27 February 2015

Sometimes the Bible is clear

A lot of times the Bible doesn't seem all that clear. What, after all, is the right Christian position on birth control, the role of women, care for the environment, the ideal way to pray, whether prophecy still happens today, and so on? Asking what the Bible says and why it matters was the focus of one of the Bible studies that we just had in Campus Edge. It was a joy to lead, but we didn't come up with any obvious answers, which might feel disappointing to those searching for clear answers.

At the same time that the Bible seems unclear in numerous issues, it's clear in other ways. One of those ways is why things are written. The following are a number of examples:
  • That the people might know the the LORD is God - that is the reason  the plagues are recorded the way they are.
    • Exodus 10.1-2 "Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these signs of mine among them that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians and how I performed my signs among them, and that you may know that I am the Lord.”"
  • So that you might believe Jesus is God and so have life, that is why the gospels have been written.  
    • John 20.30-31 "Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." 
  • Ezekiel frequently repeats "that you might know that the LORD is God" as the reason why something happens. 
  • The end of Ezekiel explains why the description of the temple is given. It is not, as some seem to want to argue, so that we can build a temple according to the description given (even if the building description was comprehensible, which it's not, what good is a temple that has no roof?). Instead, a more surprising reason is given: becoming ashamed of one's sins. 
    • Ezekiel 43:10-11 says "“Son of man, describe the temple to the people of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their sins. Let them consider its perfection, and if they are ashamed of all they have done, make known to them the design of the temple—its arrangement, its exits and entrances—its whole design and all its regulations and laws. Write these down before them so that they may be faithful to its design and follow all its regulations."
These are simply some of the verses I can think of (off the top of my head) that proclaim a clear biblical message: that you might know God. This fits well with the greatest commandment that Christ proclaims: love God above all and your neighbour as yourself. The rest of the stuff in the Bible, irrelevant of how clear it may or may not appear to be, is definitely good and helpful, but I believe it is ultimately less important than the coming to know (and love) God.

21 February 2015


I spent half of last week visiting a monastery (St Gregory's in Three Rivers). It was good, as you might be able to sense from the pictures below. 

Part of the good was that I spent time working on my dissertation. Another good was that I had time to prep for our study on Job by reading the book and part of a commentary. Still more good was time spent in Church, immersed in the Psalms. I also had the unexpected chance to fast, as they forgot to tell us ahead of time that there was no breakfast or lunch served on Ash Wednesday. That too was good. And the last good? Matthijs was with me, and he delighted being there with me (and spending time in the library :))

The following pictures are from our visit late in the fall. It was also beautiful and refreshing then. After all the changes that had happened in the previous months, it felt like I desperately needed the beauty and prayers that are part of this place.

I am thankful that this last visit felt less intense, less of a realignment. Instead it felt like more of a gentle reminder of how things can and should be.

14 February 2015

Not asking the same questions about the Bible

I recently picked up Craig Blomberg's Can we Still Believe the Bible? I have to admit to being very surprised by the questions he addresses. The introduction mentions that there are six issues that evangelicals are bringing up in response to the Bible.

The titles of the chapters reflect these 6 issues:
      "1. Aren't the Copies of the Bible Hopelessly Corrupt?
       2. Wasn't the Selection of Books for the Canon Just Political?
       3. Can We Trust Any of Our Translations of the Bible?
       4. Don't These Issues Rule Out Biblical Inerrancy?
       5. Aren't Several Narrative Genres of the Bible Unhistorical?
       6. Don't All the Miracles Make the Bible Mythical?"
Although I was intrigued by what he had to say about different genres and can imagine this being a difficult area for the average reader of the Bible, I have to admit that I don't understand the difficulties with the other issues. I can understand that people might not understand exactly how our translation of the Bible has come to us, especially when supposed experts are forever talking about the original text actually meaning something different than what we might expect from our translation. Yet, these questions are fairly easy to address with basic knowledge about the history of the Bible (and the original languages), so how have they become issues within the church today?

I can imagine that people might have difficulties with God as presented in the Bible, as God does not come across as particularly gracious, fair or consistent (and Christians are even worse!). I personally find this difficult to understand and don't really know how to address this. At the same time, years of studying the biblical text have only increased my love for it, my appreciation for (but also skepticism of) biblical scholarship (done by Christians and non-Christians), and my delight in following a God who is beyond my comprehension and continues to surprise me.

The conclusion of Blomberg's book helps address my questions about these issues. In the conclusion, he criticizes how some evangelicals have been part of making things issues that do not need to be issues. For example, the concept of inerrancy has caused more difficulties than good. This does not mean that inerrancy is an inherently a wrong concept. Christians, after all, do need to believe Bible and God is trustworthy. At the same time, he points out (page 221) that we do not need to believe whole Bible is without error to live a faithful Christian life.

This book also reminds me of how the church needs good biblical scholars to help out those who are struggling and, even more importantly, to keep the focus on the important questions of what the Bible says, who God is, and how we are to respond.

04 February 2015

Powerful but impractical

One of my favourite reasons for reading the Bible (again and again) is the numerous times it makes me pause to ask whether I really did just read what I thought I read.

For example, Exodus 8:6-7 reads "So Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt, and the frogs came up and covered the land. But the magicians did the same things by their secret arts; they also made frogs come up on the land of Egypt."

The text clearly points out that the Egyptian magicians showed their power by doing the same miracle as Aaron. Aaron (and by implication, his God) was thus no stronger than the magicians. 
At the same time, my immediate reaction was: Really?!? What were those magicians thinking? Why would they want to use magic to raise more frogs? Did Egypt somehow not yet have enough frogs crawling over everything? 

The telling of the story is pointing to the might of God and his working to let his people go, while at the same time narrating the Egyptians' (and Pharaoh's) defiant resistance to God's power and his claim on the Israelites. The magicians re-doing Aaron's miracles is part of that re-telling. Their actions here create suspense, raising the question of whether God really is the most powerful and what the final response of Pharaoh will be to Moses and Aaron.

On the practical side, however, the magicians come across as being rather incompetent. There was obviously no need to exasperate and increase the frog problem in the land. True power would have come in stopping the frogs from coming up from the earth or, better yet, causing something else to come up from the ground (or from the sky) that would eat the frogs and thus eliminate the problem.