Sunday, March 04, 2012

Shh... More Missing Verses

It has been a while since I have featured "missing verses", or those Bible verses that mysteriously get deleted from the Sunday readings. I want to note today's expurgated verses in order to once again raise the questions of "Why?" and "What are we missing?"

Our Old Testament lesson was Genesis 17:1-7,15-16. You did not get to hear verses 8-14 which I also will leave out so that you can get a better idea of the message conveyed to the church goers.

1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless.
2 And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.’
3 Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him,
4 ‘As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations.
5 No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations.
6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.
7 I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.

15 God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.
16 I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.’

We got the message that a covenant was made by God with Abram, and that a "multitude of nations" will be the result. He and Sarai are also given new names and will become fruitful.

So what got left out today? Here are verses 8-14.

8 And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God.’
9 God said to Abraham, ‘As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations.
10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised.
11 You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.
12 Throughout your generations every male among you shall be circumcised when he is eight days old, including the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring.
13 Both the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money must be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant.
14 Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.’
I have a suspicion that verse 8 is politically incorrect in this day and age. Doesn't it sound much nicer to present a pluralistic, multi-national, covenant than an exclusivist, "this land is yours" vision for Israel.  This certainly is in keeping with the Episcopal church's view. TEc has campaigned against a Israel by supporting the "two state solution." To quote Episcopal Pravda,
"The Episcopal Church has long advocated and legislated in support of a two-state solution in which a secure and universally recognized state of Israel lives alongside a secure, independent and viable Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states...
...Executive Council said at its June meeting that it voiced the church's 'unequivocal opposition to any action by either party that undermines progress toward negotiations' and urged all Episcopalians 'to pray for the peace of the Holy Land and advocate to their own governments for maximum international support for a negotiated two-state solution.'"
I cannot come up with a better explanation for the deletion of verse 8 other than a need for political correctness.

Note to God: Would you please follow our lead on these earthly matters. This covenant business needs to be more of a two way street.

And what about the circumcision stuff? Why did it get cut? Is it too hard to understand, or is it just too hard to explain?

If you leave out the part of the covenant that involves circumcision, then you will have a difficult time understanding what all the fuss was about in the early Christian church as the Gospel
spread to the Gentiles.

Time to cut this post short...


  1. Anonymous3:32 AM

    Circumcision is a critical part of the covenental relationship between God and Abraham (and all following as his descendants).
    To read around it is theological cowardice and, dare I say, chilling censorship. Leaving out those verses would be offensive to any Jews hearing the lesson being read. And it seriously undermines the Christian education process by cloaking an essential foundation of the meaning of "covenant."

    In Christianity the closest ritual we have to circumcision as an imperative of covenental relationship, both as sign and sacrament, is baptism. Can you imagine assigning the Gospel lesson of the baptism of Jesus where the actual verses specifically referring to water and baptism are excised? Would the rest of the story have any deeper sense to it at all?
    Can we talk about discipleship in TECUSA these days without any reference to "the baptismal covenant?"
    Just ludicrous.

    I made the mistake of reading only the subtitle of the section from Genesis, "The Covenant of Circumcision", without more carefully noting prior to Sunday morning that the excised verses were the only ones in the appointed reading that referred to to the actual act and command of circumcision (I had a guest preacher Sunday). I realized the mistake as the early service lector read through the lesson. In between services I quickly printed up a new reader's page with at least 3 or 4 verses added to include the circumcision command and its purpose.

    I can only hope that most every other self-respecting ordained person did the same to some degree.

  2. Rob Eaton+,

    I agree, and I wanted to point out how the missing verses would have tied in well with any discussion of the Epistle for Sunday,

    Romans 4:13-25
    13 "For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith."

  3. Anonymous4:41 PM

    Yes, indeed. And when one would make those connections, they would have to go back and read those missing verses out loud in their sermon, because they didn't get read in the first place!!
    Is this the left hand not knowing what the right hand is apportioning?

  4. Great explanation Rob!

    And UP, you are correct in your interpretation of verse 8, I think and the reason for its omission. I wrote about this some time ago at my place in a post about "replacement theology."


  5. I believe that the last time you did this I mentioned that I had preached on the verses in question. This time around, we're in the midst of a series on Jesus in the Old Testament, so I expanded the lectionary to include the missing verses, which allowed me to preach about the fact that the promises made to Abraham and then later to Israel all find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. This, of course, includes the promises related to land. The Bible has absolutely nothing to say one way or the other about what US foreign policy should be towards the modern nation-state of Israel. The promises are about Jesus, including the promises about the land.

  6. Fr. Halt posted a good set of questions to consider about this subject. I suggest you follow this link.

  7. Fr. Jonathon, no snark intended by this comment.

    You've hit the difference between the dispensationalist possession which is the tradition I come from and covenant theology. Suffice it to, Christians have been hashing that out since the very first Council of Jerusalem referred to in Acts.