Archive for the ‘Bible Commentary’ Category

I just wanted to share my favorite passages and a little explanation of why. I would love it if anyone would do the same in the comments.

My Favorites are

Romans 9-11
This is where Paul struggles with election, divine foreknowledge, salvation, and God’s justice, all in a few chapters. And his conclusions show the great power of the love of God.

Jonah 4
Jonah 4 is where God reprimands Jonah for trying to limit God’s mercy and increase Jonah’s own sense of religious superiority. This is one of the greatest lessons in the Old Testament

Galatians 5
Galatians 5 is where Paul outline what Christian ethics looks like now that the law has been fulfilled. It is a great answer to the question “how then shall we live”

Matthew 5
Matthew 5 is the Sermon on the mount, and its is not only Jesus’ greatest teachings to us, but also the greatest insight in the Bible toward the character of God.

Ephesians 1
Ephesians 1 is a mostly a prayer but its sets a vision of the place of Christians in God’s overall plan and I find it quite inspiring.

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Genesis 4

So Eve gives birth to Cain and Abel. Cain tills the earth (farmer) and Abel is a sheepherder. Both offer sacrifices to God but God accepts Abel’s and not Cain’s. We are not told why it is that Cain’s is not accepted it could have to do with the difference between the method’s they were procured but we are not told. Cain then gets angry that his sacrifice was not accepted, but gets angry at Abel’s whose offering was accepted, rather than getting angry at God. God warns Cain that sin is behind the door of his anger. And that he must learn to master it.

I think this story is in itself a metaphor for much of life. Sometimes even when we work hard things don’t go so well for us, in fact they can still go badly. And most of the time there seems to be no reason for our misfortunes. But God says that we need to learn to master our anger, particularly our anger at those who are fortunate when we are not. This sin of envy is very destructive and can lead us into a multitude of sins including murder.

Cain then murders Abel. God calls him out on it, and punishes him by making him a nomadic dweller rather than the farmer that he was. Abel is terrified of the life of a nomad, and fears for his life. So God, following the paradigm of Genesis 3, pronounces judgment but also brings mercy in that He gives Cain a mark which protects him from being killed by others.

Obviously despite strange attempts to reconcile this fact, Adam and Eve are not the only humans around. Cain not only is in fear of being killed by strangers, but leaves to another land, takes a wife and starts a new city. Which is very interesting since God punished Cain by forcing him to roam the lands and not be a farmer. Also interesting is that the land the city is founded on is said to be away from the presence of the Lord, which comes into play later when God is none too happy about humanity’s civilization building project.

Adam and Eve are then gifted with another son Seth, to replace Abel.

The two big things I see in this passage are that envy of others successes is the foothold of sin in our lives, and we need to learn to master that envy. And, that God was not involved in the creation of cities/civilization.

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One Flesh

This is more or less a combination of some of my other posts, with specific focus on this idea of one flesh and what it means. I am clarifying this because there are many who think that it has something to do with marriage or sex, but beyond that they really just don’t know. So I am going to kind of draw the usages of it together to show what is actually being said.

Starting in Genesis where this passage is from, God has just placed Adam in the garden, and He makes a moral statement about the nature of man. He says, “It is not good for man to be alone”, and to remedy this He says that he will find a helper suitable for man. So all of the animals are brought before man, male and female, and none of them are suitable for Adam. So the important message occurs next. God doesn’t just create a female, like he created the animals male and female, but He creates the female from man.

‘This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called Woman,
for out of Man this one was taken.’
Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.

This creation of woman is such that it creates a distinction with that of all other creations. It is a reflection of the idea that man and woman share a deeper bond with each other than that of other creatures. And that deeper bond solves the moral problem that it is not good for man to be alone. And so Genesis says that the reason a man leaves his mother and father and clings to his wife is because this fulfills human beings. They become one flesh, means that they satisfy (the metaphor is playing on this idea of returning to) this deeper connection that they need.

Fast forwarding to Jesus, he uses the idea of one flesh in the same way.

He left that place and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan. And crowds again gathered around him; and, as was his custom, he again taught them.

 Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ He answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ They said, ‘Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.” “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’

The Pharisees ask if it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife, and Jesus actually ignores there question altogether and attacks the root of the problem which spurred the question. What he does not say is yes it is, or no it is not lawful because marriage is a sacred bond that cannot be broken. What He says is that it is because the hardness of your hearts that this law exists. In the beginning the idea of marriage was that it was a means to fulfill the deep relational capacity of humans and solve the not goodness of being alone. And that if you understood that, you would realize that the question is not about whether it is lawful, but whether it is good for you. Marriage is not some legal contract for you to absolve for your own gain, but is instrumental in your own goodness. So Jesus says let no man separate (implying that they can but should not) what God has brought together. Jesus is saying by making the point of marriage into a legal contract, you have missed what marriage was all about to begin with.

Onward to Paul, he adapts the metaphor of one flesh for his argument and is the reason that people think that “one flesh” has something to do with sex, even though its prior usages have absolutely nothing to do with that. Paul usage is this

15Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, “The two shall be one flesh.” 17But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.

Now Paul’s usage here is kind of deceptive if one does not have a background in what Paul is talking about here. Paul is talking about prostitution, and more specifically Roman prostitution which occurred primarily with the priestesses in the temples of the Roman gods. His point here is actually about association. He says that Christians are members of the body of Christ, and that sex, like marriage itself, for humans is a type of fulfillment of the deep relational capacity of humanity. It too is more than a physical act, but also a means of facilitating this one flesh connection that men and women are primed for.  And that you should not invest that capacity in prostitutes because this bond is offensive to God because it associates God with other Roman deities. He talks about this associative offense as well in 2 Corinthians.

Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship is there between light and darkness? What agreement does Christ have with Beliar? Or what does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God

So what’s the bottom line? The bottom line is that the idea of one flesh, is a metaphor for the male/female romantic relational capacity that is stronger than that of animals, and which the satisfaction of fulfills people and makes them better, where as there being alone is not good.

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Genesis 3
The first thing I think when I read this story is how ridiculous it sounds. A serpent talks to Eve and she thinks nothing of it even when the serpent tells her God lied. Then she does what the serpent says and everyone gets punished and banished from the Garden. This according to most Christians, is known as the fall.

I think however, this story actually makes a lot of sense if we realize two crucial things: the nature of Adam and Eve, and the nature of the serpent. Adam and Eve have just been created and are for all intents and purposes children; they do not know good from evil just as they are naked and unashamed. This is because they are innocent, not because they are perfect. So if we view Eve as a child, her interaction with the serpent begins to make sense. A crafty serpent tells her that there is more to life than following the rules of her parent (God) and that the rules are in place to hold her back from seeing the truth. She then proceeds to break the rule (as any good child or teenager would likely do) and takes Adam with her. They both come into knowledge of good and evil/moral responsibility symbolized by the end of innocence in the realization that they are naked. The serpent/lizard/dragon (the serpent still has limbs at this point) is in most cultures a symbol of evil (specifically old/ancient evil). Portrayed as the devil, the serpent exists in the garden pre-fall, representing the evil that God had apparently allowed in this world. Why God allowed evil in the world, whether it be a fallen being from an older act of creation, or just broadly some evil in the fabric of the universe is not answered by the Bible. But the Bible affirms that God did allow evil in creation and that it pre-dates human fallen-ness. What this narrative affirms is that Adam and Eve come into interaction/realization of the evil already in the world, and in so doing choose to sin for the first time. And in doing this act they gain knowledge of right and wrong, a knowledge they did not have previously.

The next part shows the blame shifting; Adam to Eve, Eve to the Serpent. God Judges all of them but is in part merciful in judgment. Adam and Eve are not fully to blame for their sin, but they are accountable, likewise the serpent is accountable. God does not eliminate them, as was the original prescribed punishment, but shows mercy and allows them to live, also He clothes them. But He does issue other various punishments. These punishments seem more explanatory (like the one flesh symbol from Genesis 2) than actual casual prescriptions. Pain in childbearing is likely more of a sort of ‘just so’ account for the Hebrews, as is the serpent’s punishment. But more interestingly is that realization of mans’ depravity brings hierarchy to men and women, and the necessity of work. All of the punishments for humanity describe the evils of adulthood moral mentality.

The section ends with God taking man out of Eden because man now knows good from evil (indication that Eden is representative of innocence and not perfection) but also man is removed from Eden so that he might not eat from the tree of life and live forever. This is interesting to me in two ways, A) it affirms that even pre-fallen mankind was not immortal (God provided a means for them to be) and B) It is what provides an explanation for the Hebrews for why man is mortal.

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“In The Beginning” Genesis 1-2

Intro to series

To preface the early sections of Genesis, I must first note that these early sections of Genesis are at their core an explanatory myth. That is that they are an explanation, but also a reflection of the culture that spawned it. It is not a literal collection of events but the Hebrew explanation of the human situation, existentially and theologically. That is not to say that the Hebrews did not believe these events happened, but the important aspect of the opening to Genesis is that they reveal the very basic beliefs that form how their culture saw themselves and the world.

The first thing that strikes me as odd is that Earth is created as (to the Hebrews basically the Universe) a dark formless void (with water) to begin with, and that God then moves to create something good and beautiful out of it. To me this is kind of like the operational paradigm of the Hebrew view of God, we start with something dark and God brings forth something good. There is also a strict monotheism presented in the creation accounts where everything is created by God, and He is the sole actor in the beginnings of the human story.

At the end of Genesis one, God creates man in His image and gives them the Earth and everything on it for their use. Implying that what is meant by God’s image is this idea of creative authority in the making and use of creation, a co-creator/ruler status. And having done this God rests allowing man to have dominion and that this state of affairs was good.

In the second account in Genesis two, the focus of the myth has changed to explaining more of the human nature side of things as opposed to the human role in things. God creates man out of the earth and breathes the spirit of life into him. Again, a reflection that man shares in the divine image in a way that animals do not.

An interesting thing that catches my eye in the Eden narrative is that God sets Adam in Eden alone, with the forbidden tree in the center. Why I find this interesting is that God then proceeds to say that it is not good for man to be alone, meaning that Eden was not a state of perfection as I, and many Christians I would guess, are raised to believe.

The nature of man and woman is explained here as being one of a complementary nature that is even greater than that of the animals originally brought to Adam to be named. While the animals have male and female, the genesis myth shows that men and woman have a deeper connection described in this idea of coming from each other. God creates woman out of man displaying that they are capable of sharing a deeper connection that returns them to this original idea of one flesh. This has no sexual connotation in the story I might add, animals have sex too. Instead it is, at least in my mind, the Hebrews acknowledgement that the social relational capacities of men and women allow for something more special than that of animals. And going along with that idea of being explanatory in nature, it is also interesting to note that it is this special kind of relational capacity that is used as the reason for why men leave their parents and get married. It is not that God ordained this kind methodological relationship sequence, but Genesis explains why that set-up exists in their culture.

And the last bit about being naked and not being ashamed plays into the fall narrative of the next chapter, which plays on the idea of original innocence and not original perfection as I hinted at above. But Genesis 3 will be for the next post.

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As in a Mirror Dimly

1 Corinthians 13

As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, butwhen the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. Fornow we see in a mirror dimly, butthen face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even asI have been fully known.

This is perhaps one of my favorite passages in the Bible, in fact, if it wasn’t such a hassle to do, I would likely rename this blog “through a mirror dimly.” [which if you are reading this now, you will notice that I did] As I recently re-read this passage, I was overcome by the irony and wonder of the thought which Paul is expressing here. Paul, who is pretty much the go-to man for protestant theology, is saying that even he, an apostle, who is writing these letters which would become scripture, barely knows God. He knows Him only in part. God, who fully knows him, as He fully knows us, we know only as in a barely lit reflection. It is not even God we see dimly, but a reflection of Him. The fullness of God is such that until the perfect comes to pass, we, even as Christians, do not know God very well.

This might seem depressing or even shocking for those who think the Bible pretty much tells us everything about God. But to me it is a great encouragement. What this means is that there are always new things for God to reveal to us, we are not a “religion of the book” but the religion of an active God. It reminds me of George MacDonald’s “A Higher Faith” in which he writes

“Sad, indeed, would the whole matter be, if the Bible had told us everything God meant us to believe. But herein is the Bible itself greatly wronged. It nowhere lays claim to be regarded as the Word, the Way, the Truth. The Bible leads us to Jesus, the inexhaustible, the ever unfolding Revelation of God. It is Christ “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” not the Bible, save as leading to him. And why are we told that these treasures are hid in him who is the Revelation of God? Is it that we should despair of finding them and cease to seek them? Are they not hid in him that they may be revealed to us in due time–that is, when we are in need of them? Is not their hiding in him the mediatorial step towards their unfolding in us? Is he not the Truth?–the Truth to men? Is he not the High Priest of his brethren, to answer all the troubled questionings that arise in their dim humanity?”

“Do you count it a great faith to believe what God has said? It seems to me, I repeat, a little faith, and, if alone, worthy of reproach. To believe what he has not said is faith indeed, and blessed. For that comes of believing in HIM. Can you not believe in God himself? Or, confess,–do you not find it so hard to believe what he has said, that even that is almost more than you can do? If I ask you why, will not the true answer be–”Because we are not quite sure that he did say it”? If you believed in God you would find it easy to believe the word. You would not even need to inquire whether he had said it: you would know that he meant it.”

I think many times we all need a reminder that God is so much greater than we imagine and that we need to be open at all times for Him to reveal something new about Himself to us. And more importantly we need to be humble enough to accept that there are countless new things for God to reveal about Himself.

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Ephesians 5

Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.

 Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Saviour. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.

 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendour, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband.

I mentioned this text briefly in one of my older posts but I think it is interesting to delve into this metaphor that Paul is using with a bit more depth.

So Paul is applying the metaphor of the Church as the Bride/Body of Christ, with the wife as the bride/body of the husband. But what he means by this metaphor is actually quite fascinating. The husband is the head of the wife, just as Christ is the head of the church. The question is then, how is Christ the head of the Church? Christ is the head of the church not because He holds dominion or executive control over it, but because the church is an institution/corporate body that serves Him. Christ is the head of the church because the church exists to further His way and cause. In the same way, at the time of Paul, marriage existed as an institution to serve men. Women were passed from their fathers to their husbands and the legal power resided in the male. What Paul is saying here is that husband is the head, like Christ is the head of his church. And so the husband is to, like Christ, lead by self-sacrifice and love. What Paul is doing is acknowledging (not ordaining) that men are the head of the relationship, but they are to act like the head of the relationship in the same way Christ rules over his church. Not with dominion or executive authority but with love.

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