In our fantastic FB debate there were really interesting points raised: I think they

were: -
Rob’s point that Jesus’s message not being consistent with Mathew 10, Luke 14 and
the fig tree offered as examples.
Jason and Rob’s point about Jesus not being about inclusivity with the Canaanite
woman’s story given as an example.
Andy’s question about how I can believe in a God but think all religions are man-
made.
There was also some debate on which rules were given by whom and which still
stand.

This is my current opinion (I try to listen and evaluate other’s opinions) and over the
years my opinions have changed.
Currently I read the bible through a lens which looks at the meta-narrative of the
entire bible – the story of Judaism, where Jesus fits into that story, the story of the
first followers of Jesus and the current story we are living now.
That meta-narrative is the spiritual context of Jesus’ time and how people would
have looked at and viewed Jesus’ words and his actions.
The spiritual context is: God created the world; God created mankind in His own
image to look after the world as God’s stewards; Mankind broke the world by
choosing to turn their backs on God; God made an agreement with a man who was
to become the father of a nation (Abram). The agreement was to create a community
of people specially chosen and set aside by God to live as his special people and
help to repair the broken world. This community is called Israel; Israel, fail to keep to
their side of the bargain. Repeatedly; God tells Israel, through His prophets, the next
part of his plan to fix the broken world; The plan is that God will send His specially
chosen and anointed one – the ‘Messiah’ – to reconcile God and humans and
Heaven and Earth, and to rule God’s Kingdom.
The social context is that the Jews were waiting for the Messiah, they had no word
from God in (people say) 400 years. They were oppressed by Rome and had a
Roman approved ‘Jewish’ leader, Herod the Tetrarch, who was despised by most of
the religious Jews for not being really Jewish – his Father (Herod the Great) in trying
to curry favour had pimped the temple to make it large and showy. So the Messiah
was expected to be a warrior king who would lead the Jewish people back out of this
second slavery (echoing Moses who lead them originally out of slavery in Egypt).
(The Life of Brian is a particularly good representation in my opinion of the
political/religious scene at the time).
The religious leaders of the day were also making life hard for the average person
because of all the rules they kept adding to the law of Moses (Rabbinic laws) to try to
‘help’ people not even come close to breaking the Mosaic Laws, but all this had done
was make life more onerous and less free.
The prophets that spoke about the Messiah and the coming Kingdom of God talk
about Judgement and Restoration. The pictures used are of an everlasting kingdom
of peace, with no mourning and no captivity. A feast is a common picture, with ever-
flowing wine. The violence of nature will be ended – the lion will lie down with the
lamb, and there will be no more sickness – the blind will see and the lame will walk.
(Isaiah is a key Messianic prophet).
The prophets also spend their time complaining about Israel’s lack of faithfulness to
God and failure to fight oppression and look after those who couldn’t look after
themselves (the ‘widows and orphans and strangers’)
There are two important concepts that also shape the way I read the bible.
The Jewish concept of judgement is subtly but importantly different from our own.
When we think of judgement, we think of punishment, we think of judges, passing
judgement on criminals. The Jewish concept of judgement is of putting things right.
Restoration and Judgement are inseparable concepts. For the Messiah to pass
judgement is for Him to restore God’s original creation.
The concept of Shalom: Peace. But more than an absence of strife; Shalom is the
right relationship between us and God, us and each other and us and creation.

So I have all that (and probably some more) when I come to read the stories about
Jesus.
Starting with Luke 14:26 I ask myself what is Jesus’ mission. His mission isn’t to
spread a message about ‘Peace and Love’ like the hippies – but to usher in the
beginning of the kingdom of God – the promised era of reconciliation and restoration
and judgement. All of his miracles are sign posts to this new kingdom – they are not
him just being nice and curing a few people. And although not necessarily explicit
(the reason that Jehovah’s witnesses do not believe in the Trinity) his actions also
indicate that he thought he was God. Especially his forgiveness of sins as part of his
miracle healings – only God could forgive sins.
So when he is talking about priorities in Luke 14 “If anyone comes to me and does
not hate his father and mother….” This is not an anti-love statement. This is totally in
keeping with Matthew 22:37 the greatest commandment is “Love the Lord your God
with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind.” Jesus believes he is God. All of
us use hyperbole for effect. In a land where to turn away from the established
religion meant that you could be shunned from your family and community, choosing
to love and follow Jesus would mean that he was at a higher priority in the followers
lives than their own family.
Which leads me to Matthew 10:34. The established religion saw Jesus and his
followers as rebellion and challenge and trouble. So although eventually the
Kingdom of God will be peaceful and one of the titles of the Messiah is ‘Prince of
Peace’ (Isaiah 9:6) the process to get there won’t be peaceful – so “Do not think I
come to bring peace on earth…” is a direct quote from Micah 7:6 in a passage about
“Israel’s misery” immediately before a passage about “Israel’s Rising”, and Jesus is
addressing his 12 disciples preparing them for meeting resistance as they spread his
message – that the Kingdom of God is near.
The fig tree. Matthew 21:18 and Mark 11:12. Yes absolutely this looks like a petty
and vicious act and a waste of Jesus’ ‘miracle power’. But when you know that
certainly one of the prophets reportedly acted out the prophesies he felt he had to
give to Israel this act of Jesus takes on a different dimension.
Hosea married an unfaithful wife (some translations she is a prostitute) to mirror the
unfaithfulness of Israel towards God. The whole of his book is about him acting out
the judgement and reconciliation between Israel and God, in his life (as an aside, I
have some serious issues with this if it is an accurate account and not just a story).
I use Hosea to show there is precedent in the Jewish psyche for enacted prophesy.
And Jesus is actually prophesying to Israel in most of his teachings – Israel is failing
in its duty to be a light leading all nations to God – “what do you do with salt that has
lost its saltiness?” “why put a lamp on a stand and then cover it with a basket?”
(Matthew 5:13-16) what is the good of a tree which doesn’t produce fruit? It is only fit
for fire wood. The ‘cursing’ of the fig tree is an enacted prophesy – Israel is no longer
producing the fruit that it should be. The temple – the supposed house of God – is
exploiting people financially, not open to all and is a sham which will be destroyed.
This leads my thinking nicely on to “Jesus was not inclusive”. Not racially no. But in
all other ways yes. Women, tax collectors, leapers and just about anybody who
would be ‘unclean’ for the temple and the religious leaders, Jesus welcomed and
accepted.
I think this is a particularly unpleasant thought to our modern ears – but for me it
wasn’t a “you are not welcome if you are not a Jew” – Jesus speaks with the
Samaritan Woman at the well another person from a tribe shunned by the religious
leaders – but a “I have to first come to the Jewish people because they were the
promised people”. I do not have all the answers on this and it does feel a little odd –
but many of the Messianic prophesies talk about ‘all nations’ being restored and
Jesus’ great commission to his followers was “go and make disciples of all nations”. I
read that pre-resurrection Jesus’ message was for Israel, and post-resurrection the
message of the kingdom of God was for all people. And that certainly fits with the
continuing story of Paul being the apostle to the non-Jewish communities while
Jesus’ followers focused on the Jewish converts.
These two factions (Jesus’ original disciples vs Paul) lead to the recorded arguments
about what Mosaic rules were to be continued and what rules should stop. Going
back to the meta-narrative, the story didn’t stop with Jesus, so you have continued
revelation (reportedly through the power of the Holy Spirit) that all foods are now
available to eat and circumcision is no longer required because Israel is no longer
the light to all nations – Jesus is.
Pre-resurrection Jesus says that not the least stroke of a pen of the law will
disappear, post-resurrection Jesus is the fulfillment of the law – to be the light to all
nations.
So, post-resurrection Jesus’ followers do not have to abide by a strict code or laws
and rules, they need to understand the spirit of the law, which is summed up in “Love
the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind” and “Love your
neighbour as yourself”.

Andy asked, “Stefanie Boyle Interested in how you come down on the side of
Jesus being a God, yet also that all religions are man-made? Are you separating
out the rituals, superstitions & texts etc that make up a "religion" from the
supernatural beings that inspired them? Obviously each "being" has inspired a
thousand different interpretations but do you think that someone, somewhere
has got it right, or will the motives of these beings always be opaque? And if they
are always opaque, how and why would we try and please them - surely that's
impossible? (And also talking of CS Lewis, I do prefer Jesus as a talking lion,
much cooler!)”

This answer is my current thinking (bearing in mind it is now 1 o’clock in the morning
and I may be losing lucidity!) and my thinking is made up of many parts, some logic,
some indoctrination, some experience and some other people’s experience.
There is one crucial distinction – I do not think Jesus is ‘a’ God. I think there is only
one God (in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit).
Yes I do separate the rituals, superstitions and texts that make up a religion from the
supernatural being (singular) that inspired them. (I don’t really know what to say
about polytheistic religion here – I need more thinking time �)
I think any religion can have an element of ‘truth’ in, the Holy Spirit can inspire
anyone who is willing. I think God is far bigger than Christianity. But I do think there
is ‘truth’ in the person of Jesus and I think that is what I mean when I said “my
reading of the bible leads me to conclude that Jesus is God.”
That said, I am not blind to the fact that many people wrote ‘the bible’ over many
centuries, I am a Historian by university training so I accept that those people would
be writing with their own bias and world views, which is why I think each generation
needs to interpret the bible in their own way, but still and always with the support of
the Holy Spirit.
Lastly – I don’t need to try to ‘please God’, my (and your, and everybody else’s) very
existence does that. What saddens God is that many of us are not living in a
restored relationship with him (Shalom). My actions and how I try (and often fail) to
live my life are not a pathetic attempt to win the mercy of some supernatural being,
but a genuine reaction to the call of Jesus who tells me I have a job to do to fight
oppression, care for the planet, and serve and love my neighbours until His kingdom
is fully here.
If anyone is interested these are some books and people that have informed my
opinions:

The Bible

The Blue Parakeet: rethinking how you read the bible by Scott McKnight
https://www.amazon.com/Blue-Parakeet-Rethinking-Read-Bible/dp/0310331668

Anything by C. S. Lewis (I particularly like the Screwtape Letters)

God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines
http://www.godandthegaychristian.com/#home

Anything by Noel Moules books, videos, blogs – he is where I first encountered
Shalom.