Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Wait, Adam Had Two Wives!?


I recently had a bright young lady I know message me with a rather odd question. Why does the Talmud say that Adam had a wife before Eve? And if it’s true then why wasn’t it mentioned in the Genesis creation accounts?[1]
Well it’s certainly true that certain Jewish texts refer to Adam having a wife before Eve. The most famous one is The Alphabet of ben Sirach (although contrary to the original question it is not part of the Talmud).[2] The story of Adam’s first wife sets out to fix a discrepancy in Scripture: why does Genesis 1 state that man and woman were created simultaneously but Genesis 2 states that the man was created before the woman?[3] The answer is that God created two wives – one in chapter one (Lilith) and the other (Eve) in chapter two. 

And, believe it or not, Adam’s “first” wife is mentioned in the Bible. Isaiah 34:12-14 states: 

They shall name it No Kingdom There,
    and all its princes shall be nothing.
 Thorns shall grow over its strongholds,
    nettles and thistles in its fortresses.
It shall be the haunt of jackals,
    an abode for ostriches.
 Wildcats shall meet with hyenas,
    goat-demons shall call to each other;
there too Lilith shall repose,
    and find a place to rest.[4]            

Wait why is she still alive during the time of Isaiah and why is her description so unflattering? She must be the ex from hell! 

Well yeah, she is.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Must I Like My Enemies?

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? – Matthew 5: 43-48

Love your enemies is easily one of the most annoying commandments of Jesus. Partly because hating your enemies is a fantastic way to feel smugly superior to them and partly because it’s so darn hard to do. And I suck at it. I mean I wouldn’t wish death upon my enemies and I was pretty disgusted at the crowds of people celebrating Osama Bin Laden’s death.[1] And, as a follower of consistent life ethics, I’m staunchly anti-death penalty. But part of me struggles with the whole loving part, especially when there’s a good joke to be made at their expense.

And it’s because loving people we see as a threat is incredibly hard and counterintuitive to our minds.

In fact, the Lutheran minister Nadia Bolz-Weber makes an astute observation in her book Pastrix:

“Where exactly is the verse that says you shall love your neighbour and hate your enemies? Because I hadn’t remembered reading that in the Old Testament, which is where Jesus usually gets his best material.

Paul was right. It’s not in the Bible. But when I hung up, I realised why “love your neighbour and hate your enemy” sounds so familiar… I’m pretty sure it’s in my heart. It’s like, in my DNA.”[2]

Simply put, hating those who are different from us and who we perceive to threaten us is part of our survival instincts. And Jesus’ command is that we are to go against these instincts if we are to follow his new way.

But for now let’s assume that we all agree with Jesus[3] and look at what I think is a more interesting question: Do I have to like my enemy?

Or put it another way: what the limits of loving your enemy?

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Reading the Bible is a Lot like Dating

Because I’m bad at it and most of the time I have no idea what I’m doing.

But now that we have the obvious joke out of the way, I’m currently reading Peter Enns’ book The Sin of Certainty and I came across this passage:

""Speak for yourself. I'm not creating God in my own image. I'm just following the Bible."
No one just "follows" the Bible. We interpret it as people with a past and present, and in community with others, within certain traditions, none of which is absolute. Many factors influence how we "follow" the Bible. None of us rises above our place in the human drama and grasps God with pure clarity, without our own baggage coming along for the ride. We all bring our broken and limited selves into how we think of God."[1]

And I think that Enns is onto something. Often I have heard Christians say “I’m just reading the Bible for what it says” when pressed on an issue or even as an exhortation towards someone who takes a less literal reading of Scripture. But are they really reading the Bible for it says?

I don’t think so.

But first we have to look at a misunderstanding of an idea called “the clarity of Scripture”. Popular within evangelical circles, the clarity of Scripture is the belief that the meaning of the Bible can be grasped by all people, both the educated and the uneducated. However, this idea is sometimes taken beyond its limits to mean that the meaning of scripture is always clear at the surface level. For example, one can read a passage and know its true meaning instantly, often “due to the Holy Spirit”. And while I wouldn’t say this never happens, I don’t think it’s the norm.