Differences – and what they might represent …

Sharon wrote: “Pastor Craig, I have been reading in Kings. I notice there are different ways in which they were spoken of in regard to the end of their lives. One time it will say, he died, or slept with his fathers, or slept with his fathers and was buried in the sepulcher of David, or slept with his fathers and buried in the city of David, or one was buried in Tirzah (Baasha), or one buried in his own garden, or Omri who was buried in Samaria. I was wondering if there was any significance to the different ways and or places that this is stated. Was this because of how they lived their lives or is there a spiritual significance to this or were there just different places to be buried?”

Hi Sharon. Thanks for the great question. You are a wonderfully careful reader of Scripture. I love and appreciate that!

When you talk about the differences in language in Kings, my first instinct from my seminary days – when we dove deep into matters of biblical exegesis, or biblical interpretation – leads me to believe that the differences you spoke of have to do with different source materials that were used. An early chapter of 1 Kings, for instance, might have come from one source, while a later chapter in 2 Kings came from a difference source. Folks who study Scripture using this method do what’s called source criticism.

When a pastor talks about biblical interpretation and different methods of studies, some lay people get confused. That’s because many were raised to believe that all the material from one book in the Bible came from the same source. Often, however, that is not true. Seemingly random changes in names, pronouns, locations, etc. often suggest that a particular passage was drawn from a different source than its surrounding material.

Let me give you an example of how source criticism might work from modern times. Let’s say we read three books having to do with America’s relations with Russia. In one book, they talk about a city – at that time the capital of Russia – and call it Petrograd. In another book, they call the same city Leningrad. In another, they call it St. Petersburg.

Those who know Russian history would know the first book must have been written between 1917 and 1924: a time when the city was known as Petrograd. They would also know the second book was written sometime between 1925 and the mid-1990’s (when the city was known as Leningrad). The third book would be harder to date – as the city was known as St. Petersburg twice: once before 1917, and again after the early-1990’s.

Biblical scholars use the same sort of reasoning to figure out when biblical material was written. And they use it in a variety of ways – not just with the names of places of places or people. There are certain words or phrases that are used in one time and place – and others words or phrases that are used in other times and places.

My sense (without known the specific passage of which you wrote) is the passages your referred to above were much like this example. The differences in language represent different social contexts more than they represent difference theologies (though, of course, all theology is contextual – but I digress). 😊

What a great question to raise, Sharon. It was nice to think about something else than the COVID-19 scare for a moment. Thanks so much for writing!

How about others? What’s on your mind today? Your matters can be pretty wide ranging.

About Pastor Craig

I'm a 52-year-old who lives in Los Angeles, CA. I'm an ordained clergy person in the United Church of Christ. My passions include spirituality, politics, and sports (Go Houston teams, go!). I use my blog to start conversations rather than merely spout my perspectives and opinions. I hope you'll post a question, comment, or observation for me to respond - so we can get the conversation started!
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1 Response to Differences – and what they might represent …

  1. Sharon says:

    Thanks Craig, That makes a lot of sense to me.

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