11 November 2010

How Not to Read the Bible

Esteemed New Testament scholar Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, commenting on Paul's writing of Philippians--
The degree of Paul's self-absorption at this point in his career is remarkable. . . . One wonders what the Philippians made of Paul's call for unity and reconciliation [Phil 4:2-3], when he exhibited nothing but contempt for those at Ephesus who disagreed with him?

. . . A further indication of Paul's self-absorption is his citation of a magnificent Christological hymn [Phil 2:6-11], which is perhaps the most damning condemnation, albeit implicit, of his egocentric attitude.
--Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, Paul: A Critical Life (Oxford University Press 1996), 224-25

Of course, it is easier to call Paul egocentric when you reject Ephesians 3:8 and 1 Timothy 1:15 as pseudepigraphical--but then, one wonders, why would an imitative admirer of Paul speak in such castigating terms of the apostle?

I eagerly await the day this book goes out of print. It is an awful book. Not because we should treat Paul as if he never sinned but because it is a striking example of what it means to study the Bible by standing over it rather than sitting under it. (I took a class with Murphy-O'Connor two years ago at Notre Dame and briefly reflected on it here.)

Murphy-O'Connor is playing academic games with the text. Like a drowning man studying the words 'HOLD ON HERE' on the side of a life preserver thrown to him, questioning whether such words were really written by the Coast Guard.


Eric said...

That last paragraph has such a striking analogy, Dane!

Darren said...

I'm new to your blog so I'm kind of lost. Who is this guy? Why did you take one of his classes? A quick Google search reveals he is a priest? What are his beliefs? From the older post you wrote he seems lack a whacky guy honestly. Fill me in!

Jason B. Hood said...

" . . . it is a striking example of what it means to study the Bible by standing over it rather than sitting under it."

Amen. It's a temptation for all of us at times, I think; at least JM-O'C is so obvious that it's much easier to see.

(One wonders what he would say if someone wrote a book in that style entitled: "J. Murphy-O'Connor: A Critical Life".)

Anonymous said...

I read this book in college at a state school, though taught by a conservative evangelical prof. He had us read it to grow in our ability to think critically and understand the variety of views on Paul. It angered me at the time that I had to read such "scubbala," not that my anger has all dissipated, but now I'm sad for such a soul as this that (on some level) asserts Christian faith.

Dane Ortlund said...

Jason--your last paragraph--I thought the same thing!

Bless you brother.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I am from Australia.

What does anyone really know about "Paul"?

And does any such "knowledge" help you live with Real Intelligence?

Please find three related references which also tell us that Paul was indeed self-possessed and completely deluded.