hebrew bible

Israeli Postmen Refuse to Deliver Hebrew-language Bibles

Student pointing at bible, Nir Levy/Shutterstock.com.
Student pointing at bible, Nir Levy/Shutterstock.com.

JERUSALEM — Israeli postal workers outside Tel Aviv are refusing to deliver thousands of copies of the New Testament and other Hebrew-language Christian materials.

Israel media reported Tuesday (March 6) that dozens of religious and secular Jewish mail deliverers jointly informed their supervisors that disseminating the materials goes against their religious beliefs.

The workers, who deliver mail in Ramat Gan, assert that delivering the items would be tantamount to proselytizing and therefore a violation of Jewish law.

 

The Bible is Not a Public Policy Manual!

Folders image via Shutterstock
Folders image via Shutterstock

My pastor and I have a friendly tiff going on. He says that Jesus was strictly a-political; therefore Christians should abstain from politics completely. I say that Jesus challenged violent, poverty-inducing, socio-political structures throughout his life and ministry; therefore Christians have a duty to advocate for peace and to speak out for the poor and the oppressed. Both of us are hardheaded, and neither of us cedes much in our debates, but we always walk away as friends, because at the end of the day there’s a key component to the discussion that we both agree on: The Bible is not a public policy manual!

What the Bible Teaches About Capitalism

"Moses mit den Gesetzestafeln" via Wylio [http://www.wylio.com/credits/Flickr/35
"Moses mit den Gesetzestafeln" via Wylio [http://www.wylio.com/credits/Flickr/3542205854]

The primary political conversation that is happening in our country isn’t a dualistic battle between a “free market” system and a “statist/socialist” one. It is determining which mix of institutions and organizations are best equipped to meet societal challenges and achieve collective goals while allowing for individual freedom and human flourishing.

There aren’t many people who would argue that we need a new federal bureaucracy to run all of our grocery stores. But, you will find people who have varying views as to the government’s role in ensuring that those in need have basic access to nutrition, or what information the government should mandate that growers, producers, or sellers of food disclose to consumers.

Rabbi Spero makes some important scriptural points as to the importance of personal responsibility, human creativity, and freedom, but fails to deal with any passages that might temper or balance his views of capitalism.

The Way of Peace and Grace

THE DIVINE COMMANDS to commit genocide found in the Old Testament are some of the most difficult and disturbing parts of scripture. Consider God’s decree against the Amalekites: “Totally destroy everything ... Do not spare them; put to death ... children and infants” (1 Samuel 15:2–3). Such passages have been used repeatedly to justify bloodshed in the name of God, beginning with the Crusades and continuing right up through U.S. history, where texts were used in sermons to justify the slaughter of American Indians.

In seeking to defend the Bible, many well-meaning commentators have become inadvertent advocates for these atrocities. But do we really need to defend and justify violence in God’s name in order to remain faithful to scripture? Is that what God desires of us? I’d like to propose that there is a better way—a way found in learning to read our Bibles as the apostle Paul read his.

To understand how Paul read scripture, it is important to first understand his conversion to Christ, which Pauline scholar James Dunn describes as a conversion from a version of religion characterized by “zealous and violent hostility.” In other words, Paul did not see himself as rejecting his Jewish faith or Israel’s scriptures, but rather as rejecting his former violent interpretation of them. While Paul could boast that his observance of the Torah was “faultless” (Philippians 3:6), at the same time he describes himself as “the worst of all sinners” and “a violent man” (1 Timothy 1:13, 15). He confesses painfully, “I do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Corinthians 15:9). 

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Which Side Are You On?

For a thousand years before Jesus, two radically different worldviews and social orders battled for the hearts and minds of God’s people. I’m not referring to what we might think of as “Judaism” and “paganism.” Rather, I'm talking about two diametrically opposed ways of being the people of the same God.

These two ways fought during the monarchy: kings and their elite companions on one side, the prophets and the oppressed poor and excluded on the other. They fought during the Second Temple period after the Babylonian Exile: the urban elite associating God with the wisdom of empires; the voices of the emerging apocalyptic tradition crying out for an egalitarian social and economic order in that same God’s name.

Jesus was born into this ancient and ongoing struggle. He experienced the heavens ripped open and God’s spirit poured down on him, bathing him in divine love. He now knew clearly which side God was on. He went forth from his baptism proclaiming one of these traditions to be the true “word” and “way” of God, and the other a diabolic counterfeit. I call these the “religion of creation” and the “religion of empire.” Jesus embodied and called others to join him in living the good news of the fulfillment of the religion of creation.

WE CAN SEE this battle taking place throughout the New Testament, reaching its spectacular culmination in John of Patmos’ portraits of the fallen and disgraced “whore,” Babylon, and the beautiful “bride of the Lamb,” New Jerusalem. But even passages that might seem domesticated reveal Jesus announcing the victory of the true “religion” that will unite God’s people together in bonds of love, compassion, and deep joy.

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How to Read the Bible

New Favorites
Here are five relatively recent titles that seem to me both of great importance and compelling interest:

With Job, part of the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series (Smyth & Helwys, 2006), Samuel E. Balentine has written a truth-telling commentary on the book of Job that teems with broad cultural awareness and stunning, courageous insight. Job lives at the edge of scripture and goads at the edge of faith. Balentine is knowing and unflinching in his capacity to face the rich truth of God’s holiness and all in our world that is not morally reliable or predictable.

In The Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science, and the Ecology of Wonder (Oxford University Press, 2010), William P. Brown has offered what will surely and quickly become a classic on the difficult issue of “science and religion” or, more precisely “creation and evolution.” He has taken serious trouble to engage with the best available scientific thought and shows how biblical claims for God as creator resonate deeply with the order and awe-producing wonder of creation that inescapably culminates in doxology. He pays only slight attention to the shrill “new atheists,” but takes seriously the “adults” in the scientific community who know better than any thin scientism.

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