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Moral Questions of the Bible

The Unforgiving Servant

The first parable appears in Matthew and can be characterized by its two-stage double indirect narrative. According to Snodgrass (2008), the plot of The Unforgiving Servant has a well-balanced three-part structure followed by an explanation. The parable tells the story of a servant who, at first, has his immense debt pardoned by his king. Nevertheless, the former later assaults another person for a much smaller sum, despite his own debt is more considerable. In the end, the servant is thrown in prison and tortured by the king’s command. As it is clear from the title, the purpose of this parable is to explain the Christian understanding of forgiveness, which is one of the primary virtues. It is a pivotal concept, and, as Jesus implies, there is no limit to forgiveness. Simultaneously, the debt is indirectly compared to sin, and it is suggested that God is able to forgive those who act in the same manner as other people.

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The Two Debtors (Luke 7: 41-43)

The second parable told in Luke continues to examine the topic of forgiveness, as a gracious release from the divine debt. Snodgrass (2008) states that this theme holds particular importance for Luke, as many of his stories are directly related to it. Sin is another concept, which is explored in The Two Debtors. In this parable, Simon, a respectable Pharisee, offends Jesus by failing to ensure proper hospitality. Simultaneously, a woman who is portrayed as sinful and seductive attempts to fix the situation. As Snodgrass (2008) says, the story unfolds during a meal, which was an important conversation time during the described period. By the end o f the passage, Jesus contrasts the behavior of a “sinner” woman with the way Simon welcomed his guest. It is implied that every person, regardless of their sins, can earn forgiveness through sincere faith and dedication.

The Lost Sheep (Matthew 18: 12-14/Luke 15:4-7)

This story appears in two Gospels, Matthew and Luke, and is on the list of the parables of Jesus. Snodgrass (2008) refers to it as an interrogative parable, which opens with a question, determining the entire flow of the story. In The Lost Sheep, Jesus cites the example of a person who has one hundred sheep, yet he leaves the majority of them when one is lost. In spite of having ninety-nine sheep left home, the person rejoices, having found the single lost animal. Jesus uses a simple, comprehensible example to express a deep idea to his listeners. He says that the repentance of a single “lost” soul will cause more joy in Heaven than the existence of ninety-nine souls who do not need repentance. According to Snodgrass (2008), the modern interpretation of this parable suggests that helping the lost ones is one of the pillars of Christianity. Overall, this parable represents the idea of repentance as a way to salvation and the objective of God.

The Lost Coin (Luke 15:8-10)

The theme of loss and wandering repeatedly appears in the Scripture, and the next parable also deals with it. The Lost Coin tells the story of a woman who owns ten silver coins. Once she loses one of them and eventually finds it, she begins to treat the lost coin with particular caution. It is possible to say that the parable explores the idea of perceived value. While all coins are inherently similar, the woman cherishes the one, which has already been lost. Evidently, her affection can be compared to the way God sees all people. The parable is reminiscent of the previous one, as it emphasizes the importance of lost-but-found possessions. Snodgrass (2008) relates the woman’s joy to the nature of Heaven itself. If there is no joy, the Kingdom is absent either, as this feeling is an integral component of God’s work.

The Compassionate Father and His Two Lost Sons (Luke 15:11-32)

The following story ranks among the best-known and most influential parables, in general. It is often named the Tale of the Prodigal Son. One of the two titular sons refuses to wait for his inheritance and demands it immediately. Having received it, he departs to foreign countries where he wastes all his fortune. In spite of the son’s indecent behavior, the compassionate father kept loving him and hoping for his return. When the son finally comes to his senses, he is welcomed warmly, as if he has returned from the dead. According to Snodgrass (2008), the character of the compassionate father serves to represent God himself, who is capable of loving every son returning to faith. The parable of the prodigal son correlates with the theme of lostness, prevailing in the Bible. It shows that every person can earn forgiveness and return to light if they acknowledge their mistakes and attempt to fix them.

The Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3-23; Mark 4:3-20; Luke 8:5-15).

The parable of the Sower can be found in three gospels, making it widely known. However, Snodgrass (2008) argues that the meaning of this story is deeper than it is usually considered. In all three descriptions, Jesus sits in a boat, telling the parable of the Sower to a large crowd of people observing him from the shore. As in many other cases, he uses simple, understandable terms and parallels to explain profound concepts of divine philosophy. The seeds of the Sower serve to symbolize the Word of God, and the heart of each listener is different, as is the soil. However, the soil cannot determine its own type, whereas each person wields power over the nature of their own heart. The purpose of this important parable is to urge people to soften their hearts and perceive the Word of God in order to save their own souls.

The Growing Seed (Mark 4:26-29)

The next story is thematically connected to the parable of the Sower, which was described previously. It serves to demonstrate the perpetual nature of faith, which starts with a small belief within one’s heart and gradually develops over time. Snodgrass (2008) refers to a universally accepted understanding of the parable as the evolution of the Kingdom of God throughout history. God sows the seeds of truth and divinity into human hearts, as discussed in the parable of the Sower. Subsequently, when the time of harvest comes, it is possible to reap the fruit nurtured by one’s faith. The purpose of The Growing Seed is not to teach people how to behave but to describe the Kingdom of God as it is.

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The Wheat and the Weeds (Matt 13:24-30, 36-43)

Virtually all of the parables utilize familiar images and relevant concepts of their time. This way, listeners are more likely to understand the profound ideas of the stories told by Jesus. The parable of the Wheat and the Weeds reflects on the eternal theme of the battle between the Good and the Evil. Jesus tells the story of a man whose enemy has planted weeds among his wheat, thus attempting to ruin his crops. The man symbolizes God, whose attempts to nurture faithful humanity are often compromised by the Devil. The intertwining roots of wheat and weeds mean that the Good and the Evil always coexist on Earth. However, having chosen the correct approach, it is possible to eradicate the sins and reap the Good sowed by Jesus.

The Mustard Seed (Matt 13:31-32; Mark 4:30-32; Luke 13: 18-19)

God’s Kingdom is a concept, which is extremely difficult to fathom for regular people. Among other familiar terms, the theme of seeds and sowing prevails in the parables of Jesus, which is easily explained by the superior role of agricultural activities in the society of the time. The Mustard Seed is cited in three gospels, and its point is to introduce the scope of the Kingdom to the followers of Jesus. He says that Heaven is like a mustard seed, which is rather small upon planting. However, as it receives due care, it grows to become much larger than other herbs. According to Snodgrass (2008), one of the leading interpretations of the parable concerns the development of the Christian Church on Earth. Similar to a mustard seed, it started with a small group of followers, but it soon managed to become of the Earth’s dominant religions.

The Leaven (Matt 13:33; Luke 13:20-21)

The parable of the Leaven can be found in two gospels, Matthew and Luke. In many ways, it resembles the story of the Mustard Seed, as this parable also attempts to explain the gradual development of God’s Kingdom. Just like leaven and flour, it starts small and humble, eventually turning into something highly useful and even beautiful. Snodgrass (2018) says that leaven is not something inherently negative. In fact, this imagery is used for the leaven’s capability of transforming other substances with which it interacts. Similarly, human souls are like flour, and the correct amount of divine teaching can transform them in a positive way.

Articles by Shellrude

Understanding New Testament Election Language

In his first article, Glen Shellrude explores divine election and its language in the New Testament from the Christian point of view. According to the author, the intent of the election language is unconditional; or Calvinist, as it focuses on the absolute love and grace of the Lord (Shellrude, n.d.) However, this effect of election language is only observed among the believers, as these people have willingly accepted the Word of God. Consequently, the election language can be considered conditional from a different perspective. However, this side of election is not examined within the New Testament, as the focus of the language is shifted toward the utter gratuity of God. The author states that God’s election is an open process, which welcomes anyone who chooses to believe, thus supporting its unconditional aspect.

Imputation in Pauline Theology: Christ’s Righteousness or a Justified Status?

According to some scholars, the content of the Gospel will be diluted if one abandons the idea of the imputation of Jesus Christ’s righteousness. However, Glen Shellrude (n.d.) argues that this point of view lacks solid evidence. Moreover, it is possible to argue that the love and care of God become even brighter if the imputation of Christ’s righteousness is not considered. In other words, if God sees people with all their flaws and sins while still accepting them in His Kingdom, his love becomes even more admirable. From this perspective, people are not protected by Christ’s righteousness, but they can still earn the right to be forgiven.

The Freedom of God in Mercy and Judgment: a Libertarian Reading of Romans 9:6-29

This article by Glen Shellrude examines Romans 9:6-26 in the context of God’s predisposition of events. According to the author, it is often argued the unbelief of the Jewish and the Gentile response to the Gospel was orchestrated by the Lord (Shellrude, n.d.) However, Shellrude suggests that God is free to define his followers as those who respond to his initiative. Furthermore, the Lord’s Word does not fail within Romans 9:6-26 as he is free to utilize the described situation the way he did. Overall, the author challenges the traditional Calvinist understanding of the writing, offering a new perspective on the familiar issue.

Calvinism and Problematic Readings of New Testament Texts or, Why I Am Not a Calvinist

This article by Glen Shellrude explores the Calvinist worldview, which suggests that all events are predetermined by the Lord. Indeed, the concept of free will serves as an area of intense interest in theological studies. According to Calvinists, God preordains all events, and everything happens in accordance with his will (Shellrude, n.d.) However. Shellrude argues that the content of the New Testament provides evidence in favor of an opposing point of view. The stories of the Bible imply that God and Heaven rejoice when people respond to their divine initiative and accept the Word. Such a reaction would be meaningless, as total predetermination would imply that people’s responses to God would also be preordained.

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The Structure of Revelation 6-19

In this article, Glen Shellrude examines the structure of Revelation 6-19. The book is divided into five sections, telling the story of the Final Judgment and the events leading to it, such as the appearance of anti-Christ (Shellrude, n.d.) Having analyzed the structure and the symbols of the text, Shellrude makes interesting conclusions. For example, it is stated that each of the five sections of Revelation 6-19 ends with the image of the eschaton, implying that John starts to describe the post-eschaton reality in Revelation 20:1. At the same time, the author of the article does not find it plausible that John’s idea was to have his readers understand that the seventh seal contains within it the seven trumpets, and the seventh trumpet—the seven bowls. Overall, Shellrude’s analysis confirms that the text of Revelation remains open to different interpretations, and further studies may result in new, interesting findings.

David Instone-Brewer’s Moral Questions of the Bible

Section One

David Instone-Brewer investigates the way in which difficult moral questions are portrayed in the Bible. His primary idea suggests that society has evolved greatly between the 1st and the 21st centuries (Instone-Brewer, 2019). Many moral concepts have acquired a completely different understanding of the current environment, which is why some of the aspects of the Bible have become questionable in the modern context.

The first section explores the broad overarching ideas of Instone-Brewer’s (2019) work. The author argues that the value of the Old Testament lies in its description of God’s purpose. Allegedly, the Law was the primary method of teaching people how to behave and what to value. Nevertheless, some of the laws of the time can barely be accepted in 21st-century society, such as, for example, legalized polygamy. While laws changed across centuries and even between the Old and the New Testaments, the principles of God are supposed to remain constant.

Section Two

The Bible continues to be used as the foundation of the Christian worldview and moral compass. Accordingly, people must be able to understand which of the principles are universal and which one remains obsolete. Instone-Brewer (2019) devotes his second chapter to this question, attempting to identify the eternal dogmas of Christianity as opposed to temporary laws of the past. As the author concludes, the principle of universal love and forgiveness remains the timeless cornerstone of the Christian life. At the same time, Instone-Brewer (2019) discerns some “non-timeless” concepts, which cannot be used as a reference in the 21st century. For example, the life of a faithful person in the Old Testament involved regular sacrifices and acts of cruelty in the name of God. Such methods can no longer be applied, as they used to correspond to the spirit of the time.

Section Three

Sexual relationships remain a matter of paramount importance and is actively discussed on all levels. The very understanding of the concept has undergone profound changes, causing severe conflicts in the process. Section three of Instone-Brewer’s (2019) work is devoted to the moral issues surrounding sex and marriage. The author artfully discusses the difference in the perception of such matters in the Testaments of the Bible and in the present. The list of controversial topics, which can no longer be viewed through the prism of obsolete ideas, comprises same-sex relationships, polygamy, divorce, and interfaith marriages. Earlier parts of the Bible demonstrate strict views in regards to some of these issues. Nevertheless, such a paradigm of thinking cannot be accepted by the progressive society of the 21st century, which is why modern Christian philosophy needs to be updated.

Section Four

Historically, the Christian Church itself has seen many accusations, and the degree of them has increased over recent years. Instone-Brewer (2019) explores the so-called church issues throughout the fourth section of his book. The list of covered aspects comprises self-promoting leaders and the problems related to discipline. However, the most poignant issue discussed by Instone-Brewer (2019) concerns the concept of female leadership within the system of the Christian Church. According to the obsolete views, women were not educated or talented enough to lead, which is why men remain entitled to their leading positions. Nevertheless, the evolution of society has changed the situation, providing women with equal rights and opportunities. Accordingly, progressive Christian thinkers must recognize the damage which is dealt to the Church, by the archaic gender disparities.

Section Five

While the world, in general, may suffer from an array of global issues, personal vices remain a topical problem of the 21st century. Section five of Instone-Brewer’s (2019) book analyzes such issues as gluttony, alcohol consumption, and drug abuse. At the same time, the author decides to include racism and xenophobia in the section devoted to personal vices. Instone-Brewer (2019) emphasizes the idea that racism is a multifaceted phenomenon, and its detrimental influence extends beyond the white oppression discussed in the United States. In fact, instances of xenophobia are observed in all communities across the world, which contradicts the ideas expressed by Jesus in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

References

Instone-Brewer, D. (2019). Moral questions of the Bible: Timeless truth in a changing world. Lexham Press.

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Shellrude, G. (n.d.). Articles & Papers. Glen Shellrude. Web.

Snodgrass, K. (2008). Stories with intent: A comprehensive guide to the parables of Jesus. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.

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