Wednesday, August 10, 2011

OT Mentoring Relationships

I wrote this in relation to a Bible assignment for the "Congregational Spiritual Formation" course. I thought I would share the lead up to the assignment.
In this assignment, we are asking you to look at a “one to one relationship” in an Old Testament narrative that, to us, looks something like what we would call a mentoring relationship.  These are relationships in which an individual who is expected to have greater insight or experience leads another individual to grow or mature, particularly in relation to tasks they go on to perform.

By this time in the curriculum, most of you have either taken the “Bible as Christian Scripture” class or have received credit for it in lieu of work you have done elsewhere or in your undergraduate training.  Accordingly, when you look at an assignment like this one, you hopefully recognize several important considerations.  One is the fact that “mentoring” will not look the same from culture to culture, indeed from sub-culture to sub-culture.  The way a person like Elijah related to Elisha or the way Elisha related to Gehazi was a function of the way people almost 2800 years ago related to each other in a particular ancient near eastern setting.  We cannot at all be sure that their way of relating to each other is an appropriate model for us to emulate today in our contexts.

Another consideration is the fundamental principle that “description is not prescription.”  Judas went out and hanged himself in the biblical narrative.  Are we to go and do likewise?  In the Bible as Scripture course, we recognized that narratives have an “evaluative point of view” that can help us determine what a narrative meant for its original audience to emulate and what it did not.  Sometimes, in fact, the biblical text is just telling us what happened and does not have any clear point for us to take away at all. [1]

When a narrative points to a clear model to follow, we then have to locate it within the “whole council of God.”  Here we refer especially to the progress of understanding (the “flow of revelation”) as the Old Testament understanding of many things is not complete without the New Testament.  Even in the New Testament, we often have to figure out how the material in one part relates to material in other parts, almost always with the help of Christian reflection on the biblical texts throughout the centuries.  Does God incite David to take a census (2 Sam. 24:1) or was it the Satan (1 Chron. 21:1)? Some biblical narratives have a more precise and complete picture of God than others.

Finally, we at least have to recognize the sense of many experts that ancient narratives were often more interested in making a point than with recording precise history in the modern sense.  Most of us take the biblical narratives fairly straightforwardly as a record of exactly what happened.  It is at least worthwhile for us to be aware of how various scholarly theories might affect the way we read certain biblical narratives.

For example, is Abraham an example of not learning his lesson when he lies to Abimelech about Sarah being his wife (Gen. 20), when he had already done the same thing with Pharaoh before (Gen. 12:10-20)?  Or are these two versions of the same oral tradition (along with Gen. 26:6-11)? Some scholars think that these two stories come from different sources behind Genesis (one of which used Elohim for God and the other of which used Yahweh for God--notice that each of these stories uses one or the other, not both).  We are free to disagree.  What is important is to realize that some of the points we see in the biblical narratives may result as much from the way the story looks to us as from their intended meaning.

This assignment is thus about opening ourselves up to the Spirit to hear insights about mentoring by reflecting on certain Old Testament narratives.  You are welcome to find the evaluative point of view of the narrative in question, to locate the text in the flow of revelation, to consider possible considerations of source and oral tradition, and to take into account possible differences in culture between our time and the time of the narrative before then drawing conclusions (the Foundations professor will no doubt reward you for such sophistication).  You are also welcome to hear the Spirit speak to you through the story as it stands and as you see it, recognizing that God regularly brings wisdom through encountering Scripture, even when that wisdom is not what the text actually meant.

[1] Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart (2003) put it this way: “Narratives record what happened—not necessarily what should have happened or what ought to happen every time.  Therefore, not every narrative has an individual identifiable moral of the story” (84).  While we can question whether recording what happened was the primary focus of ancient narrative, their point is certainly a significant element in the equation.

Works Cited
Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart. (2003). How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth.3rd ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

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