Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The word of God & RKP's extra material

Ryan Kemp-Pappan is the supply pastor for Trinity Presbyterian Church in Oklahoma City Oklahoma. He is one of a growing number of pastors and leaders who seem dissatisfied with the idea that the proclamation of the word is the most important privilege and duty given to a pastor. Alongside Bruce Reyes-Chow, Kemp-Pappan has decided to use extra-biblical texts for proclamation. On his blog, “Being RKP,” Kemp-Pappan has two postings connected to what he calls “A Heretic Summer.”
Kemp-Pappan starts his first posting with a document that is read by many Christians since it is in the Apocrypha and in the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Bibles. But he quickly jumps, in his next post, to an ancient text that is only acknowledged as acceptable reading for Christians in a compilation of texts published by the radical Jesus Seminar.

Kemp-Pappan’s first posting & sermon is, “Alone Again Or, and the text is Bel & the Dragon. This is considered an additional chapter of Daniel, and as stated above is in the Apocrypha. Daniel proves that the false god in this story, the dragon, is fake by using trickery. There are differing versions of the story and it was included in the Jewish Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint, but not the later Masoretic text used by contemporary Jews since the 9th century.
Although Kemp-Pappan writes that the reformers cut Bel & the Dragon from the Protestant Bible to distance themselves from Rome the basic reason they eliminated the Apocrypha was to allow the Hebrew Bible, (Old Testament) to conform to the Jewish Masoretic Text.[1]

But the history of the Apocrypha is far more complex. While some in the early church supported some of the extra texts of the Apocrypha, they were disputed. Clement of Alexandrea and Augustine accepted the text, but Jerome and Origen did not accept them as canonical. As for the Reformation, D.A. deSilvia, author of “Apocrypha and Pseudepigraphs” writes:

Only the Protestant Reformation forced a decision. Martin Luther decisively separated the books or parts of books (e.g., the Additions to Esther and Daniel) that were not included in the Hebrew Canon from his OT as “books which cannot be reckoned with the canonical books and yet are useful and good for reading.”  … The rest of the Protestant Reformers followed his practice. The apocryphal books continued to be printed and recommended as edifying material, but they were not to be used as a basis for doctrine or ethics apart from the canonical books. The Roman Catholic Church responded at the Council of Trent (1546)  by declaring these books (excluding 1 and 2 Esdras, Prayer of Manasseh and 3 and 4 Maccabees) to be fully canonical[2]

Note then that these books were not officially declared canonical by the Roman Catholic Church until after the Reformation.

Kemp-Pappan uses the material in Bel and the Dragon to explore, “the far reaches of our faith.” He claims that members of his congregation “will be exploring sacred texts many … have not heard before. … [and] will engage sacred texts from other faith traditions in earnest,” as they “seek to boldly challenge … [their] faith and the institutions that fashioned it.”
Interestingly Kemp-Pappan uses the Dragon story to advocate for non-violence in activism although the false priests, in the story, and their families are killed for their deceit.

But going further in his next posting, Kemp-Pappan uses the Infancy Gospel of Thomas which is considered Pseudepigrapha. That is a work that has been attributed to a more well-known author of the past. The text is a later writing than the New Testament texts. But the Infancy Gospel of Thomas is also fantasy much like a bad fairy tale. Its quality is sentimental and destructive at the same time.  While Kemp-Pappan attempts to equate its fantasy quality with biblical miracles it cannot be done since the quality and intent are very different.
The miracles of Scripture are always embedded in the redemptive purposes of God.  But the miracles of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas center on the temper of a small God-child who even kills another child for bumping into him. The awe of bystanders is gained by the selfish intent of a brat rather than the self-giving love of a Savior.  

The fact is that most contemporary publishing of the Infancy material is done on the assumption that all birth narratives including the canonical ones are myth.[3] But the eternal purposes of God shine in the canonical narratives of Matthew and Luke while the Infancy Gospel of Thomas is void of redemption. The birth narratives of the Bible are linked with integrity to the history and promises of the Old Testament-they are awash with authenticity.
Kemp-Pappan attempts to use the story to help others understand their adolescent tensions and misgivings. He takes what can only be seen as an unbiblical sinful nature of the child Jesus and uses it to write/speak of human attempts at overcoming childishness. In this case Jesus becomes simply a model not just for good but also for the bad that we all experience within ourselves as we mature.

Hungry for the word of God, God’s people and those who are dying within the deadness of this culture will never find satisfaction in extra biblical material. As Paul writes to Timothy, “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.”
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled they will accumulate for themselves false teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn back to myths. (2 Timothy 4:2-4)

picture by Christopher Juncker

[1] For more information on the Jewish Masoretic Text see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bible
[2]D.A. deSilvia, “Apocrypha and Pseudepigraphs” Dictionary of New Testament Background, Editors Craig A. Evans & Stanley E. Porter, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press 2000) 59.
[3] This is pointed out by Philip Jenkins in his book Hidden Gospels: How the Search for Jesus Lost its Way. (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2001).


will spotts said...

Why am I not surprised?

You do very well at pointing to the difference between the infancy narrative and the biblical gospel accounts.

Viola Larson said...

I'm sorry, as usual I found your quote in my spam.