Category Archives: Bible

16 Jan

Has David Bentley-Hart gone off his rocker?

David Bentley-Hart is a man I admired greatly for his book “God” – a quite outstanding essay in philosophical theology.

But he’s gone right off the rails in his new project to offer us a “subversively literal” translation of the Greek New Testament. No honest translator sets out a priori to produce a subversive version – or an orthodox, conservative version if it comes to that – but to produce the best translation he can

A few points then

First it is an astonishing claim to suggest that all previous translators of the New Testament got it wrong! What the immaculate Tyndale? The scholars, including Lancelot Andrewes, who produced the King James Version? The superb mostly American linguists who gave us The Revised Standard Version? All duds and just waiting for David to come along and put them right?

Besides, the interpretation of Paul which David says is plain wrong happens to be substantially the same interpretation as that held by Augustine, Luther, Karl Barth, Newman and Joseph Ratzinger. Were they all wrong too?

A few details…

Paul does not say we are born “damnedly guilty” He says “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Original Sin is our self-corruption of our own will: “The thing I would, that I do not; and what I would not, that I do.” That’s Paul’s definition of Original Sin in words of one syllable

No – we are not saved by our good deeds but good deeds in those who are saved through faith in Christ are pleasant to God, and they are performed by the grace of Christ. As Paul says, “Not I but Christ within me.” But good deeds cannot save us. As Blake said, “If moral virtue was Christianity, Christ’s pretensions were all vanity.” If good deeds save us, why the need for Christ’s sacrifice?

In St Paul, but also in the synoptic gospels and in The Book of Revelation, we find the teaching of everlasting hell. Though, as Aquinas said, “There certainly is a hell. But don’t worry, there’s probably no one in it!”

“For Paul, pistis means…” Oh dear! What does this perfectly simple Greek word mean for the rest of us? It’s from Plato  – cf “epistemology” – and it is, at least to start with, an intellectual commitment. Repentance “metanoia” – much favoured by Paul – is also an intellectual act: it means “change or renew tour mind, your way of thinking.” Repentance and faith go together in Paul – as they do in John the Baptist and in the three short epistles of John: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves…” And so on. This theology pervades the New Testament. Hardly surprising since it IS the gospel!

Paul chooses different themes in one epistle from those he chooses to expound in another: Colossians is full of the doctrine of the Cosmic Christ (which David touches on); but that’s not the teaching we find in Romans. Philippians is largely about a different theme altogether: Christ’s pre-existence and self-emptying (Kenosis) – see especially chapter 2

It is facile to suggest that Paul is some sort of Manichee – spirit good; flesh bad. If so, why does he tell us that we shall be given “a spiritual body” – soma-pneumatikon? Why is he such a strong preacher of Christ’s Incarnation?

I’m disappointed to find David offering us sensation, a mere squib, when he is capable of writing the real thing

But then people do get tempted and corrupted – even theologians – as, of course,  St Paul says!

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01 Jan

Does Welby have a wireless?

The Archbishop of Canterbury has delivered his New Year’s message to the nation in which he praises the responses of what he calls “communities” to last year’s terrorist atrocities and to the Grenfell fire. Actually, “communities” is not a helpful word, Mr Welby if your aim is to promote social cohesion. There is one community and we are all part of it, whereas “communities” connotes ghettos – that failed multicultural experiment which encouraged the separate development of the different races and creeds. Most of the immigrants who have settled in Britain over the centuries have integrated into the general population – into the community, in fact. Only in recent years there has arisen an exception: Muslims who so dislike our British community that they segregate themselves in a form of apartheid. How inconsistent and odd of lefties such as Welby to have condemned apartheid when it took place in South Africa, but to applaud it here in their use of that divisive word “communities.” What we have in Tower Hamlets, Dewsbury, Walsall, Oldham and a score other of our cities and towns is not Muslim “communities,” Mr Welby but Muslim ghettos.

In his message, which was broadcast on the BBC, the Archbishop said he also wanted to highlight the suffering of people “struggling to find work or relying on food banks” and “those who are bereaved or coping with poor mental health or physical illness.”

He added: “Their suffering will never make the news.”

Really? Does Welby live anywhere near a television set or a wireless? Does he ever read a newspaper? If he did, he would discover that, far from “never making the news,” the topics of unemployment, food banks – many organised by the Church of which Welby is titular leader – and mental health are never out of the news. These subjects are of great public concern and so it’s right that they should feature prominently in the news.

It is entirely right that the Archbishop should express his thanks to the emergency services for their courageous presence during terrorist attacks and at terrible public disasters such as Grenfell. Likewise, his concern for the poor and the sick is something required of him by the faith which he professes. I just wish he would profess the Christian faith rather more than he does. Christian morality is derived from Christian doctrine. And the most fundamental Christian doctrine is that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but we can take comfort and hope from the fact that Jesus Christ died to save us from our sins. So, if we repent and turn to Christ, we shall be saved,

Not a word about this from Welby. As if a chemist were to talk about chemistry while avoiding all reference to chemicals, or England’s opening batsman should walk out to bat – only without his bat.

Surely, the turn of the year is the time for looking back and repenting of our sins, negligences and ignorances and for looking forward in hope and confidence in the saving work of Jesus Christ?

The social gospel is a very fine thing. But the social gospel without the gospel is just sentimental socialism. 

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12 Oct

Welby admits he’s hopeless

In an impressive epiphany of self-understanding, Justin Welby has admitted he’s “hopeless.” Never mind that I’ve been telling him as much for years. Still, deficiencies owned up to – even when so late-revealed – are to be commended.

The Archbishop of Canterbury was asked in a magazine interview if he ever suffered from mental ill health and said that in the past year he had sometimes felt hopeless and depressed but had never sought help for it. He said, “I think if you had asked me a year ago I’d have said ‘no’, and ten years ago I would have said ‘absolutely not.’ But what was that phrase Churchill used? ‘black dog’. There is an element of that. I think as I am getting older I am realising it does come from time to time. I have those moments.”

He certainly does have his moments. There was one last month when he returned from his holidays to demand “tax rises on the wealthy and more green technology.”

As his hopelessness lingered, Welby went on: “We are failing those who will grow up into a world where the gap between the richest and poorest parts of the country is significant and destabilising.”

There is a much larger issue which further demonstrates Welby’s hopelessness. Under his – can the word I’m looking for really be “leadership”? – the number of those identifying themselves as Church of England has fallen to an all-time low. Shouldn’t this hopeless Archbishop leave the running of the economy to those who know what they’re talking about and attend instead to the problems in his own backyard? He says the economy is “broken.” Let him first examine the fractures and decline in his own church.

In that magazine interview, Welby revealed to Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s old spin doctor, that he was hopeless yet again when it comes to giving “a straight answer” to the question: “Is gay sex sinful?”

Asked why not, the Archbishop replied: “Because I don’t do blanket condemnation and I haven’t got a good answer to the question. I’ll be really honest about that. I know I haven’t got a good answer to the question. Inherently, within myself, the things that seem to me to be absolutely central are around faithfulness, stability of relationships and loving relationships.”

His words look as if they were composed in the Circumlocution Office. So he’s certainly hopeless when it comes to expressing his thoughts in plain English

While an honest man will admit that he doesn’t know something, an intelligent man will know where to look for the answer. Justin Welby’s honesty is not in doubt. But what of his intelligence? Has the Archbishop of Canterbury never read the Bible? Well, an honest man in a state of uncertainty deserves not our contempt but our sympathy. I sympathise with Justin Welby so, since I have read the Bible, let me try to help him. What we are looking for, Archbishop, is the teaching of Scripture concerning sexual relations. Let us start at the beginning…

“And God created man in his own image; in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them and God said unto them, Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:27-28).

“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24)

Nothing there about a man cleaving unto another man or a woman unto another woman. Never mind, let us look a bit further for more explicit guidance.

“If a man also lie with mankind as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination” (Leviticus 20:13).

Of course, some critics argue that these words are all from the Old Testament which was written a long time ago and perhaps the New Testament has something different to say? Let us look then at the teaching of Jesus:

“Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication and shall marry another committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” (Matthew 19:9).

The clear teaching of Jesus then is that sexual relations belong to a lifelong marriage between a man and a woman, and anything other than that is disallowed. But Our Lord’s plain teaching should not stir us to condemn those who fall short of this high standard. When the Scribes and Pharisees were about to stone to death “a woman taken in adultery, in the very act” (John 8:4), Jesus forbid them, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her (John 8:7). And to the woman, “Neither do I condemn thee: go and sin no more” (John 8:11).

Thus we find here the origin of the Christian commandment that we should hate the sin but love the sinner. What we should notice though is that, while Jesus has mercy on the sinner, he specifically refers to her adultery as a sin.

Difficult as this might be to believe, it seems that the Archbishop of Canterbury has not thought to look at the 3000 years old tradition of Judaeo-Christian ethical teaching to help him settle his mind on the matter of sexual relations. I wonder then if Justin Welby has ever come across – if only in passing – a fairly famous Christian by the name of St Paul?

“And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet” (Romans 1:27).

It seems the Archbishop is so hopeless that he hasn’t even managed to read the Bible.

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23 Aug

Fools, damn fools and modern biblical critics

Sometimes a report is so uninformative, inaccurate, vague and generally fatuous that it’s not worth the paper it’s written on. In most such cases we can simply pay the report no attention, grimace frustrated and toss it into the wastepaper basket. But when the subject under  the report’s review is as important as the interpretation of Scripture, as a priest I feel I owe it as a matter of pastoral care to spell out what’s wrong . In today’s Daily Telegraph there is such a report and it begins thus:

“The earliest Latin interpretation of the Gospels has been brought to light by a British academic – and it suggests that readers should not take the Bible literally.”

So this has only very recently been “brought to light” has it by, as the article goes on to mention, Dr Hugh Houghton of the University of Birmingham?  Well, I have news for Dr Houghton and for Olivia Rudgard who wrote that Telegraph article:

Throughout the centuries there have actually been only a very few scholars and ordinary readers who have taken the Bible literally – and for a very good (and obvious) reason: most of the Bible does not consist of propositions of fact.

Much of the Bible is poetry and hymns. How, for example, would anyone go about taking a line such as “The Lord’s my shepherd” literally? Or “I am a worm and no man”?

No one has ever believed that when the Bible says God made the world in six days and on the seventh day he rested means that God formed the universe in six days of twenty-four hours and on the following day he took to his pipe and slippers and sat back in an easy chair.

Or that one of Solomon’s lovers really had a neck that was “a tower of ivory.”

Or that “the stars of heaven fell to the earth.”

To continue to enumerate examples would be the exploit of an imbecile. Besides, there are other aspects of this dismal tale to consider….

Dr Houghton says, “There’s been an assumption that the Bible is a literal record of truth – a lot of the early scholars got very worried about inconsistencies between Matthew and Luke for example.”

No, they didn’t get very worried. They were scholars, not idiots. They noticed differences between Matthew and Luke – that Matthew has wise men visiting the manger while Luke mentions only shepherds – and they concluded that these variations didn’t evidence contradictoriness but two different theological perspectives. Similarly, no one in his right mind would conclude that because the synoptic Gospels declare that the crucifixion happened on one particular day while John says it happened on a different day that therefore the crucifixion never happened.

That may be how dumb literalists and contemporary theological academics think but it is not how the early biblical commentators and the Church Fathers thought.

The fact is – and it has been well-recognised by scholars and general readers for a thousand years and more – that much of the Bible is in the similes and metaphors of poetic expression; and that the biblical narrative lends itself to allegorical interpretation. The masters of that craft were such as Origen and Augustine in the earliest centuries of Christian history.

And they didn’t need to wait for Dr Houghton to come along and explain to them their own method! 

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