Are Fundamentalists Our Modern Scribes? Divine Revelation as Book or People


A quick reading of Christian history clearly reveals that the church created the Bible, not the other way around. There were member councils, with raised hands, and even drawing of straws! Some books were voted in and some voted out; the ones voted out were deemed heretical and the ones retained remained orthodox. In the New Testament, there are no original manuscripts, only fragments of original text until generations later. The makeup of the final canon (Mark to Revelation), which some will argue continues until today, was not decided for centuries. Ironically, the first list for a potential canon came from Marcion, a heretic! And it is from this flawed human process of decision making that a fundamentalist today must claim divinely inspired inerrancy of the Good Book.

This is the same book from which the teachings of Jesus are studied, followed and worshipped. Yet, it is Jesus himself, a student of the law, who in the gospel of John says to the Jewish scribes, "You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life (John 39,40)." It's in this passage that Jesus points out that the book is only a signpost, a direction to a relationship with Him, but yet they do not receive Him. For the scribes the worship of the book without the Messiah was a "half way" house bordering on the same idolatry of the Hebrews and their Golden Calf. We can re-read the verse to say "You read the scriptures because you think that in them (alone) you have eternal life." But the scriptures only "point" to a much deeper consideration of the broader human family, from which we can learn wisdom. The act of Bible study alone (without practice) is not sacred.

Jesus highlighted the same point that the modern world raises about Christian fundamentalism today. Where is the nexus between God and man (woman)? And how do we receive that knowledge? Is it revelation? Can it be defended by human reason? How much of the knowledge is subject to the evolving social fabric. Is Christianity a move toward social unity or an objective truth? As one placard queries, "Would you rather be right or loved?" A fundamentalist will defend their position with two key points 1) is that the bible (New Testament) is the only inspired revelation of God and 2) God has divinely supervised the organization of that word into what would become the New Testament canon. Just a few points below, about the Apostle Paul and his seven consensus letters (1 Thessalonians, Romans, Galatians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Philemon), which most scholars accept as authentic, will dispel these two points as common sense impossibilities.

1) Paul never wrote his letters thinking they would become the word of God, nor would he have considered the word anything other than the Hebrew Bible. And here are some other considerations: a) Paul did not want to write his letters, but was forced to in order to defend against attacks by his fellow Apostles on his ministry when absent from his churches. b) In the case of the conflict in Corinth, and his other correspondence, at times he wrote multiple letters that were later condensed into one letter, where passages were added or removed, according to those who copied them. And c) Paul's "new" revelation, regarding a new gospel to the Gentiles that informs his later writings was not something found in the Hebrew Scriptures (book), at least not according to the other followers of Jesus.

2) As for the divine guidance over human agency, a) We know Paul's letters are not all in the New Testament canon (Laodicea) and c) Paul's letters were only given their present status after the Fall of Jerusalem and the loss of the Jewish Christian legacy- in other words by default. Now, if a fundamentalist still desired to argue the point about divine providence, one could say that in light of, or in spite of, these human motives, mishaps, and events in history, God used them as agency for this divine purpose. Well, you could too. But, this might border on the same logic that claims God creates hurricanes and tsunamis in order to teach people lessons? Perhaps, when a group of children find unique shells on the beachfront after the terror has passed, it is a revelation of the beauty of the ocean.

In summary, to be human, even if one believes humans to be partly divine by God's creation or Gods intervention, is to be just that, human. If we are free, as the Christian faith teaches, and capable of reason, as most would agree, then our choices play a bigger role than historically assumed in a Fundamentalist worldview. We are much more responsible. No easy passages to explain, but difficult interpretative facts we had to accept in the past regarding the origins of disease or the rotation of the earth around the Sun. And is not randomness part of our basic life experience? When the fawn wanders onto the empty highway in the calm sunset, without any one around, before a tractor trailer races past, does this mean God intended it? Did human beings cause this? Was the fawn a fallen creature that deserved this? If one answers yes, I think that is the same thinking that potentially sweeps past the genocide to find Gods wisdom? Not that there is nothing to be learned from suffering, but that suffering always has an explanation, because a sacred book determines it so.

There are no divine projects without human ones, and while we can point to tradition or even sacred holy writ, Jesus seems to be warning to beware if you begin to think that in a holy book alone you have life, without also listening to the human cries behind that holy book.