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The Bible in Human Transformation by Walter Wink


Walter Wink is professor at Auburn Theological Seminary, New York City. He received his Th.D. from Union Theological Semianry, has been active in peace movements throughout the world, and is a Fellow of the Jesus Seminar. His books include: The Powers that Be: Theology for a New Millenium (1999), Homosexuality and Christian Faith (1999), and Cracking the Gnostic Code (1993). The Bible in Human Translation was published in 1973 by Fortress Press. This book was prepared for Religion Online by Harry W. and Grace C. Adams.


Appendix by Elizabeth B. Howes, Ph.D.


The procedure referred to by Dr. Wink has been used by myself and my colleagues in the Guild for Psychological Studies over a period of thirty years. It is based on historical-critical study of the New Testament led by Dr. Henry B. Sharman; on the use of the Socratic method of question and discussion; and on enrichment from the insights of religious depth psychology, especially the analytical psychology of C. G. Jung. The sequence in which these elements in our procedure are stated is significant because it places the priorities correctly. The first and central concern has always been the study of the Gospels, pursued with the aim of sorting out as far as possible the life and teachings of Jesus from later Christian accretions. Out of this study and the depths evoked by it, it became evident that more knowledge of the human psyche was necessary. This brought about the inclusion in the procedure of "analytical psychology" — not to "psychologize" Jesus, but to amplify and deepen the profound aspects of his message and the present relevance of his words and actions for individuals and perhaps for the church in its search for revitalization.

THE PURPOSE:

The purpose of each seminar is to recover as far as is humanly possible the figure of Jesus from the later Christian accretions, assumptions, and projections on him which are found throughout the Gospels. In this sense the study is indeed "pre-christological." The concern is to find the religion of Jesus in his original stance rather than resting content with the religion about Jesus. At every point the tools of critical research are used, and always there is openness and a willingness to acknowledge limitations. But with the use of documentary hypotheses and with the criteria of dissimilarity and consistency, it seems possible to achieve a picture of some accuracy. The purpose of attaining this picture is not based on a prior assumption about Jesus as final authority. It lies rather in the fact that attaining such a picture may enable one to discover that Jesus’ personal religion — his relation to God — may offer a way of living that is individually and historically fulfilling. Jesus may disclose some fundamental insight about human nature which is amazingly relevant to what we know today about the psyche or the personality, and he may even more startlingly state lucidly the condition to be met or the process to be followed if one would have "eternal life" or enter the Kingdom of God as a state of being here and now. In addition it is altogether refreshing to ask about Jesus’ relation to his own inner myth and mythic roots, and his relation to the Christ-image.

Behind all the creeds and dogmas which have over two thousand years grown up around this figure is the figure itself and its reality. Increasingly the emergent struggles in the seminar participants — their desire for individuation, to use Jung’s term — led to the inclusion of the understanding of the psyche and the role of symbol. We did not go to the Gospels out of a desire to illustrate individuation. Rather, the central truths of the Gospels needed further psychological illumination for full contemporaneity.

THE METHOD:

The procedure we follow is one where the group (usually twenty or twenty-five persons in a circle) reads a passage from a synopsis of the Gospels (we use Henry B. Sharman’s Records of the Life of Jesus, published in New York by Harper and Row in 1917). The leader then asks questions to which all possible answers may be given by members of the group. It is as if the specific text being studied were put in the middle of the circle and the questions focused in a dynamic fashion in order to help each person to encounter and be encountered by the meaning of the text. The questions are inclusive enough to deal with the problems of biblical criticism, the possible actual outer-historical situations and their meanings, the sociological and religious implications for Jesus’ time, the challenge to all members of the group to consider their own socio-political-economic positions, and, finally, the inner deep psychological and spiritual dimension. Optimally each person replies, and each person listens to other replies. More questions are then asked by the leader, based upon both the responses of the participants and the leader’s sense of where the discussion is going. In this way a process similar to what Jung calls amplification in dream analysis develops. The symbols and symbolic statements in the text expand and become more meaningful, and each person takes from the text what he or she thinks and feels Jesus perhaps meant. The criterion for leader and participant alike is not "What do I want to think or believe Jesus meant?" but "With all the insights I have, what could he have meant and what could it mean to me?" In this way, all answers are honored. Nothing is labeled right" or "wrong" except literal misunderstandings. The meaning of the text is thus richly amplified, and out of this process the individual’s encounter with the text’s significance for him is actualized.

There is no group summary. No consensus is needed. The final point is what each person individually does with his own life on the basis of the confrontation with the material.

THE ATTITUDES REQUIRED:

The procedure just described has never been easy, for it requires openness about our most basic conceptions and beliefs. The question is not whether these conceptions are valid or not. Rather, it is whether one is prepared to put the search for truth about the person of Jesus as revealed in the Synoptic above cherished beliefs built up during the long history of Christianity. It is often hard to say yes to this search for truth, even though many of the traditional beliefs about Jesus no longer carry religious meaning. For example, Jung points out that the Christ-image has been much too much identified with the side of light, good, and kindness, and is therefore not adequate for the whole self, which also includes elements of darkness. Here it would be relevant to ask what Jesus implied about the nature of the Christ-image and the Son of Man image.

No one can totally cast aside preconceptions, but one can be responsible willingly to participate in such a seminar — to speak, to listen to others, to move always toward greater involvement in the meaning of any passage. This attitude of searching is the only prerequisite for the seminar, and great honesty is required. There will always be resistance to newness, along with excitement. The method also requires the overcoming of egocentricity, which may take the form of wanting to talk too often, feeling that one has the best answer, or never speaking because of the fear that one’s ideas "wouldn’t be any good."

As regards the leader of such a seminar, he must not only know the material and the critical work to be done on each passage but must also have a living relationship to it that is more than intellectual, or the questions will evoke no response. This requires knowledge of the material and considerable self-knowledge. Thus, as in any other art or science, there is a danger of practicing before one is ripe. Of course the questions will always to some extent reflect the "bias" of the leader, but this can be counteracted in two ways. One such way, genuine although it may seem superficial, is to ask questions which are known to bring out responses contrary to one’s own conviction. This is healthy; of course, the leader must constantly be self-aware and self-critical about whether rigidities and dogmatism have crept in. The second and deeper way to counteract bias is for the leader to hold in all humility the conviction that no matter how many times one goes over the material, new insights and dynamisms will come through each time. This occurs because each time the seminar responses are different, depending on the makeup of the group, and because the material itself always contains a mystery which remains unfathomable and numinous.

SOME EXAMPLES:

MATT. 5:21-22a, 23-24; HBS #37a.* ON ANGER.

*Here and following, the "HBS" number given refers to sections in Sharman’s Records of the Life of Jesus, which I use in seminars as the finest parallel arrangement of the Synoptic Gospels available.

POSSIBLE QUESTIONS:

What is the contrast between what the Old Testament was saying and what Jesus is saying?

How would you characterize Jesus’ attitude toward anger? Is he condemnatory, commending, or what?

What have we been taught about anger? What do we usually do with it?

The anger here is discovered at the altar — what does it mean to be at the altar?

Where, for you, is the altar? What place? What times? What does it symbolize?

What must be going on in us at the altar to let anger rise up?

What is the "gift" to be left during the time of reconciliation, and to be offered later?

What does reconciliation imply?

To whom might the "brother" refer?

Outwardly it could refer to whom, for you? How do we deal with the person if he is open to reconciliation? If he is not?

Inwardly, who might the "brother" be with whom there is anger?

How can we work to come to terms with this part in genuine reconciliation?

How will the work of reconciliation be different, whether outer or inner, because one has been to the altar? What will be the additional value, as opposed to fighting with anger alone?

How will the gift be different after the human work of relationship?

What is the picture you get of Jesus from this teaching?

PROBLEMS AND CHALLENGES:

There is a dearth of meaning for the idea of the "altar" and of a place and time for prayer or meditation.

Many questions will be raised about reconciliation when the other doesn’t respond.

The significance of the realism of Jesus and the wisdom of bringing together religious and psychological insights will be central.

MATT. 11:2-11; LUKE 7:18-28; HBS #41a-e. JOHN AND JESUS.

POSSIBLE QUESTIONS:

Why does John ask Jesus this question through his disciples? For information, correction, or what? (Recall John’s concept in Matt. 3:7-12; HBS #17.)

In vv. 4 and 5, how does Jesus answer?

From where does this quote come?

Compare the original Isaiah passage and its form here. How do you account for the difference?

What is Jesus’ answer to John? If it is not a direct yes or no, how would you characterize it?

Put in your own words the sentence in v. 6, "Blessed is he who takes no offense at me.

What is Jesus saying about his relation to the Christ-image? What is your reaction to what you see here?

In vv. 7-9 how does Jesus characterize John? As what kind of man?

In v. 11, what contrast does Jesus go on to make between John as "more than a prophet" and yet not in the Kingdom of God? Why is this said of John?

In the light of all we have seen so far of the relation between John and Jesus, consider the following questions: How will the Kingdom come? Who brings it in? What must we do personally, beyond "good works"?

PROBLEMS AND CHALLENGES:

Struggle to see Jesus’ answer to John’s question about the Christ, because it is not a clear yes or no. What further evidence is given here about Jesus’ relation to the messianic archetype?

MARK 2:13-17; LUKE 5:27-32; MATT. 9:9-13; HBS #30. EATING WITH SINNERS.

POSSIBLE QUESTIONS:

Describe the scene as you visualize it. Who is present? How are they arranged?

What do the Pharisees criticize Jesus for? Why would they not associate with the "sinners"? What was behind their attitude?

Who would the sinners have been in those days? Who would they be today? What group of people would carry this defiling, contaminating element for you?

What was Jesus’ attitude toward the sinners? Why was he able to associate with them?

Take the Pharisee and the sinner who are both inside us. What does the Pharisee represent? Describe him. In addition to seeing the "sinners" outside, when do we also find them inside us — i.e., what part of yourself does the Pharisee most censure or condemn?

Contrasted to the Pharisee-sinner split in those times and in our times, socially and individually, what is the attitude of Jesus? He and the value he represents are closest to which element, the Pharisee or the sinner? What does that really mean? Which has the church been closest to in attitude, the Pharisee or Jesus?

To whom does Jesus refer in v. 17 as "whole"? Which ones think they are "whole"?

PROBLEMS AND CHALLENGES:

There will be difficulty in facing one’s own rigidities and repressed sides.

Keep watching to see whether Jesus will give us a way to face and heal this split.

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