Text of Rev. Dr. Scott McKenna’s Edinburgh Newman lecture, April 15th

Newman Association, Monday 15 April, 2024

Mayfield Salisbury Church, Edinburgh

The Bible:  A Mosaic


In art, a mosaic is a surface which has been decorated, beautifully decorated, with coloured, small pieces of material, such as glass, tile, mineral or stone.  Typically, pieces are anonymous fractions of the design:  each tiny piece is a world in its own right; each one transporting.  In titling this talk, The Bible:  A Mosaic, I meant nothing more than that the Bible, that ancient collection of sacred books, may be thought of as a mosaic:  each book, story, phrase, and word – in their own right – is a tiny piece which, while unique and different from those around it, contributes to the magnificence of the whole.   In the Eastern Orthodox tradition of Christianity, it is said that icons are windows into heaven.  I believe that the Bible, the written word, is a doorway into the Divine.  Icons are intended for meditation, for personal, intimate engagement with the Holy and, read meditatively, imaginatively, the written word affords us that same gift.

This evening, I shall offer my views and insights on Scripture.   Not everyone will agree with what I say:  you and others may have different perspectives; rich and richer insight to share.  I am not offering absolute truth, but I hope that some of what I say will resonate with something of your journey.  In Judaism, it is said that the Bible is eternally fertile:  with study, each successive generation will discover new things and God, the Sacred, the Mystery, will be apprehended and expressed in new and varied ways.

In the Jewish tradition, there is a delightful story told about a leading sage of the first/second century CE, Rabbi Akiba.   It was said that news of Akiba’s genius had reached Moses in heaven, and that one day Moses decided to come back down to earth to attend one of Akiba’s classes.  He sat in the eighth row behind the other students and, to his dismay, he found that Akiba’s exposition was incomprehensible to him, even though Akiba was teaching on the revelation that Moses had received on Mount Sinai.  Moses said, ‘My sons have surpassed me’ and, proudly, he made his way back to heaven.  Insight into God is continually evolving and our task, our calling, is to be open to new possibilities.

First, let me say a word about ‘God’; what I mean when I use that word.   The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, said that ‘God’ is a one word poem.  Our best poetry is to use our best words in the best order to say that which, often, cannot be said, or said adequately.  The French philosopher and mystic, Simone Weil, said:

A case of contradictories, both of them true.

There is a God.   There is no God.

Where is the problem?   I am quite sure that

there is a God in the sense that I am

sure my love is no illusion.   I am quite sure

there is no God, in the sense that I am sure

there is nothing which resembles what

I can conceive when I say that word.

God is always beyond us:  beyond our understanding and beyond the meaning of any words we may use, however high and poetic they might be.  Put more harshly, the German mystic, Meister Eckhart wrote:

Unsophisticated teachers say that God is pure being.   He is as

high above being as the highest angel is above a gnat.   I would

be speaking as incorrectly in calling God a being as if I called

the sun pale or black.   God is neither this nor that.

Karen Armstrong says that, ‘doctrine is self-indulgent guess work which makes people quarrelsome and [incredibly] sectarian’.  For me, ‘God’ is a single reality:  God is the Being who is not a being at all; God is Tao, Mother, Allah, Father, YHWH, Brahman, Great Spirit, and a thousand, thousand other names.  The Bible is a mosaic:  it is multiple stories about ‘God’, the Unnameable, and our understandings are always developing and changing. 

The Bible or Bibles

In 2 Timothy 3: 16, we read that, ‘All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching’.  Initially, this passage could not have meant the Christian Bible because that had not at that point been agreed and finalised.  The author of 2 Timothy was referring to the Old Testament.  It is also not clear what significance any writing has by virtue of saying that it is ‘inspired by God’ or ‘God-breathed’.   The many books of the Bible do not map directly into religious belief and practice:  it is a mosaic with many different materials and colours.  For example, the doctrine of the Trinity (as defined and used in the creeds of the church) is central to Christianity, but it is almost entirely absent from the New Testament.  

Drawing on the Jewish tradition, there is a vivid story told which demonstrates that there is no definitive interpretation of Scripture.  Rabbi Eliezer was engaged in an intractable argument with colleagues about a legal ruling in the Torah.  When his colleagues refused to accept his interpretation, Eliezer asked God for a miracle to prove his point.  A miracle happened:  a tree moved four hundred cubits, water flowed up hill, and the walls of the house in which they were shook violently to the point of near collapse.  Eliezer’s colleagues were not impressed by this show of supernatural force.  In desperation, Eliezer called for a voice from heaven to adjudicate.  The divine voice came and said, ‘What do you have against Rabbi Eliezer?  The [legal ruling] is always as he says’.  But, in response, another rabbi, Rabbi Joshua quoted Deuteronomy: ‘It is not in heaven’.  In other words, the Torah is no longer in the celestial world.  Once it had been spoken by God on Mount Sinai, it no longer belonged to God, but was the possession of every Jew.  One rabbi said, ‘We pay no attention to a heavenly voice; we will decide by a majority’.  To my mind, there is something incredibly healthy about this perspective:  what is a miracle or a heavenly voice?  Who is to say what such things are?  We are rational creatures with God-given powers of discernment which we are to apply to the whole of life, including the interpretation of Scripture. 

The Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament, is the sacred Scripture of Judaism.  In deference to Judaism, and in order to avoid any sense of supersessionism, scholars tend to avoid the term ‘Old Testament’ preferring the Hebrew Bible.  However, it is a bit of a misnomer because the Hebrew Bible is not entirely written in Hebrew; parts of it, for example, in Daniel, are written in Aramaic.  That said, in the time of Jesus, the Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures which were in circulation was the Septuagint, which was written in Greek.  In those days, few people would have spoken or read Hebrew; Koine Greek (common dialect) and Aramaic were languages used every day.  It was Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285BC – 247BC) who requested that the ‘laws of the Jews’ be translated into Greek, and seventy-two translators set about the task:  six translators each from the twelve tribes of Israel.  That said, the Septuagint may have been based on an older text, which we no longer have.

In turning to the New Testament, it is perhaps worth stating at the outset that from the outset Christians brought an interpretative framework to Scripture.  Bishop Irenaeus articulated what he believed to be the central tenets of the faith:  he spoke of belief in God the Father Almighty, who made heaven, earth, the seas, and everything in them; belief also in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit; and the plan of salvation made known through the prophets.  Irenaeus spoke also of the virgin birth, the passion, resurrection and bodily ascension of Jesus into heaven.  This framework has been determinative for the church over almost two millennia.  However, it is worth noticing that the framework articulated is Trinitarian, but there is almost no reference to the Trinity in the New Testament.  He stresses the central place of the virgin birth but, again, apart from the opening passages of Matthew and Luke, that belief is mentioned nowhere else in the New Testament.  It is not mentioned by Paul, Mark, John, Acts, or the non-Pauline letters.  The point is that an interpretive framework was used.  For good or ill, it has guided the way Christians have read their Scriptures for centuries. 

The New Testament did not begin as a collection of sacred writings, but as occasional literature.  The written Gospels were not thought to be verbally exact by the first Christians and there is clear evidence that the Gospels were not initially considered to be sacred Scripture.  Early preachers might use the Gospels as an aide-mémoire.  The second century bishop, Irenaeus, who was martyred in 202CE, said that there should be four Gospels because there were four winds and, in Ezekiel (1: 5 – 10) and Revelation (4: 6 – 7), four living creatures.  The oral tradition prevailed for the first Christians and the second century apologist and philosopher, Justin Martyr, believed that the words and deeds of Jesus (recorded in the Gospels) was the ultimate authority, not the written Gospel itself.  The story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus had ultimate authority, but not because it was written down.   This is perhaps the reason more than any other that the Church tolerated four written Gospels.  It was probably around the time of the Christian scholar, Origen (185CE – 253CE), that the Gospels were beginning to be treated in the same manner as the Old Testament, as sacred Scripture.   In part, we believe this because Origen wrote commentaries on them in the same manner as he did the Jewish Scriptures. 

One feature of the Gospels, particularly that of Matthew, is the use of the Old Testament, of prophecy, to demonstrate that Jesus is the Messiah.  At Christmas, we typically hear the prophecies of Isaiah (9: 2 – 7) or Micah (5: 2 – 5).   Many scholars argue that the use of the Old Testament prophecies in this way is forced; that, in fact, the prophecies will have been written for their own time and context.  However, because the Old Testament was indisputably Scripture, it meant that if the early Christian community could justify their position from Scripture, then it would validate their claims.  By the second century, when almost all Christians were non-Jews, justification of Jesus as Messiah through use of the Old Testament mattered less:  it was Jesus they believed in. 

There was a moment when the early Christians thought to abandon the Old Testament.  In the middle of the second century, Marcion of Sinope (Turkish side of the Black Sea), who taught in Rome, regarded the Jewish Scriptures as the work of a demonic, evil god, but Marcion did not succeed.  It is possible that his desire to abandon the Old Testament may have helped ‘raise’ the Gospels and the New Testament to the status of Scripture. 

Rabbinic Tradition

Jesus said, ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name, I shall be there also’.  In the Jewish tradition, the tradition of Jesus, it is said, ‘Where two or three gather to study the Torah, there the Shekinah, (the Presence of God), will be there also’.  After the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70CE, the rabbinic tradition of scriptural interpretation gathered pace:  this study was a means of encountering the Divine Presence.  Their primary concern was to discover God in new ways rather than dig for any original significance or meaning.  In their view, there was always a spectrum of meanings and not one single authoritative reading of Scripture.  Scripture was inexhaustible.   It was said that King Solomon used three thousand parables to illustrate every single verse of the Torah, and could give a thousand and five interpretations of each parable, which means that there were three million, fifteen thousand possible expositions of each verse of Scripture.  

The rabbis used a technique called midrash, which was taken from the verb darash, which means ‘to seek out’.  They used Scripture in a way that we might see as arbitrary or manipulated for particular purposes.  St Paul also used Scripture by being selective.  When he cited Abraham to expound the central importance of faith in God over religious laws, he carefully omitted the Old Testament reference to circumcision.  Equally, they told stories to illustrate their point.  Their theology was written in story form, and that seems to me to be critical in understanding the stories of Jesus.  One example from the Jewish tradition centres on the ram which Abraham killed instead of sacrificing his son, Isaac.  The story goes:

         From that ram, which was created at the twilight, nothing

came forth that was useless.  The ashes formed the foundation of the inner altar used for …. the offerings on the Day of Atonement.  The sinews of the ram were the strings of the harp on which David played.  The ram’s skin was the girdle around the loins of Elijah…The horn of the ram of the left side was the one which marked the revelation at Mount Sinai…

         The horn of the right side, which is larger than that of the left, is

         destined in the future to be sounded in the world that is to come

         and at the ingathering of the exiles, as it is said, ‘And it

shall come to pass in that day, that a great trumpet shall be blown, and it is said, ‘And the Lord shall be king over all the earth’.

The point of that rabbinic story is to say that there is no before or after for God:  Abraham, Moses, David, and Elijah all exist in one dimension.  Storytelling was what the Jewish tradition did. 

Christian Interpretation

We may be a little bemused by the interpretation of the rabbis.   However, early Christian interpretation was also imaginative, certainly more imaginative than the so-called plain meaning of Scripture.   Origen (185CE – 253CE) explored three levels of interpretation:  literal, moral, and allegorical.  John Cassian (360CE – 435CE) used those three interpretive levels and added a fourth:  the mystical sense.  By the time we reach the sixth century, we have Gregory the Great (540CE – 604CE) who, unlike Origen, Jerome, and Augustine, does not waste any time on the literal meaning.  Gregory said that, ‘studying the plain sense of scripture was like looking at somebody’s face without seeing what was in their heart’.  

In the Book of Numbers, chapter 33, there are forty-two places mentioned where the Israelites stopped on their way through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land.  Most readers would skip such a chapter, but Origen allegorised the chapter:  he said that the forty-two places represented the forty-two generations from Abraham to Jesus.  Elsewhere, he mocked those who read Genesis 1 literally, and he allegorised parables, such as the Good Samaritan.  For Origen, the Good Samaritan was Christ, the man’s journey from Jerusalem to Jericho was his decline from heaven to earth, the bandits were spiritual demons, and the inn was the Church.  In Psalm 137, we have that brutal verse of dashing little ones against the rock.  Origen said that the little ones were the evil thoughts which confound us, and the rock is Christ.  Allegorising was a culturally normal way of interpreting treasured texts:  in Hellenistic culture, it had long been the case that the works of Homer were dealt with in this way. 

Two Stories of Jesus

Let’s pause for a moment to consider the story of the Gerasene demoniac.  You’ll remember that the man named Legion is possessed and, at the command of Jesus, the demon leaves Legion and enters a herd of pigs, which promptly proceed to charge down a hill into the lake and to their deaths.   The story of the Gerasene demoniac and the suicidal swine is not what it seems or, put another way, the story is not to be read as a verbatim record of a historical event.   A literal supernatural reading of such texts is a violation of the original intent of the gospel writers.   If read literally, what would happen to the livelihood of the swine farmer?    This is not a story about the supernatural powers of Jesus:  it is a story about personal encounter with Jesus and political, economic, and spiritual liberation.  

The faith narrative is set in a territory called Gadara, which is situated on the east side of Lake Galilee.   The man in the story is called ‘Legion’, which is an unusual name.   The pigs or swine are ‘commanded’ by Jesus and they ‘charge’ into the lake.   Strong military imagery is used in this story.   Is there an association being made between demonic power, on the one hand, and the extreme acts of oppression by the Roman army on the other?   

The Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke in which this story appears were written around AD70 and AD90.   In AD70, the Romans razed Jerusalem to the ground.   The Romans crushed the Jewish revolt and destroyed the Temple.   The dwelling-place of Yahweh had been reduced to rubble.   For the Jews, it was as if the nation’s soul had been ripped out.   The Roman legion which led the destruction of Jerusalem was called The Tenth Fretensis.   In the time of Jesus, the territory of Gadara or Geresenes was occupied and policed by the same Roman legion, the Tenth Fretensis.   One might say that this legion was among the most hated in Jewish history.   It was from the Mount of Olives that the Tenth Fretensis led the attack on Jerusalem.   Its symbol was a wild boar or pig.   No Jew could have heard the story of Jesus and the pigs and not thought of the Roman legion called The Tenth Fretensis.   This seemingly superstitious story is about finding faith, sanity, dignity and hope in a politically dangerous environment.   It’s allegorical. 

On the night Jesus was arrested, we read in the Gospel of John that Jesus got up from the table, knelt before each disciple, and washed their feet.   In the same way that the dialogue between Jesus and his mother at the wedding at Cana in Galilee is odd, and the same way that the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus is odd, as well as that of Jesus and the woman at the well, so too here at the footwashing the dialogue to stilted; intentionally so.   It’s not ‘straight’ history.  The footwashing is more than mere humility:  it is an action which mimics the actions of the priests on entering the Jerusalem temple.  Before leaving the outer court of the temple, and moving closer to the Holy of Holies, the priests were required to wash their feet.  It seems that Jesus was re-enacting this action.  When he told his disciples that they must wash the feet of one another, is it possible he was saying that they were to be priests to each other, and that the Holy of Holies is experienced in this new community? 

Gospel Stories:  Gematria

In the ancient world and certainly in Judaism, storytellers used gematria.  Gematria is a system of attributing numerical value to letters.  Let me give you three examples.  The first is of the woman ‘with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years’ (Luke 13: 10 – 17).   In Aramaic, we learn that the woman suffers from ‘a spirit of weakness’.  It may be that the woman was physically crippled and bent over, or it may be that she was spiritually broken unable to lift her eyes from the ground, from the burdens of her life (she was crushed by life’s events), or it may be both.   Jesus ‘unties’ her from her captivity.  Like animals untied on the Sabbath in order that they may drink, the ‘untying’ of the woman is also a matter of life and death:  from spiritual darkness and death to light and life in Christ.

But which detail of the story is the most curious?   For me, it is that the woman was bound for eighteen years.  We are told it twice.  Within Judaism today, at weddings, bar mitzvahs and other events, Jews often give gifts of money in multiples of eighteen by which they give the recipient the gift of life, new life.   In Hebrew, the word for new life is chai.   Jews often wear the word on a necklace, sometimes alongside the Star of David.  Chai is made up of two letters, which are valued at eight and ten.  Eighteen means new life.  The soul or spiritual life of the woman is untied and, in the presence of Jesus, at the hand of Jesus, she is given new life.  Is that what eighteen means?

Another more familiar example.  In the Book of Revelation, the number of the beast is 666.   It was the beast which brought violence and killed many of the first century Christians.  In the first century, the beast was the Roman emperor, Nero Caesar.  In Hebrew, when we attach numerical value to the letters of the emperor’s name, the numbers total 666.   

The third example of the story in the Gospel of John at chapter 21 about a large catch of fish.  It is not the only story in the Gospels about a large catch of fish.   In the Gospel of St Luke there is a near identical story at chapter 5, except that in Luke it is Jesus and not the Risen or Ascended Christ who speaks.   The contexts are slightly different and there is good academic debate about which faith narrative came first.   The points drawn out of the two versions are also slightly different but there is no doubt that these faith narratives are parables built on a well-known Old Testament story.   In the Book of Ezekiel, at chapter 47, the prophet has a vision in which there is a great catch of fish.   The vision is an ingathering of God’s people in the last days:  ‘Fishermen will stand by from En Gedi to En Eglaim; they will be places for spreading their nets.   The fish will be of a great many kinds, exceedingly many.’   The vision of Ezekiel is the gathering in of all God’s people and the Gospel of John uses evokes that dream as the climax of the Christ story.   Using gematria, the names En Gedi and En Eglaim when read as numbers total 153.   The number of fish is a hidden reference to the Ezekiel vision.   The closing faith narrative in the Fourth Gospel is a story about drawing all people to Christ.  Crucially, first century Jewish hearers would know that.

Old Testament Themes

What about Old Testament themes or stories being reimagined?  In part, by mirroring the Scripture of the Old Testament, there is greater value and importance attached to the story of Jesus.   Together with the Book of Acts, the Gospels portray a mixed picture of Judas.  What of the thirty pieces of silver?   It is a curious method of payment because using pieces of silver as payment had stopped centuries earlier.  Is it an historical fact or an allusion to an earlier story?  Is there a story in the Old Testament or other Jewish writing which tells of betrayal and pieces of silver?   Yes, there is.   Enraged with anger and hatred, the brothers of Joseph (with his multicoloured coat) sell him to a passing caravan going to Egypt.   The original idea was to kill him, but Judah persuaded the brothers to sell him.   The decision to betray Joseph and sell him was taken during a meal.  Joseph’s coat is kept in one piece and not torn.  In the story of Joseph, which of the brothers handed him over to the Midianites?  It was Judah.  It was Judah who handed over Joseph and it was Judas who handed over Jesus.  In Hebrew, the name for Judas is Judah.  And, perhaps, the mention of pieces of silver is a way of connecting the two stories since Joseph was sold for pieces of silver?  You could not be a first century Jewish listener and, on hearing of Judas and the pieces of silver, think also of Joseph and Judah.

Most important of all is the broad theme of the Joseph story.   Joseph who was betrayed by his brothers – in the end – saves his people.  It is Joseph who brings Jacob and all the tribes of Israel to Egypt, to food, safety, prosperity, and salvation.   What in reality was a betrayal – a handing over – becomes, by the love of Joseph, the providence of God’s guiding hand in the lives of them all.   Do we hear the echo in the story of Judas of the earlier story?

Resurrection Narratives

St Paul said that Jesus was buried; He was raised on the third day; He appeared to Cephas and the twelve; He appeared to more than 500 brothers and sisters at one time; He appeared to James and the apostles; and, finally, He appeared to the apostle himself.   In his First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul said that Jesus ‘appeared’; He appeared to a whole host of different people, men and women, and in numerous locations, on occasion at the same time.   What does it mean Jesus ‘appeared’?  

There is no record in any of the Gospels of the actual Resurrection; I mean, no record of the moment in which Jesus rises from the dead.   Appearances of the Christ already risen from the dead are found in the later Gospels of Matthew, Luke and John, but not in earliest Gospel, the Gospel of Mark.   Jesus rising from the dead is hidden, concealed in the darkness of the cave.   The Resurrection stories, the accounts of Jesus appearing to His disciples and others, are like many other stories in the Bible.   They are carefully crafted narratives weaving together mythology, spirituality, liturgy and fragments of history.   The stories are intended for meditation; they are to be read imaginatively.   In a washing machine manual, words only have one meaning; this is not so in the Bible.

We are told that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day.   St Paul tells us that and the third day is stressed in the Gospel of Luke, in the story of Christ appearing on the Road to Emmaus.   In the Book of Acts, the apostle Peter told the crowd that Jesus was raised on the third day.   Details in Scripture are seldom incidental.   Names, story lines and imagery are almost always suggestive of other stories.   In the Book of Genesis, in the story of Abraham and the gruesome binding of his son Isaac, we are told that the drama unfolds on the third day.   A ghastly story, a vivid story with many meanings, but the drama took place on the third day.   Out of death, or possible death, came life, new life.   In the Book of Exodus, in the story of the Ten Commandments, it is on the third day that Moses ascended Mount Sinai.   Amidst the thunder, lightning and blast of a trumpet, Moses entered the thick darkness where God was.   Crucially, Moses encountered the Eternal on the third day.  These details are not coincidental.   This is a genre of writing and a detail used in one place may be suggestive of earlier stories.  

In the Resurrection narratives, we are told that the women wonder how they will move the stone, the large stone, from the entrance of the tomb?  On arrival, the women find that the heavy stone is already rolled back.  In the later Gospel of John, the Risen Christ is able to enter and leave rooms which are locked.  Paul told us that the Risen Christ appeared to 500 brothers and sisters at once.  If we read the Scripture story literally, we may reasonably ask, ‘Why is the stone rolled back?’   Surely, the Risen Christ did not need to move it to escape?   Perhaps it was moved so that the women and disciples could look inside, but together they could have moved it themselves.  There is a falseness to this aspect of the story.  The women are hardly likely to set out on the journey and, halfway there, think, ‘Oh, how are we going to move the stone?’  

When the women do enter the tomb, gaze into the darkness of the cave, they see a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting to the right.   The young man told the woman that Jesus, who had been crucified, was raised from the dead.   A young man, dressed in white:  an angel?   Is there another story in the Bible which involves a stone and an angel?   The stone may draw us back to the story of Jacob at Bethel.   Jacob used one of the stones of Bethel as a pillow.   In his dream, he saw a ladder on earth, the top of which reached to heaven; on the ladder angels were ascending and descending.   In the dream, the LORD stood beside Jacob and said, ‘I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac.’   In Matthew’s account, the angel has descended from heaven.   On waking from his dream, Jacob said, ‘Surely the LORD is in the place – and I did not know it!’   He named the place Bethel, meaning the house of God.   Jacob said, ‘This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’   Through mention of the stone in the faith narrative and the presence of the angel, both Mark and Matthew hint at the empty tomb being the gate of heaven.   It is possible that the angel is a reminder of the angel Michael, the great prince, who was prophesied to appear when the dead shall rise.   In the Book of Daniel, we read, ‘Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake….’.   

In the Gospel of John, two angels appear:  one at the head and one at the foot of where the body of Jesus had lain.   For a Jewish listener, this detail is suggestive of the cherubim which sat on the lid of the Ark of the Covenant.   The ark rested in the Holy of Holies in the temple, the most sacred place on earth for the Jews.   It is possible that the fourth evangelist wants us to see that the empty tomb, the rising of Jesus from the dead, is the new Holy of Holies, the dwelling-place of God.  

In Judaism, Moses was raised to new life, and so too Enoch and Elijah.   In an argument with the Sadducees, Jesus said that the great patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, were already alive in God.   In a mystical vision, in a moment of transfiguration, Jesus stood alongside Moses and Elijah who were already alive in God, already raised from the dead.   In his Letter to the Galatians, Paul said, ‘I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.’   Resurrection is something that happens in the heart.   This takes us into the ancient method of meditation:  lectio divina (sacred study).   It is in here, in the soul, the consciousness, that we taste immortality.   When Paul said Christ appeared, he meant that Christ appeared to the inner eye:  those who open to the possibility, to those prepared to penetrate beneath the surface of the Bible, beneath the surface of the world, into the darkness of the mind’s cave.   It is there we encounter the Risen Christ.

How do you read the Bible?


Barton, John         A History of the Bible                        Penguin

Armstrong, Karen  The Bible:  The Biography                 Atlantic Books

John, Jeffrey         The Meaning in the Miracles             Canterbury Press

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  1. Paddy Ferry says:

    Having listened to Scott’s talk and now having read the script, it is obvious that, whoever may have written the New Testament Gospels, great minds were definitely involved in making these connections between the Old and New Testaments.
    However, can this be regarded as a positive — a validation — or otherwise of the scriptures?

  2. Sean O'Conaill says:

    #1 It is not merely in the connections between old and new Testaments that the greatness of scripture lies, but in the revelation of the sameness in all eras of the victimisation process – flowing always from the egotism (personal status anxiety) of those who exercise power.

    As Richard Rohr records in his two short books on the Great Themes of Scripture, there is a progression always in the understanding of God by the scriptural authors themselves (e.g. from Jewish particularism to the understanding of the Trinity as bent on the liberation of all humanity). However, there is always a flat sameness in the failures of the powerful re their victims – up to and including the continuing failure of Catholic bishops to acknowledge that in turning a blind eye to the clerical abuse of children to save their own reputations they were replicating – except in their cases with a global multitude of victims – the sin of King David in relation to the Hittite Uriah, who died unwittingly to save David’s face.

    Similarly, the continuing failure to see in wanting what others want (at base social prestige) the covetousness of the 9th and 10th commandment is the root cause of the environmental crisis, which now also has a multitude of victims. All rivalry and conflict arises in the very same way, so that all scripture can do now is to point to multiple iterations of the connection of victimisation with ambition and social vertigo. What more could it do, since the canon is now closed?

    But the intelligence that wrote the scriptures, revealing this persistent pattern, is also super-human and eternal – and capable of delivering insight to those who truly want to see. It is always a question, for everyone, of priorities. The priority of the unconverted mind is always something other than seeing, something to do with a greater concern for the perceptions of others (“You look for glory to one another!”)

    It usually takes personal disaster to bring us to our senses. Sooner rather than later the impending global disaster will become personal for everyone – and scripture will be there still, to explain the present as it has always done. When it come to the failures of the powerful there is truly nothing new under the sun.

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