Extracting meaning from the Bible is perhaps one of the most necessary, important, and by proxy dangerous activities in all theology. The Good Book has many applicable lessons hidden within its verses, but stretching the passage to distortion in a greedy rush for enlightenment can ruin the entire endeavor. The book I was tasked with reading (for the Morning Walk Fellowship), David Timms’s Living the Lord’s Prayer, runs gung-ho into reckless analysis, attempting to dissect the Lord’s Prayer word-by-word but soon settling for phrase-by-phrase. Ignoring the hilarious irony that a prayer designed to be short was stretched into a 217-page book (not including the endnotes, bibliography, etc., amounting to 254 pages), I find myself agreeing and disagreeing with equally many points. I’d like to take this opportunity, then, to discuss the theological progression of Living the Lord’s Prayer, so that hopefully we might all find enlightenment.
In the book’s analysis of “[who art] in the heavens,” a marked difference from the traditionally spoken “who art in heaven,” Timms highlights that “the heavens” as the Hebrews would have interpreted it means not just the celestial bodies as outlined in the colloquial English translation but also the atmosphere and the spiritual realm. Thus, by incorporating this passage, Jesus is not just highlighting God’s superiority but also His omnipresence. Thus, we ought to feel God’s presence more in the here and now, while keeping our eye on God “in the heavens.”
This checks out, at least from my perspective, at least within the benefit of the doubt. It is something I didn’t know before, placed into the context of something I’ve known for decades, giving me new insight and something to learn. Let’s continue.
“Hallowed be Thy name.” The author acknowledges both interpretations of this passage as a descriptor of the nature of God and as a prescriptive commitment to glorify His name. Ergo, the suffering and pain that we experience is mandatory in the pursuit of holiness. The specific example Timms uses is the curfew that he imposed on his son, and the context in which the chapter is immersed is the modern day’s habits of increased cursing, shock value television, drug usage, et cetera. One shouldn’t fear hypocrisy, the author continues, because high standards are worth it. Calling the modern generation the “whatever generation,” Timms proclaims that, quote, “[o]nly absolutes can evoke authentic grace.”
See the through line? Because I can’t.
For starters, the literal Greek “agiasTeto to onoma sou,” “holy the name yours,” is far from the fluid interpretation that Timms describes. Within the context of “who art in the heavens,” we have a pretty strong case for this phrase being praise. Besides that, how did this analysis end up as a rant about curfews and shock value television? Even if I did agree with this position (which a lot of righteous Christians do), Timms can’t just make the leap from his interpretation of the phrase to the validation of his lifestyle. For that to happen, he would need a lot more backing than this single phrase, lest he define what is holy himself. I hope the heresy in this is self-apparent. Does God find little Matt Timms’s curfew acceptable? I’d appreciate some backing, and the explanation that curfews are hard to endure is insufficient.
Skipping along to “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors,” Timms declares that this statement is hyperbole, on the premise that unconditional love by its very nature requires unconditional forgiveness. Therefore, preconditions to our forgiveness are impossible within the kingdom of God. Even while mentioning the parable of the debtors and the brother-reconciliation portion of the Sermon on the Mount (though, conveniently, not Matthew 6:15), his only support is another theologian, Paul Tournier. What’s more, Timms explains that, because the phrase isn’t “forgive and forget our debts as we have forgiven and forgotten the debts of others,” there is no need for forgetting sins, even if forgiving sins is required! There is a small hiatus in which Timms explains that Christians should abstain from the terms “should,” “ought,” et cetera in their lexicon, leaning more towards “like,” “hope,” “want,” and “desire.” Frustratingly, there’s no additional material used for this segment, biblical or theological.
I hope I’ve been successful in providing my own through line. When the author highlights the nuances in the Bible, it’s insightful and productive. When the author inserts his own experiences and beliefs from outside the Bible, it’s corrupted and harmful. Leaps in logic make for poor analysis. Instead, one must start from the basics: proven facts found in nature, key elements and themes from the Bible, and most fundamentally the spoken words of Christ. Those are the proper building blocks, rather than anything homemade and subpar. If a fellow theologian constructs a separate structure using those building blocks, the structure should be safe to harness and use as well. Otherwise, one creates an ungodly mess of self-justification and twisted logic. How else, though, could an author expand such a small, singular block of Scripture into a book?
You want my earnest opinion? Sometimes (not always, perhaps not even most of the time, but sometimes) Scripture is exactly what it says on the tin. Aside from the deep spiritual lessons that can be found from such verses as Genesis 11:12, Jesus made many of His teachings clear. Remarkably clear. Astoundingly clear. So clear that most people have to deceive themselves to contort their meanings. There is no better explanation for these respective passages than the respective passages themselves. If you’re still unsure about the meaning of certain passages and stories, the Bible comes free with tens of thousands of words worth of biblical commentary called the Epistles. God has given us a wealth of knowledge and information. If we can’t capitalize on it, that’s on us.
Biblical enlightenment when done right is one of the most exhilarating experiences in existence. I remember when I scoured through the Bible for wisdom and insight, even in the back of the room during church sermons, wondering what God had in store for me that day. God consistently amazes me with what I find there. I am also grateful for what light God provided me through David Timms and his work. After all, God is the greatest thing imaginable, and, be it through primary, secondary, or tertiary sources, I get to read all about Him.