Yesterday on our blog we had an interchange that I want to toss into the pot today for a discussion. I referred to 1 Peter as by Peter. Here’s what one person said … and let me add that the point is not to see who is right and who is wrong here but to generate a conversation about how we read the Bible and what role historical reconstruction plays when we read the Bible … well, here’s what one person said:
I like what you say about 1 Peter here, but honestly, after taking an Intro to the New Testament class at UNC, the first thing I noticed was that you acknowledged the apostle Peter as the author of this book when in fact the majority of New Testament scholars don?t believe that 1 Peter or 2 Peter were written by him. I?m not saying that everyone has to believe that 1 Peter and 2 Peter were written by someone other than Peter, but I now think it?s best to refer to the author of books such as these as simply ?the author.? That?s how I refer to the author of the Pastoral Epistles (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus) since most New Testament scholars are in agreement that those books were not written by Paul. I?m sorry if this comes off as overly critical, but I think it will make posts easier to read for those who have studied the New Testament in its historical context.
But, then another person asked this:
Why is it important, or even useful, in a devotional post to start off with caveats on authorship? Many of us know of these authorship debates ? some know the issues quite well. But they muddy the waters of a devotional ? that is not the purpose.
To which a third person adds this:
I understand your [2d comment above] perspective, but I think [the first comment] has a good point. Saying ?the author? is a simple way to acknowledge the things we don?t know. Yes, this may be a devotional post, but a devotional reading of Scripture need not be divorced from an academic understanding of the texts. In fact, any devotional reading will be improved by such an understanding.
Perhaps the standard purpose of a devotional isn?t to teach about authorship, but given the Church?s lack of biblical studies proficiency at both ordained and lay levels, it actually might be a really good thing, perhaps, if those of us that did know more integrated it into our ?devotional? writings, as well.
Now a fourth person adds … and this one came when our site was down:
The only time I blink at authorship stuff in a devotional setting is when pressure is being applied about authorship that is tied to an interpretation that requires a certain belief about the author in order to make the devotional thought. Something that would not be true if another person was the author.
Did that make sense?
Otherwise, I have learned to bracket distractions so as to stay with the intention of the devotion. And when I just can’t do that, I try to wait and say something about the distraction at the end.
Especially here because Jesus Creed is a place where lots of “common” folk stop to ponder what Scot has to say. And we’re trying to learn to keep the conversation going with questions rather than stop the conversation with statements. (I’m still trying to apply this consistently, and most everyone is real patient with me.)
While I absolutely agree with you [first comment] about phrasing things as neutrally as possible — and try to make those very same statements when I’m teaching something that is “disputed”, maybe you need to build an internal “filter” or something that catches these things that trip you up.
I think you will be disappointed if you expect others in the blogosphere to readily adapt to your scholarship sensitivities, especially because our host is way more humble and gracious and approachable than most! 😉
So, back to our question: When you read the Bible, let’s say for formation primarily, what difference does it make to you to ponder authorship or historical questions?