My Genesis of Bible Study

Before I begin discussing Adam and Eve, and while I was reading it, there are a few important issues that I sort of have to mentally rummage through.

First, do I believe that the story of Adam and Eve is literal?  Was there really a man, Adam, and a woman, Eve, who lived in a paradisaical garden wherein there was a fruit tree that would give them knowledge of good and evil and a snake that could talk and tempt?  (Now that last part sounds sort of derisive, but obviously if it is literal, my disdain of the talking snake is just part of the enmity between me (woman) and the serpent, and I’m crushing its head (ego).  So, please, literal readers of the Bible, don’t get all up in arms about me yet!)

Second, if I do believe that the first few people in the Bible were real people, and it all happened exactly as Genesis claims, how do I reconcile that to dinosaurs and early fossils of humans, as I don’t really buy into a fossil-hiding god.

Third, if I don’t believe that the first few people were real people, but are in fact mythological (as in, early stories that evolved through years of retelling to explain the beginnings and nature of humankind, through which a person can find rich life lessons and meaning about life), when do I believe that they start being real?  If not Adam, then Noah?  Abraham?  King David?  Jesus?  As someone who has absolutely no understanding of the actual history of the times of the Bible (or, you know, recent history), if I don’t believe that everything in the Bible is literal and exactly as written, I have to make decisions (prayerfully, hopefully) about what I believe were real miracles and what are good life lessons.

Also, something worth noting as I begin discussing Genesis, is that I began reading A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren.  In the first chapter, he discusses the narrative question, specifically, how should we approach the narrative of the Bible, and is the way that we’ve historically approached it the best way?  (Note: my words and how I understood the chapter.)  I found the chapter to be incredibly rewarding and generative of a ton of questions to ask while reading.

Basically, McLaren suggests that we (Christians) historically have looked at the Bible from a Plato-esque worldview, with perfection, the fall, condemnation, salvation, heaven, and hell.  And that the Bible is messier than that.  And more real and earthy and dirty and alive than that, if that makes sense.  Anyway, he said it much better than me, so go read the book (although I might blog more about it later).

So, without further rambling by me, I will begin my discussions with some thoughts on Adam and Eve and the so-called Fall.

Bible Study – Mark 1:14-20

Jesus Begins His Ministry and Calls the First Disciples

In this passage, we find out that John has been arrested. I don’t see where in any of the gospels it says what for, and I feel like that’s sort of random to just put there as if everyone would know. Then again, John the Baptist was clearly super important and well known, so maybe it’s like if someone said that someone really significant in our society had been arrested-it would just be known that it had happened and not something that would need further intro.

Jesus goes into Galilee, and says, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (ESV) Now, for me, that’s pretty cryptic. (And, I think, probably for a lot of people, as religions have risen and fallen attempting to declare that the time has come.) What does it mean? The time is fulfilled–what time? And what does it mean to say the kingdom of God is at hand? Is it literal? How current is ‘at hand’, especially since for God time has got to move at a totally different pace–thus making it totally relative and impossible to discern. And He says to repent and believe in the gospel–but he hasn’t, in Mark, at least, declared what the gospel is that I’m supposed to believe.

I think that sentence could take on so many interpretations. However, maybe the end result is the same–repent and believe in the gospel. It doesn’t matter if ‘at hand’ means here-right-now or coming-soon, because in either case, repentance and belief in the gospel is essential. And, I think that both are processes as opposed to final destinations, so practice of both is just a good thing. I may not be good at repenting, or believing, but I won’t get any better at it without actively trying to do it.

So, then, logically, I lead to… what is repentance and what does that entail, and what does it mean to believe in the gospel? As this is the first chapter of this gospel, I imagine that the answer is forthcoming throughout the rest of the book. But, this means that one of the things I need to be looking for is the answer to these questions while I read.
What is repentance? How do I do it? What do I need to repent for?
What does it mean to believe in the gospel? Are there certain things I need to do to show my belief (from an LDS perspective, there are ordinances that you must get that kind of “show” this belief.

Moving on, next in the story tells of Jesus calling his disciples. Now, if you were just going to read Mark, what happens next seems totally nuts (to me, at least). Basically, Jesus walks up to a pair of fishermen brothers (Simon and Andrew), and says, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And they get up, abandon their fishing nets, and follow him. And then he does the same thing again to another pair of brothers (James and John), who leave their dad in the boat and follow him.

Context free, it seems totally crazy. This story, alone, makes you wonder why in the world that sentence would be enough to get people to abandon life as they knew it. So, I looked to the other gospels to see if there were more details. Luke has a more involved story, telling of Jesus actually getting on the boat with Simon to preach to people, and afterwards telling Simon to cast their nets into what had previously seemed like empty waters, and they caught so many fish that their nets couldn’t handle it all. To me, it seems like the kind of thing that one could easily explain away, but that you could come away from, especially after some powerful teaching and some witnessing by the Holy Ghost, that this was the real deal. And then, getting up and following doesn’t seem so crazy.

I have had times in my life that I have up and followed the whispers of the Spirit in directions that seemed to be total about-faces from where I had been. No amount of logic or rationalization could make me deny the spiritual experiences that I have had, even when my family and friends have disagreed or been unhappy with the outcome. So, while I certainly am not, and was not, trying to imply that an overt miracle was necessary to prompt the disciples to follow Christ, I feel like more details to elaborate about what prompted their decision really help shed light and understanding.

The story specifies that James and John left their father Zebedee in the boat. I think the fact that that was noteworthy implies that there was dischord in the family when they left (although I have nothing but supposition to back it up). But I know from experience that it’s hard when you disappoint your family when you follow what you believe.

And that about sums up my thoughts about this passage of Mark.

Something that I’ve always been terrible at is geography, and maybe something I’ll want to do when this is all over is actually map everything out. This story takes place in Galilee, but I don’t really know where that was, or how much happened there. I don’t know if it would be helpful, or even interesting for me, but it’s probably a good exercise to try, at least.

map?

Bible Study – Mark 1:9-13

So, my goal is to do the Bible study blog posts at least once a week, and ideally more. With all the craziness of still trying to unpack, this week I wasn’t able to do more.

The Baptism and Temptation of Jesus

The story this week seems pretty straightforward–it is, as the title suggests, about the baptism and temptation of Jesus. There aren’t a lot of differences between the translations that I looked at, so I won’t focus any time on that.

Basically, Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. When he comes up out of the water, he sees heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.

What does that mean? Did the sky open up? It is metaphorical? Did he actually see the Spirit, and was it actually in dove form? Or is that metaphorical too? Did anyone else see it?

On glancing through the other gospels, this story is actually told in all four gospels, which is incredibly rare, and probably points to its importance. John gives the most details, and says that John the Baptist saw the Holy Spirit descend out of the sky and was told ahead of time that whoever that happens to is the one who baptizes with the Spirit, and that’s how he knew that Jesus was the one.

I’m still not sure of the dove thing. I think it has some kind of symbolism, but I’m not well-versed enough in Bibleology to know that that symbolism is. (Anybody reading who’d like to elaborate… please do!)

And, back to the story, then a voice comes from heaven saying, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Presumably, that’s God. And I guess that helps other people understand what they saw (even if they left confused, it was clearly a monumental occasion.)

After that, the Spirit sends him out into the desert, where he hangs out for 40 days with wild animals, all the while getting tempted by Satan. Luke and Matthew give more details about what the temptations consisted of. John doesn’t talk about the temptation of Jesus. It doesn’t say in Mark, but in Matthew and Luke it is clear that he did not succumb to the temptations.

Once again, the question that I come away with is why is this passage important? Why does it matter that Jesus was baptized?
According to Wikipedia, there is some background of water purification rituals in the Jewish tradition, so baptism through water wasn’t a totally foreign concept to the Jews.

The question of baptism is one that I haven’t fully thought through or researched. Is baptism necessary for everyone? Was it necessary for Jesus? I know that my LDS baptism was a day of some significant spiritual experiences that I have had. But is baptism required for everyone? Does God care if we’re baptized? If so, why? (Note that I’m not making light of the question by being somewhat flippant, but just trying to flesh out my questions so that as I read more, I know what kinds of answers I’m looking for.) The fact that churches don’t agree on necessity, mode, or age of baptism makes me think that the whole issue isn’t totally clear. And if it isn’t made totally clear by the Bible, and according to most Christians that’s the Word we have to go on (excluding the LDS who believe in latter day prophecy which clears up a lot of the specific requirements for things like baptism), how important can it really be?

Then there is the spirit descending like a dove. I have no idea what that means.

And finally, the temptation. Why was Jesus tempted four 40 days? Is it one of those foreshadowing of things to come (since 40 is one of those Biblically significant numbers that perhaps doesn’t literally mean 40, it might mean that he was tempted for a long (infinite?) time, foreshadowing the infinite nature of the atonement)?

Also, and finally, I wonder what it is like to be ministered to by angels.

I realize as I’m reading and writing that my questions mostly revolve around ‘why was this put in the Bible’ and ‘why should I care’. It’s not because I’m a big cynic, but more that it seems like if this is the stuff that has stuck around, and is the stuff on which I should be basing my faith, what about it should be resonating with me, what about it is significant?

Interfaith Marriage

It’s not as if I hadn’t thought much about interfaith marriage before. When Kullervo began doubting the LDS church, I was still a steadfast Mormon. We were living with his parents at the time, and stayed up late many nights talking about how we would relate to each other, how we would navigate church waters, and, most importantly, what we wanted for Oliver, who at the time was only about five months old.

It has been an ongoing dialogue since then. I found my church home at Cedar Ridge Community Church, but for awhile Kullervo was pretty sure he leaned towards more traditional, liturgical types of worship. And, as it turns out… I really don’t love the liturgy. So, there was the dilemma of where to go to worship when we actually prefer different styles of worshiping. But, then we were still both considering ourselves Christian.

However, Kullervo has discovered that he is, and always has been, a pagan. And I am still a Christian.

I was reading Jack’s blog the other day, and saw that at the top was written “Interfaith Marriage”, and I realized that, officially, I am a part of one.

Honestly, I’m not sure what it will mean for us. But it seems significant to realize. We still have to figure out the best way to raise the kids so that they will be open minded, tolerant people who have minds of their own and will realize that Christianity is truuuuuuue (hahaha! just kinda kidding!). Seriously, though, it’s something that we need to consider and kind of hammer down (inasmuch as you can hammer anything about parenting down, besides windowsills) while the kids are still fairly young.

Bible Challenge

Conner and I have challenged ourselves to read the entire New Testament before the year ends.

A couple of years ago, when we were active LDS members, the president of the church challenged all its members to read the Book of Mormon before year end. This was done in August, I believe. Conner and I both began in September, or maybe October. And we both finished with a couple of days to spare. (It is possible that I skipped some of the Isaiah chapters of 2 Nephi, but who can blame me?)

I found the whole process to be quite spiritually rewarding. At the time, I believed that the BoM was God’s word. I believed I was following a prophet’s directive. And I was doing my best to be the best that I could be. I would read the BoM on the subway on my way to or from work (usually not both, because I wanted to be able to knit on the train too). I wound up thinking about what I was reading about throughout the day, and making connections between the stories that I wouldn’t have noticed with a slower read through.

I’m hoping that our current challenge will have a similar positive effect. If nothing else, it will make me more familiar with the Bible, as I haven’t read all of the NT before. I’m currently reading The Message paraphrase. At some point I’ll probably get a Bible study (any recommendations? Why did you or didn’t you like what you used?). I also hope that reading it will have some of the transformative power to make me a better person. And, probably most important, I hope that it will help me draw closer to Jesus.

I’ve started with the Gospel of Mark. There are two reasons for this. First, at church they’ve been doing a sermon series on the Gospel of Mark. Second, I’ve often decided to read the entire NT, and started at Matthew… and stopped within Matthew.