Sunday, February 23, 2014

Missing Verses Weaken the Foundation: The Final Jeopardy Answer is...


Today's lectionary readings contained another two of those curious gaps which I have labelled as "missing verses" in various blog posts on this site.

In the first, Leviticus 19, verses 3-8 get cut from Leviticus 19:1-2,9-18.
3 You shall each revere your mother and father, and you shall keep my sabbaths: I am the Lord your God.
4 Do not turn to idols or make cast images for yourselves: I am the Lord your God.
5 When you offer a sacrifice of well-being to the Lord, offer it in such a way that it is acceptable in your behalf.
6 It shall be eaten on the same day you offer it, or on the next day; and anything left over until the third day shall be consumed in fire.
7 If it is eaten at all on the third day, it is an abomination; it will not be acceptable.
8 All who eat it shall be subject to punishment, because they have profaned what is holy to the Lord; and any such person shall be cut off from the people.
I find the deletion of verses 4-5 particularly troublesome as it seems that lack of respect for parents and the rise of idolatry are important problems in the present age. Let me be overly generous and assume that the lectionary editors desired to avoid causing pain to the many fatherless children of our time, children who have no cause to respect their fathers. I would beg them to reconsider this omission because of the importance of transmitting God's guiding word with confidence so that there would be hope for future generations to regain the wisdom of God's teaching and to put it into their child-rearing practices.

The deletion of verses 6-8 is in keeping with the typical pattern of the lectionary editors to remove references to abominations, punishment, or being cut off from the people as the consequence of acting against God's commandments, and other similar things that are too scary for the common folk to hear on Sunday morning.

The reading from 1 Corinthians 3:10-11,16-23 cuts out
12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—
13 the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done.
14 If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward.
15 If the work is burned, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.
It would appear that the lectionary committee shaved off parts of today's lessons in order to steer the minds of congregants and preachers alike to a common theme of loving the poor and all others including one's enemies, all of which should be rather simple stuff for the average preacher to communicate and for the average congregant to digest. Admittedly, 1 Corinthians 3:14-15 might be the most difficult part for the typical homilist or pewsitter  to tackle.

If we aren't going to hear it preached, at least let us take the time to try to sort it out and maybe find out what the lectionary editors found troubling enough in these verses to get them the axe. Time to pick up the old Matthew Henry (1662-1714) commentary (h/t Churchmouse Campanologist),

Re: 1 Corinthians 3:11-15
"This is building well upon a good foundation, making all of apiece, when ministers not only depend upon Christ as the great prophet of the church, and take him for their guide and infallible teacher, but receive and spread the doctrines he taught, in their purity, without any corrupt mixtures, without adding or diminishing. Others build wood, hay, and stubble, on this foundation; that is, though they adhere to the foundation, they depart from the mind of Christ in many particulars, substitute their own fancies and inventions in the room of his doctrines and institutions, and build upon the good foundation what will not abide the test when the day of trial shall come, and the fire must make it manifest, as wood, hay, and stubble, will not bear the trial by fire, but must be consumed in it..."
 "...Those who spread true and pure religion in all the branches of it, and whose work will abide in the great day, shall receive a reward. And, Lord, how great! how much exceeding their deserts! There are others  whose works shall be burnt (1 Corinthians 3:15), whose corrupt opinions and doctrines, or vain inventions and usages in the worship of God, shall be discovered, disowned, and rejected, in that day - shall be first manifested to be corrupt, and then disapproved of God and rejected..."
"...Observe, Those who hold the foundation of Christianity, though they build hay, wood, and stubble, upon it, may be saved. This may help to enlarge our charity. We should not reprobate men for their weakness: for nothing will damn men but wickedness. He shall be saved, yet so as by fire, saved out of the fire. He himself shall be snatched out of that flame which will consume his work. This intimates that it will be difficult for those that corrupt and deprave Christianity to be saved. God will have no mercy on their works, though he may pluck them as brands out of the burning." Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary on the Bible 
Henry goes on to note that the doctrine of purgatory may have come from these verses, and he proceeds to lay that doctrine on the ash heap.

Henry focuses his attention on Church leaders, and this is because Paul is directing his letter to those in Corinth who are responsible for building upon the foundation of Christ which he has preached. The problem of false doctrine is not new, and we will forever be faced with new constructs not just of straw, but of plastic, and of fanciful novelties and shiny innovations linked to the desires of modern culture.

As we take on the false Gospel and the false teachers so prevalent in today's church, we should remember that we are all in danger of the same fire, and we are all dependent of God's mercy to save us from the fire to which false doctrine condemns us, or should I say, "Final Jeopardy."


  1. I am recalling C.S. Lewis' comment in his "Letters to Malcolm"... regarding the constant revisionism and inability to keep from messing with things in the Church:
    God never said, "teach my dogs new tricks".
    Seeing as lection readings as a type have a history of over 2100 years - some change was necessary (such as adding NT Scripture), but it is not a concept invented by the RCC, nor Anglicans, nor Protestant Reformers.

    Thanks for the article. I love it.