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The Bible, volume 2

Wow has it been a long time since I have written anything! Having 3 grandkids is a lot of fun but takes a good bit of time - and I wouldn't have it any other way! Also running a farm, and having the flu, and having the winter doldrums and not feeling particularly inspired.


But, I have some thoughts. Actually a lot of thoughts, but they won't all be written here, I promise!


This other day in the Washington Post there was an article about a woman named Linda Wenhold who thinks that we in America need to return to our "Christian roots." She wants to take her community back to Biblical values. She homeschooled her 3 children, and is now on the school board for Bethlehem, PA. I admit that I haven't read the whole article yet - it's pretty long. The parts I have read include all the usual tropes about the Christian faith being at the center of American government and culture, that the Christian faith is under siege, that the government is providing rights to specific groups of people, not all individuals, that during a national crisis and global pandemic the government doesn't have the right to close churches and businesses.


I'm so tired of all this.


As I was driving the other day, I saw a sign along the road - there are lots of them around here - that espoused a Bible verse. Usually they are pretty generic like "God loves you," "Thou shalt have no other God," and the like. This one said, "Wives, submit to your husbands."


Oh, for Pete's sake! What about the rest of the verse? Why do I NEVER see a sign that says, "Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her..."? That is Ephesians,5:25. The wife one is Ephesians 5:22. And on a completely other weird note, why do we say Pete's sake and never Paul's sake? Just asking.


Ephesians is basically a letter, ascribed to the Apostle Paul, written to the church at Ephesus. Paul founded the church at Ephesus and spent quite a bit of time teaching in the city. His words were so inspirational that people turned their lives around. The church became a vital hub of Christianity, and included a diverse membership of Jews and Gentiles. But as happens, ultimately there were divisions and false teachers and the church failed sometime during the second century.


Am I a false teacher? I pray not, because the message that I hope to bring is that ALL people have value. I do not pretend to know what God is thinking or doing or planning. I am learning to live into the mystery that is God, where ALL of God's people and creation have value.


But someone is a false teacher, and it is tearing our country, and in fact, our world, apart. I could be wrong, but I suspect the Linda Wenholds of the world are the false teachers, because I believe they are so caught up in the words of Paul that they have overlooked the words of Jesus.


But back to Paul. Paul first emerges in the book of Acts. Named Saul, he was a fanatic persecutor of the followers of the Way of Jesus. One day, on the road to Damascus to root out the evil of the disciples of Jesus, Saul had a vision, asking him why he persecuted Jesus, "Saul, Saul why do you persecute me?" Saul asked who was speaking, and the answer was, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.". He was struck blind and was taken to the house of Ananias in Damascus. Ananias was understandably reluctant to let Saul in. God said, "...he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel." Ananias obeyed, ministered to Saul, and Saul became a great preacher of the Word and was renamed Paul. You will find this story in Acts, chapters 8 and 9.


Paul planted the church at Ephesus, and he also spent a lot of time in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Philippi, Colossae, Thessaloniki, and was a prolific letter writer. His letters to the Romans, Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, Philemon, and the Hebrews make up most of the New Testament.


I find myself wondering, "How did Paul get to be so important?" More on that later, but for now, some Bible history for you.


First, I think it is really important to remember that when Jesus, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, Paul, Timothy and every other Bibilical writer refer to scripture, they are referring to the Hebrew Scripture. The Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings make up what Christians today consider to be the Old Testament. The Torah is made up of the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. They are the books of creation, exile, redemption, and the law, as revealed to Moses.


The Prophets were people who shared the words of God. Christians believe the prophets pointed to the coming of Jesus. Early prophets Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Elijah, and Elisha exhorted the people to turn to God. The latter prophets exhorted the people to turn back to God. These include the major and minor prophets in the Bible. The major prophets are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel and Daniel. I remember them as "major" because their books are pretty long. At least in the case of Isaiah, there is a question about whether or not someone other than Isaiah wrote the last part. The twelve minor prophets, which each have their own books in the Christian Bible but are consolidated into one in the Hebrew Bible are Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habbakuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.


The Writings are the poems, stories and wisdom in the Old Testament: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Songs. Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles.


These are the scriptures that Jesus refers to.

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’? " (Matthew 21:42 and Mark 12:10), to name just two.


The apostles also refer to scripture.

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4); Or do you suppose that the scripture speaks to no purpose? Does the spirit that God caused to dwell in us desire envy? (James 4:5) Again, these are only two examples - the first written by Paul himself, and the second by James.


So, if Paul is writing about scripture, how can he be referencing himself? Paul was humbled before God and I'm quite sure he never believed that his letters would still be dictating thought and action some 2000 years later.


When did the Bible become the Bible as we know it?


Let me just say here that I am no scholar of ancient history. As best I can figure this out, the early church used the Hebrew scriptures and stories and experiences of Jesus. The gospel of Matthew was written by someone with a legal understanding of the Hebrew scriptures around 75 years after Jesus' crucifixion. Luke (and Acts) were written between AD 80 and 110, and there is not consensus as to who Luke actually was. It is believed that Luke based his accounts on the gospel of Mark. Scholars believe that Mark was written for a predominantly gentile audience, sometime around 70 AD. The Gospel of John, also anonymously written, was written between AD 70-110.


There is a whole lot more to learn about the four gospels in the New Testament - I am trying to keep this brief (well, relatively speaking). If you are a Biblical scholar and would like to correct me, please do. If this doesn't fit with your understanding of the Gospels, please let me know and we can talk about it. I do not claim my writings to be "gospel." Get it?


Anyway, the four accounts of Jesus' birth, life, death and resurrection are written long after his crucifixion, with four different outcomes in the minds of the authors, and in some places contradict each other. What one includes, another leaves out. I don't find that problematic - clearly something happened, and Jesus was someone who others felt they needed to share with others, who then were moved to keep the story going. Including Paul.


Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Paul would not have called themselves "Christians." I don't know when that term arose, but it is my understanding that early followers of Jesus considered themselves Jews, who believed that the Messiah had come in the personhood of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus certainly didn't consider himself "Christian." He was a Jew.


The Romans found the Way a threat, and persecuted it in an effort to eradicate it. Saul was one of their minions (my words, not his). Think back to your 3rd grade Greek and Roman mythology lessons. Greek and Roman gods were embodied and were powerful non-mortals who seemed to experience bad moods, good moods, insecurity, anger, lust, love, and were happy to extract revenge when they felt slighted. Suddenly these Jewish people (not all of them) were worshipping a god that no one could see and whose "son" was a dead guy who the Romans had put to death. So the Romans couldn't have this Messiah faith undermining their power.


Still, the early Christians worshipped and studied and tried to make sense of the Hebrew Scriptures and the writings of those who were closer, in time and geography, to Jesus, now the Messiah. Those writings would have included the letters of Paul, and that is where Paul comes into the Christianity and the Bible that we know today.


Along came the Gnostics, who believed they had special mystical knowledge which was the key to salvation. The spiritual world was good and to be desired; the earth and everything in it was evil, and only those with this special knowledge would achieve salvation.


Marcian was another person around this time. Marcian disliked Judaism and the material world, so he developed an understanding of Christianity that was anti-Jewish and anti-material world.


I don't know enough about the Greek philosophers like Plato and Socrates, but there are echoes of them all over this stuff.


In response to the perceived heresy of the Gnostics and the Marcionites, the early church leaders determined the importance of having multiple perspectives on the life and teachings of Jesus - that while the 4 gospels didn't necessarily match, the underlying message was the same and it was important that all be canonized. The early churches also studied the book of Acts (of the apostles. The book is attributed to the author of the Gospel of Luke), and the epistles - the letters of Paul. The shorter books at the end of the New Testament, James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2 and 3 John, and Jude were added later, with Revelation added later still. Consensus about what to include in the Bible was not achieved until the fourth century (Gonzalez).


Ok, so here is how I see the Bible. The Hebrew scriptures were canonized (I think that is the right word) before Jesus' time. These are the scriptures to which Jesus and his compatriots refer. The gospels were written around a hundred years after that first Easter. Paul was writing 50-75 years after the crucifixion, and he and his culture were heavily influenced by the Greeks and Romans.


Fast forward to today. Some of Paul's writings are beautiful and timeless - 1 Corinthians 13 comes to mind - the verses about love, read at many weddings. At my wedding, Colossians 3:12-17 were read:


Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.  And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.


If I were to get married again, I think I would have that same passage read. It is beautiful and excellent advice to a new couple, even though these words were addressed to a congregation, not two people getting married.


I did NOT have the next passage read: Wives, be subject to your husbands as is fitting in the Lord.


The thing is, everyone focuses on that passage, and not the rest of the paragraph: Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly. (Colossians 3:19). I've never seen THAT on a yard sign.


Paul was a man who had a deep faith and a profound mystical experience. He was not God, not the son of God, not the Holy Spirit; yet we seem, in my opinion, to worship Paul more than we worship Jesus. We make all these rules based on what Paul said, in his time, in his culture, and to the best of his understanding. But our time is different. Our lives and our understandings are different. I still think Paul imparts great wisdom, but there are others since Paul who have also imparted great wisdom and unless we or our faith leaders are well read, we don't access their wisdom. If we did, we would come up with new "rules," or at least put some of the old ones to rest.


This is why I think a fun exercise is pondering whose writings I would include in a Bible, volume 2. Don't throw out volume 1 - volume 2 would just add to it! Maybe volumes 3, 4 and on and on, too.


Here are a few of the writers that I think should be considered:


Julian of Norwich

Teresa of Avila

Martin Luther

Martin Luther King, Jr

Rumi

Richard Rohr

Rachel Held Evans

Walter Brueggemann

Elie Wiesel

Viktor Frankl

Pope John Paul II

Pope Francis

John Wesley

John Newton (because of his repentance of the slave trade in which he participated).

John of the Cross

Randy Woodley

Otis Moss III

Desmond Tutu

Dalai Lama XIV

Fannie Lou Hamer

Robin Wall Kimmerer

Jemar Tisby

Brian McLaren

Jacqui Lewis

Marcus Borg

John Shelby Spong

Peter Enns

Austen Hartke

Henri J.M. Nouwen

Brian McLaren

Diana Butler Bass

Barbara Brown Taylor

Dr. Seuss (yes, I know some of his books have racist undertones, but I also think his messages of kindness and care for the environment are easily accessible)


Ibram X. Kendi

Emmy Kegler

Drew G.I Hart

Sarah Bessey

Kaitlin Curtice

Lewis Smedes

Wil Gafney

Madeline L'Engle

Thich Nat Hanh

John Milton

Wendell Berry

Fred Rogers


Mohammed?

Buddha?

Confucious?

I think that is enough for now. I left out anyone with whom I am wholly unfamiliar, which I admit is a lot of people. I tried to add people from all races and cultures, but I am sure I have left some out. All of these people are flawed, and some hold views with which I strongly disagree, but all of them, in my opinion, have something to teach us about God, faith, and our spiritual lives.


I will continue to reflect on this post, and I know I will come up with more names. Not all of these would end up in my Bible vol. 2, but all would be considered.


Let us give Paul his due, but recognize that there are many, many, many people who are equally devout, equally committed, and equally used by God to bring the message of the love of God into our lives. Maybe we need to worship Paul a little less, and Jesus a little more. Just because Paul said it doesn't mean it works today - and it isn't heretical for me to say that. God is OK with me making mistakes and getting some things wrong as long as my intent is to spread God's love. Which it is. And Paul got some things wrong, too.


My question to you: Who would you consider?





Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Books of the Hebrew Bible". Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Hebrew-Bible/Books-of-the-Hebrew-Bible. Accessed March 20, 2024.


Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "The Twelve". Encyclopedia Britannica, 24 Apr. 2023, https://www.britannica.com/topic/The-Twelve-Old-Testament. Accessed March 20, 2024.


Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Torah". Encyclopedia Britannica, 19 Mar. 2024, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Torah. Accessed March 20, 2024.


Caruso, Gregg. "A brief Biblical history of the church in Ephesus." Kings Harbor Church Blog. Sept. 11, 2015. https://kingsharbor.wordpress.com/2015/09/11/a-brief-biblical-history-of-the-church-in-ephesus/. Accessed March 18, 2024.




Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity, volume 1. New York: Harper Collins. 1984.


Jaffe, Greg. "The education of a true believer." Washington Post, March 17, 2024. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2024/03/17/patriot-academy-biblical-citizenship-school-board/. Accessed March 18, 2024.


Riggleman, Rachel. "Who were the major and minor prophets in the Bible?" Christianity Today, updated Jan. 5, 2024. https://www.christianity.com/wiki/bible/who-were-the-major-and-minor-prophets-in-the-bible.html. Accessed March 20, 2024.


Wikipedia. "Amazing Grace." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazing_Grace. Accessed March 20, 2024


Wikipedia. "Gospel of John." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_John. Accessed March 20, 2024.


Wikipedia. "Gospel of Luke." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Luke. Accessed March 20, 2024.


Wikipedia. "Gospel of Mark." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Mark. Accessed March 20, 2024.


Wikipedia. "Gospel of Matthew." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Matthew. Accessed March 20, 2024.


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Well said - and that list will give me something to 'look up' and consider myself. You are much more versed in the bible than I, but your questions are poignant! Looking forward to reading the rest of your posts. 🐾

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