Why is there such violence in the Bible?
A sermon preached by Rev’d Jan on Bible Sunday 2017, at the Benefice Eucharist.
Today we celebrate the Bible, our sacred text, which inspires and leads us as it has led the people of God for thousands of years. We also this year celebrate the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation when the Bible was first translated into the vernacular so that anyone who would read could read it and understand it for themselves -
But translating the Bible into everyday language brought its problems and drawbacks. One is that many more people read the Bible than have the tools to understand it -
What the Biblical text means does not always leap off the page clearly and obviously. Sometimes it does -
How can this then be the word of God who we think is a God of love and peace? Or maybe we have got that wrong?
We need to get to grips with the fact that some parts of the Bible are unpalatable -
Well, let’s look at the example of Jesus, who after all, is the real and living Word of God, that became flesh.
What was his attitude to the OT? It was the bible of the Jews of his day, they called it Torah, or in full, the Law, the prophets and the writings. He would have known much of it by heart, in Hebrew. He read from the scrolls in the synagogue so we know he was literate. And he famously said, ‘do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them.’
Now why would anyone think he was there to abolish them? Why would that occur to them? It was because a lot of the time he seemed to take rather a cavalier approach to scripture. He shocked his contemporaries. He used to say -
There are a few people like that about today still -
But coming back to Jesus, he challenged them to think about anger, not just murder; about lust, not just adultery, and so on. He went inside and underneath the surface meaning to find something much more challenging and significant -
He also did things that challenged the usual understanding of Scriptural law. So one day in the fields his hungry disciples were plucking grain from the wheat crop, rubbing off the husk and eating the wheat. According to a strict interpretation of the sabbath law that counted as work, and it was the Sabbath, so of course there were loud critics. Jesus answered them with an example from the life of David, one of the greatest and most respected figures, leaders of the OT -
So those are examples which show that Jesus felt free to take quite a critical stance to the text of the OT. It’s a good precedent. He did not switch off his brain when thinking about Scripture -
‘Open my eyes O Lord that I may see the wonders of your law’ -
When Jesus was asked to summarise the Law and the prophets -
Notice there is nothing in there about killing your enemies. Rather the reverse, especially as he went on to interpret ‘neighbour’ as meaning someone you might often think of as an enemy -
So that’s all lovely, but -
Well, two things to say.
One is, there are lots of places in the OT which show God as a God of love, compassion, mercy and justice. Lots. God has not changed; but our grasp of what God is, has changed -
As for the opposite stuff -
‘Open my eyes O Lord, that I may see the wonders of your law’ -
The Bible is not just a book -
Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away, said Jesus. Paul told the Christians in Colossae to cover themselves with God’s word, inside and out -
Open our eyes O Lord to see the wonders of your life, your love, your peace, and open our hearts and minds and lives to your transforming Spirit.