Saturday, January 30, 2010

You Know A Knockoff When You See One

Earlier this week, one of my daily meanderings through the Bible...which I realize may well entertaining only to myself...surfaced something that I hadn't anticipated.

In this week's Bible Puzzlah out the book of Ezekiel, I surfaced two separate passages from the New Testament that stood in apparent tension with Ol' Zeke.

One was from Paul, writing in the Book of Romans. The other was from deutero-Paul, writing in 1 Timothy. Meaning, many scholars of the Bible look at these two books and see such a wide divergence of voice, style and theology that...for the sake of the integrity of the text...they can't bring themselves to say they're written by the same person. "Deutero" Paul means "Second" Paul...a disciple of Paul writing in Paul's name. It's a significant element of the historical-critical approach to the Bible, and, honestly, I've been sold on it since I first encountered it in undergrad. In part, that's because it just makes so darn much sense.

But more significantly, it gives Scripture a depth and richness of reality that makes the stories it tells all the more spiritually potent. That's not how my literalist brethren understand it, of course. The Bible simply is exactly what it says it is. If the book says Paul wrote it, then, by golly, that begins and ends the discussion. Messing with that absolute certitude would mess with the entire foundation of scriptural literalism.

Problem is, it just doesn't feel...real. Paul's seven authentic letters all share a recognizable voice and theology. If you read 1 Timothy 2 with an open mind, well, it just ain't the same. The passage from early this week is particularly egregious. Yeah, it ain't a favorite of mine, but it also just plain meaning doesn't jibe with the rest of Paul.

Take, for instance, the assertion that "Adam was not deceived, it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner." There's not a chance in heck that the Paul who wrote Romans ever, ever said this. It flies utterly, totally, and completely in the face of everything Paul had to say about Adam and sin. You just can't read Romans 5:12-21 and reconcile it with that statement. It undercuts the entire core of Pauline understanding of human sinfulness, which is at the foundation of orthodox understandings of salvation.

1 Timothy also makes the rather impressive statement that sinful women will be "saved through childbearing." Gawrsh, and here I was thinking that our pitch was that all humankind was saved by Jesus Christ. Guess for da ladiez it's "Jesus Christ plus babies."

This peculiar statement trivializes Paul's understanding of the role of grace and faith in reconciling us with God. It just, well, can't be Paul. It doesn't sound like him, smell like him, or taste like him. There are echoes of Paul's thought in 1 Timothy, sure. But if you are as gifted a rhetorician as Paul shows himself to be in Romans, Galatians, and 1 and 2 Corinthians, that sort of flagrant inconsistency seems...well...pretty freakin' unlikely.

It's also rather difficult to believe that the Paul who wrote Galatians and declared that in Christ gender categories no longer matter would bother with this passage in the first place.

1 Timothy seems to reflect the incursion of Roman sociocultural expectations into the church...which would be expected as the church grew and spread in the time after the Apostolic Era. As such, it makes sense. It reflects the beginnings of the devolution of the Primal Church into a servant of the state. What just doesn't compute for me is the argument that it is somehow saying exactly the same thing as Paul's writings, any more than it would make sense to say that a Geely Merrie 300 is the same thing as a Mercedes C Class.

Guess you just need a discerning eye.