An explosive Scripture

Well we can ask which one as there are so many!!

In this little old lockdown era, that signals something much longer term for us all, along with countless thousands of others I have been discovering the world of zoom. Yesterday Brazil, today Germany and so it goes on daily. At the same time I have been writing, working on writing a book, or a series of booklets, not sure what to do with them yet, but one thought I have is of some form of publishing and then with a small group of doing a zoom chat on a chapter per week. So for all the millions who follow this blog put that at the back of your mind as ‘I would love to do that.’

I am trying to write material that would tackle some of the theological issues in a down to earth simple way, not so that I can gain converts to my incredible movement but to be a resource. I am sure that our goal in life is not to convert others to our viewpoint but to help stimulate people to develop their own convictions. Sadly so much of what we can access is predictable and simply re-enforcing the status quo. I think some simple theological principles might help equip us for wider engagement. Or so go my thoughts.

And before the Scripture quote (one I have been looking at in the context of the writing) how about this for a stupendous quote, regarding being inspired by the natural world:

The deep swirling grandeur of our gorgeous planet drifting through space on a mission to increase compassion and wisdom (Stephen Harding).

Moving on to the Scripture I was meditating on yesterday. In John 10: 47-53 we read of a behind the scenes meeting:

Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.
“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”
Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realise that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”
He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. So from that day on they plotted to take his life.

So much detail from the insider meeting. The corruption of the Jewish hierarchy, their collusion with Rome so that in the symbiotic relationship (you scratch my back and I will scratch yours) there was a recognition how everything could be sustained if they did not rock the boat. Jesus was rocking the boat and everything was being challenged, with a focus on the loss of the Temple. They decide Jesus has to be put to death to save the Temple. Ironically Jesus said ‘destroy this Temple and I will raise it in three days’, and he also said that within 40 years of his death the Temple the hierarchy cared about would be destroyed… wait for it… by the Romans. Irony, or irony?

The area that interested me in the text was that ‘Jesus would die for the Jewish nation (and not only…)’. We have focused our theology on ‘and not only…’ and in a very personal way – for the sins of the world = for my sins. However there is a huge theme in Scripture (or at least in the Pauline writings) of ‘the Jew first, then the Gentile’.

I think so much of our theology has been removed from the historical narrative of Scripture so much so that we have approached the Bible as if it was there as a book to develop systematic theology. Here is my illustration. We have a jigsaw puzzle, the biblical texts being the pieces. We know the finished product, the picture on the box (=my theology). I work my way through the pieces finding the ones that fit the picture, ignoring all along that are pieces in there that don’t fit the picture, they seem to belong to another puzzle. But we are convinced we have the right picture! So we proof-text (choose the bits that fit the picture) and ignore the non-proof texts. But the Bible is not a book of systematic theology it is a narrative. (Before moving on I simply need to state very humbly that I do have the correct picture and all texts irregardless of colour, shape or size fit my picture, but I state this humbly.)

In making a systematic theology we run in to the cross of Jesus and sadly often come down to some crude system that splits the Trinity. Jesus is definitely good, the one we call the Father… maybe some anger issues there? That is often the result of seeing the cross in a vertical way… God and humanity. (BTW I have written yesterday a chapter on the ‘wrath’ of God… appetite whetter there.)

If however we follow the biblical trajectory the cross is not primarily presented vertically but horizontally, it is set in a very exact time frame. If so then it needs to be explored what history is it bringing to an end, and what future is it opening up. No need to start with ‘God is angry’ and wrath can then fit in where I think it does elsewhere in Scripture, so we end up making a shift as the writer in Isaiah 53 did, from ‘we considered him smitten of God, BUT…’

Caiaphas prophesying said his death was for the nation. That is historical, that is horizontal, that is narratival, that is Jew first, then the Gentile. So the cross of Jesus answers an historical issue first. If we don’t start there I think our systematic theology will be squeezing the texts to fit with the courthouse dramas that came from the Reformation era not the narratival story of Jesus coming ‘to save his people from their sins’ (Matt. 1:21).

7 thoughts on “An explosive Scripture

  1. Very interesting Martin. So easy indeed to forget that Jesus came first of all to his people the Jews, to save them from their sins, to intervene in their history and trajectory. Thank you.

    1. Thanks Caroline. Yes, that element (Jews first) has been of interest to me. So I began to see the cross is to answer a historical issue, not simply some ‘universal sin’ issue (though no need to deny that element). Jews were in total bondage therefore no hope for the world beyond the Jews. ‘All have sinned’ = Jew and Gentile from the context, not all = universal, though of course Jew + Gentile = universal humanity.
      In dying substituted for the Jewish nation, their identity has to be in Jesus (most challenging!!!, but makes sense of the early Acts preaching – salvation (for Jews) not found in any other name, etc.).
      Way beyond this one though I consider that he also died as male… so guess that says a lot about misogyny and patriarchy! OUCH to us all, one and all!

  2. Look forward to more…Does this take you into how we read scripture with a different worldview- Hebraic/Greek. Things like reading scripture from a community perspective or individual basis or both. E.G. Why have you forsaken me(us)? you are always with us (me).
    I have friends who feel embracing the hebraic view is really important (and there is so much richness there), but for some it seems almost a Jewish/torah transition which brings subsequent issues with the Pauline gospel and therefore those who live out of that. Law and grace…..
    I do ask out of personal interest as I am witnessing some strained relationships- just now I stand well back!

  3. In the last few years it has become impossible for me to read without a set of “reading glasses”…they make me aware more than ever that we probably do not read the scripture for what it says we read it for what we think it says…

    I did not read the passage above stating that Jesus came to die for “the sins” of the Jewish people…as the High Priest prophesied (there were 2 High Priests that year? Annas and Caiaphas?)…but instead came to unite them with the scattered children of God and make them one…

    It seems on some level that whatever else God is proposing, He values unity (with diversity) over holiness codes…

    On another note, I notice that these “meeting notes” say that the leaders were concerned that if everyone believed in Jesus then Rome would come and take away both the Temple and the Nation…in other words they had some sort of projection going on that placed Jesus as the scapegoat for a possible outcome that they were afraid of…

    I’m not sure I follow their reasoning…unless the message that Jesus presented was having a dissolving effect on those two key issues in the people…which is really odd because I don’t really find Jesus being “anti-Temple/anti-Israel-State-hood”…he seemed to not even mind Rome to terribly much…

    So how they projected that people following Jesus would mean the end of the temple/statehood seems to be based a little on 1st century fake news or something…

    Which brings us back to the glasses we wear…a smudge or a scratch on the lens becomes invisible to me over time and eventually I don’t even see what it obscures.

    1. Thanks Mark. And a good push back against my lens prescription! I have been looking at the cross, seeking to see it horizontally, not vertically. And behind that is my reading that Israel was there to make sure there was a pretty decent world!

      By the time of Jesus, and long before, Israel in big trouble and now one of the nations, not beyond-national for the nations. So cross is for Israel (and for males – another subject)… So that blessings flow to gentiles, and only one people. No longer Jew / Gentile, nor male / female. (So risen Lord is not Jewish, nor male… but human).

      And I do need to clean the old lenses, but I really like the way my distorted sight helps me see what I want to see!

  4. Yes, I can concur, especially if you read books like Leviticus with a less “sacrificial/holiness code” approach and more of a “community” lens…in Leviticus the blood was to cleanse the altar not the people (blood is a cleansing agent here), and the altar was sacred because it became the central gathering point for the community where ALL were equal, ALL could gather and commune…in this instance it is the altar that united the community and the cleansing was to insure that ALL could freely come

    Maybe Daniels post here is helpful:

  5. Just catching up with your last few posts – some great insights/quotes in there.
    I especially love the aside about prescribed religious activity being filthy rags: explains why I simply can’t be involved in any of it anymore!?!

    Would love to see these theology booklets or whatever you are writing in due course – the truth that sets us free!

    Only want to say big thanks and ‘go for it’ really – as if you could do anything else! 😉
    SA xx

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