The Most Subversive Idea in the Bible?

I've been reading Isaiah 53 during Holy Week (among other texts) and I concluded today that the sentiment expressed Isaiah 53.12 might be the most subversive, scandalous, and destabilizing idea in all of Scripture:

...he was numbered with the transgressors...
I mean, can any church or Christian ever be smug, safe, contented, moralistic or self-satisfied in light of Isaiah 53.12? Just when the dust settles Isaiah 53.12 comes along, taps you on the shoulder and says, "By the way, God is over there. Yes, with those people."

Any other nominations for most subversive text in all of the Bible?

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19 thoughts on “The Most Subversive Idea in the Bible?”

  1. A similar thought struck me a few weeks ago, when I heard a sermon encouraging Christians, as a Lenten exercise, to look out for examples of people "suffering for righteousness' sake" - particularly the poor, oppressed, marginalised and so on.

    It was a good sermon, and a good idea, but even so I found myself wondering: all this does is encourage us to seek "Christlikeness" in good (but put-upon) people - people who are still "over here" rather than "over there". The point about Jesus' crucifixion was that those who instigated it did not see Jesus as admirable, but as dangerous, criminal, subversive.

  2. "You shall have no other gods before me," "I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your solemn assemblies, "Blessed are the poor," "But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," "God is love."

  3. Given the current economic environment, I find this one appropriate:

    "And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back."

    It's subsersive for the "average" person because we might not dare to lend our hard-earned money to suck a risky person.

    And it's also a nicely ironic and stinging reminder of the corporate financial games that contributed to our recession in the first place.

  4. And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves.

  5. Hi Richard,

    lately I've been reading my way through the old testament, so I stumbled upon Jotham's parable of the bramble-king. It's one of the most sarcastic criticisms of earthly rulers, and it goes like this:

    One day the trees went out to anoint a king for themselves. They said to the olive tree, 'Be our king.' But the olive tree answered, 'Should I give up my oil, by which both gods and men are honored, to hold sway over the trees?' Next, the trees said to the fig tree, 'Come and be our king.' But the fig tree replied, 'Should I give up my fruit, so good and sweet, to hold sway over the trees?' Then the trees said to the vine, 'Come and be our king.' But the vine answered, 'Should I give up my wine, which cheers both gods and men, to hold sway over the trees?' Finally all the trees said to the thornbush, 'Come and be our king.' The thornbush said to the trees, 'If you really want to anoint me king over you, come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, then let fire come out of the thornbush and consume the cedars of Lebanon!' (Judges 9:8-15)

    This is such a scornful way of saying that only the most talentless will bother to be rulers. How do you want to organize a state with this, even a modern, democratic one?

    And actually, it's along these lines that we say that "Jesus is king" or "Christ Jesus Ruler". I've always found those epitheta a bit unsettling given that ONLY Jesus is king/ruler/boss. This puts all the rulers on earth into perspective, and everyone who is "above" others in one way or the other, even me.

    It also means, and here is the connection to your original post, that our king is numbered with the transgressors, our president, so to speak, is an outcast.

    So, I think I am only starting to realize what we celebrate on Easter...

    A happy and blessed easter to you and to you all!

  6. boy oh boy

    5:18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 5:19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, depravity, 5:20 idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, 5:21 envying, murder,drunkenness, carousing, and similar things. I am warning you, as I had warned you before: Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God!

  7. Acts 4:32 No one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.

  8. hears a little analogy rich:
    Say i pull a bus into Sunday assembly wash it down with water make it godly clean. we park the thing there every Sunday washed up and looking real clean, but that wash job is a real big job every Sunday morning although the thing looks real good.

    ya know that's the part of Hypocrisy,that people especially those in prison really think, about "religion" i mean crap most buses would be better Christian's than some people, but i am sure preachers do a better job on people,right... that's why everyone wants to be with us. we are not Sunday buses all cleaned up are we rich.

  9. For Easter week:

    "Why do you seek the living among the dead?" (Lk. 24.5)

    That just doesn't fit any narrative I'm comfortable with, and maybe that's a crucial part of the point...

  10. I'm glad you titled this post "The Most Subversive *Idea* in the Bible?" and not simply the most subversive *verse*. I'm coming to a point where I will only believe something as being "biblical" if it has its place in the meta-narrative. All Christian debates seem to boil down to this issue: what is the correct meta-narrative?

    Thus, my contribution to your post is from the existential camp a la Ernest Becker:

    Isaiah 40:6-8

    6 A voice says, “Cry out.”
    And I said, “What shall I cry?”

    “All people are like grass,
    and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
    7 The grass withers and the flowers fall,
    because the breath of the LORD blows on them.
    Surely the people are grass.
    8 The grass withers and the flowers fall,
    but the word of our God endures forever.”

  11. One of my favorite "subversive ideas in the Bible" is the result of combining 1 John 4:8 & 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a...

    "God is patient. God is kind. He does not envy, does not boast, is not proud. He does not dishonor others, is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs. God does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. God never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and always perseveres. God never fails."

  12. Mine would be 1 John 4:16-19:

    "God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. (...) There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out all fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us."

    I like to think of that verse in combination with 1 Corinthians 13:8:

    "Love never fails"

    If God is love and love never fails, then I think it's safe to say that God never fails.

  13. I think I have to go with Peter Rollins--a man who, if nothing else, knows subversion--on this one when he points to Galatians 3:28:

    "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for all have been made one in Christ Jesus."

    Paul just tears down the political, social and religious boundaries we set up for ourselves, as well as saying that the different identities that we hold to so strongly are all secondary to the identity of being one under Christ.

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