Category: Uncategorized

Reading Joshua: A Preview

Published / by kathleen

During recent decades, the Book of Joshua came to trouble people. More recently, it seems that hardly a month goes by without the publication of another volume on violence in the Scriptures or another conference or research project on the subject. In reading Joshua, one of my convictions is that we won’t get to understand the book unless we set its accounts of war-making in the context of the book as a whole. In addition, thinking more broadly about the nature of migration and settlement provides some illumination on the story Joshua tells. And if we can stand aside from our preoccupation with violence for a moment, we can discover a lot about what the Book of Joshua meant for Israel and how it works as a story and how thoughtfully it discusses tricky issues and what it emphasizes about God . . . .

The paper on “Reading Joshua” is posted under “Prophets.”

Is Christ in the Old Testament? A Parable

Published / by kathleen

By John

I’m involved with four other people in a book project discussing “Five Views on Christ in the Old Testament,” which should come out from Zondervan next year. My paper is posted under “Biblical Interpretation.” I’m now reading the other people’s papers and commenting on them. Here’s a parable it’s provoked.

Kathleen and I once went on a walk from our home on the edge of Oxford to get to a country pub. The walk was more adventurous than we expected. We had to cross a stream by a rickety bridge and climb over a five-barred gate just before we reached our destination, and Katheen (who once lived in Arizona) was pretty worried about possible snakes in the grass. Then this past Friday we walked to the same destination, now knowing not only where we were going but how to get there, and the walk was quite straightforward.

Even on the first occasion, the destination was clear and we could trust that everything on the way was leading to the destination, but as we stood at the rickety bridge from which we could not see the destination we could not have said that the bridge pointed that way. The bridge and the gate existed for their own sake, not for the sake of our journey. They were not designed to lead towards the place where we were going, and they bore no signposts. Their own importance did not lie there. But they were on our route to the destination, so that they came to have that significance for us.

Our first walk corresponds better to the story of Israel than the second one. God had a wide-ranging perspective (a drone’s perspective?) concerning Israel’s journey. He knew about the rickety bridges and five-barred gates (the parable is not an allegory, but I am tempted: is the rickety bridge the exile, and is the five-barred gate the Torah, and the snakes . . . ?). But they were not designed to lead towards Jesus, and they bore no signposts. There was no more indication that the exodus pointed to Jesus than that the bridge or gate pointed to our destination.

We don’t get to understand the meaning of the exodus or Sinai or the exile or the Second Temple by thinking too much about Jesus. The First Testament can help us understand Jesus, but it’s also worth understanding in its own right without thinking too much about Jesus. That way, it does help us understand God and us.

Fear and Other Tricky Words

Published / by kathleen

Someone wrote to me the other day with a question about the way the Scriptures talk about fear, because it can feature both as a good thing and as something from which God rescues us. Here are examples, as they appear in the NRSV:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. (Proverbs 1:7)

His mercy is for those who fear him. (Luke 1:50)

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you. (Isaiah 43:1)

There is no fear in love, because perfect love casts out fear. (1 John 4:18)

The problem lies in find equivalences in English for Greek and Hebrew expressions. There are three variations on this problem.

  • Sometimes English has one word and Hebrew and/or Greek have two, so English is confusing. “Violence” is an example. For people writing in English, violence may seem inherently wrong, and they may then be concerned about God’s violence in the Old Testament. But the Hebrew word translated “violence,” ḥāmās, never applies to God; it refers only to wrongful violence. When the Old Testament talks about God acting violently, it uses the verb nākâ in the hiphil, of which the traditional translation is smite. That verb can denote wrongful violence, but it commonly denotes proper “violence.” (Just to make things a bit more complicated, or perhaps a bit simpler, ḥāmās also means “violation,” which helps to make clear what it is that’s wrong about violence.)
  • Sometimes Hebrew and Greek have a word for which we don’t have an English equivalent, which can make things for us to understand.  One examples is the Hebrew word ḥesed, which is sometimes translated grace, sometimes mercy, but most often steadfast love or constant love. All those translations get at part of the idea. Ḥesed denotes the grace that a person shows when they make a commitment to someone and there was no reason for them to do so, and the faithfulness that a person shows to someone when they carry on being faithful to them after the person has acted in such a way as to forfeit any right to such faithfulness. I think the nearest English equivalent to ḥesed is “commitment,” but I haven’t convinced anyone.
  • In the case of fear, Hebrew and Greek each have one word (yir’ah/phobos) and English has two (fear and awe), which is confusing. A Hebrew speaker or a Greek speaker would no doubt realize that there is a difference between bad fear (being afraid) and good fear (awe), but the actual languages don’t have a way of making the distinction, and English translations are wooden and misleading when they use the English word “fear” as if it also covered “awe.” So here are alternative translations of the first two of those verses:

The awe for the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. (Proverbs 1:7)

His mercy is for those who are in awe of him. (Luke 1:50)

Again just to make things a bit more complicated, or perhaps a bit simpler, the word for “awe” doesn’t refer only to a feeling but to an action: they mean submission or obedience.

The Death of Death

Published / by kathleen

First thing each morning, John and I have been reading the sermons of Austin Farrer. Most of his sermons were preached in college chapel in Oxford, England. He was the Master of Keble College when John attended there in the 60’s.

I have found them mind-blowing and wanted to share them with you.

I have recorded one below, wait about 5 seconds before I start to speak…

March 2020

Published / by kathleen

Greetings from Oxford. I know we haven’t posted for a while, be assured we miss all our friends and colleagues and sunshine! We are taking time to grow roots in our new home-ground. We are well and serene in this time of both shock and quiet contemplation.

I’m writing now because John has written an article on The Old Testament and Pandemic. It’s posted under the ‘Theology’ tab on this website. Read and share.

Love and Blessings, Kathleen and John

May 2018

Published / by kathleen

OXFORD, is it real?

In April John and I moved to Oxford, UK. Yes, it’s a fairy tale place. Surreal enough to make-believe you might run into Shakespeare, JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, or Lewis Carrol at any moment. We worship in centuries old chapels and cathedrals, listening to “classic old hymns” sung by angelic choirs. Maybe we died in a car crash in LA and don’t know it. This is definitely a version of heaven.

What Has John been doing?

We came here with 26 boxes of books and a few suitcases full of clothes. So, shopping for household fittings and furnishings was the first order of business. But as soon as John got his new desk (made from a single piece of bent tempered glass- not a fuddy-duddy 75 year old!) he was back at it.

Even in his jubilee year, he loves to answer your queries about the Old Testament (or First Testament as we refer to it around here). Here are some of his recent musings:

Forward to Dan Hawk’s forthcoming book on Violence in the OT – watch for the book from Eerdmans – post is also under “Other Papers”

Violence – Dan Hawk – forward

A review of Christopher R. J. Holmes’s book The Lord Is Good: Seeking the God of the Psalter (InterVarsity). Also posted under “Other Papers.”

The Lord is Good by Holmes – book review


We also continue to watch movies! Here are John’s comments on Churchill:

Winston, Ike, Abraham, Sarah, Rebekah, Isaac

The movie we watched last night, Churchill, is about the days just before the D-Day landings by British and American troops in Normandy in northern France in June 1944, a couple of weeks before my second birthday. Winston Churchill was against the invasion plan. It reminded him too much of the similar invasion in the First World War, when countless thousands of young men were killed, and Churchill had felt responsible for that slaughter. Further, American soldiers were steadily advancing on Hitler’s territory from the south, through Italy, and Churchill thought that a less dangerous approach. The movie focuses on the tormented alcoholic Churchill’s failed attempts to stop what he saw as the doomed venture of Eisenhower (very neatly played by John Slattery) and Field Marshall Montgomery.

I often look at the reviews after we watch a movie, and in this case I was amazed at the critical vitriol aimed at this film that held Kathleen and me gripped for its two hours. Some of the critique was just stupid—such as the reviewer who said there should have been some battle scenes (Saving Private Ryan, anyone)? It was a revisionist account of the event, and for many reviewers it focused too much on the weaknesses of the man who has been called the greatest Briton ever. We like our heroes. The revisionist account relied heavily on the imagination of the scriptwriter (an Oxford history-graduate with other historical studies to her credit). But the standard account of Churchill is also a product of the imagination working on some facts. Someone propounded the thesis that Churchill was right that going for the Normandy approach rather than proceeding from the south colluded with Stalin’s objectives for the future position of Russia in Europe after the war. The movie emphasized (maybe overemphasized) Churchill’s compassionate concern for the young men who might die, and I wondered whether it was inviting us to be more compassionate about the young men we send to Iraq and Afghanistan.

(The movie mentioned the possibility that Churchill’s party might not get re-elected after the war. This fear was realized, a Socialist government was elected, the National Health Service was created, and some reforms took place in British education which meant that just before my eleventh birthday I was granted a place at the kind of high-flying British school that a boy from my ordinary background would never have got near, and without that I would not be in the position I am today.)

I’m writing a commentary on Genesis. I have concluded that Genesis 17 and 18 are two alternative accounts of the way God announced to Abraham and Sarah that Sarah really was going to have a baby of her own. And I have concluded that Genesis 27—28:9 provide two alternative accounts of the process whereby Rebekah came to send Jacob off to Harran. Both these understandings parallel the way Genesis 1 and 2 comprise alternative accounts of the creation. In each case, if you look at them literalistically they clash, but really they are complementary stories told from different angles (one more traditional, one more revisionist). Each version brings home a message for the era in which it is told. Like the two perspectives on Churchill, they are selective and different, emphasizing one angle rather than another, each of them offering the truth though not the whole truth (for which there would not be room, as John notes at the end of his Gospel), and not necessarily contradictory unless you try to make them something that they are not.










Wrapping Up 2017

Published / by kathleen

The big thing was that we decided to move back to the UK next year, specifically to North Oxford. Kathleen is looking forward to living in the city of Morse and Tolkien. John will continue teaching half-time for Fuller but online and via Skype. Here’s the theory.

*In January we put our house up for sale, we start looking for somewhere in Oxford, and Kathleen applies for immigration

*In February we accept an offer on our house, we go to look at houses in Oxford, and John’s successor at St. Barnabas Pasadena becomes rector

*In March we buy a house (or find somewhere to rent), Kathleen is granted immigration, and as a farewell event in Fuller the President interviews John and we eat ice cream.

*On April 1 John preaches his farewell sermon, on April 2 we send off our stuff, on April 3 we catch a plane, and on April 4 we move into our house.

As Gladys Knight said:

L.A. proved too much for the man,

so he’s leaving a life he’s come to know.

He’s said he’s going back to find what’s left of his world,

the world he left behind not so long ago.

He’s leaving on that midnight train to Georgia;

said he’s going back to a simpler place and time.

[Well, we’ll see about that.]

We’ve been reading the Christmas story backwards. How extraordinary that

*people met God when they met Jesus and that Isaiah helped Matthew see one of the factors behind it.
*Jesus was born in a one-horse town like Bethlehem, and that Micah helped Matthew see why.
*Jesus had to be whisked off to Egypt, and that Hosea helped Matthew make sense of it.

*Jesus’ birth led to those babies’ deaths, but how comforting that Jeremiah helped Matthew see that it fitted into a pattern.
* Jesus then grew up in another one-horse town, and how funny that Matthew notes how this also fits the prophets but doesn’t tell us how.


In other news, John has written another book, A Reader’s Guide to the Bible.

Here are a few links to podcasts about it:

John Goldingay: A reader’s guide to the Bible

A Tour Through the Bible: An Interview with John Goldingay


Fifty Years Ago Today

Published / by kathleen

For some reason, the past few days Kathleen has been greeting me as I wake up by singing, “Get up, get out of bed, pull the covers off your head.” I’m not sure whether she realizes that this is a slightly adapted version of some lines from a Beatles song, and I’m sure she doesn’t realize that it’s from Sergeant Pepper, and she wouldn’t know that exactly fifty years ago today that song, “A Day in a Life,” was the last song ever played on the pirate radio station Radio London, when pirate radio became illegal in Britain on September 30, 1967. I was listening, at 1:50 in the afternoon that day.

It was the day after I was ordained priest, fifty years ago (which makes the opening lines of Sergeant Pepper itself, “It was fifty years ago today,” the more poignant). I don’t actually remember the collocation of the two events (the ordination and the end of pirate radio) but I know I was priested on Michaelmas Day 1967 and know pirate radio ended on September 30, 1967, because I checked it out on Wikipedia. I was looking to see what else happened that year. The answer is:

  • Ronald Reagan became governor of California
  • Thurgood Marshall was nominated to the Supreme Court
  • The Velvet Underground albu
  • m with the picture of a banana was released
  • The final episode of The Fugitive was shown
  • Bonnie and Clyde was released
  • Sweden switched from driving on the left to driving on the right
  • Disraeli Gears by Cream was released
  • John McCain was shot down over North Viet Nam
  • Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was released
  • The U.S. population passed 200 million
  • Bob Dylan’s John Wesley Harding was released
  • The U.K. started negotiations to join the European Economic Community
  • The Graduate was released
  • Apollo One caught fire
  • Reach Out by the Four Tops was released
  • A group of American leaders agreed that people needed more positive reports about Viet Nam
  • 2001 A Space Odyssey was released
  • Israel defeated Egypt, Syria, and Jordan and won control of Jerusalem and the West Bank
  • The Songs of Leonard Cohen was released
  • The first Boeing 737 made its maiden flight
  • Planet of the Apes was released
  • Elvis got married

And I was ordained priest. As a deacon I was already working in a parish in London and I stayed there for two or three years. One day I was walking through our local shopping center, not wearing a clerical collar. I had longish hair (not very long, but longish) and the wind was blowing and my hair was blowing with it. I happened to meet my rector and he took me on one side and said, “I have never seen anything looking less like a clergyman of the Church of England.”

I stayed in the parish for a while and then I drifted into seminary teaching for the rest of the fifty years. Six years ago I became volunteer priest-in-charge of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Pasadena, and it’s been like the completing of an arc that got interrupted for forty years ago (though I’ve always been involved in church ministry through the time in between). I am so grateful to St. Barnabas for this privilege.


Our Podcast in Response to Your Old Testament Challenges

Published / by kathleen

We sent out an email to our Friends asking one short and profound question: What is your biggest challenge with using the Old Testament for preaching, teaching, and creative work? 

Thank-you for all your thoughtful answers! If you didn’t receive the question in your email, sign up on the left side of this page and we will keep you updated.


If you think of further comments on this subject, please email us. We are pondering ways to refresh the reading of the Scriptures, particularly the First Testament as John calls it so watch for updates from us over the next few months.