an outlet of encouragement, explanation, and exhortation

Category: Bible Study (Page 1 of 3)

Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”

I finished reading The Sparrow and Children of God by Mary Doria Russell yesterday. I very much appreciated these two books, which I really recommend reading as one work. Let’s just say for now that the story told herein deeply challenges the tropes that permeate pop-christianity. Mary Doria Russell is a deep thinker who converted to Judaism as she wrote these books. I don’t particularly agree with her views on the distinctions between Christianity and Judaism or the significance of these views, philosophically and theologically speaking. Nevertheless, the story told is told well and very much worth the emotional toll it takes as it roils through devotion, good intentions, evil, unintended consequences, suffering, injustice, and…. well, perhaps you get the point that this is a serious work of fiction.

I found myself thinking, at times, “But this is all made up!” as I was pushed into considering extremely uncomfortable situations and themes. And yet, history is replete with events that parallel the events in the story Russell creates. How does one interpret those events in the light of God? Theodicy, indeed. But that’s not really why I’m writing. It is what pours out as a preface to what I intend to focus on, which is a really interesting interpretation of Exodus 33.18-23 that I had not heard before.

Perhaps you recall that Exodus 33 records the conversation between Moses and Yahweh immediately after the golden calf incident in the wilderness at the foot of Mount Sinai. Moses insists that as Yahweh sends him and the people to the land Yahweh has promised them that Yahweh himself come with them – not just an angel. Yahweh agrees, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

The “conversation” continues…

18 Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”
19 And the LORD said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”
21 Then the LORD said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. 22 When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”

Exodus 33.18.23, New International Version

I’ve always heard this interpreted in light of God’s holiness and overwhelming glory and so on. I’m not disagreeing with those interpretations; but perhaps there is more? Deeper? One of the characters, Father John Candiotti, at the end of Children of God suggests that this passage is about the passage of time…

“There’s a passage in Exodus – God tells Moses, ‘No one can see My face, but I will protect you with My hand until I have passed by you, and then I will remove My hand and you will see my back.’ Remember that?…”

“Well, I always thought that was a physical metaphor,” John said, “but, you know – I wonder now if it isn’t really about time? Maybe that was God’s way of telling us that we can never know His intentions, but as time goes on… we’ll understand. We’ll see where He was: we’ll see His back.”

Mary Doria Russell, writing as Father John Candiotti (a fictional character in Children of God)

I suppose I think Father Candiotti’s “we’ll understand” is a bit optimistic. But his reinterpretation of the metaphor of seeing God’s face vs. seeing God’s back as a about time…. That’s sticking with me. The preparation for, and that thought alone was worth the reading of the two books!

And there was another, related quote near the end Children of God.

In all the shrouded heavens anywhere
Not a whisper in the air
Of any living voice but one so far
That I can hear it only as a bar
Of lost, imperial music
Edward Arlington Robinson, from his poem Credo

Fulfilling, or “Filling Full” the Law and the Prophets

I thought this highlight from this week’s Bible Project playlist on the Sermon on the Mount was really helpful and captured an important concept – so helpful and important that I wanted to remember it and pass it on. So, here it is.

When read on its own, apart from the whole biblical story, biblical law often is misinterpreted, leading to religious-looking behaviors that allow ongoing contempt and hatred in our hearts. But Jesus and the apostles say that these commandments, taken together with the rest of the Hebrew Bible, are instructions that restore human beings’ love for one another. In this way, love _fills full_ the Law and the Prophets.

Bible Project

About that “rapture” stuff… It’s not in the Bible.

Skye Jethani gives a very quick and fairly thorough debunking of a contemporary, mostly American misunderstanding of end times. What so many American Christians believe about a “rapture” isn’t in the Bible and wasn’t taught by Christians before recent times in North America. Of course, he takes much flak for his video in which he gives accurate Christian teaching on this topic, even though he is simply explaining what Christian scholars have long known to be the meaning of the various passages in scripture which some believe support the idea of the rapture. Check it out here.

Skye Jethani got so many comments (many apparently from people who didn’t actually watch the video!) that he did a follow-up podcast with a couple of Christian teachers, Mike Bird and Mike Erre in which they give even more background and demonstrate how a rapture is inconsistent with scripture.

If that’s not enough for you, here’s a brief article by New Testament scholar N.T. Wright called Farewell to the Rapture.

He has spoken to us by his son…

Recently, the Lectio 365 app included a paraphrase of Hebrews 1.1-3 in one of the daily morning devotions. For some reason, it struck me quite differently when personalized as they gave it. I thought I would share it and remember it. Below is the Lectio 365 personalized version of Hebrews 1.1-3 adapted from the New Living Translation.

Long ago I spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, I have spoken to you through my Son. I promised everything to the Son as an inheritance… The Son radiates my own glory and expresses my very character, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command.

Hebrews 1.1-3 [NLT], adapted and personalized by Lectio 365

Notes for Hot Topics – The Bible and Sex

This weeks message is on the Bible and Sex. Here are links to some of the resources that I used and that you may be interested in pursuing for more information.

Matthew Vines is a well-known gay Christian activist and speaker. He is known for a viral YouTube video, entitled The Gay Debate: The Bible and Homosexuality, and for his speaking and writing to re-interpret the Bible so as to leave room for same-sex relationships for faithful Christians. There is a transcript of his Youtube video that I found very useful in pursuing study. Vines doesn’t so much present new arguments as effectively use social media to publicize scriptural interpretation that was little known before. He usefully converys the various approaches to scripture that are employed to support committed same-sex relationships as an option for a Christian marriage.

Joshua Gonnerman, a Phd student in Historical Theology who calls himself a Gay Christian, wrote an article rebutting Vines’ arguments. In this article, he refers to Elizabeth Scalia’s article entitled Homosexuality: A Call to Otherness? that many find helpful. Gonnerman also wrote powerfully on the churches failure to be family for gay people.

There are a number of links to other resources that one can trace from the articles and websites above. The Spiritual Friendship website is a place of links to good resources and frank discussion around issues related to sexuality.

I’ve appreciated the insights of Sam Allberry over the years. He has a website. He is an effective public speaker and popular writer more than a scholar.

Robert Gagnon is one of the most accomplished scholars focused on Paul’s letters in the Bible and sexual issues. He has a website. Gagnon is thorough to a fault. Reading him is like reading a commentary! (The Kindle version of his book The Bible and Homosexual Practice has 667 pages.) He also wrote a book with Dan O. Via entitled Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views where his consideration is only 58 pages. Via’s opposing argument is only 39 pages. Then each gives a response to the other. The first of the “top reviews” of this book on Amazon can give you a taste of what you would find in the book. A couple of years ago I worked my way through the audio and some assigned reading for Gagnon’s Regent College course The Bible, Homosexuality, and Sexual Ethics and decided I didn’t need to tackle the books.

If you want a very, very simple overview of the interpretations of scripture related to same-sex issues, consider the New York Times article Debating Bible Verses on Homosexuality. The article Evangelicals Open Door to Debate on Gay Rights is a useful introduction to the current state of affairs among evangelical Christians.

On Women in the Church and in Marriage

In the past I wrote a series of posts considering biblical teaching on women in the church and in marriage. Several people have asked me about this recently so I thought I’d make the posts easy to find by adding a page that serves as a table of contents for these posts, and linking to it. And now, in 2023, the “Hot Topics” message Church teaching about Women refers to these articles yet again, so I am republishing.

In a nutshell, I argue that God created humans, male and female, to stand as peers in carrying his image. God often calls women into leadership and teaching ministry. It is God’s call that makes a leader or teacher or preacher in His church – nothing less will do. And no human organization can rightly oppose what God does. Regarding marriage, I argue that the best plan for marriage is a partnership of mutual submission under the headship of Christ.

I mention the Bible Project as a valuable resource on the creation narratives in Genesis, both podcasts and videos. One particular video on human identity may be helpful. There is another, older video by Tim Mackie video that you may find helpful. The Bible Project is a tremendous resource!

Last Sunday I mentioned trends in American higher education in which more women were attending college than in the past. Here are some statistics over the last 50 years.

A recently published, excellent new book, Tell Her Story: How Women Led, Taught, and Ministered in the Early Church, by scholar Nijay Gupta, lives up to the description in its title. This is a very helpful book – highly recommended!

Notes for the Hot Topics – Abuse Message/Podcast

In the Hot Topics – Abuse message, I referred to a newsletter from Kristin Du Mez. You may want to read it for yourself. The newsletter refers to this Christianity Today article.

I also mentioned a helpful website with resources related to child abuse.

Also in the message, I gave some scripture reference recommendations for further study. They are reproduced here for your convenience.

Matthew 20.25-28 NIV – Jesus’ example as Lord and Teacher

Titus 1.5b-9 The Message – what to look for in church leaders

1 Timothy 5.19-22 NIV – how to handle sin in a church leaders

1 Corinthians 5.1-13 The Message – Paul told the church it must deal with a serious sin in the congregation!

2 Corinthians 2.5-11 The Message – The church listened to Paul but now it was time to forgive the sinner.

Colossians 3.5-15 NIV – Paul contrasts abusive behavior with our new life in Christ

All of the messages are also available as episodes of the LBFC Weekly Sermons podcast, available from your favorite podcast source. (Or if it is not, let me know. I use Libsyn to publish the podcast.)

Some Articles I (may or may not) refer to in my “Hot Topics – Abortion” Message

Here are links to some of the articles I mention in my “Hot Topics” message on abortion (also available as the LBFC Weekly Sermons podcast). Or perhaps these are things I should have mentioned, depending on which version you hear/watch.

One helpful article was David Novak’s What Does the Bible Say about Abortion. Novak is speaking about Jewish scripture with the word “Bible” in his title. Novak explains how a number of passages from Jewish scripture are mis-used and clarifies good interpretations.

Kristin Kobes Du Mez is interviewed on All Things Considered regarding how abortion became a mobilizing issue for the religious right. She discusses the polarization and politicization of the abortion issue. For a longer read with much more detailed scholarship, try her book Jesus and John Wayne. I’ve written a bit more on Kristen Kobes Du Mez here. In a similar vein, Beth Allison Barr’s The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth might be helpful.

Sarah Williams wrote a remarkable book about deciding to carry her daughter Cerian to term, shocking medical staff and professional colleagues. The recently rewritten edition is entitled Perfectly Human – Nine Months with Cerian. I first read this book and handed many copies out to others some years ago when it was first published as The Shaming of the Strong: The Challenge of an Unborn Life. It is a powerful book that you may find difficult to put down once you begin reading. While this book is easy to read for a general audience, Sarah Williams is a first-rate scholar that I first encountered through classes she taught at Regent College in Vancouver, BC. Her classes Marriage, Sex, and Family in Historical Perspective and another with the boring-sounding title Church and State in the Modern World are remarkably insightful; I learned a lot! Anything Sarah Williams does is bound to be top-notch and worth your attention.

Also, I wrote a series of short articles on women in the church and marriage on this blog some years ago that you can access here.

Can you find it in Jesus?

I saw a comment by Brian Zahnd the other day on Jesus’ disciples in the Gospel of Luke that bears repeating. So I’m repeating it!

The “Sons of Thunder” wanted to call fire down from heaven on a Samaritan village who refused to welcome Jesus. In their petition they were able to cite Scripture because Elijah had done this. But Jesus rebuked them, saying, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.”

The question isn’t can we find it in the Bible, but can we find it in Jesus. If we weaponize the Bible to hurt other people, we do not have the Spirit of the Lord.

Major Resources for Revelation 2021 Messages

These are the three major resources I’m revisiting for the 2021 series of messages on Revelation. I’m using the series to address topics requested by members of the congregation that can fit into this approach. Apparently there is a lot of talk in the vein of The Revelation making the rounds! So this is not a straight through-the-text extended series like we did in 2017.

Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination – Eugene H. Peterson

Revelation: Four Views - Steve Gregg

Discipleship on the Edge: An Expository Journey through the book of Revelation - Darrell W. Johnson

For more comments and more resource recommendations, see my post regarding resources on The Revelation from 2017.

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