My book, The Upside-Down Bible: What Jesus really said about money, sex and violence, was published in 2015 by Darton, Longman & Todd.
The book explores the teachings of Jesus in short chapters that can be used for personal reading or group study. It is “upside-down” because each chapter begins by drawing on the insights of non-Christian readers who are new to the text in question. It also seeks to challenge interpretations that have grown out of Christianity’s links with wealth and power. Instead, it emphasises that Jesus spoke with people about their everyday lives.
You can read more about the book, priced £9.99 in paperback or e-book, by clicking here and visiting the publisher’s website. You can also request it at your local bookshop.
You can watch short clips of me discussing the book by clicking here or here.
“Symon Hill has listened carefully to a wide variety of people, many encountering the parables for the first time, to refresh and restore our idea of what it means to be human. He uses some knowledge from well-chosen experts, but draws us easily into the text in a playful and engaging way. The Upside-Down Bible is a book of questions as much as answers, where stories we thought we knew sparkle with fresh possibilities. It invites us to dive into Jesus’ teaching from many different angles, and reflect. There’s something valuable here for everyone, whether complete first-timer or seasoned preacher.”
Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham
“By turns provocative, passionate and kind, Symon Hill’s new work is that rare thing: A book that dares to take Jesus’ teaching ministry seriously. It dares to invite the reader to think for herself and be prepared to have her assumptions about Jesus, money, sex and violence turned upside-down. A must-read for anyone brave enough to explore Christianity’s radical roots.”
Rachel Mann, Poet-in-Residence and Minor Canon of Manchester Cathedral
“Symon turns traditional church interpretations of Jesus’s teachings on their head; offering a radical reinterpretation that connects Christ’s message to daily life, personal relationships and political struggles today.”
Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner
“If you’re turned off by the Church but think Jesus might have been on to something – this is your book. Symon Hill reintroduces us to Jesus the teacher, whose stories don’t always make easy sense because they are intended to make us instead. As always, Hill is contagiously on cue, fair and provocative.”
Mark Oakley, Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral
‘This little book invites readers to take a fresh look at what Jesus actually said rather than what we imagine or wish him to have said. Its key themes of money, sex and violence are explored through stories from the gospels, all set in the context of a crash course on how to read the Bible, which is eminently readable and grounded in solid research.”
John Drane, Professor of New Testament and Practical Theology, Fuller Seminary
and Fellow of St John’s College, University of Durham
“I found myself rejoicing in Symon’s openness and deep respect for others, and his ability to encourage and listen to different viewpoints and opinions… Symon has made the book very accessible but never condescending and I recommend it to all those who believe they know a lot about the Bible already, as well as to all those who know absolutely nothing. I’m sure it will be challenging and inspiring to all who read it.”
Ruth Wilde, Student Christian Movement
“A lively, radical look at the teaching of Jesus on such issues as money, sex and violence. Highly recommended.”
Church of England Newspaper
“Engaging, accessible and innovative… This book is superb! It has challenges galore for both those new to Jesus and those who think themselves familiar with him and the texts in which his words and ministry are recorded. I would recommend this for a study group but also for individual use as the questions leave room for all sorts of avenues to explore.”
Rev Zam Walker, Reform magazine
“A lively study.”
“A provocative commentary… excellent material for a home group.”
I have just read chapter 4 “A wage dispute” of your book. I appreciate your approach to reading the teachings of Jeses, and look forward to reading the rest of the book. However, I feel you have missed the point of this parable. The key is at the beginning, where Jesus says “the kingdom of heaven is like…” and near the end, where the landowner says “Why should you be envious because I am generous?”
Most of Jesus’ teaching, particularly in Matthew, is about the kingdom of heaven, and how it is different from the kingdom of the world. Many disputes in life are based on our perception of ‘fairness’. Here Jesus is showing us that our concept of fairness is often self centred, and he is showing us the higher way of love. The point is that the first workers were perfectly happy with their contract with the landowner until they compared themselves with the last workers. We can be content with our lot, but there is a tendency for us to become dissatisfied when we see someone with more. If we are truly born again and have entered the kingdom of heaven, we will be filled with love and will rejoice when someone else is blessed.
Why should our feeling of contentment be affected by seeing someone else who appears to be better off than we are? It is envy.
This attitude of loving my neighbour as much as myself is alien to the kingdom of the world, but is the essence of the kingdom of heaven.
God bless you.
Thanks very much for your comment, Steve. I’m very sorry not to have replied sooner.
I appreciate your thoughts. I’m glad you’re reading the book! As you know, my aim is to encourage discussion about Jesus’ teachings. You’ll recall that I did not come down in favour of one or other interpretation of that parable in my book.
Of the three interpretations I describe in the “Reflection” section of the chapter, your approach seems to be closest to the second one, which sees the landowner acting in a way that exemplifies a just society. You are right to point out the line “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” and perhaps I did not pay sufficient attention to this line. Your interpretation suggests that the parable illustrates the way that the Kingdom of Heaven operates, not just in terms of money and reward but in many other ways.
I don’t reject this interpretation. I believe the parable can be about many other things as well as money and work, but I concentrated on those topics as they are likely to have been the starting-point for Jesus’ listeners and certainly were for the first-time readers to whom I showed the story. They have also been overlooked by commentators who tend to focus solely on other, more abstract points.
You are right that in the Kingdom of Heaven, and as followers of Jesus, we should rejoice when someone else is blessed, rather than being envious. However, you say “someone else who appears to be better off than we are” . None of the workers in the vineyard was better off than any other; they were all equally well off despite their different work. Sadly, in the kingdoms of this world, we are encouraged to be envious even when others are equal to us. As you rightly say, the Kingdom of Heaven is very different.
Many thanks for your thoughts.
Pingback: Advance notice of ‘Rewriting the Exodus’ and other events | Newman Research Centre for the Bible and its Reception
Pingback: 50% of The Upside-Down Bible during lockdown! | Symon Hill
Pingback: Looking at men looking at women – The Shiloh Project
Pingback: Challenging boundaries – Queering the gospel. – gathering thoughts