Is the Bible clear on marriage…or anything at all?

Martyn Percy, Dean of Christchurch, Oxford, has contributed to an ongoing series of posts on the Via Media blog setting out the view that the Bible is not clear in its teaching about marriage—or on anything else for that matter. It is an interesting series, in the sense that it points clearly to the idea that those wanting the Church of England to change its position on same-sex relationships actually are looking for some wholesale changes in the way the Church has historically viewed Scripture and doctrine—which is in fact what those defending the current position on marriage have said all along. Although same-sex relationships are the presenting issue, in many ways this debate is the manifestation of some much deeper and wider differences in the Church.

It is also worth noting that very few of these arguments are in any sense new. Scepticism towards the Bible as a coherent theological document has been around in the West since at least the late 18th century, and the position of Liberal Protestantism has deeply influenced theology and biblical studies in both our universities and many of our theological colleges until very recently. But it is still worth exploring the claims made, and seeing whether they stand up to scrutiny; we need to be committed to following the evidence where it leads, and not be tempted to dismiss different views on merely dogmatic grounds. Are there good reasons for treating the Bible in the way Christians have done so traditionally, or does the evidence lead us somewhere else?


Percy begins with a quotation from Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, and thankfully agrees that it is ‘not quite right’. But Brown repeats some commonly held myths about the Bible, and is reflecting the ignorance of much contemporary culture. ‘Man created it as a historical record of tumultuous times, and it has evolved through countless translations and revisions.’ This is nonsense; the evidence of textual criticism is that the text of both Testaments has been preserved incredibly carefully by scribal copying, so we can be absolutely confident that what we have is what the first authors wrote. A nice recent example of this is the remarkable deciphering of the ‘En Gedi’ scroll using scanning technology, which demonstrates that the Masoretes, who consolidated the textual traditions of the Old Testament around 1000 AD and destroyed all the other manuscripts, in fact preserved faithfully the earlier texts.

Brown’s second claim, on the lips of his character Teabing (whose name is an anagram of the real person he is based on, Michael Baigent), is that ‘More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament, and yet only [four] were chosen for inclusion’, another popular nonsense. It turns out that the canonical gospels (those in the canon of the New Testament) are quite distinct from the so-called apocryphal gospels, which are all late, unreliable, and don’t really merit the term ‘gospel’ as they do not relate good news about Jesus. It turns out that, despite their considerable variety, the four gospels offer a remarkably coherent perspective on Jesus and his followers, as most reputable biblical scholars note.

Percy himself then articulates a quite widely held view, that the Bible can only acquire authority by an external process, and not claim such authority for itself.

Views about the authority of Scripture cannot be directly resourced from the Bible itself.  The bible has no self-conscious identity.  As a collation of books and writings, it came together over a long period of time.  Indeed, the word ‘bible’ comes from the Greek biblos, simply meaning ‘books’.  Equally, the word ‘canon’ (here used in relation to Scripture, not as an ecclesiastical title) simply means ‘rule’. So the Scriptures are, literally, ‘authorised books’.  The authorisation of the compilation took place sometime after the books were written.

At one level, the most trivial, it is true that ‘The [B]ible has no self-conscious identity’. It is certainly the case that the writers of the different books didn’t anticipate the cultural artifact that we now call ‘The Bible’—but that does not mean that they were not aware of transmitting something of authority as a revelation from God. Percy here fails to distinguish between the question of authority, and the question of recognition. My wife is a doctor, and many of her patients might recognise her authority to act and give guidance, but that recognition alone does not constitute her authority. F F Bruce made this observation long ago:

One thing must be emphatically stated. The New Testament books did not become authoritative for the Church because they were formally included in a canonical list; on the contrary, the Church included them in her canon because she already regarded them as divinely inspired, recognizing their innate worth and generally apostolic authority, direct or indirect. (The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1960, p. 27).

And J I Packer comments: ‘The church no more gave us the New Testament canon than Sir Isaac Newton gave us the force of gravity. God gave us gravity, by his work of creation, and similarly he gave us the New Testament canon, by inspiring the individual books that make it up.’ The words of Jesus that we have in the gospels are not authoritative because they are in a book recognised by the church; they are authoritative because Jesus said them.

The ‘books’ are indeed plural—from the neuter word biblion, meaning a parchment or scroll, plural ta biblia—and in the New Testament Jesus often refers to ‘the scriptures’, αἱ γραφαὶ, those things which have been written, but this plurality does not seem to imply any sense of incoherence. Indeed, this does make the Bible very ‘self conscious’ in a way that, for example, the Qu’ran cannot be. Different parts of the Bible refer, implicitly or explicitly, to earlier parts of it. Two of the most striking are the references to the ‘book of the law’ in Joshua 1.8 and 2 Kings 22.8, which imply within the narrative the existence of a written text which is treated as authoritative (the arguments about the historicity of this notwithstanding). The effect is to (nearly) bookend the ‘Deuteronomistic history’, the story that runs from Deuteronomy, through Joshua, 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings, with reference to whether the people of God obeyed the teaching of the Torah, their failure to do so leading into exile.

Less explicitly, we find the prophetic texts alluding to earlier parts of the scriptures. Hosea 4.2 lists five of the Ten Commandments, and the whole book appears to show knowledge not only of earlier legal texts, but of large parts of the biblical narrative, including events early in 1 Kings. For this reason, Fee and Stuart (in How to Read the Bible for All its Worth) describe the prophets as ‘covenant reinforcement mediators’.

Then of course Jesus and others in the New Testament refer to the existing Scriptures—and we even have, in 2 Peter 3.16, a reference to Paul’s writings as ‘other scriptures’. Even if we are sceptical about the Petrine authorship of this letter, it still shows a very early awareness that the authoritative scriptures of Israel have been added to by the apostolic authors. It turns out that the Bible is very self-conscious indeed!


But did these writers have a sense of the importance and authority of what they wrote at the time? It is not easy to determine this from some genres, such as the historical narratives (despite being labelled ‘Former Prophets’ in the Jewish canon) or the wisdom literature. But it is quite difficult to imagine the first recorders of God’s words to Moses (whenever they lived) as thinking they were not recording something of importance and authority for God’s people, especially as the actual words of God they record repeatedly claim this. This does not prove that these are indeed the words of God, or have actual authority—but it does demonstrate a self-conscious claim to authority. The writings that record the words and experiences of the prophets repeatedly claim that ‘the word of Yahweh came to me’, again making an explicit claim to authority. For this reason, John Goldingay (in his Models of Scripture) offers four characterisations of how Scripture sees itself, one of which is ‘experienced revelation’, a sense that what is written has come directly from God and is self-authenticating in its claim to speak authoritatively.

In the gospels, Jesus quotes from 24 of the 39 Old Testament books (supporting the Protestant version of the OT canon); as well as describing them as ‘the scriptures’ and introducing citations with the formula ‘it is written’, he also describes the OT as ‘the word of God’ (e.g. in Mark 7.13, John 10.34), and even cites the narrator’s words of Gen 2.24 as God’s own speech (‘the Creator…said…’ Matt 19.5). This makes it all the more striking when Jesus goes on to use the phrase ‘word of God’ to mean the good news of the gospel which he himself is preaching (Luke 5.1, 8.11), and Luke continues to use this phrase to refer to the subsequent apostolic preaching of the good news (Acts 4.31, 6.7). The implication here is that both Jesus in his teaching and the gospel writers in their recording of it appear to believe that they are adding the authoritative speech of God that they have in the scriptures. Roland Deines, former Professor of New Testament at Nottingham, argues that (for example) Matthew is self-consciously adding to the scriptures:

Jesus’ life and death were perceived among those around him as a revelatory event of a ‘biblical’ scale, to which the only appropriate response was to bear witness to them in the form of Scripture. (EJT (2013) 22:2, 101-109)

One of the most striking claims to this revelatory experience comes (not surprisingly!) in the Book of Revelation. Whereas Paul often ends his letters by taking the pen (as it were) from the amanuensis to add his own personal signature, Revelation ends with the same kind of move—but here the ‘author’ is Jesus, and John is merely his amanuensis!


Percy goes on to suggest that the diversity of this collection of books then leads to its imperfection, since ‘God always chooses to mediate that power through less than perfect agents (such as language, people, times and places)’. I am not sure what the logic to this is; Percy appears to be confusing things which are limited (such as language) with things which are ‘imperfect’. It is an odd argument to claim that, because the books of Scripture are diverse, they are therefore (in some theological sense) ‘imperfect’. Rowan Williams offers a more coherent perspective:

Christians believe that the Bible is inspired by God – that is, they believe that the texts that make up the Bible were composed by the help of the Holy Spirit and that they communicate God’s will perfectly when they are taken together and read in the context of prayer and worship…

The Bible is, we believe, a book that speaks with one voice about God and his will and nature; but it does so – to use a popular Christian image – like a symphony of different voices and instruments of music, miraculously held together in one story and one message about God, a story whose climax is Jesus.” (Rowan Williams, text of a lecture given at the international Islamic University in Islamabad, Pakistan, Wednesday 23 November 2005)

Percy then appears to set up the straw man of fundamentalism:

So, some Christians believe that Scripture has come from heaven to earth, in an unimpaired, totally unambiguous form – like a ‘fax’.  Such views are fundamentalistic: the bible is the pure word of God – every letter and syllable is ‘God breathed’.  So there is no room for questions; knowledge replaces faith.  It is utterly authoritative: to question the bible is tantamount to questioning God.  So the bible here is more like an instruction manual than a mystery to be unpacked.  It teaches plainly, and woe to those who dissent.

But to those who believe that Scripture is a more complex body of writings, the authority of Scripture lies in the total witness of its inspiration.

Of course, these fundamentalists are inferior to people like himself, who are of ‘a more mainstream, broad persuasion’, and I think it is unfortunate and unhelpful to read these constant, rhetorical power-plays. But do these ‘fundamentalists’ really exist, and if so, where? First, it is worth noting that it is Paul, rather than ‘fundamentalists’, who believe all Scripture is ‘God breathed’ in 2 Tim 3.16—so once again it is Scripture itself making claims about the other parts of Scripture. But in Percy’s critique, he conflates questions of authority with questions of simplicity. I cannot think of a book written by evangelicals that does not highlight the variety and complexity of the Bible—indeed, usually the very reason for writing is to try and make this complexity manageable for the ordinary reader. The diagram above highlighting the library of books that makes up the Bible is on just about the first page of any one of these introductions. Perhaps I should donate Percy one of my copies of the Lion Handbook to the Bible!

He then goes on: ‘But blind obedience to all of Scripture is not practised by any group of Christians known to me, or who have ever lived.’ Indeed, and I am not sure who is claiming that this ever happens. This does not, however, mean that Scripture offers no coherent view on any issue, including marriage. That is why most evangelical biblical scholars end up writing a ‘Biblical Theology’ under one title or another—because the work of moving from careful consideration of the text to distilling a biblical theological position on a range of issues is, well, work! The only people who think that you can move simply from a single text to a theological position are the very ill-informed—or those who want to parody people they disagree with.


Martin Davie does the spadework, and points out that the Bible does in fact, taken together, offer a coherent position on the nature of marriage—and it is one that explicitly informs Church of England doctrine and liturgy:

What we have here is a normative pattern for marriage, upheld by Jesus himself in the Gospels (Matthew 19:3-6, Mark 10:2-9), that sees marriage as a freely chosen, permanent and exclusive sexual relationship that is between one man and one woman and is outside of the immediate family circle. Moreover, as Genesis goes on to make clear through the subsequent story of Adam and Eve (Genesis 4:1, 2, 25, 5:3), it is through marriage that the divine command to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ in Genesis 1:28 is to find fulfilment…

The answer to the question posed in Professor Percy’s article is thus that the Bible really does give us a clear definition of marriage. Marriage is what God says it is in Genesis 2. The Church of England is thus justified in saying that:

… marriage is in its nature a union permanent and lifelong, for better for worse, till death them do part, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side, for the procreation and nurture of children, for the hallowing and right direction of the natural instincts and affections, and for the mutual society, help and comfort which the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.[5]

This statement reflects the teaching of Scripture and so for the Church of England to depart from it either by changing its theology or its practice would mean departing from what God has laid down, something which it is not authorised to do.

Percy goes on to assert:

So the bible itself is a covenant sign.  It is a marriage – a union of Scriptures – that can only be understood in the totality of its witness. And that is partly why I am so committed to same-sex marriages. I see no reason why such unions cannot reflect the love of God, and bear testimony to God’s grace, truth and power.

Actually, many people who, like Percy, argue for the rightness of same-sex marriage, can see some very clear reasons, and are quite open that in taking the position they do, they are going against the clear and coherent teaching of the Bible.

It is very possible that Paul knew of views which claimed some people had what we would call a homosexual orientation, though we cannot know for sure and certainly should not read our modern theories back into his world.  If he did, it is more likely that, like other Jews, he would have rejected them out of hand….He would have stood more strongly under the influence of Jewish creation tradition which declares human beings male and female, to which may well even be alluding in 1.26-27, and so seen same-sex sexual acts by people (all of whom he deemed heterosexual in our terms) as flouting divine order. (William Loader, The New Testament on Sexuality p 323-4)

Where the Bible mentions homosexual behavior at all, it clearly condemns it. I freely grant that. The issue is precisely whether that Biblical judgment is correct. (Walter Wink, “Homosexuality and the Bible”)

This is an issue of biblical authority.  Despite much well-intentioned theological fancy footwork to the contrary, it is difficult to see the Bible as expressing anything else but disapproval of homosexual activity. (Diarmaid MacCulloch, “Reformation: Europe’s House Divided, 1490-1700”, p 705)

As I noted at the beginning, this specific debate, whilst it has particular interest for ethics and patterns of life, involves much more fundamental (pun intended!) and far reaching issues for the Church.


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190 thoughts on “Is the Bible clear on marriage…or anything at all?”

  1. Ian, great article. Forgive me for asking, but are Percy’s views on the Bible (as opposed to on marriage) compatible with Anglican doctrine?

    • You are asking two questions here: first, do they agree; and second, can someone hold both views at the same time.

      On the first, I think they don’t. I do not understand what it means to e.g. make the Declaration of Assent or commit to fashion one’s live by the teaching of the NT and hold the views that Percy sets out.

      Whether there is integrity in holding these two views…I probably shouldn’t comment. I don’t think I could myself. And I don’t really see how as a Church we can hold these two views institutionally.

      • Ian
        I suggest again that a thread devoted to the Declaration of Assent and the Preface would be useful
        Phil Almond

      • Surely it depends on one’s interpretation of the bible? I feel that your objection is just based on the assumption that we all think like you do!

        • You can’t ‘interpret’ ‘the Bible’ unless like a fundamentalist you see it as a single issue. You can interpret individual passages, of which there are many thousands. Interpretations are attempts to illuminate what is meant by means of having studied the background. A lot of things that are called interpretations are a million miles from being interpretations. They are anti-interpretations, namely imposed ideologies and generalisations.

        • Actually it is based on a widely-accepted approach to how to interpret biblical texts. I am always open to counter-arguments about what the text means, but I hope I have shown that Percy’s position is not a persuasive one.

  2. In order for Martyn Percy to address this question, he must first lay out the data, which he doesn’t. So he ends his article having not begun the investigation yet.

    Jesus’s divorce/marriage saying is his best attested bar none. It is distinctive; a hard saying; multiply attested. There are of course variants. I mean – as found in Mark.

    Secondly, he treats ‘the Bible’ as an amorphous mass – as do the fundamentalists. It is impossible to be a Christian and not agree that the NT state of affairs represents an advance on (and therefore something different from albeit organically related to) the OT state of affairs.

    Thirdly, there is nothing in the Bible even remotely close to same sex marriage and the 21st century liberal western state of affairs. He ought to cite it if there is. Honesty would admit this point.

  3. ‘he [Percy] ends his article having not begun the investigation yet’.
    On this agree with Christopher. My frustration is that even among those who take an affirming position on same-sex relationships not all are comfortable with extending the institution of marriage in this way. So I do not feel he engages with the questions people are genuinely asking. It is not good enough to make general, rather predictable, comments about fundamentalists and the bible. Godly people are out there, with their bibles open, genuinely trying to think this through.

    • David, thanks for that.

      I agree that there are different ways of affirming same-sex relationships, and not all involve affirming same-sex marriage. But it seems to me that the pressures in the Church, particularly the voices led by Jayne Ozanne, are now leaving little room for such nuance. If we don’t think such relationships are sinful, why should we not grant them the status of ‘marriage’?

      It might also be worth noting that not all wanting change would take Martyn’s view of Scripture…but again, the space for that view is becoming very limited. I agree with you that there are more thoughtful responses around…but my increasing experience of debate is that many in the C of E seem happy to follow Martyn’s line that ‘well, the Bible is pretty incoherent, so why all the fuss?’

      It is lazy and unhelpful … but now quite widespread.

      • Greetings Ian. The only thing I would add is that when I read some conservative responses to more thoughtful affirming views I find poor listening and engagement from that end of the spectrum too. Both sides need challenging.

        • Yes, I’d agree. I guess my implicit challenge is that we all need to be careful as to whether we lend weight to these kinds of tendencies…on either side. I personally find this series of Via Media posts both interesting and enlightening: there seems to be a pretty clear agenda to ditch the Bible’s teaching on just about everything…!!

          • It is not at all. It comes from reading the actual posts. Yours was a notable exception; many of the others included quite excruciatingly poor reading and use of the Bible. Many of these issues have been highlighted in the comments, and mostly with no response.

            (The low point was, once again, the claim that Jesus’ healing the centurion’s servant was affirmation of the [asymmetric, abusive, exploitative] sexual relationship.)

          • In cases where the commenters were not banned point blank from commenting on viamedia, thereby giving a false impression of what people actually think.

          • If the ViaMedia blog aims to represent a true ‘via media’, a middle way, then I dread to think what lies on the far side.

          • It is a well known tactic. Define the centre ground as being your own extreme position, and you are laughing all the way to the….

            Any discussion that has 2 participants on TV makes an assumption about where the centre ground lies. The conveners of the discussion can engineer that to their advantage. It’s often referred to as ‘framing’.

            The peculiar fact that there seem often to be precisely 2 main viewpoints (when in proper arenas of discussion like universities there are several) can be explained by one of the 2 being honest and the other one ideological or wishful thinking – both of these ‘viewpoints’ are bound to have adherents every time. But the 2 do not have equal credentials by any means.

          • David Runcorn, a case in point is today’s post by David Gillett. He offers a series of excruciatingly poor, sexualised readings in which he imposes the answer he wants on the text.

            These kinds of readings have been engaged with extensively, and any decent commentator will tell you this is not what the text says.

            What do you think he is doing here? Is he really so ignorant of mainstream commentary, and so poorly read? It is extraordinary.

          • today’s post by David Gillett

            ‘we conclude that God wishes all to discover love and intimacy in the authenticity of how God has made us in our own unique individuality’

            Is that… has an article seriously been published claiming that ‘God wants everybody to have sex’?

            Seriously?

          • All bogs censor posts they don’t agree with. I’ve lost count of the number of times that Ian Paul has censored me! Peter Ould was the same when he ran his blog.

          • I censor you when you indulge in trolling and nasty unsubstantiated accusations. They don’t contribute to debate, and they don’t do you any credit.

          • You’re still here, Origen. I am not still on Thinking Anglicans. Ever. Not even if I say I love cuddly bunnies. Nor is David Shepherd. Nor am I on viamedia. Ever. There is another case pending which is more serious.

            Conformity is the criterion (as in 1984) not credentials.

          • Unbelievably, David Gillett’s understanding of the issues is so defective that he asks the question ‘Does the Bible really say that…same-sex love is wrong?’.

            Why would you need to ask that question? No-one has ever said that same-sex love was wrong. Or indeed anything other than a good thing. No-one from any culture or time.

            Christians, among many others, have said that same-sex *sex* was wrong.

            This sleight of hand has been spotted. We were not born yesterday. Equating love with sex. ‘Who could possibly object to love?’ is the idea. The fact that the point has been answered a million times seems to have no effect.

            It is only secularists, and those with an agenda, that make that equation. No-one with any grasp of the realities could equate love to sex.

            ‘These dreadful people who don’t agree with ‘love’ (or ‘equality’ or ‘progress’)!’ is the idea. Reminds me of when E P Sanders made the valid point that Jesus was *not* crucified because he said ‘Love one another’.

            These lovey-dovey people however are not so fluffy in reality, because they *force* others to adopt their dodgy definition of love, equality, or progress.

            Boo to this standard of engagement. One can’t just bypass the entire debate of the last generation.

          • Actually I thought I was rebuking you for your continual bullying of us gay people, and suggesting you write or commission a positive article about us for a change. I don’t think I was being nasty or trolling and was sorry you felt you had to delete my comment.

          • Christopher
            Ian, David Shepherd and David Baker are all commenting on ViaMedia.

          • When did I say they were not? What I have said there I cannot remember, but it was probably factual and statistical, and that will never do.

  4. I smiled at the last line of the blog
    ‘Sex raises some interesting questions, for sure. But so far as God is concerned, love is always the answer.’ And I pondered the well known sound bite about the Sunday School child’s wise answer to any question … the answer is always Jesus.

  5. I was given a tiny A6 size 32 page booklet as I came to faith that I still have. It was written by John Stott, “The Authority of the Bible” (IVP 1974). On pages 23-24 he wrote this:

    This argument is not circular, as some objectors maintain. They represent us as saying something like this: “We know Scripture is inspired because the divine Lord Jesus says so, and we know the Lord Jesus is divine because the inspired Scripture say so.” If that were our position, we would indeed be arguing in a circle. But our critics mistake our reasoning. Our argument is not circular, but linear. We do not begin by assuming the very inspiration of Scripture which we are setting out to prove. On the contrary, we come to the Gospels (which tell the story of Jesus) without any doctrine of Scripture or theory of inspiration at all. We are content merely to take them at their face value as first-century historical documents (which they are), recording the impressions of eyewitnesses. Next, as we read the Gospels, their testimony (through the work of the Holy Spirit) leads us to faith in Jesus as Lord. And then this Lord Jesus, in whom we have come to believe, gives us a doctrine of Scripture (his own doctrine, in fact) which we did not have at the beginning. Thus the argument runs not in a circle (Scripture witnesses to Jesus who witnesses to Scripture) but in a line (historical documents evoke our faith in Jesus, who then gives us a doctrine of Scripture).

    The central issue relates, then, not to the Bible’s authority, but to Christ’s. If he accepted the Old Testament as God’s Word, are we going to reject it? If he appointed and authorized his apostles, saying to them, “he who receives you receives me”, are we going to reject them? To reject the authority of either the Old Testament or the New Testament is to reject the authority of Christ. It is supremely because we are determined to submit to the authority of Jesus Christ as Lord that we submit to the authority of Scripture.

    Mic drop.

    • That’s a fabulous comment from Stott—thank you. And of course it illustrates my opening comment: none of this is new, and we have been here before, many times…

    • Oh dear.

      “We are content merely to take them at their face value as first-century historical documents (which they are), recording the impressions of eyewitnesses.”

      No they’re not. Scholarship 200 years old proved that surely? Didn’t they use Mark & Q as sources?

      Not to mention Stott was gay who lived out his homosexuality through lots of young researchers – I knew one of them! Mic drop.

      • If you think either that scholarship ‘200 years ago’ ‘proved’ anything, or that Stott was gay, then you are malicious and credulous. It’s not really helping any discussion forward. Please desist.

        • Why am I malicious for mentioning scholarship that I thought everyone took for granted, apart from fundies of course? And why doesn’t it add to the discussion?

        • May I ask, in all innocence, if there is nothing wrong with ‘being’ gay, why should it matter whether Stott was gay?

      • How shallow! You would think that friendship and mentoring (2 internationally ubiquitous phenomena) had never been heard of. Gives a whole new meaning to ‘pansexualism’ – there ‘is’ nothing that is not sexual.

        • As for ‘Q’: there has been a lot of further thought in the last 150+ years. It would be OK to speak of ‘Q’ if you can answer the points made by Mark Goodacre in ‘The Synoptic Problem – a Way through the Maze’ – to which many more points can be added.

          • And as for ‘fundies’, conservatives are somewhat more likely to cite Q, while the Mark-without-Q school are not notable for belonging to that sector.

    • Jesus wept.

      Can you not see that the statement

      “We are content merely to take them at their face value as first-century historical documents (which they are), recording the impressions of eyewitnesses.”

      is precisely the circular approach which simultaneously results in outrageously dishonest and delusional interpretation of Holy Scripture, and alienates the vast majority of people in the modern world?

      • Is that the ‘vast majority’ who have read the Scriptures for themselves? Or is this ‘vast majority’ increasingly ignorant of what the Bible is and what it says?

  6. “If he accepted the Old Testament as God’s Word, are we going to reject it?”

    Accepting it as God’s word is not the issue, surely? Christ indicated that ‘you have heard…But I say to you…’ And…’the sabbath was made for us, not us for the sabbath’. Christ interpreted the Hebrew Scriptures didn’t he? He didn’t take them literally, did he?

    • The “You have heard… I say to you” are in Matthew 5, preceded by:

      “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”

      One of the five does appear at first sight to put aside “eye for an eye”, etc. However, comparison of the passages which have this with the context Jesus gives shows that what Jesus is speaking against is not punishment by a judicial system, with punishment fitting the crime, rather it is against taking vengence when personally wronged.

      The removal of “and hate your enemy” is the removal of something not in the Law.

      For each of the other three (murder, adultery, divorce) Jesus makes the prohibition more stringent than the plain law.

      This might be deemed ‘not literal’ in some simplistic sense of the word ‘literal’, but how Jesus applies the Law is not in anyway inconsistent. It does not deny the plain sense.

      Similarly, that “the sabbath is made for us” is actually evident in that it is a day of rest!

      Jesus’ relation to the Hebrew Scriptures is clearly that they are important. “It is written” makes a definitive statement. Luke 24 shows how he saw these Scriptures relating to himself. No wonder that what Paul received “of first importance” twice relates Jesus’ death and resurrection to be “according to the Scriptures.”

    • It is really odd that you think that ‘interpreting’ it means not taking it as God’s word. I really don’t understand this bizarre liberal obsession with ‘reading literally’.

      We all interpret; most of us recognise that much of scripture should not be read ‘literally’. Every vaguely intelligent evangelical knows this; why do liberals have difficulty in accepting that?

      • Ian you are missing the point. What I said was that being God’s word was not the issue.
        But every ‘vaguely intelligent’ (your phrase) student of the bible understands that the Hebrew scriptures in particular are such a vast range of literature compiled over such a vast range of time that it is impossible to deal with it all in such a blanket way.

        For example, much of the literature is poetry. We don’t ask whether poetry is true. The issue is whether it helps us understand. And with songs and hymns we don’t ask if they are the Word of God; we ask if they help us to praise God more effectively. Some of the narrative is cast in the form of fictional story. Once again, to ask if fictional story is ‘true’ is to miss the point. The issue is whether the story gets to the heart of a particular matter and so communicates some deeper truth.

        The rest is salvation history as distinct from documented fact. The purpose is to assist belief and to describe the relationship between God and God’s people. It’s a complete category mistake to ask ‘is it or is it not the Word of God.’ It’s a whole variety of literature written by a whole variety of people and compiled by a whole variety of other people. That’s all just basic, surely? It doesn’t stop being poetry or song or story just because you call it ‘the word of God’.

        • It’s a complete category mistake to ask ‘is it or is it not the Word of God.’

          No, it’s not. To take your example of a fictional story; indeed, the point of a fictional story is to get to the heart of the matter and communicate some deeper truth.

          Or rather, to communicate what the author thinks is a deeper truth.

          If the author is a fallible human, then the ‘deeper truth’ that they are communicating through the story might, in fact, not be the truth at all. They might be mistaken. A human being, for example, might write a story about a person wretchedly trapped in a terrible marriage designed to communicate the ‘deeper truth’ that we would be better off to junk old ideas of sexual morality and lifelong fidelity and instead embrace free love and soma. but that ‘deeper truth’ would be a lie!

          But if the story is inspired by God — if the story is the Word of God — then we know for sure that the deeper truth the story is written to communicate must be true. It might not be immediately apparant what that ‘deeper truth’ is — it might require us to interpret the story to get there — but we know that whatever it is, once we uncover it, must be true.

          Hence it is not a ‘category mistake’ to ask whether a fictional story is the Word of God — it is in fact of vital importance!

          • “But if the story is inspired by God — if the story is the Word of God…”

            And the difference between being inspired by God and actually being the Word of God is what?
            The people waving flags in church during a worship song will tell you they are inspired by God. Are they communicating God?

          • And the difference between being inspired by God and actually being the Word of God is what?

            Is exactly the difference between those flag-wavers, and the Bible.

          • But the flag wavers would disagree with you S. What makes you right and them wrong? It’s simply your interpretation against theirs.

          • But the flag wavers would disagree with you S. What makes you right and them wrong? It’s simply your interpretation against theirs.

            Lots of people disagree with me, or, to phrase it another way, are wrong.

          • “Lots of people disagree with me, or, to phrase it another way, are wrong.”

            S, I am not sure that is the way scripture would have us debate and I do not believe it is helpful. If we read Eph 4 (esp vv 2 & 15) we find that speaking the truth in love is in the context of humility of the speaker. As I have said before, Oliver Cromwell (one not noted for his liberal views) did not use that sort of language, but rather when he wrote to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland he wrote:

            “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.”

            Further up this thread David Runcorn notes “poor listening and engagement” from both sides of this argument. We all need to enter into this debate accepting that there is a possibility (even if we believe it to be very unlikely) that we may be the ones who are mistaken. If we do so we will listen and engage with others in a different way.

          • S, I am not sure that is the way scripture would have us debate and I do not believe it is helpful

            The sense of humour bypass operation worked well, I see.

            Saying ‘but some people would disagree with you!’ is nt a good argument. Yes, some people would. So what? You can always find some people who will disagree about anything. They may have good reasons for disagreeing; they may have bad reasons; they may have no reasons. They may be right to disagree; they may be wrong. The point is that their mere existence means nothing.

            Think of is in Bayesian terms. P(A|B) = P(B|A) P(A) / P(B).

            In this case A is ‘I am correct’ and B is ‘some people disagree with me’. now as we’ve established, there will always exist some peopel wh disagree with me, whatever I say. If I say the world is round, there exist people who think it’s flat. If I say the sky is blue, you can find someone who will swear blind it’s green. Perhaps they think it’s green because they’ve gone blind from all that swearing, I don’t know, but the point is that P(B) is 1. And as P(B) is 1, P(B|A) must also be 1, because it’s a certainty. Which means that P(A | B) = 1 . P(A) / 1 = P(A) — that is, B, being a certainty, provides no additional information whatsoever. so why even mention it?

            Now, if the people who disagreed with me had good reasons for doing so, then that would be of interest and would tilt the probability of A. It would also mean that those arguments could engage with each other and, hopefully, by a process of such engagement, get closer to the truth.

            But there was nothing of those reasons in the point to which I made my flippant riposte. Simply to point out the existence of disagreement, without any mention of the reasoning for that disagreement so we could begin to interrogate whether that disagreement is well-founded, is utterly pointless.

            Remember Sir Humphrey’s advice on how to discredit an official report:

            ‘Say it leaves some important questions unanswered, that much of the evidence is inconclusive, that the figures are open to other interpretations, that certain findings are contradictory and that some of the main conclusions have been questioned.’

            ‘Suppose they haven’t?’

            ‘Then question them. Then they have.’

            Wasn’t the original joke much clearer and with much less statistics? (Though I do always like a chance to quote Sir Humphery)

          • That’s a very good point. The mere existence of disagreement, or the fact that someone has asked questions, means nothing in itself. It only matters is there is disagreement for good reason, or that the questions are pertinent and raise important issues that need to be considered.

          • “Simply to point out the existence of disagreement, without any mention of the reasoning for that disagreement ”

            There was very strong reasoning for the disagreement: a difference of interpretation. You interpret things in one way. Those who disagree with you interpret them in another.

            Your ‘riposte’ was the only thing without any reasoning. You are saying ‘my interpretation is correct and theirs is wrong’. No reasoning there.

          • You interpret things in one way. Those who disagree with you interpret them in another.

            And without judging the reasons why they interpret things in their way, there’s no way to tell which of us is interpreting things correctly. So why mention them, if you’re not going to give those reasons?

          • Oh they could have lots of different reasons and interpretations. But I’ve given quite a lot earlier in this thread if you care to read and I’m not going to repeat them.

          • But I’ve given quite a lot earlier in this thread if you care to read and I’m not going to repeat them.

            Judging the truth of this statement is left as an exercise for the reader.

          • Yes indeed. Please see my post at 1003 on June 6th.
            And we would find the verification of your interpretation where?

          • S if you are struggling with the substantive question here, which you seem to be, let me put it again:
            What is the difference between being inspired by God and actually being the Word of God? (reference your comment at 1011 on June 6th)

          • What is the difference between being inspired by God and actually being the Word of God?

            Do you really not understand the difference between being inspired by someone and being the word of someone?

            If I told you that this book was inspired by Walt Whitman, and this book was written by Walt Whitman, would you have trouble with what that meant?

            Which one do you think would give a more accurate idea of Walt Whitman’s thinking? The one ‘inspired by’ Whitman or the Word of Whitman?

            Would it make a difference that some bits of the Word of Whitman are poems and some are journalism and some are essays?

            Of course not.

            Some bits of the Bible are poems, some are fictional stories, some are reports of things that happened. It’s all the Word of God, just like all the poems and essays and articles are the words of Whitman. God works in many genres.

          • “Which one do you think would give a more accurate idea of Walt Whitman’s thinking? The one ‘inspired by’ Whitman or the Word of Whitman”

            And there you have it. Some are written by ‘Job’. Some are written by Moses. Some by Solomon. Some by David.
            All inspired by God. All written by different people.

          • Some are written by ‘Job’. Some are written by Moses. Some by Solomon. Some by David.
            All inspired by God. All written by different people

            No, all written by God. That’s what makes the books which make up the Bible different from all other books.

            Or what do you think makes the books which make up the Bible different form all other books?

          • “No, all written by God”
            So why do they have other names for the writers? What’s the point in calling them the psalms of David if they were really not written by David at all? Or the ‘Gospel according to John’ if it were really the Gospel according to God?
            How did God do the writing?

          • I don’t think it is a mainstream conviction of any theological tradition that Scripture was ‘written by God’ in the way that the gospel of Luke was ‘written by Luke’. The reason is that God is not a person, does not have a body, and so cannot hold a pen.

            But it is part of many traditions to hold that ‘The Bible is God’s word written’, and so the idea that, whilst there are diverse human authors, in some sense God is the ultimate author.

          • Ian: yes, of course it’s part of many traditions. But it isn’t the only tradition. It’s part of many traditions also that the human component (Luke, Job, David etc) has an important significance. Those writers were inspired. But they weren’t God.

          • Ian: yes, of course it’s part of many traditions. But it isn’t the only tradition.

            This is, again, just baseless pointing out of disagreement. Yes, of course there are other traditions. What matters is which one is correct. The mere existence of disagreeing traditions proves nothing.

            So: in what say are the books that make up the Bible different from all other books? What quality do they share, which no other books share?

            Or is it the official position that the books of the Bible are not special at all, and are exactly the same type of thing as any other book?

          • Or is it the official position that the books of the Bible are not special at all, and are exactly the same type of thing as any other book?

            Sorry, left out a bit: I mean ‘is it the official Church of England position’?

          • Hang on a moment S. You haven’t answered.
            “No, all written by God”
            So why do they have other names for the writers? What’s the point in calling them the psalms of David if they were really not written by David at all? Or the ‘Gospel according to John’ if it were really the Gospel according to God?
            How did God do the writing?
            And how do you know that they were all written by God? What’s your evidence for this?

          • So let’s just get this clear: you’re saying that the official position of the Church of England is that the psalms were written by David, and the gospel of John was written by whoever it was we for the sake of argument call ‘John’, in the exact same way that, say, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was written by C. S. Lewis? The books in the Bible are just that, normal books written by humans, on the subject of and inspired by the authors’ views of God (but of course so was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), nothing at all special about them or their authorship?

            That’s your final public word on the matter, and you are prepared to stand by it?

          • No S. It’s by no means my final or first public word on the matter.
            I’m asking you a series of questions based on your claim that God wrote these books.

          • It’s by no means my final or first public word on the matter.

            So the Church of England position is that there’s something special about the books in the Bible, something about their authorship that makes them different from all other books in the world? Is that what you’re saying?

            If so — what is it?

          • How do you know that these books were all written by God? What’s your evidence for this?

          • How do you know that these books were all written by God? What’s your evidence for this?

            Well, if you agree that there is something special about the authorship of the books in the Bible which makes them different from all other books in the world, what on Earth is it if it’s not that they were written by God?

            Or are you going to admit that you don’t think there’s anything special about the authorship of the books of the Bible, and that you think they are just books written by humans like all the other books in the world?

          • What’s your evidence S? I can’t comment anymore until I see your evidence.
            And what was the role of the authors whose names are associated with these books?

          • What’s your evidence S? I can’t comment anymore until I see your evidence.

            Well, given your repeated demands for evidence that there is something special about the authorship of the books in the Bible, it seems plain that you don’t believe that there is anything special about the authorship of the books of the Bible.

            It therefore seems clear to me, and will be clear to anyone else reading, that, whether or not you will admit it in so many words, you think the books of the Bible were not written by God, and that they are simply normal books, just like any other books in the world, written by humans. According to you, there is nothing at all special about the authorship of the books that make up the Bible. You may say they are ‘inspired by God’ but you could say the same about many, many other books.

            That’s obviously your view. Right? Or are you going to deny it and say you do think there is something special abotu the authorship of the books of the Bible? Because I’m afraid if you don’t deny it, but instead either change the subject again, or try to talk around the issue with som emealy-mouthed formulation, you will simply confirm (as if more confirmation was needed!) for any onlookers who have not yet been bored to death that you don’t think there is anything special about the authorship of the books of the Bible.

            What I’m wondering is, is it the official view of the Church of England? Do you represent the Church of England in this matter? Or is this a matter where you disagree with the Church of England?

          • Ian: I agree.

            S: you will find a whole range of views in the Church of England about the holy scriptures and how they may be interpreted.
            We believe they contain everything necessary for salvation.
            We believe they are inspired by God – literally God breathed.
            I can’t find anywhere in official C of E documents that says God actually wrote the bible.
            But I’m open to correction. And willing to hear your evidence.

          • “So the Church of England position is that there’s something special about the books in the Bible, something about their authorship that makes them different from all other books in the world? Is that what you’re saying?”

            S It was my understanding – and others will correct me if I am wrong – that the official position of the Church of England on this was – as stated further up this thread – that all scripture is inspired by God. The authority for this is in scripture itself (2 Tim 3:16).

          • S: you will find a whole range of views in the Church of England about the holy scriptures and how they may be interpreted.

            Yes, I’m beginning to wonder whether the Church of England has any limits on the range of views it contains about anything.

            We believe they contain everything necessary for salvation.
            We believe they are inspired by God – literally God breathed.
            I can’t find anywhere in official C of E documents that says God actually wrote the bible.
            But I’m open to correction. And willing to hear your evidence.

            Do you believe there is something different about the books that make up the Bible which sets them apart from all other writings in the world?

            Or do you think there exist other books which are inspired by God in the same way as those of the Bible?

          • S: I can’t comment any further until you produce some evidence for your claim that God actually wrote the bible. The fact that you refuse to do this suggests you don’t have any and that it’s just an idea of yours. So I think we will have to leave it there.

          • The fact that you refuse to do this suggests you don’t have any and that it’s just an idea of yours.

            Well it’s certainly not just an idea of mine. As was written above by someone who is not me,

            ‘it is part of many traditions to hold that ‘The Bible is God’s word written’, and so the idea that, whilst there are diverse human authors, in some sense God is the ultimate author.’

            Part of many traditions. One of which I thought was the Church of England.

            Is it your opinion that God is the ultimate author of the Bible, in a way that is not true of any other written work throughout history? Is it the Church of England’s opinion? Are you opposed to the Church of England’s official doctrine on this matter?

          • S: you still don’t give any evidence for this view. I take it you don’t have any? It’s simply one of a range of beliefs?

            What do you mean by the Church of England’s official doctrine on this matter?

          • What do you mean by the Church of England’s official doctrine on this matter?

            Is that a complicated question? Surely the Church of England has an official position: either God is the ultimate author of the writings that make up the bible, in a way that does not apply to any other writings in the world, or God is not their ultimate author.

            I mean, the Westminster confession is pretty clear on the matter (chapter 1, section 4):

            ‘The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.’

            Does the church of England not have something similar setting out its doctrine?

          • S: the Westminster Confession is not a CofE thing. And there is no equivalent.
            Both Nick and I gave an answer to your question earlier in this thread.
            So are you now saying your evidence for your view is what it says in the Westminster Confession?

          • The Romans are pretty clear too; paragraph 105 of their catechism:

            ‘God is the author of Sacred Scripture’

            Does the Church of England really not have a position on this rather important matter?

          • Both Nick and I gave an answer to your question earlier in this thread.

            So you are saying, let me get this straight, that you do NOT think that there is anythign unique about the writings that make up the Bible — you do NOT think that God is their ultimate author in a way that is not true of any other writings in the world. Is that correct, yes or no?

            And furthermore you are saying that this IS a view which falls within the official doctrine of the Church of England, yes or no?

          • So this is your evidence S? The Westminster confession and the Roman catechism?
            Why didn’t you say so at the outset?

          • So this is your evidence S? The Westminster confession and the Roman catechism?
            Why didn’t you say so at the outset?

            So — and I’m sorry to keep banging on about this, but it’s best to be clear — your public position is that the Westminster Confession and the Roman catechism are wrong as regards the authorship of scripture, and that is the doctrine of the Church of England.

            Glad you’ve finally been honest.

          • I don’t have any public position about either the Westminster confession or the Roman catechism S. I haven’t read either of them in full so couldn’t possibly comment on them. I’m just curious that you use them as evidence for your view.
            Do you regard everything that the RC catechism says as accurate?

          • I don’t have any public position about either the Westminster confession or the Roman catechism S. I haven’t read either of them in full so couldn’t possibly comment on them.

            You’ve read the bits of them on the authorship of the Bible, though, because I’ve quoted them, and those are the only relevant bits.

            And you have publicly said you think they are wrong about the authorship of the Bible.

            So I hope that every time you meet someone in the Church of England who agrees with them, you tell them they are wrong, and God is not the author of the Bible. Do you?

          • “You’ve read the bits of them on the authorship of the Bible, though, because I’ve quoted them, and those are the only relevant bits.”

            But how do YOU know those bits are correct? Because I’m sure you don’t believe everything it says in the Roman Catechism do you?

            The Church of England believes the word of God is a person – and that we learn about that person in the bible, which is inspired. And that’s what I believe S. An excellent exploration of scripture in the Anglican tradition can be found in A study of Anglicanism in a chapter by Reginald Fuller and I commend that to you if you are genuinely interested.

          • The Church of England believes the word of God is a person – and that we learn about that person in the bible, which is inspired

            But anyone in your congregation who thinks that God is the ultimate author of the Bible, who agrees with the Westminster Confession and the Roman catechism on this matter, you reckon they are dead wrong and you make sure to tell them so, right?

            So that everybody knows where you stand.

          • Folks, again I would observe that this exchange doesn’t appear to me to be getting anywhere.

            But if you are going to continue, I suppose I would want to ask Andrew: how do you know *anything* is true?

          • It’s called faith Ian. And the C of E website puts it well:

            https://www.churchofengland.org/our-faith/what-we-believe

            I’d want to also say that there are of course people in the CofE who think the Westminster Confession is wonderful, the RC Catechism is marvellous and plenty more who think the same way as I do. That’s about breadth.

            But by way of anything ‘official’ I think I’ve probably stated that pretty clearly higher up this thread.

          • ‘How do we know anything is true?’ ‘By faith’. Not really. According to the C of E web page you cite, faith is the response to what we learn. We cannot fully grasp it without such a response. But as the page says:

            ‘God has revealed himself through the Bible.’

            ‘God has revealed himself most clearly through the gift of his Son, Jesus Christ.’ How do we know who Jesus is and what he does and teaches? Through the Bible.

            ‘God makes himself known personally to each believer through the work of the Holy Spirit.’ How do we know that, and discern between what is of the Spirit and what is just fanciful? By measuring it against Scripture, amongst other things.

            But you don’t say anything about the relationship between faith and reason or thinking—though I explore this at length in my post about ‘Love God with your mind’.

          • Yes, Andrew, the article is good, though Barton needs to say more about what *kind* of ‘reason’ we can employ when reading Scripture. What about a system of reason which denies the supernatural, or rejects the possibility of transcendence?

            But of course Barton does highlight the high esteem in which Hooker held scripture, which still defines the C of E according to its formularies. I particular ‘Sundry things may lawfully be done in the Church, so as they be not done against the Scripture’. So if Scripture consistently prohibits something, we are not free to embrace it. Barton is quite right.

          • Ian: I’m very happy to trade quotes from both the webpage and Bartons article that say quite the opposite of what you are trying to say here. But that won’t get us very far either will it?
            Meanwhile, where is your evidence for saying that scripture is authored directly by God?

          • I’m not in the slightest interested in ‘trading quotes’ to make our own points; the question is: what does each article say in toto. I don’t quite see how either make the points you were inferring from them.

            I have no idea what you mean by scripture being ‘directly authored by God’. Are you asking me to demonstrate that God has hands? That he took up a pen? That he wrote the words as a human author? I don’t know of any Christian, however conservative, who thinks that—though in some ways that does appear to be what Muslims believe about the Qur’an.

          • Ian: thank you. S, whoever he or she is, seems to suggest direct authorship by God. (See the comparison with Walt Whitman above). Hence I was asking. Thank you for your clarification.

            As for what I read in to John Barton’s piece:

            “Third, Hooker, argued, biblical texts must be read in accordance with their genre. Law does not follow from speeches in narrative; psalms do not teach doctrine. The relation of the Bible to faith is an oblique one: many parts of the Bible depend on, or suggest, lines of theological thought, but are not direct sources for the doctrine or practice of Christianity. Attention to genre is arguably the foundation of biblical criticism. It deters the reader from finding simply any kind of meaning in the scriptural text, and encourages attention to what types of information a given text is capable of providing”

            It’s a point I make much earlier in this thread. Many of the texts we have were not intended to provide the information some conservative readers infer. Letters written in the 1st century addressed particular time limited matters, for example.

            Hope this helps!

          • The CofE website I pointed to gives a secondary role to scripture. The most important thing is having a relationship with Jesus Christ.

            God has revealed himself through the Bible. God has revealed himself MOST clearly through the gift of his Son, Jesus Christ.
            God makes himself known personally to each believer through the work of the Holy Spirit.

            The inference you make about the bible is simply not there. Neither does the page say anything about faith being taught. I don’t believe it can be. Faith is caught and is a gift. What is taught is something of the tradition that faith has given rise to.

          • God has revealed himself through the Bible.

            You got the capitalisation right! Change of thought, mistyping, or Freudian slip?

            God makes himself known personally to each believer through the work of the Holy Spirit.

            No, He doesn’t. Many people go through their whole lives without any experience of the ‘work of the Holy Spirit’; are they not true believers? Are you one of those awful charismatics or pentecostals who thinks that only those who have collapsed gibbering to the floor in ecstasy are truly saved?

            Also I’m pretty sure most of those who think they have experienced the ‘work of the Holy Spirit’ have actually experienced nothing more then their own excitable nature. Such ‘experiences’ ought always to be distrusted at first and tested against the Bible. This is why the Bible is primary and experiences of direct revelation, whether of the Holy Spirit, of a ‘personal relationship with Jesus’, or anything else, are always of secondary importance. The Bible is from God, its ultimate author; your personal experience of a relationship with Jesus is probably a side-effect of your digestion.

            From the article: ‘He rejected claims that the true meaning of the text had been miraculously revealed to them by the Holy Spirit. Sound reason must be appealed to when undertaking biblical interpretation.’

            Exactly: claims of personal revelation are untrustworthy and not to be relied upon.

            Neither does the page say anything about faith being taught. I don’t believe it can be. Faith is caught and is a gift. What is taught is something of the tradition that faith has given rise to.

            If you are not persuaded of the truth of Christianity, what are you doing in a church? Because you have some feeling of a personal relationship to Jesus that was probably just your imagination?

          • (It’s funny, isn’t it, how people who have a ‘personal relationship with Jesus’ almost never discover that Jesus disagrees with them. Very obliging chap, this Jesus.)

          • S: I’m afraid your anonymity enables you to make personally offensive comments and I hope Ian will delete it. It would be futile engaging with you any further.

          • I’m afraid your anonymity enables you to make personally offensive comments and I hope Ian will delete it. It would be futile engaging with you any further.

            I’m at a loss as to what it was I wrote that could be considered more ‘personally offensive’ than anything in, say, C.S. Lewis, from whom I nicked the ‘digestion’ obsession (specifically his comments on faith in Mere Christianity, where he is clear that ‘faith’ is not, as you seem to think it, some special gift that enables us to believe the irrational in the absence of evidence, but is instead built upon the proper exercise of reason in the pursuit of truth).

            But, if you would like to concede the discussion, don’t let me stop you.

          • Andrew, we appear to be talking at complete cross purposes here—and you appear to be making some odd category errors.

            ‘The CofE website I pointed to gives a secondary role to scripture. The most important thing is having a relationship with Jesus Christ.’

            That’s hardly a surprise…and hardly something anyone will be disagreeing with. We are saved by Jesus, not by Scripture. Our faith is in Jesus, not ‘in’ scripture. I don’t understand why you think this is news to anyone.

            But the question is: how do we know who Jesus is? What are the foundations for the church’s teaching? What does Jesus teach? The C of E believes that the primary answer to these questions is: scripture.

            ‘God has revealed himself through the Bible. God has revealed himself MOST clearly through the gift of his Son, Jesus Christ.’

            Indeed…and (as Jesus says) ‘the scriptures testify to me’, and their testimony is true.

            ‘Neither does the page say anything about faith being taught. I don’t believe it can be. Faith is caught and is a gift. What is taught is something of the tradition that faith has given rise to.’

            Another comment I find so odd. Jesus was most often called ‘Teacher’. The gospels emphasis this in different ways, e.g. in John through the extended discourse, in Matthew arranging Jesus’ teaching in five blocks, hinting at the pattern of Moses. When Jesus sees the crowds and has compassion on them, he teaches them (Mark 6.34). The Spirit will come as our teacher, leading us into truth. Paul’s ministry focussed on teaching people the truth about Jesus and the gospel. I explore this in my post on ‘Love God with your mind’—a command of Jesus that we read in *scripture*. Teaching is a primary ministry of those who are ordained.

          • “Are you one of those awful……”

            S: when you start closing other traditions in the church “awful people” as you do here, it is extremely offensive. Especially as the host of this blog would come from that tradition.

            I’m hardly likely to concede any discussion when you can’t provide any evidence for your position.

          • Ian: of course scripture has a key place. I have never said it doesn’t. But as John Barton points out, following Hooker, it’s place is limited by the genres. As I said above, a letter addressing issues in particular cultures and particular churches at particular times does not necessarily apply 2000 years later.

            Of course it is a role of the ordained to teach. But they do so from tradition and reason as well as scripture.

            Scripture is a record of a people’s relationship with God, and with God through Jesus Christ. That relationship continues, no matter what S might try to have you believe.

          • when you start closing other traditions in the church “awful people” as you do here, it is extremely offensive.

            Oh, right. No, I’m sticking with that. Someone who declares that if you haven’t been ‘slayed in the spirit’ you’re not a true believer is an awful person.

            Especially as the host of this blog would come from that tradition.

            Really? I didn’t pick that up at all. Nevertheless, if the host would tell me that I am not a real Christian because I have never fallen to the ground writhing and spouting nonsense, then I stick by the host being an awful person.

            (On the other hand, if someone wants to think that being ‘slayed in the spirit’ is a real spiritual thing that some Christians experience and not just a hysterical burst of over-emotional contextual response… well, I disagree with them on the facts (and accept I might be wrong on that), but that doesn’t make them awful. What makes them awful, as I explained, is thinking that only people who have had this over-the-top hysterical reaction are real Christians and people like me, who are convinced rationally of the truth of Christianity and have elected to follow Jesus but have never gibbered in public, are not really Christians.)

            It’s a bit like hopping from foot to foot waving a massive flag in a figure-of-eight. I’ve never felt the urge to do it, but if people feel so moved, fair play to them, as long as they are careful not to put my eye out. But if they start insisting that unless you enjoy waving banners you’re not a real Christian? Awful.

            I’m hardly likely to concede any discussion when you can’t provide any evidence for your position.

            Do you have any evidence for yours? Or just ‘faith’?

          • Scripture is a record of a people’s relationship with God, and with God through Jesus Christ.

            So when you say Scripture was ‘inspired by God’ you mean in the same sense that When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit was inspired by Hitler?

          • S: you make the claim earlier in this thread that all the books of the bible were “written by God”. As Ian suggests, this is the same claim of Muslims that the Qu’ran was written by God. It is, in your words “irrational in the absence of evidence”. So, where is your evidence please?

          • you make the claim earlier in this thread that all the books of the bible were “written by God”. As Ian suggests, this is the same claim of Muslims that the Qu’ran was written by God.

            It’s not at all, not even similar. The Muslim claim is that God dictated the words of the Koran directly to Mohammed, who then told them verbatim to his scribe (I think?) who wrote them down.

            That’s absolutely not what I, the writers of the Westminster Confession or the Roamn catechism, or any other orthodox Christian, thinks about the Bible.

            I was answering the question, ‘what is the difference between being inspired by God and being the Word of God?’

            And the answer is that if something is ‘inspired by’ someone then it is written by someone else about the person who is its inspiration. That someone else may get it wrong, misinterpret, whatever. So it’s not a reliable guide to the subject.

            Whereas if something is someone’s own word, then it is reliable about the subject.

            For the Bible to be at all reliable on the subject of God, then God must be its ultimate author (as per the Westminster Confession, the Roman catechism, etc). What is in it must be there because God wants it to be there; it must include all the God wants it to include.

            It is not simply human authors recording their thoughts about God; it is God’s communication tool with humanity.

            None of that implies anything like the Muslim idea of God’s dictaphone.

          • S: you still make the claim earlier in this thread that all the books of the bible were “written by God”.( June 7 2.24) It is, in your words “irrational in the absence of evidence”. So, where is your evidence please?

          • you still make the claim earlier in this thread that all the books of the bible were “written by God”.( June 7 2.24) It is, in your words “irrational in the absence of evidence”.

            You’ve misparsed me. Perhaps I should not have assumed intelligence and spelt things out with a comma.

            ‘specifically [Lewis’s] comments on faith in Mere Christianity, where he is clear that ‘faith’ is not, as you seem to think it, some special gift that enables us to believe the irrational, in the absence of evidence, but is instead built upon the proper exercise of reason in the pursuit of truth’

            Does that aid comprehension?

          • Comprehension is fine – with or without the comma. There is still an absence of evidence. Where is it please?.

          • There is still an absence of evidence. Where is it please?

            Evidence? That the Bible is God’s word? Well, clearly God couldn’t have left us to flounder around in the dark, just hoping that we might hit upon His plan to save us. From the general revelation of creation we can glean something of the nature of its creator — but not everything, and of course because creation is fallen, it doesn’t relfect the creator truly anyway. It is a cracked mirror at best. Just as we are cracked mirrors in which the image of God is broken and distorted.

            So God must have communicated the specifics of his plan with us somehow. but in what form? Clearly not the rantings of over-exictable fantasists who imagine they have some kind of ‘personal relationship with Jesus’ or that they are ‘led by the Holy Spirit’.

            So He communicated that special revelation in two ways: first, while He was incarnate and carrying out his plan, He talked directly to people. But that couldn’t have been enough, firstly because there was more to communicate than could possibly have been communicated in one short (necessarily curtailed, due to the nature of the mission) lifetime, but more importantly because not everyone in the world could come into personal contact with the incarnate God. So it was necessary for God to communicate in a way that would be accessible to all, not just those who happened to live within a few thousand square miles in a particular three-year period.

            Hence: the Bible, God’s communication tool to tell us about His nature and His plan.

          • OK, gents. I think I am going to call a halt to this unfruitful exchange. Do feel free to continue by email privately.

            I will delete any further comments on this strand.

          • I would be delighted to correspond by e mail or indeed meet in person as I have offered S several times before. Please provide me with an e mail address for S Ian. Many thanks

          • Please provide me with an e mail address for S

            You are not actually, I hope, trying to get someone to commit what would be a criminal breach of the Data Protection Act 2018?

          • As we understand you don’t provide a valid e mail address it’s hardly an issue is it?

  7. Thanks Ian – I agree that Scripture is coherent in ways Martyn does not seem to acknowledge, not least because he is very clear that Scripture is very clear and coherent that love sweeps all before it.

    Nevertheless there are loose-ish claims here and there about Scripture’s clarity on marriage. I see a both-and. Scripture is clear on what marriage is and should be, most notably in the words of Jesus himself. And Scripture is not proving remarkably clear when we ask of it questions of our age, most frequently on the matter of divorce and remarriage (often mentioned in threads such as this) but less frequently on a matter such as what might an infertile married couple do to overcome infertility (does the example of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar justify surrogacy?).

    And then, the question which Martyn confronts, if we agree with you rather than him, that Scripture is clear on marriage, might we also agree, per comment above, that Scripture does not clearly address the question of of our age about how the church might respond in a godly way to the phenomenon of publicly accepted same sex partnerships in a society which has been Christianly motivated to surround gay and lesbian persons with compassion, kindness and mercy? (That is, how do we attest to the compassion, kindness and mercy of the God of Jesus Christ in a post-Christian society in which our answer to the question runs significant risk of implying society has misunderstood its Christian heritage and thus, potentially, driving a greater wedge between church and society because we disrespect the Christian convictions of our fellow citizens?)

    • Thanks Peter…though some aspects of your question puzzle me.

      Did you mean to say scripture was or was not clear on divorce and remarriage?

      On infertility, I am not quite sure what the ambiguity is. The pain this causes points to the reality of God’s intention for us to be fruitful. I am unclear why a single example, of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar, might justify surrogacy when the narrative hardly presents it as such. Given the cost of infertility treatment, some of the personal issues around surrogacy, and the number of children in care needing homes, there seems to me to be a strong ethical case for prioritising adoption.

      On your final question, I am not at all sure I agree that our culture has been shaped by Christian values to show kindness to gay people, and that this has led to the affirmation of same-sex relationships. I think our culture’s relationship with the question is complex; at ground level, there is still much visceral antipathy to gay relationships—and yet many Western cultures are massively influenced by gay men and women. The BBC’s senior management is 12% LGB; Parliament is 9%; TV presenters, especially on entertainment shows, often seems around 50%. This is disproportionate for a group that constitute 2% of the population.

      In the past, many Christians have been at the forefront of showing kindness e.g. during the 80s AIDS scare—yet maintained the traditional view of marriage. I think the affirmation of same-sex relationships is not a manifestation of Christian convictions; it arises much more from the sexualisation of culture, from individualism, and from the detachment of sex from the possibility of procreation.

      • Hi Ian
        I will try to be clearer!
        Yes, the plain words of the NT on divorce and remarriage are clear; but we do not seem to be all that clear that we can continue to apply them to the situations of life today.
        No, the surrogacy of Abraham/Sarah/Hagar is not a good basis for developing an ethic regarding surrogacy; but the story of it raises the question whether surrogacy might be considered; whether a better basis for surrogacy might be found; and thus whether the Bible clearly, decisively rules out surrogacy. (I am not in favour of it myself!).
        I agree that our culture is complicated but I think it would take too long here to develop my point further (while also tackling the matter whether society’s support for SSB/SSM is wholly the outcome of a sexualised, media influenced culture or not).
        Yes, of course, Christians with traditional views are kind. My point is whether traditional Christians seeking to communicate the gospel to post-Christians are helping that communication by speaking against SSB/SSM.

        • Yes, the plain words of the NT on divorce and remarriage are clear; but we do not seem to be all that clear that we can continue to apply them to the situations of life today.

          Don’t we? How so? I mean I’m fairly clear we can continue to apply them, we just need to make sure we’re not infected by the base attitudes of the liberal hedonistic culture which surrounds us.

          • Dear S,
            I, like many ministers I know, have taken weddings of previously divorced persons, for which the Matthean Exception and Pauline Exception do not apply, or, measured by a differently worded standard, would not necessarily qualify in the Roman Catholic community for “Annulment,” yet for which, assessing the situation, I would heartily deny that I (or the couple) were “infected by the base attitudes of the liberal hedonistic culture which surrounds us.”
            For what it is worth, I do understand that there are also ministers who either never take such weddings, or who strictly adhere to application of the Matthean and Pauline Exceptions.

          • yet for which, assessing the situation, I would heartily deny that I (or the couple) were “infected by the base attitudes of the liberal hedonistic culture which surrounds us.”

            You might deny it but it sounds to me like you must have been. Why could you not simply point out to the couples that they ought not to engage in a sexual relationship which is, properly viewed, adulterous?

            The only reason I can think of is that you have been infected with the cultural attitude that people have a ‘right’ to happiness, or to sex (insofar as the culture does not regard those as pretty much the same thing, which is not much).

  8. I heard a reader in an Aussie Uniting Methodist church after the reading respond:
    “In this is God’s Word”
    We Anglicans say “this is the word of the Lord”.
    There is a huge gulf between “in this is” and “this is”
    I suspect many in our Anglican tradition, actually dont believe ‘this is’ and are nearer the Uniting Methodist response ‘in this is’

    • After which comes the process of defining which bits are and which bits are not.

      ‘Oh – you just missed it.’ ‘I’m sure I glimpsed a bit there.’ ‘Well – if you remove the second half of that word it could qualify as God’s Word.’ ‘It’s got to be in there somewhere.’

    • Adrian Plass spoofed the tendency to leave out the crucial bits. A blurb that said ‘Smith’s words were burning in my heart…I found peace at last’ was derived from a reader’s review that said of the book ‘Once Smith’s words were burning in my hearth I found peace at last’.

        • Lol. There was once a schoolboy who exclaimed ‘Oh hang it all!’ only to find the next day that his peers had taken him at his word and hung all his clothes out on the trees.

  9. O what a thorny issue. “It is my Christian conviction, my dear daughter, that one must have regard for the feelings of others.” So writes the consul Buddenbrooks to his daughter Tony over the proposal for her hand from his business associate, Herr Bendix Grunlich, Merchant, of Hamburg. (Buddenbrooks, Thomas Mann, translated by H. T. Lowe-Porter – written in 1901 about traditions in the mid 1800s.)

    This buying and selling of daughters is in our eyes a sordid practice, yet clearly this social structure justified their deceitful and bullying practices in their own eyes concerning marriage from all the texts they chose to remember. So also we justify our prejudices from the texts we have chosen to highlight.

    I treat Scripture, the Old Testament, with love, but it has no authority in itself. A three legged stool will not support us on one leg.

    A brute does not know… (and we can all be brutes)
    but you will exalt my horn like wild bulls… (and who knows what this means?)

    Fat and luxuriant they will be:
    to announce that upright is Yahweh,
    my rock, and there is no injustice in him.
    (Psalm 92, for the day of the Sabbath)

    The issue of same-sex relations is a matter of justice. It is not subject to our thoughts.

    • I treat Scripture, the Old Testament, with love, but it has no authority in itself.

      But Jesus treated it as having authority in itself, didn’t He?

      • Authority is a thorny word also. And it is subject to many arguments. I too read Stott and Packer in my youth. I did not find their more or less coherent words ultimately helpful in this age.

        There are comments about the authority of Christ in this long thread above and about apostolic authority. These come from persons, not from a text. I am reminded of a comment from Job 38: Who imposes wisdom in the inward parts, or who gives to the sense understanding?

        The implied answer is not a ‘what’ answer. As long as the authority in the church is from the Spirit of God, from whom nothing contrary to the incarnate Son can be derived, then it is more than what is written. And such authority conforms us to the will of God by a mysterious experiential process through our covenant of blood. It also gives us authority to forgive, to bind and to loose. The process is again filled with difficulty related to our capacity to rule with the gentleness of God.

        The character of this God is also clear in the Scriptures. My favorite passage on it is Psalms 146. I am told not to trust the words of a human child for help.
        Happy the one who has the God of Jacob for its help. Its reliance is on Yahweh its God,who makes heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, keeping truth forever, doing judgment for the oppressed, giving bread to the hungry, Yahweh, releasing the prisoners, Yahweh, giving sight to the blind, Yahweh, uplifting the disturbed, Yahweh, loving the righteous, Yahweh, sheltering the guest. Orphan and widow he relieves, and the way of the wicked he subverts.

        So did Jesus treat Scripture as having authority in itself? I doubt it. The Scriptures point to the source of authority. They do not point to themselves.

        • ‘So did Jesus treat Scripture as having authority in itself? I doubt it. The Scriptures point to the source of authority. They do not point to themselves.’

          That seems to me to be a slightly odd question. Jesus treated the Scriptures as ‘the word of God’. Does my speech tell you something about me ‘in itself’? Well, I guess you could say that my words ‘point to the source of their authority’, which is me, but it is an odd thing indeed to suggest that my words do not express my thoughts and intentions.

          As Tom Wright says, the Scripture only has authority inasmuch as it has the authority of God’s words—but that is certainly an authority that Jesus attributed to the scriptures.

          Are you suggesting some other understanding?

          • Ian, you ask “Are you suggesting some other understanding?”
            I don’t think that I am suggesting ‘understanding’ at all if we think that by understanding we have somehow got it all together.

            I do like the context of your question. It often occurs to me that I want to know where a writer is coming from when I read them. Going back to Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks, I read a droll but understated criticism of the merchants in his writing. To what extent am I imposing my own thoughts – even if I could express them – onto this author?

            When I read the Scripture, I look for the person behind the words, Jeremiah, as a historical person, or Job, as a literary character, a cipher for Israel. It is a long search and there is no easy ‘understanding’. E.g. when Jeremiah sees the destruction of creation in chapter 4 (23-27) reflecting the words of Genesis, I see a lament. And the music is a lament. Who can describe or understand lament? One can identify with it, but one is in relationship to an imagined construct. I have set the music of this lament against the music of Genesis. Who then is the author of tohu vavohu, the formless and waste image of Genesis? Jeremiah quotes this author. Is Moses the poet? Or is this a description of the construction of a temple out of the experience of the exile by an unknown person in Babylon?

            When I read Job (and Jeremiah) on the day of their birth – let it be darkness, I know there is some community writing of real trouble, whether exile or personal tragedy, or colonialism, or residential schools, or car accidents, or genetic disease… It is not a problem I can ‘understand’ but it is one I can identify with.

            If I shout ‘the word of God’ have I added anything to the conversation except an attempt to impose order on the disorder and lack of understanding I find myself in? the author of Torah, the prophet Jeremiah, and the writer of Job have shown me a problem. By what means will I address it in my life? I will perform it, as you suggest in your next post. I will be part of the performance also whose end I cannot yet see.

    • ‘but you will exalt my horn like wild bulls… (and who knows what this means?)’

      As a non scholar, I’d take it as an image which would pose no questions at the time and place when that psalm (92) was written. The horn of a wild bull was his foremost fighting weapon; it symbolised strength. And he needed fighting strength to win the herd of cows, and then to keep them.

      The psalmist is celebrating God’s greatness and the fact that God has picked and equipped him to fight and overcome his enemies. It’s just one of a series of metaphors in the psalm.

      And now the scholars will put me right…

    • ‘So also we justify our prejudices from the texts we have chosen to highlight.’ Yes, that is a danger for all readers.

      How might we avoid this? By considering all such convictions, and returning again to test them against scripture.

      Would such forced marriages correlate with the creation cry of recognition? Does it match the tender delight found in the Song of Songs? Does it offer a metaphor for the self-offering of God and his people? I am not sure it does.

      And so with all such claims to scriptural fidelity. The case Martyn Percy wants to make fares spectacularly badly on such a test.

    • Hi Bob,
      A three legged stool will not support us on one leg.
      It seems that the three legged stool is not a picture that Hooker himself used in reference to Scripture, Tradition and Reason. It can be unhelpful. I think many would say that Scripture is the foundation. Then tradition is used as a check on our understanding. Does how I read Scripture match what others in the past have read it? Reason can also regulate our understanding.

      If one retains the stool, does one add a fourth leg of Experience, thereby making the stool wobble on the uneven surface of our lives?

      I might also add that Martyn Percy seems to have taken a saw to his stool, removing the tradition leg entirely, and removing quite a chunk of the Scripture leg.

    • Bob, I don’t agree that it is a matter of justice. There are 2 separate issues: whether SSA can be classified as an inborn state; and whether, if inborn, its lack of conformity with biology can be classed as irrelevant.

      On the former there are numerous angles which show (where measured) multiple hundreds of percent discrepancies:
      -are babies actually gay? – it’s quite a claim
      -does anyone remember anything before they are 2-3, so how would they know what their inborn state was
      -discrepancy between urban and rural (men)
      -and between college educated and not (women)
      -discrepancy between rates among those molested when young and those not
      -discrepancies in adoption of a lesbian identity among those with and without lesbian parents
      -discrepancies in self-identification depending on what norms are promulgated in a given society
      -the fact that 89% of ‘gay’ identical twins have a ‘straight’ twin.

      That is even before we get onto fluidity and the dodgy nature of the concept ‘orientation’.

      Are you sure you are not letting the media narrative of convenience, which allows little dissent, shape your view, rather than science doing so?

      • “Are you sure you are not letting the media narrative of convenience, which allows little dissent, shape your view, rather than science doing so?”

        Thanks for the question. I am not sure anyone will find my ‘answer’ satisfactory. What shapes my view? Certainly not ‘the media narrative of convenience’. Nor do I seek ‘dissent’. There is enough of that without seeking it. As for science, in this question it is not competent. The data are subjective. I cannot even identify myself without ambiguity. Can I even know if there are people who hate the gay agenda out of their own fears of who they are in themselves?

        I was made a musician. I loved the music of Britten. How could I reconcile loving this music with despising its creator? I, a wasp, was made a scientist and a systems engineer. How could I pretend to understand all the stimuli in social structures that let me stay or think or act within an environment that was inherently prejudiced on dozens of fronts.

        I found a starting point in Christ some 45 or so years ago. I am nearly ‘finished’ – on my way to the usual grave solution… but I can hardly say I have come to the end of the riches I have encountered. There is neither gay nor straight in the place which I have entered.

        About 13 years ago, a voice in me said, How can you possibly understand the image of the son without learning the scriptures in the tongue I learned them in?

        So I learned Hebrew and read the text and wrote it all out in English using my own computer programs to discover and enforce patterns in the source. There is no substitution for actually reading the text. I found there a full musical score embedded in hand signals in the text itself. This completely undoes the rigid logic of intellectual right and wrong that governs so much of our thinking.

        We seek power. It is sin to take power without permission. I find now I cannot draw conclusions for others – individuals or groups – out of the Bible as if I had power over them because of my knowledge. I have no such power and cannot pretend to have it. “Knowledge puffs up”.

        Qohelet has a pithy verse that reminds me of the limits of ecclesiastical opinion. 4:17 (5:1 English) Keep your footing as you are walking to the house of God, and approach more to hear than to give an offering among the dullards, for they haven’t a clue that what they do is evil (רע).

        So here we are in ‘the house of God’ and we comment furiously regardless of the hurt (רע) that we might cause. We are the sea – we are leviathan, (am I the sea or a dragon that you put a guard over me? Job 7:12). We are brutes, (behemoth I was to you, Psalms 73:22).

        Let’s stop. Let’s love someone who is excluded. We will certainly find the cost of love there.

        • Bob, I find this answer extraodrinarily inadequate. If you will not interact with the scientific data, you are refusing to interact with the most accurate and detailed body of evidence we have, however imperfect. And we should not make sweeping generalisations about the imperfection. It has multiple strengths too. But if you will not interact with the most accurate and detailed, that means you will not interact with anything. Which all can see is an untenable position that runs the risk of being called invasive. Where do you get your information from? What is the alternative source of information, and why is it preferable? It will certainly not be on the same scale, nor at the same academic level.

          I too love Britten’s music, and the moral question that arises over him arises over his friend Auden (a great poet) in spades. Their gifts were clearly God given.

          Do you actually say that all honest people, all the millions of honest people, completely diverse individuals, those who want to seek out accurate data free of ideology and PC, are in a category where the first thing that you should say about them is that they are quite likely afraid of who they are in themselves?

          That is astonishing.

          • That’s right. But who said it was? You have taken up a stance. The question is whether your stance is coherent and whether it is accurate. If its proponent does not defend it against counter-argument, it cannot be counted as coherent or accurate until it is at least defended.

        • In addition, your dislike of dissent plays into the media’s hands. Who says dissent is bad? A dictator, that’s who.

          If all dissent is bad, that means that on many occasions, truth and detailed research will both be counted as bad.

          That is not only dreadful, but the worst thing imaginable.

          In 2004 Soul in the City, the message from the stage was ‘People know what Christians disagree with, let’s now only tell them what we agree with’. Thus cutting off one half of an interconnected message (and if you do agree with anything, how can you avoid disagreeing with its opposite?) – and also playing into the hands of appeasers and of the tendency (which is part of human nature) to go with the cultural flow.

  10. Ian – I am glad you mention the tenderness of the Song, though it is not all tender imagery. When males read the Song, they should identify with the bride. That will begin to teach what sexuality is for the human. It is much more than the clergy might give it credit for, at least in my experience.

    I must admit I am prejudiced. I was abused in my tender years by a clergyman, clearly a product of the abuse of 10 centuries himself. Sexuality is as we all know too complex for words. But as with all things it must perish in Christ and be reawakened in maturity by the glory of God. If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. The old is gone.

    Yes we must reason about justice. The judgment seems pretty evident to me. And Martyn Percy is closer to my understanding – though agreeably vague with his data presentation.

    • Exactly. To try and compare the kind of marriage the bible describes with marriage in Britain in 2019 is like comparing apples and oranges.

    • Penelope,
      There is little evidence in the OT or ancient Israel of forced marriages, although it seems many were arranged. The theme of this blog post – the clarity of Scripture, in particular about marriage, should carry a health warning. In that Scripture, I believe, should be read in light of its original context, and only when that is understood should it be applied to our cultural context. I do not believe this undermines any concept of inspiration or authority. To give just one example, “adultery” carried a different definition in biblical times compared with today. To read the modern definition back into the word in the NT changes the understanding of the teaching, and that, I suggest, does not produce clarity, but rather confusion – which the church has embraced with enthusiasm in this area.

      • The theme of this blog post – the clarity of Scripture, in particular about marriage, should carry a health warning

        One thing that I’ve never understood is this idea that sometimes surfaces that because there is an example of something in scripture, that thing must be approved of by God.

        Surely a lot — maybe most — of scripture contains examples of people doing wrong things, as a warning to the reader (see also Abraham and surrogacy).

        For example there used to be a vogue — seems to have died out now — of trying to prove that David and Jonathan had had a homosexual relationship. Now regardless of whether this is supported by the text of not, who in their right mind would think that King David was a good example of holy sexual ethics?!?!

    • If you say they weren’t freely chosen then why did Jesus say:
      4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’[a] 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’[b]? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

      Matthew chapter 19 (also appears in Mark 10)

      These words are against patriarchy (I am referring here to the actual and real meaning of the word) in which the head of the family chose your wife and husband. If instead we choose our own partner and seek God’s will if we should be married then it follows that some of the Christian marriages were actually freely chosen. It was marriages that were often without God which were arranged by the patriarch – but then these are NOT the marriages that our Lord Jesus Christ spoke about.

      • Patriarchy: A system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it. OED

        • Penelope,

          Oxford English Dictionary (volume 2 – Marl-Z and Addenda):
          Patriarch L. Head of a family or clan …. the OED uses the word clan and connects it to the greek word.

          Patriarchy …. 2. A patriarchal system of society or government ; a family, tribe, or society so organized.

          So there you have it A TRIBE SO ORGANIZED.

          ….and Jesus Christ tells us that he believes that a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’ …. that’s NOT patriarchy

  11. Yes, we have to be careful with the narrative accounts. And I agree with what I think Ian Paul is saying in this blog. In that Scripture is clear: sexual intercourse only belongs within a committed heterosexual relationship that has the intention of permanence.

  12. Hi Ian,

    Having come from a fundementalist background my experience was of pastors and leaders trying to make the scriptures roadmaps for just about everything. I remember one pastor trying to use the Bible to illustrate what proper biblical manhood looked like and to do this he used Adam as a negative example. Does me, everything comes down to the word “useful.” The scriptures are useful or advantageous when it comes to individual spiritual formation and corporate discipline within a believing community, but beyond this I would think that even angels fear to tread. In the USA more rigid believers seem to assume that the Bible is the authority for the entirety of the social sphere and here they err, but they’re not the first group of Christians to do this but they may be the last if climate change has anything to say. It’s funny, in a sad and pathetic sort of way, the things that we choose to devote our energies on and the things that we choose to turn a blind eye to. I truly wonder how much any of our infighting is really going to matter at the end of it all.

  13. Hi Ian,
    Sorry about the typos– auto correct on an Android device is a bear that I am still fighting!

    Matt

  14. I note Ian’s reference to the ‘5 of the 10’ Commandments in Hosea 4:2. The verse is in the context of the adultery by Israel towards God and warning Judah not to follow. Had Anglican clergy continued to read the 10 Commandments at the eucharist instead of just the 2-fold commandment, I wonder if we would have forgotten what adultery is – a betrayal of love that spiritually nurtures children, as well as (usually) conceiving them.

    Did I miss mention in ‘comment’ so far, of the last Bible book as it concludes with the marriage of Christ and His bride the Church? As I help with the nurture of grandchildren, I continue to emphasise for them God’s perfect marriage plan for humanity, as well as His providential ability to overcome human failure / sin with such costly Grace. I type this as the D-day commemoration service is on screen, in Bayeux military cemetery with its rows of so many graves, symbols of such costly sacrifice.

  15. Is the Bible clear?
    From tonight’s Gaurdian.. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jun/06/led-not-into-temptation-pope-approves-change-to-lords-prayer

    “Some have expressed concern about changes to the wording. Meredith Warren, a lecturer in biblical and religious studies at Sheffield University, said: “This new version of the Lord’s Prayer tries to avoid implying that God has some hand in evil.

    “But in doing so the pope not only overlooks the many biblical examples where God works with the devil to tempt his followers and even his own son. The new version actually goes against the plain meaning of the Greek of the gospel text.”

    Really?

    • Mededith Warren’s comment is not to the point (despite being quite accurate that there are times within the Biblical texts taken as a whole that the devil acts like God’s executioner, one of God’s minions). That is because this is a translational issue first and last.

      The reason that this petition appears as it does is that it aims to represent Jesus’s words in Gethsemane, as part of a larger project by Matthew to summarise Jesus’s teaching on prayer within his Lord’s Prayer.

      In so doing, Matthew has to transpose Jesus’s injunction to the disciples into a petition by believers to God. Different petitioner, different petitionee. So rewording is definitely required.

      The trouble is that it is very difficult to provide (a) a precise match and (b) a meaningful match between the original and the transposed version. Matthew retains economy of expression, but in so doing makes it seem as though God is the only person involved in the peirasmos process, something that is clearly not the case either logically nor source-critically, since the Gethsemane saying presents God as the one who preserves from peirasmos not causes it!

      This sort of thing always happens when things are being recast. It is very difficult to obtain a perfect match.

  16. I am not sure what Warren means that ‘God has some hand in evil’. She seems to have totally ignored the second part of the same sentence, “but deliver us from evil”. Yes God clearly allows evil and temptation but He is not in cahoots with satan. I doubt it’a a coincidence that Jesus gives this teaching not long after His own temptation by satan, which certainly was led by God for His own purposes concerning His Son.

  17. Acts2:23 “This Jesus was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.”

    Deeper magic – evil at work, God at work unworking evil

  18. Much of this is fair criticism, although the article is not for an academic journal and is clearly taking shortcuts for its preaching-to-the-choir audience.

    However, there is a general point that needs to be addressed. I can construct a very coherent theology of slavery, and, let’s be honest, there’s not much that the scriptures can do to stop me.

    Unless you are willing to concede that there can be godly slavery, you must concede that the Christian tradition must sometimes have the freedom to go beyond what is ‘obvious’ in scripture.

    • ‘I can construct a very coherent theology of slavery, and, let’s be honest, there’s not much that the scriptures can do to stop me.’

      I think that is a rather extraordinary claim; I too would be interested to hear what it looks like. But Scripture will offer some major objections to you before you even start:

      a. the creation of humanity, undifferentiated in status, in the image of God prohibits the kind of dehumanisation that slavery entails in most contexts.

      b. ‘The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it’ would prohibit the idea of one person owning another in any kind of absolute sense

      c. the Exodus means that the primary metaphor of salvation in the OT is liberation from slavery. How then could any of God’s people allow themselves to be slaves?

      d. the practice translated as ‘slavery’ in the OT mostly looked like debt bondage or even a mortgage, and bears little relation to slavery as practiced e.g. in the early modern West

      e. the consistent anthropology of the NT divides humanity into two classes only: Jews and Gentiles. And that distinction has been eliminated in Jesus.

      f. ‘You were bought with a price’ (1 Cor 6.20) So if Christians are slaves at all, they are slaves of God—so how could they really become slaves of other people in any true sense?

      g. The NT appeals to slaves as moral agents, which I think is highly unusual in ancient literature.

      I’d be interested to read a ‘coherent theology of slavery’ which can overcome all these significant theological obstacles.

      • Yet learned Christians somehow managed to miss this supposedly obvious condemnation of slavery for the best part of 2,000 years. An increasing numbers of Christians turned against slavery not due to the discovery of some knockout exegesis conjured up in the late 18th century, but because they were confronted with the barbarism of the institution they’d unthinkingly accepted. How’s this different in kind to the irreligious people who also turned against it?

        • James, if a culture is dead-set certain ways, they will look through that lens.

          The main source of wrong teaching is cultural conformity. So too today.

          In the time of the English Civil War, what the Bible said on kingship was fundamental. But we see that as a very peripheral aspect of the Bible. Likewise other ages ‘need’ the Bible to give a certain message on slavery or on homosexual practice.

          • Yes, and why did certain biblical texts fall by the wayside? The injunctions on kingship are as potent as they every were, but in the wake of the Glorious Revolution, English fashion had changed, and they were discarded. As you say, our culture shapes our readings. That being so, in what practical sense is the Bible authoritative?

          • What an extraordinary non sequitur. I never said the culture shapes ‘our’ readings. Because there is no uniform group of ‘us’ as surely you are aware. Because we disagree. I read in the Church Times on Friday that Angela Tilby said that ‘we’ all had a different view of something like attraction to the under-aged in the 1970s. No we did not. Letters columns in Christian periodicals of the time make that clear. A massive proportion were not thrown every which way by every wind of fashion.

            In fact, the only people whose readings are shaped by culture are the culture-bound, and it is clear that they are the last people one would listen to, since it is somewhat narcissistic to see everything (including distant cultures) in one’s own image. It also shows narrow horizons and lack of appreciation of different cultures than one’s own. So: the last people one would listen to.

            Truthful readers of the Bible will always have kept themselves distant from cultural-conformity advocates.

            Narcissistic people wanting to mould the Bible to their own image or that of their culture prove that the Bible per se is unauthoritative?

            ?

          • “Truthful readers of the Bible will always have kept themselves distant from cultural-conformity advocates.”

            Well, they’ll try, but if someone feels obliged to vest the Bible with authority, there’s a massive conflict of interest.

            We certainly disagree within the Overton window, but many things are near-universally held to be beyond the pale.

            A handful of Christians square the circle and say, yes, the Bible accepts slavery as normative; but most, to their credit, can’t read the text that way. The next step, however, is asking can any text bear the burden of providing authoritative truth.

          • I don’t think you addressed most of my points, James. It is also notorious that this topic comes up again and again without people paying attention to the points that have previously been made.

            Ian has an excellent list a-g above, 7 points that need to be interacted with.

            Slavery is not accepted in NT as normative but as normal within their own society – and probably most societies they had ever heard of. As Tom Wright says, an immediate slave revolt fostered by the Christian minority would have produced the opposite effect to the one desired. What is your answer to that point? Onesimus remains a brother, and Rev 18 continues to anathematise trading in the bodies and souls of men.

        • ‘Yet learned Christians somehow managed to miss this supposedly obvious condemnation of slavery for the best part of 2,000 years.’ No they didn’t. A number of the fathers opposed slavery quite clearly, and Aquinas argued that no Christian could ‘own’ another Christian, for precisely the reasons that I set out. Since all of Europe was considered Christian, that effectively put an end to slavery within Europe in the Middle Ages. It was the loss of this understanding, and the existence of enslavement of Africans by Africans, which led to the rise of the slave trade.

          • As noted in any of the major overviews of this subject (Peter Garnsey’s Ideas of Slavery from Aristotle to Augustine comes immediately to mind), the Bible’s mixed, which is why slavery lingered on for over a millennia, in Europe morphing into slavery in all but name (serfdom), and of course exploding into the horrors of the middle passage.

            Nor is the Bible that remarkable in antiquity for offering some anti-slavery passages : even Aristotle feels obliged to rebut unknown opponents of slavery.

            The issue isn’t that parts of the Bible can be read as anti-slavery, but that the driverse collection of texts allow the opposite case to be put with equal vigor.

          • the opposite case to be put with equal vigor.

            What are you defining as ‘the opposite case’?

            If you mean the case that the Bible sees slavery (whether chattel slavery or something more like indentured servitude) as an inevitable evil that will occur in a fallen world, to be mitigated when possible, but which will never be totally eliminated this side of the eschaton and that therefore we have to have a way to live with and deal with, then yes, you can certainly make that case. But then you can make the same case about war, say, or sin in general.

            If you mean the case that the Bible sees slavery as a good thing, something God is happy about, something that might happen in an unfallen world, then no, I don’t think you can make that case, but if you think you can, I would add myself to the list of those who would be interested to see it.

          • Yes, many passages in the Bible do indeed treat slavery as an inevitability (some urge mitigation, yes; but even then, passages like 1 Peter c.2 combine entreaties of restraint with a command to obey even the most unjust masters). This handwashing’s a world away from what I assume to be the position of every person here, that slavery’s an unmitigated evil to be suppressed wherever we find it. Sure, there’s seeds of that position in scripture, but the Bible read as a whole doesn’t bring them to bloom: they flowered long after the canon was closed.

          • …except for the list of things that I don’t think you have responded to. Col 4.1 entreats masters to ‘treat slaves with equality’. That’s an early invocation of equality legislation.

          • But, once again, I note that, whatever the final balance on slavery, it offers no parallel with SSM—which was the original point, which even you have demonstrated it false.

          • This handwashing’s a world away from what I assume to be the position of every person here, that slavery’s an unmitigated evil to be suppressed wherever we find it.

            And how exactly do you suggest that a tiny, illegal, hunted group of dissidents was supposed to go about ‘suppressing’ anything?

            It’s worth pointing out of course that slavery still exists in the world today, so if the Bible’s position is that it is an inevitable evil that will not be eliminated this side of the eschaton, then so far, score one for the Bible.

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