Other ‘gospels’ and books missing from the Bible

Question 193, from Frank

I have come to understand that there are a lot of books and scriptures that are missing from the modern Christian bible. Is there a complete volume that includes all the books of the catholic bible as well as those that are omitted from the bible such as those from the Hebrew bible and the books of Enoch? I know there are Dead Sea Scrolls and those of the Gnostic scriptures that have been omitted as well as others. I guess what I am asking for is there a “complete” book of all scriptures that exist?

Early Christianity is often described as ‘heterodox’, meaning there were a number of different communities and ideas that broadly speaking claimed to be Christian. Some of these groups wrote their own books and the confusion this caused led to ecumenical councils deciding which books were accurate and authoritative. The books that made the cut were considered ‘canonical’. (more…)

Saying ‘Be blessed’ – more than a nice gesture?

Question 192, from Mark, United Kingdom

In church we hear many people say, “be blessed”, “I pray God will bless you” or “you’re a real blessing”.

While I totally believe that many people use this as a genuine statement or encouragement, I’m sure for some it could be viewed as a bit of a cliché. But what does to be ‘blessed’, or to pray blessing over someone actually mean in biblical terms? How can we avoid it becoming a cliché and something that just rolls of the tongue without much thought?

The Christian view of blessing is of spiritual and material benefits given by God. There are many precedents for this in the Old Testament, and in Numbers chapter 6, Moses is told to tell Aaron and the priests to bless the people of Israel on behalf of God, so that God wold look favourably upon them (see verses 22-27). (more…)

Did Jesus die for aliens, too?

Question 191, from Ben

I’ve read a report that some scientists say there might have been life on Mars around 4 billion years ago. I’m curious as to how learning of life on other planets would link with Christian theology; for instance, did Jesus die for creatures on other planets?

The Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) has yet to turn up any proof of alien intelligence, and even if it did, the vast distances between stars mean it unlikely there will ever be meaningful contact with creatures from other planets.

Theoretically the existence of life elsewhere in the universe is compatible with Christian theology. In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI’s official astronomer, Father Jose Funes discussed the possibility of life being created by God on other planets and that such life would be covered by the death of Christ. (more…)

Two lessons from the life of Daniel

Toy figure of Daniel in the lion's denThis was a Sunday sermon at Glenwood Church on 25 August 2013. An audio recording is available on the Glenwood website.

Daniel lived most of his life a long way from his home in Southern Israel, because when he was a teenager the Southern Kingdom called Judah where he lived was obliterated by the Babylonian Empire. He is also the central character in the Old Testament book called Daniel.

I believe that we can learn lessons from Daniel’s life and that his experiences can make sense for us today and help us as we strive to follow Jesus and live in a way that glorifies the God we follow, so I will be drawing out two lessons for us – one from Daniel’s witness as a young man, and one from his faithfulness when he is much older.

Read: Daniel chapter 1

It’s not a promising start, is it? Like many other people he knew, Daniel was forced to march several hundred miles away from his homeland to Babylon. In Jewish history this is known as the Exile, with a capital E.


Two lessons from the life of Moses

Moses action figureThis was a Sunday sermon at Glenwood Church on 11 August 2013. An audio recording is available on the Glenwood website.

Moses is a very important person in the Old Testament. He is the person to whom God reveals God’s name – ‘I am’. He is sent to Egypt to liberate the Hebrews who are enslaves there and after several plagues are visited upon Egypt, Pharoah agrees to let the Hebrews go.

Before they can leave Egypt they are chased down by the Egyptian army, but God opens up a passage through the Red Sea for them and the Egyptian army is destroyed when they try to follow. And you know all this, because you’ve heard the stories many times and maybe seen the cartoon ‘The Prince of Egypt’.

Moses is also important because he is the person who receives the divine Law from God on Mount Sinai. This is the foundation of the Jewish religion, the core of the Torah, the Jewish law, and so he is central to the development of Judaism, and by extension to Christianity, because Jesus, our Christ, was a Jew who observed the Torah, the Law. (more…)

The blind men who followed Jesus (Matthew chapter 9)

Question 190, from Ben

Matthew 9:27 says that blind men followed Jesus – I find that a little confusing, how on earth did they follow him if they were blind? I believe the event true, just curious about some information on how blind people got around in that era.

‘Blindness’ covers a variety of sight disorders in the New Testament, in the same way ‘leprosy’ refers to a number of different skin conditions as well as leprosy. It may be the men in question were partially sighted, extremely-short-sighted, or suffered from cataracts. In those instances they may have had enough peripheral vision to see and follow Jesus.

Even if they had been completely blind, Jesus was travelling in a large party that was drawing significant attention from other people. The two blind men would presumably have been used to finding their way around despite their blindness, and could have very easily been directed by members of the crowd. There is no indication that they had to follow Jesus a great distance before they reached him and were able to ask for healing. (more…)

Should Christians follow the ‘Platinum rule’?

Question 189, from Ben, United Kingdom

I have come across an interesting concept called the ‘Platinum rule’ which states “Treat others the way they want to be treated”. Advocates of it have said that the Golden rule presumes that all people are alike. However I can see that the “Platinum rule” allows for too much permissiveness and acceptance of some-things that ought not be accepted. I am curious as to a theological analysis of the “Platinum rule”, and its contrast to the Golden rule.

The ‘Golden rule’ can be found in Matthew chapter 7, verse 12 and Luke chapter 6, verse 31, and is often referred to using the more traditional form  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. It isn’t an exclusively Christian idea and can be found in almost every significant religious and philosophical system, including implicitly in the Jewish Torah.

The ‘Platinum rule’ was coined in the 1970s by customer service experts, and refers to finding out how customers would like to be treated. Its transition into ethical decision-making would be interesting, however it presupposes that people actually know how they want to be treated and that it is possible to treat them that way. (more…)

Jesus’ teaching on divorce and separation

Question 188, from Nigel, United Kingdom

How would Jesus pastorally support someone going through a marital separation or divorce?

This is a difficult question because Jesus seems to respond differently on the issue of divorce depending on the circumstances.

For example, in an encounter with the religious leaders, he is quite outspoken on the issue of divorce.

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?’

‘Haven’t you read,’ he replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator “made them male and female,” and said, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh”? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’ (more…)

The spirituality of Star Wars

To celebrate Star Wars Day (May 4th), here’s a summary of key points from a talk by Jon the freelance theologian on the subject of Star Wars.

Star Wars was released in 1977 and became a huge success, despite only initially opening in a limited number of smaller cinemas. By 1978 Star Wars fever was in full swing, with the ubiquitous toys owned by nearly every child old enough, and more merchandise than had veer accompanied a film release before.

Star Wars was titled ‘Episode IV – A New Hope’. It’s success meant creator/director George Lucas was given an increased budget for two sequels, episodes V and VI, called The Empire Strikes Back (released 1980), and The Return of the Jedi (released 1983). In 1999, some twenty years after the original films became such a smash, The Phantom Menace, the first of the prequel films was released, followed by Episodes II and III in 2004 and 2006.

This talk concentrates on the original trilogy, which I’ll be referring to as Star Wars, Empire and Jedi. The reasons I’m concentrating on these three is because a) they’re much better films, and b) their significance in shaping the cultural philosophy, particularly among men my age is quite important in the development in contemporary discussions of spirituality. (more…)

The Now and the Not Yet Nature of the Kingdom of God

This is a version of a talk given by Jon the freelance theologian at Glenwood Church on 3 March 2013. You can listen to the audio recording here.

The Church is looking at a series of creative tensions within the Christian faith and Jon was asked to talk about the ‘Now and the Not Yet’.

Now & Not YetThis is a way of referring to the situation we find ourselves in as Christians – we function in this world and yet we also have an awareness of another world that lies deeper than this one. One way of looking at this is to contrast what Jesus said about the Kingdom of God – that the Kingdom of God has come and that the Kingdom of God is near. It’s now and it’s not yet.

I’ve been searching for a way to explain this idea of ‘duality’. I’m not a qualified scientist. I enjoy talking about scientific things, from a layman’s point of view. I follow New Scientist on Twitter. I’m curious about this world and I honestly feel that there is a lot that we take for granted. Like theology, when we start peeling back some of the simple things that we ‘know’, then it can get pretty deep, pretty fast. But I want to peel back some layers this morning to illustrate the point I’m trying to make. (more…)