Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


On Reading the Bible for Formation

posted by xscot mcknight

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?



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Luke

posted April 30, 2008 at 1:45 am


Personally, for formation primarily I think it doesn’t make hardly any difference at all. If I’m studying Genesis to know God more, or just casually reading through it, then it is of no concern to me whether it is the Yahwist or Priestly source…or Moses! Likewise with the pastorals. Likewise with the Gospels
However, I do believe that in doing an in-depth study it is very important to understand authorship and historical matters…but this is pertinent to what…maybe 5 percent of the church?
I would like to add though, 1 Peter is still pretty strongly held to have been written by Peter the apostle. It is 2nd Peter that so many doubt (with good reason and sufficient evidence).
For the most part, when pastors get up in the pulpit and go on and on about Pauline, Mosaic, or Matthean authorship, I think they’re wasting their breath 85% of the time b/c nobody really cares anyways. These things should be dealt with just b/c of the skepticism about them in the public square, but the majority of people just don’t give a hoot in my opinion.
By the way, it’s also fruitless to be dogmatic about the author of Hebrews (IMO, of course!).



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Ranger

posted April 30, 2008 at 2:29 am


Sometimes it matters and other times it matters very little at all. If reading for personal formation then academic perspective is important, but in this situation it seems to be creating a discussion for no beneficial purpose.
I haven’t read the previous thread of comments, but in this situation I’m somewhat discouraged by the comment that “the majority of New Testament scholars don’t believe…” For one thing, outside of major doctrines and issues it is very hard to confidently make this statement at all because there is great diversity among scholarship (particularly in regards to authorship issues…see “The Authorship of John”).
Furthermore, I’m no expert on 1st Peter, but I’ve done plenty of New Testament academic study and have taken a few classes on the general epistles in particular. I know that there are also plenty highly respected New Testament scholars from various traditions who would hold that Peter at least wrote the first epistle. Furthermore, I know that there is not the scholarly concensus that the commenter implies in regards to either the authorship of 1st Peter nor of the Pastorals. So I would not only question whether this comment was beneficial or necessary, but also whether or not it is well grounded academically.
Personally, I think the wise decision is to refer to the author as the apostle Peter. My reasoning is that regardless of a personal conviction as to authorship, the writer (whether they truly are or not) claims to be the apostle Peter. So even if the author is not actually the apostle Peter, the letter is written as though it were from his pen and should thus be read from that perspective. I would even say the same for 2nd Peter, even though I personally do not believe it to be authentically from the apostle Peter, but instead from some of his disciples.



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Scott

posted April 30, 2008 at 3:15 am


There is a saying that I think is apropos here: “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” I believe this applies to lectio divina of the Bible. What do I mean? I believe that God can use all our training and experiences through the Holy Spirit to “speak” to us through Scripture. We don’t have to bracket critical and historical issues or concerns;but what is most important is the requisite humility that in ways we can’t predict, God can and does opn out hearts and minds to give us a word from our attempts to “read,mark,learn and inwardly digest” the Bible as Holy Scripture.We have to be open to God and not lose sight on the goal at hand: communion with our Creator.This “humility” is played out in two ways:an absolute commitment to the reality that the Triune God speaks through Scripture and this god, as active in history incarnationally (and we as finite,fallen creatures)need to incorporate the insights of critical historical study into our holy reading and pondering in some fashion. Is it absolutely necessary? No.God does not begrudge us because of our lack of training or background;but I think it best to use all the resources we have at our disposal in service of formational reading. It can help keep us honest, along with sacred Tradition also.



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Ted M. Gossard

posted April 30, 2008 at 3:30 am


I guess I’m unlearned in a way, and in another way simply don’t care about the authorship, though I’ve been reminded in Witherington’s commentary on Philemon, Colossians and Ephesians that authorship can make a difference in interpretation.
If 2 Peter is not from Peter himself, I would think it’s like Petrene, and could have many of the teachings of Peter and what he actually said. I’m not so sure the letter itself makes me think Peter didn’t write it, though again the genre that may seem strange to many of us, may have been common, familiar and good to others. And I don’t have a great grasp on reading the Greek.
But in the end, for the most part a devotional reading, itself beholden to scholarship with the translations we read- the authorship won’t make much difference I take it, as to how I read it.
And I like how Witherington, against many though Witheringotn’s tribe on this has increased so that it’s about 50/50, how he defends Paul’s authorship of Ephesians. I think Witherington (and I think Snodgrass, as well) puts up a good argument there. And I look at alot of scholarship with some suspicion, wondering what might be driving their thinking. Some of their presuppositions can be groundless or weak.
It is good to try to understand the human side of Scripture as well as the divine side. It is a human book, as well as the word of God.
A devotional reading is dependent on good scholarship as I noted, and details in regard to that as we read can help us. But all we have to have is the text along with the Spirit and reading it according to the consensus of the church, using our reason. So I find that helpful for myself, as I seek to hear God’s voice through his word.



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Ben Wheaton

posted April 30, 2008 at 3:34 am


How would a conclusion that the pastoral epistles were not from Paul affect the integrity of these epistles, seeing as they claim to be from Paul? If the author was lying, then it would tend to weaken his authority, wouldn’t it?



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Heidi Renee

posted April 30, 2008 at 4:16 am


I am just a commoner, but it is important to me that the disciple who can’t keep his mouth shut and is the most impulsive of the bunch penned the words “take every thought captive” – I don’t know about all of the particulars of time and authorship, but I know that voice matures and grows and the idea that it could possibly be a dispute because of voice saddens me because I believe that redemption changes us and transforms us, and I would like to think it transformed Peter, but again, I’m just a commoner.



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Bob

posted April 30, 2008 at 5:15 am


If 1,2 Tim, 2 Thess and 2 Pet are psuedonymous then why not hold the pope’s encyclicals as authoritative as scripture? Maybe Revelation was written by John the Baptist. Why do schools out East and folks from the SBL hold more to the psuedonymous view compared to folks that write for Zondervan and IVP. Just an observation. It seems to be also to be a good test for liberal and conservative.
If a man’s name (Paul, Peter) is on the letter it could be written by him!!



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Scott M

posted April 30, 2008 at 5:43 am


Hmmm. I made a comment in that thread, but in looking at this it seems the question is different. It seems to me that ‘formation’ is discussing a more private and individual approach to scripture than the ‘ecclesial reading’ of your question in that series. As a rule, then, I’m not sure that my answer in that comment thread directly relates to this question. However, to the extent I understand what might be meant by ‘formation’, it seems to me that I am only truly shaped or formed to the extent that I allow myself to become part of the story of the people of God and make that story my own.
Now, I read all sorts of things and I often find such discussions and explorations interesting, but if I am standing to the side, disputing and analyzing important aspects of that story, I’m not sure I can, in the same moment, be shaped and formed by that story. It’s not that there isn’t a place for both or even that I don’t do both. I do. But I’m not sure there’s any way I could, in the same moment, build an analysis or critique of some aspect of the Church’s story while at the same time releasing myself to that story and allowing it to form my life and being. I can’t simultaneously stand over and submerge myself in the torrent of that story, if that makes sense. When I am doing one, I am not doing the other.



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Scot McKnight

posted April 30, 2008 at 5:45 am


Scott M,
Good point; I wasn’t sure everyone would know what an “ecclesial” reading is, and so I shifted it to “formational” reading … which involves the former for me.



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Dan

posted April 30, 2008 at 5:51 am


I cannot separate the question of authorship, which is connected to authority, which is connected to truth from any sense of “devotional” reading. To put devotional reading into a separate category from historical or theological reading is unthinkable. They may have a different goal, but cannot be unrelated. It matters to me when reading devotionally that the scripture is apostolic and connected to real history.



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Glenn

posted April 30, 2008 at 6:06 am


Can anyone suggest a book or two that would address the history and authorship of the New Testament canon yet written for the non-scholar or layperson?



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Bob Brague

posted April 30, 2008 at 6:15 am


I’m pretty dense, and a lot escapes my attention (he said jokingly), but let me begin by saying nobody here is a “commoner.” How can there be “commoners” when there are no “royals”? Or maybe, depending on your perspective, everyone here is a commoner, or everyone here is a royal, being children of the King, and all. But all ground around the cross is level ground, according to a very wise pastor I once had. To make this sort of distinction is to come perilously close to holding to the odious doctrine of the Nicolaitans (conquerors of the people, separation of the church into clergy and laity, there are also other interpretations), “which I hate,” the risen Christ said to the church in Revelation.
Having said that, let me get back on topic. My first reaction is to say that when I read it is for information and enjoyment, regardless of who the author is. But, to use a modern example, I think it would make a difference to me if what I was reading was written by Adolf Hitler, Billy Graham, Mother Teresa, or, say, Jeremiah Wright. It would undoubtedly color my opinion of the good parts and make me quicker to judge what I considered the bad parts. But whether an ancient book like Hebrews is by Paul or Apollos or someone else makes no difference to me, even though it’s in the Bible, because I don’t know much about either of them (well, maybe a bit more about Paul). They’re just names from the past. Same thing with Peter or whomever. Same thing, if you want to know, with Isaiah and Deutero-Isaiah and with J, P, E, D, or Q, X, Y, or Z (see, I took Introduction to Bible, too). I’m with Ted Gossard: all we have to have is the text along with the Spirit (I realize that’s only half of what he said). Even Flannery O’Connor said something similar, and that cinches it for me.
Perhaps from now on I shall just refer to “the Apostle Hebrews.” :)



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Michelle Van Loon

posted April 30, 2008 at 6:24 am


I’m a “commoner”, too. (Not sure if I prefer this term to “layperson”, to be honest, but are to call a non-professional???) When I approach Scripture in study mode, I am very interested in a book’s authorship, history, geography, language and culture. It’s fun to play on the scholars’ playground! But as Scott M so aptly put it (I’ll be turning this phrase over all day in my head) – I simply want/need to be submerged in the torrent of the story.
If I’ve studied a book, the information is there in my head if I read devotionally. (Well, usually, anyway.) But my devotional reading doesn’t access those files with the same urgency or importance that my reading-for-study or reading-for-teaching does.



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kent

posted April 30, 2008 at 6:44 am


From my experience and reading, authorship play a minor role even in technical reading. The issue is what is being said and one the issue of authorship is raised in the intorductions then it rarely come up again in the commentaries.



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Beyond Words aka Kathy Hanson

posted April 30, 2008 at 7:04 am


I agree with Dan. How can we immerse ourselves in the story of God, devotionally or otherwise (isn’t all of our life in Christ devotional???) and make it our own if we don’t know the time, the setting and circumstances of that story? Epistles especially come with more unspoken backstory than some other genres. Some of the bitterest disputes in the church come from divorcing the text from the story it’s a part of.
That raises the issue of scholarship–because the text is so old, someone must help us reconnect with that distant setting in a way that inspires us to wrestle it into the present. People gifted in research, teaching, preaching and storytelling should make that scholarship accessible so there’s no priestly class holding secret knowledge.
Currently my shortlist includes a motley crew, (some of whom JC readers may not have heard: Scot McKnight, N.T. Wright, Suzanne McCarthy, Madeline L’Engle, John Stackhouse, Kyle Snodgrass, J.R. Woodward, Daniel Kirk, LeRon Shultz, Bob MacDonald and Brian Walsh.



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Scot McKnight

posted April 30, 2008 at 7:06 am


Glenn,
Do you mean a book that discusses who wrote what in the New Testament?



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RJS

posted April 30, 2008 at 7:14 am


I agree with the “fourth person” – The only time I blink is when the point being made in a devotional or formational setting rests on the foundation of author identity and is invalid if authorship is incorrect. In this instance acknowledgment of the issues may need to be made.
As scholars we often have to “bracket” distractions in order to converse on the real issue at hand.
On the other hand ? I agree with the comments on the previous thread where concern is raised about “the Church’s lack of biblical studies at both the ordained and lay levels” and the struggles that can arise when confronted by the messier reality of the book we have been given and the tradition from which we grow. Our churches need to provide space to face all of these issues honestly, failure to do so causes grief. Come on ? one of the major factors in loss of faith amongst students and scholars is the naivety with which our faith is preached. The “bury one’s head in the sand” approach leads to crisis of faith for many ? and now I am on my favorite soapbox and should step down.



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Faith J Totushek, fjs

posted April 30, 2008 at 7:25 am


I’m actually following the lectionary using 1Peter in my ministry but cannot divorce sermon prep from formational reading. Personally… I find the dates, time written to be of greater import than authorship. Because time written has so much to do with context. Be it Peter or another pastor from the 1 century, the content, context and message is very important to me for my own spiritual formation and the formation of the church body.
And also personally, i am one of those wierd people that benefits devotionally from deep study. (partly because without study, I read everything i have ever been taught into it) I think God speaks in devotional readings and in deep study… he doesn’t stop speaking when I switch modes. In fact I think hearing is fresher and less filled with personal presuppositions.



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Timothy Keene

posted April 30, 2008 at 7:38 am


On the tangential subject of which books is their scholarly consensus that they were written by the purported authors, I heard an amusing presentation by Harold Hoehner on Ephesians/Galatians. While writing a commentary on Ephesians he saw a number of remarks to the effect that scholarly consensus was that Paul did not write Ephesians. So he did a survey and discovered that based upon actual commentaries there has never been any such consensus. What there is, is virtual unanimity among scholars that Paul wrote Galatians. So he decided to use the arguments used by those who deny Pauline authorship of Ephesians and examine Galatians. His conclusion was that Paul did not write Galatians. His objective was to demonstrate how precarious many of the scholarly arguments on authorship are. A film critic in England once described a film as if King Lear had been rewritten by the author of Henry V. Hoehner’s argument is that Ephesians is as if Colossians had been rewritten by the author of Galatians.



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Scott M

posted April 30, 2008 at 7:43 am


As I read the strand of comments, it strikes me that what I wrote perhaps lends itself to misinterpretation. I have a sense of what I want to say, but I struggle to find the proper words for it. Let me try again with a specific example.
I can and have absorbed the arguments for the idea that the beloved disciple in the Gospel of John is actually Lazarus. And that the Gospel bears the name ‘John’ because a later John the Elder in Ephesus (also the one who wrote the three letters) took the teachings and writings of Lazarus after he fell asleep (again) in the Lord and worked them into the Gospel format we know. The arguments are hardly incredible. In fact, there is a certain degree of plausibility to them. It very well could have happened that way. (I don’t think a lot of people realize just how much of what we “know” about the ancient world actually reduces to a statement like that.)
And on one level that’s great. I have no objection to such explorations. I enjoy the exercise of examining alternative viewpoints and new possibilities. I always have.
And yet …
If I choose to make that my story, the one I am trying to find a place within, I have a problem. You see, the Gospel of John does not somehow hang in the air by itself suspended by nothing, isolated and alone. No, the story of the Gospel is as much the story of the Church in which it has lived for two thousand years. If I immerse myself to be formed in the river of a story of a Gospel according to Lazarus collated and edited by a John the Elder, I am no longer really swimming in the same current. The story and context within which we choose to read Holy Scripture matter as much as the text itself. And if it is my goal to be shaped into a member of the people of God, then I need to embrace their story as much as I can. A gospel with Lazarus as the narrator shapes you differently than a gospel read as though John were the narrator.
How you choose to relate to Scripture does matter, if not in the way in which it is often reduced.
Besides, I always take modern claims of authorship which contradict the very ancient understandings of the church as it developed the canon with an extremely large grain of salt. And, on another level, if we are not willing to place some trust in those who formed the church which gave us what we call the canon of Holy Scripture, it does say something about what we believe about the people of God.
Now, if ‘formation’ means something other than what I have taken it to me, then I suppose you could read scripture from another intellectual vantage point and achieve it. I’m not really entirely sure what people have in mind when they use that word. I have the sense that it covers a very large spectrum of possible meanings.



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RJS

posted April 30, 2008 at 8:03 am


Scott M,
Interesting – if, as the most skeptical scholars claim, we have texts that were constructed well after the events described, selected for advantage of power and control, this must clearly influence our “formational” reading. The most important issue for me is “rootedness” in the historical acts of God through Jesus. The tradition from very early on is that most* of these texts are accepted as founded in the apostolic witness. Christianity is not a “philosophy” based on thought and myth or invented story, but an outflow of enacted history. This is the witness and tradition of the Church.
Concern with precise authorship often misses the point. And I don’t want to get into the traditional evangelical view of inspiration ? authorship of epistles is among the least of the problems associated with this discussion.
*Of course there are a few exceptions with texts disputed (i.e. some churches accepted and some either didn’t accept or didn’t have) for much longer.



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Scott M

posted April 30, 2008 at 8:06 am


fjs, study has long been considered a spiritual discipline. In no way do I stand against that — in fact I live deeply within it myself. I suppose the question of ‘formation’ leads to the deeper question of what it is into which you are seeking to be formed. If it’s as a member of the people of God and specifically the church of Acts which appears to be the shape and expression of the people of God after the Resurrection and on to our current day, then the continuing story that church tells about scripture and about what it means to be the people of God matters deeply. Are you joining that story or judging it? While we all may and perhaps must do some of each, I’m not convinced we can actually do both in the same instant. It seems that, at any moment, we are either doing one or the other.



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Matt Edwards

posted April 30, 2008 at 8:07 am


Timothy Keene (#19)
I had Dr. Hoehner for a source criticism class and he talked about that paper. He said he tried to present it years ago, but the folks at SBL wouldn’t let him, saying “We like Galatians.” It is a great illustration to me of how close-minded a guild can be.
In some instances, authorship is very important because it claries themes and ideas. I can’t read 1 John without comparing it to the language of the Fourth Gospel. Ideas such as “life,” “death,” “remain,” “the world,” “sin,” and “commandment,” have different meanings in the Johannine corpus than they do in the Pauline.
So how do I approach reading the Pastorals and Ephesians? Well, first, there is not a scholarly consensus that Paul didn’t write those. While the majority of NT scholars doubt Pauline authorship of those works, majority rule is no basis for making a decision. (“Consensus” can be a huge hindrance to academic discovery–take the Synoptic problem for instances.) You have to look at WHY they doubt Pauline authorship. Some arguments are better then others and, frankly, I haven’t been convinced.
Second, I agree with the posts that these works CLAIM Pauline authorship. Rejecting those claims outright seems to be setting the reader over the text. (I really don’t want to get into a disucssion of postmodern hermeneutics, but I think we should try to let the text “speak for itself.”) The case is different in Gospels since they are anonymous.
Ultimately, the authority issue has been resolved for me. I have no idea who wrote Hebrews or why it is in the canon, but I trust that it is for good reason. To me, understanding who wrote what and to whom is mostly helpful to understanding the theological themes of a particular work.



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sean

posted April 30, 2008 at 8:15 am


Glenn, Raymond Brown’s Introduction to the New Testament gives a mainstream but balanced and moderate view of NT authorship issues, etc., and is just an all around good resource (even if it is a bit boring at times). I think it gives a pretty good picture of pseudonymous authorship in the ancient world.
To add to the conversation, at least by suggesting a good conversation partner for people who are interested in the broader topic of the use of history in theological interpretation of scripture, Dale Martin’s recent book Sex and the Single Savior (endorsed by Brian Mclaren on the back cover) is basically an argument against the use of the historical critical method to determine the meaning of the biblical text. I’m inclined to agree with him about the use of history in theology, except I don’t hold to his radical neo-nietzschien epistemology. The whole book is basically an argument that extends his review of Richard Hays’s Moral Vision of the New Testament. Dale is very smart and worth engaging, especially by those who like the way that scholars like Hays or NT Wright use scripture. Some of my friends who are Hays’s doctoral students think that Dale is finally correct about use of history in theological interpretation of scripture.
Examining the assumptions of patristic exegetes like Augustine is always helpful. Augustine, who had a very high view of scripture, read it primarily as a text about and by God. This way of reading caused him to be concerned with all sorts of philosophical and metaphysical issues that many scholars influenced by the protestant biblical theology movement do not touch (by the way, Augustine is one of the few (or maybe 2) patristic exegetes that admits pseudonymous authorship, even if he did kind of retract it later).
As a side note, I’m not sure it was a good idea for Mclaren to endorse Dale’s book, since Martin’s preferred technique is to make biblical teachings (such as Paul’s view of gender or sexuality) as unpalatable as possible — so unpalatable that a reasonable person couldn’t possibly agree with him (see, for example his chapter on Queering Galatians 3:28 or his chapter in Corinthian Body on gender).



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katie m

posted April 30, 2008 at 8:17 am


I’m with Dan (#10). I think the question of authorship and other literary/historical concerns can affect the formation of persons?lay, pastor or scholar.
The idea that the authorship of certain books is debatable?that associates of Peter may have penned some of the writings that bear his name?matters to most people. And it matters all the more when people are taught authorship is certain, then discover it is not.
Everyone who cares about the Bible wonders who wrote these books?everyone. We just did a series at our church: Top questions about the Bible. This was the top question (Who Wrote It?)?addressed during week-one. Authorship is not always crucial to interpretation, but the idea of authorship is important to faith. It goes to the reliability and inspiration/authority of scripture as perceived by the devotional reader.
I?m not saying Scot should have qualified authorship in the post yesterday. I?m just saying perceptions and assumptions about authorship are important to formation. And as Bible teachers of ordinary Christians, we should find non-academic ways to talk about the origin of the writings we so cherish. That?s the point. We cherish the writings, and their origin is important.



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Eileen Warren

posted April 30, 2008 at 8:17 am


In my profession as a Christian Counselor I have often given verses from the Bible to individuals to ponder, to be encouraged by, and to challenge thinking or behavioral changes. I would perhaps refer to that as “formational” use of the Bible. I have never felt the need to explain the authorship of any the verses and come to think of it no one has asked.
It seems in my world where fewer and fewer people recognize that there is even a 1st or 2nd Peter OR who do not see any validity in reading the Bible at all… that we will loose the fragile connection that we have if we get to technical.



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Tom Hein

posted April 30, 2008 at 8:17 am


I wasn’t reading yesterday, but this student needs to get to a different seminary. Here’s Donald Guthrie in “New Testament Introduction” regarding 1 Peter: “The very great weight of patristic evidence in favor of Petrine authorship and the absence of any dissentient voice raises so strong a presuppostion in favor of the correctness of the lcaims of the Epistle to be Peter’s own work that is is surprising that this has been questioned….”
Hebrews may not have Pauline authorship, but give me a break. Read some conservative scholarship. If I thought I had to throw out traditional authorship of Bible books I wouldn’t spend my time being a pastor.



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JWT

posted April 30, 2008 at 8:38 am


Maybe I am jumping in somewhere and this has already mentioned but I have heard all this critical mumbo jumbo in my EFM class though an Episcopal seminary. I am just at a loss to understand how all the “fathers” and early leaders of the church could be so in the dark as to be wrong about who wrote what book and when they wrote it. Now I hear that there really was never a Winston Churchill…he was redacted from a group of political leaders in British history…give me a break!! Might as well watch the Zeitgeist movie and doubt that anyone named Jesus ever lived or died in 1st century. Perhaps there is some truth to the old rant about being “educated beyond our intelligence.” But I suppose I have ranted long enough. Blessings!!



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RJS

posted April 30, 2008 at 8:49 am


Scot,
You ask: When you read the Bible, let’s say for formation primarily, what difference does it make to you to ponder authorship or historical questions?
This asks for personal reflection – so you will get just that.
I don’t always (or often) dwell on issues of authorship or other historical questions when reading the text ? especially not for devotional application.
On the other hand, wrestling with these questions and critiques is absolutely essential for me. When I ignore concerns, questions, context, bracket these off as unimportant, fail to address these issues head on, the primary outcome is an ineffective Christian witness. Even while resting on the truth of the Christian story, I find that I cannot stand as a Christian in the face of opposition or apathy when the back of my mind is filled with a whole stack of “yes?but’s” or I am full of doubt while “affirming” part of the party line. Isn’t it hard ? even impossible ? to truly follow Christ and proclaim the gospel when we know deep down that we don’t really believe what we are supposed to believe? Failure to face questions head on was a crack to used powerfully against me to nullify any potential witness ? and to breed deep seated doubt.
Constant concern with authorship, history, text is counterproductive, sometimes I need to simply be filled ? but ignoring these is also destructive ? we need (or I need) to follow heart, mind, body, and soul. Bottom line – reading the Bible for formation requires me to engage with it fully and honestly.



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qb

posted April 30, 2008 at 8:50 am


Ben (#5):
It’s at least conceivable that pseudonymous authorship of ancient texts is not the same as “lying.” To posit such an equivalence may be at least anachronistic, if not patently unfair.
qb



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B-W

posted April 30, 2008 at 9:17 am


An interesting question. I find I really can’t speak for anyone but myself here, but as a seminary-trained person with a perfectionist streak, I find it difficult to read or hear Scripture without thinking of academic questions. That’s not to say formation is absent. But it is to say that formation questions are invariably influenced by my academic understanding of a passage.
Usually, however, authorship is not a huge part of that academic understanding (despite the obvious implications that might change depending on who the author might be), and I seldom find myself saying (internally!) “that person didn’t write that!” when a pastor attributes a passage to a certain author. With one fairly consistent exception. I have a knee-jerk response whenever someone refers to Hebrews (whose authorship isn’t even attested by Scripture itself) as being written by Paul. Sadly, part of my knee-jerk reaction in this instance is to take the speaker’s words less seriously, even if they may have other valid points to make.



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John W Frye

posted April 30, 2008 at 9:23 am


I think we fall prey to a dualism or latent gnosticism if we divorce historical/introductory issues (authorship) from “devotional” or “formational” reading. We can’t let our Christian faith and life get divorced from the hard earthy realities from which it arose. *History* must not be disconnected from *devotion.* If that happens, we are in danger of reducing the faith to religious concepts and feelings rather than concrete God-actions in time and space.



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Bill Crawford

posted April 30, 2008 at 9:26 am


Scott,
Personally, I’m uncomfortable thinking that I can suspend what I’ve learned from scholarship something that contradicts what the text says to me during devotional reading. Does this mean I uncritically accept 2 Peter being written by the apostle Peter? No, but my understanding of inspiration tells me that God wants me to associate 2 Peter with that apostle as I read, and I would read differently if that same epistle had Paul or John’s name appended to it. Wouldn’t you?
The issue of pseudogaphia is important, but I’m not sure that pace Dan it undermines the integrity of the letter’s content. (Might this be an example of God accomodating revelation to a literary device of the ancient world?)
Bill



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B-W

posted April 30, 2008 at 9:26 am


qb, ref: Ben #5,
Thanks for this, I was about to say much the same thing. There are cultural differences at play here, one of which is a non-uncommon trend of using a well-known authority’s name on one’s own word to lay claim to that authority. Often, the readers would likely have been perfectly aware of the fact that the (often long-dead) authority couldn’t have written the new work, but if it was seen as genuinely continuing that authority’s tradition, it was accepted. Such a practice would not have been considered “lying” in the sense in which we understand the term.



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Rebeccat

posted April 30, 2008 at 9:41 am


From RJS #17:
“I agree with the comments on the previous thread where concern is raised about ?the Church?s lack of biblical studies at both the ordained and lay levels? and the struggles that can arise when confronted by the messier reality of the book we have been given and the tradition from which we grow. Our churches need to provide space to face all of these issues honestly, failure to do so causes grief. Come on ? one of the major factors in loss of faith amongst students and scholars is the naivety with which our faith is preached. The ?bury one?s head in the sand? approach leads to crisis of faith for many”
Oh my goodness, this is so spot-on, IMO.
However, given the reality that many Christians are sucking on the thinnest of milks when it comes to biblical scholarship, I think that raising issues of authorship should only be done in the context of an actual discussion of authorship. If the point of a message is the actual words of the text, then I think it’s best to leave it alone. Otherwise it can be a distraction which prevents people from being able to hear God’s words.
I suppose that simply saying “the author” is a fine end-round. However, I think that one of the things which those of us who study need to struggle with is disciplining ourselves to not always have to be right and not always have to pour out all that we know. Filtering our knowledge down to the essence can become more difficult the more you know. Making peace with the imperfect, imprecise and incomplete is probably something which we need to do in order to teach well outside of seminaries and such. If that makes sense :)
For my personal study, I LOVE bringing in every bit of minutia I know. It makes it richer and new for me. It’s part of why I love doing research because as I learn about the context, or issues of authorship and why they may be, etc, I begin to see the implications for my understanding of the text. And being the weirdo that I am, that’s the sort of stuff that just makes me all giddy and spirit filled! You don’t even want to have to listen to me after I’ve been doing language studies. But I have come to understand that I am unusual in this way. So I try to be judicious about how I put out ideas and issues which might cause a brother or sister to stumble.



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Jon

posted April 30, 2008 at 9:44 am


I try to have an idea of the author when reading the Bible. I only emphasize the author when an author-specific issue comes up.
i.e. if Peter is talking about restoration, he has truly experienced it, and his authorship is important. If Peter is describing his domestic code in chapter 3, not so important. (This is based on my belief that Peter did write the book).



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reJoyce

posted April 30, 2008 at 9:47 am


As a non-scholar, authorship or historical questions are important to me even when reading “primarily for formation”. I want to know who it is coming from and in what context as I ponder. (Which someone else said already but I thought I’d add my consensus.)



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Scot McKnight

posted April 30, 2008 at 9:52 am


Let me insert a comment at this table:
It is one thing to want to know the historical context of a writing; we can infer lots of things about Peter’s context in the middle to late 1st Century whether he wrote it or not. We can know lots about the world at that time approximately that enlightens our reading.
It is a little different to know the author of the book — there are many books we don’t now the authors for in the Bible, esp OT history books.
But, what happens to you if it says “Peter” in 1 Peter 1:1 and then someone, say a pastor in a sermon or in a book you are reading, says “well, many don’t think Peter wrote this book”? What does this do to your reading this text as Word of God?



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ChrisB

posted April 30, 2008 at 10:00 am


I agree, at least in part, with John Frye — we shouldn’t separate devotional or formational reading from serious study. Even though some are not trained to get into the nitty gritty of the passage as much as others, we all should pay attention to history and context.
If we’re reading the Bible just to make us feel good or “spiritual,” then I think we’re misusing it. If we’re going to the scriptures to be more like Christ, to apply it, it matters what it really means which requires getting into the details as much as you can.
Now, does it really matter whether Paul wrote 1 Timothy? Maybe, maybe not. If the authority of the Bible rests on apostolic authorship, then how do you trust that the writer of 1 Timothy (or whatever) really had any authority to tell us how to live our lives?



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Peggy

posted April 30, 2008 at 10:24 am


Scot,
This is a wonderful discussion — thanks for the refocus in a new post.
I resonate with so many comments here, but wanted to back up a minute and, in the light of this thread, fill out the other side of my thoughts with my personal context.
John #31,
When I talk about “bracketing” little “red flags” during devotional reading, I don’t mean “divorcing” the historical or other contextual settings from my current reality — I mean setting aside the thought that “jabbed” me until I have finished the author’s thought so as to keep with the current conversation — and actually getting whatever it was that the author wanted me to get, if I can.
After I’ve finished, I then go back and see if my “knee jerk” was called for or not…and at that point, I more often than not get out a whole pile of books and begin to dig in and chase the rabbits wherever they lead. This is my very favorite thing in the whole world to do, and I would happily be shut away in The Abbey’s scriptorium to satisfy this desire … but I am not allowed this luxury. And it wouldn’t be good for me if I could! For iron to be sharp it needs the firm friction of iron found in authentic community.
I will agree with RJS and others in this discussion that way too many who read devotionally have not read deeply or widely enough to recognize some of the “red flag” issues that would drive them to ask the hard questions — of themselves, of their local teachers and leaders, of the text itself, and of the “scholars”.
…as an aside, I like to think that Priscilla wrote Hebrews, but I rarely say that out loud and usually only when someone is making a big deal about who the ANONYMOUS author was…just to stir the pot a bit and remind us that some things are not revealed–just because–and we can’t be dogmatic about those things. 8)
Come to think about it, this is helping me process the importance of proper listening … something that most folk could use more practice with, IMO. I’m trying to get better at listening for what the person talking is trying to convey. That can be difficult “face to face” because I get caught up in my enthusiasm and may tend to interrupt the flow of thought (either internally, at which point I’m no longer listening, or externally — horrors — when I announce to the group that I’m no longer listening … and have now prevented the rest of the group from listening).
When reading — and this flows to blogging — we have been given a tremendous opportunity to actually listen without being able to interrupt … so that we can engage each other intelligently and respectfully … and that is what I’m trying to get better about doing consistently. And thanks to so many of you Jesus Creeders here who are good examples of this.



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Peggy

posted April 30, 2008 at 10:36 am


“But, what happens to you if it says ?Peter? in 1 Peter 1:1 and then someone, say a pastor in a sermon or in a book you are reading, says ?well, many don?t think Peter wrote this book?? What does this do to your reading this text as Word of God?”
There’s the rub, eh? Others have said it as well: at some point we trust that this is the Word of God and that those who, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, recognized these books as from these authors to be collected and bound as the canon of the Bible. When push comes to shove, this is where I choose to stand … and I believe I’m in pretty good company.
As a result, I also have a more difficult time giving both proper respect and listening energy to those who seem to “jerk my chain” — to what end?



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B-W

posted April 30, 2008 at 10:36 am


Scot,
But, what happens to you if it says ?Peter? in 1 Peter 1:1 and then someone, say a pastor in a sermon or in a book you are reading, says ?well, many don?t think Peter wrote this book?? What does this do to your reading this text as Word of God?
A fair question, and I think it’s important to keep pastoral considerations in mind.
This is not a full answer, and not to be taken in isolation, but I’m reminded of something someone once told me to the effect that “being disillusioned isn’t all bad, because it means that illusions are being done away with in favor of reality.”



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MatthewS

posted April 30, 2008 at 10:42 am


Scot #38,
Before seminary, what it did to me was make me feel like the author had lied to me.
With more information, I realize that “John” or “Paul” can possibly mean that others were contributing, or perhaps that a community of followers is writing in the voice of and is allowed to speak for the apostle. The further removed from the attributed author the actual author is said to be, the more nervous I get. It would take at least 10 minutes in a sermon to explain this sort of nuance and it would lose the folks that don’t care so much for details. It turns into a sidetrack. I try to say, “the author” when I think of it.
However, if the author(s) that wrote the letter could say it was from Paul or from John, why can’t I? Perhaps I should be bolder to simply use the attributed author’s name.



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Kurt

posted April 30, 2008 at 11:01 am


I would have to say that there is some reason to think about historical context when reading scripture in a formational way. Let me explain…
Some scholars, for instance, believe that 1 Peter was written during the Neronian persecution. If Christians, particularly in Rome and the surrounding areas in the mid 60’s, were in the midst of the threat of death for practicing the way of Jesus, then I think that the way we read the following text (even for formation)becomes layered with a larger story that one could attempt to identify with… “6 In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, 7 so that the genuineness of your faith?being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire?may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 peter 1.6-7)
To me, putting some context in the story gives be a larger story in which to place my emotions, fears, joys, and hope.
Now, does authorship have to matter in this instance? I suppose not too much. But nevertheless, it is always good to put some legs on a text so that you can imagine what the author and reader would have been encountering at the time.
I also understand that my scholarship may not be up to date because I am a seminary student who has not spent time in 1 peter in recent months.



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paul

posted April 30, 2008 at 11:03 am


“But, what happens to you if it says ?Peter? in 1 Peter 1:1 and then someone, say a pastor in a sermon or in a book you are reading, says ?well, many don?t think Peter wrote this book?? What does this do to your reading this text as Word of God?”
This is a good question. In today’s world, if I were to write a letter and claim the author was another church leader, this would be a big problem, and would cause me to question the authority of the writing. I guess this leads to another question: what did people in the ancient world think of this type of thing? Was it considered ok to do such a thing or would this have been an error even then?
If this was an acceptable practice in the early church time period, then I am ok with this. God inspired the scriptures to be written through the culture of the day…why would I want to force a 21st century understanding of authority and error into a 1st century (or 2nd century) document?



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Terry

posted April 30, 2008 at 11:09 am


Scot, in #38…
Personally, as a pastor, I think it does matter a lot… hopefully I am better than I have ever been in communicating God’s Word. Of course it is God’s story, but my primary goal in teaching it, and teaching it the way I do, specifically relates to discipleship/formation and life-transformation.
I have been pastoring my congregation for over 11 years, exactly half the time I have been in full-time ministry, and I have a formal Biblical studies education and training. The huge majority of folks who are part of this body, perhaps more than anything else want to just know Jesus, His love for them, His walk with them. The primary authority for this knowing, whether intellectual knowing or knowing by experience comes from the Word of God. Even with an eyes-wide-open approach to Scripture (over and against what might be defined as a stiff-fundamentalism), it is still the Word of God.
The immediate response (and I certainly recognize the perceived limitations, if not the actual limitations of anecdotal evidence) to a “constant knowing better than the text” is to often strip the Word of its transformational power and replace it instead with baggage that is simply not helpful to that transformational process.
In the last little while I have been told “most all scholars agree that the first eleven chapters of Genesis are mythological at best”; “most scholars accept that the idea that most of the gospel stories are stories for emphasis rather than stories of actual happenings”; “all scholars are in agreement that the events of Revelation were completed in the 1st Century”; “anyone who has studied the NT honestly knows that Catholics are not in covenant with God in Christ”; and now, “the majority of New Testament scholars don?t believe that 1 Peter or 2 Peter were written by him.”
So, just exactly what is true, in any form, in the Bible and how does it affect my life?
In addition to those statements simply not being true, to state them in such a way undermines the simple story of God in huge ways. To a reasonable extent, we’ve again removed the Word from the people and placed the “real knowledge” in the hands of the specialists. Ha! That’s funny too as, Scot, you’re a specialist. In fact, a specialist on 1 Peter. Last I checked, you too think Peter wrote the epistle and have not approached that conclusion with your head in the sand.
You can tell I am a pastor… long post. I have no problem with critical thinking. I rarely post, but spend time daily here at this ‘table.’ But most of those I am called to disciple do not sit here, and wouldn’t even if invited. Primarily, they want to know what they can know of God, not what they can’t know. They want to know God, and find themselves being transformed into the Image of the Son. They want to know God, and have some sense, without checking their brains at the door, that if the Word of God says Peter, or says Bethlehem, that the Word of God has a trustworthiness all its own that can stand strong and hold its own alongside those that we’re born yet.
Okay, that’s waaaay more than $.02 worth.



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Nancy

posted April 30, 2008 at 11:43 am


In answer to Scot #38 – I think my response would be different depending on where I was in my spiritual journey. If I learned about this question of authorship of a book in the NT during a time of skepticism and as an “outsider”, I think I might find myself even more skeptical. The effect could be one of increased distance from wanting to learn much more about the text. If I learned of it during a kind of infancy in my walk, I might feel a bit disillusioned. If that tidbit of information came to me as I began to take my study of the Bible more personally and in depth using the tools of scholarship established by theologians, I might begin to grow an increased appreciation for the complicated thing that scripture is. It might even serve to humble me a bit in my aspirations to “master” the text.
As it is, I learned of this debate yesterday and it serves as a reminder to me that the Bible is indeed full of mystery and surprises. It does indeed remind me to treat it with respect and humility. As someone above pointed out, we just are not meant to know all things about it. From where I am right now, I can accept that its inclusion, no matter whether written by Peter or not indicates that it has something to offer us for our understanding and edification.



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Julie Clawson

posted April 30, 2008 at 11:50 am


At least in the traditions I grew up in, a blind faith in the bible held much more weight than any historical input. Using the bible to speak directly to me and shape my life were emphasized, and questions of authorship were never mentioned. For those that never pushed beyond that setting, they are okay with that. But others when they actually started studying scripture, and reading books felt betrayed at never having been told such things. They often either outright rejected the scholars as wrong or rejected their faith. I’m much more of a fan of intellectual honesty in the church. Even if one disagrees with “scholars” to at least acknowledge the issues and debates would (imho) strengthen and deepen the faith of believers. Sure some don’t care and just want a feel good verse of the week to ponder, but others would benefit from knowing the complexities of their faith.



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Mike

posted April 30, 2008 at 11:53 am


So…without reading any of the other comments, to answer Scot’s question: what difference does it make? As of late, rarely. I know the filters involuntarily came on and off in the past, but as of late, I realized that I trust that God has spoken through his servants (the authors), and while I might not have all of the details secured, my possession of such does not change the text in any way!
Now, after I submit these comments, I fully expect that my comment will be redundant. But, I seriously doubt I’ll read anything that surprises me: I’m more like the 4th (or was it the 3rd?) comment gal/guy in Scot’s post: I know what is going on, but am learning to turn the filters on and off. :)



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Daniel D

posted April 30, 2008 at 11:53 am


I must concur with those who say it depends. As with those who have been seminary trained, for better or for worse, I cannot help but have such questions pop up even during formational reading. Historical questions sometimes help and sometimes add nothing. (Please forgive the extreme simplification here.)
Pastorally, what is wrong with sticking with tradition? As many have pointed out, there is not a consensus on the subject. I do not think we will ever be able to definitively say “yeah” or “nay” on the questions. When a book claims an author, why muddle the congregation with more questions that might distract from the message of the author? When the book does not claim an author, why speak as if we know and so potentially distract from the message of the anonymous author?
I do not think that such an approach denies the issues. Those who have questions (and really, they may not be that many) usually ask (this whole discussion is a case in point). At that point I say: “This group says this; that group says that. Ultimately the church has accepted it as Petrine in one way or another and recognized its inspiration. It doesn’t change the words and probably doesn’t change the ultimate interpretation. As canon, it is still authoritative.”



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RJS

posted April 30, 2008 at 11:59 am


Scot,
You know — the first event I really recall challenging my faith deeply came about as a high school student some 30 or so years ago. At summer camp, waiting in the camp director’s office I picked up a commentary on James and read that Martin Luther thought that James should not really be part of the canon … followed by more critical analysis in the introduction. This started a long process.
I think that it would have helped a good deal if there had not been this sense of betrayal – that I had been sold a bill of goods – accompanying my subsequent study. Pastorally there may be a fine line – between challenging faith unnecessarily and failure to provide the tools to live with reality (which includes some ambiguity and a variety of opinions). Part of discernment lies with knowing your audience and asking for guidance in prayer.
At this point discussions of authorship of – oh say 1 Peter – have no significant effect because: (1) I think that we have scripture which has been preserved for us through the work of the Spirit in the church suitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. We have scripture preserved by God, for us, to teach God’s story. And (2) we should take the Bible we have been given, in the form we have received it, and let this tell us what it means for the text to be inspired, not impose our cultural preconceptions of “inspiration” and God’s word on the text we have.
I?ve said it before and I?ll say it again ? I believe the Bible because I am a Christian; I am not a Christian because I believe the Bible.



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Tom Hein

posted April 30, 2008 at 12:02 pm


90 percent of Christian people in the world either do not take the time or have the education to pursue authorship questions. But, for those of us who do have the time and education I think it’s good to investigate these questions at least once in your life. When I’m interacting with people and skeptical questions come up I may not have an immediate answer, but I know that some evangelical scholar somewhere has written about the issue. And, as we’ve demonstrated on Jesus Creed there are often several well credentialed Christian authors with various angles on the particular question. So, in the end it seems to me that you’ve got skeptical, well educated, smart people on one side and believing, well educated, smart people on the other side, and you need to make a decision about whom you trust. And, I usually side with believers, particularly believers from my particular “brand name” of Christianity. We all do this to a certain extent. For example, as I read more of a certain author and find I am in agreement with him or her, then I’m inclined to trust them in things I don’t completely have all figured out. So, when it comes to New Testament authorship I’m inclined to trust the professors I studied under, which is why it’s important to help young people choose well when they choose a school to attend.



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Peggy

posted April 30, 2008 at 12:14 pm


Thanks for your comment, Mike #49…and, since it’s the only comment you’ve made on answering Scot’s question, it isn’t redundant! ;) And don’t forget to clean those filters out every once in a while… 8)
And while I agree with you, Julie #48, that it is important for teachers to provide as wide a view of the issues at hand concerning the scriptures, sometimes I think how and when it is done is more of my concern.
When it’s done as a bit of an aside (perhaps to suggest that the person is familiar with scholarly works), I think it can be disingenuous. When it is done in the context of a larger work of providing context and addressing alternate understandings concerning scripture, I think it can be great.
There is something to be said for making the message fit with the readiness level of the listeners — so as to encourage them to “be Berean” and get into the Word more themselves — and that goes to knowing your audience as well as knowing yourself and your reasons for saying what you say.



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Peggy

posted April 30, 2008 at 12:24 pm


RJS #51,
It was about 20 years ago, as I was studying covenant, that I stumbled across the news that Luther wanted to exclude James from the canon … and he wanted Hebrews to go, too … too much emphasis on “works” is what I heard as the explanation, and that resonated with me because many people don’t really understand how faith and words are two sides of the very same coin when it comes to understanding covenant-keeping / hesed.



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Tyler

posted April 30, 2008 at 12:57 pm


authorship is all about faith for me. we can talk till we are blue in the face about who wrote what and when. Biblical inerrancy cannot be proven. It is a matter of faith.
For me it doesn’t effect devotions much at all. Unless we want to refer to other writings by the same person.



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Brian

posted April 30, 2008 at 12:58 pm


RJS,
Somewhere at Trinity (Deerfield, IL) there is an MA thesis in church history written more than 20 years ago on Luther’s use of James in his writings. The conclusion of the thesis is that in practice Luther did in fact hold a high view of the book of James as scripture, in spite of isolated comments here and there that have been taken to suggest otherwise.
I don’t remember the name of the author. But if you are interested, John Woodbridge would know. I believe that he is still on the faculty there.



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Glenn

posted April 30, 2008 at 1:27 pm


Scot, in response to my #11 post you responded – “Do you mean a book that discusses who wrote what in the New Testament”? 37. reJoyce answered with: “I want to know who it is coming from and in what context as I ponder”. Kathy with 15. and Sean with response 27. pointed me in the right direction. Anyone else?



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Peggy

posted April 30, 2008 at 1:35 pm


Glenn,
Michael Kruse just started a series over at his blog that might be of interest to you:
http://krusekronicle.typepad.com/kruse_kronicle/2008/04/biblical-inspir.html
Michael says: “Today I?m beginning a ten to twelve part series on Interpreting the Bible. This series is drawn from Kenneth Bailey?s two lecture DVD Interpreting the Bible. We will spend three or four posts examining how the Bible came to be and then look at Bailey?s seven sins of biblical interpretation.”
That will not only give you some information (Michael’s series are very thorough), but someone to interact with!



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Peggy

posted April 30, 2008 at 1:41 pm


…Oh, and I alway enjoy the set by Fee and Stuart on “How to Read the Bible for All its Worth” and “How to Read the Bible Book by Book” — both available at Amazon.com as well as many Christian bookstores.



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shane magee

posted April 30, 2008 at 2:02 pm


some of these comments seem insane to me, to the effect “they may have proved it, but i don’t believe it.” i’m with those guys (generic – please read gals too!) who say that it’s definitely up to us – the teachers – to pass on critical scholarship to the people we teach.
there’s little doubt that the epistle to the hebrews was included originally because it was believed to have been by paul. we now know that we know that we know that it wasn’t (i’m with peggy i like to think of priscilla as the author and so always use feminine pronouns when talking about “the author” just to see the eyebrows raise and then question people on why they assumed a female couldn’t have written scripture…) but does this mean that hebrews isn’t important or scripture any more? of course not. but we can’t allow our faith to rest on such ridiculous and unnecessary credal affirmations.
if being a christian means i HAVE to believe that paul wrote the pseudographia then i guess i’d be outside the fold. paul no; paulINE yes.
the problem for our 21st century ears is when we hear the author claim to be the apostle (even though we know it wasn’t. it definitely presents some definite hermeneutical challenges. for example does the author of timothy follow the pauline line on women in ministry, or does he actually countermand paul , because the equality that paul preached was actually too radical for the ecclesia?
none of these questions are insuperable of course, but they must be critically raised. we know for example that john 21 is a later addition – does this mean it isn’t scripture? what about the conclusion to mark? what about 1 john5:7? what about john 5:4? we ALL agree these were not penned by “the original claimed author” does this alter our view of scripture?
well yes and no. it complicates it. it seems to me it is no longer acceptable to simply teach these passages as if the scholarship wasn’t there. it is. it has an impact. what exactly that impact is to be is where the real discussion should be taking place, not over whether there is anything to discuss in the first place.
it seems to me (to get back to the original question) that it is also impossible to separate what we know academically from what we lern devotionally. the task for the 21st century hermenuet/academic/commoner/disciple is to try to marry the two in what we read and often in what we allow ourselves to be taught.
:o)



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Peggy

posted April 30, 2008 at 2:11 pm


Shane … 8) hehehe … Pauline, eh — I had an Aunt Pauline…. ;)



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Ben Wheaton

posted April 30, 2008 at 4:07 pm


I think that pseudopigraphy had a lesser authority even in ancient times than the real thing. Note that many false gospels were patently pseudopigraphical and were rejected, partially based on that reason. Once again, to say that 2nd Peter, when it claims to be written by Peter, is actually telling a falsehood about who wrote it, is to reduce the reliability of the text. I know that you, Scot, don’t hold to inerrancy, but to those of us who do the text is primary in our considerations. I remember reading a note in my NIV Study Bible that suggested the differences between 1st and 2nd Peter could be explained by saying that 1st Peter was written through Silvanus (as you noted) and that 2nd Peter was written by the apostle himself, and so has rougher Greek. For me, if Peter did not write the second epistle attested to him it seriously undermines the credibility of the work.



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B-W

posted April 30, 2008 at 5:23 pm


Ben,
I hope someone with better knowledge that I have will come on and address this, because you raise some valid points. The fact that “similarly pseudopigraphical” (for lack of a better term) books were excluded from Scripture is an important point. However, I think that is overstating the case to use this as evidence that pseudopigraphy had “lesser authority even in ancient times than the real thing” (even if, in fact, that claim still holds true). The fact that this was a more-or-less common practice should not be minimized, and it is certainly unfair to characterize it as lying (which is the impression I get when you argue about 2nd Peter “telling a falsehood” if Peter didn’t write it–again, even if those words are literally true).
It’s also unfair, IMHO, to characterize those of us who may not hold to a tight doctrine of inerrancy as not holding the text as primary. Perhaps we view the text differently, but believe when I say that many of us “less than inerrantists” still hold the text as having supreme importance.



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Julie Clawson

posted April 30, 2008 at 5:38 pm


Peggy #53 – I agree how it is done is important.
I see the point Tom #52 made “90 percent of Christian people in the world either do not take the time or have the education to pursue authorship questions. ” and recognize that it is true on a practical level. But when those ideas are hidden, even for the good of the congregation who just may not “be ready” for them yet I think one is setting people up for trouble. RJS #51 mentioned the sense of betrayal upon accidentally stumbling upon such ideas. Trying to protect people from knowledge can be just as dangerous as the knowledge itself. There are ways to handle situations well, but I think they still need to be addressed.



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Barry

posted April 30, 2008 at 6:01 pm


Way too many comments to read them all but understanding the historical part of the bible makes a difference. It adds to the experience of God that I find in scripture. It might trip me up a little bit but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The point is to enjoy where God takes you and how, because he most certainly does it a little differently than he does with someone else.



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RJS

posted April 30, 2008 at 6:26 pm


Julie Clawson,
You were posting #48 while I was writing #51. I thought it was interesting that we both used the idea of betrayal – independently. This is something that requires pastoral consideration. Perhaps most don’t care about the scholarly issues of authorship or historical questions(several pastors have said roughly this above) – but this does not mean that it is best to simply ignore the issues. And – it doesn’t mean that the minority 1%, 5%, 15% … I don’t know the number… is not worth the time and effort. It may mean that the best venue for addressing this is not the pulpit however.



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Ashleigh

posted April 30, 2008 at 6:27 pm


First, John in #31: I think we fall prey to a dualism or latent gnosticism if we divorce historical/introductory issues (authorship) from ‘devotional’ or ‘formational’ reading. We can?t let our Christian faith and life get divorced from the hard earthy realities from which it arose.–> beautifully put!
My own thoughts:
So I was the 2nd response to Kate posted above (the one quoted for saying “given the Church?s lack of biblical studies proficiency at both ordained and lay levels…” I liked the integration of the academic side of things into devotional/formational readings.
I stand by that wholeheartedly. I think that knowing more really enhances our faith– it’s challenging and interesting and overall enriching. Some may just love it; for others it may be a bit more a chore. But I think it can still be good for all of us to know something.
But I do want to say that reading this thread has been really interesting. I think it is obvious that there are at least two kinds of God-fearing people out there:
*People that aren’t energized by this historical stuff.
*People that are.
I think that provides us for some important insights for both community life and ministry.
First, in community, some people might make a big deal out of historical details you find irrelevant. Others might seem to not care about details you find crucial. Due to this difference in interest, frace is super-important for both of us! The people that don’t care aren’t necessarily idiots, and the people that do aren’t necessarily elitists. We are just made differently.
Secondly, each of us as ministers of the Gospel have no only our own preferences to consider but also those of others. Because we know that not EVERYONE engages with Scripture in a more academic way, we need to be sure that our churches, parachurch ministries, publishers, personal interactions, etc. address those people and meet them where they’re at. If they’re not super-into historical issues, fine, let’s not bog them down too much as they first begin to get to know Jesus.
On the other hand, some people DO really engage this way– they meet Jesus better when they think about historical stuff, Greek, etc. So to reach those people, it’s also important for all of us to be growing in our own understanding of these issues. Maybe some of us will get into it more than others, but I think these are important issues for committed Christians both for our own faith and for our ministry to people that care about this stuff.
I know from my own past experience what it feels like to be a high school student that seems to know more about the Bible than her youth group workers (with the exception of the youth pastor who had, indeed, been to seminary)– it’s really lonely and frustrating. I think in some way all of us are obligated to at least expose ourself to some basic information if we want to be able to meet the needs of nerdy people in our communities. Or at least we need to be conscious enough about these issues to ensure that someone working with kids, youth, students, young professionals, single moms, the LGBTQ community, senior citizens, etc.– whatever the ministry– is available for those beginning to explore these issues (or a veteran that just still needs fellowship!) can talk to.



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Ashleigh

posted April 30, 2008 at 6:29 pm


With regards to the 5% that care, etc., I would also say that the more people are taught this stuff bit by bit in less academic settings, the less distant/difficult and more just “normal,” even interesting I think it will be. So maybe the pulpit is a really appropriate place to address these concerns after all– not in great detail but to at least mention them.



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Ashleigh

posted April 30, 2008 at 6:31 pm


Gosh, wow, sorry for a third comment, but I just found an awful typo in my first that says “frace” instead of “grace”… just wanted to clarify. It’s not very proofread, obviously.



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Ron Newberry

posted April 30, 2008 at 6:46 pm


The gospel writers don’t identify themselves, that was a judgement by the chruch. Authorship has little to do with anything. If Peter wrote Peter fine, if not, it is in the canon and we need to understand it.



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Justin

posted April 30, 2008 at 7:11 pm


I would say that sometimes the academic/critical side is important for a formational reading and sometimes it isn’t. If you are doing a formational reading of Genesis 1, I think knowing the author and his circumstances fleshes out some very important meaning that has to do with real life. Here is an author most likely writing during the Babylonian captivity where his religion has fallen off a cliff because God resided in a temple in Jerusalem that was destroyed and the author is left with the task of reconstructing the faith in a new place. In such a place, he takes many ideas and forms from the enuma elish, yet makes Elohim the center of the story and has Yahweh speak creation lovingly into being. The author re-writes a cultural story through the lense of Israel’s God. Wow! What a remarkable act of counter-culture and counter-revolution. What if we today created such counter-narratives to the empires and pagan gods in our lives. Such a reading and knowledge creates such a pheonomenal formational depth.



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Scott M

posted April 30, 2008 at 8:01 pm


I’ve been following the comments since my attempt to express a thought which seems to me to be important in the hope that I would find some illumination in the way certain words are being used. And it finally dawns on me that the key one seems to be ‘formational’. I’m not sure I grasp what people mean when they use that word, especially when I see it so often paired (almost as a synonym) with the word ‘devotional’. Actually, I’m pretty sure that I don’t understand what most here seem to mean when they use those terms.
I’ll set aside ‘devotional’ for the moment, since whatever it may be used to mean, it doesn’t seem to have any direct bearing on my thoughts on this topic. While I don’t understand how it is being used here, I think I can explain what I understood it to mean.
It works like this. Let’s say that I’m going along in life with a certain perspective on the nature of reality, what it means to be a human being, and (as Willard would say) what it means to be a “good” person (all contingent on the first items). Now, let’s say that I believe the essence of a human is non-material and indestructible and this essence transmigrates from life to life. I also believe that this essence bears the mark or burden flowing from harm done to nature and other humans as well as the good. And that burden must be experienced and worked through in this life or another. Now, if that (and one can assume a host of other things associated with it) is the understanding which shapes my will, then I will choose to act, to form habits, to interact with my fellow human beings, and to worship in ways that reflect that shaping. In other words, I will form myself around those fundamental understandings.
Now, if at some point I instead come to believe that Jesus of Nazareth embodies and fully reveals the one (and only) creator God while at the same time living the life of a faithful and true human being in community with other human beings, then I need to stop the patterns and habits of that former life and instead begin to form my being — my whole self — around this particular God.
This is what I understand formation to mean. And thus it’s in this context that I understand a ‘formational’ reading of scripture. It’s the reading of scripture intended to help remake me into a participant of the story of the people of this particular God both internally and in the way I relate and interact with other human beings and in the way I relate and worship this God. This connects naturally to a term Scot used, ‘ecclesial reading’, which I took to mean a reading that shapes you into a member of this community of the people of God.
Now, the texts which were canonized by the church were understood to be texts that captured the apostolic witness. That’s why these were included and many others weren’t. It’s thought likely, for instance, that the first century Didache did actually capture the teaching of the Apostles, that whoever wrote was trying to capture what they taught. But it was not actually a text of the apostolic witness. It was a text about the apostolic witness, so it was not included in the canon, even though it was and is still highly respected.
So, if you are reading scripture in order to be shaped into a member of the ecclesia gathered around Jesus of Nazareth, I’m not sure how you can in the same moment set yourself against the Ecclesia which provided you that canon.
On one level it does matter whether or not something is actually part of the apostolic witness or not. If this is not the faith handed to us by and through the witness of the apostles (basically all the followers of Jesus who were also the eyewitnesses of the Resurrection, not just the 12), then there’s no reason I can discern to follow it. Christianity appeals to specific people and events in a particular time and a particular place. And, as it has for two thousand years, it lives or dies by those claims.
But that’s not actually what I was discussing here. You cannot be surrendering your will to be formed by something, in this case Scripture and the church which provided it to you, at the same time that you are exercising your will as a judge over that scripture and that church. It’s not that you can’t do both. Nor is it that I think there is any way for a human being to avoid doing both. Rather, it’s that as you are acting as judge, you are not being formed. You may be being informed, but that’s different. And as you are being formed, you are necessarily surrendering your will and, as it were, stepping down from the judge’s bench, at least for a time.



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Scot McKnight

posted April 30, 2008 at 8:17 pm


Scott M,
Good one brother. It is let that Story shape who I am and how I am to live with others among God’s people.



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Tim Hallman

posted April 30, 2008 at 8:54 pm


“But, what happens to you if it says ?Peter? in 1 Peter 1:1 and then someone, say a pastor in a sermon or in a book you are reading, says ?well, many don?t think Peter wrote this book?? What does this do to your reading this text as Word of God?”
If it is a speaker/author that I know and respect, it depends on the tone of voice, perceived reason for making this statement, and how it fits in with his developing point. If I upfront trust the author, though disagree with his statement or at least his use of the statement, I tend to overlook it and move on to get something out of the teaching. If I don’t know the speaker/author well, and don’t have a developed trust yet, and I don’t agree with his statement or his tone, I may discount the bulk of his point or overall teaching.
I am willing to accept that some books have disputed authors, I don’t believe that this disputation has to diminish the voice of God. But for the sake of putting the story or pericope in context, and for where the authorial issue is becoming central to whatever point is being made, I would want to see some balanced presentation on who is the author, why or why not, and what that may mean.



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Bob Brague

posted April 30, 2008 at 9:02 pm


My mommy and daddy told me stories about a true Santa Claus and a true tooth fairy and both of those stories turned out to be false. I despised my parents for a while for lying to me, for deceiving me, but I eventually went back to loving them and all was forgiven. After a while the Santa Claus and tooth fairy stories even seemed sweet.
I’m sure this has something to do with the authorship of books in the Bible, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted April 30, 2008 at 9:41 pm


#58 Peggy
Thanks for the link. This has been a great discussion.



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RJS

posted April 30, 2008 at 9:47 pm


Scott M,
I’ve been side-tracked on other issues (although important tangents here I think) – but you’ve brought this back to point. The point of a devotional, in my opinion, isn’t to “judge” but to be formed by scripture, by God’s story.
On a slightly different note – historical questions and authorship issues don’t concern me in this devotional, formational use because we have scripture preserved by God, for us, through the church, to teach God’s story. The authority rests more on canonicity than authorship. The great tradition of the church.



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Peggy

posted April 30, 2008 at 11:09 pm


Scott M #72,
Exactly! In other threads I’ve talked about Tolkien’s assertion that reading “story” requires us to “set aside disbelief long enough to enter the story” — which is pretty much what you’re doing when you are “stepping down from the judge?s bench, at least for a time.”
…at least for a time. Yes. Thanks.



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Anonymous

posted May 1, 2008 at 2:48 am


Who Stole My Church? .3 « Man of Depravity

[...] Pastor Gordon is left with a sticky situation. He has upset long time members and somehow needs to reach out to them. I love how he does this. He could have argued about style or just told them they were wrong, but instead he goes to the Scriptures. No one can argue the Scriptures (unless you don’t hold them in high regard, Scot McKnight has an interesting post on this today). [...]



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Richard

posted May 1, 2008 at 4:18 am


Folks, reading the wonderful comments and seeing all the localities has brought a greater meaning to me in what someone wrote once. ” Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
Thanks



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JJ

posted May 1, 2008 at 8:14 am


I believe we head down a slippery slope when we take on a sort of “two-sphere” view of the Bible anytime we enter the text. While dwelling on the authorship of any biblical writing is not the point the author is trying to get across, we cannot divorce the biblical text from its historical setting (i.e., Pual was not waxing eloquently just so his readers would think, “Wow!”, but to teach, encourage, confront, etc.). What comes next when other historical “discrepancies” arise? Fairly soon, you have to start pairing down the text in order to be more historically accurate in the eyes of the scholarship world.



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Richard

posted May 2, 2008 at 4:12 am


Sometimes the picture of salvation appears as one lost in a turbulant sea and is thrown a life ring. The lost is pulled in, there is great rejoicing for a while and then all sit down and discuss the makings of the life ring. Who threw it? Why the sea? Is making the life ring as or more important than the throwing it in?
All seek the substancial in one of two masters. Thought is arranged for outcome of benefit and by His stripes we were healed. The heavens declare the Glory of God and Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.
I, personaly, regarding formation of authorship would rather be intimate with the liquid than the cup and rest in assurance that if my knowledge of the bible or those who penned it should increase; that will be seen to by the leading of the sameself Spirit of Love, who calls me not orphan, but has abided with me so far.
Should I take my last breath at bed, I stake my trust not on whom I have known about… but on Him who knows me.



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Heidi Renee

posted May 2, 2008 at 5:17 am


Beautiful Richard, thank you!



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Bob Brague

posted May 2, 2008 at 6:41 am


Richard has hit the nail on the head.



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Terry

posted May 2, 2008 at 8:29 am


Richard, that’s it!



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