The Apocrypha in Lent – 4 March

If this is your first visit, please see my introduction to these Lenten readings.

4 March. Wisdom chapters 1-4

After the last couple of weeks’ readings in Maccabees with all the glory and gore of warfare, coming to the book of Wisdom (or Wisdom of Solomon as it is sometimes known) is a blessed relief.  Here, instead of violent struggle in the name of God as the way to please him, we find that a holy and peaceful life is the better way.  These opening chapters contrast the virtuous person who places their trust in God and in the resurrection, with the “ungodly” who live amoral or even immoral lives with no thought for the spiritual consequences.  Several errors are highlighted that the “ungodly” make:

Firstly they do not realise that God, represented as Wisdom, is all-present and all-knowing, aware of our every thought, word and deed (1:6-11).  That in itself should make us stop short when we are tempted to become angry, to hurt someone else, tell lies, or sin in any other way.  But of course we quickly forget that in the heat of the moment.  That is why wisdom is paired with discipline (3:11) – it requires the discipline of frequent prayer to remember constantly that God is with us and aware of everything we do.  And I will be the first to hold my hand up and say that does not yet describe me.

Secondly, by not believing in the afterlife, they think that sins committed in this life have no consequences (chapter 2).  Rather, the wise person is willing to accept hardship or even martyrdom for the sake of God’s favour in the life to come (2:1-9, 4:7-19).

Thirdly, they think wrongly that hardship in this life, particularly in the matter of bearing children (who were very much seen in those days as a sign of God’s blessing) means a person has displeased God. In fact the opposite is true – a woman faithful to one husband but without children is more pleasing to God than someone who has slept around, perhaps in the vain hope of bearing a child by anyone; and the eunuch (perhaps meaning anyone who is sexually different from the majority) will be treated with special favour, again as long as they do not sin (3:10-4:6).  By contrast, the godless person who has many children will suffer God’s displeasure – and so (according to this text) will their children. Jesus contradicted this belief by assuring people that non-one is judged by God for their parent’s sins.

These black-and-white morals may look rather simplistic in our complicated multicultural world with its many different faiths and views on what is acceptable behaviour.  But the first of them, I would argue, is certainly worth thinking about – if you believe in a God who is ever present, that will affect everything you do and how you relate to other people.



The Bible in a Year – 16 December

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

16 December. 2 Peter chapters 1-3 and Jude

Peter’s first letter (see 11 December) was about enduring persecution for the sake of Christ; his second letter is about holding on to the vision of faith while all around are focused on earthly pleasures.

Peter was one of the three disciples who witnessed the Transfiguration of Christ, when God spoke to him audibly and Moses and Elijah appeared to them (1:7,8).  He had also seen the risen Jesus for himself.   He held onto those very real experiences through the dark times of persecution that followed, never doubting that Jesus would, as he promised, return to complete his salvation of the world (3:8-10).

Therefore, writes Peter, the Christian should “lead a life of holiness and godliness” (3:11), resisting temptation and being distinct from those in the world around who are caught up in the pleasures of the flesh, which lead to addiction and becoming “slaves” to their own desires.  Peter particularly singles out lust, greed and drunkenness, but in our own day he would surely have included gambling, and what we call consumerism – accumulating goods for their own sake.  The message is similar to that of Jesus who said “it is impossible to serve both God and money”.  It is far better, in Peter’s view, to be ‘slaves’ to the discipline of following Christ, than to be ‘slaves’ to one of these forms of addiction.

At this time of year approaching Christmas, many Christian speakers try and draw people away from the futile ‘pleasures’ of consumerism and drunkenness, to remind us that Jesus came to set us free from such addictions in order to have the freedom to serve him, which in fact is the way to a full and satisfying life.

Jude’s concerns in his brief letter (to an unidentified readership) are similar to those of Peter in his second letter: the purity of the Christian witness, at a time when it was threatened by people who claimed to be part of the Christian church but actually brought the faith into disrepute by sexual immorality, grumbling, accusations against others, and so on.

Both these letters, with their references to the sins of Sodom, are used along with other texts from the Bible by those within the church who consider homosexuality to be a sin against those of us who identify as “liberal Christians” who accept it. The distinction that is often lost in arguments between these two parts of the Church is that what liberal Christians consider to be acceptable is a faithful relationship between two people of the same gender, or a celibate lifestyle irrespective of orientation.  We agree with the “conservatives” in the church, and with Peter and Jude, that “Licentiousness” (defined by Webster’s dictionary as “lacking legal or moral restraints, especially sexual restraints”) as expressed in a promiscuous lifestyle, is and always will be contrary to God’s intentions, because of the damage caused to individuals where sexual behaviour is separated from love.

But to get bogged down in arguments about where the limits of acceptable sexual behaviour lie, is to risk getting caught in the “wrangling over words and stupid and senseless controversies” against which Paul warned Timothy in yesterday’s reading.  At the end of his letter Jude calls us back to the true focus of Christianity: “Jesus Christ our Lord, [to whom] be glory, majesty, power, and authority”.



The Bible in a Year – 31 March

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

31 March. 1 Samuel chapters 18-20

Today’s reading explores the complicated relationship between David, his patron King Saul, Saul’s daughter Michal who was given to David in marriage, and Saul’s son Jonathan who fell in love with David.  It could be the plot of a soap opera – the father-in-law with a mental illness and murderous intent, the (probably gay) brother-in-law, and the wife torn between loyalties to her biological family and her husband.  If God could be in this messiest of dysfunctional families, he can be with all our families, whatever their problems.


The person at the centre of all these relationships was David, and he seemed to be able to cope with all of them.    When Saul sent him into the heat of battle hoping that he would be killed (as David would later do with Uriah), David returned triumphant.  When Saul demanded as a dowry the foreskins of a hundred Philistine soldiers, David obliged. When he found himself loved by both Michal and her brother Jonathan, he took it in his stride (though his intimacy with Jonathan seems to have been restricted to embracing).

Finally, Saul’s threats become too much and Jonathan helps David to escape from a dangerous situation.  But this is not the last we will hear of these characters.