last sunday, our minister preached on the collection of aid from the church in antioch for the church in jerusalem, mentioned in acts 11. she suggested that the jerusalem church was in need because those who were part of the church sold their possessions and the proceeds were then distributed as needs arose. this practice, she said, resulted from the belief that the second coming of jesus was imminent, so there was no need to plan for the future. she cited the words of jesus in matthew 16, where jesus is quoted as saying that "there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the son of man coming in his kingdom," a saying of jesus found in the other synoptic gospels as well, as the basis for this belief among the christians in jerusalem.
she went on to say that this was a misinterpretation of the teaching of jesus; because the return of jesus did not take place during the lifetime of his hearers, she said jesus clearly meant something else when he made this statement. i found this disturbing. jesus' statement seems clear. if he indeed said this, he believed what he said would happen and intended for his followers to believe it also. perhaps this passage came into the canon because many of his followers believed that jesus would soon return to establish his kingdom and the saying was added to the received teachings of jesus to support this view. it seems standard practice that, when a prophecy is not fulfilled, those who gave credence to the prophecy find a way to reinterpret it so that it still has the possibility of being true.
i found the suggestion that the cause of the need in the church in jerusalem was their practice of sharing their resources in support of one another troubling, as well. it is well established that there was a famine in judea in the mid-first century ce, and from the passage in acts the offering was clearly intended to offer relief to hardships resulting from this famine. the verses in acts say that the offering was collected on the basis of a prophecy by a visiting prophet, agabus, from jerusalem before the famine had taken hold. how convenient it was that this prophet came to antioch so that a collection could be made in anticipation of the coming famine! one wonders if the prophecy was not added to this passage in order to strengthen belief in the power of such prophecies.
the twisting of biblical passages to support one's own political beliefs is all too common in the church, as it probably has been through the ages. if all biblical scripture is unerring and divinely inspired, how could an entire generation of the first christians have been so wrong in interpreting the clear teaching of jesus regarding his return to establish his kingdom? how could the first christians in jerusalem, led as they were by jesus' very disciples, have been so mistaken when they sold their possessions and distributed the proceeds equitably among themselves? wouldn't it be more honest to admit that jesus, or some ancient collector of his teachings, was mistaken about jesus coming back in the near future? why try to find some political justification for the hardship of the christians in jerusalem when the well-established judean famine is the simplest explanation?
may we stop trying to explain away the contradictions and errors in the "sacred" text and accept that human beings created that text. may we use our minds to interpret what has been written without fear, abandoning the notion that the bible cannot be examined critically. may we stop worshiping a book and using it for our own ends. shalom.