Interrogating the ‘young’ Bible

One of the concepts I have been working with I put into the form of a rhetorical question. ‘Imaging interrogating the young Jesus (maybe 12 years old)….’ He grew up in his culture, a culture that did not view women very highly and saw Gentiles as rank outsiders (even ‘dogs’). Fully human meant that he did not float above the surface but was shaped by his culture. The remarkable feature is that he came to a place of full maturity – what we could term ‘truly human’ and by the time he was 33 was mature and became a source of salvation for all. Interrogate the 33 year old Jesus and his answers would not have simply stood out in his culture but would make our perspectives look tame. I am all but double that age, growing up with advantages he never had and am no where close to half that level of maturity.

[David Leigh in one of the Zoom groups opened my eyes to some fresh insight how Jesus was so far ahead, in spite of his culture, when in the Temple at age 12 he is questioning the ‘experts’, and it seems clear the questions were pushing them in terms of their interpretation of the Law.]

In the night – always happens – the ticking of the brain in the night… I was thinking that there is something similar going on with the Bible. Interrogate the ‘young Bible’ and we might be shocked by what comes back to us. Ask the mature Bible and we get a different take on things. [Of course the riders are many. So much of what we have was put together and edited in the period of the Babylonian exile, but we still get early ‘young Bible’ perspectives bleeding through.]

It is just another way of saying that the Bible is not a flat book, with all speaking at the same level, or that we are impacted by a trajectory ever moving forward, ultimately guided by life, not by right and wrong. So no big ticking of brain, more a trickle.

Going beyond the [B]ook

For the past few weeks I have been lamenting, well occasionally reflecting. I am not very good at reflecting, and as for lamenting – not even too sure I know what the word means.

My reflectful lament has been over the four books written so far – the two you all rushed to buy and the two in the pipeline for publication. I have realised that the readership will be predominantly people like me (not the majority world). People who have a strong background in the evangelical (and likely charismatic) world but are willing to consider concepts that some think are outside the box. I am not going to get an atheist to read them and desire to join a zoom group, but I sure would love honest dialogue in that direction. Not to ‘convert’ them (when was that part of the job description of the Great Commission?) but to present Jesus as the ‘face’ of God and as the ‘face’ of ‘actualised’ humanity – OK theologically ‘true humanity’.

So I have made a start at writing for that audience, and also for those who do not position themselves completely at that end of the spectrum of faith / non-faith. (The other audience I would love to dialogue with are those born after 1980, so help me God!) I am not writing an apologetic, there are others much better equipped at that, but trying to write something that is open and transparent. It is interesting in trying to do that cos one’s own presuppositions have to be challenged in the process. A few days ago I said to a friend / neighbour who expressed (past tense) he was an atheist, and then (present tense) ‘I would like to believe, but…’, that perhaps faith wise I need him as much as he needs me. I need him to challenge my faith, cos although faith cannot explain everything it must have substance.

I am planning an opening chapter on Jesus and a second one on our holy book, the Bible. In doing so I wrote the obvious concerning Jesus that he grew up in a prejudiced world, that was also fed by an interpretation of the holy scrolls that he looked to. It is hard to believe Jesus also did not have biased perspectives, particularly with respect to Gentiles and women. Scripture clearly says he ‘became mature’ through what he learned, and as I have written in an earlier post he is the great teacher because he was the GREAT LEARNER. It is amazing that he broke through beyond the culture and his own preconceived perceptions. To be fully mature by 33, and in that culture… Here I am all-but double that age and… (Any way to follow this through the interaction with Gentiles and women is very informative to observe the learning process in Jesus.)

The guidance that the holy scrolls gave Jesus is instructive for us and the guidance we receive from the Bible. Today I wrote:

Jesus was so far ahead of his culture and setting, and that his holy book (set of scrolls) both helped to shape his life and thoughts and at the same time restricted his progress. And of course this is something we have to consider also when we as Christians read our holy book, the Bible, consisting of Old and New Testaments.

Never articulated it like this before, but seemed obvious as the words appeared on my screen. We are very grateful for Scripture. Jesus must have been so grateful as he meditated on texts and saw in them his true identity and destiny. I am not sure if the right word is ‘balance’, but let me use that. We have to balance that invaluable guide that the Scriptures are with the realisation that we can also be restricted by the pages we read. Of course there are good restrictions, but there are also restrictions that prevent us moving beyond the pages. Yes beyond. For the Scriptures are to speak of Jesus, not of themselves, and Acts 28 is an unfinished record of the continuation of what Jesus is doing and teaching. A progression beyond has to faithfully follow the trajectory set out but if the whole journey is not described in the pages we have to go beyond.

Jesus and the Bible

The relationship of believers to Jesus and to the Bible is interesting. There are times there are conflicts that seem to come down to whether Jesus is subservient to the Bible or the Bible has to give way to him. At this time this challenge is very visible across the pond with the conflicting testimonies of a man being put forward for public office who is denying the claims of sexual abuse by a woman. There is the ‘he said, she said’ aspect to it. To be wrongly accused is a nightmare, to be disbelieved and blamed for not coming forward earlier is sadly too often the pattern. There is a further aspect that if this took place decades ago surely forgiveness has to apply and this cannot be held against him. Of course I cannot speak into the current situation as I do not know the ‘facts’. I do though want to take the opportunity to push into the inter-relationship of our faith in Jesus and our faith in the Bible as authoritative.

In Spain there is the now very famous case involving the self-named group ‘the Manada’ (wolf-pack) when the five men of the pack sexually assaulted a woman in a doorway in Pamplona in 2016. This was deemed not to be rape as there was insufficient evidence for violence and intimidation – so declared the judges, one saying she clearly did not fight back, there was no evidence that at any time did she, for example, try to bite any of the men on their privates to stop the attack. So the outcome pronounced by the (male) judges on the case was of no violence, no intimidation, therefore it was not rape! The woman in a dark doorway, five men, filming it on cell phones. Such a verdict normalises the objectivisation of women and the ‘what can you expect’ of the status quo. Indeed some people have suggested that if unwanted physical sexual advances that occurred in the context of school / college becomes the bar then so many men would have to rule themselves out of being fit for public office. Such a response unacceptably normalises the behaviour. Yes, forgiveness… yes people change… but there is a culture also that we have to change.

The challenge for believers is to get beyond the Bible to Jesus. If believers do not look to Jesus, how he treated women, his comments on lust, the inclusion of the divorce rights to women, the elevation of women to receive the same calling as men, his response to the woman caught in adultery etc., there will always be a pull to the default biblical culture, the culture of patriarchy. When we end there men will be cut a whole lot of slack, women will be disbelieved and in the majority of situations where they are brave enough to come forward they will still be labelled as they probably provoked it. Our issue with the Bible is it was written in a patriarchal context. Read the Bible without a Jesus-lens and we males win every time. Read it with a Jesus-lens and we have to critique what we read, for we have God speaking to us but the context of the writing is patriarchal. We must not allow the culture to dictate what the voice is saying or to silence the voice. Allegiance to Jesus demands this of us. Allegiance to Jesus relativises every other allegiance, he alone is the Lord exalted to the right hand of the Father. I can love my nation, marry the land and sow myself in but cannot swear allegiance; I can love the Bible, read it, devour it, but it is to the Jesus that the Bible bears witness to that I give my all. I cannot defend behaviour that is bibically-based but Jesus-denying.

I sympathise with anyone falsely accused. That is horrendous and even when acquitted the ‘there is no smoke without fire’ often remains. Finding a way through on the individual cases is not easy, but the culture has to change.

For the culture to change we have to hear Jesus, for only in hearing him does faith come. To hear him we have to hear those whose speech reflects his voice. In the situations I am writing about it will be all but impossible to hear him without hearing the voice of women. This is not tokenism, nor is it positive discrimination, it is to recognise that the clearest sound will be heard outside the established power structure.

In the Manada case the public outcry resulted in the government putting forward a commission that would review how rape should be defined (currently based on the two elements that have to be shown to be present: violence and intimidation). The members of the commission put forward – all males! Not a hope of there being anything other than a superficial shift in the definition.

Jesus did not come to bring about superficial shifts, but deep cultural ones. It is tragic when (male) believers are the main believers who speak up and the status quo is defended. We pray for transformation… that transformation has to include the diminishing of the patriarchal culture, the culture that is assumed and so defended in the Bible. That culture is what was carried to the cross by Jesus. The women at the cross saw a world coming to an end; the women in the garden saw a new world open up. And for us as Paul said ‘if anyone is in Christ there is a new world’…

A while back I was speaking to a Roman Catholic her in the Iberian peninsula and he spoke of his region that ‘even now there are some evangelicals being born again’. I laughed as one might expect. However, maybe that is what we all need, after all perhaps Nicodemus could be a type of the evangelical of his day and it was to him Jesus said you need to be born again (from above), for without it he would not see the kingdom. The Jesus of the Bible opens the door to new birth; the Bible without Jesus can simply confirm my acceptance of the unacceptable culture I contribute toward.

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