Monday, October 14, 2013

My Journey With Scripture and Critical Scholarship: Part 1

I have been working on a one on one class for my wife on New Testament backgrounds. When one begins to understand the New Testament in its context, it becomes clear that some conceptions of the Bible are inadequate. I have gone through a metamorphosis over the last decade and after the class my wife understood why much better. This led her to ask me to chronicle my journey with the Bible and critical scholarship and how my faith has been challenged and has grown.

I grew up in a fundamentalist family. I don't resent it, unlike many who have left fundamentalism behind. My parents were trying to please God as best they could. The importance of the Bible was drilled into me and I loved reading it, especially the narrative portions of the Old Testament. When I was 7 I read through my NIV Bible in its entirety. Needless to say, there was a lot that I did not understand.

When I went to college I was a member of Agape Christian Fellowship at the University of Rochester. It is a multi-ethnic (though primarily Korean American) campus fellowship run by the English ministry of Rochester Korean United Methodist Church. This too was a very conservative setting and neo-Reformed. I continued to grow in my love for the Scriptures and began studying some. Rigorous study was strongly encouraged. My major was pure mathematics, which taught me critical thinking.

As we were leaving for Chicago in the summer of 2006, one of the students, who had a Seventh Day Adventist friend, asked me to write a paper about the Sabbath. Of course one of the main passages that must be studied is the controversy with the Pharisees in Mark 2:23-3:6 and parallels. I was not yet employed and had lots of free time. I went to the library at Wheaton College and Judson University (where my wife teaches) and began reading various commentaries. What better passage for a fearless conservative to cut their teeth on! I looked at the accounts in Matthew, Mark, and Luke and decided to primarily interface with the Matthean account. That day I fell in love with Davies' and Allison's legendary commentary on Matthew. I knew little about the synoptic problem and nothing about redaction criticism, but the way Davies and Allison interpreted the text made it come to life for me. I also was challenged to think about inerrancy. Did Matthew and Luke omit the piece about Abiathar because they thought Mark made a mistake? I came to think so and still do.

The next two years I continued to study hard and started to become aware of a wider range of biblical scholarship. In particular I focused on Paul and the Law. The second major monograph that I read was Paul and Palestinian Judaism by E.P. Sanders. It became abundantly clear that knowing the Bible alone wasn't enough. I needed to know more about Early Judaism as well. I came away with two other major things to ponder. What was Paul's 'in Christ' language all about, and was his thinking really retrospective?

In the meantime I was also studying Ephesians and using the commentary of Ernest Best. It was my first experience reading scholarship that at times was antagonistic towards the text. I was a little uncomfortable, but I noticed that some of his critical questions were warranted.

2009 was a momentous year for me. This is when I was introduced to Enns, Sparks, and Barth. But I'll save that part of the story for next time.

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