Saturday, February 9, 2013

[Evolution of the Word] (the past is) prologue

H!PS-Chelsea and I talked about reading the "New Testament" in ~chronological order, and she reminded me that Marcus Borg put out a book [HuffPo article] which orders the NT documents (NRSV) chronologically (and also includes some front matter), so that's what we're using for our read-through. (Well, I'm using the book anyway -- she may just be using his ordering and not shelling out the cash for the book.)

When she and I were first talking about it, I felt like that's how Bibles "should" be printed (in chronological order) -- which I think makes sense especially since the canonical NT gives the impression of being in chronological order, but it is also true that I'm a Western child of the Enlightenment, can you tell? :)

So I was struck by this in Chapter 3:

I began my introductory New Testament course one year with Paul's letters rather than the gospels. About half of my students had grown up without any involvement in a church, and so they knew little or nothing about Jesus and the gospels. Paul knew about Jesus, but they didn't. They were lost as they tried to figure out what on earth Paul's letters were about. I taught the course that way only once.

I eyeroll at Christians who insist that if you just pick up the Bible (by which I think they might mean the New Testament, I've never asked) and read it through, you'll be converted; but it does make sense to start with the documents which tells stories about the life and ministry of Jesus Christ before moving in to the documents which focus on resolving disputes in communities of Christ-followers.

If one has been raised in a Christian tradition, I think it matters less what order the documents are printed in because you've already absorbed something of an oral tradition -- just like Paul's audience -- but yes, if you're designing a book you can hand to newbies (though seriously, people, that is not how the Bible is intended -- I know, I know, I am All About The Text, but I have been converted to the importance of in-community), you probably don't wanna open with 1 Thessalonians (which Chelsea and I are gonna talk about tomorrow -- you know you wanna read with us :) ).


Borg also talks about why, "when Paul arrived in a new city, he went first to the synagogue--not because his mission was to convert Jews, but because Gentile 'God-lovers' [Gentiles who were attracted to Judaism] would be there" (p.26). He points out:

it is unlikely that Paul preached in synagogues or to crowds of strangers who were completely unfamiliar with Judaism. What would his message, which makes so much use of Jewish language and tradition, have meant to Gentiles who knew nothing about Judaism?
Which got me thinking about how evangelicals in my day present Christianity as its own self-contained thing -- reminded me of an exercise I think we did in some FCS setting once about what we would say in a gospel for our time, as well as reminding me of the troublesome tendency in so many Christian communities to downplay/dismiss/oppose Judaism :/


Other things I didn't know:

In the canon, the thirteen letters attributed to Paul are organized according to two principles. The nine letters addressed to communities are placed first, followed by the four letters addressed to individuals. Then, within each category, the letters are arranged in descending order of length, from longest to shortest. The exception is Galatians; it comes before Ephesians, even though the latter is about two hundred words longer.

1 comment:

  1. Internal chronological order is also chronological order, just not by publication date. (Not registering an opinion on the best way to organize the bible, just noting, cos I was confused by what you meant).