Vera Rubin

Among the recent deaths of public figures is that of the astronomer Vera Rubin, whose career began in the 1950 s when many of the most prestigious departments of astronomy would not accept female students. Working at rhe Carnegie Institution she began to study the orbital speed of stars in the Andromeda Galaxy, a spiral nebula like the Milky Way. Her results showed that the stars farthest from the centre rotated at rhe same rate as those near the centre, an impossibility according to Newtonian laws. She put forward the hypothesis that there must be a a great quantity of invisible matter which was unknown to science. Her hypothesis has never been proven, but most astronomers now accept that the visible matter of the universe is about 5% of its total mass, invisible matter about 25%, and dark energy the rest.

She never received a Nobel Prize because its committee is notoriously biased in favour of men, but her work is generally recognised as changing our view of the universe. When asked what she felt about not receiving sufficient recognition she said, “Fame is a passing thing. My real reward will be if my colleagues still use my numbers in their researches.”

I have nothing against those who mourn Debbie Reynolds or George Michael, but clearly they have contributed less to the human race than Vera Rubin. It’s not just her discovery of dark matter tbat impresses me, but also the fact that she was measuring orbital velocities in the Andromeda Galaxy! What an extraordinary processs of meticulous investigation over hundreds of years, by patient people who whatever their faults, respected each others’ work, made possible her research and her discovery!  I guess that scientists are not better human beings than the rest of us, but the necessary disciplines of rational enquiry have favoured honesty over fakery and cooperation over individualism. Even the most radical scientists have built on the achievements of their predecessors and the practice of peer review has exposed dubious results to critical examination.

Vera Rubin was from all accounts a sparky, confident woman, who navigated her way through the prejudices of her profession, but her scientific work shows an endearing modesty. When asked by a school pupil, “What exactly is dark matter?” She answered, “We don’t know.”  Her greatness as a scientist came from a bold desire to find new truths, along with a humility in the face of the inexplicable findings she obtained from her investigation.

Andromeda Galaxy

I also belong to a discipline whose aim is to discover truth about the universe, namely theology. Its best practicioners, in my view, have been those who were strong enough to believe they should discover truth and modest enough to respect those who had gone  before them , knowing that any new truth was only ever provisional. Unfortunately many theologians have believed they had access to eternal and immutable truth and that any who questioned their doctrines should burn in this life or the one to come. The worst were aggressively prepared to see opponents and unbelievers murdered for the good of their souls and rhe welfare of Christendom.

One may  call this arrogance, but it is also a pitiful lack of enterprise, based on the conviction that all truth has already been revealed. Good theology of course looks back towards historical sources of truth, like Moses or Jesus or Mohammed, but if it purports to express the living God, it must be ready to investigate, to  make new hypotheses and to subject them to appropriate testing. It must take into account the discoveries of other disciplines, and share openly in the common human enterprise of asking, “Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going?”

Andromeda Galaxy

Scientists do not consider theology a science, because it does not subject itself to scientific method. But clearly that method is required only for certain kinds of enquiry. The understanding of art or literature requires its own, different disciplines. I think nevertheless, that as indicated above, theology has much to learn from science, and from scientists like Vera Rubin, who have added to our knowledge of the universe God is creating.


My family chose Christmas books for me based on my known love of photography. Amongst other wonders, they gave me a book of photos by Henri  Cartier-Bresson, from which I have selected one:




In 1968 there was a serious student rebellion in France which amongst other things, decorated the city with a variety of philosophical sayings which have never before or since been used as slogans, one of which is depicted here. It means, enjoy yourself without restraint, or, be happy with no shackles, or, let your joy be unfettered. The respectable bourgeois man is shown looking at it with utter incomprehension, perhaps because his life is so much based on deferred gratification, on control of the present for the sake of the future.

The photograph is even-handed, although we may judge that Cartier Bresson sympathised with the writers of the slogan rather than its depicted reader. The authors of the slogan are not present, but simply assert their philosophy by words. The bourgeois man is at least present in person. Maybe the slogan is a little pretentious? Or maybe the bourgeois man is a little ridiculous?

In fact the photograph holds both of these possibilities and something more: a comedy which prefers the cheek of the new to the power of the status quo. The photographer has not staged a critique of the bourgeois man or of the pretentious slogan, but has captured a moment in which the slogan tells the man not to be bound by his habitual  restraint. Might he not be a little tempted by the appeal of unconventional freedom?

This balance which nevertheless favours a revolutionary impulse is the product of a disciplined habit of respecting the reality it sees rather than imposing a meaning on it. The conventional man and the unconventional words are equally important to the photographer, whose justice earns the trust of the viewer.

In looking at this image, I am left sympathising with the youthful nonsense of the sloganeers more than the incomprehension of the well-dressed man, while favouring more than either the disciplined humour of the photographer.It is  the same humour that says it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.









Towards the end of his life the American poet Robert Lowell made a poem to be a kind of postscript for a sequence of poems entitled “Day by day.” In it he writes about how he wants to be imaginative but keeps getting stuck in facts. Then he thinks of the paintings of Vermeer, in which accuracy serves imaginative power:img_0201

Yet why not say what happened?
Pray for the grace of accuracy
Vermeer gave to the sun’s illumination
stealing like the tide across a map
to his girl solid with yearning.
We are poor passing facts,
warned by that to give
each figure in the photograph
his living name.

Apart from being very beautiful, Lowell’s words point to a spiritual discipline which is useful to me, for I have always been tempted to use my imaginative talent,  the gift of fantasy, to avoid the facts of the world and of my own life. I have a sense of the shape a story ought to take, and sometimes bend the facts to fit that shape rather than, like great artists, create a shape to fit the facts. Giving each figure in the photograph his living name, even if, in my own case, that name has to be “dickhead”, makes possible the beauty which comes from truth.

I should pray for the grace of accuracy, so that my turning towards God can be the real and painful venture it is meant to be, and not mere religious posturing. My thinking about God, my theology and that of the Christian Church, would also benefit from this grace, for any theology that lacks it, has ceased to represent the God who became a poor passing fact in Jesus of Nazareth. Most crucially a precise commitment to accuracy is required if I am to do justice to my neighbour’s need. If for example his exhaustion comes from carrying me on his back – as in the case of low paid Amazon staff who make possible the cheap, quick purchases we all demand at Christmas- then I’d be better to get off rather than referring him to a foodbank.

img_0199John Berger in his book ” Another Way of Telling” argues that photographs can teach us the language of appearances, because although the camera can also lie, it does record the fabric of reality, and challenges us to imagine a story based on the details of what we see. It’s not that imagination is inferior to fact, but that it has to start with the fact if it is aiming at truth. All of  Berger’s imaginative writing has exhibited the grace of accuracy, achieved by a painstaking discipline of seeing the details of experience without sidelining their moral, political and ecological aspects, and an imaginative purity in representing them in his stories. His novel “To the Wedding”, for example, chronicles unsparingly the effect of AIDs on a young woman’s life, but includes the beautiful and triumphant story of her wedding. The ravages of the disease and the details of the Italian wedding cookery are recorded with equal accuracy.

I have a friend, a fellow believer, who tells me that we should not be dismayed if we find that none of the gospel details of Jesus are factual. We live, after all, by the story. I find myself replying that I don ‘t quite agree: I don’t mind if none of the details is historical fact, but that I want to trust that all the narrated details have been chosen by the writers and their sources to represent as accurately as possible, their img_0200community’s memory of Jesus. As Lowell asks, why not say what happened? It is only when we who are poor passing facts, recollect with modesty the life  of that other poor passing fact, Jesus Messiah, that we can give him and ourselves, a living name.

* paintings by Vermeer

The Christmas anecdote I like the best is the one about the school nativity play in which the inn- keeper plays a starring role. When Joseph knocks the door and enquires if there is room in the inn for himself and his pregnant wife, the boy playing the inn-keeper replies compassionately, “Aye, of course, we’ve plenty room, come away in.”

How did the play recover from that or live up to it?"We're the three wise baristas bearing gifts of pumpkin spice, peppermint mocha, and eggnog latte."

What I like is the fact that you can prepare as meticulously as you can and find the event goes completely squeewiff because there are human beings involved with their dangerous freewill. And while we may think that this freewill is even more damgerous than the unpredicatability of the basic elements of the universe, it is in fact part and parcel of that more fundamental habit of the cosmos, to chuck banana skins in the way of order, a habit which has led some philosophers to call it “chaosmos.”

Right down to the smallest particles of energy, it would appear that the creator has accompanied everything regular and determined with something  irregular and surprising. Time and time again the surprises of nature and humanity disturb our fixed plans, often in ways that are not at all funny. As Angela Merkel pointed out yesterday in the wake of the killing of shoppers at a German market, people who were looking forward to Christmas with families and friends  are suddenly dead. When anti-terrorist experts were asked how this sort of thing could be prevented in Germany or the UK, they admitted it could not be prevented because of its unpredictability.

Often religion can be presented as a bulwark against the unpredctability of the world: in face of randomness here is divine law; in the face of chaos, order; in the face of change, continuity; in the face of novelty, tradition; in the face of doubt, certainty. It’s  clear that religious communities which offer this kind of sure bulwark to their adherents, are more popular than those that do not. The spread of fundamentalisms throughout the world is testimony to the appeal of this kind of cosmic accident insurance.


Even in non-fundamentalist churches, the Bible can become an unchanging tradition in the midst of a changing world. Think of what we call the Christmas story in the gospels. Year after year churches tell a mish-mash composite version of two gospels only, Matthew and Luke, ignoring their mutual contradictions, and the awkward fact that the other two gospels, Mark and John, have no birth stories at all. Did their authors not know any birth stories, or did they perhaps regard them as spurious? We don’t know the answer to that question but perhaps the differences amongst the gospels authorise us to free the birth stories that we have from the dead weight of pious repetition, as did the pupil who was playing the innkeeper.

Because we repeat them every year, Luke’s and Matthew ‘s stories become like a set liturgy communicating God’s determination of the Christmas scenario. But their authors intended exactly the opposite. Yes, it’s true rhat both have angels directing some of the dramatic traffic,  and in their different ways both appeal to words of prophecy from the Jewish scriptures. So they want their readers to see God as one of the determiners of events. But only one: human beings are given choices and make them, introducing their own determinations into the stream of events, like the decision of Joseph to stick with Mary,  or that of Herod the kill the children of Bethlehem. What God wants is both obeyed and thwarted by human beings, who have their own agendas, requiring God to persuade them to a creative compromise, if He can. God can draw attention to what’s happening, as with the shepherds, but they decide to go to Bethlehem. Or God can accept Herod’s refusal to welcome his Son, including it in his plan, even in advance of it happening. “This happened in order to fulfil what was said through the prophet Jeremiah, ‘A voice was heard in Rama, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children, because they were no more.'”img_0194

The creative birth stories of the evangelists balance the initiative of God with the agreement or recalcitrance of human beings; and some fine messes, like Jesus being born in a stable or Bethlehem’s boys being massacred are part of their witness. They intend to show that randomness (no room in the inn) and evil (Herod) influence the flow of events, while God tries to persuade people, not always successfully, to go his way. The world to which he abandons his son is the world we know.

So maybe we can be a bit creative with the Christmas stories, like the boy in the play, focussing now on the pregnant teenager, now on the zero -contract shepherds, now on the Roman imperialists, now on the state exterminators. In doing so we may be able to  relate  Christmas to the unfinished love story of God and his/ her human partners, which, in spite of all its tragedy, may have a happy ending.










Angel, Leonardo

I want to start off this blog by comparing to translations of the story of Jesus’ birth, from the Gospel of Luke. The first is the King James’ Version of the 17th century, the second the Good News Bible of the 20th century.


8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.


8 There were some shepherds in that part of the country who were spending the night in the fields, taking care of their flocks.

9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone over them. They were terribly afraid.

Both translations are accurate, but are as different as chalk and cheese. First of all, there’s the matter of rhythm. The first knows how to make words dance, rhe second has a tin ear. Then there’s vocabulary. Compare “abiding” with “spending the night” or “round about them” with “over them”. The first is strong and spacious, while the second is weak and apologetic. There’s also the tone. The first is consciously that of a storyteller, with its changes of pace, its awareness of the audience ( And, lo!). The second is that of a  dull historian, giving the facts. Above all, the first is beautiful, the second banal. I have singled out GNB but in fact the same deficiencies can be found in differing degrees in all modern versions.

The usual defence given is that the originals are not often in elegant Greek prose, and some of them are almost ungramatical. This makes the mistake of thinking that my sort of criticism puts style above original content. Not so. the KJV is a literal translation which italicises words that do not appear in the Greek. It sticks close to the content, finding the most appropriate English expressions of it.

There is a neo-fundamentalist bias in many modern versions which is more concerned with the bible as “the supreme rule of faith and life” than it is with letting the original authors speak in modern english. The absence of the storytelling voice in the gospels is a symptom of this. Who knows what terrible heresies might result from thinking of the Gospel as a story told by Matthew!

Angel, Leonardo

But, I hear you say wearily, does it really matter, the lack of beauty? Didn’t the literary snobs of Rome criticise the Christian writings for their lack of beauty? And don’t upper class atheists often uphold the KJV as a monument of English literature in spite of its unfortunate content? Yes, yes, but I am talking about beauty which is different from literary excellence, in that it may give us successive sentences beginning with “and” which would never happen in good literary English. No, the beauty I mean comes from the vocabulary, the syntax, the voice and the tune all combining to say the  author’s thought with maximum effectiveness, while staying as close to his/her original expression as possible. The KJV achieves this difficult beauty in many passages, so that almost 70 years later I can still recall the first time I heard the story of the shepherds read aloud. The words have been in my head ever since. Will anyone ever remember the words of any modern version?

Even so, does beauty matter in this context?

I’ve just been reading a book about China by the Hungarian author Krasznahorkai, who is ferociously committed to the beauty that human beings can create, in words,images, sculptures, drama, music, and even gardening. He has a visceral dislike of everything shoddy, pretentious, ugly, fake and dreary. For him,  the creation of beauty is a moral imperative which commands our best human qualities. Shoddy housing betrays the fact that the builder doesn’t rate the poor people who willl live in it; fake grandeur, like Trump Tower, advertises the unearned self -satisfaction of the owner. Banal bible translation proclaims the theology of its translators, so that it is their word rather than the word of God. Indeed the bible itself says of God’s suffering servant, that he has “no beauty that we should desire him”, but it says so in words which when well-translated are of sober beauty.

In Jesus’ humanity the beauty of God’s character was revealed as the joy of human desiring. This ought also to be true of the human words of the Bible.

Rembrandt: Matthew and the Angel

I am about to begin a study of Matthew’s narrative of the birth of Jesus, and decided to use one of my favourite paintings as an introduction. It is of course one of the most beautiful of all paintings, giving the contrast between the craggy, worn, masculine face of the Apostle with the youthful, intent, almost feminine face of the angel.

What is Rembrandt telling us?

The conventional answer is to refer to the Protestant theology of biblical inspiration, which would have been well-known to Rembrandt, namely, that all scripture is inspired by God. The role of the human authors of scriptural books is variously described by theologians, many depicting them as little more than recipients of divine dictation. Is that what we see here? The angel of God dictating the gospel to Matthew? Well, without doubt the angel is speaking or whispering in Matthew’s ear. But if essentially Matthew is only an ear, why bother to depict his upper body so characterfully? Rembrandt invents this gloriously experienced face, with its lines and wrinkles, its thoroughly decisive nose, its luxuriant hair, its firm mouth, its deep,inward-looking eyes. There is also the bunched fist that holds the pen, and the expessive hand that strokes the beard. He is not tall but solid in his flesh.

Rembrandt is telling the viewer that the corporeal humanity of this man is not irrelevant to the process of inspiration. Rembrandt endeavoured to give some sense of the racial and historical identity of his biblical figures. This is a Jewish man who has lived in this body for some sixty years, so that it bears the marks of his living. The climate, the region and the events of his life have shaped this bodily presence which moves us by its material reality. This is the way we are at our best, magnificent material facts that are not here for long.

Yet all that Matthew can tell us about Jesus, the one who is called Son of God, Saviour of humanity, also comes from this material being. He too is part of the experience which has marked this human face. Some of the lines and blotches of the face may have been gained in the course of Matthew’s discipleship of Jesus. The gospel story, the words which may bring God’s splendour to human lives, are also inscribed in this man’s body. For Rembrandt there is no truth, no goodness which bypasses this human, material history.

So we come back to the angel. The first obvious fact is, no wings, or at least none we can see. We know Rembrandt like other artists enjoyed the challenge of angels’ wings which he could render memorably. So why are there none here? Because in this case the intimacy of the relationship between angel and human is paramount, even more so than in the case of the angel of the annunciation, where the origin of the angel is emphasised. Here the “beyondness” of the angel is communicated solely by its tenderness and intelligence. God does not come storming into humanity like a bull, but with infinite tenderness, just a touch on the shoulder and a whisper in the ear. And by intelligence I mean not only the capacity of understanding, but also the substance of what is understood, the intelligence shared by spies. The luxuriant hair of the angel, which matches Matthew’s, stands for the fertility of their shared task.

What does all this mean for the content of Matthew’s gospel? He is of course accessing his memory of Jesus, that is, of someone also human, also material, living, acting and suffering in the same material world inhabited by Matthew, and us. The divine one, the son of God, did not bypass human, material history, and indeed, died a human material death. Matthew’s memory of him is of things and events that belong firmly in this world – boats, fishermen, villages, synagogues, meals, teaching, healing, rejection, arrest, torture and death. This is a story that is as true and human as bread.

But full understanding of it only comes from first of all from admitting the tenderness of Jesus. Utterly opposed to arrogance and injustice as he was, he extended an unconquered tenderness to his enemies. In remembering Jesus’ fate, Matthew must also remember this inexplicable tenderness.

And he must also reckon with secret intelligence of Jesus, the knowledge of what he called “The father”, who is not to be bandied about like a commodity but quietly recognised as the one who gives hope of justice beyond injustice, peace beyond violence and life beyond death.

Neither of these qualities annuls the human Matthew or the human Jesus of his gospel. The angel is the tender intelligence which touches Matthew’s historical memory with the understanding that this history itself is a story of rebellion rather than resignation, hope rather than despair.

And Matthew is listening to this whisper which comes simultaneously from the events in which he has participated, and from beyond all universes, from God but still from himself. He is, in D H Lawrence’s great phrase, “The whole man, wholly attending.”

I am interrupting normal service on this site to post my translation of an inportant biblical text which has influenced the history of the world, especially through the Protestant Reformation. I hope some readers will find it interesting.



This translation was originally produced piecemeal for my more or less daily Bible Blog ( along with some brief commentary. I became aware almost immediately that translating Paul involves major decisions about his vocabulary, style, purpose and theology. I would urge readers not to imagine that I have made any decisions without considerable research and deliberation. That’s not to say that I’m satisfied with them all; languages do not fit each other perfectly and even the best translations contain imperfections, if not outright errors. I am not a scholar but merely a diligent reader with some of the skills needed for this job, which I have undertaken out of a love of Paul and his joyful news.

I am pleased to make it available online for public use. I would be happy to receive corrections or suggestions by email ( and would ask anyone quoting from it in print to acknowledge its authorship.

Finally I want to dedicate this minor effort of biblical interpretation to Rev. Peter Thomson, whose comradeship in matters of faith, reason and wry humour is always encouraging.

FROM PAUL, a slave of Jesus Messiah, called as an emissary and set apart as a preacher of the Joyful News that God had announced earlier through his prophets in the holy writings, about his Son.  A flesh and blood descendant of King David, he was installed in power as Son of God by God’s spirit through his resurrection from the dead. He is Jesus Messiah, our Lord.

From him I have received kindness and the status of emissary for his honour, to encourage trustful obedience amongst all peoples, amongst whom you also are called to belong to Jesus Messiah.

To all God’s loved ones in Rome, who are called to be holy, kindness to you and peace from God our father and the Lord Jesus Messiah!

First, I thank my God through Jesus Messiah for you all, because news of your trust has gone out to all the world; for God is my witness, to whom I give my spiritual service in the Joyful News of his Son, that at all times I remember you in my prayers, asking that by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you, to give you some spiritual benefit that will strengthen you- I mean, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s trust, yours and mine. I want you to know, my brothers and sisters, that I have often intended to come to you – but have been prevented until now- so that I could work fruitfully amongst you, as I have done amongst other peoples. To Greeks and barbarians, wise and unwise, I am under equal obligation; so for my part, I am eager to announce the Joyful News to you in Rome as well.

I am shameless about the Joyful News, since it is the rescuing power of God for everyone who trusts in him, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For the saving justice of God is unveiled in it, from his trust to ours, as the scripture says, “Just people will live by trust.”

But God’s anger is displayed from heaven towards all the impiety and injustice of human beings who by injustice suppress the truth.  The facts about God are evident to them, because God has made them evident. For the unseen things of God, such as eternal power and divine nature, are made clear to the mind ever since the world’s creation, in the things that have been made. So they have no defence.  In spite of knowing God, they neither honoured him nor gave him thanks, but became idolatrous in their reasoning and overshadowed in their hearts.  Trying to be clever they became idiots, exchanging the glory of the undying God for the fabricated likenesses of mortal men and women, birds, animals and reptiles. For this reason God handed them over, in the desires of their hearts, to the impurity of dishonouring their bodies with each other.  They exchanged the truth of God for a falsehood, by serving in worship the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen!  Yes, for this reason, God handed them over to shameful affections: their females exchanged natural sexual behaviour for what is contrary to nature; and in the same way the males, neglecting natural sex with females, burned with lust for one another -males did shameful things with males – and so received in their own persons the due reward for their wrong belief. Because they did not think God worth their attention, God handed them over to a worthless compulsion, to do worthless things.

They were filled with all kinds of injustice, depravity, greed and malice; full of envy, murder, violence, deception and craftiness. They became whisperers, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, proud and boastful.  Inventive in wrongdoing, they were disobedient to parents, irrational, faithless, heartless and ruthless. Although they know the just verdict of God, that people who do such things deserve to die, they do them and are pleased with those who also do them.

Whoever you are, you leave yourself with no defence as a judge, if you do the very same things for which you are condemning others. For we know that God’s judgement is shrewdly made on those who do such things. Do you imagine if you stand in judgement over people who do such and such while doing it yourself, that you’ll escape the judgement of God? Or are you presuming on the abundant goodness, forbearance and longsuffering of God, ignoring the fact that God’s goodness is meant to drive you to a change of mind? With your hard and unrepentant heart you are piling up anger for yourself on the Day of Anger, when God’s just judgements will be openly displayed. For God will reward each one according to his actions.

Whoever seeks glory and honour by the discipline of good deeds will get eternal life; whoever serves injustice through strife and refusal of truth, will get fierce anger. There will be sharp pain and distress for each human soul that produces evil, Jews first and Greeks after; honour and peace to each one that labours for the good, Jews first and Greeks after, for God has no favourite faces.

People who sin outside the Jewish Law will be destroyed outside the Law; while people who sin within the Law will be condemned by the Law; for it is not those who hear the Law who are recognised as just before God, but those who do the Law who will be justified. When people who do not have the Law naturally do lawful actions, they are a Law for themselves, although they do not have the Law. They show that the actions of the Law are written on their hearts, as their conscience confirms, with their embattled thoughts either denouncing or defending them, on the day when according to my Joyful News of Messiah Jesus, God will judge the secrets of men and women.

But if you call yourself a Jew, rely on the Law, take pride in God, know his will and discern what is best as you are instructed by the law; and if you are confident that you are a guide to the blind, a light to people in darkness, a corrector of fools, a teacher of babes, because you have in the Law the perfect form of knowledge and truth, yes, you, teacher of others, will you not teach yourself? Preaching the command against stealing, do you steal? Quoting the command that forbids adultery, do you commit it? Detester of idols, do you rob their temples? Boaster about the law, do you dishonour God by breaking it?  As scripture says, “The name of God is reviled among the Gentiles because of you.”

Foreskin-snipping is indeed of value if you obey the law; but if you break the law, your snipping has become foreskin-possession.  So, if those who possess foreskins keep the requirements of the law, won’t their possession be regarded as snipping? Then those who are physically in possession of foreskins but keep the law will condemn you that have the written code and the snipping but break the law. For no one is a Jew by outward appearance nor is true snipping something external and physical.  Rather, a person is a Jew by inward reality; and real snipping is a matter of the heart—a matter of the Spirit rather than the written Law. Such a person receives praise not from others but from God.

So is the Jew better off? Is there any profit in snipping?

A great deal in all respects! For a start, the Jews were entrusted with the commandments of God. So what if some were unfaithful; does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? Certainly not! Let God be true even though all human beings were liars! As Scripture says, “That you may be proved right in your words and prevail when you are brought to judgement.”

But if our wrongdoing serves to prove the justice of God, shall we say it is unfair of God to inflict his anger upon us (This is worldly language)? Certainly not! For how then could God “judge the world”? But if God’s truth gains extra credit through my lie, why am I condemned as a sinner? Indeed, “Why not do evil so that good may come of it?” as some people slanderously claim I’ve said. Well, they are fairly condemned! But does their wrongness exceed ours as Jews? Not at all, for I have already proved that Jews as well as Greeks are under the power of sin. As Scripture says,

There are no just people, no, not one; no one thinks wisely, no one looks to God; all have wandered from the road and become worthless, no one does good, no, not one. Their throat is an open grave, their tongues are treacherous, the venom of vipers is under their lips, their mouths are full of curses and spite. Their feet are swift to bloodshed, they have taken the road to ruin and misery, but ignored the way of peace. There is no fear of God in their eyes.”

We know that whatever the Jewish Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be shut and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore by the deeds of the Law no flesh-and-blood person is justified in God’s court, since by the Law comes recognition of sin.

But now the justice of God is demonstrated apart from the Jewish Law – although Law and Prophets bear witness to it – the justice of God through the faithfulness of Jesus, for all believers without distinction. All have sinned and come short of God’s splendour but are made just by his kindness as a gift, since they are bought back from slavery through Messiah Jesus. God set him out publicly as the place of his merciful presence for those who trust in his blood, passing over in his pity the sins of times past, and now in this present time displaying his justice: so that He might be just, and make just the one who trusts in Jesus’ faithfulness.

So what place is there for self-advertisement? It is excluded. By what sort of Law? A Law of prescribed actions maybe? No, but by a Law of trust. For I consider that a person is made just apart from the prescribed actions of the Law.

Or maybe God is only a Jewish God? But isn’t He a Gentile God also? Yes, He is a Gentile God also. For God is One and makes the snipped and the foreskinned just by their trust. So are we abolishing the Law by trust? No, on the contrary, by trust we are confirming the Jewish Law.

So how will I speak about what my progenitor Abraham has found? Clearly, if Abraham became a just man by his own work he has reasons for self- promotion (although not in God’s court!).

What does Scripture say?

Abraham put his trust in God and it was credited to his account as justice.

Now in the case of a worker, his wages are seen as his due, not as a gift. But in case of the one who, although he is not a worker, puts his trust in the One who makes the wrongdoer just, his trust is credited to his account as justice.

Similarly, in the Psalms, David mentions the good fortune of the person whom God credits with justice apart from work:

How fortunate are those whose lawless actions are forgiven and whose sins are covered over. How fortunate is the man whose sin the Lord will not tally up.

Is this blessing then only for the snipped, or also for the unsnipped? For we say that trust was added to Abraham’s account as justice. But when was it added? Was it when he was snipped or when he still had a foreskin? It was not when he was snipped but when he was unsnipped! He took on the sign of snipping as a mark of the justice that he got by trust while he was still unsnippped, so that he might become the father of all the unsnipped who place their trust in God; and so that justice might be added to their accounts as well.  Indeed it was so that he might also become the father of the snipped -who- are-not-merely-snipped, but walk in the steps of the trust that Abraham showed, before he was snipped.

It was not through the Jewish Law that the promise was made to Abraham or his offspring of inheriting the worldbut through the justice of trust, for if inheritance comes through the Law, trust is empty and the promise is void. (The Law produces God’s anger, but if there’s no Law, there’s no deviation from it.) That’s why the promise depends on trust, so that it might issue from kindness and be assured to all his offspring, not only to those from within the Jewish Law, but also to the offspring of his trust, for Abraham is the father of us all -as Scripture says, “I have made you a father of many nations”. He is the father of us all in God’s judgement, the God in whom he trusted, who enlivens the dead and calls non-existences into being.

Hoping against hope, he trusted that he would become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “That is what your offspring will be.” His trust was not weakened although he considered his own body as more or less dead -he was a hundred years old after all- and Sarah’s womb as lifeless. He did not wobble into doubt but grew strong in trust as he honoured God, as he was wholly persuaded that God was able to do what he had promised. That’s why his trust was credited to his account as justice

Now the words “credited to his account” were written not just for his sake, but also for us, whose accounts will also be credited, as we trust in the One who awakened from death our Lord Jesus, who was given over to death for our faults and awakened to make us just.

So, since we have been made into just people by our trust, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Messiah. Through his faithfulness we also have a way into this divine goodwill in which we stand and boast – in hope! – of the splendour of God. Not only that, we even boast of our troubles; knowing that trouble produces endurance; endurance produces fortitude; and fortitude issues in hope; and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, which has been given to us.

While we were still feeble, at the appointed time, Messiah died for those who despise God. Now hardly anyone will die even for a decent person – although maybe for a good person someone would have the courage to die- but God proves his love for us in that while we were still wrongdoers, Messiah died for us.

If now, in his blood, we have been made into just people, how much more shall we be rescued by him from God’s anger! For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his son, so much the more now we shall be rescued by his life. Not only that, even our self-advertisement is now in God through our Lord Jesus Messiah, by means of whom we received reconciliation. So we may say that just as sin came into the world through one man, and through sin, death which spread to all human beings because they all sinned –

(prior to the Jewish Law, there was sin in the world, but sin is not counted when there is no Law. Yet death held sway from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sin was not like the commandment- breaking of Adam. He is the negative image of the One-to- Come. But the favour is not to be compared with the wrongdoing. For if death came to many through the wrongdoing of one man, God’s favour to so many as a gift through the one man Jesus Messiah has done much more. Nor is the gift to be compared with the result of the one man’s sin. For the judgement after one wrong action was condemnation, but the favour after many wrong actions makes wrongdoers into just people. Because of one man’s wrongdoing death ruled through that one man; but those who receive God’s overflowing favour and saving justice will rule much more powerfully in life)

– one man’s wrongdoing brought condemnation on all humanity but one man’s just action brings a just life to all. By one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, but by one man’s obedience many will be made just. When the Jewish Law arrived, it multiplied the wrongdoing, but where sin increased, God’s favour was superabundant, so that as sin ruled in death, God’s favour would also rule through the rescuing justice that offers eternal life through Jesus Messiah, our Lord.

So am I saying that we should keep on sinning so that God’s favour may increase?

Certainly not! If we’ve “died” to sin, how can we still live in it?

Don’t you know that all of us who have been baptised into Messiah Jesus were baptised into his death? We were buried with him by our baptism into death, so that, just as Messiah was raised from the dead by the Father’s splendour, we too might walk in a new way of life. If we have been planted with him in a death like his, we shall surely sprout with him in a resurrection like his.

We know this: that our old self was crucified with him in order that our sinful identity might be annulled and we might be slaves of sin no longer. For when you are dead, you are cured of sin. So if we are dead with Messiah, we trust that we will also live with him. Now raised from the dead, Messiah dies no more, for death has no dominion over him. In his death he died to sin once and for all, but in his life he is alive to God. Think of yourselves too in this way, as dead to sin and alive to God through Messiah Jesus.

Do not allow Sin to rule in your mortal body to make you obey its desires. And do not offer parts of your body as instruments of wrongdoing but offer yourselves to God as people raised from death to life, and your bodily parts to God as instruments of justice. Sin should have no dominion over you as you are not under Law but under God’s kindness. So what now? Will we continue sinning because we are not under Law but under kindness? Surely not! Don’t you know that if you offer yourselves to anyone as slaves to command, you are indeed slaves of the one you obey, whether you are slaves of Sin, which leads to death, or of God whose rule leads to justice. But God be praised, though you were once slaves of Sin, now you wholeheartedly obey the pattern of teaching to which you have been handed over; for now that you have been set free from Sin, you are slaves of God’s justice.

I’m speaking in this all too human fashion because of the weakness of your natural humanity. Just as once you offered parts of your body as slaves to unclean habits, to grow in lawlessness, so now you must offer them as slaves to God’s justice, to grow in holiness. For when you were slaves of Sin you were free from justice. But what benefit were you getting from actions of which you’re now ashamed? In fact, these lead to death. But now that you’ve been set free from Sin and are enslaved to God, you have the benefit of growth in holiness which leads to eternal life.

Sin pays you a wage, which is death; but God freely gives you eternal life in Messiah Jesus, our Lord.

Perhaps you do not realise, brothers and sisters- I am speaking to those who know the Jewish Law- that the Law only applies to people as long as they are alive? So a married woman is bound by Law to her living husband but if the husband dies she is released from the marriage bond. Accordingly, she can be called an adulterer if she joins herself to another man while her husband is alive, but if her husband dies, she is free from the Law and is not an adulterer if she joins herself to another man. In the same way, brothers and sisters, as part of the body of Messiah, you have died to the Law and have been joined to Another Partner, the One raised from the dead so that we could bear fruit for God.

While we lived by mere flesh and blood standards, our sinful desires, aroused by the Law, were at work in our bodily organs to bear fruit for death. But now, since we are dead to the power that held us captive, we are released from the Law to be slaves in the new way of the Spirit, not the old way of the written code.

Am I saying that the Law is Sin? Not at all! But I would not have known Sin without the Law, as I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet”. Then Sin, taking advantage through the commandment, produced in me all sorts of covetous desire – for without the Law, Sin is a dead thing. Once I was alive without the Law; but when the commandment arrived, sin came to life and I died. I found that the commandment directed towards life, was death to me. For Sin, taking advantage through the commandment, tricked me and killed me through it.

Yes, the Law is holy and the commandment is holy, just and good. So did something good become death to me? Not at all! Rather it was Sin, flaunting its sinfulness, which produced death in me through something good, in order that through the commandment Sin might become outstandingly sinful.

I know that the Law is spiritual but I am a flesh and blood person, sold to Sin. I do not understand my own actions, for I don’t do what I want, but I do what I hate. And if I do what “I don’t want”, I show that actually I agree with the Law, that it is good. So in this, I am no longer the agent, but Sin who makes his home in me. Indeed I know that nothing good makes its home in me – in my flesh and blood self, I mean. Wanting to do good is part of my nature, but doing it is not. I fail to do the good I want, but I do the evil I don’t want. I discover it to be a law that when I want to do good, evil makes its presence felt. I delight in God’s Law in my inmost being, but I see in the limbs and organs of my body another law, battling against the law of my mind, making me prisoner to the law of Sin, that makes its home in my body. Miserable human creature that I am, who will rescue me from this body that brings death? Praise God, it happens through Jesus Messiah our Lord!

To sum up then, I slave for the Law of God with my mind, but with my flesh and blood I slave for the law of Sin.

There is now no death-sentence on those who share the life of Messiah Jesus, for the Law of the Spirit of life has freed you- in Messiah Jesus- from the law of Sin and Death. What the Law could not do because it was enfeebled by flesh and blood, God has done by sending his son in the likeness of sinful flesh and blood to deal with sin: he has passed sentence on sin in flesh and blood humanity, so that the justice of the Law could be fulfilled in us, who live no more by the power of flesh and blood, but by the power of the Spirit.

Yes, people who live by the power of flesh and blood set their minds on flesh and blood matters; but people who live by the power of the Spirit set their minds on spiritual matters. The flesh and blood mindset is death, but the spiritual mindset is life and peace. The flesh and blood mindset is at enmity with God, because it does not subordinate itself to God’s Law; in fact, it cannot do so.

People who live by the power of flesh and blood cannot please God.

You however do not live by flesh-and – blood power but by the power of the Spirit, if in fact God’s Spirit makes its home in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Messiah is not his. But if Messiah is in you, even though the body is dead through sinful actions, the Spirit is life through just actions. And if the Spirit of the One Who Raised Messiah from the Dead makes its home in you, that same One will give life to your mortal bodies, by his Spirit dwelling in you.

In view of that, brothers and sisters, we are under obligation, but not to our flesh and blood to live by its power; for if you live by its power you will die, but if by the Spirit you kill the habits of the body, you will live. Everyone who is guided by the Spirit is a child of God. You did not receive a slavish spirit which once again encourages fear, but an adoptive Spirit in which we cry out to God, “Abba, dear Father!” God’s Spirit gives evidence along with our spirits that we are God’s children; and if we are children, we are also heirs, God’s heirs and joint-heirs with Messiah, so that if we have a share in his pain, we shall also have a share in his splendour.

I reckon that the sufferings of this present age are nothing in comparison with the splendour that will be revealed to us; for the creation peers ahead eagerly towards the unveiling of God’s children. The universe was made subject to frailty, not by its own decision, but by the One who subjected it, in hope that the universe itself will be liberated from its slavery to decay into the splendid freedom of God’s children. For we know that until this day all creation groans together in the pains of childbirth – and not only creation, but even we who have the Spirit as the first fruits of God’s harvest, groan within ourselves as we await our adoption as children, that is, the ransoming of our bodies from death: we are rescued in hope. Now, a hope that is already seen is not really hope- who hopes for what she sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, then we await it steadfastly.

In the same way the Spirit works alongside us in our weakness: we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit itself pleads for us in wordless groans; and the Searcher of Hearts understands the intention of the Spirit because it pleads for God’s people in God’s way. Indeed we know that for those who love God, all things co-operate for good; for those, that is, who are called as part of His plan. Those, whom he loved in advance, he also designed in advance to be re-modelled in the likeness of his Son, so that He might be the firstborn among many siblings. Yes, those he designed in advance, he also called to his side; and those he called, he also made into just people; and those he made just, he also made splendid.

If God is for us, who can be against us? The One who did not keep back his only son but handed him over for us all, how will he not with him also freely give us everything? Who can accuse God’s chosen people? It is God who makes them just. Who will pass judgement against us? It is Messiah Jesus who died, or rather was raised from the dead, and is at God’s right hand, he pleads our cause.

Who will come between us and the love of Messiah? Will affliction or hard times or persecution? Will famine, poverty, danger or war? (As the Scripture says, “For your sake we are being killed every day; we are considered as sheep for the slaughter.”) No, our victory in all these circumstances outdoes the imperial conquerors, though the One Who Loved Us. For I have been persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, neither things present nor things to come, nor cosmic powers in height or depth, nor any other created thing, can come between us and the love of God that is in Jesus Messiah our Lord.

I am speaking truth in Messiah, with no deception; my conscience testifies along with me in the Holy Spirit-

I have great sorrow and continuing pain in my heart, and could wish myself cursed and cut off from Messiah for the sake of my brothers and sisters, my flesh and blood family. Yes, they are Israelites! Theirs is the status as God’s children, the glorious privilege, the covenants with God, the giving of the Law, the temple worship and the promises, theirs the fathers of faith; and from their flesh and blood has come the Messiah, who rules over all, God blessed forever, amen.

But don’t imagine the Word of God has taken a fall. Not all those who are descended from Abraham are his true children, but rather, “Your descendants shall be named though Isaac.” – meaning his flesh- and -blood children are not children of God, but the children of the promise are enrolled as “descendants.” For this is the text of the promise, “At this time next year I shall return and Sarah will have a son.” There’s also the case of Rebecca when she was pregnant with twins by our forefather Isaac. While they were still unborn and had done nothing good or bad, she was told, in order that God’s design might succeed through choice, –that is, through the One who calls us, not through human achievement- she was told, “The older will slave for the younger.” Indeed the Scripture says, “I loved Jacob but hated Esau.”

What can I say to that? That God is unjust? Surely not! For God says to Moses, “I will be kind to those I am kind to; and will show pity on those I pity.” So it is not by human will or effort but by the kindness of God. Again, Scripture says to Pharaoh, “This is why I have exalted you: in order to show my power in you and make my name known in all the earth.” So the he is kind to anyone he wants and he hardens the heart of anyone he wants.

Now you’ll say to me, “So how come he still finds fault? Who can resist his will?”

Mortal man, who are you to bandy words with God? Will the pot say to the potter, “Why have you made me like this?” Surely the potter has power over the clay to make from the one lump a vessel for prestigious use and another for common use! What if God, in order to demonstrate his anger and make known his power, has brought forth in great anguish, vessels of anger, designed for destruction; so that he might make known his rich splendour to vessels of kindness which he has prepared for splendour? – I mean us, the ones he has called, not from amongst Jews only, but also from Gentiles. As in fact God says in Hosea” Those who were not my people I will call  ‘my people’, and she who was not loved, I will call her ‘beloved,’ and in the place where they were told, ‘You are not my people’, there they shall be called ‘children of the living God’”

Isaiah prophesies about Israel:

“Though the children of Israel are as numerous as the sea sands

only a remnant of them shall be rescued.

For by bringing to an end and cutting short

the Lord will perform his word on the earth.

And as Isaiah foretold:

“If the Lord of Armies had not left us a seed

we would have become like Sodom

we would have resembled Gomorrah.

Shall I put it like this? The Gentiles who did not press for justice have got justice, namely the justice that comes from trust; while Israel who pressed for a Law of justice did not reach it. Why? Because they did not press for it out of trust, but as it were out of achievement. They “tripped over the stumbling stone,” as Scripture says,

“Behold I am laying in Zion

a Stone to cause stumbling

a Rock to cause offense;

and whoever trusts in Him

will not be put to shame.”

Now Moses writes that the person who does the just actions prescribed by the Jewish Law will get life by it. But the justice that comes from trust says, “Don’t say in your heart,’ Who’ll go up to heaven?’– meaning to bring Messiah down- or ‘Who’ll do down to the depths?’” – meaning to fetch Messiah up from the dead. But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart- meaning the word of trust that we are announcing. So if you openly declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and trust in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be rescued. For a person trusts in her heart and is made just; she declares with her mouth and is rescued. The Scripture says, “None who trust in him will be let down.” There’s no separation of Jew and Greek for the same Lord of all enriches all who recognise him, since “all who recognise the Lord will be rescued.”

But how can they recognise one in whom they have no trust? And how can they trust in one of whom they have never heard? And how can they hear without someone announcing the message? And how can they announce the message unless they are commissioned to do so? As the Scripture says “How lovely are the feet of those who announce the joyful news of good things!” But not all have listened to the joyful news; as Isaiah says, “Lord, who has trusted our report?” Trust comes from hearing and hearing comes through the message of Messiah.

But I ask you, have they not heard it? Of course they have, for “To all the earth their sound has gone out; their words to the limits of the inhabited world.” And I ask you, did Israel truly not understand? For firstly Moses says, “By means of those who are no nation I will make you jealous; by means of an ungodly nation I will make you angry.” Then Isaiah dares to say, “I have been discovered by those who did not look for me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”

But of Israel he says, “All day I have stretched out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.”

So I can ask, has God banished his people? Certainly not! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not banished the people whom he knew in advance as his own! Don’t you know the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel?

Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; and I alone am left, and they seek my life.”

But what does God’s voice say to him?

“I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”

In the same way then, there is at the present time a remnant of Israel, chosen by kindness. But if it is by kindness then it is no longer by human achievement, since otherwise kindness would not be kindness at all.

What follows? Israel did not get what it was after. Well, God’s chosen ones got it, but the rest were given hearts of stone. As the Scripture says,

God put them in a dwalm, eyes without sight and ears without hearing, down to this very day.”

And David says, “May their rich table become for them a snare, a trap, a trip-stone and a punishment! May their eyes be benighted so that they cannot see, and may they always be subject to error.”

So I ask you, did they err so that they might have a fall? Certainly not! On the contrary, through their falling away God’s rescue has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel envious. So here I am, speaking with you Gentiles. In so far as I am the “Emissary to the Gentiles” I glorify my ministry to see if I can move my flesh and blood to envy, and so rescue some of them. After all if their rejection means the world’s reconciliation, what will their acceptance mean, if not life from the dead?

If the first portion of the dough for the sacred loaves is holy, the lump is as well.  If the root is holy, so are the branches. But if some of the branches were cut out, while you as a wild olive were grafted in amongst the rest and share the common life of the rich root of the olive tree, do not lord it over the branches. If you do, remember it’s not you that sustain the root, but the root sustains you. Then you may say, “Branches were cut off so that I could be grafted in.” True, they were cut off because of their lack of trust while you stand firm in trust. So don’t be conceited, but cautious, for if God did not spare the natural branches, he won’t spare you either.

Look at the gentleness and the rigour of God! Rigour towards those who fell away; but towards you, divine gentleness, as long as you hold to his gentleness; if not, you too will be cut off. And even those, if they do not continue in their lack of trust, will be grafted back in once more. If you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted back into their own olive tree!

I entreat you brothers and sisters, through the yearning of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and well-pleasing to God, which is your reasonable worship. Do not be shaped in the pattern of this present age but be re-shaped by the renewal of your intelligence, that you may know by experience what God’s will is, what is good and well-pleasing and complete. Through the kindness of God given to me, I advise every person amongst you not to regard themselves more highly than they ought, but to think of themselves with a sober regard, in relation to the portion of trust God has allotted to each one.

For just as we have many organs in one body and the organs do not all have the same function, so although there are many of us, we are one body in Messiah and individually organs of one another. Since we have gifts that differ in relation to the kindness given to us, let’s use them: if it is to prophesy, let’s use it in proportion to our trust; if it is to serve, let’s use it in serving; if it is to teach, let’s use it in teaching; if it is to entreat, let’s use it in entreaty; the one who gives, let her do so with generosity; the one  who leads, let her do it with enthusiasm; the one who cares for others, let her do it with a cheerful spirit.

Love should be without pretence.

Shrink from evil, stick to the good. Show kindly affection to one another as loving brothers and sisters, taking the lead in giving honour to each other. Don’t be backward in business but quick in spirit as slaves of the Lord. Be happy in hope, patient under pressure, steadfast in prayer. Be partners of the holy ones in their needs, ready to welcome strangers to your home. Bless those who persecute you; yes, bless and do not curse. Be happy with those who are happy; weep with those who weep. Unite your thinking with each other; don’t be snobbish but walk with common people; don’t be clever in your own estimation. Give back nobody evil for evil but consider what is lovely in the eyes of all. If possible, as much as you can, be at peace with all people. Do not take your own vengeance, my dear ones, but leave a place for God’s anger, for Scripture says, “’Vengeance is mine, I will repay” says the Lord.’ On the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing so you will heap up fiery coals on his head.’

Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with the good.

Let everyone be subject to the ruling powers for there is no authority which is not from God: existing authorities are appointed by God. Anyone therefore who stands against the authorities stands against what God has appointed; those who do so will bring judgement upon themselves.

Rulers are not a terror to good conduct but to bad. If you want to have no fear of the one in authority, do good and you will have his commendation, as he is God’s agent for your good. If however you do evil, be afraid, as he does not bear the sword for nothing; he is the agent of God, an enforcer of divine anger on the wrongdoer. It’s necessary to subject yourselves, not only from fear of God’s anger, but for conscience sake. For this reason you also pay taxes, because the authorities are officers of God, administering these matters. Pay everyone what is owed to them; taxes to tax collectors, tolls to toll collectors, fear to those who deserve fear, honour to those who deserve honour.

Owe nothing to anyone except love of one another, since the person who loves another has done all that the Jewish Law requires. For “You shall not commit adultery, kill, steal, covet” and the rest are summed up in this command, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbour, so love does all that the Law requires.

Besides this, you are aware of this decisive moment, that it is high time to awake from sleep, for our rescue is nearer now than when we first believed. Night is almost spent, day is at hand. So let’s take off the habits of darkness and clothe ourselves with the armour of light, walking decently clad, as in daylight, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in casual sex and immodesty, not in quarrels and jealousy. Rather, put on the Lord Jesus Messiah and do not plan to satisfy your flesh and blood desires.

Welcome people who are weak in trust, but not with disputes about matters of opinion!  One person believes in eating all foods, while the “weak” person eats vegetables only. The one who eats must not despise the one who doesn’t; nor the one who doesn’t eat stand in judgement on the one who does, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to judge another person’s house-slave? It’s in the estimation of his master that he stands or falls; and he will keep his place, because the master can help him keep it.

This person values one day more than another; that person thinks all days are the same. Each of them should find assurance in his own opinion; the one who observes the day by fasting, does so for the Lord; while the one who eats does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God. The one who fasts does so for the Lord and also gives thanks to God.

For nobody amongst us lives or dies as a solitary individual.  If we are alive, we live with the Lord; and if we are dying we die with the Lord. So then, living or dying we belong to God. This is why Messiah died and lived again, so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

But listen here, why do you stand in judgement on your brother? Why treat him as being of no account? Remember we’ll all stand before the judgement seat of God. As Scripture says, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bend to me, and every tongue confess to God

So then, each one of us will give an account about himself.

For this reason let’s not stand in judgement upon one another anymore but rather make this judgement; that no one should put a trip-stone or trap in a brother’s way. For myself, I understand and have been persuaded by the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean to the person who thinks it is. So if your sister is offended by what you eat, you’re no longer walking with her in love. Don’t destroy by your food someone for whom Messiah died. Don’t bring something that is good for you into disrepute.

God’s kingdom is not eating and drinking but justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever in such matters is a slave of Messiah is well-pleasing to God and approved by human beings. So let’s pursue whatever leads to peace and builds up each other’s lives. Don’t demolish the work of God for the sake of food. Yes, everything is clean, but it’s wrong to bring another person down by what you eat. You do something lovely when you refuse meat or wine or to do anything that brings down your brother or sister. The trust you have, keep it for yourself before God.

How fortunate are the people who have nothing on their conscience for what they approve! But someone who is in doubt, and for example, eats meat, is under judgement, because it is not done out of trust in God, and anything that does not come from trust, is sin.

We who are able ought to carry the frailties of those who are unable, and ought not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbour for the general good, to build people up. For Messiah did not please himself, but as Scripture says, “The abuse of your abusers fell upon me.” Whatever was written before our time was a script for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scripture, we might have hope.  May the God of perseverance and hope give you the same understanding as each other, in harmony with Messiah Jesus, so that with one desire and one voice, you may honour the God and father of our Lord Jesus Messiah. Accept one another therefore, as Messiah accepted us, to the honour of God.

My teaching is that Messiah became a servant to the Snipped People for the sake of God’s truth, to make good the promises given to the patriarchs; and that the Gentiles might honour God for his mercy, as Scripture says, “For this I will praise you among the Gentiles and sing to your name.”  And again it says, “You Gentiles, make merry with God’s People!” And again, “Praise the Lord, you Gentiles and let all the peoples applaud him!”  Yet again, Isaiah says,” There shall be a root of Jesse, one who rises to rule over the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles will put their hope.”

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in your trusting, so that in the power of the Holy Spirit, you may overflow with hope.

I am sure about you, brothers and sisters,that you are indeed full of goodness, complete in knowledge and able to keep one another up to the mark. But on some matters I’ve written to you very freely, as a reminder, out of the kindness given me by God.  This made me a minister of Jesus Messiah to the Gentiles, in the priestly service of God’s joyful news, so that the gift of the Gentiles to God as an offering might be favourably received and made holy by the Holy Spirit. Yes, in Messiah Jesus I have reason to boast of my work for God.  I don’t dare to mention anything other than what Messiah has done through me, bringing the Gentiles under God’s command, by word and work, by mighty signs and wonders, through the energy of God’s Spirit, so that all the way round from Jerusalem to Illyricum I’ve given full effect to the joyful news of Messiah.

I‘ve made it my aim not to spread the joyful news where Messiah is already named, in case I build on someone else’s foundation, but as Scripture says, “Those who had never been told about him will see, and those who had not heard will understand.”  That’s why I’ve been so often hindered from coming to you. But now, since there’s no work for me in these regions, and since I’ve longed for many years to come to you, I hope to see you mid- journey as I travel to Spain and to be helped on my way by you, once I’ve first had the pleasure of your company for a while.

Now, however, I’m off to Jerusalem, taking help for the holy ones. Macedonia and Achaia have been delighted to make an act of sharing with the destitute amongst the holy ones there. As I say, they were delighted to do it, and in truth they are in debt to them, for if the Gentiles have shared Jewish spiritual treasures, they ought in return to minister to them in material treasures. So when I’ve finished here by handing over to them this fruit of love, I’ll set off for Spain, by way of you.  I know that when I come to you, I’ll come in the full blessing of Messiah. I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Messiah and the love of the Spirit, to struggle with me in your prayers to God on my behalf; that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service to Jerusalem may be well-received by the holy ones; so that, God willing, I may come to you in joy to share our mutual affection. May the God of peace be with you all. Amen.

Note: I consider that that Romans chapter 16 does not belong in this letter, but has been misplaced by an editor.
















I was recently present at a church meeting which discussed whether there should be a service on Christmas day. On the whole, most people would have preferred no service, but they agreed somewhat reluctantly that since it falls this year on a Sunday, there would be worship. As the officiating minister, however, I was left in no doubt that only the most devoted and people with nothing better to do, would attend. The motivation for this lack of enthusiasm? A weary recognition that Christmas brings unavoidable familial duties and that younger family members will not think of attending church.

I sense this weariness, not only in church people, but in almost all sections of my acquaintance. Certainly the shared feeling is one of shouldering a burden, rather than enjoying a festival.Happily I belong to a tradition of Christian faith that began by taking a pretty dim view of Christmas. John Knox was by no means the grim and humourless prophet of popular legend, but he saw Christ-mass as yet more evidence of the devilish departure from biblical truth encouraged by Catholicism. There is of course no mention of the 25th December in the Bible, and certainly no command to celebrate Jesus’ birth with popular festivity. Knox and his fellow reformers instituted forms of discipline to prohibit Christmas along with all other superstitious rites. They did not imagine that Christian truth could be advanced by giving in to popular custom.

As a child I can remember the gradual shift in Scotland from New Year as the main winter festivity, to Christmas,  aided by churches who imagined in their innocence that this shift indicated a move back to Christianity. They only slowly became aware that midnight carol services (imported from England) and Christmas Day Kiddies Carry-Ons ( imported from USA), provided a spurious religious justification for the biggest consumer rip-off in world history. With the decline of Christianity in Scotland, this justification has been removed, so that the rip-off has been deprived of the support of Jesus. In any case, correctness demands that the religious origins of the festival are not name-checked in case pious agnostics are put off it. Now that the Celebration of Conspicuous Consumption (CCC) stands clear in all the horror of its tinsel trimming and grotty grottoes, many people express a desire to give it the body-swerve. Indeed, sales of late December holidays which get you out from under the mistletoe and on to a decent Islamic beach from which Christmas is banned, are this year’s big thing.

So, my serious proposal, that all branches of the Christian Church revert to the policy of jolly John Knox, refusing all Christmas celebration, should come as no surprise to my readers, and might even prove popular, because both secular amd religious people are heartily sick of it. Scrooge was right. Bah, humbug, stuff your turkeys and your twenty best edicationally approved pressies for little Walter and give us some peace. For once churches could be ahead of the game, at the forefront of a camapaign to abolish CCC. We’ll be popular again, millions of pathetically grateful parents crowding our doors and demanding the pleasure of sleeping through a proper protestant sermon. When all this comes to pass, dear readers, remember you read it first here, and make sure a fitting memorial is raised to me , next to Desperate Dan in Dundee. Just call me The Grinch.