Do you suffer from mumpsimus? Let me explain what I mean by taking you into my classroom. My poor students -- they sit there so patiently as I wax elephant about the Pauline authorship of Hebrews or Matthean priority or Christ-centered (rather than pulpit-centered) gatherings or the usefulness of the Byzantine text type (rather that either its primacy or secondariness) or the weekly observance of the Lord's Supper (see Acts 20:7). To me, Markan priority, to take one example, is a clear instance of mumpsimus -- the migration of error from textbook to textbook.
Mumpsimus originally referred to those changes in church liturgy that were inserted without authority or good reason and then passed down from one group to another to become accepted dogma, never to be challenged.
Mumpsimus is based on the story of an illiterate priest who lived during the Middle Ages. Seems he had learned to recite the Latin Mass incorrectly. Instead of saying sumpsimus (Latin for "we have taken") he said mumpsimus, which is not a Latin word at all. When somebody finally told him he was wrong, he reared up on his haunches and insisted he would never exchange his mumpsimus for their sumpsimus. Not only did he refuse to change. He refused to agree that he was wrong.
Evangelical group think -- let's not engage in it, okay folks? Jesus did not teach primus inter pares -- first among equals. He did not allow us the use of honorific titles. He never entrusted leadership of a local church to one man. And the list goes on and on. If you will allow me to paraphrase Jesus, "It's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone addicted to tradition to enter the kingdom of God." Now that's you, and that's me. The more educated we are, the harder it is to accept the simple teachings of our Savior. It's almost as if Jesus knew we would claim exalted titles for ourselves in the church. It's almost as if he knew that the secret of church leadership awaited us at the bottom. Oh wait, that's exactly what he knew. I can tell you from sad experience, with every step down the rung, the stripping away process becomes more excruciating. I had no earthly idea how tightly I had clung to tradition. Like that priest of old, I will follow my way of doing things and let the truth be confounded!
There's a better way. I hope together with my students we will find it this semester.
September 4, 2020
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.