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Monday, April 25, 2016

The Bible is literary and sometimes literal Part 2: Jesus words

I heard this proof text used today from Jesus' sermon on the mount in Matthew's gospel , Matt.5:17-18 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished." This occurs in the same message where he overrides Moses' eye for an eye teaching.


Fundamentalist Johnny (FJ) would use this proof text to retain whatever Old Testament moral teaching that seemed to be in contradiction with Jesus. But Jesus does this so much. Jesus is not a religious lawyer. He is a humanist (someone who emphasizes the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively) who values people enough to say when the Mosaic law conflicts with human flourishing, the law loses. When his followers get criticized for "working" while grabbing some grain and eating it off the stalk during the Sabbath, a violation of one of Moses' 10 commandments, Jesus replies the Sabbath was made for humans, it serves them, not the other way around. When the religious leaders bring a woman condemned to stoning for adultery, another violation of one of the 10 commandments, he points out to them their own hypocrisy resulting in her deliverance. Jesus is a lover, not a lawyer. He loves people. Part of this demonstration of his love is to abolish laws by calling them inapplicable, or even wrong. Nevertheless, if that weren't enough, how was his self-sacrifice and resurrection not when "everything is accomplished"? The author of the New Testament letter of Hebrews says all those sacrifices and cultic rituals of Moses were foreshadowings, now fulfilled in Jesus.

So if that's also true, then there is nothing to appeal to as a guide for life post-Jesus that is "assholery." But I'm speaking as if it's all literal.

When Jesus uses these absolutist terms in Matthew 5:17, where FJ raises his literalist flag on, but uses the same absolutist terms 10 verses later about cutting off my own body parts if they cause me to sin, where FJ no longer finds a literalist flag to plant, more right brained (code word for "liberal") Johnny can walk up to both spots and raise a literary flag. The words are not the end of the discussion because they are placed in conflict either with each other or with his actions.

The big question is how then to arbitrate the objective these words point towards? It will depend on the descriptions of God that are given the highest priority. If the ground of your Christian theology is "God is love" you will assemble these parts in conflict differently than if your foundation is "God is holy" or "God is judge." If your experience with your father is damaged and unexamined or unrepaired, then your understanding of "God our father" will also result in different assemblies of the pieces.

For me, the loving Father God, as represented by Jesus, values his children so highly he always makes a way for them to get to him no matter what circumstances they come from, religious, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, age or mental capacity. Those passages FJ focused on where he saw a vindictive, nasty, assaholic god are reevaluated in light of those other passages where he is amazing - the good shepherd, the woman in search of her lost treasure, the father who rejoices over his whoring, partying son, the prophet who protects a woman from her judges, etc. A literary approach gives that flexibility. Not all passages are equal because they are not literal.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Not everything biblical is Christian Part 21 - Phinehas the murderous priest esteemed for his zealotry

I have two Bible stories for you.

One day the Israelite people are camped on the border of the country of Moab. They were getting along swimmingly and romance blossomed. Moses, their leader, was upset because the Israelite men were enjoying not only Moabite ladies but their tribal god as well. Moses hears his God tell him to kill all the leaders who tolerated this behavior. Moses orders his priests to kill the offenders. Just then some Israeli dude and his Midianite (another tribe) girlfriend walk into his tent before Moses and his priests. One of the priests, Phinehas, took Moses literally and walked into the guys tent with a spear and skewered the two of them. Apparently this stopped some sort of plague going through the camp. Moses tells them God totally approves and honors Phinehas for his great deed and God wants them to kill all the Midianites. It's all in Numbers 25.

Jesus appears and acts like a new Moses. He overrules Moses, see parts two and four. Jesus even gives a law from the mountain like Moses. In Luke 9 he even has an encounter with Moses who then disapparates and God says listen to my son. Later in the same chapter, Jesus and his crew are hanging out in non-Jewish territory and those people have zero interest in Jesus. Two of the crew, fiery brothers (probably red heads), ask Jesus if they can go nuclear on those people for rejecting him. They are feeling all Phinehas. Jesus tells them to knock it off. Later on, in Matthew's Passion narrative, Jesus is betrayed by one his crew, and about to be arrested. One of his main guys, Peter, tries to get all Phinehas and whips out his sword and manages to take a swing at the one unarmed guy. Jesus shuts him down as well, Matthew 26:52-53.

Phinehas is not cut from the same cloth as Jesus. But plenty of Phinehas wanna-be's swarm the ranks of the unofficial internet Christian defense league. I used to be one. In the confrontation at Jesus' arrest, Jesus tells Peter, "if God wanted to change this situation, he's got way more resources than your lousy sword play."

Phinehas is not an example of love. He is not a Christ-like model. Christ's model of interaction with his enemies is to love them and absorb their evil. Phinehas is biblical but not Christian.

I talked about a similar situation with Ezra the priest. The stories of the Maccabees, post-Ezra pre-Jesus, Israeli terrorists are also cut from the cloth of Phinehas. But they are not cut from the cloth of Jesus. Jesus is the flesh and blood embodiment of God, see Paul's discourse in Colossians 1. Phinehas got God wrong.

Jesus is the surprise ending to the story. But the story includes false starts, including people with good ideas but bad implementation of those ideas, like Phinehas and Ezra. Although they were not judged at their part of the story, Jesus' appearance in the story, the climax of the story, is their evaluation. The short of it is, not everything Biblical is Christian.


This is part 19 of the series, Not everything Biblical is ChristianPart one points out that the words of Satan recorded in the Bible are not Christian doctrine. Part two shows the Sermon on the Mount overruling the cursing of enemies exhibited in Psalm 137. Parts three and four show Moses getting overruled by Ezekiel and Jesus. Part five merely brushes the concept of source criticism.  Part six looks at the Old Testament application in the early church: a brief summary of the book of Acts. Part seven looks at how the church has worked this out regarding slavery. Part eight, showed one example of how an unchristian part of the Bible helps tell the Christian story. Part nine asks who would Jesus hate? Part 10 discusses women as Biblically approved spoils of war. Part 11 discusses divorce. Part 12 discusses the imposition of Bronze Age social constructs onto our diverse and complex modern world. Part 13 discusses women as property in the Biblical world. Part 14 discusses dehumanization of people with Biblical support. Part 15 discusses the evangelical culture that tends to proclaim the terrible day of the Lord is around the next corner. Part 16 shows how the end of the book of Job overrules 90% of the soliloquies in the book. Part 17 discusses a Psalm of confession. Part 18 discusses more Psalmist theology. Part 19 discusses something in the New Testament writings of Paul. Part 20 discusses condemnation.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Not everything biblical is Christian part 20: condemnation

In the series "Not everything biblical is Christian" I've stayed on Bible texts specifically. For those who know the lingo, I have been proof-texting, pulling up a text, contrasting it to the life of Jesus and "proving" that they are in tension and resolving it by giving Jesus the final say. This post is different in the lack of a Biblical text. Instead I have included a screenshot from my Facebook timeline, about a month ago, with two different approaches to homosexuality, the way of the law and the way of love. I have lived most of my Christian life with the focus on the former, so I completely understand where the first writer comes from. Yet I have come to embrace the way of love and grace. So the day these posts appeared in juxtaposition I saw myself in two acts. Act 1: the letter of the law, a Javert. Act 2: the way of love. not even a Jean Valjean, even less a little Christ. The law is fixed. Love ever expands.

Now the screenshot.

The first post sees an error in the application of law. The second post sees an opportunity to love, comfort, cherish and enjoin. Our years are short on this rock floating through the universe, why was I so certain, like the critic, that it would be better to make life worse for someone? Some of my friends would say I have never been so cruel, but I know in my heart how I was. And I have many stories here on this blog of when I have been cruel in the name of Jesus.

I want to tell the critic, "it gets better," he can move on from condemnation, but that slogan has been used to encourage gay youth so that they do not kill themselves before they have an opportunity to love themselves and be loved for who they are, not for who they are not. Not enough kids have parents like Austin's who affirm him for who he is, a beloved human being made in the image of God.

A theology of love and affirmation will have a tremendously different impact on anyone over a theology of depravity and self-hatred.

If God is love, and there is a proof text for that, then God loves all of us the gays and the stone throwers. For this, I am grateful.


This is part 19 of the series, Not everything Biblical is ChristianPart one points out that the words of Satan recorded in the Bible are not Christian doctrine. Part two shows the Sermon on the Mount overruling the cursing of enemies exhibited in Psalm 137. Parts three and four show Moses getting overruled by Ezekiel and Jesus. Part five merely brushes the concept of source criticism.  Part six looks at the Old Testament application in the early church: a brief summary of the book of Acts. Part seven looks at how the church has worked this out regarding slavery. Part eight, showed one example of how an unchristian part of the Bible helps tell the Christian story. Part nine asks who would Jesus hate? Part 10 discusses women as Biblically approved spoils of war. Part 11 discusses divorce. Part 12 discusses the imposition of Bronze Age social constructs onto our diverse and complex modern world. Part 13 discusses women as property in the Biblical world. Part 14 discusses dehumanization of people with Biblical support. Part 15 discusses the evangelical culture that tends to proclaim the terrible day of the Lord is around the next corner. Part 16 shows how the end of the book of Job overrules 90% of the soliloquies in the book. Part 17 discusses a Psalm of confession. Part 18 discusses more Psalmist theology. Part 19 discusses something in the New Testament writings of Paul.