Jesus would roll in his grave this Christmas

And other examples of how badly the Bible can be used these days

The Bible is never far from public discourse, but its deployment is often a long way from gospel truth. I hear snippets of Scripture, and plenty of proverbials every day, but they are more often abuses of the Bible than legitimate use of it.

Some are innocuous, such as a Rugby League commentator who described a match as a “Jesus and Goliath” battle (which would make good TV, I admit). Others are a bit offensive, but can pass, such as Lady Gaga playing Mary Magdalene and getting stoned to death in her song and video clip, Judas. At least she is interested in the emotional depth of the story, albeit a fanciful perspective she has taken. But other misuses are just not acceptable.

A biblical misquote still gives you some kind of aura of authority.

Perhaps the most egregious example in many a year is the recent effort at defending the indefensible by Alabama State auditor, Jim Zeigler. In attempting to normalise the alleged sexual advances towards minors by a US Senate candidate, Roy Moore, Zeigler cited the Christmas story: “Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.”

This is awful in a myriad of ways. To use the ‘imprimatur’ of the Christmas story to minimise claims of inappropriate sexual activity with a minor is beyond
the pale. It’s also not the Christmas story at all, since there is no suggestion of sexual contact between Joseph and Mary prior to Jesus’ birth. In fact, that’s the point!

When a book has such a profound and influential history as the Bible, it is bound to be misappropriated for various purposes, be they political, social, or for the sake of your sporting team. It is interesting that the Bible still has such power that invoking it is worth a go, even if you don’t really know it well. A biblical misquote still gives you some kind of aura of authority.

It’s galling, appalling and a bit gobsmacking.

What I’d love to see, in the developing post-Christian atmosphere of 21st-century Australia, is less use of the Bible in the public square. It would be helpful if media commentators, sports heroes, the Twitterati and (in particular) politicians stopped invoking the Bible when they want to make a point. At least until they have read it a bit more closely.

I find it shocking that comedians are now seen to be the interpreters of the meaning of the Bible. They loudly, frequently and confidently boast that the Bible teaches something rather akin to what they have always thought, and leave no room for the ‘misguided’ theologians to speak differently. A verse is misquoted, an opinion aired, and an audience entertained. That’s Bible interpretation in the Australian public square today. It’s galling, appalling and a bit gobsmacking.

One of the great and noble tasks for the churches today is to urge people to live in reverent fear of the word of God once again. To pause before shoring up their opinions with a half-remembered gospel saying. To bring back a level of respect, care and reticence before declaring that the Bible supports your case. We need to remember we are on holy pages.

In case you missed it, Jesus won’t be rolling in his grave this Christmas.

After all, the Bible itself puts the fear of God into those who might misuse it. The Book of Revelation declares a plague on anyone who adds to the words of Scripture. Hebrews calls the word of God a dangerous sword that cuts to the soul. And Paul urges Timothy to “correctly handle the word of truth.”

In case you missed it, Jesus won’t be rolling in his grave this Christmas. According to the documents of the New Testament, he rolled out of it a long time ago. But it’s hard to imagine he’s singing Deck the Halls with the level of uninformed sub-biblical bravado now rampant in Australian society.

Greg Clarke is CEO of Bible Society Australia.

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