Saturday, 25 April 2009

Reading it in

I turned to my IVP New Bible Commentary, on Mark 2:1-12. Here's (most of) the first paragraph:

"When Jesus ventured back into Capernaum, the house was mobbed, presumably by people wanting healing. But Jesus continued to preach the good news to them, for that was his purpose. It must, therefore, have been a great temptation for him to be irritated when four men, anxious to get their sick friend healed, lowered him through the broken roof right in front of Jesus as he taught. But Jesus saw only faith.  ... Perhaps the four friends thought that their action would bring Jesus back from 'useless' preaching to 'practical' healing. Jesus, instead of healing at once, publicly forgave the man his sins. Imagine their disappointment."

How much basis is there in the text itself (or in parallel passages in Matthew and Luke), for the parts picked out in bold? Virtually none. It is of course interesting to ponder about what may be "in between the lines" and circumstances also involved that are not directly commented on in a particular story. But though it's interesting to us, the fact is that the divinely inspired author picked out the bits he did, and it's our job to work with that. If we end up emphasising, as this commentator does, things that the Spirit of God chose not to emphasise, and fail to emphasise the things that he did emphasise, then we're not doing our jobs. Here the commentator reads between the lines - and not only that, but laces what he thinks he sees there with terms like "must" and "presumably" as if his personal speculations were certain. And that reading of what isn't there but is only a possible conjecture, becomes a frame for the whole thing.

I could only compare it negatively with the commentary I'd immediately put down before picking up this one. I flicked to the front of the "New Bible Commentary" to see who was the author of the part on Mark. Oh - it's the same guy who wrote the other one!

The other one he wrote in 1961. This one, he wrote in 1994. The old one examines the text carefully and focuses on what's in there to draw sound Biblical applications. The later one is more flavoured by the kind of text-ignoring irrelevance-highlighting hyper-speculation that passes for "scholarship" in the academy but ought to be intensely disliked by every lover of God's word. What happened to the author between 1961 and 1994? Growth in this kind of "scholarship" is not spiritual progress.

No comments: