Thursday, December 31, 2015

A New Year’s Introspection

When I was younger, I perceived my future bright with prospects and promise.  On waxing old and being full of days, however, I have discovered my interests now are more about retrospect than prospect.  We elderly live in another country, and even though like Moses we may be permitted to view the prospects of the New Year's promised land (Deuteronomy 34:4), we are fated to remain in the land of Moab, in our own country and time (Deuteronomy 34:5-6).  In the late autumn of life and with the onrush of winter our vengeful enemy, time, has taken a terrible toll: sagging skin, thinning hair, a diminishing of the life force, failing eyesight, lapsing memory, other assorted aches and pains, and physical impairments.  Few of us octogenarians are like Moses, of whom it was fabled: "his eye was not dimmed, nor his natural force abated" (Deuteronomy 34:7). But we elderly have "eternity in our minds" (Ecclesiastes 3:11), and seem to think we should live forever.
            I prefer to think of aging and our eventual physical demise as the natural course of things.  A prime axiom of the universe is obsolescence—things just wear out, become obsolete, and disappear.  Or put another way, they die out, and pass out of existence.  We instinctively know it is true—whether of nations, neighborhoods, sump pumps, or, alas, of people.  Such is the way of all life and things in the universe as we know it.
            I could, of course, be wrong. Paul turned what in my view is a natural occurrence into a theological dogma.  Based on the Hebrew myth of creation, he argued that because the first human being sinned (Genesis 2:17) the human potential for death entered the world and passed onto all human beings, in that all have sinned (Rom 5:12, 17; 1 Corinthians 15:21).  Apparently Adam's sin even affected the universe, as it too is under bondage to decay (Romans 8:20-23) and obsolescence (1 Corinthians 7:31).  So, in part, Paul and I are of the same mind—except that he thinks theologically, and my statements are made on the basis of observable evidence. It must be said that the universe is expanding at a rapid rate and shows little sign of diminishing energy.
The Psalmist seems to regard a limited life span as a natural phenomenon:
The years of our life are threescore and ten, or even by reason of strength fourscore; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. (Ps 90:10 RSV)
There is no talk here of our lifespan being reduced by God's judgment because of sin.  The situation seems to be that the Psalmist has observed only the natural way of life in the universe. The human lifespan is only so long because of the prime axiom of the universe.  It is likewise the view of Koheleth (Ecclesiastes 1:1), who philosophizes about those things he "has seen under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:14; 2:17; 3:16, 22; 4:1, 7; 5:13: 6:1; 7:15; 8:9, 17; 9:11, 13; 10:5).  There is no appeal here to divine revelation, rather Kohleth appeals to human experience in a similar way that proverbs appeal to human wisdom.
            For those who have lived into their yellow leaf the New Year is not about resolutions but rather reminiscences.  We in the twilight of life are poised on the threshold of life's greatest adventure, and what matters now is not the coming year and its prospects, but what lies behind along with our regrets and personal satisfactions.  Perhaps that is why I don't have a "bucket list."  These days I think about those things I have left undone, the roads never taken, the questions never asked, the books never read, old friends with whom I have lost contact, the essays never finished.  Have I left a deep enough footprint in the sand that the first high tide will not erase?  I suppose in long term it does not matter. Very few things endure the ravages of time.
            Is there a lesson in all this introspection?  In the last chapter of Ecclesiastes (12:1-14) a later editor has concluded: "The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man" (Ecclesiastes 12:13 RSV).  I prefer thinking on the views of the principal author of the text: these I regard as the "intellectually honest ponderings of a man who looked at the world primarily from a rational perspective rather than through the eyes of faith. He struggled with the question: what is the point of life—and found no satisfactory answer."  But the point is he continued struggling with the questions, and in the final analysis gave up neither on life nor God.  His struggles with the dichotomy between the answers of traditional religion, and what he sees going on in the world around him have led him to be satisfied with the simple pleasures of life (2:24; 10:19).
            So the New Year comes! Yet this first day of a New Year, after all the fuss, is just another day in the succession of many others.  Those of us fortunate enough to see its dawning should rejoice and be glad in it (Ps 118:24).  Koheleth would appreciate that sentiment; he thought of life as a great gift—hope is only for the living.  Or as he put it: "a living dog is better than a dead lion" (Ecclesiastes 9:4).
For my tribe, you elderly: may your New Year's Day be full of happy memories that bring smiles to your face, rather than blushes to your cheeks.  For those who are younger: may your new country be full of bright prospects.
Charles W. Hedrick
Quotation from Hedrick, The Wisdom of Jesus. Between the Sages of Israel and the Apostles of the Church (Cascade, 2014), 72.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015


               Christmas in America has something for virtually everyone—even Scrooges and Crachits.  Ancient customs (Christian and non-Christian) and modern secular traditions have become so intermingled that it is difficult to distinguish the individual trees from the Christmas forest.  Christmas in the marketplace now begins before Thanksgiving and ends sometime after the beginning of the New Year (or whenever you take down the tree).  Merchants capitalize on every aspect of Christmas from Rudolph to the crèche, and entertain our shopping with both secular and religious Christmas music. Marketing at Christmas is highly successful, and we all have the mood to be separated from our money—gift giving and/or donating to obscure charities (after a second trip to the wassail bowl, perhaps). Commercialism is not all bad, however.  In many ways, what is good for the marketplace is good for the country, and what is good for the country generally translates into chickens in our Christmas pots.
               True, the season has deep religious roots—a lot of different ones, in fact.  We are reminded of a Judean lad born in Bethlehem.  But before Christians started celebrating the birth of Jesus on December 25th (in the 4th century!), the Roman Empire had long celebrated Saturnalia, an agricultural festival incorporating many of the same customs we still observe today at Christmas.  Saturn was a venerable deity in Italy fabled to have reigned during a period of peace and happiness.  December 25th was also celebrated both as the birth of the Unconquerable Sun and Mithras, the Persian deity of light.  The ancient Jewish Feast of Hanukkah (the festival of lights) celebrating the rededication of the temple and Judean political independence also falls in December.  The customs and symbols of these non-Christian festivals have merged with the Christian, and we Americans celebrate them all during the winter solstice season with lights, candles, gift giving, family gatherings, shopping, evergreen trees, and garnishes of holly and mistletoe.  Somehow it all seems to make sense—even to largely Christian America.  There is something distinctly egalitarian and democratic in our celebration.  The "huddled masses," the "wretched refuse" from foreign shores, brought their religious customs with them, and we later generations have woven them all together (menorah, piñata, wassail bowl, parties, Santa Claus, Saint Nikolas, babe in Bethlehem, Christmas tree, midnight Mass, and yule log) into one textured tapestry of solstice traditions.
               I like the diversity.  The commercialism enriches the complexity of the season.  But it is difficult to know if it all truly fits together.  What meaning do we find in the collage and clash of our Christmas customs?
               We make little distinction between the secular and the religious.  We enjoy the secular festivities of the season, the cycle of parties and receptions, the tinsel and colored lights, foodstuffs and spirits; with equal gusto we sing "White Christmas," "Have a Happy Jolly Christmas" and "Little Town of Bethlehem." Yet lurking in the back of many minds is the sobering claim that some 2000 years ago the secular was invaded by the holy, and recalling that often occasions a momentary reflective pause in the festivities.
               Making sense of the diverse symbols and customs, and finding a comprehensive reason for the Christmas season is challenging.  Of course, some people have all the answers and dismiss the significance of everything except the lights at the end of their own myopic tunnels.  I, however, try to embrace all the diversity of the season.
               In reflective moments I see the American winter solstice season symbolizing a primal search for stability, happiness, and security in the world.  Faced by the uncertainty of our future, these traditions, as different as they are, serve to anchor the spirit.  We return to them annually because of the emotional comfort they bring.  They nourish a deep-seated hope in Western culture, best expressed for me by the ancient Israelite longing for the advent of an ideal ruler, whose eternal reign will be characterized by peace, justice, and righteousness (Isaiah 9:7).  All people of good will (Luke 2:13-14) share such a hope, and celebrating it in an American Christmas seems appropriate for a nation of immigrants.
Charles W. Hedrick
This essay appeared in the Springfield News-Leader sometime before 2006 and was later published in Hedrick, House of Faith and Enchanted Forest. American Popular Belief in an Age of Reason (Cascade, 2009), 70-71. It appears here in revised form.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Is the Trinity found in John’s Gospel?

             For the first essay on the Trinity see "Is the Holy Spirit Part of a Trinity?" Nov 26, 2015.            
            Toward the end of the first century the situation is remarkably different from what I found in the letters of Paul at the middle of the century.  Around the end of the century, the Gospel of John makes a definite advance in defining the relationship between Jesus and God, but there is no stated concept of a Triune God—i.e., Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three persons conceptualized as One God.  Conceptualizing and describing a divine Trinity requires abstract logical thinking and systematic description, which are not found in John.
            In John God is understood as spirit (John 4:24), which seems to describe God's nature or character (spirit; not the spirit, which indicates identity).  Jesus is presented as God's "son" (1:49; 5:18; 10:36; 11:27; 19:7; 20:31).  The son (1:14), was "with God" and "was God" (1:1-2, 18), and came forth from God, having been sent here by God (8:42).  He became flesh (1:14; not quite the same as being born a human being). The essential identity of God and Jesus is made certain by the confession of Thomas: "My Lord and my God" (20:28).  Other less certain clues appear in John reflecting an identity (10:30; 17:11, 21-22). The unity is apparently primordial (17:24). No attempt is made by the writer, however, to explain how that unity/identity could be so.  In John there seems to be a duality of two distinct personae conceived as One God.
            How the holy spirit should be conceived in relation to the divine Duality, however, is complicated, and unclear.  At the beginning of Jesus' public life, John the baptizer testifies that he saw the spirit descend and remain (1:32) on Jesus, who as a result baptizes with (in?) the holy spirit (1:33).  The descending spirit must also be holy, for the "Father" is holy (17:11) and is apparently the source of the holy spirit with which Jesus baptizes. The spirit is thus involved in the activities of Jesus (3:3-8; 4:23-24; 6:63), and God is not stingy in giving the spirit (3:34).
            On one occasion, however, surprisingly an intrusive explanatory voice interrupts the narrative, asserting that there was no spirit yet, for Jesus had not yet been "glorified" (7:39) ("glorification" is a cryptic allusion to the crucifixion/resurrection, 12:23-24, 27-33; 17:1-5).  Hence 7:39 clearly contradicts 1:32-33, for spirit remains with Jesus through his career enabling his words (6:63), making true worship possible (4:23-24), and generating new birth (3:3-8). Opposed to this idea that the spirit is active in the public life of Jesus is the surprising statement at the end of the Gospel that the holy spirit is finally given (20:22-23).
            Before the crucifixion, Jesus tells his followers that he is going to the one who sent him (16:7) and at his departure the paraclete (16:4b-11) will come to them. The meaning of this word is unclear and translations vary.  Immediately following this statement his followers learn that another figure is also coming to them: the spirit of truth (16:13).  The temptation is to harmonize and read the paraclete and the spirit of truth as one and the same, but the figures have different functions: paraclete (16:8-11); spirit of truth (16:13-14).  Nevertheless the two figures are awkwardly identified as one and the same at (14:16-17)—how seriously should one regard the reference to "another paraclete" (14:16)?  Should one consider the spirit of truth as an additional (second) paraclete?
            The holy spirit is awkwardly identified as the paraclete in 14:25-26, almost as an afterthought.  Its appearance in 14:26 seems like an intrusion into the sentence, similar to the explanatory observation at 7:39 (among many others).  All three figures paraclete, spirit of truth (i.e., paraclete #2?), and holy spirit have different functions, but they all come to replace Jesus, the son (14:25-26, 16:7-8, 16:12-13).  This/these figures are not clearly identified as one with Jesus in the same sense that Jesus was identified with God; rather they are cast as performing Jesus' role in the community after he is gone. The language the writer of John employs to describe Jesus in relation to them puts a certain distance between Jesus, the paraclete, and the spirit of truth.  John 14:25-26: "paraclete, whom the father will send in my [Jesus'] name; he will remind you all I have said"; 16:14: "He [spirit of truth] will glorify me"; 16:7: "I will send him [paraclete] to you. . ." This language, carefully distinguishing between Jesus and the figure(s) who replace him, does not encourage a reader to sense a close unity or union between the son and his replacement(s).
            There are no Trinitarian formulae in John, the closest statement to such an idea being John 1:32-34, and John does not seem to be aware of the later theological concept Father, Son, Holy Spirit—three figures in one Godhead.
Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Is the Holy Spirit Part of a Trinity?

The Nicene Creed describes the third person in the Trinity this way:
We the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Life-giver, that proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and Son is worshipped together and glorified together, who spoke through the prophets.
Thus in contemporary orthodox faith the Holy Spirit is believed to be a persona of a Divine Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; "God in three persons blessed Trinity," so the hymn goes.
The confession in creed and hymnal sounds plausible, but when one goes to the biblical texts to confirm that the earliest Christians actually shared this fourth/fifth-century belief in a Triune Godhead there is a significant problem.  The Trinity (i.e., belief in a three-in-one-God), as such, is not in the Bible—at least not in so many words, although all three of these figures are mentioned together in 2 Corinthians 13:14 (except that the earliest Greek manuscript omits the word holy). They appear side by side in a benediction that does not claim these three figures as the Trinity of orthodox faith.
               In the earliest Christian literature (the Pauline letters) Paul maintains a healthy distance between God and Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:27-28; 8:4-6; Philippians 3:3); Paul clearly conceives God as one (i.e. as a singular unity: 1 Cor 8:4, 6; Romans 3:30; Galatians 3:19-20).  His emphasis on the unity of God ultimately derives from the Israelite faith (see the Shema, Deut 6:4-5).
               Paul is a writer of letters and not religious handbooks; and does not usually express himself systematically, which means that ideas must be tracked here and there throughout his letters.  When Paul calls God "spirit" he is describing the essential nature of God.  Spirit is not an appendage of God, so that one may distinguish it as an entity independent from God.  God is spirit. That seems clear from Paul's appeal to Exodus 34:25-35 when arguing for the new covenant in Christ (2 Corinthians 3:4-18).  "The Lord (i.e., Yahweh, God of Israel) is the spirit" (2 Cor 3:17a) to whom people turn (2 Cor 3:16-18) to have the veil removed from their minds when the books of Moses are read:
And we all with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another (as happened to Moses, Exod 34:29-30, 35); for this comes from the Lord who is the spirit (2 Cor 3:18).
God as spirit is described by Paul in various ways: "the spirit" and "his spirit" (Rom 8:11), "the spirit of God" (Rom 8:9), "the spirit of holiness" (Rom 1:4), "the spirit of the living God" (2 Cor 3:3), "his holy spirit" (1 Thess 4:8), the "holy spirit" (Rom 5:5).  Spirit and holy spirit are used interchangeably in 1 Cor 12:3.  He even uses the expression "spirit of Christ" interchangeably with the "spirit of God" (Rom 8:9-11; Gal 4:6-7).
               Here is how I make sense of the interchangeableness of God's spirit and the spirit of Christ in the Pauline letters.  Jesus was a human being appointed son of God "by the spirit of holiness" at the moment God raised him from the dead (Rom 1:3-4; compare Rom 5:15-17).  He, the human being, was the "first fruit of those who have fallen asleep" (1 Cor 15:20; 1 Thess 4:23), and as the first fruit became the means through whom God "was reconciling the world to himself" (2 Cor 5:19). Thus, he is the "precursor" whose spirit, having been first transformed by the spirit of holiness, enabled other human beings to share that experience (1 Thess 4:8).  Through the transformed spirit of this human being (Christ) other human beings become sons of God (Gal 4:4-7; Romans 8:9-11) by sharing in the divine spirit—yet the divine spirit remains a singularity and undivided is how Paul's reasoning must have gone (cf. 1 Cor 8:6; 12:4-13), even though he is hardly clear in his expression and terminology.
               God's "Anointed" (i.e., Christ), as precursor, became the conduit through whom the blessings of the divine spirit are shared (1 Corinthians 8:6;compare Hebrews 6:20, where a later writer uses the term "precursor"): grace (Rom 5:2, 21; 1 Cor 1:4); peace (Rom 5:1), reconciliation (Rom 5:11; 2 Cor 6:18), deliverance (Rom 7:24-25), sanctification (1 Cor 1:2), victory (1 Cor 15:57), all God's promises (2 Cor 1:20), justification (Gal 2:16), righteousness (Phil 1:11), salvation (1 Thess 5:9)—all come through Christ.
               It does not appear to me that Paul conceived God as a Trinity, as later orthodoxy did.  But then, to judge by his letters Paul was scarcely an orthodox Christian in the sense of the later creeds, as some already suggested in the second century (2 Peter 3:14-17).  Perhaps my essay might even have been construed by the writer of Second Peter as a twisting of Paul's words?  What do you think?
Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

Friday, November 13, 2015

Paul’s Cross Gospel and First Thessalonians

In antiquity crucifixion was a popular way of punishing enemies of the state and criminals; even Judean officials (Alexander Janneus) crucified fellow Judeans (Josephus Antiquities13, 380-83; Jewish Wars 1, 97-98).  There was a religious reason for crucifixion in Israelite texts: executed idolaters and blasphemers were hanged on a tree to show they were accursed by God (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).  So it seems odd that the crucifixion of Jesus and the cross became central elements of Pauline Theology:
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power (1 Cor 1:17; see in particular 1:17-22).
For I have decided to know nothing among you, except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor 2:2).
But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (Gal 6:14).
Nevertheless only three of his seven letters specifically mention the cross (1 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians); four do not (2 Corinthians, Romans, 1 Thessalonians, Philemon).  On the other hand, four of his seven letters mention crucifixion, and three do not (1 Thessalonians, Philippians, Philemon).  And of those that mention crucifixion, Romans mentions it only once (Romans 6:6).
               The two letters that mention neither the cross nor crucifixion are 1 Thessalonians and Philemon. The absence of these two motifs from Philemon is understandable.  Philemon is a familiar letter of recommendation, a well-known literary form in the Greek world, in which Paul is trying to secure personal consideration for a runaway slave from the owner.  It is a delicate situation and his language is accordingly sensitive to and appropriate for the situation.
               But 1 Thessalonians is another matter.  By general agreement 1 Thessalonians is the earliest (ca. 50 or 51) of Paul's letters, and the earliest writing in the New Testament.  In a number of ways this letter reflects a Paul at the beginning of an apostolic career not yet aware of his characteristic apostolic message.  For example, one does not find in 1 Thessalonians Paul's emphasis on justification by faith, or the role of the law in Christian faith (but compare 4:1-8), or reliance on Scripture in argumentation.  There are no quotes here from Hebrew Bible.  His idea that the Judeans are "enemies of the whole human race" (1 Thess 2:15) is scarcely typical of Paul in the later letters (compare Romans 11-13).  And his idea that God's wrath has come upon the Judeans "at last" (1 Thess 2:16) is contradicted later by Romans 11:25-26 where "all Israel will be saved."
               But most significant is an absence of Paul's cross gospel and the theological significance of the crucifixion of Christ, which seems to suggest that he has not yet made the cross gospel central to his theology.  For example, in 1 Thessalonians Jesus is not crucified but "killed" and Paul blames the Judeans for his death (1 Thess 2:14-16), while Mark blames the Romans (Mark 15; cf. Matt 27:25 where the Judeans accept responsibility for his death).  In 1 Thessalonians Paul proclaims the gospel of God (2:9; cf. Mark 1:14) or the gospel of Christ (3:2); the content of his gospel in 1 Thessalonians seems to be: that Jesus died for us (5:9-10), that God raised him from the dead (1:10), and that he is coming again in Paul's own lifetime (4:13-18).
               There is no developed thinking in 1 Thessalonians about the cross or the crucifixion and its role in the Christian experience, such as we find in Paul's later writings (e.g. 1 Cor 1:18; Rom 6:6; Gal 2:20, 5:24, 6:14).  In 1 Thessalonians Paul had not yet developed the concept that believers (1:7; 2:1, 13), or "brothers" (as he usually referred to them) in the community gatherings (e.g. 1:4; 3:1, 7) were saints (i.e. "holy ones").  In 1 Thessalonians the term saint is reserved for those coming with Jesus at his appearing (parousia, 3:13, or perhaps it refers to holy angels, Zechariah 14:5 LXX).  The word "saint" is a usual locution for those in Paul's community gatherings in the later letters (Rom 15:25-26; 1 Cor 14:33; 2 Cor 1:1, 13:13; Phil 1:1, 4:21-22).  The reason for the difference is perhaps because Paul had not yet discovered (1 Thess 4:3) that the Holy Spirit had sanctified (i.e. "made holy") those in Christ (Rom 15:16; 1 Cor 1:2, 6:11).
               If these observations are correct, 1 Thessalonians gives us a remarkable window into the mind of a not quite ready for prime time apostle before he developed his characteristic theological thinking that shaped Christianity for 2000 years.  Apparently Paul matured in his thinking, as all of us do.  His theology of justification by faith based on the crucifixion of Jesus did not come to him in a blinding flash of divine inspiration, but it was a case of human creative thinking that needed to be developed over time.
               And where does that leave us who use a text as "inspired Scripture" that Paul likely would no longer regard as reflecting his best thinking?  First Thessalonians is clearly deficient in the sense that it does not reflect Paul's mature thought. If so, should we also regard 1 Timothy as ethically deficient because of its misogyny (1 Tim 2:8-15)?
Charles W. Hedrick
O'Collins, "Crucifixion" Anchor Bible Dictionary 1:1207-10.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Will Christ Come Again?

Christian Fundamentalism touts belief in the second coming of Christ as one of five fundamentals of Christian faith.  It is part of the Nicene Creed (4th century), which confesses that "Jesus coming again with glory to judge living and dead."  The earliest use of the expression "second coming of Christ" occurs in Justin Martyr (2nd century), Dialogue with Trypho 14, and the writer of Hebrews (9:28) also expects that "Christ...will appear a second time..."
            The hope of a future coming of Christ is part of the earliest extant Christian text (1st Thessalonians 1:10; 3:13; 4:13-5:11), where the event is referred to as "his [God's] son from heaven," "the coming of the Lord Jesus," "the day of the Lord."  There is also evidence that the earliest Christians prayed for his coming.  Paul concludes a letter with what is thought to be a prayer of early Aramaic Christians: marana tha, "our Lord come" (1 Corinthians 16:22).  The latest writing (ca 150) in the New Testament also warns that "the day of the Lord will come like a thief," and describes the event as "the coming of the day of God" (2nd Peter 3:9-13).  Hence a future return of (the Lord Jesus) Christ is a belief shared by virtually all the early Christians.
            It is questionable, however, whether the earliest gospel (Mark) shares the belief in a second coming of Christ. In Mark Jesus never says "I am coming again," or I will come a second time."  Instead in the Gospel of Mark it appears that Jesus anticipated a future coming of "a son of man" (8:38-9:1, 13:24-27, 14:60-64).  He speaks in these passages of the coming son of man in the third person as though he were someone other than himself.  Other statements in Mark refer to the son of man as a contemporary figure who suffers, is betrayed, is killed, and rises from the dead (9:9. 12. 31; 10:33. 45; 14:21. 41). These events, identifying Jesus as the son of man, clearly reflect the faith of the early church (e.g., 1 Corinthians 15:1-5; Acts 2:22-24).  The question is, however, did these sayings originate with Jesus, or are they faith statements of the church retrofitted into the career of Jesus to justify the church's belief that the coming son of man was Jesus?  There exists no saying of Jesus in which he unambiguously promises to return sometime in the future.
            Nevertheless, virtually all scholars accept that Jesus referred to himself as "son of man" (e.g., Mark 2:10.27- 28; Q, Luke 9:58 =Matt 8:20), but what does the expression mean?  In what sense did he use it of himself?  In my last blog I indicated its meaning (loosely construed) was something like "man of the people"—i.e., "a common human being," as the expression is used in Mark 3:28 ("sons of men"), meaning "human beings."
            There are three different senses in which the term "son of man" is used in Hebrew Bible: Job 25:4-6 describes an insignificant human creature; Psalm 8:3-6 describes a human being a little lower than God; Daniel 7:13-14 describes an apocalyptic figure of the end time.  The early church understood the term "son of man" (an Aramaic expression for "I") as a claim to be the apocalyptic figure of Daniel 7:13-14.

            Mark 2:10 was rejected by the Jesus Seminar as a Christian formulation giving Jesus the present authority of the coming apocalyptic figure. They accepted Mark 2:27-28 as a genuine saying of Jesus. This saying is the only surviving son of man saying in the gospel of Mark that likely originated with Jesus.  If the Sabbath was made for human beings (Mark 3:27), then a human being (i.e., the "son of man" in the sense of Job 25:4-6) rules over the Sabbath as he was ordained to rule over the earth (Gen 1:26-30; spoken to Adam).  It is not a messianic claim, but rather a logical argument that dissolves Sabbath rules.
            It seems probable to me that Jesus anticipated the imminent appearing of an apocalyptic figure other than himself (Mark 8:38-9:1; 13:24-27), and the early church identified this figure (i.e., the son of man from Daniel 7:13-14) as Jesus.  How could such a thing happen?  It likely occurred among his early followers under the influence of Judean messianic expectations and their reading of Hebrew Bible as a book of prophecy.  Such a situation is actually depicted in John 2:13-22, where an incident in the Judean temple during the public career of Jesus (2:13-20) is understood differently after the death of Jesus by his followers; they came to the new understanding by reading Hebrew Bible like a book of prophecy (John 2:21-22).
            In the synoptic tradition, however, there is no future coming of the Lord Jesus Christ—at least, not in so many words. The synoptic gospels describe a future coming of a "son of man."  The early church in the main abandoned "son of man" language, and identified the resurrected Christ as the figure of a future apocalypse.
            Will there be a second coming of Christ as the early Christians expected, and modern Christians believe?  It depends. I regard the belief that Jesus is coming again as a "faith fact."  That is to say, it is a fact if you believe it to be so—nevertheless one should always remember that believing a thing to be so does not make it so.
Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University
Marion Soards, "Parousia," 646-47 in Mercer Dictionary of the Bible (1990).

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Wearing a Christian Label

All of us bear labels of one sort or another.  For example, Jesus had a status label (i.e., something about yourself you cannot deny) of "Israelite from Judean Galilee" (John 1:47; Mark 1:9; Mark 14:70).  Other labels we give to ourselves.  Jesus, for example, by all accounts called himself "son of man" (meaning something like "man of the people," Luke 9:58).  Others sometimes give us labels that are not complimentary.  For example, Jesus was called a "glutton and a drunkard" (Luke 7:34; Matt 11:19), likely because of the dinner parties he attended (Mark 2:15-16; Luke 15:1-2).
               This third kind of label is apparently what happened to the followers of Jesus: "They were first called 'Christians' at Antioch" (Acts 11:26).  It was a term used by the Graeco-Roman citizens of Antioch to designate them as followers of the god "Christos," a general way of designating the adherents of a particular leader—as, for example, followers of Herod were called "Herodians" (Mark 3:6).  The only other uses of the term "Christian" in the first century (Acts 26:28. 1 Peter 4:16) are not inconsistent with this understanding.  Luke apparently thought that followers of Jesus originally called themselves "disciples" (Acts 11:26; 9:10; 6:1-2, 7; 16:1; 19:1; 21:16).
               By the second century, however, the name was clearly embraced as a self designation by Jesus followers (e.g., Didache 12:4; Martydom of Polycarp, 10:1; 12:1; Ignatius, Epistle to the Magnesians, 4:1).  In 1Peter 4:16 the name "Christian" was associated with suffering and persecution: "If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name glorify God."  In the early second century (ca. 112) Pliny the Younger, a Roman administrator in Asia Minor, reported to the Emperor Trajan that he tried those accused of being Christian and executed the ones who refused to deny the name.  Their denial would have taken the form of sacrificing to the Roman gods and cursing Christ.
               The Letter to Diognetus (2nd /3rd century) has an interesting sociological description of Christians as appearing little different from the rest of the Graeco-Roman population, with certain exceptions: they did not expose infants, practiced free hospitality, and guarded their purity (Diognetus 5.1-17).
               Who were these people who embraced the label "Christian" in the second century in spite of its negative associations?  One may not simply assume that the label "Christian" means today what it did in the past—for one reason, the term means different things to different people today, and it was no less true in antiquity.  Those who recanted the name "Christian" to Pliny confessed "the whole of their guilt or error" to be that they met on a certain fixed day before light, sang a hymn to Christ as a God and took a solemn oath not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, and not to falsify their word, or to deny a trust, and later they ate together.  On the other hand, Cerinthus, an early second-century Christian-Gnostic teacher in Asia Minor taught that the world was not created by God but by a lesser power.  Jesus was not virgin-born but the natural son of Mary and Joseph, although he was better than other men.  The (heavenly) Christ descended on Jesus before his baptism and departed before his death.
               In the third century the author of the Gospel of Philip, a Christian-Gnostic text from the Nag Hammadi library, claimed the term "Christian," as a self-designation, but the kind of Christianity reflected in the text is very different from that reflected in Paul, John, and the synoptic gospels.  For example, the author writes: "The chrism [i.e. the anointing] is superior to baptism, for it is from the word "chrism" that we have been called Christians, certainly not because of the word "baptism" (74:12-14)…He who has been anointed [i.e., by the chrism, which is Christ] possesses everything.  He possesses the resurrection, the light, the cross, the Holy Spirit.  The Father gave him this in the bridal chamber…" (74:17-22).
               Phillip's community would have been declared heretical (i.e., not genuine) by those defining themselves as "orthodox."  The orthodox group later adopted the Nicene Creed (4th century), which assumes in part a three-tiered universe (Heaven/earth/Hell), spirit entities, and affirms that Jesus was not a human being, but a divine figure from heaven who was "made flesh" of the holy spirit and the virgin Mary.  It affirms "one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church" and a "baptism unto the remission of sins."
               The label "Christian" has had a wide variety of meanings in the past, and the situation is no different today. A large number of different religious groups are categorized "Protestant" Christians.  They exist alongside of "Christians" of a different ilk: Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Mormon.  They all claim the term "Christian" and yet all believe and practice different religious customs.  It appears that the label means little specific, or, put another way, it means just about anything you want it to.  So what does one imply by wearing it?  Has the term outlived its usefulness?
Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Historical Tradition in the Fourth Gospel

The fourth Gospel (John) is the latest of the four canonical gospels. Its "tone" (i.e., its ideas, style, and manner of expression throughout the text) is remarkably different from the earliest gospel, Mark.  Compared to Mark, John breathes the rarified air of a high Christology and a religious tradition completely different from Mark, Matthew and Luke.  Their narratives rarely overlap in content, and on the rare occasions that they do John's version has little in common with the Markan narrative and its characterization of Jesus. For example, compare the healing of the lame man (Mark 2:1-12 and John 5:2-18), where John tells a very different story, which has few similarities to Mark.  And in the story of Jesus walking on the water (Mark 6:45-52 and John 6:16-21), where John's version is much shorter and only superficially similar.
               I have described John 1:1-18 as a confession, and indeed it is, but it is also unabashed mythical (not historical) language (compare Philippians 2:5-11), which sets the tone for the Gospel of John.  In general Myth is a story about gods and heroes in a time and place not recognizable as our own.  Myth is about creation and origins; it is an "attempt to explain creation, divinity, and religion."  History is about what actually happened in the past, and historical description is based on evidence available to a neutral third party.  This event, described at the opening of the gospel, is not historical in the sense that it takes place in common space and time; it occurs for the most part in the primordium—i. e., earliest origins and events taking place before the world and time began.  It describes the event on the basis of the faith of the author.  Plato, however, regarded all the Greek myths told by the Greek poets as "made up" stories; hence they were things that never happened in the past.
               The character of John is such that critical historians attempt to rehabilitate its history by appealing to its rare similarities with the synoptic gospels, and in this way arguing that it is possible that "within the material shared by John and the synoptics" the author of John had access to an "independent and primitive tradition" about Jesus (Raymond Brown, The Gospel According to John, 2 vols. Doubleday, 1966, 1: xlviii).  It is virtually impossible to harmonize the linguistic interests of the Judean Jesus of Mark with the language of John's Jesus.  For example, the striking dualisms in John, light/darkness (1:5), truth/falsehood (8:44-45), Spirit/flesh (3:6), above/below (8:23), do not fit the language world of the Judean Jesus of Mark, even though they are, in part, shared with the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were contemporary with Jesus.
               Nevertheless John is not without its historical value, even though critical scholars generally recognize that it tells us virtually nothing about Jesus, the Judean man who lived more than a generation earlier than the writing of John.  Its value lies in the fact that the Gospel of John attests a very different type of Christianity at the end of the first century from what we find portrayed in the synoptic gospels a generation, or more, earlier; John represents a type of Christianity, which draws on different traditions some of which are likely as early as the synoptic tradition.  John demonstrates that a wide breadth of responses to the Judean man, and ideas about him continued to proliferate.  The Jesus traditions in the first century were pluralistic, rich, complex, contradictory, and none could claim exclusivity.
               There are remarkable differences between John and the synoptic gospels; here are a few of the most notable:
Synoptics: John:
John baptizes Jesus with water.
John observes Jesus baptized by the spirit.
Jesus tells parables. John has no parables.
Jesus' message announced the kingdom of God. The kingdom barely mentioned.
Last meal Jesus says my body/blood given for you. At the last meal Jesus washes disciples' feet.
Jesus performs exorcisms. There are no exorcisms in John.
               In describing who Jesus actually was, one must make an either or decision between Mark and John.  As Albert Schweitzer saw at the beginning of the twentieth century, one must choose either the Jesus of Mark (which he incorrectly regarded as history) or the Jesus of John's gospel.  A middle path of harmonizing the two is not a historical solution.  Hence, since the beginning of the twentieth century the Gospel of John has been discredited as a historical source for Jesus, the Judean man who lived at the end of the first third of the first century.
What do you think about giving up the popular Jesus of the Gospel of John for Mark's Judean Jesus?
Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University
See: Hedrick, When History and Faith Collide (Wipf & Stock, 1999), 30-47.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Does John know the difference between History and Faith?

Does the flesh-and-blood author of the Gospel of John respect the difference between historical information and personal religious confession?  Or put another way: is the author aware when s/he shifts from historical description into a confession of faith?
            I am not proposing that we read John's mind.  The author of the gospel that readers know is a mental construct they develop in their own minds in response to reading the text.  I am asking if there are any literary features in the text, which suggest the flesh-and-blood author either was not aware of the crucial difference between historical information and confessional rhetoric, or that s/he did not regard the distinction as relevant.
            The answer, like everything in the history-of-Jesus research, depends on who you ask.  For example, the Jesus Seminar (JS) found that only one saying in John originated with Jesus (John 4:42).  With regard to the deeds of Jesus, the seminar only found a few features (in John 7:15; 18:12-13, 28; 19:1, 6, 18) that suggested a superficial knowledge of aspects of the historical career of Jesus.  That is a vastly different judgment from Craig S. Keener, for example, who argued that all four gospels are "historical biography" (The Gospel of John. A Commentary, Hendrickson, 2003, 33).
            From my perspective John's narrative frequently sacrifices history in the interest of confessional rhetoric.  For example, according to JS the cleansing of the temple in Mark 11:15-19 reflects, in part, aspects of an actual historical incident, but the JS found that the account of the same incident in John 2:13-22 was not grounded in history—in other words in John's narrative, theology trumps history.  Scholars generally think, however, that the cleansing of the temple was a historical event and Mark reported aspects of it in a more or less historical way.  Yet even the barest historical outlines of the incident are lost in John's religious rhetoric—at least according to the JS.
            Apparently John is more interested in right faith than in describing the career of Jesus from a historical perspective.  For example, John 1:1-18 is clearly a confessional statement.  The only bit of historical data in the section is the mention of John [the baptizer], the Judean prophet, whom the author of John co-opts as a Christian witness (1:6-8, 15), as also was the case in Matt 11:12-15, where he is not part of the Israelite old order, but part of the new (compare the parallel in Luke 16:16, where he is part of the old order).  John chapter one uses confessional language rather heavily (1:9-8, 15, 19, 20, 29, 32 34).
            The author interrupts the story about Jesus with confessional rhetoric in spite of the fact that it threatens the integrity of the narrative.  For example, in John 3:11 in the middle of the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus the author suddenly breaks into confessional rhetoric:  John 3:11 begins as a part of Jesus' comment to Nicodemus, but then shifts into an accusation against those who do not "receive our witness."
Truly, truly I say to you [singular; to Nicodemus] that we [the evangelist and his community] speak of what we know and you [plural; to his opponents] do not receive our witness (John 3:11).
In John 3:12 the evangelist assumes the persona of speaker to continue the criticism of his opponents: "If I (the evangelist) have told you (plural) earthly things, and you (plural) do not believe, how will you (plural) believe if I tell you (plural) heavenly things?"  Immediately following, John 3:13-21 (speaking of Jesus in third person) is spoken by the evangelist reciting the confession of the community.  At this point the engagement of Jesus and Nicodemus (3:1-10) has been completely forgotten.
            Once again in John 3:31-36 the evangelist shifts into confession leaving behind John's answer to his disciples about Jesus baptizing beyond the Jordan (John 3:25-30).  In these two incidents the evangelist overrides description with confession.
            Another similar incident is John 4:22-24.  The evangelist intersperses a community confession (4:22-24) between two dangling ends of the discussion between Jesus and the Samaritan woman (i.e., 4:21/25).  As s/he does at John 7:22 where the evangelist intrudes into a statement by Jesus in order to correct what Jesus said (this latter phenomenon is part of a much larger problem in the Gospel of John).
            Judging from these few incidents it appears that the flesh-and-blood author of John was more interested in confessional rhetoric than s/he was in historical description.
How does it seem to you?
Charles W, Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Is the Gospel of John Historical Narrative?

The answer would, in part, depend on the reliability of the sources used by the author. John, however, is the latest Gospel dating near the end of the first century and some sixty years after the crucifixion of Jesus, which is considerably past the time of the eyewitnesses who participated in the events narrated in the gospel.  What is more compromising for John as historical narrative, however, is the matter that the author writes like a theologian rather than a historian.  The principal theological concerns of John's community are, in part, Christology (e.g. 1:1-51) and soteriology ("doctrine of salvation," e.g. 3:1-21).  The author is simply not concerned about the historical aspects of the narrative.  Hence, the gospel is narrated theology rather than historical narrative.
            Historical writing portrays life realistically, which is the opposite of idealistically and romantically.  Realism presents the reader with "a serious representation of contemporary everyday social reality against the background of a constant historical movement" (Eric Auerbach, Mimesis, 518).
            The author of the Gospel of John has no real interest in the passage of time and chronology—what I take Auerbach to mean by "constant historical movement."  Chronology is the sequence in which events occur.  A historian is principally interested in the exact order in which events take place; defining an accurate sequence of events helps the historian to understand the causes and effects of those events.  In short, there is no historical narration without chronology.
            One does find a chronological segment in John 11:55-20:29, where events appear to be loosely arranged on a sequential frame surrounding the Passover (11:55; 12:1; 12:12; 13:1; 19:14; 19:21; 20:1; 20:19; 20:26).  It may only be an artifice, however, for the real purpose of the arrangement is to provide a framework for a series of mini speeches and the crucifixion/resurrection account.  In John 14:31 at the conclusion of one series of mini speeches (13:31-14:31) Jesus says, "Rise, let us go hence."  Jesus and the disciples were reclining (13:2, 12, 23, 25) at a meal when he began (13:31) the series of speeches that culminated in the command to rise and go (14:31).  No one moves, however, and Jesus continues to make speeches (15:1-18:1).
            The first half of the Gospel (1:1-11:54) makes no attempt at producing a genuine chronological account.  It consists of a series of literary vignettes strung together by a limited series of connectives intended to suggest a chronology.  Here is a list of some of the author's faux chronological connectives.  They give an illusion of chronology, but are only literary connectives:
The next day (1:29, 35, 39, 43); the third day (2:1); the sixth hour (4:6); after two days (4:43); that day a Sabbath (5:9); a Passover (5:9); a Passover was at hand (6:4); When evening came (6:16); on the next day (6:22); feast of Tabernacles (7:2, 14, 37); early in the morning (8:2); feast of Dedication, it was winter (10:22); it was night (13:30);  stayed two days (11:6).
Most of the connectives are mere transitions, however:
After these things (3:22; 5:1; 6:1; 7:1; 19:38; 21:1); after this thing (2:12; 6:66;11:7; 19:28); now (2:23; 3:1; 5:2; 5:9; 11:1, 5, 17, 55; 12:20; 13:1; 18:25); therefore/then  (3:25; 4:1, 44; 6:52; 11:17; 18:28; 19:1); again (4:44; 8:12, 21; 10:7, 19); meanwhile (4:1).
            Events in the gospel narrative are fated, and the inevitable ending was controlled from the beginning.  Jesus tells his mother: "My hour has not yet come" (2:4).  This anticipation of the critical moment of the gospel is repeated throughout the narrative (7:5, 8; 5:25, 28; 8:20; 12:23, 31-33; 13:1, 31; 16:25, 32; 17:1).  Jesus is "not from this world" (8:23; 17:14, 16), but has been sent (5:30, 37, 38; 6:29, 38. 44; 7:16. 28, 8:16, 42) into it for the purposes of judgment (9:39): the casting out of the ruler of this world (12:31-33).
            Historical narrative, on the other hand, reflects a natural cause and effect system where events are not fated or preplanned, but are spontaneous and randomly occurring.  The author of John, however, organizes details and writes narrative and speeches from the perspective of a particular faith.  The author's faith perspective and how s/he understands "history" to proceed is clearly reflected in John 2:14-22; 12:12-16, and 20:3-9: in these segments events in the career of Jesus are, the author believes, controlled by scriptural prophecy.
Historical events are not controlled by means of prophecy.  Describing historical events as controlled by prophecy is arbitrarily imposing a religious plot on time, and is considered a theological interpretation of history.
Does this information say anything about the historical reliability of John?
Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Does Hell Exist?

In the modern popular Christian imagination Hell is a fiery abyss into which the ungodly are cast at the end of the ages, where they will suffer throughout eternity.  Oddly enough, the word "Hell," as such, does not appear in the Bible.  In ancient Israelite and Greek thought there are two principal words that describe the abode of the dead.  In Hebrew thought Sheol, generally translated by the English words grave, hell, pit, is the underworld where a person's shade went at death; they continued there in a shadowy semi-existence.  Sheol included both the good and the wicked (Jacob: Genesis 44:29, 45:31; the wicked: Psalm 31:17).

            In the ancient Greek tradition Hades is the God of the underworld and the area he rules is the "House" of Hades.  Hades (frequently translated Hell in the New Testament) is the universal destination of humankind upon death, although even in the fifth century BCE some special dead ascend to the "upper air," and a privileged few enter the "Isles of the Blessed."

            In the early Christian tradition the designations Hades and Gehenna are exclusively places of torment in fire for the unrighteous (Matt 5:22; Luke 16:23-24; Rev 20:11-14).  Gehenna is the valley of Hinnom , where it has been suggested that the killing by cremation of children as an offering to Baal and Molech, possibly gave rise to the notion of a hell of fire (Matt 5:22; 2 2 Kgs 23:10; 2 Kgs 16:3; 2 Chron 28:2-3).  The Israelite tradition was also likely influenced by ideas of the underworld as a fiery place of punishment during Judah's captivity in Babylon (587 BCE; 2 Kgs 25).  The concept appears in later Israelite writings (2 Esdras 7:36; Sirach 7:17; Judith 16:17; 2nd Isaiah 66:24; Ethiopic Enoch 90:26 and 54:1-5).

            Other words for the abode of the dead/punishment are also used in the New Testament. Tartarus (2 Pet 2:4) is the lowest part of the underworld, even deeper than Hades.  The underworld is also described as the Abyss, Bottomless Pit (Luke 8:31; Romans 10:7; Rev 9:1-2), and the Outer Darkness (Matt 8:11-12; 22:13; 25:30).

            In the Middle Ages Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) wrote a poetic imaginary vision of a guided trip through hell, purgatory, and paradise, the three spiritual realms of departed spirits, reflecting the views of the medieval Christian church.  His vivid descriptions of the suffering of the dead rival in many ways the later (1743-1758) preaching of Jonathan Edwards ("Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"), who terrified his congregation with warnings of the damnation awaiting them unless they repented:

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire...Therefore, let everyone that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come.

This view of hell as a place of terrifying punishment is alive and well in the modern Christian church and even in the popular imagination of the un-churched.  Does such a place exist?  Of course it did in the imagination and faith of Dante; and Jonathan Edwards clearly believed that it did, and it was likewise very real to his audiences, who responded to his preaching with hysteria, distress, and weeping.

            But does it exist in the material universe as well as "exist" in imagination and belief?  The short of the matter is this: if you believe Hell exists then surely it does—as might other specific locations of faith, such as the Pearly Gates and streets of gold (Rev 21:21), New Jerusalem (Rev 21:2), and Purgatory (not in Protestant and Jewish Bibles, but in the Catholic Bible: 2 Maccabees 12:40-45).  These latter "places" are part of the imagination and belief of the writer of Revelation.

            We don't know Hell by means of our primary senses (seeing, touching, smelling, tasting, hearing), but rather through our minds (i.e., as an idea, or item of faith and/or superstition).  Hell does not in fact exist in the normal ways we think of things existing—that is, as a locatable and visit-able "somewhere," or as something that occupies space and time at a certain longitude/latitude, and/or parsecs location.  Could it "exist" as part of a spiritual universe that perhaps overlays our material universe, and/or is "over there spiritually" in parallel to our material universe, although not a part of it?

You, gentle reader, will be the judge of that.
Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

Friday, August 14, 2015

Matter and Spirit: Making Sense of it All

I have seen no visible evidence of spirit (whether good, benign, or evil), except for the concrete temples humans erect in honor of a good and Great Invisible Spirit, their fearful responses to what they perceive to be evil Spirits, and their confessions about both.  Hence I begin with matter.
Observation #1: If the universe is not eternal, it had a beginning. If it is eternal, it is our "Alpha and Omega" (Revelation 1:8).
Observation #2: It does not appear that the universe is eternal, however, since its expansion at a rapid rate is an indication of remarkable change (hence, it is not eternal because it changes).  This datum makes the idea of the known universe originating in a Big-Bang-from-Nothing a plausible theory.  But from whence came the elements necessary to produce a Big Bang and what ignited it—if nothing existed before the Big Bang? The igniter and matter-from-nothing constitute the Ground of all Being (G/B) in that they have brought an end to Non-Being and revealed Being.  But both igniter and matter-from-nothing are invisible, unknown, and unknowable since they are parallel to and not immediately tangential (touching lightly) to the universe.  If they were tangent to or part of the universe, then universe, as eternal (see Observation #1), has simply perpetuated itself.  Hence, there is an Unknown-Unknowable-Before-the-Big-Bang.
Observation #3: In popular religious thinking G/B is accorded the designator "God."  But G/B contrary to popular thinking is not part of the physical universe or even involved with the universe, a fact that is verified by observation of the known natural and social worlds.  The survival of the fittest (i.e., Darwin's more plausible theory of the Origin of the Species by Natural Selection) rules out any master plan for the universe and its denizens, and it seems to be the case with social organisms as well, for they succeed or fail based on human ingenuity and energy, and that, one must suppose, includes the church.  In short, no guidance or care exists for Being (things as they are).  We and the universe have simply emerged into Being, and must do the best we can.  Our fate hinges on good genes, lady luck, and natural selection.
Observation #4:  human beings are, however, universally "religious."  To judge by our universal preoccupation with religion or religious-like actions endemic to all human cultures humans seem to have in some way come by a concept of a Divine-Other (D/O) and seem to have a vague sense, awareness, or impression of D/O—or they claim to.  The limitations and imperfections of our sense of D/O accounts for the contrasting varieties of human religious expressions:  we sense in part and imperfectly so.  Because of the universality of the religious preoccupation, however, our "sensing" D/O seems plausible; so where does the concept of D/O come from, or does it arise from within us—that is, the concepts of D/O are latent in our genes and/or DNA?
Observation #5: Certainly it is possible that we each generate the concept of D/O from within ourselves, or perhaps it is generated by a few and learned by others.
Observation #6: Possibly concepts of D/O arise from G/B from "the other side" of the Big Bang.  But how might that occur, if G/B is not and never was a part of our experienced reality (see Observation #2).  Astrophysics suggests a possible parallel.  Scientists discover unseen planets that orbit stars (those tiny pinpricks of light in the night sky) in distant solar systems by watching for the gravitational effect of an invisible planet on a visible star: "when the star has a planet orbiting around it, the star wiggles slightly from the gravitational attraction of the planet" (Nick Cohen, mathematician, physicist).  I am suggesting that there may also be a similar effect from an "attraction" between Being and non-Being that prompts a universal religious response.  The scientist sees nothing except the effect of the gravitational pull (the wiggle), and does not actually see the planet or the gravitational attraction.  It is similar to the physical/emotional attraction between lovers.  Claims of "sensing" D/O may be a similar "wiggle" effect between human psyches and D/O.  The only evidence of gravity between the star and the postulated invisible planet is the "wiggle"; the only evidence of D/O between Non-Being and Being is a human religious response.
Nothing is certain, but those seem to be the possibilities; how do they seem to you?
Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University