Reading Other Books

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.”

  • Exodus 34:27

“Son of man, describe the temple to the people of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their sins. Let them consider its perfection, and if they are ashamed of all they have done, make known to them the design of the temple—its arrangement, its exits and entrances—its whole design and all its regulations and laws. Write these down before them so that they may be faithful to its design and follow all its regulations.

  • Ezekiel 43:10-11

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

  • Matthew 5:27-30

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food.  All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble.  It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.

  • Romans 14:19-21

“Many years ago I had, for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, cut myself off from home, parents, sister, relations and (hardest of all) from the dainty food to which l had become accustomed. l was on my way to Jerusalem to wage my warfare, but l still could not bring myself to part with the library which l had collected with such care and toil at Rome. And so, miserable man that I was, I would fast only that I might afterwards read Cicero.  And when at times l returned to my right mind and began  to read the prophets, their style seemed rude and repulsive. l failed to see the light with my blinded eyes, but I attributed the fault, not to them but to the sun. … Suddenly I was caught up in the spirit and dragged before the judgment seat of the judge … Asked who and what l was, l replied ‘I am a Christian.’ ‘You lie,’ said he who presided, ‘You are a Ciceronian, not a Christian. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.’ Instantly I became dumb and amid the strokes of the lash — for he had ordered me to be whipped — I was tortured even more severely by the fire of conscience. … I made an oath and called upon his name, saying: ‘Lord, if I ever again possess worldly books or read them, l have denied you.’  From then on I read the books of God with a zeal greater than I had previously given to the books of men. (Letter 22.30)”

  • Tony Lane, A Concise History of Christian Thought

Jerome (342?-420) is best known for writing the Latin Vulgate.  Amidst serious opposition from other scholars, including Augustine, he used the Hebrew texts of the Old Testament.  The previous copies had been produced from the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament that probably dates back to the second or third century AD – name derived for the seventy translators.

Modern scholars seem to be split.  Some think that Jerome made some significant blunders in his translation of the Hebrew, but others consider him an accomplished Hebraist.

But his testimony in the quoted letter is a testament to how God works within us.  The Apostle Paul is talking about eating food in the quote from Romans 14.  While Paul mentions food sacrificed to idols elsewhere in his letters, this is strictly a case of eating meat.  He characterized the strong believer eating anything.  God has allowed us to eat anything, nothing, in itself, being unclean.  Yet, Paul characterizes the person of weak faith only eating vegetables.  This is not to say the vegetarians have weak faith, but some ate only vegetables due to their not knowing what meat was clean or unclean – thus eliminate the problem by not eating meat at all.

But Paul says that in the presence of these who might stumble over this issue, flaunting your meat eating in front of them would be improper.  You might cause them to stumble.

So, to take what Paul said literally, if you go to India and meet with devout Hindu people, stick to their food.  When I dined with the upper management at a steel mill, my lunch was a combination of a cheese and a vegetarian sauce.  It was not very tasty according to my spice palate, but I enjoyed not eating in the shunned “non-veg” corner of the restaurant, behind curtains so that the other restaurant patrons were not offended by my meat eating.  You cannot spread good will when you are in a corner – unseen.

But then, Jesus takes the stumbling personally.  He starts with lustfulness.  It becomes obvious that if our eye causes us to sin, it would be better to pluck it out than the slip into a sinful life.  He then extends that to any body part.  Jesus is not advocating self-mutilation, but if anything in our lives causes us to stumble, we should remove it, one way or another.

Reading is not a sin.  God commanded Moses and the prophets to write it down.  But Jerome had a problem with Cicero.

Hopefully, from this development of the concept of stumbling in the faith, we can see where Jerome is coming from.

Reading a novel is not sinful.  Writing a novel is not sinful.  But to Jerome, while in the midst of depravation, he used Cicero to make sense out of life.  He went to a source other than God.  Thus, Cicero had become a false god in Jerome’s life.  Jerome had to excise books other than the Scriptures or he would be sinning, in his mind’s view.  He had a weakness, at least for Cicero.  If Cicero was the only weakness, maybe other authors of his day would not become an alternate god in which to take comfort.  Jerome made a clean break of all of it.

Oddly, Jerome wrote the letter above.  He wrote Bible commentaries.  So, reading nothing but the Scriptures was not exactly true, but I hope we get Jerome’s meaning.

Out of necessity, my fictional reading has dropped drastically.  Much of that fictional reading is Christian fiction.  My reading of commentaries has expanded.  Yet, overall, I would say that my reading is about one third of the volume that I read a year ago.  I do not consider it a sin to read popular fiction.  Some of it I consider trash and I eliminate that author from consideration when selecting the next book.  But when novel reading interferes with my focus on my work or limits my time in doing the things God wants me to do, then I must cut back, or even do as Jerome, cut it out of my life.

Yet, for those who enjoy the Deviled Yeggs series of short stories, I do not intend on stopping that.  I have evolved in the writing of them to show a spiritual side, and I feel that if God wanted me to stop, I simply would not have all these new stories coming to mind, especially telling how God is working within the fictional families.

Why did Jesus get up close and personal when He talked about cutting off or cutting out a body part that causes us to sin?  Our personal walk with our Lord is PERSONAL.  What causes me to stumble may be different than what causes you to stumble.  If we love the Lord with all our heart, body, mind, spirit, and soul, then we must figure out how to eliminate those things in our lives that cause us to sin, each of us individually.

About a year ago, I posted something about the Torture of the Comfy Chair.  It may not be sin to sit in it.  God commands us to rest, so resting in it is not a sin.  But I surely get little work done when I get too comfortable there.  In some cases, cutting it out may not be necessary if we can learn moderation.

If you like these Tuesday morning essays about philosophy and other “heavy topics,” but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Tuesday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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