In honor of this Friday the 13th, I share this sermon of mine about the biblical accuracy of at least one scene in the Friday the 13th movie series.
This sermon was first presented in February 2008.
WARNING: the following sermon has been rated PG-13 for its graphic sexual and violent biblical content.
Phinehas the 13th And Other Gruesome Tales
(Or, What Do We Do With a Bible Like This?)
1st Scripture Reading: Judges 3:12-25 (Story of Ehud) . . . This is the Word of the Lord.
2nd Scripture Reading: Numbers 25:1-11 (Phinehas) . . . This is the Word of the Lord.
I once had a disagreement with my high-school girlfriend (Belinda). She thought I shouldn't be going to see all of those gory Friday the 13th movies because they were filled with sex and violence.
I, the very well-behaved young leader of my church youth group, argued with her, a preacher's daughter, that such movies were in fact morality plays: young adults go off to isolated camp grounds to get drunk, get high, and mess around, all of which only leads to their demise.
See? Sex + drugs + alcohol = violent, ugly death!
Yeah . . . Belinda didn't buy my excuse either.
She was right . . . too much sex and violence.
For example, in one of the early Friday the 13th movies (I stopped after the sixth, but I can't really distinguish between any of them, can you?) a couple runs off from the group into an empty cabin to be alone; suddenly, in the midst of them ... ahem... “being alone” ... a spear thrusts up through the bed and right through the couple!
In my defense, though, I, too, was right. That scene, with just slight altercations of character and location, is straight out of the Bible!
Yep, in Numbers 25, Phinehas (the grandson of Aaron the priest) drives the moral spear through a fornicating couple. Of course, because of Phinehas' human shish kabob, the writer of Numbers declares that God is then no longer angry with the Israelites.
Here's another one – A good and trusted friend of mine offered to treat me to a musical some months back.
Now, I love musicals . . .
My Fair Lady,
West Side Story . . .
But this was unlike any musical I had ever seen – perhaps you've heard of it: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
It's a disturbing and haunting blood-spewing musical about a serial-killing, throat-slashing, revenge-obsessed barber.
First, a barber named Benjamin Barker is falsely imprisoned and sent away simply so that a lustful judge can have his way with Barker's wife. Hmmm..... sounds biblically familiar, doesn't it?
Unlike the lustfully murderous King David, however, the lustful judge in our musical only imprisons the barber for fifteen years. Barker returns a cynical and bitter man (who would have guessed?), and then is informed his wife committed suicide.
The obsessed barber changes his name to Sweeney Todd, and he mercilessly seeks revenge upon the judge and so many others, with lots of singing and dancing throughout. It's like watching Norman Bates star in Oklahoma!.
The Bible, too, has similar musicals . . .
There is Deborah (the prophet and judge), Barak (a military man) and a woman named Jael.
Jael lures Sisera (Barak’s and Deborah’s enemy) into her tent under the guise of hiding him for his safety; she gives him some milk, and he falls asleep on her floor. Once he's asleep, Jael grabs a hammer and a tent peg and . . . WHAM! . . . talk about spewing blood! . . . she drives that tent peg into his temple, through his head, and right into the ground. And then, you guessed, it, Deborah and Barak burst into song:
He asked for water and she gave him milk,
she brought him curds in a lordly bowl.
She put her hand to the tent-peg
and her right hand to the workmen’s mallet;
she struck Sisera a blow,
she crushed his head,
she shattered and pierced his temple.
It is a long song full of praises to God mixed with details of gruesome violence, and it even mocks Sisera's mother waiting in vain for Sisera to return home. The song ends with a plea for God to let all of God's enemies die like Sisera, while God's friends shine like the sun. (You can read the whole gory tale in Judges 4 and 5).
And it wouldn't take much effort at all to turn stories of Samson into a musical filled with sex and violence. Just imagine when Samson kills a thousand men with the jawbone of a donkey, then, instead of just saying this, he – sort of an odd combination of Conan the Barbarian and Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof – he bursts right into a song:
With the jawbone of an ass, heaps upon heaps,
with the jaw of an ass have I slain a thousand men.
Let's not kid ourselves, our Bible is overflowing with tragically human stories involving, well, sex, rape, murder, merciless vengeance, and, of course, celebratory songs about all of it.
So, what do we do with a Bible like this?
With stories like Ehud that we read earlier?
With stories like Joshua and King David and his family?
With oh so many stories of blood, gore, guts, and rape and vengeance?
Well, one option is to say that we have two Gods.
The Old Testament God is filled with anger, rage, and hatred toward His creation and all the people within it.
Then, as we turn one tiny page from Malachi to the New Testament and the Gospel of Matthew, we have a different God, filled with love, grace, mercy and forgiveness.
In the Old Testament Ehud, Jael, Joshua and Samson kill and gloat in God's name, stating it's under God's instructions. Men toss out their virgin daughters and concubines to be raped and abused over and over again – they do so in order to protect their male guests from such harm, because that would be inexcusable.
In the New Testament Peter is told to put up his sword, all women are treated as equals to men – even prostitutes.
In the Old Testament we understand God to say, “Thou Shalt Not Murder . . . except anyone and everyone I tell you to wipe out because they're your enemies and thus MY enemies,”
but in the New Testament we understand God to say, “Love your enemies, turn the other cheek, if you live by the sword, you'll die by the sword” . . .
Yes this is one option. Two Gods. Some have followed this to its extreme conclusion and taught that the Old Testament, then, is NOT fit to be included in our Bible for it is the false God of the Jews, not the God Jesus presents to us as Christians.
Another option, though somewhat related, says that there is only one God – He just changes a lot.
Thus the entire Bible from beginning to end is literally true and on an equal plain, with God sometimes telling us to love our enemies and then at other times telling us to slaughter them without mercy – deal with it.
And of course, our leaders, the ones who claim God's divine appointment, are able to know the difference and therefore tell us what God wants us to do – which tends to support them and their friends in power (just as it is in the Bible).
Neither of these options satisfies me.
I believe that there is only one God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is also the God of Jesus, Paul, St. Francis, Martin Luther King, Jr. . . .
the Old Testament, not just the New Testament, teaches about God as love, God overflowing with love and mercy and grace and forgiveness – which Jesus referred to repeatedly as he taught and healed and preached (for there was no New Testament yet in Jesus' day!).
Also, I don't believe that God changes positions faster than politicians depending on His whims, moods, and needs.
There's too much mercy, love, forgiveness and hope in the Old Testament,
and assurances of the one true God
and who ever more shall be –
not some crazed/psycho/schizophrenic God was yesterday,
but tomorrow may be something else,
and today is who knows what . . .
So that takes me to a third option: that the Bible isn't simply literally true, and from cover-to-cover on an equal plain, but that it is MORE than literally true;
that Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God to us – if you've seen Jesus you've seen God;
and that everything . . . EVERYTHING . . . must be submitted to interpretation through the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord, the Son of the Living God.
The Bible is filled with tragic stories of evil people, and good people, who do terribly evil things (and yes, songs, too!) – often believing God told them to do it.
Our human condition – the grotesqueness of our humanity that leads us to stab, rape, shoot, manipulate, steal, lie, abuse, annihilate . . . this is all as real today as it was throughout our biblical stories.
Our human condition is truly a tragedy of biblical proportions.
The Bible, which is MORE than literally true – it is ALIVE today as it was centuries ago – it tells a truly disgusting story of human sin – over and over and over again;
it shows us OUR disgusting story of our own sins;
and it tells of God's never-ending love and pursuit of us in spite of ourselves.
Over and over and over again.
So, what do you do with a Bible like this?
Is “a truly disgusting story of human sin – over and over and over again – and God's never-ending love and pursuit of us in spite of ourselves” a fair summary of the Bible? Why or why not?
How do you understand the ultra-sex and ultra-violent stories of our Old Testament in light of Jesus and the New Testament?
I choose to look first at Jesus, the Christ, and then let the interpretations of everything else (from Genesis to Revelation) be filtered though the image of God through Jesus, the ultimate revelation of God to us.