Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Uncomfortable Bible Passages

posted by xscot mcknight

Most of us have read enough Bible to know texts that make us uncomfortable, texts like ignoring Hagar or sacrificing Jephthah’s daughter or patriarchs behaving badly. But most of us do the same thing: ignore them and hope no one asks us about them. John Thompson, though, doesn’t ignore them: he looks them square in the eye in his new book Reading the Bible with the Dead. And he does so by introducing us to how Christians-now-dead read those difficult texts.
Anyone have some specific experiences with preaching difficult texts? Or reading the texts? Any wisdom for all of us?
Thompson is a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary and this book studies how the major thinkers in Church history have commented on texts that are by all means difficult to swallow. Hagar, Jephthah, the imprecatory psalms, patriarchs behaving badly, Gomer and Hosea, silent prophetesses, divorce, Adam’s deception, and texts about Dinah, Bathsheba, Tamar and “too many others.”
Thompson doesn’t skewer the Bible and the ancient Israelites and early Christians or their interpreters in the Church. Instead, he enlightens us on the value of learning to read the Bible with the dead. Many of us read the Bible and pretend we don’t need to know how the Church has read the Bible. Some today think they can go at it alone and others are trying to get back — Thompson’s book can help both groups. He judiciously and briefly sums up how Christians have read these alarming texts.
Well, here’s an instance of what this book can do for you. I immediately opened it up to the imprecatory psalms because I’ve been bothered by the psalmist hoping the little Babylonian babies would get their heads crushed on rocks (Ps 137), just to see how he would deal with it. We learn four things from the Church’s interpreters:
1. God cares about injustice and suffering: God’s justice is against those who are being mistreated, regardless of what these texts say about the psalmist.
2. Only Jesus is fit to lament and curse absolutely — the Church’s interpreters did not want Christians settling scores by using these words so they assigned them to Jesus.
3. Laments and imprecations must be appropriated — read these passages because they are useful in the plan of God.
4. Laments and imprecations must not be misappropriated — anti-Jewish exegesis remains a warning to those who would misuse these texts.
OK, that’s a taste. This book is loaded with wisdom and I hope you can find the time to read it. Every pastor or church needs a book like this in the library. I know of nothing like it.



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Brad Cooper

posted September 27, 2007 at 12:55 am


Thanks, Scot! We need more books like this to push us deeper. The Church spends way too much time focusing on a few favorite passages while ignoring difficult passages like these–all while maintaining that all scripture is inspired by God. And I don’t mean that sarcastically. I’m a hard-headed evangelical and am fully convinced of the verbal inspiration of Scripture. But I’ve found that passages like these keep me wrestling and keep me humble. I hope I can get my hands on this book and find the time to read it. I love the whole premise of the book. Excellent! May the grace and peace of Jesus Christ fill your week. Brad



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Jim P.

posted September 27, 2007 at 1:18 am


If I am not mistaken, this theme has already been done by many good scholars. In particular I have in mind the book, “Hard Sayings of the Bible” by Walter C. Kaiser, F.F. Bruce, Peter H. Davids, and Manfred T. Brauch.
I also want to point out, that as Christians we have no reason to be ashamed of what we read in the Bible. It is of no use to try to “contextualize” the Bible for unbelievers and make it more palatable for them. Ultimately, it is the work of the Holy Spirit on a person’s heart that brings them to God. We shouldn’t wring our hands over the hard sayings of the bible. Let the truth stand and let the Holy Spirit do its work in hearts. We live the faith and show others what God has done for us.



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Brad Cooper

posted September 27, 2007 at 1:42 am


Jim P., You’re quite correct. I have the whole set of “Hard Sayings” (at least I’m pretty sure I have all of them) and they are very helpful. They take a different approach and tend to tackle different kinds of passages, though.
Gleason Archer has a large volume called “Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties” and there is a volume called “Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible” by John Haley.
These all tend to focus on apparent technical discrepancies or difficulties of interpretation whereas it sounds like the volume that Scot is recommending is dealing more with issues of theodicy.
Well said on the rest of your comments, also.



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Ted M. Gossard

posted September 27, 2007 at 4:27 am


Great post and comments.
I did a simple post yesterday on Bible reading in a limited fashion (as are all posts by nature), and failed to mention the importance of taking into consideration how the Church has read Scripture, though I do think that crossed my mind when I was typing it. But I so much agree that we need to see how the church through the centuries has read biblical texts. And it’s great to find a book that helps us through these difficult texts.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in “Life Together” brings out how we’re to read and pray the psalms, through Jesus, really praying them as Jesus’ prayer, his coming with the kingdom of God in the new covenant, giving their true and final meaning for us in this world.



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Ted M. Gossard

posted September 27, 2007 at 4:29 am


Let me add that attributing old testament texts to Jesus and in this way, Bonhoeffer pointed out was something that has been done by the church before him, as well as demonstrable in scripture itself.



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Scot McKnight

posted September 27, 2007 at 5:50 am


The distinctive contribution of John Thompson, in significant distinction to the Hard Sayings series, is twofold:
1. He’s not preoccupied with inerrancy but with theology.
2. His focus is on how the Church dealt with these rather than trying to find “the” explanation that resolves the difficulties.
Without denying the value of the Hard Sayings books, which I have used over the years, this book is doing something other than resolving difficulties. It is exploring how the Church embraced these passages theologically. Big difference.



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Diane

posted September 27, 2007 at 6:52 am


I’ve been doing a one-year read of the Bible devotional. I’d never read the Bible straight through and yes, there are many, many difficult passages, more than I had imagined. Some ideas:
1. I value the Bible for not shrinking from the awful. The good and the bad all hang out. It’s not New Age. It reflects the true human experience not someone’s sanitized wish for how humans should be.
2.The hair-raisingly awful stuff like child sacrifices while the Israelite kingdom is coming unglued, the evidences of a moral compass wildly out of control, highlights for me the compassion that reigned under the Israelite kingdom when it was obeying the Jehovah God. It underlines the compassion of a God who wouldn’t let Abraham sacrifice his son. It makes the social cohesion and discipline of the earlier days that much easier to take and less open to ridicule.
3. I ponder and ponder things like Elijah killing the 400 prophets of Baal or David enacting military discipline to savagely slaughter someone. My hair stands on end at the barbarity but then, in contrast, I see more clearly what a radical change there is in Jesus’ way. I see how Jesus stands so far above any one before him.
4. I realize that God works with the material at hand, with basically anything we give him, and feel grateful to for that. Personally, it reinforces that I can be far from perfect and still used by God.
5. I understand there is an unfolding revelation of who God is.
6. As the good doesn’t stand without the bad, so the bad doesn’t stand without the good. Even in the worst of everything, a prophetic voice of hope and mercy and love provides a thread of comfort.
7. I see how little we as a human race have changed and understand much clearly how badly we need the Bible today as well as yesterday.



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Jonathan

posted September 27, 2007 at 7:48 am


Along these same lines, I have enjoyed Tom McDaniel’s “Clarifying Baffling Biblical Passages”. Tom’s thoughts on hard passages are less historical in nature, but focus more on the interpretation of the original text. Excellent notes if you’re really delving into a passage. Check these out at http://tmcdaniel.palmerseminary.edu/. They are available for free.



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Mike Mercer

posted September 27, 2007 at 8:27 am


Thanks, Scot. This post was very timely for me. I just sent a message to a blog group of Christian friends asking for input on how I should preach the story of Rahab to a mixed congregation (adults/children, men/women) this Sunday. That certainly isn’t the most “R” rated passage in the Bible, but it does contain enough “real world” stuff to offend many evangelical sensibilities–prostitution, sexual innuendo, deception and lying, violence and “jihad” style warfare. I’m going to look for the book right away.



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Helen

posted September 27, 2007 at 8:39 am


Only Jesus is fit to lament and curse absolutely — the Church’s interpreters did not want Christians settling scores by using these words so they assigned them to Jesus.
Wow…this is so opposite from “Jesus did it so I can do it too, because I’m his follower!”



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jhimm

posted September 27, 2007 at 8:44 am


When I was younger and better looking I was pretty deeply involved in the “gothic” sub-culture in and around the city of Boston. A big joke was that all these people were part of the “goth scene” but that no one could ever actually define what a “goth” actually was(is). Many conversations (and arguments and flame wars) were had on the topic over a handful of decades (although I was only a part of one of those decades). The definition I eventually took up as my own went something like this.
The world can be an dark, ugly, scary, depressing and downright evil place. Everyone knows this is true. Most people hide from or try to ignore those aspects of the world as much as they can. Goths are the sorts of people who take a deep breath, step into the darkness, and then try to look around for some beauty hiding in those places in which no one else wants to look.
I realize that this may seem to have nothing whatsoever to do with this discussion, but it was the first thing that popped into my head when I read the description of the book – “oh, it is a gothic approach to the Bible”.
I dunno, maybe that’s weird. ;)



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kent

posted September 27, 2007 at 9:36 am


I may have to pick up this book. I have always enjoyed the weirder or unexpected sayings found in the Bible. Primary because it igves me no small comfort to find that I am not the only one with those thoughts. I also like the long historical look.



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John Thompson

posted September 27, 2007 at 11:58 am


I hope it doesn’t smack too much of self-promotion if the book’s author makes a posting here, but I just want to add two things: one is gratitude that Scot really seems to “get” the book I meant to write for my readers. The other is to let readers know that I’ve not only written this book, I’ve tried to preach it, too. Some sample sermons (admittedly, “academic”-flavored sermons, but that’s where I most often preach) can be found on my own webpage, along with a bit more info about the book itself: http://purl.oclc.org/net/jlt/exegesis



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Louise

posted September 27, 2007 at 11:58 am


I’ve lurked on this blog for a while but have never post. I was curious as to how different strains of thought have handled these passages. It seems to me that demoninations that believe in inerrancy or hold to a very strict literal view of scripture would have more problems interpreting these passages. The book sounds very interesting, is it similar to Phyllis Tribble’s book on texts of terror at all?



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Peggy

posted September 27, 2007 at 12:12 pm


Some of you may recall that I have been reading through Peterson’s The Message with my younger sons (6 and 9)…we have over the years read all the levels of Bible Story books and decided it was time to get the whole perspective.
We just finished I Kings last night…we are slogging our way through. It continues to be a fascinating experiment and experience to read and have to tweak on-the-fly some of the terms that are just not age-appropriate. Yet we do stop to deal with the issues…like how horrible David’s sons were to each other, and especially the rape of Tamar, Absolom’s sister.
Two nights ago we read about Jezebel plotting to have Naboth murdered so that Ahab could have the vinyard he coveted.
We have amazing discussions about what these people are doing that is wrong, just what it is that God is trying to teach them, even understanding pagan prostitution as part of their religion (this continues to be a challenge to discuss appropriately…all prayers are welcome 8) ), the importance of asking for God’s direction and immediate obedience to his commands…
We keep going back to the root of the problem with David, then Solomon (and back to Jacob and Eli and so many others), when these men that God called and blessed failed to pass on their love and devotion to their children. They were not disciple-makers…
We are, as is my intention, keeping all things in context of covenant–because without that context, it can be very difficult to understand what God is doing and why.
…can’t wait to get to Job, or Song of Solomon (I may have to go to the Reader’s Digest version of the poetic and wisdom literature…there’s only so much repetition little boys can take ;) )



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mariam

posted September 27, 2007 at 4:30 pm


I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but if there was one time along my journey when I thought God spoke to me through the scriptures this would be it.
Being a liberal it is easy enough for me to dismiss difficult passages in the Bible as simply being a product of the time or a mistaken belief on the part of the writer or a misreading by translators – and sometimes I certainly consider that when I read something which doesn’t make sense for me or is in conflict with what I believe to be Christ’s message. But I can also see the problem in using that all-too-easy technique – eventually you are just left with a bunch of interesting historical writings that may or may not say something about the nature of God and our relationship to Him. And then where to we go for guidance about approaching life as a Christ-follower? Having run into the limitations of my own reasoning and rationalism I think we do need something beyond relying on our own devices to determine what God is trying to say to us.
For me the diamonds we find when we dig through the Bible have to do with redemption – how God is constantly re-creating us and the world, transforming suffering and sin into beauty and sanctity. That is done in many different ways. But many of us have to learn our lessons the hard way – by, for example, suffering ourselves before we can see the suffering we inflict on others through our wrong-headed behavior. Jacob is a good example. Jacob is a liar and a cheat but God transforms him. Part of his transformation is accomplished by experiencing what it is like to be lied to and cheated. That doesn’t mean God thinks lying and cheating is OK.
One of the interesting and rewarding things about my “second” conversion to Christianity has been reading the Bible on my own, without relying on a particular creed (except perhaps my own version of the Jesus Creed) or commentary and with years of life experiences, mistakes, revelations and exposure to and exploration of other religious beliefs and philosophies. I find it has opened up the richness of these beautiful writings in a way I never thought possible.
When I come upon a difficult passage in the Bible I ask myself, how does this make sense in terms of what I believe Jesus was trying to tell us? What is there here that is about living a life in harmony and love? How does this speak to me in my life? And sometimes I just don’t get it or I don’t think it speaks to me at all. That’s OK. I’m not the only person on earth the scriptures were written for. And sometimes a passage which was inexplicable or even offensive to me at some point makes a great deal of sense to me later in light of a certain experience.
I mentioned before the story of Abraham and Isaac which I found quite offensive when I was younger. I think the thought that a parent would even consider making a human sacrifice of their child was horrifying to me, both as a child and a parent. A surface and literal reading of this story seems to leave us with the message that God demands our ultimate obedience, that we must be prepared to sacrifice everything, even killing our own children if this is what God asks of us. Even the resolution of the story when God appears to say “Just kidding. I just wanted to see whether I could trust you.” doesn’t provide much comfort. How can I reconcile this mafia godfather type of God with Jesus? When you observe the mothers of suicide bombers who have helped them strap on the bombs because they believe they are doing the will of God you can see why you can take this sort of passage might be taken a bit too far.
A gentler reading is that we can trust God. If we take another look and put this passage in historical context, in the time of Abraham sacrificing children to appease gods was not uncommon among the tribes and peoples at that time. Abraham may have thought that his god expected the same sort of devotion and this might then be a story of how God can protect us from ourselves when we get the wrong notion of what God really wants from us. When we are in relationship with God, God can transform our actions, even when our beliefs are misguided, mistaken or just plain stupid.
However, for me this difficult passage provided one of those powerful moments when I had a “deer in the headlights” sense that God was speaking to me. It was one of the darkest times in my life. My daughter was relentlessly suicidal. She had made a number of attempts which would have been successful if she had not been found in time. She had completely stopped communicating in any real sense about anything except wanting to die. She asked me daily to have mercy on her and help her kill herself. She was in a children’s ward in the hospital and one of her more bloody attempts had sent a sensitive nurse off to a psych ward herself. Astonishingly, the hospital decided that her hospitalization was making her worse and that they couldn’t keep her safe so they were going to release her. I was traumatized and terrified. If they couldn’t keep her safe, what was I supposed to do? Her counselors and my counselor had been saying the same thing for weeks – that my obsession with rescuing her and keeping her safe was making matters worse. That part of her obsession with committing suicide was a rebellion against those of us trying to keep her safe – it had become a battle of wills. I had been told repeatedly that I could not make her well and it was self-defeating and counter productive to believe I could. They said that if she chose to take her life there was nothing I could do about it. One counselor actually said to me : “You are not God.”
This was taking place at a time early in my faith when I was toying with the notion that there might be a God. Sometimes during my evening prayers and readings I would simply let the Bible fall open with my eyes closed. This particular night I decided to let it fall open near the beginning of the Bible as I tended to neglect the old testament and it fell open to the story of Abraham and Isaac. I know that if I told this story to non-Christians or even some of my liberal Christian friends they would either think I was reading too much into a coincidence or that I was simply making it up. But I know some of you will believe me. It was almost as if God was beating me over the head saying “Trust her to me.” That night I put my daughter in God’s hands, trusting as far as my heart could that whatever happened that God loved her even more than I did. And just as God did not take Isaac from Abraham, God did not take my daughter away from me to Himself.
This passage had, for me, a personal message that was not necessarily the general message or a message that someone else should take from it. Part of the richness of the scriptures is that there are all these layers of meaning – literal (sometimes), metaphorical, personal.



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Jim Martin

posted September 27, 2007 at 7:55 pm


Scot,
This book sounds very interesting. I will order it. Glad you introduced it.
Regarding preaching difficult texts…I think as a general rule, it is best to let a text slowly cook in the “crock-pot.” In other words, I prefer to take some time to really think through the text. Far too many mistakes are made with difficult texts by too quickly preaching what has not been thought through.



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Ted M. Gossard

posted September 27, 2007 at 8:53 pm


Jim #17, I think you make an excellent point there. I’ve given and probably give out stuff that is not quite done, or less than done.



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Diane

posted September 27, 2007 at 8:57 pm


Mariam,
Thank you again for sharing these powerful stories. I believe that God spoke directly to you through the story of Abraham and Isaac. I will pray for you and I hope and pray your daughter is doing better.



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Kristina

posted September 27, 2007 at 10:34 pm


Mariam,
Thanks for submitting your story. I do have one question though. I just read the story about Abraham and Issac and I do not understand the explanation of God protecting us from ourselves when we get the wrong notion of what God really wants from us. It seems pretty blunt when God said “Take your son, your only son, and sacrifice him there as a burnt offering.”



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Mariam

posted September 28, 2007 at 1:54 pm


Hi Kristina
First of all I am not saying my interpretation is correct. It is one interpretation. Part of the richness of the Bible is how many ways it can be interpreted. If there was only one way we wouldn’t have hundreds of Christian denominations. Personally, I rarely take the Bible only in a literal sense and I don’t think it is inerrant in the same way that many people who participate in this blog do. But I take it seriously as the sacred writings of my faith and I believe it always has something meaningful to say, even if I haven’t figured out what it is yet.
When we read stories in the old testament we tend to think that God speaks to people in an audible voice or appeairng as a burning bush or something. But I expect that most of the time God spoke to people the same way he does now – through other people, through ideas and thoughts. I just spent a few hours with a woman on a plane who seemed to believe that God was speaking to her in her head all the time. She related some of these conversations to me: eg. “So I asked God – God what do you want me to do and God, he said to me just get in the kitchen and whip up some cookies, Barb, and let me do the worrying about this. I’ll come up with something” Now I’m not saying that God wasn’t speaking to her but I am surprised that God sounds so much like my Uncle Harry. I think she went to God with an anxious heart and God gave her a way of getting beyond her worry, but I wouldn’t get too hung up on the whole cookie thing. I have conversations in my head a lot as well but I don’t tend to attribute them to God. My point is that a lot of people may think God is speaking to them and telling them to do things (George Bush, for example) but I think we can make mistakes about exactly what he is saying, if we aren’t careful.
If we believe Abraham was a literal, historical figure and not just a mythical, legendary figure, Abraham was living in a culture where human sacrifice to appease the gods was common. Abraham was looking for a way to show his devotion and love to his God and perhaps to Abraham sacrificing his son seemed the greatest expression of his devotion. It seemed as if God was telling him to do this, just as my companion Barb thought God was telling her that the most useful thing to do was whip up a batch of cookies. But in the end God provides an alternative way for Abraham to express his devotion.
If we believe that God really was telling Abraham to sacrifice his only son, what does this tell us about God? Is he cruel, a liar, capricious, a God who promises you something and then threatens to take it away for no apparent reason? If we think God is all-knowing then he already knew what Abraham would do, so why put him to such a cruel test? It is like those movies where the lord of the thugs gives a a recruit a gun and asks him to shoot his best friend to prove his loyalty and then when the terrified recruit pulls the trigger he finds the chamber is empty. Lord of the thugs smiles and claps him on the back. Is God really no better than that?
I always read the Bible with the idea of redemption and transformation in mind. God chose Abraham perhaps because God knew the depth of Abraham’s loyalty and devotion but Abraham had a few serious flaws, like thinking human sacrifice was OK and something God wanted, which was an idea that was common in Abraham’s culture. God saw the potential in Abraham and transforms him, not by asking him to sacrifice his son but in showing him an alternative to human sacrifice.



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Peggy

posted September 28, 2007 at 3:54 pm


Hello, Mariam and Kristina…
One of the great things is that we have the explanation of what Abraham was thinking recorded for us in Hebrews 11:17-19. Abraham, known as the Father of Faith to many, trusted that God, who had promised Isaac’s birth to a couple well beyond child-bearing years–to a barren woman, would be able to bring Isaac back from the dead. So he passed this test from God…in the same way that Job passed his test from God.
My experience has been that if God believes in your belief in him so much as to test you at that level, you don’t have anything to fear. And that is the perfect love…the one that casts out fear…that has been my companion of 40+ years.



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Peggy

posted September 28, 2007 at 4:01 pm


…and I think that the flaw that God was proving out here in Abraham was fear–a fear that had many times caused Abraham to err by not trusting God. (Like when he lied two different times about Sarah being his sister instead of his wife…so those two different kings wouldn’t kill him to take his beautiful wife!)



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Peggy

posted September 28, 2007 at 4:04 pm


…the challenge, of course, is separating out God’s voice from whatever else we might mistake as God’s voice. I do believe, however, that God spoke in more direct ways more often to the early fathers and mothers of the faith–while he was establishing himself and making his character known.
How he speaks is one of the challenging mysteries…one of many…about God.



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Mariam

posted September 28, 2007 at 4:31 pm


Thank you Peggy for another look at this. I hadn’t read that bit in Hebrews before ( have to confess Hebrews is one of those books I just don’t get a lot of the time). Although, Paul may be, like us, interpreting this passage through the lens of belief in a more loving and less fear-inducing God than that portrayed in the early books of the Old Testament. I have also thought that God may not have been trying to test Abraham’s faith, but prove to Abraham what depth of faith and trust he was capable of. I do think we have to be very careful about what we think God is telling us however. If I heard God telling me in my head (or even worse audibly) to kill one of my children to prove my faithfulness, I think I would be heading for the psychiatrist’s couch. I confess my faith is smaller than a mustard seed but my faith in myself to discern when God is speaking to me is even smaller.



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Kristina

posted September 29, 2007 at 8:21 am


Thanks Mariam and Peggy for your responses,
As a psychology student, I always find it confusing to read this passage and not wonder whether Abraham needed a psychiatrist with God telling him to kill his son. But I’m still confused. Mariam, about what is the difference between God testing Abraham’s faith and proving to Abraham what type of faith he was capable of. It still sounds like that bully you were talking about in the “lord of thugs” analogy you used earlier.



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Peggy

posted September 29, 2007 at 11:44 am


Kristina,
I believe that one of the biggest challenges faced when reading and trying to understand scripture is proper context. Without it, one will not understand as intended. That being said, I will say that I have come to take covenant as the primary context for all of our Scriptures.
God has revealed that he is a covenant making and covenant keeping God. He is completely faithful to keep his promises. He is not capricious, changing his mind on a whim–playing with us as with a puppet.
So we go back to God’s covenant with Abraham–to make him the father of a great nation that will bless all the peoples of the earth. This is not a small promise….
Abraham believed God…this was a good start! And so he left his homeland for the new home God promised. During this time he encountered many challenges…Genesis records them all…but the biggest challenge was that he and Sarah had no children (and so the whole Ishmael interlude :( ).
But nothing is impossible with God, Abraham was told…and the next year, Isaac was born–and identified as the one through whom God’s promise would come…emphasized by the sending away of Ishmael–through which another nation came into being…but not the one of God’s promise to Abraham.
Now we are ready to look at the context of God’s command to Abraham (and the clarification by the writer of Hebrews). You will notice that Abraham did not tell anyone that he was going off to sacrifice Isaac…not Sarah, not the servants that accompanied them…not Isaac. But he went because he was obedient and trusted in God’s promise of a heritage in Isaac…the child of the promise–the miracle son.
And he said to his servants: WE will come back to you (after they had worshipped God on the mountain).
And he said to Isaac, when he wondered where the sacrifice was: God himself will provide the sacrifice.
And we see Isaac bound and placed on the altar without any recorded anxiety…and then, as Abraham took up the knife, God calls the test completed and the ram becomes the sacrifice.
Abraham had doubted God’s promise when he sired Ishmael…so God was justified in checking to be sure that Abraham still trusted God. Abraham had learned the lesson that nothing is impossible with God and proved it on the mountain.
God’s times of testing are not for his sake, but always for our sake. I think the part of the Lord’s Prayer that asks that God not put us to the test is a declaration of faithfulness–may we continually confirm by our actions that we do not need to be tested!
Abraham was God’s friend…he was not jerking his chain, but testing his faith. We know that Abraham feels free to approach God to renegotiate terms…the whole episode over how many faithful must be found in Sodom to stop God from destroying it shows that. Yet we do not see Abraham flinching here. I think that is important for us to see and process.
Well…sorry for the length!
Be blessed.



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Mariam

posted September 29, 2007 at 5:50 pm


Hi Peggy and Kristina,
This has been a very good discussion. Thank you. It gave me a good deal for thought. Peggy, your explanation was very eloquent and convincing, although I confess I am not entirely convinced … yet:) However, Kristina, I am going to defer to Peggy’s extra 37+! years at this. I agree that context can be very helpful when interpreting scripture. There are various contexts including historical, theological and, because I think God can speak through the scriptures to our individual circumstance, personal. I have some qualms about trying to squeeze everything into the particular context we’ve chosen to use but, on the whole, I do think context is very important. Peggy interprets the Bible through the lens of convenant (a whole way of looking at things that I am only vaguely familiar with) whereas I interpret through the lens of redemption and transformation. (I don’t think it is an either/or thing by the way.) I think where we both agree, and correct me Peggy if I am wrong, is that our God is is a good guy, not a bully or thug – He is loving, wants what is best for us and the rest of creation and can be trusted. So when either of us reads the scriptures and a straight reading of it seems to imply something else, there is something wrong in our interpretation.



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Peggy

posted September 29, 2007 at 6:31 pm


Mariam–and Kristina,
What a pleasant discussion, indeed :)
I agree–our God is a good guy–always looking our for our best interest–and if something implies otherwise, we need to question that interpretation.
And the lenses of redemption and transformation are very much sub-sets of covenant–since the whole point of God’s covenant(s) is redemption and transformation. Covenant as primary context is just a way of remembering the basics of who God is and how he has chosen to interact with humanity. If we remember that he is both covenant maker and faithful covenant keeper, many confusing things that might pop into one’s head are immediately resolved.
So, when I’m approaching scripture, my first thoughts go to things like: what covenant is in play at this time and in this circumstance? what kind of activity is being described? Covenant making–including the terms and conditions? Covenant keeping? Covenant breaking? Blessings for faithfulness? Curses or consequences for faithlessness? Are people remembering God’s faithfulness with obedience? Are they forgetting his faithfulness with disobedience? Are they afraid of their neighbors, forgetting the power of their covenant partner? Have they been warned time and time again…showing God’s longsuffering? Is it an attempt to show what faithful covenant keeping would look like in certain circumstances?
You get the drift.
It has been a very helpful contextual tool for me and consistently on target for the past 15 years of my journey as a Christ-follower.
Be blessed…



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Peggy

posted September 29, 2007 at 6:42 pm


…and how grateful I am that it is the task of the Holy Spirit to convince…what an overwhelming pressure that would be! 8) I am, as always, happy to be of some small assistance–audible/visual words to perhaps confirm that still, small voice….



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