Thursday, March 10, 2011

Jesus' teaching

Sometimes it seems a bit scattered - all over the place. I'd wondered for a while about the sermon on the mount, as He seems to jump from one topic to another in a somewhat haphazard manner.

Check this out:



ESV Bible - Matthew 7:1-14
Judging Others

"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

"Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.

Ask, and It Will Be Given
7 "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
The Golden Rule
12 "So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

13 "Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few...

This is how the ESV sets out the passage. As you can see, it's nicely broken up in to paragraphs, with nice easy to spot headings, different verse numbers, etc. Usual Bible Printing Style(.css). Same as the NIV, KJV, NASB, and most other Bibles you find these days.

The trouble is, I can't imagine Jesus teaching quite like that. No pauses, just "1,2,3,59,60,61,10008,10009,10010" kind of thing.. No "Oh yes. By the way..." between totally unrelated topics.

Yes, OK. So they're all related to love, and relationships. Kind of.

Try and find something Jesus said that isn't, in some manner of speaking.

Anyway...

I was trying to figure this out.

In our study group, we're using John Stott's notes, which give a rough interpretation as follows:

1-5, "Don't judge others"
6, "Don't waste your time trying to preach to unbelievers who refuse to believe."
7-11, "Ask God for stuff, and He'll give it to you."
12, "The Golden Rule".
13-14, "You must believe the right doctrine!"
15-..., "False prophets, etc"

Which although it fits nicely with the verse numbers, and the named paragraphs, jumps all over the place in terms of topic.

So Here's my take.

What if v6 ISN'T anything at all to do with unbelievers?

Check out 18:15-35, (the parable of the unrepentant servant, etc) as well as 6:14, just before this bit of the sermon as well, then Romans 2, 1 John (the whole letter...), and so on.

God seems pretty insistent about us forgiving others, and Him NOT forgiving us if we don't.

So as Good Evangelical Christians, we say "salvation is by grace, not works," and include forgiveness as a work - in other words - salvation isn't dependent on whether we forgive others.

BUT.

How can God forgive us when we don't forgive others? What if v.6 is actually about us Christians being the dogs & the swine? When we don't forgive others...

So then that ties v.6 in to the bigger picture.

7-11 is still a bit of a tangent.

I imagine Jesus trying to get his thought across, but almost stumbling over his sentences. Stopping, starting, trying again, trying to paint enough pictures that they would understand.

(He does rather lose His rag later, 15:16...)

So then. v7-11. (In the style of biblical re-interpretation popularized by the amazing Adrian Plass)

So Jesus pauseth, push├ęd back his hair distractedly, and triethed another angle: "Look guys, God giveth to you, SO FREAKING GENEROUSLY, getst ye over yourselves already, and be generous to others... (includeth forgiving them)"(DSV).

Which ties in nicely, actually.

Then the rest of the chapter, taken in the same light, also works.

I'm not too keen on verse numbers and chapters. Certainly in the way that English bibles have of splitting them all up like this - perhaps in ways that aren't intended by the original author. We have no way of knowing.

If this passage is intended this way, then take the sub-paragraphs. The bit about "Ask, Seek, Knock", and so on, for instance. It's often / usually preached as a "Ask God for swag, and He'll give it to ya!" (and in more Calvinist churches, they add "As long as it is within His Will to do so..."). But if it's NOT?

Maybe there are lots of little things we take so totally out of context, that we might even think Jesus was OK with going to war over oil. Or revenge. Or giving up on people. Or loaning and expecting interest. Or using God's money to build a comfortable life for us on earth! Just think - it's hilarious what we might come up with.

Well. Hilarious in the "horrifying" sense of the word.

I know this is rather rough... but what do you think?

5 comments:

Bridget Tallon said...

Interesting thoughts. I'm not so sure about the pigs/swine thing, nut I'm not so sure the popularised version of what it means is Jesus' original point either. One I'll have to think on...
BTW, where did you get that Adrian Plass bit? I don't think I've read it yet, and would like to!

Richard said...

I think one of the problems Evangelicals have is a tendency to look at everything in terms of insiders or outsiders. Looking at the swine in v7 is just such an issue. If you read it as just 'people' not insiders or outsiders and read the whole sermon on the mount that way it makes more sense. Jesus pointed all people to our Father. He called all people to follow Him.

Sue said...

Seems to me the whole 'sermon on the mount' was more likely a kind of dialogue, or 'any questions' with a bunch of people gathered around Jesus clamouring for attention. Dialogue was how Rabbinical teaching generally happened, as I understand it.

So He's just been talking about not worrying, and letting God look after the future. Then I guess it would have gone something like:

'Yes, you with the red headdress over there...?"

'I get it that we can't deal with tomorrow's problems today. But what about today's problems? I think my mate's been cheating me, taking too many fish from our catches.'

"It's not a good idea to judge anyone. None of you is entirely guilt-free, after all. God will use the same kind of judging method as you do... accept what He has given you, and be thankful, and let your friend deal with his own conscience.

"Who's next? Over there, with the babies in a basket..?"

"I don't want to judge, Master. But my husband is so often late, and my older children are untidy, and my brother hasn't been to see me in a week, and I spend all my time cooking and cleaning and...'

"In the scheme of things, those aren't really so terrible, are they? At least your husband comes home. And you're blessed with siblings and children. How about looking at your own attitude first? Are you nagging, and hassling? Are you proud of your housekeeping skllls? Work on your own sins first, get your attitude straight, and then maybe you'll get other people's faults in perspective.
"

"A question from the guy leaning against the tree..?"

"This is all fair enough, Master, and I do get the point. But what happens when you give someone a nice present, and they throw it back in your face? And you forgive them, and give them another nice gift, and they turn around and hit you? I want to be seen as generous and forgiving...should I keep on trying?"

"No (sigh), sometimes people simply aren't receptive. You don't give sacred texts to dogs in the street, do you? You don't give your wife's jewellery to the pigs, either, I assume. God gave us common sense. If someone really doesn't want a gift, for whatever reason, or won't begin to appreciate what you give them, then fine - don't give them anything special.

"Right, question from the young lady with the green sash?"

"I love what you say, Master. But it's so confusing, sometimes. How are we supposed to know when to help people, and when to back off? When to say something, and when to keep quiet? How can we figure out where our own issues and attitudes are wrong?"

"Good question.. and while it's not easy, you'll find that the secret is to listen to God's voice in your heart. Ask for guidance, and He'll give it to you. Look for ways to demonstrate His love in the world, and you'll find them. Reach out when opportunities come your way, and you'll find that, at least some of the time, you'll be able to find the right path."

Etc. All paraphrased and with extreme literary license, of course, but that's kind of how it feels to me. A pity the church somehow lost the dialogue format of teaching, and latched onto the Greek pagan monologue idea :-(

Carlien said...

I like the way Sue puts it. I see it that way too.
A bit like when you hear a recording of a question and answer session and only the main speaker had the microphone, so that the questions are lost for all eternity and only the answers remain.
I can imagine that the record-keepers didn't think that what the others had to say was worth as much as what Jesus had to say.

dan said...

Yeah, I'd wondered about that. One of the only reasons I'd thought about it this way was because how at v12, Jesus says "So, whatever you wish that others would do for you...", which sounds like it relates to v. 1-5, not so much to 6-11.

I like your analogy, Carlien. Very A/V appropriate :-)

And that's the thing: that without the questions – if there were questions which interspersed such passages – are almost needed as context to the answers.

Say v.6 about the pigs & dogs. Did Jesus say that as something of significance to church governance? Or was one of the kids nearby bouncing his father's phylactery in front of one of the street dogs, and Jesus thought it was disrespectful? (Which could have a much more literal, and in the end irrelevant interpretation for us today).

So that's why I was wondering how the passage would work, w/o questions, as a flow of thoughts.