Wednesday, 29 March 2017

What is the Old Testament really about?

What is the Old Testament really about?

I know that fundamentalist Christians are not going to like what I say, but if you hang in there and absorb this, you will realise that you can go right on believing, while still changing your view of the Bible, and accepting a more rational one.

The Old Testament is a wonderful LIBRARY of ancient Jewish literature of all sorts. It includes: creation mythology, legendary heroes, genealogy, history, law, poetry, old sayings, allegory (that means a fiction with symbolic meaning), erotica and prophecy.

Should we believe that all this was virtually dictated by God himself?
Definitely NOT!
Can we be Christian without believing all this in a literal way?
Definitely YES!

So what is the Old Testament?
It is a TESTAMENT (i.e. written testimony).
So what does it testify?
It testifies that very many people, in very many ways were recorded as claiming that GOD had made himself known to them. Those people claim that God made himself known through Angels, through miraculous gifts of food, water, healing and guidance, that he led people with a pillar of flame or cloud, that he was heard in a still small voice. Right through the Old Testament people testify to the existence of God.
This EVIDENCE OF GOD'S PRESENCE is what the reader of the Old Testament is expected to believe, not the fanciful story that God created the universe in six days and took a rest on the seventh, or that God will give military power to those who follow him.

Once you have freed yourself from any notion that the whole book has to be taken literally, then you can start exploring the testimonies for the revelations that they contain, and start looking for God's continued revelations to people, to this day.

Does God STILL reveal his presence, in the ways that are described in the Old Testament?
Most definitely YES

You only have to start talking about this to friends, and you will find people who will say, (often cautiously, expecting to be disbelieved) that they saw, or felt, or heard the presence of Jesus at a time when they were feeling down-hearted, sick, lonely or were in trouble.
Sometimes people report dramatic experiences, like the one that the Apostle Paul had, on the road to Damascus.
These experiences sometimes happen to people with no Christian background, and no knowledge of the Bible, because they live in Saudi Arabia, or some such place where Bibles are rare or forbidden.
This phenomenon is not new, and it is also not a thing of the past.

What are the main teachings of the Bible?

Jesus summed them up:
God loves you, and has expectations of you.
You must love God, and love others as you love yourself.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Jesus, did he exist? - thirty-three teachings that have stood the test of time

Here are some of the teachings of a 1st century man, described in literature, but claimed, by some, never to have existed. The teachings seem very humane and sensible, and apart from the mentions of "God", quite devoid of superstition. Taken on merit, these teaching are evidence of a highly enlightened mind.

1. That God is a loving Father.
2. That like any loving father, God has expectations of his children.
3. That every person who walks this earth is your neighbour, and worthy of your kindness in times of trouble.
4. That you should treat others as you would like to be treated.
5. That showing loving kindness means responding to the needs of those around you- the lonely, the poor, the disadvantaged, the incapacitated and those who may be suffering as a result of their own doing.
6. That women should be educated, along with men, and have their voices heard, along with men
7.That the poor, the sick, the disabled, the mentally ill, the foreigner and the person who holds to a different faith have the same human rights as the majority.
8. That rape is totally abhorrent.
9. That ritual cleanliness/uncleanliness is a load of nonsense.
10. That the words that come out of a person's mouth are more important than whether the food that goes into it is kosher, halal or even tasty.
11. That everyone ought to have enough to live on, even if they cannot do a full days work.
12. That having a day off every week is good for people.
13. That you shouldn't fuss about your appearance.
14. That when someone does you an honour, you should respond appropriately.
15. That if someone is determined to act like an absolute dickhead, you should turn your back and walk away.
16. That being preoccupied with money can seriously get in the way of living a good life.
17. That before we criticise others, we ought to take a long look at ourselves.
18. That sometimes we have to use a good deal of courage to break from patterns of behaviour that are wrecking our lives.
19. That a sincere apology can turn around a situation.
20. That forgiveness is healing.
21. That greedy, disrespectful people need their butts kicked.
22. That bigots who think they are better than those around them have seriously missed the point.
23. That you can help a person who knows they need your help, so it is worth putting in the time with them.
24. That we are individuals, and what is good for one person might not be appropriate for another.
25. That there is no ordinary task that is beneath our dignity so if something needs cleaning up, then just do it.
26. That sharing a meal together, whether it is a formal dinner or a barbecue on the beach, is important for relationships.
27. That truly dangerous people can often be hard to recognise.
28. That a great leader is one who serves the people that he is leading.
29. That if what you have to say really matters, say it, even if you are despised for doing so.
30. That sometimes it is best to be silent.
31. That we may be called upon to make major sacrifices, for the good of others.
32. That death is not the end
33. That one good person really can make a very big difference.

Image of Jesus from a catacomb in Rome, 3rd century AD.
Previous images had not attempted to depict him as a
Jewish Rabbi but had used a symbolical figure of a
shepherd with a sheep on his shoulders

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Homosexuality and the Bible

Homosexuality and the Bible

My suggestion, as always, is get back to the "Word of God".

Not that Jewish library of myths and legends, histories, law, old sayings, erotica, allegory, poetry and prophecy.  And not the collection of letters by members of the early Christian Church, of whom Paul might well be seen as a "Doctor of the Church" along with Augustine, Gregory and the rest.

No. Get back to the true "Word of God".  God's living "communication" with mankind. God's perfect example of how life should be lived.  This is not about a "Book".  It is about a “Message".  It is not about "Theology". It's about "Life".  Trust that through Jesus we know all that we need to know.

Question 1.  If the words of Jesus, as written down for us by several witnesses, and the examples set by Jesus as likewise recorded, are sufficient, then what about the other stuff that constitutes "The Bible" aka "Holy Scripture" aka "The Word of God"? Is it factual? is it infallible? Does it matter?

A:  God doesn't require perfection to work through us!  Let us just thank God that he doesn't require perfection to work through us!  The writers of those scriptures were seriously flawed people, just like us! The Holy Spirit doesn't "dictate".  The Holy Spirit "inspires".  ….. and so, with all the faults and flaws, the four Gospel accounts of Jesus continue to be the best possible source of information that we have about the love of God, and what he desires for us, and expects of us.

Question 2.  If Jesus, as the incarnate Christ was/is the "Word" i.e. "Communication" of God, what did he actually communicate?

* He communicated that he accepted sinners.  At least, he accepted sinners of ALMOST every class.  The main sort of sinner that he showed a real disdain for was the hypocrite.  The reason for this is fairly obvious. The sin of the hypocrite is personal deceit that breeds insurmountable intolerance towards other sinners. 

* He communicated that nothing in the human condition shocked him and that no human was too foul for his touch. He challenged all prejudice of sex, race, cleanliness, orthodoxy. Not just the adulteress and the tax collector- the woman of the despised race of slave-traders was challenged to speak out against the prejudice of all around her. The Roman soldier who had a male servant, about whom he cared SO DEEPLY that he was prepared to grovel to an itinerant Jewish preacher, received Jesus' immediate reassurance. 

*Jesus challenged the rules. Jesus was not locked into the values of "Religion". He made a strong case for common-sense and common-kindness.  And since he demonstrated these values in such abundance, we need to develop them in ourselves. 

*Jesus met people where they were at. He challenged the proud to bow down, the rich to be poor, the voiceless to speak out, and the gender-oppressed to act as equals. Jesus empowered people to mighty witness. The woman who touched his robe was healed; but more than that.... she witnessed, and was restored in the eyes of those to whom she was unclean. 

*That story about that “Good” Samaritan”: the thing that set that Samaritan apart from the Priest and the Levite was that, like Jesus,  Jewish ritual was not an obligation for him.  He was free to touch that bleeding naked body, because he was not bound by religion or convention.  The other two, in walking past, were simply fulfilling the requirement of the Law. 

*The story about that Prodigal Father:... Yes, it was the father who was the real challenge to society.  He accepted the socially unacceptable. 

What I am saying here is that we are almost certainly wrong if we imagine that the love of homosexual people, and the expressions of love between homosexual partners would be unacceptable in the sight of Jesus.  To condemn gender equality, to condemn what appears (scientifically) to be a God-given gender preference doesn't hold with the tolerance, the acceptance, the broadness of the love of Jesus, and the sort of loving acceptance that he led us to develop in ourselves.  Neither does it seem possible for this intolerance to exist in the Divine nature of the Father, the Creator-God, whose message was embodied in Jesus.  Surely Jesus didn’t get it wrong?  Those four individual witnesses were awfully consistent in the way they depicted his character!

Question3: So what about the condemnation of the "sin of Sodom"?

The sin of Sodom, as enacted in the Old Testament has nothing to do with "gender preference".  It has to do with the violent act of rape, still a major problem in the Middle East and Africa, and used to humiliate and intimidate those who do not conform, both male and female.