Friday, 16 August 2013

The Top Ten Worst Bible Readings To Have At A Wedding - Part I

It turns out that I'm getting married about 34 hours from now. Which means two things. Firstly, that I should have been asleep four hours ago. And secondly, that now is the perfect time to introduce my Top Ten List Of The Worst Bible Readings To Have At A Wedding, Interspersed With Unrelated 80s Wedding Photographs.

Let's jump straight in for once. No time for preamble. Gotta a wedding to get to.

1) The Classic John / 1 John Error

I do not know who this man is, but I want his hair.

So, big chunks of the New Testament were written by a chap called John. You can tell which bits he wrote, because they are named after him. He wrote 1 John, and he wrote 2 John, and he wrote 3 John, and he wrote John's Gospel. Oh, and he wrote Revelation. Which is Greek for John.*

Anyway, this is one of those well-known things that your cousin's mate's ex-boyfriend's sister's work colleague's daughter genuinely heard had happened to someone once somewhere: the classic John / 1 John mix up.

Here is 1 John 4:16:
God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
And so on. Good wedding material.

Aaaaand here is John 4:16-18:
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”
Doesn't quite have the same ring to it, does it?

2) The Classic Song of Songs Error

I just love this picture. In case you can't quite make it out, the little girl
looks about as angry as you can imagine anyone being able to look.

This one actually allegedly happened at an actual alleged wedding an actual friend of mine allegedly went to. Consider this well-known and much-loved passage from The Song of Songs:

Many waters cannot quench love,
    neither can floods drown it.
If a man offered for love
    all the wealth of his house,
    he would be utterly despised.
(Song of Songs 8:7)

And here's what happens if you fail to stop there, but read one verse too many:
We have a little sister,
    and she has no breasts.
What shall we do for our sister
    on the day when she is spoken for?
What indeed?

3) The Classic Go-And-Marry-A-Prostitute Passage

Um. Words fail me.

When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.” So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. (Hosea 1:2-3)

What's going on here then? Did God just prompt his prophet to propose to a prostitute? Why, yes, he did.

Three things it is helpful to know:

Firstly, marriage in the Bible is often used as a picture of God's relationship with his chosen people. So the New Testament - in the aforementioned book of Revelation - climaxes with a wedding feast, celebrating the marriage between Jesus Christ and his chosen people, the church. And in the Old Testament, God's chosen people Israel are often described as committing adultery by being unfaithful to God. God is the faithful husband, Israel is the unfaithful bride.

Secondly, God is not some pallid, monotonous drone, muttering self-effacingly in the corner. When he wants to get a message across, he doesn't just send round a flat, lifeless memo. He uses metaphors. He uses similes. He uses preludes, and postludes, and foreshadowing and poetry and miracles and talking donkeys and multiple angles and shouting and whispering and sweeping thematic lines that scythe through thousands of years of history. He illustrates. Sometimes the illustrations are pretty striking. Like making your messenger marry a moll.

Thirdly, God doesn't overreact. If God appears to us to be behaving in a selfish, capricious way, simply to make a point, then we probably haven't understood how important the point he's making is. If he thinks the message is worth having Hosea hitched to a harlot, then it must be an important message.

Anyway, it's still probably not a very good reading to have at a wedding.

4) The Classic Bit About The Donkey, Um, Bits

They made those dresses out of curtains, and any second now they are going
to start hopping up and down those steps singing "Doe, a deer..."

We've just seen the prophet Hosea enacting the unfaithfulness of Israel. Here's another, vivid description of the same idea, this time via the prophet Ezekiel. This is just a brief flavour - for the full effect, read the whole chapter. It will leave you in no doubt as to how God feels when his people turn away from him.

Yet she increased her whoring, remembering the days of her youth, when she played the whore in the land of Egypt and lusted after her paramours there, whose members were like those of donkeys, and whose issue was like that of horses.
(Ezekiel 23:19-20)
Again, God is not some prissy mumbler. He doesn't mince his words. He sees the faithlessness of his people, and he describes it as something debased, debilitating, diseased and disgusting. Incidentally, for anyone who thinks that freedom lies in rejecting God's rule, the two women described in this chapter are clearly anything but free - they are slaves to their own self-destructive desires. Just a thought.

5) The Classic "Love Is..." Bit

It was a very hot day. When the breeze finally got going they all heaved a thigh of relief.

Yup, 1 Corinthians 13:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
(1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

Why is this on the list? It crops up in weddings all the time. To be read with that sort of dreamy, far-off voice that people reserve for Deep Things In Churches.

The trouble is, Paul, who wrote it, probably wasn't intending it to be read in a dreamy, far-off kind of way. He was probably thinking more along the lines of B.A Baracus: I pity the fool who has not love. (He comes pretty close to B.A, actually - eg 15:36 - "You foolish person!")

Taken in isolation, 1 Corinthians 13 is all very fluffy and lovely. But if you take into account the tone of the whole letter, it becomes pretty biting. Paul wasn't writing to the Corinthians to help them be extra dreamy and far-off. He was giving them a royal kick up the backside. Don't read it as a comforting description of something you already have. Read it as a terrifying description of something you ought to have but don't. Here's a very rough paraphrase: "Love is patient, not like you. Love doesn't envy or boast, like you do. Love doesn't insist on its own way, like you've been doing. Grow up."

So, five down, five to go. What will be next? The classic dismembered courtesan from the book of Judges? The classic baby eating bit from 2 Kings? The classic seed-spilling passage from Genesis? Who knows? Part II will have to wait until I'm back from my honeymoon. See ya in a few weeks.

*I'm not very good at Greek.

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed this lots, but you have WAY too much time on your hands Dave. Becky doing most of the wedding organising then?