I have been thinking a lot about the categories of “similarities” and “differences” recently. In fact, now that I look back, I’ve been thinking about these categories for about forty years. It’s funny the things we think about. But for a scholar of early Christianity, these categories matter a lot.
When I was a conservative evangelical Christian, reading, studying, and thinking about the Bible, I was completely focused on similarities. This book, this passage, this teaching is very similar to that one. I did focus on differences about lots of *other* things (other than the Bible). That person is Jew and not a Christian, and therefore will have to face judgment and be condemned, unlike *me* a Christian. Or that person is a Roman Catholic and so is not a real Christian and therefore… Or that person does not have the right theology about salvation, or Christ, or predestination, or the Bible, and therefore….
So I knew and thought about differences a lot and knew that they were highly significant. Even eternally significant. Anyone who didn’t have my religious views was condemned forever. Poor souls. Why don’t they just agree with me?
But when it came to my own beliefs, at least about the Bible, it was all about the similarities. The Bible had *ONE* author, ultimately: God. Sure, he used human authors to convey his word. And they may have used their own writing abilities to do so – accounting for differences in writing style and vocabulary (and languages: Greek, Hebrew, and a wee bit of Aramaic). But the ideas they conveyed were completely consistent with one another, supported one another, and could be used to explain one another.
This was a principle of biblical interpretation …
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