Reta's Reflections

Biblical Interpretation: Can We Get It Right?

“This new series of lessons in Reta’s Reflections will not be a book study, as earlier studies have been. Rather, it will deal with the broader issue of hermeneutics, the science of interpretation as it relates to how we understand our Scriptures. The question of how we interpret authoritative texts becomes acute when current social, economic, or political issues divide believers who look to these texts for answers.” Continue reading

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The Perils of God’s Mercy—Jonah 4:1-11

“The story of Jonah teaches us that God cares about those we perceive as our worst enemies. Jonah’s dilemma was the opposite of Job’s. Job’s agonizing question to God was, ‘How can God let bad things happen to good people?’ Jonah asks how God can allow good things to happen to bad people. Both of these books challenge other scriptures that promise blessings for those who obey God’s laws and curses on those who don’t. In both cases God responds with open-ended questions with which we must wrestle.”
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Changing God’s Mind—Jonah 3:1-10

“Having disobeyed once to dire consequences, Jonah figures he has no choice; so off he trots, eastward over the desert until he arrives in Nineveh, capital of the Assyrian Empire (now in Iraq). In 3:3 we see both contrast and repetition: instead of a raging sea, Jonah finds a huge urban center. The city is so large it takes three days to walk across it, paralleling the three days Jonah had spent inside the fish (1:17).” Continue reading

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Going down to Sheol: Jonah 2:1-10

“But now, rescued by the fish, Jonah ‘gets religion.’ Sort of. He’s grateful to be saved from ‘the belly of Sheol’ after all. But he blames God for ‘casting him into the deep’ (v 3)—when it’s his own fault for fleeing from God’s presence and then requesting to be thrown into the sea. Now, suddenly, Jonah longs to worship in God’s holy temple (v 7), even though he has not repented of his behavior nor promised to visit Nineveh.”
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Away from God’s Presence—Jonah 1:1-17

“Although we find no women in this story thus far, the Hebrew word for ship is feminine and has a will of her own: she threatens to break apart (v 4). Jonah goes down into ‘her hold’ as into a womb, and falls asleep. (The actual Hebrew term is ‘the innermost parts of the ship.’) Later, he ends up in the fish’s ‘belly’ (v 17), which comes from the same Hebrew root as ‘womb.’ Jonah is both protected and entrapped by these female images.”
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Postscript: The Reception of John’s Gospel

“The biblical canon—the list of books that comprise the Bible as we know it today— was not fixed until the mid or late 4th century. Long before that, however, churches developed lists of texts appropriate for reading in their assemblies. The Synoptic Gospels were a shoo-in from the beginning, since Jesus was the central authority figure for Christians. But some, especially Jewish Christians, questioned John’s Gospel because it portrayed Jesus as more divine and less human than did the Synoptics.”
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The Rehabilitation of Peter—John 21:15-25

“What does the author intend by using two different words for ‘love’ in John 21:15-17? ‘Agape’ is the all-encompassing love from God that enables disciples to be kind and accepting toward everyone, whether or not they are lovable. ‘Philos’ is the warm affection friends have for each other. Perhaps Peter loves Jesus as a friend but is not yet able to embrace the necessary ‘agape’ needed to be a church leader of many different kinds of people. He needs to be told three times to feed all of Jesus’s sheep! Only then can he truly repent of having three times denied his relationship to Jesus.” Continue reading

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