Historical Accuracy in the Bible

This evening we reach Matthew 26, including the Last Supper.  This is a very familiar part of the Gospel for many readers, and yet it can also be one of the most frustrating stories to get straight.

When it comes to identifying the betrayer, according to St. Matthew, the disciples ask “is it I?” and Jesus answers to Judas “yes.”  According to St. Mark, the disciples ask “is it I?” and Jesus says it’s someone who’s eating bread from the dish like he is.  St. Luke doesn’t specify Jesus’ answer to the question.  According to St. John, John and Peter ask who the traitor is, Jesus indicates by giving a piece of bread to Judas, who then leaves, but the other disciples don’t know why.  How do you reconcile this? It’s pretty complicated.

There are several places in the Bible where the level of detail and precision leave the modernist’s desire for strict chronology not a little frustrated.  The underlying reality is that, even when a part of the Bible is labeled “historical”, its purpose is not to relate history, but to reveal God, specifically the person of Jesus Christ, to us.  We preach the Gospel, not history lessons; the unfailing authority of the Bible is not based upon what it has to say about science or about history, but about God and mankind.  Some people get overly hung up over this sort of issue, and we have to assure them that even in those little corners where the Scriptures don’t seem to add up historically or archaeologically or whatever, there is no cause for alarm.

If you want to share a whole video on the subject, feel free:

Readings Review & Planning Propers

What we’re doing on this blog on Mondays is looking back and forth at the Daily Office readings (or lessons) so we can better process together what the Scriptures are saying, and list the recommended Propers for the Communion or Antecommunion service for each day of the week.

Readings Review

Last week: 1 Chronicles 16, 1 Kings 15-19, James 3-5, 1 Peter 1-4:6, Zechariah 9-15, Malachi 1, Matthew 21-24

This week: 1 Kings 20-22, 2 Kings 1-3, 2 Chronicles 20, 1 Peter 4-5, 2 Peter, Jude, 1 John 1:1-2:6, Malachi 2-4, 1 Maccabees 1-2, 2 Maccabees 6-7, Matthew 25-27:56

There’s something appropriate about the convergence of St. Matthew’s Passion this week alongside the reading of selections from 1 & 2 Maccabees.  The suffering of God’s people at the hands of hostile non-believers – that is, martyrdom – is always best understood juxtaposed against the Cross.

You’ll also notice that although Kings & Chronicles are still swapping back and forth from time to time, but less often for the first half of October.  The reason for this is that at the end of 1 Kings and for the first half of 2 Kings there are a lot of stories about the Prophets, rather than of the Kings.  The result of this is that there are more chapters to read from 2 Kings before getting to a period of history where 2 Chronicles has anything to add in.  Of course, if you’re using our Supplemental Midday Lectionary then there are still plenty of “duplicate chapters” in 2 Chronicles to read along the way this month.

Planning Propers

This is the week of Proper 21 (or 15th after Trinity in the traditional calendar), so keep in mind that the historic Prayer Book default is that a mid-week Eucharist will repeat the Collect & Lessons (the propers) for yesterday.  Otherwise, we recommend…

  • Monday 10/7 = Votive *
  • Tuesday 10/8 = Votive
  • Wednesday 10/9 = St. Robert Grosseteste or Votive
  • Thursday 10/10 = St. Palinus or Votive
  • Friday 10/11 = St. Philip the Deacon
  • Saturday 10/12 = Votive

* A Votive is a “Various Occasion” (page 733 in the BCP 2019).  The traditional appointments are Holy Trinity on Sunday, Holy Spirit on Monday, Holy Angels on Tuesday, of the Incarnation on Wednesdays, of the Holy Eucharist on Thursdays, the Holy Cross on Fridays, and of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Saturdays.

Imagery in Zechariah 14

If Evening Prayer has been tough to get through lately, I understand; Zechariah is not an easy book for a lot of people to read.  It is one of the most apocalyptic texts in the Old Testament (after Daniel), which really just takes the challenges of prophetic literature and dials them up to 11.

It goes beyond the purpose and scope of this blog to provide a Bible Study, not to mention the time availability of this chronically-fatigued stay-at-home-dad, but there are definitely a few features of the last chapter of Zechariah, that we’ll be reading tonight, which I can point out.

Behold, a day is coming for the Lord, when the spoil taken from you will be divided in your midst.  For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle…

The chapter begins with a “Day of the Lord” reference.  Like “D-Day” when talking about the second world war, the Day of the Lord is a title for the time of a great invasion, a the decisive turning point in the great spiritual war.  We understand this in two parts: first, the Cross, and second, the return of Christ.  There are many moments in history that serve as pictures for these moments of ultimate spiritual importance, such as the conquest of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, the desecration of the Temple by the Greeks, the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans… yet all these serve merely as pictures of the greater judgment that takes place when Christ was crucified and when Christ will return again.

It is an error of certain Protestant sects to mis-read Old Testament prophetic literature, especially the apocalyptic writings, without Christ in mind.  What follows in this chapter, to finish the book, is not a visual prediction of future events, but a prototype or foreshadowing of judgment day when Christ returns to Earth to consumate his kingdom forever.  Don’t try to figure out what’s going to happen to the geography of Palestinian mountains and valleys in verses 4 & 5, but rather, focus on the fact that “the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him” at the end of the age.

There shall be a unique day, which is known to the Lord, neither day nor night, but at evening time there shall be light,” (14:6), because Christ himself is the light of the world.

On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem,” (14:7) just as Jesus promised of the Holy Spirit in John 4:14 and especially 7:37-39.

And the wealth of all the surrounding nations shall be collected, gold, silver, and garments in great abundance.” (14:14) Think of texts like Isaiah 60, which also depict the nations bringing their wealth to Jerusalem to honor the Lord.  These are pictures, not of earthly nations paying homage to the earthly nation of Israel, but of gentile believers turning to worship the God of Israel – Jesus.  So don’t get carried away with the images of wars and horrible plagues and panics; those are exactly what sin is.  Only the victory of the returning Christ will bring all the terrors of sin to an end in this world; the epic apocalyptic style just makes spiritual reality more vivid.

Similarly, we aren’t literally going to go to Jerusalem “year after year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths” (14:16), for that holy day has been and subsumed under the New Pentecost – the gift of the Holy Spirit.  No longer must we celebrate the days of the Exodus when our forefathers dwelt in booths (or tents) and received the Word of God on tablets of stone; rather we now celebrate the greater present reality that we ourselves are dwellings of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19).  That’s why in Revelation, the end-times city image doesn’t have a temple building at all (Revelation 12:2).

Thanks be to God!

Readings Review & Planning Propers 9/30

What we’re doing on this blog on Mondays is looking back and forth at the Daily Office readings (or lessons) so we can better process together what the Scriptures are saying, and list the recommended Propers for the Communion or Antecommunion service for each day of the week.

Readings Review

Last week: 1 Kings 12-14, 2 Chronicles 12-15, Hebrews 11-13, James 1-2, Zechariah 2-8, Matthew 16-20

Next week: 1 Chronicles 16, 1 Kings 15-19, James 3-5, 1 Peter 1-4:6, Zechariah 9-15, Malachi 1, Matthew 21-24

The “crazy visions” of Zechariah are drawing to a close and we’re getting to the second half of the book, populated by oracles – messages from God to various contemporaries of Zechariah.  The visions of chapters 1-6 in particular were apocalyptic in nature, functioning on one level to encourage the then-leaders of Jerusalem to continue rebuilding the Temple (much like Haggai did in the previous book), and on another level providing pictures of judgment that would only find their proper fulfillment in the ministry of Christ Jesus.  The oracles of Zechariah, primarily in chapters 9-4, speak against the oppressive regimes of foreign powers such as Persia, foretell the coming Christ (or Messiah), and look forward to when God’s people will be perfectly cleansed and united under their Good Shepherd.

Appropriately, our readings from the Gospel of St. Matthew are also reaching an apocalyptic section as the coming week unfolds: our Lord’s parables after his triumphal entry in Jerusalem become increasingly focused on the Kingdom of God and the day of judgment.  At the end of the week we’ll read through chapter 24’s famous discourse about the destruction of the Temple (which was fulfilled about 35 years later).

The Old Testament lessons in Morning Prayer, meanwhile, continue through the much more mundane writing style of Israelite history.  As the kings of Israel and Judah get increasingly apostate from the true worship of the Lord, the narrative spends less time with them and more time with the prophets, especially Elijah, who were faithful to Him.

Planning Propers

This is the week of Proper 21 (or 15th after Trinity in the traditional calendar), so keep in mind that the historic Prayer Book default is that a mid-week Eucharist will repeat the Collect & Lessons (the propers) for yesterday.  Otherwise, we recommend…

  • Monday 9/30 = St. Jerome or Votive *
  • Tuesday 10/1 = St. Remigius or Votive
  • Wednesday 10/2 = Votive
  • Thursday 10/3 = Votive
  • Friday 10/4 = St. Francis of Assisi or Votive
  • Saturday 10/5 = Votive

* A Votive is a “Various Occasion” (page 733 in the BCP 2019).  The traditional appointments are Holy Trinity on Sunday, Holy Spirit on Monday, Holy Angels on Tuesday, of the Incarnation on Wednesdays, of the Holy Eucharist on Thursdays, the Holy Cross on Fridays, and of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Saturdays.

Blessings Despite Sin

Since we’re reading Haggai in Evening Prayer, let’s go for a sermon on part of chapter 2.

Index Outline:

  •  00:00 The story of Haggai 2:10-19
  •  05:13 Lesson #1 Grow in faith
  •  07:20 Lesson #2 Sin is contagious
  •  10:20 Lesson #3 Receive God’s holiness 
  •  12:20 Lesson #4 Recognize God’s blessings 
  •  15:15 Concluding thoughts & prayer

The short book of Haggai is one with which I’m particularly familiar, having preached through it a few years ago.  If you want to explore any part of this book in depth, feel free to check out these sermons and articles:

Readings Review & Planning Propers 9/16

What we’re doing on this blog on Mondays is looking back and forth at the Daily Office readings (or lessons) so we can better process together what the Scriptures are saying, and list the recommended Propers for the Communion or Antecommunion service for each day of the week.

Readings Review

Last week: 1 Kings 1-5, 1 Chronicles 28, Ephesians 5:18-6, Hebrews 1-5, Micah 6-7, Nahum, Habakkuk 1-2, Matthew 8:18-12:21
This week: 1 Kings 6-11, Hebrews 5-10, Habakkuk 3, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah 1, Matthew 12:22-16:12
Special reading Saturday for St. Matthew’s Day: Matthew 9:9-13

The Old Testament lessons in Evening Prayer are still powering through the Minor Prophets (or slogging through, depending upon how you feel about them).  In the next few days we finish up the middle group of minor prophets, covering the “late kingdom era”, that is, the prophets who served at the royal court in the final century of Judah’s existence as a kingdom.  Later this week we’re starting into the last three (Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi) who wrote during the Second Temple Era, that is, during the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the exile in Babylon was complete.  The short book of Haggai is one with which I’m particularly familiar, having preached through it a few years ago.  Click here to find eight articles and sermons about Haggai and his themes!

Meanwhile in Morning Prayer we started the Epistle to the Hebrews last week, and are now working our way through the thickest part of that book culminating in chapters 9 and 10.  The gist of Hebrews is basically “Jesus is better than __!” where the blank is just about anything important from the Old Testament religion.  The priesthood descended from Aaron is the particular focus of what Jesus fulfills and transforms in chapters 9 and 10, and have much to teach us about priestly sacrificial atonement.

Planning Propers

This is the week of Proper 19 (or 13th after Trinity in the traditional calendar), so keep in mind that the historic Prayer Book default is that a mid-week Eucharist will repeat the Collect & Lessons (the propers) for yesterday.  Otherwise, we recommend…

  • Monday 9/16 = Votive (of the Holy Spirit) * or St. Ninian
  • Tuesday 9/17 = Votive (of the Holy Angels)
  • Wednesday 9/18 = Ember Day I
  • Thursday 9/19 = Votive (of the Holy Eucharist) or St. Theodore of Tarsus
  • Friday 9/20 = Ember Day II
  • Saturday 9/21 = SAINT MATTHEW

* A Votive is a “Various Occasion” (page 733 in the BCP 2019) and label in parentheses are simply a traditional suggestion.

Readings Review & Planning Propers 9/9

One of the things we’re doing on this blog on Mondays is look back and forth at the Daily Office readings (or lessons) so we can better process together what the Scriptures are saying.  The other thing we’re going to do on Mondays starting today is list the recommended Propers for the Communion or Antecommunion service for each day of the week.

Readings Review

Last week: 2 Samuel 19-24, 1 Chronicles 22, Ephesians 1-5:17, Jonah 3-4, Micah 1-5, Matthew 4-8:17
This week: 1 Kings 1-5, 1 Chronicles 28, Ephesians 5:18-6, Hebrews 1-6, Micah 6-7, Nahum, Habakkuk 1-2, Matthew 8:18-12:21
Special reading Saturday for Holy Cross Day: John 12:23-33

The main body of the Gospel according to St. Matthew (chapters 5-25) form a five-part cycle of Teachings & Activities.  It’s almost as if he was making a point of imitating the Torah (the five books of Moses) in the way that he compiled his gospel book.  This week’s coverage of Matthew sees us through most of the second block of the cycle: Jesus’ teachings on mission (or least relations with the world) in chapter 10, followed by feedback and opposition (from disciples and critics alike) in chapters 11 & 12.  At the end of the week we even get an example of Matthew’s signature move in citing an Old Testament prophet in the language of Jesus bringing “fulfillment” to the scriptures.

The epistle lessons in Morning Prayer also switch over the book of Hebrews this week, which is another book that leans heavily on Old Testament references.  If you’ve got a Bible with cross references in the margins or footer, this is a book where you should especially watch out, because unless you’re very familiar with the Old Testament already there are going to be a lot of strange-sounding references that you’ll need help clarifying.

Planning Propers

This is the week of Proper 18 (or 12th after Trinity in the traditional calendar), so keep in mind that the historic Prayer Book default is that a mid-week Eucharist will repeat the Collect & Lessons (the propers) for yesterday.  Otherwise, we recommend…

  • Monday 9/9 = Votive (of the Holy Spirit) or Constance & companions (marytrs)
  • Tuesday 9/10 = Votive (of the Holy Angels) *
  • Wednesday 9/11 = Votive (for Peace) **
  • Thursday 9/12 = Votive (of the Holy Eucharist)
  • Friday 9/13 = St. John Chrysostom (teacher of the faith)
  • Saturday 9/14 = HOLY CROSS DAY

* A Votive is a “Various Occasion” (page 733 in the BCP 2019) and label in parentheses are simply a traditional suggestion.

** This is not the traditional votive mass for a Wednesday, but seems an appropriate choice for the nation’s commemoration of September 11th.

Reading Pace, with video

Back in October I wrote a short piece about reading pace – how talking too quickly or slowly, either as a leader in the liturgy or concerning the congregation as a whole, can be the death knell of intelligible worship.  I decided it was time to re-visit that subject, not because I just had another bad experience with it, but because it was on my mind and I made a video.  The original post is repeated below.  Enjoy!

A major feature of any liturgy is reading.  Appointed readers read Scripture lessons, a Deacon (or Priest) reads a Gospel lesson at the Communion service, everyone reads prayers and Creeds together.  Sometimes it’s like a dialogue, going back and forth between the minister and the people; sometimes it’s a block reading, like everyone reading a Confession together.  One of the issues that can crop up is the pacing of these readings.

On his or her own, sometimes a reader gets nervous.  This is perfectly understandable, and experience and practice works wonders here.  But it must be cautioned that a nervous or inexperienced reader can rush through the words, tripping over or slurring them together.  Or sometimes the opposite – the gravity of reading the Word of God overwhelms them such that they end up reading it very slowly.  Public readings ought to be read at a natural pace, such that the commas, semicolons, and periods are all clear and distinct.  We want the reading to have some dramatic weight, but we don’t want to overdo it, William Shatner style:

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The same applies to congregation readings.  Be it a Psalm, a Collect, Creed, or other prayer or reading, the people need to go at a natural pace.

If we read too fast together, the issues are many:

  • people could run out of breath
  • there’s no time to think about or process what you’re actually saying
  • it communicates a lack of care, value, or import to the words
  • visitors unfamiliar with the liturgy will feel swamped and overwhelmed

Similarly, reading too slowly can mask the overall coherence of the reading or prayer.

If your congregation has a pacing problem, it’s really upon the leaders to fix it.  The clergy or other ministers who lead the various services need to set the pace, even instruct the congregation to speed up or slow down.  Reading and praying together is a spiritual exercise requiring practice and intentionality.  Western culture sometimes makes this difficult for us – we don’t want to end up like the Borg from Star Trek, we don’t want to lose our individuality, we easily mistrust corporate liturgical action and prefer “personal” and “relational” things.  So for many people these acts of common prayer and common reading is a lost art that has to be re-learned.  Let’s not beat people over the head with this, but we do need to be aware that actual training, practice, and learning is involved!

Readings Review & Planning Propers 9/2/19

One of the things we’re doing on this blog on Mondays is look back and forth at the Daily Office readings (or lessons) so we can better process together what the Scriptures are saying.  The other thing we’re going to do on Mondays starting today is list the recommended Propers for the Communion or Antecommunion service for each day of the week.

Readings Review

Last week: 2 Samuel 12-18, Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians 1:1-14, Amos 6-9, Obadiah, Jonah 1-2, John 19-21:, Matthew 1-3

Next week: 2 Samuel 19-24, 1 Chronicles 22, Ephesians 1-5:17, Jonah 3-4, Micah 1-5, Matthew 4-8:17

Something that begins at the end of this week and will last into early November is the supplementing of readings from 1 & 2 Kings with readings from 1 & 2 Chronicles.  As you may be aware, the books of the Chronicles cover the same span of time from 2 Samuel 1 (David’s ascension to the throne of Israel) to the end of 2 Kings (the conquest and destruction of Jerusalem).  This means that there is a lot of repeat material in the Samuel-Kings books and the Chronicles, rather similar to the overlap between the four Gospel books.  There are a few “glitches” along the way – different numbers for the reigns of certain kings, or census results, and so forth – most of which can be explained by means of different cultural perspectives (namely, who counts in a census? does a king’s reign begin when his father dies or when he begins a co-regnancy during his father’s life? etc.).  There are also a few stories that are told in slightly different orders.  In general, the Samuel-Kings books are considered the more “historic” books, and Chronicles, having been written later, are more of a theological commentary on the history.

In the context of our daily lectionary, though, the role of 1 & 2 Chronicles is simply that of “filler.”  When those books supply a story that Samuel-Kings does not, the lectionary adds it in a the appropriate place.  It makes for a slightly unpredictable reading experience, because you’ll be going through one book and suddenly a chapter from another book will jut in, but narratively it works.  And, for what it’s worth, the original Anglican daily lectionary went for the simpler course and just omitted Chronicles completely, so rejoice in re-gained ground!

Planning Propers

This is the week of Proper 17 (or Trinity 11 in the traditional calendar), so keep in mind that the historic Prayer Book default is that a mid-week Eucharist will repeat the Collect & Lessons (the propers) for yesterday.  Otherwise, we recommend…

  • Monday 9/2 = Labor Day or Martyrs of Papua New Guinea
  • Tuesday 9/3 = Votive (of the Holy Angels) *
  • Wednesday 9/4 = St. Birinus (missionary bishop)
  • Thursday 9/5 = Votive or Mother Theresa (renewer of society)
  • Friday 9/6 = Votive (of the Holy Cross)
  • Saturday 9/7 = Votive (of Blessed Mary**

* A Votive is a “Various Occasion” (page 733 in the BCP 2019) and label in parentheses are simply a traditional suggestion.

** Choose between the Annunciation, the Visitation, or St. Mary’s Day.

Reading Colossians

We’ve been reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Colossians this week, in the 2019 Prayer Book’s daily lectionary, and I wanted to single out this little book for further reflection today.  The Revised Common Lectionary (including the 2019 version) also just took us through much of this epistle back in July and early August, and some of us may even have preached on those lessons, making this read-through all the more fruitful now.

There are, of course, many commentaries and study guides out there, but one I would recommend is Fullness and Freedom by R. C. Lucas, an evangelical Anglican with a prolific ministry at St. Helen’s in London.  He was my parents’ first pastor, quite a few years ago, and (like J. I. Packer) is miraculously still alive and rocking the world for the Kingdom.  My church’s Facebook page has shared a number of photo clips from his book on Colossians and Philemon, which you may enjoy perusing.

Otherwise, perhaps you won’t mind my rambling: