Thursday, November 30, 2017

they tell of God introducing the cause of freedom in a society which was characteristically oppressive. They tell of the capacity for life to be wrought out of situations of hopelessness and death

Continuing on from where I left off, yesterday,  Brueggemann gives a similar primal narrative of the New Testament and talks about the total difference both of those narratives make in viewing the world and changing the character of human life and conduct.  I will point out that in some of my online brawls with atheists try to turn the currently conceived chronology of the New Testament, putting the epistles of Paul as being written before the Gospels, to claim that Paul didn't know the substance of the Gospels, even though, as I pointed out, Paul talked about having given the communities he founded "the gospel" and implied that others deviated from that gospel which he got from the companions of Jesus and the witnesses of his ministry and life.  I think the chronology of texts, the short window in which they were produced, the relatively small numbers of Christians at the time, their obvious knowledge of each other makes assuming that Paul's gospel was substantially similar to the synoptic gospels reasonable.  Far more reasonable than to think he was preaching one of the more out of it gnostic gospels or, I've become persuaded, even the much touted Thomas gospel.  I was quite enthusiastic for Crossan's theory about that gospel in his The Historical Jesus, but find the more I read and think about it, the less convincing I find his assertions on that and a few other texts.

In a similar way C. H. Dodd, noted English scholar, has observed that in the New Testament, we may discern a primal narrative which brings to us the basic substance of the earliest preaching ( his word is kerygma) of the church and therefore the earliest faith of the church  It seems most likely that the earliest statements of such faith do not come from the gospel accounts but from statements in the letters of Paul.  Paul apparently relied on the oral traditions of the early church, the same oral traditions which were used for the forming of the gospels.  Thus the statements in the letters to Corinth are likely earlier than the gospel accounts though they surely report the same faith. 

a) In 1 Corinthians 1:23 it is articulated as the substance of preaching. 

b) In 1 Corinthians 3:1 it is presented as the foundation of all Christian faith, which means it is the most elemental statement of faith which can be made.  As for all narratives of this kind, there is no theological presuppositions or assertions behind them.  This is the bedrock of the faith of the church. 

c) In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 it is presented as the essential tradition which is remembered by the church in its theological reflection.  

Now the credo of Israel discerned by von Rad and the kerygma of the church articulated by Dodd are quite different from each other for obvious reasons.  The one is formulated by a community concerned with Israel' faith and the other by a community focused on the events of Jesus' presence and ministry.  The one is cast in completely Semitic idiom and the other is presented in Hellenistic context.  The one is the product of long and not very well understood processes whereas the other appeared in a relatively short time.   But they have important similarities which are decisive for understanding the real intent of the biblical tradition.

a) Both are recitals of acts of God which have radically changed life for those who affirm them.  The decisive grammar of biblical faith presents an active verb with God himself as the subject and the church or the world as the object of the verb,  i.e., as the recipient of God's action.

b) Both are statements of confession or assertion which make no attempt to explain or prove.  They are bold primitive affirmations of faith, stripped of every ornamentation or justification. 

c. Both are narratives which recite ways in which God has acted in ways to change the shape of the entire historical process.  That is they tell of God introducing the cause of freedom in a society which was characteristically oppressive.   They tell of the capacity for life to be wrought out of situations of hopelessness and death.  And since these events have happened, human consciousness cannot be the same.  It is now known by those who have faced the evidence that real newness can come into human history that is not derived from old forms and patterns  Very concrete events like the healing of a man or the finding of a baby have now been given universal significance   The finding of a baby is an announcement to the arrangers of this world that a new world is promised by God and will come.  The healing of a man is understood as a dismantling of the old arrangements which kept people from being human.   The impact of these memories concerns both the shape of public life and the images we have of our personal existence.  The substance of these kernels of biblical faith (credo, kerygma) presents the essentials of all biblical faith.

Brueggeman goes on to give two lists of the essentials of biblical faith, for Israel and for the early church, which I'll give you tomorrow.  That is unless I get some kind of objection to this exercise in commentary. 

1 Corinthians 1:23

23 As for us, we proclaim the crucified Christ, a message that is offensive to the Jews and nonsense to the Gentiles;

1 Corinthians 3:1

Servants of God
3 As a matter of fact, my friends, I could not talk to you as I talk to people who have the Spirit; I had to talk to you as though you belonged to this world, as children in the Christian faith.

1 Corinthians 15:3-8

3 I passed on to you what I received, which is of the greatest importance: that Christ died for our sins, as written in the Scriptures; 4 that he was buried and that he was raised to life three days later, as written in the Scriptures; 5 that he appeared to Peter and then to all twelve apostles. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred of his followers at once, most of whom are still alive, although some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, and afterward to all the apostles.
8 Last of all he appeared also to me—even though I am like someone whose birth was abnormal.

Again, I've used the Good News Translation.  I'm not sure to what extent that translation is similar to the one used by the community that produced The Gospel in Solentiname, Dios Leega Al Hombre but Ernesto Cardinal found it especially poetic and congenial to a community of besieged peasants who were being murdered by the puppets of a foreign power, the United States, much as those Jesus preached to and who Paul would have had much in common with.  The edition I have of the Spanish text is printed in parallel to the Good News New Testament.  I might go over some of that in relation to the Magnificat again this Advent.

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