May 11, 2009

Mark Thieme’s “Bible Tale”

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This article is in response to an article published in the Springfield Newsleader. Click here to read the article.

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Mr. Thieme’s column on a “Bible tale” Sunday May 10 is actually an inspirational sermon avoiding the hard historical questions about the narrative of Jesus and Peter walking on the water, which appears in Matthew, Mark, and John (the earliest version being Mark). Thieme seems to assume that the incident is an actual historical event. But in truth human beings cannot walk on water unless it is frozen. If Mr. Thieme wants to make a special appeal that Jesus, like a 1200 pound gorilla, can do whatever he wants since he is the divine son of God, then Jesus forfeits his humanity, and becomes a God in a human suit. Common sense says that if he is a divine being, he is not a human being. The two species are very different. This conclusion to which Mr. Thieme’s essay seems unerringly to lead us was declared heresy by the 4th century orthodox creeds. So, in a sense, Mr. Thieme leads the reader to think of this particular “Bible tale” as an actual historical event (to protect the historicity of the Bible I assume), but as it turns out he wins the historicity of the tale at the expense of the orthodox view of the cross. The orthodox view of Jesus’ death is that Jesus as a human being was tempted like other humans beings (yet without sin, Hebrews 4:15); so being sinless he could suffer for our sins and die in our place (1 Corinthians 15:3). On the other hand if he was tempted as a divinity, being without sin is to be expected, since Gods are, I have always assumed, without fault. However, if Mr. Thieme turns Jesus into a divine being, or makes him like the numerous other demi-Gods (sons of God) of the Greeks and Romans (half divine, half human), or turns Jesus into God himself (as some believe), or if he agrees with the creed that Jesus is at once “wholly God and wholly man,” then Jesus could scarcely represent humanity on the cross. Making Jesus divine, or only somewhat divine, turns his death on the cross into a non-death, a sham, since it is well know that by definition Gods are eternal, immortal, and deathless—and if there is anything the early gospels agree on it is that Jesus’ death was a real event, otherwise the resurrection becomes a sham resurrection! My suggestion to Mr. Thieme is this: consider the possibility that the tale of Jesus and Peter walking on the water is an ancient legend. Giving up the historicity of the tale seems a little thing in order to protect the historicity of the crucifixion, which is the one unquestionable historical event in the career of Jesus on which everyone agrees. But then that will raise the question: are there other legends in the Bible?

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

Posted by Charles Hedrick at 6:07pm