A Spirituality blog from our Community

π Canon

I didn’t make this myself, although I wish I did.

From Peter Hardy, Chaplaincy Assistant:

After our Bible For Bluffers session on the Biblical Canon I was wondering to myself what happens if you skim through the Bible, focusing on verses corresponding to pi (that is, 3.14)? What would the Bible be like if we were limited to these passages? Note that this is an experiment, not a conspiracy theory. To remain consistent I have used the Contemporary English Version throughout. When I haven’t used a book it is because there isn’t a 3:14, or that out of context the verse makes no sense, but not because it makes the Bible look bad. To allow me to include more books I have broadened the parameters to include from 3:10 to the end of that passage so that the excerpt is makes sense on its own.

Many of these verses give us a picture of something all too unfamiliar: religion done well. To start us off, in1 Samuel God says that “sacrifices or offerings could never make things right!” At 1 Kings we have the story of Solomon asking God for wisdom rather than long-life, riches and the destruction of his enemies. Naturally, Proverbs continues this wisdom theme, stating that “Wisdom is worth more than silver; it makes you much richer than gold.” Jeremiah has similar themes to 1 Kings, namely that the virtue of a King will bring prosperity to his nation, but introduces the concept of divine forgiveness for those who have gone wrong, using the familiar metaphor of children coming home.

We begin the New Testament with John the Baptist’s protestations that he is not worthy to baptise Jesus or even to take off his shoes, which indicates the Christian emphasis on humility and the special status of Jesus. The passages from the Epistles offer us many inspirational summaries of Christian teachings. Ephesians, Colossians, 1 John and both letters of Peter give encouragement because trusting in God will give you strength to live like Christ. James, Titus and 2 Thessalonians advise making yourself useful and wise, the latter of these -along with 2 Corinthians- make helpful suggestions for dealing with those who are not successful Christians. 1 Corinthians talks about judgement, saying that when we die God will test us, as if by fire: “We will be rewarded if our building is left standing. But if it is destroyed by the fire, we will lose everything. Yet we ourselves will be saved, like someone escaping from flames.” This is a consoling teaching about judgement, arguably the locus classicus for the doctrine of Purgatory.

Another set of passages show us that the Bible is not just something abstract and metaphysical, but is full of drama and action. Judges kicks this off with the Hollywood-style tale of Ehud assassinating the oppressive King Eglon. In 2 Samuel David is angry about his wife being taken away since, as he says, “I killed a hundred Philistines so I could marry her.” So much of this more violent material is expressive of peoples’ experience of injustice. This continues in Esther where King Xerxes ofBabylonhas ordered the complete annihilation of the Hebrew people. Isaiah emphasises that even rulers and leaders will be judged, particularly on how they have treated the poor. Similarly Amos speaks of God tearing down summer homes and mansions.

The author of Lamentations writes “I am a joke to everyone- no one ever stops making fun of me.” Job is very depressed, wishing never to have been born. And in the New Testament Romans speaks of the disorder caused by those who are not virtuous in their words.

Most of the remaining passages relate to the overarching story of Scripture or ‘Salvation History’. In Genesis we hear that humankind will forever have an enemy in evil but that a human will come who is able to strike evil on the head (presumably the Messiah). In Exodus we have God revealing his personal name, Yahweh, to Moses, hence initiating a new relationship with his prophets and their people. 2 Chronicles speaks of the creation of the curtain for the temple, which was later to torn when Christ was crucified. Zephaniah speaks of glorifying God because the struggle of the exile is over and that there is no need to worry anymore.

In the New Testament Mark discusses Jesus’ appointment of twelve apostles to preach for him. John foreshadows the crucifixion but links this to Jesus’ saving mission of attaining eternal life for his followers. Acts asks us for penitence because we have killed Jesus, but also gives us hope because God has raised Jesus to life to vindicate him and his followers. Galatians emphasises that this salvation, which had been promised through the Old Testament tradition, is now given to the non-Hebrews as well.

2 Timothy, like Hebrews, exhorts us to live faithfully to what we’ve been taught, as our Biblical faith has come from God. Thus studying the whole scriptural tradition is useful for becoming a better servant of God. Yet in1 Timothy we’ve heard that it is “the church of the living God”, not the Bible, which “is the strong foundation of truth.” Lastly in the Apocalypse “the faithful and true witness and the source of God’s creation” admonishes: “you claim to be rich and successful and to have everything you need. But you don’t know how bad off you are. You are pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.” Not a nice point to end on, but that’s what happens if you put that book at the end.

It seems that by chance these ‘pi verses’ give an improbably good representative cross section of the Bible. The most significant feature of this ‘canon’ is that we would miss out the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry, but the central message of the Bible is certainly here, and in good amount of detail.

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