Friday 13 July 2018

Remission of sins? - wrongness in the Fourth Gospel

When reading the Fourth Gospel, some passages stand-out as wrong.

How these passages got-into the text I am reading is not really important to me - clearly there are many times and ways it could have happened; and equally clearly, when dealing with divinely inspired and sustained texts the normal understandings of secular 'historical' scholarship are inadequate and misleading.

(Mostly, the provenance of error is unknowable because there are an open-ended number of possibilities; it is the provenance of truth which is vital.)

The Fourth Gospel has a form, a method, a shape - overall it is a highly-perfect work, perhaps the most perfect of all sustained works; this means that errors stand out. Furthermore, the gospel is true, and known-as-such; so wrongness stands-out.

From Chapter 20:19 Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. 20 And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord. 21 Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: 23 Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. 24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe...

The italicised are wrong, furthermore they are detached from the narrative - which runs straight from verse 20 to verse 24. .

Verse 21: The analogy between the Father sending Jesus, and Jesus sending the disciples, is basically-false.

Verse 22: Jesus has previously explained at length that the Holy Ghost cannot come to the disciples until he has ascended to Heaven - so he cannot breathe the Holy Ghost onto them at this point.

Verse 23: The bald statement that the disciples are being given power to remit/ retain sins (whatever that may mean) is at odds with the rest of the Gospel. The possibility that the disciples be given power over sins, or that such a remission is even necessary or coherent, is in stark contradiction to the overall teaching of this gospel - in the sense of having nothing-to-do-with the rest of the gospel. Furthermore (in this gospel), whenever Jesus says anything as important as this would have been; he always says it several times, in several ways, generally in several places; to ensure it is appreciated and understood.

(Why were these verses wrongly interpolated? Well, at the cost of contradicting the core gospel message; it seems fairly obvious that these verses imply that Jesus ordained his disciples as a priesthood analogous in power and status to himself, and as necessary to salvation. Maybe that explains why they were inserted at some point?...)

The Fourth Gospel is - on the one hand - hard to understand; being expressed in an unfamiliar way; on the other hand it is understandable by anyone who gives it sufficient of the right kind of attention - because it is a window onto universal consciousness.

The fact that the Fourth Gospel is a human product, as well as divine, will not block that possibility - because God is on both sides of the situation: as-it-were present in the text and also as a part of our-selves: present (not in perceptions, not in mental concepts) in the thinking of the real self.

Furthermore; if one is reading the gospel for the best kind of reason - that is, as a kind of meditation/ prayer, for personal and direct knowledge (rather than in order to extract from it rules and regulations for general, public communication and control) -- then the process of understanding, or knowing, is itself of great value and greatly satisfying.

Understanding the Fourth Gospel is not really a finite task that could be done and finished-with; nor is it 'objectively' checkable whether or not the task has been achieved. This is because when talking about the Fourth Gospel - we are only talking about it.

Knowledge comes first - but the communication of knowledge, and its reception, is a different matter altogether.


William Wildblood said...

I think you make a very important point here, Bruce. That, however inspired a text may be, we still have to retain our critical faculties when we read it and submit what we read to intuitive reflection. This is actually a good thing as it hones our own spiritual awareness and sorts out those who read with the spirit from those who go completely by the letter.

For what it's worth, your objection to the italicised section makes sense to me too.

Nathaniel said...

Those lines do come across as a (poor) later edit, clearly interrupting the direct narrative "We saw Jesus and His wounds, but Thomas doubted until He too saw Jesus and his wounds."

I do not feel confident enough in my own understanding though to assume it is wrong though, or deny what presumably many saints/church fathers accepted.

Chiu ChunLing said...

This assertion is simply incorrect.

I think that it is important to read the scriptures by the Spirit, and to be sensitive to when a passage does not bear to you any meaning that the Spirit confirms.

I doubt not that, in your recent reading, you found no clear inspiration in those verses.

I also doubt not that, like every other word of scripture, they have been written, revised, interpreted, and transmitted by fallible men.

Having said that, it remains simply incorrect to say that they are thus not scripture and have no meaning that the Spirit will ever confirm (it would be wrong to say that definitely even for yourself, it is far more wrong to say it of all men).

"Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side [to assuage their doubts]. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord [because He was alive, and they thought He would lead them as before]. Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you [because they had mistaken that He had returned to reign personally on the Earth at that time]. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: [He literally shared with them His breath, that is to say, the divine spirit, inspiration, word, life, etc. such that there is no way to shortly document the full depth of meaning contained here] Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained [which power was and is included in the ordinance described, though it is a rare one precisely because it is so enormous]."

I think that it is correct to say that Christ did not in that case give them ability or discretion to further propagate the divine breath He conferred on them. Not that such should be impossible, but that it would only be possible in the case of the recipient being perfect as Christ was, which was not the case with the disciples present. But there is no logical connection between this ordinance being exclusive and the disciples not receiving any authority to extend it to others, and it not having occurred at all.

The plan was always that that exclusive ordinance should effectively die out with the original disciples, and the initially sudden explosion of Christian influence made possible through it slow to a slower propagation by persuasion (though this was corrupted by the theocratic aspirations of rulers of human empires later). That Christian communities farm and fish rather than endlessly multiplying loaves and fishes does not mean that Christ never did this miracle. The snake-handling is no true sign of discipleship, it is at best a clever trick of a skilled performer. But that doesn't mean the original disciples were not extended the special protections scripture records.

We can fail by overlooking the miraculous nature of everyday occurrences, like the fact that what we eat and drink literally becomes flesh and blood, and by submission of our will to Christ may be His as truly as it is ours. But to deny that a miracle occurs at all simply because it doesn't occur everyday in our experience would leave all but OB-GYN specialists grasping to understand how they could possibly have been born.

There is no need to accept my bracketed comments as authoritative additions to scripture, I would be rather troubled if any unauthorized person were to construe them as such (what authorized persons do, I cannot object to even in my heart). I simply added them as illustrations of meanings that might be prayerfully considered by some readers who were not eager to discard any verses of scripture.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - I am not sure what you are getting at here - or more exactly what you suppose I am asserting.

From my persepctive, I am currently trying to understand Christianity exclusively by the Fourth Gospel - and part of this is recognising a few places in that gospel where there feel to be interpolations or excisions, sections out of spirit with the Fourth Gospel - and therefore lacking the *special* authority of that Gospel (and not equalled by any other Gospel or book of scripture).

When I have grasped the meaning of the Fourth Gospel sufficiently (I have not reached that point) or stop making progress in that task, I will turn to other scripture to read them in its light.

This does not mean I have given-up reading the rest of the Bible, far from it! - but that I feel insecure about understanding the specific detail and cruxes of (for example) the synoptics or epistles; since I have a felt-lack of solid context for them.

Chiu ChunLing said...

What I am precisely getting at is that your current lack of understanding of what these verses mean does not mean that they were wrongly interpolated.

It is more likely that you are simply failing to think about them from the perspective of those who wrote them, who well understood that the very first thing the disciples thought when they realized Christ had really overcome Death was that He would then lead them to martial victory over their enemies as a sort of invincible God-Emperor.

It was necessary to correct this misunderstanding. Perhaps one may say that the gospels (being written after the disciples had accepted their commission to act in Christ's stead) do not emphasize sufficiently the misunderstanding under which the initial authors themselves had labored up until that time. But it may be that they were writing to an audience who would not have needed this to be particularly pointed out.

This is where I feel that a certain experience of physicality of moral effort is helpful.