Scripture and the supernatural
It makes sense to continue the conversation with Danutz about the scripture and the supernatural in a separate thread.
1. There are explicit and implicit allusions to the Old Testament in many of the ‘miracle’ stories in the Gospels. The traditional conservative view has been to regard these as ‘accidental’ fulfilments of prophecy - ie., God made it happen and people saw the connection only after the event. Liberal theology has tended to attribute the correspondence to the (non-malicious) creativity of the Gospel writers: Elisha miraculously fed a hundred men with twenty loaves of barley brought by a man from Baal-shalishah, and there was some left over (2 Kings 4:42-44); so let’s have Jesus do something similar, only more spectacular, to prove that he is a greater prophet than Elisha - and hey presto, you have a fulfilment of prophecy!
It seems to me that there is something in that, but I would rather give Jesus the credit for acting by faith in the light of his understanding of the Old Testament. I think we have underestimated the conscious theological creativity of Jesus himself in bringing together both reflection on the Old Testament and the power of faith. We don’t have to assume from the correspondence between the Gospel stories and Old Testament texts that the miraculous element is secondary or subsequent to any actual event. I would regard these events as acts of the prophetic imagination, not acts of the literary imagination.
2. Conservative interpretation has not helped itself by often missing the point of the miracle stories, treating them as evidence for divinity or innate supernatural power - rather like the stories of the Greek gods. I think the virgin birth story (funny how that comes up at this time of year) and Matthew’s use of Isaiah 7:14 are a good example.
3. I have read Marcus Borg’s dialogue with N.T. Wright (The Meaning of Jesus) and have reviewed on this site The Heart of Christianity.
4. How would the disciples have reached the highly controversial conclusion on the basis of prophecy that it was fitting to claim that God had raised Jesus from the dead? There are precious few references to resurrection in the Old Testament as it is and then it is always, as far as I am aware, the resurrection of a group, not of an individual. The ‘third day’ allusion is significant - Paul sees it as a matter of agreement with the scriptures (1 Cor. 15:4). The scriptural source is Hosea 6:2, which uses resurrection metaphorically for the restoration of Israel: ‘After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.’ Obviously the metaphorical sense still works perfectly well in the New Testament; and there was the hope available to them that Israel’s righteous, including Jesus, would be raised on a day or judgment and vindication (cf. Dan. 12:1-3). So why take the extremely hazardous and unprecedented step of inventing a literal, individual resurrection of Jesus on the third day after he was crucified?
5. I agree, Danutz, that we all need to demonstrate much greater humility, openness and willingness to learn. I agree that there is a need for depolarization. But I distrust the (polarizing) argument that we will ‘embrace the story for its beauty and truth not for its historical accuracy or scientific proof’. On the one hand, I think a powerful retelling of the historical narrative is emerging that cannot be so easily dismissed. On the other, I believe that we can grasp the transforming power of the Spirit of God without getting ensnared in the ‘bible-thumping, fundamentalist, conservative, republican’ mindset that you escaped from. We are all limited in the scope of our understanding of these issues by our intellectual context, our history, our experiences, our fears, our hurts.