The Holy Bible in 21st century English

A literal, spoken-language bible, and some reflections on the Christian faith

Category: Reflections

A window into faith

I have a pet cat. A lot of people think that’s not really true: the cat has a pet Felix. But I entirely disagree. The cat knows its place in the hierarchy: beneath everyone else stands the cat. It does seem to be demanding, but really it simply asks for permission for almost everything.

For instance, if I’ve opened the back door for my benefit, and the cat wants to go inside or outside, it’ll wait until I’ve paid attention to it, and given it permission to walk through. Or before it eats, even if there’s food in the bowl, it wants to be given very explicit permission to eat the food: Often it’ll come upstairs to where I am, wait for me to pay attention to it, then follow me downstairs—it won’t follow if I haven’t paid it attention—then it wants me to pour food into its bowl so it knows it can eat it.

Now she ask’ll for permission differently according to the context. If I’m alone, she will meow at me: but if I’m talking to someone, she’ll only brush up against my legs, so that she prays for her daily needs without interrupting my will.

The cat knows that it’s dependent on our family for its food and shelter and health and wellbeing. It also knows that we, the human beings, are absolutely her superior and that she hasn’t earned her place in this Kingdom of Felix, and never can and never will. But she’s absolutely loyal to us, and will submit herself to unpleasantness when we require her to.

Sometimes the cat puts a foot wrong, and does something we don’t want her to do, and I will be angry with her. She might jump up on my bed when I never let her, or she might refuse to get off a couch I want to sit on. Or maybe she’ll just ask for permission to go somewhere I won’t let her go. She accepts the limitations on her will and the consequences of her actions, because she knows she’s better off subordinating her will to mine, than trying to go it alone. She accepts that it’s better to trust me, than to get whatever she wants whenever she wants it.

The cat, it seems to me, is an excellent model of the faith all Christians should be showing towards God.


An interlude

Robert had a heart attack one day, and died. A week later, his friends and family and workmates and colleagues went to the local funeral parlor, and his wife Jan, his sister Aloïse and Mark his best friend since childhood spoke: They reflected on his life and his achievements, his concern for his friends and family, and how we was such a great and kind guy. Aloïse said “… and I know you’re in a better place now, and we’ll see each other again”. He would’ve hated that, but everyone sympathised.

After a while, Robert woke up. Aloïse was right: they did see each other again, because she’d just woken up too. They were confused. Neither knew where they were, or how they’d got here. Aloïse, in particular, remembered well the sixteen years after her brother’s heart attack and death, and how lonely she’d been. She’d missed her big brother. They agreed it was odd. Aloïse was thirsty, and Robert needed the loo, so they went off to fulfil their needs.

Sixteen years later, they saw each other again. The government had collapsed. The Queen and the Governor-General and the Prime Minister were gone—simply missing, there wasn’t even a trace of them—but dozens of people were calling themselves such, or the King too. So they’d decided to just have an election. But there’d been dozens of Electoral Commission heads too, and more besides who thought there was some other process.

Meanwhile, the police had been confused into inaction too, and petty thieves became gang leaders while concerned citizens became vigilantes. Both became warlords and the constitution stopped mattering anyway.

They were walking through the sewers, because they were safe from warlord henchmen. They saw each other, but she wanted to spew, and he was hungry, so they kept going their separate ways.

They saw each other again after another—well, who knows. It could’ve been sixteen trillion years for all the difference it made to anyone. Aloïse had been so depressed she could hardly move. But then, one day, she could. So she jumped off a twenty-storey building: death had to better than this. But she didn’t die when she hit the ground. Her bones shattered and she just became some sort of jelly-person at the bottom of the building. People trampled over her. One of them was Robert.

That wasn’t the last time they saw each other, either. Aloïse’s body healed enough she could move around again, but the pain hadn’t left her. She crawled into a pub. Robert was there, drinking away his sorrows till the booze ran out again. Everyone was. This place was some sort of hell-on-earth.

The Good News according to Matthew

I just re-read Matthew’s account of the Good News. I dunno: A lot of people say that the synoptics and John’s account contradict each other, or at least differ. But I think Matthew’s account only really makes sense in light of John’s. It’s subtler, certainly, but what’s in John’s that you can’t see in Matthew’s? With only Matthew’s account, I think the Christian Assembly would have known that Jesus is the incarnate Word and God. Even Matthew seems to know that the Last Supper was the day before the Passover, but he wants to stress the intrinsic and supremely important relationship between the Passover, the Last Supper and Good Friday.

But what do I know? Next to nothing about first century Palestinian Judaism or biblical scholarship or anything else that would help me to understand. I just trust that the living God would have given us faithful accounts of Who He Is, so maybe I’m even biased.

God’s covenants with people and peoples

I haven’t been able to read the Bible as most people do, seeing a new start at the New Testament. It’s my natural tendency to read and understand things in harmony, whenever possible. And in any case: the Old Testament contains information about people like Abel and Noah and probably Job and his friends who weren’t covered by the old covenant. How were they saved, by works or by faith? or were they damned, because they were neither Israelites nor post-Christ?

The covenant made with the Israelites was a separate and parallel covenant to the eternal covenant made by Christ in the Pascal sacrifice in his blood. The Israelite covenant made in the flesh Abraham and his house was eternal: “My covenant will be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant” (Gen. 17:13b). Has it been abrogated? Will we make the Lord into a liar? Will we say his ends failed to meet their goal?

No-one has ever been saved by works. Works are the fruit of faith—of trust in God (James 2:14-18 and the whole letter). This was the major point of contention between Jesus and the legalistic Jews of his time. Jesus followed the Mosaic Law completely: but not because he thought it was necessary to his salvation, but because he loved God with all his heart and all his soul and all his mind and all his strength, and because he trusted God. And a person who completely loves God keeps God’s commandments completely.

The legalistic Jews did not practice the Israelite religion, and did not fulfil the Law (Luke 18:9-14). They were carnally minded, following the rules not out of their love of God, but to look righteous to other people, and to let them feel superior to the lepers and the tax collectors and the Greeks.

The Israelites were given the true religion and a special bonus covenant: that they might protect the knowledge of God, that his Scripture might be written by them, that they might collectively, as a nation, be a prophecy and a sign of the incarnate Lord. But just like previous generations had found idols in foreign gods to worship, the self-proclaimed righteous Jews in Jesus’ time had found idols in the works of the law and a corrupted notion of righteousness to worship. The forgot the truth which permeated their Scripture.

The Law was not meant to be their ticket to heaven, despite the common Christian understanding. But it was a gift and a blessing to them, and sees to their salvation through the embodiment of Jesus Christ, the Lord’s salvation.

Now, do I say, a good Gentile Christian has to follow the Law which came to the Israelites?—do we follow the Mosaic Law? No. That Law hasn’t come to us: we are not part of that covenant. It was made with a specific nation. Paul’s letter to the Romans makes that clear.

No. But I shall approve to myself of what the Lord approves of, and condemn from myself the things which the Lord condemns. The whole Bible is my law, and I eagerly study it to know what the Lord wants me to know.

Still don’t believe me? Read the Book of Job, and tell me it isn’t a “covenant of grace through faith” document. Read the Acts of the Apostles, and tell me Paul doesn’t keep being Jewish after he becomes Christian.

Why I love God’s law as a Gentile Christian

Bill Muehlenberg, a Christian writer based in Melbourne, wrote about the love of God’s law on his blog today. It inspired me to write the following comment, which I include here in edited form.

I have struggled to understand what “faith” is since I first started to investigate the Christian claims.

If you ask atheists, they’ll tell you that “faith is believing things without any evidence at all—just because someone told you so”. Well, should I trust an atheist?

If you ask a Christian, they’ll tell you that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for”. But that doesn’t tell me anything. If I have faith in God, does that mean that God hopes that I have faith in him, and I assure him of that by having faith in him? Or what?

So I looked up the Greek word for “faith” while I was reading through the psalms. And I saw that the word is “pistis” and it also means “trust”. And I also saw in the psalms how much the psalmists love God’s law—and Paul also calls the Law a blessing to those it’s come to.

And I realised: If I trust God, and if God created the whole universe for us, and he’s talked to us, then surely when he’s said that something’s wrong, he isn’t just arbitrarily forbidding something: He knows it’s best if we don’t do that.

I don’t have to know why looking lustfully after a girl is just as bad as adultery—a crime so bad it warranted death in the Israelite theocracy, and a frame of mind so distorted that you can’t be an adulterer and still inherit the kingdom of God. But God told me that “a man who lustfully looks at a women has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5:28), and told the Israelites that they must not “covet [their] neighbor’s wife” (Ex. 20:17), and caused Job’s “covenant with [his] eyes not to look lustfully at a girl” to be recorded in the Scripture (Job 31:1).

So I trust God on that. God designed the universe, he said it’s wrong, surely it’s wrong. Time would more fruitfully be spent trying to uncover why it’s wrong, than the more common practice of trying to prove so many of the moral commandments are wrong because apparently it’s natural for this or that person to do this or that. If I were a moral philosopher, I’d love to spend my time finding out why God’s law is best.

Now, I struggle continuously to obey the Lord. It doesn’t come naturally to me yet. But I also try not to justify my sinfulness, but admit it to myself and to God and—when I can control my pride—to others. I make no claim to being perfect, but I trust that God knows what’s best: going through the research that’s already been done, weighing it and analysing it, and even starting new research programs.

So of course I’ll follow God’s law if I love him. I’m not better than him; I don’t come close to equalling him. I wasn’t there when he laid the earth on its foundations, and I don’t understand its whole breadth. But I love him, and I trust him, and I love that he’s told me the best way to live my life, and given me so many lessons to learn in a collection of books so full of wisdom.