On Attempts to Rewrite the Bible
People who go to church expect to hear readings from Holy Scripture—which frequently then become the basis for the sermon. Actually, all of the so-called “proper” elements of an Episcopal or Catholic mass—the collect, the Old Testament reading, the psalm, the epistle, and the gospel passage are theoretically arranged to show forth or illustrate a unifying theme, which then grounds the homily or sermon that follows.
These selections are called the “propers” of the mass because they are chosen for just that particular day of the liturgical year. (The “ordinary” parts of the mass are those that do not change from day to day: the kyrie, the gloria, the credo, sanctus and agnus dei.) Both the Roman Catholic and the Episcopal Church follow a “lectionary” (schedule of readings) by which supposedly the entire Holy Bible is read aloud in the propers, over the course of three liturgical years.
I say “supposedly”, because as the Underground Pewster regularly points out, the theologians and clergy who assembled the current lectionary routinely excised certain passages from the ones specified in the lectionary. One can only speculate as to the reasons for omission in some cases, while other cases seem clear: certainly hearing nothing but a whole series of “begats” is not very edifying.
Because the Feast of the Epiphany occurs this week, churches are free to use Matthew’s story of the visit of the three wise men in their Sunday readings. We heard, for instance, the first twelve verses of Matthew’s second chapter, finishing with the wise men’s secret departure in order to avoid having to see King Herod again. For the three had been warned in a dream that Herod sought not to worship the new-born Jesus, but to slay him as soon as he could find him, in order to be certain that Herod and his descendants, not Jesus, would be known as “King of the Jews.”
In the Pewster’s church, they seem to have heard an expurgated version of the next eleven verses (Mt 2:13-23), with the account of the slaughter of Bethlehem’s newborn infants left out. Although (as he says) this may have been because that passage already was used for the Feast of the Holy Innocents, it is all too often the case, as the Pewster’s blog chronicles, that the expurgations have to do with leaving out the more “distasteful”, or less savory, parts of the Bible.
Such manipulation of the text of Holy Scripture, even so, is small potatoes compared to the wholesale attempts, ever since Marcion, to refashion and rewrite Scripture to make it more “suited” to one’s objectives. If anything, those attempts have multiplied today, along with the proliferation of “isms” that seek a Bible more in tune with their respective beliefs. “[Men] wrote the Bible,” famously said now-resigned Bishop Charles Bennison, “and so we can rewrite it” (or words to that effect).
The article quoting Bishop Bennison to which I just linked makes this excellent point:
This is a rejection of the Word as a revelation. The liberals who declare their absolute dependence upon the grace of God cannot, or will not, say “Thus saith the Lord.” They can, or will, say only “Thus saith the community, most of it anyway, at this point in time, though it has said other things at other times and may change its mind shortly.” Not, really, a faith that will change lives.
More subtly, at the end of the Lambeth Conference, after seeing the world’s Anglican bishops reject his favored moral innovations by a margin of almost eight to one, Bishop Griswold told them that he “encourage[d] our brothers and sisters in different parts of the world to allow God in the full freedom of the Holy Spirit to lead us on,” because “the journey of faith is, among others, to follow along the path of dispossession.”
It sounds good, this call: humble, patient, open, submissive. But in giving God the freedom to lead us on, he is refusing the Holy Spirit the freedom to speak clearly and finally. He is dispossessing himself, and those who follow him, of God’s Word.
Exactly right. And let’s not forget the very first person who ever tried to rewrite Holy Scripture, in order literally to dispossess us of God’s Word.
His name was Herod the Great.
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