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Stumbling Scholarship

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Sermon for the first Sunday in Advent

How many true gods are there in the Old Testament?

You will, of course say, just one. However, some scholars will say that there are lots.  Some will say that there is no one true god called Yahweh but that the Jewish people believe in different gods at different times in their journey. Some scholars will even point to the existence of a Mrs God who mysteriously vanishes.

These scholars will look at the words of the prophet Isaiah and say that this is evidence of God being one mountain god among many.

If these scholars are looking at the same text that we are, surely with all that training and study and translating and discussion, these scholars must be right.

Why aren’t they right?


There is a worrying trend in modern Bible scholarship which says that the Bible is a book like any other and is therefore open to the same methods of criticism as any other book. There is a whole academic industry out there which seeks to say, “Oh this bit of the Bible was added later” and “these words of Jesus are probably not authentic.” These scholars reject miracles on the grounds that they defy modern science and therefore could not possibly have happened.

These Bible scholars have forgotten one thing: it all starts with Jesus.


Here we are at Advent Sunday. This is the beginning of our liturgical year. Why do we start here? We start here because of Jesus. We start here just where the Jewish people started, waiting for the Messiah to come. We look to the places where God has already revealed Himself: Mount Sinai, Mount Tabor, Mount Carmel. Yes these are mountains but God is highly exalted. He is higher than the mountains. Not for nothing does the Prophet Isaiah say:

And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

We look for God on High and we await His coming, His Advent.

And He presents to us a man, a baby lying in a trough, so far removed from the heights of the mountains.

And the scholars will look at this baby lying in the manger and sniff, “oh it’s just a baby in a manger. That’s all. Nothing higher than that.”


They have eyes and see not.

This Jesus we see with the benefit of history, but a history wrapped up in tradition, passed on faithfully by Christians from the first until the last. Each Christian knows the truth and seeks to pass on the truth faithfully knowing that, if we deviate from the truth, then we lose it completely. This is why we have the Holy Scriptures written by different people each bearing witness to the same thing. This is why there are many different copies of the original texts of the Bible so that, if one were deliberately altered, we can compare it with the others.

And it all begins with Jesus.


Jesus bears witness to God. Being a Jew, Our Blessed Lord and Saviour affirms the Old Testament and spends his earthly ministry showing us how we are to interpret it. There is only one God, not a pantheon of gods of different mountains. There is no Mrs God. If there were then Jesus would have borne witness to her. Jesus, the humble son of the Carpenter and little Mary from Nazareth, no degrees or doctorates, no training in contextual criticism, no intention of being one of the established scholars, scribes and Pharisees, He alone shows us what the Bible says because it is all a witness to Him.

If you are confused, or if you just want to see how the Bible works, start with the Gospels for these are the eyewitness accounts of Who Jesus is and what He does. Hear His words. Then see how the Disciples take His words and form the New Testament. Look back at the Old Testament and hear Jesus speak there too. And hear Jesus speak through the Fathers of the Church, too, who base their understanding on the same Holy Scriptures.


It all begins with Jesus. All scholars worth knowing will start with Him. Bad scholarship always seeks to denounce the faith of good Christians who have gone before us. Good scholarship will affirm the Faith that we have received in the Bible, the Church Fathers and the Creeds. Good scholarship will begin with Jesus as He is.

Here we stand waiting for His coming for yet another year. We stand looking up on high for we believe that is where we shall see Him. We stand longing for Him to come back. And we know that if we are faithful then we shall see Him in the glories of Christmas Day.

It is in the manger that the Truth of Holy Scripture lies. And no scholar can take that away from you.

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