On reading the gospels

On reading the gospels

A. Ludwig Wittgenstein

“Kierkegaard writes: If Christianity were so easy and cosy, why should God in his Scriptures have set Heaven and Earth in motion and threatened eternal punishments? — Question: But in that case why is this Scripture so unclear? If we want to warn someone of a terrible danger, do we go about it by telling him a riddle whose solution will be the warning? — But who is to say that the Scripture really is unclear? Isn’t it possible that it was essential in this case to ‘tell a riddle’? And that, on the other hand, giving a more direct warning would necessarily have had the wrong effect? God has four people recount the life of his incarnate Son, in each case differently and with inconsistencies — but might we not say: It is important that this narrative should not be more than quite averagely historically plausible just so that this should not be taken as the essential, decisive thing? So that the letter should not be believed more strongly than is proper and the spirit may receive its due. I.e. what you are supposed to see cannot be communicated even by the best and most accurate historian; and therefore a mediocre account suffices, is even to be preferred. For that too can tell you what you are supposed to be told. (Roughly in the way a mediocre stage set can be better than a sophisticated one, painted trees better than real ones, — because these might distract attention from what matters.)

“The Spirit puts what is essential, essential for your life into these words. The point is precisely that you are only supposed to see clearly what appears clearly even in this representation.  (I am not sure how far all this is exactly in the spirit of Kierkegaard.)”

from Culture and Value, Ed. G.H. von Wright, Trans. Peter Winch, (University of Chicago Press, 1980), 31e-32e.

B. Wayne Booth

“At a bear minimum, the Gospels demonstrate that some men — in fact, many men indeed — have been able to believe these strange beliefs. Their historical weaknesses — even if taken to the extreme of arguing that no such figure as Jesus ever existed — could not entirely destroy their power as a rhetoric for one view of how man can or should live in the world.”

from Modern Dogma and the Rhetoric of Assent, (University of Notre Dame Press, 1974), 155.

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