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Thursday, 20 June 2013

Scriptural Reasoning: Introduction to Christian Text on Beginnings

We had a fascinating discussion this evening at the second meeting of our local Scriptural Reasoning group which touched on creation, creativity, rest, the nature of God, Trinity, incarnation, omniscience and debate.

Here is my introduction to the Christian Text on Beginnings (John 1. 1-5) from the Text Bundle we were using:
These words of beginning come from the Prologue or overture to the gospel according to John.  Gospels are ‘good messages’ or ‘good news’ connected with the word ‘angel’ or messenger. “In the Hebrew Scriptures this means the ‘good news’ of God’s peace and salvation, brought to poor and hurting people trapped in pain or oppression. In the Graeco-Roman world, it was used for the latest proclamation from the local government or the emperor.” The good news here comes in the form of a Graeco-Roman biography telling stories about Jesus and the things he said in order to interpret his significance as ‘the Christ, the Son of God’.

It is ‘the gospel according to John’, not necessarily written by John but ‘according to’ his teaching and interpretation. “It was quite common in the ancient world for the followers of a great man to write up his ideas and teachings, as Plato did for Socrates.” While John has traditionally been identified as the apostle John, it seems best to think of John as the ‘authority’ for rather than the ‘author’ of the gospel ‘according to John’.  
“Whoever was involved in writing and producing this gospel was very familiar with the multi-faith, multi-cultural world of the eastern Mediterranean in the first century. It was a real melting pot because of the Romans’ deliberate policy of bringing all peoples together in one empire of peace and easy communications.” The gospel is “steeped in the Hebrew scriptures and Jewish beliefs” but is trying to present Jesus in a culture saturated by the dualist Greek philosophical tradition, which contrasted the invisible realm of the intellect, soul and the gods with our material physical universe, Stoicism, which stressed the logical rationality behind cosmic order, and religious cults, which abounded with stories of divine figures coming from the realm of light above to save us in this dark world.  
In this overture to the Gospel, which introduces key themes and words that will recur throughout, Jesus is called ‘the Word’. In the Hebrew scriptures God’s word is seen as being alive and active (Isaiah 55. 11) from the creation (referred to here by the phrase, ‘In the beginning’), when God has only to say, ‘Let there be ...’ for things to come into being (Genesis 1. 3, 6, 9, etc.), to God’s word coming through all the prophets. In Greek philosophy from early thinkers like Heraclitus to the Stoics, the ‘word’, logos, was used for the logical rationality behind the universe. In later Jewish beliefs, this masculine principle was complemented by the feminine figure of Lady Wisdom, who was present with God at the creation (Proverbs 8. 22 – 31).
“John pulls all these threads together with the amazing idea that the Word was not only pre-existent with God but also personal.” He “carefully writes ‘the Word was God’, divine, personal, existing in the unity of the Godhead and yet somehow distinct – for ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ (John 1. 14).”
“The Word which God spoke had a reality and being of its own. Though it flowed out of the source which was God, it had life in itself, and entered into a living relation with God. God spoke the Word, and the Word spoke to God. This is the reality which is reflected in the experience of every author who writes a book, for as s/he writes the words, the words have a life of their own and enter into a dialogue with the author ... As the music of Bach expresses Bach, and the music of Mozart expresses Mozart, so we may think of God speaking a word which expresses himself. His Word expresses his own unique nature, which is Love.”
We speak about God only by means of analogies. The analogies here are of: the Creative Idea which sees the whole work of the world complete, the end in the beginning, as the image of God the Father; and the Creative Activity bringing that idea to life in time as the image of the Word, the Son of God.
The presence of the Word is the ‘light come into the darkness’. “The first act of God’s creation was in the words “Let there be light” ... and he “separated the light from the darkness” (Genesis 1. 3f). “The light does not eliminate the darkness, but it goes on shining. There is no peaceful coexistence of light and darkness. The business of light is to banish darkness” yet “darkness remains the background to the story which John will tell”. The image therefore is of “a lighthouse or beacon throwing one bar of light through the darkness.”
“The light which shone in Jesus, and which shines on in the name of Jesus is proclaimed throughout the world, is none other than the light of God himself, his first creation, the light that enlightens every human being (John 1. 9).”

(This introduction is based mainly on material from ‘John’, Richard A. Burridge, The Bible Reading Fellowiship Oxford, 1998 but also uses quotes from: ‘Water into Wine’, Stephen Verney, Fount, 1985; ‘The Mind of the Maker’, Dorothy L. Sayers, Methuen & Co London, 1942; ‘The Light Has Come’, Lesslie Newbigin, The Handsel Press Edinburgh, 1987; and ‘Readings in St John’s Gospel’, William Temple, Macmillan & Co London, 1968)


Houses - Beginnings.

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