“I don’t believe Noah existed?” Anya, age 6

I have found that reading the blogs of American progressive Christians can be more fun, more challenging and more enriching than most sermons I have heard in church. What can be just as eye-opening can be the comments, as conservative evangelicals seem to like to hang around and throw in their opinions too.

It struck me that the differences of opinion between people often lies in their interpretation of the bible; more specifically which parts of it should be taken literally as absolute truth and which parts were applicable only for the people at the time. My daughter just couldn’t imagine the whole world flooding, so I chipped in with, “Well how come the lions in the ask didn’t eat everyone?” David fought lions so they were indigenous to the area.

I then went on to explain that even if the story didn’t happen it was about how God loves us and wants a relationship with us, the thread through the whole bible…

So did Noah build an ark with his nameless wife? I have my doubts. I now tend to view much of the early part of Genesis as a poetic parable, not literal history.

Moving forward, some Christians get very upset about the breaking of some of the laws that the Jews were expected to follow, but conveniently forget about others. The early church worked out that at least a couple of laws were no longer applicable: the law of circumcision ànd the laws governing kosher food. It’s not recorded whether the church repealed the law on wearing clothes made from mixed materials or planting different type of seed in one field…

Jesus perhaps picked only one law from Leviticus – Love the Lord your God with your mind, soul and strength and love your neighbour as yourself. The prolific Paul of Tarsus made lots of recommendations to early churches and their leaders – drink wine if you have weak stomach, don’t let women talk in church or wear fancy jewellery, be kind, cast out people who make trouble, look after your slaves, pray a lot, amongst other things.

So how do you decide what should be taken literally. How do you decide what should be taken contextually? Who do you rely on to help you work out the context? Are the differences between Christians, and the groups they belong to, down to what we pick and choose to believe applies to us?

With thanks to Kimberly Knight
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kimberlyknight/

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10 thoughts on ““I don’t believe Noah existed?” Anya, age 6

  1. Dr. Sam,

    Did Jesus only pick one law from Leviticus?

    I recall that in Matthew 19:15, a fellow came to him and asked, “What must I do to enter eternal life?” Jesus responded by telling him to keep the commandments, “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, honor your father and mother. Also, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

    In Matthew 22:40, Jesus says the other commandments hang from the commandment to love your neighbor. I imagine it as a tree with branches. “Love your neighbor” is the trunk, the branches are the more specific commandments. Together they are part of one thing: moral truth.

    But you raise a very good question there at the end: “So how do you decide what should be taken literally. How do you decide what should be taken contextually? Who do you rely on to help you work out the context?”

    A very good question. Amidst all the differing views on what is correct, how do we know what is true?

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    • Good point steve. I did say “probably”. Meant to qualify as “only law from Leviticus”. But also interesting that he only picked a few commandments from the ten initially given to Moses. I heard a sermon about that once, but it escapes me.

      Seems Jesus was selective too?

      But thanks for correcting me.

      But your question is mine too. How do we know what is right? perhaps what I like about progressive Christians is that they ask this question too.

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    • The ten commandments are given in exodus, at least initially…

      Then some repeated in leviticus 19 in the context of instructions for personal holiness.

      In Matt 19, my Bible says Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy, but there’s a bit of overlap.

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  2. Indeed, they appear once more in Deuteronomy 5.

    I don’t think one ought to look at Jesus’ words in a minimumalist way. The fact that He enumerated those commandments probably doesn’t mean it is now OK to worship other gods, take the Lord’s name, or covet your neighbors goods. Similarly, it is possible for things to be immoral which don’t appear on that famous list. I’m sure we’d both agree that it is wrong to torture animals for fun.

    I agree with you that the Progressive Christian forums are more likely to ask that question. However, what I don’t like is the manner in which they ask the question. It is often posed dismissively. “How can we know what is true?” is not a question which rises out of the intense search for truth, but out of ambivalence for ever finding it.

    But if we are to live out Jesus’ commandment in Matthew 22:37 – that we are to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” – and we are to strive to “be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect” [Matt 5:48], the desire to serve God and live a life which is pleasing to Him should be a constant preoccupation.

    But the question remains, how are we to know what is true? Did Jesus tell the apostles to make disciples who obey His commands [Matt 28:20] and not leave us any way of knowing what that is?

    “Oh, but we must read the Bible and do what it says,” says the Fundamentalist. Yes? But what about the people who read it and don’t agree with your interpretation? What now? Is this really the system Christ left us, to argue about the meaning of a book?

    And who says that book is the crux of Christianity anyway? There are 27 books in the New Testament… why? Says who? How do I really know the letter of Jude and James are inspired anyway?

    If we’re honestly searching for the truth, these questions should keep us awake at night.

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    • You ask the same questions I do… Apologies for being minimalist.

      There was a great article in christianity magazine about the conundrum of working out what scriptures are applicable now. Sometimes different parts of the same passage are difficult to know how to interpret.

      Take leviticus 19 again: a recap of the 10 commandments, the great commandment, israeites myst obey all god’s rules, then what to do if you have sex with a slave girl and don’t trim your beard, before some stuff that seems more common sense to us now.

      I think you’re right that everything should be rooted in the great commandment. But Paul pointed out that “the law simply shows us how sinful we are” rom3.20 and that “I want to do what is right, but I can’t” rom 7.18. This could even apply to the great commandment, I suppose…

      Taken out of context it would seem there’s no point even trying, as the writer of ecclesiastes concluded. But I hope it is in the struggle to seek God and his purposes that we find Him. For if we struggle with a pure intention then we should see Him. Blessed are the pure in heart…

      And perhaps it’s not in the achievement of love it revelation but the journey which defines our faith?

      But I guess we’ve still not answered “how can we know what is true”. Perhaps we can never be certain, but if we seek the truth with a pure heart and use the litmus tests of the great commandment, fellow Christians and the Bible we might get a little closer.

      For serious progressive questions I.d recommend the “banned questions” series by Christian piatt and “Messy” by AJ Swoboda btw.

      Peace x

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  3. Another thought – Jesus didn’t use theology to explain the Kingdom of God or what truth was. Paul tried to as far as I can figure, but always in the context of what he was going through and who he was writing to.

    Jesus preferred to use stories and parables and perhaps we can find truth in the stories of our loves. Perhaps we should be attempting to live lives, of which stories of truth can be told…

    Sounds a bit hippyish, but when I did a bit of voluntary youthwork I realised that young people connected with stories and that it was invigorating to have stories to tell that were soaked with the truth of God’s love. Often I borrowed the stories of others, especially Mark Yaconelli, but came to realise that I should be living my life in such a way that I could tell my own stories that reflected the truth of God’s love.

    Peace x

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  4. Hmmm… the “Law” to which Paul was referring in Romans 3:20 was the Mosaic Law of the Hebrews. I think one of the biggest confusions in the Christian world is what we’re supposed to do with those laws, if anything.

    If I may, I’d like to share with you something I wrote on the subject. It’s short. Let me know what you think: https://www.facebook.com/notes/steven-okeefe/can-christians-consume-crayfish/10151727458748154

    I hope that makes some sense. Of course, everything I wrote there could be complete nonsense. Why listen to what some random, uneducated Irishman has to say on the matter?

    The question of “how can I know what is true” remains. And I think that if God really loved us and wanted us to know what is true, He’d have left us some way to know we’ve found it.

    I hope you don’t mind my intrusion onto your blog, by the way.

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    • You;re more than welcome here.

      Have had 1000 views but only 2 comments before you cam along. Intrude away.

      So people say when they know something is true, they just know it, in their “knower”…I think it has something to do with uncovering the soul, which is the part of you that knows God (according to Mark Yaconnelli).

      As I said in the previous post. I think that the love of GOd is absolute and everything else is relative, more or less… WIll take a look at your facebook thing before I go to bed…

      Peace x

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      • I’m glad you enjoyed it. So if I could tie this back to your original post, you said:

        “Moving forward, some Christians get very upset about the breaking of some of the laws that the Jews were expected to follow, but conveniently forget about others. The early church worked out that at least a couple of laws were no longer applicable: the law of circumcision ànd the laws governing kosher food. It’s not recorded whether the church repealed the law on wearing clothes made from mixed materials or planting different type of seed in one field.”

        My answer as that the entirety of the Mosaic Law is binding on no one. Jesus fulfilled the law and instituted a New Covenant. Thus, Paul says we’re no longer under the law in Gal 3:25.

        But that doesn’t mean morality has been cancelled. The moral law, the one written on our hearts [Rom 2:14-15], remains binding on everyone. So things like beard trimming, mixed garments, and eating crayfish is allowable. But beating your wife, ruining your neighbor’s reputation, blaspheming God, robbing a bank, mutilating your body, drinking yourself into a stupor, holding onto grudges, and yes… even misusing the gift of sexuality retains its intrinsic moral character.

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