It was reckoned to him; it will be reckoned to us (Rom 4; Pentecost 2A)

This Sunday, we start into a series of readings offered by the lectionary from the longest and most theologically weighty letter written by Paul—that addressed “to all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints” (Rom 1:7). Although it has this specific, localised audience in view, the letter has become a declaration heard and taken up and studied carefully by Christians right around the world, across millennia of years.

A reading from Romans will be offered each week until the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (this year, 2023, that falls on 17 September). So we will have many weeks to consider the theological exposition that Paul provides. This letter is generally regarded as the most explicit and detailed exposition of the theological commitments which had energised Saul of Tarsus to spend years of his life “to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (Rom 15:16). For this enterprise, he is well-known as the “Apostle to the Gentiles”.

In the structuring of the lectionary, the sequence of excerpts from Romans should begin with a declaration of the central theme of the letter (1:16–17) and the rich passage that details how God death with human sinfulness through Jesus (3:21–28). These two short, but central, sections of the letter are offered on the Sunday known as Proper 4, the first Sunday after Pentecost.

However, because Easter was (relatively) later this year, Pentecost is also later, and so this reading is not offered by the lectionary this year. Proper 4 is to occur “on the Sunday in between May 29 and June 4 inclusive, if after Trinity Sunday”; as Trinity Sunday this year fell on 4 June, there is no Proper 4 in 2023.

So we begin with Proper 5, for “the Sunday between June 5 and June 11 inclusive”—this year, Sunday 11 June. Which means that we have missed the initial declaration of the Gospel which Paul proclaims in this long letter; the Gospel which is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek”, the Gospel in which “the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith” (Rom 1:16–17).

This theological understanding is set forth, initially, through a quotation from a short book in Hebrew Scripture, that of the prophet Habakkuk. This prophet is a shadowy figure, known, really, for only one statement—just half of one verse. That is the short statement, “the righteous live by their faith [or faithfulness]” (2:4b), which stands as the text upon which Paul developed his important theological statement in Romans: “in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, ‘the one who is righteous will live by faith’” (Rom 1:17).

In the context of Habakkuk’s prophetic activity, the affirmation that “the righteous live by their faith [or faithfulness]” (2:4b) is the word that God gives to the prophet, responding to his complaints about what sufferings are taking place. Habakkuk’s complaints come because God is “rousing the Chaldeans, that fierce and impetuous nation, who march through the breadth of the earth to seize dwellings not their own” (1:6), and through their dreadful and fearsome activities, God is “destroying nations without mercy” (1:17).

You can read more of my take on the short book of Habakkuk at

The claim that God is using foreigners to deal with Israel is a striking theological development—one that is at odds with the traditions that emphasise Israel as a chosen nation, holy and set apart, dedicated to the Lord; the nation alone through whom the Lord God works. That this God will use foreigners is a theme found also in the later writings of Deutero-Isaiah (Isa 40–55), where Cyrus, the Persian ruler, is acclaimed as the one chosen by God, the Messiah, to allow the people of Judah to return to their land (Isa 44:24–45:13).

That God is at work amongst people who are not of Israel resonates, of course, with the activity that Paul and his fellow-workers had been undertaking amongst the Gentiles (those not of the people of Israel)—although Paul is not working in a context of oppression and threatening invasion. So this brief citation from Habakkuk is entirely apposite for Paul’s work and his writings. And as the later chapters of Roman clearly show, God has indeed been at work amongst the Gentiles in Rome.

On the overall theological argument developed in Romans, see


So in the passage that the lectionary offers us for this Sunday (4:13–25), we have the second part of Paul’s discussion of the patriarch Abraham—“the father of all nations” (4:17, citing Gen 17:5) and the figure who stands as the archetype for the message of the Gospel, that “the one who is righteous will live by faith” (1:17, citing Hab 2:4).

In this discussion, Paul is insistent that Abraham stands as the example supreme for that Gospel, since “his faith was reckoned to him as righteousness” (4:3, quoting Gen 15:6, and repeating this at Rom 4:9 and 4:22–23). And more than this: what was done with Abraham “will [also] be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead” (4:24).

This second half of the discussion of Romans 4 comes after Paul has established the universal scope of God’s providential grace—for this is how God meets the universal spread of sinfulness amongst human beings. So Paul focusses on the faith that Abraham showed, and its importance for believers in Rome (and elsewhere). The thesis for this part of the argument is that the promise to Abraham (which he was given in Gen 12:1–3) was “not through the law but through the righteousness of faith” (4:13).

First, Paul indicates that the promise cannot be fulfilled only through “the adherents of the law”, for “the law brings wrath” (4:14–15; he expands on this in chapter 7). Then, he asserts that the promise must rest on faith, both to those who adhere to the law but also “to those who share the faith of Abraham” (4:16). Abraham is here described as “the father of all of us”, drawing on yet another scripture citation (Gen 17:5; Paul uses the same argument at Gal 3:15–18, and the phrase is also at play in the debate reported in John 8:41–59).

Then follows further explication of this scripture (Gen 17:5), particularly explaining how Abraham, “hoping against hope”, became “the father of many nations” (4:17b—21). Despite the barrenness of Sarah’s womb (4:19), Abraham “was fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (4:21). To conclude this exegetical foray, Paul quotes, for the third time, the foundational text: “his faith ‘was reckoned to him as righteousness’” (4:22, quoting Gen 15:6).

Paul then explains that these words describe not only the situation of Abraham, long ago in the past, but also the immediate situation of those to whom he writes (4:23–24). This is a foundational aspect of Paul’s hermeneutic; he restates it at Rom 15:4, declaring that the scripture “written in former days was written for our instruction”. See

And so the argument draws to a close, moving back into the heart of Paul’s concern, to expound the Gospel concerning God “who raised Jesus Christ from the dead” (4:24–25). The final verse is most likely a traditional formulaic expression; we find a similar pattern at 1 Cor 15:3–4, a midrashic-style reflection on this pattern at 1 Cor 15:42–44, and a variant form at 2 Cor 5:14–15.

There is also an extended discussion later in the letter to the Romans using the pattern of “Christ, dead and raised”, as the model for believers: “we are buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4). Paul provides a fuller discussion of this paradigm at 6:3–11, and there is a similar discussion, albeit varied for the different context, at Col 3:11–15.

And so the extended argument set out in all of this chapter takes us from an initial question about Abraham, through an exploration of the story of Abraham and Sarah, to a conclusion about the life of those who place their trust in what God has done through Jesus Christ. That God “will justify [or, reckon as righteous] the circumcised on the ground of faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith” (3:30) is the foundation for then claiming that, in like manner, “it will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead” (4:24). It is all about being reckoned as righteous on the basis of faith. Thanks be to God!


On the diatribe style that Paul uses here and throughout much of the letter to the Romans, which is reflected in that pattern (“it was reckoned to him … it will be reckoned to us”), see

Matthew: tax collector, disciple, apostle, evangelist—and “scribe trained for the kingdom”? (Matt 9; Pentecost 2A)

At last! This coming Sunday, we return to Gospel passages in sequence, drawn from the book of origins—the Gospel attributed by tradition to Matthew. None of the four Gospels in the New Testament originally gave any indication as to who wrote those works; it was up to the evolving tradition within the early church to infer, claim, deduce, and assign specific authorship—either to apostles (Matthew and John) or to close followers of apostles (Mark, following Peter, and Luke, following Paul).

This year—Year A—we began with the early chapters of the Gospel according to Matthew (from 2:1 through to 5:37); but when the season of Lent began, the Gospel readings were taken largely from John, with John and Luke featuring during the Sundays after Easter. Only now, after Trinity Sunday, does the sequential pattern resume.

This coming Sunday, we will hear the story of the call of Matthew the tax collector (Matt 9:9–13) as well as the interlinked account of the healing of a haemorrhaging woman along with the raising of a young girl from death (9:18–26). The story of the call of Matthew is told with a somewhat astringent sparseness. “He said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.” (9:9). That’s it. No fuss, no fanfare. Just plain and simple, straight to the point: follow me—and he followed him.

This first Gospel, in the order that the four Gospels appear in the New Testament, bears the name of Matthew. It wasn’t the first written Gospel—that was Mark’s, which clearly was a source used by the author of Matthew’s Gospel. By tradition, the attributed author of this Gospel, Matthew, was a tax collector whom Jesus called to follow him. (Why a tax collector who followed Jesus would take the work of a junior and erratic follower as the basis for his work, remains unexplained.)

At any rate: after this tax collector became a disciple of Jesus, he was appointed as an apostle, and later he allegedly wrote an eye-witness account of the time he spent with Jesus. That account runs up until the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, and is wrapped around with some opening chapters about the beginnings of the life of Jesus, and a closing chapter relating to the body of Jesus, his resurrection and departure from his followers.

The tradition that this first Gospel was an eye-witness account by one of the twelve apostles has come under careful scrutiny from biblical scholars, exploring the language, structure, imagery, and ideas found in that narrative.

The consensus from this scholarly work is that the first Gospel in the New Testament was not an eye-witness account, but a carefully crafted account of Jesus, originating in a community of people who had maintained their Jewish culture and practices whilst affirming that Jesus of Nazareth was the long-awaited Messiah—a community that was, therefore, in conflict with the views and teachings of the synagogue leaders in their town, who did not see Jesus in that way.

Within ecclesial tradition, the picture of Matthew, tax collector—disciple—apostle, who subsequently wrote an eye-witness account of the time he spent with Jesus, holds sway. Within biblical scholarship, Matthew is simply a character who appears briefly in the story told by the first Gospel in the New Testament.

Matthew is identified in one short verse narrating his call by Jesus (Matt 9:9). He is also included in the list of twelve who were called to be apostles, with the added descriptor, “the tax collector” (Matt 10:3). He is also named in three other books, with nothing further said about him (Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15; and Acts 1:13). But little else about him is conveyed in the four books that name him.


Those five fleeting references are the only times we see directly this person in the biblical narratives. He is surely there in other scenes, but he simply blends into the collection of “the disciples” (Mark 2:23; 3:7; 5:31: 6:1, 35, 41, 45; 7:17; 8:1–10, 14, 27, 34: 9:14, 28, 31; 10:10, 13, 23–24; 11:19; 12:43; 13:1; 14:12–16; and Synoptic parallels), “the twelve” (Mark 4:10; 6:7; 9:35; 14:20; and Synoptic parallels; and John 6:66–71; 20:24), or, even more anonymously, into “the crowd” (Mark 2:4, 13; 4:1; Matt 7:28; 13:2; Luke 5:1; 6:17; 7:11–12; 8:4; John 6:2; 12:9, 12; Acts 1:15; 2:6; etc.).

And yet, in the evolving church traditions, Matthew emerges from the shadows to take centre stage as disciple, apostle, saint, and author of the Gospel which is placed first in the New Testament. Some churches even maintain the patristic claim that Matthew wrote in Aramaic, and was later translated into the Greek version that forms the basis of the New Testament text.

The claim about Aramaic comes from a fourth century report by Eusebius of Caesarea that a second century bishop, Papias of Heirapolis, claimed that Matthew “put the logia in an ordered arrangement in the Hebrew language (Ἑβραΐδι διαλέκτῳ), but each person interpreted them as best he could” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.39.16). We should note that this is a somewhat indirect witness at quite some remove, and also that the Greek word Ἑβραΐδι can be translated either as Hebrew or as Aramaic.

But this claim falls down from the clear evidence of the Greek text of Matthew’s Gospel, which mirrors very closely both the Gospel of Mark, at many points, and the Gospel of Luke, at other points, in passages found only in Matthew and Luke.

The two key conclusions drawn by many scholars are twofold: first, that Matthew (like Luke) used the Gospel of Mark as a basis for writing a narrative about Jesus—but modified and adapted both the order and wording of passages; and second, that Luke and Matthew had access to another source (whether oral or written) for many of the sayings of Jesus (the source is known as Q). This makes it completely unlikely that Matthew wrote, in Aramaic, or in Hebrew, the earliest account of Jesus.

And ascribing the authorship of this Gospel to the tax collector identified at Matt 9:9 is also a patristic move. The title of this (and the other) Gospels, identifying the alleged author, is found only in later manuscripts and patristic writings; the narrative itself fails to identify anyone as the author, let alone the tax collector named Matthew. This claim is a later apologetic move, most likely made to provide an “apostolic authorisation” to the Gospel.


So what do we say, then, of “Matthew”, the purported author of this Gospel, a work which the author declares at the start to be “the book of origins of Jesus, Messiah” (Matt 1:1)? For me, a key to the way that the author of this “book of origins” operated is provided at Matt 13:52, where Jesus concludes a sequence of parables with the statement that “every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old”.

That description encapsulates very clearly, for me, who the author of this Gospel was—a scribe, “trained for the kingdom”, drawing on old resources, but reshaping them so that they are seen to be new. We can see this in many ways in the narrative that he constructs. We can especially see this in the way he presents Jesus as an authoritative teacher of Torah—the one whose words are to be heard, remembered, studied, and passed on. Thus, the reason for his writing of this Gospel.

In this Gospel, we are offered a distinctive, at times unique, portrayal of Jesus. Only in this Gospel does Jesus affirm that all of “the law and the prophets” stand, are not to be annulled, and indeed have been “fulfilled”, or given new life and meaning, by what Jesus teaches (Matt 5:17–20).

So the encounters between Jesus and his disciples, and the scribes and Pharisees, at various moments in the narrative (9:2–8, 10–13; 12:38–42; 15:1–20; 16:1–4; 19:3–9; 21:15–16; 22:34–46) inevitably revolve around differing interpretations of Torah prescriptions and include regular references to (Hebrew) scriptural passages.

Jesus debates the way that the scribes and Pharisees interpret Torah; he meets them on their terms, and engages in these debates in accordance with “the rules” of scripture interpretation. Far from abandoning the Torah, he rather keeps the commandments, valued as “what is old”, and provides distinctive insights and understandings, “what is new”, as he intensifies and radicalises them. (“You have heard it said …”, hard enough; “but I say to you …”, an impossible counsel of perfection?)

In this Gospel alone, Jesus affirms “the scribes and the Pharisees” as those who “sit on Moses’ seat” and teach well—but fail to live by that teaching in their lives (23:1–3). Accordingly, Jesus not only teaches how to live by the law, with a ferocious intensity (5:21–48; 23:13–36), but he puts his teachings into practice; he maintains the old but fills it with new meaning. All of this lies ahead in the passages that will be proposed by the lectionary over the coming months.

Our Father in heaven: a pattern for prayer (Luke 11, Matt 6) part III

In the series of Gospel readings offered by the Revised Common Lectionary, there is a break from the sequential readings from the Gospel of Matthew begun in early January each year. This year—Year A—we began with the early chapters of the Gospel according to Matthew (from 2:1 through to 5:37); but when the season of Lent began, that pattern was interrupted.

We return to Matthew with Matt 9 on the Second Sunday after Pentecost, jumping from where we had left the Gospel back in February, in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. That means that we have omitted the passage where Jesus says “pray then in this way”, giving his disciples a set of words (6:9–13) that has come to be known as The Our Father (after its opening phrase) or The Lord’s Prayer (after the one who gave it to his disciples). So this week I am posting about this well-known and much-loved prayer. Previous posts were at

What of “the kingdom, the power, and the glory”? These terms are thoroughly scriptural, being found through the pages of Hebrew Scripture. Although not in the earliest manuscripts of either Matthew’s or Luke’s version of The Lord’s Prayer, the closing doxology is found in the text of the Didache (which I think was a second century document) and makes its way into later manuscripts of the canonical documents. That most likely signals that there was an oral tradition that this phrase was in use in later times, so later scribes felt the need to write it back into the words attributed to Jesus.

In scripture, it is not only the kingdom, the power, the glory which is prayed for—there is also the greatness, the majesty, and the victory which is sought, as well as riches and honour. The key text which draws all of these terms together, and places them into a prayer addressing God, is when David assembles “all the officials of Israel, the officials of the tribes, the officers of the divisions that served the king, the commanders of the thousands, the commanders of the hundreds, the stewards of all the property and cattle of the king and his sons, together with the palace officials, the mighty warriors, and all the warriors” (1 Chron 28:1) and addresses them as they prepare to commence work on building the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem.

After delivering detailed plans for the building to his son Solomon (1 Chron 28:11–19)—plans which had been revealed to him by the Lord—David commissions Solomon for the task, presents him to the people, and then prays a prayer of blessing: “Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our ancestor Israel, forever and ever. Yours, O Lord, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours; yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Riches and honour come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might; and it is in your hand to make great and to give strength to all. And now, our God, we give thanks to you and praise your glorious name.” (1 Chron 29:10–13).

Kingdom, power, and glory are also collected together in Psalm 145: “All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your faithful shall bless you. They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom, and tell of your power, to make known to all people your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom” (Ps 145:10–12). It is God who holds the attributes of power and glory in overseeing God’s kingdom.

These terms were also terms used to honour (and, indeed, flatter!) human kings; the prophet Daniel addresses King Nebuchadnezzar in similarly extravagant terms: “You, O king, the king of kings—to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, the might, and the glory, into whose hand he has given human beings, wherever they live, the wild animals of the field, and the birds of the air, and whom he has established as ruler over them all—you are the head of gold” (Dan 2:37–38).

However, the more common use of such flowery ascriptions of might and power are addressed to God, the king (as we have seen above). It is God who exercises power (Exod 15:6; 32:11; Num 11:23; Deut 4:34; 26:8; Ps 21:13; 130:7; 147:5; Isa 10:33; Jer 16:21; Dan 5:23; Nah 1:3).

It is also God in whom glory rests, as many stories on the narrative books attest (Exod 16:7, 10; 24:16–17; 40:34–35; Lev 9:6, 23; Num 14:10, 21; 16:19, 42; 20:6; Deut 5:24; 1 Ki 8:11; 1 Chron 16:28–29; 2 Chron 5:14; 7:1–3). The psalmists also acknowledge the glory of God (Ps 8:1; 24:8–10; 26:8; 29:1–3; 96:7–8; 102:15–16; 104:31; 113:4; 138:5; 148:13). The glory of the Lord is manifest to prophets (Isa 2:19–21; 6:3; 10:16–18; 24:23; 40:5; 42:8; 58:8; 59:19; 60:1–2; 61:3; Ezek 1:28; 3:12, 23; 9:3; 10:4, 18–19; 11:23; 43:4–5: 44:4; Hab 2:14; Zech 2:8).

In telling the story of Jesus, who preaches “the kingdom of God” and indicates that it has come near in him (Mark 1:14; Luke 17:20), the Gospels make note of the power of Jesus (Mark 5:30; 6:2; Matt 11:20; 13:54; Luke 4:14, 36; 5:17; 6:19; 8:46; 19:37; John 10:18) as well as his glory (Luke 2:32; 9:32; John 1:14; 2:11; 8:54; 12:41; 17:5, 22–24).

So the concluding doxology in the longer version of the prayer, ascribing the kingdom, the power, and the glory to God, is both a fitting scriptural conclusion as well as consistent with Jesus’s own perceptions of his role in God’s overarching plan of salvation.

God’s steadfast love, righteousness and justice (Psalm 33; Pentecost 2A)

“The Lord … loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord” (Ps 33:5). So the psalmist sings, in the midst of exhorting other faithful people to “praise the Lord with the lyre … make melody with the harp … sing a new song to the Lord … play on the strings with loud shouts” (Ps 33:2–3). These notes of love, righteousness and justice are common notes in many psalms, as well as in other parts of the Hebrew Scriptures.

A recurrent refrain in these books is a celebration of “the steadfast love of the Lord” (Exod 34:6; 2 Chron 30:8–9; Neh 9:17, 32; Jonah 4:2; Joel 2:13; Ps 86:15; 103:8, 11; 111:4; 145:8–9). This affirmation presents God as “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation”.

God is praised for showing love by redeeming the people in the Exodus (Exod 15:13) and then guaranteeing abundance in the land is promised to the people: “he will love you, bless you, and multiply you; he will bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your wine and your oil, the increase of your cattle and the issue of your flock, in the land that he swore to your ancestors to give you”, says Moses (Deut 7:13).

Solomon later praises God, saying “you have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David … and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today” (1 Ki 3:6; also 2 Chron 1:8), and then as he dedicates the Temple, he prays “there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart” (1 Ki 8:23; 2 Chron 6:14).

When the foundations of the Temple are laid, after it has been destroyed by the Babylonians, the people sing, “praising and giving thanks to the Lord, ‘for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel” (Ezra 3:11). When a covenant renewal ceremony takes place under Nehemiah, he addresses God as “a gracious and merciful God” and continues, “the great and mighty and awesome God, keeping covenant and steadfast love” (Neh 9:31–32).

A number of prophets refer to God’s enduring, steadfast love (Isa 16:5; 43:4; 54:8, 10; 63:7; Jer 9:24; 31:3; 33:11; Dan 9:4; Hos 2:19; 11:3–4; Jonah 4:2; Micah 7:18–19; Zeph 3:17). And many psalms also praise God for God’s steadfast love (Ps 5:7; 6:4; 13:5; 17:7; 18:50; 21:7; 25:6–7, 10; 26:3; 31:7; and many more; and see esp. 119:41, 64, 76, 88, 124, 149, and 159). The psalmist rejoices that “steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other” (Ps 84:8, 10)


In tandem with God’s mercy and steadfast love, so divine justice is also noted. “Great is your mercy, O Lord; give me life according to your justice” (Ps 119:156); and “in your steadfast love hear my voice; O Lord, in your justice preserve my life” (Ps 119:149).

Justice, of course, is at the heart of the covenant that God made with Israel. Moses is said to have instructed, “justice, and only justice, you shall pursue” (Deut 16:20), the king is charged with exhibiting justice (Ps 72:1–2; Isa 32:1), whilst many prophets advocate for justice (Isa 1:17; 5:7; 30:18; 42:1–4; 51:4; 56:1; Jer 9:24; 22:3; 23:5; 33:15; Ezek 18:5–9; 34:16; Dan 4:37; Hos 12:6; Amos 5:15, 24; Mic 3:1–8; 6:8).

That God is righteous is likewise declared in scripture (Deut 32:4; Ps 145:7; Job 34:17). The psalmists regularly thank God for God’s righteousness (Ps 5:8; 7:17; 9:8; 33:5; 35:24, 28; 36:6; 50:6; etc) and note the importance of humans living in that way for righteousness (Ps 18:20, 24; 85:10–13; 106:3, 31; 112:1–3, 9).

The book of Proverbs advises that the wisdom it offers is “for gaining instruction in wise dealing, righteousness, justice, and equity” (Prov 1:3) and the prophets consistently advocated for Israel to live in accordance with righteousness (Hos 10:12; Amos 5:24; Isa 1:22; 5:7; 28:17; 32:16–17; 54:14; Jer 22:3; Ezek 18:19–29; Dan 9:24; 12:3; Zeph 2:3; Mal 4:1–3; Hab 2:1–4).

This psalm thus summarises some important elements in the Israelite understanding of God, summarising notes from many places elsewhere in Hebrew Scriptures. These recurring notes of the nature of God then form the basis for a Christian understanding of Jesus, who affirms mercy (Matt 23:23), teaches righteousness (Matt 5:6, 10, 20; 6:33), and exudes grace (John 1:14–18). The affirmation made in this ancient Jewish psalm is one that we Christians can joyfully sing and affirm!

Our Father in heaven: a pattern for prayer (Luke 11, Matt 6) part II

In the series of Gospel readings offered by the Revised Common Lectionary, there is a break from the sequential readings from the Gospel of Matthew begun in early January each year. This year—Year A—we began with the early chapters of the Gospel according to Matthew (from 2:1 through to 5:37); but when the season of Lent began, that pattern was interrupted.

We return to Matthew with Matt 9 on the Second Sunday after Pentecost, jumping from where we had left the Gospel back in February, in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. That means that we have omitted the passage where Jesus says “pray then in this way”, giving his disciples a set of words (6:9–13) that has come to be known as The Our Father (after its opening phrase) or The Lord’s Prayer (after the one who gave it to his disciples). So this week I am posting about this well-known and much-loved prayer. The first post is at

“Give us bread for the day” has often been seen to be evoking the story embedded within the foundational myth (establishing the central identity) of the people of Israel, when the Lord provided manna to the people whilst they journey in the wilderness (Exod 16; Num 11); further reference is made to this manna in additional books of Hebrew scripture (Deut 8:3, 16; Neh 9:20; Ps 78:24).

That gift of manna, striking in the wilderness experience, was also provided to the Israelites when they camped at Gilgal, on the verge of entering into the land of Canaan (Josh 5:10–12). The story has a potency that makes it an essential element in the identity of Israel: it is a nation which trusts in the gracious provisions of God.

Jesus continues that attitude; God is the one who will provide when something is asked for (Mark 11:24; Matt 7:7, 11; 9:38; Luke 10:2; 11:9, 13; John 14:13; 15:7, 16; 16:23). Consistent with that, asking for “bread for the day” is an appropriate prayer to offer.

The next petition raises other questions. Differences in the Greek terms used in the early versions of this prayer point to the matter; is it “forgive us our sins” or “cancel the debts we owe”? On the different words used, see

Of course, forgiveness is part of the “gospel” of Hebrew Scriptures; the claim that God forgives is found in numerous places. Abraham wrangles with God to forgive Sodom (Gen 18:16–33); Moses pleads, successfully, with the Lord to forgive Israel after their rebellion in the wilderness (Num 14:1–25), and less successfully after the incident involving the golden statue of a calf (Exod 32:30–35). Jeremiah foresees that within the new covenant given by God, forgiveness will be offered (Jer 31:34).

A refrain in a number of places is that “the Lord is slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression” (sin” (Exod 34:6–8; Num 14:18; Neh 9:17b; Ps 145:8–9; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2; see also 2 Kings 13:23; 2 Chron 30:9). King Solomon prays for God to forgive the people (1 Ki 8:33–40; 2 Chron 6:18–40), the psalmist prays for forgiveness (Ps 25:18; 79:9), and so do some prophets (Ezek 16:63; Dan 9:19; Amos 7:2). Jesus’ prayer petition for God to forgive, in the central prayer he taught, continues this motif.

The associated clause of the prayer, instructing us to follow the example of God and forgive the sins of others, also reflects enduring Israelite understandings. Joseph forgives his brothers (Gen 50:15–21), David forgives Abigail (1 Sam 25:26–28, 32–35). Jesus exhorts his followers to forgive seven times (Luke 17:1–4) or seventy times seven (Matt 18:21–22), and is remembered as the one who came to forgive sins (Mark 2:10; Matt 9:6; Luke 5:24; 23:34), and so this clause of the pray is consistent with that.

If the prayer is about asking God to cancel debts,rather than forgive sins, then another theme in Hebrew Scripture is drawn in by Jesus. The release of slaves and the cancelling of debts was meant to be practised in society every fifty years during the year of Jubilee (Lev 25:8–17; see esp. v.13). Luke explicitly signals this theme in the opening speech of Jesus that he alone reports: “the Spirt of the Lord is upon me … to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” (4:18–19). The reference to “the year of the Lord’s favour” is commonly taken to be an indication of the Jubilee.

The practice of the Jubilee is, however, dubious. The levitical prescriptions appear to be the ideal that the priests hoped for; actual evidence that this was ever implemented in Israelite society is lacking. Indeed, it is suggested that while the people were in Exile, the land of Israel would “lie desolate”, and “enjoy its sabbath years” (Lev 26:34), providing recompense for all those years when “it did not have on your sabbaths when you were living in it” (Lev 26:35).

Nevertheless, Jesus may well be instructing his followers to pray that this will be a reality in society; that the people “shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants”, and that those who had been taken to work elsewhere would return “to your property and every one of you to your family” (Lev 25:10). His prayer indicates that he wanted his followers to implement this practice in their lives.

The phrases “save us” and “deliver us” introduce the next two petitions. “Save me” or “save us” is the cry of psalmists (Ps 6:4: 7:1; 22:21; 31:2, 16; 44:6; 54:1; 55:16; 57:3; 59:2; 69:1; 71:2–3; 80:2; 86:16; 106:47; 109:26; 119:94, 146; 142:6; 143:9), and most famously in the Hallel psalm, Psalm 118, in the context of various phrases repeated in Christian worship on a regular basis: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Save us, we beseech you, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech you, give us success! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” (Ps 118:24–26).

Prophets also cry out for God to save them (Isa 25:9; 33:22; 36:18; 37:20; Jer 17:14), as do the elders of Israel (1 Sam 4:3), the people of Israel (1 Sam 7:8), and the kings David (1 Chron 16:35) and Hezekiah (2 Ki 19:19).

“Deliver me” or “deliver us”, likewise, is a prayer addressed to God by Jacob (Gen 32:10), the people of Israel (Judg 10:15), the friends of Daniel (Dan 3:17), and time and time again by the psalmists (Ps 3:7; 6:4; 7:1; 25:20; 31:1, 15; 39:8; 40:13; 43:1; 51:14; 59:1–2; 70:1–2; 79:9; 106:4; 109:21; 119:170; 120:2; 140:1; 144:11). As Ben Sirach prays in the latter stages of his closing poem, “may he he entrust to us his mercy, and may he deliver us in our days!” (Sir 50:24).

“The time of trial” is a phrase found only in this prayer (Matt 6:13; Luke 11:4) and in the prayer which Jesus is said to have prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:38; Matt 26:41; Luke 22:40, 46). However, the notion of being tested or put on trial is common in scripture. Moses reminds the Israelites of “what the Lord God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt, the great trials that your eyes saw” as they wandered in the wilderness (Deut 7:18–19; 29:2–3).

Speaking about the righteous, the psalmist asserts that “the Lord will not abandon them to their power, or let them be condemned when they are brought to trial” (Ps 37:33), whilst the poet who wrote Lamentations reflects that in the invasion of Jerusalem the wrathful God “has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation” (Lam 3:5), and Jib poetically reflects, “what are human beings, that you make so much of them, that you set your mind on them, visit them every morning, test them every moment?” (Job 7:17–18).

Several commentators point to the similarity between the request in the prayer taught by Jesus for God to “save us in the time of trial” and that found in later rabbinic teaching in the Babylonian Talmud. In the tractate Berakot, one is encouraged to ask the Lord, “Lead me not into error, nor into iniquity, nor into temptation nor into disgrace” (b. Ber. 60b).

Various prophets describe what took place in Israel, as they were invaded and conquered, and what they foresee in the future, when the Day of the Lord comes, in graphic terms that depict intense trials and tribulations. That is picked up in apocalyptic passages in New Testament texts. Being saved from such trials is in view when Jesus indicates that God will ensure that the apocalyptic trials that he foresees will come to an end (Mark 13:20; Matt 24:22). The seer of Patmos assures the church in Philadelphia that “because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth” (Rev 3:10).

Likewise, the phrase “the evil one” is absent from Hebrew Scripture, but the notion of evil is present throughout—from the garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve flaunt the ban on their eating fruit from “ the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2:15–17; 3:1–7), through the forty years when Israel,was condemned to “wander in the wilderness for forty years, until all the generation that had done evil in the sight of the Lord had disappeared” (Num 32:13), and the generations under the Judges when “the Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (Judg 2:11; 3:7, 12; 4:1; 6:1; 9:23; 10:6; 13:1).

In their debate with Samuel regarding the need for a king in Israel, the people confess “the evil of demanding a king for ourselves” (1 Sam 12:19); this comes to fruition again and again in the following centuries. Under Jeroboam, son of Solomon, his wife prophesies against him, declaring that “you have done evil above all those who were before you” (1 Ki 14:9); under his brother Rehoboam, the people of Judah “did what was evil in the sight of the LORD; they provoked him to jealousy with their sins that they committed, more than all that their ancestors had done” (1 Ki 14:22).

The same formulaic denunciation then condemns almost all of the northern kingdom kings who follow: Nadal at 1 Ki 15:25–26; Baasha at 1 Ki 15:33–34; Zimri at 1 Ki 16:15–20; Omri at 1 Ki 16:25–28; Ahab at 1 Ki 16:29–30, 22:37–40; Ahaz at 1 Ki 22:51–53; Jehoram at 2 Ki 3:1–2; Ahaziah at 2 Ki 8:26–27; Jehoash at 2 Ki 13:10–13; Jeroboam II at 2 Ki 14:23–29; Zechariah at 2 Ki 15:8–12; Menahem at 2 Ki 15:17–22; Pekahaiah at 2 Ki 15:23–26; Pekah at 2 Ki 15:27–31; and Hoshea at 2 Ki 17:1–4. In other words, almost all of the kings of Israel! (Of course, the work comes from those telling the story in the southern kingdom.)

The notion of a personified “evil one” does not emerge until much closer to the time of Jesus. Satan was originally “an adversary” to Balaam (Num 22:22–23), David (1 Sam 29:4; 2 Sam 19:22; 1 Chron 21:1), Solomon (1 Ki 11:14, 23–25) and the high priest Joshua in the time of return from Exile under Darius of Persia (Zech 3:1–10). In Jewish literature in the ensuing centuries—1 Enoch, Jubilees, 2 Enoch—the adversary develops into an evil personage.

Most famously, the accuser from the heavenly court, delegated by God to prosecute the case against Job (Job 1:6–12; 2:2–8), would eventually become Satan, tester of Jesus (Mark 1:13), a fallen heavenly being (Luke 10:18) who is “deceiver of the whole world” (Rev 12:9; 20:2–3), and “the evil one” from whom Jesus instructed that we should pray to be delivered. He thus draws deep from the wells of his Jewish heritage in these petitions—“deliver us … save us”.

“In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12; Pentecost 2A)

Each year during the Sundays which follow after the festival of Pentecost, the Gospel readings offer a series of stories, encounters, and parables from the Gosepl attributed to Matthew. In parallel to those stories, in the Hebrew Scripture readings, the lectionary offers a sequence of passages telling some of the key moments in the story of Israel, from the narrative books, Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Joshua, and Judges. These stories run through until the Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, in mid-November.

This sequence of passages offers us stories which were told, retold, and probably developed over quite some time by the elders in ancient Israel. They are stories which define the nature of the people and convey key values which were important in ancient Israel. These faithful people from the past stand, for us today, as role models to encourage us, centuries later, in our own journey of faith. They are stories which are worth holding up for our reflection and consideration.

These stories each have the function of an aetiology—that is, a mythic story which is told to explain the origins of something that is important in the time of the storyteller. The online Oxford Classical Dictionary defines an aetiology as “an explanation, normally in narrative form (hence ‘aetiological myth’), of a practice, epithet, monument, or similar.”

Whilst telling of something that is presented as happening long back in the past, the focus is on present experiences and realities, for “such explanations elucidate something known in the contemporary world by reference to an event in the mythical past”.


The ancestral narratives of Israel (Gen 12–50), as well as the series of books known as “the historical narratives” (Exodus to 2 Kings, Ezra—Nehemiah) are all written at a time much later that the presumed events which they narrate. The final form of the books as we have them most likely date to the Exile or post-exilic times, although pre-existing sources would have been used for many of these stories. (There are specific references to earlier written documents—now lost to us—scattered throughout 1—2 Kings.)

Those older stories were remembered, retold, and then written down, because they spoke into the present experiences of the writers. Common scholarly belief is that the stories found in Gen 12–50 were originally oral tales, that were collected together, told and retold over the years, and ultimately written down in one scroll, that we today call Genesis.


For this coming Sunday (the Second Sunday after Pentecost), we are offered the account of the calling of Abram, who journeys into a new future (Gen 12:1–9). This has been a key passage for Jews throughout the centuries; Abram is remembered and honoured as “the father of the nation”—indeed, as “the father of all nations”; and this passage claims that it was God’s intention to grant the blessing of abundant descendants to Abram and his wife, to fulfil this promise.

The passage is found after the opening 11 chapters, which are often labelled the “Primeval History”, since they recount the creation of the world and the sequence of events which were fundamental for understanding human existence (such as human sinfulness and conflict, the expansion of humanity, the great flood, the growth of tribal entities, and the diversification of languages).

The passage also stands at the head of those stories, originally oral, which were collected because they revealed much about the nature of Israel as a people and as a nation. These chapters tell stories about the patriarchs and their wives (Abram and Sarai, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah and Rachel). This particular passage introduces key themes for the people of Israel.

The passage indicates that Abram took his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot with him, “and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan” (Gen 12:5). They would also have had the (always unnamed) wife of Lot with them, for their companions would undoubtedly have included both males and females within the extended family grouping. We need to read this ancient aetiology with a contemporary critical awareness. Certainly, the faith of Abram and Sarai and their extended family is a key message conveyed by this passage.

The story explains four important aspects of life and faith for the people of ancient Israel and on into contemporary Judaism: the land is given to this people, the people (of Israel) will become “a great nation”, the name (of Abram) will be blessed, and the descendants of Abram, “all the families of the earth”, will likewise be blessed. These four points—land, pepople, name, descendants—loom large throughout the history of Israel. Indeed, they maintain their potency into the present age—and need to be read and understood with political and cultural sensitivity today.


This passage sounds the initial claim of the people of Israel to the land of Canaan. This was promised by God to Abram and his descendants, we are told. They set out towards that land; “when they had come to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram, and said, ‘To your offspring I will give this land.’ So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him.” (Gen 12:5–7). The claim recurs at various points throughout the ensuing narratives, culminating in the conquest narrated in the book of Joshua.

See more on this aspect of the passage at

and on the difficulties involved in the story of invasion and violent colonisation, see

In his commentary on this passage in With Love to the World, the Revd Dr John Jegasothy, a retired Uniting Church Minister originally from Sri Lanka, reflects on this story of journeying to a new land, from his own perspective as an asylum seeker some decades ago. “As a family we had to decide to leave Sri Lanka and migrate to Australia on Special Humanitarian Visa as I was a human rights advocate and death came close. God had a plan for me to be an advocate for refugees here.”

Dr Jegasothy continues, “I look at our journey as a journey like Abram and Sarai undertook. They absolutely trusted in God’s promises and because of their faith they were counted as righteous.” There is an invitation here for each of us to ponder this story, in terms of our own journey of faith. How and when has God called us on to journey into new places or new experiences?


Alongside the claim to the land of Canaan, the story of Gen 12 portrays Abram (and Sarai) as the origin of a multitude of descendants; through them, “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (12:3). Initially, this claim appears to be quite precarious; after all, the first mention of Sarai indicates that “Sarai was barren; she had no child” (11:29–30).

Later, when Sarai advises Abram, “see that the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her” (16:1–2), Abram diligently obeys; he “went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress” (16:4). Tensions between the wife, Sarai, and the slave-girl, Hagar, lead to Hager’s flight into the wilderness, where she gave birth to Abram’s son, Ishmael (16:7–16).

Still later, when Abram (now Abraham) sealed the covenant with the Lord God through the ritual of circumcision (17:1–14), he is told that Sarai (now Sarah) will now be blessed by the Lord, for “I will give you a son by her; I will bless her, she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her” (17:16). And in due time—despite the laughter of Sarah (18:12)—Isaac is born (21:1–3).

The lectionary studiously avoids the story of the birth of Ishmael, but provides us with a sequence of passages that recount the promise to Sarah (18:1–15, Pentecost 3A), the banishing of Hagar and Ishmael (21:8–21, Pentecost 4A), and the near-sacrifice of Isaac (22:1–14, Pentecost 5A), before turning to the story of Isaac and his wife Rebekah (Pentecost 6A) and then on to Jacob (with excerpts from chs. 25 to 37, Pentecost 7A to 11A).

After Sarah died, Abraham married Keturah and had six sons with her (25:1–4). He also “gave gifts to the sons of his concubines while he was living” (25:6), so there were other (unnamed) progeny of Abraham. In due time, Abraham and Sarah’s son Isaac and his wife Rebekah gave birth to twins, Jacob and Esau (25:19–26), whilst Ishmael, the son of Abraham and Hagar, was the father of twelve sons who had many descendants (25:12–18), as well as a daughter who was the ancestor of the Edomites. Abraham’s brothers Nahor fathered twelve sons (22:20–24) whilst Haran was the father of Lot (11:27), who himself fathered Moab and Ammon. Many of these descendants continued reproducing, and so the line of Abraham grew and expanded, generation by generation.

Collectively, this family was responsible for a multitude of descendants, which brings to fulfilment God’s promise to Abraham, “I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations; I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you” (17:5–6). The tenuous moments in the story leave us, as readers, wondering whether this promise would come to fruition; in time, of course, that fulfilment is reported in the Genesis narrative. Abraham does indeed become “father of all nations”, and a key figure in the sagas about Israel that were told and retold throughout the ages.

Our Father in heaven: a pattern for prayer (Luke 11, Matt 6) part I

In the series of Gospel readings offered by the Revised Common Lectionary, there is a break from the sequential readings begun in early January each year. This year—Year A—we began with the early chapters of the Gospel according to Matthew (from 2:1 through to 5:37); but when the season of Lent began, the Gospel readings were taken largely from John, with John and Luke featuring during the Sundays after Easter. Only now, after Trinity Sunday, does the sequential pattern resume.

However, that pattern begins with Matt 9 on the Second Sunday after Pentecost, jumping from where we had left the Gospel back in February, in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. The missing chapters (5:38 to 9:8) are omitted by the lectionary. Now, the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount are confronting and difficult—but that is no reason to avoid them!

What is omitted is the latter part of the sequence of Antitheses, including the command to love our enemies; teachings on fasting, prayer, and almsgiving; and a series of sayings about assorted matters, each of which presses us to be more intentional and focussed in our discipleship.

And in the middle of all of that, “pray then in this way”, says Jesus, giving his disciples a set of words (6:9–13) that has come to be known as The Our Father (after its opening phrase) or The Lord’s Prayer (after the one who gave it to his disciples). So before we get too far into the series of readings in the season of Pentecost, I thought I would offer some thoughts about this well-known and much-loved prayer.

Christians are used to praying this prayer on a regular basis, in obedience to the instructions of Jesus recorded in two Gospels: “when you pray, say …” (Luke 11:2; Matt 6:9). This prayer can be considered a succinct primer for prayer, since it contains the key elements of praying.

After an opening adoration of God (“our Father in heaven, holy is your name”), there follows prayers for the world (“your kingdom come, your will be done”), petitions for ourselves (“give us bread for the day, forgive us our sins, do not bring us to the time of trial”), and intercessions for others (“as we forgive those who sin against us”). In the later version of the prayer, a closing benediction is included (“yours is the kingdom, the power, the glory”), ending, of course, with “Amen”. The pattern is clear and concise.

Each element in this prayer is and expression of traditional Jewish piety; every line draws from Hebrew Scripture. Although this prayer is so frequently associated with Jesus, it is not a prayer that is original to him in its content or orientation. The originality of the prayer lies not in its content, but in the way that Jesus has drawn together each element into a cohesive unity.

The structure of the prayer is pleasingly aesthetic. There is an opening address to God (“our father in heaven”) and a closing benedictory phrase (“yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory”). These phrases frame the who,e prayer; whilst the largest component of the prayer, the inner section, is focussed on us where we are in this present time, the outer frames set our lives into this larger context.

Following the opening phrase, there are three clauses addressed to God (“holy is your name … your kingdom come … your will be done”). These clauses extend the opening address to God, identifying key elements in how we understand God. (See below for further discussion of this.) The third clause is extended with the phrase “on earth as in heaven”, drawing our attention to the close correlation that is expected between the divine and we human beings.

Before the closing phrase, there are three requests made of God, for ourselves (“give us bread for the day … forgive us our sins … do not bring us to the time of trial”) with the second and third phrases extended with an additional phrase (“as we forgive those who sin against us” and “rescue us from the evil one”).

The second extension draws the attention of people who are praying the prayer away from us as people praying (give us, forgive us) to others who are beyond the scope of the group praying—to other people in society with whom we engage day by day.

And the third extension draws the attention of people away from us as people within this material world, to a dimension that is somehow beyond, transcending this world. Reference to “the evil one” raises the spectre (oops!) of the realm of “principalities and powers” (as referred to in the epistles). Life as we know it is not entirely within our own control; there are other forces—both evil, and also good—that impinge upon us. It’s an interesting extension in a prayer which is, at least in the larger middle section, focussed on our here-and-now in this world.

So in my mind, just as the opening and closing phrases balance each other, so these three petitions balance with the three addresses to God in the earlier half of the prayer. The symmetry is not exact, in terms of precise syllables or words used; but the syntactical structure is clearly patterned and pleasingly symmetrical, in my mind.

And then, to make sure that we know that the prayer is ending, we have the tag-line, as it were: “for ever and ever, Amen”. So in my mind, quite often when I pray this prayer, I hear the structure as an invitation to pause, focus on God, remember our needs and remember also others, recall the immediate dimension as well as the transcendent, and then conclude with gratitude to God. The Amen at the end is the typical conclusion to prayer, signalling the agreement of the prayers and all present to what has been prayed.



The content of the prayer, as previously noted, draws at every point from Hebrew Scripture. The opening address identifies God as father, and as “hallowed”—a somewhat archaic adjective, rarely used now in common speech, meaning holy, consecrated, sacred, or revered. The related noun, hallow, denoted a saint in older English. The concept of being holy, however, was well- known in ancient Israel, and appears frequently in Hebrew Scripture.

Addressing God as “father in heaven” is found in just a few texts in Hebrew Scriptures: in the cry of “the faithful one”, “you are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation!” (Ps 89:26), in the praises of the psalmist, “Father of orphans and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation” (Ps 68:5), and in the questioning of the prophet Malachi: “have we not all one father? has not one God created us? why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our ancestors?” (Mal 2:10).

By contrast, that God’s name is holy is an affirmation found many times in Hebrew Scriptures. God is addressed as holy (Ps 22:3) and God’s name is holy (Ps 30:4; 33:21; 97:12; 103:1; 105:3; 106:47; 111:9; 145:21). “Holy One” is a term applied to God in the Writings (Ps 71:22; 78:41; 89:18; Prov 9:10; Job 6:10; Sir 4:14; 23:9; 53:10; 47:8; 48:20) and by the Prophets (Isa 1:4; 5:19, 24; and a further 24 times; Jer 50:29; Ezek 8:13; Hos 11:9, 12; Hab 1:12; 3:3). When Hannah sings with joy of the son whom she is expecting, she describes God as the Holy One (1 Sam 2:2).

Just as God was holy (Lev 11:44; 19:2; 20:7; 21:8; 1 Sam 2:2; Ps 99:5, 9), so God had called Israel to be a holy people (Exod 19:5–6; Deut 7:6; 14:2; 26:19; 28:9) and to live lives of holiness (Lev 11:45; Ps 77:13). God provided the people with a “holy land” for them to live (Josh 5:15) and there was a “most holy place” in the heart of the Temple where God dwelt (1 Kings 7:50; 1 Chron 6:49). And so, the followers of Jesus are instructed to consider themselves as God’s holy people (1 Cor 3:17; 6:19; Eph 5:25–27; Col 1:22; 3:12; Heb 3:1; 1 Pet 1:13–16; 2:5, 9) and to live accordingly.

“Your kingdom come” also expresses a hope that is central to the Hebrew Scriptures. Israel, of course, eventually adopted the pattern of nations that surrounded it, and appointed a king (1 Sam 8–10)—although not without some wrangling with the prophet Samuel (1 Sam 8:10–18). The various kings of the ensuing centuries each had to reckon with the prophets that were anointed by God and gifted by the Spirit, often to their great frustration!

A number of psalms acknowledge that God is in fact sovereign over Israel, declaring “the Lord is king” (Ps 10:16; 93:1; 96:10; 97:1; 99:1; and see also 1 Chron 16:31). “The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever”, says one song (Ps 29:10), amd extending the scope of divine sovereignty, “the Lord, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth”, is a striking claim in Ps 47:2.

One psalm claims that the kingdom of the Lord “is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations” (Ps 145:13; also Dan 4:3; 7:27). Whilst the prophets who speak about a future kingdom invariably foresee a restoration of the greatness of a Israel in the land (Isa 9:7; 11:1–5; Amos 9:11–15; Obad 1:21), the developing notions relating to the demand for justice-righteousness, the judgement of God, the prediction of a Day when the Lord will act, and the coming of The End are all premised on the sovereignty of the Lord God and a certainty that God will indeed act to bring in a time and a place where God’s ways will guide all. See

For “on earth as in heaven” in the Lord’s Prayer, see

So Jesus stands firmly in that prophetic line of assurance in God’s sovereign power and certainty that God’s kingdom will come for people of all the nations (Mark 9:1; Matt 8:11; 16:28; 24:14; Luke 9:27; 13:29) and, indeed, that this kingdom has come near to Israel through his own message and activities, as he regularly declares (Mark 1:15; Matt 4:17; 10:7; 12:28; Luke 10:9, 11; 11:20). So this line in the prayer expresses both faithful Jewish expectations and typical perspective of Jesus.

See more at

Forcing scripture to support doctrine: texts for Trinity Sunday (2 Cor 13, Matt 28; Trinity A)

This coming Sunday is one of those extremely rare moments in the course of the church year. It’s a Sunday that raises some difficulties for me. First, it’s one of the very few times in the Christian calendar that a Sunday is named for a doctrine, rather than for a biblical story (Easter, Pentecost, Christmas, and the like). And second, it is unusual in that it presents problems for the shapers of the lectionary, since (in my view) the Doctrine of the Trinity is not actually proclaimed in the biblical texts.

Indeed, we might well argue that the texts which are selected for this coming Sunday are actually being asked to undertake work that they weren’t intended to do, and that they can’t actually do without significant violence being done to them. I have already explored the two Hebrew Scripture passages (Genesis 1 and Psalm 8); see

In this post I turn to the two New Testament passages (2 Corinthians 13 and Matthew 28). What then, first, of Paul’s closing words of his second letter to the Corinthians? This provides one of the rare instances in the New Testament where Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit appear in close proximity within the same sentence. Could this be an early statement of a three-in-one deity? Some interpreters would have us think so.

However, the blessing that is offered at the end of this letter is not Paul making a doctrinal declaration about the inner nature of God. It is, rather, a poetically-inspired literary variation and expansion of the typical closing words that we find at the end of his letters.

“The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you” is how he has ended his earlier letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 16:23), a closure similar to “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you” (1 Thess 5:28), “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit” (Phil 4:23 and also Phlmn 25), and “may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen” (Gal 6:18). Each ending has a very minor stylistic variation.

Writing to the believers in Rome, where dissension had gripped the house gatherings in that city, Paul most likely ended his long letter with a different blessing, “the God of peace be with all of you. Amen” (Rom 15:33). At some point, the extended greetings of Rom 16:1–16 was added, leading to a later word of blessing, “the God of peace will shortly crush Satan under your feet; the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you” (Rom 16:20), after which yet more greetings are offered (Rom 16:21–23) and then a quite uncharacteristically flowery closure is appended–most likely by a later scribe, wanting to give a grand finale to Paul’s longest letter (Rom 16:25–27). In place of that excessive ending, another scribe substituted the more typical Pauline blessing, “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with all of you. Amen” (marked as Rom 16:24 in our numbering).

All of which indicates that the closing blessing in Paul’s authentic letters was both predictable, in that it offered grace, and also variable, in that it was occasionally nuanced and modified from the basic form. Such is the case in 2 Cor, where the standard blessing is extended.

The first phrase picks up Paul’s concerns in this letter for God’s grace, manifest to the Corinthians (2 Cor 1:12; 4:15; 6:1; 8:1; 9:14; 12:9). The second phrase adds God’s love, evident not only in Paul’s earlier words in 1 Cor 13, but also in this letter (2 Cor 5:14; 13:11). And the third phrase evokes the compassionate outpouring of the opening chapter of this letter, as Paul expresses his fellowship with the Corinthians by offering them consolation in their sufferings (2 Cor 1:3–11) and his fervent desire to visit them (2 Cor 1:15—2:4), culminating in his passionate expression, “I wrote you out of much distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain, but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you” (2 Cor 2:4).

Indeed, it in in this letter that Paul most clearly articulated his understanding of, and commitment to, “the ministry of reconciliation ” (2 Cor 5:11–21). This understanding has surely come to fullest expression in the context of his relationship with the Corinthians, with whom he has certainly struggled, yet for whom he has a profound depth of compassion and love. He yearns to be held within “the communion of the Holy Spirit” with them.

The closing blessing at 2 Cor 13:13 is thus a personal, compassionate expression of his love and concern for the Corinthians-a fitting ending to a most passionate letter. It is far away from being a statement of the doctrine of God.

Which leaves, last of all, the closing words of Matthew’s Gospel (Matt 28:16–20), in which Jesus is said to have given a final command to his disciples, and assured them of his enduring ongoing presence with them “to the end of the age”? Here, embedded in the primary command to “go to all nations”, there is the subsidiary instruction to “make disciples”, as well as a further subsidiary instruction to “baptise in the name”. It is this last clause, of course, which motivates the offering of this passage for Trinity Sunday.

The focus of the passage which is commonly referred to as “the Great Commission” in Matthew’s Gospel (28:19–20) need to be read carefully. There are four key verbs (doing words) in these two verses: go, teach, baptise, teach. In strict syntactical analysis, the main verb is the one in the imperative (expressing a command): “make disciples”. Subsidiary to that are the other three verbs, each of which is in a participial form (indicating an action that is related to, or consequent from, that main verb). So making disciples is the key factor in this commission.

The act of making disciples is directed towards “the nations”—that is, to anyone with whom the followers of Jesus come into contact. It is to be expressed through two activities: baptising, and teaching. The act of making disciples is also to take place “as you are going”, that is, as followers of Jesus are making their way through the world in the days ahead.

Teaching orients the focus of the disciples back to the time that they spent with Jesus; they are to teach the people of the nations “to obey everything that I have commanded you”. As Matthew has taken great care to compile and collate the teachings of Jesus into five clear sections of his Gospel (chs. 5–7, 10, 13, 18, 23–25), the guidelines provided by Jesus are evident. What he has taught in his time with the disciples is to be passed on (in good rabbinic style) to those whom they then instruct. Teaching is an activity for life in this world, very clearly.

Baptising orients the focus of the disciples to the life of the church in the future. Belonging to Jesus involves submitting to the ritual of immersion into water, signalling the new life that is taken on through faith. So, when we look at each of these factors—the syntax, the content, the focus of the passage, we must conclude that thispassage is clearly directed towards the activity that the disciples of Jesus are to undertake from this time onwards. It is not offering a doctrinal definition.

The formula used in Matt 28:19 is, in fact, something that emerges only later in the life of the church (probably not until the time of Constantine, as far as we can tell from other Christian literature). Once again, life in community on this earth is the focus. There is no sense of being baptised (“christened” in the old language) into a mysteriously complex entity of a triune being in order to “get into heaven” in accordance with institutional theological dogma. The emphasis is on community building and discipleship development within the evolving faith communities of the Jesus movement.

The focus here is on what the disciples need to do in the earthly life that stretches ahead of them: bear witness, make disciples, teach and baptise, continue out amongst “the nations” the mission that the earthly Jesus has been undertaking amongst “the lost sheep of the house of Israel”. That is far removed from any abstract speculative hypothesising about the nature of a transcendent divine being.

Forcing scripture to support doctrine: texts for Trinity Sunday (Gen 1, Psalm 8; Trinity A)

This coming Sunday is one of those extremely rare moments in the course of the church year. It’s a Sunday that raises some difficulties for me. First, it’s one of the very few times in the Christian calendar that a Sunday is named for a doctrine, rather than for a biblical story (Easter, Pentecost, Christmas, and the like). And second, it is unusual in that it presents problems for the shapers of the lectionary, since (in my view) the Doctrine of the Trinity is not actually proclaimed in the biblical texts.

Indeed, we might well argue that the texts which are selected for this coming Sunday (Genesis 1, Psalm 8, 2 Corinthians 13, and Matthew 28) are actually being asked to undertake work that they weren’t intended to do, and that they can’t actually do without significant violence being done to them. None of them were created with a view to being foundations for a doctrine that was developed some centuries later (in the case of the New Testament texts) or, indeed, a millennium or more later (in the case of the Hebrew Scripture passages).

And further, the two passages from Hebrew Scripture were actually written well before the time of Jesus, long before the Church came into being, centuries before Christian doctrine was developed in the height of the neo-Platonic speculative theology of the late Roman Empire. They were not shaped with such doctrinal expressions in mind; in fact, they were, and are, sacred texts in another religious expression, Judaism—which, although we Christians claim it as the context from which our faith evolved, nevertheless is a distinct and separate faith tradition.

Setting these two passages of scripture in the lectionary for a Sunday when the focus is on a Christian doctrine is anachronistic and invites us, unless we think carefully, to do violence to the text in our interpretation of them within that doctrinal context. In the normal,course of events, placing a narrative or piece of poetry from ancient Israelite religion alongside texts from the New Testament makes some sense, insofar as our understanding of such passages must always be informed by the heritage bequeathed by Hebrew Scripture texts. But setting such ancient texts as resources to interpret the fourth- and fifth-century doctrinal perspective is quite unhelpful.

Perhaps we should have readings from Origen, Athanasius, and Augustine, for Trinity Sunday? But the fact is, that we have texts from Genesis, the Psalms, Paul, and a Gospel, for this Sunday. What do we make of them?

Genesis 1, the story of the creation of the world, is most likely offered for Trinity Sunday in Year A because the opening verses refer, in turn, to God, a wind, or breath, from God sweeping over the waters, and the activity of God speaking in order to bring forth elements of that creation (Gen 1:1–3). It is not too difficult to read that with Christian spectacles on, and see the presence of God the Creator, the Word of God, and the wind, or breath, as God’s spirit. So numerous Christian interpreters have pressed upon their people, for centuries.

However, arguing that this provides the foundation for the full Christian doctrine of the Triune God does severe damage to the intentions of the passage, at least as we may understand them if we read the text carefully. There is no suggestion that these three elements are persons who are interrelated into one being. There is no indication that they are related, other than the fact that the breath and the speaking are activities of God. That is in no way unusual or extraordinary.

Indeed, if we think some more about the God who is described in these opening few verses, we would recognise that there are a number of other activities undertaken by God, or manifestations of God’s being, that are reported in the various scrolls of the Hebrew Scriptures. As well as the voice (speaking) and the wind (breathing), there are other aspects of the person of God which are said to be active: the mouth, the hands, the fingers of God. Such quasi-independent activity is not limited to two entities alone. The notion of a three-in-one person is nowhere to be found in these scripture passages.

So we need to read Genesis 1 in that much broader context. In addition, we need to be aware of the other “personifications” of the deity that appear in Hebrew Scripture. The ruach—the spirit of God—is, of course, active in calling prophets (1 Sam 10:6, 16; Isa 42:1; 61:1; Ezek 2:2; Dan 5:14; Joel 2:28–29; Mic 3:8; Zech 7:12).

Alongside the spirit, Wisdom, Hochmah, takes on her own persona and role in the wisdom literature; she is the “master worker” who works with God to create the universe (Prov 8:22–31), so that “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens; by his knowledge the deeps broke open, and the clouds drop down the dew” (Prov 4:19). It is Wisdom who “cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice”, teaching God’s ways to the people (Prov 1:20–23; also 8:1–9). The psalmist affirms that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Ps 111:10). Wisdom is God at work in creating and in teaching.

In the narratives telling of the years wandering in the wilderness, the Glory of God, the kabod, appears regularly. When the people arrived at the edge of the wilderness, “the Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night; neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people” (Exod 13:21–22). This manifestation is identified as “the glory of the Lord” (Exod 16:10).

On arrival at Mount Sinai, “the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days … the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israeli” (Exod 24:16–17). In rabbinic literature, this phenomenon is given the name shekinah—a further way of describing the manifestation of divine activity. The Shekinah is yet another manifestation of the divine which becomes personified over time in Jewish traditions; not a separate person, rather an expression of God’s being.

Yet another rabbinic term for divine manifestation is the Bat Qol, the voice of God. This takes the many statements in scripture about God speaking, and attributes quasi-personal firm to the voice of. God. The term Bat Qol literally means “the daughter of the voice”, as if simply by speaking, God generates a personality or a being from that process.

There is much discussion in rabbinic literature about the role and function of the Bat Qol. It was thought that the Bat Qol had been active in biblical times, even though there is no explicit statement of her activity in Hebrew Scripture. A common view in rabbinic literature is that the Bat Qol became the way that God communicated with humanity after the end of the prophetic era.

Also in later rabbinic discussions, even Torah itself—the teaching, or instruction, of God which was given in “the Law”—is personified and seen to be active in and of itself. So along with word and breath (or spirit), there is Wisdom (Hochmah), Glory (Shekinah), Bat Qol, and Torah, who are active expressions of God in the developing Jewish tradition.

Psalm 8 is also offered by the lectionary for Trinity Sunday in Year A; and it is also offered by the lectionary on this day in Year C, as well as for New Years Day in each of the three years. It is a logical companion piece with the Genesis story of creation, which is reflected in verses 1–2 and 7–9. In the middle of the psalm, the place of humanity is in focus; here the emphasis is on the relationship that humanity has with the deity (“a little lower than God, crowned with glory and honour”, v.5) and the responsibility of “dominion” that is given to humans over animals, birds, and fish (vv.7–8).

Perhaps the connection for this Sunday is with the element in the doctrine that lays claim to Jesus as not only human, but also divine; the connection point between the divine realm and the human world? But there is no specific pointer towards Jesus, naturally, in this psalm, and no indication that there was any need for any enhancement, so to speak, of the way that humans related to the divine, beyond that which is set out in this psalm. So it really doesn’t provide a biblical pointer towards understanding the doctrine of the Trinity.


to be continued in a further post …

Saying Sorry—beginning the process of Telling Truth

Today is National Sorry Day. It begins National Reconciliation Week, which runs from 27 May to 3 June each year. This week was initiated in 1996 by Reconciliation Australia, to celebrate Indigenous history and culture in Australia and promote discussions and activities which would foster reconciliation.

The dates of National Reconciliation Week hold special historical significance. On 26 May 1997, the Bringing Them Home report was tabled in Federal Parliament. This report addressed them impacts of the fact that in the late 19th century and throughout the 20th century, Australian government policies resulted in many Stolen Generations, in which thousands of Indigenous children were separated, often forcibly, from their families, with the aim of removing them from their culture and turning them into “white Australians”.

Because of this, the date 26 May carries great significance for the Stolen Generations, as well as for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and its supporters among non-indigenous Australians. The word sorry is used in First Nations cultures in relation to the rituals surrounding death—the process of grieving is often call Sorry Business. So sorry indicates an acknowledgement of loss and offers empathic understanding to those who grieve.

Sorry Day is an annual event that has been held around the continent on 26 May since 1998, to remember and commemorate the mistreatment of the country’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People.

Mick Dodson and Ronald Wilson,
Commissioners of the Bringing Them Home Report
at its launch date on 26 May 1997

27 May marks the anniversary of the 1967 referendum in Australia, which gave the vote to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, while 3 June marks the anniversary of the 1992 judgement by the High Court on the Mabo v Queensland case.

Sorry Day (26 May) and the National Apology (made in Federal Parliament on 13 February 2008), the 1967 referendum, the 1992 Mabo decision, along with the Wik decision on native title (delivered by the High Court on 23 December 1996), are considered to be key events in addressing the historic mistreatment of indigenous Australians, and in taking steps towards reconciliation and restorative justice.

But these were only steps. The path still lies ahead. We need to take more steps, walking together, to foster deeper relationships, advocate for a more embedded restoration of justice, work for wider and more lasting reconciliation within our communities. The current discussion is focussed on a process that will lead to a referendum on the proposal that the Australian Constitution recognise the First Peoples as custodians of the land from millennia before the British Invasion and colonisation of 1788, and the establishment of a permanent Voice to the federal parliament.

This step is but one on a pathway that stretches ahead of us, well into the succeeding generations still to come in Australia. We need to hear and understand the Truth that was set forth in the 1997 Report, and indeed to listen to the Truth that is being stated by First Peoples leaders in our own time, and be willing to respond with sorry and with actions that lead to justice for the First Peoples of this continent and it’s surrounding islands.

The theme for National Reconciliation Week 2023 is Be A Voice for Generations. It is a timely reminder of the importance of allowing the First Peoples of this nation to speak—and for all of us to listen, pay attention, and listen to their Voice. This is a task for everyone in Australia. To seek reconciliation, we need to speak together, commit together, and act together. We are all in this together. May we tread that pathway with compassion and intent.


Click to access 150520-Sorry-Day.pdf

The picture montage shows a Sorry Day poster, celebrations after the 1967 referendum, Eddie Mabo who brought the High Court case that was resolved in 1992, Gladys Tybingoompa dancing outside the high court in Canberra on 23 December 1996 following the Wik people’s native title win, and the front page of a national newspaper reporting the National Apology in 2008.