Peter: Facts and Suppositions


22 September 2016

Another historical reflection? A somewhat annoyed reader asked why I am getting “bogged-down with so much history.”

I am sorry some find it boring or annoying. I am convinced that good history clarifies our human understanding today and builds a more humane and rational road into tomorrow. And this is particularly true when it comes to religious and ethical issues. 

Roman Catholics, for instance, have long maintained that the Bishop of Rome – the pope – is a successor of Peter the Apostle. Contemporary historians and biblical scholars would say the issue, however, is complex. One needs to make some important distinctions. When it comes to Peter, we are dealing with biblical texts, a bit of history, and a fair amount of legend and historical imagination. Perhaps, today, we have more Petrine questions than answers. 

Simon Peter was a fisherman from Bethsaida. When he met Jesus he was about eighteen or nineteen years old, married, with probably one or more children. His parents had named him Simon or Simeon, but Jesus gave him a new name, a sort of nickname: Cephas, “the rock” in Aramaic and Peter in English.  

Clearly Peter was seen as a key leader among the group of apostles and disciples. In all of the Synoptic Gospels, Peter is named first in the lists of the apostles (Matt 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:14-16); the same is true for the book of Acts (see 1:13). This is reaffirmed in the post-resurrection narrative inserted into the Gospel of Matthew (Matt 16:18) that Peter is the rock on which the “ekklesia” the congregation of Jesus’ followers is built. (Later as Christianity becomes much more institutionalized the word “ekklesia” gets translated as “church.”) Some exegetes would say that the rock on which Jesus’ congregation is built is not Peter but Peter’s confession of faith: “You are the Christ the Son of the Living God.” (Matt 16:17)  

Nevertheless, Matthew says nothing about Peter’s apostleship being passed down to future successors. Nor is there any indication that Jesus was establishing a permanent apostolic see for future bishops. As I stressed last week, the historic Jesus did not lay down any blueprint for ecclesiastical structures. 

When we look at the history and biblical testimony about the early post-Resurrection apostolic community of Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, clearly the leader was James the “brother of the Lord.” Peter played a role in the Council of Jerusalem, around 50 CE. Then according to the epistle to the Galatians 2:11, Peter went to Antioch. There he tangled with Paul, who rebuked him for treating Gentile converts as inferior to Jewish Christians.  

There is a tradition that Peter and Paul went to Rome and were put to death at the hands of Nero probably between 64 and 68 CE. According to an old legend, he was crucified upside down; and other folklore fills out the details of Peter’s life and death in Rome — his struggles with the magician and father of heresy, Simon Magus, his miracles, his attempted escape from persecution in Rome, and a flight from which he was turned back by a reproachful vision of Christ, the ‘Quo Vadis’ legend. 

By the second and third centuries, we see stories about Peter springing from unquestioned historical suppositions, legends, and much creative historical imagination by people like Irenaeus of Lyons (died 202 CE). In the New Testament, for instance, we have two epistles attributed to him: 1 Peter and 2 Peter. Most scholars, however, have concluded that Peter was not the author of these two epistles. According to the Roman Catholic biblical scholar Raymond E. Brown, 1 Peter should be dated to between 70 and 90 CE, clearly after Peter’s death. No biblical authorities defend the Petrine authorship of 2 Peter, which is believed to have been written by an anonymous author in Rome about 150 CE. 

Contrary to what some think, neither Peter nor Paul brought Christianity to Rome. Before they would have arrived, there were a number of elders and house churches in Rome; and there was no central administrator. No bishop. At some point Peter may have been one of these elders. We really do not know for certain; but Catholic and Protestant historians would stress that Peter was never a bishop of Rome. Raymond Brown, again, and John P. Meier, from the University of Notre Dame, are emphatic in their book Antioch and Rome: New Testament Cradles of Christianity, (Paulist Press 1983): 

“As for Peter, we have no knowledge at all of when he came to Rome and what he did there before he was martyred. Certainly he was not the original missionary who brought Christianity to Rome, and therefore not the founder of the church of Rome in that sense. There is no serious proof that he was the bishop, or local ecclesiastical officer, of the Roman church: a claim not made till the third century. Most likely he did not spend any major time at Rome before 58 CE when Paul wrote to the Romans, and so it may have been only in the 60s and relatively shortly before his martyrdom that Peter came to the capital.” 

Peter’s bones:     Between 320 CE and 327 CE, Constantine the Great built the first St. Peter’s Basilica on top of an early Christian burial site that was purported to be Peter’s final resting place. Since at least the ninth century the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome has held in its reliquaries what are believed to be the heads of Peter and Paul. Between 1939 and 1949, a Vatican archaeological team uncovered a complex of 2nd and 3rd century mausoleums under the foundations of the current St. Peter’s Basilica. They found a small niched monument built into a wall from around 160 CE. Bones found there, believed to be those of Peter, were put in a safe place. Years later Pope Paul VI was informed about the belief that these remains were those of St. Peter. Bone testing revealed that the remains were of a sturdy man from around the time of Peter.

On June 26, 1968, just a month before releasing his birth control encyclical Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI announced that the relics of St. Peter had been discovered. Moving ahead to the current pope, on November 24, 2013, these relics were held up by Pope Francis and publicly displayed during the closing of the “Year of Faith.” Peter’s bones? Possibly. Will we ever know for sure? Possibly; but I doubt it.  

Peter the pope:     Although, especially after Constantine and the influence of his relics-collecting mother Helena, Peter and the memory of Peter were held in high regard in Rome, historians are in general agreement that Peter was never pope. 

The first great acclamation of Peter as a pope came from Pope Leo I, also known as Saint Leo the Great, who was pope from 440 CE until his death in 461 CE. Leo the Great greatly contributed to the development of the doctrine of a papal Petrine succession based on his personal devotion to St. Peter. By the 400s CE the bishop of Rome had gradually become understood as the chief patriarch in the Western church; but only as “the first among equals,” along with the other patriarchs, who by the way were also called “popes.” 

Pope Leo I pushed Roman papal authority into a new realm. In 451 at the Council of Chalcedon, after Leo’s teaching about the two natures of Christ was proclaimed, the bishops participating in Chalcedon shouted out: “This is the faith of the fathers … Peter has so spoken through Leo.”  

As I mentioned last week, after the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West in 476 CE the bishop of Rome became tremendously powerful, as he took on the rituals, pageantry, and organizational structures of the earlier Roman emperors. 

Yes, one can understand the popes as successors of Peter in faith, witness, ministry, and leadership. One can understand many bishops, Catholic and Protestant, sharing in that tradition, as successors of the apostles. It is only with a bit of creative theological imagination, however, that one can call Peter the first pope. 


 

Christianity’s Infancy Narrative


16 September 2016

I have always liked a quotation attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte: “History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.”

By profession and calling, I am an historical theologian. The focus of my curiosity and my research has always been how believers, across the centuries and in a variety of cultures, have experienced their Christian Faith and how they gave expression to it in words, symbols, rituals, and institutional structures. 

Periodically – especially if he is a bit annoyed by something I have written — a bishop friend reminds me that while I may “perhaps” know more about the church’s history than he does, he, nevertheless, has the fullness of priesthood and possesses complete “sacramental power.” He stresses that at the Last Supper Jesus ordained the first bishops and he, as a “successor of the apostles,” has that same ordination. My old friend is doing exactly as Napoleon observed: presenting the version of past events that he and more than a few of his colleagues have decided to agree upon.  

I would suggest that today’s historical theologians would have a more nuanced understanding of what the historical Jesus actually did at the Last Supper and what happened in the early Christian Church.  

Historians see three major periods for the early Church, as it developed from the primitive Christian community animated by the Easter experience, until the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West. It was a church that experienced growth, cultural change, and significant modifications over a period of about 500 years. We have: 

1) The Apostolic Community: from time of the Death/Resurrection of Jesus, probably sometime between 27 and 34 CE, until around the year 100 CE.   

2) Greco-Roman Christianity as distinct from Judaic Christianity: from around 100 to 313 CE when the Edict of Milan gave Christianity legal status in the Roman Empire.  

3) Post Constantinian Christianity: from Constantine until the Fall of Rome in 476 CE.  

THE APOSTOLIC COMMUNITY – until around 100 CE. 

In the Apostolic Community, certainly in the beginning, there were still some who had experienced Jesus with their own eyes. The community was an “ekklesia,” an assembly or gathering of Christians animated by the Spirit of Christ, often referred to as “The Way,” based on the well-known statement by Jesus: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” In the beginning they were Jewish Christians who attended synagogue on the Sabbath and gathered in their homes on Sunday to pray and reflect on the life of Jesus and celebrate “the breaking of bread” (Eucharist) in his memory.  

Those who presided over the house churches and early Eucharistic celebrations were the men and women who were heads of the households. Ordination did not yet exist. The historical Jesus never spoke of ordination, did not ordain anyone; and he did not lay down any institutional blueprint for the church. Life in the Apostolic Community was charismatic and free-form.  

As the Apostolic Community began to grow and create its own structures, “elders” (presbyteroi) were appointed for local communities, “deacons” (diaconoi) ministered to groups with special needs; and “overseers” (episkopoi) were chosen to provide broader-based supervision. While Peter “the Rock” had a major role among the Apostles and Jesus’ disciples, James “the brother of the Lord” became the key leader of the Apostolic Community in Jerusalem.  

The Apostolic Community strove to live in harmony but was not without controversy. Around the year 48 CE a major issue arose in Antioch. (Its ruins lie near the modern city of Antakya, Turkey.) The issue was whether or not circumcision was required for “Christians,” the non-Jewish converts to the way of Christ. The new Gentile converts did not follow all “Jewish Law” and refused to be circumcised, because circumcision was considered repulsive in Hellenistic culture. 

Paul and Barnabas were not inclined to impose the Jewish rite of circumcision on Gentile converts to Christianity. The community in Antioch decided to consult the Christian community in Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas, together with Titus their Greek companion, as well as some others, were sent to Jerusalem to attend what we call the Council of Jerusalem, around 50 CE. 

At the Council of Jerusalem, Simon Peter (Acts 15:7–11 and Acts 15:14) argued that since God had demonstrated divine approval of Gentile converts by giving them the Holy Spirit, no other burdens should be placed on them. Paul and Barnabas were then invited to give an account of their ministry among the Gentiles (Acts 15:12). In the end it was James who submitted a proposal, which was accepted by the council and became known as the Apostolic Decree: 

It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.” (Acts 15:19–21) 

GRECO-ROMAN CHRISTIANITY – until round 313 CE. 

During this period, we see the establishment of ordination not for the sake of giving a person special power but for the sake of church order: a form of quality control for those who exercise leadership in the Christian community. To safeguard the community of faith, only leaders with proven and accepted faith, good Christian knowledge, and proven leadership skills would be authorized – ordained – for ministry in the community of faith. 

In the Greco-Roman period, we see as well a growing institutional distinction between the ordained and the non-ordained; and a gradual limitation on the role of women in the community of faith, thanks to the influence of people like the Christian theologian Origen (185 to 254 CE) who observed: “For it is improper for a woman to speak in an assembly, no matter what she says, even if she says admirable things, or even saintly things, that is of little consequence, since they come from the mouth of a woman.” During this period, we also see the influence of Platonic philosophy in a tendency to stress the spiritual over the physical. Nevertheless, there is still a strong sense of being a collaborative community of believers. 

POST-CONSTANTINIAN CHRISTIANITY – until around 476 CE. 

Under the reign of Constantine the Great, from 306 to 337 CE, Christianity became the legally accepted and dominant religion of the Roman Empire. It became the official religion of the Roman Empire, with the Edict of Thessalonica in 380 CE. 

In the post-Constantinian period, Christianity became a full-fledged institutional church. It took over the Roman Empire’s governmental structure, like dioceses for instance. The pomp and ceremony of the old Roman imperial court became the official ceremonial ritual for the Bishop of Rome. (And for many popes thereafter.)  

Bishops during this period became regional civil judges. The church’s liturgy and sacraments became more standardized. Women were edged even more to the background; and we see disturbing signs of misogyny in great churchmen like St. Augustine the Bishop of Hippo (354 to 430 CE) who observed: “What is the difference whether it is in a wife or a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any woman… I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children.” And, perhaps not so surprisingly, we see the beginning of a real clerical culture. 

Most importantly in this post-Constantinian period, church authorities approved which books belong to the official canon of the New Testament. Major decisive moments came in the Synod at Rome in 382 CE and the synods at Hippo in 393 CE and Carthage in 397 CE which ratified the Synod at Rome.  

Concluding observations

(1) We cannot reverse the clock, nor should we, even if we could. We are contemporary people living in contemporary time. “We are not on earth as museum keepers,” Pope John XXIII said, “but to cultivate a flourishing garden of life and to prepare a glorious future.” 

(2) It would be greatly beneficial, however, if we could live and minister with the open-minded spirit and creativity of the Apostolic Community. In this way we would best respond to the signs of our contemporary times….. 

(3) Sorry this blog post is longer than usual.  

(4) Next week some brief but to the point thoughts about Peter as “the first pope.” 



Three Kings?


10 September 2016

Labor Day is over. Schools are in session. The frost will soon be on the pumpkin. Just over a hundred days until Christmas.

A few readers have asked about biblical interpretation as it involves the New Testament. Since this is still early September, I thought I would offer a reflection about the Infancy Narratives..  

Years ago I learned, in a parish Bible-study group, that it is difficult to comment about Jesus’ birth close to Christmas. Once the manger scenes are in church and the herald angels are singing, it is impossible to rationally discuss the creative imagery, historical questions, and theological belief about Jesus’ infancy, which often gets mixed with non-biblical (but often understood as biblical) legends and folklore. 

First of all, any Bible-study should begin with the acknowledgement that we know more today about our history and our scriptures than we did forty years ago….And of course we are still learning. 

We have a better understanding of ancient languages, ancient cultures, and the origins and historic evolution of texts. Before 1943, for example, official Roman Catholic teaching was that Moses was the author of the Pentateuch: the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures. TODAY we know this was impossible. Moses lived around 1648 BCE. The Pentateuch (first five books of what we used to refer to as the “Old Testament”) was written between 950 BCE and 400 BCE. 

Yes there is history in the Bible, but our Sacred Scriptures focus more on faith and belief than history. Biblical scholars help us distinguish historic fact from the creative and imaginative imagery often used to convey theological belief. And here the Infancy Narratives are a good example. 

JESUS INFANCY NARRATIVES 

The only place in the New Testament where the birth of Jesus is described is in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Paul, whose writings predate Matthew and Luke, provides no information about Jesus’ birth, although he mentions it in three letters (Romans 1:3, Galatians 4:4, 7, and Timothy 2:8). 

The Infancy Narratives in Matthew 1:18-2:23 and Luke 2:1-3 present more of a theological understanding of Jesus than a strictly historical one, although they offer, of course, no challenge to an historical Jesus. That is why theologians speak about “infancy narratives” not about infancy stories. 

Right from the beginning, the purpose of the Infancy Narratives has been to preserve and present a theological understanding of Jesus of Nazareth. 

The infancy narrative in Matthew was written around 85 CE and was written for Jewish converts to Christianity. The infancy narrative in Luke was written around between 85 and 90 CE possibly as late as 95 CE and was written for highly educated Gentile converts to Christianity.  

The infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke are in some respects quite different from one another. Some differences…….. 

– Luke mentions the census which requires Joseph to go to Bethlehem.

– Matthew, however, gives no details of how Joseph and Mary came to be in Bethlehem

– In Luke, shepherds guided by an angel find Jesus in the manger.

– In Matthew, wise men from the East, guided by a star, come not to Bethlehem but to Jerusalem to worship the Infant.

– In Matthew Joseph flees with his wife and child to Egypt where they live until Herod’s death; then they return to Nazareth instead of Bethlehem.

– Luke, on the other hand, does not mention the descent into Egypt. Instead, he describes how the Infant is brought to Jerusalem for the ritual of the first-born.

Luke and Matthew are not necessarily contradictory, but they are certainly different from one another. AND there are some historical problems, if one sees them as strict history. Herod died in 4 BCE. There was a local census in Syria by Quirinius when he was governor in 6 CE; but there is no historical record of Caesar Augustus’ decree that “all the world should be enrolled” (Lk. 2:1). The Romans kept very detailed records of such events. 

By the way, there is no mention of “three kings” in either infancy narrative. ONLY Matthew mentions “some wise men.” No specific number of them and no names. The “traditional names” Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar are probably derived from a Greek manuscript composed in Alexandria around 500 CE. A Shrine of the Three Kings can be seen in Cologne Cathedral. According to an old tradition it contains the bones of the Three Wise Men. An old tradition says that the Roman Emperor Constantine’s mother, Helena (250 – 330 CE), found the bones during her famous pilgrimage to Palestine and the Holy Lands. She was a great collector of religious artifacts. An old legend says she also found the cross on which Jesus was crucified. Helena packed up the bones and took them, first of all, to the church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. They were later moved to Milan, before being moved, by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I in 1164 , to their current resting place in Cologne. (One of my now deceased old professors at the University of Louvain had a look inside the reliquary in Cologne Cathedral and told us his students: “Yes I saw a bunch of bones, but I don’t think they were human.” But that is a relics story for some other time.)  

Back to the theology of the Infancy Narratives. 

The great expert on the Infancy Narratives was the U.S. Roman Catholic biblical scholar, Raymond Brown. He supported the present day consensus of scholars that the Infancy Narratives were created by the early Christian community primarily to express its theology. The central element in the earliest Christian Proclamation was the Holy Spirit’s designating Jesus as the Son of God in association with his resurrection. As the Christian community reflected on Jesus as the Son of God, this belief was projected back into Jesus’ birth and infancy. The Hebrew Scriptures were then re-interpreted as pointing to Jesus. The authors of Matthew and Luke, therefore, who probably did not witness the birth of Jesus, imagined the birth of Jesus to have occurred in a certain way that would support their religious belief about Jesus. 

Some specific examples and comments: 

Matthew makes use of the story of Moses to explain Jesus as the New Moses. Matthew tells of the murder of infant boys by King Herod. Actually there is no historical evidence for this event. From the writer Flavius Josephus, the first-century Romano-Jewish scholar and historian, we have a long list of Herod’s cruel misdeeds but no mention of this mass murder. Rather than strict history, the imaginative episode reveals Matthew’s theological interest in relating the early life of Jesus to that of Moses.  

Matthew also re-interprets the prophecy that King Ahaz (742 BCE) will have a son and then applies it to Jesus. In Isaiah 7:14 we find a verse in which the prophet Isaiah, addresses King Ahaz of Judah. Isaiah predicts that a young woman of marriageable age will shortly give birth to a child whose name will be Immanuel, “God is with us.” (Where the Hebrew Scriptures used a word that meant “young woman,” the Septuagint Greek translation of the same text from Isaiah used a word which meant “a virgin.”) 

Matthew also constructs a highly stylized genealogy to show a direct line from Abraham, father of the Jewish people, down to Joseph father of Jesus. Matthew also has the wise men following the star of Jesus, because in the ancient world every important person had his special star. Theological imagination: Jesus would certainly have had his star. 

Luke focuses more on Mary, the shepherds, and the angels. His audience did not have as much background in the Hebrew Scriptures as Matthew’s audience. 

Creatively adjusting the imagery of their message to the backgrounds of their audiences, the authors of Matthew and Luke proclaim the unique revelation of God in the birth of his Son Jesus of Nazareth. 

As I said last week, the Bible is not a collection of fairy tales. Nor is the Bible, strictly speaking, a history book. It is a book about people’s faith experiences across many centuries, written in a variety of literary styles. When one knows the languages and literary forms of Sacred Scripture, ancient texts come alive, as statements of profound belief and theological truth: God is with us in every dimension of our existence.  

Thinking of Noah


Ark Encounter is a fundamentalist Christian theme park that opened in Grant County, Kentucky on July 7, 2016. The date (7/7) was chosen to correspond with Genesis 7:7: “And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood.”

When a friend sent me some information about Ark Encounter, last week, I remembered a quote from the Irish-American New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan:  “My point, once again, is not that those ancient people told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that they told them symbolically and we are now dumb enough to take them literally.”

Ark Encounter is operated by Answers in Genesis, a Young Earth Creationism group. The park’s centerpiece is a full-scale model of Noah’s Ark from the Genesis flood narratives. Yes. Just as there are two creation stories in Genesis, there are also two flood stories in Genesis.

Ark Encounter has attracted a lot of visitors. In its first six days of operation, the park drew about 30,000 visitors; and planners project about 1.6 million visitors in its first year of operation.

Thinking about the new school year, Ken Ham, the founder of Answers in Genesis, said he would encourage public school groups to visit the ark by offering a low admission fee of $1 per child, and no charge for accompanying teachers, for the remainder of 2016.

Ark Encounter doesn’t dwell on it, but biblical scholars tell us that the flood narrative of Genesis 6:5-9:17 is a composite of two, once separate, flood stories. A later biblical redactor wove together two independent and different traditions of the Noah flood narrative, in an attempt to preserve both of them.

Unlike the two creation accounts, however, where both traditions are preserved in Genesis one after the other, the two flood stories have been stitched together to produce a single narrative, which therefore contains a number of inconsistencies and contradictions. Some examples:

Was Noah commanded to gather 7 pairs of clean animals OR only 2 of each animal? (Genesis 7:2 vs Genesis 6:19-20, 7:8, 7:16) 

Did the flood last for 40 days and 40 nights OR 150 days? (Genesis 7:4, 7:12, 8:6 vs Genesis 7:24, 8:3) 

Did the flood start 7 days after Noah entered the ark OR on the day Noah entered the ark? (Genesis 7:7, 10 vs Genesis 7:11-13) 

Was the flood caused by rain OR by releasing the waters above and below the earth, as imagined in the old Hebrew cosmology? (Genesis 7:4, 7:12 vs Genesis 7:11, 8:2) 

And did Noah release from the ark a series of doves (three) OR only a raven once? (Genesis 8:8-12 vs Genesis 8:7) 

And why the flood? It appears that an overly stern God was so angry at sinful humanity that he decided he had to destroy most of humankind, and most of the animal world, and start all over again.

Noah was quite the man. According to Genesis 5:32, when he was five hundred years old, he begot his sons Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Post-flood-Noah became in effect a new-Adam. In Genesis 9: 28-29, we read as well that Noah died 350 years after the flood, when he was 950 years old.

Biblical and historical scholars tell us that the myth of a global flood, that destroyed all life on earth, began to appear in the Old Babylonian period (2000 to 1600 BCE). The flood story closest to the Genesis stories of Noah is the Epic of Gilgamesh. In the Hebrew narrative, the flood comes from God’s judgment on a wicked humanity. In the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, the flood appears to have come from the impulsive and unpredictable behavior of the gods, looking for a way of reducing human over-population. (In the twentieth century, impulsive and unpredictable humans did that with two world wars.)

These days I am not sure how many Americans really believe that the account of Noah and the Ark is literally true. In 2014 it was about 60% and, that same year, 12% believed that “Joan of Arc” was Noah’s wife. [For the uncertain, Joan (1412 – 1431 CE) nicknamed “The Maid of Orléans” has been considered a French heroine for her role during the Hundred Years’ War; and she has been canonized as a Roman Catholic saint.]

Back to Noah….History or mythology? Most contemporary Jewish and Christian biblical scholars would agree that the accounts of Adam and Eve, Noah and the Ark, and the Tower of Babel are religious mythology. They would remind us that not every text in our scriptures – or anyone’s sacred books for that matter – should be taken literally. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the New Testament, and in the Quran, we find a combination of various kinds of literature: some history, some pious legends, symbolic and poetic language; and yes we find mythology.

I must quickly add, however, that one should not equate mythology with falsehood. In some respects, many people today have become so terribly empirical that their openness to deeper human experiences, and how one expresses those experiences, has become narrow and impoverished.

In Genesis 9, we read that Noah hugs his family and the animals are once again put back on dry land. The most important passage in that chapter, however, is this: God says “From each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being. Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made humankind.”  

Let people visit and enjoy Ark Encounter, if that is their thing. Personally I have problems with the amount of money being poured into the project, at least some $172 million to date. And the project’s expensive next phase, with a Tower of Babel, is yet to come…. Biblical Disneyland.

Well I guess Ark Encounter might, all in all, be good for Kentucky tourism. Nevertheless, I would ask the Ark Encounter people to attend to the deeper truth conveyed in the Noah story: We human brings can truly mess things up. Nevertheless, God says human life is our responsibility and God asks from each and every human being an accounting for the life of another human being.  



No. The Bible is not a collection of fairy tales, as one of my friends said rather cynically not so long ago. Nor is the Bible, strictly speaking, a history book. It is a book about people’s faith experiences across many centuries; and a lasting testament to God’s presence in human life. No small thing.

When one knows the languages and literary forms of Sacred Scripture, ancient texts come alive, as statements of profound belief and theological truth: God is with us in every dimension of our existence. Alleluia.

We need to have eyes that really see and ears that really listen.

[We also need to think realistically about what contemporary science tells us about our earth. The earth is a little over 4.5 billion years old; and the history of life on earth began about 3.8 billion years ago. Our ancestors, those Homo Sapiens people, appeared only 200,000 years ago.]