Socrates stressed the importance of defining your terms. If you think I'm using a term without defining it, or misuing it, please go over to my blog and drop me a note.
This does not meant to "apologize". It refers to a type of defense of a theology that takes a systematic approach.
B.C. and A.D.I will use these standard identifiers for the year. I don't care much for "BCE".
ANE – Ancient Near East
In the broadest sense, "community" is simply a group of people, usually small, in some defined area. I will use it more specifically to refer the sense of belonging and caring for each other that that come with the types of communities that form for a purpose. Communities are not limited by geography, ethnicity or blood ties. They don't even need to be limited by common interests. The type of community I will refer to are the ones that share common goals. Those goals are the ones that promote the health and well being of the whole, not just the individual.
This does not mean to "criticize". It refers to "textual criticism", a method of reviewing and comparing ancient texts to better understand their meaning, their authorship, their authenticity and whether or not they were revised or redacted.
See also JEDP below. A Hypothesis about how the Old Testament was assembled. We have some knowledge of libraries of scrolls in Jerusalem the surrounding area when the Jews called that their kingdom. Many were lost when they were conquered, but some went with them into exile. When they returned, those stories had been rewritten and reassembled. The traditions were taught from those, sometimes jumbled, stories from then on. Over the last few centuries, scholars have figured out this happened and started to unravel them. That's the theory anyway.
"Good" and "righteous" are used frequently in the Bible. It is not always clear what they mean. Sometimes you can get a list, but even those are more for discussion than real answers. Even the 10 commandments has multiple versions. There are no simple answers from science, psychology or other traditions either. The idea of what is "good" is developed throughout the Bible, just as we develop ideas about it throughout our lives. The most succinct description I have ever heard came from Dan Fincke. It took 12 minutes in an interview with Ryan Bell in 2016. Basically, after discussing how selective pressures acted on our ancestors and the basic capacities we have to think and be aware of our environment, he said, we need a cooperative society to fulfill our desires, from the highest to the most basic. After we receive a certain amount of education, we choose to participate in that society because we understand what was given to us and how it made us happier. We continue to see the value of long term relationships and peaceful functioning institutions and we see that by contributing to them, we will get a return. This is not a simple transaction. It offers no guarantees and fairness is difficult to achieve, often impossible. Sometimes we experience mutual empowerment and other times we are "paying it forward". Often times we don't know if we succeeded in being good or not.
When I say “gospels” or “gospel writers”, I’m not talking about 4 people we know by first name. We don’t actually know who those people were. We have some idea of when each gospel was written.The earliest one was written 30 to 50 years after the events it claimed happened. Paul wrote his letters between 30 AD and 50 AD, after the events in the gospels, but he wrote them before the gospel writers put pen to paper (or whatever it is they wrote it on back then). The earliest copies we have of those writings are from about 200 years after the events. These facts should be in the background of any sermon. You can choose to teach them from the pulpit or elsewhere, but the facts are not in dispute, at least not by most and not by much.
The oldest actual copies of the gospel are from around 250 AD. They are completely useless for confirming the truth of miraculous events. They give us some insight into lives of ordinary people and their thoughts from a long time ago. This makes them valuable as historical source documents. But source documents have to be evaluated in the context of everything else you know about that time and place. They should also be read in light of what we can discern of the intentions of the writer. In some cases, the stories will speak to us without all of these extraneous details. In some cases they will be critical to our understanding.
The stories themselves are not historically accurate and were never meant to be, that is a background assumption. I will mention historical facts that I consider accurate and sometimes say something about how confident I am or what the historical consensus is. I won't dwell on these.
If it's important to you, it is up to you to check my facts. The point of this exercise is to find themes in these stories based on a full understanding of their context, including how we view them through the lens of all human knowledge. Obviously I don't possess all human knowledge, so my lens will be as blurry as anyone's.
I will be glad to respectfully discuss historical issues, but before you do, consider how much you have discussed those issues with your spiritual community. My experience is most have not been too concerned with them. If the historical facts support their preconceived notions, they might, but if they cause a problem for the text, they would rather dismiss them. My lack of attention to explaining historical details should not be misunderstood as dismissive. I am using the standard of "to the best of my knowledge". I am always open to gaining knowledge or having mine corrected.
On the other hand, if you already don't believe the stories are historical, but think it's important that I point that out, consider how much you have looked into the themes of these narratives. If you look at them as pure fiction, can you still find value? That's what I'm exploring here. The fact vs fiction argument will sometimes matter but often will not.
The idea of hell that we are most familiar with, the one with a devil and lakes of fire, comes from the Greek idea, Tartarus. In the Old Testament, there is just "Sheol", a place where the dead go, and according to King David, you can be with God there. It is not a punishment. The visions of hell are never introduced, not even as a parable, they just appear in the middle of other parables. The word "hell" did not appear in earlier versions of the Bible.
"Hades" is a Greek word. It is also an afterlife where everyone goes. Only some Greeks believed in the part of Hades that included torture, called "Tartarus". If you use a translation like the "New American Bible, Revised Edition, you'll see "Tartarus" is only used once, in 2 Peter, and that is about fallen angels, not us regular sinners. "Hades" shows up in Revelations, written well after the gospels and its meaning and canonicity is debated.
When you see "hell" in the gospels, it as translation, and I would say mistranslation, of "Gehenna". You can visit Gehenna today. It is a park in Jerusalem. In the time of the writings of the gospels, it was a dump, with fires constantly burning the garbage. It was a place you didn't want to end up. No matter what, the modern idea of hell does not come from Judaic tradition. It came from the Greeks via the Romans. The idea of being tortured by gods after death was adopted by the Pharisess, a group that Jesus consistently speaks up against.
When I say “Jesus”, I mean “the character depicted by the gospel writers as well as Paul and a few others." I mean the man who may or may not have lived in or around Jerusalem about the time of what we now call the 1st century. It is possible he is a composite character and it is possible it was one person. There are a handful of facts and a handful of words that scholars completely agree might be his.
There are many words and deeds that have been attributed to him. The name also invokes a rich narrative of a pivotal moment in human history and the beginning of a new beloved community, a kingdom, that has and will continue to transform the world. This is the narrative that has been handed down to us. It is not history.
The historical accuracy of the man and the stories surrounding him are sometimes important, but the meaning of the scripture does not always depend on it. For convenience, rather than repeat all of this every time, I'll just say "Jesus" or "Christ".
This is a theory of how the Old Testament came to be. Throughout the Bible, there are mentions of older texts, sometimes saying "it is written". Those have been lost. There are also extra-biblical writings that give us some insight into the world of the Jewish people. People who study this stuff, which would include your pastor, have theories about who the real authors of the Bible are, what their agendas were and who it was that later changed some of the words.
Google JEDP or try Richard Friedman's Who Wrote the Bible.
A term meaning basically "east", specifically the area in eastern Mediterranean where the Biblical stories are set.
I use this term loosely, but it is a difficult concept to grasp, and certainly debatable. It is somewhat interchangeable with "culture", but socities can include different cultures. Society presumes people interacting regularly, basically in some defined area. There are patterns and rules for how they intereact. Sometimes those are written, sometimes not.