Sunday 13 November 2011

The Central Message of the Bible

Peter Kirk at Gentle Wisdom suggests that David Cameron's selection of Php 4:8-9 is not, as Mr Cameron suggests, the "central message of the Bible".

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. 9Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.

But I suspect that David Cameron has actually been quite cunning in his choice here. What he has chosen is a set of words which just about anyone of any faith can sign up to. You've got to admire his tact.

But if some nice words about being good aren't the central message of the Bible, what is? Is there a central message at all?

If you think of Joshua, for example - what was the central message of the Bible for him?  Something, I would suggest, like "Kill the Canaanites. No, all of them. Look - you've missed one."

For Drayton Parslow next door, the central message of the Bible might be along the lines of "We're so crummy we deserve for God to smash us into small pieces and braise us over a slow fire. Forever. But Jesus died to take all that pain for us. Better keep the faith or it's slow-fire time."

While a universalist (I'm thinking in general preference, rather than the denominational sense) might prefer "God loves you. All of you. Try and be good, but you'll go to heaven anyway. In fact, - be bad. You might as well. Go on, have some fun. Kick a puppy for me."

While a post-modernist might say that the central message of the Bible is that there are no central messages to the Bible. There are lots of messages - about killing Canaanites, about God liking some of the Canaanites after all, about establishing a separate people to be holy, about salvation - that Paul and Mark and Moses and Isaiah (all three of him, if that's your bag) all have different messages and that what we hear is not a single message but a hubbub of messages, sharing some common themes.

If we learn anything from all this, it is that the central message of the Bible is pretty well whatever you want it to be if you put your mind to it. So I reckon David Cameron's not got it all wrong. But I think I'd put the words "Jesus" and "Saves" in there somewhere. I reckon they're quite important.

h/t to David Keen for alerting me to this - but not in the cartoon in the blogpost I've linked to. I just think it's funny.

(And I should add that kicking puppies is not good, and definitely not part of the central message of the Bible.)


  1. Thanks for the link, Archdruid. You may be right about Cameron's tact. But of course you are reading between the lines and so suggesting that he, or at least his spokesperson, is not restricting his thoughts to "whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest".

    Maybe, rather than criticising others, I should give my own take on what actually is the central message of the Bible. Or perhaps I should just agree with you. Even on kicking puppies, despite Philippians 3:2 and Revelation 22:15. But the Bible has nothing to say about the killing of cats, leaving John H. Arnold and Brian LePort free to recommend it.


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