“Wrestling with a TroubleSome Text” 10/20/2013 by Tori Jameson (Click on title for audio)

Victoria (Tori) Jameson

Year C -Proper 24 (29)

First preached October 20, 2013 at

Union Church in Waban

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (with genesis 32 pericope on Jacob’s Wrestling)

Like so many of us and our young adult children, I spent many Christmases not with my family of origin but family of choice, and one year, that meant that I was a Rauscher. Thirty minutes outside the middle of a small town in North Carolina, and 45 minutes from the nearest Wal-mart, the Rauschers are respectable, pious very conservative Christians who chose, like many in their community, to educate their own children at their own home. All ten children, yes there are ten, were home that Christmas. Their oldest, Josh, had recently gotten married and he and his wife taken in my forlorn teenage self for many meals and much wisdom, and now, the holidays. With thirteen mouths to feed and beds to make, one more person was no real additional burden. This family, every night, has created a ritual of family Bible time. Anyone who was there, including guests, for dinner or overnight stayed for bible time. That first night, we huddled together, eager bodies filling every space of the wood paneled sitting room, the youngest children strewn on the shag carpet, a stack of Bibles being passed out while a few pulled out their own personal Bibles, worn at the ends, the binding stuck together by a few layers of duct tape. When the passing ceased, the rustling hushed, all of them, all with brown eyes the depth and color of cave pools, as one turned to gaze, deeply, intently at the “the picker”, the chosen one to pick the passage to be read and discussed.


That nights picker was a tween boy, about 12 and full of spunk. He proudly said “Psalm 137:9!” Anyone know it?


Here it is: (it is probably not the verse that defines your life)


Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them upon the rocks.


Now, I do not remember what was said about this passage. I do not know if this family talked about the context of this verse-that this is violence wished by the people of Israel upon her long-time tormentors. I do not know if we talked about systemic oppression, the endless cycles of violence, and the radical call found in these scriptures both old and new toward a god and a land and a people of radical non-violence.


What I do remember, and what is essential for us today, as we begin to discuss a key passage in Timothy: this bible, these scriptures, they are full of wild and crazy things. Lose the idea that this is a simple, programatic guide to clear morality- it is nothing of the kind.


Sex of every sort, betrayal, murder, vice, genocide, kidnapping- all of this and so much more in the name of or by the will of the Divine. Morality is not clear here and this isn’t a simple book, deserving of a simple reading.


In the first of our readings this morning, Jacob has been pursued by a murderous mob of 400 men led by his brother Esau, of whom had previously declared his murderous intentions against our hero. Because of this, Jacob sent the many families traveling with him in teams, ahead and loaded with gifts. When they met Esau, they were to give these gifts and a pledge that Jacob was behind them as a way to temper Esau’s anger enough that they could continue onwards to safety. When the time had come, and the place where Esau lay in wait would be reached at last by Jacob and his family, he sent their possessions and themselves across the river and out of danger and then he waited, alone. When at last a man appeared, Jacob wrestled. The passage goes on to claim that Jacob did not wrestle with Esau, as expected, but with God, and god gives Jacob a new name- Israel, a name used later as the name of God’s chosen people. When we wrestle with God, we find that our perception and our being is small, and god’s- well Gods is very broad, wide, and deep indeed. In the wrestling, Jacob is injured but persists in his task until what he is after has been procured-in this case, a blessing. When we wrestle with God, like Jacob, or through our Scriptures, we are changed and maybe, maybe in the tussle, God too, changes, and both leave enlightened.


In this light, let us examine a small portion of today’s reading again from 2 Timothy.


Though there are is number of interesting nuggets here-let me again read verses 16 and 17.


2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.


These verses are what we call the “proof text” of inerrancy. Now hang with me through a bit of unfamiliar terminology.


Let’s talk about that second term first: inerrancy.


A definition From the Chicago statement on Biblical Inerrancy, in 1978


“Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives.. The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded,….; and such lapses bring serious loss to both the individual and the Church.”


Yes, that’s a lot of words but Essentially: inerrancy means that scripture is without fault and to question that is a major, major turn against doctrine, the church, God.


Here at Union Church, we are quick to bristle at the idea of deeply specific doctrine, much less exclusion of persons on doctrinal grounds. This morning, in the welcome I told you that we are a spiritually inclusive faith community, and I mean that. Just as we range in age from the just-born to 93, from Massachusetts and also from far flung corners of the US and the world, we in this community are people and families of a diversity of Christian expressions as Well as other faith commitments and spiritual practices. The things commonly held among us are values of justice, community, and spiritual curiosity, grace and love- not exacting definitions of sin, atonement, the nature of humanity or rolecall and the ranks of the angels. We are a diverse community, seeking in our many expressions to follow the ways of Jesus and the call of the gospel to live out lives of courage and of joy.


Inerrancy matters because of its framing: so many bible texts are weaponized and used against us, whatever “us” looks like and when we are the stand astride these monolithic ” texts of terror”- this verse in Timothy is used against us, as a shield to hide behind, a protected base from which to throw rocks.


Let me give you an example: I am a woman, and I know beyond a doubt that God has called and is calling me into parish ministry, and yet I am a woman. Where I come from, in the place of my raising, with the people most pivotal to my Spiritual formation, those things cannot be embodied by the same person. Out of deep love, because all scripture is inspired by God, and useful for correction, they would actively deny my call and direct me to get married right now, serve god with the ministry of hospitality and Childrearing as a pastors wife, a helpmeet for him when he and he alone does Gods work in the world.


My argument?: yes. I know the bible, but that verse you quote doesn’t mean quite what you think it means- Timothy is thrown. All scripture! The rock throwers yell All scripture!


You too have heard these verses thrown against you, your family, the causes your support, the causes you advocate for,


because you or your loved one is queer identified or you are an Ally, a strident democrat or just someone who wants healthcare access for the poor and marginalized, a strident republican or just someone who wants government to be more responsible, anti-war activist or proud veteran, front line social justice crusader or someone who values are demonstrated more financially, and many more- you are not exempt from the glare of the these verses.


So-These verses are used as a proof-text for inerrancy.


To proof-text means to pull a quotation, or in this case, a verse, from its context and use it in isolation prove a point or portion of doctrine.A person who uses such proof-texting acts on a belief that this verse stands on its own, without any need of context.


All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful.


So here is the needed context:


Second Timothy attributed to an aging Paul, who writes to his beloved disciple, Timothy, to exhort him to remain strong in what he has learned, even in certain difficulty, in part by sharing in the sufferings of Jesus. the sections of the letter both before and after today’s reading are apocalyptic warnings of days visible on the horizon of history that will be filled with godless, dangerous people: those who steal away women, and those who steal away traditional, taught truths.


Today’s reading walks through some of Paul’s sufferings, an exhortation to remain faithful to what has been taught and what has been firmly believed and then- then this verse in question.


The bible is not written by Gods giant finger bursting through the clouds, etching tablets in the sky, nor one human author, and, inerrantists aside, by dictation of every word from a voice in the heavens.


So too, the copies of the texts we have vary from one another, sometimes wildly.


So too, when we go to translate the texts of scripture, Greek and Hebrew and Aramaic are not one to one correspondences to English.


What I mean to purpose is a rather remarkable idea.


All scripture is inspired by God and is useful… Not only is that not the only translation of the best approximation of the Greek text that we have, it is not even the best translation.


Why has this translation been chosen, memorized, and preached when scholars across the board seem to prefer another one ? That’s a complicated question- it has to do with an outdated idea that the text itself must have an orderly structure and a knowable parrellism, and a much newer idea that very conservative folks who would want this translation that we already use- well, they buy a lot of bibles.


The Greek:


???? ????? ??????????? ??? ????????


There is a beautiful difference in the way thoughts are constructed in Greek as opposed to the way sentences are constructed in English. In the Greek, word order doesn’t matter, and in the rare instances where word order would matter, endings are added to words indicate that order.


“All Scripture is inspired by god and is useful” can also be rendered, and is as grammatically valid, as “every Useful scripture is god inspired.”


Did you catch that, the lightness of the burden now in this text? Every useful scripture is god inspired.


This is ground I can stand on, you can hang your hat on, words we can live into! words we can say without flinching.


This is grounds to say that that god is still speaking, grounds to seek Christian unity and interfaith dialogue and action, grounds to simply listen, grounds to explore the vastness of the divine.


We now have space to breathe.


For those who yet ponder-If you are so inclined, I would love to talk to you about how exactly the translation works, sources for this rethinking and other radical moves located within the text- stop me at coffee hour or set up a time later because I would love to dig deeper with you.


Every useful scripture is god inspired.


The focus of this text isn’t the monolith of a created orthodoxy, the proof text of inerrancy. Such a simple second look into text turns swords into plow shares. This isn’t overstatemnet.


A new understanding, a reclaiming, of the text, it’s beautiful, life-giving, hope filled.


To demonstrate in closing this time:


Please repeat this after me:


Every useful scripture is god-inspired.


God is among us, with us, and can be found yet afresh in these ancient texts.