Continuity in the Bible
A Reflection by The Rev. Todd Foster
It’s funny how some stories stick around, whether they’re true or not. They’re familiar. We hear them so much that we assume they’re true. But repetition doesn’t make something true.
One such story goes like this: the Bible is divided into two parts. The God of the Old Testament (also known as the Hebrew scriptures, largely embraced by our Jewish sisters and brothers) is fierce and cruel, uninterested in forgiveness without bloody sacrifice. The God of the New Testament (the Christian scriptures) is loving and full of grace. The Old Testament is a book of law, without love. The New Testament is a book of love, without law.
This is an old story. It is a false story. Marcion was a Christian in the second century who told this story. But even Marcion knew there were problems with his story. So Marcion had to discount the testimony of all the Apostles except Paul (who, you will recall, only met the risen Jesus years after the Resurrection). Marcion rejected all the Scriptures except for Paul’s epistles and a version of Luke’s Gospel which Marcion “corrected” himself.
Marcion’s heresy is a deep, ancient well of Christian anti-semitism.
Contradicting the testimony of others who know better and putting out one’s own story as authoritative is not a new tactic. The Old Testament does speak of plagues and punishments. But so does the New Testament. The New Testament does speak of love and grace. But so does the Old Testament.
A life’s study could be made of my thesis here, so I will provide only a few examples:
In Exodus 20, we find the Ten Commandments. They begin with God explaining, “I am in relationship with you, and I have freed you from slavery.” This is important because the remainder of the Ten Commandments describe for the people how they can avoid enslaving themselves, losing the gift of freedom that God has given them. They are not arbitrary requirements but a recipe for life, just like the exercises provided by your doctor, your dietitian, or your personal trainer. They are God saying, “Do this and you’ll feel better!”
In Exodus 34, as God inscribes the stone tablets of the law for the newly freed slaves, God introduces God’s self to Moses thusly: “The LORD, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation” (Ex 34:6-7 NRSV). Note all the words of mercy and grace and forgiveness. We like steadfast love that lasts for a thousand generations, yet we are troubled by children suffering for their parents’ iniquity. But the point is the contrasts.
How long does God express love to generations of people? To the thousandth generation! That would be around 30,000 years (more commonly known as “forever”).
How long does God see sin polluting a family’s life? To the third and fourth generation. A miniscule amount of time: merely the lifetime of the original sinner, whose bad behavior continues to poison a family and its relationships. My parents abstain from alcohol altogether, but I am still shaped by the alcoholism of just one of my grandparents. As I strive to raise my own children to live healthy, joyful lives, I see my own attitudes and challenges inhabiting their psyches. The reality of sin being handed down generation to generation is obvious to me: when God limits that handing down to a mere three or four generations, I see that not as punishment, but as a sign of tremendous grace and mercy: in other words, love.
Let’s not even get started with the difference between the God of Israel and the blood-thirsty idols, the angry, vengeful gods, of the other nations surrounding them.
Do you think the New Testament carries no words about the life-and-death importance of living with integrity before God? Read the first dozen verses of Acts chapter 5, the story of Ananias and Sapphira, then struggle with me to understand the violence implicitly attributed to God in this passage.
These three passages are emblematic of the struggle throughout the pages of our Bible, Old Testament and New, to understand who God is. We struggle to understand God’s love for us. We struggle to reconcile the idea of a God of mercy with a world that has sharp edges, a world in which we have freedom to hurt ourselves and one another.
The discontinuity at issue is not between Old Testament and New Testament, between a God of anger and a God of mercy, between law and love. It is rather the story of the discontinuity between God and ourselves, the story of God’s steady, unfailing invitation, God’s incessant wooing of our fickle hearts.
Marcion’s heresy has resulted in some despicable actions, but Marcion’s heresy also has been used redemptively by God. It was partly because of Marcion that the early believers assembled the “canon” of texts we now call the Holy Bible, discerning what was true to the spirit of Jesus’ teaching and what was not. The Hebrew Scriptures were not even up for debate: they constitute the Bible from which Jesus and his followers learned about our loving God of mercy and forgiveness.
From Genesis 1.1 to the final words of Revelation, the Bible is a love letter from God to us, written down by people across thousands of years who struggled to comprehend the love of God. Our mission, as a church, is to proclaim that good news of God’s love in thought, word, and deed. In this way we continue the work of Moses, of the prophets, of Jesus and of the apostles. We have yet our own chapter to write in this great story!
Donate Socks to Teen feed and NightWatch
The Epiphany Summer Concert Series and Social Outreach are teaming up this July.
We encourage you to bring a donation of white athletic socks to each concert. A large container will be available for drop off.
Cheers……Ann Beck for Social Outreach
Our 2nd Epiphany Vacation Bible Camp (VBC) begins in just over 3 weeks on July 10! We can use your help before then:
We are collecting HYGIENE ITEMS that our campers will package into clear plastic gallon size Ziploc bags for Syrian refugees. There is a box labelled for VBC in the Christie House Office for your donations.
There is a box in the Epiphany Office for donations. Thank you!
At VBC this summer our theme is Message Received: Hearing God’s Call. We will be learning how to listen and respond to God’s message of love and care for others. In our service station, our children will create hygiene kits that will serve Syrian refugees through a Seattle-based humanitarian aid organization called Salaam Cultural Museum. Salaam Cultural Museum (SCM) is engaged in humanitarian and educational activities. Their mission is to provide humanitarian aid to people affected by conflict and natural disaster within the Middle East North African region and to bring cultures and people together to build bridges of understanding.
If you have questions or can volunteer during the week (July 10-14)or offer support to VBC, please contact me at email@example.com.
Thank you for your continued support of Vacation Bible Camp at Epiphany,
Elizabeth Walker, Children’s Ministry Convener
Cathedrals of the World
Share your photos with Epiphany of the cathedrals you have visited on your travels around the world. Include your name, where photo was taken and name of cathedral.
Get involved in this fun project!
Send to Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” Join us in Elsinore and witness a paranoid and obsessive usurper, a terrorized young woman losing her wits, a lustful queen, a gregarious pomp and at the center of it all a furious and tortured man, struggling to will himself to action. One of William Shakespeare’s most famous plays has never been more timely; playing in the greater Seattle area weekends in July!
For more information go to: hamletseattle.brownpapertickets.com
– Introducing Chinnie’s Catering
Epiphany’s business Manager, Chinn Eap has started a new venture, Chinnie’s Catering – Food From the Heart. Some of you may know Chinn personally and have already enjoyed her fabulous dishes at Epiphany events and parties. Now with Chinnie’s Catering, everyone can experience her traditional and flavorful dishes from her menu. Download the menu and plan your next party!
Click here for downloadable menu.
Third Sunday After Pentecost
Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17
Click here to view Prayer List