Tuesday, November 6, 2007

My top ten verses of scripture

Doug at Metacatholic has started a meme:  list your top ten verses of scripture.

It may sound like a mushy, sentimental idea, but it isn't. Not if you understand the context. Topverses.com has "analysed thousands of pages of teaching material to determine the most frequently referenced Bible verses." Evidently they think this is a helpful way to prioritize Bible searches:
Try our word search feature! When you use Top Verses to search the Bible for a word, our results start with familiar verses, rather than Genesis. Next time you are hunting for a reference, you will find it quicker at Top Verses.
Doug points out (in an earlier post) that Leviticus 18:22 — "You shall not lie with a man, as with a woman. That is detestable" — is the 101st most popular verse in the Bible.

Doug's idea is that bibliobloggers should post their own top ten. Perhaps ours will come a little closer to what Christianity is really all about. Doug didn't tag me, but here are some verses that come to mind, with annotations.
  1. The Lord … proclaimed, "The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation." (Ex. 34:6-7)1

    The Bible is about YHWH. If we put anything else at the centre of our faith, we have gone astray.

    But this verse also introduces a point of significant tension:  God is merciful; yet God "will by no means clear the guilty." The juxtaposition is awkward, but both halves of the equation are crucial to who God is.

  2. Now the Lord said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation. … In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." (Gen. 12:1-3)

    Salvation history arguably begins here. When St. Paul lays out his apology for the Christian faith, he reaches back, beyond Moses, to Abraham. Before the covenant with Moses, grounded in obedience to the Law, came the covenant with Abraham, grounded in faith. There we have God's promise (so important to Gentile Christians!) to bless all the families of the earth in Abraham.

    Bonus:  the text concerns Abraham's pilgrimage from Ur to the Promised Land. That pilgrimage is an apt metaphor for a spiritual journey:  of Abraham himself, of biblical Israel, or of contemporary Christians.

  3. "It was not because you [Israel] were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers." (Deut. 7:7-8a)

    Grace:  God's election of a people who possess no outstanding merit. E.P. Sanders has performed a great service by clearing away a misunderstanding here. Christians had created a caricature of Israel's religion, insisting that Jews believe in salvation by works. Sanders demolished the caricature:  even those texts that appear to teach a works-righteousness in fact presuppose the framework of God's gracious election of Israel.

    The principle is profoundly paralleled in the Christian faith:  "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Ro. 5:8).

  4. "Are you not like the Cushites to me,
          O people of Israel?" declares the Lord.
    "Did I not bring up Israel from the land of Egypt,
          and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Syrians
          from Kir?"
    (Amos 9:7)

    A countertestimony; a minority voice within the dominant narrative of God's peculiar regard for Israel. Here Amos reminds us that God's care extends to all peoples, including Israel's enemies — indeed, to the whole of God's creation.

    Those who become proud because they have a covenant relationship with God are making a serious mistake. We can never presume to have a corner on the market of God's loving kindness.

  5. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
          I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
          your rod and your staff,
          they comfort me.
    (Ps. 23:4)1

    The Hebrew scriptures are honest enough to acknowledge that the path of faith is not always unobstructed or triumphant. Sometimes the believer is brought low — very low. When no other comfort can be found, we take comfort in God's strong and compassionate presence.
(This post is continued here.)

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1Unless otherwise indicated, scripture is quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.

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