First Thoughts on Next Sunday’s Sermon (31 July)- The Miracle of the Loaves and the Fishes (Matthew 14: 13-21)

There is a story told by Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist, where he tells the fable of a young Spanish shepherd named Santiago,   a young fellow who decided if he were going to make anything of his life he needed to get advice from the very best.    With apologies to Paulo Coelho the following is a very approximate retelling of the story. After some difficult journeying the young man came across a grand old building high atop a big hill.  There was a wise old man living there. He found the wise old sage seated. “Tell me what must I know for my life to be successful?” – the young man asked.
The old man thought for a moment then he handed the young man a teaspoon into which he poured a few drops from a small flask of olive oil.
“I will tell you”, he said – “but first you must do something for me. I want you to walk right round my big old house – through all the corridors – up and down all the stairs and into every room – especially the library. But you must not spill a drop of oil”.
The young man was puzzled, but decided to humour the old guy. So off he set – very, very carefully. Walking slowly, smoothly, avoiding any sudden movements and concentrating very hard on the spoon – even on every step of the stairs, it took a long time. It was a big house.
“Well?” said the old man when he returned.
“Not a drop spilled” said the young man with real self-satisfaction.
“Now the real test. I want you to describe everything you saw. The views from the upstairs windows, the books in the libraries, the tapestries and fine pictures on the wall and the gardens which my gardener has spent so my time and effort creating”.
The young man looked shamefaced. “Sorry”, he mumbled “didn’t see anything – but I didn’t spill a drop”.
OK That was part one. Now this time go out again – this time without a glance at the teaspoon. Your task this time is to notice everything.
Off he went – and boy, was it different this time.
He came back, his eyes sparkling, filled with excitement.
“This is a fabulous place he said. You can see for miles into the mountains from those upstairs windows – those forests , the patterns in the clouds… you can even see animals in the woods. And the library – where on earth did you manage to find such interesting books. Those oil paintings – I reckon they must be all original. Who designed the house? Those staircases and the grand dining room…”
“And the teaspoon?” asked the old fellow.
The young fellow looked down in embarrassment.. “Oh”, he said. “Well yes I might have dropped a bit of oil”.
“OK, you have it now”, said the old fellow. “You see, you won’t notice anything as long as you are only interested in what is in your hand.

Remember this truth – remember the drops of oil.”

Which brings us to this strange miracle of the loaves and the fishes. I want to suggest the key to understanding this strange account is our ability to notice things away from our personal inclination and focus. Away from the spoon we carry. A superfical glance at the story leaves us with an impression of a Harry Potter type image of a magic God filled figure in the form of Jesus, waving his hand like a stage magician and causing the mysterious multiplication of physical entities like loaves of bread and actual fishes.

If this indeed is what we think happened I would suggest it is not helpful to us as an image for two reasons. First of all it leaves the story entirely without the need for personal commitment to a situation. If meeting such a need – in this case, feeding the hungry can only be accomplished by a level of deep God-like knowledge and then only if it is applied at what a recent visitor to this site termed as operating beyond the job description of one’s personal pay grade, then we only wonder at it and do not expect any possibility that we too might be called upon for similar tasks.
The second reason it is not helpful, is that the total suspension of the laws of nature conveys the message that since we cannot suspend the laws of nature, Jesus’ interpreted form of magic action has nothing to do with our actions in the sort of world we currently inhabit.

With those two cautions let us look again at what appears at first sight a simple enough story, and let’s be clear if we are honest, a story which I guess is totally unbelievable for anyone who has a grasp on reality. Loaves and fishes taken from a boy’s lunch don’t just multiply by themselves – at least not outside fairy tales. But if we forget ourselves for a moment and start to look a little further I wonder what we might see.

So let’s look again.
Jesus out for a walk – and all those curious people coming along too, to gawp….people….lots of people.
In a city we are regularly surrounded by people –go to a football match….wall to wall people. Go down town – those thronged foot paths. To see them as a crowd that is the easy bit. To notice their eyes, their aches and pains – to see them as persons – now that is unusual. Yet with this particular crowd Jesus does something totally unexpected – and I am not talking about multiplying loaves and fishes. No what Jesus does is every bit as strange – he notices that they are hungry. If you look at Jesus’ encounters with different people this is his standard trick – the approach that sets him apart. The people see a mean tax collector – Jesus looks closer and sees someone worthy of a name, Zaccheus and what is more an unhappy person. Then the people see an untouchable leper – yet Jesus sees a person who suffers and wants the touch of human hand to heal. The disciples see a prostitute getting into Jesus personal space – Jesus sees her as Mary – again a woman with a name – a woman who can be welcomed. The disciples see little children bothering Jesus – which kind of reminds me of the woman recently who according to the Herald two weeks ago, put her children up for sale on E-bay. Jesus sees these children who the disciples considered to be children apparently bothering him rather as real live people deserving his full attention.

Let me stress that this is not a common practice. Remember it is all too easy to walk unseeing past the beggar on the street, the Muslim woman shrouded in a veil, see the refugees as part of the passing flickering images on TV but not see them as people. Professor Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at Leeds University is one who has pointed to the dangers of not noticing. With the growing world food shortages, the rapid increase both in population and the prices of basic foods Professor Lang see the general public – as he put it in 2008 “sleepwalking into crisis”. Perhaps because in these days when we have formalised and tamed the gospel to the point where we are no longer noticing, we don’t expect to encounter prophets these days, especially those who are not qualified Church leaders and who are merely ivory tower academics at ordinary universities, and I guess as a result of the widespread inattention to such warnings, the current statistics now show we are three years closer to the crisis. I wonder if others agree in retrospect Professor Tim Lang qualifies as a modern prophet.

Ivory tower dreamer or genuine prophet, Tim Lang does us a great service by reminding us of the growing disaster in the making, and this year the OXFAM statistic of an additional 44 million pushed into poverty so far this year is more than another enormous figure capable of only eliciting dim incomprehension. Our miracle observed this morning might at least remind us that if we were to apply the technique of noticing the individual –we might find ourselves looking at families with individual people like you or me facing despair and feeling exactly as we ourselves would feel if visited by the same tragedy.

So to return to the loaves and the fishes…..

The second part of this miracle is that Jesus doesn’t see himself, the one many have called Son of God, as the only one to whom the responsibility for the act of kindness should be left. In another gospel version of the same story He calls a boy to him to start the sharing process. In this Matthew version, it is the disciples he turns to.  And it works in an unexpected way. It is a sad commentary that these days we not only prefer not to notice too much by way of needs, but that when such situations are forced upon us we don’t see ourselves as part of the answer to need. I am sure that many of us are unconsciously drawn to the easy option of praying for God to fix all. I have heard the most sincere prayers in Church or in Bible study groups for God to address the needs of the hungry. But what is that worth without the genuine intention to get involved in meals on wheels or food parcel collection and distribution or bothering the local politician to raise questions about overseas aid? It is an interesting question as to how many things would remain on the prayer list if only the situations where we showed ourselves to be part of the solution were allowed to be mentioned. But whereas it is easy to ask a vague conception of God to deal with these issues like famine, war, injustice and loneliness by praying his blessing, if we believe that Jesus would have been concerned with our present context of contemporary need – perhaps he too would still be looking for the non-entity child …or for that matter someone as ordinary as us to join with him in sharing.

I have heard some most interesting discussions about the validity of the loaves and fishes story as genuine magic type miracle. The short answer as to whether or not there was super-natural magic actually involved is that in fact we can never know. An experiment is only a true experiment if it can be repeated and since we cannot know about the accuracy of Matthew’s reporting and since Jesus himself is not on hand to organise the repeat performance with all conditions the same, we cannot organise the repeat for more objective recording.

My personal preference – I guess partly a result of my science background is to say that as far as I can see there is no reason to invoke magic where none is required. As far as I know atoms do not reproduce themselves in bulk such that fishes and loaves appear as if by magic. For me, I think it quite reasonable to say that the reason why the sharing miracle worked was that those present who did have food were moved by the disciples’ or the boy’s example to share. In this real world of ours even if multiplication of loaves by itself could occur the evidence is that this would simply mean that the few well fed would have taken an even bigger share. As we model large scale what actually happens when some are born into lucky situations in this unjust world of nations we see the hungry have remained hungry. The real miracle then came not with multiplication but with division. Division of bread gets more into the hand of few. Division (especially willing division) is actually what builds community. Turning a selfish crowd into community is indeed the best part of Jesus’ miracle

There were reportedly many hungry people that day – and any other day if their society was anything like ours, they would not have been fed. Please note the Matthew account nowhere says that magic was actually involved in what happened. He leaves us to work that part out for ourselves. You may think differently to me and debate will not in fact settle the issue. However that particular hungry crowd was what Jesus chose as his context calling for action. Whatever Jesus in fact did – by all accounts the people got fed and what is more – what to us might have been a crowd of the unthinking has been transformed (if only temporarily) into caring community – so Jesus has successfully addressed his context.

Our current setting is July 2011. Our context challenge is the still unequal distribution of resources and plenty who are hungry. Simple handouts may not even best the best long term answer because our sharing may need to include sharing the know-how and resources to grow the food so that at the end there will in fact be something left to gather. Can we lift our vision from the spoon in our hand and start seeing from a new perspective?

(Comments would be most welcome since this is intended as a tentative draft work in progress.   If you find the notes and/or other articles on this site helpful or thought provoking, sharing this site with others would be appreciated.)

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38 Responses to First Thoughts on Next Sunday’s Sermon (31 July)- The Miracle of the Loaves and the Fishes (Matthew 14: 13-21)

  1. Mike says:

    Here’s a passage where Jesus, Himself, comments on the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes.

    Mathew 16: 5 Now when His disciples had come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread. 6 Then Jesus said to them, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” 7 And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “It is because we have taken no bread.” 8 But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “O you of little faith, why do you reason among yourselves because you have brought no bread?[c] 9 Do you not yet understand, or remember the five loaves of the five thousand and how many baskets you took up? 10 Nor the seven loaves of the four thousand and how many large baskets you took up? 11 How is it you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread?—but to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

    Jesus is clearly claiming that He fed the 5000+ crowd with 5 loaves and that He fed the 4000+ crowd with 7 loaves. He even reminded them that they had plenty left over after everyone was filled. I guess you are saying He was making unsubstantiated claims. Wouldn’t that make him a braggard and a liar if He didn’t feed them?

    As for turning a selfish crowd into a community. He later told them “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs.” John 6;26

    If you don’t like the unequal distribution of resources you will have to take that up with God. He distributes as He sees fit: talents, spiritual gifts and resources. Does He want us to share? Yes! Does He want all things equal? No. Only totalitarian control could even attempt that and even they could not enforce it while leaving us a shred of freedom.

    You said, “An experiment is only a true experiment if it can be repeated and since we cannot know about the accuracy of Matthew’s reporting and since Jesus himself is not on hand to organise the repeat performance with all conditions the same, we cannot organise the repeat for more objective recording.” If you applied this statement to evolution you would have to give it up or admit it’s a belief based on faith.

    • peddiebill says:

      Thanks Mike – If you want to see it as divine magic, that is fine by me. You have as much right as I do to decide how to interpret the Biblical record. I would be interested if others agree. As I explain, I happen to prefer the natural explanation which not only makes more sense to me but inspires me to want to help feed the hungry by the most appropriate means without recourse to supernatural magic which I am not so good at. For example when Jesus reminds them of the bread left over why could he not have simply be reminding them that this is what happens when we share. The rarity of the sharing process makes it a miracle in my book. Others want Jesus to be a white robed Harry Potter the first and I cant stop them thinking that way. I suspect it lets them off the hook. eg if God wanted the starving to be fed He would simply organise a miracle?????I am more than happy for you to go to the refugee camps in Africa and organise a Jesus type miracle, but for me this is, as I once had suggested to me, clearly above my pay scale. For me the needed miracle is that those in the rich countries should be caused to care and send them food (or assist them in food production) instead of sending the millions of dollars worth of Arms as they do at present. While I agree that it might be impossible to get all things equal, your comment in that form sounds suspiciously like an excuse for not worrying about the needy apart from some token giving. If so you would not be alone. For example my country (New Zealand) has actually reduced its food and other forms of practical aid over the last ten years, How is the US doing at present?I had however missed remembering the John 6,:26 quote which I will think more about. Thank you for drawing this to my attention.
      Since apart from the extensive fossil record in which clear sequences are in effect frozen into the rock record, there is plenty of recorded observation of continuing evolution, eg Primula Kewensis (The abrupt creation of a new species in Kew Gardens a few years ago), the Cichlid Fish of Lake Victoria (a group of which evolved differently into a new species over a comparatively short time after a land slide cut a group of Cichlid fish off in a changed environment) and even the bugs up your nose (I speak in general terms!) we can hardly say there is no direct evidence for evolution. We can even measure the rate of change to the DNA sequences in some species. (Mind you I noticed 50 of the 51 candidates for Miss USA didnt know anything about evolution when asked, so maybe they dont even teach the basics of evolution in the US education system! The alternative, that beauty competition contestants are indeed as dumb as portrayed in popular jokes, doesn’t bear thinking about!!! )

    • Judi says:

      Well put Mike, sadly you’ll never convince Bill.

      • peddiebill says:

        Well Judi ,as I said to Mike, he is just as entitled to his way of interpreting Scripture as I am. Even the crowd – who were actually there and the recipients of the divine aid evidently misinterpreted what Jesus did, which is why presumably he told them off for their interpretation a little later on. However I do have a question. In my sermon I suggested I prefer the naturalistic interpretation because it has inspired me to action. The alternative of literal divine magic is the version you prefer. You have presumably come across the story before which is why you knew Mike’s interpretation was more correct than mine. What then has the miracle inspired you to do? I am quite happy to admit that my interpretation has been inadequate because in all honesty it only helps me to encourage my congregation to contribute to the food bank, to lobby for better and more equitable aid for underpriveledged, to chop firewood to raise money for distribution of varying forms of assistance in a poor area of Auckland (as part of our Rotary club efforts) and the same miracle was part of my inspiration for my year as a volunteer in New Guinea….. but while I see the genuine needs I am keenly aware these are really just token efforts. I am presuming that if yours is the better interpretation then presumably it has inspired you to do far more.

      • Judi says:

        It’s not a matter of preference and what makes you feel warmer, fuzzier and more inspired to do good. It’s a matter of truth. Was the claim of Jesus (that HE fed the crowds) a lie? Is he God, or was he just another community organizer?

        You prefer the naturalistic approach because as usual you prefer not to see Jesus as God, not even really to see God as God. My continual bewilderment with you is why you choose to look to Jesus for inspiration when you mock and scorn the things he said and all he accomplished on the cross.

        To recap once more: you don’t believe he’s creator, God in the flesh, the son of God, a worker of miracles, an honest person, a redeemer, a sacrificial lamb that took our place and bore our sins, a soon coming King. No, instead he’s a motivational speaker, very inspiring indeed, in spite of all his lies and false claims. I feel so warm and fuzzy now – enlightened too.

      • peddiebill says:

        Judi, the Bible as I understand it is a complex set of books which offers messages of a great many kinds to a great many people. You have chosen one sort of interpretation which inspires you – and I another. The fact that you only choose to comment on a narrow band of my articles – and invariably those that concern the difference in our interpretation – conveys to me that your inspiration is of the awe inspired spectator kind – and that is fine by me. As I have said on many occasions I notice other things about Jesus which inspire me to action and your inability to understand why suggests to me that you only prefer to notice what I am saying when it highlights our differences. That I notice: calls to action, calls for tolerance, and words that encourage me to attempt to understand those who are different to me, these things get me involved in peacemaking, social action and even blogging. I really relate to James when he talks about true religion. I am particularly drawn to the type of role of the Old Testament Prophets who were prepared to say what they could see going on in the society of their day and to raise awkward questions even at the risk of offending the self righteous. The bits in the Bible I take particular note of are supportive of this part of my faith. Since as Paul says we are all called to different tasks to use our different gifts I am more than happy for you to find different parts of the message to follow. What I fail to comprehend is why you cannot allow me the same freedom. The weakness I freely admit is my inability to communicate with those I guess you represent who are the Bible literalists (and I have tried to explain my view in the article “Shaping God”). It seems to me that there are already enough who accept everything without question, use lots of religious words like “Son of God” without ever saying what they mean, and who seem to have little reason for taking other parts of Jesus message that call them to act differently towards their neighbours seriously. While I have to accept on faith that you know what you mean by “God” I cant say I have learnt anything from you I hadnt already read on the subject – all of which seems very inadequate in terms of what it means to create a universe etc etc. I honestly dont think I am mocking the things Jesus said although I am not very good at acting on his injunctions eg taking no thought for the morrow, turning the other cheek etc. You ask was the claim of Jesus that he fed the crowds a lie? If the story is accurate – of course not. Until Jesus took action they were hungry. They got fed. You think he did it by hocus [pocus – I think he used common sense. Neither of us were there so your insistence that you are right and I dont know what I am talking about I find puzzling and I have never found a sensible way of arguing with anyone whose principal mode of communication is “I am right and you’re wrong – so there!!”

      • Charles says:

        Bill you should be ashamed of yourself the way you treat Judi. She is so annoyed with you that she is writing to you at 3.15am in the morning. You are having such an affect on her that this poor woman can’t sleep.I admire your writings even though I am a non believer. You have really opened up the subject to any one who likes to reply. We need more of this kind of debate

      • Marty says:

        I don’t understand this “truth” that you speak of Judi. Is the multiplication of the fish and bread the only “truth” you see in this passage? If so then you are only seeing what the people themselves saw… that they were fed. But there’s more here. Isn’t it also truth that Jesus saw a need and then called on others to help meet the need? Thereby teaching us to be observant and then do something when we see a need? So how, then, is Bill not seeing the truth?

  2. peddiebill says:

    Yes Dave, these are good points. I should have been a bit more thoughtful and precise in my comment.
    At the same time I stick by the part of my comment which refers to the way in which Jesus actions (whatever they were) should inspire us to notice the needs of others – and employ whatever seems to most sensible means to meet those needs. In practice when it comes to dealing with international relief, I fear that by the time you remove the aid which is to the donors’ advantage there is little left

  3. Marty says:

    Your approach to this Scripture is enlightening for me. I’ve mostly seen it taught with reference to the miracle and little else. And I can see where interpreting it only in that light could possibly absolve our consciences of actually rolling up sleeves and doing something creative about the need. I’ve seen christians downplay helping the poor because of what Jesus said “the poor you will have with you always”. I also like your take on sharing. If we do that then there is plenty left over. My church partners with local non-profits that are working to aleviate poverty in various ways. Through education in technology, job training, homeless ministry, a health clinic, etc. The giving of food is a short term fix, but giving people the tools they need to lift themsleves out of poverty can change their lives for the long term.

  4. Cherel says:

    It’s wonderful to feed the poor. Real Christians are the leaders in that endeavor because they BELIEVE GOD’s WORD is TRUTH! Judi is “about her Father’s business” in that way and others. Your judgemental accusations against her are false.

    The Loaves and Fishes miracle wasn’t about feeding the poor. Jesus realized the people were hungry because they had followed Him into a wilderness place to hear His teaching and had come unprepared! (Not with all kinds of food to share!) Jesus used their need as another opportunity to reveal His divine nature and abilities to His disciples. He was training them to believe in Him and to serve God. That’s why He pointed them back to this miracle in other situations.

    The good that you extract from such passages is lost when you deny the validity of the very Word of God you took your lessons from. It’s like the Pharisees tithing mint and cummin while they robbed widow’s, neglected their needy parents and forsook mercy because they lived “according to the traditions of men” rather than by God’s Word. Jesus said the tithing was right but they should also have “believed” and “obeyed” God’s clear teachings.

    Jesus is the Bread from Heaven. He fed the Israelites with Manna for 40 years in the wilderness– or did you think another crowd was out there sharing with them? If you don’t understand the meaning of SON of GOD, you aren’t qualified to share from God’s Word with others.

    Judi did not and I do not say, “I am right and you are wrong, so there.” We say God’s Word is right and some day you will answer to God for how you twist it. As Job said, “Mock on.”

  5. peddiebill says:

    Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called Sons of God. Yes I think I understand a little of what the phrase “Son of God” means. Nor am I denying the validity of scriptures. It is just I appear to have read some stuff about how the Bible was written and assembled that you havent read and therefore I view the scriptures differently to you. You will also have read different books to me. That is why I dont insist you must see things my way. Your insistence that I read the Bible from your viewpoint and notice the same things you notice I find odd. You announce what the loaves and fishes story is about – Marty suggests a different take – and in truth I personally find her take more challenging and better reasoned than yours. Others will visit this site and differ about which version they find speaking truth to them.
    However since you raise the issue of the status of scripture some simple questions:
    1. Since the Bible has different books in it when you compare the Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Ethiopian, and Protestant Bibles which one is the valid version?
    2 Is scripture that got added to one of the books of the Bible years after the original was written equally inspired?
    3. Since the Bible contains serious contradictions, historical errors and science nonsense, are those parts still authoritative and inspired? (see my article on Shaping God)
    4 Since parts of the Old Testament contained teachings which were challenged by Jesus why is my impression of progressive revelation invalid?
    This site is clear about its aims to challenge and make people think. I have chosen to do this by raising what I believe are legitimate questions about some of the fuzzy issues and trying to look at the familiar from a fresh viewpoint. I understand this is uncomfortable but I believe an untested faith is not worth having. Remember I ask questions to encourage the thought process about issues that interest me, and I am sure that your site would also contain a bias to your interests. Please dont be surprised that our interests differ. The fact that you do not wish me to question and challenge – or come up with suggested answers outside what you have been taught is perfectly understandable. Your version of fundamentalism appears to have a real aversion to questions – I suspect in your next comment you will not want to answer the questions above. Socrates was made to drink Hemlock for asking his questions. I am beginning to know how he felt. I find it hard to learn from your lectures to me because I find their tone a little off-putting. Sorry about that. It seems to me that telling me that in effect God is going to sort me out does in fact mean that you are certain that you and Judi are right and I am wrong.

  6. Marty says:

    Bill Loader is right. I had never heard of him and so I googled. He has a book online free to download “Dear Kim, This is what I believe”. I am thoroughly enjoying it. He writes about the church in Paul’s day and how they wanted the Gentiles to become circumcised before they could become Christians. Paul would have no part of it and disregarded the scripture command. “Already then there were Christian fundamentalists who could only see such flexibility as an offence against God.” He goes on to say that “some people were more concerned with rules and laws than they were with people”.

    “Behind the two approaches are two different understandings of God. One pictures God as almost obsessed with getting people to do things ‘his’ way, like an egotistical person, pathetically self-preoccupied with his own power – a ‘god’ indeed! The other pictures God as compassionately reaching out to people making space for them, encouraging them and challenging them, wanting, above all, their wholeness. This picture of God also has room for guidelines and rules, but they exist for the sake of people and can be changed where a more compassionate option opens for us “. I am reminded of the story of Jonah and how he wanted God to prove himself to the people and pour out all his Godly power on the Ninevites and destroy them. But God had compassion and then scolded Jonah. For Jonah was concerned about the vine that had dried up around him even though he didn’t tend it. But, God was concerned for the people and their animals as well.

  7. Cherel says:

    Bill, I will say again that it’s not about whether Judi and I are right or not. It is about whether God’s Word is Truth or not. You seem to fit the category of people referred to in a quote I came across recently, “that smug self-satisfaction the elites carry with them is a result of them thinking they are so much better educated, so much smarter than everyone else.” You act like you think you are the only one who has been reading anything beyond the King James Version. You act like a person can’t possibly believe the Bible is true if they have exposed themself to the liberal theological viewpoint being pushed today. You are wrong on both counts.

    I have also “read some stuff about how the Bible was assembled” and it did not sway my faith because God is greater than men. To be swayed you have to believe those researchers are more accurate in their opinions than God is powerful to preserve His Word.

    “Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” (I Cor 1:20).

    “if any man among you seems to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God” (I Cor 3:18,19).

    The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. 1 Cor 2:14

    The Apostle Peter said, “I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles.” 2 Peter 3:2

    Referring to Paul, Peter said, “Some of his comments are hard to understand, and those who are ignorant and unstable have twisted his letters to mean something quite different, just as they do with other parts of Scripture. And this will result in their destruction.” 2 Peter 3:16

    Jesus said, “But since you don’t believe what he (Moses) wrote, how will you believe what I say?” John 5:47

    Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. Luke 24:25

    Jesus came to fulfill the law– not to mock it. He calls people foolish who “find it hard to believe ALL that the prophets wrote in the scriptures.” What part did He challenge?

    I challenge your thinking, Bill, because I believe it will lead to destruction for you and those who are sucked into your thinking style. That is the bottom line for me in this discussion.

    Marty, I would like to start by responding to the following quote from your comment.

    You said, “He writes about the church in Paul’s day and how they wanted the Gentiles to become circumcised before they could become Christians.” To be accurate, some (not all)converted Jews in the early church wanted Gentiles to be circumcised.

    You said, “Paul would have no part of it and disregarded the scripture command.” You are right that Paul would have no part of that demand because Paul stood for freedom in Christ. He knew salvation was based on works alone and not based on keeping the law. However, it would be inaccurate to say that Paul disregarded a scriptural command. The command for circumcision
    was given to the Jews under the Old Testament Covenant with God. The New Testament ushered in a New Covenant which superceded the Old Covenant. It is a better covenant based on salvation through the blood of Jesus and the law of God operating in one’s heart by the Spirit of God. The book of Hebrews gives a detailed explanation of the better covenant.

    You quote Bill Loader, “Already then there were Christian fundamentalists who could only see such flexibility as an offence against God.” He goes on to say that “some people were more concerned with rules and laws than they were with people”.

    Here, Mr. loader is calling the early Jewish converts “Christian fundamentalists”. This is clearly a misnomer being used to cast fundamentalists in a bad light. (Paul was a fundamentalist Christian (if there ever was one) who stood up for freedom in Christ– as I do!) The misguided souls in this excjange with Paul were Jews who had been raised under the law and had not yet come to a clear understanding of their freedom in Christ.

    Your acceptance of Mr. Loader’s premise seems to indicate that you believe Christian fundamentalists are hard hearted– leaning into rules and away from compassion. I can’t speak for each individual but I believe overall that portrayal is incorrect. I am far from legalistic and have great compassion and concern for people and that compassion extends itself to Bill and his followers. True mercy and compassion are the result of obeying God’s Word and listening to His Spirit.

    Believing God’s Word is true is not legalistic. It is wise. Without truth, all the good works in the world will be of no avail. All religions promise salvation based on works except for Christianity. Jesus offers to save us if we will but turn from our sins and accept His sacrifice of Himself in our place. Jesus plus nothing produces salvation. Good works follow but do not save us.

    I love the story of Jonah! Jonah was holding a grudge against the Assyrians because of all the destruction they had caused in Israel. He was totally aware that God is gracious and full of mercy and compassion that would lead Him to forgive the Ninevites if they repented. That’s precisely why Jonah tried to run away to avoid preaching to them– and why he was upset about possibly the greatest revival in history up to that time. That story reveals not only how loving God is, but also how powerful His Word is. The entire city from the King down to the lowest of men repented when they heard God’s warning from a reluctant prophet. We have the same God today. His Word is true and He is powerful to save– if we will only believe in His son, Jesus.

  8. peddiebill says:

    I am glad you are only being compassionate towards me. If this is the way you are compassionate I would hate to see the hard-hearted legalistic Cheryl. I would very much like to hear from others on this exchange of views because my opinions may well be wrong. I would also appreciate it greatly if you would express your opinions more succinctly because you have now said an enormous amount on one aspect of my sermon – ie on whether or not I am entitled to read scripture the way I do – and appear to be unconcerned with the points I actually made. Please accept I realise you dont think I am entitled to my view of scripture and saying it many times does not convey new information. I am also very comforted that you think Bill Loader (one of the more respected modern Bible scholars and theologians) is similarly off beam. At least I will have good company in the next life.

  9. Cherel says:

    Bill, let me clearly respond to your points. Compassion. Succinctness. Your entitlement to your view of scripture. Bill Loader being “off beam.” Not in that order. 🙂

    Succinctness: i can’t respond to issues without taking some space. Scriptures expand the need for space but the Word of God is the most important thing shared on this site.

    Entitlement: You misrepresent what I’m saying when you say I say you are “not entitled” to your “view of scripture.” You can believe anything you want to believe. I simply tell you, based on God’s Word that those who teach God’s Word will be held to a higher standard come judgement day, than others, so I caution you about your blatant disregard for what it actually says.

    Bill Loader being “off beam”: I did not know anything about Mr. Loader. In the last exchange, I was simply responding to his statements quoted by Marty. So, I checked his online book Marty mentioned and clicked on his teachings about the Bible and about Jesus. His own writings lead me to conclude that your description of him is right– “off beam.”

    He denies the inspiration of God’s Word and feels free to make it say basically what he wants it to say. I quote. “It (The Bible) is a human book by human authors written in very human situations in very human ways.”

    As for Jesus, he denies that Jesus led a sinful life, was virgin born, is actually the Son of God, did many miracles during His ministry– including walking on the water, died a substitutionary death on the cross for our salvation, was truly resurrected and seen by 500 people before His ascension into heaven, is seated as God on the right hand of His Father and is our soon coming King.

    I offer a few quotes from his online book to keep it short. “Jesus was a figure in human history, not a god nor a legendary or mythical figure.” “There is much legend and symbol that has grown up around him, but behind it all there is a real human person, Jesus.” “…Church shorthand simply said: he was God. But they never meant for one moment that he was not an ordinary human being like you and me.” Bill Loader, from “Dear Kim, This is what I believe.”

    I can see why you like him, Bill, he thinks like you– or you think like him. 🙂

    As for compassion. Flattery may be perceived as compassion but it’s a deadly trap. If you were driving a beautiful sport car with faulty brakes and I spent all my time praising the looks of your car and commending your great taste in vehicles without mentioning the brake problem before you headed down the mountain, you would probably find me quite pleasant; but I would be guilty for not warning you of the danger I knew you were in.

    Even if I’m wrong about the eternal danger you are facing, I am erring on the side of compassion.

  10. Marty says:

    Cherel your constant regurgitation of Scripture and the way in which you use Scripture…beating people over the head with it…causes me to shut down and stop reading what you write.

    “You seem to fit the category of people referred to in a quote I came across recently, “that smug self-satisfaction the elites carry with them is a result of them thinking they are so much better educated, so much smarter than everyone else.””

    Well golly geez, I was thinking you fit the category that the smug self-satisfaction that fundamentalists carry with them is a result of them thinking their interpretation of Scripture so much better than everyone else. And in fact, not only better, but the one and only interpretation. It’s such a myopic view of Scripture. One I can’t have and still keep my faith. I went running to the hills from Christians like you. Furthermore it is because of Christians like Bill and the Grace of God that I’m making my way back. I don’t expect you to understand that, however.

  11. Marty says:

    “It (The Bible) is a human book by human authors written in very human situations in very human ways.”

    I agree with that. Doesn’t mean it wasn’t inspired or even that Loader is denying inspiration. That is how you interpret what he said. I don’t read him the way you do. Interesting how two people can read the same book and understand it so differently. I’d caution you against Bibliolatry, however.

  12. peddiebill says:

    Because Dr Bill Loader has done the hard yards, has clearly read widely and has produced prolific writing revealing deep thought and careful scholarship (which is why he has recognition as a Bible scholar ) – when someone comes along and rubbishes him after a few minutes scanning through one of his popularist works – without first showing they know anything about the fields Loader writes about I am drawn to the unfortunate conclusion that the critic is therefore closeminded. (for those interested in making up their own mind about his approach why not look for yourselves. Starting with his highly accessible “Dear Kim – This is What I Believe” is not a bad place to start – and its free on the web!!)
    If for example one knows better than Loader about his reasons for suggesting that Jesus was probably not born of a Virgin – then simply announcing he is wrong wont do it. The critic should use the same careful scholarship Loader has used to show how the Aramaic, Hebrew and Greek translations led to some different conclusion. Because I have no reason to know that Cheryl is in fact genuinely knowledgable about such matters I will stick with Loader in the meantime. For all I know Cheryl may not even know any Aramaic, Hebrew or Greek and if this were true her opinion on what they mean does not greatly worry me.

  13. Cherel says:

    I am truly sorry that both of you have so little respect for God’s Word. When I quote the Bible it is because it is the source of truth. It is the standard we are to live by. But, since it offends you, wthout quoting I will simply say that the Bible claims to be inspired by God and Peter specifically says “there is no private interpretation” of scripture. We don’t get to make it say whatever suits us.

    If I believed Jesus is not the virgin born, Son of God, Who died for our sins and is coming again, I wouldn’t waste my time with the Bible at all. But, that’s just me. Feel free to carry on.

    Sorry you went running to the hills, Marty, but it wasn’t me chasing you. I truly hope you find your way back. Believe me, I understand the grace of God. I know I am only saved by God’s matchless grace through faith in the blood of Jesus. I think we’ve probably all been hurt by Christians at some time in our lives, not because they were Christians, but because of the sin nature within humans.

    To be clear, Bill, I did not “rubbish” Bill Loader, unless “off the beam” means something worse in New Zealand than it means here. It’s not a phrase I use– it was your phrase. I simply commented on his beliefs clearly expressed on the internet wherein he denies the validity of all the fundamental teachings of scripture concerning the life of Jesus. One doesn’t have to know all the ancient languages to understand that his “interpretation” of scripture is a private interpretation not based on what the Bible clearly says. There are thousands of scholars who know those lang. uages who disagree with him. I certainly do not owe him more respect or alleigance than I owe to God’s own Word.

    Our pastor, when I was young, used to say, “You can be so open minded that everything falls out both ends.” It’s one of the few things I remember that he said– I guess because I gave it a lot of thought. This summer I have read the Koran and many books about Islam and I’m currently in an interesting dialogue with a Fundamentalist Muslim. I just read a collection of verses from the Dhammapada, one of the sacred books of Buddhists. I don’t believe in reincarnation, but It contains a lot of moral wisdom. I love learning and wouldn’t call myself close minded. However, I believe the Bible is God’s Word and I believe the only way to be saved is through faith in Jesus Christ. If that makes me close minded in your eyes. I can live with that.

    • peddiebill says:

      OK Cherel . Please accept I do understand that you believe the whole Bible is God’s word, that you believe Jesus had to be born of a Virgin, and that through him only we are saved. Fortunately for those the word of God instructs me to kill because they have eaten the wrong foods, worked on the wrong day, got the wrong hair-cut, planted more than one kind of seed in the garden, rendered first aid on the sabbath, etc etc I am just going to carry on believing that was more to do with outdated codes of Holiness for the preservation of a particular type of society. I dont care how well Paul, speaking on God’s behalf, thinks I should care for my slaves. I dont want to keep slaves. I dont care if the word of God does instruct me that women should keep their heads covered and the women be silent in Church – I am happy for my wife and other women to speak in church (and with their heads uncovered). I think your views on Genesis are interesting but since I have studied science, again I see them as interesting myth with some insights into the human condition that only makes sense in historical context. Because I happen to think that even your God would not totally ignore the spiritual well being of everyone who did not share your views or is born into a different society or religion, I am baffled why you think your God caters for so few ie only the fundamentalists. Although I read the Bible with interest, your deciding which bits I should look at and how those bits should be interpreted regardless of what I believe them to mean or what insights I get from my study, I do find a bit off putting. I try in my sermons and articles to relate faith to the realities of the real world eg third world countries, the economy, problems of sexuality, violence, other cultures etc. You dont respond to these situations but instead keep going back to what I see as out of context Bible verses. You say you love people like Muslims but according to you, have nothing to do with them in your everyday life. You have told me you can learn nothing from me which presumably means you only wish me to learn from you so that I can become like you in your attitude to the Bible, to God, to Jesus and anyone who is not like you. Because you keep pointing out my deficiencies, it is not working.

  14. Cherel says:

    Bill, have you read the book of Hebrews lately? It makes it very clear that we are no longer under the Old Testament law. Jesus annulled the Old Covenant based on animal sacrifice which couldn’t save anyone– but was used to point people to the coming of Jesus Christ– the perfect sacrifice. Many NT passages explain the purpose of the OT law and tell us Jesus fulfilled its purpose and set us free from its bondage.

    The NT passages you mention about women and slaves have to do with Paul dealing with society as it was in his lifetime. Jesus treated women as equals with men. Paul did, personally, as well; but society wasn’y ready for a drastic change. Paul didn’t institute slavery. He simply gave guidelines to help slave owners and slaves who came into relationship with Jesus know how to act properly in their current circumstances. Change takes time.

    I don’t believe God “caters to fundamentalists” in any sense. God sent His Son to save the world! Salvation didn’t start with revealed Christianity. Salvation has been available to believers from the very beginning of time. It’s a mystery to me how God works out all the details. I believe all are saved through faith in Jesus Christ but I don’t believe everyone who comes to Christ has to have a total understanding of the Bible or even access to it. This is how I see it: God knows the heart of every man. The Bible says when a person seeks for the true God with all their heart He will be found by them. In reality, that is because God is searching the earth looking for any who will respond to the wooing of His Spirit. If they refuse to respond they will die in their sins having never heard of Jesus and be judged based on their response to His Spirit. If they respond to His wooing, He will make a way for them to find the truth– through a person, the Bible, an angel or a direct revelation of God to them personally. No one will go into eternity unprepared because they did not have a chance to be saved. Abraham said, “Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?” Of course He will. God loves people and is “not willing for any to perish”. He wants “all to come to repentance” and be welcomed into His family for eternity. God is Good! God is love! Jesus saves!

    I believe I have told you somewhere in all of our exchanges that I am impressed with your good works. If that didn’t come through clearly before, I need to say it here. I am impressed with your active involvement trying to make the world a better place for those you come into contact with. My concern, in our exchanges has been with truth. It is good to feed someone who is hungry. That keeps body and soul together a little while longer. But, it’s critical to share the truth about Jesus with them.

    I don’t know any Muslims personally but I am currently in a dialogue with a Muslim fundamentalist online. It has been a fascinating exchange so far. I’m learning, from his perspective, how Muslims view Christians and how they see themselves and their prophet and Islam. And he’s asking me to share with him about Christian issues he’s interested in. His byline in interesting– resembles yours in meaning. “Think, thought, think again.”

    As for learning from you, if we weren’t bogged down with the things we don’t agree on, I’m sure I could learn a lot from you. I’m sorry for my part in our exchanges becoming negative in personal ways at times. I really prefer to discuss a variety of topics without getting personal in that way. It’s easy to get carried away. I apologize.

  15. peddiebill says:

    That sounds like progress. Can I ask a favour. Can we put the irritated statements about truth to one side for a bit? You may or may not be right on your interpretation of what is the truth in the Bible, but since many people have made many different and in some cases contradictory claims about what the Bible is about, I have to look at other things – like the tone of your comments, like the tolerance and consideration you give to other views on a range of issues, like your ability to learn from other’s views, before I can decide whether your views are any more worth listening to than any others who make other equally vehement and certain sounding claims….eg Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Harold Camping etc. Since truth is more than simply a label – and in Jesus case, is only recognised because of the whole package of his recorded life…and then only through the incomplete and fragmentary record in the Bible…could we turn attention to some of the other issues in the meantime. So that others dont feel like this is a one person show it would also be very nice to see succinct comments.

  16. Cherel says:

    Not feelin’ the love, Bill. 🙂 Your tone, tolerance and consideration didn’t translate well. 🙂

  17. peddiebill says:

    Succinct – pity about the sentiment

  18. Marty says:

    “I am truly sorry that both of you have so little respect for God’s Word.”

    That is an utterly ridiculous statement having not a parcel of “truth” in it. You’re shooting from the hip.

    It’s not Scripture that I find offensive, it’s the way you use Scripture Cherel. You take it and then you use it to lord it over people. You obviously think Bill is lost and in danger of hell fire and you probably feel the same about me. But your efforts of evangelism are wasted. I know the love and grace of God and am a follower of Jesus. And it’s obvious to me Bill is too.

  19. Judi says:

    Bill, I’ve been trying to sort out what you believe and why our views are so often at odds while we lay claim to a common religion. In other words, what’s our main point of divergence? I think it may be that, I believe God made us (humanity), and you believe that we (humanity) made God. What do you think?

  20. peddiebill says:

    No I think there is mystery and wonder in Creation – which for the want of a better word I attribute to God. It would be nonsense to think we were part of actually making this mystery…this God but historically many of the attempts to put it into words and which are now superceded show the limitations of thought. I think also tied up with this, there are ways of respecting creation – and as humankind is part of this creation, ways of valuing one another. For me the ultimate in showing us how to do this is what we find in Christ. (Which is why I see what I call a revelation of God in Jesus). For others, I have seen them arrive at the same attitudes by different paths so I dont share the view of those who are scornful of other religions. By “No one comes to the Father except by me “- I suspect means “except by arriving at this way”. The human dimension to God is that I dont think historically humans have been particularly good at putting this into words. There are different descriptions of God which are clearly limited. These descriptions are different which is where I get the impression that people appear to worship different Gods. I think the realisation of what this God is like is still far from incomplete eg we still have virtually no clue about what the rest of the Universe means or even what creation actually means. If you really have worked it out you had better tell the scientists. The varying descriptions are often extremely limited. eg some seem to only respect those who have similiar views about God and have no conception of valuing the rest of creation, seeing it rather as something to be exploited. The fact that so many claim to have the right idea about God , then go to war suggests to me they are being highly selective and ignore the parts of Jesus teaching eg loving our enemies and forgiving etc.

  21. Marty says:

    “The fact that so many claim to have the right idea about God , then go to war suggests to me they are being highly selective and ignore the parts of Jesus teaching eg loving our enemies and forgiving etc.”

    So true. This really hit home for me when my son joined the army in 2001 after the World Trade Center attacks. He volunteered for combat duty and went into Iraq on the heels of the initial invasion in May 2003. My church became a rallying center for the war…. or at least that’s how I perceived it. I was appalled. I have been a pacifist since the Vietnam War and believe Jesus taught non-violence. There was pride in what our country was doing. And it was all over their faces and in conversations. “Somebody has to do something about those Muslims.” When my son returned home after his first tour, one of the church members thanked him for his service patting him on the back. My son replied: “Sir, I didn’t do anything over there that you should thank me for”. His letters from Baghdad and our conversations changed my view of the world, my faith, my life, everything.

  22. Cherel says:

    With your sons permission, maybe you could publish pertinent portions of his letters from Baghdad to help others gain a better perspective on the war.

  23. Marty says:

    Cherel, I actually did publish all his letters and e-mails to me on blogger back in 2005 and also blogged about how I felt as a follower of Christ drowning in a sea of fundamentalism, and as a peace activist and mother of a soldier in Iraq. I deleted the blogs earlier this year. Most of the letters were written in 2003-2004 and as such were basically old news and no one was reading or commenting anymore on either blog. So I felt it was time to put them both to rest and move on.

  24. peddiebill says:

    Just a thought Marty. As one of the early protestors about the Vietnam War, I noticed that the patriotic supporters and commentators on the values and gains against godless Communism in Vietnam fell strangely silent after news of the My Lai massacre and after the photo of the naked young girl fleeing the phosphorus bombing. It was as if they had suddenly begun to realise the enormity of what was being done in their name for what subequently turned out to be poor reason. Perhaps the fall-off in interest for your blog was partly the beginning of an embarassed awakening to the notion that what being achieved in Iraq was not the noble defence of freedom and the sorting out of pesky Muslims that it set out to be.

    • Marty says:

      Perhaps you’re right. However, there was a lot of traffic and comments to both blogs as long as my son was in Iraq and I was posting news from him on a regular basis. He did two tours in Iraq and served six years active duty (due to stop loss and extentions) and 2 years inactive. By 2007 he was out of the military and moving on with is life. Traffic to both blogs began slowing down after that.

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