Two of my favorite things in the world are football and the Bible. I have other favorite things too but those are the ones I’m talking about today.
One of my favorite parts of the football experience is analyzing. After all the plays have been made and all the refs have missed a call or two, I like to talk about it. Or even write about it (see: Obligatory Christmas Post). Likewise, one of my favorite parts of the Bible is the thing I do after reading it. Analyzing it.
That may sound blasphemous to some. It may even sound arrogant. I assure you, it isn’t (purposely) either of those things.
When I first met JD, we immediately started talking about faith. This conversation was in the context of our academic interests but my academic interests and faith interests often overlap. I told her about my interest in early Christianity and faith in the ancient world and she told me how much she hates that stuff. (It was ok, because earlier I had told her that I didn’t like Aristotle, her favorite philosopher.) She hated studying her faith because as a Jew she felt that the practice kind of de-sanctified the holy texts thus removing their most important feature: divine inspiration.
I felt, and feel, oppositely. When I read the Bible, my mind automatically goes into analysis mode. For instance, I was reading Titus this morning and I couldn’t help but stop at verse 12. First, Paul talks about a Cretan prophet, whom my Bible identifies as the poet Epimenides. I could go into the way certain words are translated in the Bible but that may be a post in itself. All I’ll say is, I am not a fan of the word ‘hypocrite’ in the New Testament.
Anyway, after Paul talks about this Cretan poet/prophet (the word used in Greek is transliterated prophet but the Greeks and Romans considered poets prophets (see: Vergil) which is why in Latin another word for poet is vates, seer) he says that the “testimony is true” that “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” WHAT?!!?!? Maybe he’s saying it’s true that Epimenides said that. Honestly, I don’t know. Granted, that should be read in context though I don’t know if that changes anything. Either way, Paul then talks about Jewish myths and I wonder why more pastors don’t preach from Titus.
There’s this verse in James that always gets me too. “He yearns jealously over the Spirit that he has made to dwell in us” (James 4:5). That’s beautiful. The weird thing is that right before James plops in that quote, he says that it is a reference to Scripture a.k.a. OT. And yet no one knows the reference. Some Bibles put some possible contenders but I’m not super convinced. James obviously didn’t make up the reference and I find it hard to believe he misquoted the verse when he has no problem quoting scripture in the next verse. That, to me, is interesting. It’s not groundbreaking, it’s just mysterious. Where is this phantom scripture?
These are all ways that analysis helps me get a clearer picture of who God is and of what He’s doing. I guess it may not sound like it from the last few paragraphs but I promise it’s true. Paul, for instance, kept up with the classics. Honestly, this isn’t the first time in the Bible Paul quoted a Greek philosopher to make a point. Actually, Paul seems to have been an Epimenides fan. Paul used Greek philosophy and showed us how it was really pointing to God, whether or not the philosophers knew it. It’s kind of like how the song Counting Stars always reminds me of the passage from Romans.
James knew something I don’t know. That’s all the analysis my brain can do on that one.
Two more things and I’m done.
Some verses get on my nerves.”To live is Christ and to die is gain” doesn’t make any grammatical sense to me. I know the warm fluffies of what it means but I can’t break it down. I can’t internalize it. Whenever I see the verse it just bothers me. Maybe it’s something about the Greek. What would it mean if I said to someone, to live is Danielle? I have no idea what I would even be talking about. Does it mean that to live is Christian? Does it mean that Paul is living for Christ? I’m more inclined to believe it’s the second one but only because that’s how others seem to take this verse. But honestly, that’s not what the verse says. At least not in English.
I imagine someone reading this in internet-land would think that I’ve completely missed the point of the Gospel. Analyzing God’s word (or maybe over-analyzing it) completely undermines it. It should judge me, not the other way around. I agree that the Bible should judge me. I also think that not all knowledge is harmful. There are some things I can’t know but there are some things I can. And usually, when I learn those previously unknowable things, it allows me to see even more how great and wise and awesome God really is. Kind of like Paul’s praise break in the middle of his greatest theological treatise.