While I was off teaching Revelation elsewhere, my Sunday School class at First United Methodist Church of Pensacola studied from Harvey Brown’s new book Forgiveness: Finding Freedom from Your Past. Harvey’s book is just 40 pages (it’s in our Topical Line Drives series, and that’s the limit), and we discovered just how many questions can be raised in 40 pages!
Today we’re starting a study of Ecclesiastes, using the participatory study guide just published in November. This guide is written by Russell Meek of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and though I may be biased as editor and publisher, I think it’s one of the best studies you could do on the book of Ecclesiastes. Still, I’m going to have to tell the class that I disagree with a number of the conclusions in the book.
But that, you see, is the great thing. Russ presents those conclusions so well, that I’ll have a run for my money making a case against things that he says, even with him absent. And in that discussion, I hope, the members of our small Sunday School class we’ll learn how these things are done.
We’ll be talking about date and authorship today. This is an area of biblical studies that I think lay people in the church need to understand better. They take dates given in their study Bibles and assume they are either absolute, or at least they are a scholarly consensus. But how is it that serious biblical scholars make determinations about these things. Russ’s lengthy and very readable discussion of authorship is an excellent place to start.
As I’ve been reading Ecclesiastes in preparation for this class, I’ve been struck by the interesting question of what the inclusion of such a book in scripture means about inspiration. No, I don’t mean about inerrancy, but rather about the way in which God chooses to communicate with us. I think we are often misguided in our discussions of inspiration because we are asking the wrong questions. Then we adjust our views of inspiration according to how effective scripture is at answering our questions. But what if God never intended to answer those questions through scripture in the first place? We might be doing something like querying our physics text to learn how to deal with our emotions.
So I will also ask the class to think about just what questions might be answered by the inclusion of Ecclesiastes in the canon as well as by the text of the book.