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Leviticus to Deuteronomy

These books should not be dismissed as outright boring or full of old and irrelevant laws about temple worship and regulations, or a way of life now consigned to history. The first half of Leviticus is pretty rooted in its time and culture but from around Chapter 16 of its 27 chapters there is a lot to be mined. 16 starts with the Day of Atonement which is of immense importance in understanding Christian theology and in following chapters we can read about loving your neighbour and caring for the poor, cancellation of debts, and also the seasonal cycle as the harvest celebrations are itemised.

Numbers, despite its rather dreary title is an interesting book. It takes us into the narrative of the wilderness journeying with its twists and turns and adventures. It provides the rational for the extended wilderness wanderings in chapters 12 to 14 and gives us the strange tale of Balaam and the ass that spoke in 22-24. The census from which the book takes its title occurs at the start. Don&…

Interpreting Genesis and Exodus

After the initial 3 chapters of Genesis we launch into the family tree first of humanity in general and then of Israel in particular. The point of these for us today is not whether they are historically accurate so much as what principles do the stories attached to the various players in these stories tell us about God, relationship with him, and the lives of these early pioneers of faith. So whether you like to take the stories as a literal account of the generations or not, we can all read them as vehicles which carry important truths about faith and people and God. You can also trace in them a kind of development of understanding about God and faith. So for instance we have one motif about God which can be described as "The God of the Fathers". This is how he is known to the earliest characters in the sagas of Genesis. He is local, tribal, and one among many, but he is their God: the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This understanding develops and climaxes in the revelat…

Job Unravelled

The oldest part of the Scriptures we call the Bible is the book of Job. We know it's old because the language it was written in is called "Paleo Hebrew". It's a version of Hebrew that's older than the ancient Hebrew that most of the Old Testament was written in. This and some expressions in Syriac and Arabic point to a time around 1900-1700 bc. Now this in itself is hugely interesting, because it points to a time before the events detailing the rise of Israel as a special people with a special relationship with God. It predates the covenant with Abraham and the law of Moses. But it points to a time when there was an understanding that God was in charge and God valued goodness. The book deals with the age old question of suffering. It's a dramatised debate about it. In that regard it's just like some of the early philosophical discourses we find where the issues are discussed as dialogue. In this way the writer could put unacceptable views into the fictio…

Back to the issue of Consistency

So we have seen that the Bible is a mixture of many kinds of literary type or genre, and that there are many questions we need to ask of the text and its background to get some idea of the message underlying what we are reading.

A literal understanding of the text is often going to be of little help navigating its meaning for us today. Unfortunately there are far too many people around who think that this is the only way to understand and interpret the Bible. This approach whilst being done under the banner of "belief in the Bible as God's inspired Word" if anything does this Word a disservice by refusing to grapple with it as it rightly demands. Belief in the Bible as the Inspired Word of God does not mean that you have to take it literally. However those who not take the Bible literally are accused by their critics of undermining the truth and integrity of the Word by explaining its challenges and demands away. A literal approach to reading the Bible does give you a k…

The Different Kinds of Writing in the Bible

So for all those who have a problem with trying to make sense of what the Bible says, how are we to approach it. A literal understanding of the text won't do, because that leaves most of us in denial about some of it, and those who tend to a very conservative approach or are fundamentalists invent wordy arguments about how this doesn't apply any more, so letting themselves off the hook.

There are a number of ways of resolving this problem and which give the Biblical text full respect. I am not going to rank them in order of importance or significance: the ordering is merely because I have to start somewhere.

Perhaps we should start with my first post which indicated a different way of understanding the first chapters of Genesis. If we understand this as a piece of theological writing rather than an attempt at writing history, we get ourselves out of the endless controversy which surrounds these passages. This approach bears fruit with many other passages too, some of which ha…

The problem of consistency in reading the Bible.

Another issue I had with my own reading of the Bible was the issue of consistency. I began to think about many of the texts with which I and many of my friends had difficulty. These ranged from proscriptions against same gender sex to clothing taboos, and from prohibited food to assorted barbaric punishments, to name a few. There were also the texts about slaughtering enemies which seemed to be the direct command of God - a problem I will look at later. The thing was (and still is) that I knew of virtually no-one who accepted the entire stock of Scripture at face value. Whilst many acknowledged the various taboos and restrictions, nobody observed them in their entirety. Everyone drew and still draws a line somewhere. Speak to the most hard line fundamentalist Christian you know, and ask them about restrictions concerning the wearing of mixed fibres in one garment of clothing for instance, and they will give you some spin about these rules having been set aside by the New Testament te…

Thinking again about Genesis 1

After many years of defending the use of the word "day" in Genesis Chapter One, I finally saw it all very differently. You know how it goes. Sceptics say that we know that the universe was not created in a matter of days, nor was planet earth. Indeed we do know this. Science has, in my opinion, securely established some basic knowledge about the development of our universe and of planet earth. Arguing that the word "day" in Genesis One could be a metaphor for millions of years seemed increasingly to me to give the ground of the argument to the sceptics. It felt like I was on the run in my defence of the Bible.

Then one day I was reading Chapter one with a view to talking about it, and I noticed in a way that I hadn't before, the repetition of the word "good". I mean, I had noticed it but had kind of taken it for granted. It was like background noise to the text. So I started to think about it. I figured that at the supposed time of writing there were…