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500 Bible readings

Christian scriptures

What does seem to me to be completely true is that a Christian life and
the Bible go hand in hand.   Ignoring the Bible is like trying to go through
life unable to remember anything that happened before today.

Lloyd Lee Wilson
With  'inspiration'  as the excuse,  the ecclesiastical tradition has encouraged a
superstitious regard for the Bible  -  an approach which clouds understanding.
What God breathes life into is people.   My desire is to meet the people  -
of greater or lesser inspiration as it may be  -  who gave us the Bible.


Hebrew scriptures   (63k)      1 - 240

Key parables of Jesus
Scholars try to rescue key parables of Jesus out of the sermon-like settings in which we now find them.   That means discarding the interpretations there attached to them,  acknowledging that the stories are probably still slanted to an undetermined extent by the gospel writers' teaching interests,  and struggling to work out what Jesus himself may have meant by them.   This turns out to be an extremely difficult task,  requiring decisions along the way as to what the central focus of the ministry of Jesus actually was.

Probably the most popular method of interpretation,  still,  assumes that the primary comparison to be made is that between the dominant figure in the story and God.   A quite different possibility arises if we 'read' Jesus as especially concerned with the suffering of the poor brought about by the Roman occupation,  social injustice,  and the dominant religious system.   Then many of the parables may in fact be explorations of the system and of ways of responding to it,  and characters in the stories should be interpreted according to their social roles.   The final verdict is not in,  but the hints here assume this second approach.

There are other parables that would also be in place here,  notably those from Mark at #319,  #320,  and #346  (which have been strongly re-shaped to suit Mark's teaching purpose.)   This is not a complete list.

#241:Matthew 13:44-46
The treasure in the field;  the pearl.

The future has become more complicated for both of them.   The finder's action is immoral,  and it won't be easy for him to hide what he has done.   The merchant has a marvellous pearl,  but now no ready capital to do anything else with.

#242:Matthew 18:23-35
The unforgiving slave.

The king's extraordinary generosity has not achieved any reformation of the social world around him.

#243:Matthew 20:1-16
Labourers in the vineyard.

The wealthy landowner amuses himself by playing games with his destitute workers,  and still manages to put them in the wrong.

#244:Matthew 25:14-30
The talents.

Only one of the three is not prepared to sell his soul in order to get rich.

#245:Luke 10:25-37
The good Samaritan.

Religious orthodoxy,  or the compassionate heart?

#246:Luke 12:13-21
The rich fool.

It is noteworthy that the parallel in Gospel of Thomas 63 lacks the moralizing of Luke's version.

#247:Luke 14:15-24
The dinner party.

The parable seems to undermine expectations about the messianic banquet  (Isaiah 25).

#248:Luke 15:11-32
The prodigal son.

#249:Luke 16:1-9
The crafty steward.

Master and steward both profit from an exploitative system in which one of the steward's functions is to distance his master from the actual dirty work.   The steward,  suddenly facing disaster,  thinks of a trick which obliges the master,  in his own interests,  to go along.   The steward's strategem may have been to excuse the debtors the usurious interest hidden in the contracts.   The master cannot disown the action without exposing himself as disobedient to the Law which forbids usury.

#250:Luke 16:19-31
The rich man and the beggar.

The rich man belongs to an elite which assumes that the possession of wealth is itself a sign of God's favour.   The beggar will have absorbed the same message and drawn the negative conclusion about himself.

#251:Luke 18:1-8
The unjust judge.

Widows being cheated in the settlement of their husbands' estates,  through the connivance of corrupt judges,  had few defenders and were expected to accept their lot.   But this woman gets her rights by shamelessly going public and embarrassing the judge.

#252:Luke 18:9-14
Pharisee and toll-collector.

The Pharisee,  too,  is a toll-collector.   Part of his vocation is to reinforce the obligation of the temple exactions.


The genuine letters of Paul
The acknowledged genuine letters of Paul are Romans,  1 and 2 Corinthians,  Galatians,  Philippians,  1 Thessalonians,  and Philemon.   The others have been written in his name by people further down the line.   The end result of this deceit,  along with the insertion of spurious verses in a few places in the genuine letters,  is a marvellous latter-day confusion as to what Paul was really on about.

Paul's Christian understanding was strongly apocalyptic rather than theologically revolutionary.   He knew Christ to be alive with God,  and he taught that that was the prospect for all of us who demonstrate the kind of practical faith in God's promise that Abraham showed.

#253:1 Thessalonians 2  (omit 14-16)
Paul to a beloved congregation.

The omitted verses express an anti-Semitism that is quite uncharacteristic of Paul,  and they presume the destruction of Jerusalem,  which happened after Paul's death.

#254:1 Thessalonians 4
God called us to holiness.
      Those who have died are not lost to God.


Christians cannot relate to one another as master and slave.


As Paul sees it,  the Galatian communities are being led astray by teachers who insist that pagan converts must also accept Jewish legal prescriptions.   He defends his own message,  amongst other things,  by giving an account of his own beginnings in the faith.   This gives us much better information,  of course,  than we get from the book of Acts.

The letter to the Romans is concerned to leave room for Christians of Jewish origin who are in danger of being rejected by a dominant gentile Christian community.   Galatians and Romans cover similar ground but make different points,  because they are speaking to different situations.

#256:Galatians 1
Paul defends his gospel.

#257:Galatians 2
The Jerusalem council.   Tensions in Antioch.

#258:Galatians 3:1-14, 21-29
All are one in Christ Jesus.

Paul's description of Christian reality in verse 28,  which may be a quote from an early baptismal ritual,  should be given its full value.   He stands by it,  as many later Christians would not.

#259:Galatians 5
What counts is faith active in love.
      Freedom is not self-indulgence.

#260:Galatians 6
Circumcision is nothing;
      uncircumcision is nothing.


#261:Philippians 1:1-26
Imprisonment is no hindrance to the gospel.

#262:Philippians 2:1-13
Have in you the mind of Jesus.


The letters to Corinth
Corinth was a major mercantile centre in close relationship with Rome.   Paul could claim priority as apostle to the Corinthian church but others had followed him.   This church covered an unusually wide range of social classes.   Some of its inner tensions were being rationalized by appeal to the teaching of different apostles.

2 Corinthians seems to be made up of pieces of several letters.

#263:1 Corinthians 1:1-17
Let there be no divisions among you.

#264:1 Corinthians 1:18 - 2:10a
God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom.

#265:1 Corinthians 3
We apostles are simply God's agents.

#266:1 Corinthians 4
Fools for Christ's sake.

#267:1 Corinthians 5
Drive out the wicked person.

The motive may have been something unromantic,  like keeping her money in the family.   The connection objected to would be contrary to Roman law,  but the wealthy can often find ways around such obstacles.

#268:1 Corinthians 6:1-8
How can Christians settle their differences in a civil court?

Apart from anything else,  Roman judicial process favoured those who could 'sweeten' the judges with monetary gifts.   If Corinthian Christians opted to use this system,  it meant they were prepared to cheat one another.

#269:1 Corinthians 6:12-20
Honour God in your body.

#270:1 Corinthians 7:1-16
Marriage or celibacy?

Paul is even-handed as between the sexes in this discussion.   Opening the possibility of celibacy was a gift of freedom in a society which put strong pressure on people to marry.

#271:1 Corinthians 8
Food sacrificed to idols.

There are two issues here:  eating food that has been sacrificed to idols,  and joining in pagan festivals where such food would be consumed.   Paul would have been more flexible about the first than about the second.   Rich and powerful members of the Corinthian church would want to share in public occasions that included pagan observance and feasting.   As Paul sees it,  their argument from their freedom in Christ is destructive for others struggling to leave idol worship behind.

#272:1 Corinthians 9
Paul's independence as an apostle.

Paul has been careful not to accept financial support where this could compromise the preaching of the gospel.   In Corinth the patronage implications of being financially beholden to anybody certainly had to be avoided.

#273:1 Corinthians 10:14-33
More about food sacrificed to idols.

#274:1 Corinthians 11:17-34
Meals in common should honour the Lord.

#275:1 Corinthians 12
Concerning spiritual gifts.

The elite,  and in Paul's eyes erring,  Corinthian Christians apparently argue that their possession of dramatic spiritual gifts is the proof that they are on the right track.

#276:1 Corinthians 13
Faith,  hope,  and love,  the abiding gifts.

#277:1 Corinthians 14:20-40  (omit 34, 35)
Do everything decently and in order.

The omitted verses are in direct conflict with the attitude of Paul in this letter  (11:5)  and elsewhere,  and must be assumed to be interpolations from another hand.

#278:1 Corinthians 15:1-19
Teaching about the resurrection.

#279:1 Corinthians 15:35-58
How are the dead raised?


#280:2 Corinthians 8:1-15
Be generous!

#281:2 Corinthians 10
Self-recommendation doesn't mean much.

#282:2 Corinthians 11:16-33
Paul's credentials.

#283:2 Corinthians 12:1-10
Paul's mystical experience.

There was an ancient Jewish mystical tradition.   It is possible that Paul was 'into' such things,  even before his Christian awakening.   The experience that made him a follower of Christ could well have been the mystical vision of Jesus in heaven with God,  which he would have accepted as totally real.   It would have overturned his previous antipathy to the Christian proclamation.   'Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?'  (1 Corinthians 9:11)


This letter is from Paul to gentile Christians whom he has not yet visited.   Its aim is to claim space in the Christian community for Jewish Christians  -  who are in danger of being rejected or disowned.   All Paul's genuine letters address practical situations.   His letter to Roman Christians is not intended primarily as a theological treatise,  any more than the others are.
#284:Romans 1:1-17
Paul to the Christians of Rome.

#285:Romans 1:18-32
The wrath of God.

Paul shows no awareness of the possibility of mutual loving same-sex relationships,  so he has nothing to say about them.   What he does know is that three of the last four emperors had appalling public reputations for orgiastic behaviour of an exploitative kind,  both heterosexual and homosexual.   This is the sort of thing he and his readers will be thinking about here.

#286:Romans 2:1-16
Jews and Greeks are on the same footing with God.

#287:Romans 4:1-22
Both Jews and Greeks count as Abraham's posterity.

#288:Romans 5:1-11
Let us have peace with God.

To try to earn salvation,  whether by an achievement of faith or an achievement of works,  is to be at war with God.   We must not boast of anything in ourselves.

#289:Romans 5:12-21
The free gift in Christ.

Paul finds the idea of Christ's death as expiation  (which he did not originate)  inadequate.  Here he surrounds it with apocalyptic insight.   The tragedy of Adam was not just that he allowed Sin into the world but that he created a breach that Death could slip through.   What came with Christ was not just a way to deal with sin,  but potentially the ultimate defeat of Death itself.

#290:Romans 6:15-23
Be slaves to righteousness,  not slaves to sin.

In Paul's apocalyptic way of thinking you always have a master.   The only question is whether you are a slave of sin or a slave of righteousness.   So it is actually impossible for anyone to be under grace and yet go on consenting to sin.

#291:Romans 7:7-25
How a Christian sees the road travelled.

This is not a description of Paul's personal experience in particular.   It doesn't fit him.   It is any Christian,  but more especially a gentile,  looking back with new insight to understand the past she/he has moved on from.

#292:Romans 8:1-11
Life in the Spirit.

Life responsive to the Spirit takes you out of the realm where you are under punishment.   Paul is not talking about some heavenly transaction that exempts you,  but about a different kind of existence that you actually enter into when you are moved by the Spirit.

#293:Romans 8:12-25
We hope for a salvation yet to come.

#294:Romans 8:26-39
Nothing will separate us from the love of God.

#295:Romans 10:1-12
Paul's desire for the salvation of Israel.

Christ is the goal of the Law.   What Israel has is 'on the way' but has not arrived.   It is not that the Law and the Christian revelation are moving in opposite directions.   Paul cannot rest satisfied with the common perception amongst gentile Christians that Israel as a whole has rejected Christ  -  that the gentiles have become the new Israel and inheritors of all the promises.  For Paul the promises to Abraham must have their proper fulfilment.

#296:Romans 11:25-36
God's plan for Gentiles and Jews.

God's future belongs to them all.

#297:Romans 12
Present your bodies as a living sacrifice.

It is as a community of gentiles and Jews that Paul urges the Christians of Rome to demonstrate what their life is all about.

#298:Romans 13:8-14
Love is the fulfilling of the Law.

An important point for Paul.   The Law has not been rendered meaningless and it has not been cancelled.   But fulfilling the Law is not a matter of having a comprehensive list of commandments and scrupulously obeying each one.

#299:Romans 14
Gentiles,  be sensitive to Jewish concerns over food.

When they were not confident of obtaining meat killed according to regulation,  Jewish Christians might simply adopt a vegetable diet.

#300:Romans 15:14-33
Paul's future plans.


The  'Q'  document
Comparison of the gospels of Matthew and Luke shows that they both copied from Mark,  and both used an earlier document  -  perhaps in different editions  -  now commonly labelled  Q.   It is well worth separating out  Q  material,  because it is evidence for a Galilean Jesus-community that had different preoccupations and even different theology from what later became the official line.

Q  is a collection of the sayings of Jesus,  similar to the Gospel of Thomas,  but organized in connected discourses.   There are no stories or sayings about the death or resurrection of Jesus;  there are no birth stories;  the title 'Messiah' or 'Christ' does not appear;  there is only minor interest in miracles.

The  Q  people thought of themselves as an oppressed group  -  poor,  hungry,  weeping,  persecuted.   Their marginal situation is reflected in a concern about food and clothing.   They were people with a mission,  but it seems their mission was largely unsuccessful.   There is frequent mention of rejection.   Their particular enemies were 'scribes and Pharisees'.   They did not think of Jesus' death as having saving significance,  but as being like the deaths of the prophets before him.

#301:Luke 4:1-12
Jesus tempted by the devil.

#302:Luke 6:20-26
The beatitudes in Luke's version.

The first three of the beatitudes as presented here were almost certainly original to Jesus.

#303:Luke 6:27-38
Love your enemies.

#304:Luke 6:39-49
A house built on sand.

#305:Luke 7:1-10
The centurion's slave.

#306:Luke 9:57-62
Foxes have holes.

#307:Luke 10:1-12
Sent on mission,  two by two.

#308:Luke 11:1-13
The Lord's prayer.

Actually only the first four verses are from Q.   The remainder is from Luke's own special material.   The parable probably goes back in some form to Jesus himself.

#309:Luke 11:14-28
Is Satan divided against himself?

#310:Luke 11:42-52
Woe to you Pharisees!

#311:Luke 12:54-59
Judge for yourselves what is right.

#312:Luke 17:20-37
When will the kingdom come?

The sayings  'Not by observation' and  'The kingdom is among you'  are not from Q.   They are,  however,  regarded as genuine Jesus sayings.


Mark's Gospel was written for a Galilean community,  around the time of the Roman-Jewish war,  perhaps just before the end of that conflict.   Mark knew from Jesus that tyranny and exploitation were to be resisted by 'kingdom' means.   In the chaotic situation of wartime Galilee rebel recruiters,  we may imagine,  were leaning on the able-bodied to present themselves for military service in Jerusalem,  while the occupying Roman military were merciless in punishing any kind of dissident activity.   Under such pressures it was difficult to keep the community together,  and difficult to hold on to the Jesus vision.

Mark's story does not suggest any easy options.   It shows Jesus pioneering the way of the cross,  accompanied by a band of followers who are uncomprehending to the end.   When the story finishes the disciples are sent back to the beginning,  back to Galilee,  to walk the road themselves,  this time with understanding.   Now they will be aware that in spite of all appearances this is the road to victory.

#313:Mark 1:1-13
The real good news  -  not the 'good news' of Roman propaganda.

#314:Mark 1:14-20
The mission of Jesus begins.

#315:Mark 1:21-45
Jesus,  healer.

#316:Mark 2:1-12
Jesus presumes to declare sins forgiven.

It was officially taught that an affliction like this was the result of somebody's sin.   Sin resulted in indebtedness to God,  which could be conveniently discharged through tithes and sacrifices.   For Jesus to declare forgiveness,  just like that,  was to challenge the religious debt system,  and incidentally to undermine a key source of clerical income.

The point of the story,  then,  is not that Jesus has a special mandate to forgive sins,  but rather that Jesus was dismissive of a religious system that got its leverage by persuading people they were sinners.

#317:Mark 2:13 - 3:6
Jesus repudiates the official religious system.

#318:Mark 3:20-35
My kin are those who do the will of God.

#319:Mark 4:1-20
The parable of the sower.

#320:Mark 4:24-32
The seed growing secretly;  the mustard seed.

#321:Mark 4:35-41
Jesus stills the storm.

#322:Mark 5:1-20
The demon that symbolized Roman military power.

#323:Mark 5:21-43
The woman suffering hemorrhages.

#324:Mark 6:1-6
Jesus 'put down' in his home synagogue.

#325:Mark 6:7-13
The twelve sent out.

#326:Mark 6:14-29
The death of John the Baptist.

It is true that Herod imprisoned John the Baptist and finally had him executed,  no doubt for good political reasons.   But Mark has produced an almost comic caricature of the goings-on in Herod's court to express his own estimate of one section of Jesus' opponents.   This is the shameless level of decision-making amongst the elite.   John's fate underlines what Jesus may expect,  and his followers.

#327:Mark 6:30-44
Jesus feeds 5000.

Mark's story closely follows that of an Elisha miracle  (#130).   The context there is famine  -  starvation.   The disciples balk at trying to feed so many.   Jesus says give what you have  -  it will be enough.   Nothing 'supernatural' is actually reported to have happened.

#328:Mark 6:45-56
Danger at sea.

#329:Mark 7:1-23
The legal tradition.

#330:Mark 7:24-30
In gentile territory  -  the Syrophoenician woman.

#331:Mark 7:31-37
Healing the deaf and mute.

#332:Mark 8:1-9
Feeding the gentiles.

#333:Mark 8:11-26
No sign will be given.

#334:Mark 8:27 - 9:1
Who do you say that I am?

Peter comes up with the answer 'the Messiah'.   Jesus does not directly accept this answer,  but goes on to outline the future for the 'Son of Man'  (or the 'Human One'  -  the ambivalent title borrowed from Daniel 7).   Peter is rebuked because he cannot accept what Jesus foretells.

#335:Mark 9:2-13
The transfiguration of Jesus.

#336:Mark 9:14-29
Only through prayer.

Prayer involves belief in such change as seems,  by ordinary calculation,  as impracticable as moving mountains.   Unbelief is the despairing suspicion that nothing is really strong enough to counter opposing forces.

#337:Mark 9:30-41
The one who would be first must be servant of all.

#338:Mark 10:1-12
The question of divorce.

#339:Mark 10:13-16
The kingdom belongs to those as vulnerable as children.

#340:Mark 10:17-31
The rich man and Jesus.

The suggestion that 'Jesus loved him' is probably not original to this gospel.

#341:Mark 10:32-45
Jesus will pay the cost of human liberation.

#342:Mark 10:46-52
Blind Bartimaeus  -  pattern for the true disciple.

#343:Mark 11:1-11
Approach to Jerusalem.

#344:Mark 11:11-19
Judgment on the temple.

#345:Mark 11:27-33
Jesus asked for his credentials.

#346:Mark 12:1-12
The rebellious tenants.

In its various gospel settings the parable speaks to a Christian understanding of the Jesus event.   It becomes especially difficult to imagine the original Jesus story and its intention.   The tenants belong to the class which has been dispossessed of the land by the wealthy,  and are now required to farm it for those others.   But their violent response only breeds more violence.   Is this the only way to challenge injustice and oppression?

#347:Mark 12:13-17
Pay tax?   To whom are you in debt?

Mark's intention is either-or,  not both-and.

#348:Mark 12:18-27
The question about resurrection.

The answer Jesus gives is that,  in any place where God rules,  people do not own one another.   The focus is on the patriarchal marriage institution,  not on sexuality as such.

#349:Mark 12:28-34
The chief commandment.

#350:Mark 12:38-44
The widow's mite  -  the temple has taken everything.

#351:Mark 13:1-23
Mounting chaos and disorder.

#352:Mark 13:24-37
Vision of the end.

#353:Mark 14:1-9
A woman anoints Jesus,  acknowledging his destiny.

#354:Mark 14:12-25
The last meal with the disciples.

#355:Mark 14:26-50
In Gethsemane.

There is documentary evidence that verses  51, 52  are not original.

#356:Mark 14:53-65
The Sanhedrin trial.

#357:Mark 14:66-72
Peter denies Jesus.

#358:Mark 15:1-20
Jesus brought before Pilate.

#359:Mark 15:21-32
Taken out to be crucified.

#360:Mark 15:33-39
My God,  why have you forsaken me?

#361:Mark 15:40-47
The burial of Jesus.

#362:Mark 16:1-8
The women at the tomb.

Verses beyond verse 8  are not original to this gospel.


Matthew's Gospel was certainly not written by the disciple.   It comes from an urban setting in Galilee or Syria.   There is uncertainty amongst scholars as to whether this community still regarded itself as part of Judaism or whether it had separated.   Matthew sees Jesus as the new Moses  -  a very high rating in a Jewish environment.   The Law is still obligatory,  but Matthew  (like Paul)  clarifies what the Law really means.

Matthew has a strong teaching emphasis,  concentrating Jesus' instruction in five speeches.   He has also,  unfortunately,  a patriarchal bias.   Of the four gospels,  only Mark and John remember the equality of women and men that characterized the Jesus movement.

#363:Matthew 1:18-25
The birth of Jesus  -  Matthew's version.

#364:Matthew 2
The visit of the Magi.

#365:Matthew 5:1-12
The beatitudes.

#366:Matthew 5:13-20
The salt of the earth.

#367:Matthew 5:21-32
On anger,  divorce.

#368:Matthew 5:33-48
You must be perfect.

#369:Matthew 6:1-15
Prayer and almsgiving.

#370:Matthew 6:16-24
You cannot serve God and mammon.

#371:Matthew 6:25-34
Trust in God's provision.

#372:Matthew 7:1-14
On judging;  prayer;  the golden rule.

#373:Matthew 7:15-29
The true disciple.

#374:Matthew 11:2-19
John the Baptist's question.

#375:Matthew 11:25-30
Come unto me.

#376:Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
The sabotaged wheat crop.

#377:Matthew 16:13-28
On this rock I will build my church.

#378:Matthew 18:15-22
Where two or three meet in my name.

The presence of Christ to two or three gathered in his name is Matthew's equivalent of Luke's  'gift of the Holy Spirit'.

#379:Matthew 25:1-13
The wise and foolish bridesmaids.

#380:Matthew 25:31-46
The sheep and the goats.

This is a vision of the final judgment,  not a parable.   It is not regarded as original to Jesus.   The point is not that learning to care is a way of surviving the judgment.   The righteous in the story have not calculated like that.   They are surprised at the way things turn out.

#381:Matthew 28
Go and make disciples of all nations.


John's Gospel features a deliberately unnamed 'beloved disciple'.   This person is clearly looked to as a founding inspiration of the community,  just as Peter was regarded as the founding apostle of Matthew's community and what became the dominant Christian line.   In spite of what the final chapter suggests,  the beloved disciple is unlikely to be the writer of the Gospel.   He was not necessarily one of the Twelve,  and we have no means of identifying him more closely.

This gospel is very different in tone from the other three.  It will become more comprehensible to us if we appreciate that it is  (as indeed the others are)  creative inspirational writing.   It explores the religious meaning of Jesus for a community that was not derivative from the communities of Mark or Matthew.   The geographical location is somewhere in Galilee or Syria.   The background is Jewish rather than gentile.   The date is towards the end of the first century.   Reading between the lines we realize that this group of people had wished to witness to their faith in Jesus as Messiah while remaining within the Jewish community.   That turned out to be impossible,  and they have been expelled from the synagogue.   Bitter feelings lead to some harsh sayings about 'the Jews',  which have unfortunately fuelled later anti-Semitism.

#382:John 1:1-18
In the beginning was the Word.

This is at one level a hymn to Wisdom  (#38).   John's community would see here the story of Christ,  and this becomes explicit in verse 14.

#383:John 1:19-34
John the Baptist's witness to Jesus.

#384:John 1:35-51
The first disciples.

#385:John 2:1-11
The wedding at Cana.

#386:John 2:12-25
The temple confrontation according to John.

#387:John 3:1-21
Nicodemus comes secretly to Jesus.

Nicodemus represents people who would like to believe in Jesus,  but fear the consequences.

#388:John 4:1-42
The Samaritan woman at the well.

Indirectly the story carries a memory of a region in which a woman was the primary Christian evangelist.

#389:John 4:43-54
The cure of the nobleman's son.

#390:John 5:1-18
The healing at the Pool of Bethzatha.

#391:John 6:1-15
The miracle of the loaves.

#392:John 6:22-51
I am the bread of life.

#393:John 7:1-24
Jesus teaches in Jerusalem.

#394:John 7:25-36
Is he the Messiah?

#395:John 7:37-52
Living water.   A prophet from Galilee?

#396:John 8:1-11
The woman taken in adultery.

There are good textual and other reasons for deciding that this passage was not originally part of John's Gospel.   It does sound like early tradition.

#397:John 8:12-20
The light of the world.

#398:John 8:31-47
The truth will make you free.

#399:John 8:48-59
Before Abraham was,  I Am.

#400:John 9
The man born blind.

This is a key chapter for understanding the dynamics of John's Gospel.   The man is shown going through the stages of discovering and believing that Jesus is the Son of Man,  which is for John a messianic title.   He becomes the pattern disciple,  fearless and loyal,  and is therefore cast out of the synagogue.

#401:John 10:1-21
The good shepherd.

#402:John 11:1-54
The raising of Lazarus.

#403:John 12:1-11
The anointing at Bethany.

#404:John 13:1-17
Jesus washes the disciples' feet.

#405:John 14:1-21
Do not let your hearts be troubled.

#406:John 15:1-8
I am the true vine.

#407:John 15:9-21
Love one another.

We may be surprised that the love commandment is directed inwards towards the community,  rather than to the neighbour or the enemy.   But defining discipleship in terms of a fullness of love is a complement,  or even a corrective,  to the emphasis on self-denial and sacrifice in the other gospels.   This community's openness to feminine values shows through.

#408:John 16:1-15
Promise of the Spirit.

#409:John 17
Consecrate them in the truth.

#410:John 18:1-12
The arrest of Jesus.

#411:John 19:1-16
Jesus before Pilate.

#412:John 19:17-30
Jesus on the cross.

#413:John 20:1-18
The women at the tomb.

Mary Magdalene becomes the first to encounter the risen Jesus and the first to declare the Easter faith.   Perhaps,  historically,  it was she who put the disciples back on their feet and made faith in the risen Lord possible for others.

#414:John 20:19-29
Doubting Thomas.

#415:John 21
Jesus and Peter.


Luke and Acts
Luke's Gospel and Acts were written by an enthusiastic gentile Christian for readers in the gentile world.   His real name is not known to us.   Luke had a vision,  most daring for his time,  of Christianity becoming the faith of the whole world.   He decided to write up the Jesus-story and the story of the Church's beginnings in a shape that would capture the interest,  and even win the commitment,  of ordinary readers.   That called for some artistic licence rather than the presentation of a dry factual record.   He obviously had a collection of source materials,  but he never let these take over the story,  and he was always ready to deploy his own creative imagination.   Indeed the book of Acts,  in particular,  reads like historical romance more than anything else.   Of course the world was not,  in the event,  christianized.   Nevertheless,  Luke's work set the Christian agenda for many centuries to come.

Looking at it now,  we appreciate his concern for social justice and his challenge to compassion.   He has preserved parables that would otherwise have been lost to us.   We probably find his obsession with miracles a bit much.   We would prefer him not to have forgotten the earliest Christian tradition of the equality of men and women.   We no longer share his triumphalist vision of the church's global victory.   We remain hugely indebted to him,  even when we disagree with him most strongly.

#416:Luke 1:5-25
An angel appears to Zechariah.

#417:Luke 1:26-38
The angel Gabriel visits Mary.

#418:Luke 1:39-56
My soul magnifies the Lord.

#419:Luke 1:57-80
The birth of John the Baptist.

#420:Luke 2:1-7
The birth of Jesus.

#421:Luke 2:8-20
Shepherds visit the infant Jesus.

#422:Luke 2:21-40
Simeon and Anna.

#423:Luke 2:41-52
I must be in my Father's house.

#424:Luke 3:1-22
The baptism of Jesus.

#425:Luke 4:14-30
The spirit of the Lord is upon me.

#426:Luke 5:1-11
Jesus calls fishermen.

#427:Luke 7:11-17
Jesus raises the son of the widow of Nain.

#428:Luke 10:38-42
Mary and Martha according to Luke.

Luke belittles Martha for being concerned with trivial things,  while praising Mary who is passive at Jesus' feet.   In contrast John  (#402, #403)  shows Martha to be as strong in her faith as Peter,  and attributes strength to the quieter Mary also.   John's acceptance of women,  as showing evangelistic initiative and potentially having a stature equal to men's in the Christian movement,  is beyond Luke's imagining.

#429:Luke 13:1-9
The barren fig tree.

#430:Luke 14:25-33
Counting the cost.

#431:Luke 15:1-10
Lost sheep;  lost coin.

#432:Luke 17:11-19
Ten lepers healed and only one returns thanks.

#433:Luke 19:1-10

#434:Luke 24:1-11
The resurrection according to Luke.

#435:Luke 24:13-35
Encounter on the Emmaus road.

#436:Luke 24:36-53
Continuing the Emmaus story.


#437:Acts 1
Church beginnings according to Luke.

#438:Acts 2:1-21
Luke's account of the gift of the Holy Spirit.

#439:Acts 3:1-10
The healing at the Beautiful Gate.

#440:Acts 4:1-31
Peter and John arrested.

Luke strains our credulity somewhat by picturing the whole community engaging,  in unison,  in spontaneous prayer.   However in ancient writing of this kind it was acceptable to add colour with imagined detail and invented speeches.

#441:Acts 4:32 - 5:12
Of one heart and soul.

#442:Acts 5:17-42
We must obey God rather than human authority.

#443:Acts 6
Problems in the church.   Stephen arrested.

Reading between the lines,  we discover that the real rift in the Jerusalem community centred on attitudes to the Jewish Law.   The task of Stephen and the other 'deacons' is not to 'wait on tables'  -  they are powerful evangelists.   Eventually these Hellenists are driven out of Jerusalem,  while the conservatives,  grouped round James the brother of Jesus,  comfortably remain.

#444:Acts 7:44 - 8:3
The conclusion of Stephen's speech.

On the evidence of Galatians 1  it is improbable that Paul had anything to do with the stoning of Stephen or the ensuing persecution.   He says he was not known to the Christians of Judea.   It may seem rather 'picky' to keep on emphasizing Luke's historical fuzziness.   However in the case of Paul it is rather important to get it into our heads that we should not trust Luke at all as his interpreter.

#445:Acts 8:4-25
Simon the Magician.

#446:Acts 8:26-40
The Ethiopian eunuch.

#447:Acts 9:1-9
Paul's conversion  -  according to Luke.

#448:Acts 9:10-25
Paul in Damascus.

It may be that Paul originally belonged in Damascus,  as a leader of the Jewish synagogue,  and that it was from that base that he harassed Jews who came to believe in Jesus as Messiah.

#449:Acts 10:1-23
Peter's vision;  Cornelius.

#450:Acts 10:24-48
The Holy Spirit falls on the gentiles.

#451:Acts 12:1-19
Peter's arrest and miraculous release.

#452:Acts 13:1-12
Barnabas and Paul set apart for mission.

#453:Acts 14:8-18
Barnabas and Paul at Lystra.

Barnabas and Paul are embarrassingly mistaken for Zeus and Hermes who,  readers may remember,  once got a bad time on arrival in this region,  being rejected by all except Baucis and Philemon.   The natives don't want to make the same mistake twice.

#454:Acts 15:1-35
The council at Jerusalem.

#455:Acts 15:36 - 16:10
Paul brings the gospel to Europe.

#456:Acts 16:11-40
Paul in Philippi.

#457:Acts 17:16-34
Paul in Athens.

#458:Acts 18:18-28
Apollos instructed by Priscilla and Aquila.

#459:Acts 19:1-20
Paul in Ephesus.

#460:Acts 19:23-41
The disturbance in Ephesus.

#461:Acts 20:7-12
Eutychus restored to life.

#462:Acts 21:15-36
Paul arrested in Jerusalem.

#463:Acts 23:12-24
Paul taken to Caesarea to escape ambush.

#464:Acts 28:1-16
Paul arrives in Rome.

#465:Acts 28:17-31
Paul in Rome.

Luke would probably have liked to show Paul as the one who brought the gospel to Rome,  but in this case the facts were too well known.   Luke must have been aware of the circumstances of Paul's death but he doesn't tell us,  presumably because he wants to end on a positive note.


1 John
This letter,  which may be intended as a general tract,  is by someone in the Johannine tradition,  but not by the writer of the gospel himself.   It allows us to see that there has now been division and secession from the community.
#466:1 John 1
God is light.

#467:1 John 2:18-29
They went out from us.

#468:1 John 3:9-24
We should love one another.

#469:1 John 4:1-6
Test the spirits.

#470:1 John 4:7-21
Love is from God.


Pseudo Paul
Paul's mana became so great in the decades after his death that letters began to be written with his name attached to them,  and even with fabricated personal details included to reinforce the fiction.   Whether or not we regard this as reprehensible,  the fact remains that certain books would never have made it into the canon of Christian scriptures without this misdirection.   The unfortunate consequence in our time is that we must struggle very hard indeed if we wish to encounter the real Paul behind the smokescreen.
#471:2 Thessalonians 2:1-12
Don't let them tell you that Christ has already returned.


#472:Colossians 1:9-23
He is the image of the invisible God.

#473:Colossians 3:12 - 4:6
The household code.

Versions of the 'household code' crop up regularly in later epistles,  giving instructions as to how various members of the household should conduct themselves.   The flavour is patriarchal,  with the proviso that the head of the household should be loving towards everybody else.   By this stage the Christian movement was doing its best to conform to the ideals of the surrounding society.


#474:Ephesians 1
Christ,  head over all things.

#475:Ephesians 4:1-16
Diverse gifts of ministry.

#476:Ephesians 5:21 - 6:9
Wives be subject to your husbands.


#477:1 Timothy 2
The men should do the praying.

#478:1 Timothy 3:1-13
Necessary qualities for church leaders.

#479:1 Timothy 5:3-16
Not all widows deserve support.


Other pseudonymous letters

#480:1 Peter 1:3-12
A living hope.

#481:1 Peter 2:1-10
You are a chosen people.

#482:1 Peter 2:13-25
Be prepared to suffer.


#483:James 1:1-18
Don't blame God for your shortcomings.

#484:James 1:19-27
True religion combines compassion and fidelity.

#485:James 2:1-13
Money talks  -  but don't listen.

#486:James 2:14-26
Faith without works is dead.

#487:James 4
Love of the world is enmity towards God.

#488:James 5
A word to those who have great possessions.


We find Hebrews difficult because it interprets Jesus with ideas and symbols from the Hebrew tradition,  especially the sacrifice of the Day of Atonement.   Even if we were well acquainted with the relevant scriptures we probably would not find this kind of argument very convincing.
#489:Hebrews 1
God has now spoken to us by a Son.

#490:Hebrews 5
Christ our High Priest.

#491:Hebrews 11:1-16, 32-40
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for.


The writer of Revelation is not to be equated with any of the other Johns we meet in the Christian scriptures.   The message of the book,  expressed through its wild imagery,  is that in spite of all appearances this is God's world and Christ is its Lord.   The corruption of the world,  and the suffering this brings,  are laid at the door of the Roman colonial power,  'Babylon' being a code reference to Rome.   But God is in charge,  and God will punish the wickedness,  radically eliminate the source of all evil,  and bring into being a new heaven and a new earth.

The opening letters to seven churches include condemnations that reflect John's own prophetic perspective.   The sin of the Nicolaitans may have been something like Paul's more relaxed attitude to eating idol-blessed meat.   'Fornication' may mean being too tolerant of the emperor-worship.   The one he calls 'Jezebel' may be especially in his bad books because she is a woman,  claiming to be a teacher and a prophet.   We have only one side of the story.

#492:Revelation 1
The Alpha and the Omega.

#493:Revelation 2:1-7, 18-29
From Christ to the churches.

#494:Revelation 4
In heaven a door stood open.

#495:Revelation 12
The woman and the dragon.

#496:Revelation 18
Fallen is Babylon the great.

#497:Revelation 19:11-21
Evil overthrown.

#498:Revelation 20
The thousand years.

#499:Revelation 21
New heaven,  new earth.

#500:Revelation 22:1-10
The river of the water of life.


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