The Bible and Sixteenth-Century Culture

Andrew Pettegree is a history professor at the University of St. Andrews and founder of the St. Andrews Reformation Studies Institute. In a recent work entitled Reformation and the Culture of Persuasion, he reflects on the profound cultural impact of the Christian Scriptures in sixteenth-century Europe. In particular, the work addresses the means of persuasion: how it was that people became committed to distinctively Christian living. The primary means of this persuasion was the distribution of the Bible.

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[I]t is hard in any survey to do real justice to [the Bible’s] primacy and influence. But this was a remarkable and many-faceted book, a success in so many of the categories of print that sixteenth-century readers found so fascinating. It was a travelogue and a work of history; a work of literature and poetry; it provided the model for much of the most successful drama of the age; it was a work of prophecy in an age obsessed by prophecy; it was a treasure trove for botanists, grammarians and etymologists, and a foundation text for students of the ancient languages; it was a work of jurisprudence, perhaps the sixteenth century’s most influential legal text; it was certainly the century’s most influential work of political thought. It provided role models for rulers and priests, for fathers and mothers, for soldiers and martyrs.

In this book the print culture of the sixteenth century was displayed in all its technical sophistication. It could be a handy pocket-sized book in tiny print, or a gloriously illustrated folio. The narrative illustrations in the Old Testament brought to life some of the greatest stories of the Christian tradition; even in the austere purged editions of the later Protestant tradition the text often came accompanied by maps, technical drawings, and ingenious diagrams of belief and unbelief. It is not too much to say that in this one volume is epitomized much of what sixteenth-century book culture had to offer.

The sixteenth century placed this compendious and many-sided work directly in the hands of unprecedented numbers of people. Throughout the century and in all European vernaculars there were published at least 5,000 whole or partial editions of the Bible, a total of at least 5 million copies.1

 

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Endnote:

1 Andrew Pettegree, Reformation and the Culture of Persuasion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 191.

Biblical Insight: She Conceived and . . . Killed?

BabyInside“He slept with Hagar, and she conceived . . . So Hagar bore Abram a son.”
“She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son . . .”
“Again she conceived, and when she gave birth to a son . . .”
“She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son . . .”
“Rachel’s servant Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son . . .”
“Leah conceived again and bore Jacob a sixth son . . .”
“So in the course of time Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son . . .”
“She conceived and gave birth to three sons and two daughters . . .”
“The woman conceived and sent word to David . . . she became his wife and bore him a son . . .”
“I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and gave birth to a son . . .”
“So he married Gomer . . . and she conceived and bore him a son.”
“Gomer conceived again and gave birth to a daughter.”

Genesis 16:4, etc. (NIV)

Human life is created at conception. When a baby is conceived, God intends the child to be born. For a baby to die between conception and birth is unnatural, aberrant, and a wrenching departure from God’s created order.

The word “conceived” is used some 18 times in the NIV Bible to refer to the conception of a child. In every instance, the conceived child is finally born. According to the biblical narrative, this is the proper pattern—conception results in birth.

God intended the womb to be a sanctuary where human life might be wonderfully and secretly fashioned by His hand (cf., Psalm 139:13-16). He never meant it to be a place of death. In fact, the Bible pictures conception without birth as a sign of divine judgment. Consider Hosea 9:14—“Give them, O LORD—what will you give them? Give them wombs that miscarry . . .” Even Hosea’s prophetic voice fails as he tries to think of a judgment terrible enough to repay the sin of the Ephraimites. Flushed with anger, he finally prays that God would cause their children to die in their mother’s wombs.

It would, of course, be wrong to tell a couple suffering miscarriage that the cause was God’s judgment upon them. Terrible things happen to innocents in this broken world. The point of this Scripture is that such loss is mournful, something they know full well. More than anyone, they understand how abominable it is to kill an unborn child; it is high-handed rebellion against the glory and creative authority of God.

Modern society has carved a moral chasm between conception and live birth. Legal maneuvering in America has led to the declaration of unborn children as categorically different from those actually born. In essence, all legal rights to life are rendered void in the period between conception and birth. The freedom to kill the unborn at will is defined as a parental right. Scripture allows no such right, and the Church must fiercely oppose it wherever it exists in the world.



 

8 Biblical Responses to Worry

WorryMost of us know that the Bible says not to worry. Jesus put it memorably when He said, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34). But often that’s easier said than done. Anxiety can feel uncontrollable when finances are tight, when relationships are strained, and when there doesn’t seem to be enough time to fulfill all of life’s obligations. Does the Bible provide any specific strategies for avoiding worry? Fortunately it does. Try the following next time anxiety feels unavoidable.

Go deeper with Christ. God wants to walk with His people like He did with Adam and Eve in the garden. In fact, He “takes pleasure in His people” (Psalm 149:4). In times of great worry, depend on Jesus as a personal friend and return to your first love (Revelation 2:4-5). Experiencing His friendship is often the only force more powerful than life’s overwhelming cares.

Serve others. Ministering to others can help us get away from the self-focus of worry. Despite their own “severe test of affliction,” the Corinthians experienced an “abundance of joy” by turning their energy toward assisting someone else (2 Corinthians 8:2).

Pray. Paul advised the Philippians to “not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer … let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). Sometimes the best antidote to troubled stewing over life’s problems is to translate the stewing into specific requests for the Lord.

Go to church. One reason God commands Christians to be part of a local church is that being with His people provides encouragement and “stirs” us up “to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24-25). Attending a worship service, small group Bible study, or prayer meeting can provide a needed lift of spirit.

Sing. This can be a powerful alternative to worry. Think about the Psalms of lament where King David soothed his cares with worship songs. When his own son usurped the throne and sought to kill him, David sang, “You, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head” (Psalm 3:3).

Spend time with family. Scripture has much to say about the joys of family, whether biological (Proverbs 12:4; Psalm 127:3-5) or spiritual (1 Timothy 5:1-2). To put the subject of your worry aside momentarily and enjoy time with loved ones can markedly reduce anxiety.

Seek wholesome entertainment. “A joyful heart is good medicine,” according to Proverbs 17:22. The next time you’re anxious or stressed, try watching an uplifting movie or television show, reading a book, or attending a play. Entertainment of the wholesome variety is among God’s gifts to lighten troubled times.

Meditate on an uplifting thought. Paul told the Philippians to think about whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8). The possibilities are almost limitless, and you can’t think about such things while also mulling over your stresses.

Thankfully the Bible doesn’t just give us abstract commands, but also provides concrete strategies for doing what God says. Avoiding anxiety is a case in point. The next time your stress level elevates, remember that Jesus cares about your troubled heart and provides all the strategies needed for those “who labor and are heavy laden” to experience His “rest” (Matthew 11:28).



 

Violence in the Bible—How Should We Respond?

What does the Bible teach about violence? Some critics make the case for a moral equivalency between Christianity and Islam, claiming that the Bible is no less violent than the Qur’an.1 Certainly the conquest of Canaan, as described in the Bible, was a bloody one. Some cities like Jericho were put to the sword.

joshuaIsn’t it dangerous to have such material in the Bible? Might not these stories incite Christians to acts of bloodshed or even genocide against others? The answer to this question is a very emphatic “No!”

There are a number of reasons why the conquest of Canaan, and other stories of conflict in the Bible, do not incite Christians into violent acts of insurrection, murder, and genocide.

One is that the account of the conquest of Canaan was entirely situation-specific. Yes, there is a divine instruction reported in the Bible to take the land by force and occupy it: “you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you and destroy all their figured stones and destroy all their metal images and demolish all their high places” (Num. 33:52). However this was not an eternal permission to believers to wage war.

It was for a specific time and place. According to the Bible, the Canaanites had come under divine judgment because of their religious practices, of which, perhaps, the most offensive example was child sacrifice: “And because of these abominations the LORD your God is driving them out before you” (Deut. 18:12; see also Gen. 15:16).2

The sacrificing of firstborn children by immolating them before an idol (Deut. 18:10) was a persistent trait of Canaanite religion. The Phoenicians were Canaanites, and as late as the second century B.C., the people of Carthage, a Phoenician colony, were sacrificing children to their goddess Tanit. Archeologists have found charred remains of tens of thousands of newborn infants and fetuses buried in Carthage. The practice of child sacrifice made the Romans despise the Carthaginians.

Although the Old Testament does condone the use of force to purge a land of violence and injustice, the Bible’s attitude to such violence is not that it is sacred or holy. On the contrary, King David, who fought many wars with God’s active support and guidance, was not allowed to be the one to build God’s temple in Jerusalem, because there was so much blood on his hands: “You may not build a house for my name, for you are a man of war and have shed blood” (1 Chron. 28:3).

The conquest of Canaan was indeed a unique moment in the history of God’s dealings with His people. It prefigured a coming day of restoration when evil would be erased from the face of the earth and peace would come. No serious person can suggest that the warring principles involved in securing the Promised Land are to be practiced by Christians today.

Violence is regarded by the Bible as an inherently evil symptom of the corruption of the whole earth after the Fall: “the earth was filled with violence” (Gen. 6:11). In contrast the prophet Isaiah looked forward to the day when violence would be no more: “Violence shall no more be heard in your land, devastation or destruction within your borders; you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise” (Isa. 60:18). Astoundingly, and in absolute contrast to the earlier kings of Israel, Isaiah describes the Lord’s anointed as unacquainted with violence: “And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth” (Isa. 53:9). This prophecy, of course, reaches its fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ.3

The key question for Christians is “What did Jesus have to do with violence?” When we turn to consider Jesus and His followers, we find a systematic rejection of religious violence. Jesus’ message was that His Kingdom would be spiritual and not political. Jesus explicitly and repeatedly condemned the use of force to achieve His goals: “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matt. 26:52).

As Jesus goes to the cross, He renounces force, even at the cost of His own life: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36).4

Jesus’ take on violence was reinforced by the apostles Paul and Peter, who urged Christians to show consideration to their enemies, renouncing personal retaliation and revenge, living peaceably, returning cursing with blessing, and showing humility to others (Rom. 12:14-21; Titus 3:1-2; 1 Pet. 2:20-24).5

If only Christians had maintained this New Testament position down the centuries, the world would have been a better place. The invention of “Christendom” in the fourth Christian century, and the later influence of a centuries-long struggle against the Islamic jihad, ultimately led Christians to develop aberrant theologies which regarded warfare against non-Christians as “holy” and soldiers who died fighting in such wars were regarded as “martyrs.” Thankfully this view of warfare has been universally denounced in the modern era as incompatible with the gospel of Christ.

The New Testament’s teachings on the state continue to sustain the more than 300 million believers who live in over 60 nations where Christians are persecuted. In none of these countries has persecution resulted in Christian terrorism or violent Christian insurgencies aimed at overthrowing civil authorities. On the contrary, China’s 70 million Christians remain loyal to their nation and government, despite 50 years of the most intense oppression. In Nepal it is the Maoists who have been engaging in terrorism, not the half a million indigenous Christians.

The example of the IRA, so often cited as “Christian terrorists,” actually proves our point, because its ideology was predominately Marxist and atheistic. Unlike modern-day jihadists, who constantly quote the Qur’an in their public statements, the IRA terrorists found no inspiration in the peaceful teachings of Jesus of Nazareth!

 

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Endnotes:

Written by Dr. Mark Durie, this article was first published on Kairos Journal. Dr. Durie is vicar of St. Mary’s Anglican Church in Caulfield, Melbourne, Australia. He is fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities and the author of Revelation? Do We Worship the Same God? Jesus, Holy Spirit, God in Christianity and Islam.

1 For example, in November 2005 Julia Irwin, Labor member for Fowler in the Australian Federal Parliament, presented a speech in the House of Representatives entitled “Religious Tolerance.” Irwin made extended comments on the Bible, comparing it with the Qu’ran:

Those who refer to Muslim fundamentalists may choose to quote from the Holy Koran, and there are passages that might be taken to show a vengeful God. But when it comes to good old-fashioned violence, the Judaeo-Christian God is hard to beat. I will take one example from the Bible story of the Exodus . . . as Moses heads into the Promised Land . . . he is urged [by God] to hack women and children to death, rip unborn babies from their mother’s womb and level the cities.

Julia Irwin, Grievance Debate, November 28, 2005, Hansard Parliamentary Debate, Commonwealth of Australia House of Representatives, No. 20, pg. 60-61, http://parlinfoweb.aph.gov.au/piweb/Repository/Chamber/Hansardr/Linked/4403-4.PDF (accessed March 6, 2007). See also Kairos Journal articles, “The Qur’an, The Old Testament, and Violence: Part I” and “The Qur’an, The Old Testament, and Violence: Part II”.

2 Additionally, the Bible’s stories of the use of force against the Canaanites are more than balanced by the accounts of the destruction of Israel and Judah by foreign armies. These violent invasions are also described as being God’s judgment, now turned against the Israelites, because they did not distance themselves from Canaanite religious practices. Even the kings of Israel and Judah are charged with practicing child sacrifice (2 Kings 17:7-13, 2 Kings 21:6, see also Ezek. 16:21).

3 In this way the Old Testament sets the scene for the revelation of Jesus Christ, and as the agnostic Andrew Bolt pointed out, “Christianity’s biggest inspiration comes not from the Old Testament, but from the man who gave his name to the religion and made it so very different to what had been before. Jesus Christ’s words, deeds, death and resurrection are the rock on which Christianity is built.” See Andrew Bolt, “Giving Thanks Where Due,” Herald Sun, June 3, 2002, 19.

4 The Sermon on the Mount elaborates several aspects of Jesus’ non-violent ethic. Retribution was no longer acceptable (Matt. 5:38, 39), enemies were to be loved, not hated (Matt. 5:43-44), the meek will inherit the earth (Matt. 5:5) and Jesus’ disciples should rejoice when they are persecuted (Matt. 5:10). The Sermon on the Mount has been read throughout most of Church history as statement on personal ethics and not as a statement on whether a state can rightly wage just war.

5 They also allow that the (most likely pagan) civil authorities will need to use force to keep the peace, and this role should be respected (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-17).



 

Revelation Paintings

I’ve always been intrigued by works of art keyed to biblical texts. In the realm of music, I think of the father and son contributions of Johann Sebastian Bach (e.g., St. Matthew Passion, based on this Gospel’s account of the crucifixion of Jesus) and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (Magnificat, based on Mary’s song of exultation at learning she would bear the Messiah). As for painting, my favorite site is the Arena Chapel on Padova (Padua), Italy, where, in the 14th century, Giotto covered the walls and ceilings with dozens of scenes, from the flight into Egypt to the raising of Lazarus. And, last year, I enjoyed putting together some parable paintings for a seminary magazine, including a Van Gogh Good Samaritan, a Rembrandt Prodigal Son, and a Brueghel rendition of the blind leading the blind.

These were works requiring months and even years to produce, but there is a special type of Christian artistry, works constructed between Sundays for the use in the next Lord’s Day service. In this vein, the elder Bach was known for his prodigious output of worship pieces, where a new cantata was required of him every week (for a total of over 200) when he served as organist of St. Thomas’s Church in Leipzig. For instance, on June 24, 1724, he first performed Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam (Christ our Lord came to the Jordan), marking the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (Jesus’ cousin who baptized Him in the Jordan River).

With Bach’s example in mind a few years ago, I turned to an artist in the church that I pastored1 for help with my series on Revelation. I asked if he might bring us one painting or drawing a week, and offered him essentially Wal Mart greeter wages. Happy to say, he was game.

Sure enough, each Sunday he showed up with a fresh work, executed on eight-inch-square pieces of drawing paper—some in pencil, some in pen or paint, some with Rev.1bigencaustic techniques, using heated tar and wax. In one instance, he held the paper over a candle flame to capture the look of black smoke. They featured fantastical, symbolic animals, landscapes and cityscapes, saints and stars.2 We pinned them on the wall to the congregation’s right, saw the collection grow week by week (ten in all), and kept them posted long past the series’ end. (They’re now framed on our dining room wall, where we use them for gospel conversation with guests.)

Addressing the Second Commandment in their Larger Catechism, the Westminster Divines condemned drawing any member of the Trinity. Of course, the Commandment goes beyond that to prohibit likenesses of anything whatsoever in “in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” (Exodus 20:4). But context is important, for following God’s instructions, the Ark of the Covenant cover bore cherubim sculptures (Exodus 37:7), and Solomon’s Temple featured carved palm trees and flowers (1 Kings 6). The issue was idolatry. Much could be said about this concern, but suffice it to say here that we did not worship the drawings. Rev.5Rather, we extended Revelation’s word pictures into hand-crafted pictures, in order to advance the strong biblical teaching of the destruction of the devil’s works and the exaltation of the saints in glory.

Of course, artists can get it wrong (and often do in their free-wheeling push for drama, novelty, or provocation), but so can preachers. Yes, the Word has primacy, but not exclusivity, and blessed is the church which regularly enlists the fresh work of musicians and artists to serve with the Holy Spirit in magnifying the holy text.

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Endnotes:

1 Dan Addington (danaddington.com)

2 E.g., the winged eyes of Rev. 4:8, the crowned locust/horse/scorpions of Rev. 9:7-10; the frogs of Rev. 16:13; the resurrected, ascending witnesses of Rev. 11:12; the river and fruit-laden trees of Rev. 22:1-2; the burning Babylon of Rev. 19:3; the descending New Jerusalem of Rev. 21:9-21; the rise of prayers from a golden bowl of Rev. 8:3-4; seven stars in the Lord’s hand of Rev. 1:16.

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Drunks, Derelicts and the Unquietable Conscience of John Wesley

On a bright April day in 1743, John Wesley stood preaching to an open-air crowd the great truths of salvation. The rag-tag congregation, who had come out into the countryside to hear this famous preacher, listened enraptured to his message of regeneration and new life. Just then, an old drunk rode his horse into the middle of the crowd, rearing the beast up and shouting all manner of curses and bitter words at the preacher. Wesley, who by XJF384017this time was used to such displays, tried to ignore the man and continue his sermon. That course, however, quickly proved impossible when the fool drew his horse up and, still spewing venom at Wesley and his gospel, tried to run down some of the crowd. People scattered, no one was trampled, and in a few minutes the situation was brought under control. Speaking later to some local residents, Wesley was shocked to learn who the old wobbly drunk was: a clergyman from a neighboring parish church!

After months of open air preaching, Wesley had learned to expect such opposition. Anglican rectors early on refused to allow him to preach from their pulpits, so Wesley finally forsook the beautiful established churches altogether and took his message first to the church cemeteries and then to the countryside. Thousands of hearers followed him, but even there in the remote regions, he could not avoid trouble. Hecklers and other troublemakers hounded him wherever he went, running through the crowds screaming, banging pots and pans together, or even throwing rotten eggs and over-ripe fruit at him to silence his preaching.

Wesley’s message evoked such a vehement response because he called on Christians to do more than merely recite their creeds once a week. He expected the gospel of Christ to change their hearts and, from there, to reform their lives and ultimately their entire society. “Christianity is essentially a social religion,” he said, and “to turn it into a solitary religion is indeed to destroy it.”

With that conviction, Wesley publicly addressed at one time or another nearly every social and cultural issue of his day. He took aim, for example, at Britain’s thriving slave trade, calling it the “execrable sum of all the villainies” and insisting on the “equal and priceless value” before God of “every immortal soul,” including blacks. He also abhorred war and worked tirelessly to urge a peaceful solution to the conflict with the American Colonies in the 1770s. He rejected the common notion that religion could be kept separate from business, for unless it was permeated with Christian values and dedicated to Christian goals, Wesley thought, business could not help but be turned to diabolical ends. Wesley railed against the social and cultural degradation of his day, championing the poor, castigating Britain’s aristocracy for wasting and hoarding their goods, condemning the liquor traffic which had reduced the nation’s labor force to a drunken stupor, and rebuking lawyers and politicians for using the law to gratify their own greedy desires. Secular or religious, sacred or profane, no department of human affairs was exempt from the word and command of God.

Wesley preached over 40,000 sermons during his life and traveled more than 200,000 miles, mostly on horseback. When he died at the age of 88, his tireless efforts had made Wesley an internationally revered figure. His Methodist movement had won official recognition by the government, and its influence had spread far beyond the shores of Great Britain.

Wesley suffered scorn for his down-to-earth, practical Christianity, but the Lord used his faithful, persevering labors to build a worldwide Christian movement.  Even if faithful Christians disagree about how exactly to apply the conscience of Christianity to society, all can benefit from a careful perusal of the life and legacy of John Wesley.

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Endnotes:

J. Wesley Bready, England: Before and After Wesley: The Evangelical Revival and Social Reform (New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers).

Besides the 294 preachers and 71,668 members on the Isle, there were 198 preachers and 43,265 members in America, as well as some 5,300 new Christians brought to Christ by 19 missionaries spread throughout the world. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd ed., s.v. “Wesley, John.”