Saturday, March 15, 2008

"The Jesus of the Bible"

Someone recently pointed me to to some conversations on the forums at Oprah, in which there was a bit of confusion about "the Jesus of ACIM" versus "the Jesus of the Bible." I posted a response to try to shed some light on the issue, and from that again found my comments posted (with my consent) to other forums. Then some private correspondence ensued, and finally it became clear to me that it was time to pull some of these thoughts together and write about it in this venue, for confusion reigns.

Ultimately the confusion is about the Bible, not about Jesus. There is no Jesus of the Bible. How could there be, given the fact that at current count there are over 25,000 Christian denominations all of whom have sometimes wildly differing interpretations of the Bible, and of him. Yet they all agree that the Bible is their holy book, and for the most part treat the book as a whole, one Bible, one Jesus, one God, yet somehow all different. At times enough so for violence to erupt. Therefore "Jesus" in this context is a theological interpretation of a figure in this book, according to at least 25,000 different interpretations, though of course there are certain central tenets which all of these "Christian" denominations tend to have in common, solidified in the Nicene creed, in which the central tenet is that this person Jesus of whom the Bible reports, was the exclusive son of God, and is our saviour by means of vicarious salvation. Therefore this defines Christianity, not Jesus. It defines a group of views of Jesus.

But Nicea had its dissenters, just as much as when Bishop Athanasius defined the Canon of the New Testament for the first time as we know it today in 367 CE, a lot of books were excluded. Many of the books which thus became "extra-canonical" or "aprocryphal," were near and dear to the heart of many who held themselves to be Christians just as much as adherents of the "orthodox" faith which was consolidated as "the Church" did. "The Church" of course soon split into the Greek and Roman churches, and has not ceased splitting after that. Meanwhile various groups had spread all over the place, including Tomas's wanderings to Syria and India, and many others. So there was a staggering variety of "Christianity," which Bart Ehrman in his excellent book of that title calls "Lost Christianities," and just because we don't know much about them does not mean they did not exist, and their followers did not see themselves as Christians.

So "the Bible" to Christians is the so-called Old Testament and the New Testament, and to the hard core believers it is thought of as the revealed word of God, and in many cases they have specific preferences for translations, which most closely reflect their theological stance. Denominations have split themselves off over differences as small as the translation or interpretation of a single word. Yet there are still major variations for there are substantial groups which include the "apocryphal," or "deutero-canonical books of the Old Testament (Catholic, Greek and Oriental Orthodox, and some Protestant churches). They had been a part of the first Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint. So even "the Bible" is hardly a unified, or unifying concept. And since Nag Hammadi and the Dead Sea even Christians now have their own Apocrypha, and in particular the Thomas gospel, on the strength of dating it prior to Mark, and in fact as one of the source sayings traditions of the canonical books, is now being inducted into the notion of canon, by the Jesus Seminar (hence their book The Five Gospels), riding on growing numbers of people who still consider themselves church-going Christians, and sometimes have Thomas study-groups in church.

"The Jesus of the Bible" therefore hardly a clear concept either, except if you take it to refer to a broad definition, which, in formal terms, might read like this "the portrayal of Jesus as he is commonly seen in main stream Christianity, and defined by the council of Nicea, and thought to be reported on in the canonical books of the New Testament as defined by Bishop Athanasius in 367 CE." Now you have somewhat of a working hypothesis of who "the Jesus of the Bible" might be. In short, I find it more informative to simply speak of "the Christian interpretation of Jesus."
Simply put, there appears to have been some figure in Palestine, with the name of Yehoshua, (latinized as Jesus), and a certain (fairly large) group of people think he taught something that was summarized appropriately by the Council of Nicea, and reported on in a set of books, they chose to bundle with the Hebrew Tanakh and call it their Holy Bible, their sacred book. If you use the words "the Jesus of the Bible," and "the Jesus of ACIM," people land in these pointless discussions as if there were in fact two Jesuses. If you want to go that route, there are an unlimited number of Jesuses, for every individual to a degree experiences their relationship with him differently (or not at all, but that is also simply a different way of experiencing him).

And this is exactly the point of ACIM. To state it more explicitly in--and line with Course principles--our experience of him is different in form to the exact extent that we experience ourselves as different in this world. Or, in one of my favorite Ken Wapnick witticisms: "Jesus is a what, that looks like a who, because you think you are a who." Once you begin to understand how and why all the characters in the dream, including your own character, which you tend to mistake for who you are, are in fact projections from the mind, then the traditional difficulty with understanding the docetic tradtions (e.g the Acts of John where the apostles discuss their differing experiences of Jesus), and which were simply thrown out by the early church, are instantly resolved. Of course we would have different experiences of Jesus. Hence Helen Schucman, the scribe of the Course, at one point had a dream experience of Jesus, and wondered why he "looked like Bill," and in answer she heard: "Who else would I look like?" (Reported in Ken Wapnick's Absence from Felicity.) In short Jesus will show up in a form we can understand accept, since anything else would increase our level of fear. This is the gentle promise of the Course. Jesus treats us with kid gloves, because he fully understands we are spiritual children.

It should be equally clear that it is the consistency of the Love, present in all of these individual experiences which makes it clear that Jesus represents this Love and this oneness, hence the message "Teach only love, for that is what you are." (ACIM:T-6.III.2) In other words, we are that love, but we have forgotten it in the dreaming of the world, and so our memory of God's Love (aka. the Holy Spirit), shows up as a character in the dream, calling us to follow him home, and leading us out of the labyrinth of the dream. It is only by "following" him that we learn to leave the dream behind, and in Course terms this takes the form of forgiving the various characters and situations in our dream to where we ultimately realize that Jesus represents for us who we really are, namely God's son, and we are home again. The Course would say, we have woken up from the ego nightmare, for we are: "You are at home in God, dreaming of exile but perfectly capable of awakening to reality." (ACIM:T-10.I.2)

In short there really only is one Jesus, one son of God, "...and nowhere does the Father end, the Son begin as something separate from Him." (ACIM:W-132.12) Reality is one, and never, ever splintered or divided, as it seems in our dream of separation, which is expressed also in the Course's notion that going home is "a journey without distance to a goal that has never changed. " and "Truth can only be experienced." (ACIM:T-8.VI.9:7-8) And since time is an illusion, the only thing that ever matters is what we choose to have now, right this moment, Heaven or Hell. One Jesus, or many Jesuses.

Copyright, © 2008 Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.

No comments: