Wednesday, 7 January 2009

[Sunday School] Day 1

On the first day of our Sunday School, we finished about 80% of the first topic. Here is a brief summary:

Our first topic is scriptures and canon. Yeah, we begin with something basic...

But so basic that these matters are often simply overlooked.

This is the official statement of our church. But like it said, the bible is the "only rule of Christian faith and practice," which means that this statement of faith is not a rule of our faith and practice... But anyway...

The statement says, the bible is "verbally inspired by God." What does that mean? Where did they get this idea? Probably from 2 Tim 3.16? But the problem is, the meaning of theopneustos is unclear. Strictly speaking, we're not sure what it means!

But I certainly don't think it means God spoke in the ears of the biblical authors and they dictated what they heard. Take this passage from Romans for example. We agree that Paul is the author of Romans, but here we have one sentence from Tertius, Paul's scribe: "I Tertius who write this letter greet you in the Lord." Did God speak in Paul's ears saying "I Tertius greet you in the Lord"? It doesn't make sense to me.

The statement of faith also says that the bible is "inerrant," meaning that it contains no factual errors. But are there? How many times did the rooster crow before Peter disowned Jesus? This is not an important issue at all; I don't think there's a theological message embedded in the number of times the rooster crowed. But it becomes a critical issue when you say the bible is inerrant. Another example is when was Jesus arrested? In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, he was arrested after he had the Passover meal (which is now known as the Last Supper); in John, he was arrested before the Passover.

And who killed Goliath? The story we are most familiar with is David killed Goliath with a sling-shot and Goliath's sword. But elsewhere in Samuel, we're told it was Elhanan who killed Goliath. The author of Chronicles didn't like it, so he changed the details a little bit and had Elhanan killed Goliath's brother instead of Goliath himself.

I'm not saying that the idea of inerrancy doesn't work. But we'll need realize what kinds of problems we'll need to face if we want to hold on to it. How you might coordinate the idea of inerrancy with the "data" from the bible, I'll leave that job up to you.

Say, the contents of the bible is divinely inspired (whatever that means...), but what about the canon? Why is Genesis in the Old Testament, but not 3 Baruch?

The Protestant canon came from the Jewish canon. They have the exact same amount of contents, but the books are in different orders. The Jewish canon is called Tanak, because it contains 3 parts: Torah (law), Neviim (prophets), Kethubim (writings). They just took the first letter of Torah, Neviim, and Kethubim (TNK) and made a word out of them.

Let's look at some evidence. 4QMMT dates to the 3rd century BCE. It seems to refer to the Torah, the Prophets, but not the Writings--just David.

The prologue of Sira dates to the 2nd century BCE; Philo is from the first century on both sides of the Common Era. They also refer to Torah and Prophets. But the third part of their scriptures is just called "the others" or "the Psalms + the other books".

Similar expression in Luke, just Psalms.

Luke has a passage that talks about the bloodshed of Abel and Zechariah. Why Abel and Zechariah? Some scholars say, it is because Abel is the first person killed in Genesis (1st book in the Jewish scriptures), and Zechariah is the last person killed in Chronicles (last book in the Jewish scriptures). But the parallel passage in Matthew called Zechariah "the son of Berechiah," and in Chronicles Zechariah is the son of Jehoiada. So, I'm not quite sure if we can use this as evidence of the shape of the Jewish canon by the time of Luke.

[to be continued next week]


uDave said...

Hey, I read your introduction in previous blog and it is very stimulating. I would sit in your class if I was in Hamilton.... ;)

By the way, are you still going to the HCAC or the Mandarin church on the mountain? Just curious.

Howtindog said...

Hi Dave, I'm going to HCAC, with their English congregation. I feel welcomed there. It is really enjoyable.

I don't think there's anything special about the materials that I'm presenting. I'm sure many church pastors who have taken some basic bible classes know about these stuff. But I can understand why they feel reluctant to talk about some of these potentially troubling issues. Better safe than sorry, you know.

uDave said...

You usually have some deep insight and interesting agrument.... And you can walk on the line not as a pastor. That's why I think your class will be interesting. Keep on your good work to motivate peoples to open up their Bibles to read more...

I still have a few friends in there, but they are of the Chinese side.... Solomon, K.P., Peter Tang & pastor Gloria too. If I have a chance to drop by for worship service, I will meet up with you and 妹仔... (Rain check).