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Biblical Authority, Cultural Trends, and the Nature of Power

March 21, 2007

We live in an increasingly power-affirming culture. The War on Terror / War in Iraq is based on the neoconservative doctrine that freedom and democracy can be spread by military force. Life is viewed as a competition. The world is made up of winners and losers. Engage in an online debate and you may get “pwned!”

Our culture, in my humble view, is increasingly and disturbingly boo-yah, who’s your daddy, we’ll put a boot in your ass – it’s the American way! It’s a sad state of affairs when the voice of a generation is Toby Keith, but no one reflects this way of thinking and the cultural trend than he does.

So it’s no surprise to me that the whole controversy over the Jesus Tomb is framed by self-identified conservatives as a debate over biblical authority. And in straw-man fashion, many conservatives claim a monopoly on biblical authority – those who understand it differently deny the authority of the Bible.

Now before you go any further, I suggest looking up some stuff on George Lakoff and the strict father frame vs. nurturant mother frame. He explains what I’m talking about better than I can, even though I disagree with the use of mother-father images (gender stereotypes do no favors to the nature of the debate). Agree or disagree with his conclusions, but Lakoff is a keen observer of cognitive science and linguistics and many of his premises are correct.

I don’t think it’s terribly unfair to state that I think conservatives hold to an authoritarian view of biblical authority. The Bible said it, so BOO-YA, that’s how it is. It’s not a criticism. In some ways I am conservative, and I have been known to play the “because I’m the daddy and I said so” card with my children. Not often, but it has happened.

Liberals (and in many ways I am liberal too) hold to a less authoritarian view of biblical authority, and hold the Bible up as a primarily theological document while questioning its reliability as a document of history, biology, genealogy, etc. The liberal worldview subjects all forms of authority to questioning and scrutiny (not rejection, as some would mischaracterize it).

I fear I’m not expressing myself well here. This is turning into one of those seminary papers in which I question “the nature of _____” without answering the question that started the paper in the first place. Let me try to reign myself in a little bit.

I have serious problems with an authoritarian worldview even when that means having questions about biblical authority. I believe that power and authority should be held like an egg – gently, carefully, respectfully. Wielding authority and power like a status symbol or like a weapon is sin.

I think it is wrongheaded to believe that the Bible speaks with one voice on the nature of resurrection. The assertion that “in the first century a resurrection with a spiritual body would make no sense,” is questionable – there are multiple biblical accounts of Theophanies without flesh and bone bodies. Actually, spiritual bodies are all over the Old Testament. Take the fourth person in the fiery furnace, for instance, or the bones that danced for Ezekiel.

  1. I do not believe that these ossuaries belonged to Jesus and his family. Jesus was a poor boy, and inscribed ossuaries are for a rich man’s burial. Simple as that.
  2. I believe in the resurrection. I believe that after his death and burial, Jesus remained a living reality in the lives of his followers. I do not purport to explain the nature of this reality, as (a) there is a God and it ain’t me, and (b) the Bible does not speak with a clear, unified voice on how resurrection works.
  3. Even if these were Jesus’ bones (and I don’t believe they are, but even if they were!) they prove nothing regarding resurrection either way. How do we know his bones weren’t left behind at ascension and then buried? How do we know that Jesus’ resurrected body used the old flesh and bones at all?
  4. We should not let anything as specious as a poorly made archaeological claim, a sensationalist TV documentary, and petty speculative theological arguments cause a divide in the body of Christ.

Question of the day: How did Jesus of Nazareth wield authority – like a gun, like bling, or like an egg?

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