Bible Study and Peacemaking 2008

posted Mar 17, 2009, 10:21 PM by J. B. Adams III   [ updated Mar 17, 2009, 10:22 PM by Melanie Adams ]
Bible Study and Peacemaking
from our 2007 Annual Report
February 17, 2008  by J. B. Adams III
    Our Bible Study time on late Wednesday afternoons remains a part of our Peacemaking Ministry of Reconciliation. When we first started, we looked at the chasm suggested in quote “men are from Mars and women are from Venus.” We looked at the histori cal prayer that can go back to the time of Jesus: “Thank God I am not a woman, a Gentile or a dog.” Since over 95% of our written materials are quotes from the Bible, we first looked at the wonderful dialogue between Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman who was all three of the caricatures in that prayer!
    If Christian reconciliation and peacemaking can break down the barriers between men and women, it can dissolve all conflicts. We looked at all the New Testament scriptures that bear on that subject and saw how the teachings and actions of Jesus created a new kind of equality that had only been prophesied in the Old Testament. But “the” Old Testament passage that laid a foundation for inequality has been given a radically new interpretation from contemporary scholarship. The passage is Genesis 3:16 and the profound insight goes back to the time before Hebrew was written without vowel points.
    The gulf between men and women in Judaism was carried over into much of Christianity in spite of the profound impact of first century Christianity for a strain of equality that was even prophesied of in the Old Testament. The gaining  of full equality in the early church was along with the patriarchal model best preserved today in Roman Catholic, Orthodox and many conservative Baptist churches: but finally achieved in mainline Protestant denominations.
    Must of the Biblical scripture justifying New Testament equality is preserved in texts that will be available on our future web site: along with the Old Testament prophecies that equality would come. The new information on Genesis 3:16 is on the web from Palmer Seminar here in Philadelphia. It suggests that the punishment of Eve to be ruled over by Adam was not the only interpretation of the Hebrew word “to rule.” If the reader vocalized other vowels into the three consonants, you got an entirely different word. 
    In fact, the KJV uses other vowel points with the three consonants that make up that Hebrew word “to rule” and translates the same three consonants word to mean “to be like” over 5 times. There are complicated Hebrew verb tenses that help to determine if the three consonants should be interoperated as “to rule” or “to be like”, but mostly the context determines which translation should be used. If the word did not appear in ancient lexicons in a verb tense that would always lend itself to be translated as “to be like” it would likely never be transla ted as “to be like” unless the context required it to be so translated.
    The scholar at Palmer Seminary did find an old lexicon that did use the verb tense that is always translated as “to be like”, but more important he found Arabic cognate equivalents that used the word as “to be like” as common usage. This Arabic cognate equivalent is proof positive, that in the sounding of the word, the reader determines for the hearers what the meaning would be. So after the Hebrew was written with vowel points, any confusion of “to rule” or “to be like” would no longer be tolerated.
    Before the recording of vowel points, a reader would vocalize it as he felt it should be read - according to context and the common interpretation of the reader and hearers. With the prayer, “Thank God I am not a women. . .” and with all the other non-Hebrew cultures seeing women as second or third class citizens, it is not hard to understand the ease with which the Hebrew would always want to vocalize it as “to rule” over. Like the new Hebrew nation wanted “a king like all the other nations, who would rule over them and lead them into battle,” so all the other nations, who20treated women as property, would lead some in Israel to eventually vocalize that word to mean “to rule over” women and eventually codified that reading with vowel points to make it permanent.
    If the context really suggests that “he would be like her” as a consequence of their sin, outside the garden where they did not have access to the tree of life, they would both have common sorrow: she with the death of children in child birth and he - after the sweat of his brow - would have sorrow of crop failure. (By the way “sweat of the brow” could also mean tears of sorrow because the literal Hebrew means is a runny nose.) They both were “to be like” one another in suffer with each other’s sorrow. With that interpretation, no longer would man or women be ruling over the other in patriarchal or matriarchal fashion.
    Our Bible study suggested that every Christian denomination or fellowship found some Scripture that was so profound that was almost totally overlooked by other Christians. Philadelphia is blessed by one denomination that found one scripture so profound that they chose to call themselves by the word in that scripture. But to understand how profound it was - and is - we have to see the full20context in which it is used. Jesus was talking about his sorrow and impending death. His disciples were still arguing about who would be the most powerful next to Jesus.
    With only a few hours for Jesus to live, the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke record the Upper Room information that lead to the transformation of the seder into the sacrament of the Lord’s supper. But the Gospel of John records a different kind of atmosphere that begins with the high priestly prayer of Jesus that we should all be completely one. Several denominations add to the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, the profound ritual of foot washing to show mutual humility. But one denomination lifts that foot washing conversation to a profound height by calling itself by the key word in that conversation.
    What Jesus, according to John, said to his disciples - who were still looking at ruling over others with force - was this: “Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.” What we call Quakers, they call themselves “Friends.” There20is no patriarchal or matriarchal commands among friends, but in truth it would take the disciples a while to fully understand the meaning of that thought. The earthly world today continues to have the need for a Priscilla and Aquila: who would teach the scriptures “more accurately” to all the Apollos"es" within the church today. What a profound revelation for our age of “politically correct language,” to discover that in the New Testament, the team of Aquila and Priscilla are mentioned four times (in that age when the man is always first), but in the New Testament twice the man’s name comes first and twice the woman’s name is first!
    It makes us want to believe in the Old Testament prophesy - that the disciples stated was fulfilled at Pentecost:  And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. It is one thing to pour out that spirit on all flesh including sons and daughters, but on men and maid servants too? That may make you want to look back at Genesis 3:16 to look again at the verbal translation of “to be like” as God’s real will and not “to rule” over. Such a translation would be a real revelation from God that might make the Judeo-Christian religion different from all the other religions of the world - even today.
    The very first theological position to be labeled a “heresy” by the early church had to do with a conflict between the Old and the New Testaments. Our Bible Study looked seriously at that “apparent” conflict in order to resolve the issues it raises. The view that was labeled heretical felt there was a totally different kind of God revealed in the New Testament through the life of Christ than  the warlike God of the Old Testament: Christ died for our sin rather than telling us to go out and commit genocide in God’s name by killing all the people of the land.
    The conflict between that warlike god and the God revealed in Jesus Christ was resolved in some people’s eyes by amnesia for much of the Old Testament. Even Billy Graham’s son, Franklin, accused Islam of being a warlike religion without any reference to our Judeo-Christian heritage of the admonition to kill all the peoples of the land of Cannan: “put them all to the20sword.” Coming to terms with that issue requires real deep Bible Study. It also requires us to deeply inquire about the difference between inspiration and revelation. It also requires real understanding of the difference between God’s real will and his permissive will.
    Samuel was told to go ahead and grant the people that king they wanted: like all the other peoples of the land - but they were not rejecting Samuel; they were rejecting God as their king. We clearly see the conflict between God’s will and God’s permissive will. God’s people were to be a “peculiar people” and instead they wanted to be like all the other peoples. That was and still is the temptation of all God’s people today. Those who interpret “be ye separate, come ye out from among them” are taking that literally instead of figuratively, but we will touch at that issue later when we look at the “law.”
    The warlike god and/or the God revealed in Christ can best be understood, we said, by looking at how people are inspired to attribute to God their own wishes. A wag once said that we were created in God’s image and we pay God the same compliment by creating God in our image! A more scholarly statement of the same tendency is to point out the difference between what is “exemplary” and what is “cautionary” truth and revelation. The Spanish conquistadors took the admonition to kill all the people of the land literally (if they did not convert immediately) and some people used it to justify the use of germ warfare on the Native Americans or the atomic bomb in Japan. It is still an issue today in the suicide bombing going on in Palestine and Israel.
    God told Samuel to caution the people about the consequences of choosing a human king from the people, but they went ahead anyway. Our understanding of Christ the King is really a return to God as king of the whole world instead of an earthly ruler over geographical space. And the subtle difference between cautionary and exemplary revelation becomes even more telling as the subjects become more confusing. Perhaps the most profound exposition of the consequences for cautionary warnings came from Abraham Lincoln in his second inaugural address when he wonders if the consequences of the Civil War were that   “every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword.”
    The God revealed by Moses in the giving of the “law,” make Moses the great “law giver.” This can be in contrast to Jesus the “great teacher.” But the Hebrew word “TORAH” should really be translated “teaching/law” - not just law. Yet we discover the temptation to translate TORAH according to the temperament of the translator: which really is all of us for we project into God our own understanding of the continuum between teaching and law. The Pharisees in Jesus time leaned clearly over to the law side of that continuum and today’s Christian Pharisees make Jesus words into new laws in spite of the teachings in Romans and elsewhere. But our Christian Taliban is little different from the Taliban of Islam who turn everything into law and obedience.
    Paul points out in Romans 7 not just the futility of the law, but that it can very well be counter productive:  15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.  19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23 but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
    Every parent knows a child can get into an attitude that causes the child to do the opposite of what he is asked to do, and many people in prohibition who seldom, if ever drank, started to do so just because someone said you cannot drink. When Christian want to “lay down the law” they are forgetting the teachings of Jesus, but it is all too natural to do so. Those people who believe we are not to question the  teachings of Christianity are only making it a book of rules or laws that generate the opposite effect in many people. If we are to be that peculiar people instead of like all the others our attitude to the law is one place to start.
    But turning Christianity into a law book of do’s and don’ts, is also to forget more that Romans 7. It is also to have amnesia for Paul’s statements in Corinthians and Ephesians: 1 Corinthi ans 6:12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. 1 Corinthians 10:23 “All things are lawful,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Ephesians 2:15-19  15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace.
    The peace which Christ brings was best summed up by Paul as he answers his own question: “Who will rescue me from this body of  death?” and his answer was: “ 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!“  So if we want to be free f rom the restrictions of life with it’s does and don’ts, commandment, ordinances and laws, we turn to the teaching of  Christ for insight into what is “beneficial” and “builds up” and learn how to tear down the dividing wall of hostility between us. That way we can live in love and peace with our God, all God’s creation - including our enemies - and ourselves, since we are often our own worst enemy.
    There are many other profound yet almost hidden truths we have learned from Scripture, but let us focus on two other sets of truths we tried to fathom in our Bible study. We mentioned above the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus in the 17th chapter of John which culminates the equalitarian concept of  “Friend” as the model for human relationships. But we must come to an even deeper understanding of our relationship to God. Jesus’ prayer states in John 17:20-23  20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
    If God does really love us “all” as much as God loved Jesus, we are confronted with two truths about our neighbor. One is a that we need to learn how to love that neighbor as a brother or sister and we need to learn how to love him or her when they are not really lovable. Since God loved us all “while we were yet sinners” and if God sends his rain and sunshine on the just and the unjust, we are challenged to be Godlike in our love. That is not easy. If we see it as a command, we become powerless to do it and are overwhelmed with grief and guilt by our failures to do it.
    But if we look at all the sinners in the Bible, that God loved and used to be a blessing to others in spite of their sinfulness, we gain hope that we too shall someday learn to believe in our hearts that God does really love us in spite of what we have done to ourselves and others. The struggle to believe - which the Bible suggests is the faith to accept that love -  takes us to the cross of Christ. Jesus told  at the beginning in John 3:14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, and again in John 12:32* And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
    As in Moses’ day, the children of Israel had to look at the snake that bit them. Yet the last thing we want to do: look at the sin that is hurting us and others. But before we can be really free to live again, we must look. By really looking at the hurt we bring to ourselves and others, we can begin to look at the truth=2 0that sets us free - whether it be environmental, social or personal. By really looking at the sin - say global warming - we can acknowledge the truth in the words of Jesus: Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  In fact until we come to realize what we did not know or what our enemy did not know, we are powerless to really give or know what forgiveness really is. It is as true of personal sins as it is for sins against God’s world.
    When we look at Jesus on the cross, we discover the awful consequences of our ignorance and the extent of the hurt we have brought to ourselves and others. But what an “awe full” moment of accepting that God loves us in our suffering and the suffering of others - including our worst enemy - loves us all as much as he loved Jesus. In that moment we are filled with such gratitude, that the truth has set us free. And we know that in our Bible study in the future, we will remember the other teachings of Jesus, that  we so easily forget, yet his teachings will always set us free again.