Since I decided to follow Jesus, I have loved reading and studying the Scriptures. But I can’t say that my relationship with the Bible has been easy-going. That’s mainly because of how I understood the Bible to work and how it should be read. I’ll explain:

The Uniform Way

For the first couple of decades of my Christian life, I read the Bible as a uniform text where every word has equal authority. The justification for this approach to Scripture is 1 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” There it is in plain language, “all Scripture.” It’s all equal, all important and all the same. Except I have never met any Christian who lives the Bible this way – me included! So, what did Paul mean?

Paul is writing to his dear son, who led the Ephesian church. Timothy struggled with the burden of his role, so the apostle wrote to encourage him. Amongst other things, Paul reminds Timothy of his devotion to “the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

All Scripture is helpful, but that doesn’t mean that all Scripture is applied equally. The problem with the uniform way of reading the Bible is that it doesn’t account for this difference. More on that next week.

The Progressive Way

The Progressive Way views the Scriptures as a developing story “where all the words accumulate in a crescendo of consistent truth.”[1] In recent years, I have become much more comfortable with this way of reading Scripture as it embraces the evolving narrative of God’s love for people and his desire to “reconcile the world to himself in Christ.”

The Bible is living, dynamic, and energetic. Just like flowing water, the Bible’s message is heading somewhere. It’s got momentum, and it’s progressing. For example, the Bible shifts from a revenge perspective to a way of grace and kindness personified in Christ. We witness the Bible’s progression in many ways, including slavery, women’s rights, interracial marriage, illegitimate children, war, capital punishment, and gender diversity. The Bible is not a static book. But there’s still a better way to read and understand the Scriptures.

The Jesus’ Way

The Bible itself calls Jesus the Word. Notice the capital W. When speaking about Scripture, the Bible employs a small ‘w’. Jesus is the Big W Word, the One to whom the written word must bow because Jesus is Lord! If Jesus Christ is Lord, he is supreme even over the Bible.

That’s how Jesus understood Scripture. Consider his Sermon on the Mount, where he altered several Old Testament verses. “You have heard that it was said to our ancestors,” said Jesus, “But I tell you…”

Jesus abolished the food laws (Mark 7:19), and Paul agreed (Romans 14). Goodbye Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14, and hello bacon!

At other times Jesus disagreed with Scripture (Mark 10:1-9) or chose not to argue about individual verses and extend kindness instead (John 5:1-14; 8:2-11), something we Christians would do well to imitate.

The Revd. Peter Bartel put it this way, “Read the Bible. When anything in the rest of the Bible disagrees with Jesus, listen to Jesus.” Jesus is Lord!

A Beautiful Example

Luke is the only gospel writer to include the amazing story of post-resurrection Jesus walking and talking with two of his disciples. Luke tells us that the men, Simon and Cleopas, were kept from recognising him.

Jesus gave them the most amazing Bible study as they chatted: “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” Wow! I have wondered why Luke didn’t document Jesus’ words. I can only think that it was because we are supposed to read and study Scripture for ourselves. Christians are to read the Bible like that, the Jesus’ way.

Final Reflections

C.S. Lewis wrote, “It is Christ himself, not the Bible, who is the true Word of God. The Bible, read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers, will bring us to him.”

Neither Lewis nor I are devaluing the Bible. We are simply putting it in its proper place. I am not teaching a low view of Scripture but a high view of Jesus. I fear that making the Bible an idol is possible as if the Trinity consisted of Father, Son, and Holy Scriptures.

The Bible teaches that Jesus is the Word of God! The primary revelation about Jesus is found in the small w word. Each page points to him. And so, as you read the Bible, Jesus’ Way ask: 

  1. How does this point to or reflect Jesus?
  2. In what way(s) does this draw me into intimacy with Jesus?
  3. Does this verse or story align with what I know about Jesus?

For a Christian, it’s the only way to read Scripture!


[1] A More Christlike Word. Dr Bradley Jersak (P. 41).

The Bible gives us an incredible revelation of the goodness of God. But some parts of it seem to present God being anything but good. Sometimes, God overreacts, becomes extremely violent, appears volatile, and then regrets his behaviour.

Some have attempted to explain this disparity by suggesting there are two gods ~ the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New. Professor Richard Dawkins puts it like this: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”  But there aren’t two gods, only the One True God, and sometimes he doesn’t come across as very pleasant. What are we to make of this?

Awful Examples

There appears to be some truth to Dawkins’ words. Consider Deuteronomy 20:16–18, in which Moses gave these instructions to the people, “However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them…as the Lord your God has commanded you. Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshipping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God.” In other words, I know you people lack self-control and might get led astray, so let’s kill everyone and remove all temptation!

The Hebrew word “destroy” means to devote something to God by eradicating it. We are outraged by the terrorism we witness in the world, yet here it is encouraged, indeed commanded, by God.

From Joshua chapter six onwards, we see the systematic destruction of thirty-one cities and their inhabitants – men, women, children, and all the animals. Entire towns were slaughtered with no terms of surrender and no chance to relocate to another land. And according to the author, God is right there cheering on the massacre.

I’ve read the Bible many times. When I was young, these were great war stories about my faith heroes. Then, I began to feel uncomfortable with them and would skip over these sections pretending they were not there. Except they are. We need to face it. The Bible records some pretty awful stuff.

Most pastors NEVER teach or read them to their churches. We’re embarrassed that they are in the Bible. But they ARE there. So, what do we make of them? To discover the answers, we need to understand how the Bible works.

The Bible is Inspired

Paul told Timothy that God inspires all scripture. Inspires means God-breathed and expresses the sacred nature of the Scriptures (their divine origin) and their power to sanctify believers.” God breathed into Adam, and he became a living being. So, God gives life to his word.

People Wrote the Bible

Throughout time, God has chosen to work with and through imperfect people. God is still doing that now by acting through you and me. In forming the Scriptures, God used the authors’ knowledge, culture, personality, language, and idioms to communicate. People wrote scripture inspired by their interactions with God, one another, and the world around them. Then God breathed life into their words.

God could have given us an A4 Sheet of paper with “things to do” on one side and “things not to do” on the other. But he didn’t. God chose to reveal himself to people through people. And so, what we see in scripture is an unfolding of God’s nature as people increasingly comprehend.

The Bible is Ancient

The oldest parts of the Bible (Job and some Proverbs) are almost 4,000 years old. The newest sections are some New Testament writings, like John’s gospel, written in the final decade of the first century (1,900 years ago). Life was VERY different back then.

Consider how things have changed during our lifetime. For example, we have witnessed massive advances in technology. When our eldest daughter was born (now 24), she enjoyed cassettes, compact discs, and videos. Next came DVDs. These days she (and the rest of the family) streams her music and programs.

Consider the changing attitudes to smoking. From the 1930s to the 1950s, advertising’s most powerful phrase—”doctors recommend”, was used to promote cigarettes. Today, we know that smoking causes all sorts of illnesses. Why did we EVER think that breathing smoke into the lungs could be anything but bad for you? And these days, we’re facing a younger generation repeating history by vaping.

So, if life has changed dramatically in the last few decades, how much have things changed in the past 3000 years? We must remember that when we’re reading the Bible.

The Bible Doesn’t Erase History

The Bible includes questionable things. It details cases of rape, incest, genocide, and violence. Regarding the genocide passages, we must understand these in the context of life in the ancient world. Three thousand years ago, if you left one of your enemies alive, they would live to take revenge and kill you. So, if you wanted to live a long life, you’d wipe out your enemies.

The Scriptures don’t censor the stories or erase history. They report the good, the bad, and the ugly. At that time, that’s how wars were fought. That is what life was like in the ancient world. We look at life differently now.

The Bible is not Static

The Bible is living and active, dynamic, and energetic. Just like flowing water, the Bible’s message is heading somewhere. It’s got momentum, and it’s progressing.

This progression of truth is called the Arc of Scripture. Over time, the Bible shifts from the revenge mentality to a better way. The Bible’s arc shows how people’s view of, and relationship with, God has matured over time.

For example, when God instructed Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham didn’t blink an eye. Why? Because in the ancient world, child sacrifice was an accepted form of worship. In the Genesis 22 story, God met Abraham according to his cultural understanding and then shifted him from child to animal sacrifice. It’s not that God was fussed about animal sacrifice either, as we read later in the Scriptures, but killing an animal is preferred to slaying a child.

We witness the Bible’s progression on many other subjects, including slavery (Cf. Ex 21:20-21; Leviticus 25:44-46; Luke 12:47; 1 Peter 2:18); and Eunuchs, who were at first excluded, then welcomed, and then pursued (Cf. Deuteronomy 23:1-4; Isaiah 56:3-8; Acts 8). Other examples of the Bible’s progressive revelation include women’s rights, interracial marriage, illegitimate children, war, capital punishment, gender diversity, LGBTIQA+ rights, and dozens of other examples demonstrating that the Bible is not a static book.

God’s Final Revelation

If the Bible is motionless, and every part of it equally applies today, we’re in serious trouble. But, if it is active and developing, we can equate troublesome stories to how ancient people viewed life.

They were nomadic tribes that were often at war. To them, God was a warrior who gave them victory over their enemies and endorsed their enslaving captured enemies. They saw God through the culture of their day. God met them where they were but then took them on a pilgrimage of discovery and understanding.

Jesus is God’s final revelation to humanity, showing us what he’s like – a redeemer who does not kill or destroy. John Wesley said, “As the full and final revelation of God, Jesus is the criterion for evaluating Scripture, the prism through which the Hebrew Scriptures must be read.” 

While Jesus affirmed the Hebrew Scriptures as the authentic Word of God, he did not endorse every word in them (Cf. Matt. 5:44). When the disciples wanted to destroy a Samaritan town by calling down fire as Elijah did (Luke 9:51-56), he said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.”

James and John, the “Sons of Thunder“, were ready to consign Samaria to destruction because of the inhospitality of a few people. Jesus clarified that the “manner of spirit” that would exterminate people was alien to God’s character. The vengeful spirit that dehumanises, depersonalises and demonises an entire town, nation, or race is not of God.

We must understand the Arc of Scripture and that the Bible is progressing (growing, improving, developing); otherwise, we will cherry-pick random verses and use them to condemn others or shut down conversations. Christians are to live by the Royal Law and the Golden Rule: love your neighbour as yourself and treat others the same way you want them to treat you. That is how the Bible works.

We find the most in-depth insights into the resurrection body in 1 Corinthians chapter 15, the resurrection chapter. Please read and ponder verses 35 to 50, in which Paul states his case and then illustrates it with several mini parables. He begins with two questions asking how the dead are raised and what kind of body they will have.

Question one is answered in the first part of the chapter. The dead are raised because Jesus has defeated death through his resurrection. Because Jesus has conquered death, we can, too, as we place our trust in him. Paul then turns his attention to question 2: With what kind of body will they come?

The Example of the Seed

What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed, he gives its own body.

The seed is a body that first must die. In John 12:24, Jesus said unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. No doubt, Jesus was speaking about his impending death. He died as just one man, but his resurrection has cultivated many “seeds” – the billions of people following him.

That body (seed) dies, and God gives it a new body different from the one that perishes. That’s excellent news. Your resurrection body won’t have the same limitations of tiredness, hunger, and sickness endured by the human body.

As Kenneth E. Bailey says, “the new plant that arises from the soil is not created out of the vegetable matter found in the seed. Paul is not telling his readers that in the resurrection the (flesh) will magically reform and arise using the same bone and flesh with which it died.”

This is important because sometimes Christians are unsure about organ donation and cremation because they fear it may affect the resurrection. But your new body will be made of different stuff, so have no fear.

Flesh and Sun

Paul continues this thought in the following parable. The resurrected body will be different from the natural body we possess now. Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another.

He then speaks about Heavenly bodies. Paul isn’t referring to Hollywood actors here; he has the sun, moon, and stars in mind. The sun has one kind of splendour, the moon and the stars another, and each star differs in brilliance. So will it be with the resurrection of the dead.

From our point of view, the sun dies each night and is resurrected in the morning. Even though the sun doesn’t move, we speak of it rising and setting. The moon and stars die each morning and get resurrected each evening. In the same way, death and resurrection are part of each day’s cycle.

Adam and Jesus

So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable; it is raised imperishable it is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.

Paul continues by using the example of the first man, Adam, and the last Adam (Jesus). The first Adam inaugurated the long chain of perishable human bodies. According to Bailey, “the last Adam, Jesus, launched a new age where the incorruptible will inherit the eternal kingdom in the new creation. Paul is referring to the coming of the kingdom of God in its fullness at the end of the age.”[1]

In this present life, all people are like The First Man, having a natural body of the “dust of the earth.” (Genesis 3:19). Almost 99% of the human body’s mass is made up of six elements: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus. Almost all of the remaining 1% comprises another five elements: potassium, sulphur, sodium, chlorine, and magnesium. Our natural body, says Paul, is perishable, sown in dishonour and weakness as typified by the first Adam who disobeyed, lied to cover it up, blamed his wife, and then blamed God.

As was the earthly man, so are those of the earth. In other words, we can all relate to Adam’s story because it is our story too. We blame others and God rather than take personal responsibility. We are sinners, but that is NOT the end of the story. Like a seed precedes a plant, the natural body precedes the spiritual body.

Paul writes, “just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.” Paul refers to Jesus as the last Adam, the second man, and the heavenly man, and makes several statements about the resurrection body which is:

Raised imperishable. The resurrected body will not decay or perish (John 3:16). It will be immortal.

Raised in glory. Possessing qualities of integrity, reliability, and wisdom.

Raised in power. The ability to express the life-giving power of love like Jesus demonstrated through the cross.

Raised a spiritual body. The natural (physical) body is sown into death, and, just like a grain of wheat, it springs up as a spiritual body. This body is constituted and directed by the Holy Spirit, thus one that cannot sin, as was God’s original plan.

A Body Like Jesus’

In the resurrection, we will acquire a body that is like Jesus’ resurrection body – tangible, physical. We will not be disembodied spirits floating around on clouds playing the harp. Thank goodness! After his resurrection, Jesus walked, talked, and ate food with people. He was seen by them but also vanished and reappeared in different places. He moved with ease between physical and spiritual dimensions.

Kenneth E. Bailey writes, “In the resurrection, the believer will have a Spirit-constituted physical body. The brokenness and decay of the old body will be gone. The new body will be a physical body like the resurrected body of Christ. Such a glorious vision and promise calls for an exuberant hymn of victory,” which is how Paul ends this chapter:

“Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”


[1] Bailey, Kenneth E. Paul through Mediterranean eyes, p. 460.

Last week, I posted a blog discussing three things Christians repeatedly say as if they’re scripture, except they’re not:

  • God helps those who help themselves.
  • We are sinners saved by grace.
  • Love the sinner and hate the sin.

I welcomed feedback, as usual, and suggestions of other things we Christians say that are not found in the Bible. And so, here are three more to ponder:

Everything Happens for a Reason

I imagine you’ve heard this statement many times. Maybe you’ve said it yourself. I hear people say this, especially in times of distress or grief. And it’s okay if you want to tell yourself this as a way to self-soothe, but don’t say it to another person to move them on from grief and loss.

Everything happens for a reason was first said by the philosopher Aristotle in the context of everything having a cause. And that’s true. Everything happens for a reason because something caused it to happen. But that is not how this statement is intended. It is a cliché designed to dismiss someone’s feelings. It is ultimately unkind and untrue.

Everything happens for a reason. Tell that to a parent who has lost a child or a man whose wife was seriously injured in a car crash.

Everything happens for a reason. Say it to a mother in Somalia whose children are dying from malnutrition or a woman in Afghanistan (or Iran) who has lost or limited rights because of choices made by male superiority.

In God’s world, a whole lot of things happen for absolutely no reason whatsoever. For no good reason, at least. Most suffering people endure is because of the poor choices of others or sometimes their own.

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God. Our God takes all the awful and weaves it into a tapestry of goodness. But that may not happen in this life. It may be one of those dreams that is only realised in eternity.

For more on this topic, listen to or watch my teaching on the good God and suffering.

God is in Control

Have you ever said, “Well, at least God is in control?” I have. And I’ve heard many people use this and other clichés in an attempt to find meaning in something awful. It’s an encouragement to ourselves that things will work out. But, sometimes, they don’t. Occasionally, our world remains out of control. What should we say about God, then? If God is in control, he isn’t doing a terrific job!

The fact is God doesn’t DO control. God created the heavens and the earth with the laws of nature and human free will. God does not usually control the laws of nature. When he does, we call it a miracle because it’s rare. God certainly does not influence human freedom. That’s why beautiful things happen in the world. That’s why awful things happen in the world.

While God doesn’t cause evil, neither does he use control to prevent us, or others, from doing wrong. God doesn’t control, but he does care. He loves and cares and wants to nurture those who’ve been wronged.

If God doesn’t DO control, how does he work? God works by consent, not control. Have you noticed that God will never force himself on you or manipulate you? God is loving and gracious, not violent and angry. As revealed in Jesus, God is neither coercive nor controlling but infinitely close and caring. Jesus will not force himself into your life or make you receive his love. But he does invite you to willingly consent to the offer of a relationship with God. He initiates, and we consent.

God surrendered control to natural law and human freedom when he created the universe. But God did not abandon his creation. He entered it by being born mortal. The man Jesus experienced all of life’s highs and lows. The Word became flesh to endure the depth and breadth of the entire human condition. In Jesus, God experienced our humanity, all of it.

Jesus completely identifies with your pain. He is present and co-suffers with you. He wraps your suffering with his divine love and brings healing to your soul.

God is not in control, but he is in charge. History is heading somewhere, and God is at the steering wheel!

God Will Never Give You More Than You Can Handle

Another platitude uttered by an uncaring soul who is uncomfortable with human suffering. Well, at least God will never give you more than you can handle. And the suffering one is left to ponder exactly how much more they can bear until God realises they can’t take anymore.

An appeal is made to 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” But this verse is about temptation, not problems, sickness, pain, or suffering.

“God will never give you more than you can handle,” is wrong for two reasons. Firstly, it infers that God is the author of pain and suffering: “God will never give you more…” But we must not be deceived into thinking that God is anything but good. He is NOT the author of tests and trials (Cf. James 1:13-17).

Secondly, people frequently experience more than they can handle; that’s why we need counsellors, psychologists, pastoral care, prayer, treatment for mental health and other caring professionals. Thank God for loving people who can step in and lift some of the load when we encounter something we cannot cope with on our own.

I love the honesty of the Bible writers. Consider these words penned by Paul to the Corinthian Christians, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (emphasis added).

The Bible is replete with examples of people of faith who suffered more than they could endure on their own. Some of them died because of it (Cf. Hebrews 11:35-40). I believe one of the fundamental reasons Jesus formed the church is so that Christian people can support one another when life gets unbearable. I am very grateful for my Christian community, which is the source of strength and encouragement for people when life is intolerable.


In psychology, it’s known as the illusory truth effect: If you repeat a statement often enough, it will seem more likely to be true.

There are statements we Christians make that are not in the Bible, but because they’ve been repeated so often, they are believed to be accurate. So, I thought it would be interesting to explore some statements we regularly hear from Christians that have become believed to be true, although they’re not.

“God helps those who help themselves.”

The origins of this phrase go back to ancient Greece. The English version was first penned by Algernon Sydney, an English politician, in the 1600s. The idea in this statement is that if you want God’s help, you first have to show initiative. But the assertion falls over at the first hurdle.

Consider the very essence of the Christian gospel, which emphasises people’s inadequacy to “save” themselves by human effort. The law was powerless to save anyone because no one could obey the law all the time. And so, God took the initiative by working in Christ to reconcile the world to himself (2 Cor. 5:19).

People can do nothing to help themselves out of sin and its consequences. It took a divine act of unconditional love to achieve salvation, restoration, and forgiveness for all humanity. God didn’t help those who helped themselves because no one could. God helps those who realise they can’t help themselves.

The church has not done a great job of conveying this wonderful truth. Instead, the communication that rings out loud and clear is invariably a moralising message. We’ve told others what’s wrong with them and what they should not do. So much so that many people reason they’ll have to get themselves right first before they come to God (or church). This is the very antithesis of the Christian message.

The statement, God helps those who help themselves, makes us the source of help and strength. God is secondary and will surely appreciate our efforts, and then he will help us. But the Christian is to live a life of reliance on the grace of God and the Holy Spirit as our advocate.

The flip side is that God’s help doesn’t remove our responsibility. Praying and asking for God’s support doesn’t mean you sit on your blessed assurance staring into the heavens. Relying on grace and being empowered by the Holy Spirit, we use our initiative and God-given wisdom. For example, if you need employment, pray about it BUT THEN go out and look for work, knock on doors. God’s help does not remove our responsibility.

“We are sinners saved by grace.”

I heard this statement again today on a new worship album from a megachurch. “Lord, we’re just sinners saved by grace.” Nowhere in the Bible are Christians referred to as sinners, let alone as sinners saved by grace.

Someone may say, “well, the apostle Paul viewed himself as a sinner…” and they’ll quote 1 Timothy 1:15, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” But if you read on, you’ll discover that Paul was referring to his life before he became a Christian.

Paul wrote something similar to the Corinthian church: “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” In the next verse, the apostle proclaims, “But by the grace of God I am what I am.” That is, by God’s grace Paul was no longer a sinner; he was now a saint. He did not deny that he was a sinner (past tense), but he lived in the reality of what Christ had made him (a saint). And this is what we’re called to do.

We could rewrite this phrase more accurately: “We were sinners, but we were saved by grace, and so are sinners no longer.” That doesn’t mean we’re perfect; far from it. But the New Testament Scriptures declare followers of Jesus to be saints and not sinners. A saint is a person who has been born into God’s family and is “set apart” as belonging to God. They then live a life befitting a person who belongs to God.

Christ-followers are to see themselves in the light of this truth because how we live our lives is determined by how we see ourselves. As Neil Anderson rightly asserts, “No one can consistently behave in a way that is inconsistent with how he perceives himself.” If I view myself as having the righteousness of God in Christ, I am more likely to behave righteously.

Jesus came to change sinners into saints.

“Love the sinner and hate the sin.”

Christians quote this as if it were a Bible verse right next to “cleanliness is next to godliness,” a well-known saying by John Wesley. But neither statements are in the Bible.

Each part of “love the sinner and hate the sin” is valid – God loves sinners and hates sin. But as a collective statement, it’s not correct.

The problem with “love the sinner and hate the sin” is that it is rarely meant. It is just a Christian-sounding platitude aimed at people whose behaviour we struggle with, whose sin we hate, and people we don’t love if we are brutally honest. This statement salves our conscience and makes us feel like we’re being Christian when we display unchristian attitudes towards others.

Of course, we can only know if we love the sinner by spending time with them and helping them when they’re in need. How do we feel about the drug addict with needle scars and missing teeth? What is our attitude towards homeless people who haven’t bathed or changed their clothes for weeks? Do we love the gay man or woman at work (or in our family), or do we merely tolerate them? Do we pretend to love people but then say derogatory things about them behind their backs? We only know the true nature of our hearts when confronted by someone with whom we struggle. And let’s be honest about our struggles rather than hide behind clichés like “love the sinner and hate the sin.”

Another reason this saying is so wrong is that the sinner and the sin are often inseparable. In other words, someone’s behaviour often defines them as a person, so when we say we “hate the sin”, the person hears “I hate you.” The Bible talks about loving people, period.

The statement “Love your neighbour as yourself” is found nine times in the Scripture – divine emphasis for a purpose. In Galatians 5:14, the apostle Paul says that this truth sums up the entire law. In James 2:8, this command is called “The Royal Law,” the preeminent truth that reigns over all truth.

Jesus illustrated how we are to love our neighbour as ourselves by telling the story of The Good Samaritan. Samaritans were hated and despised by Jews in Jesus’ day. The Samaritans were mixed-race Jews because they had intermarried with Gentiles and were considered worse than gentiles – the lowest of the low, the greatest of sinners. Jesus could not have found a more powerful illustration to prove His point. He didn’t teach “Love the sinner and hate the sin.” He taught, “Love the person like they were you.” May this challenge us to the core of our faith!

Maybe you can think of other statements quoted regularly by Christians but not found in the Bible. Feel free to add those in the comments section.





We’ve heard a lot about free speech over the past few years. The restrictions and lockdowns during the pandemic heightened people’s concerns. Those whose narrative is conservative or conspiratorial, especially from a futurist reading of Bible prophecy, are particularly susceptible.

People have protested on the streets the world over against restrictions and mandates perceived to limit freedom. One Christian organisation asked, “What do we do as we see increased attacks on our freedom of speech and association?” A plea for donations followed the question because inciting fear is a great way to get people to give money to support a cause, even if that cause doesn’t exist. I blogged on that last week.

So, let’s define and explore freedom of speech and what the Bible has to say.

Defining Freedom of Speech

Webster’s dictionary defines freedom of speech as “the right to express facts and opinions subject only to reasonable limitations.” This right is enshrined in the Constitution and guaranteed by the 1st and 14th amendments in America.

In Australia, freedom of speech is not a protected right except for political discourse, which is safeguarded from criminal prosecution at common law. However, Australia is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), which states that: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Australian Law

Freedom of speech was limited in Australia by the Racial Discrimination Act of 1975. Just over 20 years ago, Section 18C was added to the Act stating, “It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if:

(a) the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and

(b) the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group.”

Some have tried, unsuccessfully, to have 18C removed from the Act, but why would they? Who would want to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people” based on “race, colour or national or ethnic origin?” Moreover, if they did, why should they get away with it?

It should also be remembered that 18C is modified by Section 18D, where much free speech is protected. The original Racial Discrimination Act was (and still is) primarily concerned with situations in which racism produces a material disadvantage for someone.

Freedom with Responsibility

So, in Australian law (as well as American), we see freedom of speech protected within certain boundaries, reflecting the Bible’s view on free speech. In the beginning, God gave human beings free will but then set parameters: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but …” (Genesis 1:17). There are limits to your freedom, and there are consequences if you go beyond those limits. In fact, it’s impossible to define or experience true freedom without clear boundaries.

The publishers of Charlie Hebdo Magazine would have been wise to heed that advice. While I disagree with the actions of the terrorists who killed twelve people at Charlie Hebdo in 2015 if you’re going to move into territory that inflames religious extremists, there are most likely consequences. Free speech comes with a great responsibility not to offend unnecessarily.

Freedom with Wisdom

Consider Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders’ Prophet Muhammad cartoon competition which was cancelled in August 2018. Drawing the Prophet Muhammad is seen as blasphemous in parts of the Islamic world and is deeply offensive to some Muslims, so why would someone use their freedom of speech to offend deliberately? It reeks of political opportunism.

The same could be said of Chelsea Manning, who, it should be noted, was convicted of six breaches of the Espionage Act. While President Obama commuted her sentence, the punishment remains on her record. Ms Manning is not just some whistle-blower; she was convicted of espionage and given a lengthy prison sentence. The Australian Government was fully entitled to deny Chelsea Manning a visa and keep her out of the country. Freedom of speech must be modified by wisdom and common sense.

Biblical Boundaries for Free Speech

The Bible limits free speech. As a follower of Jesus, you are NOT free to say anything you like. Neither are you entitled to express whatever is on your mind. Consider Proverbs 29:11, “A fool utters all his mind, but a wise person holds it back.”

Contemplate Colossians 4:6, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” “Seasoned with salt” is a metaphor that communicates “the adding of value” to others by our words rather than offending, sniping and criticising. Discretion limits freedom of speech.

We are also not free to gossip (Proverbs 25:9). Well, we are, but remember those consequences? The Bible also discourages swearing, dishonesty, lying, and insulting. Christians must speak the truth in love and use their words to build others up rather than tearing them down. But that doesn’t mean we can’t respectfully present views that differ from those held by others.

A lost art?

Society needs to learn the art of respectful and robust debate once again rather than trying to win arguments by making personal slurs or trying to silence our opponent.

The Christian church flourishes when it takes its eyes off itself, its rights and its demands and uses its freedom of speech to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8-9 It’s that kind of free speech that others sit up and listen to.


Main image: “Free Speech” by Newtown Graffiti

One of the good things about a crisis is it often provokes people to read the Bible and pray. The global pandemic certainly has achieved this. It’s been a motivator for people to read Revelation. But as one of the Bible’s more mysterious books, it is often misunderstood and mishandled.

My Early Christian Years

I’ve watched Revelation being mishandled for decades. I had my first encounter with Christianity in the late 70s. Hal Lindsey’s book, The Late Great Planet Earth, was all the rage. The planets would align in 1982, starting the Great Tribulation. Cataclysmic events would unfold upon the earth, and Jesus would return in 1988. Oh, and the Pope was the antichrist because he had 666 written under his cap. I kid you not, someone told me this in all seriousness, and I believed them!

None of it was true. None of it happened, just like all the other predictions over the centuries from mishandling Revelation.

I now know better.

A Little History

The book of Revelation was (reluctantly) admitted into the Canon of Scripture in 395 CE. It was the last book to be incorporated into the New Testament.

The Western Church wanted Revelation included but didn’t appreciate Hebrews. The Eastern church didn’t like Revelation (and still don’t use it in their services), but they wanted Hebrews included in the Canon. So, the compromise was to have both books in the Bible.

The Nicene Creed

By 395 CE, the church’s doctrine was well and truly completed and stated in the Nicene Creed (325). The Nicene Creed contains everything the early church believed about the future:

[Jesus] will come again with glory

to judge the living and the dead.

His kingdom will never end.

We look forward to the resurrection of the dead,

and to life in the world to come. Amen.

These statements form a summary of eschatology (doctrine of last things) and comprise everything Christians have ever believed about the end of this age:

Nothing to Fear

Notice the line “We look forward to the resurrection of the dead.” In other words, the future is not something to fear. The apostle John put it this way, “This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world, we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:17-18).

And so, according to the church’s greatest creed, the future is not something to fear. It’s something to look forward to. Contrast that to an interpretation of Revelation that does nothing but inject fear:

  • Fear of antichrist and one-world government
  • Fear of the Mark of the Beast
  • Fear of the great tribulation
  • Fear of the most dreadful afflictions rained upon the earth
  • Fear of beasts, dragons, harlots, & birds feasting on human flesh
  • Fear of Armageddon
  • Fear of a lake of burning sulphur
  • Fear of a sneaky rapture where you could be left behind

Left Behind

One of the most popular Christian songs of the 1970s was Larry Norman’s “I wish we’d all been ready.” The song included the line, “There’s no time to change your mind, the son has come, and you’ve been left behind.” It was a great song, but the theology was awful.

Some particularly full-on (read, obnoxious) Christians at the time would ask other Christians, “are you rapture saved?” It was a weird question that basically asked if you, as a Jesus follower, were saved enough to be taken up in the air when Jesus returned. Again, awful theology!

One Saturday, I finished my shift on the radio and headed back home to the farmhouse I was living in at the time. I walked into the house. There were pots of food bubbling away on the stove, and two chairs were pulled out from the table and facing each other. It was as if two people had been removed (raptured) from the room. I was terrified. I’d been left behind.

Shortly afterwards, my housemate walked back into the room with another friend. I was so relieved.

Left Behind was the title of a series of novels in the 1990s and early 2000s. Some of these were made into movies starring Kirk Cameron and Nicholas Cage. They are terrible films, having attracted the lowest audience score of all time on Rotten Tomatoes (3%). Sadly, many Christians base their understanding of Revelation on the Left Behind series. These books are novels, not Bible commentaries!

A Solid Foundation

Fearmongering might be a good money-spinner, but we must not base our beliefs on these fads. Our faith must rest solid and secure on the truth as it is stated by the great creeds of the church:

[Jesus] will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead. His kingdom will never end. We look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and to life in the world to come. Amen.

And so, when the book of Revelation was finally included in the Bible, it could not add to the doctrine as stated by the Nicene Creed. The church’s essential beliefs had been fully expressed by 325 CE, seventy years before Revelation was accepted into the New Testament (395).

Revelation was not to be used to add anything to eschatology. In fact, it was expressly stated that Revelation was not to be used to foretell the future (how ironic!)

Handle with Care

Revelation’s two main uses were/are as:

(1) A call to Worship (the Lamb upon the throne) and,

(2) A call to faithfulness (in the face of persecution and hardship).

The book of Revelation is jam-packed full of marvellous truth that applies to today. When we remove our fixation with the so-called “end times” and cease to use Revelation to predict the future or read interpretations into it from the daily newspaper, we free Revelation up to be the inspiration it was designed to be.

Revelation was written initially to seven churches that existed in the first century. But as part of inspired scripture, this book is written to every church and every disciple of Jesus. I hope you will handle it with care and not give in to the wild speculation and conspiracies that I fell for in my early Christian years.

For further study, listen to two podcast discussions between Shane Willard and myself (Rob):

Understanding Revelation 1

Understanding Revelation 2

When I think of this blog’s title, it reminds me of the wicked witch’s words in Judy Garland’s Wizard of Oz. Remember her? She with the green face paint, pointy nose, and high-pitched voice? The scene is found towards the end of the film. The witch attempts to set fire to Scarecrow, and Dorothy gets a bucket of water to extinguish it. The water splashes over the witch at “which” point she starts to disintegrate. “You perfect brat. Look what you’ve done. I’m melting, melting.” Complete with hissing steam and shrieks, the wicked witch decomposes until she is no more. Ding dong …

I’ve felt like that, too, as some aspects of my faith have melted over the years. I’ve experienced the pain of being confronted with some long-held beliefs no longer ringing true. It took a while to realise that I’m not alone in this. Many followers of Jesus have felt the same, and I’m receiving an increasing number of emails from people telling me of their experiences.

Defining the Terms

What is deconstruction? A quick check of synonyms includes analyse, critique, review, and decompose. I love the last one, and it’s true, some of our tightly held beliefs probably do need to decompose and provide much-needed compost for healthy growth.

Blogger Mark Hackett defines deconstruction as “the systematic pulling apart of one’s belief system for examination”. Reconstruction means to rebuild, restore, and renovate. We mustn’t confuse this process with Christian Reconstructionism (an ultra-right-wing fundamentalist view of the Bible and society – like The Handmaid’s Tale).

Deconstruction is nothing new

Although this concept is seen as a current trend, we notice this process in the New Testament Scriptures. Consider how the early followers of Jesus had to deconstruct their attitude towards Gentiles (Acts 10, 11, & 15). God dragged them kicking and screaming away from pride in their nationality and religion and helped them reconstruct a healthier faith that made room for non-Jewish people.

I dare say every generation since has had to deconstruct something. Consider how the church has grappled with slavery, women’s rights, interracial marriage, and divorce and remarriage.

Today’s church needs to deconstruct a faith that excludes people who are “other than heterosexual”. LGBTI+ people have been ostracised and wronged by the church for centuries, but the Holy Spirit is now leading us to say, “enough is enough”. God loves everyone. Jesus lived, died, and rose again for all. Each person, whatever their sexual orientation, should be welcomed into Jesus’ church. It’s time for Christians to reconstruct a healthier, more inclusive faith.

Here are some tips I’ve found helpful during healthy deconstruction and reconstruction:

Don’t try to pull the whole building down in one hit.

Deconstruction is more like a renovation than a demolition. I’ve spoken to some people who’ve become disillusioned with their faith, destroyed the entire thing, and walked away from Church, God, and Jesus. That’s such an unnecessary tragedy. Consider this message I received yesterday, “Got to be honest, there’s a pervasive feeling of absolute devastation and betrayal at the loss of what I used to think and was taught to believe to be true. When I started to remove parts of the altar, started asking questions, started to get really honest and stand for myself and my family, the whole temple crumbled.”

Demolishing your faith will lead to a crisis of faith rather than a healthy process.

View the process as a healthy progression to maturity

Life begins with the simplicity of infancy. As we grow, life naturally becomes more complex. The same is true for Christians. When we first believe, we are encouraged, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation” (1 Peter 2:2). There’s something wrong if when we’re older, we still only want just milk.

Some of God’s people are like adults in high chairs (Hebrews 5:12 and 1 Corinthians 3:1-3). I encourage you to see the process of deconstruction and reconstruction as a healthy progression to maturity.

Hold fast to the truth that never changes

When you renovate a house, you don’t remove the foundation. It’s the same with your faith. The foundational truth of the Bible needs to remain firmly in place.

The Christian Creeds summarise the great doctrines of Christianity. The first creed was a simple statement written by St. Paul, “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9). That’s a good starting point.

The Nicaean Creed** is a marvellous summary of the basic tenets of the Christian faith.

And remember the things that Jesus called, “Most Important” ~ Love the Lord your God, love your neighbour as yourself, and “in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). In Jesus’ parable of the wise and foolish builders, the house that “had its foundation on the rock … did not fall” (Matt 7:24-27).

Don’t deconstruct everything before you reconstruct something

You don’t want to be left in a vacuum. I’ve found that deconstructing one thing at a time works well. My first experience of this was as a twenty-something in Bible College. I’d spent my first Christian years in a rather legalistic church. In my first year of Bible College, the Holy Spirit started hammering it out of me. It was painful and frustrating. At times I felt angry. But God is faithful.

Since then, I’ve deconstructed (and reconstructed) my view of the genocide passages in the Bible, hell as eternal conscious torment, and the futurist interpretation of Revelation, to name a few.

The process has required loads of thought and reading*, heaps of study, discussions with people who hold differing views, and wrestling through various (sometimes conflicting) Bible texts. I’m sure this process will continue for the rest of my life as my faith keeps growing.

I’ll finish with an encouraging message I received today on Facebook. It’s from a woman who, along with her husband, was a vibrant part of Bayside Church for years. They relocated to the USA a while ago, but we stay in touch, and they often watch Bayside Church Online and Tuesday Night Live (TNL).

She says of last night’s TNL, “WOW!! Just so much to dive into with this Ps Rob! You mentioned that you started your personal deconstruction a decade ago. My deconstruction started when we first came to Bayside and were under your leadership and teaching … 17+ years ago. I remember the moment sitting in church service thinking, uh-oh, hold on girl it’s about to get real! It was a true deconstruction that made my brain hurt, but, BUT, at the same time the Holy Spirit was speaking to my heart, ‘It’s ok. You can trust him as your pastor and teacher’. And praise God, Ps. Rob, I have never looked back, and the Lord continues to deconstruct and reconstruct. Keep on keeping it real!”

Useful Resources


** The Nicaean Creed

We believe in one God,

the Father almighty,

maker of heaven and earth,

of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,

the only Son of God,

begotten from the Father before all ages,

God from God,

Light from Light,

true God from true God,

begotten, not made;

of the same essence as the Father.

Through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation

he came down from heaven;

he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary,

and was made human.

He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate;

he suffered and was buried.

The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures.

He ascended to heaven

and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again with glory

to judge the living and the dead.

His kingdom will never end.

And we believe in the Holy Spirit,

the Lord, the giver of life.

He proceeds from the Father and the Son,

and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.

He spoke through the prophets.

We believe in one holy universal and apostolic church.

We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

We look forward to the resurrection of the dead,

and to life in the world to come. Amen.

There are many wrong ways to read the Bible. Here are a few:

  • Out of obligation. God says to read the Bible, so I better do it, even though I don’t want to.
  • An Instruction Manual. BIBLE = Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. Clever, but inaccurate.
  • God’s answer book. The Bible has lots of wisdom, but it doesn’t answer every situation of life.
  • To win every argument. You know THAT person who is ALWAYS right about the Bible and more than willing to tell you why!
  • The daily horoscope. Randomly opening the Bible with your eyes closed and pointing your finger to a verse.

People misread the Bible by considering it a static book where every verse and chapter are equal, it’s all literal, and it all applies to today. The problem here is that the Bible doesn’t behave this way and, if you try and make it, it simply won’t behave itself!

A Progressive Bible

The Bible is a progressive rather than static book. Throughout its pages, we observe the development of thinking and revelation. When the reader understands this, many of the previous problems, barriers, and misunderstandings fall away.

When I came to this realisation, it set me free and caused me to appreciate and value the Bible more than ever. No longer did I stumble over some of the sections of the Hebrew scriptures. You know the ones. Like when God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Are you kidding me? Or when God tells Joshua to commit genocide. Or the banning of certain people from the temple. All of these barriers come tumbling down when you realise that the Bible is not a static book.

There are many examples I could use to explain this progression but, for the sake of brevity, let’s consider what the Bible says about slavery.

What about Slavery?

Slavery was commonplace in the ancient world. In light of this, the Bible gives some generally excellent and fair laws on the proper treatment of slaves. This was revolutionary for its time, being the first occasion when rights for slaves (and women & children) were written down. The purpose was to bring justice and order into a culture that before this had been lawless (Deuteronomy 15:12-18). Consider the following:

  • Some sold themselves into slavery (Leviticus 25:39; Deuteronomy 15:12-17); others were sold to pay debts (2 Kings 4; Nehemiah 5:1-8).
  • Jewish slaves could not be held for more than six years and were given a choice to leave (Exodus 21:2). They could voluntarily choose to remain as slaves (Exodus 21:5-6).
  • A slave’s religious rights were protected (Exodus 2:10), as were their civil and economic rights; including the right to have their own slaves (2 Samuel 9:9-10).
  • Those who came into slavery with a wife and children could take them when they left.
  • Slaves who their masters abused were to be set free (Exodus 21:26-27).
  • Foreign slaves seeking asylum in Israel were to be protected (Deut. 23:15-16).

What to do about THESE verses?

But other verses appear problematic. Consider Ex 21:20-21, “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.” So, if you beat them and they live, that’s okay? Apparently!

Consider Leviticus 25:44-46, “You may purchase male and female slaves from among the nations around you. You may also purchase the children of temporary residents who live among you, including those born in your land. You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance. You may treat them as slaves, but you must never treat your fellow Israelites this way.” I’ve read over such verses in times passed and tried to pretend they’re not in the Bible. But they ARE in there, and we need to find out why!

If the Bible is a static book and every part of it applies today, we’re in deep doo-doo. If it is a book that progresses, we can equate such verses as quoted above (and many others) to how ancient people viewed life. They were nomadic tribes that were often at war. And so, to them, God was a warrior who would give them victory over their enemies and endorsed their taking captured enemies as slaves. They saw God through the culture of the day. God met them where they were at, but God is not like that.

When Jesus came, he gave us a proper understanding of what God is really like – a saviour that saves and does not kill or destroy.

What about the New Testament?

But even the New Testament is interesting when it comes to slavery. In the Roman Empire of the first century, there were between 70 and 100 million people. About 50% of these were slaves. The economy of the entire Empire was dependent on slavery. Slaves had no legal rights and were the personal property of their masters. Some wealthy Romans owned as many as 20,000 slaves. The master was in complete control of the slaves he owned. Slaves had no right to do as they pleased; they existed to please the master.

The New Testament doesn’t explicitly endorse slavery. It teaches because of slavery’s existence and its fundamental importance to both the economy and the community’s social fabric. And so, in the epistles, we find repeated instructions to Christian slaves and slave owners. Consider 1 Peter 2:18, “You who are slaves must submit to your masters with all respect. Do what they tell you—not only if they are kind and reasonable, but even if they are cruel.”

Even Jesus used slavery as an example in some of his parables, something graphically illustrated in the film, “Twelve years a slave,” in which Tanner, the slave owner, reads the Bible to his slaves, using it to impress upon them obedience to the slave owner. He dramatically reads the verse, “And that servant which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.” What follows is a brutal scene as Tanner lays the whip repeatedly into one of his slaves’ flesh, all of which are justified by Scripture. Again, if the Bible is a static book, then we have serious considerations.

Abolishing Slavery

If abolitionist, William Wilberforce, were alive in the first century, it would have been impossible for him to have abolished slavery. But, 1800 years later, he could succeed despite opposition from slave owners, businesses, and churches. The 1800s saw the rise of many men and women who began to realise that slavery was wrong. Those who were against them were able to find plenty of Bible verses to say why slavery was acceptable. “The Bible clearly says…!” But overarching themes in Scripture such as the Golden Rule won the day! “Treat others as you want to be treated,” and the Royal Law, “love your neighbour as yourself,” are central ideas in the Bible.

In 1807, King George III signed into law the Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, banning trading in enslaved people in the British Empire. In the US, the ratification of the 13th Amendment on December 6, 1865, led to abolishing slavery in that country.

Today, once again, it is Christian organisations at the forefront of working against this illicit trade. Why Christians? Because we are motivated by a God who, through the teachings of the Bible, has made it clear that his ultimate purpose is for all people’s freedom.

Slavery is just one instance of the Bible’s progressive revelation. I could have chosen women’s rights, interracial marriage, blood sacrifices, war, capital punishment, gender diversity, or any one of dozens of other examples to demonstrate that the Bible is not a static book. I hope this helps you in your reading and study of the Bible. It’s an incredible book that is living and active (Hebrews 4:12) but never static!

One of the phenomena related to the race protests is the toppling of statues, removal of certain movies and TV programs, and suggestions for name changes. Some people have suggested this is wrong because it’s erasing history. But is that the case?


I wonder how much the average person knows about the history represented by statues. Next time you see a statute, stop for a moment to observe. How many people actually slow down to look at it or read the plaque? Probably no one. Statues are, by and large, resting places for birds. They are monuments to history and a testament to what life was like at the time.

I understand that this is a divisive issue. Maybe some statues do need to be removed and placed in a museum. Others may benefit from an information board, or a more artistic approach, giving acknowledgment to historical facts. The statue of Captain James Cook in Sydney’s Hyde Park is inscribed with “Discovered this territory 1770.” From a British colonial standpoint, this is true. Still, it completely ignores the fact that Australia’s Indigenous people lived here for thousands of years before Cook arrived.

For too long, history has been white-washed. As a Christian man, I stand for truth, so let’s have it, the good, the bad, and the ugly! In this regard, the Bible is an incredibly honest book. Its pages contain historical accounts of the best and worst of humanity. People’s mistakes aren’t left out. Everything is there in glorious colour: Noah getting drunk, Abraham lying, and King David’s adultery and coverup.

Scripture & History

Just like history, the Bible is not a static book. In its pages, you’ll find human progress and advancement, and God engaging with and nudging people along every step of the way. For example, in Genesis 22, we see the story of God directing Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Understanding that in Abraham’s culture, one appeased the gods through child sacrifice, helps us understand why Abraham didn’t question this command. God let Abraham follow through up to the point of taking the knife to slay his son. Abraham was told, “Do not lay a hand on the boy or do anything to him.” A ram was provided as an alternative to child sacrifice, and ancient humanity was prodded into a less barbaric practice.

It’s not that God desired or required animals to be sacrificed either. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, God frequently tells people he doesn’t want sacrifices. People start to get the message, “You do not want a sacrifice, or I would give it; you are not pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit. God, you will not despise a broken and humbled heart” (Psalm 51:16-17). Finally, Jesus sacrificed Himself on the cross to end all blood sacrifices once and for all (Hebrews 10:4-9). Today, the thought of sacrificing children or animals is abhorrent. We’ve come a long way. The Bible, history books, documentaries, and the like are a testament to this truth.

Embrace History Lessons

The Bible doesn’t erase history, it embraces it and then moves it forward. We can look back at some of the Bible’s writings from 3,000 years ago and be horrified. But, at the time, many of the statements, laws, and practices were incredibly progressive. Consider that Leviticus was one of the first times any sort of justice was prescribed for women, slaves, and non-Jews. Today, these same statements appear archaic and barbaric, and they are because humanity has progressed.

In the first century, the apostle Paul gave instructions on the proper care of slaves. He also told Christian slaves and slave-masters how to behave. In the Roman Empire of the first century, there were between 70 and 100 million people. About 50% of these were slaves. The economy of the entire Empire was dependent on slavery. The world wasn’t ready to abolish slavery. If William Wilberforce had been alive, he would not have led an abolition movement.

Fast-forward eighteen hundred years and the world was ready – or at least some were ready – to agree to abolish slavery. Thanks to Wilberforce and many others, the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 abolished slavery in most of the British Empire. Of course, that doesn’t mean there is no slavery in the modern world. People trafficking, especially sex trafficking of women and children, is still rife. India, China, and Russia are the most-offending nations. It’s estimated there are currently 15,000 people in slavery in Australia.

How Far We’ve Come

If we look back one hundred or two hundred years, we can see how far we’ve come. Acceptable practices then are abhorrent now. We must not erase history, we need to know, and acknowledge it, and vow not to repeat it. Let’s look back and be encouraged by how the world has improved. Let’s also realise there is still much work to be done. While poverty, discrimination, and inequality exist, our job is incomplete. And it invariably takes a crisis to force the world forward. That’s what we’re witnessing now. And yes, some will be opportunistic, and others will be violent. Like the suffragettes whose motto was, “deeds not words!” Today, women have the right to vote because of the work of the Suffragettes!

Deeds are what we need now. One hundred years from now, people will look back and wonder at some of the things we say, believe, or agree with. History will record how the pandemic of 2020 moved the world forward. How racial protests brought lasting change and equality for people of colour. How names were changed, and statues removed, and laws introduced to make the world a fairer place.

No doubt, we will zigzag down this path. Somethings will work others won’t. But let’s not erase history. Let’s learn from it.


In all my life, I haven’t seen anything like what we’re currently watching unfold around the world. The spread of Covid-19 (the Coronavirus) is evolving moment by moment, and every nation is responding in the way they deem necessary.

In Australia, gatherings of more than 100 people are now banned, and so many churches (including Bayside Church) are ceasing their weekly meetings and opting for online options and small groups. This is likely to be the case for at least six months, maybe longer!

Of course, this is not the first time the world has faced a pandemic. 36 million people died from HIV/AIDS, which was first identified in 1976. In 1918, 500 million people were infected with the Spanish flu, with up to 50 million causalities. Before that, you have to go way back to 1346 when 200 million people died from the Bubonic Plague.

But this is the first time in our lifetime that we have seen a global pandemic with such far-reaching consequences. So, what does the Bible say about the Coronavirus? There are several things …

This Is Not Revelation 13

Coronavirus is not the end of the world, it’s got nothing to do with an antichrist or the Mark of the Beast. I know some Christians will be very disappointed by this. I’ve met people who relish disasters because they somehow (in their mind) fulfil end time Bible prophecy. And this is not a new phenomenon. While the Black Plague ravaged Europe in the 1300s, people became convinced that their Jewish neighbours were secretly poisoning Christians’ wells. Conspiracy theories about Covid-19 range from believing the disease is a bioweapon to the result of eating bat soup. No, the Coronavirus has nothing to do with Revelation 13.

It Probably Has More to Do with Leviticus 13

According to the Encyclopedia Judaica, medicine and religion were closely connected for Jews in ancient times. Priests were “the custodians of public health,” and Jews in biblical times regarded the physician as “the instrument through whom God could affect the cure.” This is the picture we see in Leviticus 13, which, although it may sound somewhat elementary to our ears, was very progressive for its time (around 1500 years before Jesus).

According to Leviticus 13:21, the priest was to inspect someone who had a disease and could “isolate the affected person for seven days.”  He would then re-examine them and could “isolate them for another seven days.” Fourteen days! Sound familiar? The diseased person “must live alone; they must live outside the camp.” And if they did walk around, they had to “wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’” By the way, my favourite verse from Leviticus 13 is verse 40, “A man who has lost his hair and is bald is clean.” Amen!

So, Coronavirus isn’t about Revelation 13. It has more to do with Leviticus 13. So:

Act According to 1 Corinthians 13

Consider, a few weeks ago, Aussies (and others) were demonstrating a whole lot of love. We were buying goods to be sent to areas ravaged by bushfires, we were donating money and putting others first. But not anymore. Now we’re emptying supermarket shelves, stockpiling rice and pasta, and fighting over toilet rolls. In a few weeks, we’ve seen the very best and the very worst of humanity. What we need is more of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.

Love is patient, love is kind.

It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered,

it keeps no record of wrongs.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails

Now, there’s some truth to live by.

Coronavirus isn’t about Revelation 13, it’s more like Leviticus 13. So, let’s act according to 1 Corinthians 13 until Romans 13 runs its course.

“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted.”

Now, I know these verses have been and can be abused. I’ve written about this elsewhere in a blog Are All Governments Established by God?, but now would be a great time to listen to our leaders and put into practice their directions, for the common good. I encourage you to pray for all who are in authority and everyone who is unwell. Pray for our health and medical practitioners as well as emergency services. Look out for the most vulnerable, and stay connected as much as you can. Love courageously and be like Jesus to those around you.


Read Rob’s other blogs on the Bible and Covid-19:

I had an email from a Bayside Church member recently in which he told me of his greater commitment “to reading the Bible first, then working later,” rather than getting up and working straight away. He then went on to ask me which Bible translation he should use, asking specifically about The Passion Translation (TPT), which comes in for quite a lot of criticism online.

And so, here are some things to consider when choosing a Bible and learning to read and study it effectively.

Translating is tough

An important thing to consider when choosing a Bible is the difficulty of translating something from one language to another.

For example, some words cannot be translated from one language to another because there is no equivalent word. Consider the dilemma for Bible translators in PNG where there is little or no knowledge of sheep. The figures of sheep, lambs, and shepherds figure so prominently in the Bible, so what were the translators to do to remain faithful to God’s Word? Should they translate word for word, making up a new word for sheep (or using the English one) and teaching the people what a lamb is? Or should they find the closest equivalent to sheep in the local culture? They ended up choosing the second option, which meant the words sheep and lamb were translated as “pig” in the PNG Bible.

So, Jesus is the “Pig of God who takes away the sin of the world.” It sounds awful to us and would be offensive to Jewish or Muslim readers, but they had to translate it in a way that the local people could understand God’s Word.

The same happened for the translators of the Inuit Bible because there is no word for “joy” in the Inuktitut language. The translators puzzled over this for a long time and finally settled on the best metaphor they could find – the wagging of husky’s tails while enjoying food after a long expedition. And so, “There is more tail-wagging in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” “The fruit of the Spirit is love, tail wagging, peace…”

The same is true when it comes to English because certain words in Hebrew, Aramaic, or koine Greek have no easy translation in English.

Word or meaning?

I was recently reading a novel in which the following expression was used: “He was behind the eight-ball from the get-go.” While I know what the author meant, I wondered how my friends would go with this whose first language is not English. And how about people reading this, two or three thousand years from now? Would a word-for-word translation help them, or would it be better to translate the concept? I believe the latter is the better answer, and so it is with the Bible.

A word for word translation (KJV, NKJV, NASB, Amplified) is okay but tends to be very wooden and not easy to read, and some ancient concepts don’t translate. Consider Jeremiah 1:11-12 as an example. The NKJV puts it this way:

“Jeremiah, what do you see?”

And I said, “I see a branch of an almond tree.”

Then the Lord said to me, “You have seen well, for I am ready to perform My word.”

The modern English reader is left bewildered by this exchange between God and the prophet, as it makes no sense to us at all. A study of the Hebrew language reveals the answer: the Hebrew word for almond tree is shaqed, whereas the word translated “I am ready” is shaqad. The author is using a play on words that gets lost in translation. And so, this is a 3000-year-old equivalent of “behind the eight-ball from the get-go.” God is telling Jeremiah that he’s going to be true to his word. This meaning is brought forth clearly in The Message Bible (MSG), a Bible that word-for-word proponents invariably criticize:

God’s Message came to me: “What do you see, Jeremiah?”

I said, “A walking stick—that’s all.”

And God said, “Good eyes! I’m sticking with you.

I’ll make every word I give you come true.”

The New International Version (NIV) gives a helpful footnote explaining the true meaning and does this throughout its translation.

What Bibles and study tools do I use?

I enjoy reading and studying the NIV as it’s a “Thought for Thought” translation rather than word-for-word. I supplement the NIV with the New Living Translation (NLT), MSG, and TPT. I refer to others as necessary.

Bible Gateway and Bible Hub apps and websites are excellent study resources. Bible hub has a button for HEBREW (OT) and GREEK (NT), so you can go deeper into words you’d like to get a fuller meaning on. Greek and Hebrew are much more expressive than English, so we lose a lot in translation into our language. For example, four Greek words describe various kinds of love. In English, we have “love.” It’s the same with “Praise,” where there are seven different Hebrew words.

I also highly recommend:

The Jewish Study Bible

The Jewish Annotated New Testament

The New Interpreter’s Study Bible

I believe The Message Bible is an excellent translation (not just a paraphrase) of the Bible as Eugene Peterson is a Greek and Hebrew scholar who brings the meaning of ancient documents into modern vernacular in a way that reflects the original sense.

Buyer beware!

Beware: There are no perfect translations of the Bible, which is why I encourage you to read several versions. The Bible is the accurate and reliable Word of God in its original languages. It needs to be studied in its cultural and historical context to determine the original meaning. Then bring that meaning into your life and incarnate the truth. The Bible is not a static document. It is alive and active (Hebrews 4:12)

The Bible also needs to be re-translated regularly to keep up with language changes. For example, it would be tough for us to understand the original 1611 KJV because English has changed so much. Consider John 3:16, in the 1611 King James Version:

“For God so loued þe world, that he gaue his only begotten Sonne: that whosoeuer beleeueth in him, should not perish, but haue euerlasting life.” We get the gist but we wouldn’t want to do all our Bible reading and study with this translation.

So, love God’s Word. Read it, study it and, most importantly of all, put it into practice. Be like Jesus, who was the Word made flesh.

For more on this topic: