What kinds of questions do people have about the Bible?


In a range of different contexts, I often get involved in answering questions that people have about the Bible. If I am preaching somewhere, especially in an evening service, I will quite often offer an open ‘question and answer’ session, and I have in the past taken part in Premier Radio’s Monday morning phone-in, in which people can call in and ask any question they have about the Bible. It is both interesting and demanding, because you don’t know what questions will be asked—and have no time to look anything up before giving an answer! The listening audience of Premier is slightly different from the kind of audience I am usually working with, in that it will include a larger element of more conservative and Pentecostal listeners—but the questions asked offer some important insights into how people read their Bibles and the questions that arise.

These are the questions that were asked on one occasion:

1 In Luke 17.37, what does Jesus mean by saying ‘Where a dead body is, there the vultures will gather’?

2. In the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18, Elijah tells the people to pour four jars of water on the offering three times. But it was a time of drought, so where did the water come from?

3. Will there be revival, as predicted by Joel 2.38 ‘in the last days’ before Jesus comes?

4. In Mark 6.11, the Authorised Version includes Jesus’ saying about Sodom and Gomorrah, whereas the NIV and other modern versions omit it. Is this because of a concern for political correctness?

5. In Isa 6.1 Isaiah says that he ‘saw the Lord, high and lifted up’—yet John 1.18 says that ‘no-one has seen God.’ How do we reconcile the contradictions here?

6. Why did God make skins for Adam and Eve if they had ‘bodies of light’?

7. When someone becomes a Christian, do they then need deliverance from demons or have they all already left?

You might want to pause and consider how you would have answered these questions!


If I had been given some notice, and time to prepare, I might have answered differently. But these are the answers I gave on the spot:

1 I would need to look at commentaries and consider all the options [I had in mind that the saying comes in a slightly different place in Matt 24]. But we need to look at the immediately preceding verses. Jesus draws a parallel between the ‘days of the Son of Man’ and the ‘days of Noah’. In the days of Noah, people didn’t know what was happening, and carried on with their ordinary lives, when suddenly judgement came (in the form of the flood) and took them all away. In the same way, Jesus says, at the time of his return, people will be absorbed with their daily life and won’t know what happens when suddenly they will be taken away in judgement. What Jesus is saying is the opposite of what is taught in the doctrine of ‘the rapture’ which originated with the teaching of J N Darby around 1832—and it is why I want to be ‘left behind’. I think Jesus’ saying about the vultures highlights that fact that people will endlessly speculate about these things—probably to no avail.

(Since offering this answer, I have had the chance to look at commentaries and consider all the options—and I have come to the conclusion that no-one knows exactly what Jesus meant by this, which in itself has important implications!)

2. I thought you might be asking about the number of times water is poured—four jars, three times each, which makes twelve. And of course the altar is built of twelve stones, one for each of the tribes of Israel, so this might suggest that the whole nation, every tribe, has had the fire of faith extinguished and needs rekindling. (Biblical authors are more interested in numbers and in symbolism than we often realise.) There is a river along the base of Mount Carmel, but as you say, there was a drought, so it might well not have been flowing. If you visit Israel, one of the things you will notice is that, in just about every ancient site, you will see a sign for a cistern. One of the most spectacular is at Herod’s mountain fortress at Masada, by the Dead Sea, where there is a sophisticated system for gathering water into a series of cisterns. So there would very likely have been a cistern near to the site of the sacrifice, and water would have been fetched from there.

3. I hope there will be revival, and we should pray for it! But in the Bible, revival is talked of as a renewing or refreshing or a bringing of new life, and can happen at any time. The verses in Joel you refer to do talk about ‘the last days’—but they are ‘the last days’ that Peter refers to in his speech at Pentecost. In explaining to the crowd what is happening as the Spirit is poured out, he reaches for Joel and says ‘This is that about which the prophet Joel wrote: in those last days…’ In other words, we have been in the ‘last days’ ever since Pentecost—so we should always be looking for God to pour his Spirit out, and give us visions and dreams.

4. In its time, the Authorised (King James) Version was a good translation—but there were two important differences from our modern context. First, they had many fewer manuscripts to look at when decided on a translation. Because of the growth of archaeology, we now have many more ancient manuscripts to compare. As copies of the NT documents were made, inevitably some (minor) changes crept in—sometimes a scribe would think there was a mistake in a manuscript he was copying, and he would try and ‘correct’ it. Second, because this has become more and more important, the discipline of decided what was the most likely original writing (called ‘textual criticism’) has become more developed. In this case, in Mark 6.11, the parallel saying [in Matt 10.15 and Luke 10.12] does include the reference to Sodom and Gomorrah. But in Mark 6.11, some manuscripts include it and others don’t. Which is more likely to be the original that Mark wrote? We could imagine someone with the shorter text remembering the parallels in Matthew and Luke, and thinking that the shorter was an error, and ‘correcting’ it. But it’s hard to imagine the longer version being ‘corrected’ by being shortened. So the shorter version is much more likely to be the original, and that is the manuscript tradition that the NIV follows.

5. You are quite right to observe an apparent contradiction here—and it is actually quite widespread! Moses was said to have talked with God face to face, and he and the elders of Israel sat with God and ‘ate and drank’. And Jesus (in the Beatitudes) promises that the pure in heart will ‘see’ God. But what do we mean by ‘see’? (This is a very pertinent question in relation to the Book of Revelation.) Even in ordinary language, we use ‘see’ in all sorts of different ways—’I see what you mean’; ‘I suddenly saw the answer’; ‘I can see the sea’. Much of the time, the Bible is  using metaphorical and visionary language. In Isaiah 6 (as in Revelation) it is hard to take this literally—how could God be ‘high and lifted up’ and have his ‘train fill the temple’ unless the temple’s roof was taken off? The important thing is that, in the year that King Uzziah (who’s name means ‘God is my strength’) died, that is, at a time of change and uncertainty, God is still the one who is on his throne, and for Isaiah the truth of that was found in his temple presence. Scripture is clear that God is beyond human comprehensive—we see only in part—and that is why God is never actually described in Revelation, but simply referred to as ‘the one seated on the throne.’

6. I don’t understand the reference to ‘bodies of light’—everything in the two creation accounts (in Genesis 1 and 2) portray the first humans as just like us, formed from the ‘dust of the earth’ (to which we return in death, ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust’) into which the breath of life from God has been breathed. God’s provision of clothing from them was a sign of his provision and grace despite the fact that they had done what he had prohibited.

7. When we come to faith, in many ways everything has changed. Paul talks of ‘the new creation’ (2 Cor 5.17) and it is striking that, in all his letters, he addresses his audience as ‘saints’, the holy people of God. In Romans 6, Paul says that in baptism we are joined with Jesus’ death—our old lives die—as we enter the water, and that we enter the new resurrection life as we come up from the water. That, in principle, is our inheritance that we start to live by. And yet we still inhabit ‘sinful human nature’. So the Christian life is lived between these two realities. When we come to faith, in principle we say ‘Jesus is Lord’ so no other force or power has control over us. But in practice we still need to make that a reality—so deliverance ministry is still needed for some people.

Do add fuller reflections in your comments below!


But these questions offer some interesting insights into how people read their Bibles.

First, there are still plenty of people in our churches who pay careful attention to what Scripture says—for which I am very grateful! Recently I was talking to someone who has joined us in the last year from another large church, and when I asked how she is finding is, her first comment was ‘I am enjoying the biblical preaching’. Our congregations are full of people who take the Bible seriously, and want to be fed. I was particularly struck by the question about water in 1 Kings 18—which demonstrates a fully imaginative entering into the details of the story. If we don’t do our homework, and take time to expound and explain what Scripture says and how it applies to their lives, we are selling them short.

The second observation follows from the first. If people are reading their Bibles, then they will become aware of the challenges and questions that arise. The most interesting question from this point of view was the one about ‘seeing God’. Here, the listener has noticed an apparent contradiction across two quite different parts of the Bible, and wants to know whether they can be resolved. In my experience is simply isn’t the case (as sceptics often claim) that Christian readers of the Bible are credulous and unquestioning. But it is true that they need some help in resolved questions and tension.

Thirdly, alongside that, some faithful readers of the Bible might well have an ‘eccentric’ view—in the literal sense of the word, reading ‘off centre’. I was fascinated that the first question was about a rather obscure saying of Jesus in passing, when the really big questions centre on the immediately preceding verses. And I think the questions about Joel 2.38 and deliverance from demons are important questions but ones that are answered by looking at the ‘big picture’, the more central issues of Christian theology.

Fourthly, this list of questions came from the fourth time I had taken part in this phone-in; there is never a shortage of questions, and so far the same question has not come up twice. So people who read the Bible do have questions, the questions matter to them, and perhaps this shows that their local churches don’t always provide the space for the questions to be asked. And I think it is fair to say that the questions are quite demanding. Does the theological training of our leaders equip them to answer such things? And do we provide the opportunity for the answers to be explored?

Do make a comment, observation or question below—especially if you have not done so before! (Previously published in a slightly revised form in 2018.)


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139 thoughts on “What kinds of questions do people have about the Bible?”

    • Hi Philip,
      I like your ref. to Genesis. It make me think that Jesus is referring to himself as the sacrifice, the covenant. That is, where the New covenant is there the vultures will gather. At the cross, in the dark they did gather. Could you explain your thinking more or was it just the result of a search for the word ‘vulture’!? Thanks.
      ps I have speculated before that the two doves represent Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

      Reply
      • Hi Steve
        I don’t fully understand these two passages and the link between them. But both are about covenants. In Jeremiah the people who have walked between the pieces have violated God’s covenant and are judged and their ‘dead bodies become food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth’.
        In Genesis, ‘a smoking brazier with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces’. However we understand this, it is clearly God making a covenant with Abraham, which he has promised to keep. It is interesting that Abraham drove the vultures away. Luke 17:26-37 is about the ‘taken and left’ (however we understand those words) – those who have embraced God’s covenant and those who have violated it. So Jesus’ words in 17:37 are a warning (Jeremiah) and an assurance (Genesis). Apparently Genesis 15:17 was R.C. Sproul’s favourite verse.
        Phil Almond

        Reply
        • Thank you. It does seem that many things Jeremiah says are a sort of inverse prophesy of Jesus passion. Doh, can I explain… He prophesies doom to the false kings, prophets and priests for it to be taken up and fulfilled in Jesus’ passion. There is something profound about the two passages Genesis and Jeremiah that I am only scraping the surface of. “oh land, land, land…” could be replaced with Jesus,Jesus Jesus.
          I’m well out of my depth here.

          Reply
    • We have the same idea in Rev 19 where it is the great supper of God. The birds eat the flesh of those who have opposed the lamb. I think this is a credible interpretation of the phrase. The world opposed to God is a dead body awaiting the carrion birds of judgement.

      Reply
    • Hi Steve

      We all feel we ramble at times. I’d be inclined to limit this text in interpretation to the second coming. Though I can see the parallel you are suggesting.

      Reply
  1. I have heard of the ‘garments of light’ idea. A quick google finds this:

    https://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/47688/adam-and-eve-clothed-in-light-before-the-fall-origin-of-this-belief

    (I think it sounds dodgy. Gen 2:25 seems to belong to Gen 3, setting the scene for the man and woman being to realise their nakedness after their disobedience. What changes is not the fact of their nakedness but their attitude to it. They become ashamed.)

    Also, on Joel 2:28 (q.v.) this actual text does not contain “the last days”. It is Peter’s quotation in Acts 2:17 which inserts this. The original has the pouring out ‘afterwards’, presumably the events of the preceeding verses.

    Reply
  2. (6) Adam and Eve had “bodies of light” before the fall – Having engaged with some Mormon missionaries a few years ago, I recognise this to be a Mormon teaching, not a Christian teaching. It may suggest that the questioner has a Mormon background, or perhaps has read some of their stuff online without realising they’re not Christians?

    Reply
  3. The main questions that most people have about the bible, I think, are:
    1. how much of it should we take literally?
    2. how do we know which bits aren’t to be taken literally?
    3. which bits were written specifically for their time but can be sat lightly to thousands of years later?

    Reply
    • You may well be right about the questions. This year I am reading the bible in a year online with many at my church including very new Christians. It has been wonderful modelling wise reading together.

      My understanding is that have to
      1. explain that literal may not mean what they think it means and I don’t mean to sound evasive, but what is a literal psalm, or vision or parable.
      2. see 1. Look at genre and context. Read in light of the big story. Read with wise voices through the ages.
      3. We need people to understand the big story of the bible, the new and old covenants, the culmination in Jesus. And that we interpret scripture with scripture. I don’t think any of it can be sat lightly to, but much from the OT is fulfilled in Jesus, some of the bible is descriptive rather than prescriptive, and context is key. Plus we interpret with the church catholic through the ages, I am not the first to come to these texts. I genuinely believe that as we read it carefully with those things in mind we won’t sit lightly but we will read wisely.

      Reply
      • Agreed. Though I think we have to be careful when it comes to ‘traditional’ teaching passed down. I dont think such teaching on ‘hell’ as everlasting conscious suffering is correct. It actually shows a failure to properly understand scripture. Yet most or many evangelicals seem to believe it.

        Peter

        Reply
        • As I see it retribution inflicted by God on the unsaved and the atonement doctrine of penal substitution go together. If one is true the other must be true. If one is not true then the other must not be true. Also it really matters whether that retribution is eternal. If it stops followed by annihilation, well, then (not to trivialise a dreadfully serious and sensitive personal subject) – that might not be a very fearful prospect. Also, if, as Travis asserts ‘The outcome of being unsuccessful at the judgment is exclusion from relationship to God’ and, quoting Tillich, ‘Judgment is an act of love which surrenders that which resists love to self-destruction…’, then that might not be a very fearful prospect either. At stake is what is the terrible warning the Church needs to proclaim, alongside the wonderful message of deliverance. Must preach the warnings and leave it to hearers’ conscience and conviction of the Holy Spirit.

          Phil Almond

          Reply
          • Jesus’ suffering, in our place if you believe penal substitutionary atonement theory, was limited in length of time. It was not eternal. But He still seemed to be very afraid of the coming suffering, to the point of sweating blood.

            I find it odd that truth seems to be correlated with the level of fear induced.

      • Andy,

        explain that literal may not mean what they think it means and I don’t mean to sound evasive, but what is a literal psalm, or vision or parable.

        Agreed. Historically, a literal reading of a text is to be contrasted with an allegorical reading, an analogical reading or a typological reading. As you say, a literal reading does take into account the genre of the text. In that, we also must bear in mind that how this type of text was treated as the time of its composition is different from how we view it.

        Reply
    • The main questions that most people have about the bible, I think, are:
      1. how much of it should we take literally?
      2. how do we know which bits aren’t to be taken literally?
      3. which bits were written specifically for their time but can be sat lightly to thousands of years later?

      I’d be quite worried about the motivation of someone for whom those were the absolute top questions… taken together they read a lot like, ‘which bits can I get away with ignoring if I don’t like them?’

      Reply
      • I think those are fair questions. But rather than the first 2 Id ask ‘which parts are to be understood as historically true?’ For example, was Jonah actually swallowed by a large fish, or is it simply a story to illustrate some points? Ive noticed a number of evangelical OT scholars who view it as the latter. It’s debatable, but I dont think it particularly matters.

        But if you were to ask, was the exodus historically true, that has important implications. It’s one of the key events in the history of Israel, which Jews are required to commemorate. I would find it odd if it turned out it didnt happen, though I think the standard numbers quoted, millions of Hebrews, is incorrect. It should be about 20,000 at most. Of course the key historical event is the resurrection of Jesus. If that didnt happen then God help us all.

        I think the 3rd question is also fair. It is obvious that some parts were purely for the Israelites at certain points in time and not for us now (ceremonial laws etc). Or slavery, which neither the OT nor NT seem to condemn but most today view it is as immoral. Though Paul was clearly moving away from such practice which was rather standard fare for his day.

        But in general terms the morality still applies – it’s still wrong to steal, or murder or covet your neighbour’s ass!

        Reply
        • Thanks for your helpful answers Peter.
          One over arching question about the bible will always be ‘is it true?’. And the answer will always be, yes it’s true in the big picture but not always correct in the details. And you identify Jonah as a story that aptly demonstrates this.

          Reply
          • Andrew, I think that’s slightly misrepresenting what I said. In the case of Jonah, I was obviously referring to how we should understand the genre of that book (and the original intention of the author). There are different opinions – one to understand it literally happened, another that it is a story with truths to be understood. I tend towards the latter, though it has to be said it is not beyond God’s power to resurrect a human being after being swallowed by a large fish/whale – He did even more with Jesus.

            I view the first few chapters of Genesis similarly, not literally true but stories with truths to learn.

            What Ive noticed is that the 2 groups of people who refuse to accept a non-literal understanding of any part of the Bible are fundamentalist Christians and so-called ‘new’ atheists. I wish both groups would use their brains more.

            Peter

          • Well said, Peter. Genre is fundamental. Far from increasing the number of possible interpretations, grasp of genre radically limits it.

        • I think those are fair questions

          I didn’t say they weren’t fair questions. Clearly they are. But for them to be the top three is rather strange, do you not think? It rather suggests an attitude akin to ‘God in the Dock’, doesn’t it?

          ‘The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches the judge. for the modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. He is quite a kindly judge: if God should have a reasonable defence for being the god who permits war, poverty and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that man is on the Bench and God is in the Dock.’

          In this case, the charge against God is that He has put in the Bible many things which offend modern sensibilities, which seem to the modern man to be, on the face of it, cruel and immoral. The questioner is in the rôle of judge, demanding these be explained away before they consider what else God may have to say.

          And indeed they are a kindly questioner; they have already given God an ‘out’. God simply has to say — or someone has to say on His behalf — that He has been misrepresented. That the things in the Bible which offend modern sensibilities are not in fact God’s own view at all; they have either been misinterpreted as to be taken ‘literally’ when actually they should not be taken ‘literally’ (the word ‘literal’ here does not mean what it appears to; rather than meaning something like ‘not a metaphor’, the usual meaning of ‘literal’, it means something more like ‘having the plain and obvious meaning’) or they were only to apply to a certain time and can therefore be taken off the charge sheet.

          (I’m surprised, slightly, that Mr Godsall did not add his other usual favourite: ‘4. which bits can we ignore because they are only there due to the fact the Bible was written by fallible human beings?’ — another ‘out’ for God to claim that the words attributed to Him were not His at all.)

          But the fundamental problem here is the attitude, the sheer overweening arrogance of demanding from the creator of the universe an explanation for the ways in which He differs from our tiny, limited, ephemeral attitudes, as the top questions before we will deign to concede that He may have something to say worth listening to.

          It’s all so complex though. If only God would simply communicate with the modern world in the way it understands: by putting an apology on social media for the offensive and unacceptable views He expressed so long ago, and saying that He will go away and do His best to educate Himself. Wouldn’t that make everything so much easier?

          Reply
          • “due to the fact the Bible was written by fallible human beings?’”
            Which very obviously it was. Even you admit that. Your corrective is that your version of god spilled ink over the bits that weren’t correct until the fallible human beings got it right!

          • your version of god spilled ink over the bits that weren’t correct until the fallible human beings got it right!

            If that isn’t the best description I’ve ever seen of how the Christian God works in the history of the world, then I don’t know what is.

          • And if it were such a good description it would have some basis in scholarship. It doesn’t. Nowhere is it taught as part of biblical or an other authorship.

          • And if it were such a good description it would have some basis in scholarship. It doesn’t. Nowhere is it taught as part of biblical or an other authorship.

            Well, except the basis of the whole Bible, which is the story of God repeatedly having to step in to correct the mistakes of fallible humans over and over again until they finally get it right.

            But then you don’t think the Bible is a reliable picture of God so why would you care about that.

          • I care about reliable and trusted scholarship S. That’s why I studied theology at 2 world leading universities. And nowhere is your idea part of trusted and reliable scholarship.

          • That’s why I studied theology at 2 world leading universities.

            Hull is not a world leading university.

          • No, I’m genuinely confused. I have no connections with the Humber and can’t think why you would imagine I have. You are confusing me with another I’m afraid.

          • What does the term Humber-boy refer to then? I am from Stratford-Upon-Avon. I’m happy to scan my birth certificate if that helps your confusion.

          • I’m happy to scan my birth certificate if that helps your confusion.

            I’m sure you could tip-ex up a degree certificate as well, but really, there’s no need.

          • I have no need to tippex anything S. it’s all recorded in Crockford’s clerical directory and I can assure you there are no references to Hull or the Humber! You have got something incorrect, which I realise is unusual for you…………
            You might just need to spill some ink! 🙂

          • it’s all recorded in Crockford’s clerical directory and I can assure you there are no references to Hull or the Humber!

            Oh, yeah, I bet.

          • I’m happy to put many thousands of pounds on it.

            Nah, you can keep your money, you probably need it more than I do.

          • Im not sure if ‘the main questions, I think..’ is the same as ‘the absolute top questions…’ but perhaps that’s a matter of semantics.

            As for the rest of what you said, it isnt about putting God in the dock, it’s about the proper understanding of Scripture. We all have valid questions to ask – did God (ie Jesus) really command the Israelites to kill ‘men, women and children’ at one point in Israel’s history, or was it militaristic hyperbole on behalf of the writer? I suspect the former, but I can certainly understand those who think it was the latter. Or the law to execute gay men (not sure about women) even if such a punishment for such behaviour was subsequently lessened by the time of Jesus. Most today, even those who believe God does not approve of gay sex, find such punishment to be extreme and inappropriate today, even if there were ‘good’ reasons for it then. And of course the death penalty applied to other behaviours, such as adultery and not keeping the Sabbath. So things have changed over time.

            I think those are valid questions to ask, in trying to understand God as a loving Father as well as the judge of mankind.

            Finally, I find it interesting that Jesus chose to explain why He had previously told Moses that men could issue a certificate of divorce to their wife. It was an allowance on God’s part, due to men’s hard-heartedness. But that wasnt God’s original intention or will. And Jesus no longer accepted it. But He explained the reasoning behind it.

          • “Nah, you can keep your money, you probably need it more than I do.”

            I don’t stand to lose a penny S but clearly you don’t have the courage of your convictions.

          • I don’t stand to lose a penny S but clearly you don’t have the courage of your convictions.

            I’ll have you know I was acquitted every time.

            But anyway. Clearly you’re very sensitive about the matter, so I’ll leave it there.

          • Oh I’m not at all sensitive about it. No reason to be, as it’s quite inaccurate. You seem to think you have some information but you can’t provide any evidence for it, and aren’t prepared to bet that you are correct about it. I’m not at all sure what your motive is. Perhaps you are simply embarrassed that you have raised a theory that has no support in scholarship.

          • Oh I’m not at all sensitive about it.

            No, I can tell you’re not sensitive about it at all. Not one bit. Nope. Not even a tiny little smidgeon.

          • Ahhh….I see…..
            Shame you don’t have enough confidence to bet on this as you originally suggested though.

          • Shame you don’t have enough confidence to bet on this as you originally suggested though.

            Shame? Why? Like I originally wrote, I totally and completely believe you. 100%. No, 110%. 1,000%. Whatever you are selling, I’m buying.

          • There is no such thing as 1000%. There is never more than 100%

            It is quite amusing when you make claims, as you so often do, but then can’t produce a shred of actual evidence. That, once again, is the case here.
            I’d be entirely happy to have any association with Hull or its University. Sadly, I can’t claim any connections at all. You are always welcome to produce evidence to the contrary.

          • It is quite amusing when you make claims, as you so often do, but then can’t produce a shred of actual evidence. That, once again, is the case here.

            What claim did I make? That Hull isn’t a great university? You want me to produce evidence for that? Seriously?

            I’d be entirely happy to have any association with Hull or its University. Sadly, I can’t claim any connections at all.

            Aye. Right. No, as above, totally believe you there. No reason to think you’re being anything other than absolutely honest. No reason at all. So whatever you say, I’m sure it’s right. See that everyone? I’m absolutely sure he’s completely right. He is, after all, an honourable man.

          • Oh well let’s see…you claimed that God spills ink over pages…but can’t produce and evidence or scholarship to support it….you claim that God could have stopped Adolf Hitler…but then can’t produce any evidence for it….you claim to know where I have degrees from…but can’t produce any evidence. The lis is quite endless really.

          • you claim to know where I have degrees from…

            Did I though?

            Anyway you’ve been quite clear about your degrees, and I for one totally believe every word you say on the matter, and if anybody says otherwise I will absolutely tell them to shut up. ‘Hold your tongue!’ I will exclaim, ‘Mr Godsall has spoken on the matter, and that’s an end of it! I can see no reason at all, not one, why he would not be totally, entirely truthful as regards the matter!’

          • Yes, you did.

            Well, if you claim that, it must be true, mustn’t it? After all you’d never claim anything without evidence. Never. Just like everything you say about your degrees is totally and utterly true, at least, that’s what I think. Other people might question your veracity but I would never ever do so. I believe every word you say, I do.

          • Oh dear..your ink spilling god is having to work overtime at the moment, covering up all your mistakes.
            What a convenient little theory it is.

          • covering up all your mistakes.

            Believing you is a mistake? I’m shocked, shocked to hear that suggested. But no. As far as I’m concerned, Mr Godsall says it, I believe it, that settles it. Let no one — no one! — claim any different.

          • You are a dear.

            Well shucks. Now my heart is all a-flutter. I know I said I believed everything you said, but really… No, I guess if that’s what you say then it’s just as real as your degrees, isn’t it?

          • Yes Ms S. Whatever you say is bound to be correct. And if it isn’t then you can rely on your little guru to correct it with some Quink.

      • “which bits can I get away with ignoring“

        What do you mean by the phrase ‘get away with’ here S? The fact is that probably the great majority ignore the bible. What exactly do they ‘get away with’?

        Reply
        • What exactly do they ‘get away with’?

          They ‘get away with’ believing themselves to be following God, while actually setting themselves up as arbiters of what is right and wrong. They ‘get away with’ eating their cake (deluding themselves into thinking they are following God) and having it (not having to change their views of, well, anything) too.

          Like someone who, say, claims to be a law-abiding citizen but who actually disobeys any law that is inconvenient to them, while coming up on each occasion with a justification as to why doing so is okay in order to maintain their self-image as someone who isn’t a criminal.

          The great majority who ignore the Bible are at least not hypocrites about the fact they don’t care what God says. Better to be one of them, openly in rebellion against, or even just ignoring, God, that to be someone who fools yourself into thinking you are following God but who actually only follows God insofar as God agrees with you.

          Reply
          • “…fools yourself into thinking you are following God but who actually only follows God insofar as God agrees with you.”

            And how do you, S, know that you aren’t doing just that?

          • And how do you, S, know that you aren’t doing just that?

            Because when God says something I don’t like I assume it’s me who’s wrong, not God.

          • You mean a text like John 20:29?

            A very good example, yes.

            By the way I don’t think you ever confirmed that you do think the incident recorded there actually happened as described, did you? Or — if the Bible is, as you think, unreliable — what basis you have for thinking Jesus ever actually said that?

          • If you could point me to where I have said the bible is unreliable it would help. A reference please?

            I don’t know if that incident happened and I don’t much care whether it did or didn’t. The profound truth contained in it is confirmed by tradition, reason and experience as well as the broad thrust of the scriptures.

          • I don’t know if that incident happened and I don’t much care whether it did or didn’t.

            See if I were to base a fundamental part of my world-view on God having said something, I would think that whether God actually said it or whether it was just made up would be quite important. But I guess that’s the difference between you and me: I do care about whether things actually happened.

          • If you could point me to where I have said the bible is unreliable it would help. A reference please?

            This web-site’s comments section, passim.

            Unless you’d like to come out now and say that you do think the Bible is reliable?

          • Exact reference please….

            Well if you would now like to say that you think the Bible is a totally reliable guide to faith and morals then I will gladly withdraw any suggestion that you thought otherwise and apologise.

            Otherwise, well, then your refusal to do so here becomes my exact reference, doesn’t it?

          • No. You have made an accusation that you can’t actually substantiate. Which of course undermines what you say.

            What I have said, which I repeat on this very thread, is that the bible gives us truth, but is not correct in all it’s details.

          • The bible is a dreadful guide to the morality of slavery, for example. As others point out on this thread. That does not mean it is unreliable on all matters of morality.

          • What I have said, which I repeat on this very thread, is that the bible gives us truth, but is not correct in all it’s details.

            So you don’t think it’s reliable evidence on matters of faith and morals. Which is what I wrote.

          • As I say above, it’s entirely reliable on some matters of faith and morals.

            But given you have no way of knowing which matters it is reliable on and which it is not, then it is in fact — in your view — not reliable. According to you, the fact that the Bible says something about a matter of faith or morals is not reliable evidence that that thing is true — you think we have to use extra-Biblical evidence to decide whether what the Bible says is true.

            So you think that the Bible, by itself, is not reliable evidence.

          • As I have said many times before, the word reliable is a meaningless term when applied to the bible. It’s a collection of very different material. So I don’t even recognise what you are saying as making any sense I’m afraid.

          • As I have said many times before, the word reliable is a meaningless term when applied to the bible. It’s a collection of very different material. So I don’t even recognise what you are saying as making any sense I’m afraid.

            And there’s my exact reference for you not thinking the Bible is reliable. Thanks for saving me from having to go hunting through the archives.

          • I’m not saying it’s reliable or unreliable. I’m saying the term can’t be used as an overall descriptor for a vast range of material.

          • I’m not saying it’s reliable or unreliable. I’m saying the term can’t be used as an overall descriptor for a vast range of material.

            So what about the bits that do purport give moral guidance? There are a bunch of those, aren’t they? Are they — not the whole lot, but just those bits — reliable? Would you say that if the Bible does give moral guidance on any given matter, that guidance is reliable or unreliable?

            Or the bits that describe events during Jesus’ life? Like the description of the conversation with Thomas you referred to above? Is that reliable? Your comment above that you ‘don’t know and don’t care’ whether it happened as described suggested you think it’s unreliable. Do you actually think it is a reliable account of the event? If so why did you make your ‘don’t know and don’t care’ comment above?

    • (1) Questions 1-3 are almost the same question. That suggests people have only one main question about the Bible. That could be true only of people with a one track mind. But we are not in a one track universe.

      (2) Several other common types of questions exist, as I know well from my work. Which Bible translation should I choose? How do I get at the root meanings of biblical concepts? What is the Bible’s general or overarching nuanced teaching on topic A, B, C? What is the correct chronology of the Biblical books? How can I research the historical background of the Bible?

      (3) If people are asking questions 1-3 then, as S says, they seem to be looking for how much they can get away with. Not a good perspective to start from.

      (4) Several lifetimes would not be sufficient to do justice to all the bits of the Bible that did pass muster (!), never mind scanning the text to ferret out all the bits that don’t. Which in addition is a primarily negative attitude, which makes no sense when one has only one lifetime in an incredible universe and time is therefore of the essence.

      (5) Questions 1-3 may predominate in certain circles, but do not predominate in others.

      (6) Questions 1-3 can be terribly restricting, making every conversation end up in the same way while vast tracts of relevant discussion are never touched upon. I generally find this when talking with liberals. Every conversation within 3 moves ends up with liberal/conservative or literal/metaphorical. I have written on both topics, and the first is easily dealt with (both are ideologies, scholars and decent debate do not touch ideologies with a bargepole, so that is the end of that) as is the second (both concepts need so much teasing out – I identified 18 unclarities and outright incoherences in WATTTC ch10 – that one needs to start again from scratch; suffice to say that people who use the terms literal and metaphorical have rarely thought carefully about either; but beyond that do read what I wrote).

      Reply
      • “But we are not in a one track universe.”

        Exactly so Christopher. We are in a universe much more vast and with such a vast number of tracks that even the total number of grains of sand could not begin to add the number up. The bible was written by those who could not have understood how diverse and vast the universe was, and so could therefore not begin to give an account of all the possible explanations for the way things are or might yet be.

        There are many many many questions about the bible. Your WATTTC doesn’t even begin to answer them. It gives the answers without even knowing what the genuine questions are.

        Reply
          • You say ‘There are many questions about the Bible…[and] WATTTC gives answers without even knowing what the questions are’.

            I didn’t know you had read it, but it is the work of 10-12 authors anyway.

            Why mention that there are questions about the Bible, and immediately go on to say WATTTC gives answers [about matters not including the Bible]? That is a non sequitur, surely?

          • It was you who introduced WATTTC into a discussion about questions about the bible Christopher, not me. It was indeed a total non-sequitur.

          • As you know, the reason for bringing WATTTC into the conversation was to say that it includes a discussion of the literal/metaphorical question. Defining what those words mean and examining how far our talk of ‘literal’ and ‘metaphorical’ is coherent.
            The 2 terms are used in many contexts.

            Have you in fact read it?

          • “it includes a discussion of the literal/metaphorical question.”

            Yes, and I do not think that the discussion in WATTTC, which I have read enough of, is applicable in this context.

          • Why not? What is wrong with its discussion of the literal/metaphorical question? And how much of the book is ‘enough’ to read? And how would one know that? There are 10 different authors who are not the same as each other.

      • “ If people are asking questions 1-3 then, as S says, they seem to be looking for how much they can get away with.”

        Same question to you as I put to S then Christopher: what on earth does this phrase ‘get away with’ mean! What are people getting away with? Sadly the scriptures are too often ignored by the great majority of people but what are they all getting away with? I genuinely have no idea what you are on about with the phrase.

        Reply
        • It comes from various contexts. People saying ‘How far can I go in my boyfriend/girlfriend relationship?’ rather than ‘How can I honour God best?’. Two different perspectives, of which one is self pleasing and self centred.
          To ask ‘How little do I need to do?’ (as opposed to ‘What would it be good to do?’ or ‘How much would be good to do?’) is precisely the same as asking ‘What can I get away with not doing?’.

          Again, people might ask ‘Can you recommend a book from a complementarian/egalitarian perspective?’.Which is to confuse ‘perspective’ with ‘pre-emptive conclusion before one even starts’. They are not the same thing. What these people are asking is: How can I find a book that says what I want it to say? They are therefore trying to ensure that they ‘get away with’ not having to do any thinking.

          Reply
          • “What these people are asking is: How can I find a book that says what I want it to say?”

            You mean a book like WATTTC for example?

          • Everything I write I start with an open mind and see where the stats and evidence lead. It is a very exciting process.

          • Oh yes of course, and that’s what all reputable scholars do. And they often reach very different conclusions from each other.
            In the matter of questions about the bible, for example, there are a variety of scholarly views about authorship of the scriptures. About inerrancy. About what is meant by the idea of scripture as God’s word written.

          • If they didn’t reach different conclusions, then we would already know everything.

            But in fact scholars are different from the general public in this respect. Scholars are more nuanced, less media-led; and just because discussion will always obviously focus on points of disagreement (no point talking about things you agree about – what would there be to say?) does not at all mean that there are no points of agreement. There may be many. And the stronger the disagreement, the more discussion is (it logically follows) necessary., thus giving the false impression that disagreement dominates. Finally, such disagreement as there is need not be polarised, unlike in media-led discourse. When people are evidence based, how can they either suppose that there are precisely 2 main possibilities (like – why?), or that those 2 main possibilities are highly polarised? Such a scenario is highly unlikely, isn’t it?

          • “….just because discussion will always obviously focus on points of disagreement (no point talking about things you agree about – what would there be to say?) does not at all mean that there are no points of agreement. There may be many. And the stronger the disagreement, the more discussion is (it logically follows) necessary., thus giving the false impression that disagreement dominates. Finally, such disagreement as there is need not be polarised, unlike in media-led discourse. When people are evidence based, how can they either suppose that there are precisely 2 main possibilities (like – why?), or that those 2 main possibilities are highly polarised? Such a scenario is highly unlikely, isn’t it?“

            What you say here, which I completely agree with, describes exactly what is going on in the prolonged discussion in the CofE about matters related to same sex relationships. There are several, many more than just 2, nuanced positions. And those several positions are not well represented on many of the popular blogs. This blog is far better in that respect than most.

          • I am extremely glad to hear it. However I cannot make head nor tail of the term ‘same sex relationships’. I have or have had such with my father, cousins, friends…. It is this pervasive inexactitude that gives one pause about the level of discourse.

          • “However I cannot make head nor tail of the term ‘same sex relationships’ “

            Of course you can’t Christopher. That’s why you have nothing to contribute to any discussion about that matter.

          • So someone who champions and evinces *greater* exactitude should be excluded from discussion.

            Hmm – an interesting view. (He says, stroking his beard.)

          • It was a shorthand I have ended up using since I have referred to it so many times on this blog. So some regular users will know it. Less regular users almost certainly won’t – apologies.

    • 1. how much of it should we take literally?
      2. how do we know which bits aren’t to be taken literally?
      3. which bits were written specifically for their time but can be sat lightly to thousands of years later?

      So given the recent comments by the Bishop of Manchester, do you think he believes that the bits of the Bible which suggest that ‘a middle-aged man having a fling’ is not, in fact, perfectly reasonable behaviour, are bits which are not meant to be taken literally, or bits which were written specifically for their time and can be sat lightly to thousands of years later?

      Reply
      • After all, we are so enlightened now. We are too enlightened to care about spouse 1 and 3 children, let alone spouse 2 and the further 3 children. The appeal to ‘love’ or being ‘in love’ shows precisely why the appeal by Christians to some undifferentiated ‘love’ or the facile slogan ‘love is/means love’ does not pass muster.

        Reply
  4. Re your response to Q6, I think this narrative also shows the importance of sacrifice to provide a covering for sin. It is likely that God himself (?in the form of a preincarnate Son or Angel of the Lord) physically killed/sacrificed the animals to provide the skins. While we don’t know which animals, perhaps proleptic lambs may be candidates…

    Reply
  5. Hi Ian,
    I am glad I wasn’t trying to answer these questions!
    You say “In Romans 6, Paul says that in baptism we are joined with Jesus’ death—our old lives die—as we enter the water, and that we enter the new resurrection life as we come up from the water.”
    That seems to me to be the clearest statement you have made re baptismal generation. Do you think this position is widely held today among evangelical anglicans?

    Reply
  6. “Seeing now, dearly beloved brethren, that this child is regenerate, and grafted into the body of Christ’s Church….” (Publick Baptism of infants, Book of Common Prayer).

    “5 Although it be a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated or saved without it, or, that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.
    6 The efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited and conferred by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in his appointed time.” (Westminster Confession, Chapter 28, paragraphs 5 and 6 (minus references to the Bible)

    Which is right? The Westminster Confession Statement in my view.

    Phil Almond

    Reply
    • It’s another example of the BCP simply being an historical formulary. Members of the CofE hold and, more importantly, practise very diverse doctrines of baptism. Evangelical Anglican churches practise re-baptism of adults who have already been baptised as children, and ignore Confirmation.
      The preface for baptism in the ASB and now CW say rather more than the BCP. It’s ok to hold multiple views in a broad church. (Which is why, of course, there will eventually be diverse views and practice in the case of equal marriage).

      Reply
      • It’s never ok to hold ‘views’ of any kind, unless that is they are evidenced and warranted, by comparison with their rivals. Otherwise let’s shut all the schools and universities, and anything goes.

        Reply
          • Of course it is – whoever denied it? And much good may it do it, I don’t think.

            Your base position is, in your words, ‘It’s ok to hold multiple views’. (You then add ‘in a broad church’, which commits the error of tautology.) I am so glad that my view that a little man turns on the light every time I open the fridge is given equal status to the correct one.

          • I am so glad that my view that a little man turns on the light every time I open the fridge is given equal status to the correct one.

            Obviously that view should not be considered worthy of respect.

            It’s sexist to assume it’s a little man.

          • But he is black, honestly, guv. And his employment in this role is proof of the equal opportunities now being granted to the differently-sized.

      • Some Evanglical Anglican churches use a service which if not authorised is allowed which is called ‘a reaffirmation of baptismal vows with water’. It looks rather like (proper) baptism, but the words are different.

        Reply
    • Good question. Since in the NT baptism follows belief in Jesus, never before, infant baptism – whatever it is – is not the real thing. The procedure – a little dab of water on the forehead – is also not the real thing. A believer who has been baptised only in this fashion should get baptised as commanded, since he has not previously been baptised. See David Pawson’s The Normal Christian Birth – indeed get a copy.

      Reply
      • Pawson believed speaking in tongues was the ‘sign’ of receiving the Spirit and part of the ‘normal Christian birth’. He was clearly wrong.

        Id recommend Michael Green’s short book on baptism for a more balanced view.

        Reply
        • …..although if you look at the key initiation/Spirit reception passages in Acts: 2,10,19 Pawson could be forgiven for coming to that conclusion. I am not sure ‘clearly wrong’ is quite that clear.

          Reply
          • So Simon do you support the re-baptism that Steven Robinson talks of here? And if so, Do you refuse to baptise infants?

          • Andrew, you seem to be hoping to finger some inconsistency in actual practice. Ordination in the Church of England involves compromise in various areas, as you probably know yourself. Evangelical ministers troubled by infant baptism, which Canon B22 makes it difficult to refuse, do their best to dissuade parents from requesting baptism, take the opportunity to explain what baptism truly signifies, and, failing that, do their best to ensure that the parents and godparents do understand and mean the promises they make.

            For clarity, C-of-E law obviously affirms the authenticity of infant baptism and therefore regards ‘re-baptism’ as a contradiction in terms, since one can only be baptised once. That is why the get-out for ministers when an adult asks to be baptised again is to offer a ‘reaffirmation of baptismal vows’. I was one such myself (though I had been ‘baptised’ with a splash of water as an adult), and it was on that basis that I was fully immersed. I was indifferent as to the form of words used in order to save canon law.

            Ian accurately states: ‘In baptism we are joined with Jesus’ death—our old lives die—as we enter the water, and that we enter the new resurrection life as we come up from the water.’ The very word baptizo indicates submergence. Thus, if you have not been submerged, you have not been baptised.

            It is a momentous decision to follow Christ. One dies to self and accepts a new master. To anyone attending, baptism is a powerful witness of what the believer has decided and what God has done – and conversely it is a powerful declaration to oneself from God. Requiring no personal belief and no death in the water, infant ‘baptism’ symbolises lukewarm toe-in-the-water cultural Christianity, just as a eucharistic meal consisting of a thimble of wine (or juice) and a morsel of bread (or tasteless wafer) is also but a simulacrum of the real thing, an affirmation of warm fellowship with the Lord and with each other. Would you not agree?

          • Steven no I don’t agree, and I’m not trying to ‘finger some inconsistency’. I’m well aware that it exists, and I’m also well aware that evangelicals re-baptise as adults those who have already been baptised as children.

          • I take your point. Indeed the fact that Paul asks some followers of John the Baptist “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” does imply in Paul’s experience this ‘receiving’ was noticeable/obvious.

            But the problem with using Acts, and indeed Paul’s experiences, as a basis for understanding the normal workings of God is that Acts relates to the birth of the church, including the drawing in of the first Gentile believers, and such happenings cannot be viewed as normal or every day. I dont think anyone should be surprised that the presence of God was more apparent at certain times then, just as it was more apparent when Jesus walked the earth.

            Peter

  7. Where the corpse is there the vulture will gather… is the dead body the world about to be visited in judgement… indeed it attracts judgement (the vultures)? Is there a link to the unclean feast in Rev 19?

    Reply
    • John, Hi,
      On the face of it the body does look like the earthly system about to done away and of course this is true but because Jesus takes all sin upon himself, identifies with us to such an extent, he becomes sin for us; He is the body that the vultures flock to. The vultures could then be identified as the zealots fronted by Judas, the Romans, Herod’s family and the priestly caste.
      Therefore even simple prophesies that foretold the destruction of Jerusalem were ultimately fulfilled on the cross. Even the great event of the Bowls of Wrath in Revelation 16, read with this in mind, has the look of Christ’s Passion as if described by the Spirit of Jesus. In this example, substitute vultures for frogs. Even so great a cataclysm that is to befall the earth is in itself only a shadow of what Jesus has already suffered on the cross. So instead of using passages like these to show how awful the end of sinners is it should instead focus the mind on what Jesus suffered in our stead.
      Rev. 19? When all prophesy is fulfilled in Christ the world order will be turned up the right way then all the birds will have their feast- even on the vultures, frogs etc.

      Reply
      • Just rereading this it comes across as a fine example of a crazy ramble. I should have braved the weather and gone for a walk instead. 🙂

        Reply
        • Hi Steve

          We all feel we ramble at times. I’d be inclined to limit this text in interpretation to the second coming. Though I can see the parallel you are suggesting.

          Reply
        • Hi Steve

          We all feel we ramble at times. I’d be inclined to limit this text in interpretation to the second coming. Though I can see the parallel you are suggesting.

          I wrote this above by accident.

          Reply
  8. Luke 17:37 (and Matt 24:28) seems to be an allusion to Job 39:30. The Greek word, aetos>, means eagle, not vulture (for which the Greek word is gups). Translations which translate ‘vultures’ are taking an unwarranted liberty. Eagles are not carrion birds, though it is interesting that the LXX version of Job 39:27b has vultures sitting on the nest in parallel to the eagle of 39:27a (so that v. 30 refers to either bird).

    Not that this explains what Jesus is getting at, however. The general sense is: if you want to know where the body is, don’t look for it directly, look to heaven. Luke differs from Matthew in placing the saying in the context of the rapture and using the word ‘body’ instead of ‘corpse’. In Luke I am inclined to interpret the eagles as metaphoric for angels (the eagle in Rev 8:13 seems to be an angel): the angels gather the wheat into the barn and the darnel into the fiery furnace. In Matthew, Rev 19:17 seems to be the better fit.

    Reply
    • Hi Steve
      I like your ‘look to heaven’ idea. Seems much the same as other proverbs like he who regards the sky will not plough and a skilled man will work for kings not ordinary men. Jesus is saying his work draws the attention of men in high position. But they are not necessarily raptors of noble distinction. ?

      Reply
  9. …..although if you look at the key initiation/Spirit reception passages in Acts: 2,10,19 Pawson could be forgiven for coming to that conclusion. I am not sure ‘clearly wrong’ is quite that clear.

    Reply
  10. ‘Where a dead body is, there the vultures will gather’

    I suspect in saying this, the emphasis in on the ‘dead body’. Jesus is simply emphasizing the results of this judgement – death and destruction. If it was a ‘saying’ then, He is just saying theyre all dead. Why does it matter where they are now, it doesnt.

    Or in terms of Sodom for example, you would know where the dead bodies were from the smoke rising from the destroyed city.

    So I dont think there is any particular message/meaning from the vultures/eagles.

    I wonder if Jesus was rather exasperated with His disciples when He said this. As in, well if you really need to know…

    Peter

    Reply
    • Yep. S’pose so. It is a shame that tired, exhausted, dead arguments keep floating to the top and I still keep coming back to look at them. If only some of the carrion was flagged by a majestic condor or something. “Let the dead eat the dead” (Hesekiah 3:3) comes to mind. Apologies; I’m just grieving the loss of a £6.95 goldfish that only lasted two weeks.

      Reply
      • I dont believe fish were ever meant to be kept as ‘pets’, and particularly not in bowls. Just as birds are not meant to be held captive in cages – that’s disgusting. Nor hamsters or mice. I view it all as human cruelty.

        Reply
        • I “rescued’Trumpy the gold fish from a water garden centre. He had a 2 metre diameter pond to strut his stuff in.

          Reply

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