Defining “neighbour”

The parable of the Good Samaritan

The parable of the good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37 is well known to us all. The Lord followed the practice of the day using questions to draw out his challenger and set up the point he wished to make. What was the issue? In response to Christ, the lawyer gave the standard response of the Shema from Deut 6:5 but merges it with Lev 19:8 – something the Lord approved. Having a knowledge of the truth requires a response. Loving God means expressing that love to others – otherwise it is not real love 1 John 4:20.

This blunted the lawyer’s challenge, so he seeks to justify himself with the further question “who is my neighbour?Continue reading “Defining “neighbour””

Cooking a young goat in its mother’s milk

Not all great explanations hold up

I was listening to a bible podcast recently and heard a discussion around a peculiar law repeated three times in the Torah. The specific law is found in Exod 23:19, 34:26 and Deut 14:21.  In each it simply reads:

You must not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk

The commandment is a good demonstration of the maxim that the Bible was written for us not too us.  In this case of this particular law, no-one truly knows what it means. Continue reading “Cooking a young goat in its mother’s milk”

Ethics in the Law of Moses: slavery

The ethics and legislation relating to servitude and slavery

Servitude in the Ancient Near East

Servitude in the Ancient Near East operated on a spectrum of greater or lesser obligation to another person, and greater or lesser personal protections. Everyone in the Ancient Near East was considered to be the servant of someone, with the key difference being the extent to which you were independent and protected from the imposition of another’s will. Continue reading “Ethics in the Law of Moses: slavery”

Implementing Principles under pressure – 1 John

The faithful are left with no choice but to love the unlovable

1 John is written at a particularly troubling time for a section of the faithful community. 1 John 2:18 says

“Children, it is the last hour, and just as you heard that the antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have appeared. We know from this that it is the last hour.”

What does this mean the last hour? It does not refer to the shadow of AD70, that event had gone. Clearly it is not the return of Jesus since we are now 1930 odd years on from this epistle. What does it mean? Simply – and more concerningly – it means John’s readers face an existential threat. Continue reading “Implementing Principles under pressure – 1 John”

Agapaō and phileō

Use and abuse in the gospels

Love is one of the central themes of the holy scriptures. The glorious hope of everlasting life that we share is a gift from our Heavenly Father, whose love was the prime motivation in sacrificing His Son for us (John 3:16). A recognition of this fact naturally leads us to demonstrate love to one another. The Apostle John says as much in his First Epistle:

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:10-11)1

Many of us have a passing familiarity with two of the common Greek words behind our English term “love” in the New Testament: agapaō and phileō.2 Common wisdom is that two different kinds of love are intended whenever these words appear: Continue reading “Agapaō and phileō”

Choose your own adventure

Responding to the short ending of the Gospel of Mark

What next? This is the challenge, the opportunity and the requirement. What next.

When I was young. To my children of course this means sometime in the late 1800s and to others richer in years the phrase is nonsense since I clearly am still young (I like this opinion more). When I was young, there was a brief period in which ‘choose your own adventure books’ become popular. These books made the reader the hero of the story and offered them choices on which their success of failure would depend. E.g. when confronted by the three-headed fish monster should they fight? (turn to page 5), run away? (turn to page 74) or jump back in the pond? (turn to page 134). The reader was invited to work their way through different paths to save the day, get the treasure or whatever. The experience, and the story line, depended on logical choices and occasionally chance. The objective was reader engagement as you essentially became the story.

The gospel of Mark has a very peculiar feature. Like Schubert’s 8th symphony it a masterpiece, but one missing a fairly normal, fairly important bit. The end. Or so it appears. Continue reading “Choose your own adventure”

You are my witnesses

Who’s who and what’s what in God’s courtroom

After all the horrors they’ve been subjected to over the centuries it’s remarkable that the Jews people remain a distinct group of people. Many Christians point to the existence of the Jews as evidence that God exists and keeps the promises he’s made for very good reasons.

However, in our enthusiasm for the idea that the Jewish people are evidence God exists we sometimes read the concept into passages which are about something else altogether. Continue reading “You are my witnesses”

A Case Study In Allegory

Why Biblical imagery must often deviate from physical reality

Perhaps the most famous Christian allegory comes, not from the pages of the Bible, but rather from the pen of John Bunyan in 1678. His work, “The Pilgrims Progress”, describes in vivid detail a long journey taken by a man named ‘Christian’ from the ‘City of Destruction’ to the ‘Celestial City’. This text illustrates many Christian concepts, and teaches many spiritual lessons. It has captivated readers for generations around the globe.

But for many believers, the concept of allegory remains obscure. It is accepted as legitimate, in theory, but in practice it is not well understood or defined. It would seem on the surface to be an elusive catch phrase for any type of spiritual symbolism we would like to superimpose upon any particular Biblical text. The fact is that alleged allegories are often arbitrary and speculative, and for no good reason. There exists an almost limitless number of ways in which one might claim allegorical meaning from any passage.

It turns out there is only one explicit instance of the word ‘allegory’ in the whole Bible. In Galatians 4, Paul uses it to describe his spiritual exposition of Abraham’s two wives and two sons. This certainly does not preclude the existence of other allegories elsewhere1, but it does provide us with a clear test case for the genre. And since Paul leans on Isaiah to make his point, we should do the same. Continue reading “A Case Study In Allegory”