How Should We Define Scripture?

I posted previously on the topics of Gnosticism, Marcionism, and Montanism in my previous three posts. While discussing Marcionism, there was a debate about the apostasy. The topic got sidetracked into a discussion of the definition of scripture, so I thought I’d post a new topic regarding that topic.

Falcon makes the case that Joseph is a fraud because of his polygamy, and by extension, the Book of Mormon should not be considered scripture. So, I decided to issue a challenge. Here’s the reader’s digest version of the challenge, but you can see the entire set of instructions here.

So, let’s try an experiment. Let’s pretend that I perfectly agree that Joseph is a fraud. That means:

1. Joseph is a fraud because of polygamy.
2. The Book of Mormon is not scripture and is a fraud because Joseph was a fraud and sinning adulterer/polygamist.

Ok, now please defend these two propositions: (1) Why is Song of Solomon part of the Bible? (2) Why is the book of Psalms in the Bible?

For this experiment, I am now a former mormon. So please defend these propositions without referencing (1) Joseph or Brigham, (2) the mormon church (3) apostasy. However you are free to discuss:

(1) Why is polygamy ok in the Old Testament?
(2) Why do we accept scripture from these 2 particular individuals in particular?

All mormon ideas are off-limits. You may feel free to assume that I am now an atheist/agnostic at this point. Let me hear you defend these 2 books of scripture.

Falcon responded with this: (Please note, I am posting an edited response, because he did not follow the directions. Feel free to see his full response here.)

  • So if we excluded anyone who sinned from being a person whose writings appear in the Bible, there would be no Bible. So how do we determine which sinners writings get to be called scripture and another sinners do not? Look at the quality and consistancy of the writing. Which is God breathed and which is not. Look at the evidence regarding the claims made.
  • The Song of Solomon. How do you want to interpret it, metaphorically or literally. Metaphorically, it’s a story of Christ’s love for the Church. Literally it’s a picture of the marrage bond. It talks about the beauty of sex. It’s not offensive or degrading. There are no salacious jokes in the Song of Solomon. The language is not lewd, vulgar or obscene. It’s about a relationship. God shows us that sex is good. Our culture, as those before, have trashed it. Here’s a headline: God Endorses Sex! Subheadline: Enjoy it in the confines of marrage.
  • The Book of Psalms is simply outstanding. David struggled with sin, but he loved God. It is said that David was a man after the heart of God. David’s sin is not condoned, it’s exposed and he pays the price for it. The appearance of the psalms in the OT does not excuse David’s sin. So there are two classes of people, as far as I am concerned. One struggles with sin but is not a charlatan. The other is a charlatan, a deceiver and a fraud. Different kind of heart. The good behavior does not excuse the bad behavior. For the record, about a third of the psalms are left anonymous. About half are written by David.

Ok, others are welcome to join in. What should the criteria for accepting writing as scripture be?

10 comments on “How Should We Define Scripture?

  1. Ok, here’s my response to Falcon:

    “So if we excluded anyone who sinned from being a person whose writings appear in the Bible, there would be no Bible.”

    My point exactly. This time you said it.

    You have applied a litmus test of polygamy to Joseph Smith. By that litmus test, I can throw out the entire polygamous Old Testament. Perhaps Marcion had it right. With no Old Testament, we have more in common with Marcionism.

    Falcon, if you don’t want polygamy to be a litmus test, then you can’t condemn Solomon or Joseph Smith. To eliminate one and not the other is complete hypocrisy. It’s called a double-standard.

    “So how do we determine which sinners writings get to be called scripture and another sinners do not? Look at the quality and consistancy of the writing. Which is God breathed and which is not.”

    Did God breathe this?

    Sgs 7:2 Thy navel [is like] a round goblet, [which] wanteth not liquor: thy belly [is like] an heap of wheat set about with lilies.
    Sgs 7:3 Thy two breasts [are] like two young roes [that are] twins….
    Sgs 7:6 How fair and how pleasant art thou, O love, for delights!
    Sgs 7:7 This thy stature is like to a palm tree, and thy breasts to clusters [of grapes].
    Sgs 7:8 I said, I will go up to the palm tree, I will take hold of the boughs thereof: now also thy breasts shall be as clusters of the vine, and the smell of thy nose like apples;”

    Let’s be honest. Solomon breathed this. God did not. To ascribe these words to God, makes God lustful. While I guess that’s considered ok if one is talking about one’s wife, most Christians would not ascribe these sexual desires in God. Is God lustful of Solomon’s wife? To do so makes God no different than Zeus. To support this Songs as scripture makes God a sexual being like man is. You should reject this poor argument on the basis of things you’ve already said.

    Here is another problem: Paul said in 1 Corinthians chapter 7, “To the UNMARRIED and widows, it is good for them to abide, even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry, for it is better to marry than to burn.”

    This idea says no sex is better than married sex. Paul says also, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife….”

    Ok, Paul is now comparing married sex to fornication. This completely contradicts your argument that sex is good. (Now I agree that sex is good, I’m just noting the inconsistencies between Corinthians and Songs.)

    You said, “The language is not lewd, vulgar or obscene.”

    I think that is in the eye of the reader. Many readers would find this language offensive, if it was on prime-time television. It is close to PG-13. It definitely is not G rated language. Would you say this to a 5 year old, 8 year old, 10 year old? I think not.

    You say this is a metaphor for Christ and the Church. Solomon lived 900 years before Christ. He was a Jew, not a Christian. To say that Solomon was referring metaphorically to Christ is a Christian invention, about 1000 years after the book was written. This is creating a new history that just isn’t part of the book of Songs. Solomon never intended this to be a prophecy about Christ. It was meant for his lover, and he probably had no idea it would be considered scripture. A wonderful love letter, yes. Scripture, no.

    Let’s move onto David. Regarding David, you said, “One struggles with sin but is not a charlatan.” Ok, let’s look more closely at this statement, and I’m going to quote some biblical scholars about David. All of these quotes come from either the tv show Mysteries of the Bible (MB). The episode called “King David, Poet Warrior” on A&E television (found here for $2 for the episode), or Biography Channel show called, “David and Goliath” found here are both quoted.

    Walter Zanger, historical consultant for MB said: “Was David a righteous leader, or bloody murderer? Why not both.” Zanger later says, “David’s private life, including his marriages, presents a great problem for Jewish history. Because here is a man, who by all accounts a rascal, and yet he’s the great king of the Golden Age. Now this is not so easy for pious, Jews or Christians to deal with. And if I were dealing with David’s private life from this point of view I would in fact be dealing with the way that tradition looks back on a golden age, and tries to conceal the fact that the golden age isn’t so golden at all.”

    Carole Fontaine, Professor of Hebrew Bible, Andover Newton Theological Seminary: “If David were alive today, we’d have to make a night-time soap opera out of him. He would be Godfather-like, he’s ruthless, he’s a manipulator of people. Everybody who loved him eventually suffered for it.”

    Rabbi Stephen Fuchs, Congregation Ohabai Shalom, Nashville, TN. “I don’t think the English language has a word capable of describing the level of David’s ambition.”

    David manipulated his way to the kingship, using every means imaginable.

    Daniel Smith-Christopher, Professor of Hebrew Bible, Loyola Marymount University.”I think historically we have to say that that it is not an impossibility that there was a homosexual relationship between David and Jonathan. However, given the other biblical material that suggests a very harsh ancient Israelite attitude towards homosexuality, it makes the relationship somewhat more unlikely.”

    Tamara Eskenazi, Professor of Hebrew Bible, Hebrew Union College. “He takes the king’s daughter, whom David marries in order to make room for himself at the top. They have different agenda. She’s interested in him for love. He’s interested in becoming king.”

    “It represents David’s calculating side, marrying her as a tactic to position himself, paying no attention to her, as long as he was running loose and free.”

    David is anointed King in Hebron, but Ishbaala, son of Saul, was proclaimed King in the northern Kingdom. General Abner tries to make a peace deal with David. David wants to get his wife Michal back to show legitimacy for his kingship. However, she had already re-married. She is returned to him.

    After marriage, David shuns her, and she is left childless the rest of her life.

    Stephen Fuchs : “David wanted to be king, but knew that his only chance was to escape Saul’s obsession to do him in, was to become, for a while, a traitor.” He joined the Philistines. Remember Goliath was a Philistine. Where is David’s moral courage here?

    Daniel Smith-Christopher: “David is not faced with that tragic moral choice: Do I go to war against Saul? Had he been confronted with that, I’m not entirely sure that David would have taken the noble path. It may have been the easy way of removing the threat, and advancing his career rather quickly. ”

    Rabbi David Wolpe, Assistant to the Chancellor, Jewish Theological Seminary.”David was clever enough to know, that the one way he would inherit the kingship, is if he had no responsibility for the death of Saul. So even though he would not kill Saul out of conscience, I think he would also not kill Saul out of prudence.”

    There is speculation that David had a role in Saul’s death. Doctor Baruch Halpern, Penn State University. “Essentially what happens, according to the text, is that a runner comes to David, says Saul was on the verge of death, hounded by the Philistines at Mt Gilboah, and asked his armour-bearer to kill him, or a passing Amalackite to kill him. The Amalackite says he obliges. David kills the Amalackite.”

    “This says, somebody kills your enemy, and you kill the person who kills your enemy. And there is not a paper trail to you anymore. There’s nobody who can connect you with this death. We are told repeatedly that it couldn’t have been David. He must not have been at the Battle of Gilboah. Protests of that sort make one wonder whether contemporaries were saying that David was responsible for the death of Saul.”

    After Saul’s death, his son Ishbaala proclaimed himself king, and David had to fight him. Ishbaala’s general secretly meets with David to hand over Ishbaala’s army. Then, Abner is murdered by David’s general Joab, then Ishbaala is murdered in his sleep, and his head brought to David. However, David seems furious about the killing, and has Ishbaala’s commanders executed. Scholars’ have long questioned whether David is responsible for Ishbaala’s death.

    Dr Baruch. “David benefited greatly from these two deaths. There is a certain likelihood that accusations were rolling around at the time he was the one who ordered these assassinations.”

    Daniel Smith-Christopher: “David is a very clever politician. He’s able to cover his tracks in a way. And yet, the irony of it all this is that the biblical writers seem to be suggesting to us that they knew very well that David was involved. By never actually saying that David was involved in this, yelled at us loudly that ‘of course, David was involved in this.'”

    Daniel Smith-Christopher: “As he gets closer to the throne, there seems to be a kind of moral failing to the point where I’m afraid we have to say that David’s trail to the throne is drenched in blood. Now the text tries in many ways to avoid implicating David directly, but it’s hard to avoid. It’s his minions, it’s his men who were constantly involved in this.”

    Some scholars believe that 2 Samuel was written in response to murderous allegations brought against David. Walter Zanger, “It’s probably not fair to say that the people writing the books of Samuel and Kings that the people are responding to accusations. They’re writing political, laudatory biography. They’re writing about a hero whom they worshipped. They’re writing about a man who many considered the paragon of all virtues, and they have a problem, because he was rough, uncouth, and nasty, and cruel, and lecherous. So the amazing thing is in fact that despite all of the hero worship of those days, the fact is that he comes out as a real person, warts and all, and this in my opinion makes it extraordinary political biography.”

    David then moved the capital from Hebron, to Jerusalem. The city doesn’t want to give up their city to David. After a battle, the city becomes known as “the city of David.” Then he moves the arc of the covenant to Jerusalem, to solidify his role as political and spiritual leader.

    Carole Fontaine, “This is a wonderful political move on David’s part, because it now associates his new kingship and his new capital, Jerusalem, with a former tribal, religious article. Hence, he legitimates himself by bringing the arc to Jerusalem.”

    Of course, we have the Bath-sheba/Uriah episode. I don’t need to detail that here, as we’ve already talked about it. This is the 4th accusation of David killing someone secretly. Are all these mysterious deaths a coincidence?

    Is this how Christ would have reigned? I think not.

    I think there is a preponderance of evidence that not only David was not a choirboy, but that he was “rough, uncouth, and nasty, and cruel, and lecherous”. Using Falcon’s criteria, I think we can now disqualify David, and any scriptures supposedly written by him such as the Book of Psalms, just as Falcon has disqualified the Book of Mormon, due to Joseph’s sins.

    It seems a new criteria for scripture is in order, if we are to keep any holy writings. I welcome better suggestions.

  2. 1. Jesus is God. His bodily resurrection and assention is part of the proof of that.
    2. God cannot lie because if He says something it becomes thus (i.e. real and true).
    3. Jesus founded the Church. He promised it freedom from the world of corruption and death (Hades in Greek) (Mt 16:13-20). He promised to send the Holy Spirit to lead it into all truth(Jn 16:13).
    4. The same Church held a council in Rome in 382 AD under its leader Pope St. Damasus decerning and defining the 73 books to be included. The Synods of Hippo in 393 AD and Carthage 397 AD (another Synod of Carthage in 419 repeated this) concurred in the same list. The Councils of Florence (1442 AD) and Trent (1556 AD) defined the same list with Trent adding excomunication of anyone who doesn’t hold to it.
    5. Joseph Smith Jr. was excomunicated de jure by the bove act of the council of Trent. As a heretic, he just isn’t very credible.
    6. As such this verse is part of Scripture (1Tim 3:15):
    “”… you should know how to behave in God’s household, which is the living God’s Church, the pillar and foundation of truth”. St. Paul tells Timothy that the Church is “truth’s pillar and foundation”.
    7. Further discussion on why any book in particular was included suggests that Jesus wasn’t God or doesn’t keep his promises.

  3. rinkevichjm-

    You make some interesting points, and I can see how you would think that from one point of view. However, there are too many assumptions made. You are assuming that the Bible is the word of God. How do you know the Bible is the word of God? You are assuming that your interpretation of the Bible is the correct way to interpret it. How do you know that the way you are interpreting the Bible is the correct way? You assume that the Catholic church is the correct church. You say that God can not lie, but God did not write the Bible, men did. How can you be certain that God had anything to do with the construction of the Bible?

  4. rinkevichjm,

    Thanks for the comments, and welcome to the discussion.

    #2. Did God say those exact words I quoted from Songs of Solomon above? God talking about sex is a little strange, don’t you think? Are you saying God is lustful? I think most Christians would have a problem saying God is lustful.

    #4. I plan a new post on Ariunism later. There was a big discussion in 325 and 382 AD on homo-uzious vs homoi-uzious. (I hope the spelling is correct.) Anyway, it wasn’t so cut and dried as you imply. There are some interesting points of Ariunism.

    $5. Tertullian invented the trinity, yet is also a heretic because he joined the Montanist movement. By that logic, we should throw Tertullian and the trinity under the bus.

    #6 We all know how to behave, but very few scripture writers always practiced what they preached.

    #7. Martin Luther felt that the Book of Esther should be excluded from the Bible. It never references the name of God a single time. What are your thoughts on Luther? Many protestants reject the Book of James because of it’s emphasis on works rather than grace. How do you deal with this apparent contradiction?

    I think Brother Zelph makes some excellent points. I’d love to hear your response to his questions too.

  5. rinkevichjm’s basic argument seems to be that anything done by the Catholic Church is correct because it was founded by God and therefore must be perfect. I wonder how this squares with the fact that the Church has plainly contradicted itself throughout history.

  6. RWW seems tto think the Catholic Church is made of infallable people – NÄ—! even popes sin – they go to confession weekly (which would not be of benefit if they didn’t sin). Only the Church teaching on faith and morals which have been taught by any of the following are infallible (1) the belief of the entire Church (including the Church Victorius – i.e. in heaven), (2) all the overseers (bishops & eparchs) in union with the pope (i.e. an Ecumenical Council), or (3) the Pope speaking in his Office for all the Church to believe (on faith or morals). Unlike Mormon and Protestant teaching the infallible teachings are irreformable (this word means it cannot be changed) dogma. I think Denzinger’s Enchiridion Symbolorum (English translation is Sources of Dogma) lists all the known irreformable dogma (and similar items which aren’t irreformable). The only way to change these things would be for Jesus to come back and make a public appearance (Mr. Smith’s supposed appearance would have been a private appearance even the Fatima appearance is a private appeance even though it was far more public)

  7. rinkevichjm,

    If you want to talk about Papal Infallibility, we already talked about that in February. You’re welcome to add more to that conversation.

    This conversation talks about criteria for scripture. Do you have something to add regarding scripture? It seems that you are Catholic. It is interesting to me that the Catholics added several books to the canon in about the 16th century. Protestants refer to these books as Apocrypha, and have rejected them. These books include Maccabees, a longer version of Esther, and several other books. Why should protestants (or mormons) accept these other books as scripture? Most protestants would say that these books are not reliable.

  8. I don’t really have the resources to answer this question full stop, and agree that a ‘polygamy criterion’ is probably a bad one.

    From a gnostic perspective I would say that scripture is for the most part instrumental for the attainment of gnosis. I think this is why most gnostics tend to focus on the wisdom literature like pslams, proverbs, songs of solomon, and the gospel of John.

    Given that way of looking at it my designation of scripture would be too wide for some. I would consider Gnostic texts scripture, as well as sacred texts from other traditions, so long as they were instrumental in the attainment of gnosis.

    I find Marcionism fascinating, but think they probably go too far by taking out the whole old testament.

  9. That definitely sounds like a gnostic response. Many would prefer to limit scripture to Christian/Jewish writings find that definition a bit too broad, but I think it is much more reasonable than Falcon’s definition.

  10. There is a difference between scripture and cannonized scripture. In its broadest sense, scripture is information given from God to an individual in answer to his questions, and needs. It is usually personal and not necessarily applicable to other people. “And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation”

    On the other hand, cannonized scriptures are those writings accepted by a religious body that they feel are sacred and given from God to all mankind usually by his prophets (non christian also). The problem we have today is deciding which writings, most of which are ancient, are or were in fact written by true prophets and do we have a fairly accurate translation of their original writings.

    From this we move to all the varied opinions and discussions of how do we know a person was a true prophet and whether or not we accept their writings.

    Next we move to the argument between those who believe the inerrancy of the scriptures and those who examine the historical approach by looking at the scriptures and whether or not we have actual texts written by the people whose names are at the head of the books. Also whether things were changed; added or deleted from the texts.

    The next question we must ask of ourselves is how does an ancient text get included in a cannonized book of scripture and others don’t? What authority does that group who said that a certain book was scripture, have in and of itself? Where did it obtain its authority. Did the Lord give that body of people a revelation telling them what to do?

    Ironically, in answering these questions, I turn to the scriptures. Even if some do not believe very much in the old and new testaments, there is a lot of truth found within their pages. If we look at the 4000 year history which the bible spans we find certain things do not change. For 4000 years when we have a description of God speaking to man to give him a message he does so in very specific ways. For example, he walks with Adam in the garden and speaks with him, Adam and Eve hear his voice. Cain hears his voice, He appears in a vision to Abraham, He sends a priest of the most High God to give Abraham a blessing. He appears himself to his prophets, sends visions, they hear his voice, he sends angels, he sends his prophets and priests, he gives dreams. These prophets then write down the information communicated to them in these ways. That is where scripture comes from. There are not many more ways that God has spoken to his children described over a 4000 year period in the Old and New Testament.

    The problem we have today is that since about 100 ad. there have been no prophets alive to communicate with God in the way described in the scriptures. When the Israelites had a question they asked Moses. He inquired of the Lord and then told the Israelites what the answer was to their question. That is the standard we find through out the scriptures. It was not Moses’ opinion. There have been nothing but individual’s opinions about which books should be included or excluded in the cannonized scriptures. The fact that it took hundreds of years of discussion and debate to finalize the choice of books should be a clue to the humanness of the decision.

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