Why sin is not “missing the mark” (Genesis 40:1)


Does this sound odd to you?

Genesis 40:1 (a literal translation)
After these things, it transpired that the cupbearer of the king of Egypt and his baker sinned against their lord, the king of Egypt.

We speak of sinning against God, but in Hebrew, you can sin (ḥā·ṭāʾ) against others too. It got me wondering whether our understanding of sin matches what the Bible says.

I was taught that ḥā·ṭāʾ means “to miss the mark.” That’s in the lexicons (HALOT, 305). But dig deeper and it doesn’t hold up. The 16-volume Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament says:

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The reconciling gospel (podcast) (Philippians 4:1-4)

What God did in sorting out our relationship with him reveals how to approach our relationships with each other.

The final chapter of Philippians calls us to treat each other the way God treated us (Philippians 2:6-11). The reconciling God is our joy, even while we’re still sorting things out. That’s why we rejoice in the Lord always (4:4).

This podcast (22 minutes) was recorded at Riverview Burswood 2022-09-25.

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Who owns your body?

My body is mine, no one’s but mine. That belief is at the heart of Western culture today.

It’s the heart of many culture clashes too:

  • Fair employment hinges on this issue. A slave driver says, ‘I own you, so you do as I say.” Unionized employees say, “I’ll present myself to work on condition of just pay, for agreed hours, in a safe setting.”
  • Abortion hinges on this issue. Pro-choice advocates say, “It’s my body; no one else decides.” Pro-life advocates say, “Not if you’re harming another life.”
  • Gay rights hinge on this issue. Is your body your own so you can do as you like? Or do you answer to an authority who decides what you can do with your body?
  • Gender identity hinges on this issue. Am I whatever I define myself to be? Or am I whatever body I was given?
  • Faith hinges on this issue. You will live differently if you believe “God owns my body” or “I own my body.” How you relate to God is at the heart of how you practice your faith.

So, this is a confronting claim:

1 Corinthians 6:19b–20 (NIV)
You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies.

That really needs some explanation.

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Recent gospels

David Fitch summarizes the Protestant gospels of the last 100 years. Which one represents you? Could this help your conversations with others?

Message shapes mission. Our gospel defines what we do when we go. We need clarity on what God’s gospel calls us to do, the message we embody in his world.

David Fitch traces six gospels prominent in Protestantism in the last century. His article — “The Many Gospels: How the Gospel Shapes the Church for Mission” — is Chapter 12 of the 2021 book, Living the King Jesus Gospel: Discipleship and Ministry Then and Now (link below).

Here’s a summary of his 6 gospels.  See if you recognize them.

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Finding God in an unjust world (Genesis 39)

How did Joseph cope with treachery and accusations from a sexual predator?

Role-reversal stories help us break down our stereotypes and cultural bias. As a boy, I was warned against seductive females like Potiphar’s wife, but I don’t remember being warned against mistreating women as the men of Genesis did: Pharaoh (Genesis 12:15), Abimelek (20:2; 26:8), and Hamor (34:2).

Maybe the real issue is power rather than gender. Those three guys were all kings or princes. And Potiphar’s wife held all the power while Joseph was merely a slave.

Women are devalued in patriarchal society. Judah’s mistreatment of Tamar isn’t resolved until he realizes that, even though she used her sexuality against him, She is more righteous than I (38:26).

So, rather than treating gender as the problem in the conflict between male and female, could we make some progress by identifying abuse of power as the real issue? The role-reversal story of Genesis 39 suggests that might be a productive approach.

What happens when the woman has all the power, and the male is her slave?

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Justice and the kingdom of God

Does the kingdom of God call us to stand against injustice in God’s world?

Injustice opposes what God wants in his earthly realm. Many believers work for justice to promote the kingdom of God. For example, the Social Justice Secretary of the Salvation Army in South Australia says:

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The gospel unites us all in Christ

The gospel changes nations, not just individuals.

God rewrote international relations the day he raised Jesus from the dead. When God made his gospel proclamation — giving his Son all authority over all the peoples of the earth — he brought an end to the war for power, our struggles to gain ascendency over each other.

If you think of the gospel merely in terms of personal forgiveness, you’ve not yet begun to understand the global impact God’s gospel has. God’s gospel proclamation brings all nations together under one leader.

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The gospel in Romans

How does Paul understand the gospel in Romans? Is this how you understand it?

Open Romans.

What was Paul’s gospel? A survey of how he uses gospel in Romans could give an indication.

Previously, we summarized the gospel, tracing its roots in Isaiah, through Mark’s Gospel and Peter’s preaching, to the eternal gospel of Revelation. But was this Paul’s gospel?

The word gospel (noun or verb) occurs twelve times in Romans, clustering around the opening and closing chapters like a framework. Let’s check it out.

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The drama of God’s gospel

At the heart of history is God’s gospel — the divine decree that restores heaven’s reign over the earth in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Nothing in history is more radical and globally life-changing than the gospel. The good proclamation from heaven — God’s gospel — changes everything on earth.

Before I was born, this proclamation made Elizabeth II queen of the British Empire:

Whereas it hath pleased Almighty God to call to His Mercy our late Sovereign Lord King George the Sixth of Blessed and Glorious memory, by whose Decease the Crown is solely and rightfully come to the High and Mighty Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary:
We … do now hereby with one voice and Consent of Tongue and Heart publish and proclaim that the High and Mighty Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary is now, by the death of our late Sovereign of happy memory, become Queen Elizabeth the Second …
God save the Queen!

The gospel is this kind of proclamation from God. But it wasn’t a noisy command, just a gentle breath.

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Was Judah fit to rule? (Genesis 38)

Why interrupt Joseph’s story with the scandal of Judah and Tamar?

Judah is quite the cad in Genesis 38. But why interrupt the story of Joseph with a scandalous story about Judah?

That’s the puzzle for modern readers. As one of them said, All commentators agree that ch. 38 clearly interrupts the flow of the Joseph story (Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, NICOT, 2:431).

It makes more sense if we listen to the narrator who labelled Genesis 37–50 as the generations of Jacob, not Joseph’s story. Jacob was setting up his family, and he intended Joseph to rule.

But wasn’t Judah supposed to rule? King David descended from Judah. Didn’t Jacob intend the lion from the tribe of Judah to receive the ruler’s sceptre? (49:9-10)

Yes, but let’s not jump there too quickly. There are issues with Judah’s character, issues that call into question whether Judah is fit to rule. Would you trust a leader who would sell his brother into slavery? (37:26). Genesis 38 gives us more reason to question Judah’s character.

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Was Joseph meant to rule his brothers? (Genesis 37)

Why did his brothers sell Joseph into slavery?

Genesis is the foundational story of the kingdom of God. It starts with all God’s creatures in the care of his human servants who live in his garden. When they rebel, God sets in motion his plan to bring everything and everyone back under his sovereign care, starting with a prototype kingdom through the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

We saw how the different stages of this story are clearly marked by the tô·lē·ḏôṯ formula, the final one being, These are the generations of Jacob. (37:2). Observing these cues helps us avoid twisting the story into our own image.

But why is this Jacob’s story? People usually treat Genesis 37–50 as the story of Joseph. His name is mentioned 151 times, twice as often as Jacob/Israel (73 times). We’ve heard Jacob’s name more frequently in previous chapters (150 times in Genesis 25–36), so why does the narrator say we’ve now reached Jacob’s story?

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Why is the first book in the Bible called Genesis?

You’ll know how the story fits together if you know why it’s called Genesis.

Genesis is a Greek word (γένεσις) meaning birth, how something came to be, the account of a family.

The Septuagint translators (c. 200 BC) used genesis to translate tô·lē·ḏôṯ — a Hebrew word meaning a record of descendants or successors. The narrator used this word at key points. Watch for it, and you’ll see how the book fits together.

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Interpretating well

The best interpretation of what God says is to be the community he leads.

I don’t have a set of rules to give you for the science of interpreting Scripture. As every writer knows, language is not a science; it’s an artform. Well, lawyers may try to disambiguate every loophole and kill every misinterpretation, but Scripture is more like poetry communicating life. God’s life is the source and sustenance of our life together.

When we communicate, we’re not just sharing information. We’re sharing ourselves. That’s why speaking to a large group is so scary: we feel vulnerable sharing ourselves with so many.

That’s the promise and power of Scripture: God communicates himself with us. The words of life are not in the text; the text leads us to the one who speaks (John 5:39-40).

That’s how Jesus used words: The words I have spoken to you are [my] spirit, [my] life (John 6:63). And, oh my, how vulnerable Jesus felt giving us his life in this chapter!

So, two questions. How did we end up with so many interpretations? How can we do better?

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Discipleship in Philippians

“All I ask is that you live as his kingdom, honouring the good news that he is king” (Philippians 1:27)

Disciple is a kingdom word. A disciple is literally a trainee, an apprentice. Jesus trained disciples to proclaim the restoration of heaven’s reign arriving in him, sending them out to enact the kingdom.

Many books on discipleship don’t start from there, but here’s one that does: Living the King Jesus Gospel: Discipleship and Ministry Then and Now (Cascade Books, 2021). Seventeen pastors and scholars built on Scot McKnight’s work on the kingdom, covering discipleship in the New Testament, in Christian history, and in our shared life today. In this post we’ll just look at Nijay Gupta’s chapter on Philippians.

What would you see as the main theme of Philippians? Joy? Partnership? Jesus’ servant heart and ascension? These themes are present, and Michael Gorman is right to treat 2:5-11 as “Paul’s master story.” (Journal of Theological Interpretation, 1:1-2, 2007, 147– 170).

Nijay Gupta titled his chapter, “Living as Good Citizens of the Gospel Kingdom of Christ according to Philippians.” Why?

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Pastoral care case: Genesis 16

Here’s a practical exercise in pastoral care, hearing people in their pain.

Wherever you care for people — family, small groups, churches, counselling — you’ll feel the whole gamut of emotions. Empathy for their pain. Disappointment with how they treat each other. Hope that they’ll sort things out. Powerlessness to sort it out for them.

We’d love to have our churches full of mature people who have the faith of Abraham and Sarah, but sometimes our people feel more like the problem than the solution. So, here’s some honest pastoral encouragement for you. Your clients are Abraham and Sarah, as we meet them in Genesis 16.

They have this amazing call on their lives to establish a kingdom that will bless all nations. Ten years they’ve walked with God in the land of promise, but they still have their old names and they’re struggling to trust God.

We’re shocked to learn that Abram is sleeping with someone who isn’t his wife. Actually, that’s not what happened, and if that’s our judgement we won’t be able to listen to them.

So, here’s your pastoral care exercise. Read Genesis 16 carefully. Observe the three main characters. Identify what they’re feeling, and what they do in response. Jot down your observations.

Sarai: . . . . . . . . . . . .

Abram: . . . . . . . . . . . .

Hagar: . . . . . . . . . . . .

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The incredible worship

Why do churches try to manufacture the presence of God?

This is a passionate plea for churches to review our practices. Aussies can’t see God in what we’re doing at present. While culture doesn’t set our agenda, we’re off mission when we don’t represent God well.

God isn’t visible. That’s why some faiths carve little images to worship. We don’t believe dead timber or stone can represent the living God, so from ancient times people have asked, Where is your God? (Psalm 42:3, 10).

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The incredible message

The gospel is the one message the church must embody. Why don’t Aussies find it credible?

There was a time when the church held powerful influence in Western society. Bishops were on the chessboard, and in the House of Lords.

Today, Australians have told us they don’t belong under that influence anymore. It’s time to review our belief and practice, to ask if we have misrepresented our God or misused our influence.

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Incredible! What Aussies are saying to the church

Only a minority of Australians now identify as Christians. How does the church respond?


Australian Bureau of Statistics figures for the 2021 census arrived this week. For the first time Christians are less than half the population: just 44%. No, people haven’t switched to other faiths: 39% identify as “no religion.”

What are Aussies saying to the church? I’m hearing values such as these:

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