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”

Murder, Anger, and Reconciliation

To insult someone is to insult the God who created them

The section of the Sermon on the Mount subtitled “Anger” (ESV), “Concerning Anger” (NRSV), or “Murder” (NIV) in Matthew 5:21-27 is both familiar and strange. We understand what it means to insult someone and to be angry with someone, but we may not be sure what “raca” means, nor possibly would we understand why the punishment for doing so is to be “in danger of hell fire”. What is the difference between the “judgement” and the “council”? How does one pay a debt to the last penny when one is stuck in a debtors’ prison? Like much in the Sermon on the Mount, there’s some digging to do before the passage is as clear to us as it would have been to the Galilean fishermen who first hear it. Continue reading “Murder, Anger, and Reconciliation”

Exploring Psalm 147

Recognising God’s care, provision and power

Psalm 147 doesn’t get the same airtime as the more well known psalms, e.g. 1, 22, 23, 51, and 110, and yet there is much that we can learn from it that is of value today. In this post we’ll work through the psalm looking at its history, structure, and teaching. Continue reading “Exploring Psalm 147”

On being eaten by worms

Before his untimely death Herod Agrippa I had been quite smart in his dealings with both Rome and with the Jews. He’d prevented a rerun of the Jewish Revolt by talking Emperor Caligula out of setting up a statue to himself in the Temple at Jerusalem1, and he also followed Jewish custom to the point that Josephus records:

…he loved to live continually at Jerusalem, and was exactly careful in the observance of the laws of his country. He therefore kept himself entirely pure: nor did any day pass over his head without its appointed sacrifice.2

He knew his audience and played them well. Continue reading “On being eaten by worms”

The rock that followed them

The Jewish background to an odd passage

One of Paul’s more unusual uses of the Old Testament is found in his warning to the believers in Corinth not to fall into the same complacency as some of the Israelites had on the Exodus. Continue reading “The rock that followed them”

Culture and the Widow of Zaraphath

A small example demonstrating the interaction of culture and text

Historical and cultural context matter in matters both big and small when it comes to reading and understanding the bible.

As the bible student Alan Hayward observed “Bible verses only make sense if you study them in their context, that is, their setting. You need to read the verses on either side of the verse in question. As I have pointed out on several occasions, you also need to make allowance for Hebrew idiom.1 Continue reading “Culture and the Widow of Zaraphath”

The Shame of the Cross

…he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross

Crucifixion was considered worse than decapitation, being killed by wild animals, or being burnt alive.1 It was considered “a terrible calamity2, it “was a punishment in which the caprice and sadism of the executioners were given full rein;3 it was the supreme Roman punishment. Continue reading “The Shame of the Cross”

Bridging the Gap – Culture and Language

Taking the time to carefully understand the Biblical culture of the passage at hand

“We can easily forget that Scripture is a foreign land and that reading the Bible is a crosscultural experience. To open the Word of God is to step into a strange world where things are very unlike our own. Most of us don’t speak the languages.We don’t know the geography or the customs or what behaviours are considered rude or polite. And yet we hardly notice… we tend to read Scripture in our own ‘when’ and ‘where’, in a way that makes sense on our terms.” 1

Those who have had the opportunity to travel overseas understand the need to learn about local culture in the places they are going to visit. It could be dangerous not to! You might behave quite differently in Dubai compared to how you would in London or New York. Yet we can be so familiar with the Bible that we forget that opening its pages is an experience of different languages and cultures to our own. Continue reading “Bridging the Gap – Culture and Language”

Bridging the Gap – Time and Place

To really understand our Bible, we must find ways to bridge the gap between its time and place, and our time and place.

We are separated from the people who wrote and received books of the Bible by between 2000 and 5000 years. That’s a long time! We look at black and white pictures of our grandparents or great-grandparents and wonder about how different their world was. They lived only a hundred or so years ago, the Bible is from 2000 years ago.

Our Bible was not written in 21st century English to people from a Western background. It was mainly written in the Ancient Near East to people from a very different culture to our own. Continue reading “Bridging the Gap – Time and Place”

The Salt of the Earth

How Christ’s audience would have understood his teaching on the salt of the earth

Very early in the Sermon on the Mount, straight after the opening discourse on the blessings on mourners, peacemakers, and the merciful, Christ used two metaphors to describe what the disciples were to be: they were to be the salt of the earth, and the light of the world. We’re going to look at the first of these. Continue reading “The Salt of the Earth”