The angel Gabriel famously announced to Mary that she would become miraculously pregnant with Jesus, and later the same message was given to Joseph (presumably by Gabriel, though the text doesn’t say). However, by my count, there are 13 stories of special pregnancies or prophecy over newly-born babies in the Bible. For each of them, I ask which parent did God tell first?Continue reading Children of prophecy and prayer in the Bible: which parent did God tell first?
Content note: this post discusses purity culture, divorce and marital rape.
The UK only formally recognised marital rape as a criminal offence in 2003. That is, within my adult lifetime.
It took that long partly because of something the Chief Justice said centuries earlier. It was published in 1736:
“But the husband cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given up herself in this kind unto her husband which she cannot retract.”Sir Matthew Hale
In 1991, the House of Lords deemed this statement as “based on a fiction.”
Their ruling was part of a landmark case where a husband appealed his guilty verdict of attempted rape. The couple had already separated when he came to where she was living, physically assaulted her and attempted to rape her. He said it was not possible in law for him to rape his wife. The lords disagreed and upheld the guilty verdict.Continue reading Does the Bible speak against marital rape? Yes… I think it’s hidden in Jesus’s teachings on divorce.
In writing this post, I was one of the Top 15 2020 CBE Writing Contest winners.
This article first appeared in CBE’s blog, Mutuality, on September 23, 2020 (www.cbeinternational.org).
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.
Well, I didn’t bleed.Continue reading Proving My Virginity: Deuteronomy, Pap Smears, and the Hymen Myth
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.
That was my hook. And it puts a whole new light on the older son’s words at the end of the parable:Continue reading I wrote a two-act stage-play about the prodigal son’s mother, step-mother and half-brother. Wanna read it?
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.Continue reading Yeah, I know Sarah didn’t wait on God, but choosing to act is not a sin.
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.Continue reading I wrote a one act stage-play based on the biblical book of Esther – wanna read it?
A friend recently asked me why I’m still a Christian. She asked because she was having trouble holding onto her faith, especially with Christian politics in the USA being what they currently are.
This is my answer to her. I don’t know if it will help other people, but it’s my story. Grab a cuppa, or bookmark this page, this post is about 3,000 words long.Continue reading “Why are you still a Christian? What keeps you in faith?” My answer when a friend asked me these questions
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.
Allow me to explain.
And CONTENT WARNING this gets a bit gory. Continue reading Wait, what if Rizpah’s protest against King David shaped the laws of Deuteronomy?
OK, so I know that deconstructing bad tweets on Christian Twitter is often a soul-destroying sport, but hey – this one overlapped with the subject matter of a book I’ve just started reading, so…
The tweet was this:
“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.
OK, let’s talk about this.Continue reading Actually, sometimes it’s right to say ‘love your neighbour’ more often than ‘love God’
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.
So let’s dive in.
Content warning, this gets political and I mention an Old Testament clobber passage. Also, I don’t have space here to get into why bad things happen and people suffer; Ezekiel clearly had a concept of divine retribution and I’m going to roll with that worldview for now, because it was also implicit in the Tweet I read. Continue reading White Christians: don’t quote Ezekiel to duck responsibility for past and present racism
CONTENT WARNING for rape myths.
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.
Right, let’s do this.Continue reading Five things worth knowing about the woman in the city who ‘did not cry out’. On Deuteronomy 22:23-24 (and 25-27)
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.
My last post ended with a series of contrasts that Paul drew between our current and future bodies, likening the former to a seed in the ground and the latter to a plant. We’ll pick up things up there. Continue reading 1 Corinthians 15 for beginners: Part 4: transforming the perishable so as to inherit the imperishable (1 Cor 15:44-58)
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.
Now Paul turns his attention to the nature of the future resurrection body. Continue reading 1 Corinthians 15 for beginners: Part 3: resurrection is about the body – but what does that actually mean? (1 Cor 15:35-43)
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.
In any case, Paul wanted to explain how everything fitted together. Continue reading 1 Corinthians 15 for beginners: Part 2: resurrection as both a present and future event (1 Cor 15:12-34)
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.
So, let’s start by looking at verses 1-8. Continue reading 1 Corinthians 15 for beginners: Part 1: the legal case for Jesus’s resurrection from the dead (1 Cor 15:1-11)