Category Archives: New Testament

pentecost and the subversion of empire

The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel (1563)

In the Bible there are perhaps few images of “empire” more poignant that that of the Tower of Babel.

This narrative tells the story of an attempt to build a city and a tower with its top in the sky. This is of course no mean feat – the building of such a magnificent tower, historical or otherwise, is an accomplishment of considerable time, effort and determination. Read the rest of this entry

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q&r: the armour of God in ephesians 6?

This post is dedicated to the late Walter Wink who died on May 10, 2012. The content of this post is indebted to him, and without his life’s work I could not have come to this understanding. Presente!

From a life.remixed reader:

Hi Matt,

I have a question. I have been advised on more than one occasion recently to apply Ephesians 6:10-18 in my life, as in daily putting on the Armour of God. I have been told to physically put it on, going through each piece aloud whilst going through the motions of actually putting on said armour.

This doesn’t quite sit right with me and seems somewhat ritualistic. Has the passage been taken out of context? What are your thoughts on how you apply God’s Armour?

Thanks

Great questions. It seems there are at least two considerations here, one is the pastoral aspect of your question, and the other is the more “theological” element (i.e. what is the context and meaning of the armour of God? How do we apply it?).

From a purely pastoral point of view Read the rest of this entry

jesus the gardener: an easter sunday reflection

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them,‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalenewent and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

John 20:1-18

It is far too easy for us to overlook seemingly minor details in the biblical text. Perhaps this happens because we have become overfamiliar with the stories and no longer read them carefully, or because we have not been trained to pick up on subtlety.

Whatever the case, in John’s account of the Resurrection story such subtlety is apparent, though we must pay careful attention to perceive it.

Recounting the day of the Resurrection John opens his story, “Now on the first day of the week.”

Of what does that remind you in earlier biblical tradition? Read the rest of this entry

show me the tribute money: a perspective on “render unto caesar”

Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they senttheir disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away. (Matthew 22:15-22)

Recently I posted about the above passage, asking people to contribute their thoughts. From that attempt I gather that people are more comfortable responding to a positive contribution than to an open-ended invitation; in this post I will attempt to oblige this preference.

As I said in my original post, the way we interpret the above passage and its parallels says a lot about our methods of reading the Bible and our understanding of the connection between the Church and civil powers, or alternatively between discipleship and citizenship.

The standard way Evangelicals read this passage, at least in my experience, is that Jesus is teaching people to pay taxes to Caesar, and thus to submit to authorities, but give themselves to God. Implicit in this reading is an assumption about the distinction between civil life and religion. This reading, very often taken for granted with no further exploration, is often backed up with a reference to Romans 13.

I have written on Romans 13 previously, and I don’t intend to explore it here. I do however intend to go beyond mere assumption in our reading of Matthew 22:15-22 (and parallels) and explore what the text might actually be saying, rather than what our ideological commitments might require. Read the rest of this entry

render unto caesar: to pay or not to pay?

[UPDATE: I have added a sequel to this post which explores my perspective on this passage.]

Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they senttheir disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes toCaesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away. (Matthew 22:15-22)

A Denarius from around the time of Jesus inscribed with the face of Caesar Tiberius.

This passage is one of those that garners a wide variety of interpretations. It is interesting that for most Westerners it is taken for granted that Jesus is saying his contemporaries should have faithfully paid their taxes to Caesar.

I think the way we read this passage is important, as it reveals so much about our attitude to the relationship of the Church and civil powers.

In this light I may, in the near future, offer a personal perspective on “Render unto Caesar”, but I acknowledge that in regards to this passage there is no real “gotcha!” argument in favour of any available interpretation. This means that we all need to do a little listening as we seek the truth together.

Did Jesus instruct his hearers to pay taxes to Caesar? What does the answer mean in regards to our modern world, given we live in the midst of a vastly different economic and political situation? Read the rest of this entry

“enough is enough”: walter brueggemann on abundance and scarcity

Below is an article by Walter Brueggemann entitled “Enough is Enough”. Brueggemann is a world-renowned Old Testament scholar, prolific author and a prophetic voice in a world dying for lack of imagination. I don’t normally post exterior articles, but this is more than worth the exception.

Source: The Other Side, November-December 2001, Vol. 37, No. 5.

Enough is Enough

“In feeding the hungry crowd, Jesus reminds us that the wounds of scarcity can be healed only by faith in God’s promise of abundance. “
by Walter Brueggemann

We live in a world where the gap between scarcity and abundance grows wider every day. Whether at the level of nations or neighborhoods, this widening gap is polarizing people, making each camp more and more suspicious and antagonistic toward the other.

But the peculiar thing, at least from a biblical perspective, is that the rich – the ones with the abundance – rely on an ideology of scarcity, while the poor – the ones suffering from scarcity – rely on an ideology of abundance. How can that be? The issue involves whether there is enough to go around – enough food, water, shelter, space. An ideology of scarcity says no, there’s not enough, so hold onto what you have. In fact, don’t just hold onto it, hoard it. Put aside more than you need, so that if you do need it, it will be there, even if others must do without. Read the rest of this entry

q&r: “no one comes to the father but through me” in john 14:6?

G’day Matt

I am enjoying reading your blogs on life remixed, especially the most recent on non violence and the debate that it is raising, brilliant, well done.

As you are one of the few who like to challenge the orthodox and traditional Christian beliefs there are a couple of bible verses that Christian Fundamentalists quote incessantly to justify that Christianity is the only way to salvation and therefor all other faiths / religions are false. One of these verses is John 14:6 which seems extremely exclusive and supports the Fundamentalists teachings. This teaching is to the detriment of billions of people all over the world who are not Christians due to the simple fact of where they were born and the culture and beliefs of their parents.

Your thoughts?

Cheers

A popular understanding of John 14:6

Thanks so much for the great question. I think it is a really important issue in the context of our pluralistic culture. In regards to John 14:6: there is perhaps no verse that has been interpreted with greater arrogance. 99% of the time I have, like you, heard it used as proof that other religions are false and that to enter heaven one must believe in Jesus. It has been used for so long by some groups for the purpose of asserting faith in Jesus as the sole way of salvation that we have stopped asking what the verse might actually mean in its context! Read the rest of this entry

reflections on piper’s “masculine christianity”

Hello readers! It’s nice to be back on board life.remixed after a week of work travel – apologies for the gap.

Since I’ve been away for a little bit this post will be reflecting on an event from last week. Though it is a little old, I feel that this event deserves some treatment, particularly since I have been asked about it a number of times.

On Wednesday last week the Christian Post ran a story entitled John Piper: ‘God Gave Christianity a Masculine Feel’. It reported that Piper, at the 2012 ‘Desiring God’ Conference (which he founded), declared “God has given Christianity a masculine feel.”

The full transcript of the sermon records that Piper, speaking to a room full of pastors, backed up this claim by saying:

God has revealed himself to us in the Bible pervasively as King, not Queen, and as Father, not Mother. The second person of the Trinity is revealed as the eternal Son. The Father and the Son created man and woman in his image, and gave them together the name of the man, Adam (Genesis 5:2). God appoints all the priests in Israel to be men. The Son of God comes into the world as a man, not a woman. He chooses twelve men to be his apostles. The apostles tell the churches that all the overseers—the pastor/elders who teach and have authority (1 Timothy 2:12)—should be men; and that in the home, the head who bears special responsibility to lead, protect, and provide should be the husband (Ephesians 5:22–33).

The sermon goes on, concentrating largely on the ‘masculine’ life of 19th-century English bishop John C. Ryle. I will refrain from quoting it at length (click the link above for the full text). Much has been written on other blogs, so I will simply offer some points of interest as to why I think Piper’s claims are simplistic, exegetically sloppy and ideologically-driven. Read the rest of this entry

the anti-beatitudes

All Christians must, at some point, do serious business with the Sermon on the Mount.

It is the penultimate discourse of Jesus, his magnum opus within the Gospels. If there was a handbook on Christian living, the Sermon on the Mount would probably be it.

One topic major topic present in the Sermon on the Mount is that of peace and nonviolence. This is, unfortunately, one of the aspects of the Sermon that Christians often ignore. Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. called the Sermon on the Mount the greatest manifesto of nonviolence ever written, yet so many Christians feel free to support war and violence.

When you open Matthew 5 to experience Jesus’ stunning sermon you are first greeted with the Beatitudes. These eight statements are a blueprint for the values of the kingdom of God as preached by Jesus (cf. Matt 4:17). These values are taught by Jesus over-against the dominating values of his day; violence, greed, pride etc.

Things have not changed in our time. The values of our culture are antithetical to the Beatitudes taught by Jesus. This is perhaps nowhere more obvious that in our penchant for war and violence. Read the rest of this entry

q&r: luke 19 and the parable of the minas

A Facebook message I received today read simply:

Luke 19 – parable of the 10 Minas. Please explain?

Straightforward. I like that.

The Parable of the Ten Minas is a well-known parable whose popular interpretation has God as the nobleman and Christians as the servants. In this reading faithful servants are those who are productive. We all have different levels of resources, and this is taken into account by God. Ultimately though the faithful are rewarded and the unproductive are punished.*

The problem with this reading is that it portrays God as a cold, cruel, greedy elitist. It assumes that the nobleman in the parable, who is a wealthy character, should be equated with God. As I have said previously this is a mistake; Luke consistently portrays the rich in less than flattering ways throughout his Gospel:

  • … he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. (1:53)
  • … woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. (6:24)
  • … the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich towards God. (12:21)

It would be strange if Luke suddenly equated God with a rich man.

If the nobleman is not God, and the story is not about productivity, what exactly is going on in this parable? Read the rest of this entry

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