Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Theology of the Kaiser's Kitchen

"Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made." -- quote often misattributed to Kaiser Otto von Bismarck

I had always heard the quote above in the variant form: "If you enjoy sausages, stay out of the Kaiser's kitchen." An admittedly odd phrase, but the principal is apt. We like things until we see how the come to be. Church history, for example, is one of these things. We would like to belive that the Church has always, peacefully, believed what She does now -- however, the history is much different. It is a history, much like that of the Old or New Testaments, that reveal a fundamentally human element, yet one that is guided by God to a proper fulfillment: for example, Constantine was an Arian sympathesizer, yet allowed the Nicean Council to condemn it (this, by the way, is the exact opposite of the "popular" understanding that floats around on, say, the History Channel -- if you ask Gnostic scholars, you'll get Gnostic answers).

The study of the Bible is the same way. One of the corollaries of common, naive belief (and I don't mean naive perjoratively here) is that the Bible is the Bible is the Bible. Truth be told, textual issues make up some of the hardest to deal with part of scholarship: there is no one text of the Bible for the people of God. Just in the world of the Old Testament, there is the Masoretic Text (Hebrew), the Old Greek, the Septuagint (which has variant text bases), the Peshitta, the Targums, Symmachus, Lucian, Apollos, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Vulgate. (It is important to note that while all these are different -- and often in different languages -- they agree on the large majority of things: textual criticism is a very careful science that is easily overblown in the popular imagination). Which of these is the "inspired Word of God"? If we look to the New Testament for answers, the answer is: sometimes the MT, sometimes the LXX, sometimes something different that nobody has (usually due to gezera scheva interpretation -- something the Church could do well with reclaiming). This has led historical-critical scholars toward conjectural emendation to produce some sort of Ur-text to rule them all (if only the had read their Lord of the Rings! Is the eclectic, critical text the "inspired Word of God"? I still have my doubts.

Maybe it is best to say that God always inspires His Word, not in a passive way, but in the active way of His Spirit guides the Church through the reading of the Scriptures, even if we are unsure of the exact text basis for all things. Being in the Kaiser's kitchen, seeing how the sausage is made, can turn us off from the sausage itself. We must remember, though, that the Lord of the Kitchen can still delight and satisfy all comers with His delectable flesh. Taste and see that the Lord is good.

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