his readers that what Marcion has said about the OT God could just as easily be said about Jesus. This, however, should only lead to the conclusion that Jesus and the Creator are actually of one and the same nature. With such argumentation, Tertullian goes through the Gospel of Luke and concludes his fourth volume.

In his last and final fifth volume, Tertullian comes to the highly edited ten Pauline epistles. He begins by pointing out that Paul the Apostle was prophesied in Genesis under the code name “Benjamin,” the one who would come like a ravening wolf during the morning and would distribute food at night. Tertullian argues (V. 1) that this is Paul; he came killing Christians in the beginning of his life (i.e., morning) and then would repent and spread the gospel (i.e., the food) at the end of his life (i.e., night).[29] Tertullian begins by examining Marcion’s interpretations and emendations of Galatians. Apparently, Marcion interpreted 1:8 (“if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you”) as referring to a “gospel of the angels”—the “angels” in this case belonging to the Creator God. Thus, Marcion saw in this passage a Paul who foresaw that the Creator God would even send His own angels to proclaim a gospel message contrary to Paul’s (this message being the message of the Jewish false-apostles). Tertullian, quite naturally, responds that Marcion’s approach to this passage is coming straight out of his rear-end (V. 3). For reasons unknown to us, Marcion apparently left Galatians 3:11, which has Paul citing Habakkuk 2:4 (“the just shall live by faith”). Tertullian takes this passage and points out that Paul was “expressing agreement with the prophets” (V. 3). Marcion deleted the reference to Abraham in 3:29 and had the text read instead “you are all sons of faith” (V. 3)—it should have been “sons of Abraham.” At 4:3 Paul writes that “while we were minors, we were enslaved to the elemental spirits of the world.”[30] Marcion took this passage to mean that the OT was given to the Hebrews by the god of this world, who used evil “elemental spirits” as his mediators (allegedly Moses would have been in contact with them). Tertullian responds by arguing that the phrase “elemental spirits” actually means “early instruction” (V. 4). Such elements are equivalent to “that early schooling in the law.” The OT law would then be seen as a guardian that kept the Hebrews safe from any extreme errors. Yes, Tertullian would agree with Marcion that the OT law was not perfect; no, he would not agree with Marcion that it was given by a different god and inherently evil.

When Tertullian comes to the First Epistle to the Corinthians, Marcion’s entire worldview comes undone. In this epistle, we have a direct critique of pro-Gnostic thinking and, most probably, an attack upon the docetic Gnostics of Corinth. What is bewildering to the modern mind is that—despite all of the deletions and emendations of Marcion—he kept this particular epistle somewhat intact. It still dealt with marriage and resurrection. Tertullian criticizes Marcion for not allowing marriage when Paul allows it and so does Jesus (V. 7). Regarding the resurrection, Marcion apparently had to reinterpret the whole of chapter 15 in the epistle through the phrase “flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” He took this as his point of departure and filtered the rest of Paul’s writings on the afterlife and resurrection through this phrase. Tertullian makes ingenious comments regarding the entire episode, trying his best to point out how stupid Marcion’s canon within a canon really is. For example, Paul uses the analogy of wheat falling into the ground, dying, and then rising up again. Tertullian argues that if Paul was preaching an escape from the evil flesh, why then was he using examples given us by the Creator (V. 10)? Using this form of argumentation, Tertullian goes through the entire Pauline corpus, as found in Marcion’s canon, and concludes his research by pointing out that only Philemon, Paul’s shortest writing, was left untouched by Marcion.

Tertullian wrote his five-volume work because he felt an urgent need to combat a heresy that was in some ways ridiculous and yet so captivating. “By the year A.D. 200 Marcionitism had called forth attacks in three languages—Greek, Latin, and Syriac.”[31] Marcionism was in some ways very much rooted in the NT, and yet—from an orthodox perspective—completely in opposition to it. Christians living in the second and third-centuries would not have been as informed about Marcionism as we are now. Many could not see the differences. “The content of the Marcionite divine service must have been very similar to that of an orthodox one, so much so that orthodox Christians had to be careful not to go into a Marcionite church by mistake.”[32] Upon examination, one could see the world of difference between Marcionism and orthodox Christianity, but to the untrained eye, they were the same thing. Moreover, in a world of hierarchy and subjugation—where slave was set against master and husband against wife—Marcionism gave the lower class folk a sense of heightened equality and importance. Tertullian obviously felt obligated to respond to this growing threat within Christianity. As someone who was educated amidst a people who were predominantly illiterate (90-95 percent of the population were illiterate), Tertullian had the advantage of reading Marcion’s Antitheses first-hand. He wrote because they wrote. But what if he had not written his five-volume set? What if he chose to ignore Marcionism as too stupid to hold its own? Marcionism would have, most likely, died out nonetheless. What began as a quest for knowledge of the problem of evil, ended in the abyss of infinite evil itself. “If Marcion’s god is good and kind, why did he ignore human suffering for so many centuries? thereby showing that the problem of evil still exists for Marcion.”[33] The problem of evil never disappeared—sadly, even for Marcion. The whole of human existence was filtered through Marcion’s lenses—and yet they, too, failed. “He did not realize that his own rigidly literal exegesis might also miss the truth, and that it was possible to fail to see rightly a whole picture because parts of it were viewed in too great detail.”[34] Marcion’s theology, with its emphasis on evil, turned a beautiful picture—with a small scratch in it—into one that was holocaustically horrendous and terrifyingly evil: only the “scratch” became visible in Marcion’s theology. In all of this, “Marcion is a typical representative of Gnosticism.”[35] He may have thought he was somewhat innovative, but he ended up being just another Gnostic looking out for God, trying to solve evil. And when he was confronted with the problem of sin and why Marcionites still avoided it (if the alien god was never going to punish and judge anyhow), Marcion replied, paradoxically, “Absit, absit” (“God forbid! God forbid!”).[36] Anybody who would have confronted this sort of religious philosophy would have found problems with it at some point. A god who didn’t punish and yet forbade you to sin sounded…strange (to say the least). “Marcion’s thinking is superficial; to the deepest things in religion he is insensitive. He is the slave of dualistic presuppositions, seeing everything antithetically, incapable of perceiving the subtleties which are the very essence of human experience and which cannot be pressed into a rigid classification, dualistic or otherwise. His temperament fitted him to be an organizer and a textual critic, but not to be a prophet or pastor or comforter of sin-sick souls.”[37] And so, Marcion has died twice: he died when he died and he died when his philosophy was incapable of sustaining the human individual living in a world full of beauty, good food, beautiful marriages, children swinging on trees, flowers blooming in May, and all of that other stuff that makes life worthwhile. Marcion is no longer remembered because his philosophy could not sustain itself—it simply could not stand on its own two feet (for it was ghostly and had none!).

Written by: Moses Y. Mikheyev

Dedicated to Jerry Sittser (of Whitworth University) – for being “the monk who wouldn’t be”!

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Blackman, E. C. Marcion and His Influence. London: S.P.C.K., 1948.

Bultmann, Rudolf. Theology of the New Testament. Translated by Kendrick Grobel. Vol. 1. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1951.

Ferguson, Everett. Backgrounds of Early Christianity. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993.

Harnack, Adolf von. Marcion: The Gospel of the Alien God. Translated by John E. Steely and      Lyle D. Bierma. Durham: The Labyrinth Press, 1990.

MacCulloch, Diarmaid. Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. New York: Viking, 2009.

Rudolph, Kurt. Gnosis: The Nature and History of Gnosticism. Translated by Robert McLachlan            Wilson. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1983.

Schmithals, Walter. Gnosticism in Corinth: An Investigation of the Letters to the Corinthians.        Translated by John E. Steely. New York: Abingdon Press, 1971.

Schmithals, Walter. Paul and the Gnostics. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1972.

Tertullian. Adversus Marcionem: Books 1 to 3. Oxford Early Christian Texts. Translated and       Edited by Ernest Evans. Vol. 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972.

Tertullian. Adversus Marcionem: Books 4 and 5. Oxford Early Christian Texts. Translated and    Edited by Ernest Evans. Vol. 2. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Adolf von Harnack, Marcion: The Gospel of the Alien God, trans. John E. Steely and Lyle D. Bierma (Durham: The Labyrinth Press, 1990), 15.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 16.

[4] Ibid., 17.

[5] Ibid., 17-18.

[6] Ibid., 19.

[7] Ibid.

[8] The vanilla flavoring is not to be taken seriously; it is “scholarly humor” that probably has some truth to it.

[9] Harnack, Marcion, 28. Italics original.

[10]Harnack, Marcion, 22.

[11] Ibid., 23. Words italicized in the original.

[12] According to Tertullian, Marcion had no brains. “Evidently you could more easily discover a man born without heart or brains, like Marcion, than without a body, like Marcion’s Christ” (Adv. Marc. IV. 10). Translation taken from Tertullian, Adversus Marcionem: Books 4 and 5, Oxford Early Christian Texts, trans. and ed. Ernest Evans, vol. 2, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972), 304-305. All following citations from Tertullian’s Adversus Marcionem come from Evans’ 2 volume translation.

[13] Harnack, Marcion, 26. Italics original.

[14] Ibid., 28.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid., 46. Citation taken directly from Harnack.

[17] Ibid., 31.

[18] Ibid., 32.

[19] New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

[20] Harnack, Marcion, 33.

[21] Ibid., 34.

[22] Ibid., 37.

[23] Ibid., 72.

[24] For scholars who think that Gnosticism can be traced to the first-century see Walter Schmithals, Gnosticism in Corinth: An Investigation of the Letters to the Corinthians, trans. John E. Steely (New York: Abingdon Press, 1971); Paul and the Gnostics (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1972); Kurt Rudolph, Gnosis: The Nature and History of Gnosticism, trans. Robert McLachlan Wilson (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1983), see esp. pp. 299-306; Rudolf Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, trans. Kendrick Grobel, vol. 1, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1951), see esp. pp. 167-183.

[25] “The troubles at Corinth over the resurrection and enthusiastic spiritual gifts have also been traced to Gnostic thinking” (Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 2nd ed. [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993], 292.

[26] Ernest Evans, introduction to Tertullian, Adversus Marcionem: Books 1 to 3, Oxford Early Christian Texts, trans. and ed. Ernest Evans, vol. 1, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972), xviii.

[27] Triptolemus was a hero sent to teach men agriculture (Ovid, Metam. V. 645 sqq.).

[28][28] Ernest Evans writes a footnote here that reads: “’From the tree’ is not in the Hebrew or the LXX or Latin Vulgate of Ps. 96:10: but it was known to Justin, apol. i. 41, 42; dial. 73; and the epistle of Barnabas (8.5) seems to be aware of it” (Adversus Marcionem: Books 1 to 3, 227).

[29] This tradition was already present in the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs.

[30] NRSV.

[31] E. C. Blackman, Marcion and His Influence (London: S.P.C.K., 1948), 3.

[32] Ibid., 7.

[33] Ibid., 73.

[34] Ibid., 82.

[35] Ibid., 85.

[36] Ibid., 97.

[37] Ibid., 106.

eye_subject_object1

What Does It Mean to Treat Others as Subjects?: The Fundamental Problem with I-Thou Human Relationships

Martin Buber in his ambiguous philosophical masterpiece I and Thou (Ich un Du) argued that human relationships could, for the most part, be broken down into at least two different ways of engagement. On the one hand, there are the I-It relationships—where the subject treats all other external subjects as objects contingent upon his or her reality. On the other hand, there are the I-Thou relationships—where the subject treats all other external subjects as subjects.

When a person sees another person and treats him as an object, he reduces the observed Other to a being who is contingent upon the personal and idiosyncratic subjective states of the observing individual. That is, the Other becomes just a pawn manipulated by the subjective moods of the observing individual (in this case, the “observing individual” is the subject of the reality which we are describing).

For example, if Romeo meets Juliet and engages her in an I-It way, we could expect the following scenario. (All the following is not to be viewed as authentically Buberian.) Romeo is the subject of his reality. But his reality is not known as merely his, as belonging entirely to him and him alone. What Romeo does is act as if the only subject in the world is he. He is the subject par excellence, and the world—as he sees it—is entirely contingent upon, and grounded in, his entire subjective experience. He identifies a kind of absolute truth with his own subjective views. He is the sun and everything revolves around him. Whenever he meets another human being, they are merely pawns in his reality. He manipulates them at will. In fact, they do not even have a say in anything he thinks of them—for his thoughts are perfect, impassible, all-consuming, authoritative, and true in every way. He may see Juliet crying, for example. But the empirical fact of tears streaming down her face is reduced to his understanding as to why and how she is crying. He knows, empirically, that the what is the following: tears are pouring down her face. Everybody knows that. But a trick is played in I-It relationships: the what becomes reduced to the how and the why. Romeo is not aware that maybe—just maybe—Juliet is crying for reasons only she alone, as a subjective individual, knows. In other words, her subjectivity is annihilated. Romeo does not allow Juliet, as a subject, to exist. His subjective worldview reduces all beings to things. And there is this further irony: he takes the what and reduces it to another what—in this case, the what, as he sees it, is to be identified with his why and how. He trades in the empirical world—i.e., the (real) what—and reduces it to his own subjective views. For a second, it appears that Romeo is moving from the empirical world (the what) to the subjective world (the how). But this is merely a chimera. What Romeo is really doing is the following: he reduces the what to his own how and why—leaving the subjective individual cold and naked, unable to defend him or herself against his all-consuming subjectivizations. He subjectivizes all of reality. He sees you as you appear. He interprets your appearance according to his own liking. He then converts that appearance and says “Aha! This is the what! This is what you really, empirically, are doing!” In I-It relationships, the Other is merely an object. A thing manipulated by the Subject of so-called reality.

Now, let us look at an I-Thou relationship. Let us suppose Romeo meets Juliet and treats her as a subject. How would the relationship proceed? Perhaps, Romeo would be cognizant of the fact that the world does not revolve around him; perhaps he would recognize and be acutely aware of the reality of his own subjective constructs, seeing that Juliet, too, is the subject of her own reality. He would be aware of the idea that Juliet is a subject—not an object. Notice here that Romeo does not know, is not made privy to, Juliet’s subjectivity. He does not experience her world. He does not actually subjectivize her reality. He is only—and this is the limiting factor—aware that Juliet is a subject. This means that the fundamental difference, at the very least, between I-It relationships and I-Thou relationships lies not in the fact that in one, the I-It, the Other is treated as object, while in the other, the I-Thou, the Other is treated as subject, but in this fact alone: that in I-It relationships the subject engaging with the world at large (that is, with other human beings) is not even aware of the idea that the Other is subject also. In I-It relationships, the subjective human being engaging with the Other is not cognizant of the belief that there may be more to the world than his or her own subjective constructs. Notice also that in I-It engagements with the world, the subject (by “subject” here we mean the “I” in “I-It”) treats the Other as object by virtue of the fact that he or she is not aware of this idea that the Other may actually have a subjective life of its own.

But this is not the only thing that is going on in I-It relationships. There is another thing: the I’s ignorance of its own subjective constructs. Hence, the I in I-It relationships is ignorant of two things, at the very least: (1) the I is ignorant of the idea that the Other is functioning as a subject; and (2) the I is ignorant of its own subjective constructs—it treats its own subjectivity as objective fact that is empirically real.

We have now identified two distinctive features which occur frequently in I-It relationships. We are now able to look at the problem which is found in I-Thou relationships (and I’ve already hinted at it).

The problem with I-Thou relationships could be stated in the following manner: in an I-Thou relationship, the I treats the Other, which is fundamentally an object, as a subject by virtue of the fact that the I believes in the idea that the Other is a subject. There are two things going on here: (1) the I remains the subject of his or her reality while engaging with objects which the I, by faith, treats as subjects (but they remain objects nonetheless); and (2) the I believes in the idea of the Other being a subject—but it is merely an idea, not something one could experience or actually prove (it would be like trying to prove the existence of other minds).

Allow me to clarify why it is that I believe that even in I-Thou relationships the I is fundamentally caged in its prison of subjectivity. Apart from our minds, we experience and observe nothing. Everything, therefore, is inevitably processed by our minds. And our minds are always our minds. And our minds are always subjective. Our minds give us our worldviews. They do not give us empirical or objective access to other minds. I remain, therefore, in agreement with Kant: the noumenon is never known in and of itself as it really is; only the phenomenon is “known” as it appears. There remains this infinite abyss between the subjective I and the so-called objective Other. We never have access to this Other. All we have access to is what the Other wants us, for the most part, to have access to. For example, a person may be greedy, fundamentally greedy to their core, and yet we may perceive them as being kind merely by virtue of the fact that they only allow the world to have access to their “kind” acts. In other words, the “objective” world, as the phenomenon appears to us, is only that: a phenomenon. It is a deception. A deception we all believe in. Why? Because it is easy. It is easy to pretend that we know when we do not. It is easy to pretend that we understand when we do not. Being stupid is easy. Being certain is easy. Living in a world that makes sense for the most part is easier than living in a world in which virtually everything needs to be critically doubted and examined.

The problem with I-Thou relationships, as I see it, is the problem of I-It relationships. In I-It relationships, the world is treated as an object. In I-Thou relationships, the world is still an object, but we pretend it is something else—we call the Other “subject.” We are kind and considerate—so we bequeath the name “subject” upon the phenomenon standing naked and cold before us. But this too is merely a chimera.

The Other stands naked and cold before us. We pretend—no, we believe—that the Other is not merely an object; it is also a subject. A fact we can never prove nor have access to. And so, all I-Thou relationships are grounded in this act of faith; namely, we believe in the existence of other minds and other subjects.

Written by: Moses Y. Mikheyev

schleiermacher_f._d._e.

Schleiermacher’s Doctrine of Atonement: An Historical Introduction and Examination of Schleiermacher’s Sermon The Dying Savior Our Example

Friedrich Schleiermacher was a late 18th century and early 19th century theologian and philosopher. He was born into a Prussian household of Reformed pastors; his parents later became Moravians and sent their son to a Moravian Brethren school in Niesky on June 14, 1783. While there, he successfully studied Latin and Greek, later becoming a well-known translator of Plato’s writings into German.[1] He labored tirelessly in theological and philosophical literature throughout his life, attempting to make sense of his Christian faith. During his lifetime, Kant’s critical philosophy had wiped away any hope for traditional Enlightenment views of God and Christ, and atomically destructive work would later be carried out by the likes of David Strauss on the historical Jesus.[2] Adding to this critically poisonous atmosphere, Schleiermacher began his lifelong affair with Baruch Spinoza, flirting endlessly with his pantheistic philosophy (which later, understandably, had his critics wrongly accuse him of being a pantheist—err, practically an atheist).[3]

Two years later, he and ten other graduates left Niesky for Barnaby, a small community where the Moravians had their theological seminary.[4] While there, he read Goethe’s Werther and Wieland’s writings. His teachers also introduced him—from a polemical perspective—to Semler’s biblical criticism. It wasn’t long before the youthful Schleiermacher, along with his group of “independent thinkers,” had a falling out with the Moravians, resulting in his leaving to attend the liberal Halle University, where he would encounter the critical musings of Johann August Eberhard, a philosophy professor and disciple of Christian Wolff. He taught Schleiermacher Kant’s philosophical system, along with Kant’s “rational” religion—who, as many know, was probably committing the logical fallacy of false equal by making “religion” and “God” essentially identical to ethics.[5] Schleiermacher’s leaving of the Moravian seminary did not come without existential angst. His father, whom he loved dearly, argued passionately with his son, trying to convince him not to ever leave the faith. Schleiermacher’s father saw in his son “only pride, a defective love for Jesus, and a worldly longing,” as succinctly summarized in the words of Martin Redeker.[6] Despite his father’s wishes, Schleiermacher allowed doubt and despair to settle in; years later, he would recount “I have again become a Moravian, only of a higher order.”[7] His father would not live to hear his son say those words.

After two years at Halle, Schleiermacher stopped studying at Halle and instead retreated to Drossen (living with his uncle Samuel), where he began leisurely reading works in philosophy, despite the pleadings of his father to finish his theological education.[8] It is at this point in his life that Schleiermacher began thinking of religion along mostly ethical lines. He wanted a theory of virtue—something like Kantian ethics—to replace Christianity. What was important was how one lived—and Kantian ethics, surely, was in complete accord with Christian teaching. Schleiermacher found holes in Christian teaching about the afterlife too. He refused to accept that a hope for a hereafter as a motivating factor in an ethical theory was valid; doing good simply because Jesus told you that you will be rewarded in heaven brought what Redeker calls “a false eudaemonistic motive into Christian ethics.”[9] However, with his eyes inflamed from too much reading, Schleiermacher reluctantly agreed to complete his theology examinations in Berlin at the Directorate of the Reformed Church in the year 1790.

After becoming a tutor to the Count Dohna family, Schleiermacher’s spirit began a period of rejuvenation from youthful arrogance, rebellion, and disillusionment. It was here at Schlobitten that he, only within a mere two years, began preaching. He wrote his father on August 6, 1791: “Here my heart is properly nurtured…Here I enjoy the family life for which man is made and this warms my heart…You surely must thank God with me for his gracious providence and send me your blessings that I may widely profit by them.”[10] Here was a maturing theologian—a man who had come to terms with his God, his philosophy, and his religious past. One of his sermons in the year 1792 was an exercise in moral philosophy and theology, dealing with happiness and unhappiness as false definitions of a well-lived life. “The young preacher was filled with a vigorous sense for the moral ethos discovered in Kant’s concept of duty.”[11] At this point in his life, Schleiermacher believed that the telos of life was to become morally perfect, like God.

After completing his second theological examinations at Berlin in 1794, he became an assistant pastor in Landsberg. By 1796, he was appointed a pastor of the Charite Hospital in Berlin, a post he kept for six years, until the age of thirty-four.[12] After these years, he would begin writing some of his most well-known works, teaching classes first at Halle then at the University of Berlin (which he helped found), all along preaching sermons. Schleiermacher

“created the classic theological statement of liberal Protestantism in The Christian Faith and ushered in a new period of systematic theology by applying to theology the method of transcendental philosophy. He was an untiring academician and teacher, lecturing almost every morning from 7:00 to 10:00. Nearly every Sunday for forty years he devoted himself to the service of the Christian community as a preacher of the gospel.”[13]

This summarizes Schleiermacher’s life as a thinker. His life was essentially a reflection of a man thoroughly committed to preaching the Gospel and attempting to build bridges between those who despised religion and Christianity. He tried his best to make Christianity palatable to his hearers. With that being said, I would like to briefly examine Schleiermacher’s theology, later specifically focusing on his views of Christ and atonement.

Schleiermacher’s theology is somewhat difficult to explain for the uninitiated. Despite this fact, I will attempt clarity possibly at the expense of robust depth and accuracy. Schleiermacher obviously believed that God existed. God, for Schleiermacher, was that Being upon whom all life depends. The universe is absolutely dependent upon God. Redeker relates how Schleiermacher “referred to God as the ultimate power active not simply in a supernatural realm but permeating the whole of reality.”[14] God was, quite literally and biblically, “all in all” (see Ephesians 4:6). But could humans possibly know this God? Could they somehow come to know God by natural theology or by means of reason alone? Schleiermacher thought not. He did not think—and here he seemed to agree with Kant—that knowing God was possible. Schleiermacher viewed God, to use an anachronistic term over-used by Karl Barth, “wholly Other.” God was out there to our sinful, unredeemed minds. But in reality, God was omnipresent: He was everywhere. Space did not confine Him. Schleiermacher accepted “the basis of critical transcendental philosophy” in which “God cannot be the object of human knowledge, since human knowledge is bound to space and time and the categories of reason, i.e., the finite world.”[15] Here lies a most crucial point in understanding Schleiermacher’s theology: God is infinite and we are finite. Between the two lies a vast abyss of absolute nothingness. Our reason cannot cross over from the realm of the finite into the realm of the infinite. All we can do is hope to God that God does something. God, being infinite, cannot be understood by finite creatures. The reason being, for Schleiermacher, quite simple: God is not a part of the space-time continuum. God is infinite, thus time does not exist for Him, and neither does space. This also brings us to Schleiermacher’s next point: for God there are no subject-object distinctions. In the realm of the infinite “reality is not yet divided into subject and object.”[16] Human beings usually deal with past, present, and future—being bound by space-time—and objectification of the Other, being bound by subjectivity and the limitations of human reason. Essential to Schleiermacher’s theology, therefore, is the utter “non-objectifiability of God.”[17] The question then arises: how do we know God? Schleiermacher responds: we don’t. We never know God nor do we know anything about God. To talk about the “about-ness” of God is ridiculous; the moment we do this, we are immediately objectifying God, the infinite, and wrenching Him into the realm of space-time finitude. No, God is to be left alone. All Christians can do is participate in “God-consciousness,” which is strictly different than what we would call “consciousness about God.”

But then a miracle happens.

God decides, graciously (and please do note my use of “grace-filled” terminology), to instill in human beings a feeling. Note that this is not God instilling a particular logic or a particular form of reasoning; no, God instills in human beings a feeling. This is Schleiermacher’s most oft-cited phrase: “the feeling of absolute dependence.” In its entirety, Schleiermacher actually wrote in The Christian Faith: “The feeling of absolute dependence is in and of itself God’s co-presence in self-consciousness.”[18] But what did he mean by that phrase? Redeker sees, at the very least, two truths being conveyed here: (1) “God, as Creator, creates and preserves our human existence and instills in us the religious feeling of creatureliness”; and (2) “In this feeling of creatureliness we became certain that God vitally permeates the entire world.”[19] Our ability to feel dependent upon God arises from God Himself. We do not feel anything on our own at all. All humans can do is participate in “universal God-consciousness.” In some ways, for Schleiermacher, God-consciousness is to be understood as encompassing this “feeling of absolute dependence.” Without participating in God-consciousness, one cannot feel anything towards God. God exists and is conscious, and for us to be a part of that consciousness, we must participate in revealed God-consciousness. It is revealed because it comes only from God and to whom God chooses. And how do we come to participate in this so-called “God-consciousness”? Jesus Christ. Jesus is the embodiment of the fullness and perfection of God-consciousness here on earth. As “Jesus” is the answer to most Barthian questions, so is Jesus the answer to restoring our lost God-consciousness. And how did we lose God-consciousness?

Schleiermacher believed that the Fall marked a period in human history in which humans had damaged their God-consciousness. We started sinning. Sin was defined by him as being the “complete incapacity for the good.”[20] Once humans began sinning, they became less and less dependent upon God; their thinking and feelings became clouded by sin. They lost the ability to feel that feeling of absolute dependence. Moreover, in Schleiermacher’s theology, there was even room for original sin. Redeker succinctly defines original sin, as Schleiermacher saw it, as “the internal and timeless predisposition toward sin.”[21] Schleiermacher’s theology, which still accepted sin, did not sit well with many a Romantic. Sin was a nasty subject to be taught by primal man; it was not supposed to be peddled by such a cultured man as Schleiermacher. “His teachings of the need for redemption and the sinfulness of men contradicted the optimistic, moralistic self-regard of the Enlightenment as well as the prevailing philosophy of humanity.”[22] Precisely because of this belief (i.e., that men were ultimately sinful), Schleiermacher’s theology had room for a savior: enter Jesus Christ.

For Schleiermacher, Jesus was the embodiment of tangible God-consciousness. Jesus came to earth to help restore our God-consciousness. He did this by allowing us to participate in Him (in participating in Christ, Christians participate in God-consciousness). Once that occurs, three things happen: (1) The person is immediately aware of his or her state of sin; (2) The person becomes aware of the need for a savior and the need for grace; and (3) The person then responds by having the feeling of absolute dependence restored. Redemption occurs only by means of God’s grace and His revelation. His revelation of Himself is entirely gracious. Our response must be nothing but humble thankfulness.

To recapitulate: God, through Jesus Christ’s incarnation, allows human beings to witness God-consciousness in all of its glorious fullness, and, in response, humans participate in God-consciousness, becoming aware of their sinfulness, their need for redemption, and their dependence upon God.

Schleiermacher believed that both sin and grace were, in a sense, “created” by God. “[S]ince we never have a consciousness of grace without a consciousness of sin, God has ordained the reality of sin with and alongside grace,” comments Redeker.[23] This means that sin must only be seen in relation to grace. “God has ordained sin not in and for itself but only in relation to redemption.”[24] It may be better to think of the dichotomy between sin and grace as being separated by a wall which has a one-way street. That is, sin is contingent upon grace, but grace is not contingent upon sin. Humans have chosen sin—hence sin exists. Yet, grace could exist apart from sin, while sin could not exist apart from grace. Moreover, Schleiermacher added the qualification that sin was, at the end of time, to be completely annihilated into white hot nothingness. Sin will not prevail against God’s act of creation and redemption; at the end of time, when all is said and done, it will be God who reigns over all—not sin.[25] Finally, it would be good to note that Schleiermacher, because of this view that God ultimately wins (even with all the nasty warts of sin), refrained from talking much about God’s wrath. Redeker cites Schleiermacher as saying, rather dryly: “Nothing need be taught concerning the wrath of God.”[26] Such a statement makes sense only in light of a Schleiermacher’s belief that sin is only a temporary stage in human development. It is all transitory. If God, being a loving God, sees human beings, running around like chickens with their heads chopped off and sinning, He would not speak of wrath. He would mostly speak of perfection. God understands that humans are merely, to use Kierkegaard’s and Heidegger’s word, in a state of “becoming.” We are not perfect. We do not have our God-consciousness fully restored yet. Only in Jesus do we see a fully operational God-consciousness. In participating in Christ, we, as Christians, are merely “becoming” like Christ. Given this reality, sin should be viewed as (a) evil and (b) temporary. This would further suggest that wrath is, in some ways, probably unnecessary. God will conquer sin whether sin likes it or not. God will turn sin into nothingness. Becoming perfect presupposes that nasty and brutal fact that one is not perfect…yet. Given this, Schleiermacher can, when viewing history from a holistic perspective, in which sin is merely a bleep on God’s radar, do away with wrath and spend time lecturing his students and parishioners on imitating Christ.

However, Schleiermacher’s theology did demand a savior, for, as Redeker notes, “where God-consciousness has not been restored through redemption, the destructive consequences of sin continue.”[27] Schleiermacher ultimately believed that Jesus had come to leave behind a legacy, a legacy we should all imitate. The world-renowned historian Diarmaid MacCulloch summarizes Schleiermacher’s theology in the following manner: “The unique gift of Christianity was the person of Jesus, who revealed his own divinity by representing the most perfect consciousness of God that there could be.”[28] Jesus was ultimately sent to have followers. Followers after God’s own consciousness. Schleiermacher, then, viewed Jesus’ death not as substitutionary but as exemplary. But not—as some interpreters wrongly assume—only exemplary. Schleiermacher criticized those who viewed Jesus’ death as merely exemplary. The feminist theologian Mary J. Streufert points this out succinctly. “Schleiermacher’s criticism of exemplary christology [was the following:] if Jesus is divine because he does good earthly activity, are those who do good among us divine?”[29] For Schleiermacher, then, salvation-redemption was a process that was ongoing; it was not something to be identified with a singular event which occurred in the past—like sacrificial appeasement. “[R]edemption is a present process and is no longer located in a single act of sacrifice in the past.”[30] Because of this, some theologians are right in noting how Schleiermacher’s view of atonement and salvation has more in common with Paul than with, say, the author of Hebrews. He understands redemption as being “mystical” and sees it “as a union with Christ through the redeemer’s ‘influence’ (Wirkung).”[31] Hence, while Schleiermacher certainly has more affinity with a “moral influence theory of atonement,” it is also just as certainly wrong to see him as endorsing only an “exemplary” view of atonement.

Given the aforementioned views regarding Jesus, Schleiermacher could certainly point to Jesus as being a life we should model—without getting rid of the need for a real savior. Jesus lived a life in which because he was God, he was humble. And yet, as one of the earliest Christian hymns so beautifully states, “he emptied himself, taking the ‘form’ of a slave…” (Philippians 2:7, my trans.). Paul also admonishes his readers to “have the same mindset as Jesus Christ” (v. 5). If Paul could ask his hearers to imitate Christ, surely Schleiermacher was orthodox in doing so likewise. In my own words, I would say that, for Schleiermacher, Christians who accepted Jesus, along with his God-consciousness and ethical system, accepted God-conscious ethics. Hence, it followed that they, too, should live a life worthy of their savior’s. With that being said, I now turn my attention to Schleiermacher’s sermon.

The Dying Savior Our Example was preached in the presence of the King possibly sometime in 1799. In this sermon, Schleiermacher set out to do three things. “I desire, then, that in dying we may all have, in the first place, the same sorrow over unaccomplished deeds; secondly, the same calmness under the unjust judgments of the world; and thirdly, that we may be in the same way surrounded by tender and faithful friends.”[32] As strange as it sounds, Schleiermacher took Christ’s death—an event few Christians today look to for ethical recommendations, to say the least—and placed it on display before his congregants eyes. It is as if Schleiermacher had said, “Look! Here is Jesus Christ on the Cross before you. Imitate Him even in His death!” But what did Schleiermacher mean by imitation? I think he meant it literally. “[W]e all set before us His life even to death as the pattern which we seek to follow; yes, His life even to death, not even excluding the last experiences of His holy soul.”[33] Schleiermacher could not help but see Christ’s life as a model for our own. “[L]et us learn to die in seeing Christ die! It is no small thing that I expect from you in calling on you to do this; for it is with the death of the Saviour as it was with His life; let him who seeks only happiness and joy shun likeness to Him.”[34] Schleiermacher even had time to sneak in a little bit of his anti-utilitarianism—“let him who seeks only happiness…shun likeness to Him.” For Schleiermacher, Kantian ethics were still better tasting than utilitarian ethics, though in his later life he focused on a final telos in which ethics, being goal-oriented, arrives at a summum bonum (“the highest good,” to be identified with participating in God-consciousness by becoming like Jesus).[35]

After clearly stating his thesis and his beliefs about following Christ’s pattern of life, Schleiermacher returns to his first claim (i.e., having sorrow over unaccomplished deeds). This claim, Schleiermacher holds, is grounded most poignantly in Christ’s almost final cry-out: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” In these words, Schleiermacher saw the God-man sorrowful not over God’s inability to bring about His Kingdom and His Glory; rather, Schleiermacher sees these words as reflecting Christ’s sorrow over his failure to accomplish the work which he set out to do. Christ died young. And that sucked. “He loved His duty with His whole heart; the thought of the great work to which He had devoted His life still filled His soul. And when He reflected how far that work still was from completion…[He began experiencing sorrow].”[36] Christ died of a broken heart. Schleiermacher, instead of talking about blood and guts, as most modern theologians and preachers would, immediately begins discussing practical matters, such as ethics.

Are you servants of the State, administrators of public regulations; may you grieve that you cannot still reform abuses and introduce improvements! Are you independent and wealthy; may you grieve that you cannot set agoing one more benevolent institution, or do this thing and that for the unfortunate whom you protect! Are you scholars and philosophers; may you be reluctant to interrupt an instructive presentation of your thoughts, or to turn away from a new field of human knowledge! Are you artists and workmen; may it grieve you that you are not to bestow on one more piece of work at least the new perfection that you have planned or practised![37]

Schleiermacher took one of Jesus’ final cries and turned it into an ethical imperative: Go and do likewise.

Schleiermacher’s second point need not much commentary. He wishes for his congregants to leave the world in a state of calmness. “It is therefore with good reason that I wish for us all in this event the Saviour’s calmness and equanimity; for it is the result of the most mature wisdom and the most genuine piety.”[38] He recognizes that Christians will be persecuted. And, despite this, he asks them to suffer with joy.

Schleiermacher’s third and final point is, perhaps, his most brilliant, original, and ecclesiological: Be surrounded by friends, for friendship is the greatest gift one can give and receive. For Schleiermacher, friendship was axiomatic both for his life and theology. In fact, he even seen the Church as nothing less than a great gathering of friends. “We could all desire to die surrounded, as the Saviour was, with loving and suffering friends.”[39] For Schleiermacher, the imperative to have friends became an absolute demand, and rightly so.

“[T]his love and faithfulness, enduring even to death, were the best testimony that He, with His loving heart, had enjoyed in His whole sphere of work the highest happiness of life. And it is for such reasons that I wish for ourselves, above all things, to die in such company; nay, as much as lies with ourselves, I demand it of every one.”[40]

The “highest happiness” was dying surrounded by friends. Schleiermacher’s love for human friendship is soberly summarized in his comment on the loss of a friend: “It is true, a friend whom you have lost will never be replaced.”[41] Outside of friendship, to mimic Paul’s language on love in 1 Corinthians 13, lies nothing but a “resounding gong or clanging cymbal.” Hold on to friends, says Schleiermacher, for you never know the day of your death. “Even in happy youth does not the feeling of the transitory nature of all earthly things arise? Are we not often involuntarily seized by the thought that each joy may be the last [?]”[42] Indeed, this may be our very last joy shared together: the joy of friendship. And, finally, in his most sentimental moments, Schleiermacher concludes his sermon by returning to the reality of congregants inhabiting church pews.

“And what should be the nursery of sincere and faithful friends, if not the Church of Christ, the association of men with whom unselfishness and benevolence, sympathy and helpful love are natural sentiments, among whom every kind of wisdom and perfection ought to exist and to be ready for the service of each?”[43]

Can Schleiermacher teach us something about sermons, churches, and Jesus? Most certainly! As I’ve already pointed out, Schleiermacher’s concerns about friendship within the body of Christ (formally known as “the Church”) are as relevant today as they were over two-hundred and sixteen years ago. The modern experience of “church” in America on any given Sunday is about as detached as one can get. The point of many modern churches is precisely detachment. If we had the will to experience friendship in church, we wouldn’t be so desperately seeking to be lost in the non-existent Kierkegaardian “crowd.” As Kierkegaard so cogently reminds us: “In eternity you will look in vain for the crowd. You will listen in vain to find whether you cannot hear where the noise and the gathering is, so that you may run to it. In eternity you, too, will be forsaken by the crowd.”[44] We run into the crowd to avoid responsibilities. We seek crowds in order to be hidden. Like modern terrorists who wrap their bodies in dynamite sticks, large coats, and hoodies, we run into the safety of the crowd so that our true identities—along with all of our sins and insecurities—may remain forever hidden. And so the world never knows us. Schleiermacher knew all too well the nothingness of “the crowd” (even a “church crowd”). He wrote:

“Today the sermon is the only means of having a personal impact on the common outlook of a large number of people. In reality its effect is not great for it does not achieve much. But if one takes up and deals with the matter as it should be—not just as it is—and if there should be only two or three who really listen, even then the result may still be beautiful.”[45]

Schleiermacher was acutely aware of the fact that crowds cannot be taught, neither do they listen. Only individuals—two or three at best—are taught. To allow ourselves, as the body of Christ, to disappear in the nauseating dizziness of the crowd, would be equivalent to denying Jesus the one thing that he demanded of his followers: “Love one another.” But how can we love if we don’t even know who you are?[46]

Schleiermacher’s own theory of atonement, which could easily—with noted qualifications—be identified under one of the subsets of a “moral influence theory of atonement,” reflects not only the reality of the categorical imperatives which are embodied in Jesus Christ but also the reality of the Church. Richard Niebuhr coined the phrase “Christo-morphism”[47] in order to explain the general thrust of Schleiermacher’s theology. That is, the point of Schleiermacher’s theology was to get people to morph into being Christ-like. (This term can just as easily be applied to his own, unique theory of atonement.) Christ was in the business of “person-forming” work.[48] The Church, which should also be a reflection of this calling, needs to continue creating new persons in the image of Christ. That is the point of Christian theology. It is the very reason why a Church even exists. If Christo-morphism is not going on in churches, if person-forming work is not being carried out, we have not only failed Jesus, we have also failed to heed the voice of one of the most important theologians of the 18th and 19th centuries: Schleiermacher.

Written by: Moses Y. Mikheyev

Dedicated to Karen Petersen Finch (of Whitworth University) – for being a good theologian and scholar.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Kierkegaard, Søren. Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing. Translated by Douglas V. Steere. New York: HarperOne, 1956.

MacCulloch, Diarmaid. Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. New York: Viking, 2010.

Niebuhr, Richard R. Schleiermacher On Christ and Religion: A New Introduction. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1964.

Redeker, Martin. Schleiermacher: Life and Thought. Translated by John Walhausser. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1973.

Schleiermacher, Friedrich. Selected Sermons of Schleiermacher. Translated by Mary F. Wilson. 1886. Reprint, Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2004.

Streufert, Mary J. “Reclaiming Schleiermacher for Twenty-First Century Atonement Theory: The Human and the Divine in Feminist Christology.” Feminist Theology 15/1 (2006): 98-120.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Martin Redeker, Schleiermacher: Life and Thought, trans. John Walhausser (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1973), 9.

[2] Schleiermacher accepted the fact that the Bible was corrupted (to some degree) and that myth was present in it. Niebuhr, reflecting the scholarly consensus in a post-Enlightenment era, correctly summarizes what Schleiermacher (and those following him) certainly felt (and feel); namely, “No one today will contest the presence of myth in the New Testament” (Richard R. Niebuhr, Schleiermacher On Christ and Religion: A New Introduction [New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1964], 223, n. 17.

[3] An affair that would not begin until he had become an assistant pastor at Landsberg in 1794. When Schleiermacher was appointed a professor of theology at Halle University in 1804, Eberhard, his childhood philosophy professor, would remark: “It has not come to the point that an open atheist has been called to Halle as a theologian and preacher” (cited in Redeker, Schleiermacher: Life and Thought, 77). To call this infantile caricaturing would be an understatement. It is no wonder that Schleiermacher’s personal friends were forced to come to his defense. Henriette Herz, for example, would come out arguing for his orthodoxy: “Schleiermacher is far removed from rationalism and genuinely believes in God and the Savior…He does not adhere to the letter, not to the dead word—he believes rather in the living spirit” (Ibid., 28-29).

[4] Ibid., 12.

[5] Ibid., 15.

[6] Ibid., 14.

[7] Ibid., 9.

[8] Ibid., 16.

[9] Ibid., 17.

[10] Ibid., 19-20.

[11] Ibid., 21.

[12] Ibid., 25.

[13] Ibid., 5.

[14] Ibid., 39. Perhaps it is this particular belief of Schleiermacher’s which is responsible for his being called a “pantheist” and, later, an “atheist.”

[15] Ibid., 38.

[16] Ibid., 39.

[17] Ibid., 120-21.

[18] Cited in Redeker, Schleiermacher: Life and Thought, 42.

[19] Ibid., 123.

[20] Cited in Redeker, Schleiermacher: Life and Thought, 125.

[21] Ibid., 125.

[22] Ibid., 125.

[23] Ibid., 127.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid., 128.

[26] Ibid., 130.

[27] Ibid., 126.

[28] Diarmaid MacCulloch, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years (New York: Viking, 2010), 832.

[29] Mary J. Streufert, “Reclaiming Schleiermacher for Twenty-First Century Atonement Theory: The Human and the Divine in Feminist Christology,” Feminist Theology 15/1 (2006): 116.

[30] Ibid., 102.

[31] Ibid., 105.

[32] Friedrich Schleiermacher, “The Dying Savior Our Example,” in Selected Sermons of Schleiermacher, trans. Mary F. Wilson (1886; reprint, Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2004), 54.

[33] Ibid., 53.

[34] Ibid.

[35] For a discussion of this see Richard R. Niebuhr, Schleiermacher On Christ and Religion: A New Introduction, 93-97. He writes that Schleiermacher “rejected the Kantian-Fichtean accent on duty as the principal phenomenon of the moral life and of our sense of humanity and instead organized his own ethical reflections around the idea of the highest good” (pp. 93-94). Moreover, Niebuhr believes that “Schleiermacher chose to identify the highest good with the content of ethical activity and to deny that reason can entertain a pure, a priori idea of it” (p. 94). Though Niebuhr does not explicitly state this, Schleiermacher seems to have understood the highest good to be identified with God-consciousness which permeated the whole of reality. Since Jesus embodied that consciousness, it is safe to say that, for Schleiermacher, a life patterned on Jesus’ own would reflect, at the very least, the highest good.

[36] Ibid., 55.

[37] Ibid., 55-6.

[38] Ibid., 60.

[39] Ibid., 61.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid., 63.

[42] Ibid., 64.

[43] Ibid., 65.

[44] Søren Kierkegaard, Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing, trans. Douglas V. Steere (New York: HarperOne, 1956), 191.

[45] Redeker, Schleiermacher: Life and Thought, 73.

[46] It may be good here to point out that Schleiermacher believed in a world where the I stood in relation to the Thou (and was, in some ways, dependent upon it). This implied that human beings must be social creatures. A church should exist made up of Is and Thous. “We may also recall at this point Schleiermacher’s observation in his psychology of the fact that the consciousness of being an “I” always presupposes a “thou,” since memory cannot reach back to the absolute origins of the individual; and, therefore, beyond the point at which memory falters, the individual is dependent on the descriptions of himself furnished by others” (Richard R. Niebuhr, Schleiermacher On Christ and Religion: A New Introduction, 239). Given this reality, a “you” cannot exist in isolation (read: hidden) from the view of others. This further implies the fact that, at least for Schleiermacher, the Church could not exist as a detached community.

[47] Ibid., 215. Niebuhr also notes—in relation to our discussion regarding Schleiermacher’s theory of atonement—how “Schleiermacher speaks of Christ as the exemplar (Vorbild) of perfected human nature” (p. 218, italics original).

[48] Ibid., 214.

Karl Barth an Anti-Semite?

Karl Barth was accused of anti-Semitism when he preached a sermon titled Die Kierche Jesu Christi, “The Church of Jesus Christ.” It was preached on Advent, 1933. Weeks earlier, on November 13th, a radical German Christian by the name of Dr. Reinhold Krause delivered a “rousing speech” in the Berlin Sport Palace in which he called all German Christians to purge their Bibles of the Old Testament, Paul, and of any Jewish elements in the New.[1] The German Christians who shared Krause’s theological and political convictions, demanded the Arierparagraph be applied to the Prussian church, the segregation of Germans and non-Germans, and the freeing of worship and confession from the Old Testament’s “Jewish ethics of reward.”[2] With this rise in overt anti-Semitism, Barth was forced to respond to these recent “theological developments” in German Christianity. And so Barth preached a sermon.

Despite the sermon being utterly pro-Jewish, with conniving logic and some large doses of taking quotes out of context, Daniel Jonah Goldhagen was able to have Barth call the Jewish people “an obstinate and evil people.” Of course he failed to mention the fact that Barth was primarily quoting Exodus 32:9 (for the first part of the statement) and referring to Exodus 33:3-5, 34:9, Deuteronomy 9:6, etc. (for the second). In fact, to be completely fair, the text of Exodus 32:9 actually calls the Jewish nation “stiff-necked” (read: obstinate) and deserving to be “destroyed” while God’s anger “burned.” Had Barth quoted the verse in its entirety, maybe Goldhagen would have stood a chance at being called a judicious and sober scholar. (Instead, he chose to quote-mine and, hence, serves as a perfect example of how not to do scholarly work.) So what, in fact, did Barth say in his sermon?

Barth’s thesis seems pretty clear: Christians are to welcome one another as Christ has welcomed us.[3] And, furthermore, since Christ was thoroughly Jewish, and Jesus came as a fulfillment of the Old Testament, we, too, must welcome Jews and the Jewish traditions. As Barth overtly puts it: “salvation comes from the Jews” (citing John 4:22).

Right off the bat, Barth begins by saying that “Christ has been a servant of the Circumcision.”[4] In other words, Christ was for the very thing the German Christians have completely denigrated. Barth reminds the German Christians that Christians are called to be a “community,” using the old German word Gemeinde. There has to be a certain level of togetherness. Not any segregation.

Barth also demolishes any ideas of a Church that is completely aligned to a given State. “The fact that there is God’s Word in the Church is not established in human spiritual life, nor is it a cultural achievement, nor does it belong to the nature and character of any particular people or race…”[5] For Barth, then, a German Christian Church is really no church at all—since it is not really a universal community, but a racial community! (And Barth already annihilated that in his comment.)

Midway through the sermon, Barth really gives the German Christians something to think about: “Christ belonged to the people of Israel. That people’s blood was, in his veins, the blood of the Son of God. That people’s character he has accepted by taking on being human…”[6] There appears to be nothing anti-Semitic about any of this. In fact, it sounds almost elitist. Jewish-elitist. Barth is saying what most historical Jesus scholars know (post-Sanders): Jesus was a Jew.[7]

Then, after making those statements, Barth says that even that people’s characteristics were “stiff-necked and wicked.”[8] But aren’t the Jews the ones who killed Christ? “[A]ll peoples of all times and lands would also have done in its place.”[9] For Barth, the Jews did what all humanity would had done anyway: crucify Christ. Moreover, Barth is also quick to point out that all of us are “stiff-necked and wicked.” Goldhagen is wrong again. Barth did not only call the Jews stiff-necked and wicked, he called all of humanity that. Citing Romans 11:32, Barth said: “God imprisoned all in disobedience, so that he might have mercy on all.” And, as if that weren’t overt enough, Barth continues by adding that the Heathen, who were later accepted by God, were not any better than the Jews.[10]

So there we have it. Goldhagen was wrong and Barth was right. “[W]e perceive [faults] in each other much too seriously.”[11] This ability to deny goodness in others; to exaggerate evil in others; to annihilate the Other simply by reducing the Other to a cruel word or phrase—this is what Barth was against. He said this was what the Germans who agreed with Krause were doing in 1933. And this, precisely, was not “welcoming one another.” In doing that, we were not being a Church. In doing what Goldhagen does, we are submitting ourselves to infantile caricaturing and annihilation of the Other through false documentation. Goldhagen is not merely doing bad scholarly work; he is perpetrating the myth of the power of labels. He labels Barth, then proceeds as if nothing really happened. But something did. Barth—from a reasonable perspective—said no such thing (e.g., “obstinate and evil people”). If one finds anti-Semitism in an anti-anti-Semitic sermon, one can find a bag of shit in a non-existent diaper. Goldhagen should not merely be corrected; his methodology in this particular endeavor should be actively denounced and called what it really is: the comments of a scholar doing scholarship-gone-awry. (And such an evaluation is thoroughly justified.)

Written by: Moses Y. Mikheyev

FOOTNOTES:

[1]John Michael Owen, “Karl Barth’s Sermon For Advent 2, 1933: Introduction and Translation,” Colloquium 36/2 (2004), 170.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 179.

[4] Ibid., 172.

[5] Ibid., 174.

[6] Ibid., 175. Italics original.

[7] I am referring to the influential (and game-changing) book by E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1984).

[8] Ibid., 175.

[9] Ibid., 176.

[10] Ibid., 177.

[11] Ibid., 178.