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Sacred Scripture: The Contextual and the Timeless

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My reflections in this article come from having studied the Bible and the Qur’an. At the present time I regard myself as an ‘Abrahamic monotheist’ because I am trying to understand how the sacred Scriptures of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam fit together and whether they can be reconciled.

A related issue that I’ve been considering is how in the revelations given to Jews, Christians, and Muslims, there are some writings that are very time-specific, and some that I would regard as timeless. In the Qur’an it is clearly explained that every community is sent a messenger, and so it makes sense that some of what God reveals would relate to the community of the messenger. But at the same time, God clearly knew that his revelations would survive long after the events discussed in them, and it seems he intentionally included teachings that are timeless in the Torah, the New Testament, and the Qur’an.

The Old Testament is of course very Jewish, in that the events described therein relate to the specific circumstances of the Jewish people. One example of this would be the Exodus, which is clearly time-specific and relates to the lives of the Jewish people living at the time of that event. But we also have the Psalms and Proverbs, for instance, which contain wisdom that is applicable to all people for all time.

The teachings of Jesus are firmly grounded in the circumstances of the Roman Empire, and how the Jewish people were dealing with Roman rule. But at the same time, many of the sayings attributed to Jesus that can be found in the New Testament could be considered timeless, especially some of the moral teaching about forgiving our neighbour and praying for our enemies, and the instruction to love God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, for instance.

In the Qur’an, there are detailed accounts of the prophet Muhammad being instructed to engage in battles in certain ways, and there are laws that were given to him to govern the Muslim community. The rules could be considered time-specific and it’s questionable whether or not they are intended to apply to all people in the world. There are also timeless teachings in the Qur’an, including the oft repeated phrases that God is one, that we should worship only him, and that he is in control of all things.

Perhaps one of the reasons why there has been so much conflict on Earth in the name of religion is the failure of spiritual people to distinguish between contextual and timeless teaching. Arguably, God doesn’t want an entirely Christian, Jewish, or Muslim world, but instead his creative plan involves diversity of perspectives, and the Scriptures he has sent down reflect this. If we situate each revelation within its community, and appreciate that each revelation also has beautiful and timeless teaching, then there is less need to be defensive and therefore less need for different religious communities to compete and fight with one another.

10 comments

  1. Pretty interesting process. At some point in my life I worked within the muslin community. As a monotheist, I found it quite easy to relate and have conversations about our shared beliefs. Listening to Islamic scholars had a profound impact on the way I viewed the writings of our faiths. I wish you well on your journey

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  2. Quote: The Old Testament is of course very Jewish, in that the events described therein relate to the specific circumstances of the Jewish people. One example of this would be the Exodus, which is clearly time-specific and relates to the lives of the Jewish people living at the time of that event.
    End Quote.

    Hei Steven

    Many people appear to confuse the identity of Israel and Judah in the biblical texts.
    Although the Exodus may be time-specific, it relates to all the tribes of Israel (Jacob) – and not only the tribe of Judah.
    The descendants of the tribe of Judah (son of Jacob) are the only people who later would be known as Jewish. Benjamin and Levi joined themselves to Judah during the division of the tribes and the formation of two seperate kingdoms – Kingdom of Israel and Kingdom of Judah.
    In later biblical texts it is of paramount importance to distinguish between the house of Israel and the house of Judah. They are not one and the same people.

    Regards
    John

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    1. Thanks for your input John. A lot of what you wrote is familiar to me from my Old Testament studies. I know the Kingdoms separated at one point. My post was very general and Iโ€™m sorry if anything I wrote was incorrect. Thank you for taking the time to elaborate.

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