The Honest Faith: Context

Okay, let’s play a game. I’m going to reference a couple of pieces of pop culture and you try to guess where they are from before reading on where I’ll post an answer key below. Okay, you ready?

  1. Chaka when the walls fell
  2. Winter is coming
  3. Don’t have a cow, man!
  4. I’m in a glass case of emotion!
  5. Alonsi!
  6. Blessed be the fruit! Praise be!
  7. (said while arms spread) EAGLE!
  8. The only thing better than a cow is a human! Unless you need milk. Then you really need a cow.
  9. May the Force be with you!
  10. Bah! Humbug!
  11. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
  12. I have been, and shall always be your friend.
  13. Ye’r a wizard, Harry!
  14. faster than a speeding bullet, Stronger than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.
  15. With great power comes great responsibility.

These pieces are pictures of our culture. I started off with a hard one, and if you got it extra points to you because that is the one I want to discuss. There is an episode of Star Trek the next generation that delves into language, story, and analogy. The crew of the Enterprise D is out to broker a deal with a race that only speaks in analogy. They only use stories to speak to one another. The actions taken in those stories are what they mean and how they wish others to act. I really wanted to do a full study on this episode with most church groups that I worked with.

I think one of the biggest things I took away from this particular episode is how when we only speak in Churchenese that people never really fully understand what we are saying. I wanted to have that discussion with other Christians at the time. This was until this past year when I started to strip down my beliefs and find out what really was worth keeping. I have to be honest, since college, I never have seen the Bible as a literal and historically accurate book. I love the Bible. I believe that it is completely true about the nature and character of the Divine when taken as story, narrative, poetry, and speeches. Though when I started out on this new journey of Honest Faith. I started to take a deeper look at the man Jesus. I wanted to find out who this historical person was outside of all the myth.

I did a lot of study on this in college, I even had roommates who sort of worshipped John Dominic Crossan. But I never went fully into this study of who the real man was. I knew that there were popular stories at the time of Ceasar’s being born of god and called the son of god. Even the Egyptians said that of their Pharaohs. There were other god men at the time. The Pagans and Jewish people all believed that Divine beings could become human and humans could become Divine. I also even learned that the Jewish people were all monotheistic. That was until recently. Recently I’ve been listening to an audiobook called “How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee” by Bart D. Ehrman. There is a ton of information in this book and it’s probably better read than listed to as I keep having to pause to digest the information I was taking in.

In the Book Ehrman within the first two chapters talks about what the Pagans and Jewish people believed and were sort of like during the time of Jesus. I say sort of because it’s all from archeology and writings from the time period and we can probably never truly know what life was like for them unless we somehow invent a time machine. Ehrman starts by talking about Apollonius of Tyana who was a contemporary and also rival story to that of Yeshua. (What’s funny is he’s also quoted on the wiki page I linked) He also talks about how Apollonius was, according to his myth, born of a virgin who was chosen by the divine, performed miracles, and even resurrected from the dead. He uses this to emphasize that the pagans also believed in divine beings becoming human. He goes on to talk about how the Jewish people were not Monotheistic but rather Henotheistic. They believed that there were many gods but only one who deserved honor and worship. His book illuminated a lot of things for me thus far, but I want to focus on the one big point of this all, CONTEXT.

In his book, Ehrman describes some of the contexts on how to use the gospels as source materials to find the historical man Jesus. He doesn’t delve too much into it and he points out to other source materials for people to go further into that study. His most important point of it all, however, is context is everything. This is the reason why I bring up modern pop culture and the reason for writing this week. Have you ever noticed that when taken out of context people can use quotes, words, passages, and even verses to mean whatever they want them to mean? Let’s take number 8 from above. The show (hint) did not receive great ratings while it was on the air, even though in my opinion it was one of the most awesome tv shows. Out of context, it doesn’t mean much. It seems like someone is comparing humans and cows. Out of context I could say that the speaker was standing on a farm and looking at a heard of cows. Since it’s on tv you could probably picture that. You probably even pictured maybe a whole police crew at a crime scene next to a herd of cows, because in our modern context procedural crime dramas dominate our pop culture landscape. If you know where the quote came from, however, you know that none of that is accurate at all. The same is true with how we read the Bible.

If you have been lucky enough to live in a cave and never had any preconceived idea spoken to you or given to you about the Christian Bible, and were given a copy without chapter markings, verse numbers, book titles, and footnotes. How do you think it would read? Besides probably giving up at the whole “Begats” part, what would you think this person would take from it? A story of a people who were slaves first to death, then to the gods of their fathers, and then to the ancient Egyptians (and more) who are constantly saved and redeemed by this Divine being working through humans. Finally, after about midway through, you come to this shift. There are four similar but different stories about this preacher in Isreal about 300 to 400 years after the last thing you read. One of those stories is way-way out there in abstractness. The message seems to remain the same only instead of physical slavery items this preacher guy brings up abstract slavery of the mind to something called sin. You know from the context of the past reading that it is mostly those things that separate a person from God. Yet, this preacher doesn’t seem too concerned about those rules or laws. He seems more concerned about love for everybody. There is an immediateness of what he has to say because as you read the end is near and is coming. After his stories, there are stories of his followers. Everything after is letters from those followers and a weird story of a vision that someone had that is sort of in a letter. Have you ever thought objectively about the Bible in this context? Have you ever read it without someone giving you context beforehand? Have you taken it out of context yourself?

One of the things that I’m finding as I’m searching for Honest Faith is that context is everything. Through my writing, podcasting, and social media-ing I’m finding that context is key to almost everything. You can’t really understand what someone posts unless you know where they are and what they are doing. You can’t really understand people unless you know the context of their lives. How are we 2000 years after even the writing of the Gospels, which by the way the first was written about 30 to 40 years after Jesus’ death, supposed to really understand this man? None of us grew up in rural Isreal around the beginning of the Common or Christian Era. None of us really have a full context even for the rest of the Bible.

The reason I write this today is not to get all thoroughly intellectual on you. I write today because recently I’ve seen a lot of people using the Christian Bible to harm other people. They take verses and passages way out of context and use it as a sword. It was never intended to be a weapon. In fact, as I’ve been searching for this historical Jesus guy, I’m finding that he probably would have very much disliked that. I write because I feel deeply that we have lost the plot completely while reading and studying this book. That we need to find better and more historical context to gather what the writers were really trying to convey. Not just with the Bible, but with almost anything that can happen. The point of my post today is this “Context is EVERYTHING”. Thank you for indulging my intellectual aside for this weeks post. You are not alone, You matter.

 

ANSWER KEY

  1. Star Trek- The Next generation
  2. Game of Thrones
  3. The Simpsons
  4. Anchorman
  5. Doctor Who
  6. The Handmaid’s Tale
  7. Scrubs
  8. Fringe
  9. Star Wars
  10. A Christmas Carol
  11. Romeo and Juliet
  12. Star Trek- Original series second movie “the wrath of khan”
  13. Harry Potter
  14. Superman
  15. Spiderman
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