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Disagreeing With The Bible 2

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Read Disagreeing With The Bible Part 1

The Bible clearly provides a model for disagreeing with the definitive teaching of the Bible.

I don’t have to provide all the chapters and all the verses of the Bible’s incontrovertible teaching that to be part of God’s people, males are to be circumcised.

Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant. Genesis 17:14

[… and notice that the Bible’s God gives slaves no choice. The slave is to be circumcised…]

And then, centuries and centuries after consistently abiding by this clear teaching, something happened.

While Peter was still speaking [to the uncircumcised people at Caesarea], the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days. (Acts 10:44-48)

Although the Bible was clear, is clear, that circumcision is essential, the evident reality of God’s action and presence in the lives of the uncircumcised led to breaking the incontestable, consistent biblical requirement.

A synod or council was held (Acts 15) to debate the reality that God was seen active in the lives of those where that activity had been understood not to be possible in this way. The rite of baptism, until then reserved to the circumcised, was extended to the uncircumcised. A great proportion of St Paul’s reflections in his letters in the Bible deal with how all this is possible. The departure from the biblical teaching was not applied rigorously universally. And some, unwilling to go against the Bible, held to the original biblical teaching.

Here then, is a clear biblical paradigm for following a practice that disagrees with the clear teaching of the Bible – a teaching that is ascertained using the best exegetical processes available.

What do you think?

To be continued… at Disagreeing With The Bible Part 3

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38 thoughts on “Disagreeing With The Bible 2”

  1. I think you are misreading sacred scripture Bosco. Pagan converts to Christianity are not the biological offspring of Abraham, or their slaves.

    Context is always critical, as is trying to understand what the sacred author actually intended to say.

    Many Blessings

    1. Right, Chris. So the apostles and first Christians, including St Paul, were also so misreading sacred scripture, and the central debate about circumcision that occupied them (and that debate is now part of our own sacred scripture) was based on their total neglecting of context and understanding as they read those biblical texts. Blessings.

    2. St Paul read correctly and did not impose circumcision.

      We’ve often misinterpreted sacred scripture eg slavery, and still do so today (eg violence, war, LGBT).

      Everything in the bible is true, when correctly interpreted.

      Many Blessings

      1. Hmmm… Chris. “St Paul … did not impose circumcision”… hmmm… you mean the Acts story of St Paul having Timothy circumcised didn’t happen? And I’m not as convinced as you that we misinterpreted sacred scripture on slavery. I think reading an anti-slavery “correct” interpretation back into the biblical pro-slavery texts may make us look disingenuous. Blessings.

        1. Rusty Shackleford

          “you mean the Acts story of St Paul having Timothy circumcised didn’t happen?”

          – It probably did not. Remember that Acts is essentially Pauline fan-fic, written by the author of Luke. The idea that the author of Acts got things wrong is very credible. Remember that Acts describes Paul as going to Jerusalem to consult with the Apostles after his conversion experience. However, Paul himself wrote in Galatians that he did NOT go to Jerusalem to consult with the Apostles after his conversion experience.

          Remember that Galatians was written in response to the influence of teachers who said that circumcision was necessary for any who would follow Christ. Paul famously states that he wishes the men who are preaching this idea would slip with the knife and castrate themselves. The does not sound like the words of someone who was in favor of gentiles being circumcised.

          1. I’m confused, Rusty. You describe “Acts as essentially Pauline fan-fic, written by the author of Luke”, but then go on to point out that Acts and Paul disagree on an essential point of Paul’s claim to apostleship. Might I add to your observation that Luke limits apostleship to the men who accompanied the historical beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up (Acts 1:21-22). My conclusion: Acts is hardly essentially Pauline fan-fic. Blessings.

      2. No, I mean Paul didn’t impose circumcision on Timothy as a requirement for membership in the church, it was a mutually agreed pastoral decision to respond to a particular need. Paul knew how to be flexible.

        God sending Moses back to Egypt to lead our people out of slavery is about as anti-slavery as it gets. God is a subversive political organiser leading people out of slavery, injustice, and oppression. We should be doing the same.

        The trajectory of both Torah and Gospel is anti-slavery but the human authors adapted to the social conditions of the times, which the sacred authors were sometimes blind to. We do the same today. Judge John Noonan called slavery the invisible sin because it was so socially entrenched that people too often accepted it as just the way society is. We do the same today with Capitalism, an evil and inhuman social system completely contrary to the gospel and the torah.

        See https://www.amazon.com/Church-That-Can-Cannot-Change/dp/0268036039 which discusses the development of understanding on slavery.

        Many Blessings

        1. Yes, Chris. A trajectory approach is in my mind for a future post in this series. But that very approach assumes that there was an “a”, earlier, and a (say) “k” that came later. My point is that “k” disagrees with “a”. You can pretty that up to sound better, but I’m not prepared to suggest that “a” was really “k”. Moses may have freed the slaves, but those freed went on to have slaves themselves – confirmed by the biblical texts. And the freeing of the slaves under Moses was effected by the death of innumerable children… I won’t even get into what Timothy might have thought about being taken and had circumcised… Blessings.

        2. “No, I mean Paul didn’t impose circumcision on Timothy as a requirement for membership in the church, it was a mutually agreed pastoral decision to respond to a particular need. Paul knew how to be flexible.”

          That’s quite the reading between the lines Chris! What was the particular need? That a Christ follower had to be prepared to get up in front of the assembly and wag one’s wing wang at everyone to be accepted? This inquiring mind needs to know.

          1. That answers nothing Chris. It’s an assumption on the RCs part as much as anyone else.

            It only further makes my silly point that one must have had to submit to some sort of inspection of their genitals in order to be acceptable.

          2. David,

            In 1Cor9:20, Paul does provide a reason which seems relevant here:

            “To the Jews I became like a Jew to win over Jews; to those under the law I became like one under the law—though I myself am not under the law—to win over those under the law.”

            If Timothy wanted to appeal to the Jews, and his mother was a Jew but his father a Greek, then there would be doubt about how Jewish he was. If we wanted to appeal to the Jewish community as a Jew, the common evangelical approach in those times, then it makes sense he’d find it pastorally useful to become fully Jewish through circumcision.

            As a Catholic, I am perfectly comfortable with also being part of a number of other faith traditions which I am in some way part of. So Timothy’s decision to be circumcised gells with me.

            Why do you think he would get circumcised ?

        3. I’d be inclined to modify your a to k trajectory to something like this:

          “In the beginning slavery was not so, but sinful humanity created it. God responded against slavery by sending Moses to lead our people out of it. But, because of the hardness of our hearts “Moses” then made laws to regulate it. But I say unto you…”

          Sadly, we seem to now have more slavery in Aotearoa than we once did. NeoLiberalism has reintroduced it.

          Many Blessings

    3. I’m hoping that I’m misreading you here Chris. You state the obvious to anyone aware of modern Biblical criticism as if Father B and any of the rest of us who participate here wouldn’t know that. Like it’s something you know and need to point out to your thick-headed siblings.

    4. Bosco, with regard to circumcision, you correctly state that neither testament makes sense without the other; my understanding is that while there is a literal aspect to the O.T., they are also full of types and shadows, en example of which is circumcision, which in the O.T. is a cutting away of the flesh and in the N.T. the literal circumcision is no important but rather the circumcision of the heart that identifies us as followers of Christ

      1. Thanks, Ray.

        First, the The Scripture Project’s claim that “the New Testament cannot be rightly understood apart from the Old, nor can the Old rightly be understood apart from the New” is the very one I highlighted as leaping “out as having significant issues”.

        Second, shifting the location of cutting away flesh from the genitals to cutting away flesh from the heart and then contending that the latter is a metaphor for following Christ is, I think, drawing a long bow. It simply appears as a way of camouflaging the disagreement of the New Testament with the First Testament in this instant.

        Blessings.

      2. I think you are on to something here Ray, and it’s solidly grounded in the Christian tradition.

        St Paul seems to say as much in Phil 3:3

        “For we are the true circumcision, who worship God in spirit, and glory in
        Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh.”

        Many Blessings

  2. An interesting post. Surely the more complex question is what is the mechanism or vehicle of authority to reject certain parts of scripture. Acts appears to suggest a mechanism (visible witness > discernment of the action of the Spirit > synod or council), but what does that mean in practice in the modern world? Would love to hear your views on this!

    1. Thanks, Stephen. Yes, I’ll be continuing this series. Certainly, the “mechanism” in Acts is essentially as you describe, and I point to. I don’t think it is the only “mechanism”, but I think it is a good one. Blessings.

      1. I can’t help but wonder where we might be had the Council of Jerusalem not confirmed the movement of the Spirit and had decided that circumcision was still to be required of converts to the Jesus Movement.

        1. I often draw on this, David. I think Christianity would not have become the world’s biggest religion had the requirement for circumcision been maintained. Blessings.

  3. My thoughts? Peter went “rogue” or the uncircumcised had read of what happened to the Hivities (Gen 34) and said “ain’t gonna be no bris for this lad.” (also known as “fool me once, shame on you… fool me twice, shame on me.”)

    :o) So perhaps #9 from the process list applies in this case? And maybe #7 with a touch of #4 and a sprinkling (just a sprinkling) of #3?

    Blessings.

      1. I agree — I was being purposefully superficial. I’m not certain that one needs to be able to determine whether circumcision is required, but I feel that many part-time scholars (like me) take the simplistic “by the numbers” approach to justify their position for or against this and many other issues. In doing so, I feel the overall message is missed. The Bible is full of conflicting messages if one wants to focus on trying to make every word fit a pattern. Underneath the layers of human interpretation, I believe there are essential truths and guidance–but those aren’t always uncovered by a quick linear approach (numbers 1-9.. Check.) It’s the beauty of being able to listen to you and the others here who help me hear beyond what I read.

        Btw…Circumcision is not something that ever really came up in my religious upbringing. The discussions were more tribal/secular–wanting one’s son to look like his father and others in the community, not wanting to appear Jewish (a remnant from European migration) or a belief in the health benefits. But I feel your use of this particular custom was more as a foil or teachable moment. ?Yes ? Blessings.

        1. Thanks, Stephen. I’m not sure whether your final question was addressed to me – whether or not to have circumcision as a requirement for church membership, and the concomitant keeping of all the Hebrew Bible’s commands, is a central debate within the New Testament. Blessings.

  4. Timothy was Jewish by his mother, so circumcision for him was a pragmatic matter that would make him acceptable to Jewish believers. This was all discussed many years ago by the doyen of Acts scholars, F. F. Bruce. All part of the Pauline praxis of ‘becoming all things to all men to win some.”
    As for “slavery” in the Old Testament, you can find an excellent discussion of what this really entailed in a lecture by Dr Peter Williams, Warden of Tyndale House Cambridge and an eminent scholar in both OT and NT, by doing a search on youtube. I knew Pete years ago and he’s a great communicator.

    1. Thanks, Mike. I guess this is the YouTube video you meant? I may get time to view this – it’s here for others as well. I would simply note, that it took Christians two millennia to agree that slavery was wrong. Blessings.

    2. Timothy qualified to be Jewish by his mother, who was Jewish by her mother, but it’s obvious that, perhaps because of his pagan father, Timothy never followed through with being Jewish. So it seems a subterfuge for Paul to circumcise him to fool everyone into thinking that didn’t happen.

    1. And I think you are being anachronistic, Chris. Following your approach, Jews do not think that non-Jews are the People of God: to be part of the People of God, males must be circumcised. Blessings.

      1. And the thing is, the Jewish tradition concluded that cirumcision was not binding on non-Jews, and without the authority of St Paul or the first ecumenical council in Jerusalem. This is a debate between Jews on whether the Torah is obligatory for non-Jews.

        Fortunately the answer is, that no it all isn’t, those Torah laws which were always intended for Jews only (as is clear from the text) do not apply to non-Jews. This has huge implications eg homosexuality (if it’s not in the Torah or the Gospel, how can it possibly apply to Christians?).

        Many Blessings

        1. The conclusion, Chris, that we come to is the same – but I’m not as convinced as you that, from within those Hebrew Bible texts, the understanding is that one can belong to God’s people without abiding by the Torah laws. Blessings.

        2. That depends on what one understands by “God’s people” (which of course is central to this discussion).

          There’s plenty in the OT about all nations coming to worship God eg

          Is 66:18 I am coming to gather all nations and tongues; they shall come and see my glory

          Is 66:33 From new moon to new moon, and from sabbath to sabbath, All flesh shall come to worship before me, says the LORD.

          Nothing there about them having to become Jews, although that was a common misunderstanding.

          Many Blessings

    2. I don’t believe I am being anachronistic Bosco. There was a class of God believers or proselyes who were very close to Judaism but never adopted all the requirements for Jews eg circumcision.

      The idea that only the Noah laws are binding on non Jews is very ancient.

      Many blessings

  5. I was just having a chat with some people today that I hadn’t seen in years, and the topic got around to debates in the Church that were a big thing at the time, splitting communities apart even, but we don’t even talk about now, and I happened to mention circumcision and eating food sacrificed to idols as examples… and I come home and catch up on some reading only to find circumcision is still being debated, which made me smile a bit because I like coincidences like that.

    Part of today’s conversation had to do with the way people debate, and that we can “all be one” even if we aren’t exactly on the same page on every issue. So I very, very much appreciate the way people exchange ideas here, sometimes important issues, sometimes just interesting points, but always helpfully. Thank you Bosco!!

    1. Thanks, Mark. You are right – some of today’s debates will be looked back to in a bemused way and have maybe little mention in a history course in the future. Expanding your point: I have seen little debate about Christians eating halal meat or not. Blessings.

  6. I’m loving this open, honest dialogue about Scripture. I’ve always said Christians tend to cherry-pick Scripture to suit themselves – I’m sure I do the same without realising it at times. My thinking is that the differences between the old and new testaments are that they are expressions of two different covenants. Although… Jesus also said that he came to fulfill the old covenant, not to do away with it. Did the fulfilling of the old mean that we don’t need to keep doing the things that were expected in the old covenant? After all we don’t slaughter animals on the altar any more either. Would be interested in your thoughts on this.

    1. Thanks, Ginny, for the encouragement. I have in mind a variation of your point(s) for Part 4 of this series. I am also wanting to take care not to denigrate the integrity of the Jewish approach, our older siblings. Blessings.

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