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Reading the Bible Chronologically

A number of bloggers have responded to Marcus Borg’s article at the Huffington Post on reading the New Testament chronologically. Responses include Gaudete Theology, Bill Heroman, and Philip J. Long. I’d suggest reading those responses before reading my few comments.

Here are some points that struck me:

  1. Borg contends that there is a trajectory of conformity to the culture. The earliest materials are radical while the later items have accommodated. I’m wondering how much this would differ from simply the fact that early Christians found themselves having to continue living in the empire, and that there would be more questions to answer about culture. In other words, if Jesus or Paul were to answer enough questions from people living from day to day, they might appear less radical than the distilled essence we get from them now.
  2. The New Testament, as a “book,” is the creation and possession of the church. I happen to believe that it is God’s creation through the medium of the church, but nonetheless without the church there is no New Testament. At a minimum, we need to recognize that reading it in a way so substantially different from the way the church created it will result in seeing a different picture.
  3. The historian may want to see the individual documents and read a history. I have great sympathy with than enterprise, but as I noted in point #2 the reading becomes different.
  4. If one postulates a different chronology, the book changes again. For example, folks like William R. Farmer and David Alan Black don’t accept Markan priority. While I am not fully convinced of this position myself, I do believe they have each, in very different ways, poked some serious holes in the consensus view.
  5. Viewing the gospels as products of the church rather than formative of it seems to privilege the written word above the oral at a time when that probably was not the case. In other words, the stories of Jesus told in the gospels were likely formative, and because of that became part of the written record. The gospel writers didn’t choose which stories to record in a vacuum. They were aware of which stories were more influential.
  6. I think #5 holds whether the gospels were written by eyewitnesses or not. Eyewitnesses will have been telling the stories for decades before writing them down. What was formative for the church would be in the gospels because of that, if nothing else.

Obviously, I’m not recording well-researched and supported theories. I’m just noting some questions and observations.


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One Comment

  1. Hi Henry – I found this historical sequence an interesting theme – and responded with what I have learned from reading the psalms over the last 6 years here.

    Our own recent history is also of interest – for today I have been advertising this article on Labour Day

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