There’s a fascinating verse in Romans chapter 12 that, at first glance, looks like permission to inflict pain on the people we don’t like: “In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Paul’s teaching in Romans 12 is about showing kindness to those who don’t like us (or we don’t like, or both). The apostle quotes Proverbs 25:21-22, If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.

It appears to read: be nice to your enemies and cause them pain! So, what’s the deal with the burning coals? How should we understand what the Bible is teaching us here? I have found three explanations:


In the ancient world, people would carry a tray of burning coals on their heads as a sign of repentance. The scriptures speak of people expressing sorrow by wearing sackcloth and ashes. Consider Mordecai, who, upon learning of Haman’s plot to destroy the Jews, tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly.

Jesus reprimanded two cities, Chorazin and Bethsaida, for their hard-heartedness towards his ministry: Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. Bethsaida was the hometown of the apostles Peter, Andrew, and Philip. Imagine hearing Jesus’ words of rebuke about your birthplace.

So, the explanation is that showing kindness to your enemy may open the door for them to repent and change how they behave towards you. And that certainly can happen.


The second understanding of the burning coals symbolises a life of nonviolence and allowing God’s judgement to operate. The context certainly supports that understanding. The previous verse says: Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. In other words, be kind to your enemy and allow God to judge them.

In this interpretation, the burning coals symbolise God’s judgment.


In the third explanation, the burning coals are a sign of kindness, not judgment, and I agree. Paul encourages people to act kindly to their enemies.

In ancient times, people would cook their meals over a fire, as in many parts of the world today. If the fire went cold, the woman of the household would put an earthen jar on her head, walk to their neighbour’s house, and ask for hot coals.

Imagine your enemy coming to your door and asking for hot coals from the fire. Our natural inclination would be to refuse them. And that’s Paul’s point for followers of Jesus. Live in such a way that does better than expressing your typical feelings. If your enemy is in need and you have the opportunity to be kind, then be kind. If their fire’s gone out, give them hot coals to carry home on their head.

Jesus’ Teaching

In Romans 12, Paul reiterates Jesus’ teaching from his sermon on the Mount:

  • Give to the one who asks you.
  • Do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
  • Love your enemies.
  • Pray for those who persecute you.
  • Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

Paul agrees:

  • Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
  • Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
  • Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
  • If possible, as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

The last statement is significant because sometimes, living at peace with someone is impossible. You should not feel duty-bound in such circumstances.

Jesus’ way is never passive or idle. Jesus was an activist, not a passivist. But the activism he supported was showing practical kindness to others, even our enemies.

We could summarise Paul’s teaching here by this statement: The best way to destroy an enemy is to turn them into a friend.

In last week’s blog, I outlined Jesus’ way of reading, understanding, and interpreting the Scriptures as a better way than a flat or uniform method.

For the first couple of decades of my Christian life, I read the Bible as an unchanging 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 is equal and vital. Except, we Christians do not live or practice the Bible this way. So, how should we understand Paul’s statement?

The Context

Paul is commending Timothy for his love of the sacred writings (Gk. gramma). Using a different Greek word, Paul contrasts these with the Scriptures (Gk. graphé). The sacred writings included but were not limited to, the Scriptures.

While the writings are sacred, only the Scriptures are God-breathed, likely a term coined by Paul, who combined two Greek words (Theos & Pnau) to make a new one. The Scriptures Paul refers to are the Tanakh, or what we Christians call the Old Testament. They were (are) the Jewish Scriptures Jesus and the first-century Church used.

The New Testament

When the New Testament refers to the Scripture(s) as it does 53 times, it speaks about the Tanakh. But there became increasing awareness amongst the Church that some of the sacred writings of the apostles were also to be considered as Scripture. Peter writes about Paul’s letters, “He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures.”

The four Gospels were eventually stitched together to differentiate them from the many debatable texts that began circulating in the first century. The epistles were sent to the churches and then swapped amongst various congregations. For example, Paul writes to the Colossian Church, “After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you, in turn, read the letter from Laodicea.” Revelation was sent to seven Churches in Asia Minor, modern-day Turkey.

The Completed Bible

The Canon of Scripture, the Bible as we have it today, was completed in the fourth century. The Greek word kanon means reed or measurement. For a book or letter to qualify to be included in the Bible, it had to measure up to specific standards:

  • The writer must have been one of Jesus’ Apostles or their scribe. For example, Mark was Peter’s scribe for his Gospel.
  • The writer had to claim to have written from divine inspiration, which then needed to be confirmed.
  • The content could not contradict books already recognised as Scripture or contain any errors.

The earliest list of suggested New Testament scriptures was compiled in Rome, in 140 A.D., by Marcion. Although considered heretical[1] by many, his list established that the idea of a New Testament canon was accepted then.

By the end of the second century, all but seven books (Hebrews, 2 and 3 John, 2 Peter, Jude, James, and Revelation) were recognised as Scripture. By the end of the fourth century, all the Western Churches acknowledged all twenty-seven books in our present canon.

By the year 500, the Greek-speaking Church had also accepted all the books in our present New Testament.

Back to Paul

With that background in mind, let’s return to Paul’s statement about all Scripture being relevant. Scripture is helpful for:

  • Teaching – how to apply it to the way we live.
  • Rebuking – an inner conviction that comes from truth.
  • Correcting – to straighten out or rectify.
  • Training in righteousness – the cultivation of mind and morals.

All Scripture is helpful for at least one of these things, but that does not mean that all Scripture is applied literally or equally.


Jesus taught people that external things couldn’t defile them. In a society where religion had become all about outward show, Jesus’ teachings were revolutionary: “It is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” Mark adds the clause, “In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.” The understanding of the early Church was that the food laws of Leviticus 11 & Deuteronomy 14 were no longer relevant. How are those chapters beneficial, then? A sense of gratitude may be one answer!

Seven times in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago…But I tell you.” He corrected or amended several verses from the Tanakh, possibly showing God’s original intent and practicality of those Scriptures.

The New Testament Scriptures make Sabbath-keeping optional for Christians. Paul writes, “One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord.” (Romans 14:5-6; Cf. Exodus 31:14).

What Applies and What Doesn’t?

We, Christians, need to have our lenses in place to see clearly to apply Scripture correctly. Jesus is our primary lens, as we discovered in last week’s blog and my recent sermons here and here.

We can view the Scriptures through the Gospels, reading backwards and forwards. I also suggest looking through New Testament eyes when reading the Tanakh.

Jesus changes some of the Scriptures, as we’ve seen above. Others ceased, such as circumcision, animal sacrifices, and food laws. At the same time, much of the Scriptures continue unchanged. Christians and Jews alike worship God, help the poor and marginalised, tithe, and love their neighbour as themselves.

Paul tells us that the ultimate purpose of Scripture is “so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” That is what Christians are to be known for.

[1] Marcion preached that God had sent Jesus Christ; an entirely new God distinct from the “vengeful” God who had created the world.

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 unsettling story of Ananais and Sapphira is found in Acts chapter five. The first two verses summarise the story:

“Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge, he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.”

Their duplicity, described by Peter as “lying to God,” led to their untimely death.

Interestingly, Peter makes such a big deal of this deceit, especially in light of his betrayal of Jesus. Peter received nothing but grace for his error and yet is quick to pronounce judgment on others. I’m glad Christians don’t behave like that anymore! So, how should we understand the disturbing story of Ananias and Sapphira?

A Parable?

The story may be a parable rather than a literal historical event. For example, the Bible Background Commentary reveals some rabbis allegedly disintegrate foolish pupils with a harsh look. We still talk about someone giving a withering look, but the “look” doesn’t literally shrink the person. We understand the expression metaphorically.

The New Interpreter’s Study Bible says about this story: “Theological and pastoral questions arise. Why is Peter so harsh in not offering the couple an opportunity to repent? Does God really punish sinners in such a drastic manner? The story is more folklore than historical and is meant to underscore the serious breach that occurs when members of the community lie to one another.”

And so, what KIND of truth is found in Acts 5? Is it factual, or is it symbolic, a parable designed to teach truth while itself not being a true story?

People sometimes get hung up on facts rather than truth. For example, instead of trying to work out how a large fish swallowed Jonah, ask yourself what truth is being taught in this story. What can we learn, and how can we apply this truth daily?

An Ancient Teaching Method?

A well-known educational tool in the first century was comparing positive and negative examples. Acts chapter four ended with a general statement of the church’s generosity and then a specific instance – Barnabas sold a field he owned, and laid the money at the apostles’ feet.

And then Luke, the author of Acts, compares this with the story of Ananias and Sapphira, who also sold a piece of property. Remember, there were no chapter divisions in Luke’s letter.

Many people who had become Christians were from different nations and had stayed in Jerusalem after Pentecost (Acts 2). These people had no means of support – no social security benefits. The church was their lifeline, and there were no churches beyond Jerusalem.

These freewill gifts were entirely at the discretion of the giver. The land was sold and placed “at the apostles’ feet,” indicating that the offering was not for the apostles but for them to distribute to those in need. Barnabas demonstrated the right way to do this. Ananias and Sapphira displayed the wrong way.

The message in these stories is this: when you give, do it like Barnabas and not like Ananias and Sapphira.

An Older Story?

The story of Ananias and Sapphira contrasts with the account of Achan in Joshua 7, in which the sin of one man brought death upon many others—in the story of Ananias and Sapphira, the demise of two people brought purity to a community rather than death. God takes the corporate holiness of his people very seriously.

Honesty is the Best Policy

The Acts 5 story shows that God takes sincerity in claims very seriously. Pastors should remember this when asked about the size of the church we lead. Far too many of us become evang-elastic in our answers.

The whole scenario with Ananias and Sapphira was utterly unnecessary. They were likely a very wealthy couple (Sapphira was an uncommon name and always found amongst rich women). The property was theirs. No one had asked them or forced them to sell it. It was a matter of their own volition.

Furthermore, they had conspired to keep some of the money but made out they were giving it all, exposing their pride in the pretence. They lied to and tested the Holy Spirit (God). Was this a form of blaspheming the Holy Spirit? Was this sin unforgivable? Whatever the case, one truth that stands out in this story is honesty is the best policy.

A Harsh Sentence

The Dead Sea Scrolls excluded such an offender from the communion table for a year. But here, a much stricter sentence is imposed. There’s no mention that God did the killing. Peter pronounced the sentence, possibly operating a gift of the Holy Spirit. Was he a novice in using these powers? Did he learn from this? To my knowledge, there is no record of anything like this happening again. And I’ve never had anyone die during an offering at Bayside Church – not yet, at least!

Concluding Comments

The punishment doesn’t appear to fit the crime. Far worse sins are recorded in the New Testament Scriptures without death as the punishment. Consider the case of a young man committing incest with his stepmother and Peter’s rank hypocrisy that Paul condemns to Peter’s face. But Peter doesn’t drop dead as a result.

If this is a literal historical event, my only thought is that the apostles wanted to protect the baby church. Such protection wasn’t needed as the church matured.

A literal understanding of this story troubles me because it doesn’t appear to reflect God’s nature of unfailing love and forgiveness. Neither does it demonstrate Jesus’ statement, “the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them” (Luke 9:56)

If Ananias and Sapphira were real people, they were a part of the church and Christians. They would have been considered “saved.” There is no pronouncement that they were “lost”. I hope they’re in heaven.

We regularly awaken to the news of another mass shooting in the USA. Several people have recently been shot for simply arriving at the wrong house. They were mistaken or lost and killed or seriously injured. Add to that the mass shootings in schools, churches, and shopping malls, and it appears that America is highly unsafe.

My main concern in this blog is the people who follow Jesus, claim the Christian faith, are staunch defenders of gun ownership and the Second Amendment, and use the Bible to endorse their point of view. How does this align with the teachings of Jesus?


I want to be transparent about my emotions on this topic because I feel very passionately about it. It is also a cause of enormous frustration to me as the US appears unable or unwilling to act on this significant problem. While I am not anti-firearms per se, they should be strongly regulated. I acknowledge some people love hunting, but I’m not one of them. I struggle with the concept of killing animals and calling it a sport. I understand that sometimes culling is necessary, but there’s a big difference between culling and killing for fun.

I greatly appreciate our government’s decisive action to reduce the number of illegal firearms in Australia. After the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, our new Prime Minister, John Howard, introduced a gun amnesty in which 600,000 firearms were handed in. Gun deaths by homicide and suicide plummeted, and Australia has not seen the likes of Port Arthur since. The same cannot be said for the US.

Back in the USA

There were 647 mass shootings in the US last year. A mass shooting is where four or more people are shot or killed, not including the attacker. With this definition, shootings of under four people are not included.

In 2022, there were only 97 days when a mass shooting was not recorded. So far, in 2023, there have been 185 mass shootings. Last weekend saw eleven mass shootings, but we only heard about the worst one. There are so many that it’s not worth reporting on the smaller ones.

Why’s it Getting Worse?

The trend has risen sharply in recent years. In 2022, there were 44,290 gun-related deaths, a 31% increase on 2019. Nine of the ten deadliest mass shootings in the US occurred after 2007. There are several reasons for this:

Gun ownership is on the rise. And no wonder, there is so little regulation that even a 13-year-old can legally buy a gun. If you don’t believe me, watch this short clip from Bryant Gumbel’s Real Sports. US gun laws are lax, irregular, and ineffective. For example, US Federal law does not require that background checks be made on private sales of guns, including at gun shows or online. Regulations on the safe storage of firearms are also lax in some states.

A fractured society. America was already politically divided well before Covid-19. The Pandemic only made things worse.

Rampant Conspiracies. I know this firsthand as I’ve watched some dear friends descend the rabbit hole of ridiculous plots. They believe in a Deep State Cabal that controls the government. They love Trump because this Cabal does not govern him, so they want him back in power. They believe the Port Arthur massacre was a false flag operation, an excuse for the government to strip Australians of firearms so the government can control the masses. Senator Pauline Hansen peddled this rubbish just a few years ago. Many Americans (including Christians) buy into this and fear it is happening in the US.

Toxic masculinity. 98% of shooters are men.

Financial or personal hardship. Undoubtedly, the gap between the haves and have-nots is getting wider. And this resentment can fuel frustration and anger that can lead to violence. But people face these things in Australia and other countries without resorting to shooting others.

The Second Amendment

Christian Nationalism, a perversion of the Bible and the gospel, is sadly rising in the USA. I know several conservative American Christians who love their God and their guns. They view the US Constitution as sacred and defend their beliefs from Scripture.

The Second Amendment states, A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. The militia refers to the American people.

The Second Amendment needs to be amended. It was first enacted on 15 December 1791, long before semi-automatic weapons. Muskets were the order of the day. Muskets were inaccurate, had a 30-second reloading time, and couldn’t shoot as far as 100 metres.

Misquoting Scripture

Christian gun activists quote Luke 22:36 & 38 to defend their beliefs. Jesus told his disciples, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” “That’s enough!” he replied. There you go. Jesus told his followers to buy weapons to defend themselves, so we should own guns. But is that what Jesus is teaching here?

Jesus is speaking to Peter and John just before his arrest. When Judas betrayed Jesus, his followers saw what would happen and said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” And one of them struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. Jesus said, No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him. (Luke 22:49-51).

Why did Jesus tell Peter and John to ensure they had weapons if they weren’t supposed to use them? Because those arresting Jesus came fully armed with swords and clubs (Luke 22:52-53), but Jesus didn’t want his disciples to behave that way. Impetuous Peter misses the moment and the message and gets it wrong again.

Jesus wanted to show that they weren’t leading an armed rebellion, so Luke 22:36 is not teaching American Christians that they should own guns. Jesus teaches the opposite by telling Peter, “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” That could be a prophetic word for the United States, a nation living by and dying by the gun.

I invite you to pray for the US and the American church. I wonder what will need to happen before the nation and some sections of the church come to their senses and act in unity to stem the shedding of innocent blood. How many more people will need to die before a change is made?

One of the things that stands out in the Bible’s early chapters is the age at which some people lived. I mean, Adam was 130 years old when he started a family! Even the thought of that is exhausting.

And that’s not the least of it. Lamech lived to the ripe old age of 777. Adam was 930 when he died. Methuselah was 969, the oldest person of all time. Noah became a dad for the first time at 500.

Ancient texts from many cultures have listed life spans most modern people find unbelievable. For example, the 4,000-year-old Sumerian King List details the reigns of kings in Sumer (ancient southern Iraq) as exceeding 30,000 years in some cases. It also mentions eight kings who reigned for 241,200 years. No one would take that literally.


As with almost everything in the Christian world, there are various opinions and positions on the ages in Genesis. Some will take these ages literally, as that’s how they regard Genesis. God created the world in six 24-hour days, made a woman from a man’s side, and people lived for hundreds of years.

First-century Roman-Jewish historian Josephus wrote, “let no one, upon comparing the lives of the ancients with our lives, and with the few years which we now live, think that what we have said of them is false; or make the shortness of our lives at present an argument, that neither did they attain to so long a duration of life, for those ancients were beloved of God, and made by God himself; and because their food was then fitter for the prolongation of life, might well live so great a number of years: and besides, God afforded them a longer time of life on account of their virtue, and the good use they made of it.”


While some people consider these ages literal, others believe they’re metaphorical. Most Jewish theologians think Genesis chapters 1 to 11 to be symbolic. Many Christians agree. I’ve written about this elsewhere. You can also listen to my teaching on this on the Digging Deeper podcast.

The stories up to Abraham are to be understood metaphorically rather than literally. Long lives and old ages are a way of saying the person lived for an extensive time or has seen a lot of events. We still use Methuselah as an example of longevity today with the Idiom, “He’s as old as Methuselah.” When we say this, we don’t mean it literally. No one is suggesting the person is 969 years old. It’s used to communicate that someone is very advanced in years. Other similar idioms include “She’s as old as the hills.” (or “over the hill”) or “They have one Foot in the Grave.” None of these sayings is considered factual, but they all communicate the truth.

Other Considerations 

Some interpret the ages as an ancient form of bragging. Another consideration is how time was measured and viewed in the ancient world. For example, Jesus said, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:40). But that is not literally true. Jesus was crucified on Passover (or the day before Passover according to John’s gospel) on a Friday. He died about 3 p.m. He rose again early on Sunday morning, meaning he was in the grave for about 40 hours, not 72 hours. Jesus’ statement is not literally true.

An understanding of the Hebrew mindset is helpful here. Ancient Hebrews considered time as a “part for a whole.” In other words, a portion of a day was still considered as an entire day, a concept known as Synecdoche. We use expressions like this too. For example, cattle are counted by “head.” But the “head of cattle” doesn’t discount the rest of their body. Someone may comment on your car by saying, “nice wheels.” Of course, they’re referring to the entire vehicle. And so, Jesus’ statement about three days and three nights takes in Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, even though Friday and Sunday were only part days.

Was time measured and viewed in the ancient world as it is today? Probably not. A metaphorical understanding of the Bible’s old ages sits well with me. But you decide what is comfortable for you. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Is it a truth that affects the way we live today? Not at all.


If you hold a literal view of this subject and feel strongly that you must defend it, it would be helpful to ask yourself why. Why is that important to you? Does it affect your life or that of others? Do you have a “House of cards” view of Scripture? – If this is wrong, nothing in the Bible is correct. The Bible doesn’t behave that way; sometimes, it doesn’t behave at all. We mustn’t make the Scriptures into something that they were never intended to be. The Bible is alive, active, inspired, and ancient and contains truth that powerfully impacts us today even though it comes to us from times past.


One of the first Bible verses I read this year was Isaiah 43:18-20,

“For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland. Yes, I will make rivers in the dry wasteland so my chosen people can be refreshed.”

God was about to lead his people back to their homeland after being captive in Babylon. In the preceding verses, God reminds them of the power he used to set them free from earlier captivity when they were enslaved in Egypt for 400 years. With Mighty strength, God brought his people out of Egypt, through the desert and into the Promised Land. But in Isaiah 43, God says, “forget all that—it is nothing compared to what I am going to do. For I am about to do something new.”

There is a potent life principle here: sometimes, we must forget the greatness of past successes or the shame of past failures to embrace God’s new things in the present and future.

Anything from the past holding you back needs to be forgotten;

otherwise, it becomes a hindrance.

But this doesn’t mean we are to forget everything that’s happened in our lives. There are lots of things that we should remember.

Recollect Fond Memories

Recall family celebrations and great friendships, the good things in life, and the cherished memories that still stir emotions and gratitude. Things like running through the sprinklers on a hot summer’s day, climbing trees, pillow fights, and laughing so hard that your stomach hurt.

A few years ago, Christie and I took the kids to Malaysia for a holiday. One day the heavens opened for a tremendous tropical storm that left large pools of water everywhere. The kids and I spent ages jumping in the puddles. It was so much fun. Scuffing your feet through piles of autumn leaves is equally satisfying—fond memories.

Remember Things to Rectify

The Bible has lots to say about restitution & forgiveness (see Proverbs 14:9; Matthew 5:23-24). I love the story of Zacchaeus, the chief Tax Collector of Jericho (Luke 19:1-10). Here’s one of the most despised individuals in his town, who made millions by ripping off the poor (sound familiar?). Amid the grumblings of the battlers, Jesus went to Zacchaeus’ house. We’re not told what they chatted about, but whatever Jesus said hugely impacted this rich, crooked, lonely little man.

Listen to Zacchaeus’ words, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” If I have cheated anybody! Of course he had, and paying back four times the amount would have been equivalent to pumping millions of dollars into Jericho’s economy, making a massive difference to the needy.

Imagine the impact – I bet the complainers stopped whining when the money arrived! And all because a man remembered and decided to do something to correct the wrongs of the past.

A Personal Story

My first job after high school was working in a record store in Perth. At night, I studied radio announcing at a Technical college. By day, I managed the cassette department, and so I primarily worked alone. During this time, I helped myself to money from the till and stole some records and cassettes. Eventually, I was found out and sacked. I denied any wrongdoing, but I knew I was guilty.

Fast-forward to the next few years. I became a Christian and went to Bible College to train for pastoral ministry. I studied Christian Ethics in my second year, and the lecturer taught about restitution. I felt strongly convicted of my stealing but reminded myself that all my sins were forgiven when I became a Christian. But the guilt wouldn’t budge, so I went to my lecturer to explain my dilemma.

He encouraged me to phone my ex-boss, admit guilt, apologise, and seek to repay what I had stolen. I did so with fear and trembling. She answered the phone, and I got a frosty response when I told her who was calling. I did as my lecturer had suggested and offered to repay the money. All I had was the semester’s fees (about $1,000), and I asked if that would be sufficient. She said it was, so I sent that to her as a money order, along with a tract on becoming a Christian. I know…but I was young and zealous!

I didn’t hear from her again, but it didn’t matter. I had made amends like Zacchaeus. I had remembered a past wrong that I had the power to rectify. The sense of God’s presence was overwhelming.

Do you have unresolved issues from the past? Do you need to make restitution?

Recall the Great Things God has Done

“I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds” ~ Psalm 77:11-12.

In Scripture, God instituted a feast or an altar whenever he did something incredible. Consider the Passover Feast that reminded people of their mighty deliverance from slavery. Jesus instigated communion to remind us of his death and resurrection (Luke 22:19).

In the Tanakh (Old Testament), there are several altars of remembrance so that the recollection would anchor people in truth.

Consider the story of Joshua leading the people across the Jordan and into the promised land (Joshua 4). “They took twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan River, one for each tribe, just as the Lord had told Joshua. They carried them to the place where they camped for the night and constructed the memorial there.” The altar was a reminder of God’s power, presence, and redemption. Whatever challenges they faced in the future, the altar was a constant memorial of who God was and what God could do.

I encourage you to think of the times God has been particularly present for you. Consider those memories as altars to anchor and inspire you in the present, especially when you encounter difficulties.

A Final Story

Before he became the apostle Paul, Saul was one of the most distinguished religious leaders in Israel, “advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age” (Gal. 1:14). In his letter to the Philippians, Paul outlines his Jewish credentials (3:3-6), which were extremely impressive. But he writes, “whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” And he had lost much ~ prestige, reputation, finance, property, and family. His wife and children likely abandoned him when he converted from Judaism.

But, Jesus had found him and called him, and he wouldn’t look back. In fact, “one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” God was doing something new, and Paul wouldn’t miss out because of regrets, mistakes, or successes.

Imagine the grace the church needed to exert towards Paul, the guy that had imprisoned and killed some of their relatives. This same man was now preaching in their churches.

Forget what is behind, strain toward what is ahead, and press on toward the goal. God is making pathways through the wilderness and creating rivers in the dry wasteland to refresh you. Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?

Someone recently told me that they felt confused about why God accepted Abel’s offering and not Cain’s. It seemed unfair to them, and I agreed.

We find the story in Genesis 4, and it moves very fast. Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. Later she gave birth to his brother Abel. Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. Two decades in two verses!

Over time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favour on Abel and his offering, but he did not look with favour on Cain and his offering. So, Cain was outraged, and his face was downcast. God and Cain had a chat about his attitude, during which God told him, “sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” That’s a crucial part of this story that I’ll come back to shortly.

So, why did God reject Cain’s offering? Was it because God prefers meat to veggies? Cain was a farmer who tended the ground and grew crops. Abel was a shepherd who kept flocks. It made sense that farmer Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. It equally made sense that shepherd Abel brought an offering from some of the firstborn of his flock. Both men gave an offering of what they had.

Campfire Stories

There is no mention of teaching on offerings in this story or before. Although God had killed an animal to make clothes for Adam and Eve to cover their nakedness, there is no inference in this story, or before it, that God expected or required an animal offering.

Cain’s gift is the first recorded offering mentioned in the Bible. Should that not tell us something? Remember, this is a campfire story. It’s a metaphor, a parable, as is the case with the first eleven chapters of Genesis. What question around the campfire was asked to prompt this story?

It could have been a child asking a parent why do people kill each other or why is there evil in the world? It’s an ancient dilemma that people still grapple with today: If there’s a loving God, why is there suffering and evil in the world? The ancients would create stories to explore possibilities. The story of Cain and Abel could explore some of the reasons for pain and suffering.

A Question Book

The Bible is a book of questions, not just a book of answers. My Rabbi friend says, “If you read a story that doesn’t raise more questions, you’re not reading the Bible properly.” He says, “The sacred texts are verbs, not endpoints.” Some of the questions we could ask about this story include: How do the principal actors react in the story? What is Cain’s reaction to Abel’s offering being taken above his?

Cain was furious, and his face fell—what an evocative, profound description. You’d have witnessed the fallen face if you’ve ever had to correct a child!

The apparent rejection shatters Cain. God says to Cain (paraphrasing): “how you’re feeling is normal, but if you nurture this resentment and envy, it will be like a tiger crouching at the entrance to your cave.”

God hadn’t turned his back on Cain. God was allowing Cain to learn from disappointment and rejection, something he would repeatedly experience, as we all do.

But instead of learning from the moment, Cain’s ego was bruised. God didn’t invalidate Cain’s feelings. But Cain doesn’t heed God’s advice and has a confrontation with Abel instead. The crouching tiger had not been tamed.

Another Conversation

God: “Where is your brother Abel?”

Cain: “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The Hebrew here suggests a question like, “Do I stay awake all night keeping an eye on him?”

Cain asks, am I responsible for him? And, if so, where does that responsibility begin and end? It’s an excellent question. Everyone is responsible for others to a point unless it becomes detrimental to you.

God: “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.”

Remember, this is an allegorical story. Blood doesn’t speak, but that doesn’t detract from the truth here. The New Testament picks up the same metaphor: “Jesus the mediator of a new covenant [whose shed blood on the cross] speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Heb. 12:24).

Abel’s blood spoke of retribution, anger, unrighteousness, and death, whereas Jesus’ blood communicates forgiveness, justice, and life.

The story ends with Cain being disciplined by God and then settling in the land of Nod, [wandering] east of Eden. He gets married and starts a family.

Central Truth

For me, one of the key takeaways from this story is this:

If we lose perspective, something that is temporary can become permanent.

We all have had, or will have, defining moments in our lives.

Cain’s defining moment transpired when God did not look with favour on his offering. Cain became downcast, envious, and angry and then acted out on his emotions.

What if Cain had permitted himself to reflect on his feelings for a few hours? Something unjust had happened to him. He needed to acknowledge his emotions and feelings. We have all been on the receiving end of injustice and experienced emotions that made us feel like lashing out. So, we wait. Meltdowns are inevitable, so be good at them!

An Example

Imagine you didn’t get a promotion at work. You process this:

I deserved that promotion.

I feel angry. Envious. Cheated.

There’s no justice in the world.

These are not evil thoughts. They are valid.

These moments are going to happen.

I won’t deny them; I acknowledge them.

I will chat it through with a friend.

I will bring it to God in prayer.

There are no taboo reflections.

But I won’t let them fester inside me.

They don’t define me.

I don’t have to act on them.

The Heart of the Story

The core of this story is God’s questions and statements to Cain: “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” It will become a crouching tiger.

Eventually, the feelings will dissipate. But If you don’t healthily process them, the tiger will pounce. If you handle your disappointments correctly, you will have greater strength to overcome those same temptations in the future. It’s a wonderful ancient story with a practical modern-day message.

I investigated some pitfalls in last week’s blog when reading the Bible. And I promised that in this week’s blog, I would share some practical ways to enjoy the Bible on your own, as well as, with other people. So, here goes.

I choose to bring a humble spirit to the Lord and his Word in my devotional life. The more I learn, the more I know that I don’t know! God “guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way” (Ps 25:9). Humility is at the very heart of God, revealing truth through his word. And then, trust God to speak to you from the Scriptures.

Ways to Read the Bible

I chose to read the Bible from cover to cover every year in my early Christian years. Four chapters a day is all it takes. I am grateful for this foundation as it has given me a good overview of the Scriptures and an understanding of how the various books interact with and complement each other. As I’ve matured in my faith, I’ve found that a quality over quantity approach works best.

When gold was first discovered in Victoria in 1851, nuggets were found in waterways with no digging required. However, miners had to dig a little deeper once these were all gone. After some time, shafts were built, and seams of gold were discovered and mined. The Bible is similar. As a young Christian, I found nuggets of truth daily with little effort. Over time I’ve had to dig deeper and deeper to find rich deposits of truth.

Today, I use the You Version Bible App, which has a verse of the day and thousands of reading plans. I also enjoy picking a book or letter or just a section of the Bible. For example, I might choose to read 1 & 2 Thessalonians; maybe a chapter or just a few verses a day. I lookout for a verse or a line that speaks to me. A few weeks ago, it was 1 Thess. 5:16-18, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” There’s a wealth of truth in those words.

Christian Meditation

Don’t be scared of meditation. It was God’s idea, and the Bible mentions it over twenty times, mainly in Psalms. The Hebrew word for meditate means to ponder by muttering. Meditation is literally talking to yourself. Last week, I spent time meditating on Psalm 121:2, “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” I walked and talked with God and repeated this line emphasising different words.

My help comes from the Lord ~ it’s what I need personally.

My help comes from the Lord ~ God is coming to my aid.

My help comes from the Lord ~ It’s on its way from God now.

My help comes from the Lord ~ The support is not just from anywhere. It’s from God.

The second line of the verse provides the proof of God’s ability to help me ~ “the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” God created all things, so what is my problem in the light of such power? The prophet Jeremiah said it this way, “O Sovereign LORD! You made the heavens and earth by your strong hand and powerful arm. Nothing is too hard for you!

My time of walking and talking with God and muttering the scriptures was powerful, encouraging, refreshing and enjoyable.

Respond to God

Enjoying the Bible is not just about learning facts. Facts are the lowest form of truth unless applied to our lives. I find asking four simple questions of the verse or line I’m meditating on can be very helpful.

1. What is God saying to me through His Word?

2. How will I respond to God’s Word?

3. How does this cause me to love God?

4. How does this encourage me to love my neighbour?

Enjoying the Bible Together

The Bible is not just something we appreciate on our own. God’s word should be read aloud, discussed, and enjoyed with other believers either in Connect Groups or with one or two friends.

One compelling way to enjoy the Bible in a community is the ancient Christian meditation practice of Lectio Divina, or “sacred reading.” The four basic steps are straightforward to learn:

  1. Lectio (reading)—Slow, contemplative reading of a text aloud. Don’t spend much time rationally analysing the text, and do not try to work through it quickly; instead, let your mind linger on the individual words and phrases. Read the text several times. Each person is listening for a word, phrase, or sentence that speaks to them.
  2. Meditatio (meditation)—At some point during the process of Lectio, one passage/verse/sentence should speak to you more than others. Spend time repeating that, silently or aloud, letting it sink in. Write it down if that helps. Everyone can share their insights at this point.
  3. Oratio (prayer)—Use the truth that you’ve gained from meditating in forming a prayer. You can write this (crafted prayer) or say it, draw a picture, paint something, or write a poem.
  4. Contemplatio (contemplation)—If you feel yourself being enveloped by the presence of God, let go of all words and silently settle into the experience.

Remember, as a result of an encounter with God in Scripture, we are always called to action. The Bible calls this godliness ~ devotion in action!

You’ll find some more devotional resources on the Bayside Church website. I hope this blog and these resources lead you into a richer experience of enjoying the Bible and, more importantly, enjoying the God of the Bible.

When I first picked up a Bible, I was nine years old. I’d been given a family Bible by my dad. It was his mother’s Bible, and she’d signed it on January 18 1915. My dad signed it on 6-10-1941 when he was eleven. When he gave it to me, I signed it too ~ April 1 1967. My plan was to read the Bible from start to finish. From memory, I got through the first couple of chapters of Genesis and then got bored. I didn’t pick the Bible up again for a decade. I was nineteen and had just accepted Jesus as my Saviour. I must say, the Bible had improved dramatically in ten years.

I’ve now been reading and studying the Bible for over four decades and have learned a few things that have helped me enjoy this wonderful book. I’ve also fallen into the trap of reading and understanding the Bible the wrong way at various times, reaping the not-so-good consequences. So, let’s explore how NOT to read the Bible!

Out of Obligation

It goes something like this: “God says to read the Bible, so I better do it, even though I don’t want to.” Obligation takes all the joy out of reading the Bible. It comes from legalistic teaching that says, “you just gotta read the Bible; otherwise, God won’t be pleased with you.”

As a young Christian, I attended the seminar, “The hour that changes the world.” It taught people how to pray for an hour, breaking 60 minutes into 12 five-minute segments. You’d spend the first five minutes in praise and worship, the following five in waiting on the Lord. Then confession, praying Scripture, watching and intercession all the way through to praise at the end.

I’m sure Dick Eastman, the author of this course, had good intentions. But this seminar killed my prayer life. It changed it from a spontaneous and enjoyable time with God into a legalistic chore. Imagine me treating my relationship with Christie in this way. “Right-o honey, we’ve got an hour to spend with each other. Let’s take the first five minutes to praise each other, then we’ll wait in silence for five minutes, then….” I can just hear Christie’s response already, and it’s not good. That would be a perfect way to ruin any relationship.

It’s the same with reading the Bible. Legalism ruins our enjoyment of God’s excellent Word. “We don’t read the Bible because we have to. We read it because it’s good for us, our relationship with God, other people, and the world.”

An Instruction Manual

Instruction manual Christians view the B.I.B.L.E. as Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. It’s clever but inaccurate.

Seeing the Bible as merely an instruction manual, a handbook takes away from its status as God’s inspired Word, a holy communication from deity to humanity. The Bible is so much more than just a list of dos and don’ts. Indeed, there are dos and don’ts in the Bible, but if you spend all your time doing the dos, you won’t have time to do the don’ts.

Remember, The Law didn’t work. If it had been sufficient to restore the relationship between God and people, God wouldn’t have needed to enter the human race as one of us. God’s instructions would have been enough. Except they weren’t. God’s interested in a relationship with you. A real relationship that is not based on a to-do list!

Again, imagine bringing the “instruction manual” attitude into a relationship. Your primary communication method to your partner becomes a “To-Do List” posted to the fridge each day. Such a relationship will not endure.

God’s Answer Book

The Bible has lots of wisdom, but it doesn’t answer all questions or life situations. People who view the Bible as merely an answer book treat it like a daily horoscope. In my years in radio, I often had to play the daily stars. I’d get phone calls from listeners who’d missed hearing them and asked me to tell them what their horoscope was. One listener told me they couldn’t get out of bed until they knew what their day would be like. How sad.

I’ve come across many Christians who “read” the Bible by randomly opening it with their eyes closed and then pointing their finger at a verse. It’s a practice called bibliomancy and is basically fortune telling for Christians.

The process of bibliomancy involves:

  • Asking God a straightforward question
  • Opening the Bible to a random page
  • Trailing a finger in slow circles until “the spirit” says to stop.
  • The verse where the questioner’s finger points supposedly contains the answer.

Don’t get me wrong. God can and does lead us to specific Bible verses that speak to us in a time of need. God sometimes causes us to stumble on a verse precisely when we need the message it contains. But the Bible is so much more than just an answer book.

To Win Arguments

We all know THAT person who is ALWAYS right about the Bible and more than willing to tell you why! On EVERY occasion! People like this lack humility and grace and invariably come across as harsh, legalistic, and dogmatic.

I encourage you to spend some time this week reading and meditating on Psalm 25:4-21. The theme of this song is “How to have a teachable spirit.” The bottom line is this, “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.” (9)

To have a teachable spirit, we must be humble. The humble heart says to God, “I don’t know it all; I haven’t arrived yet. Please teach me; I want to learn.” The humble heart also listens to others. That is the person whom God will teach. We need to bring that heart and mind to our time in God’s Word.

Next week, I’ll share some practical ways to enjoy the Bible on your own as well as with other people.

The Bible’s book called Proverbs contains some of the oldest writings in Scripture. It is a fascinating work jam-packed with ancient wisdom, most of which is still relevant today. So, let’s discover the best ways to understand this book.

The Purpose of Proverbs

Proverbs was initially compiled as a training manual for young men to be leaders in the king’s court. So, its first audience was teenage and young adult guys. The term “my son(s)” is found over 20 times in Proverbs.

We find the purpose of Proverbs clearly stated at the beginning, “These are the proverbs of Solomon, David’s son, king of Israel. Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline, to help them understand the insights of the wise. Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives, to help them do what is right, just, and fair. These proverbs will give insight to the simple, knowledge and discernment to the young” (1:1-4).

Wisdom’s Women

Proverbs, chapters one to nine, personify wisdom and foolishness as two gorgeous women. Remember, the audience was testosterone-filled young men. Lady Wisdom and Madam Folly were two women competing for the attention of these immature guys. Lady Wisdom is a godly influence encouraging young men to live a life of courage and integrity – a life that embraces justice, generosity, and kindness – to win favour and a good name (Proverbs 4:23-27).

Madam Folly is the opposite. She is pictured as an adulterous woman who constantly tries to entice and lead the guys astray. For us all, life is about choosing to follow the right woman, Lady Wisdom, rather than Madam Folly.

Now, it is essential to understand that no one sat down to write the book of Proverbs. Proverbs took over twelve hundred years to compile between 1400 and 165 BCE when the Tanakh (Old Testament) was completed. By that time, this book which was initially intended for young men training for leadership was now meant for everyone who desired to live a life that follows Lady Wisdom rather than Madam Folly.

What is Wisdom?

Simply: Knowing how to apply your knowledge.

A more complex definition: Wisdom is the quality of character that knows how to choose the right path in life: the right words, actions, and responses. Wisdom tells you when to speak and when to remain silent.

For Example:

  • Wisdom does not harm one’s neighbour.
  • Wisdom shuns laziness and works hard.
  • Wisdom receives correction and instruction.
  • Wisdom guards the tongue and spreads no gossip.
  • Wisdom doesn’t quarrel or criticise.
  • Wisdom is generous to those who are needy.
  • Wisdom gives voice to the marginalised.
  • Wisdom is tenacious but humble.

Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do! (Proverbs 1:7).

The Structure of Proverbs

Proverbs is divided into six sections. The book’s introduction is chapters 1 – 9, followed by the most extended portion, “The proverbs of Solomon” (10:1– 22:16). The rest of Proverbs consists of four shorter parts:

  • The words of the wise (22:17 – 24) are drawn from the ancient Egyptian wisdom text, The Instruction of Amenemope, from the 14th to 11th Centuries BCE. This teaches us that wisdom is drawn from other cultures, faiths, and people.
  • More proverbs of Solomon (25 – 29) were collected and compiled by the advisers of King Hezekiah of Judah. Hezekiah reigned between 716–687 BCE. Solomon died in 930 BCE. So, these proverbs had been around for over 200 years before being included in this book.
  • The sayings of Agur son of Jakeh—an inspired utterance (30). Agur was weary and tired and didn’t think of himself as wise, and yet we have his proverbs preserved for our benefit. I hope you find this as encouraging as I do. It doesn’t matter how you feel or what you think of yourself. God sees the gem in the lump of rock!
  • The sayings of King Lemuel (31). An inspired utterance his mother taught him. Lemuel is possibly a pet name Solomon’s mother gave him. She says, “Listen, my son! Listen, son of my womb! Listen, my son, the answer to my prayers! Do not spend your strength on women…” (31:1-3). Proverbs 31 is often taught at Women’s Conferences, but its application is much broader. The final chapter once again personifies wisdom (Lady Wisdom) and demonstrates how a wise person lives.

Types of Proverbs

There are two kinds of proverbs ~ Sayings and instructions. A saying is a nugget of wisdom. Consider these examples:

“A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret.” (11:13)

“The righteous care for the needs of their animals, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.” (12:10)

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (15:1)

“Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.” (25:24)

Instructions may be positive or negative (i.e., you need to do this / not do this). Examples include:

“Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court.” (22:22)

“Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered.” (22:24)

How can we get wisdom?

People grow wise through experience either gleaned from others or learned from their failures and mistakes. The Book of Proverbs is one source of wisdom. There are 31 chapters, so you could read a chapter a day and get through the entire book in a month.

As we step out and take risks, we will fail, make wrong decisions, choices, and mistakes. The alternative is never to do anything, but that’s not very wise!

Proverbs 24:16 states, “The godly may trip seven times, but they will get up again.” It reminds me of a song – I get knocked down, but I get up again. Is the tune stuck in your head now?

In my (almost) 30 years of leading Bayside Church, I’ve made loads of decisions. Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again. In this journey, I’ve gained some wisdom. And it’s that which I seek to impart as I continue to lead others.

It’s a question I’m asked regularly. Should I read the Apocrypha, and should it be included in the Bible?

Apocrypha is the name protestant Christians give to the seven additional books Roman Catholics include in the Bible. They also have certain additions to Esther and Daniel. Roman Catholics refer to these as deuterocanonical books.

The Catholic Case (1)

The Roman Catholic Church maintains that it has the authority to determine the limits of Scripture. It also asserts that there was no fixed canon of Scripture at the time of Jesus and His apostles. Some argue that there were competing canons, while others say that the Old Testament canon had not been entirely accepted in Jesus’ day. Whatever the case may be, the canon of Scripture was not fixed or established. This is quite true.

135 CE was the date the written Tanakh (Old Testament) was sealed. In other words, those who made decisions about sacred text decided it was complete by then. That’s a century after Jesus’ resurrection! Jewish scholars did not include the Apocrypha as a holy text.

The Bible Jesus Used

The Septuagint was the most widely read Scriptures of Jesus’ day and was likely the Bible he read, studied, and taught. The Septuagint (LXX) is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures completed by 72 Jewish scholars in the 3rd century BCE. The Septuagint did include the Apocrypha, and so Jesus and the early church would have been well acquainted with it.

The church, from the beginning, did not accept the shorter Jewish canon but instead included the deuterocanonical books or the Books of the Old Testament Apocrypha as Scripture.

The church fathers quoted from the Apocrypha but disagreed on its status. Augustine, for example, considered the Apocrypha as canonical (official Scripture). On the other hand, Jerome viewed it as ecclesiastical, to be read in church for edification but not on par with inspired Scripture.

Protestant Reformation

Martin Luther supported Jerome’s view. He wrote, “These are books that, though not esteemed like the Holy Scriptures, are still both useful and good to read.” Luther included the deuterocanonical books in his translation of the German Bible, but he did relocate them to after the Old Testament, calling them “Apocrypha” or “Hidden books.”

Incidentally, Luther attempted to take Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation out of the Bible because they didn’t fit with his teaching of being saved by faith alone without works. He placed these four books at the end of his German Bible translation as a kind of New Testament Apocrypha.

The Apocrypha was included in the 1611 publication of the King James Bible. It was officially removed from the English printings of the King James Version by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1885, leaving only 66 books. In other words, these books have only been absent from non-Roman Catholic Bibles for the last 136 years.

The Catholic case (2)

The Roman Catholic church claims that when the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha are rightly studied and understood, they fit into a consistent pattern of teaching with the rest of the Bible and the teachings of the church. Therefore, they consider that we have every good reason to receive these works as canonical Scripture and to believe and obey the things taught therein.

But the New Testament Doesn’t Quote It!

Some state that Jesus and the New Testament authors do not quote from these books. But that’s not correct. While the New Testament doesn’t state, “It is written…” before quoting from the Apocrypha, there are dozens of instances where Jesus and the New Testament draw on Apocrypha. The golden rule (Matthew 7:12; cf. Tobit 4:15). Warnings against storing up riches (Matthew 6:19-20; James 5:3; cf. Sirach 29:10-11). The New Testament continues the strong theme of almsgiving (giving to help the poor) that we find in the Apocrypha. Consider Acts 3:3; 9:36; 10:2-4, 31; 24:17; 1 John 3:17 and Tobit 1:16; 2:14; 4:7-8, 10-11, 16; 12:8.

One of the clearest quotations is found in Jude’s little letter. Jude 14-15, “It was also about these that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, “See, the Lord is coming with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all, and to convict everyone of all the deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”

The Apocryphal book of 1 Enoch states, “Behold, he comes with the myriads of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all, and to destroy all the wicked, and to convict all flesh for all the wicked deeds that they have done, and the proud and hard words that wicked sinners spoke against him” (1:9).

Concluding Thoughts

I haven’t read all of the apocryphal books, but maybe I should. I find myself agreeing with Jerome and Luther that “These are books that, though not esteemed like the Holy Scriptures, are still both useful and good to read.”

While part of me thinks we already have enough to read and study with the 66 books of the Bible, the fact that they were included in the Christian Bible for the first 1,855 years of the church’s existence seems to lend weight to the Apocrypha.

So, read them if you want to, but make up your mind to never fall out or argue about this with anyone!