The Scandal of Joshua Ben Adam, Part 8
By Robert D. Brinsmead VERDICT, November 1998

·         No Living By the Book
Chapter 1: Ben Adam and Scripture

·         Chapter 2: Paul and Scripture

·         Chapter 3: The Fourth Gospel and Scripture

·         Chapter 4: The Christian Religion and Scripture

    (a) The Failure of Tradition
    (b) The Failure of Written Text
    (c) The Failure of the Vertical
    (d) The Failure of an Exclusive Revelation

·         CONCLUSION

No Living By the Book

Rabbinic Judaism and classical Protestantism had this in common -- they both held a high view of their sacred Scriptures, and they both aspired to be a religion of the book.

Not so with Joshua ben Adam and first century Christianity!

Joshua ben Adam was certainly well enough versed in Scripture to meet Bible-quoting Rabbis on their own ground. In these cases he used Scripture with great creativity and originality, especially to show that the spirit of Scripture must take precedent over the legal requirements of the written text. For example, mercy must take precedence over sacrificial requirements, human need must come before Sabbath regulations and love of neighbor has to be seen as the whole point of the Law and the Prophets. In some cases, Joshua did not hesitate to say that some laws or actions of the ancient Scriptures were no longer appropriate -- such as "an eye for an eye and a tooth for tooth" justice, or acts of destroying people's lives.

There were four aspects of Joshua's public ministry which put him completely at odds with Judaism's religion of the Book:

1. As a sage and story-teller, Joshua did not take his point of departure by using a text of Scripture. In his core sayings and parables, the Scripture is conspicuous by its absence.

2. The province where he spent most of his public life and drew most of his support was in Galilee. This was a region noted for its more cavalier or lax attitude toward the religious traditions of Judaism. The crowd who followed Joshua, for instance, was declared to be under a curse because they were ignorant of the Torah or holy Scripture. (See John 7:49 ) There is no evidence that Joshua assumed the role of a Bible teacher to remedy their Scriptural deficiency. It is significant that the only people he chided for their ignorance and misuse of Scripture were the orthodox elite.

3. Joshua did not write anything, nor did he instruct his apostles to write down what he said or did. The creation of the New Testament was no part of Joshua ben Adam's vision, so consequently we are left without a single eye-witness to his history. This man had a profound antipathy toward a religion of the Book.

4. Joshua was continually challenged, "By what authority do you say this or do that". He never answered by appealing to the authority of the Bible. He laid no claim to a vision nor to any kind of special revelation. As Albert Nolan has brilliantly put the matter. But did Jesus claim authority, any kind of authority at all, even implicitly? Would it not be closer to the truth to say that what makes Jesus immeasurably greater than any other man is precisely the fact that he spoke and acted without authority and that he regarded "the exercise of authority" as a pagan characteristic (Mark 10:42 Parr)

I can find no evidence that Jesus ever expected his audience to rely upon any authority at all - either his own or that of others. Unlike the scribes, he never appeals to the authority of the Rabbinic traditions, nor even the authority of Scripture itself. He does not expound the truth by interpreting or commenting upon the sacred text. His perception and teaching of the truth is direct and unmediated. He does not even lay claim to the authority of a prophet, the authority which comes directly from God. Unlike the prophets he does not appeal to a special prophetic calling or to a vision in order to authenticate his words. He never uses the classical prophetic introduction, 'God says...' And he refuses to produce any kind of sign from heaven to prove that he can speak in the name of God. In the end, when he is faced direly with the question of what authority he might have, he refuses to answer the question (Mark 11:33 Parr). People were expected to see the truth of what he was doing and saying without relying upon any authority at all. Linnemann, in her brilliant study of Jesus' parables, concludes that "the only thing that could give weight to the words of Jesus were the words themselves" .

Jesus was unique among the men of his time in his ability to overcome all forms of authority-thinking. The only authority which Jesus might be said to have appealed to, was the authority of the truth itself. He did not make authority his truth, he made truth his authority. And in so far as the authority of God can be thought of as the authority of truth, Jesus might be said to have appealed to, and to have possessed, the authority of God. But when we speak of the authority of truth (and therefore the authority of God) we are once again using the word "authority" as a metaphor. Jesus did not expect others to obey him; he expected them to 'obey' the truth, to live truthfully. Once again it would be better to speak about power here rather than authority. The power of Jesus' words was the power of truth itself. Jesus made a lasting impact on people because by avoiding all authority-thinking he released the power of truth itself—which is the power of God and indeed the power of faith. (Jesus Before Christianity, pp. 121-124)


Paul uses three Greek words which are related to Jewish Scripture -- the only Scripture then in existence for either Jew or Christian.

The first is the word nomos, translated as law. This meant the Jewish Torah. In its narrower sense, the Torah meant the five books of Moses. But in the broader sense it meant the entire corpus of Jewish Scripture. (See John 15:24 and Galatians 3:21-23; 4: 21-30 for examples of how Law and Scripture are used interchangeably.)

The second word Paul uses is gramma It is generally translated as written code. A more exact translation would be written text. In Romans 7 Paul uses nomos and gramma ( law and written text ) to mean the same thing. That is to say, living by the written text is living under the law.

The third word is graphe. It means writing or Scripture. In one place in the New Testament gramma is translated as Scripture, and in many other places the verbal form of gramma refers to what is written in holy Scripture.

The point is that all three words ~ law, written text and Scripture -- are closely related and are sometimes used interchangeably. This may seem a very simple, even obvious point, but in the entire Christian tradition the radical implications of this point have been completely passed over. The Protestant tradition especially, with its great veneration of the Bible as the rule of life, has gone completely contrary to Paul.

When Paul declares that believers in the gospel of Christ are not obligated to live by the law or the written text of the Jewish Torah, he means that they are not obligated to live by the Scriptures as a rule of life. For sure, Paul could appeal to the Scripture as a witness to Christ and as something that has been fulfilled by Christ. He could call it holy Scripture, just as he could declare that the law was "holy, just and good." Law or Scripture was an agent or child-minder put in charge until the coming of Christ (Galatians 3:21-25). But whether Paul talks in terms of the law, the written text, or Scripture, he is adamant that the Christian does not live by these things as a rule of life.

Consequently one can read through all of Paul's letters to the young churches, and never once does he rebuke them for neglecting to live by the Scriptures, nor does he exhort them to a more diligent study of it. He lists many of their faults - in one letter a list of about twenty-two and in another about eighteen -- but any suggestion of their failure to live up to the instructions of holy Scripture is never mentioned. The reason ought to be obvious. Paul did not believe in living according to the written text of a book, but by faith in the living Christ and the leading of the Spirit. (See Galatians 2:19~20; 3: 21-25; 5:18)

How could a devout Jew such as Paul, and a Pharisee at that, ever come to take the radical position that living in faithful obedience to the written text was no longer appropriate? How could he dare to say that living by the Torah or holy Scripture was like a woman living under a tyrant husband (Romans 7), or like being kept in the servitude of a childminder or even a jailer? (Galatians 3: 21-24)

So how, we ask again, did Paul start relating to the Bible so differently? What made him change his mind? It is not enough to say that the change was brought about by his new found Easter faith because his opponents in the Jerusalem church were believers in the Easter faith too. We will miss an important point here if we rush to the superficial answer that he was taught this law-free gospel by revelation, and that was all there was to it.

I want to suggest that Paul was led to change his view of Scripture just as other Christians have been dragged kicking and screaming to change their view of Scripture. How did Christians get rid of their Flat Earth world-view? Not by more Bible reading, surely! Luther chided Copernicus as "that big fool " for saying that the earth went around the sun. He scornfully dismissed the great man on the authority of the Bible which said that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, not the earth. How come that eventually all Christians came to side with Copernicus rather than Luther on the matter of the new cosmology? They simply adjusted their interpretation of Scripture to meet the historical reality of the new facts.

Or take the matter of the age of the earth. For 90% of its history, the church has believed in a very young earth. Until the age of Darwin -- another big fool in the estimation of most churchmen of his day -- it was orthodoxy to believe in a world that was about six thousand years old. Most Christians now, in this age of the Hubble telescope, have come to terms with an enormously expanded concept of space and time. To match the new scientific world-view, Christians generally no longer interpret the first book of the Bible literally. If they lake: the creation story seriously at all, it is interpreted as religious poetry or liturgy. Did Christians come to this new position by studying the Bible? You'd have to be joking! Rather, they were overtaken by the march of history which compelled them to interpret the Bible differently.

For nearly two millennia the church used the Bible to legitimize religious intolerance, the institution of slavery, and the deprivation of all kinds of human rights, especially the rights of women. As late as the first half of this century the Popes were still denouncing the right of freedom for the individual conscience as a pestilent error because it allowed everyone go to hell in his own way. Less than two hundred years ago churchmen were still waving the Bible around in support of slavery. Doesn't even the Ten Commandments say to let slaves have a Sabbath rest? Not emancipation, just a day of rest! Doesn't Paul instruct slaves to obey their masters, and masters to treat their slaves kindly? As for women, the New Testament seems clear enough. "I do not allow a woman to teach." "Let women be silent in the church, and if they have any questions, let them ask their husbands at home."

There are not many Christian dinosaurs left who want to live by the letter of holy Scripture on any of the above points. What caused Christians to start discovering religious tolerance, a case for abolishing the institution of slavery or equal rights for woman in the Bible? Obviously these new ways of reading the Bible were forced upon the church by the march of history. The old views had simply become incompatible with a more enlightened human consciousness which grew out of the historical process. Change was not brought about by new revelations coming from the Bible. It was simply a matter of historical reality forcing Christians to interpret their Bibles in a way that was more compatible with an age of scientific and social progress.

And so it was with Paul too. Even before he became a Christian the gospel had been making significant inroads among the Gentiles. According to Acts 10, Gentile believers received the witness of the Spirit without becoming converts to the Jewish Torah. These new historical events demonstrated to Paul that God made no distinction between people on the basis of whether or not they kept the Law. So he adjusted his interpretation of Scripture to comport with historical reality. Some of his Jerusalem brethren were slower to sense this new direction of history, and some of them never did accept the law-free gospel going to the Gentiles.

Besides finding a few things in the Old Testament which could legitimize the new situation - such as the story of Abraham believing God and being counted righteous before he was circumcised-- Paul found things in his own Rabbinic tradition to legitimize the new situation. To start with, the best Rabbinic tradition said that Gentiles were not required to become Jews and keep the Law in order to share in the life of the world to come. This tradition said that if they lived by the general revelation given in the Noachian commandments, God would accept them.

Further, there was a Rabbinic teaching which said that those who died were no longer under the Law. So Paul argues in Romans 7 that believers have been mystically united to Christ's death and are therefore no longer under the Law. And finally, there was a tradition among some Rabbis which said that the Law would be superseded in the new age of the Messiah. So Paul could reason that the Law was in place only until the coming of the Messiah, and now that he has come "we are no longer under the supervision of the Law." (See Galatians 3:19-25)

Yet the impact of the new historical developments in the world cannot fully explain Paul's passion far the law-free Gospel, nor the vehemence with which he defends it. To appreciate this we have to look at Paul's own personal history. This is what lay behind his great antipathy to life under the authority of the written text of the Torah. As Paul presents it, his very dedication and zeal for the Law turned him into a persecutor of innocent people. As he describes the situation in Romans 7, the Law had such complete dominion over him, that he could not see that anything was sin unless he could read it in the written text, and he could not see that anything was good unless that too was spelled out to him in the Book. The good that in his inmost soul he aspired to do he did not do, and the evil which he hated he did in spite of himself. Like every pious Jew, he aspired to have the Law clothe him as with a robe of honour, but instead he was forced to lament to that it clung to him like a wretched, stinking corpse.

Paul was not arguing that the Law was an ass, but that it deceived him and made him into a religious ass who went on a rampage causing havoc and harm to innocent people. Paul did not discover what evil was by an even more scrupulous attention to the Book of rules, but by confronting a superior society and a new kind of humanity which could even forgive and accept him in spite of his crimes against the risen one and his people.

The worst evils are not committed by those who say, "An evil force made me do it", but by those who like Paul the persecutor say, "God made me do it". "The Bible made me do it." "The Law made me do it." "I was just carrying out orders from above." That's what all the men at Nuremberg said before they were hung. And what did good John Calvin say when he burned Severtus at the stake for denying the Trinity? "The Bible made me do it." What was Luther's excuse for his disgraceful conduct with Zwinglius over the Lord's Supper? "The Bible made me do it." What reason did that JW father give for letting his daughter die for want of a blood transfusions "The Bible made me do it." The pages of history are stained with the inhumanities, persecutions, injustices and just plain follies of Christians trying to live by the Bible.

The classical Protestant doctrine of "the second use of the Law" (meaning that the Law's function is to point out sin) is a complete fallacy. It is based on an interpretation of Romans 7:6 and Galatians 3:24 which has nothing to do with the real historical context. As for the classical doctrine of the so called "third use of the Law", ( meaning the Law is a rule of life) that is what Paul's opponents were teaching among his converts at Galatia. Damn you Judaizers, he wrote in letters of fire. Damn your living by the rules of the Torah. Damn your keeping holy days. Damn your circumcision. I hope you put your sharp knives to better use and lop it all off! That was the gist of his protest.

In short, Paul was vehemently against living under the Law. He was against the ethics of a written text. He wouldn't have a bar of a rule-book religion. If we don't understand this we haven't even gotten into the vestibule of Paul's house of thought. As for Christians making a new Law out the things Paul wrote in one- off letters, that would have to be the ultimate betrayal of the man and the most appalling use of his writings. It would be like turning Adam Smith's libertarian economics into a socialist text book in the academy of Karl Marx.


The so called Gospel of John (author/authors unknown) was written about the end of the first century AD. It is generally recognized as the most anti-Jewish document in the New Testament. It reflects the complete break which had recently been made between the synagogue and the church.

Up until the disastrous war with the Romans in 70 AD, a conflict which resulted in the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, the Jewish wing of the church had continued to participate in Jewish life and worship. The Nazarenes, as they were generally called, for the most part lived amicably with their fellow Jews. After all, the Nazarenes were just one of many Jewish sects which were tolerated within Judaism.

After the destruction of the temple, this relatively relaxed attitude toward divergence from orthodoxy began to change. When the national identity was threatened by the dissolution of the temple cult, the nation felt that it could not afford the luxury of division. It seemed too that Judaism had lost almost everything which held it together and gave it a sense of identity except its sacred Scripture. At this time of crisis, Rabbinic Judaism, emphasizing a religion of the Book, assumed the ascendancy.

On the other hand, the church was teaching that the Book had found its true meaning and fulfillment in Christ. For the church, Torah had taken a very subordinate position to him. This caused a growing tension with Rabbinic Judaism. Eventually, round about 88 AD., the Jewish Christians were expelled from the synagogues. That was the situation which formed a back-drop to the Fourth Gospel.

The Book of Jubilees, written way back in the second century BC, had declared that the Torah was the agent by which God created the world. Torah was also said to be the light which lights every man coming into the world. So too a lot of other teaching within Judaism likened the Torah or Scripture to the bread and the water which had miraculously sustained Israel in the wilderness for forty years. The Torah was lauded with such titles as the good Shepherd and Light of the world. All this was re-emphasized by Rabbinic Judaism in the post- 70 AD era.

The Fourth Gospel takes up Judaism's expressions of praise for the Torah, and systematically applies them all to Christ. He, and not the Bible, is the Word of God. He, and not the Torah, is the agent through which God created the world. He, and not the Torah, is the true Light which lights every man coming into the world. He is the true Bread from heaven which gives eternal life. He, and not the Book, is the Light of the world, the Water of everlasting life, good Shepherd and everything else claimed for the Torah.

The Fourth Gospel accuses Rabbinic Judaism of searching the Scriptures in the mistaken belief that in them they find eternal life. (See John 5:39) Life, according to this Gospel, is found in a Person, not in a Book. So too, the revelation of God takes place in the flesh of a living Person and not in a Book. Only the son of God can make the Father known, and whoever sees the son sees the invisible God. That is the theology of "John".

The Fourth Gospel is a sharper and more sustained refutation of the religion of a book than Paul's. Without a shadow of doubt, the church at the close of the first century was not advocating a religion of a book. The church in this era had no New Testament to replace the Old. The widely scattered groups had at best only small pieces of what later became the New Testament, and some of them had none of what was later included in the Canon.


How did the Christian Church, especially in the Protestant version of sola scriptura, manage to do a full circle back to Judaism's religion of the book? What led it to develop a Christian "Torah" in the place of the Jewish one, and thereby substitute a new tyranny in the place of the old one?

Even in political revolutions there is a natural tendency for today's liberator's to become tomorrow's oppressors. Each revolution tends to evolve into a new establishment. The protesting sect becomes an established church which then lives to defend its own orthodoxy against the new sect. So what happened to the original Christian movement is nothing new. Even Chairman Mao searched for a key to an on-going revolution which eluded the other Communist regimes.

What we want to do in this section is to understand the dynamics at work in the subtle substitution of religion in the place of revelation, of Torah in the place of the living Word, and salvation by a system instead of salvation by faith.

(a)            The Failure of Tradition

In his book, The Meaning and End of Religion, Wilfred Cantwell Smith points out that no great spiritual leader founded a religion or preached one. On the contrary, he says, "they severely criticized or attacked the religious environment in which they found themselves." (p. 128) For example, "Zarathushta did not preach a religion. The only religious traditions and practices that he knew he attacked, with an ardor born of his vivid faith." (Ibid. p. 88.)

Zarathushtra, Buddha and Joshua ben Adam did not believe that ultimate truth can be adequately expressed in the mundane form of a written text. Theirs was a new and dynamic vision, a personalized encounter with something or Someone ultimate and transcendent. Their charismatic insight, conviction and faith moved others to follow in their footsteps. In each case a movement was born.

Wanting to cherish the insight and faith of their prophet, the followers would begin the process of gathering the memories of the teaching, and embarking on a process of conceptualizing, systematizing, creedalizing and institutionalizing their particular spiritual tradition.

This written out teaching or instruction is what the Hebrews called Torah. (Torah literally means teaching or instruction.) Its force is somewhat diminished when translated into the Greek word nomos, and then further diminished when translated again into the English word law. So when we read the word law in our English New Testaments, we need to be aware that it means religious teaching, and not just the rules of that teaching but the stories as well. (See Galatians 4 as a good example of how Law includes not just rules but stories too.)

The Torah - the written text of the religious tradition - is at best a witness to the living Word, but at worst it becomes a substitute for it. Devotion to the religious tradition has a tendency to take the place of the living encounter which gave birth to the tradition in the first place.

The New Testament, of course, proclaims that salvation comes by faith in Christ rather than by doing the works of the Torah. The new community of faith soon became altogether too confident that they could tell the difference between faith in Christ and devotion to a Torah. They could not see that they were developing a Christian Torah to replace the Jewish one. Faith was too easily substituted for the faith, that is, the Christian teaching or instruction. Salvation by faith in Christ came to mean salvation by making all the right noises about Christ. Hence the endless disputes and Church Councils defining ever more precisely the person of Christ, his two natures and his position in the Trinity. All this became another Torah to live by and another religion to follow as a means of salvation.

Take as another example, the Lutheran doctrine of justification by faith alone. Being acceptable to God in spite of his being unacceptable came to Luther with the power and conviction of a mighty personal revelation. The spirit of his faith attracted a following and spawned a movement. His insight into the Pauline doctrine of justification by faith alone was systematized, creedalized, sloganized and institutionalized. This created a Lutheran Torah. Then it became all too easy to put faithful adherence to this teaching in the room of the original spirit of faith.

As W.C. Smith puts it, "Some even talk of being saved by Christianity, instead of by the only thing that could possibly save us, the anguish and love of God...A Christian who takes God seriously must surely recognize that God does not give a fig for Christianity...God does not reveal religions; he reveals concerned with something, or someone, that far transcends anything that be denominated a religion". (Ibid, 127-8)

I remember encountering a clergyman who was deeply committed to the Westminster Confession of faith. He confided to me that he was experiencing considerable angst keeping his congregation straying from the Confession, including practical matters such as the role of women in the church. He was amazed by my suggestion that living under the rigid rule of Westminster Torah was no different in principle to living under any Torah, including the Jewish one.

(b)            The Failure of Written Text

It appears that the early church understood Paul and the Fourth Gospel's break with the Law only on a very superficial level. In the climate of anti-Semitism which deeply infected the church, it became all too easy to think that it was the Jewish character of the Law which made it an instrument of bondage. Early church fathers such as Ignatius, Justin and Irenaeus railed against any "Judaizing" Christians who were still disposed to live according to Jewish ways. On the authority of St. Paul, life "under the law" was said to be cursed, presumably because it was Jewish. But at the same time these church fathers saw nothing wrong is subjecting their communities to the rigid rule of new Christian laws. Whilst they derided the observances of the Jewish calendar, they imposed the most stringent observances in respect of the Christian calendar. The hair-splitting doctrines of the church (orthodoxy) became more oppressive than the Rabbinic stipulations about right living (orthopraxy)..

Christianity failed to understand Paul's critique of life "under the law." He did not break with his old existence because it was Jewish. That part to him remained "holy, just and good" The deficiency of the law, according to Paul, lay in its form as "written text." (See Romans 7 and 2 Corinthians 3 ) No written text can give life, says Paul, not even if it is written by the super apostles in Jerusalem! Not even if it is written with God's own finger like the Ten Commandments! And we might add, Not even if there was a verbally inspired Bible! ( John 5:39) The real new testament, declares Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, cannot be written in ink. It can only be written by the spirit of God in people.

That which is laid out in a written text is laid out like a corpse. It may have the form of the truth just as a corpse has the form of a person. This may sound like a harsh judgment, but what it is intended to show is that the written text is an inadequate vehicle for the spirit of God. It should never be equated with God's Word which the New Testament says is "spirit and life."

Human life too transcends any written code. Millions of laws are enacted, revised, updated and redrafted through the legislative bodies of the world. The task is never done because it is not possible to create a system of law which does justice to the infinite variety of human situations. There will always come a time when carrying out the written code will lead to the neglect or abuse of the neighbor; there will always be a situation when blind obedience to what is written will be without human sensitivity and compassion, even (or especially) when it is God's law. As an old wisdom saying puts it, "Law is for the guidance of the wise and for the blind obedience of fools."

Spirit is always greater than letter. In his epic Chesapeake, James Michener tells the story of how a little Quaker woman was the first to raise her voice against the institution of slavery in the United States. Churchmen tried to silence her with Biblical proof-texts in support of slavery. "Won't you agree, - they argued with her, "that you contradict St. Paul. She frankly acknowledged that she did, but said that slavery was clearly contrary to the spirit of the Nazarene Teacher. In the Christian culture of her day, it took a lot of courage and conviction to place spirit in opposition to the written text.

If living by the law proves inadequate even in civil life where the rule of law is pre-eminently suited, it is even more inadequate in the spiritual life. The regime of a Torah may make a person religious but it cannot make a person spiritual.

Perhaps the only domain where the law is suited for having absolute jurisdiction is in playing games or on the sports field. No game is possible without rules, and being victor or victim according to the arbitrary rules is the nature of the game.

I can’t resist making a comment on literary research, especially the Jesus research. Some of the scholars working in this field are big on what have been called "the rules of the road," that is, the scholarly methodology. They work to a kind of literary Torah to identify the authentic sayings of Jesus—such as the law of embarrassing information, the law of multiple attestation, etc. These may be useful tools, and I for one am very grateful for the valuable material gathered by those using the tools of form criticism, redaction criticism, historical criticism, etc. But there are times when the best laws of literary criticism break down too and can even get in the way of getting to the historical Jesus. One proof of that is that some of the best books of scholarly information end up being quite depressing rather than liberating. They fail to keep their scholarly rules subordinate at all times to the spirit of the man whose history they are trying to recover.

Take as an example the Matthean passage which has Jesus say, "You are petros [meaning rock], and upon this rock I will build my church." The old Protestant argument about two different rocks in this statement, a petros masculine rock and a petra (feminine) rock, is literary nonsense because of course the first word rock had to be masculine because it was the name of a man. The statement is just a neat literary play on words. But the Catholic use of this Scripture flies in the face of the whole spirit of this son of man whose entire life and teaching was against any hierarchal orders of superiors and inferiors. The very idea of Joshua ben Adam designating a chief apostle among the rest is a total misfit. The statement from Matthew was written at a time when some Christians were in serious contention as to whether Peter or Paul was the leading authority in the church. Matthew simply reflects the view of mainstream Jewish Christianity. The disputed statement cannot be authentically attributed to Joshua ben Adam because it is totally alien to his spirit no matter what all the Torahs of literary analysis might say on the point. So if one is to dig in the cave of history for the authentic Joshua ben Adam, let him use the best tools available in literary and historical criticism, but let him also understand that most of all the cave needs to be illuminated with the candle of Joshua ben Adam’s spirit.

If the human spirit transcends the confines of any written code, if not even God can make a law which is adequate for every human situation, then how can mere Scripture encompass the spirit and life of God's Word? Is this to be reduced to a mere propositional revelation, and laid out in a cold text to be analyzed and dissected? "Forgive them, for they know not what they do!"

(c)             The Failure of Vertical

According to the psychologist Julian Jaynes (The Birth of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind), prior to the birth of human consciousness, humans lived by the voices of a bicameral mind. Those voices re-enforced the commands passed down from gods, kings, priests and superiors. There was no individuality, no freedom, no guilt. It was essentially an animal existence which was lived out according to the pecking order of a vertical authority.

Since the birth of human consciousness in the breakdown of this bicameral mind, human societies and groups nave been prone to search for the security of those authoritative voices, whether in dreams, incantations, ritual, hallucinations, hypnotism, priests, holy books or even drugs. There is a longing to creep back into the womb of that lost paradise of innocence where we don't have to take the responsibility for discerning between good and evil. The freedom to be human is too terrifying. We would rather follow orders from authority figures and systems.

The basis of all authority in religion is the monarchical sky-God. Since he is in heaven and not on earth, the Christian religion says that the church or the Bible - or both - exercise infallible authority in his name and during his absence.

Living under the law, the written text, or Scripture - all the same thing- is living under a vertical authority. If, as Nolan says, Joshua ben Adam rejected all forms of authority thinking, then he rejected living by all vertical authorities which have their basis in the world-view of a monarchical sky-God. A vertical authority makes freedom impossible, and in that it makes freedom impossible, it makes love impossible, because love is not commendable.

If we are to be truly human, the monarchical images of the sky-God must go, and the supremely human One in whose image and likeness we are made must be allowed to relate to us without the mediation of an imposed authority. That includes the Bible.

It is doubtful whether Paul or any other New Testament writer thought through the failure of the law in terms of it being a verbal authority. A lot more water would have to flow under the bridge of human history before the inhuman character of all vertical authorities would be demonstrated.

(d)            The Failure of an Exclusive Revelation

The core reason why Christianity returned full circle to become a religion of the Book was the absolutist and exclusive claims it made concerning the person of Christ.

We have seen that the first century closed with the Fourth (Gospel refuting Rabbinic Judaism's claim that divine revelation - God's word, light and life - is disclosed in a Book . Divine revelation, declares the unknown author, takes place in a person.

So far so good. In that it placed the locus of divine revelation in a living person rather than in a book, the primitive church was true to Joshua ben Adam's radical break with the world of religion. But the meaning of Joshua's gospel about God's kingdom being present on this earth in and through people was given a turn of interpretation which destroyed Joshua's vision. It happened when the church began making the claim that the revelation of God in and through human flesh was exclusive to one person. Higher and higher claims were made for this man until he became God in the highest sense, the second member of the divine Trinity.

How a humble Galilean man who shunned all titles of honour was finally proclaimed by his followers to be God in the highest sense is an astonishing religious development. Many scholars now agree that the deification of this historical man could not have taken place among his original Jewish followers. No face-value reading of the Synoptic Gospels (written between 70-90 AD) indicate that these Jewish Christian authors were claiming that Joshua ben Adam was God. A "prophet mighty in word and in deed", yes! "A man approved of God," "chosen of God," "anointed of God" (Messiah) and "son of God", yes!

The term "son of God" had been used in the Old Testament to apply to Israel and to the anointed king, meaning Messiah. Then there is the further historical evidence that the Ebionites, the Jewish descendants of the original Jerusalem church, refused to be reconciled to the Christology of the Gentile church.

All the evidence indicates that it was Gentile Christianity which transformed the meaning of "the son of God" using the thought forms of a culture permeated with myths of gods who sired human sons who also died and rose to whence they came. The emperor too was worshipped as the divine "son of God." This was a culture which regularly fumed their legendary heroes and their great ones into gods. It was in this milieu that Gentile Christianity transformed Joshua ben Adam into the Jesus God of Christian myth.We need to be aware too of the images of God and the world-view which logically demanded the religious myth which developed. Given the images of a God separated from us by an infinite gulf, who else could pay for sin and bridge the infinite gulf between heaven and earth but a redeemer who was not just a man but God himself?

Even today where this religious world-view prevails, the most urgent questions to be addressed are these: What about Christ's vicarious role? His sacrificial role? What about his bridging the gap between heaven and earth? Of getting us to heaven? Of making us acceptable to God? Of resolving the tension between God's vengeance and God's love? Of undoing the effects of the Fall -- original sin, the curse of death and the essential absence of a God who lives in heaven rather than in this abandoned leper colony of a world?

These are powerful religious images. The Jesus myth sprang from the pressing need to craft a Jesus who answered these questions. He had to be God to answer the questions posed by that world-view. Hence the success, the superiority and the triumphalism of the Christian religion.

The valid contribution of the Christian faith was the insight that God reveals himself in a living person rather than in any sacred icons, including a book. The Achilles heel of the Christian religion was in making the revelation of God exclusive to one person. The consequences of this was an absolutist and exclusive religious system which denied the possibility of salvation or any true knowledge of God outside of the Christian faith.

With the exclusive status of Jesus firmly established at the center of the church's faith, salvation too was dependent upon making all the right noises about the person of Christ. His pre-existence, his virgin birth, the hypostatic union of two natures in one person and his place in the Trinity had to be meticulously defined by Church Councils and Creeds over a period of about four hundred years. It all had to be nailed down to the detail of a diphthong in the Greek language. Anyone who erred in the least degree in any decree concerning Jesus' place in the Godhead was counted as cursed by God and deserving the severest censure of the church. It was only a matter of time before the church saw itself as God's agent to enforce this absolutist system on pain of death.

It was the church's exclusive Christology which drove it to create an elaborate doctrinal legalism of written texts and creeds. The Christian religion returned full circle to create a religion of the Book.




It may be said that Joshua ben Adam saves us in the sense that he takes away the false images of God. Of a God in heaven, essentially absent from the world on account of human sin. Of a God who must have something horrible done to his son in order to make us acceptable to him! Of a God whose estrangement from this sorry world must be overcome by some strange bloodletting of his own devising. Of a God who because of one human misdemeanor in Paradise, cursed the world with the virus of original sin and death, and now needs some priestly mediation to restore what was lost.

This entire world-view, based on the story of the fall and the need of a special mediation between man and the sky God, originated as a Babylonian myth. It was copied and spread from culture to culture. It made its way into Hebrew scripture. It permeated the world in the first century, and has continued to permeate and poison the world until the present.

But it is a world-view at least two thousand years out of date. It results in posing all the wrong questions about God's relationship to the world. Consequently it comes up with the wrong answers in a religion of mediation vicarious satisfaction, blood atonement, payback justice, sacraments, priestcraft and all kinds of vertical authorities which keep people enslaved.

When all have the religious accretions and embellishments been stripped away from the historical Joshua ben Adam, how much do we have left? Admittedly, not a lot, but enough to give us the key to his vision of God and man, and enough to convey to us the spirit of his life and teaching.

Admittedly the historical quest leaves us with an outline which must remain sketchy and less than we would need if he were to remain the exclusive locus for the revelation of God. But he made no such claims. Where the details of ben Adam's life are sketchy, you can flesh it out because you are a ben Adam too, the son (or daughter) of God as he was, free as he was to be truly human in God's image and likeness.

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