In a couple of places I have reproduced the text of the relevant verses; in the original, only references were given.
When I first received a letter offering me a routine pap smear test, I replied saying I didn’t want one. Why? I wanted my hymen to remain intact until I was married.
The nurse who followed up took some persuading when I said I was celibate, but she respected my wishes and conceded that the risks of cervical cancer were significantly reduced while I was sexually inactive. She did however express some bewilderment at how many young women, especially those with religious backgrounds, turned down cervical screening. It’s offered free of charge in the UK where I live and can be lifesaving.
The risk of cancer had never entered my mind. All I was concerned about was doing abstinence, marriage, and sex the “biblical way.” That meant leaving my hymen alone until I had penetrative sex for the first time, which I hoped wouldn’t happen until I was with my husband, on our honeymoon. Then, and only then, did I want this thin membrane inside my vagina to break and bleed.
People have asked about the prodigal son’s mother, but I’ve never heard anyone ask what Jesus’s parable would look like if the two sons had different mothers. But that’s what I’ve done in this play.
I believe Jesus told this parable to deliberately target honour violence. Compare it, for example, with Deuteronomy 21:18–21, the law of the “stubborn and rebellious son.” It has a very different ending.
What’s more, if you look it up, you’ll see that just before that law there’s another one about a father dividing his property between two sons. Except in Deuteronomy 21:15–17, the sons have different mothers.
When I was growing up, there was a lot of talk in church about discerning God’s will and waiting for God’s timing. Your career, your finances, your health issues, your love life — nothing was exempt from the Good Christian’s responsibility to talk to God and hear what he had to say.
And if he didn’t answer, we had to examine ourselves — because maybe he had answered and we weren’t listening? Maybe we just didn’t like what God was saying?
Maybe we were the problem.
As I sit down and reflect back over the last 20 or so years of my life, I’m beginning to see how this has been problematic for me. On several levels.
I’m not sure who exactly out there might be looking for a theatre play about the book of Esther, but if you are and you’re reading this, please do get in touch in with me. Because I’ve written one and I’d love for it to be performed. It’s titled: I Will Hide My Name.
For people who don’t know the book of Esther: Haman, the highest official in Ancient Persia, interviews a Jewish prisoner, who appeals to him to spare her life and that of her people. But why is this prisoner wearing the robes of royalty? And does Haman even realise?
For people who already know the book of Esther: Before approaching the king, Esther appeals Haman to revoke his decree to annihilate her people. He scorns her petitions for peace and only too late does he realise she’s the queen.
I was recently listening to a compelling sermon by Austin Channing Brown, that was all about Rizpah. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, she’s a woman in the Old Testament who undertook a months-long one-woman silent protest. Her actions eventually persuaded King David to bring an end to something which he had commanded. (If you want to hear the sermon, it’s on episode 2 of the Evolving Faith Podcast.)
Brown’s sermon focussed on speaking truth to power and she applied Rizpah’s story to racial justice today. But as I sat and thought through Rizpah’s actions, I realised they may have been much more far-reaching, even in her own time, than just changing David’s actions.
And while I’m yet to visit the library and validate my suspicions here, I’m now willing to bet that Rizpah’s protest changed the law.
“The most pervasive — and pernicious — false teaching of our day is that “love your neighbor” is the greatest commandment in the law.”
It was written by a Southern Baptist pastor in the US who later doubled-down with a looooonnnng thread about the law and what Jesus meant when he talked about the two greatest commandments. (For those less familiar: these two commandments are (1) to love God and (2) to love your neighbour.)
If you’re wondering why I’ve given no direct links, that’s because a couple of weeks later he followed up with another tweet (which I didn’t see but was screencapped) about the Old Testament law and slavery. When that thread blew up he deleted his entire timeline. He then said people should be able to ask questions and acknowledged that his thread had caused hurt, but did little more.
I’m not interested trolling a particular person, but I do care deeply about how Christians understand the Old Testament and apply it in their everyday lives. Because that application – for good or for bad – can have far-reaching consequences.
So, I saw someone asking why white Christians were repenting of the sins their ancestors committed against people of colour.
And I want to write about this.
Caveats: I’m mainly going to talk to how I understand the Old Testament, because the Old Testament was being quoted and it’s something I’m familiar with as a Christian. But just because I’m taking this angle, that doesn’t mean it’s the most relevant or comprehensive angle; I just want to demonstrate how this particular argument doesn’t stack up.
In short, the argument was this: if we’re all responsible for what we do ourselves, not what other people do, then white people shouldn’t have to apologise for the racism of other white people. See, for example, the principle of individual responsibility promoted in Ezekiel 18:19-20.
However, I think this fails to appreciate the context of Ezekiel and the attitudes the book was responding to.
Deuteronomy 22:23-24 has too often been used as a biblical precedent for one of the worst rape myths.
When read a certain way, it suggests that when a man succeeds in raping a woman, she shares equally in his culpability because she didn’t scream sufficiently. Even less extreme interpretations hold that women should scream if they’re raped, and if they don’t, they bear at least some guilt.
Both ideas are monumentally false — as anyone who knows anything about consent and freeze responses will tell you.
But if that’s the case, what does a Bible-positive Christian make of these verses? Is it possible to interpret them as anything other than a toxic product of ancient patriarchal misogyny? Well, I believe it is.
I’m going to be very good and limit myself to 200 words in each of the seven sections of this post (the intro, five things, plus interlude) so forgive me if I don’t deep dive the detail. I’m leveraging the scholarship of Carolyn Pressler, Cynthia Edenberg, Alexander Rofé and, by no means least, Sara Milstein. Details at the bottom of the post.
In verses 1-11 Paul established that Jesus rose from the dead — an event in the historical past. In verses 12-23 Paul explained that Jesus resurrected before everyone else because he was a ‘first-fruit’ and that everyone else will follow, collectively, in the future. In verses 30-34 Paul acknowledged that his ministry looked like a failure if you just considered success in present terms, but still he works to anticipate future resurrection in the here and now. Then, in verses 35-43 Paul turned his attention to how the glory of the future resurrection body is better than the glory of our current bodies.
Welcome to part three of my four-part series sweeping through 1 Corinthians 15 on the subject of resurrection. You can read part one here and part two here.
In verses 1-11 Paul established that Jesus rose from the dead — an event in the historical past. In verses 12-23 Paul explained that Jesus resurrected before everyone else because he was a ‘first-fruit’ and that everyone else will follow, collectively, in the future. Then in verses 30-34 Paul acknowledged that his ministry looked like a failure if you just considered success in present terms, but still he works to anticipate future resurrection in the here and now.
Welcome to part two of my four-part series sweeping through 1 Corinthians 15 on the subject of resurrection. You can read part one here.
In verses 1-11 Paul established that Jesus rose from the dead — an event in the historical past. In the next few verses he shifts his focus to consider the future.
Someone in Corinth had been saying that there is no ‘resurrection of the dead.’
We have to appreciate that resurrection is not a Christian idea, but was already established in Jewish thought before the time of Jesus and roundly dismissed and mocked by ancient Greek culture. ‘The resurrection of the dead’ was understood to be a collective future event when everyone will be raised up. First century Jews weren’t expecting any one person to be raised in advance of the rest so, perhaps unsurprisingly, the idea that Jesus rose from the dead threw a bit of a spanner in the works: it was a past event concerning one person. Maybe that was why some people at the church in Corinth were beginning to pour cold water on the idea of future resurrection.
1 Corinthians 15 is one of those chapters you literally have to read verse by verse. Then you read each verse again about 4 times to get it. – Sierra White
Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, chapter 15, is one of the greatest chapters of the New Testament and it’s all about resurrection. At 58 verses, it is, in itself, a modestly sized sermon when you hear it preached on today, it is often tackled in very small chunks. And you can see why — there’s a lot to unpack.
But what I’m going to do in this post and the next three, is sweep through the entire chapter. Albeit, without reading every verse four times! The aim here isn’t to say everything that’s worth saying or to deconstruct every warped interpretation you might have heard. Rather, it’s to give a light touch explanation of how this how symphony fits together.
Much of what I’ll be sharing comes from three particular books that I’ve read over the last few years:
Living Hope, by Russell Hebert, published by Epworth and then by Kevin Mayhew. The book discusses the theology of Jürgen Moltmann in the context of palliative care.
The second book is Surprised by Hope, by Tom Wright, published by SPCK.
The third book is Body: Biblical Spirituality for the Whole Person, by Paula Gooder, published by SPCK.
So there is going to be a lot in this series on hope, resurrection and the body. That said, I’m not doing this because I want to give you an academic lecture. I’m doing this because I believe hope is for everyone, resurrection is for everyone and, having a body and being part of the body of Christ is for everyone. I learnt about those three things, from these books. It is my hope and prayer that the understanding I received will dwell richly within you and work transformation in your lives, as much as it has done in mine over the last few years – if not more so.
Content note: I debated whether I should categorise this post as ‘sunlight’ or ‘moonlight’. On the one hand, its message is unashamedly positive and it speaks about the core of Christian hope — resurrection. On the other hand, it also talks about an extremely violent event that resulted in a woman’s death. I’ve decided to go with ‘sunlight’ on the grounds because this is ‘hope worth sharing’ and, to the extent that I talk about suffering, I do in the same way as I would talk about Jesus’s passion on the cross.
However, please be advised that I describe in broad terms what happened, and I allude to some of the horrific details, though more specific discussion has warnings telling the reader when they may want to skip ahead.
A few years ago I watched a documentary called India’s Daughter (now available to rent or buy on YouTube). It was about Jyoti Singh, a 23 year-old Indian medical student who said that to be a doctor was the highest calling you could have in life.
If you’ve heard of her, you may know her as ‘Nirbhaya’, which means ‘fearless’. Or you may only know of her as the victim of the 2012 Delhi bus rape and murder.
The documentary I saw was powerful and hard-hitting, laying out the horror of both the assault and the ideologies that made it possible.
But when I came away there was one thing I was convinced of more than anything else: hers is a story that will end in resurrection.
This would be that law about the young bride who’s already lost her virginity.
Actually it’s not, but I’ll get to that later.
I promised myself I’d keep this post under 1,200 words: 200 for each thing to say, plus intro. So if you want detailed backup for what I’m saying here, check out the links and references for further reading. I’m drawing mainly on the work of Aaron Koller, Carolyn Pressler, Joseph Fleishman and, not least, Emily Nagoski.
I’m writing this post because in the Western evangelical church, Christians of all ages are encouraged to read the Bible, although there are some pretty puzzling things in it. And whilst it’s pretty standard to say “Jesus won’t mind if you ignore that bit,” if you’re talking to a teenage girl who’s anything like me, those arguments won’t wash. (Admittedly though, I’m pretty weird.)
I grant you, even if she’s grown up with purity culture, Deuteronomy 22 probably didn’t feature much in conversation. But it’s still likely she’ll completely misread the passage (as I did) if she reads it from a purity culture mindset.
So, here are five things to explain. Take it slowly and gently.
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