National Lutheran News

Dig deeper, scholars tell Bible seminar participants

Real meanings could surprise the reader, keynoters at Crossways event maintain

There is only one hero in the Bible — God. So says Dr. Harry Wendt, founder and director of the adult Bible study series “Crossways.” Speaking to around 250 clergy and lay participants at a 25th anniversary Crossways Bible seminar in Eagan, Minnesota, October 4, Wendt said, “God uses all the people of the Bible, from Abraham to David to John the Baptist. But they’re not heroes. They’re all sinners.”
Telling his audience to dig deeper into Scripture and not accept conventional assumptions, he asserted, “Before Israel went into captivity, 90% of the people worshiped multiple gods 90% of the time.” He said, “King Solomon probably wasn’t all that ‘wise’ — he ran around with 1,000 wives and concubines.”

Said Wendt, “To understand Scripture, you have to be a biblical bloodhound. Watch how Old Testament themes recur in the New Testament.”

Why didn’t Jesus ever write a book? “Because, in antiquity, great teachers never wrote. They taught. Their disciples wrote it down.”

Wendt called Jesus’ cross “his coronation,” adding “The resurrection was his vindication.” Jesus’ parables taught three things, he said: live expectantly, live responsibly, live compassionately.

Also addressing the group was Kenneth E. Bailey, research scholar and lecturer in Mid-dle Eastern New Testament studies. An ordained Pres-byterian minister, Bailey’s specialty is the cultural background and literary forms of the New Testament.

He helped the group see parallels between Scripture stories where themes recur, and patterns which repeat within stories themselves. The connections, he maintained, help make sense of Scripture in new and surprising ways.

Bailey claimed there is a “Jesus code,” embedded in the Old Testament and revealed in the New. For example, when King David arrived in Jerusalem, he killed the blind and the cripples. When Jesus arrived there, he healed them.

Modern Christian Zion-ism, he said, “is utter nonsense. It’s based on a reversal of a biblical promise, ‘Through you, Israel, I will bless all nations.’ Modern fundamentalists change it to say, ‘Through the nations I will bless you, Israel.’ That perversion became the ex-cuse for modern Zionism.”

He ridiculed the biblical deficiencies in the “Left Behind” series of novels, saying, “The best way to deal with [these books] is to soak ourselves in Scripture.”

He said, “Jesus gave the church one commandment — love one another. All other biblical commands are commentary. So, why are we so misfocused on the Ten Commandments?”

Scripture, Bailey maintained, offers a clear critique on misusing wealth. “We have over 250 billionaires in the U.S. But God calls his disciples to be servants, full-time, no conditions.”

In a commentary on Jesus’ preaching in his home town (Luke 4), Bailey said, “People in Nazareth thought Isaiah 61 described them favorably. But then Jesus got up, read the passage, and left out what they thought was the ‘good stuff’ (implying God takes vengeance on Israel’s enemies). That’s one reason they became so angry. When Jesus quoted Isaiah, he edited it, using rules approved by the rabbis for how to read and interpret the prophets.”

A second reason for the wrath of his hometown audience, Bailey maintained, was that Jesus lifted up as heroes, not Jews, but two foreigners, the first of whom was a woman.
It took courage, he said, for Jesus to say what he did in the way he did it in Nazareth. He added, “‘Gentle Jesus, meek and mild’ never existed. Forget about that idea.”

The Scripture scholar argued that Jesus’ three parables about the lost (a lost coin, a lost sheep, a lost son) are really an update of Psalm 23. He said the shepherd (a male) is a fitting symbol for Jesus, but so is the woman who searches for a lost coin until she finds it. He said, “Jesus appealed to women in his teaching, unlike other rabbis.”

Bailey said the Gospel of John is not anti-Semitic. It does not lay blame for Jesus’ death on the Jews. Instead, it says Jesus died voluntarily.