The Bible in a Year – 14 October

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

14 October. 1 Corinthians chapters 9-11

In these chapters, Paul turns to the practicalities of Christian living. The questions he discusses are all still relevant today, though we may come up with different answers as a result of differences in culture.   For instance, Paul explains at length why women should wear veils in church (not “hats” as some people think); it derives from an understanding of women as being subservient to men, and of their long hair which is their ‘glory’ being a temptation to men to distract them from holy thoughts.  Most human societies have moved on from that kind of thinking about women, and if a man finds a woman in church attractive, that’s his issue to deal with, not her fault.

There are, of course, some Christians who will say that if we believe the Bible to consist of writings inspired by God, we should take it all literally, but that leads to all kinds of complications and paradoxes, simply because it was written over a period of about 1000 years (and including much earlier ideas in some parts) by people whose culture and philosophy varied from Persian to Greek, as well as Jewish.

God does want us to live in a way that honours him and each other; but in Christ he put to an end the idea that there is one unchanging set of moral and religious rules for all time.  Paul concedes this with his challenge to the Corinthians: “Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head unveiled?”(11:13).  He hopes, of course, that they will say “no”; but we are free to differ.

Paul himself has given us in the previous chapter the overarching principle to guide our Christian ethics: “All things are lawful, but not all things are beneficial. All things are lawful, but not all things build up. Do not seek your own advantage, but that of others” (10:23-24).  What that means in practice will depend on when and where we live, and the culture of our neighbours.

The Bible in a Year – 15 September

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

15 September. 1 Chronicles chapter 7-8

As in previous days, I am picking out for comment those moments in the long recitals of tribal genealogies where the author gives us an extended glimpse into the actual circumstances of one individual family.  They must have really stood out from the crowd for this treatment.  This one is from the time of Ephraim, one of the sons of Joseph (of ‘dreamcoat’ fame):

“Now the people of Gath, who were born in the land, killed them, because they came down to raid their cattle. And their father Ephraim mourned for many days, and his brothers came to comfort him. Ephraim went in to his wife, and she conceived and bore a son; and he named him Beriah, because disaster had befallen his house. His daughter was Sheerah, who built both Lower and Upper Beth-horon, and Uzzen-sheerah.” (7:21-24).

Ephraim, according to Genesis 41:52, was born in Egypt to an Egyptian mother, and his name meant “fruitful”.  When his grandfather Jacob (Israel) was dying, he deliberately gave a blessing to Ephraim that should by rights have gone to his older brother Manasseh.  When Moses blessed the tribes of Israel before his death, of Joseph’s descendants he said, “A firstborn bull—majesty is his! His horns are the horns of a wild ox; with them he gores the peoples, driving them to the ends of the earth; such are the myriads of Ephraim” (Deuteronomy 33:17). These spiritual giants must have had some insight into God’s purposes for Ephraim and his family – certainly his seems to have become the largest of the tribes.

So it was that the sons of this “wild ox” raided the cattle of the people of Gath. These were the Philistines from whom Goliath came – not men to be messed with. So it is not surprising that their retaliation was brutal.

The next verse is interesting. Ephraim fathered another son (though no parent can ever ‘replace’ one who has been killed).  Beriah’s sons (if any) are not mentioned, but his daughter is.  Sheerah ‘built’ (or perhaps more likely paid for the building of) two settlements.  Throughout these genealogies, sons are listed far more than daughters.

It has often been true that women in a man’s world have to do something exceptional to be noticed. Only recently have studies of the “women of the Bible” shown that although much fewer in number, collectively women of faith have achieved as much as their brothers.  Now that most Christian denominations in developed countries accept women in leadership, things might change at last.

The Bible in a Year – 5 August

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this, and also my introduction to the Proverbs.

5 August. Proverbs chapters 30-31

These last two chapters of the Proverbs are each said to be an ‘oracle’ (something like a prophecy, rather than mere human wisdom).  The second half of chapter 31 is one of my favourites. It is useful as a riposte to anyone who claims that the Bible as a whole is male-centred and undervaluing of women. Yes, there are many more men mentioned in the bible, especially in the parts that deal with battles and priests, for example. But women are rarely far away, and here they come to the fore.

The ‘ideal wife’ of this chapter is no commoner, of course.  The references to her household being clothed in crimson means that she and her husband are both wealthy and influential.  She has access to enough money to buy property, do business deals and employ servants. Not many people are as fortunate as that.  But the point is, that she uses her wealth and influence wisely. She is no ‘WAG’ spending her husband’s income on frivolities. Rather, she works hard herself, and encourages others. She provides for the needs of her own household, but gives money to the poor as well. She is kind in the way she deals with people, and raises her children well.   The summary in verse 30 is worth remembering: “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”  These are the qualities to look for in a partner.


The Bible in a Year – 19 March

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

19 March. Judges chapters 3 – 5

Chapters 3 and 4 recount the acts of the first four ‘judges’: Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar and Deborah.  Three men and a woman, and it is only the woman whose name has passed into Biblical history. Othniel and Shamgar are mentioned only in passing, and Ehud is remembered for slaying the King of Moab after diplomatically making peace with him. In any age, that would be counted a dirty deed of deception – this weekend the media have noted the insult that Donald Trump gave by merely refusing to shake hands with Angela Merkel – but how much more in the eastern culture of hospitality?


Deborah is also (in)famous for arranging the murder of an enemy by the hand of another woman, Jael, and chapter 5 is a lengthy poem or song attributed to her. No doubt it reads more poetically in the original language than in English, but remember again this is nearly 3000 years ago, whereas English written literature dates back no more than half that time. Among all the apparent glorification of war there is a human touch in the image of the warrior Sisera’s mother at her window, worried why he has not returned, and people around here reassuring her (although maybe they already know he is dead).

People sometimes think that before Margaret Thatcher, it was commonly believed that women cannot be powerful leaders of nations. But I don’t think that is true – besides Deborah (and a few other examples in the Bible) consider Cleopatra of Egypt, Boudicca/Boadicea of the Iceni (ancient Britons) and Joan of Arc, to name but three.