The basics of my faith are rooted in Christianity. I use a definition of Christianity that is quite loose, however. Christianity, quite simply, is the belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died and was resurrected for the salvation of all mankind. While this may sound quite common, my definition of Christianity largely ends there. ‘Son of God’ is specifically avoiding the concept of the holy trinity, particularly the notion that Jesus is God. Of about 10 years of discussions about this, I simply do not know this and don’t think the evidence is strong in its case. Furthermore, I do not think this duality is important. ‘Son of God’ to me is a sacred, holy position, as is God. Both fulfill particular roles.
Furthermore, this definition says nothing about rite and ritual, Catholicism or Protestantism. As far as I’m concerned, anyone who believes this central idea is Christian.
So even if that’s a common idea, perhaps now is where it deviates more substantially from most Christian thought. Please read my about page again before proceeding.
Part of my uneasiness about the concept of the holy trinity is the history surrounding early Christianity, a topic I’m interested in. Scholarship (armchair or not) about this period of history, the period of the life of the historical Jesus, is one way in which I feel most connected to God.
One major problem with the early Christianity surrounds the canonization process of the modern New Testament. While there is certainly the clear problem of literal interpretation of a set of translated works, this is a more global issue. The canonization process probably began around the time of Irenaeus in the late 2nd century CE, which is about 100-150 years after the death of Jesus (33 CE). The final canon in its modern form was not perhaps decided until the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine, around the middle 4th century CE. This is almost 300 years after the life of Jesus.
This in and of itself does not, of course, strongly suggest that these works are not somehow authoritative on early Christianity. However, it is when one starts to read about the politics of this canonization that it’s difficult to really trust the decisions of these men. Contrary to the popular teachings of Sunday school, the Bible is not a collection of books that were transcribed word for word directly from God (in English, no less). This is very different and not at all inconsistent to say that this does not mean that our current Christian canon isn’t divinely inspired …
There is a concept called special revelation, in which God intervenes on the activities of humans more or less directly. Many Christians believe that the canonization of the Bible is a product of this special revelation. However, I do not believe in special revelation because it is impossible to test, prove, predict, and understand at all (is God? This conundrum is why I call these things beliefs). The crux of the paradox is how one says one event is divinely inspired and another is ignored by God. The questions about who chooses these things introduces a considerable amount of tainted human interpretation that is, by nature, self serving.
Yet I believe in some semblance of the idea of general revelation, the idea that all of the events in the universe are known to God. An omniscient God knows all, by this definition, including all events past and future. (I’ll write one day at length about how this affects my idea of free will, or the lack thereof.)
Applying this idea to the canonization process, I believe that it is the way it is as the will of God. Simply, it is. Another way of saying this is that it is as divinely inspired as any other event in human history. What does this mean for authority of the New Testament (NT)? For me, it means that there are perhaps other sources of inspiration about the life of Jesus and what this means for the relationship between humans and God. Unfortunately, there are few Christians who share this idea.
One former Christian mentor once accused me (quite angrily) of being an arrogant intellectual about this concept, when I believe all of this inquiry to be central to my understanding of religion and faith. His central argument was that I was prone to picking and choosing what suited my understanding best, which is certainly a danger I acknowledge (for instance, our reverence of Paul is curious to me). I think that the NT is a collection of sources to varying degrees of interest that tell stories of the life of Jesus. I would like to consider them within their historical context in order to understand how to interpret what they say about Jesus.
The dates, for one, should be examined. The letters of Paul to various early Christian communities can be dated to about 50 CE, which is still far beyond the death and resurrection of Jesus. Mark is next, around 65 CE. The strange gospel of John appears to be dated around 80-100 CE, and the gospels of Matthew and Luke are probably also around 80 CE. These men did not live during the time of Jesus, and they were not first hand accounts of his life. It is conceivable that they were written accounts of oral traditions or sourced similarly from the same text. Yet the details surrounding this are unclear. I simply think these writings (like all) should be understood within context.
I reiterate that I could well be wrong about all of this. But the continued scholarship into this period of time, so poorly documented by today’s standards, may give insight into the life of Jesus and the meaning of his life. And so with that, I have to attempt to humbly submit myself to this ignorance but desire to understand the full truth. The number of non-canonical texts on Christianity are staggering from this time period, but we’re only now in the best period of time in which nearly transparent scholarship can occur, unencumbered if we choose by political motivations. This is not to say that this occurs purely at all occasions, at all, but it’s an ideal to which academics may aspire.