Unexpurgating the Lectionary (Bringing Judas Back)

In The New Christians, I wrote a section chastising liberals for censoring the Bible in the Revised Common Lectionary. Although liberals often criticize conservatives for cherrypicking Bible verses, liberals do just the same thing when they leave verses out of what they preach on Sunday (a practice that one doesn’t find with evangelicals). I wrote,

…A beautiful and provocative Psalm, to be sure, and a reading that’s slated for one of the most important days in the church calendar, Pentecost, in all three years of the lectionary cycle. But strangely, the lectionary calls for this reading: “Psalm 104:24-34, 35b.” In other words, the preacher is instructed to excise the line, “But may sinners vanish from the earth and the wicked be no more.”

This happens over and over in the lectionary: Sunday morning Bible readings are purged of their unsavory–some might say “politically incorrect”–content. This dubious practice raises the obvious question: How does it serve the faithful who sit in congregations across America? The answer: it doesn’t. Instead, this practice is an injustice both to the Bible and to those who place their trust in the Bible’s words. It assumes that average Christians can’t handle all that the Bible has to offer, or worse, that preachers can’t manage the prickly parts of the text.

Well, it seems that at least one preacher feels the same way that I do.

Lutheran pastor, author, troublemaker (and Christianity21 Voice) Nadia Bolz-Weber preached Sunday week from the lectionary. The Sunday was Easter 7b, if you’re scoring at home, and she decided to preach about the three verses that were nixed from the passage in question. They happened to be about Judas, his purchase of a field, and his guts gushing out. Here’s Nadia:

See, there was no Easter for Judas.  There was no resurrection.  There
was no light shining which the darkness could not overcome.  There was
no experience of the risen Christ for Judas.  He never got to be filled
with joy and disbelief like those in the upper room.  He never got to
stick his fingers in the resurrected wounds of God.  He never got to
eat sacramental broiled fish on a beach.  Judas did not get to
experience the defeat of sin and death revealed in the breaking of the
bread.  He chose death before seeing that death was done for.  Our
brother Judas.   Was what he did beyond forgiveness?

Read the rest on her blog.

O, would that more preachers preached the whole Bible.

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  • Chris Rosebrough

    The utter irony of your statement, “O, would that more preachers preached the whole Bible” is just ridiculous particularly since the preacher whose sermon you are reveling in is woman.
    O, would that more preachers preached AND ACTUALLY believed and OBEYED the whole Bible.
    There were NO female apostles. And women do not meet the Biblical qualifications for pastors.

  • Larry

    You are wrong about there being no female apostles, look at Romans 12. If women can be apostles, then why can’t they be pastors?

  • To be fair, I know quite a few fellow lectionary preachers who immediately read those omitted verses and often include them in the reading and/or in their preaching. The lectionary makes certain decisions … the preacher may or may not follow the lectionary to the exact citation. Most follow the lectionary, some tweak it, others ditch it. Let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater …
    Yet with an OT text, psalm, epistle, and Gospel text – not to mention the amount of scripture captured in hymns and liturgy – we liturgical/lectionary Christians read, proclaim, and sing quite a bit of Scripture each Sunday (more, perhaps, that we are often given credit for). Are certain decisions made about what and how much to read? Sure … they have to be made, just as in any other tradition that reads from a holy book. Are all of those decisions good? Probably not. But over several months, a year, or three years, the lectionary and liturgy cover a lot of holy ground.
    I rarely deviate from the lectionary, recognizing in it a pattern of holy storytelling far wiser than anything I could develop on my own. Nonetheless, if a local circumstances dictate or some other ministry situation arises, I’m glad to look elsewhere.
    Now, if only we would read the Scripture outside of Sunday morning worship …

  • My sister is a member of the church where Nadia is a pastor. I’m told that her inclusion of the omitted text went over very well and added richness to the lectionary text. Props to you, Tony, for “bringing Judas back”.
    (Here’s hoping the comments stay on-point…let’s talk about Judas, lectionary, etc…and not whether or not ovaries disqualify a person from being a pastor.)

  • “The first step in interpretation is to ignore the modern chapters and
    – A.T. Robertson, An Introduction to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1925), p. 101.
    As the noted Baptist scholar points out, this sort of reading is a byproduct of the little numbers that litter our sacred text. We have grown accustom to yanking out verses in order to support our arguments (a practice deemed “versejacking” by some) or neglecting others to make our text “work” (also known as “re-versejacking”).
    By learning our Bibles with chapter and verse throughout, we’ve become dependent on them to tell us when something is missing or where it’s located. By removing them, we are forced to engage with the whole of the text and learn the text in it’s context rather than artificially separated from it.

  • Tony,
    I really enjoy your blog. Especially, I suppose, when you say some fairly provocative things.
    I happen to be the secretary of the Consultation on Common Texts– the group that developed first the Common Lectionary and then the Revised Common Lectionary. I wasn’t on the Consultation in 1992 when the RCL was finalized, but I’ve been around the table long enough with a number who were that I have another perspective on what the RCL does and how it was developed.
    First, the RCL is not meant, at all, as a limitation to what may be read or preached in worship. It is rather a project to help congregations encounter as much of scripture as seems reasonably possible during a three-year period, keeping in mind the cycle of the Christian year. Congregations that actually use the RCL and do all of the readings will have heard roughly 70% of the entire Bible in that time. As such, it is the most thorough 3-year lectionary developed to date. I would warrant that many churches that claim to preach the whole Bible (I grew up in one of these!) wouldn’t come anywhere near encountering that percentage of scripture in worship in that time.
    Second, the Psalms in the RCL, as has been the historic practices of lectionaries for a number of centuries, are selected not as independent readings, but rather specifically as responses to the first reading for each Sunday. So the “excision” of verses is not designed or intended to “cut out the parts that liberals don’t like” but rather to allow the Psalm selected to function in the liturgical role of sung/chanted/prayed biblical response. Further, the tradition of excising some verses from Psalms in particular actually has quite a long history behind it– going back to some of the Fathers– but perhaps more recently (in the last 300 years) best expressed by John Wesley (who deleted 50 Psalms entirely from his lectionary for the Methodists, and edited many others). Wesley was open about his reason for these excisions in the introduction to his “Sunday Service of the Methodists in North America” (1784), noting, among his editorial changes to the 1662 BCP, “Many psalms left out, and many parts of the others, as being highly improper for the mouths of a Christian Congregation.” Wesley’s edits here were not about whether congregations should HEAR these words: they were about whether they should PRAY them. The only issue was what congregations as congregations were to pray– because Psalms were understood and used not a readings in worship, but as sung or spoken prayers. Really, now, should a Christian congregation pray, as congregation, “Blessed are those who take Babylonian babies and dash their heads against the rocks” (Psalm 137)?
    And though Wesley excised 50 Psalms from the lectionary for Methodists (which is far more than the excisions in the RCL), he still expected that Methodists were reading the entire Bible on their own and in their weekly class meetings.
    Third, I need to say that a number of us on the CCT now, and certainly quite a few who were part of the development of the RCL itself, would find it odd to be called “liberals.” The CCT included and still includes a wide variety of Christian denominations, including Roman Catholics, Reformed Church in America, Mennonites and Missouri Synod Lutherans, none of whom would generally be considered liberals. Though United Methodists are often considered a fairly liberal mainline denomination, the term “liberal” as commonly used in theological polemics or even descriptively doesn’t apply to me, either.
    So, as I see it, the helpful part of your argument boils down to “pastors should preach and people should encounter all of scripture.” On that we have no disagreement. The only question is how and over what time period. There are times when I and others of us will diverge from the lectionary, or add verses the lectionary does not include, and that is considered just fine by those of us who developed the RCL and continue to support it.
    Peace in Christ,
    Taylor Burton-Edwards

  • Nathan

    Poor Tony. You can’t catch a break. Most of the time people say you’re an “anti-theologian” who helps lead the “emergent rebellion against Scripture”–whatever that is.
    And when you’re caught on video proclaiming a completely orthodox gospel (CBE) and when you encourage people to actually embrace the Bible…well, the distant self-appointed magisterium sweeps in and somehow magically knows that what you say you really doesn’t mean, or your call to embrace the Bible isn’t good enough.
    If were you, I’d just be really tired of it.
    Don’t let ’em get you down, T. This was a great word for people to remember.

  • Brian

    Just want to affirm the idea of preaching on those texts we’d rather avoid. It’s good for all involved. A few months back I did that (I don’t preach weekly) and admitted I would rather avoid the text (a lectionary text no less.) That sermon generated a lot of thoughtful follow-up reflection from the congregation.

  • Sandra

    I stumbled onto this blog through “Think Christian” (http://www.thinkchristian.net/index.php/2009/05/26/whats-the-path-to-ministry-in-your-church/). I must say, that as a somewhat renegade Baptist believer (well, not really, just in my heart … but it feels kinda good to actually type those words out), I am fascinated with the conversations I’ve encountered in this community. I will admit that in just the short time I’ve read the posts and ensuing comments, I’ve had to use the dictionary several times (this time just to understand the title of the post!), but I like that. I’ve also taken the opportunity to explore what a “lectionary” actually is. That was enlightening as well. As a Christian first and a Baptist second, I appreciate the rich tradition and history, not to mention the exposure to so many passages of Scripture, the lectionary obviously brings to the worship experience. And when pastors who are not afraid to expound upon these and surrounding verses are added to the mix, the potential for a truly dynamic worship experience and meaningful spiritual growth of congregants is exponential! How very exciting!! It warrants further investigation on my part. Perhaps we Baptists could learn a thing or two …

  • Ted Seeber

    Larry, where do you see female Apostles in the following passage?
    Romans 12
    Living Sacrifices
    1Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual[a] act of worship. 2Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
    3For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. 4Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his[b]faith. 7If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
    9Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
    14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.[c] Do not be conceited.
    17Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[d]says the Lord. 20On the contrary:
    “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
    In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”[e] 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

  • Boys…now, what were you told about keeping your mind off ovaries?
    Tony, thanks for this post. In my role as occasional lay preacher at my church, I’ve had very equivocal feelings about bowlderized lectionary texts — an initial “Whew!” followed by “This really doesn’t respect the integrity of the text.” I don’t think it plays well in the pews either, with persons who are familiar with the entire text in question; it plays into the idea that “teh librals” are messing with Scripture. I understand the history of making these sorts of editorial decisions, and sometimes they do make sense (as with the Psalms as a class of biblical literature)…but I would prefer to err on the side of engaging the “hard sayings,” even if that makes the preacher’s job more difficult. After all, we liturgical types always say that lectionary use keeps us from cherrypicking Scripture according to our own preference/prejudice.

  • Taylor,
    Could you expand a bit more on the idea of removing verses in order to have them function in the liturgical role for a congregation? What is the case for not reading all of Psalm 137? The discussion seems black and white to me, which is why I’m certain I’m not seeing the discussion well. Help me out? Is it because it seems inappropriate?

  • Larry

    Larry, where do you see female Apostles in the following passage?
    Romans 12
    My bad, not Romans 12, Romans 16. Ooops.

  • Ted Seeber

    Ok, so once again Larry, where do you see female Apostles in this passage, which seems to only mention names of disciples?
    Romans 16
    1I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea:
    2That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also.
    3Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus:
    4Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.
    5Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my well-beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ.
    6Greet Mary, who bestowed much labour on us.
    7Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow-prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.
    8Greet Amplias my beloved in the Lord.
    9Salute Urbane, our helper in Christ, and Stachys my beloved.
    10Salute Apelles approved in Christ. Salute them which are of Aristobulus’ household.
    11Salute Herodion my kinsman. Greet them that be of the household of Narcissus, which are in the Lord.
    12Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labour in the Lord. Salute the beloved Persis, which laboured much in the Lord.
    13Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.
    14Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren which are with them.
    15Salute Philologus, and Julia, Nereus, and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints which are with them.
    16Salute one another with an holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you.
    17Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.
    18For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.
    19For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.
    20And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.
    21Timotheus my workfellow, and Lucius, and Jason, and Sosipater, my kinsmen, salute you.
    22I Tertius, who wrote this epistle, salute you in the Lord.
    23Gaius mine host, and of the whole church, saluteth you. Erastus the chamberlain of the city saluteth you, and Quartus a brother.
    24The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
    25Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began,
    26But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith:
    27To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen.
    I ask this because my Protestant relatives have now greatly challenged the idea of what I thought the Hierarchy was in my mind- and if more than the 11 Apostles in the Upper Room were given the great gifts needed for early evangelization, that would mean a great deal to the theory I’m rebuilding my idea of the Hierarchy on.

  • Ted Seeber,
    I believe Larry was referring to Romans 16.7:
    “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.”
    ” ‘Greet Andronicus and Junia . . . who are outstanding among the apostles’ (Romans 16:7): To be an apostle is something great. But to be outstanding among the apostles—just think what a wonderful song of praise that is! They were outstanding on the basis of their works and virtuous actions. Indeed, how great the wisdom of this woman must have been that she was even deemed worthy of the title of apostle.”
    -John Chrysostom (344/54-407)

  • Adrenalin Tim

    BTW, there was an epic series on Junia the apostle at the Better Bibles Blog: index here.

  • “O, would that more preachers preached the whole Bible.”

  • Ted:
    verse 7 is Junias, a female name

  • Adrenalin Tim

    Dave, to pick a nit: v.7 is Junia, a female name. It has in some translations been changed to Junias to conform to Greek male naming conventions (although there is no Junias on record as a male name in Koine).

  • Ted Seeber

    Where was Junia’s episkopate? Most of the other 2nd generation apostles had one….

  • Ted Seeber

    Nevermind- found her on Wikipedia (along with the fact that this is a controversy going back to almost the time that Romans was written- apparently it could, depending on accent,be either male or female name).
    Oh, and her/his episcopate was in Syria.

  • Panthera

    I think it is very useful to read and consider the entire text of the Bible.
    Just – we must always bear in mind that the Bible is our attempt to set down and codify our dialogue with God, it is not God’s exact word.
    If it were, then all the translations would agree, there would be no inconsistencies and quite a bit would not have been discarded in 367A.D.
    Of course, the great risk of reading and reflecting even on those books we do consider “canon” is that we suddenly are confronted with loving homosexual relationships (David and Jonathon, first instance), Jesus severe words on the self-righteous passing of judgment, Paul’s exhortations on how Charity (love) is most important…
    And all those other things fundamentalist Christians don’t want to believe in.
    If we are ever going to move past using the Bible as a weapon, then it will only be after we have come to terms with these Texts as an attempt to comprehend God, not through the false Idolatry which has made the Bible into God for American conservative Christians.
    Ted, do please say more about where you are going with this. I disagree with you on several really important points (your relegating me to sub-human status does rather have that effect) but am fascinated by your intellectual determination.

  • Panthera

    Many European languages, both productive and ancient use the same name for both men and women. Others decline using both -o and -a at the end of a name.
    Yet others (Gaelic) have both masculine, feminine and – despite repression by the Christians – androgynous names (my real name being an example of such).
    Goodness – we still have newbies here who assume I must be a woman because Panthera ends in “a” and I have a husband.
    I have often wondered why so many Christians have denied Jesus marital status and ignored the most obvious explanation for his especially tender and loving relationship to John…John being in modern English Johanna…
    Jesus was a Jew not a Christian and certainly not a post 12th century Catholic…

  • James

    In response to Taylor’s defense of the RCL, I find that he overstates the case. I understand that the readings for a particular week are co-related, but the fact that certain parts of the Bible are avoided. For example, of the three or four references in the book of Joshua, in the lectionary, no battle scenes are mentioned. Are we to assume that the avoidance of conquest in the RCL was just a happy accident? Or how about the way Revelations is almost entirely avoided (a difficult book with crazy evangelical interpretations)?
    The RCL seems to avoid difficult places in the Bible (even if we make the dubious assumption that people are reading those passages at home). I think Tony’s failure here is to lay his charge against the RCL when other lectionaries are also selective.

  • tim

    Plus points for the lectionary…
    *I’m not picking my own verses every week
    *The congregation is exposed to a vast list for public reading
    *Texts are often set side by side in juxtaposition, enabling a dynamic word to be communicated
    *The Person and Work of Christ is central
    *Bottom line… central things become central while marginal matters become marginal
    Minus points for the lectionary…
    *4 readings can overwhelm the processing abilities of the listening congregation
    *Fine points of context and connection are often missed
    *It is impossible to preach in depth from all of the texts
    *Sometimes the marginal texts need to be heard- we need to listen to the minority voice- for example, let’s ponder the “Judas incident”- it’s not clear cut- do we demonize him? have sympathy for him? was Judas more victim than perpetrator?
    *Who determines what is central and how the themes are laid out? I find amazing connections among texts all the time. Sometimes the lectionary becomes involved. Sometimes the lectionary would keep hidden particular treasures.
    *Overall, the lectionary is a fantastic tool. And the marginal versus central matters creates a kind of helpful controversy. Why should we leave that out? Put that back in. Okay, you think that’s too upsetting,well, it should be upsetting. That’s why it’s there

  • Panthera, keep an eye on queermergent.wordpress.com over the next month or so. I have submitted a post and when my turn comes up in the queue I don’t want you to miss it. Sorry, Tony, for doing that here, but I have yet to connect with the mysterious Panthera elsewhere and it is important to me. You can always find me on facebook my friend, if you care to do so.

  • To Paul Berry (above):
    I hear you asking two questions.
    1) How does the editing of a Psalm correspond to its liturgical use, or at least what does that mean?
    2) Why not use all of Psalm 137 in worship?
    On the second, first– Actually in Year C, on the Sunday between October 2 and 8, the entirety of Psalm 137 IS in the lectionary. Mea culpa. Psalm 109, however, never is. Go read Psalm 109, and I think you’ll see why. It’s one curse on other nations after another.
    When Psalm 137 does show up, it is in response to the OT reading from Lamentations 1:1-6. Go read that, and you’ll see why Psalm 137 was chosen for that day. Praying or chanting or singing that Psalm after that reading helps the congregation enter the lament already expressed.
    Psalm 22 is an interesting case of how different parts of the Psalm are used differently at different times, responding both to the text and the season of the year. On Good Friday, of course, the entire Psalm is read, both the lament and the praise. In year B, on the Sunday between October 9-15, just the first part of the Psalm (the lament, verses 1-15) is read, in response to the reading from Job. Here again, the role of the Psalm is to help the congregation more fully enter the world of the OT text and respond to it in prayer. The praise section shows up in Year B on Lent 2 (verses 23-31). The OT lesson that day is God’s covenant with an aged Abram (99 years old). In a sense, this reading itself picks up the “I can feel all my bones” sense of the lament part of Psalm 22, considering Abram’s age and condition. So responding to this with the praise part of the Psalm, considering the abundance of life that God promises through one “as good as dead” (as the following epistle reading from Romans 4 notes), makes good, prayerful sense.
    Hope that helps clarify things a bit.
    Peace in Christ,
    Taylor Burton-Edwards

  • Panthera

    Hi Theresa,
    I suspect Tony will forgive you far more than he is likely to me. Intelligent, literate, coherent and pleasant are not four qualities one commonly associates with traditional Christians around here, any one is grounds for joy, all four personified by you is ’bout as good as a pound of the best Swiss chocolate just for you alone on your birthday.
    I’ll keep my eyes peeled, if I haven’t been hauled off to jail for murdering several seniors we just caught selling their term-paper writing services to our freshmen.
    If we take the term “lectionary” literally, then, yes, we need to begin with Genesis and work our way through to the end of Revelation. Not Revelations and why people insist on putting an “s” on the end of that word is beyond me. One end of days at a time is quite enough, thank you very much.
    If, however, we see the context of reading the Bible as part of a church service, than I rather think the endless x begat z who begat u who begat f… sections may safely be left to home study.
    Where many Christians who think in languages different to English get upset, is with the cherry-picking and “we know what’s best for you” attitude of so many conservative American churches. And that, after actually taking the time to follow the practical application of the RCL suggestions is not the case.
    Even if we adhere strictly to their agenda (and it is not my agenda), they still do a far better job of getting parishioners through the icky parts of the Bible like all those references of Jesus and Paul to Charity and forgiveness and not being self-righteous.
    Texts the hateful fundamentalist Christians gladly overlook – or, if they use them at all, only to pervert them to serve their own needs.
    I think much of the discussion here is not about the 70% in three years goal, it is a straw-man for the basic disagreement between the non-hateful mainline churches and the hatefilled conservative Christians.

  • It does help, Taylor, thank you. I am encouraged to know that Psalm 137 was not left out. It is for me the hardest Psalm to deal with. Psalm 109 ranks right up there. As one who believes that YHWH cares for both babies and the nations, both Psalms present significant challenges. I need the body of Christ around me to work through it as a community. Selfish maybe, but I’m sure I’m not the only one.
    The greater issue, however, is the one Tony points out. Often verses are left out in a passage in order to make it “fit”. If we are going to read or teach the Bible, we must do it on the Bible’s terms. We are attempting to make a point where verse 17 (or 17a) doesn’t fit, then perhaps we should reexamine our point and figure out why Paul or David just can’t seem to get with our theological agenda.
    And again, we’ve got to do away with these chapter and verse numbers. Leaving them in seems to give license for this sort of thing, as if they are individual “scriptures” dropped into a box labeled Holy Bible and it’s our job to put them together. Unfortunately, we’re usually drawing the front of the box as we go and end up cutting the pieces up in whatever way necessary to suit our purpose.
    While we’re at it, away with the subheadings to. A quick glance at the placement of the NIV subheadings in chapter 5 reveals why.

  • Paul,
    I had written a better reply than what you’re about to receive, but the “captcha refresh” deleted it. C’est la vie, j’ai peur.
    Versification as a sort of indexing system that makes it easier to find things does, I think, help in the long run. And that’s what it was intended to do when it was introduced– not “define” texts so much as help folks find them. I know it’s been used badly at times. Overall, however, I think it can help more than hurt as long as it really is used as an index, not a constraint. Flat-Bible folk would find a way to insist on their “every verse is as good as any other” approach whether the versification were there or not.
    Of course, to get “really jiggy” with it– as in back to the oldest manuscripts– we’d be leaving out the formatting of poetry as poetry, the spaces between words, the pointing of Hebrew vowels, and nearly all punctuation.
    But that’s because the written text, back then, was really more of a backup or cheat sheet, if you will, to the actual performance and transmission of these texts, which was primarily oral… and more than that, musical and dramatic. That was as true for letters in the NT as it would have been true for psalms and prophetic oracles in the OT, though, admittedly, the tune and performance traditions may have been a bit different as they crossed from Semitic into Roman, North African, and Greek cultural worlds.
    Of course, those manuscripts themselves did not indicate much of what the musical or dramatic performance itself would sound or look like. The Masoretes did some service in providing some marks that may have indicated to medieval Jews far from Semitic homelands what those may have been, but now really no one knows exactly what they mean. Case in point: the “Selah” and the various references to tunes and dance steps in the Psalms themselves, and a number of the breath/accent marks found in the Masoretic and several critical edition texts.
    What we do have, though, is a still living tradition of reading/chanting scripture in Judaism, even if today’s versions bear more resemblance to medieval European practice than ancient Jewish practice. And we also have the continuing witness of such sung traditions in Ethiopic, Coptic and other African Christian traditions, as well, of course, in Turkish Orthodoxy, Greek Orthodoxy, and the Gregorian, Mozarabic and Sarum traditions of Western Christianity.
    What all of these traditions remind us is that scripture was simply not “read” even in the same mode in which we think of reading. We think of it as being about decoding words on a page. They thought of it and practiced it much more as singing/praying/incanting the old stories and words that bear the mark the interaction of God and God’s people. You can’t just read that like anything else. Both sides of the brain, we would say, have to be engaged. They’d call this “loving God with the whole mind, soul, and strength.” Singing/chanting/incanting were then, and neuroscience confirms today, a far better way of enacting such love for God in God’s word than simply reading as we do.
    So while some of the ways lectionaries have been put together have been to reflect the SENSE of the words (through our usual post-Enlightenment ways of reading), historically, over the centuries, some of these pairings have also been about the music– about how the performance of one connects with or juxtaposes with the other. The ongoing participation of Roman Catholic and Anglican liturigical scholars and leaders with CCT from the beginning (and still today) has been a deep blessing to the whole project of developing an ecumenical three-year lectionary that preserves the best of the past traditions and selections and adds greater depth and breadth where possible.
    By the way, at our next meeting of the CCT in April 2010, we’re going to be spending a good bit of time with each other looking at some of these very issues of the performance of Scripture, with a particular focus on Psalmody. I’m looking forward to a rich conversation.
    As for the other point– about excisions to make things “fit” some other agenda. I guess I’d be interested in looking at particular cases where folks think that might be happening. Really, if you compare the RCL to previous lectionaries, we’ve actually included far more than previous lectionaries did of just about everything. At some point, though, you do have to decide what not to include, and you have to do that based on factors such as how long it is reasonable to think a reading can be while not going on forever, and how coherent the reading is within itself, or as part of a series of readings over a period of weeks (in the seasons after Epiphany and Pentecost), or in connection with the seasonal emphases and the other readings specifically designed to work with each other (Advent-Christmastide, and Lent-Eastertide). Those considerations, plus the existing lectionary traditions, probably explain more of those decisions than any supposed “other” agenda (however one wants to label it).
    Peace in Christ,
    Taylor Burton-Edwards
    (saving the text before refreshing the captcha this time!)

  • Andrea LaSonde Anastos

    As a member of the Consultation on Common Texts for the past 20 years and someone who did work on revising the Common Lectionary to make it the Revised Common Lectionary, just a couple points of fact.
    To repeat something Taylor said, the Psalm is not a reading…it is a response to the Hebrew scripture. You may agree or disagree with the deletions, but they have nothing to do with the epistle or gospel readings or any agenda around those readings. The deletions always look toward the prayer-song-response to the first reading.
    Second, when the lectionary was being created and revised, there were denominations and communions around the table who were required by canon to read all three lessons and the psalm each Sunday, as well as those with the freedom to use one or two lessons, with or without the psalm. The latter group preferred longer and unexcised readings; the former needed to pay attention to what someone has already identified: how much scripture can be heard attentively in the assembly on any given day. We were also highly aware that we are no longer an aural culture. A compromise was made.
    You may disagree with the particular compromise, but as an ecumenical exercise, we did not see an option to making such a compromise. We did not create a lectionary for one denomination or, even, two…but with the intention of making it available worldwide and here is the important point: so that sisters and brothers of many different theological stances could read, study and worship together in ecumenical Bible groups and in ecumenical services. The undergirding purpose was to allow us and encourage us to remember that we have one text that we all hold in common, however differently we may interpret it.
    I rejoice that the RCL is now well-enough known internationally that it can be criticized freely…because, of course, when we created it, only four of the denominations, communions, and associations had ever used a lectionary in worship. And, for some around the table, the idea of a lectionary turned their whole approach to scripture on its head.
    It has done its work in drawing us into deep engagement with scripture, much deeper engagement than I ever encountered in the church of my youth and young adulthood. And as Taylor and others have pointed out, it is not proscriptive. I think I can speak for all my sisters and brothers on the CCT: Add verses if you want; add whole readings. There are no Lectionary Police keeping score anywhere; it was and is intended as a gift to the Body of Christ, a reminder of the wealth of word that God offers and that we hold in common. Use it as you would use any other resource: prayerfully, wisely, pastorally, prophetically, with passion, with the particularity of your context in mind, with the awareness of the cloud of witnesses both living and dead around you.
    In peace,

  • Alan K

    Thanks, Tony, for addressing one of my pet peeves. And thanks for your comments, Taylor and Andrea. I think in fairness it should be pointed out to everyone that the whole Bible is read in one year if one uses the daily lectionary.
    That said, occasionally I’m quite puzzled as to why certain passages were included and others left out. A few times in the OT, entire sections of direct speech are left out of narratives. When someone is given opportunity to speak in any biblical narrative, it’s as if the text is saying “Pay Attention!” What would be the criterion for not including them?
    The most egregious omission IMO is skipping from Job 1:1 to the start of chapter 2. The whole book just falls apart because of this.
    Every once in a while I get the sense that the motive for exclusion of certain texts was saving pastors from embarrassment.
    Will there be a revision of the revision? I think the great majority of preachers would be fine with an additional year and all texts included.

  • Andrea LaSonde Anastos

    A good question, Alan, about a revision of the revision. I think you will discover that part of the difficulty is the vast difference in length of the four gospels…and the lack of what many people would consider “a real birth narrative” in John.
    We were unable to find a way to preach the whole Bible — meaning every single verse — even in four years if we also kept the rhythm of the liturgical year. The CCT was unwilling to give up that year because it was essential to some of those gathered around the ecumenical table…and was a gift and blessing to others who had never really experienced it.
    I am not saying the whole Bible cannot or should not be preached. I am only saying that we were unable to find a way to do it in a three or four year cycle. Should another group feel the desire to try their hands at it, I would say, “Go for it!” Perhaps you can find a way through a thicket where we could not. If that were to happen, there are many who would stand up and cheer. And the prayers of many would be with those who made the attempt.
    Reading the Bible in private prayer can be done in a year (or even less), but it is unlikely that those who worship every Sunday would sit still or be able to concentrate on the length of lessons necessary to do this in 52 weeks, aloud in the assembly.
    It seems to me that this whole conversation is predicated on the belief that the Revised Common Lectionary has some “authority.” Even as a member of the CCT, I would simply remind you that it only has the authority we give it. Should you (or any pastor) wish to use four years and assign other texts in such a way that the whole Bible would be proclaimed, you are free to do that. If the Spirit speaks in your heart or soul and urges you or any preacher to do that, the revelation of the Spirit should come before any lectionary. I consider it my responsibility under my ordination vows to preach God’s word as fully as possible. I do use the RCL; I often include the verses that have been eliminated (eliminated sometimes, I would add, merely to avoid repetition or limit the focus when a psalm responds to the first lesson.) However, if the day came when I felt I was denying the congregation with which I am serving the truth, or was avoiding a text out of fear or for any other reason, I would not hesitate to depart from the lectionary.
    To be honest, I can barely keep up with the lessons for three years and the demands they place on me as preacher and disciple. Although I will die without having preached the “whole Bible,” I’m not convinced that anyone will live long enough to do that, exegeting every verse to its full, and diving to the deepest depths of what is enfolded in scripture. I am content to struggle along with what is there.
    BUT…I am not you or Tony or anyone else. Tony began this conversation by calling for the return of a verse to a particular lesson. I would reiterate: Tony or anyone else can add those verses (as Nadia did) any time they want. It is not up to the CCT to decide for all people in all times and places what they can and cannot preach; it was never our intent to do that. We offered ONE option for a common lectionary, based on the best study and prayer we could bring to the process, 12 years of trial, and three years of revision. But it is only ONE option. It is not (and never pretended to be) Divine Truth, writ in stone and passed down from the Mount.
    In peace,

  • Panthera, thanks for the chocolate. Tony, you can have some too. LOL 😉

  • Taylor,
    Thanks for taking the time to, not once, but twice respond. You are dedicated and thorough to say the least. I suppose I should clear one thing up: I’m not taking issue with the RCL. I am taking issue with a broader problem within Christianity. Tony has pointed out just one symptom of this disease which we might label “versitis”.
    A few thoughts before my main point:
    1) “Getting jiggy with it” as you’ve described is partly an issue of translation. Although they involve interpretive choice at times, punctuation, spacing between words, and vowels are necessary to bring it into English. One could argue that poetic spacing is important for understanding the text. I don’t see how chapters and verses bring any value to the format of the text outside of quick references (more on this below).
    2) Your point about orality and performance is well taken, and it is encouraging to know that performance is being addressed. How refreshing! I would be very interested in hearing more about this topic and how it turns out.
    3) As far as drawing the line and figuring out what to leave out, I would again argue that this must come on the Bible’s terms rather than our own time constraints.
    I agree with your point that, could it be used solely as an index, the chapter and verse could have some degree of merit as a reference system. But this is not how the vast majority of the Church uses chapters and verses. Individual verses are commonly referred to as “a scripture” or “some scriptures.” They beg the reader to view them as individual parts of a whole which can be removed at will.
    If writing it down was a cheatsheet to begin with, then turning it into a quick reference encyclopedia has only amplified it. The battle cry of Bible college students (whom, in many cases go straight to the pastorate) is rarely “Context!” but much more often “Chapter and verse!” Who needs the context of submitting to one another when I can quote Eph. 5:22? If I can quote Job 22:21-22, who will know that it’s Eliphaz speaking?
    Additionally, chapters obscure the literary structure. It is worse than flattening it, as you mentioned. It imposes a new structure. No one comes to a book and assumes that breaks that large would not be meant to indicate intentional sections. It’s the way we are taught to read English. Yet we all have seen really bad chapter breaks (the start of Genesis 2 is one of the most tragic).
    More arguments could be (and have been) made against chapters and verses, but it’s clear that they obscure our reading of the text on a conscious and subconscious level. Even if you can argue for the index referencing, they have no place in everyday reading and should be left out of most editions. (Preaching, a usual objection to this, would not be nearly as difficult as one might imagine.)
    I’m afraid I’ve gotten off on a tangent. Blessings to anyone who managed to read all of that without falling asleep 🙂

  • Isn’t there a logical inconsistency in the following:
    “The Sunday was Easter 7b, if you’re scoring at home, and she decided to preach about the three verses that were nixed from the passage in question” and then later “O, would that more preachers preached the whole Bible.”
    Well no, the person preached from 3 verses and by doing so, chose not to preach some others. Thus they most certainly did not preach the ‘whole Bible’. Instead they included one part, but excluded another.
    We all do that all the time, it’s called the act of starting and ending. To suggest that this is somehow more laudatory because it is “reading the whole Bible” is untrue. It makes a good rhetorical punchline (and thus seems sensationalist, misleading and polemical), but it is factually incorrect.
    steve taylor

  • Steve,
    Any generous reader of this blog — and my book — would be well aware that I don’t mean that preachers should preach the whole Bible every Sunday. (And you accuse me of silly rhetorical tactics?) I mean, and the post made clear, that the lectionary seems to leave out many of the unsavory parts of scripture, and I would hope that more preachers would honestly confront those passages in the pulpit.
    But thanks for stopping by.

  • steve taylor

    appreciate the push back. i still think you’re overstating it, but it could be cultures and writing styles at work here,