the problem of patriarchalism, gender and the Bible

“Pray, then, in this way:

Our Father in heaven,
    may your name be revered as holy.”

Matthew 6:9; NRSVue

I recently read that the Bible is a sexist book, or something to that effect. That perhaps come across harshly. It was written into a patriarchal society in which men generally always ruled in government and were the head of their households. And often women were denigrated as second-class citizens, certainly below men in status. Scripture speaks into that world, but with the vision toward the kingdom (rule) of God promised in Jesus in which there’s no longer male nor female, master or slave, etc., but all are one in Christ (Galatians).

The best translations of Scripture in my view don’t obscure this reality, in fact you really can’t. What we need to do is read each part in its context, carry it forward to ours, and with the promise of God’s future rule in view. I think it’s important to see how Scripture deals with each cultural context. I tend to think that God accommodates God’s self to people and life as it is, to culture in general, but at the same time gradually pushes it toward what we see when Jesus comes and what follows with Pentecost and the church. And we also need to remember that Jesus needs to be the interpreter of Scripture, in other words we interpret it all through a Christological lens, and particularly in light of the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

That brings us to the subject of God. I’m part of a church which really tries to be inclusive in language, even with reference to God. We know that strictly speaking God is spirit, neither male nor female, but that humankind both female and male are made in God’s image. Most of Scripture again and again and again ascribes masculinity to God. Though we can see the spirit of God as neuter since that’s the vocabulary, though we also certainly know from Scripture that the spirit is not only wind or breath but is also personal. And God as wisdom actually is feminine tense. God is also likened to a mother in different ways in Scripture.

It’s fine to have a secondary use of a translation, perhaps like the Inclusive Bible which while not without problem, actually ended up much better than what was probably generally anticipated. But I think it’s best to use as one’s main translation a Bible which translates all gender as it was in the original while at the same time not translating male when it doesn’t mean that at all. The NRSV and now NRSVue is considered the most accurate by scholars. The CEB and the NIV are also good and some others with them. But some are more or less good with some problems, seemingly wanting to highlight patriarchalism as if it’s God’s will in creation (and new creation).

By all means if you want to, read Scripture in ways that get around it. The newish hymnbook in my tradition, Voices Together does precisely that. And it’s okay to pray the prayer the Lord taught us (see above) with something other than Father. But forever the original will say father. And there will be some debate and disagreement for sure.

In the end we don’t do well to dwell on such things. We just go on, together humbly trying to understand Scripture in its original context, how to see it in and through Christ, and what that means for us today. That’s where we should dwell. Let the other go. God will help us and in spite of our differences in all of this.

scripture does not interpret scripture, but Christ interprets scripture (when it’s all said and done)

The Diatessaron by Tatian is at least the best-known earliest attempt to harmonize the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. I think it was the evangelical scholar Mark Strauss who wrote that all attempts to harmonize the gospels are uninspired, unlike each of the four gospels which indeed are inspired by God.

That thought should help us begin to understand the importance of letting each passage and book of scripture be read as is, to stand on its own, to get the message it’s conveying before comparing it with any other passage or book. Bibles which have heavy cross references are helpful only if you keep this in mind and put it into practice, otherwise I think they’re unhelpful. The NRSVue at least in the electronic version now available (before hard copies are available hopefully by mid-August) have nice cross references added, but only to the extent that it helps one with the present passage, proper background for that at least so far in what I’ve seen.

Some like to say that the Bible is 66 books in perfect harmony, and that only God could have done that. What instead ought to be said is something like the Bible is 66 books (and I would like to add the apocrypha/ deuterocanonical books to at least be read seriously alongside it) that are disparate and often contradictory, but find their fulfillment, correction, and final meaning in God’s revelation in the good news in Jesus. Also some like to say that Genesis 1 and 2 are one creation account, and the NIV translates it so that it appears to be the case. But a more literal translation helps us see that we are likely looking at two creation accounts, each written to bring out something important, and not meant to be meshed together.

The point here is that we need to let each passage and book stand on its own, turn it over and over again in its own context. And do the same with the rest of the Bible. In the end I’m thinking that what we find is God helping many disparate strands somehow come together in Jesus and the fulfillment Jesus brings. Every single passage and book of the Bible is inspired on its own, telling us something important for us, for our understanding. In the end every part is to be seen in the light of Christ, his coming and all involved in that, his death and his resurrection, and all that follows.

So be careful with the idea that scripture interprets scripture. Only Christ interprets scripture, and we need to let each passage say precisely what it’s saying on its own and let the light of Christ shine on that. In and through Jesus.

stay in the lines

When I do a post, sometimes I want to make a particular point on an opinion, maybe even close to a conviction of mine. But then I remember what this blog and what Christian ministry is all about. It’s not about what we think, but about God’s word. Yes, God’s word interpreted, and in consideration of how the Spirit has guided the church in that interpretation, maybe we can say, loosely speaking. And then I draw back, going to what the word, Scripture specifically says.

Opinions are fine for talking, conversational points, but not good for Christian teaching.

There are issues of interpretation, called biblical hermeneutics. And that can open up controversy, no doubt. Maybe there’s a place for that in considering different ways a text might be understood, with perhaps more than one point being made in a text. That’s part of the genius and depth of Scripture. At the same time, we do well to seek to stay in the lines of what Scripture is saying, noting possible differences in understanding that, but nevertheless seeking to stay true to what Scripture calls itself: God’s (written) word.

I think sometimes Scripture is a bit fuzzy on purpose, and that we’re not meant to unravel it all. At the same time we ought to pay attention to both sound interpretation along with how the church has generally interpreted a passage, trusting that the Spirit keeps the church true to the main intent of Scripture, the gospel, and in doing so, helps the church on the details. There is a need for reformation in understanding at times, because humans and institutions within the church can get off track.

The main point here is to seek to adhere to what Scripture says, what God might be saying through it, along with what God indeed is saying. And remain in dialog with that, with the goal of remaining true in both faith and practice. In and through Jesus.

a psalm taking a stand against evil

Of David. A psalm.

I will sing of your love and justice;
to you, Lord, I will sing praise.
I will be careful to lead a blameless life—
when will you come to me?

I will conduct the affairs of my house
with a blameless heart.
I will not look with approval
on anything that is vile.

I hate what faithless people do;
I will have no part in it.
The perverse of heart shall be far from me;
I will have nothing to do with what is evil.

Whoever slanders their neighbor in secret,
I will put to silence;
whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart,
I will not tolerate.

My eyes will be on the faithful in the land,
that they may dwell with me;
the one whose walk is blameless
will minister to me.

No one who practices deceit
will dwell in my house;
no one who speaks falsely
will stand in my presence.

Every morning I will put to silence
all the wicked in the land;
I will cut off every evildoer
from the city of the Lord.

Psalm 101

All of scripture is for our edification, even if we may not know what to do with all of it. Psalm 101 is a good case in point. David speaks in terms that are quite kosher in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, but when compared with Jesus’s teaching, we may have questions. Yes, Jesus did get after the religious leaders of his day, and he was rather unsparing, to say the least. They were the ones who judged others, being steeped in what amounted to systemic evil, a system of religion that seemed to encourage superficiality, which lends itself to missing the heart of God’s will: justice, mercy, love, and faithfulness.

David’s words remind us, I think, of how we’re not to merely tolerate others in the sense of looking past what is wrong. At the same time, as Jesus teaches us, we’re to love our enemies and pray for them. We’re also to honor those in authority, as the New Testament teaches, the emperor, which was then Nero. So we’re to honor them, even when they may be dishonorable themselves. We leave vengeance for wrongdoing in God’s hands. And we’re to pray for them.

We need all of scripture. I think David’s words here are not just something we should pin to him, thinking, well that was a different era and has little or no application for us today. We surely do need to read all of scripture through the lens of Christ and his coming. But to write it off as irrelevant would be a mistake. What exactly to do with each line, with each thought, how we’re to interpret that, is problematical. We don’t simply carry over David’s thoughts and actions for us, even if we might pray his words looking to God for God’s answers.

Jesus welcomed all, and would appeal to all. But sin is not swept under the rug. We do no one any favor to do that. We must first look at our own sin, and we grieve and pray over what we see as the sin of others.

So we need to read all of scripture, and pray. The psalms are rich for forming us. And we read them as followers of Jesus. Looking to God to help us, as we prayerfully read and ponder them, in and through Jesus.

Psalm 18: holy warfare for today

With your help I can advance against a troop;
    with my God I can scale a wall.

Psalm 18

As one who is either a pacifist Christian, or almost completely so (see Miroslav Volf for his change, and why), warfare passages in scripture, specifically in the Old Testament can seen counter Jesus, and in a sense might well be considered so (though read the book of Revelation, but also see Michael Gorman’s book on it which I haven’t read). Tremper Longman in this lecture defends well the teaching of holy war in the Old Testament, countering Greg Boyd’s recent work.

Judgment is both present and future, and I let some of the hard questions go. What I’m settled in is that for the people of God today, holy warfare amounts to spiritual warfare. The apostle Paul’s words seem to address this for me:

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

2 Corinthians 10

Nevertheless all scripture was written for us, even if not to us. I find Psalm 18 completely encouraging and inspiring for the real life I have to face. We are not called to a passive existence where we do nothing, unlike what some advocate, as if anything else is opposed to God’s grace. No. In Christ we are given strength from God to do what we must. And any holy war today would never be physical:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

Ephesians 6

We are in a battle no less. And like Longman points out for the actual physical warfare that went on in the Old Testament (and I would highly recommend listening to this lecture), we engage in spiritual warfare in the context of worship and submission to God as prescribed in God’s word.

Find your way to Psalm 18 in your own Bible. Read slowly, meditate, and pray. That is what I’m doing.  So that I can find my strength, what I need in God, and what God gives us, in and through Jesus.

my last take on Greg Boyd’s *Cross Vision* and on all such works

In September I wrote a rather enthusiastic preliminary take on Greg Boyd’s recent work, Cross Vision (the shortened version of the scholarly tome, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God).

First of all, I’m under no illusion that it matters much at all what I think. I’m only one person, and limited both in time and resources. This is a matter especially for scholars to sort out, and those within the church who are so inclined, and perhaps in positions of leadership.

I did read Cross Vision, but not The Crucifixion of the Warrior God.

My final take on this latest work from Boyd is not complicated: I simply don’t read scripture that way, nor do most of the Christians I know. Unless scripture itself qualifies something either directly or indirectly, then I think we’re on precarious grounds to do so ourselves. And that’s what I’m afraid Greg Boyd does in this work. In the biblical text God gives commands which Boyd says God really didn’t give. But the text does not say that God corrected the Israelite leaders such as Moses and Joshua. Nor does the rest of scripture, but rather, the opposite. And I also have a problem with how much of the Old Testament is called into question in light of the coming of Christ, not in terms of its inspiration, according to Boyd, and as he explains. But even made to be something sinful, when for example Hebrews 11 cites at least some of that as examples of faith. And there are answers other than what Boyd insists on in terms of God’s grace as to what’s going on in such matters. Not that Boy wouldn’t insist that grace was at play in his answer, either, because he would. The way I read scripture is more straightforward in taking the text at face value, but also with reference to the entire Bible, and to what Jesus himself said.

I do have much respect for scholars who seem favorable to this work, whether or not they agree with Boyd themselves.

My determination from now on is not to wade into matters well over my head. I will read and listen. And I might be influenced in my own thinking by such. But it is not my place, and hopefully no longer my inclination to share my own thoughts on such matters, such as I have in the past. Maybe the best practice for people like me is to simply ask questions. And for all of us to keep going back to scripture to see if what is being said is true.

a turning point for me

I may have the inclination, but that’s where it ends, to be able to weigh in on controversial matters such as Greg Boyd’s recent work. From now on I want to stick with the simplicity of what I do, with the Bible’s normal reading by the church, as my guide. I’ll let the scholars and theologians grapple with the other stuff, and try to learn from them. And if I make any judgment, I’ll hopefully qualify it sufficiently, so that the reader or listener will put weight on the biblical text and the church’s interpretation, and not on my own interpretation of it.

What I mean is that I am going to do what I think I’m gifted at doing, and what I’ve come to do, given everything, and leave those kinds of matters more to scholars, theologians, and those inclined to take them on. And if I wade into anything controversial, I will try to do so with a kind of disclaimer, which I think I haven’t adequately, if at all at times done in the past. I simply don’t have the breadth of study needed to make such judgments. But I will listen and weigh what others say. I know to say anything at all puts one on a theological fault line. Strictly speaking, there is no one just normal way of reading scripture by the church. But I would say the normal way of reading scripture as the church has, allows for diversity reflecting the richness of the text, as well as some variance in understanding.

We do need those especially gifted in a kind of prophetic way, and others in the wisdom way to be sure. And the church has to develop discernment in weighing everything. And we need some steady feet, not wandering all over the place. But theology does push us sometimes to places we might rather not go. But it must be somehow in submission to and in step with the church. The biblical text will cause the needed affront to us all with the help of the Spirit, as the word of God, and point us to the good news in Jesus. I state what I think is the obvious, which is what I try to do.

And we are all indebted much to gifted scholars and theologians, but the older I get, the more I just want to get back to the text of scripture, what it actually says, and go from there, which I’m sure is question begging/logical fallacy for some. I may be either under or over thinking here, or somehow both. But still reading from scholars and theologians. That’s where I’ll settle, myself. Psalm 131.

scripture and God

“What does scripture say?” is an important question not just for Bible readers, but for anyone who wants to know God and what God says. If one wants to find the intersect of God and life, then one needs to turn to the pages of scripture. In a rather mysterious way, if one perseveres, they will indeed find that, with the challenge and possible blessing which follows.

Scriptural or Biblical interpretation, called hermeneutics, is certainly important in all of this. We exegete in the sense of letting the text speak for itself, taking pains to not read into the text our own biases, or what we want to get out of it ourselves. Instead we determine to “listen”, and we try to both learn and proceed from that.

Scripture by which I mean the Bible ultimately points us to Jesus and the good news in him. That is at the heart of both its point and fulfillment of creation in the new creation. It is essential to simply read it as is, but also to read it in light of its trajectory or goal. It ultimately points us to Christ and to God’s fulfillment of his promises in him. It really is not meant to be used as a guidebook for this and that, like how one handles their finances, or eats. Even if one will find some wisdom in those areas, like be generous and save, and don’t be a glutton.

And so we need to give ourselves anew and afresh to scripture, so that we can find the God who speaks to us in and through its pages. In and through Jesus.

within (orthodox) Christianity thinking outside the lines

I was recently musing with someone over the thought that it would be nice if there was just one church in the world which let people disagree on a host of things, but was intact and centered in what the Bible is centered in: the gospel. The problem would end up being over matters related to the gospel, including specifics about it, and its scope. But that would be alright, if people would just get a grasp of the richness of the faith both in scripture, and in the tradition of the church, particularly in its early centuries.

Yes, lines have to be drawn. God is Triune, something like one Being in Three Persons. Jesus is human and Deity (divine in an equal to God sense, unlike the rest of us). Etc. We have been taking our grandchildren to an evangelical megachurch and have been pleasantly surprised on a number of scores, including both their passion for truth, and their indifference over nonessentials, and I take it, in letting believers disagree over a number of matters.

I get in trouble over accepting evolution and believing in creation and the Genesis account at the same time, and probably on other matters, too. At this stage in my life, I prefer to avoid debate, and trying to influence others that way, so was finding our time at the new church refreshing, because like where I work, they major on what unites us in Jesus, and not on what divides us.

But now Greg Boyd’s Cross Vision, the book adeptly setting forth the message from his massive work, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God sets me up for once again getting into something I prefer to avoid: controversy, and in this case downright disassociation from some, I suppose. And yet if people would read the work, they could choose to disagree, but see that it is not at all departing from the faith, including the truth that the Bible is the inspired, breathed out word of God, it is God’s word written.

Never should teaching like that be made a test of orthodoxy, except where it either departs from the gospel, or puts its teaching in jeopardy. Those who make some new suggestions out of the richness of scripture, and with due consideration of tradition (both very true, in Boyd’s case) should not be automatically dismissed as heretics.

I do see value in churches which emphasize this or that, and I don’t see the end of the world over the diversity of churches, like some people do. We are one in Christ by the Spirit, with one faith (Ephesians 4). While we must contend for the faith in a world of lies and blatant as well as subtle unbelief, we must also hold to it in all its wonder and glory. In the beauty revealed at the heart of it: the good news of God in Jesus.

what does scripture say?

These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age.

1 Corinthians 10:11; NLT

Theology and Biblical interpretation is neither easy nor optional. A definition of theology here might be what paradigm we accept in understanding what we’re reading. I’m not thinking of a necessarily simplistic paradigm, either. There is the Arminian and Calvinist examples, as well as Dispensational and Covenantal. Biblical interpretation is perhaps more basic yet, though each can inform and form the other. Simply put, it’s how we understand any given passage in its own context, and for us today.

One of the best remedies against the weaknesses of theology and biblical interpretation is to simply keep reading all of scripture. I find something like N. T. Wright’s division of creation, fall, Israel, Jesus and church to be helpful, maybe with an additional Jesus’s return and the eternal state added on. To realize what part of the overall story we’re in is surely important. We have to take it as a whole, but appreciate the parts.

I take it that every theology as well as practice of biblical interpretation has its strengths and weaknesses. We can probably learn from each, even if in some cases it might be an example of what we ought not to do, like eisegesis instead of exegesis, which simply explained means to read into a passage what isn’t there, instead of letting a passage speak for itself.

Again the remedy is to read scripture ourselves, and the best case, to do so along with others. Last evening I read the book of Hebrews and found that refreshing in terms of letting that letter speak for itself. Something I want to continue to do, certainly a priority as a Christian who seeks to be a believer and follower of Jesus. All of this in and through him.