Bible Sunday

Bible (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

A man was in a hot air balloon and lost, so he spotted a woman on a golf course below and reduced altitude.

“Hello”, he called, “can you tell me where I am – I promised to meet a friend and I have no idea where I am”

She looked up and said “You are in a hot air balloon about 30 feet off the ground, you are 51 degrees North and 0.7 degrees West”.

“Are you an engineer?” he called down?

“Yes” she replied, “but how did you know?”

“Well your information is absolutely true but I’m none the wiser” he replied. “Furthermore I am still lost and frankly you have wasted my time”.

So she thought for a minute and called up to him “Are you in Management?”

“Yes” he replied “but how do you know?”

“Well, you have made a promise you have no idea how to keep, you expect those beneath you to solve your problems and you have risen to where you are thanks to a large volume of hot air”.


I guess I tell that joke because I want to explore what we mean by the Bible being “True”.

Of course, first of all we have to determine what we mean by “true” in this context.

There is a statue of Abraham Lincoln at one of the American Universities and he is shown wielding an axe about to come down on the fetters that are binding a slave at his feet. It the statue true – yes. Did it actually happen – no.

I get fed up at the moment hearing about the rise of fundamentalism and in particular creationism at the moment. Since when did Christians need to leave their common sense at the door when they came to church?

And then, of course there is the problem of translation. When I was at vicar school I decided to try to learn Hebrew and Greek. Try being the operative word here. Anyway, we looked at some Hebrew texts. It is a rather tricky language for a few reasons, not least of all because they choose not to include vowels in the text. And then they seem to have dots here and there that mean something but get missed off a fair amount – the jots and tittles that Jesus was referring to. And then the language has only two tenses. Not like English which has loads – past, present, future, perfect, imperfect, conditional, and a load of others. No – Hebrew has two. And they aren’t a useful two like Past and Present – they are perfect (ie done and dusted) and imperfect. So we looked at the phrase when God says “I am what I am”. Well… it is in the imperfect. So it could be “I was being what I ought to be” “ I will be what I am being” “I was going to be what I could have been”. Truthfully, I think just about the only translation it can’t be is “I am what I am”.

You probably know that the New Testament was written in Greek and fairly early on that was translated into Latin, and later still the Latin version was translated into English, giving rise to the King James Version, which is quite a literal translation of the text, but carries quite a lot of errors because of the double translation.

Which reminds me of a story that Alan told me from when he attended a church that was debating which Lord’s Prayer to use – the traditional or the modern. One woman said that she wanted to use the traditional Lord’s Prayer which was in the King James Version because she wanted to say the very words that Jesus used.

So there are many translations now – I suggest that everyone should by one that they find easy to read. My personal favourite is the New Revised Standard Version, which is an update on the RSV which is a pretty faithful translation, I feel. My personal least favourite version is the New International Version, which I think has too much interpretation and anti-women interpretation at that.

However, whichever version of the Bible we use, we have to face the fact that it was written by men, for men. I was arguing with a man online a while back about gay relationships. He quoted Leviticus 18:22 at me – “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable”, so I thought about that. “Are you telling me that the Bible requires me to be a Lesbian?” I asked….

And of course you may well notice in the Ten Commandments, especially if you are a woman, that whilst men are not allowed to covet their neighbours’ wives, there is no prohibition on us coveting our neighbours’ husbands. Not that any woman would ever do that, obviously!

I guess, putting aside the problem of who wrote it and why, and putting aside the problem of translation, the question is where one sees the Bible – does God use it in spite of human failings, limitations and errors, or is it exactly as God wishes it to be? Can it be true without it being literally correct, without an actual Noah, or without an actual Adam and Eve, or does it either have to be all true or if not it is not worth reading?

Let me quote a few verses from the Bible and you decide for yourself whether they are true:

Jeremiah 29:11

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.

Matthew 11:28-29

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Romans 8:37-39

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

John 14:27

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.

Rom 8:28

“All things work to the good of those who love Him”

Sermon – Mark 10:2-16 (Lesley)

Mark 10:2-16
2 Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
3 “What did Moses command you?” he replied.
4 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”
5 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. 6 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’[a] 7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife,[b] 8 and the two will become one flesh.’[c] So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
10 When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. 11 He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. 12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”
13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.

Have you heard the story of the man who goes to see his doctor, concerned about his wife? He says that he feels she may be going deaf, she no longer answers him when he calls to her. So the doctor suggested that he finds out just how deaf she is be calling to her then taking a step forwards and calling again, and repeating this until she can hear.
When the man returned home, his wife was in the kitchen with her back to him, preparing lunch. So he stood by the kitchen door and called “Darling, what’s for lunch?”… no response. Then he stepped forward and said “Darling, what’s for lunch?”… again no response. So he stepped forwards and was almost on top of her and said “Darling, what’s for lunch?”… She turned round and said to him:
…”for the third time”….
I’ve told that joke because I think this text is different than it seems, we bring our preconceptions to it. Indeed the whole section of Mark that we have been going through is perhaps a little offbeat. A bit weird, Jesus is challenging preconceptions and he seems to be talking complete nonsense. If you can bear with me a moment, I’ll try to explain why.
In the society where Jesus lived men could divorce women, but women could not divorce men. Why? Well because women were possessions. Marriage was a very different thing then than it is now. Men effectively owned their daughters, but they were a drain on resources as they were not permitted to work. Hence they paid another man in the form of a dowry to take them. The women were entirely dependent upon these men to survive, and if the women were divorced then they would become instantly destitute.
Now Moses permitted men to divorce for something called “porneia” which some rabbis said it meant that if the women were unfaithful, but other rabbis said that “porneia” could include burning the dinner or not being pretty enough. The society was deeply abusive to women
So anyway, that is a bit of background – and it becomes pretty clear to me why Jesus describes these men divorcing women in the same breath as hardness of hardness of heart – what were the women to do? Beg? Or become prostitutes?
So anyway, if I get onto the nonsense that Jesus is talking – you’ll need to stay with me here:
Women had no rights in marriage. And so when Jesus explains his stance on divorce to his disciples he comes up with two nonsensical statements, the first is:
“Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her.
The adultery laws didn’t allow for women to have adultery committed against them. So a woman could commit adultery against her husband by sleeping with another man. And a man could commit adultery against a man by sleeping with his wife. But if a man had sex with a prostitute he was not committing adultery against his wife. Why? Because women very few rights. So Jesus seems to be talking nonsense – the law does not allow equality for women.
Jesus then goes on to say:
12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”
This was madness to – a woman could never divorce her husband. Why? Because women had very few rights. Again Jesus seems to be talking nonsense – the law did not allow equality for women.
I find it incredible that 2000 years ago, in a patriarchal society, a man stood up and imagined a completely different reality, a reality of complete equality between men and women in marriage.
This follows on from the passage last week where Jesus recommended getting into the Kingdom of Heaven by chopping off ones leg if it causes you to sin, or plucking out one’s eye. More nonsense –as the Bishop pointed out – if you pull out one eye you still have another to sin with, but also, the Pharisees believed you couldn’t get to heaven if you were lame or blind. More than that they wouldn’t let the disabled into the Temple. Jesus was pointing out that the Pharisees felt they could get to heaven with a bad heart, a sinful heart, but not with a bad body.
Perhaps this text could be seen as a commentary on the Levitical code – perhaps not a very favourable commentary as it feels like legalism that puts down the weak. One of the theologians that I like called Richard Rohr speaks of there being two traditions within the Old Testament – the Prophetic tradition calling us back to the heart, to sorting out justice and basing our lives on love – and the Levitical tradition which is about obeying laws upon laws to ensure that we don’t upset God. One might say that it is the difference between basing our Ethics on rules or upon values. Richard Rohr says that Jesus stands in the tradition of the prophets.
So, having raised the status of the disabled and the status of women Jesus then completes the hat-trick and raises the status of children:
Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.
I guess this might mean many things – children are a symbol of humility and vulnerability, they tend to live life more in the moment than adults, they are powerless and have little control over their lives.
So what does all this mean for us today?
I don’t believe that the corollary is that people should remain in abusive marriages. Frankly, I don’t believe that God has joined together an abuser and his victim – I can’t worship that sort of God.
I do believe that we should value everyone equally, rich and poor, male and female, young and old.
I do believe we need humility in or spiritual lives, we need to embrace our smallness, like that child, and then we have no need to lie, even to ourselves about our frailties. More than that, it liberates us to respect, revere and deal gently with others who have been unfortunate enough to have their own smallnesses come obscenely to light.
Aware of our own meager virtues, conscious of our own massive failures despite all our great efforts, all our fine desires, we have in this degree of humility, this acceptance of ourselves, the chance to understand the failures of others. We have here the opportunity to become kind.