Jan 22, 2008

Hermeneutical Principles - Reading the Bible with First Century Glasses

1. Scripture was written FOR us but it was not written directly TO us.

It is of immense value to realize that when we read the Bible we are reading someone else’s mail. At first some may immediately bristle at this notion thinking that this precludes personal application but that is absolutely not the case. By the mere fact that God meticulously preserved the Scripture for us is testimony to the fact that the Bible has every bit the relevance today as it did 2,000 years ago. Recognizing first century context in no way negates or neutralizes the impact of 2Tim 3:16-17.

Clearly all Scripture is not only inspired by God but is fully profitable to equip us for all things. However, reading the Word as though it was written directly to us, while ignoring context, has been a fundamental problem resulting in significant interpretational errors and misplaced hopes. Before we can determine how a passage applies to us we must first understand what it was intended to mean to the original recipients. It requires us to remove our 21st century glasses and replace them with those warn by Jesus, Peter, Paul and John. This is not a simple undertaking therefore necessitating diligent study and a great deal of effort.

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Hebrews 5:12-14 (ESV)

Case in point. Let’s say for our morning devotion we begin reading 2Tim 3. But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. What immediately springs to the forefront of your mind? Most of us assume that since we are experiencing similar “times of difficulty” per Paul's warning to Timothy (lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God), we therefore assume that “the last days ” refers to the perilous times of the 21st century.
However, it should not come as a surprise that every generation as far back as the third century has made the same assumption. Can every generation be living in “the last days”? Doesn't this phrase, first mentioned in Genesis 49:1, become rather oxymoronic if it extends hundreds or in this case thousands of years? (Acts 2:16-21 )

Paul goes on in verse 13 with while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. So we look around, clearly see a declining morality in the in the U.S. and apply this passage directly to our 21st century context. Clearly these sins exist today as they have in all prior generations. So what's the problem with applying this passage to the here and now? Paul was warning Timothy, not Bert Barber, Steve Thomas or Michael Hemond, of the coming apostasy. This thinking has caused significant harm to the psyche of the 21st century believer. We develop and adopt a wholly unbiblical expectation of abounding evil as though it is to be anticipated as clarification that we are indeed nearing the end. This is so destructive and antithetical to the resurrection which is embodies in the Gospel of Christ.

How do we interpret the following: Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand." (Mark 14:42 ESV) If we are to read this passage in the same manner as we do many eschatological texts, then we encounter the obvious fallacy of this type of interpretational system. It is an undeniable historical fact that the betrayal of Jesus occurred in 30 A.D. and none of us would be willing to transport this passage into the 21st century because we know that “at hand” meant about to take place. Mark was writing to a first century audience and we must never lose sight of that fact. We must be consistent in our interpretation and not abuse word meanings to fit our personal theological presuppositions.

Here’s another from the book of Hebrews. How we interpret verses that contain imminent language is absolutely critical to our application and understanding. In the second verse of chapter 1, the author tells his readers that they are in the time period identified by the term “last days” (the same last days referred to by Peter in Acts 2:16-21).

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. (Hebrews 1:1-2 ESV)

Note that there is a clear dichotomy between “long ago” and “in these last days”. This is evidence that “time matters” and is vital to the understanding of the Scripture. God surely is infinite, not bound by time, but the Bible is God's communication to His finite creation. This passage along with Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 place those living between 30-70 AD, in a “last days” context. The cross, resurrection, Pentecost, completion of the canon, and the holocaust of 70 AD (including the destruciton of the temple and the end of the Old Covenantal system), all took place within this time period. That's why Paul told the Corinthians the time is short…the form of this world is passing away (1Cor 7:29-31) and the reason Peter warned his readers in 1Peter 4:7, The end of all things is at hand. These texts must be reconciled by whatever theological system we adhere to.

If we read the Bible as though it arrived on our doorstep with the morning paper we will forever be confused and confounded. The Bible was written in the transition period (the Exodus antitype) between AD 30 & AD 70. So when we read the Word as though we are still living in the time of its writing, it seems rather odd to us that the Apostle Paul wrote, Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. Romans 13:11 (ESV)—How do we relate to Paul’s statement? Paul’s not simply stating the obvious in that it’s a few years closer in the span of 2 millennia, but there’s an eager expectation that it’s about to come upon them—its “the last hour”. (1John 2:18)

Salvation is not merely “nearer” to those of us who are reading the Scripture in the 21st century. It has fully come. We have it. We have already been saved but most today are still waiting. Why? Because they still "see" with physical eyes. Their expectations are skewed and what it means to have no more tears or suffering is strictly physical to them (to be quite honest this was my paradigm as well for 33 years—so I'm not certainly not casting stones). This is not the language of the New Covenant which has been revealed as a spiritual kingdom (1Cor 15:50, John 1:13, John 4:21-24, Luke 17:20-21). That’s why when read this passage out of context one gets the mistaken impression that they’re still living in this “already but not yet” transitional state.

So it would behoove us to the read the Bible with First Century glasses while walking in the sandals of those to whom it was written. We need to observe our significant cultural differences. We need to understand the Hebrew mind where such things like chronology and numbers are not an end in and of themselves. That’s why Mark puts little triptych nuggets together where he sandwiches events that take place out of chronological sequence. His interest is one of contrast—a premium is placed on theology over timelines. Numbers to us are to be crunched; to them they had significance far beyond their numerical value. By not understanding the culture and the times when the Scriptures were written, we stand the significant risk of misinterpreting passages, therefore creating false applications and ultimately abding in the resultant confusion.

2. Audience relevance

If we don’t attempt to discover what the intent of a passage was relative to its direct recipients, then how will we ever expect to determine what it means to us 20 centuries after the fact? This is one of the greatest interpretational abuses of modern times.

When James wrote, Be patient for the coming of the Lord is at hand…the judge is standing at the door” (James 5:8-9) we cannot simply ignore the recipients of this message as though they were not real people who had real feelings & thoughts. As though the words had no relevance to the actual readers but were merely code phrases meant mainly for those who would come 2,000 years future.

I heard a sermon preached on patience that used this text. I wanted to scream but I was in the second row and had to settle for squirming. It was said that James was attempting to create an air of expectancy for all future generations regarding Jesus’ Parousia (coming). So later I asked this pastor the rhetorical question, “So you think that James was purposefully lying to create this expectant attitude?” The point is that we must not presume that God is employing situational ethics where the end (creating expectancy) justify the means. Do we presume that our Creator has a need to employ psychological tricks (let’s call it what is is—lying) to motivate us and keep us on our toes? This thought should be disgusting to us all. If I told you that I would be there “shortly” while never intending to come in your lifetime, would you consider me faithful? How about if my reason was that I just wanted to create a sense of expectation so that you wouldn’t forget me? Would that make you feel any better toward my unfaithfulness? In the same regard we oftentimes are unwilling to consider the unfiltered ramifications of Scripture when they violate our paradigm—and in so doing we are destined to succumb to this sort of ill-fated logic.

It is this same interpretational problem that caused the well-know atheist Betrand Russell to reject Christ (Why I'm Not a Christian). He knew that Jesus could not be a liar and be God at the same time—and he was correct! But how sad is it that Russell never met a Christian who could adequately divide the Word in this area of eschatology. This is why we cannot excise the study of last things from the Gospel. They are inseparable. This accepted departure from the common sense hermeneutic of audience relevance has led many astray. How grieving. Jesus did exactly as He and others prophesied and accomplished all at the end of the ages both in his death/Resurrection and His Parousia (Heb 9:26-28) In Scripture it was viewed as one Christ event that spanned a 40 year millennia. From Pentecost to Holocaust. (Acts 2:16-21)

3. Interpreting the unclear in the light of what we know to be clear.

Abusing this simple rule has resulted in the creation of many cults. For example: Interpreting James 2 as a stand alone doctrine ignoring the plethora of grace-based passages gives rise to doctrines such as Lordship (works-added) Salvation. Matter of fact, if one goes to the extreme where James makes mention of Abraham’s works of righteousness, we end up in a very confusing dilemma. Therefore it is imperative that we create matters of doctrine from passages that are abundantly clear while attempting to conform the less clear passages (which may appear to be in conflict) to the framework that we already know to be true. Therefore we know that Scripture be internally inconsistent.

4. The Analogy of Faith

Using Scripture to interpret Scripture will avoid a multitude of interpretational errors. (So many read the Old Testament as though it is the end of the story. But without viewing it through the lens of the New Testament authors, one is left quite confused—one errant belief that is derived from letting the Old Covenant stand on its own merit is the presumption that God is going to restore the land of Israel to the Jews etc. This misses the teachings of the New Covenant that are so prevalent in the book of Hebrews, and therefore they never “see” the spiritual anti-types as fulfillments of the physical types of the Old Covenant. So we accentuate physical healing as thought it’s almost an end in itself when clearly Christ’s healings were not use the temporal to prove the eternal.

Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, take up your bed and walk'? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"—he said to the paralytic— Mark 2:9-10 (ESV)

When reading Jeremiah 31 as though it is the end of the story, has caused major interpretational errors. If it is not interpreted in the light of the New Testament author’s illumination, we will gain the wrong temporal/physical picture of fulfillment. Hebrews 8 quotes Jeremiah 31 and puts it in the context of the New Covenant. This (Hebrews 8) is a gross departure of what one might conclude by meditating solely on Jeremiah 31.

5. Realizing that the New Testament is not new

There isn’t anything new about it. Paul repeatedly told us that he preached nothing new—everything came from the law & the prophets.

`And I confess this to thee, that, according to the way that they call a sect, so serve I the God of the fathers, believing all things that in the law and the prophets have been written, 15having hope toward God, which they themselves also wait for, [that] there is about to be a rising again of the dead, both of righteous and unrighteous; Acts 24:14-15 (YLT)

And at this point, it should not go unnoticed the reason I chose to use the Young’s Literal Translation. Many times it accurately captures the verb tenses. No other translation reads “about to be” because their paradigm doesn't allow them to properly translate that little Greek word, “mello”, which means just that—“about to be” or “to be about”.

In the New Testament there is never a redefinition of terms. There was “this age” and “the age to come” and those phrases are never reinterpreted by New Testament authors.

And whoever may speak a word against the Son of Man it shall be forgiven to him, but whoever may speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this age, nor in that which is coming. Matthew 12:32 (YLT)

I find it rather odd that the YLT abandons their translation of “mello” in this text and uses a rather nebulous, “that which is coming”. It should read “nor that which is about to come”.
I used to believe that Christianity was a new religion and a total departure of the Old Testament, never realizing that everything in the Old Testament was prophesied in the NT. It just wasn’t seen clearly without the illumination of the Holy Spirit. They were “behind the veil of Moses” (2Cor 3) That’s why Peter & the gang seemed clueless even after the resurrection. After Jesus’ death they didn’t even understand that Jesus was to be raised.

for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. John 20:9 (ESV)

But in Acts 2 we see an entirely different Peter. He now gets it to the point where he’s quoting from Joel and now sees the whole picture. The difference was the illumination of the Holy Spirit.

I think the new and old divisions have deleterious to the believer's understanding of the Word as a living organism. We perceive one as old and done away with and that’s not the case. Yes, the Old Testament was not complete and on its own merits it cannot stand as the final arbiter of truth, because it's simply the beginning of the story. The New Covenant fully put away the OC in 70AD (Heb 8:10) but it did not negate the Old Testament as irrelevant. Christianity is not a new religion. It's an extension of the law and the prophets.

6. Misunderstanding apocalyptic language

This is the single-most reason for the confusion regarding eschatology. Folks think that the Olivet Discourse of Mt 24 (Lk 21 and Mk 13) as well as Rev 6, Acts 2 and 2Pet 3, consider a new type of speech referring to the end of the world. Nowhere do we find this expectation in the New Testament. The New Testament is replete with references to what sounds like end of the world type language i.e. Isa 34, 13, Ezek 32, Mic 1 etc. This is God’s poetic speech regarding the destruction of nations. So when we come to the New Testament & the same moon turning into blood and the stars falling from heaven type verbiage is used, they (the authors) aren’t all of a sudden changing the rules of interpretation. This heaven & earth passing away that you find in Hebrew 1 (garment growing old etc.) is not speaking about a physical end of the planet but an end to Judaism & the sacrificial system i.e. the Old Covenant. I was always taught that the OC passed away at the cross but that is not the case as we see clearly delineated in Hebrews 8.

In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. Hebrews 8:13 (ESV)

7. Time is always constant throughout the Scriptures

Parables and apocalyptic language use hyperbole to hammer home particular points but never do we find indication in Scripture that time can or should be trivialized or neutered. Imminent language is contained in every New Testament book. There was a clear sense of eager anticipation. To ignore that fact plays right into the hands of those who say that the Scripture is not reliable. Timing dictated the nature of His coming & yet we so misunderstand the nature that we willingly assume that God can’t tell time.

We cannot continue to ignore time as it is expressed by every New Testament author including Jesus. We cannot allow a day to the Lord is but a thousand years & a thousand years is but a day” to be improperly extracted & misapplied, and in so doing trivialize time to suit our own “private interpretations”. If read in context, this verse from 2Pet 3 is Peter’s defense against the last days scoffers & expresses just the opposite of the way many are abusing it. Written in the latter part of the 60’s, Peter is telling his readers that even though it’s been more than 35 years since Jesus said, This generation shall not pass away until all these thing are fulfilled”, He will fulfill His clearly-stated expectations within the bounds of “this generation”.

Simply because we cannot comprehend the nature of His coming does not give us license to reject the clear timing laid out in Scripture. Time is never bastardized. It is always consistent. At hand always means at hand. In a little while does not mean a thousand years. Shortly does not translate time into perpetuity. “This generation” does not morph into “that generation”. By reading the Scriptures in this way we have reduced the Word down to the least common denominator. If we abuse time we can make it say anything we please. Then there is no objective standard of interpretation and therefore the Scripture becomes rather impotent. This as you know was a huge area for me. I had lost faith in the Word partly because of what I perceived (rather incorrectly) as contradictions. Why trust it for my life if is capable of such fluidity? I believe a full commitment to inerrancy will lead one to take time seriously.

8. Recognizing how our own paradigm can skew our view of Scripture

We all have presuppositions & there’s nothing wrong with that. They are our framework which enable us to make sense of a very complex Word. However, to not recognize that we have them and to not realize that they can cause us to miss truth, is a serious issue.

Short example but one that continues to boggle my mind. Every time I saw the term, “the disciple whom Jesus loved”, I didn’t even really read those words. I simply replaced them with “John”, since we’ve been told from the beginning of time (it seems) that John is the disciple whom Jesus loved. I never one time questioned this “fact” even though nowhere in Scripture do we find even a hint of Jesus’ specific love for John. When I first was confronted with this fact I became somewhat indignant because surely we cannot be fooling around with authorship. That’s what the liberal heretics do that want to discredit the Word. Upon further study I found (not really me because I don’t read the Scripture with as much attention to detail as I should—but I’m trying) through a few sources that there was definitive Scriptural evidence that the Apostle John did not in fact write the 4th Gospel. So I was left with a choice—I could continue to blindly follow tradition (because who are we to disavow third century testimony) or I could allow the Word to successfully shape my belief.

(For a thorough treatment of this issue you can either go to www.thedisciplewhomjesusloved.com and read the book of the same name or you can listen to a sermon of that name @ www.charlescoty.com/audio2.html. You will be amazed)

Why does this example matter? First of all, Scripture is always enhanced and enriched when read through the eyes of truth—but on a different note; this was a glaring example of how tradition had blinded me to truth. The exhortation of Acts 17:11 to be a faithful Berean continues to plague my instincts but something we should always strive for. I would much rather not have to forsake age old tradition because it’s always uncomfortable to deviate from the party line and makes others thusly squeamish.

Jan 16, 2008

Are Arabs & Jews Destined for Eternal Enmity?

While perusing a friend’s blog, I found the following comment posted by an anonymous author. It regards the continued conflict between Arabs and Jews and conforms to what I have found to be a rather stereotypical response among Christians. He writes:

"I've heard it "said" that Muslims descended from Ishmael (son of Abraham and Hagar). Is this true? If it is true, in Genesis 16:12, it is said of Ishmael":

"He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone's hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers."

"Does Genesis 16:12 only refer to Ishmael, or does it in some way, foreshadow the continual conflict between Muslims and Jesus' followers?"

Is this assumption valid? Are those that trace their lineage back to Ishael still bound by this decree? Has anything changed in history that could potentially alter God's pronouncement? Are Jews and Arabs (many of whom are Muslim) or Arabs and Christians destined for eternal strife and foreordained to an acrimonious relationship simply due to heredity? Is this truly an irreversible Hatfield/McCoy byproduct of genetic predisposition?

One might think so were it not for the New Testament’s divinely inspired commentary on the Old Testament. Too often we read the Old Testament without the benefit of New Testament revelation. At this point it may be of some value to consider the thoughts of the Apostle Paul since he was painfully aware of the division of Jew and Gentile. He was both persecutor and persecuted. Did Paul believe that differences were irreconcilable?

Consider the following New Testament passages that provide the backdrop for understanding the nature of the New Covenant. Let’s look at our world through the lens of this inspired NT author.

For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one bodyJews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:13 (ESV)

We are all of one spirit. In Christ we are clearly homogenized.

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. Romans 10:12 (ESV)

There is no racial distinction.

Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. Colossians 3:11 (ESV)

In this New Covenant world, genetics do not divide.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. Galatians 3:28-29 (ESV)

God has leveled the playing field. Who is Abraham’s offspring? Those born according to the flesh? Physical Israel? Absolutely not. Those who are “in Christ” by faith are Abraham’s offspring. Jews and Gentiles alike become "heirs according to promise" by a faith decision.

Paul even takes this a step further. In this New Covenant economy God has wiped the slate clean. Clearly, God has erased artificial barriers between both races and sexes. Any existing racism or sexism is not God-ordained but man maintained. Faith is the only dividing characteristic between people. There are believers and non-believers. However, is this division supposed to be an obstacle that separates?

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 1 Corinthians 1:10 (ESV)

Clearly the Apostle Paul is exhorting believers to be united, but this is not merely to those inside the Church but more so an extension of God's mind for all. Through our faith in Christ we are to love all equally, not treating any people groups with preference. Our call is to preach the Gospel to all. We love Jews and Arabs alike. We aren't to favor one over the other any more than we are to divide based upon skin color. At any moment, through faith in Jesus Christ’s shed blood, one can move freely from non-believer to believer. From a position of enmity with God to everlasting peace with God. How cool is that!

So may it never be said that this long-standing feud between Jews and Arabs, Christians and Arabs or Christians and Jews has anything to do with the ordinance of God. Its roots are in the depravity of man. (Rom 3:9-18) Racism of any kind is not condoned nor is tolerated by God—and neither is it inevitably destined to continue into perpetuity. Peace will abound when both Jews and Arabs alike meet the Messiah!

And lest there be any doubt we need look no further Jesus' parable of the Samaritan. This came on the heals of Jesus issuing the summation of the law in the two greatest commandments: "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself."

So who is our neighbor? Jesus used the example of the Samaritan since they were utterly despised by His own race. They were considered less than human, much lower than a Gentile. Jesus was leaving no doubt as to His conviction regarding racial barriers. There were to be none! Further testimony came while Jesus engaged the Samaritan woman at well. Clearly, Jesus did not consider ethnicity a valid dividing factor. Jesus, of the lineage of David, was pronoucing to the world that this New Covenant economy was a new order where all could be brothers based upon their relationship with Him.

Let's plunge deeper into the New Covenant. If we want to see how this relationship between Sarah and Hagar played out in history we need turn no further than the book of Galatians. In his allegorical analysis, Paul does a masterful job of untangling this perceived web of intrigue between Arab and Jew. What was going to be the disposition between these supposedly "irreconcilable"people groups?

What I found extremely interesting was the angle of the Apostle Paul's argument. He didn't trifle over who the father was e.g., Abraham, but instead totally focused his attention on the mothers. Through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, Paul asks the simple question, “Who’s your momma? The religious leaders of Paul’s day proudly proclaimed their heritage to father Abraham. Yet, as we shall see in a moment, Paul rather abuptly made the rather shocking judgment that physical bloodline was no longer of consequence.

As John the Baptizer began his public ministry he greeted his fellow countrymen rather offensively. (I don’t believe he’d ever read Dale Carnegie’s, “How to Win Friends and Influence people”!)

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath [about] to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father,' for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Matthew 3:7-9 (ESV)

The Jews were beginning to find out early on, that genetics were of no value in this New Covenant Kingdom. Without faith it was impossible to please God. (Heb 11:16) (I might add that it has always been about faith, but God was no longer working through nations to mete out that faith—Gal 3:6) So in Paul’s day which people group was the representative of Hagar and her son Ishmael? Paul turns Genesis 16:12 upside down!

For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. 24 Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. Galatians 3:22-24

These women and their offspring represent two covenants—the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. In this New Covenant world the relationship between Sarah and Hagar is treated allegorically. Notice which of the two represent the physical Jews of Paul’s day. It may shock you if you haven’t yet considered the ramifications of this passage. Those born physical Jews are from Sarah, right?

One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. 25Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. Galatians 3:24-26

Are you kidding me! Hagar, the slave woman is the representative from ARABIA and she corresponds to then “present Jerusalem” which was “in slavery” according to God’s economy. This threw me for a loop! The Jerusalem above is free (New Jerusalem) and Sarah is our mother. Not to be overly repetitively redundant :-) but in this New Covenant order, Hagar is the representative of the Jews not the Arabs. This was a monumental revelation to me.

For it is written, "Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband." 28 Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. Galatians 3:27-29

Who is the “desolate one”? Sarah and her offspring. And who does Sarah represent in this new equation? The Church—those “born according to the Spirit” who were being severely persecuted by the Jewish non-believers. But who was actually being persecuted? Until Paul took the message of Christ to the Gentiles (many years after his coversion) it was predominantly Jews persecuting Jews. Those adhering to Judaism and those that had committed their lives to Christ. The Jews who denied the Savior, thinking that their religiosity would give them Kingdom rights, were “in slavery” while the Jewish believers (and eventually Gentiles by faith alike) would be part of this New eternal Kingdom.

But what does the Scripture say? "Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman." 31 So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. Galatians 4:30-31 (ESV)

So what’s the disposition of the physical Jews? What was to come of them? They were to be cast out just as it was predicted by Jesus prior to His Olivet Discourse.

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! 38 See, your house is left to you desolate. Matthew 23:37-38 (ESV)

So in this new Kingdom there is neither Jew nor Gentile, Arab nor Jew. The only distinction in this New Covenant regards our faith choice—those who are with Christ and those who have not yet chosen Christ.

We need to become peacemakers knowing that God does not ordain genetic barriers. It is only through the redemptive blood of Christ that frees us from these racial chains. Is there hope for peace in the Middle East? Absolutely. But if Christians continue to divide people groups based upon non-Biblical parameters, there will always be strife. It’s up to us. So let’s stop practicing racism and begin to love all people equally, knowing that both Jews and Arabs need Jesus.

God is interested in the condition of one’s heart not the pigment of one’s sin. The cross of Jesus Christ is the historical dividing line. On Nisan 14, 0030, the landscape forever changed. Three days and three nights later God's New Covenant economy was inaugerated. Through faith in Yeshua HaMashia, those born according to the lineage of Ishmael can forever be redeemed and those who consider themselves Israelites can enter the eternal Kingdom as brothers in Christ. And the current Kingdom dwellers offer all who live outside the Kingdom the opportunity to come dine with the King of Kings! (Rev 22:14-15, 17)

Is there potential for peace? You bet there is!

Jan 5, 2008

Audience Relevance in the Olivet

Two years ago I ran across the simplest of statements that would forever change my life, my paradigm (worldview) and my faith in the Bible. Although the Scripture was written FOR us it was not written directly TO us. At first glance this phrase seemed rather juvenile, that is until I began to consider its earthshaking implications.

I was very much aware that the New Testament writers like Paul and Peter wrote their letters to real flesh and blood 1st century believers or churches but even in that light I unwittingly seemed to bypass context looking for specific personal application that I believed was encased in every passage.

Clearly "all Scripture is inspired by God" and fully profitable that "we may be equipped for every good work" (2Tim 3:16-17) but is it beneficial to be so preoccupied with finding personal relevance to the point where we ignore Scriptural context? I truly believe this has created a whole host of interpretational errors and has led to a great deal of confusion.

Therefore, our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to first determine what the New Testament author intended to communicate to his immediate audience and only then attempt to make proper personal application.

All too often when reading a passage of Scripture I was inclined to automatically transpose the “you” to “me” or “us”. That seemed fine and dandy until I realized that by doing so I was ripping “audience relevance” from the equation and therefore trivialized the lives of the original recipients—to the point where they were deemed irrelevant. By doing this we inadvertently transport segments of Scripture germane to a first century culture and spiritual climate, 2,000 years to a westernized people who have virtually no connection to the original context.

By ignoring context we create significant confusion such that we unwittingly subject ourselves to Doubting Thomasitis. I surely got a bad case of this nasty superbug! Things just did not add up and the subliminal affects of doubt crept in to the point where it took a serious toll on my relationship with the Lord. It's insidious yet I believe very prevelent in the Church. Expectations become skewed when we attempt to move passages from their first century moorings to current day settings. When we timewarp, for example the letter to the Hebrews to the year 2008 instead of reading it in it's original 0065 context, we introduce insurmountable hermeneutical issues.

Doing this causes two identifiable problems.
  1. We don't witness God's faithfulness to those that the Word was so graciously given.
  2. We wait for things to happen today that were never prophesied to transpire within our generation.
Over the next 30 years I fear many will leave the faith or at least shrink back from it, because they will eventually succumb to the beliefs of the theological liberals who tell us that the Bible is not inspired. Why will believers retreat and fall prey to those who don't respect Holy Scripture? Because the predictions of our modern day soothsayers continue to go by the wayside and people seem to place more value in the interpretations of man than in the Words of Scipture. Many have not moved from being nomial believers to disciples. They subsist on the elementary principles and do not forge ahead to be faithful Bereans (Acts 17:11) testing everything against the light of God's Word.

12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
Hebrews 5:12-14 (ESV)

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God,
Hebrews 6:1 (ESV)

The problem, as I know now realize after 33 years of struggle, is not with the the God-breathed Words of our Creator but with the faulty interpretational grid of man—who continues to ignore Scripural relevance to the original audience.

This has lent credence to books like the Da Vinci Code since interpretation has become a matter of personal preference, removed from the realm of studious scientific study based upon a set of sound hermeneutical guidelines. In the latter 60's AD Peter warned his faithful followers of engaging in "private interpretations" and we still languish in the same errors today. Works like the Da Vinci Code would have little enticement if we recognized principles like audience relevance, the analogy of faith (interpreting Scritpure in light of Scripture) and paid close attention to detail.

Let me briefly show you what I mean using a passage from 2 Thessalonians and then move on to intent of this post—reading the Olivet through the eyes and in the sandals of the first century believers. Consider the following passage from 2 Thessalonians 1. I’m going to enbolden specific words to shed light on the audience at hand.

6 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 2 Thessalonians 1:6-8 ESV)

The immediate reflex for me was to personalize this passage—to bring it into my world. The assumption is that God is going to repay with affliction those who inflict ME and therefore inflict vengeance on MY oppressors. This may apply as a generalized principle but out of context we lose sight of what the Apostle Paul is conveying. The problem is that I'm certainly not part of the Thessalonian Church and God never made that promise specifically to me.

By moving these verses into a modern day context we fail to realize that Paul’s offering specific comfort to the persecuted Thessalonian Church, letting them know that God will avenge those who afflict them. We know historically that God made good this commitment adhering to Jesus' "this generaton" proclamation. During the ensuing 3 ½ year tribulation that began in the spring of AD 66 and terminated in the fall of AD 70, Jerusalem was obliterated and the oppressors witnessed first hand God's judgment. No doubt the Thessalonians were comforted by God's faithfulness!

1,100,000 Jews died during the siege and another 80,000 were taken captive by Titus and the multinational force.

What’s the lesson for us? How do we make application? By realizing that God is faithful to do exactly as promised within the time frame promised. Therefore we know that if God was faithful to the first century believers who were in serious need of vindication, God will be faithful to us in our time of need. The problems come when we assume that the “flaming fire, inflicting vengeance” is to occur sometime in our future against those that may afflict us. This cannot be the case since the context of this passage forces us to confine Paul's promised vindication, to the oppressors of the Thessalonian believers in the latter part of the transition period between the writing of 2 Thessalonians and the terrible day of the Lord in AD 70.

"not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near."
Hebrews 10:25 (ESV) (don't forget that the YOU is not 21st century believers!) "The Day" was approaching rapidly. How soon would "all these things" be fulfilled? (Luke 21:22)

You (those living in the 60's AD) need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised. 37For in just a very little while, "He who is coming (Jesus) will come and will not delay. (Hebrews 10:36-37 NIV) We can either choose to believe that God was faithful or we can continue to believe the rhetoric of the modern day prophecy experts...

Let’s take a look at another passage. As you read, consider who is speaking; who the passage is addressed to; what promises were made; to whom the promises were made; and the relevance to the surrounding time and conditions.

I’ll add some bracketed comments just to help us remember that this passage was not written directly to us. Put yourself into the mind of one of the audience members and transport yourself to the Mount of Olives in 30 AD. Picture the magnificant Temple edifice on the massive plaform that currently supports the the Dome of the Rock. (click on the photo for perspective)

1 Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. 2 And Jesus said to them [not you & I], "Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you [Jesus' disciples], not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down." [verse 34 tells the time frame when this was to take place]

3 Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age [not the end of the world as in the KJV]?" 4 And Jesus answered and said to them [not me & you] : "Take heed that no one deceives you [the disciples]. 5 For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many. [in their day not 2,00 years future-and we have record of many who did come in this manner]

6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled [who is the "you" who should not be troubled?—The disciples] ; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet [end of what? End of the World? No, the end of the age] . 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. [all happened like clockwork - Acts speaks of much of this] 8 All these are the beginning of sorrows. [When was this all to happen? Verse 34 tells us]

9 Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you [kill whom?—the disciples], and you [disciples] will be hated by all nations for My name's sake. 10 And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. 11 Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. [and they did]

12 And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But he who endures to the end shall be saved.
[from the ensuing temporal destruction that would befall Jerusalem in the tribulation of AD 66-70] 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world [Has this happened yet? See Col 1:6;23] as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come [the end of the age not the end of the world].

15 "Therefore when you see [not us you but the disciples] the 'abomination of desolation,' spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place" [Luke tells us (Luke 21:20) that this desolaton will be the result of the armies that surround the city] (whoever reads, let him understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea [not Brandon or Opelika - no reason to spirutualize this text] flee to the mountains [in Florida!].

17 Let him who is on the housetop [not too many hanging out on housetops today in Starke, FL] not go down to take anything out of his house. 18 And let him who is in the field [Do you work in the field? Not a lot of folks do today. This is where people who pride themselves with the "literal" approach to interpretation, immediately take flight from the natural when it is not called for by the text] not go back to get his clothes.

19 But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days!
[wouldn't make a whole lot of difference today—for goodness sakes, pregnancy virtually poses no problems today compared to 2,000 years ago!] 20 And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath [travel is not impeded in the winter or on Saturday in this day and age but it surely was then].

21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. 22 And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake those days will be shortened. [I'm thankful they were shortened but the watchful Christians fled to Pella 3 1/2 years earlier]

23 Then if anyone says to you [the disciples], 'Look, here is the Christ!' or 'There!' do not believe it. [the Kingdom was not to come with "signs to be observed" (Lk 17:20-21)]24 For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you [not us] beforehand. [they were supposed to know the season of His return]

26 Therefore if they say to you, 'Look, He is in the desert!' [I guess Matthew's referring to the the desert of Valrico-just kidding!] do not go out; or 'Look, He is in the inner rooms!' do not believe it. [Lk 17:20-21] 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west [figurative judgment language scattered throughout the OT], so also will the coming [parousia-an arrival with a consequential presence] of the Son of Man be.

28 For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together. 29 "Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light [much like Isaiah 34:4:]; the stars will fall from heaven [much like Isaiah 13:10], and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

30 Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes [don't have many tribes in Tampa!] of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds [just like in the OT, they never physically saw the Lord when He came on the clouds. But they certainly were aware of His presence!] of heaven with power and great glory.

31 And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. 32 "Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you now that summer is near. [a clear indication that they were to know the timing, just not the actual day or the hour of His return]

33 So you also, when you [not Bob Dorey] see all these things, now that it is near--at the doors! [James 5:8-9 is quoting this] 34 Assuredly, I say to you, [not those of us living in 2008] this generation [not 50 generations from then!] will by no means pass away till all these things take place. Matthew 24:1-34 (NKJV)

Can you "see" how audience relevance shapes the way you read the Word? This makes all the difference in the world when interpreting Scripture. A passage like the Olivet, that may appear future to us when not considering the relevance to the audience at hand, is clearly meant for the generation that received it.

And those who consider a potential double fulfillment (occuring then and again in our future), need to read the passage carefully. It's rather difficult to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom "in all the world" twice (unless of course we consider futre planetary exploration! :) And how can there be double portions of "those days had not been cut short, no one would survive"? And how can it be that an event "never to be equaled again" will reoccur?

To be quite frank, it seems to me that the only reason anyone would attempt to make this double fulfillment argument, is due to an expectation created by an immovable furturistic paradigm. At that point we enter dangerous waters because we willingly read into the Word instead of determining what it actually says. I would rather deal with the consequences of a changing paradigm than craftily manipulate the Scriputres to fit my potentially flawed presuppositions.

Lastly, we must never lose sight of the reason for the "all these things" that were to come upon the generation that killed the Messiah. Matthew 24 cannot be correctly understand without the benefit of Matthew 23 where Jesus' tirade against the "brood of vipers" ended with "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. 38Look, your house is left to you desolate."

So as you read the Word always consider context and remember that little phrase: “The Scripture was written FOR us but it was not written TO us.”

Jan 3, 2008

Robertson the Prophet that Couldn't

Following is an AP article from the 2nd day of January 2007. Today, one year later, the prophetic words of Pat Robertson have been found wanting. I say it's time to hold our leaders accountable when they purport to have “heard from God”. Robertson slightly hedged his bets by saying, “Sometimes I miss”.

Yeah like the Tsumani that was supposed to slam the U.S. coastline in '06, or Bush's success in revamping of the Social Security system in '05. Not a sterling track record. God doesn't make mistakes! Listen, I don’t have a problem with Robertson’s attempt to be attentive to the voice of God but this kind of public display seems to have exposed potentially ulterior motives.

Robertson clearly stood a 50/50 chance of getting this right given the current Middle East climate—but why does he continue to subject the Church to embarrassment? Do we not pay a serious credibility price for this kind of thing? And what's the deal with intermediaries? I thought we shed that top-down stuff back in the 1500’s.

And if this is not enough, many of these leaders continue to add insult to injury as they whiff over and again with their eschatological prognostications? Yet we continue to purchase their books while lining their pockets. My hope is that many in the Church will begin to stop the insanity by cutting the free flow of funds to organizations & individuals who persist in this kind of irresponsible behavior.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - In what has become an annual tradition of prognostications, religious broadcaster Pat Robertson predicted Tuesday that a terrorist attack on the United States would result in “mass killing” late in 2007.

“I’m not necessarily saying it’s going to be nuclear,” he said during his news-and-talk television show “The 700 Club” on the Christian Broadcasting Network. “The Lord didn’t say nuclear. But I do believe it will be something like that.”

Robertson said God told him during a recent prayer retreat that major cities and possibly millions of people will be affected by the attack, which should take place sometime after September.

Robertson said God also told him that the U.S. only feigns friendship with Israel and that U.S. policies are pushing Israel toward “national suicide.”

Robertson suggested in January 2006 that God punished then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with a stroke for ceding Israeli-controlled land to the Palestinians.

The broadcaster predicted in January 2004 that President Bush would easily win re-election. Bush won 51 percent of the vote that fall, beating Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts. He also predicted Bush’s victory for a second term in 2005.

“I have a relatively good track record,” he said. “Sometimes I miss.”

In May, Robertson said God told him that storms and possibly a tsunami were to crash into America’s coastline in 2006. Even though the U.S. was not hit with a tsunami, Robertson on Tuesday cited last spring’s heavy rains and flooding in New England as partly fulfilling the prediction.