Have you ever bitten down too soon on a mint? I’m sure you have. You may recall the sound of the mint breaking like crunching glass in your head, giving way, if the mint was perhaps filled with chocolate, to a surprising softness as the shards of candy sink in to the centre under pressure.
Yes, on Friday I had my two top wisdom teeth pulled out of my head, relatively quickly, to the sound of cracking mints. The bottom two have yet to surface. I suspect they are waiting for a future moment of weakness when they can emerge to deliver the final killing blow.
After the anesthesia wore off, in an effort to transfer the pain from my jaw to my brain, I decided to read some early twentieth century theology. C.H. Dodd’s The Authority Of The Bible, in particular.
I was actually pleasantly surprised with Dodd. I was expecting, I don’t know why, dry, mathematical, voiceless, theology – which Dodd isn’t. He’s the sort of classic Oxford Brit scholar (well, he’s Welsh) who can write to the popular level but thinks nothing of quoting untranslated German poetry. At least I can guess at some of the Latin. Erudite, amusing, clever, thoughtful, bold and exhaustive. I’ll have to read more Dodd, I think. The chapter where he sketches the life of the average first century Palestinian peasant, through a careful reading of the parables of Jesus, is amazing.
Here’s a bit, appropriate for my particular situation, from the chapters dealing with the historical Jesus: While pointing out that the saying enjoining the followers of Christ to take up their cross and follow Him is a saying for times of emergency, best translated, in the spirit of Dodd, as drag the electric chair behind you if you want to follow Christ, he criticizes those who want to transform this saying into “habitual forms of self-sacrifice or denial”:
A similar emergency may arise for some Christians in any age. In such a situation it is immediately applicable, in it’s original form and meaning. For most of us, in normal situations, it is not so applicable. But it is surely good for us to go back and understand that this is what Christ stood for in His day. We shall then at least not suppose that we are meeting His demands in our day by bearing a toothache bravely or fasting during Lent.
The above quote illustrates, according to Dodd, “how the historical study of the Gospels, with the criticism that necessarily belongs to it, is of religious value.” Which is sort of Dodd’s whole thing, using historical study, and entailing criticism, of The Bible to determine what truth it has for us today – or, namely, what authority it has for us.
The above quote may also illustrate, ironically, given that Dodd is, I understand, a fairly liberal protestant, how to sound like a fundamentalist hard-ass. Or maybe that’s just me being unnecessarily defensive.