Pete Enns & The Bible for Normal People

Kirsten Powers- The Journey to Grace

In this episode of The Bible for Normal People Podcast, Pete and Jared talk with Kirsten Powers about faith, political disagreements, and extending grace for your own good as they explore the following questions:

  • How has Kirsten’s spiritual journey influenced her political views?
  • How do we confront injustice without being self-righteous?
  • Do we compromise our beliefs when we have relationships with people we disagree with?
  • How has Kirsten’s use of the Bible changed over time?
  • How does fear influence our theologies?
  • What lead Kirsten to Roman Catholicism? 
  • What is friendship evangelism?
  • What’s the difference between reading the Bible to be “right” and reading it for nourishment?
  • How did Kirsten move away from dualistic thinking?
  • What caused Kirsten to reconsider her orientation towards people she disagrees with?
  • How has Kirsten been able to work against judging other people?
  • What are some techniques Kirsten finds helpful to ground herself in the midst of disagreement?


Pithy, shareable, less-than-280-character statements from Kirsten Powers you can share. 

  • “If you really want to change people, then you’re probably going to have to be in a relationship with them. If you just want to be self-righteous, you know, you can do that, but you probably aren’t going to bring anybody along.” @KirstenPowers
  • “You don’t need to let other people’s bad behavior corrode your own heart.” @KirstenPowers
  • “I just think we need more grace.” @KirstenPowers
  • “Any religion that I learn about seems to have these principals in them about humility, forgiveness, loving other people… it’s sort of interconnectedness of all of us.” @KirstenPowers
  • “There’s a lot of bad things that are happening and you do need to speak up and you need to still name those things, but I think you have to be very careful about the position of your heart…Are you just naming it, or are you also judging and holding yourself as only righteous, good person?” @KirstenPowers
  • “The only place that you’re gonna develop is if you’re around people who don’t think like you.” @KirstenPowers

Mentioned in This Episode

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Read the transcript



Pete: You’re listening to The Bible for Normal People. The only God-ordained podcast on the internet. I’m Pete Enns.

Jared: And I’m Jared Byas.

[Jaunty Intro Music]

Pete: Hey everybody, welcome to this week’s episode of The Bible for Normal People. Our guest is Kirsten Powers.

Jared: Yeah, she’s a journalist, a political analyst. You’ll see her on CNN with Anderson Cooper quite a bit. She writes for USA Today.

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: So, she’s out and about.

Pete: She’s sort of a big deal. Yeah, and our topic is the journey to grace, because she has a really interesting spiritual journey that is just, it’s rocky, like most peoples are, ya know?

Jared: Yeah, she had some doubts.

Pete: At least, when you’re allowed to talk about it, right, and be honest and authentic about it, so.

Jared: Yeah. I appreciated her openness and her honesty about sharing her journey and how it’s impacted some of the conversations that she has with others and how she’s learning to, ya know, walk with grace. And something I think that all of us can relate to on our spiritual journeys as well.

Pete: Yeah, in the political climate where there isn’t a lot of grace.

Jared: Yeah, yeah. Excellent. All right well let’s just jump into the conversation with Kirsten.

[Music begins]

Kirsten: If you really want to change people, then you’re probably going to have to be in a relationship with them. If you just want to be self-righteous, you know, you can do that, but you probably aren’t going to bring anybody along. And just like you’ve got to ground yourself in something, for me it is spiritual practices and spiritual beliefs and kind of remembering what I believe and who I want to be, if you really want to spend your time honing in on things that need to change, a good place to start is with yourself.

[Music ends]

Pete: Kirsten, welcome to the podcast. Great to have you!

Kirsten: Thank you for having me.

Pete: Yeah, wow! Well listen, you know, people know who you are. We know who you are, and, but, you know, there’s maybe a side of you, you’ve had a religious journey over the years, and maybe just give us quickly, just a thumbnail sketch of what that looked like for you.

Kirsten: Okay. I’ll do my best to make it as condensed as possible because it’s quite an epic journey, actually, in the sense that I grew up in a very liberal family. My mother was a lapsed Catholic, and my father was Episcopalian, and we went to an Episcopal church with my father, my parents got divorced when I was five. So, you know, I had a kind of nominal Christian upbringing. We went to church and Sunday school, but it wasn’t anything particularly intense, and I became, you know, by the time I went off the college I was an atheist or agnostic, kind of back and forth. And in my thirties when I was living in New York, I was dating somebody who went to Redeemer Presbyterian, Tim Keller’s church –

Pete: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: And he had asked me to go to church with him. Long story short, I ended up going to that church. I didn’t know it was evangelical, because I didn’t even know anything about Christianity, really. Had I known, I would not have gone because I didn’t like evangelicals even though I didn’t know anything about them.

Pete: [Laughter]

Kirsten: And so I went with him and I was really taken with Tim and I was really just sort of fascinated by it I guess, you know, almost from an anthropological standpoint, and over the year of going there, you know, I ended up breaking up with that guy, but over that year of going there I became a believer and kind of intellectual believer. I didn’t have any kind of big spiritual experience. Then a little bit later I did have a big spiritual experience, and I became quite serious about my Christianity and I didn’t know anybody else who was talking about faith or religion or anything spiritual, really, because all my friends were atheists, you know, for the most part. Maybe sort of nominal Christians, but it just wasn’t something that we talked about. And so, I sort of felt like, well, these people are the only people I know who are talking about this, so I guess they must know what they’re talking about. And so, that sort of is where I fell down the evangelical rabbit hole, as I say, and was sort of in that for many years. I would have to count them up at some point to figure out exactly when I started kind of moving away, but probably at least up to the year before I became a Catholic, so, and that was 2015. And I was never all in, in the sense that I’m not a conservative person, right? So I wasn’t, a lot of the stuff they would say, I’d be like, I don’t think that’s in the Bible.

Pete: [Chuckles]

Kirsten: But I was, ya know, I fell far enough into it and got deep enough into it, that actually they did a lot of damage to me. And so, it’s something that I’m still processing, frankly. And so, it was with that kind of in my background that I decided to become Catholic, which I can, you know, tell you about that as well. But I feel like this story is already getting kind of long.


Pete: Well, not really. So, why don’t you get into that a little bit, what brought you, maybe, to maybe even the faith of your childhood, so to speak. At least there was a lapsed Catholic in your upbringing, but what led you to Roman Catholicism?

Kirsten: Well, yeah. I think it was always sort of in the back of my mind, because my grandparents, who were by far the most important people in my life, were very Catholic, my mother’s parents. And so, even that was a presence in my life when I was growing up. And I went to a Catholic high school, to a Jesuit high school, because my grandparents really wanted me to go there. And so, that was pretty formative. And so, it was always kind of in the back of my mind, and then I started, there’s a priest, you know, I was working at Fox News at the time, and there was a priest there named Father Jonathan Morris, and we became friends. He was a, you know, religion commentator. And so, we became friends and we would go to dinner and we would talk and whenever we would talk about theology, I’d say, well that’s what I think.

Pete: Hmm.

Kirsten: Like for example, we would talk about, ya know, who goes to heaven and who goes to hell, and evangelicals would be saying, ya know, the only way you get to God is through Jesus, and, ya know, it’s not what Catholics believe. They don’t, they’re like, I don’t know who’s going to be in heaven, and, ya know, there’s gonna be a lot of people there who weren’t Christians.

Pete: Yeah. More opening to questions.

Kirsten: Yeah!

Pete: Yeah.

Kirsten: More open, also, to mystery, ya know, conscience. You know, these different things and so, whenever I was like, oh, well this is interesting, and obviously they’re very theologically rigorous, and so, that sort of started to plant some seeds and then I went on a trip for journalists to Rome. And I was only half paying attention when I accepted the invitation, and it was to basically introduce journalists who write about faith, which I do, to, ya know, all the people at the Vatican so you could be informed when you’re writing about Catholicism, but there was also a pilgrimage. So, which I didn’t realize until I got there. And so, we did a pilgrimage around Rome. Every day we would go to different holy sites and I just was really intrigued by how many women there were. Where they would say, oh, this was  so and so, and she’s, you know, saint so and so and she was advising the Pope in the 15th century, or, ya know, and it’s just, after being in the evangelical world, where like, women couldn’t teach men, right?

Jared: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: And then you have like, a woman teaching, probably, a girl, frankly. I mean, she was probably, you know, a teenager or something, advising the Pope, and obviously Mary is very, ya know, is such a prominent role. There’s just much more of the feminine in it, I guess, which I know surprises a lot of people probably when they think of the Catholic church because it is so patriarchal. And I think I was at a place where I felt like, I’m not ready to give up on Christianity, I’m pretty close, but I’m not ready and I’m not ready to give up on Jesus and I’m trying to somehow make this work.

Pete: Mmm.

Kirsten: And I just felt like the Catholic church was the place where I could, I could make it work and it was a place, and I love the liturgy and I love all the rituals, and I love, I even love confession. I love all that kinda stuff.

Pete: Wow.

Kirsten: So I, that was sort of the mindset that I went in with, and I was quite happy, and then, ya know, it just was started being a lot of the similar stuff, the fights in the Catholic church. Now, the difference is, of course, in the evangelicalism there is no fighting between the liberals and the conservatives –

Pete: Right:

Kirsten: In any kind of serious way, because, they say the liberals aren’t really Christians. In the Catholic church, they actually have a seat at the table.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: So, no, there’s this constant sort of, fighting back and forth with the conservatives and the liberal sides of the church, and I, ya know, I found that a little exhausting and then I, of course, ya know, turned out they weren’t totally honest about all the things that they were supposedly had come clean about in terms of molesting children.

Jared: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: So, I got very frustrated about that, and increasingly became, again, very frustrated with the patriarchal nature of it, because if you look at the situation with molesting children, it’s just hard for me to believe that the fact that this place is such a boys club is completely 100% run by men, and doesn’t have something to do with it.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: And so, I just, I’m in a place now of, I don’t want to even call it questioning, because it’s, I’m even past that. ]


I’m in more of a, I am very much embracing the mystery and trying to figure out if there’s a way for me to make it work with Catholicism, and my spiritual director, Father James Martin, I don’t know if you know him.

Pete: Of course, yeah. We had him on the podcast.

Jared: He was on the podcast just a little bit ago.  

Kirsten: Yeah, so, he’s amazing. And, ya know, I’ve been very frank with him, and, ya know, he’s just, has really urged me to take my time and pray about it and thinks I have plenty of reasons to be upset and a lot of people are upset, but I don’t know really know where I’m going to end up I guess is what I would say. So, I just, I’m in, continuing on this journey, and I’m in a very, very different place than I was, ya know, even five years ago.

Jared: How does that, you know, where you are in your spiritual journey, how has that tracked with your politics and maybe even more concretely or practically, how you dialogue or talk about politics with other people, because there is, in my tradition there’s this connection between, we have these deep-seated convictions that kind of God is on our side about some of these ethical things, and that’s what leads to, maybe, the way, the more combative or aggressive way we talk to other people about that. Has that shifted in you as your story unfolds?

Kirsten: Well, I think if I was to look back, so let’s see. I started going to Tim Keller’s church in, I want to say it was 2005 probably? So, If I was to look back between now and then, I’m, I became more liberal. That’s what kind of curious. You know, I actually became more liberal after I became a Christian. And I was always a Democrat, but I was more of a third way Democrat, you know, like a Bill Clinton Democrat kind of thing. You know, I worked in the Clinton administration, and it was a more, ya know, the moderate, capitalistic kind of democrat. And I became, as the more deeper I got into it, the more progressive I became and the more, ya know, I mean I don’t know if I’m socialist, I don’t have a problem with it, ya know, it seems smart to me, and that is sort of what happened to me. It’s not, I never really, even when I was surrounded by all these conservative people, I was just like, this just isn’t what the Bible says. Like, I just, I can’t, I don’t know where you’re getting it. And I did have friends, I would say, I was so sincere. That’s the thing, right? I didn’t know anything. I had no baggage, I didn’t have a, like, serious upbringing, religious upbringing, and so I just read the Bible every day, ya know, and then people started talking about it, and I would just be like, where does it say that we’re supposed to have a strong military and a small government? Like, I don’t know where this is coming from.

Pete: [Laughter]

Kirsten: You know what I mean? And they’d be like, what? You know, and I was like, I’m not being snarky, like I’m serious. Like, I was so sincere, right?

Pete: Right.

Kirsten: I was like, I don’t know, where is this? They’re like, oh, yeah, I guess it’s not in there. Ya know? It was just, so I never really came around and never made me particularly more conservative. The one place that I did get pulled in a little bit on was abortion and I think, in hindsight, I never thought abortion should be legal, and I continued to vote for democrats, but I did get kind of like, pulled into this whole late-term abortion thing. Which I kind of look back on now, and I’m like, what was going on? And the only thing I’ve been able to figure out is that I think I felt like I had to somehow prove that I was, like, a real Christian.

Jared: Yeah, you’re still in.

Pete: Yeah, right.

Kirsten: Yeah. I don’t know, because the only thing I could think of, and now I look at it and I’m like, what was I even talking about?

Pete: [Laughter]

Kirsten: I don’t, like, why would these women go in and get, you know what I mean?

Pete: Yeah, you like, walk about and you’re like, what happened?

Kirsten: I pulled up some of my columns and I read them to my fiancé, and I was like, can you explain what this even means? I was like, I don’t know what this means. It’s illogical, ya know?

Pete: Yeah.

Kirsten: A woman going in to get an abortion at eight months, probably has a really good reason. Like, who waits eight months to get an abortion?

Jared: Mmm.

Kirsten: You know what I mean, like, you wanted to be pregnant. So, it’s just like, I started looking into it more, and I actually wrote a column saying I just was completely wrong about this, ya know –

Pete: Uh huh.

Kirsten: Because, and so I did get pulled into that and I think that, but I think what you’re talking about is that very kind of black and white, dualistic, like, either/or, in/out thinking. I definitely fell into that.

Pete: Yeah, and that’s, I mean, I think a lot of our listeners and Jared and I, we really, we feel that because that is certainly something that people struggle with.


And just, ya know, I mean I think what you’re saying is really very encouraging to a lot of our listeners that, you know, you’ve gone through a process where you had a dose of certainty, and dualistic thinking, but then you say, it doesn’t explain my reality, but you don’t want to let go of God.

Kirsten: Yes.

Pete: And I think that’s a powerful instinct that humans have and many, many people listening are, that’s where they are, ya know? There’s no question. It just, the mystery, the taking the mystery of God, the mystery of the infinite creator, seriously, and not feeling as if we need to have the answers to all of life’s questions and it sort of takes the pressure off and you get to journey and to explore and to ask questions and to say, I don’t know or I’m not sure, because that’s just part of being human. I mean, that’s a really encouraging thing for people to hear. I like hearing it, ya know?

Kirsten: Yeah. Well I know I would have needed to hear it because I do, so the, really what pulled me off the ledge, because it was before I met Father Martin, where I really was at the point of, I just can’t. I just don’t think I’m a Christian anymore. It was really painful for me, right? I was having this real existential crisis and I can’t remember, do you know Jonathan Merritt?

Pete: Yes, of course.

Jared: Absolutely.

Kirsten: So, Jonathan is one of my best friends and I was really having a hard time.

Pete: We had him on here too, by the way.

Kirsten: Okay.

Pete: All your buddies, you have any more? Any more recommendations, anyway, okay, all right.

Kirsten: So, we were, you know, on vacation in Italy and we were like, sitting in the hot tub, and I’m like, I just don’t even, I can’t anymore, ya know? And he’s like, you need to read Richard Rohr.

Pete: Mmm.

Kirsten: I so, I was like, yeah, I always hear about Richard Rohr but I never read him, because, of course, probably when I was an evangelical someone told me he was a Satan worshipper or something, ya know, right?

Jared: Mm hmm, yeah.

Kirsten: It’s like, oh, tt’s the dark side, ya know? So, I ended up downloading Falling Upward, and I was like, this is, oh my gosh, this is it. You know, I was like, I can actually breathe again. Because I was like, this is what I think, ya know?

Pete: Yeah.

Kirsten: Everything he was saying theologically, and so then, Jonathan said, oh, well, he’s having a retreat. And I was like, well, I have to go. You know? And so, he managed to get me into this retreat and it was like, with ten people, and just, we spent like, three days with him and he just taught and that was a real turning point for me.

Pete: Can you flesh that out a little bit? Because, again, a lot of people have read Rohr who listen to this, and what was it that helped you, what maybe opened your eyes to a different way of thinking, you know, non-dualistically, and accepting mystery and all that?

Kirsten: Well, for me it really was what I had always thought until I kind of got pulled into this world, right? So, the best way I can explain it is, it’s like, there’s this meditation teacher Jonathan Foust, and he tells this, you know, to joke or whatever. I’m not going to tell the whole thing because it’s very long, but it sort of explains what happened. Is, you know, he says like Satan is walking along with a junior demon, and there’s a person in front of them that’s about to become a believer. And the little junior demon is like, you know, we gotta do something here. We’ve gotta stop them, we’ve gotta stop them, they’re becoming a believer. And Satan is like, eh, whatever. It’s like, no problem, I’m not sweating it. And he’s like, you know, so you keep going and the guy is getting closer and the little demon keeps freaking out and Satan is like, totally chill, not a problem. Finally, the guy falls on his knees, accepts God, and the little demon is like, now what are we going to do? And he’s like, don’t worry, I’ll help him organize it.

Pete: [Laughter]

All right.

Kirsten: And I was like, that is what happened to me. So, I had a very profound spiritual experience and I had people say, now we’re going to give you a theology. And we’re going to tell you what that experience meant. So, prior to me buying into the theology, I thought what Richard Rohr says, right?

Pete: Yeah.

Kirsten: It was like, but I got this whole other theology and it was, I thought that they knew what they were talking about. And honestly, I think in hindsight I had some trauma that probably set me up to be receptive to some of this stuff.

Pete: Hmm.

Kirsten: And I wasn’t this super fearful person, but I think that I had enough fear that they were able to, ya know, it was always amazing to me also because of how often God talks about not fearing, how much fear really was a driving factor. And just to be clear, I’m not putting this all on Redeemer or Tim Keller –

Pete: Right, right.

Kirsten: That’s not, I was only there for a couple years and then I moved to another church, and ya know, so, I was in various churches and then I, you know, when I moved to D.C. I started going to an Anglican church. I was kind of moving little by little, but that ended up being way more evangelical than I realized it was going to be.

Pete: Wow.

Kirsten: And so, yeah, so I don’t want anyone to think this was coming from Tim necessarily, but it was just people around me, and I was uncomfortable with a lot of it. I was uncomfortable with the idea that women, you know, weren’t allowed to teach men.


You know, I obviously never, ever accepted the homosexuality argument, just never made sense to me. And so, there was a lot of tension. It was not a happy time for me.

Jared: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: I look back on it, it was, it’s weird that I stayed as long as I did, but I do think it speaks to how fearful you can become, because it’s this kind of idea that if you start questioning or you start, you know, not believing, or reading the wrong things, that somehow you’re on the wrong path. It sounds so crazy to me, saying it now, but that’s how I felt.

Pete: [Laughter]

Yeah, yeah.

Jared: Well, not to create some whiplash here as we go to a completely different topic, but I am curious to talk a little bit about, you know, we’re in an election year here in 2020, and I was fascinated as we were doing some background on USA Today opinion piece you wrote on being a part of toxic public debate.

Kirsten: Mmm.

Jared: And how you were planning to change that. And I think it’s just a really relevant topic in the midst of, kind of the era of Trump and divisive language and polarization, and now, it’s only going to get heated over the next few months.

Kirsten: Right.

Jared: So, could you maybe, as in kind of the vein of sharing your story, could you just share how you came to that realization as well?

Kirsten: Yeah. I think that I had, I’ve always been, I feel like I’ve been a fairly balanced, you know, person in terms of my analysis, my weird late-term abortion columns notwithstanding. And I noticed after Trump that I was really becoming agitated all the time and I was agitated on the air, I was agitated at home, I wasn’t even, I got the point where I didn’t even want to talk to the people, right, who were there to defend him.

Pete: Hmm.

Kirsten: So, I would go into the green room and they would be there, and I was like, I don’t even want to know. I don’t care what’s happening in your life, I don’t want to know about your kids, I don’t want to know anything. Which is not really how it’s typically been for me. Typically, I’ve always been able to have relationships with people, even if I, I mean, I’m not best friends with them, but I’m, you know, I’m cordial, and I’m friendly to them, and I –

Pete: You’re not repulsed by them.

Kirsten: Yeah, yeah. I’m like, you know, I’m treating them with humanity, and I mean, I worked at Fox News. I was a left of center person, and I have relationships and friendship with a lot of people that I disagreed with on a lot of things. I now realize that a lot of those disagreements were actually not as big as I thought they were, because we’re in a completely different terrain now, obviously. So, that was happening. I was noticing it, but I didn’t really know what to do about it, and then the whole Covington thing happened, and I, with the kids, you know –

Jared: And the Native American.

Kirsten: And the Native American, yeah. And I got, you know, very involved in that, you know, online and upset. Of course, again, because I had this thing of like, I’m a Christian and I need to speak up and I need to say. It’s like, you know, you can talk about the enneagram, I’m an eight. You know, so, it’s like –

Jared: Yeah, I’m an eight too. Fellow eight here.

Kirsten: Yeah, so, it’s just like, calm down sister.

Pete: I’ll sign off right now. I’ll let you two go at it.

Kirsten: Yeah, you’re not the savior of the world. You know, but I was definitely still in that mode and when the dust settled, I was like, what is going on? Ya know, I just was like, I don’t, this is not who I want to be. And this is not, it doesn’t matter how badly, ya know, I think Trump supporters behave or Donald Trump behaves. Like, this is not what I believe. And, I still am enough of, identify enough as a Christian, ya know, that I was like, this is nothing that, like, aligns with the teachings of Jesus. The way I’m behaving, because I’m so judgmental, I’m so sure that I’m so much smarter and better than everybody else, and you know, I just basically, like, I deleted the Twitter app and I just got offline and I stayed off, for I think about a month, and during that time spent a lot of time reflecting and I just was like, you know, I just think at different points in my career I sort of looked back over. I used this example of, you know, late-term abortion stuff, and I just was like, this is not helping things, you know, and it’s not who I want to be and I just think we need more grace. And, yes, there’s a lot of bad things that are happening and you do need to speak up and you need to still name those things, but I think you have to be very careful about the position of like, your heart. You know? Are you just naming it, or are you also judging and holding yourself as only righteous, good person?


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[Producers group endorsement]

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Jared: Can you, can you say more, can you speak more to that? Because I do think that’s a very nuanced position between, on the one hand, naming it and having our convictions and not compromising our convictions, and being gracious to other people about those things. And, I just, and I have friends who would, you know, call me out and say that, you’re not standing up for what you believe. You’re sort of compromising your beliefs by having a relationship with more conservative people and not yelling at them about all the things that we disagree with. And so, but then, on the other hand, it’s a fine line. So, could you just say more about, you said it’s a tricky thing to do. How have you figured that out?

Kirsten: Yeah. Well, it’s very tricky and let me just be totally transparent and tell you that I’m an unbelievably judgmental person. Like, I have, like it is a struggle, right? So, like, that is something that I have to work against, and I think that I actually have been able to do it. So that’s the good news, that I really feel like I’ve made a lot of progress on that since identifying that. I have tons of opinions, I really believe strongly in, you know, in equality and, you know, I’m anti-racist, and I’m anti-misogyny, and all these things. And I think that, for me, it really does go back to my spiritual beliefs. I, you know, I think it’s maybe a little harder if a person doesn’t have those spiritual beliefs, but I really do feel like the person I’m trying to emulate is Jesus, or Buddha, or, you know, people who have really set a really great example whether it’s Martin Luther King, Jr., but, you know, these really great people who, we revere, you know, as people. Why do you believe in Jesus as the son of God, right? But the people look at that and say, you know, they look at Martin Luther King and, I mean, was he hating people? Was he being nasty to people? Was he being, you know, snarky and doing the clap back and all that kind of stuff? No. Of course not. So, if you really pull the lens back and go, what are really great people in history doing, they’re not doing this, you know.

Pete: Hmm.

Kirsten: They’re really building relationships with people and they’re trying to change them. And you know, Jen Hatmaker, do you know Jen?

Pete: Oh yeah.

Jared: Mm hmm.

Pete: She was on too, yeah. Keep going.

Jared: [Laughter]

Kirsten: So, Jen had a really great –

Pete: We had Jesus on too. You keep talking about him, so, yeah.

Kirsten: [Laughter]

She made a really great Facebook post, which I can’t do justice to, but she got a lot of flack because she was having, she’s doing a podcast series, I guess, and she had some people on who were not affirming.

Pete: Yes, yes. Yeah, right.  

Kirsten: Right? And she has become affirming, and believes that homosexuality is not a sin, and all of that, but she was having these people on and a lot of people felt betrayed. And what she said was that she’s like, but that used to be me.

Pete: Yeah.

Kirsten: Right? So, it was like, all these people who love Jen are saying don’t talk to the people who believe what you used to believe not that long ago.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: And she’s saying, like, I changed my beliefs because I was in relationship with other people.

Pete: Yeah.

Kirsten: So, if you really want to change people, then you’re probably going to have to be in relationship with them. If you just want to be self-righteous, then, you know, you can do that, but you probably aren’t going to bring anybody along.

Pete: Yeah.

Kirsten: Now, if you’re somebody who is marginalized or has been harmed by, you know, by something, let somebody else handle it, and that was Jen’s point. Jen was like, I’m doing the work, so you don’t have to do the work. If you’re a gay person who grew up in the evangelical church, like, this is not work that you need to be doing, you know? You don’t need to be, you know, trying to make people change their minds. You don’t need to be in relationships with people who are saying harmful things about gay people. She’s like, I can do that.

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: That’s interesting.


Kirsten: Yeah. And so, and I thought that was really interesting way to put it. It’s like, you’re not, because you’re not affirming. There was another, I forget what his name is, but he runs something called Braver Angels, uh, David something.

Jared: Yeah, we had one of those at our church this last, maybe two weeks ago. It’s like a full day seminar for people on the right and left to dialogue.

Kirsten: You know, he, I was on the panel with him, and his backstory is that he used to be, used to run an organization that literally existed only to oppose gay marriage. And he used to go around the country and debate Jonathan Rauch, who’s gay, and who’s written, you know, a lot about the issue, and they became friends. You know, because they were on the road all the time, you know, debating each other, and they got caught, they were going to the airport and they got caught in traffic, and they were in a car together for two or three hours or something, and during that time, through that relationship, and also through meeting other people through Jonathan, David changed his mind. And this man, this was his entire life. He’s, you know, was dedicated to stopping gay marriage, and he changed his mind and he lost his everything. I mean, he had to sell his house, his whole company, like, collapsed because it was like, a nonprofit that all the funding existed for this. But the point is, if Jonathan Rauch had just been like, I’m not going to have a relationship with you because you don’t agree with me –

Pete: Yeah.

Kirsten: Then he never would have changed his mind.

Pete: Right.

Kirsten: But again, I want to be clear – that may not be, if you’re somebody that’s listening to this and you’re like, I just can’t do that. That’s okay.

Pete: Right.

Kirsten: I don’t, you know, I don’t think that you have to do it, but I would say right? It’s just what was happening to me. It was like, you’re kind of giving them power in a weird way, because they’re like, getting inside of you and they’re making you angry, and they’re making you judgmental and hateful and, it’s just like, that’s theirs, you know? Don’t take it on.

Pete: Yeah, I mean, what you’re saying that just makes so much sense, and I love the point you made about Jen too, and her rationale for doing what she did, because of relationships, and you know, I’ve had my own experiences where people I don’t, I’m sort of judgmental too, so, people, I just, they’re wrong. And I don’t like what they say, and then there’s some animosity, but, you know, it’s happened more than once, that those people have reached out to me, and we start talking differently, right? And you start to, all of a sudden, some of those differences, they don’t mean as much. Now, again, this is not about things that actually hurt people, these are like, fine theological points.

Kirsten: Right.

Pete: Which are boring. But, you know, that can create some tensions too with people, but, you know, the whole notion of how relationships and getting to know people, honestly, you need to know, that’s why we have you on the podcast. We’re concerned about you. We were hoping in relationship you can change a lot.

Kirsten: [Laughter]

Jared: [Laughter]

Pete: Because I’m right and you’re wrong, so how does that sound? Okay.

Jared: Well, if I can, I think that is one danger though, and maybe you can speak to that, because you said, like, if you want to change people you have to be in relationship. And for me, that smacks a little bit of growing up with like, friendship evangelism. Where it’s like, well, be in relationship with someone so that you can preach the gospel to them and they’ll be like Jesus. And it turned people into projects, and I kind of wince at the projects that I had as a kid that were people who, it’s a bait and switch. And so, you know, I don’t know what you think about that, but for me, I’ve come to the place where I feel like my calling is to be in relationship and to be in friendships with people and then have that be the full stop. And not so that I can try to change their mind on these things. How do you feel about that?

Kirsten: Well, I think that I don’t think I could be really friends with somebody who didn’t agree with me on some of these core issues –

Jared: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: I mean, just being truthful with you. I mean, I’m not going to, I don’t have any close friends. I’m trying to think if I have any, you know, I do have like, a friend who was like my best friend in college who still thinks homosexuality is a sin, right, so that’s a good example.

Jared: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: That’s a twenty-fivse year relationship. We disagree on, she certainly knows all my feelings about it, trust me. And I’m not going to end that relationship, so maybe that’s an example. Now, am I going to start a new relationship with somebody who thinks that? Probably not.

Pete: Yeah.

Kirsten: You know, I just think we’re not going to be aligned enough, probably, on a lot of things and I don’t have a lot of time and, you know, and so my closest relationships are people who tend to, you know, care broadly about the same things I care about. But the question is, can you have them on your podcast if it’s relevant the way Jen is. Or, you know, can you have a friendly relationship with them at work or can you, you know, these kinds of things where maybe you have coffee with them every now and then. They’re not in your inner circle –


Jared: Right. Acquaintances and people you have, not negative emotions toward.

Kirsten: Yeah, right. So, you know, can you have them to, maybe, a party or something? I don’t know. I think every person is called to different things.

Pete: Yeah.

Kirsten: You know, for me, I was just so passionate about the things that I believe, that, you know, for me this more would apply to people who are already in my life, you know, who would apply to some people, maybe to their family, right?

Jared: Right, right.

Kirsten: Where, you know, I don’t have that in my family, but, you know, a lot of people do.

Pete: Right.

Kirsten: You know, how do you, how do you maintain grace in those situations, where you’re not always, you know, getting in fights? And so, I’m actually working on a book about grace, so, this is something that I will be thinking a lot about over the next year.

Pete: Wow.

Kirsten: So hopefully I will have better answers for you, I’m starting it probably next week.

Pete: Just not dualistic answers, right?

Kirsten: Right, exactly. Yeah, yeah. So, I don’t think, it’s not an easy thing. But like I said, for me, I just, I don’t think, if you take again, somebody like, you know, a Nelson Mandela would be another person, right? He can show grace towards the people who treated him so badly, but we can’t show grace toward somebody who disagrees with us, you know, on, yes, important issues. I’m not saying that they’re not important. But the point is, you know, or MLK is being persecuted, right? I mean, it’s like, these people are being persecuted. And they’re still being loving. So, what does that mean? You know.

Pete: Yeah.

Kirsten: How do you apply that when you say, you know, there’s certainly nothing, you know, as bad as my disagreements may be, they’re not worse than segregation. They’re not, they’re just not worse. And so, you know, how do you integrate that in and not, like I said, don’t take on the hate and be loving and I guess for me, I think it’s a worthwhile endeavor. I think it’s something that, you know, I’m certainly trying to pursue and trying out figure out along the way. And I’m not going to pretend I have it all figured out.

Pete: Yeah, of course. So is that, I mean, would you say, not to put words in your mouth, but would you say that is, if you had to define what does it mean to be Christian, I’m imagining that a lot of this would go into that definition of just how we treat others and extending grace and not putting up walls between us because we disagree on matters and if people like Mandela can, if Jesus on the cross can say “Father forgive them, they know not what they do,” I mean, that’s sort of a model, right, for how we –

Kirsten: Right.

Pete: So, maybe it’s, again, not to put words in your mouths, but it’s sort of like, just respecting other people as human beings and that’s how you show the love of God to them and that’s, you know, we don’t have all the answers to the mysteries of the universe, but we do have stuff right in front of us that we can be doing.

Kirsten: Yeah, I think it’s the interconnectedness, right?

Pete: Yeah.

Kirsten: The oneness, and I think it’s, what’s interesting if you, I mean, I’ve, you know, in the last couple years read a lot about Buddhism and it’s interesting how similar a lot of that is in terms of what Jesus taught, right, and so, I think that there are some sort of consistent spiritual principles. I don’t know enough about Islam to know, but I’m pretty sure it’s in there, you know?

Pete: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: I think it’s, any religion that I learn about seems to have these principals in them about, you know, humility, forgiveness, loving other people –

Pete: Yeah, don’t be a jerk.

Kirsten: Yeah, it’s sort of interconnectedness of all of us. You know, that people are made in the image of God and not, you know, and again, not always, it just can’t always be other people that have the problems, I just always feel like, you know, if you really want to spend your time honing in on things that need to change, a good place to start is with yourself.

Pete: Yeah.

Kirsten: And so, you know, do these other things, you know, whatever issues it is that you’re passionate about, but I also think for me, and again, this is one of my struggles, is to not put myself in the position of like, judge and jury –

Pete: Yeah.

Kirsten: And, you know, a person who knows everything.

Pete: Well, you mentioned Richard Rohr, and you know, one of the things that really got me into him many years ago, was he said something like the religious life is always looking outward and saying what’s wrong with them, and the spiritual journey is about turning it inside and saying what am I learning about myself from what’s happening right now. And that, to me, is just a profound Christian insight, and for other faiths too. Christians don’t own this, but it’s certainly a Christian insight and a powerful one, so.

Kirsten: Yes.

Pete: Let me ask you a question I hate getting. Can I ask you this?

Kirsten: Go ahead.

Pete: So, what do you think of the Bible? Like, does this factor in terms of, you know, maybe just the broad outline of Jesus’ story? You used to read it a lot. Is it something that’s still a part actively of how you think about what it means to follow this path, or are you sort of done with it and just tired of it?


Kirsten: I used to, yeah, I used to read it every day. I don’t read it every day now. I still read it sometimes, but I really only read like, I want to read like, what Jesus is saying for the most part. A lot of the other stuff I sometimes find upsetting and alarming. And so, yeah, I don’t, I mean, that’s just sort of where I am right now. But I also was so deeply into studying the Bible for such a long time, right. It was just, it wasn’t reading it, it was reading the commentaries and doing the Bible studies and talking about it all the time, and there’s just at some point you’re just like, I get it. You know what I mean, like I don’t, like, I know what it says.

Pete: [Laughter]

Kirsten: And so, I just, I don’t, like I said, I like to read the Sermon on the Mount or something like that, that’s nourishing to me, but I don’t need to be going through, like, Deuteronomy, you know, trying to understand what that means in my life.

Pete: Well, cause you’re not reading the Bible to be right.

Kirsten: Exactly.

Pete: It sounds like you’re reading it for, you used the word nourishment, so.

Kirsten: Whereas before I was reading it to figure out the rules, you know.

Pete: Right, decode it all. Yeah, right.

Kirsten: Right, like all the answers are in here, and all I have to do is just understand it, and once I found out what it was in the original Greek, and, you know, everything, and what was happening at that time in history, and then I’m going to know exactly, and I’m going to know exactly what to do.

Pete: Right, and so have a million other denominations said the same thing, right, so.

Kirsten: Right, exactly.

Pete: Yeah, doesn’t work too well, but, oh my. Yay.

Jared: So, do you have any, as you’re going on in this journey, any practical advice or input for people as we march toward November 2020 and they have family members and friends who maybe are different parts of the political spectrum on how to, kind of walk this journey with grace while holding onto your convictions?

Kirsten: Yeah, I think that, so I’m a big fan of meditation, and it’s changed my life and so, you know, if you’re a person who prays, that obviously helps, but if you’re not a person who prays than I highly, highly, highly recommend meditation, and I recommend it even if you are a person who prays, because I think whatever you can be doing to like, ground yourself, you know, I do a ton of yoga, I get into a lot of nature, I, you know, I just feel like you’ve got to ground yourself in something. For me, it is spiritual practices, and spiritual beliefs, and kind of remembering what I believe and who I want to be, but it’s challenging. It’s like, high-level spirituality, right? Like, that’s the thing that I realized. It’s just like, it’s not that hard if you’re always around people who think like you. It’s just, how hard is it to have a serious spiritual walk if you just are surrounded by people who are exactly like you and think exactly what you think? Like, the only place that you’re gonna develop is if you’re around people who don’t think like you. Because I can be graceful and nice to people who agree with me, that’s not hard. You know, and so, or even having to deal with Trump. I mean, this is probably one of the biggest challenges that I’ve ever had in terms of trying to maintain that position. And it is a daily challenge, that’s the thing.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: It’s a daily thing. You have to daily, like, think about it, practice it, you know, because it’s not, it’s not going to stop. It’s not one of these things where someone did something to you and you need to forgive them and it happened one time, it’s something that just keeps happening. Not just every day, but like, every couple hours, right? So, you know, it’s just this, so for me, I just, you know, I’m not going to minimize it and say that it’s easy. I do think, you know, if you’re in a, say, you know, if you have a family. I have quite a few friends who grew up in the evangelical families, and, you know, have become more progressive and their parents are still conservative and they like Trump. I, you know, I think boundaries are important. You know, I don’t think you have to be putting yourself in a position, you know, if you have somebody who wants to fight with you or wants to, you know, say things that are offensive to you, or whatever it is. I don’t think you have to do that. So, I think you can, you know, have boundaries around, you know, what’s acceptable to you, and I just wouldn’t minimize it. That’s the thing, I mean, it’s a real struggle. I mean, what do you guys do?

Pete: [Laughter]

I’m actually, personally, I’m in pretty good shape because I don’t have any relatives, really, that are like –

Jared: So, you just get old enough that all your relatives die?

Pete: Yeah, everybody is dying. I’m too old for this, but anyway, just my parents were not like that. My sister is not like that. My wife and her family, you know, more or less, it’s just, we don’t have this kind of tensions, but I know, Jared, you’ve got maybe –


Jared: Yeah, I mean, I’m from Texas and definitely have a lot of family there, and I think, you know, for me it really has been to make sure that I practice not becoming the very thing that I’m trying to oppose –

Kirsten: Yes.

Jared: And so that has been a lot of, just grounding myself in that grace and for me, it’s also been reminding of, you know, I behave out of the deepest values. And so, if I remind myself what really do I want out of this relationship, do I want to be right, do I want to still be able to love this person and have them think highly of me and the respect that I give them, that sort of orders my interactions with family members and friends and, just because we’re quoting Richard Rohr, I have this quote that’s been really helpful for me. He’s says actually in Falling Upward, he says, “we all become well disguised mirror images of anything we fight too long or too directly. That which we oppose determines the energy and frames the questions for a while.”

Kirsten: Yup.

Jared: And so, I like that. “That which we oppose determines the energy and frames the questions.” I just think that’s so true, that once you’re locked in that, you’ve already lost, because you start, your energy and the framing of the questions already start to take on this antagonistic feel, and so, I’ve been trying to really redirect my energy, and say, what’s life-giving, and how do I do more of those things and less of the arguing as though that’s going to make a difference.

Kirsten: Right, yeah. And I don’t think you have to talk about it, I mean, I was thinking about another person that I know who voted for Trump, and when he started saying some things, which, was really surprising to me because he was always kind of a, he was a Republican, but kind of a, I don’t know, I just sort of, never thought of him as particularly conservative, right?

Jared: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: You know, and then he started saying something about immigration or something, and I was like, oh that sounds so familiar, you know. And then I was like, it was sort of the Trump talking points, you know, and I was like, what is going on here? And then I was like, oh my god, like, you’re totally, like, saying these things, you know, that are so upsetting to me that I have to hear at work all the time, right? And so, basically, you know, we sort of got into it a little bit, and then he said, you know, let’s talk about it more, and I said, nope. I have better idea, let’s never talk about it, because we’re never going to agree.

Jared: Right.

Kirsten: So, there’s just no reason, like, there’s nothing you’re going to say that’s going to make me, and there’s nothing I’m going to say, you know, on this issue.

Jared: Right, exactly.

Kirsten: So, let’s just pretend like that politics just don’t exist, because that’s the only solution.

Pete: Right, because getting into it is not going to do anything. You know Brian McLaren –

Kirsten: Yup.

Pete: Who we’ve had on the podcast too, by the way, in case you wondered Kirsten.

Kirsten: Of course.

Pete: Yeah, who else. Yeah, but anyway, yeah he puts it really well, and I really learned something from him saying that when, you know, you get debated into things by relatives or this or that, and they sort of give a speech and instead of lashing back, Brian just goes, well, hmm. I think differently about that. And that’s the end of it.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Pete: You don’t get into it, you sort of, you maintain your boundaries, you don’t get knocked around. You just say, I just think differently about it. But your relationship doesn’t depend on having to solve that issue, which is something that we can try to model.

Kirsten: Right.

Pete: You know, to other people. Which is hard if you like being right all the time.

Kirsten: [Laughter]

Pete: You know? And again, I, I mean, I resonate with that because, you know, why do people get into academia to begin with? Because they think they’re right about everything.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Pete: I’m right about most things, but not everything. You know, I’m, right, Jared?

Jared: Yeah, no. No comment. No comment.

Pete: [Laughter]

Jared: Yeah, what I think it also just, for me, again, because you mentioned the enneagram earlier, like, as an eight, yeah, I want to think I’m right all the time, but I think there’s something too, and this is Richard Rohr-ian as well, that in the west though, once we realize that we’ve privileged rightness as correct opinion about something, and we realize that that’s just some abstract notion, and for me, it took the teeth out of it. That like, I actually, I want to be right about embodiment.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Jared: Like, my rightness needs to be looking back on a life well lived, and that’s more important than being right about this particular topic at this particular time. And so, that’s been a helpful, like, long term situational way of framing for me, that’s really been helpful to say, man, it almost, it’s kind of a gut check for me as an eight to say, well, I’m fighting so hard to be right, but what if being right in this way is actually pretty small compared to maybe, there’s other ways of being right in this more mystical or holistic way of thinking of being.

Kirsten: Like a more eternal point of view.

Jared: Yeah, yeah. A more eternal, or just –

Kirsten: Yeah, well no. I was gonna say, I think, so I think, for me, as an eight it’s funny. Well, I’m a split of the subtypes, I think it’s a social eight or something, I can’t remember.  

Jared: Mm hmm.


Kirsten: They are less confrontational, actually, but for me, it’s the feeling like I have to always be, like, rescuing people, you know, and saving people. And so, if somebody was to say something, you know, it’s my job, to like fix, like my friend in the immigration, right? I’ve gotta like, say, well all of the people are being mistreated by like, convincing this one person, you know, to see it differently, but I’m not going to, that’s the thing. He’s not actually going to change his mind. You know, I know this, because I do this as a job.

Jared: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: And I like, don’t rarely, you know, change people’s minds. You know, every now and then I do. You know, over, but it takes a lot of time. So, for me, it’s the gut check of like, what am I feeling, so I still feel like I could say, you know, look, you know, what you’re saying, I’m not really sure, it doesn’t really sound quite, you know, right, and here’s some things to think about, but it’s without the judgement.

Jared: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: You know, or if somebody, say somebody say something racist, of course you say, like, hey, you know what, that’s not okay, and here’s why it’s not okay. But it’s not me sitting here going like, you racist, and you’re so bad, and I’m so good. It’s just, very matter of factly, you know, explain it to them.

Jared: Yeah, and what I’m hearing you say is a lot of times it’s not necessarily what you say, it’s how you say it and the posture with which –

Kirsten: And it’s what you’re feeling, right?

Jared: Right, yeah.

Kirsten: Is there an emotional charge where you’re, or are you just naming truth? Are you just saying, you know, this is racist and this is wrong and you just say things like that, you know, and, you know, if you want to say them, you need to go. You know, like, you actually can say something like that without heaping scorn and judgement, you know, on another person.

Pete: Right.

Kirsten: And I think, and I’m not saying that I, that’s like, would be my natural reaction at all times. It’s more something that I aspire to, I think.

Jared: Well, one thing that’s helped me with that is having four kids. That’s like, a spiritual discipline –

Kirsten: Yes.

Jared: Where you basically, it’s like, oh, you know what, everyone is happier and healthier and everyone responds better if we have clear boundaries, but we say it without that emotional charge. And just learning, like, oh, the world is just a happier place when we can still have the boundaries and still have the consequences without that emotional reactivity.

Pete: You can work that out having a podcast cohost too.

Jared: Yeah, right.

Pete: Right?

Kirsten: [Laughter]

Pete: Right?


Oh my. Well listen, Kirsten, thank you so much, this has been so much fun getting to know your story a little bit more and I appreciate you sharing it. You’ve got a book that you’re starting to work on?

Kirsten: Yes.

Pete: You said, and, it’s about grace and you don’t really know when that’s probably going to be a couple years I guess, right, before it comes out? Or –

Kirsten: Yeah, it’s due in October and I think it will be out, you know, sometime mid-2021.

Pete: Next, oh, that’s pretty good then.

Kirsten: Yeah, late 2021 or something like that.

Pete: Cool. And the title is grace, do you have a title yet?

Kirsten: I don’t really know what the title is, its concept is like, grace-ish, just because I kind of gotten to this thing of like, I don’t really want to be Mother Teresa, but I want to be more graceful. So, like, let’s like, we can do better, right? It’s like, we don’t have to be, we don’t have to be perfect. We don’t have to be Ghandi, you know? I mean, that would be nice. It would be nice, I’m not going to lie.

Pete: Are you back on Twitter?

Kirsten: Not really. I hardly spend any time on Twitter. I’m on Instagram, lots of dog pictures, and, you know –

Pete: Yes.

Kirsten: @kirstenpowers

Pete: What’s that dogs name again?

Kirsten: Well, I have two dogs. One is Lucy, and she’s a real little rascal.

Pete: Okay.

Kirsten: And Bill, yeah, so I’m just @kirstenpowers on Instagram, and that’s really the only one that I do, and I go on Twitter every now and then and always regret it.

Jared: [Laughter]

Kirsten: And then I have a podcast that I launched pretty recently. I only have like, ten episodes up. It’ called How to Do You, and the concept behind it is sort of talking to people about how to live authentically, and I’ve talked to all sorts of different kinds of people. You know, Jimmy Kimmel, and I just talked to Glennon Doyle about her new book, and I’ll actually be Jen, to Dan Jones, and it’s just different, you know, from all different walks of life and, and I think it kind of grew out of this experience that we were talking about, which was that I kind of lost, I lost connection with myself because I gave away all my power, you know, to the so-called experts in my case, they were religious teachers.

Pete: Yeah.

Kirsten: And once I reconnected, you know, with the true self if you want to call it that, or you know, I, my life changed completely, and so, yeah.

Pete: Well that’s great. Well listen, thanks for being on. We appreciate it very much and blessing to you and your work.

Kirsten: All right, thank you!

Jared: Thanks Kirsten.

[Music begins]


Pete: Well, another episode is come and gone. Folks, thanks for listening, we appreciate it every time you click download and play.

Jared: And one thing we wanted to mention here is if you like the written word just as much as you like listening to the podcast, we have a Genesis for Normal People, the book, on our website, you can get there as well as on Amazon, wherever fine books are sold online, you can just go and type in Genesis for Normal People, and we basically in that book, do what we try to do here on the podcast and break down the best in biblical scholarship for everyday people. And Pete and I –

Pete: We change people’s lives, Jared. I think, let’s just get down to it, right?

Jared: That’s really what we do, sure. Sure. Sure, yeah.

Pete: Obviously.

Jared: We just do it through things like this podcast –

Pete: Books, and podcasts, yeah.

Jared: And Genesis for Normal People, so it just, it keeps us humble, you know, doing this kind of work. Clearly.

Pete: Yeah, I guess. We’re so humble. So, and speaking of humble, we have a lot of people to thank. Our team that makes the podcast possible: Megan Cammack, our podcast producer.

Jared: Yes.

Pete: Do you know any of these people? Reed Lively, is our community champion. All the social media stuff and Dave Gerhart, our audio engineer and Stephanie Speight, our transcriber.

Jared: Yes, we couldn’t do it without them.

Pete: Anybody else? Did we miss somebody?

Jared: I think that’s it, you got them all.

Pete: That’s enough. A lot of mouths to feed. Okay. All right folks, thanks for listening.

Jared: Thanks.

[Music ends]


Jared: [Laughter]

I opened it, I happened to open it exactly to the page that it had their name, but it was apparently I’ve written it several times, and I was so confused, I was like, that doesn’t look the same.

Pete: Who’s that?

Jared: Where is this at?

Pete: [Laughter]

[End of recorded material]

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Pete Ruins Exodus (part 1)

Pete Ruins Exodus (Part 1)

March 11, 2019

There’s a lot more going on in the book of Exodus than what you’ve seen on the big screen or heard in church. More than a story of deliverance, Exodus is a subtle literary creation that contains many surprises when we read it closely. Join Pete here for Part 1 of this series where he looks at some big picture issues (like “did it happen?”) before walking us through the themes of chapters 1 and 2.

Read the transcript


Pete:  You’re listening to the Bible for Normal People, the only God-ordained podcast on the internet.  Serious talk about the sacred book.  I’m Pete Enns.

Jared:  And I’m Jared Byas.

[Jaunty Intro Music]

Hey everybody, welcome to another episode of the Bible For Normal People.  Today’s episode is a solo episode.  Not only that, but it’s the beginning of a series on the book of Exodus that I’m calling “Pete Ruins Exodus,” just because I like being that kind of guy.  This is not about ruining anything.  It’s more about digging deeper into something that is familiar to a lot of people.

The story of Exodus has this universal appeal.  But I’d like to take a look at this book from other angles, not ones we might have gotten from Veggie Tales or the Ten Commandments or the Prince of Egypt or something like that.  Because there’s a lot going on.  This is a deeply theological book.  I think it’s just a fun thing to look at.  That’s all.  I just like the Bible and I want to talk about it.  So here we go.

Also, I said a series.  This is a series.  Do not hold me to how many episodes.  I have no idea.  It just depends on how things go.  We’ll see.  It could be three.  It could be 30.  Not 30.  But, it’s going to be something more than just a couple, because there’s a lot going on.  Especially, with the first three/four chapters, those are such thick and rich chapters.  So much information is just baked into these chapters, that I think that it’s well-worth our time to maybe slow down a little bit at the beginning and take larger chunks as we go on.  That’s sort of what I’m planning.

My plan, then, is to, as you’ll see in a second, divide the book of Exodus into sections.  And for each section, drop down into the book and focus on things that, I think, are interesting or important or the kinds of things a lot of people talk about, all for the purpose of helping us understand the theology of this book more clearly, because it is a book of theology.  There’s no question about that.

Now as we get started, there are a couple of background issues that all have to do with history that keep coming up, and I want to introduce them here.  We’ll come back to them occasionally during the course of these podcasts.  But the first has to do with authorship of the book, namely who wrote it, and when.  The bottom line is nobody knows.  Nobody really knows who wrote the book of Exodus.  In fact, most scholars think that is was compiled more than written from various traditions over several centuries and then brought together at a later time in Israel’s history.  That is pretty much my point of view as well.  But it’s not the most important thing we’ll talk about here, because we are going to try to deal on the level of where theology and history sort of come together, and not focus entirely on things like where did the book come from, who wrote it.  Those things are relevant.  We’ll see that in a second.  But it’s not the focus.  But the bottom line is nobody really knows who wrote the book.  To say that Moses wrote it is really a guess because the book’s anonymous, just like Genesis.  They’re all anonymous.  We don’t know who wrote any of these books.

Tradition has Moses, but a lot of work, not just in the modern period, but even going back to Medieval Judaism and even before that, people have picked up that it’s hard to look at a book like Exodus and say, one person wrote this in one sitting at the time of Moses’ life, which might have been right around the 13th Century or something like that.  It’s unlikely that that’s the case.  But this podcast series is not about that.  I’m just throwing it out there because it will come up. 

The other issue is just, the basic(est) issue of historicity, fancy way of saying, “Did any of this happen?”  What I’ll do is, as we go through the podcast, is say things like, “In the logic of the narrative,” because I don’t necessarily want to commit myself to whether things happened or didn’t happen.  I do think things happened.  We’ll get to that in a second too.

Again, defending the book historically is not my point.  I don’t want to defend anything and I don’t want to presume anything one way or the other.  I want to just let the book have its way and talk the way it wants to talk.

Did any of this happen?  That’s a question that’s of some importance, especially for some modern readers, not for everyone.  I think of it this way.  The reason why digging into history is actually more than just interesting, but it’s important, is that, while these texts were written by people at some point in time in the past, and knowing something of context, knowing something of when might help us understand something of why these texts were written. 

I mean, think about this.  Pick a figure like Martin Luther King, Jr. or Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and say, “Yeah.  I want to talk about Martin Luther King Jr.  I want to talk about Franklin Delano Roosevelt.”  Somebody might say, “Okay.  Well, for Martin Luther King, Jr., we have to talk about also just the setting of the 1960s’ Civil Rights Movement.”  You say, “No way.  I don’t—I’m not interested in that.  I just want to talk about Martin Luther King Jr. or FDR.” “Yeah.  He helped America get out of the Depression and he was the president during the Second World War.”  And somebody says, “Hold on a second here.  Who cares? I just want to talk about Franklin Delano Roosevelt.”  You can see how nonsensical that is.  Right?  You have to talk about context because human beings are contextual beings and social beings.  No one’s an island.  Knowing something about the past setting might help us understand the theology of the text, which is really the goal for me.


Not only that, but you have sort of a triangle here.  You’ve got history, theology and then other aspect is the Bible as literature.  And it is.  We’ll see that too, here in the book of Exodus. 

Think of it this way.  You have a writer living in history who is trying to communicate something of a theological nature through writing.  How he writes the literature, when he writes the history affect how we read the theology.  Those things all hang together.  To just read Exodus without a view towards literature or history, it can really wind up obscuring the message and not helping it very much.

A few more words about history.  Because again, this is something that comes up a lot and so much of this book is an object of apologetic defense.  Did the Exodus happen as the Bible says it did?  Just introduce it here.  I don’t want to get into it too much.  We’ll see things along the way.  But it’s worth noting, first of all, that there is no direct evidence whatsoever for an Israelite presence in the land of Egypt at any point in time.  In other words, there’s just nothing there.  There’s nothing Egyptian, and the only source we have is an Israelite source, the Bible.  We don’t have any musings from other nations.  We don’t have any material, evidence, in other words, archeological evidence.  There’s nothing there. 

There’s evidence for a lot of things that are in the Bible.  But for this big event, we just don’t see much.  That’s at least worth stating.  That doesn’t prove nothing happened.  But it’s at least a fact.  It is a fact that we don’t have evidence.

Now some say, not to get into this too much, but some say, “Why would we expect the Egyptians to talk about this humiliating defeat on the part of a slave population that left Egypt?  They would want to bury that and not talk about it.”  That’s just not true.

What ancients did was, when something bad happened, they didn’t try to ignore it.  They spun it.  I would expect something.  We see this, actually, elsewhere in the Old Testament, vis a vis, other nations and how they talk about things.  We would expect the Egyptians to have spun and said, “Listen, our gods were mad at us.  Therefore, we lost our slaves.  It’s not that we’re weak.  It’s that we were disobedient.”  That’s a common ancient way of handling embarrassing moments.

Plus, you can’t really keep this quiet.  It’s not like no one would have heard of it.  It was pre-internet, but still, the Moabites, the Ammonites, the Edomites, the Babylonians, somebody would have heard of this mass escape of slaves and the economic and ecological destruction of Egypt.

It’s hard to imagine that the silence of Egyptian sources is actually an argument for historicity, which is how some people try to defend.  But I think it just doesn’t work.  Having said that, I think there is suggestive evidence for the fact that something happened, which is sort of my position.  Something happened.

For example, one of the oldest pieces of Hebrew literature that we have comes from the book of Exodus, Chapter 15.  The oldest manuscripts we have of Exodus are a couple of hundred years before Christ.  Nothing really before that.  That’s the Dead Sea Scrolls. That’s the oldest textual evidence we have of anything in the Bible, with a couple of exceptions, but not really relevant for this discussion.

But, Chapter 15, called the Song of Moses or the Song of the Sea—this is considered, by linguists, to be evidence of very old writing on the part of the Hebrews.  It could go as far back as about 1200 BCE, which would make it very old and would make it not long after these kinds of events would have transpired.  Just think about that.  Exodus 15 is a song praising Yahweh for killing the Egyptians in the sea.  That’s really what it is.  “You’re so great.  You’re awesome.  Blah.  Blah.  Blah.” 

Probably Exodus 15 was changed and adapted and added to later in Israel’s tradition.  Probably the Exodus 15 that we have was not all old from the 12th Century, but there are elements of it that linguists say make sense in that time period.

Think of it this way: if someone were to find a manuscript that has a lost Shakespearean play or something like that, we would know instinctively where to put that historically.  We wouldn’t put it in the 19th Century.  We wouldn’t put it in the 12th Century.  We wouldn’t put it in the 21st Century.  We’d put it where it belongs, right in the middle there somewhere.


We know enough about the development of the English language to know pretty much where things should belong.  That’s what linguists do of Semitic languages like Hebrew and others.  They’re able to see evolutionary developments in languages because all languages evolve.  All languages develop.  You can see signs of that in Exodus 15, along with passages like Judges Chapter 5.  This is the story of Deborah.  That’s another one.  Very often, scholars will look at Genesis 49, Jacob’s last words to his sons before he dies.

It’s interesting.  This is suggestive that the earliest memory we have of the Israelites is something that has to do with departing from Egypt.  It’s interesting.  That’s like the earliest record we have. 

It’s also the earliest record we have of. Yahweh as a warrior, which doesn’t stay that way throughout the whole Bible.  But early depictions of Yahweh as a warrior who rescues his people and beats up the Egyptians.  That suggests that this is a very old memory on the part of the Israelites and it’s not made up after the Exile or something like that.

Another echo of history here is several of the names, one of which is Moses’ name itself.  We’ll get back to that soon enough.  But Moses is almost—it just sounds like an Egyptian name.  You have that element.  Moses, that’s at the end of other names, like King Tut, King Tut Moses.  That’s the full name, which means something like “born of a god, born of the god Tut or Toth,” spelled, pronounced differently, depending on who you ask.

That Moses element seems to be part of an originally longer Egyptian name.  That doesn’t prove anything.  It doesn’t prove the historicity of Moses.  Doesn’t prove the historicity of the Exodus.  What is does indicate, though, is that there an Egyptian memory.  There’s something about Egypt that seems to be real and strong in Israel’s memory that would inspire the writing down of stories like this.

It doesn’t seem like this is simply made up of out of whole cloth. Who would make up, frankly, a story of national origins that goes, “Yeah, we were slaves for a long time and then we escaped.”  It doesn’t seem like the kind of story that you’re going to make up out of whole cloth.  There’s seems to be a real authentic memory of something that has made its way through Israel’s tradition and is now written down.

What some scholars say, and even Evangelical scholars (I shouldn’t say “even”), but just to indicate how relatively broad this way of thinking about it is, a way of looking at this book of Exodus is what some call mythicized history.  If you’re interested, I think I wrote a blog post about this a year or so ago.  You can find it on the website.

But mythicized history.  In other words, it’s history that mythicized.  Something happened, but then the way they tell the story gets overlaid with mythic elements.  I use that word without embarrassment or shame or hesitation, because that’s what they are.  We’ll get into this.  They’re mythic elements that are used to communicate the full force of the impact of the story.

There are ways of telling stories of origins in the ancient world and implying mythic themes is one of them.  We see that in the book of Exodus.  But here’s the point.  The root of it is some historical experience, but that gets told in any mythicized way, as opposed to the opposite, not historicized myth, but mythicized history is what I’m saying.

Others would say (this is really not a view that’s that common anymore that it would be, not mythicized history, but historicized myth.  In other words, it’s something that’s foundationally mythic, and then you just put some names and places attached to it to make it look historical.  That doesn’t seem to be the case.  You’re on pretty safe grounds saying something like, “There’s a historical base, but it’s mythicized.  That’s just the way they told stories back then.”

Again, those are just two preliminary issues:  authorship and historicity.  We’ll get back into all this stuff, no doubt, as we continue this series.

But here, let’s start this way.  The big picture.

Exodus, second book of the Bible.  Got it.  Good.

Forty chapters long and I like looking at books of the Bible from a thirty-thousand-foot view.  When I do that, I see these 40 chapters and I divide the book into two parts.  The first 15 chapters are all about departing from Egypt and then the rest of the book are all about the Sinai experience.  So 1-15 and then basically 16-40.  Most of Exodus happens on Mount Sinai.

By the way, Mount Sinai is really the location of, not just most of Exodus, but all of Leviticus and the first ten chapters of Numbers.  Basically, the center chunk, the heart of the Pentateuch, takes place on Mount Sinai.  About a year transpires in the logic of the narrative.  About a year transpires on Mount Sinai, which means, you’re really slowing down the clock here and spending a lot of time at what happens on this mount, which is an indication to us that this is important.  Exodus is really about getting to Mount Sinai.  That’s really what the story’s about.


Let’s break this down a little bit further, because this is where we’re going to go with this series.  Chapters 1 to 15.  This is all about the departure from Egypt.  I would say the first four chapters are all about preparation.  It’s about the preparation for the actual departure.  The problem is introduced.  Moses is introduced.  We can sort of see where this is going. 

Then, starting in Chapter Five and going to Chapter 13.  Now we have Moses engaged with Pharaoh and they’re battling and it’s the plague narrative.

Chapters 14 and 15 are the story of the departure from Egypt itself, the Red Sea Crossing or the Sea of Reeds.  We’ll get to that too.  It’s probably Sea of Reeds.  It’s not Red Sea.

Chapter 14 is the narrative version of the departure from Egypt.  Chapter 15 is the poetic section.  That’s one of the older sections of Hebrew literature, as I mentioned before.  You have the preparation, the plagues, then the departure.  That’s the first 15 chapters.

The rest of the book is all about, first of all, getting to Mount Sinai.  That’s Chapters 16 to 18.  They arrive in Chapter 19.  They won’t depart from there until Numbers Chapter 10.  They’re going to be there for a long time. 

Then, the laws—that’s Chapters 20 through 24—20 is the Ten Commandments.  The rest are something called the Book of the Covenant (which we’ll look at some of those laws later on in this series).

Then comes this Tabernacle section.  That begins in Chapter 25.  The last—more than a third of the book is taken with something to do with the Tabernacle.  It’s a bit tedious.  We’re not going to spend 15 weeks on the Tabernacle, but we’re going to spend a little bit of time, because there’s stuff happening there that’s really, really interesting theologically. 

This is the stuff you skip.  If you’re reading through Exodus and you make it past the laws, you didn’t give up and you’re at the Tabernacle section because “who cares,” right?  But the instructions for building the Tabernacle are Chapters 25-31.  The actual building of the Tabernacle are Chapters 35-40.

Sandwiched in-between is the famous episode of the Golden Calf, Chapters 32 to 34.  And we’ll take each of those in turn, obviously, when we get there.

That’s the basic gist of it and, I thought, today, we’ve got a little bit of time.  We can just start off her with Section One and see where we go, because I have no idea where we’re going.  We’ll see where we go.  Who knows where we’ll end up.  Anyway.  Okay.

Section One.  This is about Chapters 1 to 4.  This is about the preparation, as I said.  We’re going to take a little more time here because these are thick chapters.  There’s a lot going on.  It’s not just preliminary stuff to get out of the way.  It’s sets up what’s going to follow.  I think it’s worth paying some attention to.

The big view here (these first four chapters) is that there’s a problem, a big problem.  From the Egyptian point of view, here’s the problem.  The problem is that there are too many Israelites and they might rebel.  The solution is, eventually—well, there are actually three that are attempted.  One is enslavement.  That sort of works, but it doesn’t work.  We’ll look at that in a second.  Another is, you have—the midwives are told (if you’re familiar with this story)—the midwives, these two midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, are told to kill the mail children when they’re born.  That doesn’t work.  Eventually, the third solution is to throw the male Hebrew children into the Nile.

Israel is under threat.  They’re not just enslaved.  They’re actually under threat.  That poses a problem.  Israel’s under threat.  Now another solution is offered.  This solution is, of course, Moses—Moses is called to deliver the Israelites.  We’re introduced to Moses here in this part of the story.

In Chapter One—these are just some things that I think that are worth noticing.  Throughout, I’ll be looking at the New Revised Standard Version if you want to follow along.  That would be fine too.  In fact, I hope you do, as long as you’re not driving.

Chapter One.  Here are some things that I think are worth noticing in the chapter that aren’t always drawn out.  Actually, three in the first chapter.  The first is the introduction of a theme that will become very, very important in the course of this book, and that is the theme of creation.  You can see this already.  It’s hidden a little bit, but not too much.  In Chapter One, look at Verse 7.  It talks about how the Israelites were fruitful and prolific and they multiplied. 

This is echoing Genesis One language because the Israelites are actually doing what they’re supposed to be doing.  They’re in accordance with God’s will by increasing in number, which is exactly the thing that has this Pharaoh freaked out, this unnamed Pharaoh freaked out.  And so he wants to do something about it.  He says, “There are too many.  They might actually rebel against us and join with our enemies and fight against us.  We can’t have this.  We have to keep them under wraps.”  Which is why he enslaves them.  That’s the first attempt.


But you see, we should not lose sight here of how Pharaoh and Egypt are being posited here by the writer as sort of an anti-god force.  Not just ???? enslavement, but the problem they have is that there are too many Israelites, which is exactly what God wants.  By trying to keep the population down, they’re going against the creation mandate.

As I said, is something that will come up again and again and again in, especially, the first fifteen chapters—actually, no, the whole book.  What am I talking about?  The whole book has this creation theme happening and it’s introduced to you already.  Actually, when they’re enslaved, as an attempt to curtail the population, we read in verse 12, the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread.  It actually backfires.  That attempt to reduce the population actually results in them increasing all the more.  This is an indication of God’s favor.  This is actually an indication of where this whole book’s going.

Egypt’s attempt to hold the Israelites at bay and to squash the Israelites and to squash their god are going to backfire.  They’re not going to work.  This is already hinted at here at the very beginning.

Actually, speaking of Genesis here, this is a connection back to Genesis One.  But there’s another interesting connection here to Genesis, which again, shows us something of the literary style and intentionality of this writer.  Because in verse 10, this is the people saying, “Look.  The Israelites—they’re more numerous, more powerful than we.  Come let us deal shrewdly with them.”  That same cadence, that same language is used in the Tower of Babel story.  “Come let us make bricks.  Come let us build the tower up to heaven.”

Of course, that effort (if you know that story) is squashed by God, because God later says, “Come let us go down and see.”  The divine response also begins, “Come let us.”  As you’re reading this, you see here an echo of the Tower of Babel story.  Again, this is an indication that at some point in the Exodus story, God is also going to have a “come let us” moment.  And that’s called the Plagues and the Red Sea.

It’s not terribly subtle.  It actually jumps out at you when you’re reading this story.  If we’re looking for and even expecting these writers to make these connections to other parts of their story, especially the book of Genesis, oh boy, is Genesis just a wonderful place for this writer to go to draw connections with the story of the Exodus.  If we’re expecting that, we’re going to see it and I think we should just keep our eyes open to all that stuff.


Creation theme.  That’s a big thing. 

A second thing is women in Exodus are being introduced here.  We have a few of them, especially in Chapter Two.  We’ll get to that.  They’re sort of heroes by undermining the work of this Pharaoh.  You have these two women, Shiphrah and Puah (by the way, who are named and Pharaoh isn’t).  I think one reason why Pharaoh isn’t named, because this may be very distant past memories and it doesn’t even matter who the Pharaoh is, but maybe they don’t remember his name.  But the point is that they do remember these midwives’ names, because they do something pretty good.  They outwit the king and they do so by lying.


The king says to—the Pharaoh rather—he says to “kill the male children when they’re born” and they’re not doing it.  He says, “What’s going on?”  They say, “You don’t understand, by the time we get there, these Hebrew women are so vigorous, by the time we get there, they’ve already given birth.  These are amazing women.  They just drop kids all over the place.  We can’t get there in time.”

That’s not true.  That’s a lie.  What a lot of my students wind up asking about this story (maybe you’ve asked it too), is why do they lie and why is it okay with God to lie like that.  I tell them, with complete respect, “that’s a very white question to ask.  That’s a very privileged question.”  Because when you’re living in a time where you don’t have power, where you’re disenfranchised, where you’re marginalized, you have no power.  There’s no court to go to.  There’s no lawyer.  There’s no legal system.  If you want to get away with stuff that you know is right, that you know that you have to do, in the face of absolute power, which is the king of Egypt, the Pharaoh, you have to be crafty and you have to lie.  This is not the only time we see this sort of thing in the Bible.  You have to tell stories to people in power to outwit them.  This is really not lying.  This is outwitting.  This is using your wiles and your abilities to think on your feet to allow God’s purposes to go forward.

It’s not a moral issue.  “Oh no.  They’re lying and it’s bad to lie.”  It’s not bad to lie.  Not here.  There’s actually something that scholars study.  It’s called the trickster theme.  This is the theme that appears in many places in the Old Testament, where, just like it suggests, you are tricking other because you’re disenfranchised and you’re out of power and this is what you have to do.

Again, we’re going to meet other women, especially in Chapter Two with Moses’ sister and Pharaoh’s daughter.  You have this group of women in Chapters One and Two who outwit the almighty Pharaoh, which makes him look rather ridiculous, that he’s being so easily outwitted by these women.  I think that’s, in my opinion, the intention of the writer.  It’s not simply—it’s not to elevate women in the abstract, although we can read it that way.  I don’t that’s the intention of the writer.  My opinion—I don’t think it’s to elevate women, as much as it is to make Pharaoh look ridiculous that you have his sister, Moses’ sister, and Pharaoh’s own daughter and these two lowly Hebrew midwives who are slaves, they’re able to outwit this Pharaoh so he doesn’t know what’s going on.  As a result, Moses is drawn into the household of Pharaoh and he grows up there, which will have rather significant implications as the story goes on.

Third thing.  We have the creation theme.  The introduction of women in Exodus.  Also, this idea of drowning the male children in the Nile.  That’s the third of the three attempts on the part of Pharaoh to reduce the population of the Israelites.  It’s only the male children, of course, as is with the midwives.  Here is it with the Nile.  It’s only the males because they’re the ones who go to war.  They’re also the ones through whom the lineage is traced and so if you want to further disenfranchise a people that have, let’s say, a nationalistic or an ethnic identity, the way to do that is to get rid of the men.  The women will become the property of other men, namely Egyptians.  So you get rid of them.  This makes some sense historically.

But the men here are thrown into the Nile.  Male infants are thrown into the Nile for drowning.  We have to think here of how this story will end.  The Red Sea.  Especially the Tenth Plague too.  The Tenth Plague and the Red Sea.  The way many interpreters, especially Jewish interpreters throughout history have read this, is that the Tenth Plague, which is the death of the firstborn, and also the Red Sea, which is the drowning of the Egyptians, that’s sort of tit for tat.  It’s eye-for-an-eye, tooth-for-a-tooth.  “If you do this to my children at the beginning,” Yahweh says, “Justice means it will happen to you at the end.”  That’s the Tenth Plague and the Crossing of the Red Sea.

The plagues as a whole are really, in my opinion, just an onramp to get to the Red Sea episode.  There are Ten Plagues.  They’re rather drawn out.  We’ll get into all that stuff.  It could have been one plague.  It could have been none.  It could have just been “go out.”  Just leave, just part, go through the Red Sea.  But you have this Ten Plagues and it goes on for a bit.  It’s all about building up the tension for that final moment where God finally does what, again, in the logic of the narrative, God finally does what God has been wanting to do, namely, vengeance on the Egyptians.  “You will die because of how you treated my children.”

It’s interesting.  When we get to Chapter Four, we’ll see how when God tells Moses to confront Pharaoh, he says, “Is this what you say?  Israel is my son, my first-born.”   Israel is like God’s child.  “If you do this to my children, then your children are going to get it too.”  It makes sense.  The theology makes sense is what I’m saying.  It may be a little bit gruesome, the violence here, but again, you’re reading the Bible, folks.  We got to get used to the violence.  It’s all over the place.


Ok, so those are three things that happen in the first chapter and some of these things we’ll come back to, namely the Nile and the Creation theme.  Those things hang together.

In the second chapter, this is where Moses is born.  We’re introduced to Moses.  We’re told that he’s a Levite.  When the Bible gives details like that, it’s probably important, because we’re not given much information about the book of characters, and when we are, there’s probably a reason for it.  But here, we’re told that he’s a Levite.  Of course, his brother Aaron will be the first high priest.  He’s of the tribe of Levi as well.  That’s an important detail for this author because Tabernacle, sacrifice, priesthood, all this stuff gets introduced in the book of Exodus.  The main guy here, Moses, is of that same tribe and nd his brother, Aaron, who will be the high priest.  That’s just laid out there right here at the beginning.

A second thing here in terms of Moses’ birth in Chapter Two, is, as you know, the famous story, he’s put into a reed basket or a papyrus basket as the New Revised Standard Version has it.  And it’s lined with bitumen and pitch to keep it from sinking.  The Hebrew word here for this basket is a rare word in the Old Testament.  It’s only used here and then way back in the flood story to describe the ark.  The Hebrew word is “tevah.”  That’s not irrelevant.  That’s pretty important because what you have is Moses—this is like another Noah, and he’s in an ark and he will be delivered from this watery threat.  As a result, there will be a new beginning for God’s people, just like the Noah story.  He and his family are saved through a threat of water and as a result, they’ll start something new.

We’re seeing the Noah story revisited here, but not just a “what a nice little literary connection.”  The point is more theological that God is doing something new and you know he’s doing something new when he’s saving people through water.  Guess where else in this story God is going to save people through water?  Exactly.  Chapter 14 and 15.  The departure from Egypt.  The crossing of the Sea of Reeds.  You’ve got this water deliverance in this story that actually echoes back to Genesis Chapter One as well.  I’m going to leave that for later, because it’s really clear when you get to Chapter 14 that it’s not just Noah, but we’re going back to Genesis Chapter One in this story.  There are echoes of the creation story itself later on, very prominently when we actually depart Egypt.

You have a reed basket.  Also, as I mentioned before, you have the sister here who puts him afloat and follows the basket and sees where it goes and Pharaoh’s daughter picks it up.  The two of them conspire to keep this infant safe from Pharaoh’s hands.  “I happen to know this guy’s mother.  You want me to bring him back and have her breastfeed him until he’s ready?”  “Yeah.  That’d be great.  Go ahead and do that.”

Three months or so and then he comes back.  Actually, it’s more than that.  It’s not three months.  Actually, we don’t know how long it is.  When he’s ready, he comes back and then he grows up in the house of Pharaoh.  We have these thoughtful women outwitting Pharaoh and finding a way to keep this infant safe, because they’re looking at this infant and for whatever reason, this is a kid worth saving.  At least, that’s Pharaoh’s daughter’s point of view.  Moses’ sister would not have that kind of an issue, but she looks at him and says, “Wow.  This is fantastic.” 

We have these women outwitting Pharaoh again.  Also, the name Moses—I mentioned before it probably has an Egyptian echo to it.  But in the story itself, the writer gives Moses a very different meaning, a Hebrew meaning from a verb, a rare verb in the Old Testament that means “to draw out,” meaning “because I drew Moses out of the water, I’m going to call him Moses.”

A problem with this is that who’s giving Moses this name.  It’s Pharaoh’s daughter, which raises a couple of questions.  Number one:  did she know Hebrew?  The chances for knowing Hebrew, maybe, maybe not.  I think it’s unlikely.  Most people think it’s unlikely.  Why would she bother learning the tongue of the slaves?  They have to learn their tongue, not the other way around. 


But more importantly, why would she give him a Hebrew name to begin with if the whole point is to keep him safe.  At the dinner table with Pharaoh: “Hi.  This is Moishe.”  You’re not going to do that.  You’re going to do something else.  It’s unlikely that she gave him this name, but here’s what’s happening.  This is the pretty standard answer in Biblical scholarship, if it’s of interest to you.  I hope it is.   This is what is called a folk etymology.  It’s not a scientific, linguistic etymology.  But it’s a folk etymology.  It’s how the Israelites later explain the name of Moses from their point of view.  It’s possible the author may not have understood Moses’ name, maybe few people did.  Who knows?  But at least, the writer intentionally gives this name a Hebrew significance that has something to do with the story itself.  So it’s unlikely that Pharaoh’s daughter named him this, because it would have been rather nonsensical for her to do that.  The name has some historical residences with Egypt.  But from the Hebrew point of view, “who cares?”  That’s not furthering our story.  We’re going to look at this differently and give him a Hebrew etymology, which means “to draw out of water.”

One more thing about Moses being drawn out of water.  Everybody talks about this.  This parallels a much, much, much older story, going back to late third millennium BCE, of a king, Sargon, of a place called Akkad (there’s where we get the word Akkadian from, if that helps).  We have a similar kind of rags to riches story.  He’s threatened and he’s saved by the court and his life is threatened.  But then he grows up in this court and winds up becoming a great king.

The Moses story follows that pattern very nicely, so much so, that scholars typically think, not so much in terms of the Moses story is borrowed from this story of Sargon from a long time ago, but it’s more like a standard way of talking about the origins of a great person, sort of like a rags-to-riches story.  That seems to be what’s happening here, and again, these are the kinds of things have to be discussed when you’re talking about the historicity, like we said earlier, when you’re talking about the historicity of this episode.  These are the kinds of things that you have to really take into account somehow and try to explain.  Again, it may not mean that Moses never lived.  But it may mean that Moses’ actual history, the way we think of it, may not be exactly how the Bible here is portraying it, like where he got his name from.  This is a Hebrew overlaying.  This is not really mythical.  We’ll get to mythical overlays later.  But this is still a legendary or a theologically meaningful way of telling this story that really speaks to the people who are recounting their past and setting a vision for their present and a vision for their future.

If we’re expecting this to be totally distant from history and have no connection with the Sargon story, I think that’s a tough hill to climb.  Using literary motifs from other nations is not unheard of in the history of humanity.  You sort of do that.  You learn how to tell stories from the environment that you’re in.  That seems to be what’s happening here as well.  Moses is already being styled as, clearly, this guy’s going to be a great leader.  Look at how history is beginning.  This is how you tell the story of a great leader in that time.

Then he flees (little Moses) to Midian and he flees there because he was found out.  He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave and he intervened and he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.  Way to go Moses!  Way to not be impulsive!  But you see what’s happening here is that we’re seeing Moses as a grown man.  We know nothing of his infancy except for that little story.  But here is a grown man and he’s doing now what he’s going to be later on.  He’s protecting his people from the threat, from the Egyptian threat.

Actually, this whole Chapter Two that talks about Moses’ flight to Midian is a preview of coming attractions.  We’re seeing Moses do things that he’s going to be doing later on his life throughout Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.  He saves a slave from the Egyptians, he protects his own people.  But then the next day, he sees two Hebrews arguing and he gets in the way of them and they say, “What are you going to do?  You going to kill one of us too?”

There’s this whole grumbling and rebellion against Moses’ authority on the part of his own people that pops up a lot.  If you know where this story goes, it pops up a lot in the story of Moses throughout the next few books of the Bible.  We have another example of something is that is a preview of coming attractions. 


The biggest one is that he flees and where does he flee to?  He flees to Midian, which anticipates the same path that the Israelites will take later on.  He goes to Midian (we’re jumping ahead here).  He meets Yahweh on Mount Sinai and Yahweh says, “Go get the people and bring them back here to worship.”  It’s almost like a trial run, escaping Egypt to go to Midian.  He’ll come back and then he’ll take the people. 

More subtlety, however, this story of going to Midian has another echo of something in Genesis, namely the Joseph story.  Joseph is cast into a well by his brothers, but then sold to the Midianites, who then give them over to the Egyptians.  There’s a Midian connection that brings Joseph to Egypt and there’s a Midian connection here to with Moses that will bring him back to Egypt.  Midian is also, if I remember this right, he’s also one of Abraham’s sons through Keturah named Midian.  There’s something about the ancestors in Genesis that is evoked by the word Midian. 

Another point about this flight to Midian is this is where he’s going to meet his wife by a well.  Zipporah.  She’s the daughter of Jethro, the priest of Midian.  This, again, connects him to these ancestral stories in the book of Genesis, namely Isaac and Jacob.  They both meet their wives by a well.  What is it about a well?  It’s like a bar.  I don’t know what it is.  It’s just where you meet girls or something.  Probably not.  It’s a motif.  It’s the dessert.  You’ve got to drink and you meet people by a well.  But he’s doing it too.  This is a continuation of this theme from Genesis. 

One last point and then we’ll stop for today.  We see here at the end of Chapter Two, I think, a very, very important moment in the story that is worth remembering.  It’s the last three verses of Chapter Two.  I just want to read them.

“After a long time, the king of Egypt died.”

This Pharaoh that had impressed them and enslaved them, he dies.

“This Israelites groaned under their slavery and cried out.  Out of the slavery, their cry for help rose up to God.  God heard their groaning and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  God looked upon the Israelites and God took notice of them.”

The reason I want to draw this out just a little bit is because this is giving us the reason for the Exodus.  Why does God deliver His children from Egyptian slavery?  It’s basically to keep a promise to the Patriarchs, meaning Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  This is who God speaks to in the Old Testament in the book of Genesis, especially, in Chapter 15, where he’s engaging Abraham and he says, “Listen, your descendants are going to be slaves in Egypt for 400 years, but I’ll get them out and I’ll bring them into this land and everything will be fine.” 

This is a promise that God made.  It’s not simply God hates slavery.  Forgive me.  God clearly doesn’t hate slavery because there are salves all over the place.  There are even laws in Exodus about what to do with slaves and how to keep them and how to treat them.  Slavery is not a bad thing.  Not for this god.  Not for here. 

It’s not just “I don’t want slaves and I hear you crying out.  I hear you groaning and I don’t like slavery.”  It’s more “I made a promise to Abraham and I’m going to keep it.”  That is the reason why they’re delivered from Egyptian slavery.

The last verse—I love the last verse here because if I could throw a little Hebrew on you here—in English, it’s rather cumbersome.

“God looked upon the Israelites and God took notice of them.”

But in Hebrew, it’s just a few words.  “God saw the Israelites.  God knew.”

I just love that.  God saw.  God knew. 

This is not taking God by surprise.  God is going to do something.  From here on out, what we’re really going to see is what God is going to do to deliver the Israelites.  Not so much Moses.  But God sees and God knows.  And now something absolutely is going to happen.

[Outro Music Begins]

Alright folks, well we’re going to stop there. That’s not bad, we did half of this preparatory section 1-4, we’ll finish it next time, whenever that’ll be. I have no idea, I’m not planning this out folks, it’s just going to happen by Divine direction I think; it’s just going to happen. But until then, and as always, thank you for listening. Folks, when you press download and then push to listen, we’re very thankful that you’re letting us into your lives. We don’t take that for granted at all, and one last thing, this is important, it’ll change your life. So 3 simple words: Grab. Some. Swag. You can go to our store at thebiblefornormalpeople.com and you can find t-shirts of various colors, even youth sizes, with all sorts of fun little sayings on them and polo shirts, which I have, and fleece hoodies, hats, beanies, all different colors and sizes. We have a lot of mugs, tote bags, and we even have onesies for your babies. We’re actually working on an adult onesie but we’re trying to figure out whether that’s actually legal in the state of Pennsylvania. But if it is, oh boy, you’re going to see adult onesies here on this website. Because, why not? That’s why. Because that’s how we roll, man, and that’s what we do. Ok folks, anyway, thanks again for listening and we’ll be with each other next time. See ya.

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