A few days back the daily office reading, according to the NZ Lectionary, included a troubling passage from Titus.
There are many troubling passages in Scripture.
Some split opinion, if not churches (e.g. passages on salvation, on women/men, on rules for sexual behaviour).
Some are more or less ignored, or ignored most of the time (e.g. James in relation to Romans/Galatians becomes an issue when, say, we study James, but not when we study Romans or Galatians; ditto, the meaning of most of Revelation; perhaps also Genesis 1-2 on the creation of the world).
Some passages raise questions which are difficult to answer and which reflect some serious, potentially faith-losing concerns about Scripture as (in any sense) the Word of God - the so-called texts of terror, in which terrible things done by one human to another, appear to have the authorisation of God behind them (e.g. some ghastly stories in Judges).
A troubling passage, which does not involve complex argument and counter argument about (say) gender or sexuality, is Titus 1:12-13a:
It was one of them, their very own prophet [=Epimenides, c. 600BC], who said, "Cretans are always liars, vicious brutes, lazy gluttons."
That testimony is true.
Paul, writing to Titus in Crete, appears to endorse this stereotype view of Cretans, a view which consigns them all to the mental bin in which we place persistent liars, vicious brutes and lazy gluttons. It is a view which we would normally describe today as racist. It is also a pretty strange view in a Christian document. Imagine a mentor of a missionary in (oh, I don't know, say) Russia who wrote,
"Russians are always liars, vicious brutes and lazy gluttons."
The missionary would likely write back, "Umm, Paul, some Russians behave very badly, but most Russians are not like the stereotype you think they are."
Back to Titus.
What does it mean that Titus 1:12-13a is (I would argue) both Scripture and controversial (i.e. the proclaimed truth can be controverted effectively, not least, by Cretans asserting the precise opposite to the stereotype)?
It could mean it is a puzzle, which we are invited to solve, in favour of Scripture as (in the end, behind the apparent racism) a pure and unimpeachable "Word" or revelation from God.
Certainly there are puzzles in Scripture - challenging passages upon which some of the best of biblical scholars have brought learning and intelligence to - and resolution of the puzzles has been achieved in some cases. For example, there is a way of reading Genesis 1 and 2, in the light of evolutionary biology and astronomy, which both affirms the truth of these chapters and the truth of science.
But there are also puzzles (and I think Titus 1:12-13a is one of them) which either defy resolution or have resolutions provided which, in the end, are not particularly persuasive resolutions (so attempts I read to resolve the puzzle of the texts of terror in Judges).
What if we think about Scripture in another way, that Scripture has some bits which, frankly, honestly and even embarrassingly, are not reflective of what is actually true of God and what God would say about some situations (e.g. God, speaking directly about Cretans would never be racist like Epimenides was and Paul writing Titus was)?
That is, Scripture is permitted by God to have, is not rescued by God from having some passages which are (sadly, shortcomingly) human and not (joyfully, perfectly) divine.
There are implications to concluding that this, or something like it, is the most plausible explanation for the awkward, difficult, impossible to explain away parts of Scripture.
I will try to get to them next week or the week after. There may be a need to say something about Ukraine next week - after all, Ukrain and Russia's invasion of it is also a problem for theology. Is God a Russian Orthodox or a Ukrainian Orthodox?