Notes on Matthew’s Gospel


Notes on Matthew.

I am reading The Moral Vision of the New Testament by Richard B. Hays, and below is a summary of his chapter on Matthew. It’s a very interesting book (and if you decide to buy a copy, it’s cheapest as a Kindle book from Amazon, but if you want a physical copy, then Amazon seem to be the most expensive. I ordered a copy from Abe Books for half the price).

The Gospel of Matthew was written about 50 A.D. so after the Gospel of Mark, and the letters of Paul. The temple had been destroyed, and the Jewish Rabbis were striving to keep the Jewish people separate by concentrating on the laws of the Torah. In contrast, the early church was reaching out to Gentiles (non-Jews). All the early issues about Jewish law (like eating only clean animals) had probably already been sorted out during the time of Paul’s ministry, so Matthew doesn’t address them at all.

Matthew is writing an apologue (a moral story). He writes about an ordered world, where Jesus has all authority. The disciples are now forming a community, with an emphasis on teaching and obedience.

The book has a clear beginning (the genealogy of Jesus) and a clear ending (the commissioning of the disciples). It establishes Jesus’ authority as the Messiah. The birth story is interesting, as it has the same typology as Moses’ birth story (‘typology’ just means ‘classification’). Moses was a deliverer and a law giver, and Matthew parallels this with the story of Jesus. He uses phrases like: ‘When Jesus had said these words…’ which is the same as the phrase often used in Hebrew, in the story about Moses.

The book is written as narrative, describing the activities of Jesus, and this provides a framework for big chunks of teaching. Matthew shows that: Jesus taught with authority, wise people obey his teaching, Jesus fulfils the law and the Old Testament prophecies. Jesus did not supersede the law, but rather he showed what the core meaning was, and called people to obey the essence of the law rather than thoughtlessly follow the letter of the law.

Matthew is basically all about living righteously, and showing mercy. Both aspects matter. He writes that an ‘unrepentant brother’ should be treated like a ‘tax collector’ or a ‘Gentile.’ I always understood this to mean the person should be rejected, cast out of the church. But Hays points out that Matthew has already shown that Jesus sought out tax collectors, and the disciples were told to preach to the Gentiles. Therefore, the unrepentant brother should be treated the same, shown mercy, and be a focus for their teaching. Whilst he would no longer be part of the church, the church should continue to try and reach him.

Matthew’s teaching about Jesus’ returning is still strong, but it’s less immediate. I guess he had already waited for 50 odd years, so unlike Mark and Paul, he was no longer expecting it to happen tomorrow. His emphasis is that God is with us now (a point he makes right at the beginning, when Jesus’ birth is foretold). When the church meets, Jesus is present.

Hays comments that Matthew is rewriting many of the stories in Mark, but adding his own explanations. He uses the stories to show his theology. For example, in the story of Jesus walking on the water, Hays thinks that Matthew is using the narrative to make a point, showing that the church (represented by Peter in the story) is being battered by persecution (represented by waves and wind in the story) and they will survive only if they keep their focus on Jesus and have faith that he is with them. Matthew adds the declaration of the disciples: ‘You are the Son of God’ at the end of the story, because this is something that the church of his time understood. (In Mark’s Gospel, the story ends with a rather gloomy comment about the disciples being amazed and not understanding because they were in a muddle over an earlier miracle.) The story adds to Matthew’s overall message, that God is with us now, however things seem, which is good news for everyone.

Matthew writes about Jesus coming unexpectedly, and that people should be ready. They must prepare by good living (because God will reward or punish people accordingly). He also calls people to have mercy and be compassionate towards the needy, because this is the essence of ‘good living.’

***

Thanks for reading, I will continue this tomorrow.

Have a great day, and take care.
Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
Thank you for reading.
anneethompson.com
Why not sign up to follow my blog?

Do You Want the Good News or the Bad News?


Good News or Bad News?

Is the message of the Bible good news or bad news? Often the physical book even describes itself as a ‘Good News’ Bible, and Christians often refer to the good news of the gospel message. But is it good?

Sometimes this feels a little ironic to me. When churches then go on to explain how to ‘become a Christian’ a person must meet certain criteria, I think it all starts to sound more like bad news! I was taught that to ‘be a Christian’ I must understand that Jesus and the Holy Spirit and God are all one, I must repent of my sin and ask for forgiveness, I must acknowledge that Jesus died for my sin, and ask to be filled with the Holy Spirit. This was all achieved by praying ‘the prayer’ which somehow encompassed all the above. Going forward, I should attend church, read my Bible every day, praying frequently—confessing my new sins and striving to live how God wanted me to live. Most difficult of all (in my view) I should constantly be looking for ways to tell other people how to be a Christian, encouraging them to undergo the same process. Anyone who did not meet the above criteria was trapped in their sin and doomed to hell and eternal torment. Very bad news indeed. Most of the people who I love do not fit into the rather narrow category above.

Yet, when I read the Bible (point seven above!) things seem a little different. Jesus said he came to show people who God is, and he accepted people before they had done any of the above. Sometimes he told a person they needed to change their life, or give away their money, or repent of something they were doing wrong—but this was always after they had come to him. There wasn’t a form to complete, or a waiting list; the disciples didn’t regulate who could approach (and when they tried to, Jesus told them off!) People simply came. People were simply accepted.

I also read that after they came, after they had been accepted, they generally changed, they often wanted to be different, better, people. But the changing, the wanting to be changed, was afterwards. It was not an entry criteria. And they tended to differ in what they actually believed, they had different views of theology (which is shown in the later books in the Bible, where we see them having arguments about things).

Several of the books in the Bible were written by Paul, and I’m still not sure what authority they should have (as I have discussed in previous blogs) but I do think his views are helpful today. One of his letters describes Jesus’s mission as reconciling people to God, and that a Christian’s mission is to continue this—to be an ambassador, helping people to be reconciled with God. I do not, personally, feel I should be telling people what they are doing wrong, or insisting that they believe certain things (like in the Trinity) or changing their behaviour. But I would like to tell them that God wants to accept them (right now, just as they are, warts and all!) I would like to remind them that God wants them to be reconciled with him, and that everything that’s wrong in their lives does not count any more. All the rest of it—how they personally live out that truth—is between them and God.

Perhaps this is good news. Perhaps this is what our message should be. What do you think? Good news or bad news?

Thank you for reading. My next blog will be more about our holiday in Italy at the beginning of August. Enjoy your day.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
Thank you for reading anneethompson.com Why not sign up to follow my blog?
Look on your device for this icon (it’s probably right at the bottom of the screen if you scroll down). Follow the link to follow my blog!

anneethompson.com
*****

Which One Is You?


Part of my course has involved looking at the different ways people view the Bible. I found it quite challenging, as looking at various definitions makes me notice things about my religion in a whole new way. The way that people use the Bible says a lot about their beliefs. I’m going to give you three brief definitions—though there are lots of variations in-between. Which one do you think best suits you?

  1. “The Bible is the infallible Word of God”

This is often said, but it can mean several different things so you need to decide: Firstly, what is ‘the Bible’? In Scripture itself, there was no word for ‘Bible’ or ‘Scripture,’ they only referred to ‘writings’ which is slightly vague. It can either mean the selection of books that you have, gathered together into a single book, called the ‘Holy Bible.’ Or it can refer to the original texts, written in ancient Hebrew and Koine Greek on individual parchments, long-since lost. We now only have copies of copies of copies, and the Hebrew has been ‘translated’ into biblical Hebrew (it was probably a much earlier form of the language—like Chaucer’s English compared to today’s).

The books we now call ‘Scripture’ themselves refer to other books, which are not included in our Bible—so are they also infallible, or only the bits that are actually quoted? (Eg. Jude 1:6.) And do you mean the whole selection of books we currently have, which means their position within the Bible are important, or the individual books? Does infallibility extend to the actual book (which is probably English) that you read today? Even though versions and translations are different?

Next to decide is what you mean by ‘infallible.’ Do you mean that the authors were like automatons, so none of their own views were included? Though their bad grammar was, and so were some mistakes when they quoted other parts of the Bible. (Check out Matt 27:9-10, when he says he’s quoting Jeremiah, but actually he quotes Zechariah 11:12-13. An easy mistake, we’ve all done it, and it doesn’t affect his point at all. But would you say a mistake was ‘infallible’?) Plus, some of the ‘facts’ are a bit questionable—like the sun going round the world, and the order of some events in the gospels are different. And if you believe the Bible is infallible, does that mean it all has equal status, so you give as much emphasis to some of the Old Testament laws as you do to the teachings of Christ?

Now, an interesting question if you hold this view—do you go to great lengths to justify it? Are you comfortable saying, ‘That bit doesn’t seem to make sense.’? Or do you produce reasons to explain why it does make sense, even if it isn’t obvious at first look? Is the emphasis of your worship teaching, or reading the Bible?

In my experience, the sermon (which is the speaker’s interpretation) is usually longer than the reading of Scripture. Which might imply we don’t think God can speak to individuals through the Bible—which is not what we state. If someone disagrees, do you spend time explaining your view, and are you unhappy unless everyone believes much the same thing?

The explaining/justifying is even reflected in some Bible translations: Isaiah 7:14 uses a Hebrew word, עלמה , which in that context probably means ‘young woman’ but the NIV translates it as ‘virgin.’ It’s quoted in Matt 1:23, and the Greek uses the word ‘virgin.’ However, I don’t think Matthew is using the quote to describe Mary, he is using it to describe the son, Jesus, the Messiah. Therefore, by changing the Isaiah meaning, the NIV has added its own view to Scripture (rather than allowing Scripture to speak as it will).

2.God Speaks Through the Bible (But the Bible is not equal with God)

This view means you believe God uses the Bible to guide people, to reveal himself and to provide a standard of right-and-wrong. But the writings are not ‘infallible.’ It is a theological book, the words have meaning and it’s the meaning that’s important, not the actual words. So for example, the parable of the ‘Prodigal Son’ explains something about God’s love. But the words are not necessarily a direct quotation of what Jesus said, and the situation surrounding the parable may have been changed, to help the reader understand the point. The writers were inspired by God, they were listening to his Spirit as they wrote, but they were still human, they may have made mistakes about timing or science—things that don’t affect the theology.

People who believe this are usually comfortable admitting that some bits of the Bible are difficult to understand, or don’t seem to make sense, or were part of the culture of the ancient world and therefore the theology still applies but not the literal words. However, you need to decide which bits should be taken literally, and which parts are less important. If God allowed mistakes in the Bible, how do you know which are the right texts, and which should be ignored? If God speaks to individuals through the Bible, then how do you stop people finding support for their own views, and misunderstanding passages? Is it okay if everyone in a church believes something different and there is no uniformity?

Churches who hold this view usually ensure that both Old and New Testaments are read at each service, and the emphasis is on the Bible, not the teaching/interpretation, so the sermons are less important.

3. Logic and Reason are Most Important, the Bible Contains Some Useful Teaching

If this is your view, then you acknowledge that there is some good teaching in the Bible, and that God can use it to speak to people, but unless the narration is logical, you doubt if it’s true. You like everything to be ‘proved.’ This means the miracles in the Bible were either misunderstood ‘tricks’ or made-up by the authors to explain a theological point. You believe the Bible is pure theology, and not at all historically reliable. Reading it can point to good behaviours and an understanding of God, but it shouldn’t be taken literally, and the events described might, or might not, be true.

People who believe this tend to focus on discussion, listening to a range of views and beliefs. They are open to being persuaded, and give more emphasis to what other people say and write than to the Bible itself.

As I said, there are a whole range of views between these, but they give a basic framework. Which one is you? The thing I find interesting, having spoken to various people, is that whatever view they hold, they all say that God speaks to them through the Bible. I believe them, which is rather marvellous don’t you think?

Thanks for reading.

My next blog is about our trip to Iceland. I kept hearing that it is a beautiful place, but I wasn’t so sure. Is lava beautiful? We booked a trip and went to see. I will tell you about it next week.

Take care.

Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
Thank you for reading anneethompson.com Why not sign up to follow my blog?

anneethompson.com
*****

How Do We Read the Bible?


Learning How to Read the Bible

Reading the Bible

As my college lectures continue, I am beginning to meet some new ideas. One of my subjects this semester is ‘Reading the Bible’ which happily is more complex than it sounds. It’s an issue I’ve been struggling with ever since I learnt that we don’t actually have an original copy of the Bible even though we do have other writings that predate some of the Biblical books. So why did God not preserve an original manuscript of the books in the Bible? Could it be that perhaps we are giving it too much emphasis? Or the wrong sort of emphasis? Are we meant to be completely sure that we have all the answers?

Part of my lecture preparation this week is to read an article by N.T. Wright. Not sure if you’ve come across him? He writes lots of Christian stuff. I tend to think that he writes about interesting issues, but I find his books very difficult to read. Some writers produce work that flows easily into my head, and others are more of an effort. I’m not sure why, maybe it has something to do with speech patterns. If you want to read the whole article by Mr. Wright, the link is here:

Mr Wright begins by questioning what people mean when they talk about ‘the authority of the Bible.’ This intrigues me too—what exactly do they mean? People often tell me: “The Bible is God’s word,” but I’m never quite sure whether they mean the original books (which we don’t have any more) or their own translation, or the essence of the books but not absolutely every word/sentence/paragraph. It does seem that sometimes people treat the Bible as if it is God. I was interested to read that Mr Wright also struggles with this (well, to be fair, he didn’t say that he struggled, so he might be completely sorted on this point). He notes that the Bible itself only gives authority to God. He says that the Bible is one way that God reveals himself.

He then describes (not especially kindly) people who look at the Bible for ‘a daily blessing’ or ‘the answer to a question’ or ‘divine inspiration.’ He thinks this is a misuse of the Bible. Whilst I sort of agree with him (in the same way as I think people often use prayer as if God was a genie in a lamp, waiting to grant their requests) I didn’t much like his tone. In the Bible, people came to God for all sorts of wrong reasons, like they were scared of dying, or they had just watched a miracle and thought following Jesus would be the ancient equivalent of knowing the lottery numbers each week. Mostly, people came for selfish reasons, but God took them anyway, Jesus let them follow, and they learnt the truth along the way. People probably rarely come to God—or read the Bible—for the right reason. Not initially, anyway. However, the next thing Mr Wright wrote was, I thought, rather clever.

An ancient book

He described a pretend situation where a new play by Shakespeare had been discovered, but the last act was missing. Rather than produce the play while incomplete, or ask a modern playwright to write the ending, a group of Shakespearean actors decided to produce the play themselves. They thoroughly learnt the first few acts, so they were familiar with the characters, they knew how they would respond, they knew the situation they were in, and then—following the essence of the original—they finished the play. They didn’t simply regurgitate an earlier scene, nor did they ignore the essence of what was already written; they kept to the ‘authority’ of the first part whilst creating something that finished the drama completely in-keeping with what had gone before. This, says Mr. Wright, is how we should view the Bible. We are ‘making up’ the final act of the play, but it needs to be consistent with what has gone before.

It’s an interesting viewpoint, and I think I probably agree with it. We do need to be immersed in the Bible, so we know the message that it presents, but rather than it being a static, historical work, we can make it something alive, something relevant for today. Which means that the selecting of certain passages to ‘make rules’ is a dangerous game, not really what our purpose is meant to be. They might not apply in ‘the final act.’

I will mull on the idea, and try to think about the wider issues—but so far it looks like a useful analogy. What do you think? Of course, you do need to actually read the Bible. Do you?

Thanks for reading. I’ll give you more updates on what I discover at college as I go. It’s mainly been very interesting so far (one bit isn’t, but I’d better not talk too much about that!) Have a good day. Take care.
Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
Thank you for reading anneethompson.com Why not sign up to follow my blog?
All ten ducklings healthy and happy.

The Gilgamesh Epic


Here is the quick summary of the Gilgamesh epic that I promised you last week. As you read it, think about how it compares to the garden of Eden story told in Genesis. To remind you: Genesis was written during the Iron Age, though was told (orally) much earlier. If you choose to believe it was first told/written by Moses, then the date of the Exodus was about 1446 (according to my own calculations).

(The link to my long ramble about when Moses should be dated is here: https://anneethompson.com/2020/09/07/was-moses-real/

https://anneethompson.com/2020/09/07/was-moses-real/)

The Story of Gilgamesh is actually an epic poem, written in Akkadian, about 2000 BCE (so before Moses). It was written in cuneiform script, which simply means it was written in wedge-shaped marks on clay tablets. A chap called George Smith was working at the British Museum in 1872, deciphering things that were stolen/bought/being kept safe (depending on your viewpoint) and he managed to translate a fragment of tablet found in the site that was once Nineveh. (You might recognise Nineveh? Story of Jonah and the whale.) Anyhow, this fragment seemed to have the story of the Genesis flood, and everyone got very excited and sent George back to try and dig up more. I think that this is when Gilgamesh was discovered.

The Story of Gilgamesh

Gilgamesh is the name of a king. He was pretty nasty, so the god Anu decided to create a counterpart, called Enkidu. He is created from clay (similar to Adam in Genesis story) and is made in the image of a god. Enkidu sets off to meet Gilgamesh, but is waylaid by the temptress Shamhat, and they spend a week making love. He is somehow transformed by this, and realises he needs to wear clothes. This frightens the animals (who previously had been his friends) and they run away. He goes off to meet Gilgamesh, they fight and then become friends.

They travel to a forest, which is guarded by Huwawa. They chop down trees, there is a fight, Huwawa is decapitated. The gods are angry and send a bull to punish them, but they kill that too. The gods are more angry, and decide one of the pair should die, so Enkidu is made ill, and then dies, going to ‘the house of dust.’. (There is stuff here about how the gods let him be like a god, but in the end withheld immortality from him, which also mirrors one of the themes in the Genesis story.)

Gilgamesh mourns his friend, and sets off to try and achieve immortality. The poem then has side stories of scorpion people, and lands of darkness, a beautiful garden and a ferryman. He is looking for Utnapishtim, who survived the great flood, as he holds the secret to immortality. As an aside (this story has a lot of asides) Utnapishtim survived a great flood by building a boat, and taking two of every animal inside. They floated until the boat came to rest on a mountain top.

Gilgamesh manages to find Utnapshtim, and asks how he can gain eternal life. At first, Gilgamesh is told not to sleep. He then sleeps for 7 days (not a great start!) He’s then told that he needs to acquire the plant of life (which mirrors the tree of life). He manages to get the plant, but then leaves it by a pool while he swims (as you do) and it is stolen by a snake. The poem then becomes very confusing, but I think that eventually Gilgamesh becomes both wise and immortal. Though in some versions he simply becomes content to be mortal. My Akkadian is non-existent so I can’t confirm either.

(There’s an entertaining video on Youtube if you fancy watching another quick summary of the story:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BV9t3Cp18Rc )

Mesopotamian art has lots of images of Gilgamesh.

So, what are your thoughts? Remember, this epic was written before the Old Testament was written. Though if the events in the Bible are factual, they would of course have happened before Gilgamesh, so you could argue that the Bible events influenced the writer of the epic, which then potentially influenced the writers of the Old Testament. I guess there’s no way of knowing, but it’s worth thinking about, because whatever you believe, you should be able to defend the logic of it.

Next week I’ll tell you about the arguments of James Barr and Joseph Fitzpatrick, who are very convincing. They also don’t think the garden story was about ‘original sin’. Thanks for reading. Take care, and try to avoid talking snakes.
Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
Thank you for reading anneethompson.com Why not sign up to follow my blog?
Look on your device for this icon (it’s probably right at the bottom of the screen if you scroll down). Follow the link to follow my blog!

anneethompson.com

******

Words in Despair


What did Jesus say on the cross?

I learnt something interesting recently. I think I am slightly behind the curve, and maybe you knew this already—when Jesus was dying on the cross, he was probably reciting Psalm 22.

I knew that the psalm links to the crucifixion, as it seems to describe exactly how Jesus would be feeling, and some of the actions listed (like gambling to see who would win his clothes) actually happened at the time. I have always thought it was a poem, written about 600 years earlier, to describe how Jesus felt (because God can write things before they happen). But it had never occurred to me that Jesus, in his darkest time, would have recited it.

I learnt about it in a Greek lesson, because the words of Jesus on the cross were recorded by the gospel writers. But here’s the thing: the gospels were written in Greek, and each writer added their own slant. So in the synoptics (Matthew, Mark, Luke) they want to show how Jesus suffered on the cross and so they recite (but in Greek):

“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (See Matthew 27 vs 46)

However, when John wrote his book, he wanted to show how everything about Jesus’ life was planned by God, and the crucifixion was part of that plan, and so he quotes the end of Jesus’ words:

“It is finished.” (See John 19 vs 30)

As I said, John was writing in Greek, and in Greek they are able to write in tense that shows something has happened in the past—but the consequences have not finished, it is on-going. In English we can do this with certain words, so if we say: “I became a vegetarian a year ago” it can be assumed we are still a vegetarian now (but not necessarily, because English doesn’t have the same clever tenses that Greek does).

John used this tense when he wrote the final words of Jesus. It was finished, in the past, but the consequences will continue.

Of course, Jesus wouldn’t have recited the Psalm in Greek, he spoke Hebrew/Aramaic. I don’t know enough Hebrew yet to tell you whether they have the same clever tenses that Koine Greek does, so I only know that he probably recited Psalm 22 when he was on the cross.

Does this knowledge make a difference?

Well, the stuff about the gospel writers using Greek to give an angle on what was said is interesting, but probably doesn’t affect me overly. But the idea that Jesus quoted scripture at his most difficult time makes me think that perhaps this is something I should aspire to do. If Jesus came to give us an example of how to live, maybe when life is hard for me, I should also recite scripture—perhaps it would comfort me and help me to focus on better things than the horrible situation I am coping with. I will probably never suffer anything on the same scale as being crucified, but everyone has dark times, don’t they? We all feel overwhelmed sometimes.

Of course, I can only recite scripture if I have previously learnt it. Which is not something that’s very fashionable these days. Perhaps it should be. I think I will try.

Psalm 22 is very long, so I won’t start with that one. I think it might be a good one to learn next year—perhaps as a discipline for Lent. Do you want to join me? We could learn a few lines every day, and by Easter we will know the whole Psalm. I will divide the Psalm into segments and post them on my blog (I can predate things now, so next year they will arrive in emails to my followers). It will be good for our brains if nothing else!

For now, I will try to learn Psalm 1 (because it’s short). It would be good for me to learn it in Hebrew, as that’s my current challenge—I will let you know how I get on.

Thanks for reading. I hope you find some interesting challenges this week.

Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
Thank you for reading anneethompson.com Why not sign up to follow my blog?
Look on your device for this icon (it’s probably right at the bottom of the screen if you scroll down). Follow the link to follow my blog!

Psalm 23


I was recently asked to preach on this Psalm. It’s one of my favourites, and I thought I would share my notes with you. I hope you find them interesting. Usually when reading the Bible, it would be a mistake to focus too much on individual words unless you’re reading it in the original Hebrew. However, this Psalm is so well known, and the truths are repeated in the rest of scripture, so I think we are safe to dissect the passage and still understand what the author was trying to say:

Psalm 23: 1-6

God’s Shepherding

This Psalm was written by David, who had been a shepherd. The themes would be very relevant for him, because our relationships with God are a personal thing (isn’t that amazing!) One thing I love about this Psalm, is that the author started to write in in the third person, referring to God as ‘The LORD’ and ‘He’. About half way through, this changes, and he starts to talk to God, using ‘You.’ This happens to us, doesn’t it? We start to read the Bible, or think about God, or what he might want, and gradually, hardly noticing, we start to actually talk to him directly.

Verse 1

When I was little I was very confused by this Psalm, as it begins: ‘The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.‘ I understood that God was the shepherd, but not why I wouldn’t want him! Later of course I realised it meant ‘I shall not want for anything else.’

The LORD is my shepherd: LORD denotes Yaweh, “I am” the eternal God (written in capitals). We can never know God  so he kindly gives us analogies we can relate to.

No uncertainty—the LORD is my shepherd (not ‘I hope so’)

Personal, God cares about individuals—the LORD is my shepherd.

Cows know owner (I learnt a lot about cows before writing my farm books). They know owner because listen to his voice. We are like sheep to their shepherd.

Present tense—whatever has gone before doesn’t change what is now. We all have things we regret, but God is interested in the ‘now’ of our lives. WE tend to worry about our past, and be anxious about our future. But the Bible tells us that God will cancel out our past because of Jesus’ sacrifice, and none of us can know what the future holds. It is the ‘now’ that matters. Are you being kind today, being humble, being fair?

Because the LORD is my shepherd, I therefore will not need anything else. I don’t think this can mean physical things, because some Christians are starving, or living in war zones. I think it means that if we have the spiritual side of our lives sorted out, then we can trust that everything else is part of God’s will—if we suffer, or go through pain, then it won’t be for nothing, it will be part of the bigger picture, part of God’s eternal plan. God is enough. Sometimes we need to remember that, to focus on God more, to try and see today in the light of eternity.

My animals expect me to feed them. Do we expect to receive from God? Do we come to church expecting to hear God’s voice?

Verse 2

Spurgeon said the ‘green pastures’ represent Scripture. They are where we rest, they show God’s abundant love for his people—always fresh, abundant, never exhausted. We can read the Bible over and over, and so many times we find something new, it speaks to us in a new way, we understand a little more of God.

He maketh me lie down—God doesn’t want us to be always struggling, striving away at life. He wants us to come to him, give up our worries, rest in his promises. It will be alright, because God is our shepherd.

Still waters are like the Holy Spirit, who sometimes works quietly: a dove, not an eagle. Sometimes/often we don’t notice what God is doing, we don’t see his Spirit working in us or in others. But those waters are there, still waters run deep, afterwards we sometimes look back, and realise that God was at work, things did work out right.

God leads us. We aren’t driven along, we are given someone to follow. (Chickens cannot be ‘driven’ but they will follow if I have food!) Jesus leads us by his example, we can see how to live by looking at how he lived. We see God in other people, and that is an example for us to follow too. It’s much easier to copy than to decide for ourselves (like the chickens wandering all over the garden) so we need to choose carefully who we will copy. WE have to allow ourselves to be led.

Sometimes we want to know the whole route, all at once. But usually God leads us step by step. I need to be asking each day, ‘What does God want of me today?’ Sometimes Christians get in a muddle about this, they agonise over ‘being led’. A little like the joke of the man who needed saving and prayed to God, then ignored the police/firemen/lifeboat that came to rescue him! We ask God to lead us, but he has given us a brain, surrounded us with wise people—following God does not have to be via a thunderbolt!

Verse 3

God ‘restores’ our soul because it needs restoring! We get it wrong, we do/think/believe the wrong thing, over and over. God restores us, again and again. ‘Restores’ is an active verb, God keeps on restoring us.

He restores my soul. Not me, not yoga, not a holiday! God does it, because he is our shepherd—he wants to take care of us. We need to remember to pray, to ask him to restore us, to let him guide us, to accept his forgiveness.

He leads me in paths of righteousness (or ‘right paths’). We should be obedient, follow what we know is right. WE don’t pick and choose which commandments we will follow, we obey all of them. We belong to God, we need to behave accordingly. We MUST be kind, be humble, be just.

Verse 4

We don’t run, or slip or struggle our way through the valley of death, we walk. It is a calm thing. We don’t walk alone, God is with me. We don’t wander aimlessly though the valley of death, we walk through it, death is simply on the way to where we are going.

Corrie Ten Boom told a lovely story about when she was young, and was frightened of dying. Her father reminded her, that when they caught the train, he would give the young Corrie her ticket right at the end of the journey, just before she needed it—the rest of the journey he kept it safe for her. He said that God is the same with death, he doesn’t make us ready until we need to be ready. . . If we’re scared, we’re probably not going to die today! God gives us what we need when we need it. This Psalm reminds us that when the time comes, God will be there.

When I had brain surgery, my walk to the operating room was terrifying, but I felt ‘wrapped in warm cotton-wool’—God was with me in a whole new way, because that’s what I needed at that time.

It is only the shadow of death we walk through, God removed the actual permanent death when Jesus rose. The valley is often a peaceful place—when my Dad died, it was a peaceful, Godly thing, a becoming more soul and less physical.

I will fear no evil, not because evil doesn’t exist, but because God is stronger, and he is there, protecting me. Most of our fears are in our head: the interview, the being alone, the being ill, the missing the bus—these things are rarely as bad in real life as we fear they will be! When we walk with God, we don’t need to fear evil, he has it sorted, we can trust him. God is with me. All the time.

The rod and staff which are used to keep the flock in order: for discipline, they are the things that comfort when things are tough. Knowing that God is in charge, is mightier than anything we will ever face, is to have true comfort when we need it.

Verse 5

‘You prepare a table for me’: one translation has ‘furnish and decorate’ a table—God doesn’t skimp when he does something for us. He treats us as special. We prepare a special table for Christmas, or a party—it shows that something is special. The Psalmist is saying that God treats us as something precious, something worth celebrating.

‘You prepare a table’ implies something normal, not rushed—a meal is eaten slowly, in a calm way. God is preparing something we can enjoy, we don’t need to feel tense about it.

In the presence of my enemies’ for David, his enemies were very real—they wanted to kill him! This verse was literal for him. I don’t really have physical enemies, but I do have fears, anxieties, temptations, and they are very real to me. I think this verse shows that even though those things exist, God still treats me as something precious, and the way God treats me is what I should be focussing on, not the negative things.

‘You anoint my head with oil’ signifies that we are made special. A king was anointed with oil, a priest was anointed with oil, it signified something special, a change. We need to allow God to anoint us, to change us, to make us something special.

‘My cup overflows’ shows that God gives us more than we can even hold! God gives generously. Look at how many acorns an oak produces, how many eggs a chicken lays, how many pips are in an apple: way more than are needed! God gives to us extravagantly.

Verse 6

“Surely goodness” when I was a child I thought ‘surely goodness’ was a special type of goodness! But it means that ‘because of all this, then for sure goodness and mercy will follow me. Certainly these things will be in my life.

We can almost imagine them as two angels, watching our back, all the time. All the days of my life—so, the bad days as well as the good days, those two angels will be there.

and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. We live there, not a visit, but living as children who have every right to be there. Forever.

 

I hope you feel encouraged today, whatever your day might hold.

Thanks for reading. Take care.

Love, Anne x

Thank you for reading
anneethompson.com
Why not sign up to follow my blog?

 

 

 

 

How We Use the Bible…


Hello, thanks for popping back to read this post, which continues from yesterday’s post about how the Bible was compiled. As we saw, the Bible was assembled gradually, and it was relatively recently that the Bible we have today came into existence (even though the books were written thousands of years previously).

Firstly, I find it interesting that our holy book was assembled using logical criteria. This is the way that God chose for people to learn about him, and it was put together logically. I think that sometimes today, churches rely too much on ‘supernatural’ inspiration —we want God to show us things miraculously. Yet the Bible was put together by a group of people making sensible decisions. When we read the Bible, we find this is consistent with how God often led his people, in both the Old and New Testaments. People tended to win wars/save nations, mainly by logical strategy, and less by miracles. We want God to “zap the answer to us” and yet, it seems, God has given us brains and he expects us to use them. Should we move house/rebuild the church/go and preach in darkest Peru? Perhaps, after prayer, we should think about all the pros and cons, and then make a sensible decision. You might see writing in the sky telling you the way, but that would be rare.

When we are disputing something, we need to be careful about saying: “It’s clearly written in the Bible that…” In my experience, people only say this when someone else has obviously NOT seen something as “clearly written” and has formed a different belief. If it was CLEARLY written, then there would be no differing of views amongst people who claim to believe the Bible. We should remember that the Bible was written originally in Hebrew and Greek, we are probably reading a translation, we will certainly be reading it in a different age and culture. Meanings can get lost, we can misunderstand things. A little humility when discussing the Bible would be good.

The Bible does not claim to be infallible. Some religions, such as Islam, believe that their holy book was dictated by God, so it cannot reliably be translated into other languages (because you always change the meaning slightly when translating things). However, the Bible was not dictated word-for-word by God. There are seeming anomalies between some of the books. This in my mind makes the Bible more authentic, because if people were going to sit down and write a ‘holy book’ they would make sure it had no mistakes! The Bible, however, was written by people who had witnessed God working, and they wrote their accounts, and they remembered some details differently—which doesn’t make the account untrue, it simply shows they were real people, writing what they honestly remembered.

What about the books which were rejected? Is only the Protestant Bible correct? This is tricky. I recently listened to a sermon about the book of Jude (which is included in the Bible). Jude refers to ancient Hebrew books, which we have since lost, but which Jude himself obviously regarded as ‘scripture’. Jude was a brother of Jesus—you would think he might know what was ‘holy’ and what wasn’t. Personally, I have no idea.

And that’s the thing really, the point of why I am writing this. We want everything to be sorted, we want God to be nicely tied up, to be sure we see the whole picture, know everything there is to know. But we don’t. God has not chosen to tell us everything. The Bible is, I believe, inspired by God—but we should be careful how we use it. Those early Christians were, absolutely, followers of God—they died for their beliefs. But they had a slightly different Bible to us. They relied on God, not texts, and God used their belief to explain the texts they had, so they could come to him.

Can we believe the Bible? It is the book which I believe God has given to people, to help us to know him. It is not an absolute, definitive, set of rules; we should be careful when we are applying it to others —people have used the Bible in the past to justify slavery and wars and all sorts of injustices. Be careful when you quote bits of it. Almost anything can be justified using selective editing of key verses:
Do I believe in reincarnation? No! (Can I find Bible verses which seem to support reincarnation? Yes.)
Do I believe some people were created to be slaves? No! (Can I find verses which seem to support slavery? Yes.)
Do I think we should be dishonest and scheming? No! (Can I find verses which seem to support gaining things through cheating? Yes.)

But if we read the Bible, honestly searching for God, then we will find him. I did, and I know other people who have…why not read it and decide for yourself?

Thanks for reading. Take care.
Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson has written several novels. They are available from bookshops and Amazon.
You can follow her blog at:
anneethompson.com
Why not sign up to follow today?

Who Compiled the Bible?


I was challenged recently when I quoted a bit of the Bible, and someone asked me when it was written, and when it was included in the Bible. I had absolutely no idea, so did a little research. If you know more than me, and can correct any of the following, then please do—otherwise, this is where the Bible came from:

The first 5 books of the Bible were thought to have been written by Moses, and are called The Pentateuch. They were probably established as ‘scripture’ by Ezra and Nehemiah, and they are what the Jews today still mean when they refer to the Torah. (These books were in existence way before Ezra and Nehemiah, but the early Jews pretty much ignored them until the prophets reminded them they were important.)

Then, about 200BC, the writings of the prophets were added. Later, the book of Psalms was also included as ‘scripture’.

Now we come to the time of Jesus’ birth (about 5BC —historians have discovered things since we set our calendar dates!) It was very important at this time for the Jews to have a clear understanding of what their holy books were. Jews were beginning to move away from Palestine, and they wanted to know exactly what defined them as a race, what their core beliefs were. So, in Palestine, when Jesus was alive and referred to ‘Scripture’ he would mean the 39 books we now have in our Old Testament. (Though the Jews combine some of the books, so I think they have 24–but they’re the same content.)

However, further afield, other Jews included other books as part of their scripture. The further away from Palestine they lived, the more books they seemed to include (some had as many as 15 extra books in their ‘scripture’). Books translated in Egypt make up the Septuagint, and this contains hidden books (known as Apocrypha which means ‘hidden’). Some of these books have since disappeared, and we don’t know what was in them.

So, what about the New Testament? Well, after Jesus left, the people who believed in him, began to separate from the Jews into a new religion. They still regarded the 39 books to be scripture, their holy books, and when in the New Testament letters they refer to ‘scripture’, this is what they meant. However, gradually, people began to write other things. People who had seen and listened to Jesus began to write accounts of his life and teaching. Later, other people interviewed them, and wrote their own accounts. The early church began to decide what it believed (such as whether non-Jews could be Christians) and the leaders of the early church wrote letters, teaching the church. Letters were called ‘epistles’. People within the church basically chose which of these letters and writings they regarded as sacred. So, there were the letters written by Paul, as well as letters written by Thomas…and the ‘Shepherd of Hermas’ …and the ‘Apocalpse of Peter’ …and the ‘Epistle of Barnabus’…and so on. Some of these writings contradicted what Jesus had taught, and some had a definite bias. Gradually, over several years, the early church began to accept some writing as being from God, and disregard other writing.

Then, in AD325 (so rather a long time later!) the church decided to state, once and for all, which books should be included as ‘scripture’. They formed a committee (because churches, it seems, have always liked committees) called the Council of Nicea. As far as I can tell from my research, they didn’t actually decide very much.

In 381, the church had another try. They formed the First Council of Constantinople and set out clear criteria for which books to accept, and which to reject. The criteria for inclusion was:

*The book was written by a first-hand witness of Jesus, or someone who had interviewed witnesses (such as Luke).
*The book was written within 100 years of Jesus (which meant, if it had been wrong, people alive at the time would have said so).
*The book should be consistent with the other books of the Bible.

This Council decided which books should be part of the Bible. They chose the books we have today, including the books of the Apocrypha.

In AD 400, St. Jerome assembled the books of the Bible, in Latin. It was called ‘The Vulgate’.

In the 16th century, a man called Martin Luther was studying the Bible, and trying to discern what it meant. He decided that actually, the Apocrypha should not be included as Scripture. The church formed another committee (the Council of Trent) who decided that Luther was wrong. This is why today, the Catholic Bible contains different books to the Protestant Bible.

Okay, that’s the end of the history lesson (interesting, huh?) So, what are the implications? This is getting too long, and I want to talk about it properly, so I will write another post tomorrow.

Bye for now. Take care.
Love, Anne x

 

Anne E. Thompson has written several novels and non-fiction books. You can find her work in bookshops and Amazon.
Why not sign up to follow her blog today?
anneethompson.com

Being Loved


I was reading Matthew 22 today, and there is a parable in the first 14 verses which seemed a bit odd. Jesus is talking to the leaders of the day, the Pharisees, and he tells them a story about a king throwing a party, and all the invited guests refusing to come. I understood that analogy – the invited guests were the Jews, and many of them were messing up their gift of a relationship with God.

So, in the story, the king sends his servants out into the streets, and they invite everyone who they meet to come to the party. I understand that bit too – after the Jews (well, some of them) messed up the whole ‘people having a relationship with God’ gift, Jesus made the gift available to other people (the ‘dirty gentiles’ – that’s most of us!)

But then there’s something which seemed very odd. In the story, the king arrives at the banquet, where all those people who have accepted the invitation are sitting, enjoying the party, and he sees someone who is inappropriately dressed. The king is so angry, he throws out (in effect, banishes him to hell). Now, what does that mean? Surely, if you invite people who live on the streets to a party, you have to expect them to be inappropriately dressed? This seems a little unfair.

I did some research, and this is what I think it means: God invites everyone to come to him. Like in the parable of the prodigal son, he is a loving father, he will do everything possible to meet us where we are, he wants to save us. (Remember, in an earlier blog, I explained how when the son says: “I have sinned before man and before God,” he is actually quoting what Pharaoh said when he wanted the plagues to stop – he wasn’t sorry, he just wanted things to get better. But the father met him anyway, and that love, that willingness of the father to save the son even when he was continuing to behave badly, was enough for the son to realise that he couldn’t earn his way back, he simply had to accept what the father/God was offering.) So what does the bit about the clothes mean?

Well, I think, that yes, God wants everyone to come to him, and he has done everything necessary for us to know him. However, we also have to accept that. Now, apparently, in the days of Jesus, a king would have provided appropriate clothing for a guest (a bit like when you turn up at a posh restaurant, and they have ties for you to borrow because you didn’t realise there was a dress-code). I guess the clothes would signify the willingness to change, to become what God wants us to be, to let him alter us. Therefore, although we can all come, unless we let God change us through his love, then that is not enough. If we truly are responding to God’s love, rather than using it as a sort of ‘get out of jail free’ card, then we will let that love change us. We will be pleased to wear the garments appropriate for a party. If we don’t, we have missed the point. Which would be worse than never acknowledging that great love in the first place.

I think that’s what it means anyway. Makes you think, doesn’t it?
Thank you for reading.
Take care this week.

Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson has written several novels, which are available in bookshops and Amazon.
Anne writes a weekly blog – why not sign up to follow?
anneethompson.com