An interesting look Back to 2007: Thomas Woodward Respoonds to Yours Truly

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Canon Harmon’s allegations echo old and tired charges against the Episcopal Church. However, contrary to his allegations, this is the hard reality: The Bible is being taken more, not less seriously by the mainstream of the Episcopal Church. This is a truth that Canon Harmon and others in the Network/CANA/AMiA/WhatHaveYa group are unwilling to acknowledge or address.

Biblical scholarship did not end in the nineteenth century, though that is the impression left by those who claim to be the Biblically orthodox. Modern Biblical scholarship seems to contradict nearly every assertion made by those who are charging that the leadership of the Episcopal Church has abandoned the Bible. For instance, nearly every New Testament scholar notes that what once were considered gentle parables of growth (Leaven, Mustard Seed, etc.) have a quite different message – including biting attacks by Jesus on the purity code. It was upon that purity code that Paul based his rejection of homosexual behavior.

When you have Jesus undermining the Biblical basis for Paul’s condemnations, what you have left are Paul’s personal prejudices and beliefs. Was Paul right to condemn promiscuous sex, temple prostitution, and sexual exploitation? Of course he was! However, the evil inherent in those activities has nothing to do with human relationships built on love, mutual caring, and sacramental fidelity. Jesus, apparently, was well aware of the damage done when you impose a purity code onto human relationships filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit. Paul, however, must have been out with a cold during that lesson! [Pardon the anachronism.]

Paul corrects his misunderstanding of the continuing authority of the purity code in his long discussions of law and grace in his letters to the Romans and Galatians. However, for a few verses in Romans he seems to forget his own theology – and that lapse has led to the continuing use of ancient rules rejected by Jesus. Worse, Paul's blunder has been used as a weapon to batter and to exclude those we do not understand, as well as to crucify any church that recognizes their full humanity.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalEpiscopal Church (TEC)TEC Conflicts* TheologyTheology: Scripture

100 Comments
Posted May 31, 2008 at 12:16 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Timothy Fountain wrote:

What strikes me right away is how he narrows and narrows the truly illuminated:  the “mainstream” becomes “the leadership” becomes “serious scholars.”
The old trick of saying that Paul invented something other than what Jesus said is used by many people as an excuse to ignore the Bible, not study it in greater depth.  Many of the assertions in this piece are of that type.  The actual impact on the church is, “Nobody read or ask questions, and an illuminated in-group will tell you what you need to know.”  We are back to pre-Reformation church.
Most of the “scholarly” approach here is to end things in question marks, in effect sowing doubt and therby trivializing the Bible.  “Did Levi have to repent before Jesus called him?”  The obvious implication is, “We can ordain anyone we want because I raised this question about an apostle.”  Well, to meet question with question, why not use Judas Iscariot as our standard for leadership?  And how in the world an you site Levi as someone who didn’t repent, when he dumped his whole lifestyle to follow Jesus?
Siggghhhh. 
“The Episcopal Church.  We have a smart inner circle.  You all are stupid.  We’re here for you.”

May 31, 1:19 pm | [comment link]
2. vulcanhammer wrote:

Many bishops, priests, and spokespersons from the “right” have derided the growing inclusiveness of the Episcopal Church as though it were a new thing, unrelated to our history. Our history as a Christian church is, of course, a history of ever-expanding inclusiveness. That history of ever-growing inclusiveness began with Jesus and the almost immediate struggles documented in the Book of Acts concerning the inclusion of the Gentiles. That history has continued down to the recent and much, much belated full inclusion of Blacks and women into the full fellowship of Christ’s Body.

It’s ironic that the serious “inclusion of Blacks” (i.e., the Africans) is what’s giving TEC its most serious heartburn.

As far as inclusivity is concerned, that can easily be sidetracked by the demands of group dynamics, as I outline here.  When you invert the culture, those whose idea was the accepted one before countercultural by definition.

May 31, 1:24 pm | [comment link]
3. vulcanhammer wrote:

Correction: “...the accepted one before become countercultural by definition.”

May 31, 1:26 pm | [comment link]
4. Timothy Fountain wrote:

The allusion to Black inclusion is boilerplate.  The Bp. of Minnesota just closed two historic Black churches in the Twin Cities and recent news indicates that a large percentage of Black TEC churches are served by part-time clergy.  TEC’s historic record on race is mixed. It has been a church of socioeconomic power and privlege and as such has often practiced racism - not due to Biblical theology but due to the same in-group gnostic snobbery that the Woodward article conveys.

May 31, 1:37 pm | [comment link]
5. Larry Morse wrote:

Who is Thomas Woodward? Is he yet another homosexual apologist?
Kendall, I hope you are going to reply vigorously, for what I read above appears to have tortured the text to create a predetermined outcome.
Or is he right? Have we been misreading scripture all along. I certainly hope Kendall or someone equally competent returns this man’s serve.
Larry

May 31, 1:39 pm | [comment link]
6. Matthew A (formerly mousestalker) wrote:

#5, Tom Woodward is a priest, blogger, frequent poster to the House of Bishops and Deputies mailing list as well as a leader of the now-defunct Episcopal Majority website.

May 31, 2:01 pm | [comment link]
7. DonGander wrote:

We don’t call them “revisionists” for nothing.

He says, “The Bible is being taken more, not less seriously by the mainstream of the Episcopal Church” and then goes on to prove that the purpose of all this more intense study is to use (or abuse) one part of Holy Scripture to undermine a good part of the remainder. Not very Anglican by my standards.

Don

May 31, 2:18 pm | [comment link]
8. Br. Michael wrote:

The problem is with sort of thing it’s so wrong it’s hard to know where to start.  You have to take it word by word and line by line.  It’s the sort of problem that a lawyer has in responding to a brief written by a layman representing himself.  The layman is so wrong that you have to say:

If he is arguing this then my answer is ...., but if he is arguing that then my answer is .... and if he is saying this then my reply is….

Jesus did not condemn the holiness code.  Rather he called the Pharassees to task for disobeying the spirit while clinging to the letter.  He raised the standard of holiness.  If Jesus is as inclusive as Woodward says why did He not commend the Pharassees and welcome them into the kingdom.  After all it’s for everyone.

May 31, 3:18 pm | [comment link]
9. Words Matter wrote:

So what other parts of the “purity code” was Jesus trashing? I suggest Mr. Woodward tell us which other aspects of the purity code are now abrogated? How about:

Lev. 18.7 You shall not disgrace your father by having intercourse with your mother. Besides, since she is your own mother, you shall not have intercourse with her.

The chapter has a lot more prohibited sex acts (mostly incestuous), but I’ll spare you.  Pray, Mr. Woodward, shall I marry my sister?

May 31, 3:23 pm | [comment link]
10. driver8 wrote:

It’s this sort of stuff - where, if I think which elements I disagree with it, I have to say “Oh, all of it - the method, the premises, the conclusions, even the description of the “facts” about biblical scholarship” - makes me think that there really are parallel and separate religions in TEC.

Just as a starter - Paul’s views of same sex behaviour in Romans 1 are set in the context not of purity but of transgressing the divinely purposed order of creation. Just the same view Jesus affirms in his marriage logion. Just the same view in Genesis.

Of course the premise that the purity/holiness disappear as theological categories in the teaching of Jesus and the witness of the NT, is simply false. See the wonderful essay by Marcus Bockmuehl, Keeping it Holy: Old testament Commandment and New Testament Faith in I Am The Lord Your God: Christian reflections of the Ten Commandments.

May 31, 3:50 pm | [comment link]
11. MikeS wrote:

I think Fr. Woodward’s record is broken.  He was just over at SF saying some these very same things just a few days ago.  This piece seems to be from last year.

Given the ability to bend language in this way it is wonder that any actual communication ever gets done.  This kind of thing must be a nightmare for waitstaff in every restaurant in the U.S.—to wit:
“No, I said I wanted my eggs over easy.”
“These are over easy, sir.”
“No, they are not, hers are over easy.”
“Hers are scrambled as she requested them.”
“That’s what I requested over easy just like hers.  Take them back and make them the way I know I want them.  Why can’t you understand what I’m saying?”

May 31, 4:00 pm | [comment link]
12. selah wrote:

Which of the healing stories involve repentance or conversion?

Ummm…all of them….right?  Did not Jesus always comment on people’s faith after they were healed?  Were not these healings spiritual as well as physical?  Did not Jesus walk away from villages where he could find no faith? 

How did Jesus choose Levi, the tax collector, as disciple/apostle – apparently without evidence of personal belief or repentance?

Usually, people come into contact with God and then repent.  Their experience with God not only shows them God’s glory but also their own sinfulness.

Some people, I know, repent first and then come into a relationship later.  I do not think that the order of these events matters, but the repentence has to be there.  Jesus first words in the Gospel of Mark are “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”

I suppose that I am confused by Tom Woodward’s questions.

May 31, 4:04 pm | [comment link]
13. AKMA wrote:

It’s this sort of stuff - where, if I think which elements I disagree with it, I have to say “Oh, all of it - the method, the premises, the conclusions, even the description of the “facts” about biblical scholarship” - makes me think that there really are parallel and separate religions in TEC.

I’m not sure whether this warrants driver8’s conclusion, but the descriptive parenthesis certainly fits. Whatever you or I may think on the merits of particular questions, Woodward’s assertions are tendentious at best, and confused or wrong-headed more often.

It should be an embarrassment to Woodward’s “side” that he publicly advances overblown or misconceived claims in the name of the arguments he wants to make. Being on the “right” side of a conflict doesn’t validate erroneous claims (nor does being on the “wrong” side invalidate sound arguments). To the extent that people care about intellectual honesty, they should be able to say that one of their party’s prominent spokespeople presents shoddy arguments, or that the other party’s leader actually has some good points.

May 31, 4:24 pm | [comment link]
14. Rick in Louisiana wrote:

And that boys and girls is why I am a fan of Prof Adam - even when I disagree with him.

May 31, 4:42 pm | [comment link]
15. driver8 wrote:

AKMA - gracious as ever, and I agree with your main points. My throw away line about two religions, whilst hyperbolic (as is my wont), really stems from reflecting about what Rowan Williams wrote in his Advent Letter:

The Communion is a voluntary association of provinces and dioceses; and so its unity depends not on a canon law that can be enforced but on the ability of each part of the family to recognise that other local churches have received the same faith from the apostles and are faithfully holding to it in loyalty to the One Lord incarnate who speaks in Scripture and bestows his grace in the sacraments.  To put it in slightly different terms, local churches acknowledge the same ‘constitutive elements’ in one another.

Thomas Woodward exemplifies, for me, the increasingly difficulty in recognising in one another the same ‘constitutive elements’.

May 31, 4:48 pm | [comment link]
16. stabill wrote:

Does anyone else find it curious that this article from last September becomes a discussion target here a few days after the blog holding it closed following 3 months of inactivity?

May 31, 5:48 pm | [comment link]
17. William Witt wrote:

Richard Hays’ The Moral Vision of the New Testament completely demolishes any notion that New Testament ethics has anything to do with abolishing “purity” codes.  Hays is one of those ignorant fundamentalists who teaches at Duke.

May 31, 5:49 pm | [comment link]
18. AKMA wrote:

High as my opinion of my colleague Prof. Hays’s Moral Vision, surely Dr. Witt overstates matters when he suggests that Hays “completely demolishes” such an argument. Claims such as this tend to invite correlative hyperbole from opposing perspectives.

I do agree that “purity” is not the across-the-board issue in New Testament controversies; the pertinent question involves how Jesus or Paul defines purity, and what people should do about it. No one in the NT wants to abolish practices relative to purity, but one may coherently draw different lines interpreting how biblical sources direct that purity be (re)defined.

May 31, 6:00 pm | [comment link]
19. driver8 wrote:

That’s the major problem with Countryman’s, polemical book, “Dirt, Greed and Sex.” Purity is never related to holiness. Indeed in the entire book holiness is never mentioned. Instead purity is portrayed as simply a cultural phenomenon to be renamed “dirt” (let’s call it the “yukk” factor). He claims the NT shows no interest in relating sexual ethics to purity and that purity and impuruty are set aside by Jesus and the Gospels.

Despite all that is good about this influential book, it’s core claims are fundamentally all wrong.

A more nuanced and careful discussion about the theological significance and meaning of holiness and purity and how purity/holiness is refigured and reinscribed in Jesus and the New Testament witness would indeed be a place where we could have started talking and praying. It didn’t happen that way and the time for it to occur may have long gone.

May 31, 6:26 pm | [comment link]
20. William Witt wrote:

No one in the NT wants to abolish practices relative to purity, but one may coherently draw different lines interpreting how biblical sources direct that purity be (re)defined.

Indeed.  But this is directly contrary to the claim that Tom Woodward is making.  Woodward does not say that the NT redefines purity.  According to Woodward, “nearly every New Testament scholar”  knows that Jesus engaged in “biting attacks” on the “purity code.”  Paul, apparently, just didn’t get this.  Now, either, as you say, “no one in the NT wants to abolish practices relative to purity” or, as Woodward says, “nearly every New Testament scholar” knows that they did.  I think your quarrel is with Tom Woodward, not me.

The “nearly every New Testament scholar” Woodward is referring to, is, of course, one New Testament scholar—William Countryman.  In addition to Hays’s book, I would also point readers to Markus Bockmuehl’s masterful essay ” ‘Keeping it Holy’: Old Testament Commandment and New Testament Faith,” in I am the Lord Your God: Christian Reflections on the Ten Commandments, ed. Carl Braaten and Christopher Seitz.  Bockmuehl does a full demolition job on Countryman’s “purity code” argument.

So Woodward’s claim is demonstrably false.  There are at least two fairly reputable biblical scholars who dismiss out of hand the reading that Woodward claims is endorsed by “nearly every New Testament scholar.”

May 31, 6:29 pm | [comment link]
21. AKMA wrote:

Dr. Witt, you and I probably differ to the extent that we incline to think in terms of the utter demolition of scholarly arguments; to that extent, I am indeed arguing with you. You’ve used “demolish” twice; as I said above, I do not fully agree with an argument that posits Jesus meant to abolish purity codes (Marcus Borg makes an argument complementary to Countryman’s in his numerous works), but I hesitate to determine that such an argument has been “utterly demolished.” You may, however, be a more astute judge of arguments in the field of New Testament than am I.

I vigorously affirm your sense that Woodward’s claims are grossly overstated (and, at least as far as he communicates his grounds, underinformed).

May 31, 6:52 pm | [comment link]
22. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

Well, I’m a latecomer to this debate, but I’m with Dr. Witt and driver8 in thinking that Tom Woodward’s argument is sheer trash and utter nonsense.  It’s so pervaded with elementary exegetical mistakes and misrepresentations of modern biblical scholarship that one hardly knows where to begin.

Perhaps a better resource for refuting Woodward’s numerous errors would be the comprehensive study by Robert Gagnon.  His thorough and detailed review of the scholarly literature and pertinent biblical and extra-biblical data in The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Abingdon, 2003) is superb and impeccable.  And yes, he absolutely DEMOLISHES William Countryman’s shallow and poorly substantiated arguments.  Gagnon rightly finds Prof. Countryman to be one of his weakest opponents in the debate over the morality of homosexual behavior.

But since liberal attempts to discount the biblical prohibitions of homosexual behavior still often rely on the type of specious claims advanced by Woodward and Countryman, let me remind everyone of a few salient facts.

First, it’s by no means true that the biblical opposition to same sex intercourse is based on this form of sex being a violation of the ritual purity code of ancient Israel.  Besides the flat commands forbidding homosexual behavior in Lev. 18:22 and 20:13 that this typical liberal argument is intended to ridicule and nullify, there are other passages in the OT that are totally hostile to homosexual behavior and treat it as especiaolly abhorrent.  These would include the famous story of the destruction of wicked Sodom and Gommorah in Gen. 19 (which is part of the J or Yahwistic tradition), and the string of brief and passing but scathing references to “male cult prostitutes” (Heb. qedeshim) in the D tradtion (e.g., Dt. 23:17-18; 1 Ki. 14:24; 15:12 etc.).  Both the J and D traditions assume that homosexual activity is associated with paganism and constitute an obscene corruption of God’s original purpose in making us male and female.

Secondly, the sheer dismissal of the Levitical Holiness Code (Lev. 17-26) as a whole with snide comparisons (e.g., not wearing clothing made of two or more fibers, not sowing a field with more than one crop etc.) overlooks some theological points that are crucial.  First, is that the H source (Holiness Code) interweaves ritual and moral elements.  Thus, for example, the familiar and much loved second part of the Great Commandment (love your neighbor as yourself, Lev. 19:18) comes precisely from this very part of the OT and is found nowhere else!  In fact, Lev. 19:18 is sandwiched midway between the prohibitions of homosexual activity in 18:22 and 20:13.  Moreover, our own Anglican tradition is quite clear that there is a fundamental distinction between the so-called ceremonial law (which is obsolete) and the moral law (which remains in force).  Article VII of the 39 Articles is quite clear on this, although its current authority is questionable since the 39 are almost completely ignored in the modern TEC.  But surely a part of our own interpretive tradition shouldn’t be tossed aside so cavalierly and casually.

Enough for now.  More to come…

David Handy+, Ph.D. in NT (Union-PSCE)

May 31, 7:52 pm | [comment link]
23. William Witt wrote:

AKMA,

What I think has been “utterly demolished” are precisely Woodward’s exaggerated claims.  If either Hays or Bockmuehl are anywhere near right, and I think they make their case, then the argument that Jesus engaged in “biting attacks” on moral purity codes is simply wrong.  Moreover, if Bockmuehl’s interpretation of OT and NT holiness is anywhere near right, then, yes, I think Borg’s and Countryman’s case about “purity codes” has been “demolished.”

I realize that there is give-and-take among biblical scholars and theologians and philosophers.  And we want to be nuanced when addressing conflicting claims.  However, there are clearly times when an argument can so effectively refute another position that the latter is, in effect, “demolished.”  A primary case in the last century would be the argument that logical positivism’s claim that all truth claims must be empirically verified is self-refuting since the claim that all truth claims must be empirically verified cannot itself be empirically verified.  This does not really have to do with an ability on my part to be an astute judge of arguments in the New Testament.  I would say it rather has to do with the astuteness of Professors Hays and Bockmuehl.  And a humble systematician like myself can follow along well enough to see that they have made a convincing case that New Testament ethics is not about abolishing purity codes.

If my rhetoric in addressing claims like those made by Tom Woodward is not the kind of thing one finds in scholarly journals it is because I believe that Woodward engages in a form of intellectual bullying, and needs to be confronted, full stop. Woodward is an intellectual bully who engages in the logical fallacy of an ad populam argument (“Nearly every NT scholar believes”) in the confidence that ordinary lay people who have not had the time to engage in biblical scholarship for themselves will be intimidated: “Who am I to question all of these learned scholars?” 

Well, some of us have read them.  And it is simply not the case that “every NT scholar believes” what Woodward claims they believe, and even if they did, it only takes one contrary argument to “demolish” a claim, if the arguer makes the case, and makes it well.

Again, my disagreement is not with you.

May 31, 8:07 pm | [comment link]
24. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

A continuation of my #22,

Another key plank in the usual liberal or pro-gay position is the frequently heard but totally mistaken argument that Jesus had nothing to say about the moral status of homosexual behavior.  That is totally misleading and quite false.  Of course, there are no EXPLICIT discussions of homosexual behavior in the gospels, but just a little consideration of Jesus’ historical and cultural context is enough to show that it’s EXTREMELY unlikely that the Master was neutral on the subject or somehow was centuries ahead of his time in thinking that “gay is OK.”  First, there is the simple fact that Jesus is on record as condemning sexual immorality in general in no uncertain terms.  The generic term “porneia” (from which we get words like “porn” or pornography) doesn’t mean simply “fornication” but ALL sex outside of marriage.  And given the well documented hostility of Jews in his time to homosexuality (e.g., Philo and Josephus), we can very safely say that Jesus’ categorization of all porneia as evil (e.g., Mark 7:21-22) must include homosexual activity unless proven otherwise.  And ther is absolutely no evidence to the contrary.

Moreover, let’s suppose for the sake of argument that somehow Jesus was a liberal born out of his time, who isn’t quoted in the gospels as specifically condemning same sex behavior because he actually knew somehow that it was morally neutral; just suppose for a moment that was true.  If that were known, it is virtually certain that this would have caused immense controversy and given the scribes and Pharisees a tremendous accusation by which to discredit him.  They wouldn’t have needed to trump up false charges against Jesus at his trial; he would have stood self-condemned by such an egregious violation of the Torah, both written and oral Torah.

And the usual liberal fantasy about Jesus, that he was lenient about sexual matters, is patently false as well.  Yes, he was scandalously merciful to prostitutes and notorious “sinners.”  But that was a mercy shown to those who repented.  Yes, he protected the adulterous woman from being stoned with his witty saying, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone,” but the saying presumes that adultery IS sin after all, and he tells her, “Go, and sin no more.”  But in fact, JEsus hieghtened the seriousness of sexual sin by equating lust with adultery.  He didn’t treat it lightly at all.

In the end, what is so depressing about liberals like Tom Woodward or William Countryman and their pathetic ilk is not just that they reach the wrong conclusion about homosexual behavior.  What’s so worrisome is that the whole way they go about presenting their case is so extremely weak and shoddy.  As I have argued elsewhere, it amounts to nothing less than “the TRIVIALIZATION of Scripture.”  And that’s simply inexcusable for a priest, and especially for a seminary professor.

I admit it.  I have nothing but utter contempt for Woodward and Countryman.

David Handy+

May 31, 8:15 pm | [comment link]
25. driver8 wrote:

I think, just as a matter of rhetoric, I am (other than in the pub) unwilling to speak about arguments being “demolished”. Actually I’ve always found the experience of someone attempting to demolish another’s argument aesthetically unsatisfying. That may sound a slightly dandyish point - but the best arguments are attractive because of their beauty.

Nevertheless I would say that Countryman’s arguments on this matter are poor and unpersuasive and in this respect his influence has been sadly divisive.

May 31, 8:46 pm | [comment link]
26. Jim the Puritan wrote:

When I read stuff like this I am convinced that the Episcopal Church and I exist in parallel, but opposed, universes.  How do people come up with this stuff, and say it with a straight face?  Do they actually ever read the Bible, or do they just repeat talking pieces that they are given by 815?

May 31, 8:48 pm | [comment link]
27. Br. Michael wrote:

22,  I thought I said that.

May 31, 9:07 pm | [comment link]
28. Sarah1 wrote:

RE: “Does anyone else find it curious that this article from last September becomes a discussion target here a few days after the blog holding it closed following 3 months of inactivity?”

Well I don’t find it curious.  I would hope that Kendall—seeing that the blog has shut down—decided to do a flashback of a typical theological effusion by one of its bloggers.  If that is so—good for him!

NRA . . .

RE: “Moreover, let’s suppose for the sake of argument that somehow Jesus was a liberal born out of his time, who isn’t quoted in the gospels as specifically condemning same sex behavior because he actually knew somehow that it was morally neutral; just suppose for a moment that was true.  If that were known, it is virtually certain that this would have caused immense controversy and given the scribes and Pharisees a tremendous accusation by which to discredit him.  They wouldn’t have needed to trump up false charges against Jesus at his trial; he would have stood self-condemned by such an egregious violation of the Torah, both written and oral Torah.”

But . . . perhaps He was just “veally veally quiet” about that particular matter.  ; > )

May 31, 9:15 pm | [comment link]
29. Br_er Rabbit wrote:

Hays is one of those ignorant fundamentalists who teaches at Duke.

Wow. I trust Dr. Witt is engaging in a tad of sarcasm here.

In at least one case, I found Hays not “fundamental” enough. Since my grad thesis was on Jude’s opponents, I had to tackle his positions that a) Jude’s reference to Genesis 19 was too “obscure” to be useful, and b) Genesis 19 “is actually irrelevant” to the topic of homosexuality, or even to “sexual misconduct of any kind.” To the contrary, Jude’s use of this Old Testament source is at least lucid enough to be clear that prohibited sexual conduct is Jude’s subject and Gen 19 is his example.

As a student at Vanguard University of Southern California, that other “ignorant fundamentalist” institution, Hay’s magnum opus was central to at least two of my undergrad classes and two of my grad classes. Without his scholarship Christian academics would be much the poorer—while Thomas Woodward would be missed hardly at all.

The Rabbit.

May 31, 9:21 pm | [comment link]
30. Br. Michael wrote:

Might I suggest that a better way of reading the law is found in “Making Sense of he Old Testament” by Tremper Longman III, BakerBooks, 1998.  I believe that all the law applies.  It’s all the word of God!.  But the analysis is more difficult.  You have to determine what it meant in its original context, bridge the gap between then and now, and then apply it to our modern situation.

The law is theological.  Two fabrics?  P rests wore the two fabrics, laity was not to do that.  Sass your parents?  This betrays a great cultural confusion and dishonesty between dis-honoring your parents (throwing them out of their house) and a modern teenager talking back to his mother.

We are not saved by obedience to the law, but by God’s grace in Christ Jesus, but the law does show us God’s standards.

May 31, 9:31 pm | [comment link]
31. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

Br_er Rabbit (#29),

I agree with you that it’s unfortunate that Richard Hays downplays the significance of Jude 7 in his masterful book on NT ethics.  I find Gagnon much more convincing on this point.  OTOH, I admit that I find Gagnon less than fully convincing in his take on the obscure story of the sin of Ham, the father of Canaan, in Gen. 9:18-27.  It’s certainly plausible that Ham’s particularly reprehensible sin was commiting incest with his drunk father, Noah, but it’s hardly a necessary and indisputable interpretation.  But liberal attempts to dismiss the relevance of the J story of the fall of Sodom and Gomorrah are ruled out by Jude 7, if you approach Gen. 19 from the standpoint of canonical criticism and take Jude at face value (as I think we should).  After all, the graphic story of Sodom and Gomorrah is why homosexual behavior is known as “sodomy” anyway.

But my point above was that three of the four major traditions underlying the Pentateuch all condemn homosexual activity most emphatically and without reservation.  That is, J, D, and P unite in unqualified rejection of the practice as pagan and obscene.  Only E lacks any mention of it.

And similarly, in the NT, there are more relevant texts than just the three explicit mentions of homosexual behavior in Romans 1:24-27 (the primary text in the whole Bible of course), backed up by the fleeting mentions of it in vice lists in 1 Cor. 6:9-10 and 1 Tim. 1:10.  The generic warnings about sexual immorality in general (porneia, as above) must also be taken to include homosexual behavior until proven otherwise (which can’t reasonably be done).  That would include stern warnings that such behavior puts someone’s salvation at risk (Eph. 5:3-6).  And it would also include the general call that marriage be held in honor by all in Heb. 13:4.

In short, there are far more than “seven verses” in the whole Bible that are relevant to assessing the morality of same sex intercourse (as I’ve repeatedly read or heard liberals claim).  Alas, no matter how often that ridiculous claim that only 7 verses condemn homosexuality in the Scriptures is disproven by orthodox scholars like Hays and Gagnon, that patently false liberal notion just keeps resurfacing at the popular level.  Like dandelions or crab grass (or worse things), it keeps coming back and is hard to get rid of once and for all.

David Handy+

May 31, 10:03 pm | [comment link]
32. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

driver8 (#25), and all above,

I admit that I have indulged in a bit of rhetorical overkill on this thread.  I certainly tend to express myself with the unrestrained exuberance of an American as opposed to the reserve of a Brit.  And I confess that viewing any other human being with “utter contempt” is going too far. 

Alas, I do find extreme liberals like Tom Woodward (with their bogus claims to representing the supposed consensus of biblical scholars) extremely hard to treat respectfully.  But I should have made more clear that it’s the arguments that I find so utterly worthy of disdain, not the person promoting such trash.

My apologies to any readers offended by the extreme tone of my vituperative bashing of Woodward and Countryman above.

David Handy+

May 31, 10:19 pm | [comment link]
33. Br. Michael wrote:

31, I am not sure the J, E, P, D is on the cutting edge of scholarship.  In fact I find it less than helpful.  It’s better to analyze the recieved text (Maosretic text in this case) than deal with mythical sub-texts.

May 31, 11:07 pm | [comment link]
34. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

Br. Michael (#33),

I fully understand.  And you have plenty of good company.  For instance, I know Br_er Rabbit would agree with you, even though he’s the V-P of my NRA Fan Club.  So treat my post like you’d eat a fish; i.e., eat the meat and throw away the bones.

I continue to find the source analysis of the Pentateuch helpful myself.  For example, just today I contributed a post on another T19 thread (an old one about tithing from a couple days ago) in which I called attention to the significant difference between the D and P perspectives on the priesthood and tithing (the D version being especially found in Dt. 14:22-29 and the P version in Num. 18).

But even so, I would wholeheartedly agree that what really counts is the final, canonical form of the biblical text, rather than any hypothetical reconstructions of earlier forms of portions of the sacred text.  And just for the record, perhaps I should make it clear that while I basically accept the source analysis of Julius Wellhausen back in the 1870s and 1880s, and as modified by Martin Noth in the 1940s and 1950s, and as further refined by Richard Elliott Friedman in our own time, I most definitely do NOT accept all the more dubious historical judgments of Wellhausen and Noth associated with those delineations of the sources underlying the Pentateuch.  And I’m even more critical yet of Wellhausen’s theological judgments, for he was an open, avowed agnostic who openly scorned orthodox Christianity as well as classical Judaism.

I mostly brought up the whole topic of the sources involved because it’s something the liberals themselves accept.  And if you accept the standard source analysis in terms of J, E, D, and P, then we end up with three INDEPENDENT traditions all unanimously converging in their stout rejection of the practice of homosexuality.  It’s like in the gospels, where one of the useful criteria for ascertaining the probability of gospel texts actualy going back to the historical Jesus is the principle of “multiple attestation.”  That is, the more independent traditions that contain a dominical saying, the more likely it is that we can confidently attribute it to the Master.  In other words, I was using a liberal argument to help beat liberals at their own game.

But I repeat, it won’t bother me if you eat the meat and throw out the bones.  And I’ll irenically choose to take your provocative reference to “mythical sub-texts” in the less polemical sense of being “hypothetical” and “speculative” as opposed to “mythical” and hence non-existent.  For even though the famous or infamous “Documentary Hypothesis” has stood the test of time amazingly well on the whole (for it’s still dominant in OT studies after 125 years), the fact is that it remains just a hypothesis.  It’s the final, canonical text that is the Word of God, divinely inspired and authroitative, no matter how it reach that final form.

David Handy+

May 31, 11:42 pm | [comment link]
35. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

Ugh, I got tired of proof-reading and overlooked some typos at the end.  Of course, I meant that it’s the final, canonical text that is the authoritative Word of God written, no matter how it reached that final form.

David Handy+

May 31, 11:48 pm | [comment link]
36. Larry Morse wrote:

Besides, David, Christ, when he is suggesting that one/thing is in a desperately bad position, says” It would be better to be from Sodom and Gomorrah than….” or something of that order. Has anyone decided t hat Sodom was in no sense a hotbed of homosexuality? (Incidentally, I h ave always read that the woman taken in adultery was apocryphal. Is this so?) The greatest problem with the agenda-driven is t hat they always start with their conclusions and then move all evidence to accommodate them. They cannot be refuted because their premises are a fortiori true. LM
  (David, send me your email. You asked about the Anglican church in China and I have some news on this head.)

June 1, 12:05 am | [comment link]
37. Br_er Rabbit wrote:

it’s still dominant in OT studies after 125 years

Hmmm. Not at Vanguard U. That may be a bit of an overstatement. In fact, David, I’m rather in agreement with Br. Michael that it’s no longer at the cutting edge of scholarship.

Larry, I would not say that the woman taken in adultery is “apocryphal,” if by that you mean, “to be rejected.” Rather, it is widely recognized that the story was not in the original manuscript of the Gospel of John as we have received it. But many scholars consider it a valid part of New Testament tradition, and there is significant evidence that the story can be traced to something that John himself handed down.

The Rabbit.

June 1, 7:53 am | [comment link]
38. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

Larry (newest member of the NRAFC, #36),

Two quick responses to your questions.  First, alas, it’s become very common for some scholars to deny that the well-known story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah has any bearing on the issue of the morality of homosexual behavior.  The usual pro-gay line (since Bailey) is that the real sin of the wicked inhabitants of Sodom was their flouting of the sacred responsibility of hospitality (in Near Eastern culture, hospitality is a very big deal indeed), and that in the prophets, esp. Ezekiel 16:49, Sodom and Gomorrah are seen as the epitome of social injustice, not (just) sexual perversion.  Now there is some truth to both claims, but they strain out a gnat and swallow a camel in attempting to dismiss what is obviously the main criticism leveled at corrupt Sodom and Gommorah in the Genesis account, as Jude 7 confirms. 

As for the (Q) saying in the gospels about the two evil cities, I think it has little or no bearing on the issue of what the sin of Sodom and Gommorah was.  For Matthew and Luke have Jesus express a woe on Capernaum and the surrounding area for being more stubborn and slow to repent and believe than those OT cities that epitomize such utter wickedness that they had to be destroyed in a hail of fire and brimstone (asphalt).

And as for the famous and much loved story of the women caught in adultery, the primary issue is one of textual criticism, not historical criticism.  That is, that wonderfully touching episode isn’t found in our best and earliest manuscripts of John (most modern translations of the NT print it in double brackets at Jn. 7:53-8:11, to show it almost certainly wasn’t part of the original text or have a footnote to that effect).  In fact, it appears in some Greek manuscripts toward the end of Luke, or after John 7:36 or 21:25.  Thus, it appears that this delightful mini-narrative was an early free-floating story that got attached to the gospel tradition at different points by different early copyists.  But that by itself doesn’t settle the question of the historicity of the story, which actually seems very much in character for Jesus.  I can’t speak for Prof. Adam or other NT scholars, but I would NOT regard the episode as apocryphal myself.  I think it really happened.  It’s just too good and rings too true to my understanding of the real Jesus to be fabricated.

As for the China report, keep watching for when I’m online at SF or T19, and I’ll be watching for you, and when either of us sees that the other is logged in, we can send the other an email using the account system.  Then we’ll have each other’s personal email that we can use for communicating from then on.

And now, having monopolized this thread for some time, I think I’ll back off and let others have a chance to get a word in.

David Handy+

June 1, 8:18 am | [comment link]
39. William Witt wrote:

Wow. I trust Dr. Witt is engaging in a tad of sarcasm here.

Of course I was being sarcastic in referring to Hays as a “fundamentalist.”  The implied rhetoric of Woodward’s piece is that anyone who does not agree with the Countryman reading is obviously ignorant, uninformed, and uneducated.  Hays disagrees with Countryman, ergo . . . I need to remember my smily faces. wink

June 1, 8:35 am | [comment link]
40. TBWSantaFe wrote:

Dr. Witt—again you misunderstand me and assume things that are not true. In my argument about Jesus and the Purity Code I was in no way referring to Bill Countryman’s work. I am referring to the conclusions of a good range of New Testament scholars focusing on the Parables of Jesus, including the darling of conservative scholars, Arlan Hultgren.

I believe the consensus on the parables of the Leaven, the Mustard Seed and the Prodigal Son is that Jesus is making a major shift away from the Purity Code—and, with the earliest version of The Mustard Seed, has a blatant violation of it built into the parable itself, as it is in the Parable of the Leaven. If you want a fuller explication of this, go to Hultgren, Bernard Brandon Scott or even “The Parables of Jesus from the Inside” which I wrote for the (Sewanee) School of Theology’s journal a few years ago.

I find it amusing that you accuse me of “theological bullying” while, yourself, using such language as “demolish.” I am happy to stand with the scholars who find in the core of Jesus’ teaching a radical inclusiveness in the Kingdom (the Pharisees are not finally excluded. unless as in the Prodigal Son they exclude themselves), and a shift away from the Purity Code to a different basis for holiness and morality. Check out Paul’s marks of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5, Jesus’ descriptions of a holy life in the Beatitudes and in Matthew 25, Jesus’ constant companions in the Synoptics, or the morality of the Johannine Epistles. They may not be the final reality—but they are a consistent reality in the Gospel record. I believe we are all aware that there are many strains in the gospels (David Rhoads book on Diversity in Christian Scriptures is compelling)—and only a bully or a True Believer would believe that he or she is in sole possession of the only possible contender for truth.

Just a note to anyone who would denigrate The Episcopal Majority blog—we have closed it for two reasons: there are other blogs who are providing the same kinds of information and viewpoints we have over the years and there is no reason to duplicate their efforts, and our belief that the struggle the heart and soul of the Episcopal Church is now pretty much over, though with plenty of sniping ahead.  We established TEM as a means for responding to attacks from the right wing of the church—and to provide the broad middle of the church a site they could trust in sorting out rivalling claims.  As one of the people on the TEM steering committee I want to voice my appreciation of the work of Kendall Harmon in the quest for a vision of holiness and faithfulness for our church. While I have often disagreed with Kendall publicly—it has never been without my knowledge and trust that his heart is fully dedicated to the Lord.  I believe that Kendall and I and many others are the kinds of people who should be taken seriously and confronted directly—and in the context of respect and caring. I hope I did not overstep in the article Kendall has posted here from TEM. If so, I apologize—the article to which I was responding was and is offensive (Kendall was not the article).
Tom Woodward

June 1, 2:48 pm | [comment link]
41. Rick in Louisiana wrote:

#33 and 34 - Okay I have missed the last couple SBL meetings but (a) the Documentary Hypothesis still seems to be the dominant assumed framework and (b) but the classical formulation is certainly breaking down - note sessions about whether E still exists (some say it does, I think Benjamin Sommers is among them, to pick one example), Blenkinsopp and others arguing that some of the four sources should be combined (are J and E really JE? and perhaps all one with D?), and efforts to date J rather late (Van Seters, Schmidt, Rendtorff and so on - although some later than others).

I rather agree with David Handy+ that the hypothesis is “useful” (particularly for recognizing diverse voices in the text/narrative) but ultimately we need to deal with the final product. I am a strong believer in the canonical approach.

Having said that I was trained by (Jewish) professors who did not believe in JEDP. (Although in seminary by Christian professors who did. Go figure.) During my dissertation defense they asked if my research caused me to change my views in any way, and they listened with genuine interest when I told them that as a matter of fact I had come to believe JEDP made a lot of sense. (I studied the language of the “alleged” sources - focusing on J - and found that often… one could discern patterns that corresponded to the source divisions.) The more closely I studied the Hebrew Bible linguistically and literarily… the more I saw perhaps not the “lines” but at least the contours of the different (albeit hypothetical) sources.

What that has to do with the original post by Kendall is another matter.

June 1, 3:06 pm | [comment link]
42. Sarah1 wrote:

RE: “. . . and to provide the broad middle of the church a site they could trust in sorting out rivalling claims.”

Yes, indeedy, and with Tom Woodward representative of that “middle” I am quite confident that they succeeded in their task—although it’s true that any number of other revisionist blogs are doing the same sort of “reaching the middle” that Tom Woodward “represents”.  ; > )

The good news is that the particular and unique “middle” which Tom Woodward respresents visited Episcopal Majority at an average of about 300 visitors a day—a traffic number which I personally am quite pleased with, though not, perhaps, for the same reasons as Episcopal Revisionists was.

June 1, 4:37 pm | [comment link]
43. Bill Matz wrote:

While I Have some sympathy for TBW, in that there are some conservatives who seem to go no further than a few proof texts, the attempt to characterize them as the conservative postion is a strawman construct, a mere illusion whose purpose is to be eaily demolished. Why does not TBW address any of the many comprehensive conservative themes, e.g.

Trajectory- Dr. peter moore demonstrated the clear biblical pattern of increasing Biblical sexual morality, not decreasing it.

Complementarity- ably articulated by Kendall at GC ‘03.

In contrast, compare e.g. the Claiming the Blessing pamphlet, nothing more than works righteousness.

Similarly, the left often reduces everything to “love”. Even if they include the summary of the Law, the 1st (and greatest) is often omitted. And they forgot Jesus said he came to “fulfill the Law, not abolish it.” In essence left theology is based on a summary of the Cliff Notes of the Bible.  So the claim to be more Biblical seems hollow.

June 1, 5:05 pm | [comment link]
44. Larry Morse wrote:

The above discussion reminds me of what many another knows, that the professorial and the doctoral really need useful work for their hands   and heads. They are busily engaged in distinctions t hat can have no objective referent because what is written is a composite of purely oral transmissions. I realize that they would prefer to publish rather than perish since academic life is so easy and comfortable and well-protected. No, I am not an anti-intellectual by any means, but I can smell the heady perfume of the ivory tower from a great distance. Reading Woodward is like reading the chemicals that go in to making commercial garlic bread. Its tastes good, but the simplest common sense says, “Don’t touch it. It is fake. Make your own bread. It’s easy and it is REAL.”  Larry

June 1, 7:47 pm | [comment link]
45. DonGander wrote:

44. Larry Morse:

All the things that I would like to say but fear prevents.

At least I am brave enough to say, “Thank you!”

Don

June 1, 8:30 pm | [comment link]
46. William Witt wrote:

Tom Woodward,

I have not misunderstood you. I disagree with you. You stated that “nearly every New Testament scholar” believes that Jesus engaged in “biting attacks” on the “purity code.”  Adding Arland Hultgren’s name to the list (along with Countryman and Borg) does not add up to “nearly every New Testament scholar.”  I mentioned two NT scholars who disagree with the “purity code” reading—Hays and Bockmuehl.  Gagnon has also been mentioned, and he provides some rather pointed criticism of some of Hultgren’s work on the same-sex question here.  (There, I didn’t say he “devastated” Hultgren’s argument.)  Other biblical scholars who would reject the purity code argument (both OT and NT) would include Christopher Seitz, the late Brevard Childs, N.T. Wright.  So, no, “nearly every New Testament scholar” does not embrace the purity code reading of the parables.  And, at any rate, the apeal ad populum is still a logical fallacy. 

I have no doubt that you are “happy” to stand with those (not “nearly every New Testament scholar”) who embrace the purity code argument.  I am “happy” to stand with those who have very carefully shown that it is a misreading of the NT.  (I’m itching to say “devastated,” but I won’t.)

June 1, 8:46 pm | [comment link]
47. stabill wrote:

Bill Matz (# 43),

Similarly, the left often reduces everything to “love”. Even if they include the summary of the Law, the 1st (and greatest) is often omitted.

So I think you understand that this “leftist” view goes back to Jesus. (“On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”) As NRA pointed out above, the Great Commandment is rooted in the Torah.

So why do we have the current churchwar?

June 1, 8:51 pm | [comment link]
48. Br_er Rabbit wrote:

the appeal to ad populum is still a logical fallacy. 

Granted, but nearly every New Testament scholar resorts to it at one time or another.
(hee hee hee)
The Rabbit.

June 1, 9:35 pm | [comment link]
49. Irenaeus wrote:

“Canon Harmon’s allegations echo old and tired charges against the Episcopal Church”—-Woodward

Did Woodward, within the last several years, repeat those “old and tired charges” about orthodox African bishops practicing polygamy?

June 2, 12:30 am | [comment link]
50. driver8 wrote:

#40 I have looked again at Hultgren’s big book on the Parables. I glanced quickly at his exegesis of the three parables you mentioned (the Mustard Seed, the Leaven, the Prodigal Son) in none of them is purity identified as a central or even major focus of the parable. Indeed, so far as I could see, purity concerns are scarcely mentioned in his exegesis.

Based on that I’m nonplussed about your citing him as evidence for your view. He may have written elsewhere on the subject and if so I would be grateful if you could point me to it because at the moment you seem to be mis-citing him as supporting your view.

June 2, 1:38 am | [comment link]
51. driver8 wrote:

#40 I have just glanced through Kylne Snodgrass’
recent magum opus on the Parables - looking again at the Mustard Seed, Leaven and Prodigal Son as you suggested - and like Hultgren he sees no significant reference to purity issues in these parables.

Purity/Holiness continues to be a significant theme in the NT (think for example of the unexplained but simply assumed notion that demons are impure or the description of New Jerusalem as a holy place into which nothing unclean can enter) - which we would surely expect unless we take a Marcionite view of the relation of the OT to the NT - though it is refigured - so that it may be better to reflect on Jesus’ contagious holiness - both before the resurrection and after the resurrection in his body, the church - than the simple erasure or removal of purity/holiness theology.

June 2, 2:26 am | [comment link]
52. Br. Michael wrote:

How about:

Romans 12:1-2 ESV Romans 12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

I think the we have to remember that in the Pauline letters Paul is responding to specific problems and that we hove only one side of the correspondence so to speak.  To say that because Paul is concerned with viewing the law as the means of salvation at the expense of salvation through Jesus alone, Paul is condemning the law itself is an unwaranted extrapolation of Paul’s argument.

Christians are to live lives that are Holy to Lord.  It is fine to say in general that one is to “Love the Lord with all your heart soul mind and strength and one’s neighbor as oneself”, but this is a summary after all.  How does one apply this in specific cases?  Do we make it up as if from a blank slate?  Does each person determine for him/her self what it means to love one’s neighbor?  I don’t think so.

OT law gives us specific examples as to how a life that is holy to the Lord can be lived, not as a means of salvation, but as our response to a Holy God.  In a simple example Deut: Deuteronomy 22:8 tells us

“When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring the guilt of blood upon your house, if anyone should fall from it.

  The Living Translation puts it this way:  Deuteronomy 22:8  

8 “When you build a new house, you must build a railing around the edge of its flat roof. That way you will not be considered guilty of murder if someone falls from the roof.

Does this law have direct application to us today and does it enforce loving ones neighbor?  You bet it does.  It is the essence of loving one’s neighbor to keep him from harm.  This is a form of purity.  Don’t have a flat roof, then how about a balcony or high deck or steps?  Think a banister or rail might keep someone from falling off?  Of course this is an easy one because the cultural gap is easier to cross.

I submit that most of the OT laws have similar functions, but they require more exigesus in order to bridge the cultural gap.  In addition many of the laws were to separate the Jews from other cultures because they were not to live as other people.  So to we Christians, as a holy people dedicated to God, are not to live as other people.  If we approach the law and the OT as a burden and something to be gotten around, then that is indeed Marcionite.  We don’t really believe that all Scripture is God breathed.  We just add that to one more thing in the liturgy that we say but don’t really believe:  “The word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.”

I would rather figure out how the OT applies to me today, than search for loopholes, reasons and rationalizations as to how I can ignore it.  I may not totaly understand it, but I know that God has a purpose.  If you think that the OT is telling you to put your teenager to death because they talk back to you, then I suggest you either have an agenda or need to do a lot of Bible study.  Such an argument is not worthy of serious Bible study or exigesus.

June 2, 7:12 am | [comment link]
53. William Witt wrote:

So I think you understand that this “leftist” view goes back to Jesus. (“On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”) As NRA pointed out above, the Great Commandment is rooted in the Torah.

The leftist view does not go back to Jesus—except as eisegesis.  Richard Hays is quite helpful in pointing out the deficiency of the liberal “love ethic.”  In the NT, love is defined by its narrative context, as being rooted in God’s creation and redemption of a fallen world, his covenant with Israel, and especially the culmination of that covenant in the incarnation, mission, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.  Agape love has nothing to do with modern or post-modern tolerance or inclusiveness.  It is the love of which Jesus says (in John’s gospel) “If you love me you will keep my commandments.”  Moreover, in the NT love is not separated from holiness (which I’ll get to in a second).

Indeed, so far as I could see, purity concerns are scarcely mentioned in [Hultgren’s] exegesis.

Thank you.  I hadn’t read the book, so I accepted Woodward’s claims about his reading of the parables, pending a quick trip to the library.

Purity/Holiness continues to be a significant theme in the NT . . .

Yes, so the NT is not interested in abolishing a “purity code.”  At the same time, it is important to distinguish between “holiness” and “purity,” in the sense in which Countryman et al use the latter term.  Countryman & co. equate purity with taboo, and contrast Jesus’ “love ethic” with the Pharisees so-called “purity ethic,” which is about refraining from “moral dirt.” (You point this out nicely in # 10 and # 19 above.) Bockmuehl’s essay demonstrates that Countryman is oblivious to the significance of biblical holiness.  The word does not appear in his index, while it appears hundreds of times in both the Old and New Testament.  For example, holiness language appears more frequently in Paul than justification language.

You also point out correctly (again in # 10) that Paul’s proscription of same-sex activity in Rom. 10 is rooted in the creation narratives of Genesis, not in a purity code.

So, again, Tom Woodward’s claim, renewed again here—“I believe the consensus on the parables of the Leaven, the Mustard Seed and the Prodigal Son is that Jesus is making a major shift away from the Purity Code”—is demonstrably false.  Perhaps some scholars affirm this—not Hultgren, apparently.  But it is not a “consensus” at all.  Moreover, it is a rather serious misreading.

June 2, 7:16 am | [comment link]
54. William Witt wrote:

Paul’s proscription of same-sex activity in Rom. 10

Whoops. Significant typo. Roman 1.

June 2, 7:20 am | [comment link]
55. Larry Morse wrote:

See Driver8"s rebuttal. Is he correct? If so, then Woodward is simply wrong. Or is it the other way around? If he is right, then Woodward’s argument is incontrovertibly flawed from the very outset.

  Look, the gospels are the result of oral transmission, are they not? A dozen, a hundred, various versions come to Luke’s attention. What does he write? A composite, whose sources can never be known. How does he pick and choose? There can be no way of telling. What other written composites are there? You can never know. Far be it from me to take the casuists’ and dissertation writers’ occupation away from them. Busy hands are happy hands.
Why is it impossible for the professorial to say ,” I don’t know, and neither does anyone else.”  The Christ we see in texts is often contradictory. It is painful and wearisome to see the scholars laboring to produce a factitious clarity,  a specious particularity. Of His contradictions, what can we honestly say except that we will never be ble to resolve them?

    Besides, everyone seems to forget he was human and was therefore, being fully human, a mass of unresolved contradictions. From God’s mouth to Christ’s ear may be clear and unambiguous, but from a man’s mouth to all other men’s ears is a tangle of sneezeweed and puckerbrush. Why would we expect that Christ, knowing with utter clarity God’s mind, would be able to say it in words we could understand? The man was mortal and, to be human, had to carry every possibility for fallibility we carry. The wholly divine did not speak with utter clarity until Christ rose from death. Language is a maze of ambiguities; the fact is beyond dispute and needs no words.
Meanwhile the babble from the polished halls is deafening, cell-phone Christianity. 

  It would be better and more productive to do as I have suggested, which is to take the gospels as poetry, to read them as we read a poem wherein words are used to say things words cannot say. LM

June 2, 7:38 am | [comment link]
56. William Witt wrote:

While we’re discussing various consensuses (consensi?) in biblical scholarship (imaginary or otherwise), there is one that sits there quietly as the elephant in the room.  There is indeed one virtually unanimous consensus in contemporary biblical scholarship.  The Bible (both OT and NT) universally condemns same-sex activity.  Full stop.  That is the reason why variations on the shellfish argument (like Woodward’s embracing of Jesus’ ethic as a rejection of purity codes) or ostensible exceptions (Jonathan and David, Jesus and the disciple Jesus loved) are so popular among reappraisers.  They are ways to enable us to evade what we know the text actually says.

June 2, 7:50 am | [comment link]
57. William Witt wrote:

Look, the gospels are the result of oral transmission, are they not? A dozen, a hundred, various versions come to Luke’s attention. What does he write? A composite, whose sources can never be known. How does he pick and choose? There can be no way of telling. What other written composites are there? You can never know.

Larry Morse,

This is far too skeptical.  A textual comparison of the synoptic gospels reveals rather close literary dependencies.  Something like the two source (Mark/Q) hypothesis is an inevitable conclusion.  (Even Farmer’s “priority of Matthew” hypothesis presupposes literary dependence.)

Two of the better recent recent discussions on these issues are Craig Evans’s Fabricating Jesus and Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.  We can read the gospels with confidence.

Why would we expect that Christ, knowing with utter clarity God’s mind, would be able to say it in words we could understand? The man was mortal and, to be human, had to carry every possibility for fallibility we carry. The wholly divine did not speak with utter clarity until Christ rose from death.

This seems a recipe for post-modern scepticism.  The gospels we have are all written from the point of view of post-resurrection faith—but why we there be no clarity until then? None?  (In the gospels the problem does not seem to be with confusion in Jesus’ teaching, but with the disciples’ obtuseness in understanding.)  Moreover, if Jesus “carried every possibility of fallibility we carry,” then it seems there would be no reason to accept either his Word or his presence as a trustworthy revelation of God.  The key issue here (as Barth stated throughout his career) is that to have a reliable Word from God, we must be able to trust that God is in himself what he is in his revelation.  If the revelation is unclear or unknowable, then we have no grounds for believing that we have a reliable knowledge of God as he is in himself.  In his revelation, God may stutter to lower himself to our weakness (as Calvin says), but he does not babble.

June 2, 8:29 am | [comment link]
58. Sarah1 wrote:

Driver8, thanks for checking on the two that Woodward claimed.

I am unsurprised at the results of your checking.

June 2, 8:33 am | [comment link]
59. Br_er Rabbit wrote:

I must add to Dr. Witt’s recommendation of Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. He shows that Luke used the most well-accepted (i.e., well-ordered) form of historiography of his day, to wit: direct dependence whenever possible on eyewitness accounts. Some of the incidental personalities that appear in the Gospels may well be mentioned because they are the source of an incorporated eyewitness account. While we would place a footnote to our written source, ancient historiagrophers would incorporate a mention of a personality known to the readers who was an eyewitness to the events described.

The Rabbit.

June 2, 9:11 am | [comment link]
60. Albany* wrote:

The whole mindset that says we ought to turn to “scholars” whose careers depend on PC institutions and their activists students for advancement is ludicrous. This is particularly true of Divinity Schools and Religious Studies Departments.

So the argument goes that I’m to rely more on the discernment of these folks than St. Paul who actually knew Peter, James the Lord’s brother, and the “Pillars” and by their account had “not run in vain”.

I’m to take the comfortable opinions of these tenure seekers over the man who went naked and beaten and shipwrecked? Get real Woodward.

June 2, 9:15 am | [comment link]
61. stabill wrote:

William Witt (# 53),

The leftist view does not go back to Jesus—except as eisegesis.  Richard Hays is quite helpful in pointing out the deficiency of the liberal “love ethic.” In the NT, love is defined by its narrative context, as being rooted in God’s creation and redemption of a fallen world, his covenant with Israel, and especially the culmination of that covenant in the incarnation, mission, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.  Agape love has nothing to do with modern or post-modern tolerance or inclusiveness.  It is the love of which Jesus says (in John’s gospel) “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” Moreover, in the NT love is not separated from holiness (which I’ll get to in a second).

eisegesis, eh?  What you say is mostly over my head.

I wonder if something might be clarified for the benefit of the less well educated masses in the grandstand.

I believe you are not saying that the Summary of the Law fails to comprehend all of the law and the prophets.

And you would agree that a Christian’s understanding of the Old Testament needs reconciliation with the Summary of the Law.

May I ask:

When Christians gather, under what circumstances is it consonant with the Great Commandment for one of them to say to another “One of us must leave this place.  Because of the differences in our propositional formulations I cannot bear to worship God in the same room with you.”

June 2, 12:33 pm | [comment link]
62. Br. Michael wrote:

61, eisegesis is reading into the text.  In otherwords trying to understand an ancient text on our terms rather than on the terms of the original audience.  It reading into the text rather than out of it.  Exegesis on the other hand is determing what the text was meant to convey to the original audience.  Once yu have done that then you can bring the text forward to analyze what application it has to todays audience and culture.

June 2, 1:13 pm | [comment link]
63. driver8 wrote:

#61 Not “I cannot” rather, I must not. When a church formally adopts heresy (that is puts a lie in place of the truth) not only can you but you must depart, for the sake of your soul.

(Let’s make it not about heresy but about racism. At what point does the Great Commandment say because of our propositional differences about race - and the actions that flow from them - I cannot bear to worship with you. For me, at the very least, if the church formally adopts racist propositions - such as the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa under Apartheid - then not only can you, but you must leave on pain of being implicated in untruth that will imperil your salvation. Which is to say, false propositions (heresy) can and in some cases should lead one to depart from churches).

June 2, 2:11 pm | [comment link]
64. Br. Michael wrote:

61, a summary of the law is just that, a summary.  1st Century rabbis and scribes loved to do this as an intellectual exercise.  Can you recite the Torah one one foot?  Answer:  “Do not do to other to others as you would not have them do to you.  The rest is commentary now go and study”.  However there is a lot under the hood so to speak.  How do you love your neighbor (which is a quote from Lev. 19:18 by the way) in the specific?  How many of us would study a science book by only reading the summary page?  So we need to study the law and the entire OT to properly understand the summary.

June 2, 2:42 pm | [comment link]
65. driver8 wrote:

#64 Yes - the Summary of the Law, as the Prayer Book so rightly calls it, is exactly that. One of the dilemmas of much modern debate is that we reflect on what what it means to love without reference to either Scripture or Tradition. Thus we proudly use (some of) Jesus’ words but import a whole range of concepts that are essentially alien to the Scriptural witness.

June 2, 3:44 pm | [comment link]
66. TBWSantaFe wrote:

Re: parables and the purity code.  Hultgren, page 400ff. notes that the reference to the seed being planted in a garden (a clear violation of the purity code) in Luke (the earliest NT version) comes from an even earlier source (Q).  Bernard Brandon Scott elaborates on the significance of the garden.  For the saving image to be rooted in a direct violation of the purity code may have been missed by Gagnon, et. al. but that does not make them right.

Hultgren does some fancy footwork to distance himself from the consistent NT usage of “leaven” as corruption, though he does acknowledge that usage. There are strong arguments that what he have handed down as simple parables of growth are something quite different.  Here, in responding to the Pharisees’ questions about Jesus’ conception of the Kingdom, Jesus shocks them over and over again: first, he says, it is like a woman. . . who takes corruption. . and hides it. . . in the purity of the flour. After kneading it, mixing it all together so corruption and purity are almost indistinguishable, she bakes it, etc.  This is similar to the gathering of the disciples, especially in the calling of Levi (in Mt.).  So, too, the parable of the Mustard Seed is anything but a parable of growth (see “The Parables of Jesus from the Inside” Sewanee Theological Review, 47:1.
Dr. Witt, I will gladly stand with Scott, Via, Bailey, Donohue, Tolbert, Wilder, and the rest of mainstream Biblical scholars dealing primarily with the parables.
Tom Woodward

June 2, 4:06 pm | [comment link]
67. William Witt wrote:

Dr. Witt, I will gladly stand with Scott, Via, Bailey, Donohue, Tolbert, Wilder, and the rest of mainstream Biblical scholars dealing primarily with the parables.

New definitions for Ireneaus’s dictionary:

1) “Mainstream Biblical scholars” = anyone who agrees with the inclusivist interpretation.
2) Eccentric; fundamentalist = anyone who does not agree with the “mainstream.”*

* See definition 1.

We wait with baited breath for any evidence that Tom Woodward has even read the critiques mentioned above.  He certainly has not addressed any of the arguments mentioned above—except to think that if he somehow just keeps saying “purity code” enough times we’ll be convinced.

Again, Tom. Stacking up more examples that say the already refuted same thing not make the argument ad populum any less a logical fallacy.  I’ll say it again.  The one article by Bockmuehl devastates (yes, that word) the purity code argument by simply pointing out the importance of holiness in both the OT and NT, and that Countryman completely ignores it.

June 2, 4:54 pm | [comment link]
68. driver8 wrote:

#66 I think you’re saying, in a round about way, that Hultgren actually disagrees with your view.

So far you’ve cited Scott - who is certainly a serious, though idiosyncratic, scholar. Looking at Hultgren and Snograss and their references to past research - the view you claim as mainstream - is not even mentioned by Hultgren and is mentioned and critiqued as implausible by Snodgrass.

Now simply piling up references doesn’t establish truth - but it does I think persuasively show that your claim to be supported by “the rest of mainstream biblical scholars” is simply false. It doesn’t cost your argument anything to drop the claim - it stands or falls on its own merits or demerits - so I don’t understand why you won’t simply withdraw it.

June 2, 6:29 pm | [comment link]
69. driver8 wrote:

FWIW I looked at the Donahue/Harrington (Sacra Pagna) France (NIGTC), Gundry, Guelich (WBC), Moloney and Yarboro Collins (Heremenia) commenataries on Mark to see what they said about the parable of the Mustard Seed. I think it’s fair to say that they represent a fair cross-section of contemporary NT scholarship.

Not a single one is persuaded that the Markan parable of the Mustard Seed is focused on the repudiation of purity theology. Nor is any persuaded that Mark has redacted the parable to remove a focus on purity.

June 2, 7:45 pm | [comment link]
70. driver8 wrote:

Add Marcus (ABC) to the list.

June 2, 7:49 pm | [comment link]
71. William Witt wrote:

It doesn’t cost your argument anything to drop the claim - it stands or falls on its own merits or demerits - so I don’t understand why you won’t simply withdraw it.

He can’t withdraw it.  Woodward’s argument rests on the following assertions:

1) Modern biblical scholarship “contradict[s] nearly every assertion made by those who are charging that the leadership of the Episcopal Church has abandoned the Bible.”
2) “Nearly every New Testament scholar” believes that Jesus’ ethic was about rejecting purity codes.
3) Paul’s rejection of same-sex activity is based on a purity code, demonstrating that Paul misunderstood Jesus.
4) Those who accuse the Episcopal Church of unfaithfulness to Scripture are following Paul’s endorsement of a purity code, and are thus themselves misunderstanding Jesus.
5) The enlightened majority of the Episcopal Church (like Woodward) follow mainstream biblical scholarship in rejecting purity codes, and are thus more faithful to the Bible—and Jesus!—than are the reactionaries.

Unfortunately, Woodward’s argument falls apart.

1 ) is not true at all.  Some NT scholars have followed Countryman’s purity code reading, but a good many others have soundly rejected it, and their criticisms are sound. 
2) Jesus’ ethic was not about rejecting purity codes.  While he healed on the sabbath, made statements that implied all foods were clean, and embraced the outcasts of his society, he did not challenge OT standards of sexuality, but rather strengthened them, e.g., by forbidding lust and divorce.  Moreover, he rooted sexual morality in the Genesis creation narratives.  Central to his message were calls to repentance and holiness.  His healings and exorcisms were symptomatic of moral cleansing from sin.  He came to call those who realized they were [sin] sick, not those who thought they needed no repentance, and told sinners not only “neither do I condemn you,” but “go and sin no more.”
3) Paul’s rejection of same-sex activity has the same basis as Jesus’ rejection of divorce—the Genesis creation narratives. So far from misunderstanding Jesus, Paul understood Jesus perfectly.
4) Those who accuse the Episcopal Church of unfaithfulness to the Bible are not only correctly following Paul’s reading of the Genesis narratives, but Jesus’ reading as well. 
5) And, yes, the reaserters are correct in their claim that the Episcopal Church is unfaithful to the Bible on this issue. Those (like Woodward) who continue to endorse a misreading despite its definitive refutation are either desparately clinging to a lost cause, or else cynically hoping that no one will notice that they are merely repeating a mantra.

But if Woodward withdraws his claim that the purity code argument is embraced by all mainstream biblical scholars, then he will also have to withdraw his key assertion—that it is the Episcopal Church that takes the Bible seriously, not its critics.  Point #5 is his real claim.  He cannot afford to concede that those who object to the new thing have an argument, for that would undo his claim that the “Episcopal Majority” is simply being faithful to the Scriptures, that they are nothing but old-fashioned “orthodox” Episcopalians, and that TEC’s opponents are the innovators.

June 2, 7:49 pm | [comment link]
72. stabill wrote:

Br. Michael (#62, #64),

Thanks for your helpful responses.

You write in #64:

61, a summary of the law is just that, a summary.  1st Century rabbis and scribes loved to do this as an intellectual exercise.  Can you recite the Torah on one foot? . . . However there is a lot under the hood so to speak.  How do you love your neighbor (which is a quote from Lev. 19:18 by the way) in the specific?  How many of us would study a science book by only reading the summary page?  So we need to study the law and the entire OT to properly understand the summary.

It is more than a summary page.  It is the ultimate standard.  The law and the prophets are a vehicle for beginning to comprehend it.

In his death and resurrection Christ transformed the rules.  If we follow Him, the law and the prophets and all other rules of the faith, while in most cases not upset, nonetheless, must be recast and understood anew in terms of the Great Commandment, which is the ultimate standard—a standard at once more gentle and more sweeping than the old.

This is Christianity 101.

It is neither leftist nor rightist.

I hope most of us are together to this extent.

June 2, 7:53 pm | [comment link]
73. driver8 wrote:

I have now looked at Fitzmyer (AB), Green (NICNT), Johnson (Sacra Pagina), Knight (New Testament Readings), Marshall (NIGTC) and Nolland (WBC) commentaries on Luke. In the exegisis of the Mustard Seed and Leaven again not a one is persuaded that a significant focus is purity.

I looked too at Fleddermann’s commentary on Q and he too sees no focus on purity theology even in Q’s versions of these parables (even should one be persuaded that Q is the most plausible hypothesis).

June 2, 8:16 pm | [comment link]
74. MikeS wrote:

#72 Stabill,

The Great Commandment calls us to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.  I agree with you that this is Christianity 101.

But Jesus Himself made it clear that we cannot love God apart from doing God’s will and keeping His commandments (which must naturally include the purity codes).  Should we dismiss Jesus’ words because they were spoken before His death and resurrection?

If we say then, as Fr. Woodward (and maybe you as well?) seems to be implying, that Paul got it wrong, how can we trust the Church to teach us what is the right way, because was it not the Church who gave us Paul for all these years?  Is not the argument that the Church created Scripture one of the issues hiding in the background of Fr. Woodward’s theology and therefore the Church can change it?  How can we then trust the Church the next time it wants to change Scripture that it has the mind of God, if the Church so consistently gets it wrong for so long?

And who gets to decide how God is loved?  Is it not God Himself who decides how He is loved by His people?  If I give my wife everything I can think of that communicates love, but fail to do the things that she receives as truly communicating love that I know about but dismissed for a lack of time, have I not failed to love her with all of my heart?  Have I not failed to love her as she desires to be loved?  Am I not merely proving my own love for myself and not her?

If we do not love God the way He desires to be loved, how can we say we love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength?  We will be falling short of true love, will we not?

I humbly suggest that Paul be read as N.T. Wright has laid out in his simple, non-academic book, The Last Word.  Paul writes at the opening acts of the Church age explicating the previous dramatic acts in the play of redemption God has done through Jesus Christ.  We cannot rewrite or dismiss the part Paul has written (or Jesus has revealed), as it is an essential part of the drama.  We can only write our own parts in line with the overall direction of the play:  Love God with our all of heart, soul, mind and strength.

June 2, 9:14 pm | [comment link]
75. DonGander wrote:

Fellows:

What a nice conversation on loving one’s neighbors. What I have not yet read is the fact that God knows we tend toward revisionism and so the sum of the law (the definition of how to love) is to love.

In other words, God could not command us to simply love one another, for everyone is right in his own eyes even when they destroy. What God needed to do was to teach us how to truly love. The law teaches us how to love. If we don’t steal, we don’t kill, we don’t dishonor our parents, etc., we are on our way to learning just what love is.

If you love, you will keep God’s commands. If you do not keep His commands, then you deceive yourself if you think that you love.

How presumptuous of some of the posters who speak as though they know how to love better than God knows how to love. They want to say that they love while throwing away a part of the definition of love.

Don

June 2, 9:40 pm | [comment link]
76. Br. Michael wrote:

Stabill, the summary is form the OT.  Jesus is quoting from Deut. 6:5 nad Leviticus 19:18.  Jesus is saying the same thing that the OT is saying.  You can’t sepatate the summary from its underlying material unless you want to redefine what it is saying and come up with your own definition of what love is.

We tend to define love in terms of what we want and what makes us happy.  Jesus and the OT is defining love in God’s terms.  And God does not love us in terms of what we want, but in terms of what is best for us and restores us to right relationship with Him.

June 2, 9:51 pm | [comment link]
77. driver8 wrote:

Finally I’ve had chance to look at the Davies and Allison (ICC), France (NICNT), Gundry, Hagner (WBC), Hare (interpretation), Harrington (Sacra Pagina), Hauerwas (Brazos), Keener, Luz (Hermeneia), Morris, Nolland (NIGTC) and Turner (BECNT) commentaries on Matthew. In respect of the parables of the Mustard Seed and Leaven not one of them is persuaded that the parables focus on purity.

I do think it’s reasonable to say that the Funk/Scott/Jesus Seminar view that they do focus on purity theology is a minority view in contemporary scholarship.

I think Thomas Woodward should withdraw his claim.

June 2, 10:03 pm | [comment link]
78. Br_er Rabbit wrote:

I think Thomas Woodward should withdraw his claim.

No need, Driver8.
You have just finished demolishing his claim.
Congratulations, and thank you.
The Rabbit.

June 2, 10:25 pm | [comment link]
79. Bill Matz wrote:

Stabill, the Law points to the Summary; hence to contradict it would be an internal inconsistency. Jesus Himself stated that he came to fulfill the Law, not abolish it. And Jesus clearly strengthened, not weakened moral law, e.g. equating lust and anger with adultery and murder. You confuse Jesus’ injection of mercy with lessening the moral standards. Not the same thing, but a common misconception in TEC.

June 3, 12:11 am | [comment link]
80. TBWSantaFe wrote:

I stand by the article which prompted this string/

Contrary to several notes:  I agree wholeheartedly that holiness is a major part of Jesus’ ethics. Holiness, though, cannot be equated with most notions of purity. Holiness, for Jesus, is a radical matter, more reflected in the Beatitudes and in the re-imagined world of the parables.

Dr. Witt, reading the assumptions you ascribe to me (#71), I would have to agree with you. However, you have grossly misunderstood my argument and my assumptions. I do not understand why or how you do that so consistently.

It would be an interesting exercise to be involved in a dialogue with you and others about the discussion in “The Undermining of the Episcopal Church” of your and others’ Christian ethics—so contradictory to the life and teaching of Jesus Christ.

I will check my blog for notes from people who want to be involved in a dialogue about that. 

There is an interesting analysis of the Parable of the Prodigal Son which identifies the older son with the Pharisees (whose questions have prompted the telling of the parable).  With the return of the younger son and the party in honor of his return to the family. the older son becomes aware of a changed reality of family which undercuts his strict moralism—and the parable ends with the father urging the older son to join the party and the older son standing outside, not knowing if he can enter this new, inclusive reality.  The older son is the Pharisees—and, I believe, he is also those who call themselves “reasserters.” 

I am aware that the recovery of Jesus’ embrace of diversity and his redefining of the Kingdom has got to be frightening to many—just as this parable was frightening in its implications to the Pharisees who, like many “reasserters,” have been holding on to a rigid, moralistic view of the world.  What is at stake in the Episcopal Church is whether we can listen to and learn from one another. I and others believe we are right—and that at this point none of us has a lock on the final truth in these matters. When either side takes on the mantle of “The True Believer,” any dialogue or relationship of respect is out the window.
Tom Woodward

June 3, 12:27 pm | [comment link]
81. driver8 wrote:

Holiness, though, cannot be equated with most notions of purity

Of course, no one has said that. They go together as correlated theological concepts (which is to say that if you imagine your theological task is to disconnect holiness from purity - then you lose not just purity but holiness too). Of course, as I said waaay back in the thread both purity and holiness are refigured in the NT and careful talk about that would be very fruitful. But that can only begin if you are willing to recognize that theology of purity and its connection to holiness is actually present in the NT.

If I may be so bold let me suggest some reading on purity and holiness in Second Temple Judaism:

Jonathan Klawans, Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple
Jonathan Klawans, Impurity and Sin in Ancient Judaism
Jacob Milgrom,  Leviticus

I am aware that the recovery of Jesus’ embrace of diversity and his redefining of the Kingdom has got to be frightening to many

This really is a pretty straight forward ad hominen. I don’t disagree because I am frightened. I disagree because I think that some of the the claims you have made are untruthful. I’m saying you have got it wrong in some particular respects. I’ve tried to show where and provided evidence that my claims have some initial reasonableness. I have attempted to pursue this dialogue to see if, against my initial thinking, some kind of conversation might take place.

So here we are at the end of our dialogue you choose to finish by accusing those who disagree with you of Pharisaism. “Let’s learn from each other - but let me say first that you are a bigot”. I am genuinely sorry to see you do that and it makes your invitation to listen to one another rather less persuasive than it might have seemed.

I am not saying that there is no conversation to be had about human sexuality. I am saying that your piece was, in its methods, assumptions, conclusions and “facts” unpersuasive and untruthful. It is a kind of rhetoric that makes dialogue more difficult not less and the unwillingness to engage with any kind of criticism even when presented with evidence that suggests your claims look to be false gives lie to your stated desire to listen.

June 3, 1:33 pm | [comment link]
82. stabill wrote:

At #72 I wrote:

In his death and resurrection Christ transformed the rules.  If we follow Him, the law and the prophets and all other rules of the faith, while in most cases not upset, nonetheless, must be recast and understood anew in terms of the Great Commandment, which is the ultimate standard—a standard at once more gentle and more sweeping than the old.

I want to respond briefly to several comments about what I said.

I came to this understanding during an introductory college course on the New Testament in the late 50’s.  (The teacher was Presbyterian.)

I said “more sweeping”.  That’s not “anything goes” or “what feels good” or “live and let live”.  It is a higher bar than what is provided by the finite list of admonitions found in the texts of the law and the prophets.

One example: Where the 10th commandment forbids false witness against one’s neighbor, in my view the Great Commandment forbids all use of half truths and innuendo and requires us to exercise respect and courtesy toward those with whom we have propositional differences in church discussions.

The following appeared in a different sub-thread here:

Those who accuse the Episcopal Church of unfaithfulness to the Bible are not only correctly following Paul’s reading of the Genesis narratives, but Jesus’ reading as well.

Has TEC stated a position of unfaithfulness to the Holy Scriptures?  If so, it had to be a statement by General Convention.  Please cite.

Manipulative behavior is not a way to love one’s neighbor as one’s self.  Our clergy, especially, need to watch themselves carefully on this, because, at times, it can be extremely easy for a pastor who is “successful” to manipulate the flock.

June 3, 5:30 pm | [comment link]
83. driver8 wrote:

When a Bishop teaches - does he or she just give his private opinion or is he or she speaking on behalf of the church. The consecration of bishops seems to indicate the latter. Examples of bishops unfittingly interpreting Scripture within TEC are, as one might say, legion.

June 3, 5:39 pm | [comment link]
84. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

driver8,

I’ve abstained from participation in this thread for quite some time now, after monopolizing it for a while earlier.  But you stepped up to the plate admirably.

In terms of your rebuttal of the absurd claims of Tom Woodward in his #40 and 66, let me add my hearty agreement with you.  Woodward is totally out in left field, relying on highly idiosyncratic and speculative views that are very far indeed from commanding the assent of most NT scholars.  You have sampled a wide range of representative commentaries and studies, and you are absolutely right, and Woodward is totally wrong.

However, I can’t help noticing that you do read the same commentaries that I do after all, despite all your protests on other threads about the inadequacies of modern historical criticism for Christian purposes.  We don’t seem to be so far apart after all, as I suspected all along.

Congratulations, driver8.  Job well done.

David Handy+

June 3, 6:12 pm | [comment link]
85. Bill Matz wrote:

Stabill, in 79 I agreed that Jesus set the bar higher and added mercy. But mercy is to allow repentance and a return to compliance with the moral standards. It is not to lower those standards, as you imply.

Yes, we must avoid manipulative behavior. But the watershed manipulation is TEC constantly asking for a “conversation” and then insititutionally excluding opposing voices, often by ad hominem attacks and other forms of bullying.

Examples include the almost pathological refusal to include the voices of ex-gays in the conversation, probably because gay advocates continue to push the scientifically-disproven myth that homosexuality is somehow inherited. Why does TEC refuse to discuss the amply-documented medical consequences of active gay living, that cause gays to lose an average of 30 years of lifespan?

How does TEC help an honest conversation by passing disingenuous resolutions such as D-039 and C-051 by claiming they don’t authorize SSBs, only to have the proponents turn right around after and claim those same resolutions as justification for SSBs. Yes, there is manipulation going on, but for 30-40 years it has been by those who have sought to impose a personal agenda on the Church, not by conservatives.

June 3, 6:42 pm | [comment link]
86. driver8 wrote:

Mark 7. 20 - 23

It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.

Let me just address very briefly the substantive matter. How is purity refigured in the Jesus tradition? In short, Jesus prioritizes what we might call moral purity. In this sense Paul can be seen as a faithful follower of the Jesus’ tradition.

It is precisely Jesus’ (and the broad NT witness following him) focus on moral purity that is the biblical response to the shellfish argument. The church rightly focuses on moral defilement because Jesus does.

June 4, 1:38 am | [comment link]
87. driver8 wrote:

#87 I spent a decade and more seriously immersing myself in the historical critical stuff after seminary - attended SBL, began doctoral research. So that I came to re-evaluate its significance, doesn’t mean that I don’t continue to greatly value it. I simply want to put it in its proper place within the church’s interpretation of Scripture.

Geeky confession - of all the scholarly books I own if I had to save one in a fire it would be the first volume of Davies and Allison’s commentary on Matthew.

June 4, 1:50 am | [comment link]
88. driver8 wrote:

If Thomas is still reading, here is a link to a 3.9 MB pdf file that will helpfully supplement your reading of the Funk/Borg/Scott/Jesus Seminar stuff:

Paula Fredriksen, “Did Jesus oppose the purity laws?”

June 4, 2:14 am | [comment link]
89. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

driver8 (#87),

I’m assuming that you were responding to my #84 in your #87.  Thanks for clarifying more of your personal story: i.e., the immersing of yourself in modern biblical studies for a decade or so after seminary but becoming increasingly disillusioned with the usefulness (or lack thereof) of historical critical methods in particular with regad to the Christian interpretation of Holy Scripture for the sake of building up the Church.  That’s precisely the sort of thing I was suspecting.  Some of our earlier exchanges about the limitations of historical methods of biblical study for pastoral and theological purposes led me to think you were much more familiar with modern biblical scholarship than many of those who disparage it on conservative blogs like this one and especially on SF. 

I have a similar story to tell (some other day perhaps), except that I did finish my doctorate and I probably remain a little more convinced of the real, but quite limited, value of historical methods of biblical study for disciples of Christ, even though my main academic interest lies in the literary dimension of the Bible.

FWIW, I too am an earnest admirer of the massive, detailed 3 vol. ICC commentary on Matthew by Davies and Allison, though I wouldn’t choose it to be the first thing I’d rescue from my library in a fire.  In that hypothetical example, I’d probably go for the Bauer-Danker lexicon or my Synopsis Quattuor Evangeliorum or just the Greek NT itself.  And if I could grab a valued commentary, it would have to be one on Acts, which is my favorite book of the Bible and my academic specialty, and I’d probably choose Luke Johnson’s Sacra Pagina commentary.

But since you admire Dale Allison (Rob Gagnon’s senior colleague at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary), I wonder if you’ve seen Allison’s marvelous book on the Sermon on he Mount in the Companions to the NT series.  I think it’s a splendid example of how a theological reading of a key biblical text can be enriched by knowledge of all the historical background data Allison knows so well.  Allison blends the historical and theological aspects of the sacred text in a helpful and instructive way, but keeps the focus on the canonical text itself and he reflects on its profound challenges and implications of the lofty Sermon on the Mount for Christian disciples and the Christian community struggling to be faithful to the radical will of God disclosed so powerfully in that supremely important part of Holy Scripture.

David Handy+

One again, as time goes on and we have a chance to discuss such matters more fully on various threads, it becomes increasingly apparent to me that we aren’t so far apart after all.  Historical scholarship has a proper and fully legitimate place in the arsenal of Christian scholars, not least in refuting the false claims put forth by people making falsifiable historical or exegetical claims as Tom Woodward has done on this thread.  But in the end, it’s the theological and moral dimensions of Holy Scripture, as God’s Word written, that matter most.  And all must be done for the building up of the Church, to which the Scriptures rightly belong and for which it was written, collected, preserved, and has been ceaselessly expounded and cherished in the first place.

So again.  Congratulations on a job well done.  To return to an earlier theme on this thread, you completely DEMOLISHED Tom Woodward’s patently false claims.

David Handy+

June 4, 8:35 am | [comment link]
90. driver8 wrote:

Yes, I have read his book on the Sermon (several times) and used it in teaching folks preparing for ordination. I love the way he occasionally weaves in exegesis from the Fathers. It feels, as it should, like an encouragement to a spiritual encounter with our Lord and not simply a bit of historical detective work.

June 4, 10:56 am | [comment link]
91. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

driver8 (#90),

I’m glad to hear you like Prof. Dale Allison’s book on the Sermon on the Mount too.  I agree that he weaves in helpful references to earlier Christian interpreters (including, but not limited to the Fathers) and he gets the tone right.  Allison writes as a believe and disciple for other believers and would-be disciples, and that makes all the difference. 

It appears that we have a good deal more in common that perhaps it first appeared when we sparred on SF’s contentious biblical infallibility thread a couple months ago.  And I rejoice in that.

But before we get into too comfortable an exchange of statements of agreement here, I’ll just point out to everyone that despite its severe limitations for Christian use in building up the Church, historical criticism remains an indispensable tool in our interpretive toolbox.  And one of the chief reasons for that is quite simple and undeniable.  Namely, once historical questions have been raised and pressed, only a historical answer will do in dealing with them.  And in particular, once false historical claims have been advanced, only sound historical arguments and reliable historical evidence will do in refuting those false claims.  Just as you ably refuted Tom Woodward’s wildly fanciful and highly idiosyncratic historical claims on this thread about Jesus’ attitudes toward the Jewish ritual purity code.

And after all, that’s what Titus 1:9 calls for (meaning the biblical text of course).  The authorized teachers of the Church (even in so ultra-tolerant and easy-going a church tradition as Anglicanism) must be able to expound the biblical and traditional faith clearly, and to confute those who pervert and deny it.  As you did.

Again I say, well done, brother!

David Handy+

June 4, 11:25 am | [comment link]
92. stabill wrote:

Bill Matz (# 85),

Stabill, in 79 I agreed that Jesus set the bar higher and added mercy. But mercy is to allow repentance and a return to compliance with the moral standards. It is not to lower those standards, as you imply.

I did not say “added mercy”.  I’m not sure what you mean by “added mercy” in this context.

The word “mercy” occurs in 210 verses of the Old Testament, KJV.

And I did not imply a lowering of standards.

Let me add this:  The word “neighbor” in what Jesus calls the second commandment refers to everyone in the world including one’s self. So all self-injurious behavior is forbidden.

Were you pointing in this direction?

And I think that the Great Commandment calls us to be faithful stewards of the Earth to the extent that it is within our power.

June 4, 12:42 pm | [comment link]
93. William Witt wrote:

Dr. Witt, reading the assumptions you ascribe to me (#71), I would have to agree with you. However, you have grossly misunderstood my argument and my assumptions. I do not understand why or how you do that so consistently.

Tom,

You keep claiming this.  Yet you never substantiate how I have “grossly misunderstood” your argument.  I don’t think I have.  Neither have others on this board.  You have made quite specific claims about the mainstream of New Testament scholarship, specifically on the question of purity ethics.  You have been shown to be mistaken. This is clearly a minority position, not mainstream. 

I have provided an alternative reading—that NT teaching about sexuality is rooted not in purity ethics, but in the creation narratives of Genesis 1 and 2, and that both Paul and Jesus agree on this.

That is a ground for discussion.  You could argue about why you think my reading is wrong, or yours is correct.  But quit complaining that you have been misunderstood, without being quite specific about the misunderstanding.

June 4, 4:12 pm | [comment link]
94. driver8 wrote:

Let me recommend the very recently published commentary on Leviticus
by Ephraim Radner. He thoughtfully exegetes the way in which Leviticus 18 figures in the image of the redeemed humanity that the Son presents to the Father. He opens, rather than closes, discussion whilst being faithful to the tradition of the church.

June 4, 6:36 pm | [comment link]
95. Bill Matz wrote:

Stabill, it may be that we are saying the same thing. I understood “gentle” to imply a lower (but not anything goes) standard. But on reflection it appears that with “gentle but more sweeping” you may be saying the same thing as I when I talk about Jesus enofrcing and even expanding the Law, but “injecting” mercy (instead of a rigid application of the punishment.)

E.g. Jesus offering the adultress the opportunity to repent did not alter the basic immorality of adultery. TEC de facto and de jure has said that sexual conduct that is Biblically proscribed is not wrong and requires no repentance. Those are vastly different things.

June 4, 6:49 pm | [comment link]
96. stabill wrote:

Bill Matz (# 95),

But on reflection it appears that with “gentle but more sweeping” you may be saying the same thing as I when I talk about Jesus enforcing and even expanding the Law, but “injecting” mercy (instead of a rigid application of the punishment.)

My understanding is both (1) less rigid application of punishment and and (2) more tailored interpretation of specific commandments and proscriptions.

For example, we do not require circumcision (and in Paul’s time that was a heated issue).

For a second example consider Exodus 22:18:  The commandment “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” would seem to put the responsibility of serving as judge and executioner, or at least alarm ringer, on me if I encounter a witch.

I interpret the notion of witch as at least partly superstitious and, in any case, misogynist, and I find it hard to accept this dictum as a legitimate labeling of evil.

Jesus, of course, according to Matthew and Luke, tells me that I am not the judge.  (This is reinforced by Paul in First Corinthians.)

The Great Comandment addresses what I am to do.  Each individual is to take responsibility for his (or her) own conduct.

It’s what I must do, not a long but finite list of what I must not do.

On the one hand, there should be serious questions if a specific commandment seems inconsonant with it.

On the other hand, a great deal more has been added to the specifically enumerated points in the law and the prophets.

(I’ve been told that many contemporary practicing Jews see things in much the same way as this.)

June 4, 11:06 pm | [comment link]
97. TBWSantaFe wrote:

driver8   - contrary to your assertion, I have not referred to you or anyone on this site as a bigot. I believe you and others on SF represent an extreme in Anglican thought and I am distressed by the regularity that visitors to the site are branded “heretic” and the like for reminding you of another part of the spectrum of Anglican thought.

This string began about the reasons The Episcopal Majority decided to let that blog lay fallow for the time being. I responded as a member of the Steering Committee of TEM and in passing have expressed my appreciation for the occasional attempts of SF people to respond in real dialogue or discussion.

You all see me missing what you see as a consistent teaching about Biblical morality: I see you missing what I see is a morality taught by Jesus in the Synoptics that reaches beyond that morality and often contradicting it. That is not reason to accuse me or you of heresy.

As a retired priest I do not have the money to buy the titles you have recommended—some, I’m sure, would be enriching while others, like Gagnon, I would find intellectually dishonest.

I have no reason to accuse those posting at SF as being less than Christian or inventing a new religion—and none of you have reason to accuse me or others who have ventured into your site of that. I have always rejoiced to live in a church which is peopled by United Methodists, Quakers, Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans from around the world, American Baptists, Church of the Brethren, Mennonites and so many others—each enriching the others when we have been open to one another’s truth. Are all these heretical because they don’t mirror your point of view? Has God granted a blog the supreme authority over all these expressions of faith in Jesus Christ?
To respond any more on SF with long strings of jabs and gotcha’s is more than I can do. I have put a place for continuing conversations on my own blog http://www.turningthingsupsidedown.blogspot.com and you all are welcome there.
Tom Woodward

June 7, 2:36 am | [comment link]
98. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

Tom (#97),

It sounds like you have just signed off and perhaps shaken the dust off your feet with reference to this thread.  And if so, that’s fine, it’s always your prerogative to bow out.

But one of the things I find disturbing about how you conducted yourself on this string is that you keep repeating mere assertions instead of making real arguments.  And that renders genuine discussion or debate impossible since you refuse to truly engage those of us who believe that you are indeed a heretic.  And that is you depart from the clear and consistent teaching of Holy Scripture and Tradition on a point where there is no legitimate room for disagreement. 

Now, of course, it’s possible to argue that this dispute is over a matter of adiaphora.  Many honorable Anglican leaders have made precisely that claim, not least the Archbishop of Canterbury himself.  I think they are clearly wrong, but it’s possible to so argue.  But you haven’t bothered to argue the case for that; you’ve simply assumed it to be true and then insisted that all the rest of us just accept that claim without you having to prove your case.  That is not how debates work.  You can’t just beg the question and assume a central point in the dispute is already settled.  You are merely espousing propaganda, not daring to take part in real debate.

In short, your inability to engage in a fruitful discussion here is evidence of two things, in my judgment. 

First, this fruitless and frustrating exchange illustrates all too well the difficulty of meaningful dialogue between people sharing radically divergent and mutually exclusive worldviews.  It’s like we live on different planets and speak different languages.  There’s very little mutual understanding being advanced.  The friction generates more heat than light.

Secondly, I regret to say that I find it hard to take your claims seriously, because you don’t even try very hard to buttress your claims with facts.  You make wild statements about what biblical scholars supposed all think, but then don’t proceed to back up those assertions with solid evidence.  And frankly, this makes genuine debate impossible, since you refuse to play the game by the rules.

Alas, you say that you find Prof. Robert Gagnon, the leading academic defender of the traditional and biblical view of homosexual activity, to be “intellectually dishonest.”  I couldn’t disagree with you more.  His prolific writing on this subject is a model of scrupulous care and precision and thoroughness.  He is a superb exegete in every way.  I regret to say it, but you are the one who has been intellectually dishonest.

David Handy+

June 7, 6:22 am | [comment link]
99. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

Ugh, I shouldn’t post comments so early in the morning before my brain in fully in gear.  Please forgive the several typo’s and minor blemishes in the preceeding comment.

But for the record, in the 2nd paragraph I left a crucial word out.  In the last sentence, I meant, “And that is BECAUSE you depart from the clear and consistent teaching of Holy Scripture and Tradtion.”

And then, in the 6th paragraph (next to last), I of course meant to say, “You make wild statements about what biblical scholars SUPPOSEDLY all think…”

David Handy+

June 7, 6:37 am | [comment link]
100. TBWSantaFe wrote:

New Reformation, et. al., I note that none of you has accepted my invitation to carry on dialogue away from Titus One or Stand Firm. I can understand that—there is great comfort in post after post in agreement that we really demolished him back there, didn’t we? Heh, heh, heh.

I note as well that I never asserted that the main thrust of the parable of the Mustard Seed is an attack on the purity code, though that has been the jumping off place for your attacks and attempts to “demolish” me (interesting phrase on an otherwise Christian blog). What is clear is that the violation of the purity code appears in the earliest version of the parable—I believe that is yours to explain away, not mine to establish it.

I note again, that none of you has addressed my extended article in the Sewanee Theological Review with its documentation of the points I’ve made in this string.  I believe it has been Fr. Handy who laments what he reads as my argument by assertion (as though his is anything different). I have stated the case in “The Undermining of the Episcopal Church” and in the Sewanee Theological Review article in some detail.

I would refer you all to the article in the Christian Century which reviews the debate in the church about slavery. The pro-slavery side asserted over and over again that the Bible specifically supports their position, while the anti-slavery people noted that taken as a whole, the central thrust of the life and teaching of Jesus supported their position. This is precisely the framework of our struggles about human sexuality. You think I am irresponsible in dealing with various texts—I think you are irresponsible in dealing with the central thrust of the life and teaching of Jesus, particularly focused on the parables, the Beatitudes and the ways Jesus dealt with a number of individuals in his ministry. You pays your money and you make your bets. I am bouyed by the correctness of those in former years who eschewed the proof texting for the broader love and acceptance of Jesus.
Tom Woodward
I have been on an extended vacation with my wife, children and grandchildren—thus the lateness in this response.

July 6, 11:43 pm | [comment link]
Registered members must log in to comment.




Next entry (above): As Oil Prices Soar, Restaurant Grease Thefts Rise

Previous entry (below): Mark McCall: A Reply to Bishop Sauls

Return to blog homepage

Return to Mobile view (headlines)