Summary: Unerstanding the Bible through this letter to Timothy as a text of clarity and action.
Lectionary Reading: 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
“Ancora Imparo” is Italian for “I am still learning”. It is attributed (unsourced) to Michelangelo who is said to have uttered the famous phrase when he was 87 years old. It’s hard to imagine the painter of the Sistine chapel, sculptor of David, and self described liberator of angels (“I saw an angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”) telling someone he was still learning. And yet, I believe he was. His art was a journey, not a fact, and he learned more about it until the day he died.
When it comes to the Bible, I can say with great confidence – “Ancora Imparo”. I am still learning. I am learning from history, from the Holy Spirit, from the people – young and old alike – who I am blessed to talk with, and from the sacred library that is the Bible itself. I am unashamed in my journey of learning, and if you spend more than ten minutes near me – I will learn something from you! (Yes, I am sort of a learning vampire).
I tend to cringe when I hear someone remark “And that’s in the Bible!” to justify their actions or belief. I think it’s a backwards (and sometimes abusive) way to do things. It is not God’s desire that we see the Bible through our eyes and use it to support our faith-view. It is God’s desire that our eyes see through the lens of the Bible and we become it’s faith-view.
In other words – we shouldn’t study to make sure the Bible says what we think it says. We should study to be sure we are becoming who the Bible says God thinks we are. The book isn’t going to change. We are!
Confusion and Clarity
Jesus advocated change. His followers advocated doing things differently. As Jews, men had to be circumcised on the body. As Christians, they were told to be circumcised spiritually in the heart (and the body could be spared). The old eating laws were changed and shrimp was back on the menu (along with food offered to idols for those who didn’t mind that kind of thing). The old seating laws (temple classism, and religious sexism) were changed. Now the poor, women, and eunuchs were all baptized and part of the faith. Suddenly, the old laws had new meanings and prophecy became the present. Imagine their surprise when they got a letter that said, “All scripture is God-breathed.” (2 Timothy 3:16).
By “holy scripture” – the epistle didn’t mean the New Testament, the Gospels, and book of Revelation. Those writings were still being written, collected and debated. By “scripture” the writer meant the Torah, the writings of the Prophets, and laws given to Israel. How weird for the converted Jews and Gentile Christians who had been living a new way to get a letter that says “Keep living your new way in Christ because the old way is good”. WHAT? Which is it??? Old or New? Law or Love? And even more confusing - the answer they got to the “law or love” question was: “Yes”.
Fortunately there is also some clarity. Notice Timothy is told that the scriptures “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (3:15). Wait a minute…if the writer is talking about the Torah, written before the common era, where does Jesus come in? Jesus comes in through the prophets who foretold the Messiah. The Holy Scriptures of Israel’s past talked about the fact there would be change – there would be a Messiah. The prophets said new people would be grafted in to the faith. There would be peace. There would be love. The old laws prepared the people to live faithfully so they could have faith enough to live a new way when the Messiah came. The law led us to love.
The code of Leviticus/Deuteronomy had one purpose for the Hebrews: to teach them to live their lives in such a way that others could see they were God’s people. (That’s what the no mixing fabrics, foods, and purity rituals were all about – showing other cultures about the One God). We don’t have to avoid shrimp, sacrifice doves, or avoid poly-cotton T-shirts. But Leviticus still challenges us to live our lives in such a way that others can see we are God’s people. The method, in the light of grace, has changed. But the meaning is the same. Law leads to Love. The law won’t change, but we will.
Those Itching Ears….
“For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead,
to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of
teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears