Friday, February 15, 2008

God's Guide to the Galaxy

At the recommendation of a friend on a similar journey, I checked out Bart D. Ehrman's "Misquoting Jesus" from the library. I am prone to carrying novels around, reading while I'm eating lunch, reading while I'm cooking dinner, reading in the bathroom, really pretty much any time it's quiet enough to get in a paragraph or a page or two. Usually that's with books like "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", though, not treatises on textual critism of the Bible.

This has been gripping, to say the least. It's relatively readable, especially with my familiarity with the texts in question. Having at least an elementary understanding of the translational issues with ancient Greek helps too. But what's really getting me is the upending of so many things I took for granted about the Bible and about the people who wrote it.

I remember thinking even as a teenager that where it says at the end of Revelation, "And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city," it seemed like a bit of a stretch to apply it to the WHOLE Bible. But that's how it was always presented, and it was easier not to challenge the wise, good men and women who taught that viewpoint. It hadn't ever occurred to me that John might have just been begging people to please, PLEASE not take liberties with the text when they were copying his manuscript.

In all my years of Sunday School, morning and evening services, church camp, youth group, youth conferences, and studying a Bible minor at a Christian college, nobody ever mentioned the apparently well-documented practice of scribal editions to the original texts. Lots of editions. Some of them to the point that we really don't know what the original said at all.

I am almost less bothered by this information than I am by the methodical suppression of it. Wouldn't you think that was a relevant piece of information? But it's inconsistent with the traditional view, so it wasn't ever even mentioned. It seems like it would have been better to bring the issue up, confront it, and give a response to it, and that makes me wonder exactly what the religiously conservative scholars' response even is.

There are a handful of verses that indicate that God's words will not pass away, that they shouldn't be changed, and that he will preserve them. But I have to say I'm having a hard time seeing that now. How much change can there be to the words before we admit that we really don't know what the words were, and how can that be said to be God's preserved Word?

At least with the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, everybody knows up front that it's biased, random, subjective, and liable to contain drink recipes instead of truly useful information. Plus, it has the added benefit of the words "DON'T PANIC" on the cover in large, friendly letters. I can see the appeal ...

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