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Last week, I started on the Taking the Bible Seriously series with Prepare Our Hearts. Today, we continue with Open Our Eyes.
But first, I would like to address some concerns and feedback. I thought I was clear, but I guess in communications, if what I said was not heard, then I have failed in my communications. The objective of this few sermons is not to explain some verses in the Bible like what you would expect in a usual sermon. It is to teach you the tools to read, interpret, explore the Bible so that instead of giving you fish, I am teaching you how to fish.
In the next few sermons, we are going to have a helicopter survey and also dive deeper into specific passages. This sermon, as well as the previous and next ones are to share with you some of the tools necessary for the journey.
I am not using Bible verses to undergird the sermon because that can be falling into the issue of proof texting.
Proof texting is when we have an idea, or an argument or something we believe in, and we quote a verse out of context to justify it. The verse quoted may mean something very different from its meaning in context.
Let me give you an example you are familiar with – Jesus said “No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made.” Imagine someone using this verse to justify buying new clothes for their wardrobe. That’s prooftexting.
Instead of starting off with an idea and we look for verses to justify them, we should be familiar with the Bible and know what is within it so we can internalise the teachings within the Bible and let it guide us.
There is a difference between being familiar with the Bible and allowing it to guide us, and finding verses in the Bible to justify our ideas and what we believe.
There are other forms similar to prooftexting as well. How many people read the Bible Code? I did when I was younger. My friend Jay Michaelson, a gay Jewish Rabbi, wrote an article “Bible Codes A Lie That Won’t Die.
“Using computers and a simple set of algorithms, enterprising researchers found that every 14th letter in, I don’t know, the book of Habakkuk, spelled out the name of this or that important rabbi, politician or event. The data is cleverly mapped on a matrix, impressing upon the reader the supernatural nature of the Bible.
One reason that Bible Codes have gone out of fashion is that mathematicians and statisticians have thoroughly, completely and convincingly disproved them….
Indeed, when, in 1997, popular author Michael Drosnin (who wrote a book on the subject) challenged critics to find the same “prophecy” regarding the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in “Moby Dick” as Bible Codes folks had found in the Bible, Australian computer scientist Brendan McKay did just that, and for good measure he found letter arrangements predicting the assassinations of Trotsky, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.”
It is important for us to realise what Jay Michaelson writes about faith:
“Faith, by its nature, is uncertain. A commitment to religious consciousness necessitates a certain insecurity, which, of course, is why the most dogmatic religionists (Christian fundamentalists, Haredim, Islamists) insist on absolute conviction. The Bible Codes seek to erase the very essence of spirituality by making the truth of religion as irrefutable as the laws of physics. You need no courage, the Bible Codes say, in order to be religious. Indeed, you’d be a fool not to be.
Authentic religious consciousness, however, is not a matter of absolutes, decided once and forever with scientific certainty. That’s just a claim, a cop-out, meant to substantiate that which should not be substantiated. Authentic spirituality exists precisely because adopting it is a choice.”
We need to open our eyes when people use our desire for certainty and absolutes, our avoidance of insecurity to make us to manipulate us, to control us. I have said before – if we are absolutely certain, there is no need for faith. If we are sure that the ground beneath us will not give way, we do not need faith to walk on it. But when we walk on a frozen lake, then we take each step with care.
How many of you, remember a time when people thought Mikhail Gorbachev was the Anti-Christ because of his birthmark on his head? Or Ronald Reagan because his name, including his middle name, had 6 letters each?
Do I still believe that now? Nope. Like what the Apostle Paul wrote: 1 Cor 13:11 “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I set aside childish ways. Now we see but a dim reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
The process of opening your eyes may be uncomfortable for many of you. I cannot but be totally in agreement with Bishop John Shelby Spong when he writes:
“In the process I will disturb many. That is not my desire, but I believe it is inevitable. The Bible has been misunderstood for so long by so many that overturning what most churchgoers have been taught to believe as “gospel truth” will inevitably destabilize their religious convictions. That will naturally bring distress and anger. I also expect that I will irritate many in academia who will suggest that all these things I say have been known for hundreds of years! They will conclude, therefore, that I am guilty of some unequivocal need for sensationalism. I only ask these people, who have lived their lives behind the ivy-covered walls of academia, to step out of their intellectual ghetto for just a minute, where they can see clearly that very few people seem to have heard the news that those academicians say is hundreds of years old. They will also see that people are today walking away from Christianity in droves because it seems so out of touch with the world in which they live. More importantly, these academic Christians need to face the fact that their work has never been successful in helping define “popular” Christianity. That rather was the accomplishment of the biblical literalists.”
More than that, I hope that they will find themselves a way to worship God with their minds. I hope they will find themselves able to live inside the Christian story without denying the tenets of the world in which they are also citizens. I hope they will no longer have to twist their minds into a first-century pretzel in order to walk the Christ path.”
We cannot trust that all of our beliefs are true. In order to discover the truth about things, we must be prepared to acknowledge our beliefs may be false and we must stand ready to be corrected. We must hold our views tentatively. We are simply acknowledging that our search for truth is part of our life-journey. We can legitimately claim to have made some progress along the way, but there are many things we do not know and many of the beliefs we presently hold may be (and probably are) incorrect.
Kyn wondered about the flat earth theory on Facebook – let me correct myself – that I was thinking about Galileo’s heresy trial for his challenge to the idea that the planet was the center of a three-tiered universe. So I stand corrected – it is not about the flat earth but rather the three-tiered universe where the earth is the center of the universe. That is different from the flat earth theory.
There are times people refuse to open their eyes, or they want to obscure, or hide things.
We all know of Joseph, right? No, not Schooling. Not that Joseph. But Joseph the one with his technicolor coat.
Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate[a] robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.
This is what the NIV version’s footnote reads: “The meaning of the Hebrew for this word is uncertain; also in verses 23 and 32.”
Let me teach you how to use the concordance. Let’s go to https://www.blueletterbible.org/kjv/gen/37/1/s_37001
Click on the verse 3 and you would see the concordance. The two key words are : kĕthoneth H3801 (robe) and pac H6446 (of many colors). Every word has a Strong’s number and clicking on it will show you where else that word appears in the rest of the Bible.
When you look at H6446 (pac), you would see that it also appears in 2 Samuel 13:18 and 13:19. “And she had a garment of divers colours (kĕthoneth pac) upon her: for with such robes were the king’s daughters that were virgins apparelled. Then his servant brought her out, and bolted the door after her.
So they know what the coat was for Tamar – it is robes for the king’s virgin daughters. But they are uncertain when it came to Joseph? Could Joseph be crossdressing and made his brothers dislike him? We don’t know for sure, but we have to entertain the possibility. And especially not whitewash it. It would be a lot more intellectually honest to say that it was used to refer to robes for the king’s virgin daughters instead of saying that it is “uncertain.”
There is a lot of bias – innocent or otherwise – in the translation of the Bible. We need to develop skills to learn and interpret for ourselves.
How do we interpret the Bible? How do we open our eyes? Through what lens?
Midrash, the Jewish approach of exegeting of the text is very insightful. In Judaism, Rabbis often radically reinterpreted the text to meet the needs of the day. Of course there is a guiding principle – that it is that of compassion. As Karen Armstrong writes: “In the early years of the first century, the great Pharisaic sage Hillel had come from Babylonia to Jerusalem…. It was said that one day a pagan had approached Hillel and promised to convert to Judaism if he could summarize the entire Torah while he stood on one leg. Standing on one leg. Hillel replied: “What is hateful to yourself, do not to your fellow man. That is the whole of Torah and the remainder is but commentary. Go study it.” This was an astonishing and deliberately controversial piece of midrash. The essence of Torah was the disciplined refusal to inflict pain on another human being. Everything else in the Scriptures was merely “commentary” And at the end of his exegesis, Hillel uttered a miqra, a call to action: Go Study!
Like I said last week, I am guided in my approach to the Bible through one lens and that is Christ. What guides me are Jesus Sermon on the Mount Matthew 5-7.
And one of the 8 questions Jesus answers directly: Matthew 22:37-40
• He said to him, ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’
Or if you prefer, the answer from the lawyer when Jesus asked him “what is written in the law?”
• ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 26 He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ 27 He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’
All the rest is commentary. GO STUDY!
So may we have the heart and mind of Christ as we open our eyes to see, read and interpret – it is the lens of love and compassion.
Questions for reflection:
1. Are there passages in the Bible you had wrestled with? What were they? Why did you struggle with them?
2. Are there beliefs that you used to have that you no longer hold on to? What changed? How did it change? What helped you change your mind? What convinced you to change? Why did it change?