SOME PARTS OF THE BIBLE THAT TROUBLE ME

I don’t know about you, but I find some parts of the Bible to be flat out inspirational, some parts comforting, and some parts troubling – in various ways for various reasons.

Of those that trouble me, some parts are hard to understand (and I am not sure I really do), some are just too hard to think through and others just too hard to accept.  Some just challenge me beyond my comfort.

I am not sure I can even list them all, but here are a few:

Pick up your cross and follow…

That is tough.

Sell all you own, give it to the poor and come follow sounds just a tad easier, but honestly, if I keep it at arm’s length, I feel better about the other parts of God’s Word that really do comfort me.

Count it all joy when you experience trials….

Yeah, that one bakes my noodle.  Just contemplating it is hard.  Understanding it is hard.  Committing to it… well… I don’t know.

Maybe this one comes easy for you, but not me.

But there is another… which really surprises me.  A part of the Bible I might have read hundreds of times over the course of my life… might have heard read and even remarked upon in sermons perhaps countless times over the course of my life… but which in recent years – especially the last five years or so – has come to haunt me… to trouble me… and possibly convict me (but I am not sure yet).

Over the course of my life, the little familiarity with this part of the Bible which I have found in personal readings and in group studies and in sermons – all put together – has done very little for me except to flesh out a picture.  But what if there is MEANING to this small aspect of the larger picture?  And what if that MEANING somehow directs my life and that of the church?

By now you surely are wondering what in the world I am talking about (or else you have clicked off).  Enough with the suspense.

I find this part voiced most potently in Luke’s writings, but perhaps there are echoes of the same idea in other places too.  But here are two references which you can go to look this up for yourself: Luke 24:53 & Acts 2:46.

The troubling part?

Jesus’s disciples, after all his “earthly ministry” (as we sometimes call it) is said and done, are STILL MEETING IN THE TEMPLE!  The temple of the Jews which was the “den of robbers/rebels” (according to Jesus) that just a few years later will be utterly destroyed by Rome (God?), never to be rebuilt again.  And of course we find some very significant events unfolding among the fledgling church IN THE TEMPLE COURTS especially at the opening of Acts.  And I am finding the SETTING to be convicting.

Hey… I am interested in talking more about this stuff if you are.  But maybe I should ask you what parts of the Bible trouble you?  Got a passage or two that stubbornly trouble you?  Care to share what they are?

Let’s talk.

So many of us have little more to do these days that sit home worrying about the world crumbling around us.  How about we talk about the Bible a bit?  See if God doesn’t have a Word for us…  That kinda thang.

I look forward to your feedback.

 

8 comments

  1. Tim McGee · April 21, 2020

    There is no better place for the early believers in Jesus than in the Temple. Their new leaders had, of course, been reprimanded and told not to preach in Jesus’ name. Then what should they do, still remaining devout Jews (until such time they may be kicked out of the temple)? Gather and show those still devout Jews how the believers of Jesus live their lives. In the House of God, living their lives aligned with the teachings of the Christ seems a pretty powerful thing to me. And that’s, of course, why I stay with the Catholic Church. To remain in the Church where there still are good and devout Christians, living my life as best I can, flawed though I am, with those who believe in the teachings of the Church while understanding the flaws of it’s teachers.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Agent X · April 21, 2020

      Tim!

      Thanx for your response. (I was wondering if this post would go without one. Several have stopped to look at it, but until now no responses.)

      I love your response too. In fact, one of the things I admire about some of the stand out Catholics (as I understand them) is their tenacity to stay with the Church sometimes even when it seems like LOSING and uphill fight just to stay and serve God. The humility of that stuns me. I certainly saw it in the movie about Mother Teresa. But I have seen it in others too. And there is something there I think Protestants just don’t know. (Not to smear Protestants – since I am one).

      We Protestants find it too easy just to break off and leave. The heritage I grew up in broke with Presbyterians two hundred years ago and then broke into three main groups since that time. But that is only half the story, because even within those three main groups, there are several sub groups and within those there are the liberals and the conservatives which still use the same name, but which hardly share fellowship. (My heritage is not alone in this.) And now days you are more apt to find people who don’t associate with “organized religion” at all, but still count themselves as Christian.

      In fact, Agent B (the blogger I owe my pseudonym credit for) pretty much rejected the church – calling it a social club.

      I find it too easy just to bow out too. My presence at the church where I hold membership is a cold experience. Some people who used to be friends of mine flat out ignore me now. I have been officially sanctioned by leadership and informally sanctioned too. However, when asked if I am kicked out, they tell me I am not. And I have not given up my membership either. But I find it far easier not to attend. Church is painful.

      But the second temple is something else too. In fact, I think if the temple is appropriate for the first church to be worshiping in, then your observation is a must for us today. For surely the temple, which Jesus says the Jews have made into a “den of robbers” and which is NOT even the real temple to begin with, but is judged, destroyed and NOT raised again in three days, a house of God which is redundant at best and an imposter at worst, is a hostile place to the church. But there is this tenacity of the disciples to BE THERE praying and engaged in worship nonetheless.

      Actually there are, I think, a number of dynamics in this which I have only just begun to think about myself. A lot here to explore about what love and patience really is, about humility, about witness and conflict. I don’t want to overwhelm you with all my thoughts on this, but I must say, your comment helps open up even more for me.

      I know that some people talk about “the church within the church” and in Luke we find St. Paul’s “temple” (as per Ephesians) within the temple. One is so small, pushed around by the other. Restricted and sanctioned yet bearing all the promise of God while the other is doomed.

      On the one hand, I am so overpowered by the weight of responsibility that seems to put on me, but on the other I am overwhelmed with the POWER that seems to suggest God would work in and through me.

      I wonder if you have read about the destruction of the temple. It has been a while since I last read about it, but I have long been intrigued by the character Simon bar Giora and his last stand at the temple when it is surrounded by Titus and his legions. I think about the Christians in Jerusalem at that time. The pressure they face to come join Giora in defense of “the House of God” and the temptation to do it.

      I don’t know what revolutionary speech Giora rallies with (or maybe its a sales pitch), but I can imagine what they MIGHT be. I think of God defending his House in the days of Hezekiah when Sennachari. If I were bar Giora, I think I would recall that time like Texas at San Jacinto crying Remember The Alamo! Come and stand with YHWH our God against whom these marauding hordes are merely kindling destined for the fire! Have FAITH! TRUST in God. Now is the time to show yourselves true to HIM.

      In fact, I wrote my own commentary on Mark’s Gospel working with the idea that Mark is the first to pen a Gospel, and that his Gospel functions like a recruiter’s pamphlet placing a call on the lives of the church – especially young men of about fightin’ age, and that it is written right about the same time that Titus destroys Jersusalem.

      This however is the time to bail on the temple. And Mark’s Gospel treats you, the reader (let the reader understand (wink wink)) like you have become the 13th disciple. I ca

      Liked by 2 people

      • Tim McGee · April 22, 2020

        Thank you for the insight. I would like to read your commentary on Mark’s Gospel. I can share my email address if you could mail it to me.
        I wanted to consider your post for a day or so before responding. To participate in a conversation about the Bible is great, but I am not a Bible scholar (as you are). As my blog “about me” page suggests (and my Twitter handle proclaims), I am just a dude in the pew. I read, I reflect, I pray. That’s my teaching. My own reflections are, I believe, a gift of revelation from God and I do not write a word without first praying. But the Word made flesh was revealed to me through the Church, through her teachings and through the daily readings. To me, the rhythm of the daily readings have allowed me to focus on the story of our salvation history. While my kids were in school and often wanted me to edit their writing, I always told them, “tell the story and let the facts support it, not the other way around.” The story matters and can only be made manifest in its wholeness and not in singular verses that seem to support our own world view.
        Thanks for conversing with me, a mere dude in the pew.

        Liked by 3 people

      • Agent X · April 22, 2020

        Ha!

        I have been having trouble (esp with comments) losing some or all of my typed thoughts.

        Sorry. This is my second try responding to you.

        Thanx for your kind words and encouraging careful thoughts here. And yes… send me your email. I am sure you did it before, but if you do it again, it will make locating it much easier for me now.

        As for that word “scholar”… I recognize some of us use it a bit more loosely than others, but it is a bit of almost technical jargon in the academy, and I must not embrace it for myself. I have not risen to the level of academic rigor that goes with that term.

        I am a life-long student of the Bible with about half the professional training that might earn me that description, but I am a layman too. And my “commentary” is a “layman’s commentary” to be frank.

        No doubt I believe it has some things to offer to the world of research, but it is not exhaustively thorough nor peer reviewed and all that.

        But… now… if I can finish my comment from earlier. It appears I lost a big chunk of it.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Agent X · April 22, 2020

      I realize now that my comment was cut off (let the reader understand) – what a prophetic point for the “error” the “cut”/”delete” to happen!

      Ha!

      Let me back up and say something else about Mark’s Gospel (or straighten it out anyway)…

      The last 12 verses of Mark are not original to the document. There is a lot of controversy about it… more than one theory about it, but based on the text critical evidence, it is quite clear that the earliest manuscripts (and thus we are safe to presume the original too) did not contain THESE verses.

      So… if we go back to 16:8, the last verse we are sure of, it begs a lot of questions. We know from Matthew, Luke, and John (and really Paul and others too) that story of Jesus does not end like 16:8 seemingly suggests. In fact, it is clear that 16:8 is no ending at all. This has led (probably a majority of) scholars to believe that later copyists (in ancient times they did not have Xerox machines) added to Mark to tidy up the problem. It is believed widely that Mark wrote more, but that it became lost to us very early. We don’t know how much more he wrote. Maybe a paragraph, maybe enough to fill a page. Maybe enough to fill another chapter or even a second vol. We cannot know FOR SURE.

      Okay… if any or all of that interests you, I encourage you to research it. It’s not hard to find LOTS of people writing about it. And for that matter, there are other variances in the text of the Bible, but this one at the end of Mark and the Woman Caught In The Act in John’s Gospel are the two MAIN variants of major passages. So there is a LOT there to find and consider. However, I will skip all the theories for now and just jump to my own.

      I theorize that Mark intended his document to stop at 16:8 as we have it without all the additions. This is all the more troubling if you know the Greek language because the break happens at a conjunction. The particular conjunction which it stops with is gar, which normally is translated as “for.” But the most common conjunctions are, of course, “and” and “or” in regular usage, and I like to point that out because a conjunction always demands more to follow. Thus it’s as if Mark wrote a whole document, the Gospel story of Jesus no less, and got to the last page and stopped with the word “and…” (Not technically correct, but makes the issue at hand very easy to understand!)

      Why would Mark stop his book with the word “and”?

      The idea is so absurd that by far most scholars and lay people alike believe he didn’t stop it there, that we lost the last page or maybe he died before he quite finished it or…. Hmmm…

      But I have a theory (can’t prove it, of course) that the Holy Spirit by whose power Mark wrote did not give more to Mark to share with us and then failed to ensure we get it. I think it is highly more likely that Mark is written in a dark and frustrating way AND that the story moves off the written page AND into the life of the reader! Basically, THE READER plays a part in finishing the story!

      A novel idea at some levels, no doubt, but troubling at some truly deep levels too, AND we have lots of good reasons to consider this road less traveled – thus I wrote a whole layman’s commentary tying all these things together in a coherent theory.

      (By way of just a FEW points of interest on all that):

      Consider the title of the book. If your English Bible is like mine, there is a bold print heading across the top of the page where Mark starts which reads The Gospel According to St. Mark.

      Just one problem. Mark did not give it that title. In fact the Gospels don’t have proper titles as we tend to think of them. However, if you read 1:1 of Mark, you will find there are no verbs in the sentence which opens the story. In fact, it actually is not a true sentence. It looks and function (I believe) for all the world like a TITLE. And what is this title? It is “The BEGINNING of The Gospel of Jesus Christ (the Son of God).”

      The name of this book is “The Beginning of….”

      So if you named a book you wrote “The Beginning of…” something, then how would you end it?

      No doubt you would come to some form of conclusion, but it would have an open end since it only covers the beginning of the story or topic or whatever. No doubt you would tidy it up more than Mark seems to have done, but you have to consider that IF Mark writes the very first Gospel (one of only four in the genre) AND that he writes it (we are not sure EXACTLY when, but we estimate VERY close – likely within a year either before or after the fall of the temple in Jerusalem) AND if I can demonstrate from the rest of the text AS A WHOLE other reasonable evidence that Mark is treating YOU, the reader (let the reader understand) (see Mark 13:14), as if you are a recruit to the mission of Jesus AT THE TIME Simon bar Giora (and others) seek recruits to come defend the House of God, AND that the narrative then moves off the written page and INTO your decision to follow or not, THEN maybe you will begin to consider the way Mark stops his written account (NOTICE I do not call it the “end”) in a new way.

      Okay… all of that is a tangent to my post.

      For early in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law and then withdraws to pray alone. Once he is gone, the disciples panic and search for him. They find him EARLY in the morning! They express frustration with his illusiveness, but he insists that they all go preach in the nearby towns BECAUSE THAT IS WHY HE CAME… he says.

      All of that has the very same look and feel of the scene at 16:8. The women flee the tomb afraid, frightened, and scared and they tell no one for….

      for what?

      It just stops there.

      But we know that the one greeting them informs them to tell Peter and the others to find him in Galilee.

      This document is written in war time. It is a religious war. The temple, we know now, is destroyed forever! But if you are being recruited to the Jesus-mission, then you need to go to Galilee and find him there (wink wink)… (let the reader understand).

      All of this, if you are following my line of reason, then calls into question Luke’s account about the first disciples continuing to meet and worship in the temple. Look describes an earlier time, but he writes about it long after the temple is destroyed too. Mark writes early (I believer first), Luke writes late (some, not all, believe last). Mark is cryptically involving his readers of contemporary moment of history in the story in a way that Luke does not (I think).

      I also believe that Mark’s account is intended to bring the reader to a crisis of faith. A fateful decision in which you are equipped to make a choice, but NOT with comfort. Reading Mark is like Jacob wrestling the Angel. You will get a blessing, but you will struggle for it and limp after you get it.

      In fact, it is part of my theory that Matthew, Luke, and John write their accounts IN PART to clear up the difficulties Mark presents. The story of Jesus is not ONLY a wrestling match. There is comfort to be found in it, but it requires OTHER tellings to get that comfort because Mark does not offer it.

      But back to the point of my post… the Christians are holding to the temple and going there to worship! At least early on. When it’s demise comes into view, Mark seems to be directing Christians out, but up until then they were the REAL temple within the temple. AND they, like Jesus before them, made Israel jealous. And that was dangerous to them.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Tim McGee · April 22, 2020

        The Church has accepted the final passages of Mark’s Gospel as appropriate for canonical teaching and has, then, let it remain in the Canon despite questions of its authorship. I think this is not the only book that carries the same questions. And the book of Job is widely considered a fictional book of mixed history and teaching. So it does not give me any pause, nor does it become something of a concern for me.
        Regardless, your analysis is enlightening and helpful in putting together, as I have said, the story. To me, that is the key to understanding. If we get the story wrong because we do not know the context then we are likely to get the teaching wrong.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Agent X · April 22, 2020

        Yes sir, absolutely. The last 12 verses are canonized. You are exactly right about that, and as such they deserve respect. I make no case otherwise.

        I note, as do many others, that MOST of the content of those last verses is also found in Matthew. It is very likely that copyists who amended Mark (assuming that is what happened – which I believe, btw) most likely were also very familiar with Matthew’s ending and chose to “help” Mark’s by adding content they knew from the other Gospel.

        The only bits of note which are not in Matthew are the truly strange parts about drinking poison, handling snakes, and walking on scorpions. These bits may well be worthy of canonization too, but they are very unique to Holy Scripture to be sure.

        My case, and that of the prof who schooled me in the synoptics, is to listen carefully – attend to – the witness you are reading without conflating them. There is nothing wrong with conflation per se. The Bible does not tell us to avoid this, and in fact conflation is a regular feature of much preaching – a lot of it good too. But if you attend to Mark and let Mark raise markan questions and then listen and attend to the answers Mark then gives, THEN you are listing to THIS particular witness. He saw something. He is reporting it. Others saw something and reported too, but there are bits that don’t “add up” exactly.

        This is a feature good police detectives come to expect when putting together evidence from various witnesses too. They want to get the same story, alright. Any story which opposes the others is an outlier. Someone is lying. But if all the accounts are in PERFECT lock step, then it means they were rehearsed and THAT too suggests false witness. Thus some details being different in each account is actually an indicator of truthfulness.

        Well, the view I advance is that the last twelve verses are authoritative for Christians, but they are not Mark.

        Like most preachers and scholars I know of, I sense something similar about The Woman Caught in the Act in John 8 strikes me as very true to Jesus and his character. This passage is also canonized, but even more it is one of the most popular passages in the Bible too. However, it appears very likely that either John did not actually write that bit OR that at least he did not place it there. Nevertheless, I believe the passage, yet I do not consider it John’s contribution.

        Look. I am not actually trying to persuade you to go with me on this. I am trying, more than anything, to be clear about my position on it. I hope I have made sense of it.

        And yes… my commentary makes a lot more case about this AND I hope sheds new light on Mark and opens up new depths. You don’t actually have to agree with me to experience that, but of course I believe it helps.

        Thanx for your comment! Thanx for the conversation.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Agent X · April 23, 2020

    Okay… no doubt I opened the door that leads down this path even within the original post, but the point of the post was to talk about troubling passages of the Bible. The discussion thus far does a lot of business with one of those – for me – but thus far I have managed to just bring a lot about Mark. The passages from Luke are the ones I find troubling.

    Well, they are troubling to me, in no small part, due to my study of Mark.

    But with all that Mark stuff as the backdrop for the stage upon which the disciples play at the end of Luke’s Gospel and the beginning of Acts, I am troubled to find the church meeting in the temple for worship. The temple is the “den of rebels” according to Jesus. Also according to Jesus not one stone of this place will be left atop another. It is all doomed. He “cleansed” it, but that winds up saying more about him than about how clean the join is after.

    AND YET… for whatever reasons, though they be temporary in nature, God does sanction both the Tabernacle of old and the Temple of Solomon (and to some extent it’s replacement). AND… And Jesus does business with Herod’s temple alright. He speaks of it, visits it, worships there, cleanses it, AND predicts the downfall. Then he preaches in it AGAINST it’s ruling elite and priests.

    In fact, I would EASILY make the case that had Jesus not cleansed it (esp the WAY he does it) AND preached in it during “Holy Week” AGAINST the leading rulers there, THEN he likely would not have been crucified.

    Yes, I know he was upsetting the establishment from early on, but getting the whole gang to move against him too THIS event (or cluster of events) right at the end (barring John’s placement of the event forward in the story. (This is unique to John, and though historically, I cannot explain it, the way John crafts his version, it aids in some of his more theological interests.)

    So… with all this AGAINSTness vis-à-vis Jesus and the temple, I find it odd to say the least, and hard to accept at most, that the earliest disciples continue to meet and worship there. What does THAT teach us?

    I really don’t have the answer to that question settled in my own mind. I have a few ideas, but they are like hypotheses waiting to be verified. I don’t have that ironed out.

    I SUSPECT this says something about the way God moves in his world and in his church – even among his own people. God is not in harmony with the world as it is with sin invading and all that. He is in some form of CONFLICT. This should be OVERLY apparent, no less, by the crucifixion and how central it is to everything. That is a picture of God in conflict even as he reconciles all things to himself.

    We must not let the notion of conflict here negate his LOVE even one ounce. This is a “LOVER’s QUARREL” to borrow a term from the title of an old book. There are things to settle with those who oppose him, but God is here right up in their hostile face challenging them, and even after Jesus is Ascended, there the Spirit of God still is among the disciples who now are his Body – still there at the temple.

    I don’t know how to match this with the “church within the church” – a phrase I have heard people use all my life, but one which I do not really understand. But here we SEEM to have some sort of template for it. As I understand it – or at least THINK I might – the phrase “church within the church” acknowledges that there is something wrong with “the church” as expressed in the world today. There is something practically counterfeit about all or part of it. Sin rules there. Leadership – in some places – factions – in others. But the phrase seems to champion the idea that within that turmoil, there are at least SOME TRUE CHRISTIANS Worthiping God in Spirit and Truth, and being on behalf of the rest what the whole is meant to be, and perhaps even blessing the whole with their presence there even as this “church within the church” challenges the larger group to somehow GET RIGHT.

    Maybe I am way off base with all that. I really don’t know.

    But I sense that the presence of CONFLICT should be appreciated here. And the maintenance of LOVE is not necessarily threatened by this conflict at all – at least not if it is an expression of God’s own heart and will coming to bear among sinful people who at least claim to be Christian, even if that is questionable by the evidence.

    If all of that is true, then it means I have a place at the assembly that shuns me. I belong there, not because of leadership’s welcome, but because of God’s. That is not an easy calling. I might rather he make an exception for me to just bow out and stay home. I could just run off and join another church which supposedly gets it right. I could run off and START another church (as if that is even possible). In fact, this line of thinking puts every Protestant I know on notice that they are neglecting the assembly, that they are factions and divisive. If I am on the right path (or even near it) then it says to the Catholic Church that there is serious monkey business there which is not being attended to properly (something every sexually abused child there would almost surely attest).

    I am sure there is FAR MORE I should be saying and thinking on this. And quite possibly I am just going in the wrong direction.

    Thus I invite feedback…

    Liked by 1 person

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