Monday 15 October 2018

What to do if you are thinking of becoming a Christian (and are somebody like me!)

If I knew then what I know now, I would do as follows:

Sit down with The Bible, in the (divinely-inspired) Authorised/ King James Version - and read Only the Fourth Gospel (ie. 'John's Gospel). 

Try to read it as if you knew nothing else about Jesus, or Christianity; and read it, study it, live-with-it... under the assumption that it is true and was written by a truthful eye-witness whom Jesus especially loved.

You will (if you are like me!) find it one of the most beautiful prose compositions in the language - and perhaps that will be your overwhelming first impression: keep reading...

It isn't easy to read - but it makes its core points over and over again in different ways, and in different words; so that there is nothing important that is left ambiguous or unclear... so if you don't get it the first or second time, you will catch-on sooner or later.

Then you can go back and check you impressions and conclusions. Read it skimming through quickly, read it in-order; and also read slowly, it out of order: homing-in on parts of special interest.

Read the Fourth Gospel as if it was the only truly authoritative, first-hand source we had about Jesus - because, in a vital sense, it probably is. At any rate, read it as if there was nothing else and you had never heard anything else about what Christianity was, or should be - extract all this from the Fourth Gospel... And see what you make of it. 

In other words, if you are thinking of becoming a Christian - extract the essence of what that means, what that is or might potentially be, from the Fourth Gospel. Don't read anything else, don't ask anybody else, don't think about investigating a church... until after you have grasped the nature and teachings of Jesus from the Fourth Gospel.

That is not what I actually did myself; but more than a decade down-the-line that is what I would advise - although probably few would agree with me!


Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

I've heard people make a similar recommendation, but for the Second Gospel ("Mark") -- which is the shortest, simplest, and most direct, but also (according to mainstream scholarship) the first written and therefore the closest to the "historical Jesus."

Having tried that -- reading the Second Gospel through a dozen or so times, making extensive notes, and ruminating over all the details -- I can say that, while I certainly benefited from the experience, the Second Gospel's supposed "easiness" is only superficial. A sizable percentage of the text deals with demon possession and exorcism, not exactly the most accessible topics for modern readers. (My study of the Second Gospel eventually led to my reading William Menzies Alexander's book-length treatment of the subject, Demon Possession in the New Testament, which opens far more questions than it is able to answer.) It's also full of largely opaque parables, and throughout the narrative Jesus says almost nothing about his identity or his mission, but rather seems to be at pains to keep both secret. In short, not the best introduction to Christianity!

The Fourth Gospel is just the opposite: no exorcisms, virtually no parables, and lots and lots of direct statements by Jesus about himself. As for its late date, that doesn't prevent its being an eyewitness account if the eyewitness is, as implied in the text, immortal. The Second Gospel is clearly not an eyewitness account and does not pretend to be, and the other two are clearly derivative works based on the Second Gospel. The Fourth Gospel is the only one that even might be an eyewitness account, and as such is clearly the place to start. If the reader judges its claims regarding its authorship to be implausible, then the conclusion is that we can know very little about Jesus with any certainty, since all we have are legends. But if the Fourth Gospel is precisely what it claims to be -- well!

lgude said...

It's time to take you up on this suggestion.I read some amount of it in Greek at university and could see that it was a powerful mystical text that stood alone - so reading it late in life to the exclusion of the rest of the bible sounds very promising. Got my KJV right beside my easy chair.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Igude - Let me know what happens.

@William. From what I've read, there's no good scholarly reason to assume a 'late date' for the Fourth Gospel unless you have already made a lot of other assumptions (most of which you haven't noticed yourself doing). What are accepted as good reasons are not.

My personal assumption/ inference is that the intellectual quality of NT scholarship is abysmal, and always has been - right back to the very beginnings. (A constant background sound of axes being ground...) Which of course has many further implications.

But then as I have often said; when dealing with scripture, assuming (another one) that scipture is valid; normal scholarly assumptions and methods seldom apply.

But this recognition cuts very deep indeed in its consequences - much more so than I used to recognise.

Anonymous said...

You are correct.

Adil said...

I'm reading Karl XII:s bibel in my native language (Swedish) and I don't find it very charming. At least for me it doesn't sound very good or authentic. It comes across as translated from a foreign language, but a really good translation should transition smoothly into the target language. Of course they want to keep close proximity to the source text, but in this case at the expense of the poetic grandieur of the text. It's a pity but I will try the English King James version sometime, perhaps it has better translation. Although I hear the King James version is also a formal translation.

In general a good translator is able to shift the source text into dynamic equivalence with the target language. For example, if I'm about to translate Persian poetry to English, it just can't be done formally. I wonder if we don't need a bible translation that actually makes that dynamic shift into the target culture to make it more familiar. Supporters of formal translation would disagree because the accuracy is compromised, since this technique tends to reward the meaning of the text instead of translating it accurately in a word for word fashion.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Eric - The reason for reading the King James version is if you agree that it is not a 'translation', but a divinely-inspired version of the texts. There are not many of these - probably the Greek Septuagint, Latin Vulgate and Luther's German are the others?

Chiu ChunLing said...

Keeping in mind that "inspired" is a matter of degree rather than absolute. In this particular case, what is meant is simply that conveying the inspiration of the original texts intact took priority over most other reasons for the work of translation (which is not usually the case). Thus the King James version uses much text initially translated by saintly martyrs, for whom conveying the inspiration of the original scriptures took priority over all else.

Functionally prioritizing inspiration as a value requires sensitivity to and experience with being inspired by a particular source. So one can say truthfully that the King James version was compiled by inspiration, and that the source of the inspiration was divine. But "divinely-inspired" tends to be read as an absolute statement, for various reasons.