bible blog 1151

This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:


relatives mourn bombing

relatives mourn bombing

Matthew 5:27-37

J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS)

27-28 “You have heard that it was said to the people in the old days, ‘You shall not commit adultery’. But I say to you that every man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her—in his heart.

29-30 “Yes, if your right eye leads you astray pluck it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than that your whole body should be thrown on to the rubbish-heap. “Yes, if your right hand leads you astray cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than that your whole body should go to the rubbish-heap.

31-32 “It also used to be said that ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce’. But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife except on the ground of unfaithfulness is making her an adulteress. And whoever marries the woman who has been divorced also commits adultery.

33-37 “Again, you have heard that the people in the old days were told—‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord’, but I say to you, don’t use an oath at all. Don’t swear by Heaven for it is God’s throne, nor by the earth for it is his footstool, nor by Jerusalem for it is the city of the great king. No, and don’t swear by your own head, for you cannot make a single hair—white or black! Whatever you have to say let your ‘yes’ be a plain ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ a plain ‘no’—anything more than this has a taint of evil.


1 Corinthians 5:1-8

J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS)

A horrible sin and a stern remedy

1-2 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and immorality of a kind that even pagans condemn—a man has apparently taken his father’s wife! Are you still proud of your church? Shouldn’t you be overwhelmed with sorrow and shame? The man who has done such a thing should certainly be expelled from your fellowship!

3-5 I know I am not with you physically but I am with you in spirit, and I assure you as solemnly as if I were actually present before your assembly that I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done this thing, and I do this with full divine authority. My judgment is this: that the man should be left to the mercy of Satan so that while his body will experience the destructive powers of sin his spirit may yet be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

6-8 Your pride in your church is lamentably out of place. Don’t you know how a little yeast can permeate the whole lump? Clear out every bit of the old yeast that you may be new unleavened bread! We Christians have had a Passover lamb sacrificed for us—none other than Christ himself! So let us “keep the feast” with no trace of the yeast of the old life, nor the yeast of vice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of unadulterated truth!

temple in ancient Corinth

temple in ancient Corinth

In these readings we have two attempts to regulate the lives of church members. Paul’s letter, written around 47 C.E. is much the earlier and more specific.  It is mainly concerned with an attack on spiritual arrogance by a group of Corinthian believers who think of themselves as high end Christians who are above the level of ordinary discipleship. Mainly the letter focuses on Jesus Messiah as a critical instance of divine humility, but here it picks out a particular person’s actions as typical of the moral carelessness of these “superior believers”.  This reader doubts if sleeping with one’s mother-in-law will ever become a sin of choice; and indeed it’s unclear what happened. Is the father dead? Has the father divorced the wife? In any case there’s no recognition by Paul that the woman may have played a significant part.  In effect the modern reader doesn’t know exactly what had happened. Certainly it offended Paul’s conviction that Christian believers, albeit living by trust in God’s love rather than adherence to a religious law, were called to lives of disciplined purity. Only those who take God’s love for granted could excuse immoral behaviour 

Leaving the man to “Satan” is probably no more than expelling him (until he repents) from the community. The expulsion of unrepentant sinners is compared by Paul to the expulsion of yeast from a Jewish house before passover. Every scrap has to be hunted down and thrown out.  The expulsion of the offender is for the sake of the community which has to maintain its standards-and for the sake of the man himself- who must not imagine that his actions are acceptable. Perhaps Paul imagines that the Enemy (Satan) will afflict him as he afflicted Job in the Bible story.

The way Paul deals with this offence assumes that all right-thinking people will agree that the behaviour is immoral; the only issue is whether the church community can be permit someone to assert that it’s not a serious issue and requires no repentance or forgiveness. He strongly argues against such permission.

The passage from Jesus “sermon on the mount” is more fundamental because it lays down rules of thumb for the behaviour of disciples of Jesus. The tradition transmitted here must have been formed in the early church communities and passed on initially by  word of mouth. After some fifty years of transmission the “word of Jesus” would have gained a fixed and polished form in this case the repeated  antitheses “You have heard that they were told…..but now I tell you.” Matthew presents Jesus as an authoritative interpreter of the Law of God. In essence Jesus points not merely to what people should or should not do, but to what kinds of people they should be. It’s not simply a question of avoiding adultery  but of rejecting a lustful culture that turns women into sexual playthings of men. Jesus sees that this resistance may well be as painful as self-amputation.  Ceasing to play the role that society offers as masculinity may feel like castration. Nevertheless, it is required of those who want to be part of God’s rule here and hereafter. The stringency of this would have surprised not only Jesus’ Gentile contemporaries, but also his fellow Jews. It is very relevant to the lustful society of the UK today.

The rule about divorce is similarly severe. It’s interesting that Christians who have rejected the notion of same- sex marriage  (about which Jesus said nothing) have happily enough accepted civil laws on divorce (about which Jesus spoke clearly.) 

As regards oaths generally , I think that Jesus’ words encourage his followers to be straightforward, trustworthy  people whose promises need no guarantee except that they make them.  As regards oaths in a court of law, I agree with the Quakers that believers should refuse to use them.

In these verses Jesus’ teaching is radical, disturbing and unsurprisingly neglected even by Christian believers.



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