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authorship and philosophy of religion

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  • John M. Noble
    There is one topic of importance to an understanding of the construction of New Testament manuscripts, about which I haven t seen so much discussion. This
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 19, 2005
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      There is one topic of importance to an
      understanding of the construction of New
      Testament manuscripts, about which I haven't seen
      so much discussion. This leads to approaches to
      scripture that seem contradictory to me. The
      topic is the philosophy of history, in particular
      of religious history, of the authors of the New
      Testament scriptures.

      The basic ideas of the 'modern' Western
      philosophies; the rationalism of Kant, the
      speculative idealists and mystics (e.g.
      Schleiermacher), Ritchl's return to a
      'rationalistic' system, etc .... are all present
      already at the time of NT writing. For
      Schleiermacher, essentially Jesus represents not
      the Mediator, but rather the idea of mediation.
      Man possesses, potentially, the redeeming idea
      within himself. There is little essential
      difference from a Christian point of view between
      rationalism on the one hand and historical
      positivism on the other, which presents the
      spectacle of humanity in need of redemption
      rather than an individual in need of redemption.
      This was one idea from the German Romantic
      thinking of the nineteenth century, which has
      been represented in different clothes by Tom
      Wright and others, under the title of 'new
      perspective'. The basic idea is not 'new',
      although the application of the scriptural
      garments may have some novelty.

      All these philosophies IMO represent variations
      on the (embryonic form of) Gnosticism that the
      author of 1 John is trying to counter.

      In all of the above, Jesus is essentially a
      'primus inter pares'. In 19th century Western
      philosophy, this lead to a growing interest in
      the study of 'Christ after the flesh'. The
      emphasis was on the humanistic picture of Jesus.
      Also, Schopenhauer's parallel between Jesus and
      the Buddha, which has striking similarities with

      JAT Robinson, in 'The Priority of John' takes the
      view that the inconsistencies and glitches are a
      sign not of inconsistencies added in by
      subsequent redaction, but rather as a sign of
      lack of a final editing. This would be in line
      with the position taken by the Masoretes. I am
      not an expert here. It is unclear how the Old
      Testament scriptures arose, but it seems clear
      that from roughly 200 BC onwards, the Masoretes
      insisted on preserving the text exactly as it
      was. Even when they noticed obvious errors, even
      the slightest error in the pointing, they refused
      to alter anything at all. They felt that they did
      not have the authority to tamper with the text.

      This is the approach that I would expect to the
      writings of the eye witnesses of Christ, if
      people really were convinced that this was a
      'Once for all' revelation. They would preserve
      the writing of the eye witness apostles exactly
      as it was and wouldn't alter anything, even if
      they felt that the beloved apostle had been
      deficient in grammar or inconsistent in ideas.

      In other words, you should not expect a text that
      is entirely consistent or a text that is free
      from errors. You should expect a text that is
      very close to that produced by the original

      I don't see the process of editing in the second
      century as a feasible idea if there was a
      prevailing sense that the Christ event had been a
      'once for all' revelation, if there was a sense
      that Jesus was more than a 'primus inter pares',
      that there was a qualitative difference between
      this revelation and any other revelation. If
      there was a belief that this was the sort of
      event that had taken place, then I simply don't
      see how anyone could have 'gotten away with' a
      serious redaction of the manuscripts.

      It seems to me that the authority for redaction
      within the second century could only exist if the
      'once for all' element were removed from the
      Christ event. If Jesus is not regarded as a once
      for all revelation, but merely as the bearer of a
      word or philosophical doctrine, 'Man is saved by
      the metaphysical element alone and not by the
      historical' (Fichte), this opens the door to the
      idea of the knowledge of the historical element
      as a growing revelation of God. Under this view
      of the life of Jesus, it becomes more than
      possible that people are considered to have the
      authority to edit the texts.

      All this may look like a general comment on the
      NT scriptures and therefore inappropriate for
      this list. And it is, except for the fact that it
      was motivated firstly by the commentary on GJohn
      by CK Barrett where, to my mind, the theology
      that he draws out of GJohn seems to be
      inconsistent with the approach to the writing of
      GJohn that he assumes. Secondly, I found the book
      by JAT Robinson rather striking and it seemed to
      make an awful lot of sense when I read it.

      John M. Noble

      (Linköping, Sweden)

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