Bible Reading Week 10 (Feb 7th -13th, 2022)

Week 1Week 2Week 3Week 4Week 5Week 6Week 7Week 8; Week 9

Old Testament: Exodus 14-20; New Testament: Matthew 16:13-20:34

List of Questions

  1. Exodus 14: 4, 14, 17-18: What does it mean for God to get glory for himself over/through Pharoah?
  2. Exodus 14:31: What does this say about Moses’s role and status? (see also the role God gives Moses in vv 15-16 and 19:9)
  3. Exodus 15:17: What is the mountain and sanctuary mentioned in this verse?
  4. Exodus 18:2-3: What does it mean that Moses sent away his wife and children? And why did he do this? 
  5. Exodus 19:5: Is the treasured status of the people based on keeping the covenant?
  6. Exodus 19:10: What’s the significance/purpose of washing clothes?
  7. Exodus 19:13: Why is it only when a ram’s horn blast sounds that the people can approach the mountain?
  8. Exodus 19:14: What does it mean for Moses to consecrate the people?
  9. Exodus 20:5-6: What do these verses say about God’s mercy and justice?
  10. Exodus 20:12: Why does honouring of parents have the blessing of living long in the land attached to it?
  11. Matthew 16:19: what is meant by the keys and binding and loosing?
  12. Matthew 16:20 (see also 17:9): why this secret?
  13. Matthew 16:24-28: how are these important verses linked to what comes before?
  14. Matthew 17:4: why does Peter say this?
  15. Matthew 17:20: So is the failure to perform this miracle due to lack of faith?
  16. Matthew 17:24-27: what do these verses say about Jesus’s relationship to tax and the Roman empire? How might these verses shape a political theology? 
  17. Matthew 18:7: What is the world here and the one through whom stumbling blocks come?
  18. Matthew 18:11: What does this say about angels?
  19. Matthew 18:17: What is the church/ekklesia at this point? Is this not harsh on pagans and tax collectors? How does this square with the fact that Jesus spent time with them?
  20. Matthew 18:18: This was said of Peter before (16:19). What does it mean?
  21. Matthew 19:1-3: Do the Pharisees like to test Jesus when he has performed healings? Is this significant and if so, how/why?
  22. Matthew 19:11-12: What do these classifications mean?
  23. Matthew 19:18: Does Jesus prioritise these commandments?
  24. Matthew 19:28: What are the twelve thrones for the 12 disciples? 
  25. Matthew 20:21: Is the question of James and John’s mother asked on the basis of 19:28 (she had heard about this promise and wanted her sons to have the prized places)?  

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Bible Reading Week 9 (Feb 28th – March 6th, 2022)

Week 1Week 2Week 3Week 4Week 5Week 6Week 7; Week 8

The lectionary for this week takes us right up to the edge of two great turning points in the narrative. In Exodus 7-13 in the Old Testament readings, we encounter the 10 plagues, the passover and the Israelite departure from Egypt. We stop just short of the crossing of the Red Sea.

In the journey through the gospel of Matthew, we read of further miracles (12:15-21; 14:13-36; 15:29-39), teaching episodes (e.g. on family, 12:46-50; 13:53-58), the third “sermon” which takes the form of an extended series of parables (13), and the increasing tensions between Jesus and the Pharisees (12:22-42; 15:1-20; 16:1-12). We stop just short of the turning point of Matthew, when Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (16:16).

This week’s notes are limited to just the list of questions, which I hope to return to and address at a later point.

List of Questions

  1. Exodus 7:3, 13, 22, 8:15, 19, 32, 9:12, 34-35, 10:1, 20, 27, 11:10: what does it mean for God to harden Pharaoh’s heart? And what is the relationship of this to Pharaoh hardening his own heart?
  2. Exodus 8:4-5: why is there no initial response this time from Pharaoh?
  3. Exodus 8:18: why can’t the magicians produce gnats?
  4. Exodus 8:22: why now the distinction between Israelites and Egyptians?
  5. Exodus 9:31-32: what’s the purpose of these two verses? 
  6. Exodus 12:23: what is the destroyer?
  7. Exodus 12:37: is 600,000 the right translation?
  8. Exodus 12:42: when was this written? There seems to very much be a later present day sense to this account.
  9. Exodus 12:43, 48: so can a foreigner eat Passover?
  10. Exodus 13:6-7: why is this material repeated?
  11. Exodus 13:13: what does it mean to redeem a firstborn donkey with a lamb?
  12. Exodus 13:21-23: why a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire?
  13. Matthew 12:25-27: what is the logic of Jesus’ argument here?
  14. Matthew 12:31-32: what is the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?
  15. Matthew 12:36-37: what is the role of speech in the judgment? How does this relate to the verses on speech in Matthew 7:21-23?
  16. Matthew 12:43-45: what is the meaning of these verses?
  17. Matthew 12:46-50: what do these verses say about family? 
  18. Matthew 13:10-17: so why does Jesus speak to the people in parables?
  19. Matthew 13:39-40, 49-50: is the role of angels here in judgment consistent with other early Christian and Jewish texts? 
  20. Matthew 14:9: why is Herod distressed at having John executed if he wanted him killed (5)?
  21. Matthew 14:28: why would Jesus asking Peter to come out of the boat on to the water convince Peter that it was Jesus?
  22. Matthew 15:1-10: what, in context, is Jesus saying about the traditions of the Pharisees and the elders?
  23. Matthew 15:21-28: is Jesus initially reluctant to heal the Canaanite woman’s daughter and if so why?

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Bible Reading Week 8 (Feb 21st- 27th, 2022)

Week 1Week 2Week 3; Week 4; Week 5; Week 6; Week 7

This week sees us finds us at the beginnning of Exodus in the OT/HB readings and in a section of Matthew’s gospel that begins to introduce more overtly, the opposition Jesus and his followers will face.

Exodus is vital for our understanding of covenant (cf. 2:24), atonement and salvation (see the final plague or act in Exodus 12), and political theology (it is particularly poignant to read of Israel’s harsh treatment at the hands of the oppressive Pharoah on this week of all weeks). In this week’s section, it is the nature and character of God that stands out. In particular, we encounter God’s presence and his name. We are re-introduced once more to the care and concern of a God who is concerned present or “with” his people (see the references to God being with Israel in 3:12, 18; 4:12, 15; 5:3, picking up on God’s promises to be with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob throughout Genesis). And we read the amazingly rich account of God revealing his name, in three stages, to Moses in Exodus 3.

In Matthew, we begin with a cycle of miracles and healings (8:18-9:38) that introduce Jesus’s power over nature and illness and his ability to forgive sins. Dark clouds of opposition appear as Jesus is accused both of having a demon and blaspheming. Matthew then introduces the second block of teaching (after the Sermon on the Mount, 5-7) with the missionary sermon/sending of the 12 (Matthew 10). This section introduces further promises of opposition and hardship for thsoe who follow Jesus (cf. 10:24-25 which neatly connects the opposition Jesus encounters with the expectation his followers should have of similar treatment). Chapter 11 introduces further disputes over fasting, woes on unrepentant Jewish cities. This week’s readings then conclude with two disputes about the Sabbath (12:1-21). The question this week deals with Pharoah’s enslavement of the Israelites.

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Bible Reading Week 7 (Feb 14th- 20th, 2022)

Week 1Week 2Week 3; Week 4; Week 5; Week 6

We finish Genesis this week and come to the dramatic denouement of the Joseph novella and the Jacob story. Joseph tests his brothers to the limit. Witnessing Judah’s remorse and willingness to sacrifice himself for Benjamin, Joseph is unable to contain himself any longer and reveals himself to his brothers. Joseph is then reunited with his father who issues blessings of various sorts on his sons.

Turning to the New Testament, Matthew takes us through the temptation/testing (apt with Lent a few weeks away) and the Sermon on the Mount. Re-reading Matthew 5-7, I was struck afresh by how Jesus’s teaching is a radical reinterpretation of the law, but never its repudiation. This important chunk of text is one that I hope to return to in subsequent readings and it raised lots of questions I hope to address in the future (see the full list below).

This week’s questions pertain to the purpose of the Joseph story (Genesis 37-50) and the nature of the blessing in the beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12).

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Bible Reading Week 6 (Feb 6th – 13th 2022)

 

Week 1Week 2Week 3; Week 4; Week 5

As the Jacob narrative comes close to its end, our readings in Genesis take us part way through the Joseph story. One of the most gripping novellas in all of the Hebrew Bible, it is filled with pathos, jealousy, brotherly rivalry, murderous plots, intrigue, political power and unlikely twists. The favouritism of Isaac towards Esau, of Rebekah towards Jacob, and of Jacob towards Rachel now bears fruit in the mutual hatred between Rachel’s son Joseph, Jacob’s favourite, and Joseph’s brothers.

In the New Testament readings, John’s Gospel reaches its climax in the resurrection and Jesus’s appearance to the disciples, including his moving encounter with Mary Magdalene and Thomas. In a single chapter, Jesus is acclaimed as “rabboni” (my teacher) by Mary, “my Lord and my God” by Thomas, and as “messiah and Son of God” by the narrator who finally gives away his purpose in writing his gospel (20:31, see below Q2). We also begin Matthew’s gospel, where Jesus is declared as Messiah three times in three verses (1:16-18) and as the one who will save his people from their sins. There is a greater darkness to Matthew’s infancy narrative than Luke’s, I think, where the only shadow comes in the form of Simeon’s words to Mary: “a sword will pierce your own side too”. In Matthew’s account, we have a blink-and-you’d-miss-it reference to the grim and gory tale of Bathsheba and Uriah, Tamar’s crafty impregnation by her father in law (see Genesis 38), another potential scandal with Joseph’s betrothed Mary found to be pregnant, the massacre of the innocents and Herod searching desperately for Joseph and his family to murder their young child.

There are all sorts of fascinating connections between the readings from Matthew and those from Genesis in recent weeks: Jacobs beget Josephs; dreaming Josephs dwell in Egypt; the Tamar of Genesis 38 makes a seemingly unlikely appearance in the genealogy of Messiah; Jesus’s birth takes place in Bethlehem, the least of the town of the tribe of Judah. At Jesus’s baptism, God names him his beloved Son (ἀγαπητός), in an echo of Genesis 22. In a way that the ram Abraham sacrificed in Isaac’s place points to, this beloved Son will save his people from their sins by dying in their place (Mt 20:28). And, perhaps most poignantly of all, just as we are told constantly that “God was with Joseph”, now we learn that this same God has mysteriously entered human history and become Immanuel, “God with us” in Jesus (1:23; cf. Mt 28:20).

Our questions this week concern how we should read Genesis 38-39 (the stories of Tamar and Judah, and Potiphar’s wife and Joseph) and the purpose of John’s gospel, as stated in chapter 20 verse 31.

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Bible Reading Week 5 (Jan 31 – Feb 6, 2022)

 Week 1Week 2Week 3; Week 4

There is a strong note of family relations running through this week’s readings. We read of brotherly reconciliation (Gen 33), family tragedy (the death of Rachel, Gen 35:19) and the rise of Israel/Jacob and his descendants (36:6-8) as well as hints of family division which will carry into the Joseph story (34:30-31; 35:22 where Reuben sleeps with Jacob’s concubine, and a note of literary suspense when we read …”and Jacob heard of it”).

The family theme continues in the New Testament readings, as Simeon announces to Mary, the mother of Jesus, that a “sword will pierce your own side too” as she and Joseph fulfil the requirements of the Law (that family tension will continue when the teenage Jesus leaves his family for the Temple). And in John 17, Jesus addresses his Father and ours, in the High Priestly Prayer. As a new father, I was struck by Jesus’s use of the experience of childbirth as an analogy for the disciples’ initial grief at Jesus’ near-departure which will be eclipsed by the joy of their eventual reunion: “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world” (John 16:21).

The two questions below deal with the promise made to Jacob and how these compares with those made to Abraham and Isaac, and a question about the divine name in John 17.

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Bible Reading Week 4 (Jan 24-30, 2022)

For the Daily Office readings I am using, see here.

For previous weeks: Week 1; Week 2; Week 3

This week’s OT readings feature Isaac, to whom God renews the covenant (Gen 26:4-6) and to whom Rebekah is given in marriage. We are also introduced to Jacob, the deceiver, who steals his brother Esau’s birthright and blessing, meets God at Bethel (Gen 28), flees from his brother and family and lives with his deceitful uncle, Laban, for whom he works for fourteen years in exchange for the promise of marrying his daughters.

In the New Testament readings, we have the dramatic conversion (or calling, as I argue here) of Saul (later named Paul) on the Road to Damascus. Reading the narrative this year, I was primed by Richard Bauckham’s work on the divine name to notice the significance of the Name of Jesus in Acts 9:1-22. Christians call on the Name, and Paul is to proclaim the name and suffer for the name. Paul’s life hinges on the realisation that the one God of Israel, who reveals himself as I will be who I will be (Ex 3), has shared this Name with his Son, Jesus (see also John 13:19 from this week). The two questions below concern the issue of Abraham’s works (a question that came up last week) and Jesus’s relationship to judgment in John’s gospel. A major theme comes through in the questions and the final reflection: that trust and love are both closely related to, and evidenced by, action and obedience. A full list of questions, as always, appears at the end.

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Bible Reading Week 3 (Jan 17-23, 2022)

Week 1

Week 2

Old Testament (Genesis 17-23)

1. Genesis 17:1-23: What is the significance of the covenant of circumcision? Does it not constitute works righteousness and if not, why not? And why circumcision as a sign of the covenant?  

Since that’s not one question but three, let’s take each in turn. 

Genesis 17 refers to the giving (Hebrew: ntn) or confirming of the covenant. This covenant ratification follows on from the covenant inauguration (or “cutting of the covenant”) in Genesis 15. The cutting of the covenant, with its strange ceremony with fire and divided animals stresses the chronological priority of God’s action which takes priority and pre-eminence over man’s. Genesis 17 majors on man’s response which ratifies and confirms the covenant already made by God’s divine initiative. 

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Bible Reading Week 2 (Jan 10-16 2022)

For week 1, see here. For the lectionary I am using, see here.

Old Testament (Genesis 10-16)

1. Genesis 11:1-9: What’s the main point of the Babel story? 

At face value, the central thrust of the Babel narrative is that human hubris—symbolised in progressive attempts to build towards the heavens—leads to divine judgment, specifically taking the form of scattering the peoples and confusing their languages. 

Set against the literary and historical context of Genesis, though, the meaning becomes a bit clearer. There is anti-Babylonian streak to the story which I hadn’t noticed before but which makes sense in light of the near eastern parallels against which Genesis 1-11 is written. With this narrative there is no specific parallel but rather the use of motifs related to Babylonian religion—for instance, Babel literally means “gate of the god” . As Wenham writes (ECB, 37): “The ridiculing of Babylonian pretensions is even more apparent in the tower of Babel story. Far from its vaunted tower touching heaven and the name Babel (Babylon) meaning “gate of the god”, the Lord had to come down from heaven to see the skyscraper—so far short of his dwelling did it reach; and its name means ‘confusion’ or ‘folly’”. The Hebrew roots for the word “confuse” (“let us confuse”) and “folly” are almost the same. 

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Bible Reading Week 1 (Jan 1-9 2022)

Last week, I began reading my yearly read through the bible using this lectionary (I’ve never actually read through the entire bible in one year and this plan will, in fact, take me two). As I did so, I found I had an accumulating set of questions related to various historical, literary and theological issues raised by the text. I hope to record these questions each week and try and provide ways of approaching and answering them briefly (some of which I hope to come back to over time). Perhaps these are questions that you’ve wrestled with, in which case, please do feel free to provide your noughts via a comment.

Since, I believe, we are not only encouraged to ask questions of the scriptures but also let it ask questions of us, I also aim to provide a brief reflection on a part of the week’s reading that struck a chord or challenged me in my discipleship. 

This first week features quite a few questions, most of which cluster around the Old Testament passages. A few are provided below (and a full list at the end). I haven’t had enough time to research these as I’d like owing to personal circumstances (I’ve just become a father!) so these are first stabs. 

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