Deb Storie is spending some time with us at Sunday Stuff looking at the Joseph story. She has a fantastic approach to reading the Bible (Particularly the Hebrew Scriptures) that we thought may be helpful to share with you all. I highly reccomend coming to hear her & engage with what she has to say. She is with us tomorrow, Sunday 3rd June, 17th June, then 22nd & 29th of July.
Reading Jesus’ Bible
The Bible today is a hot topic. In some quarters, the Bible gets a lot of bad press (irrelevant, violent, and boring). It is shunned as dangerous fiction, a weapon used to enslave, condemn and oppress. In other quarters, the Bible is revered as the true and final Word of God, infallible, authoritative and timeless. Any one who questions ‘what the Bible says’ is shunned as a heretic. On all sides of these debates, a lot of heat revolves around claims people make about the Bible or about what they say it says, rather than about the narratives, poems, songs, prayers and letters the Bible actually contains. This is not surprising. Many people with strong opinions about the Bible have never read it. Or have only read small parts of it. Or have been taught to read it in ways that reinforce certain political convictions or religious doctrines and literally blind them to anything that might challenge that fixed point of view.
So where do I stand? I believe that God is the Creator, Saviour and Redeemer of all that is and is passionately concerned about every aspect of life on earth. I believe that the Bible is the Living Word of the Living God. The Bible is authoritative for me. As a disciple of Jesus, I expect the Bible, including the Old Testament (Jesus’ Bible!) to challenge and to change me, us, and the world. I believe that the Bible is not intended to reconcile us to the state of the world or to equip us with doctrinal defences against the world, but, to inspire us to participate with God in restoring the world God loves. As Jesus prayed, Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
Over the next few months, we will spend several weeks exploring stories from the end of Genesis and the beginning of Exodus. This morning we will listen to part of the story of the family of Jacob. Some of you know this story so well you may struggle to hear it beneath the weight of Sunday-School stories, musicals, movies, Bible studies and sermons. Those of you who are less familiar with the story may struggle to keep up with the plot but might notice things that others can no longer see.
I believeundefinedbut cannot proveundefinedthat the characters in these stories were real people and that these events really happened. I do not believe that Genesis and Exodus are fairytales. But neither are they historical in the sense that history is often understood. The Bible is not a documentary. Biblical writers were not concerned about defending the veracity of their accounts. Their narratives are deliberately vague about some details. Pharaoh is Pharaohundefinedhe is not named and there are no dates or other details that could be used to locate events in time and identify him. This is important. Pharaoh is any Pharaoh, every Pharaoh, and all Pharaohs. The famine is any famine, every famine, and all famines.
Genesis, like much of the Bible, is R-rated. It has adult themes, offensive language, implied and explicit violence, sexual themes and sex scenes (including abusive sex). The violence in the Bible is confronting. It is traumatic to read. So is the world around us. I don’t know what I’d do with a once-upon-a-time Bible full of airbrushed stories where evil is easily identified and immediately punished, genocides don’t happen, and good always prevails. For many people, especially slaves, life and death are R-rated experiences. These stories are theirs.
Genesis, like many parts of the Bible, is difficult to interpret. The plot is not straight forward. Explicit judgements on characters and the rightness or wrongness of their actions are rare. We are told what characters do but usually not why nor whether they acted rightly or wrongly. On the rare occasions when God or the narrator make moral judgements, we are often left wondering exactly what it was about the character or her actions that God commended or condemned. There are clues, but they are subtle.
In Genesis, as in our world, events do not occur in isolation. Things that happen are related to what went before and affect things that happen later. Stories from Genesis and Exodus contain many links and allusions to earlier events and to later events. Even when only a few characters feature in the action, the Hebrew text constantly reminds us of earlier characters and events and anticipates what comes next. We are not meant to forget the pastundefinedor the future.
In Genesis, as in our world, communication is always contextual. We don’t always know whom to believe. We worry that powerful people control and manipulate what we hear. We know that the little people are often ignored. Ancient
was a perilous power-laden place in which a careless word or gesture could have lethal consequences. People did what they had to do and said what they had to say to survive. To understand what is going on, we need to listen to who says what to whom in front of whom and in what context. We need to imagine ourselves into the story, to listen between the lines.
Melbourne, May 2012.