Skip to main content

Posts

The real rainmaker

Psalm 68.1-10, 32-35 (https://www.biblegateway.com NRSVA) One of the fascinating things about this psalm is that it repurposes language originally used to describe God’s ancient rival in Israel’s affections, the Canaanite storm god Baal. The Greek version of the Old Testament changed the description of God in verse 4. He becomes instead ‘the one who rides on the West’. The West? Does this mean ‘the West wind?’ In verse 33 the Greek version says ‘God... rides on the heaven of heaven.’ I’m not sure what that is, either. Presumably it means ‘the highest heaven’. The confusion is understandable because the Hebrew is unclear. Does verse 4 mean that God ‘rides upon the clouds’ or ‘through the deserts’? The Revised Version prefers one interpretation, the New Revised Standard Version the other. There is similar confusion about verse 33. Does it mean God is the ‘rider in the heavens’ or does he ‘ride upon the heavens of heavens’ as in the Greek version of the psalm? For me the context makes this …
Recent posts

Ascending through the clouds

Acts 1.6-14 (https://www.biblegateway.com NRSVA) Jesus ascends to God on the Cross in John’s Gospel, but he ascends through a cloud in Luke. And he isn’t the first person to do this in the Bible.  Enoch also has a mysterious ending. The New Revised Standard Version says that ‘he was no more, because God took him,’ (Gen 5.24) which could sound like a circumlocution for ‘he died’. But the Greek Old Testament, which Luke would have been using, says ‘he was not found, because God transferred him,’ implying a more mysterious promotion to glory. And the Prophet Elijah has an ending that is explicitly like the ascension of Jesus. ‘2 Kings 2.11 says that ‘Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven,’ and it’s even possible that he was seated ‘in a chariot of fire’ drawn by ‘horses of fire’. If anything, Jesus’ ascension is far less spectacular, as befits his more understated style. Luke has a very clear idea that history divides neatly into three stages. First, there is the period before Jesus; th…

Ascension on the Cross

John 17.1-11 (https://www.biblegateway.com NRSVA) In Luke’s Gospel Jesus ascends to God from a mountaintop, lifted up on a cloud. In John’s Gospel Jesus is lifted up on a cross. The passage ends with the assurance that Jesus and his ‘Holy Father’ are ‘one’, but for John this is a moral unity, a unity of purpose, rather than a metaphysical union of two natures, human and divine. They are ‘one’ because Jesus has ‘completed the work that [God] gave him to do,’ (verse 4). That work was ‘to make God’s name known’, to share the words that God had given him, to gather around himself a group of trusted disciples who ‘know the truth’, and to be recognised as the one whom God sent, ‘Jesus Messiah’ - the Anointed One. We know from John’s description of Jesus’ death, and from other passages in the Gospel, that the decisive hour when that work was completed was on the Cross, when Jesus was glorified by God so that he in turn might give glory back to God and confirm God’s true nature as the suffering…

Jesus' role in human history

1 Peter 3.13-22 (https://www.biblegateway.com NRSVA) This is a fascinating passage for several reasons.  First, the writer doesn’t talk about Jesus’ resurrection in bodily terms. Verse 18 says, ‘He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.’ This reminds us that Paul, also, never mentions the empty tomb. So there were two different strands of teaching about Easter in the Early Church, one emphasising Jesus’ bodily resurrection and the other focusing more on spiritual resurrection. Second, the writer refers to an idea that quickly became of importance to the Early Christians and remains so today. If being reconciled to God through Jesus’ death on the Cross is the pivotal moment in human history, what happens to all those people who never got to know about it? In verse 19 the writer says that Jesus ‘went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison.’ Taken very literally, this could mean that - during the three days before Jesus’ resurrection was revealed to his disci…

Following in Discipleship

John 1.35-39a This Bible study is based on a series of reflections about the meaning of discipleship by John Leach, an Anglican priest and discipleship adviser in the Diocese of Lincoln, which were first published in 2017 by the Bible Reading Fellowship. Where appropriate, I have given them a Methodist twist. There has often been a view, for which John Wesley is partly responsible, that becoming a Christian is a one-off, static thing, a single episode rather than a process. We are saved, to use John Wesley’s terminology, we can know that we have been saved, and we are saved to the utmost. Wesley even believed that it was possible for a disciple to become a perfect Christian, perfect in faith and morals at any rate, although modern psychologists might doubt that. If we are talking about becoming a Christian, crossing the line between belief and unbelief, doubt and conviction, then Wesley might be right. We can know that we have become believers and some of us can know exactly when it happ…

God never promised us a rose garden

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  (1 Peter 4.12-14 https://www.biblegateway.com NRSVA) What is the fiery ordeal to which the writer refers? Given that Peter is believed to have perished during Nero’s persecution after a great fire in Rome, people have often wondered whether it relates to a passage in an account of the persecution by the historian Tacitus, who was a boy at the time of the fire. He wrote, "Therefore, to stop the rumour [that he had set Rome on fire], he [Emperor Nero] falsely charged with guilt, and punished with the most fearful tortures, the persons commonly called Christians… Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.’ Some things about this account hav…

The Known Unknown

Acts 17.22-31 At Speakers' Corner in Athens Paul takes on the debaters. Talking to a Jewish audience he would describe how the Church of Christ is the new transformed Israel. Speaking to Greek people, who pride themselves on being open-minded, scientific seekers after truth, he tries a different pitch.
He's come to tell them about the unknown god whom they suspect might be out there, within and beyond the framework of existence, what Donald Rumsfeld called 'the unknown Known' or 'the known Unknown'. (That's an example of choosing the wrong pitch for your audience.)
It's comforting, at a time when we cannot go into them, to remember that this God, 'who made the cosmos and everything in it, …does not live in shrines made by human hands.'
Despite our many achievements, which have only multiplied since Paul's time, we still find ourselves 'groping' in the darkness for a God who is actually 'not far from each one of us', wherever we a…

What is a Christian?

John 14.15-21 (https://www.biblegateway.com NRSVA) What is a Christian? This was an urgent question in John’s church because there were people who claimed to be followers of Jesus but who held very different views from John and his friends. John talks about them explicitly in his letters, and by the time these were written things were getting pretty tense. The church had split, with some members leaving to pursue a very different direction. The word ‘antichrist’ is banded about freely in the letters. It’s a term used solely by John, and only to describe his opponents. No one knows precisely what it means, but it’s not a compliment. It was very important to John to be able to tell the difference between the real followers of Jesus Christ, and the people who - although they said they were Christians - were really ‘anti-Christs’ because they took a totally opposing view. John says that the true followers of Jesus are ‘they who have [his] commandments and keep them.’ These are the people wh…